Leading into the Future XIb: Holding the Center While Innovating and Opening Boundaries

Leading into the Future XIb: Holding the Center While Innovating and Opening Boundaries

The third assumption that would block biological evolution concerns the size of the population. The population must be very large for the blocking of evolution to occur—leading to the averaging out of differences among members of any one species. If the community is small then any differences will make a big difference (big frog in a small pond), whereas in a large community, differences will be absorbed and not have much of an impact.

The fourth Hardy-Weinberg assumption leading to equilibrium is about mating preferences. There will be little evolution if mating is random—anyone from the other gender will do and there is not much discrimination. If members of a species show preferences for those of the opposite sex who are bigger, stronger, prettier, faster, smarter or hairier, then evolution is more likely to occur. The final assumption to be made is closely related to the fourth. It concerns survival and reproduction in a specific population. Evolution is unlikely to occur if everyone in the community has an equal chance of survival and an equal opportunity, as a surviving adult, to mate and produce offspring.

What if anything does this rather theoretical model of evolution have to do with the very real world of organizational innovation and the challenges of fostering change within a complex system (such as exists in 21st Century organizations)? I suggest that all five assumptions can be applied to organizational life. If all or most of the five Hardy-Weinberg assumptions are descriptive of an organization, then it is likely to remain in equilibrium and innovation is unlikely to occur. The center might hold, but at the expense of the agility needed for a 21st Century organization to remain viable. The key, therefore, for the organizational leader is to ensure that these assumptions aren’t being met. Let’s focus briefly on each assumption and see what it says about organizational innovation and sustainability.

Innovating and Breaking the Set

I begin in this essay by examining ways in which the center can be held in the midst of innovation and the opening of organizational boundaries.

Mutations and Organizational Variation

If there are no mutations in a population then evolution will not take place. There is no room for variations or mistakes in a system in equilibrium. What are the implications: innovation requires that things are not always going right in an organization? There must be variations if the organization is to generate innovations. Scott Page (2011) writes about the generation of multiple ideas (mutations) and suggests that a world filled with many perspectives is one in which good ideas, clear thinking and accurate information is likely to emerge: “if we have lots of diverse paths . . . , we are not likely to make mistakes. If we only have a few paths, mistakes are likely.“ (Page, 2011, p. 240) Page makes the strong case for the important interplay between complexity and diversity. Systems that are complex and diverse will be more resilient and amenable to change:


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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