The Pineapple Effect: Learning to See the New World


Discovering the New World was a difficult enterprise, as we have all been taught. But even more difficult, once the New World was discovered, was seeing it, understanding that it was new, entirely new, different from anything one had expected to find as new

…the Old World catch the imagery of the New most forcefully when it still does not know precisely what it is dealing with, when information is scarce and incomplete, and it is difficult to separate reality from mistakes and fantasy.

from ‘How New the World Was’ by Italo Calvino found in Collection of Sand

We see the new through our old world. The new presents us challenges and mysteries of which we need to make sense. We make mistakes, learn and in the process we experience a Pineapple Effect.

The Pineapple Effect

The original meaning of the word pineapple was the cones of conifer trees. After the new fruit was found in the Americas, it was named pineapple for a perceived resemblance to what we now call pinecones. The discoverers of this new world fruit needed to made sense of it so they explained it with the tools they had at hand from their old world. Of course, the name was grossly misleading. There’s little beyond a surface resemblance between the two. Thankfully, pinecone came into usage and the terms went separate ways to avoid further confusion.

For those advocating for changes in the world of work this Pineapple Effect presents a quandary. How do we help people make sense of the new world of work?

Do you advocate for change using old models? or

Do you engage people in the creativity of the new with some mystery, mistakes and fantasy?

Build out from the Old

We see a lot of people choose the former path. The new world of social collaboration and new forms of work organisation are promoted often in very traditional terms that reflect management’s view of where benefits may lie:

  • reducing email
  • a new kind of intranet
  • increasing efficiency
  • making communications more effective
  • improving business processes or technology system adoption and use with a social layer

For many organisations, there is value in these approaches, if it begins the journey of adoption and further learning. New tools and new ways of working take new practice and new skills.  They must be learned the hard way, often by experimentation. Importantly, they often introduce new attitudes, thinking and elements of culture to the organisation. There is an important period of sense making that occurs as people engage.  As Buckminster Fuller said:

If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t teach. Give them a tool, the use of which will lead to it

However, if this new thinking and new practice is not specifically enabled by the culture of the organisation, real limits will be met. Unless the potential of the new tools and practices can be realised in change, employees & their managers will see the new approaches as Old World v2.0. That alone will limit the sense people can make of the changes, the discovery and the ultimate extent of change.

Worst of all, it may mean that the organisation may come to see change as unnecessary or faddish. With heavily technical approaches to adoption of tools, there is a similarly technical expectation of quick returns. In many cases, that shortens the timeline for people to learn new ways and to demonstrate the value of the changing practices.

Explore a little mystery

The business world is usually reticent to live long with the dangers of uncertainty. Mystery, mistakes and fantasy are seen as sources of concern in most organisations.

Occasionally we see a burst of the froth and bubble of the new in the business media, such as the recent discussion of Zappos’ decision to pursue Holacracy as a decision making process internally. While few organisations are likely to adopt the same decision as Zappos, the conversations of managers around the world about other models of work are potentially creative, if they provoke new thoughts and experiments in new models.

Embrace a little chaos. Be prepared to make new sense. Accept that these new ways of working offer the potential for entirely new models of work,sharing knowledge and decision making. Accept that the new way of work can be an agent of significant cultural change. When organisations have stepped into that potential, they can discover:

  • people fundamentally redesign decision making processes to leverage social’s potential to engage more people regardless of their place in a function or their expertise
  • new forms of trust built as people have a richer sense of other’s agendas and purposes – trust is an extraordinary enabler of so much that organisations need like collaboration, performance and creativity.
  • innovation arise in many new and varied places as people are enabled to experiment with new and better ways of working.

Transformative change occurs when people have the liberty & support to experiment. That means allowing the opportunity to embrace discovery of new meaning and the accompanying chaos, mistakes, & fantasy. Importantly that also means the time for new meaning to grow in a community of people. Many initiatives are cut short before they mature into new meaning and innovations.

The new world of work presents us with the Pineapple Effect. We need both smart leverage of traditional approaches to encourage adoption and a willingness to experiment for new meaning.

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