The legend of the Gordian Knot and today’s organizations “knotty” problems

Cutting the Gordian Knot

If you are not aware, it is worth reading about the Gordian Knot. “For people the world over, the Gordian Knot represents the difficult, the intractable and often the insolvable problem. Today’s systemic business problems are the modern-day equivalent of this seemingly impossible challenge, our Gordian Knots to untie or cut through.

According to Greek mythology, the huge, ball-like Turkish knot with no ends exposed was impossible to untie. An oracle had predicted that the first person to do so would become the ruler of all Asia. Thousands of people had tried, without success, to unlock its complex riddles. Alexander of Macedonia, son of King Philip II of Macedon, solved this puzzle simply and very creatively – by cutting it in half with his sword, exposing its ends and making it possible to untie. Alexander the Great went on to conquer all of Asia, just as the oracle predicted”.

So are Organizations Cutting their Gordian Knots?

So how can we cut the intractable knot inside organizations and thrive from it?

We all face increasing uncertainties and are having our trust battered. We live increasingly in a world of complexity. We are seemingly not rising to the challenges that seem to be growing in this complexity in the global, organizational and personal context.

For me it is attempting something new and different, can often undo these knots we find ourselves. We grab digital transformation as one of those solutions. Often that simply makes it even more complex unless we cut through the current impossible knots we have today.

Innovation has a vital role to play but it must be ‘treated’ differently.

Where do we start? Firstly we need to revisit any work we are thinking about changing more on an “adaptive enterprises and systems” way of thinking.

We need to find ways to deal with unpredictable, discontinuous change and make this more predictable for us to manage. We need to be agile, fluid and adaptive in allowing design, systems, and processes to continually adjust, to reflect the constant challenge of change going on continuously.

We lack often a real coherence of purpose; we lurch from one opportunity to another, from one-quarter of financial results into another, reacting to that moment, often defensively, with often no longer-term consistency in our activities. Performance has been taken over by opportunistic behaviors. Innovation often takes the real brunt of this. It gets cut like it is the very knot that needs cutting!

Our intended strategy, moves suddenly, into more of a deliberate strategy, and then somehow this gets abandoned or unrealized. We keep responding and slowly we replace this with an emergent strategy that is rapidly become our realized strategy that we present to the world, as a response to ‘factors outside our control’ for our often indifferent performance. We are passing through different strategy responses without any coherence of purpose.

Who really talks about the EXACT results achieved from a specific innovation for instance? We might get financial numbers, we will get lots ot “hype” but we never get the recognition, that transforming validation of this success, maybe in rare cases. Why is that?All we hear is just a general reference to it, to cloak innovation often in the ineffectiveness that lies within. We bundle up our innovation activity, we cloak it in mystery, we fail to draw it out and give it the credit it is often due to our growth strategy. We rarely encourage it and give it the real recognition it deserves but we constantly “simply” talk about our innovation success.

I think innovation should be central to any events involving results and predicted future. Knowing the innovation capability is knowing the changes to a better future and shareholders are denied that. Do we have any clarity on innovation processes, are they sustaining or one-off, do we know the investment being made in building individuals innovation value. Do we break out innovation investments in capability, capacity or competence management. We should, as innovation grows a company, it is a major indicator of future success. It needs more “cutting open” and revealing, as “our” innovation management process.

For innovation and many things going on within organizations they often lack a real coherence, they ‘signal’ inconsistent behaviors, especially within the organization. These bad signals simply build up all the tensions and dysfunctional aspects that middle order management and the organization, in general, has to mop up and cope with.

How can innovation thrive in this sort of chaotic mess? No wonder it never takes hold, it just has nothing ‘permanent’ to attach too and grow. Management needs a radical overhaul so innovation can be the vehicle for what is articulated but often poorly delivered on a consistent basis.

Context & Coordination needs designing in purposefully.

Again, where do we start? We start with ‘disconnect’ that organizations often have. As we “cut through” the problems we need to take the different strands and piece them together. To make fresh knots to make a different strength. The understanding of the underlying purpose of the organization going beyond just making money and keeping the shareholders happy is that it does need a deeper primary function, it needs re-articulating, it needs constructing a new entity. Some organizations do a reasonable job of this but many simply don’t.

We need to restate our primary function and purpose far more in its societal contribution. We need to express the bounds as a governing set of principles that are known, reinforced and measured against. We then need to set about building in a consistent way, the capabilities that are able to produce the outcomes. Those new outcomes need innovative thinking to be central to them.

We need to build in the accountability into the roles that reflect that need to combine innovation, effectiveness, and efficiency, that is needed so they can be managed equally side by side. We need to teach the ability to be adaptable and recognize the differences so as to actively manage the ‘creative’ conflicts and tensions.

Innovation can help in cutting through existing “knotty” problems by searching for new strands that give fresh opportunity to be tied together and build strength beyond the existing. We need to cut through old knots but, yes, make new ones that form around some of the old and plenty of the new, “weaved” into them, to give them a greater strength of purpose and ability to take on new “knotty” problems, in different innovative ways.

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