5 ways to tell a winning organization from an organization on a losing track

Select your organization well!  Your well being depends upon it.

We all want to see ahead.  I am going to tell you that we cannot.

Yet we as surely as we court disaster when we get behind the wheel of the car when we have been drinking, we can run our organizations recklessly. You will get out of a car that is driven by a drunk, and you should aim to stay away from badly run organizations or at least to replace its management!

Let’s assume for a moment that you are one step back and you are choosing an organization.  Yes, choose. Even in a wicked recession, we choose. We choose which jobs we look at.  We choose which companies we research and approach.

Even as outsiders, there are 5 things to look out for to check the health of the organization.

These ideas are based on “systems theory”.  I hope any systems theorists reading this will comment.

One: We are continuously mindful of how well we are doing as a team and what it takes for the whole team to win

In plain language: Do people say “we” and do they talk about real things.  Do they say things like “In December, the market is slow for us.”

Do they talk in terms of taking everyone with them?  Do they make sure all the stragglers keep up and do they all cross the finishing line together?

Two: Everything matters, everything is connected to everything and connections get stronger with use!

In plain language: When you first approached the organization, did they start to “dance” with you?  Or were they stiff and rigid?  At the other extreme, were they hopelessly muddled?

Do they treat you like “white water”?  Do they work with the river and paddle gently or do they, at one extreme, fight the river [you] or at the other, not guide their canoe efficiently [be too relaxed and out-of-it]?

Is there feeling “give and take” or is the a feeling of force and rigidity or the opposite, no order at all?

Three: History happens once.  Nothing will ever happen again

In plain language: Do people in the organization tell a story of where the company came from and where they are going to?  Or is the company a skeleton of procedures without any flesh?

When they  talk to you about your story, do they attend to relevant parts or are they distracted by inconsequential details?

When something surprises them, do they ask questions or do they dismiss what they don’t understand?

Do they ask you how you would do things out of curiosity (and not as a test of right and wrong)?

Four: Birds fly in a flock without anyone giving orders!

In plain language: Are there 2 or 3 principles that govern this organization and are those sufficient to coordinate team work?  Do people point to the team work with evident pleasure?  Do they marvel that so much gets done with so little bossing around?

If you ask them what it would take to succeed on the job or fail on the job, can they give you 1 or 2 points or do they point you to manual that they haven’t read?

Five: Has the organization made unusual discoveries about what is good, true, better and possible?

In plain language: Do people talk about times when they were working as usual and then they stumbled over a new solution that was much better than they had done before?

Are they slightly mystified about how that happened?  That’s a good sign.  Mutation is healthy and it is only mutation when it is a surprise!

Qualify the organization

In sales, we only spend a lot of time on customers who need our products and services, who have the money to buy, and who intend to buy.  We “qualify” our customers.

We also have to qualify our organizations and move towards those who are healthy!

Rating an organization

When you talk to someone about a job, rate the organization on each of the five points.  How do they stack up on a scale of  0 to 25?  Try it and rate organizations that are right under your nose.  See if you haven’t got far healthier organizations right under your nose where you live!

Join up with people who will last the recession!

An inflexible organization will not last the recession.  And nor will one who is not organized at all.

Look for a healthy firm.  They will have the internal flexibility and mindfulness to adapt to the chaos in the environment. They will organize their affairs so you can grow. They will enjoy what they do and you will too.

Happy hunting and happy choosing!

Complicated is horrible. Complexity is beautiful.

Oh, I am so irritated.  I’ve been doing tax returns all day.  They have to be one of the most irritating things in life, and not because someone is taking money off us.  They are irritating because they are convoluted, fiddly, and complicated.

There are plenty of other complicated things in life too.  Airports with signs that send you anywhere except where you want to go.  Bosses who change their minds quicker than change their socks.  And road signs!  Zemanta, the Firefox Addon which searches the web while you write your blog, found this humbdinger of signage from Toronto, dubbed ‘The Audacity of Nope‘.

The opposite of complicated is complex

Instead of the stop-start sensation we get when details are allowed to disrupt the flow of the whole, complexity is when the parts come together to make something bigger themselves – like the mexican wave in a home crowd.

Is eliminating complicatedness and creating complexity the essence of professional life?

Do architects create buildings where we flow, never having to stop and scratch our heads, or to backtrack?

Do brilliant writers grab attention our attention in the first line and take us with them into a world where we follow the story without distraction from out of place detail?

Do leaders describe our group accomplishment, and draw us into a collective adventure, to play our part without constant prodding and cajoling?

How do you create complexity in your work?

In what ways do you help us experience the whole where parts fit in without discord?

  • What is the ‘whole’ thing that you make?  If you can’t name it, can you visualize it, or hear it?
  • What are the essential parts of the whole, and the linkages between the parts that are essential to form the whole?
  • What are the signs that you look out for that the whole is ‘forming’, or ‘not forming’, as it should?
  • What are the extra bits of help that from time-to-time you add for the whole to come to fruition?

I’m interested in the complexity you manage, and the beautiful and satisfying experiences you add to the world.

Come with me

Share your experiences with us?

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Psychology, chaos theory, complexity theory, happiness and Batman?

Michael Keaton as Batman in Batman (1989)Image via Wikipedia

Any of these topics – psychology, chaos theory and complexity theory – is heavy reading on its own.  All three together?

