When Circumstances Change, Change Your Approach


Changing circumstances demand changes in approach. Clinging to the old ways can be dangerous.

The Praying Mantis in the Schoolyard

When confronted with a threat, a praying mantis has a set program of responses to take advantage of the advantages of excellent camouflage: freeze & blend in, sway like a leaf, run to the nearest tree. All these strategies work well in the normal circumstances of a praying mantis, the leafy greenery of trees.

However when the wind is blowing strongly and a praying mantis finds itself blown to the unfamiliar circumstances of schoolyard asphalt, none of these strategies work. It can’t blend in. Freezing exposes it to risk of being stomped. What it runs towards is not a tree. It is the leg of a small curious boy. In the end, it need a generous young girl to carry it back to the bushes to escape the growing crowd.

Change Your Approach

A praying mantis can’t change its approach immediately. Evolution will take a while to catch up with asphalt. It will eventually adapt as a species, but that doesn’t help any individual insect.

Your organisation isn’t programmed by genetics. When circumstances change, your organisation and its people can adopt new approaches, experiment to find new ways and learn how to succeed in the new environment. If your organisation is still responding to the new network economy with the same approaches and practices that worked in the industrial era, it can be as dangerous as outdated practices were to the mantis. Nobody will be generous enough to return your organisation to its preferred environment.

There is No Formula – Just Learning

Many managers find this discussion deeply unsettling. Advocates of the future of work are calling for change, but they are often either highly conceptual or discussing concepts that seem very alien to the circumstances in an organisation.

The abstraction has a reason. The future of work is being driven by a network economy where the right strategies are often emergent and adaptive. Adopting a new fixed formula is as dangerous as the last one. While we would like a formula (and many offer to sell one), the future strategies need to be learned for each organisation in its own circumstances in the network.  Change can’t be imposed it needs to be led one conversation at a time.

Creating a responsive organisation that can leverage the human potential to learn and experiment a way forward will take new techniques and new ways of organising.  Many of these techniques that are rising to the fore in discussion of the future of work and responsive organisations are ways to foster the emergence of a new better approaches for organisation using networks, rather than fighting them.  That’s why much of the conversation comes back to enabling people to learn and act in new ways:

  • Leadership: fostering the leadership capabilities of each person to leverage their insights and their potential to lead change from their unique position
  • Experimentation: Moving from exercising the power and expertise of a few to experimenting to learn together
  • Learning: improving the ability to understand the environment by focusing on tools to better seek out, share and make sense of information.
  • Work out Loud: aligning the organisation and bringing out latent human capabilities using techniques like ‘working out loud
  • Collaboration & Community: Networks route around barriers. Therefore you need to bring down the barriers within and around your organisation. Isolation is not a winning strategy in a period of rapid change.

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