Chicken or Egg? - Is the change confronting how we organize to work driven by tech or by culture?
The answer to this question is important. For the large organizations have decided on Tech. Are they right? Or are they wasting their time and money?
So what is really going on?
I am convinced that we live today at a time of cultural evolution similar to the shift in consciousness that we also went through as a species at the time of the Reformation when we shifted from Mystery as the foundation of culture to Rationality. Today we shift from a machine to a natural metaphor. From cause and effect to impact. From separation to integration.
A recent book by Frederic Laloux speaks brilliantly to this idea and is supported by 50 years of work by the late Professor Brian Hall.
Here is the link to the book and here is my review.
A debate rages today as to whether the great organizations of our time can move forward and become networks and so more human. Vast consulting resources and new technology platforms are being devoted to this goal. Laloux, ex McKinsey, challenges those who wish to apply a mechanistic process to this kind of change. He also challenges those who think a bottom up approach will work.
He systematically builds the case that, just as individuals progress through a series of values shifts through life: an infant is attached to their mother - a two year old is breaking free - teens are different from children - people in the 30's different from teens - 40 year olds are different - 75 years olds are different, that the larger human culture moves along a development track as well.
He identifies the attributes of these cultural shifts in detail - from a kind of gang leader in a foundation culture like Russia and so President Putin - where personal loyalty is everything - and the typical corporate culture where ROI and metrics are everything and several other stages both in between and after. He makes no value judgement - a kid is a kid and has to be that. But he is clear. There is a trajectory of stages that gets more complex. He gives each stage a colour to help us identify them.
The crux of his book is a focus on what we are experiencing today. All the cultural steps until now have been part of a progression but the one that confronts us now - and why it is so hard to cope with - is a bifurcation. This is a shift in world view from an external bias - to an internal bias where we are not only motivated by internal things but also see ourselves as being part of everything. This new worldview has NO SEPARATION. He gives this the colour of Teal.
This is no longer a stage that can be reached along a progression. It's not "More" it is different.
In this new world view all is integrated. In the old world all is separate. There can be no shift from separate to integrated. There can only be a process of transformation. A caterpillar cannot by itself become a butterfly. It has to undergo a kind of death and resurrection to make the shift from crawler to a winged being - there can be no hybrid form.
In this context he makes a powerful statement. An organization is itself limited by the values and world view of the leader. So an organization that has a CEO that still is in the external POV, has no chance of transforming. The power of the old will be too much.
He is also cautious about the world view that is just on the edge of the bifurcation - Green - this is the messy utopian edge view that rejects hierarchy and structure and that believes passionately in a bottom up transformation for organizations. There is no evidence that this has ever occurred.
On the other hand there is a lot of evidence for what has worked. This transformation has taken place in new organizations with the transformed leader as the catalyst. The book is filled with examples of Teal Organizations. Some are quite old. All share the same rules ands structure. Here is another key observation. The new is known. To those that are prepared to look and observe.
Laloux's views stem from observation not from a theory of the day. He has observed what works and what does not and he can see the rules that emerge in all. His views therefore are like Newton and gravity.
So is this just one man's view and will it be easy to challenge him?
I am sure that McKinsey and others like them will want to find a way that fits their culture that will help the Fortune 500 change. They have to find an engineering way to the future. And on the other hand there are many who hold onto the utopian view that there is no structure and that if we only got rid of hierarchy, it would be enough. Both will struggle with this book. After all how can just one person and one set of data set the rules for the revolution?
For me the final test for the validity of Laloux's work is that it is confirmed by the work of the late Dr Brian Hall.
Hall's work began more than 40 years ago by an exhaustive codification of human values. He started as a social anthropologist (His great work is contained in his book Values Shift and his questionnaire that reveals your values and your cultural development track - Values Technology) He uses different labels but his cultural landscape matches Laloux precisely. As do his two big conditions: that any organization is limited by the values of its leader. And that there is a bifurcation at the point of where we shift from an external to an internal POV. Both men use very different language but their conclusions are the same. Both started from opposite ends of the issue and meet in the same place. This is how all great discoveries take place. This is a Koch/Pasteur or Darwin/Wallace moment when two great minds working in isolation come to the same dramatic conclusion. And so maybe change the world?
Laloux has the advantage on Hall in that he writes today when the issue of transformation is at the top of the agenda and when there is so much technology that allows such an organization to exist. Hall was working back in the 1980's and 1990's when this was seen as esoteric. Hall also writes in an academic style whereas Laloux writes for the reader of today.
I am looking forward to the connection between Hall and Laloux. There is so much to learn from each other and there are many disciples of Hall's work who will be ready to work with Laloux.
In the meantime, I draw some conclusions of my own. The transformation that Laloux and Hall see cannot take place as a result of any mechanical process or be even an act of will. A caterpillar has to "die" to transform. A bifurcation by definition is violent adjustment to an opposing state. It is not a rational act. In my own case 25 years years ago, I felt as if I was going mad. My friends and colleagues certainly thought so! I did not know what was happening to me but in the end I had to leave the only world I knew for a new life that I knew nothing about. Now I know but then it was a mystery. Then few were experiencing this now many are. What is going on?
What I observe is that more and more individuals react to modern life by taking one of three choices - but choices like toothpaste in a tube. It's all about the pressure of the inhuman life that is the modern Amber Culture. Many retreat into a primitive culture of Red or Phase I (Laloux/Hall). We see this in the growth of fundamentalism of all kinds. Many stick to Amber/Phase II and hope for a spot in the current system. The "slaves" serve the masters in the hope of a bone. But, more and more people transform and so - like the Pilgrims - choose to live in another culture alongside the old. They have no choice. They have to get out. And when they do, they find themselves alone and poor.
But this too is changing.
They, like planetary dust are coagulating and creating the new structures along the lines of Laloux's book. The new is emerging. What Laloux will do by codifying this is to act as an accelerator. With a codified design, the new can go there quickly. The transformed will have a map that helps them make sense of their predicament. The transformed will have a design to help them get together with others and so create a new new world.
And when they have build enough of the new, then the rest will follow.
If I could give this book 10 stars I would