The Force in organisational life and becoming a Jedi — The Beginning

Definitely not the opening image of Star Wars part III: A New Hope, with the quote below superimposed over it

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi

(and if you want to hear that once again in Sir Alec’s voice: )

The Force in organisations is real. It can shape and control you and your organisation — often towards the dark side — or you can learn to use that power to shape things positively.

I’m not a fan of ‘neat-and-complete’ whole theories of life, the universe, and organisations. But I am looking for the core underlying irreducible realities that we must face. A number of these have the attributes of ‘The Force’ — they surround and suffuse everything human in organisation, and have tendencies that will pull us in particular directions.

There are thirteen I am working with as those core dynamics — here are the first four. Do you have some to add, or some to disagree with?

  1. ‘The purpose of the system is what it does’ — there’s no value adducing to a system or organisation any purpose other than what it reliably and predictably produces. But if you get real and accept the POSIWID — the actual purpose-in-the-world which best explains and animates the largest proportion of what an observed system actually produces (from the point of view of an observer defining that system, of course), you’ll learn. You’ll learn that what is happening is a de facto purpose, not the espoused vision or mission — and that, often, this is being driven by measuring the wrong thing and by punishing and rewarding where you should be measuring and learning.
  2. Hidden, essential organisational logic — from the Viable Systems Model, I take the fundamental operational requirements of organisation — the system elements that need to function, communicate, and connect for any organiation to survive and thrive. Requisite Agility — — is a new approach which brings these core principles together, with a focus on appropriate agility to meet the rate of change in the environment.
  3. The inevitability of the shaping of culture by leaders and systems — it is in the core, gut, emotional reaction to their experience of leadership, people and work systems, and the symbolism of the organisation that people respond with discretionary effort or by being switched off — and this is a complex adaptive system where stories told about these triggers and the experiences of them circulate, and affect others.
  4. ‘Worlds’ matter — you can never see ‘the whole elephant’ because everyone in their different parts of the system is experiencing an entirely different world, and because our sensemaking is about how we survive and respond to the world we live in. Information never moves between these worlds without being translated — often awkwardly — into the different language, sensemaking, and meaning of the other world. And, what’s more, the dynamics between the worlds often follows a pattern of what Bateson called schismogenesis — the natural tendence to separate and for the dynamic of separation and opposition to reinforce and harden the gap.

Next week, I’ll add some of Barry Oshry’s identification of how human response systems will tend to produce dominant/other patterns which create system fragility, and patterns of separation and resentment which destroy partnership. And structural coupling between the organisation and environment, and control, framing, paradigms, politics, self-knowledge, and lust for power!

And in future weeks, hierarchy, human needs, irreducible complexity, constraints all the way down, and the potential for learning.

Please chip in — what do you see as the core irreducible elements of organisational life — The Force that binds the galaxy together?

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