Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers on the future of organizing

Here is an article from July/August 1996 on The Irresistible Future of Organizing by Margaret J. Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers. They write:

“Organizations-as-machines is a 17th century notion … Three hundred years later, we still serach for “tools and techniques” …”

“The tension of our times is that we want our organizations to behave as living systems, but we only know how to treat them as machines.”

“It is time to change the way we think about organizations. Organizations are living systems. All living systems have the capacity to self-organize … They organize … themselves … withouut any externally imposed plan or direction.”

“… change is the organizing force … Structures and solutions are temporary. … Leaders emerge from the needs of the moment. … Experimentation is the norm.”

“… self-organization is not a new phenomenon. It has been difficult to observe only because we weren’t interested in observing it.”

“… as we describe organizations as living systms rather than as machines, self-organization becomes a primary concept …”

“Order is the unique ability of living systems to organize …”

“The [living] system organizes itself.”

“Synchronized behavior emerges without orchestrated planning.”

“… the conditions that create organization are … focus … connections … information … and … collective purpose …”

“Organizations assume different forms, but … emerge from … similar conditions. … shared meaning develops. … relationships take form. Information is noticed, interpreted, transformed. ”

“All organizing efforts begins with an intent, a belief that something … is possible …”

“… we create worlds based on the meaning we invest in the information we choose to notice.”

“… we primarily use information that is already in us to make sense of something new.”

“Information from the outside only perturbes a system, it never functions as objective instructions.”

“You can never direct a living system, you can only disturb it.” (—Maturana & Varela)

“… every organizing effort … needs to begins by exploring and clarifying the intention and desires of its members.”

“… clarity [about purpose] frees people to contibute in creative and diverse ways.”

“Clear alignment around principles and purposes allows for maximum autonomy.”

“Structures … come and go, but an organization with a coherent center is able to sustain itself …”

“Information lies at the heart of life. Life uses information to organize itself into material form.”

“Information is a difference which makes a difference.” (—Gregory Bateson)

“Information is that which changes us.” (—Stafford Beer)

“Information that flows openly through an organization … is the nutrient of self-organization.”

“Only when information belongs to everyone can people organize rapidly and effectively …”

“When information is available everywhere, different people see different things.”

“… it is information — unplanned, uncontrolled, abundant, superflous — that creates the conditions for the emergence of fast, well-integrated, effective responses.”

“Through relationships, information is created and transformed …”

“The more access people have to one another, the more possibilities there are. Without connections, nothing happens.”

“… people … need to be free to reach anywhere in the organization to accomplisy work.”

“… many of the behaviors we fear in one another dissipate in the presence of good relationships.”

“… self-organization is not new … it just takes different eyes to see it.”

“Self-organization has been going on all the time, but our attention has been diverted to perfecting the controls and mechanisms that we thought were making work happen.”

“The problems we see in organizations are artifacts of much deeper dynamics … If we inquire at this deeper level, if we can inquire into the dynamic heart of organizing, both the problem and the solution will be discovered.”

“If self-organization already exists in organizations — if people are naturally self-organizing — then the challenge … is how to create the conditions that more effectively support this capacity.”

“The path of self-organization can never be known ahead of time. There are no prescribed stages or models.”

“The road is your footsteps, nothing else.” —Machados

“Plans do emerge, but locally, from responses to needs and contingencies.”

“This is not an easy shift, changing one’s model of the way the world organizes.”

Organization is a process of continous organizing.

Published by Jan Höglund

Jan Höglund has over 35 years of experience in different roles as software developer, project manager, line manager, consultant, and researcher. This is his personal blog where he shares his reading, book reviews, and learning.

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