In 1988 Daryl Conner coined the metaphor of “the burning platform” which ever since has played a prominent role in many change management concepts and projects. As Daryl recounts on his company’s website the metaphor comes from a survivor of a burning oil rig who only had the alternative of certain death in the flames if he stayed on the platform, or probable death if he jumped into the freezing sea where he would survive a maximum of 20 minutes. He jumped – choosing probable death over certain death – and survived.
One reason why the metaphor of the burning platform is so popular is that it reflects human behavior so well: most of us try to avoid change at nearly any price. Change disrupts our routines, takes us into unknown territory and usually carries risks we would rather avoid. MORE
Do organisations have to wait for the crisis to be serious before they can conduct transformative change? I think this depends very much on who defines what “the crisis” looks like. Is it the gradual drying up of donations from cash strapped governments and publics in rich countries? Is it the closing of civil society space, in both the North and South; or is it a humanitarian system stretched to breaking point? These are very real and practical threats to an INGO model we’ve had for the last fifty years or so. They are getting more and more serious and we will need to adapt and respond to them.
But when I became the first African woman to lead a major International NGO, I knew I was coming to an organisation that understood that a more fundamental crisis was already here, and already serious: a growing crisis of INGO legitimacy. MORE
I am just reading Frank J. Barrett’s fascinating book, “Yes to the Mess”. Barrett is a Professor of Management and Global Public Policy – and he is an accomplished jazz musician. In the book he brings his two vocations together. He describes jazz musicians playing together, improvising on a theme which each of them is allowed and expected to moderate and which they all work on together. Barrett presents jazz improvisation as an approach managers should use in times of disruption. He writes: “Jazz players look for and notice instability, disorder, novelty, emergence, and self-organization for their innovative potential rather than as something to be avoided, eliminated, or controlled. Indeed, jazz bands are very much human systems living at the edge of chaos.”
When we talk about “embracing disruption” we mean exactly what Barrett describes: civil society organisations (CSOs) are also systems increasingly living “at the edge of chaos” and need to learn to say “yes” to the mess. MORE
There are three major dimensions in navigating disruption. The first one is to detect disruption early. If you find out about a specific disruptive change well before that change affects your organisation, that gives you time to prepare for disruption and have your strategies ready once it strikes. The second dimension is to embrace disruption. This means developing a positive mindset towards disruption. If you can’t avoid disruption you better learn to love it and to disrupt yourself before somebody else will do it. The third dimension, finally, is to manage disruption once it strikes. Disruption means change – transformative change which comes along fast and fundamental, not incremental change which allows for hesitation and delays. We have discussed the terms of transformative change before.
Today we look at our first dimension: How can we detect disruption early, and, even more importantly, how can we identify the most relevant disruptors? MORE
Creating Stakeholder Value in a Networked World
Corporates maximise shareholder value. Civil society organisations (CSOs) maximise stakeholder value. That’s what we are ultimately accountable for. But while this concept used to be focused on creating value for stakeholders it now moves towards creating it with their active engagement. Two developments drive this shift: Digitization brought instantaneous global connectivity at minimal cost, and rising levels of income and literacy have increased the agency and capacity of large populations to actively engage. For the first time in history, stakeholders can truly take the driver’s or co-pilot’s seat in achieving the impact they want to see.
Many CSOs are changing their operating model to capitalize on these developments. They move from a focus on ownership and control towards a networked platform approach. This means they let go of some control over staff, operations or campaigns and provide a platform that facilitates the inputs of activists, supporters and partners to advance the common cause. MORE
In my book The Hedgehog and the Beetle I point to the many industries that had looked at potential disruption and decided “it won’t happen to us” – telephone utilities, stockbrokers, record companies, bookstores, travel agencies and retailers. To their surprise it happened to them, and for many well established, highly successful companies this meant bankruptcy.
The good news for civil society organisations (CSOs) is: they will hardly go bankrupt. The bad news is: if they ignore disruption they may die a very slow death, gradually fading away. MORE