“Ecological thinking for radical transformation sounds great, but how do I get started?” Radical transformation of an organization requires nothing short of a complete paradigm shift – a seemingly impossible task. But let’s work backwards to reveal the starting point.
According to Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962), a paradigm shift is a change in basic assumptions (see discussion by Dr. Malcolm Forster). Changing basic assumptions in an organization requires and reflects a change in that organization’s culture. Changing a culture requires changing individual and collective habits – people can’t just think differently, they have to routinely do things differently. Changing habits requires practicing something that is new and/or different. Practicing something new requires learning something new. So the starting point of radical transformation is learning something new. Obviously it is not as simple as that! Learning something new is necessary but, in and of itself, insufficient.
Now let’s work our way forward. In Nature, new things are introduced and learned at a very high rate through mutations and trial-and-error, with an almost equal failure rate. The few new things that survive do so because they add immediate value as well as long-term value to the organism and/or to the system. Nature’s lesson for us here is that moving from learning to practice requires adding immediate value – people will only practice something new if it delivers both immediate/short-term value as well as perceived long-term value. If practicing continues to deliver value, then the new skill becomes a habit. If others see value being generated, then they, too, will want to learn and practice that new thing, and that habit will begin to permeate through the organization. If that habit becomes widespread, it becomes a new cultural norm within the organization. From that cultural norm emerges a new understanding, a change in basic assumptions – a paradigm shift. As this value-adding process is realized and then recognized, the organization will seek to learn ever more new things, and the process continues.
In Nature this process is expressed as evolution. In business, it is expressed as a process of continual innovation. As with so many processes in Nature, this process can be represented as a spiral. And one of the many beauties of Nature’s spiral processes is that you can start at the very inside, taking very small, quick, low-risk laps as you explore the world of the new.
Nature’s take-home lesson: You can drive radical transformation by evolving your business, kick-starting the spiral of continual innovation by learning something new that delivers immediate, as well as perceived long-term, value.
What do you think? Would this work for you?