Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ralph Waldo Emerson on The Natural Organization

This is the first post in a series that will in a way set the backdrop and the inspirations of my thoughts on the Natural Organization. My intention is that it will show where I'm coming from and what the natural organization is all about. I might not necessary agree with everything that these thought leaders have written or said, but I believe they have found some insights that are "eternal truths" that appeal to the very core of the human heart. I will introduce one thought leader at a time, present a selection of quotations and add a few comments on how this applies or corresponds to the Natural Organization.

First "on stage" is Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher, poet, intellectual, transcendentalist and abolitionist.

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. "
The world is in a constant hurry. People want immediate results and corporations are short sighted and impatient. Someone said it in a different way; "People overestimate what they can achieve in a year, and greatly underestimate what they can achieve in five years".

"Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons."
Trust in yourself. Believe that you are capable because you are. Don't look to others for leadership. Be a leader instead.

"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow"
This lesson should be applied to people and organizations both. Don't get caught in your safety zone. The safety in status quo is just an illusion.

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of leave the world a better know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."
Goes back to my earlier post and Margaret J. Wheatley saying that we organize and lead in conflict to what life teaches. Business life is a sub-system of life. We can't have completely different measurements of success in business from "the real life". Yes, profits and turnover are valid measures, but not in themselves.

"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better."
Learn, make mistakes, don't worry. Rework corporate cultures that are based on fear, punishment, intimidation and politics to one that supports learning, mistakes and curiosity.

"An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory"
Don't overdo planning, meetings, budgets, forecasts etc. Use the collective wisdom in our company, make a decision and go for it. No regrets. Just do it!

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Imitation is part of the modern business life. We can't invent everything. But make sure to be unique in some way, dare to think differently and constantly challenge your mental models. If not you might be the next company that bites the dust because you did not understand that the world was changing.

"Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved."
Enthusiasm differs from motivation. Usually we say that leaders motivate the employees. Why do employees need motivation? Why do leaders not need motivation? (think about that one) Motivation is extrinsic and enthusiasm is intrinsic. We get enthusiastic when we feel meaning in the work we do. Enthusiasm is closely connected to words like authentic, genuine, free, vision, values.

"As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way"
The reason for naming my coming book "The Natural Organization" is because it is a breaks from the traditional organization. I find the power hierarchies, politics, domination system and the struggle for control as unnatural. It has nothing to do with the rest of life and if you understand systems thinking and view business life as a sub-system of life it becomes apparent that our traditional organizations are abnormal.

I believe Emerson was speaking about how we limit ourselves by thinking negatively. In a broader perspective it can also be interpreted as how we limit ourselves and our organizations by negative thinking and also by restraining our natural strengths with formal rules. A good example is that many leaders view "the learning organization" as an illusion, an utopia. The reason for this is simply because they cannot think outside their own mental models, they are stuck in the industrial paradigm where an organization must be organized as a pyramid. Creativity requires freedom. Freedom breeds responsibility. Responsibility breeds leadership. By organizing our companies in a "natural way" we can set free the human capabilities that are so scarce in today's organizations.

"Nothing external to you has any power over you"
We create our own lives. No one but you can decide if you are going to be happy or sad. The "unnatural organizations" are trying to disturb this "universal law". The more they try the more people flee from these organizations.

"Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding."
On my way Ralphie boy. :)

"This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it."
Seems like the perfect ending. I have been writing about this before but it's well worth to do it again. Though times may seem harsh and the future bleak, I believe we can take advantage of the problems we see, use them as catalysts for change and rise to a new level. The Natural Organization is my way of articulating this future.

Do you have an Emerson quote that you think fit with the Natural organization? Please add your quote and your comment below.

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Your comments are highly appreciated. I want this to be a living blog with lots of conversations as this is a great way of learning.