Living Between Structure & Chaos: Don’t Let Your Internal Processes Strangle You

I am finishing the book COMPLEXITY. Although it’s a fabulous book, it’s not a bed time read.

It’s one of those where you read a few pages and then have to put it down to let it sink in or to write down the flood of inspiration that pops into your mind.

I wanted to share a point we all already know, but one that this book drove home for me.

First, think of a startup. Usually ther are very few rules because they are small enough and they need to be nimble. It is a bit chaotic. But as things start to solidify, rules, processes and policies start to form. Through those efficiencies are created.

But, after a while, the mantra becomes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The problem with this is that it focuses not on what is best, but what will sustain. Soon, those same guidelines are the ones that are holding the company back. They go from chaotic to too structured.

The key is to live between the two. In this area a company is flexible enough that they are able to be nimble and adapt as markets and technologies change, but are structured enough take advantages of efficiencies.

Once we become too structured we become our own worst enemies.  Just think of about any government organization, or companies which used to be the latest, greatest thing but could not move when the market changed because they were too structured. (Borders, Blockbuster, Blackberry – see a pattern here?  Stay away from the letter “B”.)

I am working with some companies who are in this situation now. They have become too structured and are feeling the uneasiness of being settled. They can’t move quickly and are falling behind. What we are working on is moving them from stagnantly structured to slighty uncomfortable yet agile.

It will take some brave souls to champion this. But if they don’t make the change, they will find themselves being beat up by those who can take advantage of changes rather than being strangled by their internal processes and culture.

So the question for you: Where is your organization?  Where are you personally?  How can you move out of where to you are into that middle ground?