“A proposition can only be verified in terms of the paradigm or model of which it is part” — Edward Goldsmith

How S. was killed by a lion

The following story was documented by anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1) in 1928 and is used as an example of circularity in Michael Polanyi’s brilliant essay, The Stability of Beliefs.

Two African natives, S. and K., go to the wood to gather honey. S. found four big trees full of honey, whilst K. could find only one. K. went home bewailing his ill luck, while S. had been so fortunate. Meanwhile S. …

“ … the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself “Leon C. Megginson (often incorrectly attributed to Darwin)

In nature, species either adapt to their environments or become extinct. Products are a bit like that too. They either thrive in the market or die.

Can we use insights from evolutionary biology to improve product design and management; to better understand why some products thrive and others fade away? I think we can. …

“Metaphor always creates distortions” — Gareth Morgan

“Complex adaptive systems are characterised by perpetual novelty” — John H. Holland

Complexity science is a logical domain for researching post-bureaucratic organisational design and development. By studying the nature of complex adaptive systems we can obtain rich insights into the nature of organisation. Many future transmissions will refer to complex adaptive systems research as it applies to organisational development. Here is a short primer on the basics.

What they are

Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) are systems comprising of many interacting components (agents) that can learn or adapt.

Examples include cities, economies, civilizations, the immune system, animal…

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” — Albert A. Bartlett

The phenomenon of exponentially accelerating technology is a relatively recent event in history, yet it is now a major driver of market dynamics. Many executives, however, are failing to factor it into strategy, jeopardising their organisation’s future fitness. In an increasingly VUCA world, organisations need to learn how to ‘see around corners’.

What they are

Exponential Technologies underpin modern society. The term, coined by futurist Ray Kurzweil, refers to those technologies for which the power and/or speed doubles each year, and/or the cost drops…

“The only constant in the strategic environment is the continuous acceleration of change …” *

What it is

VUCA is an acronym frequently used within the realm of Strategic Leadership, especially within the military. “VUCA” rhymes with Luka and describes an external environment that is filled with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity:

  • Volatility refers to the rate of change of the environment. How quickly markets and customer preferences change, the pace of technological revolution, the sudden appearance of new competitors, unstable political environments, and so forth.
  • Uncertainty refers to the lack of predictability about the environment, and our place within it. The inability…


Post Bureaucracy will be despatched each Monday morning, commencing 4 Jan 2021. It is a short one to two-minute read targeted at executives (1) contemplating or navigating new organisational forms: those that are agile, radically decentralised, and adaptive.

The posts will be excerpts from my consulting work in Agile/Adaptive org dev. They will span foundational concepts from a variety of disciplines including Lean, Agile, Complexity Science, and Organisational Behaviour.

Its value

Many organisations are in the midst of, or will face in the future, some sort of post-bureaucratic restructuring. All sorts of organisations are loosening up, embracing ‘Agile’, devolving decision-making, digitalising value…

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) — Laocoön

In one of the most extensive business research projects ever conducted, Project Aristotle, Google found, to their surprise, that the number one driver of team performance is psychological safety.

This is a gift on a plate to organisations. Want to radically improve your performance? Then simply make psychological safety a priority.

The response … crickets. My partner in Organisational Misbehaviour, Dr Richard Calydon, and I talk to many organisations about this subject. We expect it to be top of most senior executive’s agendas. But, alas, it is not. Nowhere near it. …

Photo of N4713U after emergency landing — Lessons Learned, FAA

A true story illustrating the critical role of candour for effective teamwork.

On February 24, 1989, United Flight 811 left Honolulu bound for Aukland with 355 souls onboard. Sixteen minutes after takeoff, at 22,000 feet, a grinding noise was heard, followed by a loud thud that rattled the whole aircraft — one and a half seconds later the forward cargo door blew out. The pressure differential caved in the cabin floor above the door. Nine people stilled strapped to their seats were sucked out of the cabin through a gaping hole in the fuselage.

The pilots began an emergency descent…

Chicks by Peggy Greb

Entrepreneurs are failing en masse in their single most important task: creating something that the market actually wants. In an orgy of hubris, billions of dollars are squandered each year on harebrained ideas that have little chance of success. Entrepreneurs and VCs could do themselves a huge favour by learning how to overcome delusional thinking. The story of Frank Perdue — the “Steve Jobs of Chickens” — shows how the discipline of objective research can clarify value propositions, generate fortunes, and change the course of industries.

As a society, we worship entrepreneurialism: 65% of young people want to start their…

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (Image via Heisenberg Media)

A lesson from Uber: why focusing on talent alone is dangerous

“The ramifications of these political games were significant: projects were abandoned left and right, Objectives and Key Results were changed multiple times each quarter, nobody knew what our organizational priorities would be one day to the next, and very little ever got done. We all lived under fear that our teams would be dissolved, there would be another re-org, and we’d have to start on yet another new project with an impossible deadline. It was an organization in complete, unrelenting chaos.”

Susan J. Fowler’s article on the cultural problems inside Uber is a classic description of what happens when organisational…

John Dobbin

Consulting in Organisational Adaptivity & Agility (medium & large orgs) // Based in Dubai with global availability // Enquiries: DM @JohnDobbin

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