Renewing the enthusiasm of our organizations

Our organizations – private sector, academia, non-profits, public sector – are in trouble. Tomorrow, I will attend a conference that’s dedicated to rewriting the design rules of the organization, with the goal of creating:

…organizations that are resilient enough to change as fast as the world is changing, inventive enough to imagine a whole new way to create value, inspiring enough to invite the full passion, imagination, and initiative of the broadest mix of people, and mindful enough to find a way to win without others having to lose.

It’s exciting stuff. I’m interested in finding, following, living, and sustain my passion. It’s a topic that’s confoundingly easy to learn about and often difficult to execute given the state of the world. To find a group of people dedicated to making organizations a welcoming place for passion and imagination? I must be dreaming. But before I tell you about the MixMashup in San Francisco, a back story.


About eight years ago, I was an employee out in the field, wondering why our operations had to be so needlessly difficult.  I was a liberal arts major, thrown into an administrative management position with only 11 weeks of training under my belt.  Even though I felt inadequate to the task before me, I knew it wasn’t all just me.  Something wasn’t right.

I started reading up on management.  This naive, green, but insatiably curious employee picked up former GE CEO Jack Welch’s book “Winning,” long before Charlie Sheen gave the word a completely different meaning. I didn’t know anything about Jack Welch the man, and I knew very little about management theory. But GE workouts and Lean Six Sigma sounded cool – at least a way to reign in the chaos I faced. It surprised to me when my boss greeted my new-found enthusiasm with skepticism, shaking her head and assuring me that there were plenty of other books and management theories out there.

Winning by Jack and Suzy Welch

Winning! 2005 - it's about order and discipline!

Viral Swagger: ‘Winning!’: The Year In Mostly Annoying Quotes and Catchphrases

Winning! 2011 - it's about not losing! And tiger's blood and Adonis DNA!

Muppet Theory  on management - it's about getting the ratio of Order-to-Chaos exactly right

Muppet Theory on management - it's about getting the ratio of Order-to-Chaos exactly right. Winning!

(I now wonder if my former boss wasn’t talking about the Muppet Theory, which apparently can be used to explain everything from the Supreme Court, to the European debt crisis, to management theory.)

Back to my story. I remember reading Jack Welch’s discussion of work life balance: it is your problem to solve, and companies just wish you’d figure it out on your own time, and not bring it into work. “People who publicly struggle [with it] get pigeon-holed as ambivalent, entitled, uncommitted, incompetent.” Well, I certainly didn’t want to get pigeon-holed, like my predecessor who was a “really nice guy,” but from the looks of the shambles of my inherited portfolio, fit some of those accusatory adjectives. Looking back, I can see the seeds of my future workaholism (as described in an earlier entry) being planted. I now know that the good fight for some semblance of life balance helps keep you resilient and creative. It’s worth your organization’s while to invest in, protect, and tap into as a renewable energy source.

Fast forward to 2011 and zoom out to the global scene. I am no longer the same naive self on so many fronts, and neither is our country or the world’s economy. Companies are scrambling to innovate – so much that we’re already burned out on the term, (Wall Street Journal: You Call That Innovation? Companies Love to Say They Innovate, but the Term Has Begun to Lose Meaning.) Pundits debate about the true reason for our unemployment rate: the jobs aren’t there; the jobs are there but the salaries are paltry; the jobs are there, but the skills aren’t; the skills are there, but companies hiring software is too rigid. (Time Magazine: The Skills Gap Myth: Why Companies Can’t Find Good People.) Student loan debt soars to a record level, even as students struggle to find jobs for which they incurred that debt in the first place – where the value proposition there? (NPR: Student loan debt soars to record level.) And during this election season, I don’t even have to hyperlink an article about the debates surrounding the effectiveness, cost, and size of our government – they’re embedded in our national DNA.

Our organizations – private sector, academia, non-profits, public sector – are in trouble.

Over the years, I have continued to follow my intellectual curiosity when it comes to management, which guru Gary Hamel defines at “the methods and tools we use to organize resources to productive ends.” We’re hardly achieving fantastic productive ends these days – certainly not up to our individual or collective potential.

I’ve followed how social media has transformed how organizations interact with the public, and I’ve experienced how it is beginning to affect organizations on the inside. Which is how I found out about Gary Hamel’s Management Innovation Exchange (MIX). He posits that the web has created a new way of mobilizing and coordinating human beings. The web has brought more community, freedom, flexibility, transparency, meritocracy, and self determination. Instead of using the same management techniques that were developed over 100 years ago, the MIX Manifesto states, we should rewrite the rules of the organization for the 21st century.

The MIX Manifesto asks us to dream big; to dream of building organizations that are capable of spontaneous renewal.

As for me, I can’t tell you how excited I am to realize this shift in my journey. I was once a wide-eyed, green employee, too easily influenced to give her life wholly over to her career for fear of being labeled “ambivalent, entitled, uncommitted, and incompetent.” I’m now someone who has realized how much I have to offer when I’m working with all cylinders firing – full of energy, passion, ideas, valuable contributions. And I’m going to a conference dedicated to making organizations as human as the human beings inside.

Pinch me.

3 thoughts on “Renewing the enthusiasm of our organizations

  1. Great post! I may need to re-read it, since there is a wealth of ideas in here. I myself and working towards (and writing grant proposals to build) tools that help groups of people achieve “collective potential” across institutions. But starting with easy cases – like community based organizations in East Africa where the bias against collaboration is weaker than in the USA.

    First we need to admit there’s a problem. Talking about effectiveness (or innovation) is nothing like ripping out the guts of an institution to find out how to do it. Innovation should never be uttered without the word “disruptive” before it.

    In fact, I think I’ll change my business card from “Innovation consultant” to “Disruptive Innovation Consultant”…

  2. Pingback: “Mindfulness – the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves…” | renewable enthusiasm

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