The traditional organization is, amongst other things, obsessed with closure. It despises ambiguity and puts a premium on the absolute clarity of processes, systems and structures. It’s engineered on testosterone. Inputs produce outputs, and they’d better be good since all those inputs are so expensive!
It’s a military operation even when we say it isn’t. But even the military have discovered that the world around us is volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous. They have even a word for it: VUCA. And if you are in this VUCA world, you can’t afford high levels of ‘uncertainty-avoidance’ (a classical cultural hallmark of many traditional organizations). That world is uncertainty in itself, so, to avoid uncertainty is to avoid the world all around. I think many times that the military have become much better than us, i.e. people in organizations, at navigating ambiguity. The enemy is VUCA, it does not have the name of a country anymore, can you believe it?
In this moving target world (markets, competitors, technology, pace of creation/destruction, predictability of anything, Black Swans…), to have everything crafted, well structured, closed, finished, stable and strong, is suicidal. People with all the answers should be disqualified from holding leadership office. This is not in praise of chaos but more a call for a well organised, un-finished, un-settled, un-stable, not completely closed, imperfect organization, with enough room to manoeuvre and adapt at the speed of light. I call this ‘Unfinished by Design’ or ‘the Beta Organization’.
If you want to succeed, stay in beta. Lots of alpha organizations are either dead or are not feeling very well.
Interesting. I had not heard the term VUCA before, and when I looked it up, I found that the same people who try to over-plan and over-analyze in an uncertain world are applying their over-analysis to VUCA itself. Just for an example, look at this:
Back in my high-school days (50 years ago now) I went to a military school, and had some good talks with the military and ex-military officers who were teaching at that school. One guy in particular had been in charge of planning for the defense of West Germany in case the Soviets sent armored divisions across the border in a surprise attack — we worried about such things in those days. Even though his job was meticulous planning, he always talked about the “fog of war”, and he was fond of von Moltke’s dictum: “No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy”.
But he was quick to say that this didn’t mean you shouldn’t bother to plan. The idea was to sketch out a LOT of plans and to work some out in great detail. But don’t fall in love with any of these plans because you aren’t going to be able to execute any of them in any case. When the fog and confusion and surprises arrive, all those shattered plans can serve as raw material, allowing you to improvise much better than the other guy.
I came across this quote. It’s more or less the same point described above, but more succintly stated, and by someone with perhaps as much authority on planning and leadership as anyone in history:
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
(president of the U.S. 1952-1960, and in charge of planning and execution for the D-Day invasion)