“We are many, many people and yet we are one. What we do today with our thinking, what we do tomorrow with our thoughts, what we do with our actions and our interactions with people determines the course of the universe itself. You are not powerless. You are not without power.”

Little Crow


I recently wrote a piece about my belief that everyone likes to think. This is a follow-up where I discuss how an organization actually has a massive conceptual brain simply waiting for someone to tap into it. To be clear. While execution is kind of the baseline of any organization (if you do not ‘do’ things with skill inevitably a business doesn’t really produce anything), effectiveness has only one real limit – the employee’s imaginations, ideas and minds. I mention that because if any business is truly honest, they have never even come close to maximizing that potential – what I call ‘the organizational brain.’ Yeah. Sure. A business may have tapped into a smaller version of that organizational brain – a small team – but 99.9% of businesses have never tapped into the untapped potential found by using the entire organization brain (which, to be clear, is both parts & whole – unleashing each individual employee’s potential, unleashing institutional knowledge, as well as the collective energy and thinking of all working together).

Which leads me to the role of technology.

If there is one truth business must face it is that everything is capable of being captured and, ultimately, expressed digitally. Once business accepts that truth then it becomes inevitable one must think about how data, institutionally as well as individually, can be effectively gathered to enable that digital infrastructure to navigate a business’s progress and success through computation, algorithms and a variety of software capabilities. This does not mean technology replaces humans. In fact. The business truth I just asked business to face runs parallel to the other truth – the future value of business will not reside in technology, but rather the humans who use it and how those humans interact with each other. Once again. It will be people, their imagination, creativity, ideas, minds, quirks, caring, curiosity, which will inevitably generate the ongoing value.

** note: the alternative is a commodity world in which machines compete against other machines for who can be the most efficient machine.

I would argue this is an organizational mindset which enables an organizational culture.

We should always remind ourselves of what James Carse said, “Since a culture is not anything persons do, but anything they do with each other we may say a culture comes into being whenever persons choose to be a people. It is as a people that they arrange their rules with each other, their moralities, their modes of communication.”  While I (slightly) hesitate to suggest people, technology (software) and information, each by themselves, are simply discernible bits of something that are actually nothings, I will suggest in an ‘organizational brain’ frame of mind those things are nothing until they actually “do with each other” and collectively create progress. A culture forges them all together into something worthwhile.

From a larger perspective one could suggest the Cloud is the key to making it all work, but the truth is, from a more granular pragmatic aspect, it will most likely be cognitive algorithms (intelligence-based software). This is true because progress, and agility, isn’t tied to access of knowledge, but rather use of knowledge by individuals and individuals interacting with each other. It within the collective interaction, or culture engaging with a system, from which continuous improvement and progress is found. On a separate note, I would be remiss if I didn’t say if you have to “reskill” your employees, it’s a reflection that you have not created an organization in which people are “continuously skilling”. Create a business that is continuously improving, even its employees, and you will never have to “reskill.”

Which leads me to emergence, predictability and people.

One of the questions I asked myself is not only can an organization be 100% emergent, but if it actually were could it have a healthy culture (because culture does need some predictability)? Well. I believe yes and no. Yes because people behavior naturally arcs toward predictive, repetitive, behavior and rhythms. So, while an ‘organizational brain’ organizational-type structure may encourage 100% emergent, people will inevitably seek some aspects of predictable. That also explains the no. No replication of systems & process ignores the fact replicable activity is where pockets of efficiency reside and without any replicable behavior optimal organizational efficacy can never be achieved.

The tricky part is the ‘organizational brain’ is while predictability and planning are the fundamental desire of any business (and anyone thinking) in general, they are delusional aspirations. Yes. A good business can assess probabilities and likelihoods and, yes, they should certainly attempt to control as much of the environment contextual dynamics as possible that ensure the likelihood of success, but, ‘at that time no one knew what was coming’ is the greater likelihood each and every one of the employees face in the thousands of everyday decisions they must make — little, medium and large, in terms of importance.

