the expressiveness of money: a paradox of reality

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Somehow I assumed that companies work hard to attract customers and service their needs, now and in the future. Capital investments build and express an ever evolving promise. And the valuation of the organisation reflects the confidence of the market in the company to succeed in these endeavours.

In other words the more valued a company is, the better it is in transforming money into meaningful solutions. You might call it the expressiveness of money. 

Yet three recent headlines show the paradoxes of reality.

The first headline was about the enormous amounts of cash (800 billion US$) of US companies and what to do with it (Financial Times, 12 september):

‘US companies transformed into 800lb gorilla in bond market’

Have the cash rich companies become (financial) asset managers?

The second headline in the Financial Times (12 september) concerned the supposed figurehead when it comes to value based investing.

‘How Warren Buffett broke American capitalism’

An interesting view on the defensive play of Berkshire Hathaway (in sixth position in market cap).

The last header I came across was on the FastCompany website (13 september) about the most valued company (in terms of market cap) in the world, ever. And it is very rich too, in terms of cash.

‘What’s Really Missing From The iPhone X? A New Metaphor For Computing’

Where does Apple put all its money? Where its true soul is?

These calls from reality made me think about what monetary numbers set out to express. They increasingly seem to have (be) an end in themselves. At the same times people are affected by these numbers, both optimistically as a proof of succes and negatively as tokens of inequality. 

And yet the figures will never produce the food and calories we need to just live, the care for the young and the elderly, novel digital experiences to enhance our lives or the protection against increasing harsh weather. People in organisations do.

variations of dynamics in a line

The magnitude of variations on a theme provides powerful openings for invention.

These variations are to be cherished and not subdued for the sake of uniformity. In that lies the value for invention. Organisations are more in need of invention than of sameness.

The space of variations is investigated with this video of drawing of dynamics in a line.

 

a great source for new organisational relevance

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‘You forgot to kiss my soul’. The artwork by Tracy Enim made me think, because it is probably very true for many more organisations than we want to believe. 

I think I am an optimistic and positive person in general. I prevent myself of having a cynical view on what organisations achieve in our society. I try to look at the bright side of things. 

Though yes, we strive for sound and durable financial results for a continuation beyond the next quarter. Yes, we adopt the newest technology for the progress of humanity. Yes, we keep an eye on our environment and avoid the depletion of natural resources. Yes, we look at the needs and emotions of our audiences and respond to them creatively and yes we care about people and society at large. 

And yet the work touched something different. It is the realisation that there is still another perspective to organisations. A perspective that is beyond professional management and sound leadership. Something that is overlooked. 

It is literally the promise and the chance of ‘kissing the soul’ that touched me. Just imagine for a minute what that ‘kissing the soul’ could mean.

And try to find the moments when you just did not even think about it because other things were more important and kept you deeply and sincerely occupied.

The sentence is so powerful for me, because, once you realise that kissing the soul is possible, forgetting it becomes an impossibility. 

And in that lies the great source for a new relevance for organisations. A relevance that supersedes the common ideas what good organisations are about.

when the organisation becomes an algorithm. or how you might value the idea of the purposeful social space and spend some time in paris.

 

 

Is the natural way for organisations to evolve to become programmed collections of activities? 

Do organisations become closed systems that are reigned by the algorithms built to accomplish defined outcomes in a dynamic environment? These algorithms might even adjust themselves to guarantee continuous optimalisation. The algorithms determine the workings of the organisation and define the indicators that employees, suppliers, outside workers and managers have to meet. And all the data generated by their actions is fed back into the system to decide on the terms of the engagement with the organisation or to just cease the relationship. The algorithm-ised organisation is the logical and superior outcome of human ingenuity aiming for efficiency, effective allocation of scarcity and for never failing predictability.

This is the reality of Uber and Facebook. And they are just the beginning. 

 

Or is there another natural evolution? 