David Pinctus’ new blog explains chaos and complexity theory in psychology and is tucked away at the end of the Self-Help blogs on Psychology Today.  David’s blog is probably far too heavy reading for the typical self-help audience.  It is important reading for anyone interested in positive psychology and where this new field is going.

  • Psychology has traditionally looked for linear models.  We look for phenomena that grow bigger or smaller in direct proportion to something else.  Happiness is likely to be a non-linear phenomenon.  A small thing can make us very happy; a large event can wash over us.
  • Psychology assumes that my behavior is essentially unconnected from yours.  Our models require all our observations to be independent of each other – do you remember that distantly?  Though much of the positive psychology empirical research is still conducted in the ‘old school of research’, it is our interconnections with others that are more interesting.
  • Psychology has difficulty with time.  We are taught simply to use time as sparingly as possible in our models.  As a consequence we have little idea “what will happen next” or how long anything takes.  If tomorrow is a result of today, how do we describe that trajectory?

David Pinctus explains “non-linear dynamical systems“.  Though he hasn’t talked directly about positive psychology as yet, listing him under “Self-Help”, tells it all.

He also devoted three posts to a series on Batman.  Ordinarily, you would have had to drag me along kicking-and-screaming to a batman movie.  I hated it too!  But his review gave the movie depth I wouldn’t have fathomed on my own and a useful way of thinking about the deep, festering conflicts in many organizations.

I am glad to have a blog written by an academic who has deep mastery of the methodology in this field and who writes well. I am subscribed, watching, reading and learning!

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Fractal . . . and positive psychology

Phoenix de Julia

So what does fractal mean in plain language?

In the social professions that are my milieu – psychology, HR, workplaces – fractal means “walking the talk”. It means using the working procedures you would like to see in an organization to bring those working practices about.

It means delivering democracy through democratic means.

It means having the same pattern of organization throughout the organization.

I attended the Bucks08 Social Media Camp

at Bucks New University in High Wycombe on Saturday 17 May 2008. It was organized by Chris Hambly and kindly hosted by Bucks.

It was an unconference. It is free, and registration is simple on an open wiki. Any one who wants to present, signs up in the room and time slot of their choice. It is gently organized with people changing rooms on the hour as they wish.

Around 60 people converged from as far afield as Brighton, Leicester, Nottingham and Sweden (yes, it was international with people from at least 7 countries there). Personally, I went to sessions on

How was this fractal?

Social media capitalizes on self-organization. We provide a framework where people can “read and write”. Social media is a framework in which the audience has a voice.

An unconference is minimally structured and, far from being disorganized, captures the energy of people with a purpose. So it is fractal in the subject matter is participation and the method of organizing is participative.

And then it becomes fractal again, because participants leave and blog about the conference on their own initiative and using their own resources. Before I had got home, a High Wycombe website designer, Paul Imre, had written up the session on metrics. Dan Thornton wrote up his take on social metrics with a parallel on reflecting on your marriage. Michael Clarke provided a running blog on the same session with comments on the whole day.

And it becomes fractal again, in that Dan & Paul summarized the discussion with the metaphors of marriages and  “investing in a dam” to build and release potential.  Dan’s metaphor was about managing social media.  Paul was talking about deciding how much to invest in social media.  In so doing, they effectively advanced the discussion and took it to another level. Within the afternoon, several people had replied, continuing the engagement, which I suspect will continue in other forums too.

Bucks New University must be very proud. They would have been happy, I am sure, with a smoothly organized event. This was so much more: it illustrated the power of social media, it supported a community of practice, it engaged new people, it generated new material.

To use Paul’s metaphor, investment that increases potential and to use Dan’s, when we enjoy ourselves, we come back for more!

PS The next media camp is at SAE in London on 5 July 2008.

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Why use an atom bomb when a spear will do . . .

BlankMap-World6.svg (which is public domain)

We do not get back what we put in

A long time ago when I was as young and frisky as any Gen Yes, I was furious about the unethical and aggressive behavior of a colleague.  I was fortunate to work in an organization where mentorship was generous.

An older colleague (well, he seemed old to me . . .  he was about 38 at the time!) said to me, why use an atom bomb when a spear will do?  I was young, but I was already wise enough to know that focused behavior has a downside – underestimating side-effects – so thought I didn’t feel like backing off, I did.

The idea of using small, well thought out actions is a corollary of  chaos theory – the idea that a butterfly can flap its wings and set off a perturbation that ripples through the world and causes a  hurricane in London.  The central idea of chaos theory is that

effect is not proportional to the effort!

Sometimes a single small action matters.  Use a spear if you can.  Here is an example.

Through the actions of committed Trade Unionists, a people were saved

Yesterday, I went to bed knowing that the “An Yue Jiang” was anchored off Durban with 3 million rounds of ammunition destined for Zimbabwe.  I was sick to my stomach.

Today, we woke to the news that, despite clearance from the South African cabinet to offload these and other munitions and trans-ship them several thousand kilometers across SA soil to Zimbabwe, SATAWU, the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, have refused to handle them.  Well, we must see how this unfolds.  But I could place a healthy bet that this action has cemented relations between the people of Zimbabwe and South Africa.  God be with you!

This is how communities are made.  Later generations may forget, but those of us who are here never will.

Thank you, brothers!  And thank you from all the people in Zimbabwe.