Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations
In reflecting on what I have learned by tending the fire, I have come to recognize some important ways in which organizations also must be tended. Elements of an organization, like logs on a fire, must be rearranged on occasion, so that they might assist one another in new ways. Support must be found from new sources, Various stakeholders in an organization can be of assistance in new ways if invited to shift a bit in their perspectives and practices. I am reminded of the thoughtful analysis offered by Frans Johansson (2004) in his book on The Medici Effect. He not only reminds us of the highly productive period in Italian history when the Medici family brought together diverse ideas, concepts and cultures, but also offers an important concept that is related to fire tending. Johansson introduces us to intersectional ideas and intersection innovation. Johansson provides the following distinction and description:
The major difference between a directional idea and an intersectional one is that we know where we are going with the former. The idea has a direction. Directional innovation improves a product in fairly predictable steps, along a well-defined dimension. . . . Intersectional innovations, on the other hand, change the world in leaps along new directions. They usually pave the way for anew field and therefore make it possible for the people who originated them to become the leaders in the fields they created. Intersection innovations also do not require as much expertise as directional innovation and can therefore be executed by the people you least suspect. (Johannsson, 2004, pp. 18-19)
While Johansson’s directional idea and innovation seems to align with Prigogine’s pendulum, his intersectional ideas and innovations leap forward as examples of Prigogine’s fire. My occasional yearning for a gas fire reminds me of the appeal offered by directional ideas. When I have chosen a wood-burning fire, the intersectional burning of logs is at play. It is the same for organizations (and entire societies). Intersectional results are unpredictable—in large part because any intersection of ideas becomes immediately complex.