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Survival Is Not Enough

One of the biggest concepts I picked up last year was from ‘learning organization’ guru Peter Senge who describes the change process as organic rather than machine-like, which is where most companies go wrong. This article picks up on that idea: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/54/survival.html

I particularly loved this part about zooming:

Stable times force us to think of our companies as machines. They are finely tuned and easy to copy, scale, and own. We build machines on an assembly line, focusing on how to make them cheaper and ever more reliable. If your company is a machine, you can control it. You can build another one, a bigger one. You can staff it with machine operators and train them to run it faster and faster.

In times of change, this model is wrong. Our organizations are not independent machines, standing in the middle of a stable field. Instead, we work for companies that are organisms. Living, breathing, changing organisms that interact with millions of other living, breathing, changing organisms.

This is not business as usual. It’s a new principle that is going to feel unnatural at first. We will need a new vocabulary just to discuss it. We will need to reinvent what it means to lead or to work in an organization.

The Evolution Alternative

Evolution — defined as inheritable modifications over many generations — is the most powerful tool we have for dealing with change. Individuals and companies can put this organic process to use by permitting change to occur, by not fighting it. A mutation is a mistake or a random feature that is created when a gene, or an idea, is altered and then transferred. By finding positive mutations and incorporating successful new techniques into a company’s makeup, organizations can defeat their slower competitors.

It is our fear of changing a winning strategy and our reliance on command-and-control tactics that make us miserable — not change. Change doesn’t have to be the enemy. We start bypassing our fear of change by constantly training people to make small changes. I call this “zooming.” Then we can build a company that zooms and attracts zoomers. As the company gathers steam, it will distance itself from its competitors and dominate markets by embracing the changes that will inevitably come.

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