Years ago I read a book that changed the way I looked at leadership and my business. I can remember the first time I read it like it was yesterday. I was on an airplane from New York to Los Angeles. Bill Leider had suggested I read it in preparation for some of our sessions on vision and values.
I remember getting through the first chapter and feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My business decisions had never been traditional. The rules and processes that seemed to govern other businesses didn't make any sense to me. And though I had achieved a measure of success, there was always a nagging thought in the back of my head that perhaps I was doing something wrong.
Today, I was reminded of that book, Leadership And The New Science by Margaret Wheatley. I went to hear Dustin Luther speak today. Other ActiveRain members had a similar idea, including Brian Brady, Jeff Dowler, Roberta Murphy, Kaye Thomas (who I did not get a chance to meet) & Laurie Manny. In addition, I had the pleasure of spending a good amount of time with Jonathon Washburn and his wife, Sara. I can't accurately describe how delightful they are. They are young, obviously brilliant, and clearly driven by a open business model described by Margaret Wheatley in great detail, even though they have never read the book.
Old Business Models Are Built On Newtonian Principles
In fact, most businesses today still operate on notions made popular by 17th century thinking about the universe and how it works. Newton viewed the world as a machine, a "great clock." This machine image was weaved into the fabric of society and into organizational structures for over 300 years. We believed, because the best science we knew of told us to, that if we could just study all the parts, we'd somehow understand the whole. We believed that if we could understand cause and effect in each relationship, we could control the outcome without fail. Organizations were set up to contain checks and balances that attempted to controlled everything, including and especially outcomes.
Our thinking was wrong.
The twentieth century brought us quantum physics and a change so dramatic that it's introduction shook Newton's worldview to the core. Quantum theory brought us an understanding of the behavior of particles at the subatomic level that can only be described as weird or strange. We learned that our world is not a machine. In fact, it's not even close. Science stumbled on the fact that the building blocks of life "contain 'things' that change form as they respond to one another and the scientist observing them." The world of science turned to the relationships between electrons, neutrons and photons that change in relationship to each other and in relationship to the environment. It was a dramatic shift.
"In the quantum world, relationships are not just interesting; to many physicists, they are all there is to reality." While the scientist could chart the probability of certain actions, no particle could be drawn without the others. At the molecular level, nothing exists outside of those relationships. As a result, we can't predict anything. The quantum world is "fuzzy." The real world is fuzzy as well. We can't predict people.
"So many of the things in organizations that we argue and worry about come from our belief in objective reality... But this search for discernible, objective futures has been, if we can admit it, a great cosmic joke."
"To live in a quantum world... we need fewer descriptions of tasks and instead learn how to facilitate process. We need to become savvy about how to foster relationships, how to nurture growth and development. All of us need to become better at listening, conversing, respecting one another's uniqueness, because they are essential for strong relationships." Because the relationships are what govern the behavior of any living system. Relationships are the invisible energy that holds everything together and gives it identity.
To function as a quantum organization, you must function as an open system.
"Equilibrium is neither the goal nor the fate of living systems." The beauty of ActiveRain is that it is not governed by Newtonian principles of business. It has the characteristics of a self organizing system. It's viability comes from "it's capacity to adapt as needed, to create structures that fit the moment." It is characterized by an openness to disequilibrium, to disturbances that other business models would seek to eliminate.
ActiveRain is a model of an open organization.
"An open organization doesn't look for information that makes it feel good, that verifies its past and validates it's present. It is deliberately looking for information that might threaten it's stability, knock it off balance, and open it to growth. This is so different from the way information is handled in well-defended organizations. In these, only information that confirms existing plans or leadership is let in. Closed off from disturbances, kept at equilibrium, such organizations run down, atrophy, and die." - Margaret Wheatley
Organizations usually act in complete reverse of this. Organizations have acted on the false notion that secrecy, isolation and strong boundaries are the best way to preserve their uniqueness. "But this self-organizing world teaches that boundaries not only create distinctions; they are also places for communication and exchange. Because system members engage in continual exchanges among themselves and with their environment, the system develops greater freedom from the environment." It's a paradox, but it's the way open systems work. An open system's need to maintain itself often leads to something new and different. Disturbances cause it to react. It changes to preserve itself. The identity, defined by the relationships of the organization, drives the parts and the system makes the adjustment necessary to preserve it's identity.
This is why ActiveRain works even when it feels like it's not.
New organizational models discourage stasis, balance and equilibrium. Why? Because new science teaches us these are not GOAL states, but TEMPORARY states. "What endures is process - dynamic, adaptive, creative."
As a result, each part, or "member", learns it's relationship to the other members, not by coercion, but through self-organization. It is the natural result of an open system. I learned a great deal from this open system in the past two days. I now know, both emotionally and intellectually, what my role here needs to be, and it's NOT talking about real estate transactions. It was the open system that provided the opportunity to stray from my comfort zone to learn from a place of disequilibrium, disturbance, discomfort.
To the ActiveRain creators... your system is working just the way it should, even when, in the moment, it doesn't feel like it is.