molecular structure for conceptual thinking-driven business


‘Rather than simply work within existing parameters of operational excellence (incrementally optimising your business model to meet customer needs), pioneering leadership sees you embarking upon quests. Such quests allow us to systematically explore complex and uncertain futures. We don’t set goals in the hopes that a particular future will manifest — rather, we explore multiple possible futures, and prepare proactive stratagems to capitalise on each.’

Dr. Jason Fox

“We find the true person only through group organization. The potentialities of the individual remain potentialities until they are released by group life. Thus, the essence of democracy is creating. The technique of democracy is group organization.”

Marly Parker Follett, The New State


Research shows time and time again smaller teams are more effective at getting things done. The typical business response to this is to, well, build small teams. Simplistically all they have really done is create mini departments within larger departments – silos within silos as you wish. Yes. Some of the teams may be interdepartmental but whether you call them squads, teal dots, whatever, eventually they become a static group of people working together.

In order to be truly emergent, and ensure a business brings forth its best “team” against an emergent opportunity, the teams themselves cannot remain static, they must be malleable. This doesn’t mean I am suggesting no teams stay together nor does this mean breaking up all teams all the time. What it does mean is that the organization, and the teams, are malleable to adapt to contextual opportunities. The organization becomes molecular.

This is an environmental, attitudinal, organizational idea which, if embraced, enables the conceptual thinking, autonomy and emergent abilities. To slightly paraphrase “The Individualized Corporation”:

Companies cannot renew their business unless they first revitalize their people. This will not happen thru workshops, inspiring corporate commitments or powerful incentives if the internal environment is like an oppressive, energy sapping environment of downtown Calcutta in midsummer. This environment either created mentally by the people themselves or by poor leadership, saps all initiative, creativity, commitment & belief/hope. That said.

I believe all innovation & creativity already resides within an organization, therefore, any transformation objective should be to create an environment from which that potential emerges. No inspirational speech will motivate & energize in Calcutta in midsummer.

Rather than focusing on individual’s behaviors, the more important challenge is to change that internal environment, the behavioral context, that in turn influences people’s behaviors. To reshape these behaviors, a business must transform their behavioral context. Instead of Calcutta in the summer they must transform to a forest in spring.

Therefore, I would argue one needs to think about the model, the environment, in which the people will work.

Despite the binary discussions which occur in business, what makes a business work is the marriage of collective and individual intelligence, in other words, complex and dynamic (not binary). One of the typical issues business faces is, over time, a sentimentality toward what they have done in the past (systems) which reinforce perceptions of what makes them successful; and what makes people successful. Unfortunately, correspondingly, those perceptions diverge farther and farther away from reality. Regardless. I would argue that as long as a business keeps cloud knowledge distinct from institutional knowledge & wisdom the system will maintain a design resilience to standardization and commoditization of behavior, attitudes and institutional practice.

This actually leads me to the past, Alvin Toffler in 1985, to define this environment.



“.. the bigger the world economy, the more powerful will be the smaller players. This is because they are more flexible, faster and more economical – not burdened by layers of bureaucracy. Computers and telecommunications, now affordable to small companies, allow them to compete globally, and deregulation and globalization of financial markets gives them access to capital. Computer-driven technology also makes it possible to produce small runs of customized “higher value-added” products aimed at niche markets. Products produced “just in time” save money on inventory, and they can be quickly improved to compete with rapidly changing technology and tastes. Big companies will break up into confederations of small, entrepreneurial units. Small interacting firms will form themselves into temporary mosaics to be more adaptive and productive.”

Alvin Toffler


  • ** note: while “corporation” implies this concept is only for larger organizations, I would argue that this concept is applicable to all size businesses. In fact. I would argue many smaller businesses, without really thinking about it, do a smaller version of this idea simply out of necessity – limited resources demand using all of what you have; people potential included.

By 1985 Toffler had, at least conceptually, defined aspects of the corporation of the future (Future Shock, Third Wave & culminating in The Adaptive Corporation). He recognized that business success resided in emergent skills to adapt (have the agility) to a constantly morphing complex business world.

It became a command/control leader’s headache that knowledge could slink into any office space and anyone smart enough to use it could become smarter than the person they reported to. It is easy to see that this organization fragmentation driven by real/actual knowledge could easily become chaos unless leaders begin showcasing a different ability than maybe we have valued up until today.

This means today’s leaders need to be assimilators of fragments and creators of concepts.

They need to encourage empowered individuals and groups to accumulate knowledge and then redirecting or gathering disparate pieces of knowledge into new forms in which the organizations, and ultimately, the tribes/teams/molecules benefit from. The control of knowledge is the crux of an organization’s struggle for power, and more importantly, effectiveness. It is also then a leader’s biggest challenge in tomorrow’s businesses.

Compounding the issue is that the speed in today’s world is making facts, and differentiation/products, obsolete faster.

Therefore, knowledge built upon certain facts becomes less durable. This has 2 key impacts:

  • –              truth is fleeting <and decision making has small windows of opportunity>
  • –              business has become more abstract <as knowledge streams non stop into and within an organization>.

