Moving Beyond Stability

Most of us are well aware of the speed and complexity in our world, and especially in the spaces in and around our organizations. Companies start up and dissolve at a dizzying pace. Stock prices rise and fall globally within hours. Information about everything spreads faster to more diverse communities than ever before. People who think about the future of organizations are aware of this speed and complexity too. In a recent study of 1,541 CEO’s complexity turned out to be their biggest challenge, and creativity, integrity and global thinking the three most important leadership qualities that they thought would be necessary to deal with the complexity.

We are all tempted to see creativity, integrity and global thinking as skills that will help us to wrangle our organizations and the environment back into a state or normalcy, where we can be comfortable again for a while. But i think we need to look at it differently.

There will not be normalcy the way we have thought of it in the past.

In his book Beyond the Stable State, written in 1971, Donald Schön makes the case that the widespread use of meta-technologies like computers and communication systems (he was writing this well before the widespread public use of the World Wide Web) have not only represented rapid change in and of themselves, but they have become platforms which have facilitated far more rapid innovation and diffusion of every other type of technological and social change as well.

In such a world, says Schön,

What is curious is not that we are forced at intervals to abandon some stable state, but that we manage to maintain belief in it in the first place.

So the task for us now, in this consistently unstable state, is to find equitable, efficient new ways for our organizations to create value for people (customers, partners and employees) and to better a world that is more obviously in a state of consistent change, rather than to bring back an old type of normalcy. I will have more to share about how to do this in the future, but a first step is for us all to acknowledge that, if the stable state was on its way out in 1971, it must surely be gone in 2011.

Thanks to Erik Stolterman, by the way, for reminding me of Schön’s excellent book.

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