Home Organizational Psychology Organizational Behavior / Dynamics 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

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Living with Open Boundaries

Evolution will not take place if a specific population is isolated—this is another critical element in the first assumption (Migration and Open Boundaries) embedded in the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium. If individual members can’t migrate into or emigrate out of that specific community then evolution is likely to be stymied.  What are the implications of this fundamental assumption? Organizational theorists and change agents have often emphasized the difference between open and closed systems. Organizations are systems that can be differentiated in this manner: some have relatively open boundaries and others have relatively closed boundaries. Closed systems and organizations with impermeable boundaries are likely to be stable and secure over the short term, but are also likely to soon die because of a lack of replenishing resources from outside the system and because of an inability to respond effectively to the impingement of outside (environmental) forces.

Cross-pollination of ideas in a cross-cultural context occurs in open-boundary organizations and is critical to innovation, sustained success and even organizational survival.  At the individual level, we are talking about those men and women who are cosmopolitan in their perspectives as compared to those who are parochial in their perspectives on life and the world.  The cosmopolitans create and live in a world of open boundaries. These are the early adopters in the diffusion of innovations.  (Rogers, 2003)

Living with Flat Worlds and Blue Oceans

We see the increasing viability of open boundary systems in the flat world made famous by Thomas Friedman (2007).  Clearly with the Internet and globalization of many markets, there is the need for more open boundaries. However, as I mentioned almost three decades ago in The Postmodern Organization (Bergquist, 1993), the challenge of open boundaries is the need for some “glue” that holds the organization together. This glue can be found in the clear and compelling mission, vision, values and social purposes of the organization, in the strong and enduring culture of the organization, or (sadly) in the absolute control exerted by a central leader or C-Suite coalition of leaders.

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