The reality of any complex business is that it is a quivering mass of vulnerabilities. In a Conceptual Age this can actually become a strength. The natural tendency of business is to ‘even up’ things and put constraints on anything they view as chaos. In other words, “we feel like we are at our best if we do the same things day after day.” The Conceptual Age organization should actually seek to exploit unevenness and exploit their vulnerabilities. If a business believes technology augments humans to maximize potential (productivity, innovation, imagination, ideation, etc.) that business should reflect on, well, human-ness (the characteristics that come along with humans). None are alike, each has potential to maximize and they are inherently imperfect. What that means is if you augment them, without constricting, you will not have consistent behavior, attitudes or even outcomes. Instead, should you empower the individual, you will create unevenness organizationally. In other words, expansion is not linear and unevenness represents geometric, or multiplicative, growth opportunities.

Which leads me to De-standardization and Molecules and Managing Complexity


De-standardization is the “anti-evenness” business idea. Toffler dedicated a chapter in The Adaptative Corporation on de-standardization. Somewhere along the way since 1985 this simply smart concept got bastardized into a lazy person’s version of it – personalization. They are different. Chasms apart in fact.

  • De-standardize reflects the fact the world has become increasingly complex and context drives business outlooks, therefore, mass production (of anything) is more likely to miss relevancy than to meet relevancy.
  • Personalization, in its most simplistic form, is order taking. Business cannot exist solely on order taking, it must be constructed to adapt to market shifts.

Regardless. Standardization, at minimum, suffocates complexity. Organizations, simplistically, relentlessly pursue consistency (replication) with the objective of maximizing efficiency and, as a consequence, pursues what is a potentially (mostly) reductionist strategy. Counterintuitively, over-standardization actually complicates complex systems. Therefore, in order to make complexity expansive a business has to be in the business of optimizing de-standardization.

I will note that in a utopian ‘de-standardized’ business, everything COULD be de-standardized, but only embraces its de-standardized qualities situationally. That’s not practical. The business of the future will know how to destandardize effective to maximize its complexity potential.

  • ** Note: automation/robots/technology: What a crisis/pandemic has certainly done is make sure businesses examine resilience & redundancy aspects. Automation/robots/blockchain technology will benefit and, most importantly, will be overemphasized ‘standardization’ feature solutions to meet resilience objectives. In other words, the majority of businesses will confuse resilience with fragility.


A molecular organization structure is a nuanced version of teams, organizations as organisms, teal, etc. it offers a more scientific aspect in that through alchemy, chemistry & science molecules are constantly created in new formations so their different elements emerge. It’s an emergent structural idea.

Molecular is not ecosystem, it’s a morphing of molecules to address specific needs – they can be ongoing needs (accounting, process, etc.) or situational needs, yet, because of its adaptability even the ‘consistent efficiency’ aspects can collect different ideas and evolve.

A molecular organizational structure is a derivation of the Brand Molecule (Grant; The Brand Innovation Manifesto) where we can see a malleable organizations as a collection of ideas, and people with ideas using machines/technology stored with idea fodder, working in a coherent fashion. Grant made tangible what Toffler offered us, a polymalleable organization in 1985 in intangible form.

I will also suggest that molecules thrive within complexity. It is difficult to talk about 100% emergent, and a molecular structure, without at least mentioning complexity.

  • Complexity and emergent

The concept of a totally emergent organization in which the organization itself (grounded in an AI structure) always offers lily pads of the complexity, or optimal certainty, to grasp. It is possibly chaos-proof yet inherently emergent.

Navigating, or managing within, complexity is multidimensional. Its remote work, and its not, its autonomy, and it’s not. Its disconnected, yet connected. Its adaptability, yet, its consistency. It’s the optimal mix of standardization and destandardization.

I would argue that a conceptual organization, while certainly seeking concepts, is constantly scanning about for insights. I say this because I believe complexity is expansive and to unlock it’s potential one must seek to either relieve a complication (this can come to life as an external emergent opportunity or relief of an internal emergent issue) or release the potential of an emergent opportunity through some smaller “fractal” (what I envision as smaller more causal relationship which leverages velocity in some way) which can be exploited to the benefit of the business  and not at the expense of society (this is addressed in the Part about “in & of society’). this is where we circle back to algorithms, data, data fitting and data literacy.

Being emergent DOES demand structure, but a structure that allows people (and organizations) the freedom to try new approaches and react to changing market conditions. Suffice it to say molecular without adaptability tied to data, or intelligence driven software, is a waste of time. The potential of molecular attitude is right people, right resources, right knowledge, right ‘synergy’ at the right time. Let’s call it ‘emergent efficacy’ which is the ability to proportionately, not as a formula or a balance, apply appropriate knowledge, resources and adaptability to specific contexts.

As noted elsewhere, this idea is messy, untidy, and businesses abhor untidiness. It will demand a different attitude, and skill, within leadership, a different way of viewing HR department responsibilities and a heightened level of human conversation within an organization. I make that last point because while it may appear at the core of this business model idea that technology bears the greatest burden of ‘conversation’ (the sharing of knowledge through technology) the real value is generated in the conversations and interactions between human beings. People working together to craft concepts and “do” what needs to be done to exploit emergent topics.

Written by Bruce