First I need to make clear that I am using the term “organization” to refer to how things are arranged to work together. I am not referring to any specific enterprise or company or corporate being or even particular form. There is nothing necessarily formal implied by the term. Anything with a recognizable identity or pattern implies organization.
Adaptive organization refers to the interaction of structures, practices and principles of an enterprise which determine the capability of being responsive to the markets or environments which it operates in.
A command and control, top down, hierarchical method of organization will be rigid and non-responsive to what is occurring in its environment. It will be blind to what is occurring internally as well. This type of organization is most likely to work in similarly rigid social systems. It may succeed to a certain extent when the rate of change is slow and the systems are largely linear and Newtonian. It will die in today’s society which has moved, and continues to move, to embrace new science and increased distribution of choice.
An adaptive method of organization is one which is a match for the natural condition of human beings and social groups related to the pursuit of learning and productive activity. This type of organization will provide for open communication throughout its own members and with the larger social systems with which it engages. It will constantly search beyond its existing boundaries for knowledge and innovation. It will look to adapt itself to changing circumstances and also look to look to adapt external circumstances to its own purposes by its participation in the marketplace. It will have purpose and principles with communication structures to support them. It will function best with explicit and commonly understood accountabilities.
One of the significant features of systems of life, including social enterprise, is that little of importance is located only in one person or one place. That is, everything of importance to the larger system is distributed throughout the enterprise. Not necessarily to the same degree in each member but existing in important aspects everywhere.
While hierarchy is present in many instances it is not a pyramid structure but a contractual arrangement. Hierarchy is not always negative, it just needs to exist in the proper relation to the adaptive system.
The basis for this thinking is in theories of complex adaptive systems(CAS). This is a specific approach to considering how emergent evolution functions. These have similar qualities at all levels from the individual to large societal groups. I will add in a later blog the distinctions that come with being an intelligent complex adaptive system(iCAS). At the moment, we need only to know that when a system has intelligent agents as a significant part of the system, there are unique features to that system.
From the early emergence of homo sapiens to the present day, there has been a unique feature of common activity, of social organization, which continues its emergent qualities. That feature is language which co-developed with, and enabled, continually expanding knowledge and constant emergence of new social activities.
This view leads us to considering enterprise as an iCAS which is the highest level of social organization – an entrepreneurial enterprise operating in marketplaces where both the markets and the individuals within it have freedom of choice. It is also a major element in our personal ability to develop, to participate and to contribute. To realize our full human potential singly and together.
More to come in futures blogs.