The resilience of your organisation depends on the people willing to risk breaking things.
Chaos Monkey is an open source application created to test the resilience of web services. By intentionally creating failures in random ways, chaos monkey helps engineers discover where there are shortcomings in their systems.
Many organisations have business continuity tests to help them learn how to manage failures. These exercises can be valuable learning experiences when done well. However, many are also predictable, formal and artificial. (If your business continuity test isn’t allowed to fail you won’t learn anything) Further many of these tests don’t go far enough because they test the continuity of defined current systems and processes internally, not the resilience of these in a wider dynamic ecosystem.
Chaos at the Centre and the Edge
How do create a corporate chaos monkey that helps your organisation learn how to improve its resilience in a rapidly changing environment?
Creating a way for your people to run small scale tests of new ways of working, new processes, new products and services acts as a chaos monkey in your corporate environment. Lots of change and experimentation will expose your weaknesses and keeps you engaged with the dynamic environment around your organisation. This is the usually reason that wide scale experimentation is resisted in large organisations. However, experimentation lets you learn and build capability to fix issues when they are still small. Experimentation builds resilience.
In most complex systems, the traditional approach of defence from failure will fail anyway. Building the capability to learn and adapt to failure is far more valuable than a Maginot line of corporate defence. Experimentation will help supply the needed chaos at the centre and the edges of your organisation.
Once you accept that a little chaos is required you need your own monkeys to bring chaos. Find and embrace your Change Agents. In every organisation there is someone willing to risk breaking something to make the world better. Change Agents are the corporate chaos monkeys.
Every responsive organisation needs its Change Agents to bring just the right amount of chaos, adaptation and learning.
“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” – Jack Welch
We are all dead.
The rate of change external to each of our organisations is now so great that no organisation can ensure it is changing faster than the external system. Global interconnectedness, the rapid speed of ideas in a digital economy & new means of working and collaborating means that change will only continue to accelerate.
So if we are all dead what do we do? Change the game.
Jack Welch’s quote assumed that the organisation needed to generate enough change internally to beat the system. If you are a massive diversified conglomerate like GE, then that is a real challenge
Don’t beat the system. Become the system instead. Organisations need to design their structure, boundaries and processes to integrate with opportunities going on around them in that external change. Instead of hunkering down to fight off the change, organisations need to rethink their defenses. The best defense may just be a welcome:
Have an outward facing culture: If your organisation is looking inwards for your ideas and opportunities, you are dead. If your organisation, only worries about its competitors, then don’t worry they are dead too. Open your organisation up to look globally (that really means globally including Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Africa)
– Focus on opportunities to create an ecosystem: Allowing the system to shape your products, services and customers will accelerate your change. This can be achieved in many ways such as partnership agreements, an API or a customer collaboration community. Once you start to see and think about the system in which you operate, new opportunities to change and innovate will present themselves.
– Create agile & open edges in their organisation with the freedom to interact with external changes: hackathons, experiments, partnership agreements and a handful of strategic investments can generate a lot of exposure to change externally that will help the organisation adapt. Make sure your permission and performance processes actually give your people the opportunity to interact. They need to be able to move at the speed of the system and that means trust.
– Speed the sharing of information and execution in your organisation: Copy the system where you can. Use enterprise social. Use agile. Use design. Use minimum viable products. Hack, experiment and test away.
– Kill yourself first: What business model do you most fear losing? What product are you too dependent on? What customer can’t you lose? Tackle these challenges now. Engineer a way to change them or innovate like crazy in these spaces before others realise your vulnerability.