Culture Shock links #13

Hey there – here’s the lucky 13th instalment of interesting progressive business bits and bobs that caught my eye recently.


Companies that Mimic Life: The New Profit Leaders

Fascinating but fairly densely written report and outcomes, looking at this idea of ‘Companies that Mimic Life’, which on its own is a really interesting premise.

We’ve seen other codes emerge in traditional business as the source to everlasting brilliance – In Search of Excellence, Good to Great and so on.

What is interesting to me is the investigation of biomimicry as a source of possible business advantage or helpful patterns.

Have a proper dig around it, but for now here’s the study’s key takeouts:

In general, we see five distinct attributes of firms that mimic living systems. Not every company in the global LAMP index ® is a perfect exemplar of these, but each fits the model in important ways and displays best living asset stewardship (LAS) practices in their respective industry/sectors.

  1. They are highly networked to facilitate feedback and information exchanges within the firm and without. Many of these networks are informal, self-organizing consortia of employees, suppliers, and customers. When you layer these networks over one another and the firm’s chain of command, you get a structure that looks much like a double helix. 7
  2. They manage by means (MBM), understanding that people and relationships are the primary means by which they build network capacity and create value. 8 they strengthen and empower employees by practicing servant leadership. 9 they also give employees decision-making authority in their areas of competence and hold them accountable for results.
  3. They optimize their use of physical resources by “closing the loop” so the waste of one process becomes food for another. 10 in doing so, they aim for factor efficiencies by producing more value for customers with less input of energy and materials.
  4. They are exceptionally open in the ways they share information with employees and in their desire for stakeholder feedback. They know such openness builds trust, learning capacity and adaptability.
  5. They nurture the larger living systems of which they are a part (nature, society, markets) because they understand the inherent connection of all life.

If those aren’t 5 enormously exciting characteristics they you can call me Esmerelda and dress me up as a show pony. LOVE IT.


New clues to Wikipedia’s shared super mind

I have been using Wikipedia as an example of what we can achieve for quite a while now, and even in the past few weeks, working with groups of reasonably sophisticated digital people (whatever that means).

I feel that many of us use Wikipedia as this hardly noticeable resource every week, maybe every day, and quite naturally spend little or no time thinking to ourselves what an incredible edifice it is. To me, Wikipedia is just the earliest prototype of what is possible now that we are living in human networks with tools that allow us to pool and direct small amounts of effort and large amounts of collective intelligence. Wikipedia FTW!

But the word I used was edifice – like a monolithic structure of old, more Stonehenge than bee hive.

So I love that academics, like the author of this paper, are examining the dynamics and patterns of Wikipedia to find new answers. Answers that reveal the super-organism-ness of Wikipedia, the vibrant social system that seems to power it.

The actual academic paper is gobbleydegook to me but this short article about it got me excited, particularly this quote:

“The big result is that the Wikipedia behavior is what we call non-finite state,” DeDeo says. “It’s constantly generating new patterns of behavior that haven’t been seen before.”

One possibility, he says, is that the unbounded source for these behavior patterns in Wikipedia is shared between people – it’s the product of everyone’s mind. “That’s what’s really exciting,” he says.

I really believe historians will look back and chart Wikipedia as an early pioneering example of a new way of collaborating that went on to change our world.



IT Departments Have Become Completely Useless

If you’ve read Culture Shock, you know that I put one of 8 chapters towards the role of Technology in progressive organisations, a quality I call ‘Tech DNA’ with the basic idea that in the best 21st orgs technology absolutely isn’t a department, and is instead an interwoven part of everything the organisation does.

Fundamental to achieving this interwoven tech in organisations requires nothing short of a revolution in traditional IT departments and IT thinking on behalf of everyone outside the IT dept.

What is interesting about this short piece is that the author sees an emergence of Chief Digital Officers and Digital functions in organisations, running in parallel to CIO and IT functions which I recognise and you probably will too. He questions how this will play out. Will they merge? How?

It’s straightforward stuff, but you may find it useful.

The big question for me is ‘what will it be like when the sexy Digital gang have to take care of or distribute responsibility for the big, ugly, mustn’t-go-wrong technology stuff?’ How do we upgrade the infrastructure of large complex orgs to a 21st century state of fitness? (Remember the RBS-Natwest bank technical issues, rumoured to have been due to outsourcing of IT for a vast legacy system?).


Crown of Win

Related to the above, a great guy I know called Toby has been implementing Culture Shock-type ideas with his IT helpdesk team.

Here’s his team’s blog, with photos of their weekly ‘Crown of Win’ to reward achievement in a funny, silly, non-financial yet somehow meaningful way. And in a way that might not completely fit with their org’s wider culture.

This crown of win is part of a wider family of simple ideas like Zappos Reply-All hat and NixonMcInnes’ Sword of Win.

Nice to see people actually doing stuff, though 🙂 I remember a takeout from our Organisational Change course last year as being ‘you change an organisation’s culture one meeting at a time’. Easy to deride the ‘small’ stuff, but it matters. See also: aggregation of marginal gains.

Nice one Toby and team!


To finish, a really nice review of Culture Shock by Marc Abraham – thank you Mark!

So yeah, please keep sharing links and spreading the good word,

– Will

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