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Transforming how we do business by becoming more human

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Alan Moore has written an article in the Guardian where the setup is that we have moved into a “non-linear” world:

Alan Moore, Six steps to transform the way we do business

Our institutions, organisations and economies were conceived, designed and built for a simpler more linear world. Overwhelmed by complexity, these have become disrupted and unsustainable. There is an urgent need to transform our societies, organisations and economies by better design to thrive in what I call a “non-linear world”. A non-linear world has significant implications for leadership, strategy, and innovation – the design of organisations and economic models as a whole.

A non-linear world is one in which we embrace the power and potential of complexity rather than trying to break it down into unconnected bits and that we see the world systemically. It is where we have the capacity and the tools (which already exist) to transform our organisations to work with the grain of human nature, not against it, that run leaner, more efficiently, and are greener. A non-linear world is a significant upgrade to our linear one, proving that better, much better, does not necessarily have to cost the Earth.

I buy that we have moved into a new economy, a new era of human history. I have been calling that the postnormal, as any regular reader here knows. But my characterization of the postnormal does not hinge on us deciding to see the world’s complexity as an integral system. On the contrary. I believe we are at a time where complexity has risen beyond our capacity to understand the world that we have built and, as a result, our ability to predict risks and opportunities has been diminished.

Nonetheless, I agree with Moore’s other observations, that the form factor of our organizations and institutions need to be reconsidered based on the postnormal realities. Moore enumerates six dimensions of this:

  1. Managing uncertainty. Moore suggests that we can learn to manage uncertainty, but I contend that we are in the situation of near blindness,. The best strategy is the ability to actually perceive changes in the business environment and to take action quickly. This is why business must become fast and loose.
  2. Ability to adapt. Moore argues that a new sort of literacy is needed, so that we can sense and describe actions that need to be taken and then quickly develop new business practices. I agree that the ability to drop old ways and to adopt new ways to deliver value is key.
  3. Openness. Moore touches on cultural openness, open innovation, and open source as guiding concepts. Personally, I think the individual’s and the company’s openness to create new connections is the critical pivot point for postnormal business.
  4. Participatory cultures and tools. Moore writes, “We need to embed sociability into everything, from the buildings we design to the software code we write, the processes we create, the business and organisational models we conceive, the governmental institutions we create and the means by which those institutions operate.” But he doesn’t drill in on tools, and the reality is our tools are still relatively primitive, grounded in 1990s thinking about group-based collaboration rather than the more networked cooperation that we need today.
  5. Values-based approach. Moore extols the “craftsman” and the mindset of constant improvement. I differ with him on this dimension. My sense is that the transition to fast-and-loose business requires a shifting from company-imposed values and the subordination of the individual to the company strategy, and instead the adoption of a new set of values based on the commitment to the open work practices of cooperative work, to which the company’s goals must align. In other words, the people doing the work, and their aspirations for mastery, purpose, autonomy, and — paradoxically — their need for connection and the respect of those they respect, come first as the foundation of the postnormal business ethos.
  6. Systems change. Moore suggests that given such a fundamental change we need to seek “an epic win,” as the gamers say.  I’m sure he’s right, that any meaningful accommodation of the changes he and I describe requires a huge shift in out business culture.

Reflecting on his six dimensions reminded me of the psychological principle of emotional intelligence and the observation that much of what we are discussing is based on the need for individuals and business culture to become more emotionally intelligent. We need individuals who are more self-aware, exhibit more self-control, have deep social awareness (understanding the emotions, needs, and concerns of  others), and have the skills to manage relationships with others. And our businesses need to reform organization culture to accept that fact that people are, at base, emotional: All of our knowledge and awareness is grounded on our beliefs, and these cannot be compartmentalized.

As a result, there is a foundational requirement that precedes Moore’s six dimensions: To take advantage of the latent power of social business, businesses will have to become more human and more socially grounded, as well as becoming committed to the new ethos of work, one that puts people first.