I would like in this article to first bring your attention to a project from Stephen L. Talbott who is a Senior Researcher and Publications Editor at The Nature Institute. The project is titled Biology Worthy of Life and he describes the central tenet of the project as follows:
The revolution now taking shape in the world’s molecular biology labs may not yet be common public knowledge, but it is transforming scientists’ thinking about genetics and the organism as a whole. Researchers have been discovering that it makes much more sense to say that the organism is in charge of its genes, than to put it the other way around.
My aim here is to bring some of the current and unexpected trends in biology to a wider audience. I will piece together a broader picture that shows us what the biology of the future may look like, particularly as we can glimpse it through the work of molecular biologists wrestling with the problems of genetics, organismal development, and evolution. The literature today, despite the powerful and still-dominant inertia of old thought-habits, is rife with hints of creative thinking and new directions that would have sounded revolutionary and unthinkable a few decades ago.
The project home page can be found on the website of The Nature Institute here: www.natureinstitute.org/txt/st/org/index.htm. As you will see, the project is a work in progress, and on the site you will be able to read chapters from the book which Stephen is in the middle of writing.
What is so interesting in this project is that in following its progress, we are able to bear witness to one very real shift in paradigm, pretty much in real time, if that makes sense. This can teach us a lot about shifting our paradigms of organisations, away from mechanistic models to more dynamic and process orientated ones.
In saying this, it is extremely important to point out that moving out of mechanistic thinking is no easy task, because the new paradigms are not taught to us. So those bloggers and writers who just call for a move out of mechanistic thinking really need to be co-locating within their writings and consultancy work exactly how to do this, and to do this rapidly.
Another call to arms is that we need a shift in paradigm, and even though many reference Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in this respect, what we often find is that what was being called a new paradigm, is anything but. I have already addressed this point in two previous articles:
One book which stands together with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is Arthur Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers. I need to dedicate an entire article to this brilliant book some time in the future, but for now I thought I would share just a couple of pages on what has to be one of the best explications of Aristotelian physics. You can click on the image below to see the high resolution version.
In this passage, Koestler points out the ridiculousness of the physics, and the manner in which the theory became utterly divorced from observation, especially relating how the physics of trajectories continued even into the age of gunpowder. As he points out by borrowing a quote from Whitehead, science (and the human race) has not always made forward progress:
In the year 1500 Europe knew less than Archimedes who died in the year 212BC.
While yes we may gasp at ridiculousness of Middle Age physics, it is humbling to consider what analogies we can find in these modern times. Many organisations and economists still consider that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet, and as São Paulo, the world’s seventh largest metropolis in the world runs out of water (as are many other regions in Brazil), there are still some executives telling me that sustainability is not an issue. Dogma can be intransigent indeed.
Intransigence is a key factor in blocking the successful execution of strategic and change management programmes. We need to listen to John Kotter who says that “more than 70% of all major transformational efforts fail”. As he points out:
Because organizations do not take a consistent, holistic approach to changing themselves, nor do they engage their workforces effectively. (source)
If we look at what lies at the heart of our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, it is the practical implementation of deep, profound and lasting transformational change. If we analyse this in relation to organisations, what we often find is that the leadership only focus on the structural aspects of strategy. The behavioural aspects are ignored, therefore resulting in sub-optimal execution.
Holonomic thinking takes leaders into a systemic, phenomenological and hermeneutical way of seeing the whole organisation:
Systems – Understanding the organisation as an organic and dynamic system of interrelated organs.
Phenomenological – Understanding the lived experience of each person – employees, management, leadership, stakeholders and the community.
Hermeneutic – Understanding how shared meaning emerges in the organisation over time, allowing the organisation to be able to become agile, efficient and transparent – an authentic whole.
The implementation of a profound change management programme requires the participation not only of everyone across the whole organisation, but the whole ecosystem too.
A holonomic solution must be agile, scalable and cost-effective, and must be absorbed and understood by the widest diversity of people, backgrounds, roles, departments and organisations.
The holonomic way of comprehending the organisation is a way of seeing the organisation not as a command-and-control top-down hierarchy, but one which sees the essence of the brand, the mission, vision and values as coming to presence (being expressed) in each and every member.
Holonomic thinking can be integrated into an organisation’s existing strategic plans or change management programmes using the following approaches:
- Experiential Learning
In the last year or so it has been amazing to facilitate and accompany the transformations of those companies who have already received training on how to integrate holonomic thinking into their strategy, leadership and change management programmes. If I could pinpoint one of the key success factors, it is the desire to genuinely undertake the transformational learning journey, and reach a deeper level awareness of how the whole organisation can be comprehended.
As one of our students remarked, the expansion of consciousness into holonomic thinking is like “opening a new window on the world”. Authentic and genuine paradigm shifts are always accompanied by a shift into a deeper way of seeing, and when you see more, you can transform more, both yourself and your organisation.