Fluidity – the growing need of organizations today.

fluidy 9Organizations are facing increasing a dilemma in how they organize and manage within their systems and structures.

They are being forced to deal in increasingly complexity and environmental turbulence and ‘adapting the appropriate response’  remains increasingly a difficult one to master, within the existing regime and structures.

On the one hand the value in stability is still essential, working within specific routines and practices gives a clear ‘path dependence.’

This allows for efficiency and effectiveness to be constantly at practice, constantly building the problem-solving processes, so as to master tasks in complex environments to resolve ‘known’ problems in ‘given’ ways.

We need to become increasingly fluid but how and why?

Yet there is considerable discussion around changing structures and models to become more adaptive, agile and fluid, to react and deal with this increasing turbulence occurring all around us. We need to react and become more responsive, becoming more adaptive to changing environments and business challenges, that are often unknown, unexpected, or not yet explored or exploited.

The need for a different innovation interplay

In a recent series, of introducing the innovation interplay, co-authored with Jeffrey Phillips of Ovo Innovation, we discuss how change needs a higher appreciation and focus within any innovation design. We go on and suggest the importance of thinking new innovation design is increasingly coming through the business model and this requires increasing undertaking of change.

This change thinking is not just for the innovator, but for the customers and markets that any innovation is channeled towards but also, in how it has a real impact on the dynamics of current competition and the potential effect on competitors. Designing deliberate change into innovations eventual outcome, increasingly through new business models, is a powerful point of real advantage that needs greater leveraging.

So we have this dilemma of needing stability but trying to build increasing fluidity

Yet today our organizations are far too rigid, they are not adaptive or agile enough to really exploit innovation to the full. They struggle with this organizational constraint imposed by the singular, or dominating pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness at the cost of ‘fluidity.’ Organizations and individuals see change far to often in negative terms and not in the way innovation can bring positive change that seeks constant, ongoing adjustments to deliver the best, optimal solution.

How can both work alongside each other? Many theorists have suggested, of having in place the ‘ambidextrous organization.’ This would require organizations to be design organizations in their structures, people and processes to either be focused on ‘being efficient’ or being ‘change orientated’.

I have been drawn to this dual system of ambidextrous as it helps resolve one of the consistent stumbling blocks for innovation to ‘take hold’ and evolve. Innovation is constantly fluid, needing to be adaptive as we learn and adjust to new learning and this is constantly  requiring a very change orientated approach. Often innovation comes up against a rigid system and for many “it just seems not to fit”and gets rejected as not appropriate to us.

Innovation struggles as it often remains outside the prevailing system. Innovation constantly challenges against the dominant mindset within organizations, who like the idea of innovation but are mostly measured to drive efficiency and effectiveness, keeping highly focused on the short-term performance as their role, reward, advancement and key to ongoing career success, so innovation ‘sits outside’ their domain of focus.Something needs to change if innovation is really important.

Yet the very essence of our stability in organizations is under threat.

There is so much change being undertaken, the growing call for quick improvisation and ad hoc responses all needs to take us away from those rigid processes into open and far more fluids ones.

The solutions of fluid, agile and adaptive are aiming to develop highly flexible and responsive organizations as an attractive answer to manage in more uncertain times as the way to move forward. The ability to make this very defining and shaping move in any organizations does seem very fraught with risk.

We do need to extend our thinking about fluidity far more, so let’s initially step back to see if we can then move forward into a more fluid organization..

There is no doubt a classic change model that needs an update

The classic “unfreeze > change > refreeze” approach to change just does not work anymore. This still remains one of the most classic change models as a three phase model, introduced by Lewin in 1947, and became the basis for many subsequent change models. Lewin’s change model seeks to “unfreeze” the existing conditions, in order to allow “change or transition” to occur, so as to then arrive at a new state of hopefully higher capability or competence, at which point the operating model is again “frozen” or “refreezes” into its new state.

Certainly this model is becoming very outdated and somewhat dangerous from an innovation perspective, for two reasons. First, the model anticipates resistance to change rather than engagement with change. Second, the model assumes an eventual “refreezing” state, where the company remains in stability, without change. Today we are in need of being in a state of constantly improving our operating model and exploring growth through far more business model evolution to influence markets.

Shifting to a different change model needs a high level of transition

We need to ‘unfreeze’ through recognition of our present rigidity > We should make a transition’ through experiment and exploration > Finally we should notrefreeze’ as the recommendation of past views have suggested, we should build the adaptive, agile and fluid abilities required for today from learning, collaborating and embrace a constant change mentality.

