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Thoughts on “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux

Next in my reviews of work-related books we have “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux (the illustrated, shortened version). This is going to be short, I essentially read the book in an afternoon.

After some introductions, Laloux gives a historical overview on organizational philosophies, based on Ken Wilber. It starts at the impulsive, pure power-based via hierarchical via modern performance-oriented philosophies to postmodern pluralist ones. One interesting aspect here is, that even the two “older” ones can still be experienced today, the first one e.g. in street gangs/mafia, the second one e.g. in the church or public administration – and of course many companies.

The latter is based on empowerment, values and integrates diverse interest groups, and probably is by most considered already quite new or in many organizations “still upcoming”. However, Laloux claims that we may experience aklready now the dawn of a new, next philosophy, a integral, evolutionary one. He gives names three breakthroughs, which require but also trigger this. First, the increasing complexity of the systems organizations need to cope with, and the need for self-organized, decentral organizations to be able to cope with that. I would say that this approach “extrapolates” the empowerment by “built-in” trust and top-down-ruling-inhibiting organization forms in small, completely autonomous entities.

The second breakthrough is “wholeness” (“Ganzheit” in my German version of the book). It is based on the view that at their workplace, many people show and use only a part of their personality. This leads to loosing many valuable aspects and creates an unhealthy mental tension. Laloux gives some examples how this can be reliefed, e.g. by medition, group-reflection and new meeting-moderation methodologies.

Third, there is a breakthrough called “evolutionary purpose”. Its probably a reference what more recent publications and consultants call “VUCA”(Volatility, Uncertainty, Complex, Ambiguous). According to that perspective–which I have some doubts on, but maybe more in another blog post–the world around is is increasingly “vuca”. Traditionally, we would try to fight this vuca-ness, trying to impose existing problem-solving techniques–and ultimately fail. The other mental approach is to accept, even embrace this situation and–how Laloux phrases is–“dance with it”. Here, Laloux makes an interesting claim: “Most of us react very cynical on mission statements”. Oh yes!

The book contains some interesting food for thought, and it certainly has some relevant observations. Where my personal doubts come in: If I look at an historic scale, the four “traditional” organizational philosophies have been in place 10.000s, 1.000s, 100s and 10s of years, respectively. As I wrote, especially the last one (postmodern, integral) is still a quite new kid on the block. What does it tell us that new even a new philosophy comes up, and if we extrapolate the logarithmic timescale even more, will it be replace in a few months? Just kidding, however I wonder if Laloux’ evolutionary model is just a sub-type of e.g. the postmodern one, or really a new philosophy. And of course – what comes beyond that. Will there be an even more “advanced”, “progressive” organizational philosophy soon? Will things break apart and we go back to the wild days? I dont know…

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