What’s your organization’s ecosystem?

Is it a maze where employees, volunteers and stakeholders make choice with little or no information and no clear view of the main goal? A highway system where choices are clearly marked and you know how far it is to your destination—but only one or two routes will get you there, and each vehicle is on its own? Or, given that being agile and nimble is now a critical attribute for successful organizations, can individuals, teams and organizations easily come together when there is value in collaboration? Can they readily pick other paths and partners as needed to move towards a desired future? Can they create new paths others might or might not follow depending on shared vision, common cause or mutual benefit?

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

At one of my organizations, Creating the Future, we speak of an ocean ecosystem. What might that be like?

Well, there are no marked roads in an ocean, and no walls or silos. Temperature, depth and resource availability help guide the ocean’s residents, but if our path seems headed towards a hurricane or warship, we can act like a dolphin and choose a new route. Sometimes a school of fish is the right place to be – maybe when you need many supporters for effective advocacy. Sometimes we hide in a coral reef or safe harbour to heal and regain our sanity. Sometimes we can be sharks, seizing the moment to be powerful forces for change. Mostly, we go with the current to save energy for whatever matters most, because change is hard.

Maps are available for known destinations, including where to avoid reefs, pirates and kraken (giant squids shown on the kind of old maps that say “here be dragons.”) The early people who first set out across the Pacific had no such maps, just like many innovators have little guidance. Some landed on Easter Island or South America, and found ways to identify the potential of those lands and create a future of abundance for their children’s children’s children. Sometimes, it feels to me like that’s what we have a chance to do with new technology, if we focus on the impact on people and planet instead of personal gain.

What can you do to tear down rigid barriers, and free up your people and yourself to make intelligent, informed choices?

Let me ask this another way. You probably say you want innovation. What needs to change to encourage that? What conditions can you put in place to better enable it? Innovation to what end?

And if you are currently in a junior role, remember that in schools of fish, the leadership rotates because everyone has leadership abilities and potential. Maybe I see you now, heading off with some dolphins who are willing to commit to following a new path, for a while at least, towards a better future.

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