65 Chapters
Medium 9781576750902

chapter 4: The Standard Business Curve Revisited

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

WE HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN that things change, sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse. But we have hoped for the best, and generally speaking it has seemed that our various endeavors developed in a positive way.61

In the world of business, this perception finds expression in the Standard Business Curve, a graphic seemingly emblazoned on the forehead of every MBA. Things start slowly, with a bare minimum of systems and products, followed by a take-off period when systems and products (to say nothing of plant, facilities, and employees) are added at something approaching an exponential rate. Finally, growth levels off, or proceeds upward at a gentle predictable rate, following a line that hopefully projects out to infinity, indicating the arrival of a mature business.

There is, however, one significant piece of data that never appears in the graphic representation of the Standard Business Curve. That datum, as Gregory Bateson points out, is common knowledge to every schoolboy. Somehow, however, it escaped the attention of the organizational theorists. Simply put: “What goes up will come down.” It is never a question of “if,” only “when.” Sooner or later, the market will change, the product will become obsolete, the competition will intensify, the financial market will fall apart. Someday, somehow, somewhere, that rising business curve will come down, which necessitates a revision of the Standard Business Curve to reflect the truth of Bateson’s dictum. Every day we discover anew what every school-age child always knew: what goes up will come down.62

See All Chapters
Medium 9781576750902

chapter 14: Ethics in the InterActive Organization

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

WHEN WE ADMIT CHAOS INTO POLITE SOCIETY and acknowledge that it has a useful function to play, much of what we used to consider bad and evil looks rather different. The simple dichotomy (order is good and chaos is evil) that defined much of our ethics in the ProActive Organization is no longer possible.199

To see the point in the larger arena of the natural order, we need only remember the title of a recent book, The Perfect Storm.1 The book describes a massive Northeast gale that churned the Atlantic off the Grand Banks, producing waves in excess of 100 feet and wreaking havoc on fishing fleets and mariners of all sorts. Life was lost, boats were sunk—and this was a “perfect storm?”

And yet from the storm’s point of view, if I may be permitted the anthropomorphism, the storm was doing neither more nor less than it was supposed to do, perfectly. Violent natural events are most inconvenient for human beings if you happen to be in their way, but it is precisely these massive events, and their smaller relatives, which have enabled the living system, planet Earth, to become what it presently is—a hospitable place for us and all the other creatures. Just another day at work for chaos.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781576756171

Chapter X Step 1 Do Your Homework Before You Start

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Before beginning any journey it is useful to consider where you want to go, why you want to go there, and what might happen along the way. Initiating (or renewing) an organization, particularly a high performing organization, is a journey of a different sort, but with all the same prerequisites.

Under the old rules, we might call this creating a Business Plan, but plans have the unfortunate connotation of being something that will be implemented, and in extreme cases there is the implication that somehow The Plan creates the future. Given the nature of self-organizing systems, the notion that the future will be created by our plan is a little absurd. So if we have to call the product of our efforts anything, I would suggest Business Intention.

Where do you want to go? This first question might also be phrased, What do you really care about? The object of your quest may be large or small (a whole new business or some relatively minor improvement), but until there is some clarity about its nature, the likelihood of reaching the goal is rather small. But clarity is only part of the equation——it must be complemented with caring. If the goal is simply a good idea that somebody else finds attractive, it will remain at the level of “good idea,” until it has heart and meaning for you.146

See All Chapters
Medium 9781576750568

CHAPTER 10: The Fourth Function of Leadership

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

All good things come to an end. This is true of boxes of candy as well as outstanding human systems. To restate the Fourth Immutable Principle, “When it is over, it is over.”

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that all systems tend toward entropy, which is a concise way of letting us know that eventually the energy that drives a system becomes so regularized and evenly distributed across the system that it is no longer clearly in evidence. Strange as it may seem, the first law of thermodynamics, which asserts that energy is neither created nor destroyed, is not contravened; for all appearances to the contrary, the energy is still there—it is just homogenized into sameness. There is no “difference that makes a difference.”1

The same may be said about human systems. It is not that the originating Spirit has disappeared; it is only locked up in the organizational structure. What began as a flash of Spirit manifest in vision, focused through a collective tale, and made real and concrete in structure with its own time and space eventually becomes boring.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781576750902

chapter 2: Chaos and Learning

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

THE SUGGESTION THAT CHAOS AND LEARNING are naturally linked, and more, that one forms the essential precondition of the other, may appear nothing short of lunacy. Do we not know, as only countless hours in the schoolroom can teach, that learning requires order? What else does the teacher do but maintain order in the classroom so that learning may take place?25

But do we not also know, as only a squirming fifth grader can know, that such order, even in mild doses (to say nothing of extreme application), can become exquisitely boring? Boring to the point that learning and boredom are often equated. It somehow seems that if we are not painfully bored, we can’t be learning.

I can claim no expertise in the art and science of educating fifth graders, but I can bear testimony to my own experience of that time under the iron hand of Mr. Birdsil. Mr. Birdsil’s class was the very model of order. We sat in neat rows and spoke only when spoken to, and then only rarely. Mostly we listened while Mr. Birdsil pontificated on a variety of subjects, the impact of which was so minimal as to be insignificant. Occasionally, perhaps more than occasionally, the endless pontificating would be interrupted by the abusive denunciation of some unfortunate who had fallen asleep. More usually, the denunciation was nonverbal, taking instead the form of a well-placed shot with a blackboard eraser at the sleeping head.

See All Chapters

See All Chapters