Replying to LO27293 --
In his response to my musings about group boundaries and valency, At made
some observations about carbon:
>A diamond consist of only carbon atoms (with a few atoms of other
>elements to give it a distinctive colour). But also think that the most
>important element in all living organisms is carbon. Here the carbon
>atoms are linked to each other in chains, thus giving up only 2 of the
>4 valencies. The other 2 valencies are used to connect to atoms of
>different elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorus.
This led me to muse a little further...
If the brittle, unadaptive, organisation is like diamond and if the
diamond is paradigmatic of a mechanical system...
If the flexible, adaptive organisation is like a carbon chain and if the
carbon chain is paradigmatic of an organic system...
Then some thoughts flow:
Firstly, carbon is the key to both. For an organisation to change from the
mechanical to the organic does not require it to throw away all its
constituent parts - that is, the people. The nature of the change is, of
course, that the pattern of relationships changes.
Secondly, a diamond uses 100 per cent of its possible bonds in internal
links, giving it the strongest possible boundary. Organic molecules use
only 50 per cent of carbon's bonds in internal (carbon-carbon) links.
That's quite a large difference - do organisations need a similar sort of
shift to move from mechanical to organic? Should 50 per cent of an
adaptive organisation's links be with its environment (customers,
competitors, stakeholders, etc.)?
But, thirdly, if so, there is a price for this. Whether soot or graphite
or diamond or buckminsterfullerene, carbon is carbon - it preserves its
essential elemental identity.
The same is not true for carbon chains. When they have combined with other
atoms to form organic molecules they are no longer carbon but part of
something else. The whole is greater but the elemental identity seems to
I am reminded of a quotation: "For whoever wishes to save his life will
lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew
16:25). It will probably resonate for you, too, At though not for
Nevertheless, keeping the focus on organisations, change can feel like
loss of identity. Because we vest so much of our identity, both individual
and corporate, in the rituals, habits and familiar interactions of daily
life we are often reluctant to change them. To be asked to *do*
differently can feel as if we are being asked to *be* different.
Organisational change initiatives usually pay too little attention to the
nature of organisational identity and the question of how to change
without appearing to violate that fundamental sense of integrity which is
essential for a well-functioning organisation. There is a need to honour
the best of what is (Appreciative Inquiry is a good approach for this) and
support people as they envision what may be and work to 'make it so'.
Of course, the carbon chain is still the 'backbone' of the organic
molecule, just as the current organisational identity needs to become the
backbone of the new adaptive organisation.
It's never a good idea to push a metaphor too far and I may already have
done so, so I'll stop here for the moment.
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