The Ecology of Change

In his book Crisis & Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change , David Hurst presents a fairly interesting (although somewhat heavy) argument that the growth of successful organizations is counterproductive to the ability of those organizations to change. As he puts it, organizations use the logic of management to move from a system of “trust” to a system of “power.” Power comes from permanence and structure, e.g. repeatable processes, production systems, organizational hierarchies, etc.

While every entrepreneur knows that these system developments are necessary to eventually move away from a one-person show to a stand-alone, functioning business, these same systems are counterproductive to the adaptability of the organization. Once these “power” systems are in place, the organization fights vigorously to keep them. In ecological theory, it is known as the survival instinct of the organism. First you have to mature and then you have to protect yourself in maturity.

Controlled burns are necessary at times for renewal It may be that at this moment we are moving from the information age to yet another era. And, in my opinion, if anybody tells you what that era actually is, they are making a guess at best. You can’t see the frame when you’re in the picture. And to be honest, it doesn’t actually matter. What is important is for leaders to make the conscious effort to find the balance between total anarchy (the entrepreneurial danger of creating idea after idea with nothing permanent in between) and total monarchy (the established organization danger of refusing to revisit the primary success factors of the business).

 Nature loves renewal. It is built into the ecology around us. Many forests are considered only sustainable when fire cleans out the overgrowth to allow for regeneration. Land managers of course have discovered that this fire, while somewhat inevitable, does not have to be unpredictable. Through frequent, yet much smaller “controlled burns,” foresters are able to renew the forest on a pre-directed timetable rather than waiting for a catastrophic event and hoping for the best. Leaders should consider the same in their organizations. Through a continued commitment to re-examining and re-inventing old and well established norms—whether historically successful or not—a culture of smaller but consistent change will have a greater adaptability in especially challenging times such as these.

 

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  1. Thanks for sharing the valuable changes of ecology Many forests are considered only sustainable when fire cleans out the overgrowth to allow for regeneration. Land managers of course have discovered that this fire, while somewhat inevitable, does not have to be unpredictable.