Organizations, like individuals, can avoid identity crises by deciding what it is they wish to be and then pursuing it with a healthy obsession.
Some organizations do indeed achieve and maintain an internal consistency. But then they find that it is designed for an environment the organization is no longer in. To have a nice, neat machine bureaucracy in a dynamic industry calling for constant innovation or, alternately, a flexible adhocracy in a stable industry calling for minimum cost makes no sense. Remember that these are configurations of situation as well as structure. Indeed, the very notion of configuration is that all the elements interact in a system. One element does not cause another; instead, all influence each other interactively. Structure is no more designed to fit the situation than situation is selected to fit the structure.
The way to deal with the right structure in the wrong environment may be to change the environment, not the structure. Often, in fact, it is far easier to shift industries or retreat to a suitable niche in an industry than to undo a cohesive structure.
Essentially, the organization has two choices. It can adapt continuously to the environment at the expense of internal consistency—that is, steadily redesign its structure to maintain external fit. Or it can maintain internal consistency at the expense of a gradually worsening fit with its environment, at least until the fit becomes so bad that it must undergo sudden structural redesign to achieve a new internally consistent configuration. In other words, the choice is between evolution and revolution, between perpetual mild adaptation, which favors external fit over time, and infrequent major realignment, which favors internal consistency over time.
–Henry Mintzberg, 1981
Organization Design: Fashion or Fit?
In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information resources that might consume it.
In an information-rich world, most of the cost of information is the cost incurred by the recipient. It is not enough to know how much it costs to produce and transmit information: we much also know now much it costs, in terms of scarce attention, to receive it. I have tried bringing this argument home to my friends by suggesting that they calculate how much the [news] costs them, including the costs of [consuming] it. Making the calculation usually causes them some alarm, but not enough for them to cancel their subscriptions.
–Herbert A. Simon
“Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World” (1971, PDF)
The belief-transmission game is rigged so that we must believe that children and money bring happiness, regardless of whether such beliefs are true.
This doesn’t mean that we should all now quit our jobs and abandon our families. Rather, it means that while we believe we are raising children and earning paychecks to increase our share of happiness, we are actually doing these things for reasons beyond our ken.
We are nodes in a social network that arises and falls by a logic of its own, which is why we continue to toil, continue to mate, and continue to be surprised when we do not experience all the joy we so gullibly anticipated.
Stumbling on Happiness (find in a library)
Under conditions of true complexity–where the knowledge required exceeds that of any individual and unpredictability reigns–efforts to dictate every step from the center will fail. People need room to act and adapt. Yet they cannot succeed as isolated individuals, either–that is anarchy. Instead, they require a seemingly contradictory mix of freedom and expectation–expectation to coordinate, for example, and also to measure progress toward common goals.
Linearity is a reductionist’s dream, and nonlinearity can be a reductionist’s nightmare.
Complexity: A Guided Tour (find in a library)
The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
—Robert F. Kennedy
If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves….
There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance