"WHEN I heard the learned astronomer; when the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me; when I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them; when I, sitting, heard the astronomer, when he lectured with much applause in the lecture room, how soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; 'till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself, in the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, looked up in perfect silence at the stars." [Walt Whitman]
On many a warm summer day in Colorado, after a vigorous bicycle ride through the cottonwood trees and meadows of Douglas County, I often find myself resting among the wildflowers along Cherry Creek. It is a quiet, restful place. The stream wanders to the contours of the land and flows effortlessly under the bridge beside my hidden place.
For months I have been watching a neighborhood of Barn Swallows, birds we sometimes call Mud Daubers, building their homes beneath the planks and beams of the bridge. Their supplies are the mud and sticks; the slivers and fragments they harvest from along the periphery of the stream. They work as an integrated unit. They seem to me almost as a single organism, single in purpose yet with agency and individualism.
I have an impression of their sense of cooperation and community - their connectedness. There is no chief snapping out orders, no project lieutenant ensuring that each stick and daub of mud is placed according to policy. No meetings, no emails, no memos, no commands, yet they work in unison with singleness of purpose and well-ordered accomplishment.
I have often thought of this scene and contemplated how this form might be applied in the workplace. Could we really have such unison and singleness of purpose, that same connectedness that I observed in the birds? The answer is yes we can and we did - we call it the Quantum Organization.
Let's examine some very specific techniques for building the quantum organization, including management tools and processes that you can start using today.
The Quantum Tool-kit
As a prelude to submerging ourselves into techniques we used to pull together our Quantum Organization, I want to tell you a little bit about our team, our purpose, and our objectives.
We were a group of about 20 marketing, training, financial, and forecasting professionals. Our group's responsibilities were to build business strategies for the wholesale division of a large telecommunications carrier headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Our customers were the myriad emerging competitive providers of telecom services that would ultimately contend with the retail arm of the firm.
It was our task to pull together the strategies, and programs that would make the Wholesale Division successful, and more than just a moneymaking and growing concern. We had a responsibility to fuel the rising competitive machinery, to enable the up-and-coming companies that would vie for a piece of the telecommunications pie. Our friends on our retail side of the business weren't always so happy with us, and in fact they were quite a formidable roadblock to our success much of the time.
As a team, after significant reflection and study, it was our aim to do something different; something out of the ordinary and perhaps even outrageous. We needed a stratagem that would drive real change and long-term value for the company and for the people. Our line of attack had to be enduring and we hoped, and perhaps we even knew, that it would jar traditional thinking. It would take a quantum leap in thinking, a change in the accepted wisdom. We needed a new vision and visionary conduct to follow.
What will follow is a synopsis of our work, our attempt at unfettered creativity, but backed up by science. Now, lets discuss some of the tools we used to help us energize our Quantum Organization.
Dialogue / Exploration
Dialogue, or the exploration of ideas through dialogue, is a foundational characteristic of the Quantum Organization. To best describe dialogue let me tell you what dialogue is not. Dialogue is not debate - debate kills creativity. In a debate there are two sides and one eventual winner. With dialogue (in meeting and amongst ourselves) we create an exchange of those ideas with the purpose of creating a third (improved) solution.
It stands to reason that many organizational configurations can and must make sense in fluid networks like Quantum Organizations. We offer one such example below. Having said that, here are some characteristics that every configuration might have:
Self-forming teams come into being as need arises to support the work that must get done. We no longer think of people and their roles in the organization as fixed and permanent structures. Creating the Quantum Organization is a process of building and applying relationships and not one of a specific hierarchy. We bring people together, the people with the appropriate skills, in a very dynamic fashion to solve problems and get work done.
The information hub has both an informal and a formal nature. The informal component can be the exchanges of thoughts and ideas around the water cooler or the discussions taking place over lunch. The more formal part takes on the look and feel of a board or commission. This commission is responsible for ensuring that information is content rich, up-to-date, and available to all. It also serves as a forum for discussion of issues, work to be done, priorities, and what teams will come together to work on problems.
Models as a Creative Tool
One of the most remarkable and beneficial techniques in our tool-kit is that of the visual model. We literally (using crayons, styrofoam, glitter and glue) built physical models to help us see through the old systems that constrain us. Todd Siler, in his book Think Like A Genius, calls these models Metaphorms. Metaphorming is a process of connecting two or more otherwise unrelated ideas, examining any commonalities, exploring these commonalities by drawing pictures or building models of the ideas together, and then analyzing, through dialogue, what you have developed in terms of new ideas, thoughts, and revelations.
Putting forth ideas, thoughts, principles, and paradoxes is important to creating the instability in the system responsible for initiating change. This is the practice of disequilibrium; introducing new relationships and information that pricks our thinking and challenges the collective wisdom. It is the role of disequilibrium to jar the organization. It is this disruption that causes us to examine more variables, to engage the creative machiner - to continually self-evaluate.
The Quantum Organization demands its own language, the words and phrases that immediately call to mind the character of the system; the pictures and images of the new world we are creating. It is through new language of this nature that we can engage the minds of the people - to open their eyes to the relationships that are so important to our success - to communicate meaning.
A few examples of would-be language of the Quantum Organization follow:
A very powerful quantum instrument is referred to in complexity science as strange attractor. These are the few controlling core components of a complex system (e.g. an organization is a complex system). This is the notion that if you can find the 3 or 4 fundamental driving principles of a system and focus attention on them, the rest of the structure will take care of itself. By way of example let's examine a tree: trying to manage the health and well-being of every leaf and branch individually would be a hopeless exercise in ineffectiveness. However, if you attend to the roots of the tree, the leaves and branches will emerge with form and beauty.
Some fundamental principles, or strange attractors, in a business management setting might be: set the vision and mission, change the language, establish the leadership theory, and communicate the strategy. If a leader would spend his or her time focusing on these 4 components of the business, complexity theory (and our experience) says the details of the enterprise will unfold with richness, order, and accomplishment.
There are may more tools, such as holistic reading, role-playing, vision statements, learning teams, quantum planning, communications kit, and more that are helpful in building the Quantum Organization, for want of time we shall not explore them all here.
In part 4 we will reveal exactly how we used some of these tools to underpin and bring to life our Quantum Organization.