To achieve a more organic fluidity, moving from hierarchies to networks, from formal rules and high levels of coordination into far more spontaneous interactions, improvised processes that resolved specific issues and the constantly forming and dissolving project teams where far more lateral organization-wide communications take place is a set of real challenges.

Everything seems to be flowing faster and we have to respond

We are seeing far more fluidity in relationships where the knowledge is flowing within, across and between organizations. The boundaries are blurring, that increasing fuzziness needs shifting our style of decision-making and solution finding.

There is also this growing sense that innovation is endless, it never stops but simply shifts from one stage to another, often looping back to be re-evaluated and thought through. The old linear process is not working, learning and adjusting is a constant all along the pipeline development process and requires a higher level of fluidness to deal with it.

There is this nagging feeling of relentless destruction or disturbance, the very opposite of the stable equilibrium we seemed to enjoy in the past. Those that become capable of managing the constant change and disequilibrium will thrive.

Yet we need to face this paradox of fluidity and stability.

Those growing conditions of uncertainty and complexity also need boundary building, identity formation and problem solving architectures that are stable and can provide replication of essential actions or activities. We need to seek out and maintain yet constantly challenge to “undo” and redesign.

We are still struggling with the dominant linear logic of much of what we do in organizations, and often this constrains innovation, restricts us to provide radically different business models and limits our abilities to change fast enough. We are learning to be far more adaptive in our learning but this is constantly meeting up with resistance of this linear logic.

What would help us build a higher fluidity into the design of our organizations?
Firstly what makes up the competencies of fluid?

Here we provide a list that has many aspects or enabling attributes to them you might recognize. Embracing all of them is not the answer but taking a more detailed and thoughtful approach to those capabilities, competencies and capacities to build fluid into your organization becomes important.

Today we are all on the search for new adaptive infrastructures. We should be participating in platforms and building our ecosystems to extract outside knowledge to learn how to recombine it in new ways. Nothing today stands still; we are in that need to constantly redefine, to build in flexibility and this adaptive skill.

We should encourage thinking and challenging present orthodoxies and explore ways to rewire and rethink much of the prevailing system and processes as it has far too much built-in rigidity.

Today we are losing predictability on much that was a constant within the past, we have a speed of development that needs to constantly be reduced down, for gaining competitive advantage and getting our innovation to market earlier.

So can we identify competencies that would help embed a more fluid way of working?

We need to look for or deliberately design into our thinking the following:

We are all becoming far more digital, fluid and fast, we are absorbing and responding at faster rates and we are adapting to a constant, multifaceted world of connections, systems and knowledge piecing to combine up into different ‘wholes’.

• To get there we need to be far more nimble, we need to learn navigation skills far more, we are increasingly assignment driven, less exploratory in many things, and technology is taking on this role.

• We need to become increasing agile, iterative, be experimenting, and constantly determined to execute to drive our results and value-add.

• We need to seek empowerment, focus on delivery and collaboration outcomes far more resolutely.

• We need to grasp the make-up of value creation and why innovation is becoming new business models in its potential.

• We need to establish within ourselves and the working environment we operate within a sound conflict resolution pathway and strive for authenticity and trust within the places we operate.

• Lastly a real willingness to seek out diversity, to be visible, and be wanting to have this constant entry and exit to our projects and challenges, to drive our personal satisfaction and worth up.

In summary

We need to relentlessly challenge and push out our own boundaries and knowledge and adapt these to be designed to those we seek to exploit constantly. The mantra of “adapting, exploring and quickly responding” to the needs seen in rapidly changing markets and across our customer base of past, present and future needs this fluidity.

The need for being fluid across our organizations is to respond to those different demands being faced  today, it requires a far more adaptive and responsive business to work in increasing parallel of balancing stability alongside pushing for dynamism . This dual need of maintaining stability in the force of resisting shocks and keeping leveraging the existing optimization has to yet work alongside responding to changing markets, resolving increasing challenges. The end result is in delivering more innovation that meets the changes occurring, these require both fluid and stable thinking and approaches.

Additional material to explore

For a more extended discussion on change, its impact, its force within the interplay of innovation, change and business models, there are two White Papers you can read written jointly by Jeffrey Phillips of Ovo Innovation and myself.

In a White Paper “Critical Interplay Innovation Business Models Change 6-2” we provide a foundation document that highlights the important interplay between innovation, business models and change.

A further white paper “Why innovators need a new change paradigm” takes this even further by looking more specifically at emerging models and the competencies required to react to this change in these more ‘fluid’ ways . Here the paper is laying out more of the discussion for building the case of fluidity as discussed here..

10 thoughts on “Fluidity – the growing need of organizations today.

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