A short test, answer quickly: which is the odd one out? Cow, chicken, or grass.
You've heard the expression ‘the whole is more than the sum of its parts’. But this commonly-used phrase contains the breakthrough answer many organisations seek.
Neuroscientists can describe brain neurones in great detail. Ultimately, they are no more complicated than other cells. But put 100 billion of them together and consciousness emerges; an understanding of which still escapes us to this day.
This demonstrates that value is not in objects (e.g. neurones) but in the relationships between them. Multiple interactions between parts amplifies the entire value of a system: the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.
So, what should this mean for organisations today? Let’s start with your answer to the question above:
(Interestingly for me, Russians nearly always answer chicken - perhaps deciding the age-old question whether Russians are European or Asian?).
As the world we live in is more volatile, uncertain and complex, having an object-centric, mechanistic worldview (categorising people as managers, staff, customers, suppliers etc.) rather than a relationship-centric one (what's happening and why) will make you slower to adapt to external pressures. How do you mitigate risks of disenfranchised staff with sensitive knowledge, or annoyed customers with massive networks at their fingertips if neither appear any different on the surface, until they act? By which time it’s too late or costly to recover.
Mapping how things inter-connect - through the fragmented stories people naturally share to make sense of their world - quickly reveals repeating patterns that can be acted on. You may not be able to change people (we’ve all tried), while processes can be equally stubborn, but patterns of interactions in a living system are constantly evolving: we need only map them to be able to start nudging them in positive directions.
Mapping rather than measuring (e.g. KPIs), requires qualitative approaches. Soft steps rather than hard, quantitive marches may prove more challenging to (male) westerners, steeped in the dogma of the scientific method. But while the 20th century was widely designated the American one, with success coming from imitating the scientific American business model, we’re now entering the Asian century. The key lesson may be that a predisposition to focus on the relationships between things - rather than the things themselves - will be the competitive ability of the 21st century.
The need to adapt is great, but the tools and approaches for doing this exist - what is required are the leaders with the vision to start doing this.
For more information on mapping critical relationships and knowledge flows in your organisation contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit narrativeinsights.com
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