Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations
Many years ago, I had the privilege of working for a short period of time with Virginia Satir, the groundbreaking practitioner of systems-based family therapy. Virginia noted that a family becomes much more complex and unpredictable once a child is added to the two-person couple. The family system grows exponentially more complex with each additional child. Similarly, an organization becomes exponentially complex with the addition of each new unit. As Miller and Page note (2007) it is not only a case of new entities being added. This will make the organization complicated—but not complex. Complexity is a matter of these entities interacting with and becoming dependent on one another – much as in the case of Satir’s growing family. This is also the case with Johansson’s interaction and the stirring up logs in a fireplace.
Johansson (2004, pp. 19-20) offers the following (partial) list concerning the outcomes of a successful intersecting processes:[The innovations are] surprising and fascinating.
They take leaps in new directions.
They open up entirely new fields.
They provide a space for a person, team, or company to call its own.
They generate followers, which means the creators can become leaders.
They provide a source of directional innovation for years or decades to come.
They can affect the world in unprecedented ways.
While Johansson offers some valuable advice regarding how to bring about the intersection (I recommend his book), I find that there is an initial simple strategy which one can engage. We can move around the logs (entities) in an organization, so that they can ignite one another. We can also move around ideas for intersection ignition. In my own consulting work, I have often brought together people from units in an organization that traditionally don’t interact much with one another. I bring together faculty members in the sciences with those in the arts to help design physics studios and art laboratories. I invite those working on an assembly line to assist C-Suite leaders in the design of a new production facility (often in alignment with what are called “social-technical systems”). I welcome members of the local community to help government workers identify the government-related projects that have been most successful during the past year (they are often projects involving collaboration between governmental and nongovernmental agencies.