Several years ago, I began a consulting journey integrating IT systems with social and business systems. I could see the “writing on the wall.” As participants in today’s economy, the majority of us are knowledge workers. In essence, we spend a good deal of our daily activities on computers gathering, organizing and turning information into a ‘value-add’ contribution. Knowing this, combined with the statistics for failed IT implementations in organizations (~80%), provided an opportunity for collaboration between my company, Right To Joy, and The Proactive Circle. The two companies’ diverse skill sets allowed us to bridge the gaps (language, learning and practice) responsible for the less than stellar IT statistics. After all, Complexity Theory teaches that divergent skills and experiences (i.e., variety) are necessary requirements for human and organizational systems to strengthen and grow.
A major reason for IT implementation failure rates is the lack of involvement or limited collaboration by stakeholders at the design, planning and implementation stages of the change process. The Action Research model, as well as Systems Theory, emphasizes the need to assess, act and adapt from a whole person and whole system perspective. Why is that? Because humans and organizations are complex adaptive systems that learn and grow as a result of their inter-connections.
Complex adaptive systems — such as human beings, organizations and cultures —make up the universe and are often embedded one within the other (immune system, circulatory system, human being, social system, weather system, etc.). This inter-relationship guarantees that any intervention in an embedded system will impact, potentially in even greater ways, all other connected systems. Simply put, what we do to one system in an organization, we do to all systems (internally as well as externally). In turn, these impacted systems learn from their experiences and evolve from their learning which further impacts and changes them and their connected relationships — hence the concepts of continuous learning and reinvention. Within each iteration in this experience-learning-feedback cycle, greater effectiveness is achieved. Therefore, logic dictates that in order for an organization to continually strengthen its ability to adapt in today’s environment, all its members must be active agents in all stages of the change cycle.
As a strategy partner to complex adaptive people and organizations, my change methodologies emulate these self-organizing systems. Using the action research process, I gather data about the system in order for all to better understand its characteristics. The patterns that emerge from the collected data heighten self-awareness and open the door to a host of new opportunities, choices and freedoms. Currently, Jeff (The Proactive Circle) and I are evolving an action-research tool across multiple collaborations with peers and clients. Each iteration increases our understanding of the world around us and strengthens our ability to adapt to its emerging challenges and opportunities. More about this later. For now, with your help, I am interested in developing an Action-Research Toolkit which will be posted on my web site. What favourite ‘meaning-making’ tools do you use that add value for your clients?