This is the first in a series of brief interviews asking a number of noted thought leaders for their views on a few basic but essential questions on Organizational Change.
First up is Jon Husband the well known creator of Wirearchy. Jon is a deeply reflective observer of and commentator on how organizations interact with culture and society.
Mike: I know from out discussions that you are passionate about the changes you see as being inevitable and essential to organizations the world over, both commercial and non-commercial. Why do you think change is inevitable? And why do you think it is essential?
Jon: I think change is inevitable because:
1) There is a growing (and accelerating) convergence of easy-to-use and powerful information technologies now present and / or arriving in our lives, with more on the way in the next decade than we have seen arrive in the past decade,
2) If '"knowledge is power" (and thus by derivative definition, information) then the power shifts chronicled in A. Toffler's and other futurists' work in the 90's are only just beginning. Whether “knowledge is power” is debatable of course, especially in today's conditions and contexts. But the long arc of history suggests it is the case.
3) The major necessary changes are essentially psychological and sociological, and they have barely begun. We have been steeped (for a long time) in the understanding that "knowledge" for action comes from on high, from those designated with and afforded decision-making power.
A fourth significant source of power based on knowledge has just appeared on the scene (the modern, traditional three being church, state and corporation).
This fourth source of power is public opinion. This source is currently having birthing pains, but give it time. There are hundreds of initiatives around the world aimed at making it easier, more effective and more constructive at shaping information and opinion into consensus and shared purpose. There will be more, and some of them eventually will find traction and impact.
Mike: Why is change essential ?
Jon: Well, we either adapt or “die”. Not to put too fine a point on things.
Mike: I couldn't agree more. What do the terms ‘values’ and ‘higher purpose’ mean to you? I hear them being spoken about in this context quite a lot. Do you see these as being core to the development of successful and fulfilling organizations?
Jon: Permit me a moment of cynicism here. I am old enough to have seen previous waves of emphasis on “purpose” and “higher values” as means to ... what exactly ? Greater productivity ? Greater relevance ?
“Purpose” and “noble values” are always useful. Arguably, they have brought us to where we are today and equally, their manipulation as coercive mechanisms to exploit knowledge and labour has brought us to where we are not (and where we could and should be as humans alone on a lonely planet in space).
They are core to any organization's effectiveness, and they are much misused by consultants and leaders, given that there is general consensus today about what organizational performance means (at least in the for-profit sector).
They are perennially relevant and essential, and as such have been much abused.
Mike: Life as the Wirearchy originator sounds challenging, varied and sometimes fun. Would you like to give us a brief summary of what a day might hold for you?
Jon: I read. I converse with people around the world. I go for walks and observe and eavesdrop on what people are saying. I go for swims. I take naps. I scribble down ideas. Much of what I read I have thought about somewhere and sometime before, or have written about in essays over the years. I am an informivore with (I believe) high-level pattern recognition skills. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be human in an increasingly multiple-reality world.
Mike: If there was one piece of advice you would give to organizations wanting to move towards a more complete kind of organization (something like, but not limited to or bound by, the idea of Teal) what would it be?
Jon: Make the notion(s) of “purpose” and “higher values” real and tangible, and don't lie about them.
Recognize that today's conditions with respect to the exchange and use of information and knowledge are real, are growing in density and intensity every week, and seek ways to devolve responsibility into the collective intelligences of all stakeholders in an organization's future.
Warren Bennis, a great leadership “guru”, once said “hierarchy is a prosthesis for trust.” Theory X and Theory Y management (MacGregor) pointed out the differences in perspectives about what motivates employees and why. Get serious about this. Wirearchy has the clear implication that employees are adults and can think for themselves, especially when purpose and values are clear and can be seen to be operating as advertised. “Our agreements are our structures” (J. Husband, 2011).
Mike: What is the role of leaders changing their own mindset in this kind of change?
Jon: I think that this question begs context but let’s look at 3 main categories; Leaders of publicly-floated for-profit organizations, Leaders of NGOs, and Leaders of governments and government departments.
Leaders of for-profit corporations have their minds and their hands (and everything else) pretty much tied down by the rules and demands of what is defined by performance in that context. In general, it is dangerous for them to explicitly adopt and promote any alternative mindset.
Leaders of not-for-profit organizations almost always have finding next quarter's or next year's funding front-of-mind, with the bulk of the rest of their time seeking to demonstrate the values the NFP/NGO espouses, through effective programs and programming.
Leaders of governments and government departments are almost always concerned with keeping their representative politician happy. It's how our western governments work.
All three of these main forms of “leader” will do well to pay attention to the groundswells underway in a range of primary human activities. Under review more rigorously than ever before are capitalism as the (only) economic model for this world, patriarchy, systemic misogyny, the engagement of people doing work in order to satisfy market demands, and so on.
Many argue we are somewhere in the middle of a real (this time) paradigm shift, or as Toffler would call it, a powershift. I'm biased here, but leaders would do well to seek deeper and broader understanding of what I call “wirearchy”, what others call network dynamics, etc. The conditions spawning all these areas of reflection and activism are not. going. away.