Can people make the difference in other ways than writing code? Is there room for free will, beauty, explicit choices, fairness in the distribution of power, common purposes? Can we imagine other starting points and building blocks to design and create the wonder of human cooperation?

This fall we want to investigate another avenue to the future of the organisation in a three day work session in Paris: putting the idea of the purposeful social space to work.

 

For more information: http://www.purposefulsocialspace.com/paris2016/

the private platforms overshadowing the public institutes and the promise of purposeful social spaces

There lies a big challenge ahead for everybody who leads, influences and is part of an organisation. A deep rethink about what organisations actually do, their constitutions and their effect on society is called for. Organisations as the more or less structured building blocks for human endeavour influence large parts of our human existence. And today we seem to have lost control over the effects they cause.

Social media companies through their provision of huge and ubiquitous platforms to make sense of the plethora of digital data and to share the results on the limitless scale, create new sources of authority. An authority that used to be a prerogative of the public organisations which are somehow rooted in a public responsibility for the collective. And in terms of reach and monetary valuation these private platforms overshadow the public institutions.

An interesting and yet very disturbing illustration of this development can be read in an article by Katharine Viner in the Guardian: ‘How technology disrupted the truth’ (12 july, 2016). The author describes how the efforts of social media enterprises to cater for individual preferences with the aim to maximise advertising yields, lead to ever smaller views on the world where facts and truth no longer have a relationship. This profoundly effects the workings of our society.

The question is not so much about the right or wrong of the new authority, the question is on what grounds and with which intentions it is invoked through an organisation and how it can be challenged. Both the principles of the design and the consequential details matter in this case. 

The idea of the purposeful social space is a new concept to organisational design. It is a positively oriented approach which puts shared desire, free will, spheres of connections and the promise of beauty at the center of its design thinking. 

This notion can give people who are involved in the existence of any form of organisation and the authority associated with it, ideas for new means to shape that organisation and to positively stay in control of its effects. 

 

I HATE THE WORD DISRUPTION and all it implies I LOVE THE WORD CONSTRUCTION and all it implies

disruption is negative

disruption is arrogant

disruption is destructive

disruption is trivial

disruption is artificial

disruption is empty

disruption is powerless

disruption is prosaic

disruption is modish

disruption is misleading

disruption is temporary

disruption is aggressive

disruption is thoughtless

disruption is just disruptive

 

 

construction is meaningful

construction is creative

construction is shaping

construction is difficult

construction is lasting

construction is uniting

construction is expressive

construction is optimistic

construction is clever

construction is adding

construction is elegant

construction is humane

construction is progressive

construction is pensive

construction is all constructive

 

a label is important in the purposeful social space

THE FULL COLOUR STRATEGY eliminates the greyness of narrow business thinking

Creating the new form of organising human endeavour as embodied in the concept of the purposeful social space requires new design strategies. As mentioned in earlier posts there are various approaches to overcome the vacuum of responsibility as a barrier to build those new forms. The full colour strategie is a hands-on approach to take strategy and organisation beyond the narrow constraints of the organisation as a business centered entity.

The full colour strategy does take current strategic questions as a starting point. In this it recognises the perceived reality of the leaders in organisations. Yet it looks for answers in the fullness and magnificence of human existence. It takes the richness of the whole man as the gauge for creating organisation that are the truly human artifacts that bring about great things. 

The full colour strategy takes new dimensions into account that will help to create meaningful organisation as purposeful social spaces, organisations that are iconic and stand attractively out from sameness.

Investigating the moral compass that guides an organisation though the contradiction of current day complexity provides input for new creativity.

 Adding beauty to the equation of strategy enables imagination that touches hearts and souls and make the space worthwhile beyond its functional attributes. 

The full colour strategy is about design in the sense that is about the object (the space) but even more about the experience and the effects of being in that space and interacting with all the actors.  

Moving from pushing solutions to relevant markets towards creating the pull for the creation of solution for a common purpose, leaves room for people to act in their free will.

