Adapting to the Knowledge Revolution

In my last post in my series on Juan Carlos Eichholz’s theory of adaptive capacity, I discussed the four types of organizations—communal, innovative, bureaucratic, and action-driven. Identifying what type of organization you’re leading is the first crucial step in improving its adaptive capacity. But once you’ve done that, what comes next?

Let’s take a step back and look at the history of the organization as a concept. Early humans were hunter-gatherers who didn’t need complex organizational hierarchies to accomplish their goals—to find as much food and resources as possible to survive. These groups were largely horizontal in nature, with everyone contributing in some way by performing various tasks.

However, when the Agricultural Revolution took place and suddenly humans were organizing themselves into farming communities, hierarchy became crucial for survival and the first forms of government were established. These vertical, highly immobile organizations worked well for a very long time—until the Industrial Revolution and the age of automation and mass production. Now we are in the midst of another major revolution—the Knowledge Revolution.

In the knowledge era, people are an organization’s most valuable resource. Eichholz writes, “Organizations that do not realize this reality and act upon it will end up losing their most important asset—the knowledgeable people who are today’s greatest future source of growth, wealth, and power.” Learning to mobilize people so that your organization can adapt to the instability and rapid change that takes place in the modern world is the only way to survive.

So how does this adaptation take place, and who sets it in motion? Simply put, effective leaders do. Once again, Eichholz underlines the importance of thoughtful, creative, and forward-looking leadership: “when organizations adapt and survive, it is because of the adaptive capacity they have developed through a deliberate act of leadership.”

Organizations don’t just change and adapt on their own—or at least, not in a way that promotes their long-term success. It takes both strong leadership and cooperation to make adaptive changes.

The first step in becoming this type of adaptive leader is to consider the values of your organization. Now that you’ve determined what type of organization you lead, consider the values and ideals that Eichholz identifies as characteristic of each:

  • Communal—inclusivity, caring, affiliation, negotiation, consensus
  • Innovative—anticipation, creativity, collaboration, flexibility, meaning
  • Bureaucratic—formality, process, tradition, regularity, order
  • Action-driven—discipline, control, task completion, efficiency, results

Adaptive leaders work with, not against, the fundamental values of their organization. By promoting these shared values, you gain the trust of the people you are leading and you’ll be better able to instigate change.

Nonetheless, it can be very difficult to develop concrete strategies for implementing change. This is where hiring a coach can give you a real edge. Coaches are trained to see the big picture, which is difficult even for the most objective and thoughtful of leaders.

What are your organization’s key values? Where would you like to implement adaptive change? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me via my website, Twitter, or LinkedIn and let’s get a conversation started.

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