The Tao of Organizations LO1356

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (
Tue, 23 May 1995 08:56 CST

Replying to David Markham in "Re: Proper Rate of Learning LO1340":

David asked three critical questions:

1. > Don't organiztions have some sort of built in organic clock that governs
> its unfolding in a natural way?

The answer to the first question is probably yes. One of the greatest
challenges to CEOs that have been in place for a while or who came up from
the inside is the tendency to get stuck in the operational flow of the
organization and lose the perspective of the organization in relation to
its environment. The result can be to miss opportunities for change that
fit the organization at that moment. It's like paying attention to the
clock but not the alarm.

On the other hand, the new CEO, appointed from outside the organization,
is in a position to make changes that are appropriate given the
organization's current relationship to its environment. The risk to this
person is in not understanding the culture, as though paying attention to
the alarm but not knowing it was set to the wrong time.

I'd suggest that governing boards exist primarily to evaluate
organizations according to their connection with the external environment,
and appoint leaders who can make the changes necessary to continue the
organization's development. To "unfold" an organization "in a natural
way" requires a dialogue between those who know the culture and processes
(internal view) and those who know the environment (external view);
together they form the "organic clock".

2. > How much can we push the process and speed things up?

We can push it along all we want. Sometimes the organization's capacity
for correcting or absorbing executive errors is great (IBM) and sometimes
not (Chrysler). The underlying question, IMO (nothing humble about this),
is whether we want to wear the blinders of our ambition or see the
sometimes ugly truth. What we're speeding up can easily be the
organization's demise, due to lack of deep insight into its present state.

3. > Do we have to be respectful of the TAO?

No, we don't. But we shouldn't be surprised when the rest of the world
doesn't cooperate with our myopic behavior. The Tao *is*, and will always
be, regardless of whether we try to understand it or not. The two best
questions I know of to make sense of this are: "What does this
organization need, given its current state of development and the nature
of its environment?" and "What does this organization's environment need
from it, given the trends and possible futures it faces?"

Any thoughts out there about this? Are these questions so broad as to be

David E. Birren						Phone: (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources			Fax:   (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget		    Internet:
  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   
"To know, and not to act, is to not know."
--Wang Yang Ming, 9th-century Chinese general