In the proces of building new social spaces the full colour strategy taps generously into the richness of art and culture as the eternal and contemporary sources of the human essence. They provide marvelous material to enhance ideas, create new languages and images of strategic thinking.

The full colour strategy helps to bridge to current to the new along the lines of wonder and creativity, true human attributes which make all difference.

the EXPLICIT NOTION OF DESIRE as the common story and aspiration for the creation of a purposeful social space

In the creation of a purposeful social space one of the challenges is the vacuum of responsibility (see previous update). One way to overcome this obstacle is the explicit notion of desire. 

 

The purpose is the reason for a social space to exist. A purpose is based on a desire. 

The desire is the driver to create, to act. When the desire becomes conscious and it can be expressed, a notion emerges. There is something that can be discussed, amended, embraced and rejected.

And in that notion lies the start of communication between the actors of the space to be created. Being it explicit, the notion is the starting point for action. The narrative of the desire envisages and feeds a common aspiration to organise and build the space. New responsibilities to build and maintain the common materialisation of the space emerge. The notion guides the elements of the purposeful social spacetowards their specific forms which constitute and maintain the space. 

Although the proces of design and creation might be complex or straight forward, without the explicit notion of desire the movement will have little impulse and be only of coincidental merit. 

So the idea is that explicit notion of desire is a remedy to overcome the vacuum of responsibility. What does it mean in practice? 

At Stordes we spend quite some time and thoughts to develop that explicit notion of desire. We put a lot of effort in the essence and the beauty and translate those ideas in forms which communicate, interact and activate. This work engages people in their free will and supersedes boundaries of responsibilities. In the end the explicit notion of desire is the inevitable starting point.

creational movements to fill the vacuum of responsibility in the dilemma of leadership and free will

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Building a purposeful social space that is beyond the boundaries of current notions of organisation caries a kind of intrinsic dilemma. It is the dilemma of leadership and free will. Without free will the space is in danger of losing its openness, its optimism, its power of beauty, its creativity and commitment. Without leadership the space may find it difficult to make trade-offs and move to a real accentuation of meaning and form. 

This dilemma needs new design strategies to be solved. And who will take the lead in this?

The current setting of organisations rely on a kind of demand and supply mechanism that creates various kinds of borders between mental roles that people have and between areas of responsibility. Current leadership of organisations is not incentivised to take responsibility for a new space beyond those borders, while many players do not feel empowered to do their part in the creation of a mutual space. So that leaves the responsibility for a the creation of a purposeful social space in vacuum and the required design strategies remain dormant.

How can we nevertheless start to shape that space?

As a propagator of purposeful social spaces Stordes continuously develops various approaches and attitudes to solve the dilemma and the responsibility vacuum. It is an evolving body of thoughts and practices which constitute a new set of design strategies. The following are examples of these way of working.

 

The explicit notion of desire helps to create a common story and aspiration

The full colour strategy opens up the limitations of narrow business thinking

The shifting of scales and spheres creates appropriate levels of comfort and abstraction

The inclusion of complex reality allows to navigate the going concern 

These approaches have various stages of maturity and completeness. Yet, it is a quality that suits the innovative character of the work at hand. They are contributions to bring forward the design, materialisation and activation of a purposeful social space.

Strategic organisation design is about reducing the number of the objects that need to be designed.

Looking at what is being said about the context an organisation operates in, increasing complexity is high on the list. The complex integrated corporation may have long gone, the number of connections and fragmentation of chains an organisation is confronted with, have indeed increased. A connected world has allowed for further specialisation, unbundling and new networks. 

The organisational response to this outside complexity is in many cases internal complexity. More specialised managers ( the c-suit is overcrowded with new characters) , more breeds of advisers, more information systems, more outsourcing (is that simple?), more departments and functions, more coordination, more indicators, more market and product segments (that is an internal view of the world) and more cross functional programs to make sense of all this. 