So future success resides in the coalescing of prioritized fragments into a conceptual whole in a timely fashion. This will demand not only the organizational brain embracing critical thinking, but also the ability to envision how that thinking can exist in a future state. It also demands a certain organizational brain worldview with regard to People:

  • Personal: people are a complex mix of generalist capabilities and interest residing in a specialist happy world. The world is usually good at rewarding the specialty skill a person offers all the while not rewarding the ancillary interest i& skills often lying dormant within a person. In other words, the world is quite happy offering support to only parts of people and not the whole. I would suggest the most meaningful life is one in which the whole of the individual has permission to not only be exploited, but ‘used.’
  • Potential: people are walking vessels of untapped potential. Capitalism, and reality, almost dictates some choices which inevitably leave a significant portion of each individuals’ potential untapped. Conceptually, any business that can permit an individual to tap into potential, or maximize potential, will benefit (while benefiting the individual).
  • Productivity: while it may be uncomfortable to say in a world shouting “you are not defined by your work” it would be silly to suggest our work did not define parts of who and what we are. Work, which represents a significant part of our lives, is an expression of a huge investment in time and energy. Therefore productivity, or our actual output, is one of the most tangible measurements of all that time and energy. I would suggest that if you maximize your potential not only does your productivity increase but the quality of the productivity increases.

** note: quality of productivity can be measured on two aspects – actual quality of the output as well as quality of the input. What I mean by that is I, individually, will feel better or be more invested in what I produce if I feel like I have invested more, and different strengths/interests, INTO that production. It is not a big leap to believe that inner investment will translate into a better product itself. In other words, the individual productivity incurs intrinsic and extrinsic value.

  • Progress: results are tricky. This is why gamification was/is so appealing. This is why ‘destination addiction’ is a thing. But we know from research that finite progress (milestones, sprints, etc) are a doom loop of chasing things in which people get trained to chase output instead of outcomes. People inherently gain greater satisfaction if they show progress – better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today.

It is when a business can align all aspects that not only will they maximize the potential of a person, which the business benefits, but it will also maximize personal meaning, therefore, maximizing the organizational brain.

** note: meaning typically gets defined by ‘understanding one’s impact on the betterment of something other than oneself’, but I believe it is a little more complex. It is an intricate weave of doing (creating or making something – even if it is ideas), actualization of that doing, investment of oneself into that doing, a measure of progress (better today than yesterday) and an actual impact. Its personal growth with an impact.

Regardless. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the way I am discussing technology is possibly the ultimate expression of augmenting humans/people rather than people augmenting AI/technology, i.e., the sole purpose of the AI infrastructure is to simply make people be the best they can be.

In the end.

I believe most people are confident enough to think they can get the resources they need to solve any problem they can actually see (or any opportunity they can see clearly enough). So, if we maximize the organizational brain not only will some individual “see”, but the rest of the organization will “recognize what is seen” and the brain will act in a coherent fashion.

That thought possibly gains importance because in today’s world, whether you like it or not, people are expected to cope with increasing complexity, change and diversity. Simplistically this means in a complexity world people are asked to tackle a much greater diversity of problems/opportunities. All the while we seek to maintain some of the efficiencies of life (or the business) – the rituals, replicable events, etc. – but to get ahead, or maintain some progress, knowledge and information has to be absorbed to meet the demands of future problems/opportunities. Said differently, complexity demands structure AND flexibility. And while that sounds almost impossible, if not uncomfortable, I will remind you of Atkinson “Motivational Determinants of risk-taking Behavior”. We are capable enough, all of us, to navigate complexity if placed in the right mindset and if the appropriate knowledge connects with our curiosity because, in my opinion, once curiosity is engaged one can see existing patterns as well as new patterns. In my opinion, once the organizational brain is engaged everyone, and the institution itself, will prosper and progress. I imagine what that really means is the organizational brain constantly expands to accommodate more people, ideas, curiosity and activity which, in turn, accommodates whatever complexity the business world can throw at it. Ponder.

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Written by Bruce