Lately I’ve been asked, what comes first? Self-leadership or redesigning the company’s culture, systems, and processes? Given that the answer peers out of both sides of the same coin now seems to be a good time to revisit the fractal nature of life. In 2005, when I was seeking insight into how to release human potential to do far more, I attended a complementary medicine conference where Bruce Lipton, cellular biologist, was speaking. At the end of his talk, I asked him if companies followed the same principles as cells and human bodies.
“There is a self similar pattern that exists because the environment is structured by what is called fractal geometry and fractal geometry is how you study structure in space. What’s interesting is in fractal geometry we find that the universe is actually built upon self similar images, meaning that if you can understand one level of organization at one structural level, let’s say at the level of atoms or molecules, then you’ll understand what’s going on in the cells. If you understand what’s going on cells, you’ll understand what’s going on with people. And if you understand what’s going on with people, you’ll understand civilization.” -Dr. Bruce Lipton
Do you start with leadership development or change the context (container) driving behaviour?
It’s impossible to separate change of governance or a company’s operating system from the imperative to expand leadership and decision making skills at every level of the organization. Redistribution of power means those who hold power over others must come to a different relationship with the power held within. Doug Kirkpatrick has done a lovely job of laying out the qualities require to function in a self-managed company. And Jeff Cohn nicely summarized the qualities mentioned in DAVOS. But lists of skills, attributes and qualities are deceptive. While the courage required for growth is natural for many, it scares others. Acquiring a growth mindset takes discipline, a passion for learning and diving deep. Out of insight and inspiration flows the decisions needed to bring companies into alignment with their potential. While the benefits of the personal leadership journey are higher quality relationships, greater fulfillment, and stronger agility and performance, humans tend to make decisions not always in their best interest. Potential is either repressed (high rates of depression) or adrift (low engagement).
Increasingly I hear people talk about feeling bored with routine tasks, ready for a creative adventure. There’s no shortage of challenges needing creative and design thinking. And the good news is that company (business) executives realize trying to stabilize and control uncertainty by resisting or denying change won’t lead to success much less survival. Even reliance on past practises is increasingly being recognized as a comfortable way to self-sabotage resilience and growth. Yet, there is hope! Certainly for small and medium sized companies there is a lot of hope.
How does biology and the fractal nature of evolution inform change in big companies?
Drawing a Parallel Between the Human Body and a Company
Dr. Lipton explained the parallel between the human body and a corporation this way.
IBM is a company but IBM is a company made up of a lot of employees. You can either see it at a distance and say “there’s IBM” or you can go into the office and all of a sudden start to see all the individuals that are working there. The same thing with a body. From a distance it looks like a human. Get inside the body and there is a big corporate office with all these individual cells; every cell being intelligent, cooperating in this endeavour called human…
Every cell is innately intelligent but when they come together to form a community — a starfish or a bird — this is not just a bunch of cells gathering together, squeezing into that shape of an organism. The word community becomes very important here because, while every cell is intelligent, when they join a community, they’re agreeing on some common destination, behaviour or function. Commonality is what holds the community together. Even though there might be a bunch of diverse individuals in the community, the community represents some common thinking or common purpose. – Dr. Bruce Lipton
Each Person in a Company is Innately Intelligent with Unlimited Potential
Every cell (person) in the community (company), though intelligent, will defer their intelligence to follow the edict or direction or mission of that company…
When you stand back and look, the human body is a corporation with all these cells engaged and working in harmony to provide for the success of the organism. Above all of this the corporate HQ is the equivalent of the nervous system. The nervous system has the awareness to look at the world, see what’s going on out there and adjust the operation of the community to fit the demands of the world. – Dr. Bruce Lipton
Deepening Leadership Skills
What I see in many companies is far too narrow a lens being applied to interpreting the changes going on in the world today. More accurate interpretation requires a heightened meta-set of awareness and leadership skills and adjustable perception. The denial of needed change has put business so far behind that very bold moves lie immediately ahead. Fortunately, the path forward is a lot more fun and with quantum leaps in leadership consciousness than the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into building companies born in the industrial era.
Today, activating the creative potential inside companies begins with a much better why with wider benefit (thanks Simon Sinek) than just making the next quarterly target. Companies must truly benefit humanity and the existence of all life to achieve lasting economic, social and ecological value. Once you understand that companies are communities of relationships, the choices of change processes requires more discernment as I described in Adapting Change to Fit Complexity. Both individual and company self-awareness must increase through each experience, epic fail or success, if decisions can leverage benefit to all. Right now, it is not destructive competition that will ensure companies or leaders succeed or fail. It is the capacity to work with others inside and outside a company, that opens the gate to collective intelligence and creativity.
Much thanks to Dr. Bruce Lipton! If you’d like to listen to the whole conversation about this subject here’s the link to the podcast Behold the Lowly Amoeba.
Dawna is the author of Decision Making for Dummies, on Steve Denning’s (Forbes) list of 8 noteworthy books for 2014. She blogs for Huffington Post Great Workplaces and hosts the Evolutionary Provocateur podcast.
Dawna Jones delivers customized experiential workshops engaging managers, employees and executives in raising leadership intuition to be more effective in complex situations. She helps you leverage the invisible forces that work for or against speed and accuracy of decisions in ambiguous or unpredictable conditions. From Insight to Action. Contact her through LinkedIn