When designing organisations to cater for this presumed complexity, the number of elements which need to be dealt with and are in need of some kind of form, could be very large. Not only the number of objects is vast, also the amount of connections and relations between these objects can make the design question immense. Is there a solution?

When you consider that organisations are living entities that have their own dynamics and evolvement over time, you might ask yourself where the design begins and ends. Maybe not every things needs to be designed in all its details and complexity. There might elements that emerge by themselves.

Reducing the number of objects that need to be designed and doing this in open manner can make the design truly strategic.

the hidden treasure of europe

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Strategic organisation design is a creative exercise. It involves coming up with applicable forms to realise strategic repositioning. What guides the development of that new position and what references do you call on for the development of meaningful solutions?

At Stordes we believe that we have the richness of the whole man to our disposal, not just the homo economicus or the zoon politikon. The broad spectrum of the human existence and all its proceeds provide excellent input for strategically valuable organisations in full colour.

From this point of view Europe is great continent to learn from. It is an extremely rich collection of references to fullness of our human existence. Not only in the many cultural artifacts Europeans have created over the centuries and that we stumble upon wherever we go in this old world, but also in the rather stormy political developments over the centuries that have resulted in even more innovative political structures which are certainly not finished yet.

The heritage of this cultural and political progress which is still on-going, can help us to come up with great new solutions for organising human endeavours. In Europe we are in a unique position to reap the results of great artists and thinkers, of people who celebrate humanity in all its aspects and create beautiful art. We can also feel the human care for landscapes, buildings and cities that we have so carefully created, preserved and cleverly married with modernity.  

So when the question arises where to look for ideas when it comes to strategy and organisation innovation we might look at the visitors from all over the world who flock to the European continent. They enjoy experiencing our past and present. As Europeans we do not have to travel, we just have to open our eyes and work with what is so ubiquitously present. And that is what we as Stordes try to do in our engagements.

positions and movements. impressions and patterns.

Positions and movements. Impressions and patterns. Four words that could summarise strategic organisation design. 

Positions and movements are what the design instigate. Based on ideas, concepts, analysis, desires, instruments, desires, actions as comprised in the design, the people in the purposeful social space take new positions. These positions in turn generate movement of others. These result in changed positions and so on and so forth. The dynamic interactions of people taking positions and moving is the first result of a good strategic organisation design. Organisation design is about making things happening between people.

However, that dynamic is meant to create an outcome.

An outcome that is generated by the tangible impressions that those positions and movements leave and that is visible in all kind of forms, from awesome products to delighted users, from money earned to capital spent, from production facilities to services rendered.

The total of these impressions make up certain patterns and you could say when these patterns make sense, have meaning, reinforce the purposeful social space, the strategic organisation design is successful.

A lot is written, said and tried related to strategy and organisations and the clutter of words and concepts seem to increase the complexity of management. Recognising what happens to which outcome might help to think straight.

the strategic design of organisations as time transformers

 

 

The newspaper The Economist (5 december 2015) wrote an interesting article about the speed in organisations. It gave me as a strategic organisation designer something to chew on. Here some quotes that started me thinking:

"The idea that time is speeding up is clearly popular. It is also plausible. There is just one problem. It is very hard to prove that it is actually happening."

"If firms are not experiencing an overall acceleration, though, they still need to pay new attention to time. In the 1930s Ronald Coase, an economist, argued that firms existed to perform tasks that entrepreneurs were unable to do easily through markets. But another way of thinking about firms is that they are time transformers, mediating the different time horizons of customers, staff, suppliers and owners."

"Forget frantic acceleration. Mastering the clock of business is about choosing when to be fast and when to be slow.”

Below are some results of the thought proces on the handling of time in organizations. They may help to come to grips with time without being too slow or too fast.

The first idea is about the space of time. That is the size and the characteristics of the subject that is handled combined with a time horizon. This space has a certain minimal critical size. Being really critical about the true size of the subject allows for a realistic pace.  

The second dimension is about the freedom to choose the frequency of the heartbeat of an organisation. It is about extending or shrinking the span of attention, resulting in slowing down or speeding up. We set the clock of the organisation.

