Leadership and the New Science

Using the metaphor of Schroedinger’s cat (given a cat in a box, the cat may be dead or alive (exists as a possibility of either) until you actually open the box and observe it, which fixes its state. It’s the act of observation, measurement that makes it one or the other. Schroedinger used this to describe how electrons were both waves and particles but Wheatley uses this explain how observation and measurement affect organizations and their information flow.

“. . .the participative univers, aplace where the act of looking for certain information evokes the information we go looking for—and eliminates our simultaneous opportunity to observe other information.”

Notes the numbers mania in organizations and posits that “no form of measurement is neutral”—contextualism. “How can we trust that we get the information we need to make intelligent decisions? How can we know the right information to look for? How can we remain sensitive to and retrieve the information we lost when we went looking for the information we got?”

States that a participatory approach can help answer these questions—multiple points of view from all over the organization can capture different interpretations, rather than all information filtered and collapsed down to interpretation of single or few top managers interpretations. Gives greater richness to data.

Participation also helps with buy-in, “ownership.” “. . .it is impossible to expect any plan or ideal to be real to employees if they do not have the opportunity to personally interact with it.” And later, “. . .we cannot talk people into reality because there truly is no reality to desribe if they haven’t been there.” Thought his metaphorical ‘kick of the tires’ can be slow and contentious, it is necessary to have everyone make a shared commitment.

Idea of organization as rich network of relationships—a jointly created reality arising out of the process of interaction. Organizations more as process where “structures come and go as they support the process that needs to occur” rather than as fixed, hierarchical entities. Roles in organizations as “minimally bounded, as focused on interactions and energy exchanges”–actions and reactions.

Wheatley says that “information organizes matter into form”-information creates the structures it needs (rather than vice versa). Chaos generates the most information and that information self-organizes; there is no need to constrain or control it if the system is open to self-organization. Acceptance of that chaos is difficult for organizations; they are more apt to shield themselves from it rather than tolerate it. “We have a hard time with lack of clarity, or with questions that have no readily available answers.”

The idea of generative, open organizations is repeated here in that her emphasis is on organizations as flexible, living, responsive entities that are open enough to receive feedback (information) on all levels and self-organize accordingly. Therefore good communication is vital to an organization’s continued health.

Focus on total system rather than parts. It is not necessary to have direct control or effect on a part to affect it; you only need to understand how the system as a whole functions. Wheatley recommends playing with and observing nonlinear models to see what happens, to understand the “web of activity and relationships that comprise the system.” In the same vein of “the web” she mentions, she says that complexity as manageable because it doesn’t need to be handled linearly (like the brain, neural nets in AI, or, my example, the Internet). Part is the whole, whole is the part.

“Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation rises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before. When this information self-organizes, innovations occur, the progeny of information-rich, ambiguous environments.”

Wheatley mentions future search conferences as a planning model-it generated a lot of information and a complex self-organizing structure but from initially simple information fed back into itself. “But when the organization is willing to give public voice to the information—to listen to different interpretations and to process them together—the information becomes amplified.”

Strategies to create new information or feed existing information back on itself:
• Bring people together in new ways (work teams, job rotations, task forces—autonomous and unconstrained by rules or preset expectations)
• Allow conflicts to surface and encourage people to hunt for trouble spots and discuss at various levels
• “Understand the importance of relationships and nonlinear connections as the source of new knowledge. Our task is to create organizational forms that facilitate these processes.”

Example of GoreTex—“roles and structure are created from need and interest; relationships, exchanges, and connections among employees (almost everyone bears the title associate) are burtured as the primary source of organizational creativity and success.”

Thinking at all levels is necessary as well as self-organization, naturally unfolding processes that interweave (top down and bottom up) rather then structured and built up in hierarchy. “. . .we are engaging in a fundamentally new relationship with order, order hat is identified in processes that only temporarily manifest themselves in structure.”

Management Practices in Learning Organizations

Adaptive or single loop learning vs. generative or double loop learning:

Adaptive learning “focuses on solving problems in the present without examining the appropriateness of current learning behaviors,” on making “incremental improvements in existing products, markets, services, or technologies—often within the context of the firm’s preexisting track record of success.” Organization and thinking are often holdovers from previous environments or time periods and, because of this, these firms are often blind to current and changing realities. This often happens with successful and established organizations. Generative learning “emphasizes continuous experimentation and feedback in an ongoing examination of the very way organizations go about defining and solving problems.”

Generative learning needs to take place on several levels at once (by examining the external world, the manager’s own actions and problem-solving processes and the “organizational consciousness” that includes all of the former areas). Strong bureaucracies, excessive reliance on statistics, and a vertical flow of information all impede that broad view and the associated generative learning.

5 key needs for managers in generative learning organizations:
• Openness: (letting go of the need for control; not believing your area and expertise is best (“cultural/functional humility”); cross-functional teams; ability to get as well as give candid feedback to employees; development programs that include mentorship, job rotation, and internal and external educational experiences; “absence of jargon, turf and expert domains; conflict-surfacing, conflict-resolving skills; ready availability of information to all members”)
• Systemic thinking: “the ability to see connections between issues, events, and data ponts—the whole rather than its parts. It means framing structural relationships that resemble dynamic networks, as opposed to static, patterned interactions or relationships predicated on one’s position in the hierarchy.” Other traits: shares accurate institutional histories for continuity, recognizes importance of affective and intellectual relationships as well as traditional authoritative hierarchies; removes distinction between line employees and staff (or professional/academic staff and paraprofessionals/non-librarians, as the case may be); pays attention to interrelationships between organization and external world as well as across parts of organization.
• Creativity: personal flexibility, willingness to take risks, tolerance for ambiguity, ability to change behavior to meet current challenges, willingness to fail. “Management in a learning organization requires an orientation which sees failure as feedback contributing to further creativity.” Ways to encourage: “long term rewards policies, mobility across divisions and functions, growth-oriented personal development, a supportive ‘clan’ culture”
• Personal Efficacy: belief that you can and should influence your world. Traits: active self-awareness and proactive problem-solving. Typically managers have strong sense of goals and values but limited feedback from others about impact of their behavior. 360 degree assessment-not just manager assessing employee or employee self-assessment but also peers and subordinates and your supervisor’s supervisor. Also not a performance review but a “focus on people’s potential and capability.” Should let employees know what they do “makes a difference in specific ways.”
• Empathy: Must have “motivation and means to repair relationships”—communications breakdowns, losses of confidence and trust, etc. Increasingly important in an internetworked world where informal networking is on the rise. Empathy helps prevent blaming others when things go wrong and resigning yourself to undesirable situations-2 common managerial tendencies. Managerial traits: strong sense of ethics in internal and external dealings; active corporate citizenship; recognition of employees’ external contributions; willingness to take responsibility for relationships