Frederic Laloux makes a number of refreshing claims in his 2014 release, Reinventing Organizations. But first among them is his provision of an alternative metaphor to understand organizations and the ways in which human beings interact with them.
One of the more prevalent views likens organizations to machines, each having cogs, levers, inputs and outputs, and concentrating power among a select few individuals who are then responsible to flip the right switches to produce the right results. Laloux argues that viewing organizations this way has accompanying limits, and often leaves resources underutilized or unused entirely. Instead, he suggests organizations are better viewed as living ecosystems, able to evolve and adapt as needs arise.
“In a machine, a small turn of the big cog at the top can send lots of little cogs spinning. The reverse isn’t true – the little cog at the bottom can try as hard as it pleases but it has little power to move the bigger cog. ... In an ecosystem, interconnected organisms thrive without one holding power over another ... Through a complex collaboration involving exchanges of nutrients, moisture, and shade, the mushroom, the fern, and tree don’t compete but cooperate to grow into the biggest and healthiest version of themselves ..." pg. 136
Laloux is not the only one who sees this happening. He profiled twelve businesses across a variety of sectors and geography, which employ 100 people or more, and which have been operating with self-managed teams and the ecosystem metaphor for five years or more. Among the many insights he encountered during this research, he noted that:
“... with surprising frequency, they talk about their organizations as a living organism or living system. Life, in all its evolutionary wisdom, manages ecosystems of unfathomable beauty ... Change in nature happens everywhere, all the time, in a self-organizing urge that comes from every cell and every organism, with no need for central command and control to give orders or pull the levers ... people have dropped the illusion that one person, however competent, could master all of the information of such a complex system and heroically, from above, might the right call for hundreds of decisions that need to be made every week. Instead, they trust the collective intelligence of the system.” pg. 56, 85
My questions for you:
- What would become immediately possible (or impossible) if more leaders began viewing organizations as ecosystems?
- How can you gain greater access to the “collective intelligence” that already exists within your company?
I look forward to your comments below and the conversation that follows!