A third idea that we can use to master time is the fact that the measure of time and our perception of time differ. Time is not as absolute as our clocks might indicate. It is a powerful concept to play with. A minute can be intensely short or immensely long. 

A last element is the existence of multiple paces and tempi within one organisation and these can be totally asynchronous. The behaviour of clients has different cycles than the quarterly financial updates. This is reality that can bother us, or we adjust our pace to the matter that we are dealing with at a certain point. No one speed fits all.

The idea of organisations as time transformers is interesting and provides great opportunities for strategic and organisational innovations.

 

 

the art of finding the right scale

Thinking strategically about organisations and incorporating the insights into the design of an organisation is also about finding the right level of abstraction and complexity. The right scale is important to make the strategy design both remarkable and tangible. Not only the scale of the object is important also the depth and width of the subjects (the domain) and the circle of influence both in terms of coverage and time (the context). 

There is a natural tension between getting the big and conceptual picture and the practical details of form and material. On the one hand the design should be visionary, ambitious and significant and on the other hand the design has to be apprehensible, solutionable and workable. 

This is a timeless challenge for design and strategy. It is a reality in our work as strategic organisation designers in Stordes. We found that to work with this paradoxical reality these three work attitudes help.

Move along the scale.  There is more than small and big or conceptual and practical. There is a continuum with all kind of various sizes and levels of abstractions. Exploring these help to see where detail is needed or where the bigger picture needs more attention. 

Allow uncertainty. Leaving room to manoeuvre is important to get the whole picture right. Design is the freedom of thought and experiment. Embrace this design space by avoiding reducing the big or the small too fast. Temporary uncertainty leads to long lasting certainty about the right dimensions. 

You can start too small, never too big. There is a benefit of the big picture that may be lost when starting small. Downscaling is more easy than upscaling. In the end there is always the small, but not the big. So it is worthwhile exploring the bigger dimensions without the massiveness of the details.

Finding the right scale to design for is essential for that design to have an effective impact on our lives in organisations. And that is also a kind of art.

picturing the dynamics of the strategy design

any design is about the object, 

but even more about the experience and the effect of interacting with it. 

what strategy is used for and how it is worked with in an organisation is to be reflected in the process of creation. it deeply affects the outcome, as it should.

strategy is always social design and in that sense always a dynamic proces.

so picturing strategy design requires new visual languages. a quest in itself, where stordes actively in experiments.

a new reality in business organisations and the purposeful social space

in october 2015 three leading business magazines propogated on their covers a changed thinking on the traditional business organisation. 

the angles differed but the common message was: leaders have to rethink their organisation in the light of new means to finance the corporation, that the days of (western) incumbents are over and that the disappearing transaction costs diminish the necessity for organisations as we know them.

the analysis is solid and sharp as can be expected. the ideas on the form of the new organisation fall short. 

the concept of the purposeful social space might yet provide some fruitful design ideas. here are some.

spheres instead of corporate entities.  activities are organized in various overlapping spheres, each with its own conventions of participation. human actives are too divers and the complexity of interaction too large to catch them in one overarching entity. 

the label instead of the company. the label signals the shared desire that is owned by the participants of a specific sphere. the brand as the value of a corporation ceases to be a  meaningful concept. the dirigism of traditional brand management is replaced by labeled, responsible membership. 

the customer is more than demand. the traditional idea of the customer as the impersonation of demand is insufficient to grab the fulness of what is required from the new organisation. supply and demand is replaced by an far more interesting exchange of a broad spectrum of values. values that cover whole man not just homo economicus.

these three ideas are examples of a whole new set of design rules for the new organisation.

defining and experimenting with these new rules is a promising challenge and in that sense geoff colvin of fortune is right: the most valuable assets of the 21st century are openness to new ideas, ingenuity and imagination.

 

the death of the business model foretold

“(..)Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Robert Kennedy