organization evolution

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Organizations must evolve in order to survive. Those that evolve the most successfully will have a competitive advantage. Without evolution, the organization will succumb to the wave of creative destruction of the economy.

Organization evolution and strategy --
Strategy is about insuring that organization evolution happens. A strategically competent organization is one that continually evolves an advantage over other organizations.

Views of organizations and their change --
Understanding of organization evolution must account for both the stability the organization requires to thrive and the novelty the organization needs to transform itself in order to avoid what would otherwise be certain destruction.

  • systemic - traditional view -- organizational change, on its own accord, is formative change, change within a predetermined form. Novel change is only due to autonomous agents imposing change. See organization, systemic process, and causality for more regarding this perspective.
  • systemic - neo-Darwinian view -- organizational change is due to chance occurrences. This view depends on an environment as selection criteria for selection of chance occurrences to favorable and stable locations in the environment. See causality for more on this view.
  • responsive process view -- organizational stability and transformation are both due to the nature of complex systems, with their complex responsive processes, and their innate self-organization characteristics
  • organizing process -- see organizing process for Weick's view on how humans organize.

The systemic view is not an explanation of novel change, transformation, at all, but begs the question of where or how novelty arises by passing off change to the agents imposing change. The neo-Darwinian view (see causality) is an adaptive view of evolution, where the organization seeks stability in adapting to its environment. In other words, the organization is always behind the curve, so to speak, of environmental change, which once it reaches stability it ""sits idle"" until the next environmental change forces it to adapt. This view, of course, soon disintegrates into illogical suppositions and an inability to account for advantage. The responsive process view of organizations accounts for both stability and transformation, and is the focus of what follows.

Aspects of organization evolution (Stacey, 2001) --
Organization evolution comes about from responsive processes made up of the following types of activities --

  • Organizational change is change...
    • power relations
    • the conflicting constraints of relating
    • communicative interaction
    • communicative themes patterning the experience of being together

  • Communicative interaction is a self-organizing process -- when unconstrained and including diverse participants --
    • organizing stability and transformation -- at the edge of chaos, away from destructive chaos and atrophying stability
    • organizing social structures, cultures, bureaucratic procedures, and hierarchical arrangements -- referred to as emergent patching or clustering

  • Fundamental characteristics of human action--
    • human action is directional -- movement of human action is toward an unknown future that is under perpetual construction, by the movement of human action itself
    • human action has a reason -- reason for the movement of human action is to express individual and collective identity and difference, at the same time... human action is paradoxical
    • human interaction is circular -- successive gesture-responses, reflexive (responsive), self-referential (referring to self) causality in which it forms and is formed by the interaction itself
    • the outcome of this action is two-fold --
      • continuity -- sustaining identity (the known, difference, discontinuity)
      • transformation -- creating novelty, variations that have never been before (the unknown, difference, discontinuity)
    • what emerges from complex responsive processes of relating --
      • joint action
      • identities of individuals
      • identities of groups, organizations, and societies

  • Human joint action and tools
    • complex responsive processes of relating are the basis of all forms of human joint action using tools, no matter how sophisticated those tools might be

  • The process of human action...
    • perpetually reproduces identity
    • has the potential for transformation, enabling the emergence of...
      • individual selves/minds/identities
      • collective identities, required for human collaboration

  • Human organizations, build up from human actions, therefore...
    • ...have no optimal state
    • ...have no mature state
    • ...are perpetually under construction of the known and unknown, at the same time
    • ...has an unknowable future, but yet recognizable

Responsive processes view of organization evolution --
Conversation, the dynamics of the process of communicative interaction in the living present required for the emergent unstable-stability in the perpetual construction of novel futures in the living present. (Stacey, 2001, 181-183)

Conversational processes can be placed in three classifications, one of which results in organization evolution (see conversational processes for more detail). There are processes displaying the --

  • dynamics of stability
  • dynamics of instability
  • dynamics of the ""edge of chaos"" - resulting in evolution

Organizational change, the learning and creation of knowledge in organizations, are transformations in the thematic patterning of its communicative interaction, particularly its conversational life.

Diversity essential to change --
Interaction with the potential for transformation requires diverse participants, participants sufficiently different to each other in the way they think and in their identity. With this diversity, communicative interaction, essentially social complex responsive processes, results in difference, novelty, change, thus transformation.

  • conversation among diverse participants may amplify small differences into major discontinuous changes in understanding (i.e. cross-functional or cross-discipline conversations stimulate new insights)
  • it is in struggling to understand each other in fluid, spontaneous conversational exchanges that people create new knowledge
  • such conversations are characterized by
    • ambiguity and equivocality (Weick, 1979)
    • tension between inquiry and advocacy, positivity and negativity, focus on self and focus on other (Losada, 1998)
  • this communicative process with diversity
    • entails misunderstanding
      • which causes frustration, distress, stimulation, and excitement
      • avoidance of frustration and distress can shut down knowledge creation
      • insight -- knowledge creation originates from misunderstanding
    • has transformative potential and by its very nature threatens the continuity of identity
      • conversations with the potential for transformation threaten identity
      • conversations with transformative potential inevitably arouse anxiety at s deep existential level
      • anxiety triggers defenses of denial, repression, splitting, etc., which can trigger themes that counter themes with transformational potential, shutting down further exploratory conversation
    • conversation with transformative potential inevitably threatens current power relations, which are an important aspect of organizational identity
  • as issues emerge in an evolving organization, people find themselves clustering around particular issues
    • some will cluster in ways patterned by themes forming unofficial ideologies, which may threaten the official ideology
    • conversations patterned by informal-conscious/unconscious-shadow themes are interspersed within and around conversations patterned by institutional themes
    • conversations that threaten current power relations raise the fear of exclusion, amplified inclusion, undermining of existing power relations -- all of which tend to provoke moves to shut down these types of conversations

Knowledge emergence --
Outcome of the communicative interaction process is meaning, thus knowledge emerges from the process

  • knowledge cannot be stored
  • reified symbols can be stored as artifacts , ""abstracted"" themes describing past interactions and the qualities that emerged in those interactions
  • such knowledge artifacts, symbolizing past identities, may be used as tools in local communicative interaction in the living present

Tools --
Human joint action and tools work together in the process, but tools do not change the formula, however sophisticated they may be.

  • complex responsive processes of relating are the basis of all forms of human joint action using tools, no matter how sophisticated those tools might be.
  • what emerges from complex responsive processes of relating --
    • joint action
    • identities of individuals
    • identities of groups, organizations, and societies

Synopsis --
the conversational life of an organization is a potentially transformative, knowledge creating process, when through the diversity of participation it has the dynamics of fluid spontaneity, liveliness and excitement, inevitably accompanied by misunderstanding, anxiety-provoking threats to identity and challenges to official ideology and current power relations.

Strategic management implications --
Contrary to the traditional view of command and control, coupled with strategy by design, the most powerful force to be unleashed to spur the evolution of an organization is the force of self-organization, communicative interaction with conversational processes at the ""edge of chaos."" This is the only force that makes an organization self-evolving. The potential exists in all organizations as a natural process of complex organization. The ""process"" is the complex responsive process -- agents and networks of agents, organization members, interacting with each other in order to express their identities and in doing so, delineating their differences, creating variation, producing novelty, resulting in transformation.

What the organization becomes emerges from the relationships of its members rather than being determined by the choices of the organizational leaders.