When a system is disturbed, it tends to reorganize into a new form of order, while retaining its identity. It can then become what it needs to be to function in the open system we call the world of business. An open system is merely a collection of processes that you can visualize only in temporary structures, which could represent work teams. These temporary structures flow and change to adapt to externalities they can’t control, but must live with. Just like a stream, which adapts and flows around rocks and trees, changing shape and speed, growing larger and calmer, then narrow and more turbulent, the organization must adapt and change, while retaining its identity. The stream is still a stream, just adapting to its environment and relationship with it.
An organization must know its purpose and goal, but be resilient to adapting because the future is unpredictable and not all relationships and connections are easily visible. As banks and governments found, a sudden drop in the value of the Thai baht was capable of rocking their world even if they didn’t trade in that currency; everything is interconnected now. A light touch of the spider web of international trade can ripple out and transform every node on the web.
This also speaks to the nature of reality. “We co-create our environments by our acts of observation; what we choose to notice and worry about,” notes American organizational theorist Karl Weick. But simultaneously, we change everything we notice by the simple act of observation. Everything we do affects connections we can’t see.
So what elements matter in the quantum mechanical world?
• Power generated by the quality of our relationships
• Fields—non-material forces, such as organizational culture, values, vision, ethics
• The value of one—working anywhere in the system, one person can change everything
• Disequilibrium that allows reorganization and adaptation, then leads to growth.
A basic law of open systems is that while change takes energy, an open system can import energy; it doesn’t have to experience a net loss. Change is a good thing—a necessary and constant element that organizations must be able to manage well.
To make this work in an organization, certain characteristics are vital:
• Information as nourishment and energy for everyone. It must be universally available, but each person must consider the lens through which he or she interprets it. Collaboration solves the problem of a limited frame; together we approach the truth.
• Respecting uniqueness (and everyone is unique)
• Honing listening and conversing skills
• Honoring and rewarding collaboration
• Fostering relationships
• Evolving and changing organizational structures
• Non-static job roles that relate only to relationships or resources
• Embracing disruption and change.
This last characteristic is the most challenging for companies, but all real growth requires a disruption of identity, assumptions, and reality. Maintaining the status quo simply won’t work; it denies the nature of the environment in which we live.
Making It Work