Over the past two decades, organizational structure, governance and capacities have undergone critical examination, but largely remain bureaucratic. In order to thrive in the 21st century, organizations must go beyond examination and experimentation into application. New technologies, globalization, voluminous cross-platform-multi-channeled information, and rapidly changing market-social-economic-political conditions are requiring the application of dynamic whole-systems organizational tool chests rather than the one-size-fits-all command and control hierarchical tool(s) of the last 100 years.
It is time for a new generation of whole-systems organizations, governance and leadership that are conscious, evolved, integrated and responsive to the rapidly changing circumstances and information flows of the 21st century. These organizations and leaders must balance the needs of their shareholders for profit and growth with conscious choices that promote the good of their employees, their customers, their distribution channel, their community, society and the environment.
Whole-systems dynamics is the process of understanding the interconnected, interdependent interactions within a whole system. For example, whole-systems in nature examine the relationships of elements within ecosystems such how air, water, fire, wind, soil conditions, plants and the movement of animals work together for the ecosystemic survival, sustainability or failure. In organizations, whole systems dynamics are applied to optimize the interactions, efficiencies, experiences and impact of people, structures/infrastructure, communications, capital, information, resources, market dynamics, communities, environment, customers, channel partners, strategic relationships, inventory, governance and processes that work together to make an organization healthy and socially responsible.
Ludwig von Burtalanffy is credited as the founder of General Systems Approach dating back to 1969. So this is not new technology. Whole systems dynamics arose out of the general systems approach and was used mostly in science and economics, but within the last 10 years has been adopted by pioneering corporations and government organizations with great success. Whole systems approaches are now entering an early adopter phase and will see much more rapid adoption and application.
Another interesting application of natural whole systems approaches to organizational governance and manufacturing processes is Biomimicry. Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a new discipline that studies nature's best ideas developed by the planet over 4.5 billion years and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example - an "innovation inspired by nature."
By applying whole systems approaches and biomimicry, we can redefine "success" as more than just profit, but rather the success of the ecosystem and economic-political-social system impacted by the actions, products and services of the organization.
By applying a different definition of "success" that aligns with nature and developing metrics that provide the necessary feedback to achieve "success," organizations can develop the chest of versatile tools that provide them the ability to optimally respond to a plethora of situations that arise from a universe of possibilities rather than trying to control and eliminate possibilities.
Ecosystemic health of the organization can be achieved by shifting corporate beliefs, behaviors, processes and relationships - such as moving from command, control, blame, disempowerment and a singular "profit-at-all-costs" focus - to whole systems approaches that account for the needs of the individual; employees; the organization; the organization's customers; partners, channel and manufacturers; the infrastructure and mechanisms by which the organization delivers its products and/or services; the shareholders, investors and broader economic markets; the communities that the organization impacts; humankind; and the planet and its resources.
One-size-fits-all models generally lead back to breakdowns in the system requiring more bureaucracy. The universe doesn't conform to man-made forms and structures. We need tools that optimally deal with chaos and rapidly changing conditions. We need tools that are evolutionary and work with the natural laws of the universe and the planet. We are co-creators living within a larger system and can no longer naively expect the universe and nature to bend to the arrogant will of man.
By letting function dictate form and using form as a functional tool, we can obtain optimal results by using the right tool under the right circumstances. If our only tool is hammer, every problem looks like a nail. When presented with a tomato, we hit with our hammer, when presented with a nut and bolt, we hit it with our hammer. If only we had a knife for the tomato and a wrench for the nut and bolt, the outcome of our action could be considerably more efficient and elegant.
The tool chest is provided by the adoption of Situationally Adaptive Organizations (“SAO’s”) that create "Generative Futures."
SAO’s provide us with an integrated, whole systems, multi-structure hybrid that provides us a tool chest rather than a single tool. Each situation dictates which tool is the most appropriate. For example, in a fire a commander-in-chief would be more effective than getting the organization together for a unanimous decision on who gets the pail, shovel or hose. In some circumstances democracy is most effective, in others it may be a dictatorship, adhocracy, matrix, nucleus, chaord, fractal or communism. SAO's match circumstances with governance forms and do not rigidly adhere to single form of governance.
Generative Futures provide a method of clearing past rigidity and forms to allow organizations to make rapid fire decisions. The future is continually created in the moment of "now" and is not tied to past blame, fault, fixes or processes. By seeing the future a blank canvas, the organization can intentionally create an innovative, inspired and transformative future looking forward rather than focusing its resources on the fixing the past and managing the risk of an unknown future.