My book "Crisis & Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change"
has just been published by Harvard Business School Press. I am very
pleased about this, because it has taken me twelve years to write (and
The book is a multi-dimensional exploration of organizational change and
renewal in several different times and places. I argue that there is a
model of the ideal learning organization, but that it lies deep in our
past in the dynamics of the nomadic hunter-gatherers (I use the Bushmen,
the Kalahari !Kung, as my example). Open and egalitarian, their flexible,
dynamic networks allowed homo sapiens (and his/her predecessors) to
survive for millions of years in environments which must have been both
threatening and volatile. I argue that we are their heirs and that
whenever we do succeed in creating organizational contexts in which people
can learn, we are replicating the social dynamics of the nomadic hunters.
I track these dynamics over time, through the Quakers who played such a
critical part in the first industrial revolution, into modern
organizations such as Nike and communities of learning in Silicon Valley.
The model which underpins the book is based on the cycle of complex
ecosystems such as forests, which have to be destroyed (burned) in order
to be renewed. Hence the role of crisis in renewal. Successful
organizations become systematically vulnerable to catastrophe. The seeds
of failure are contained in the fruits of success: over time strengths
So the argument is that, if managers don't pre-emptively "create crises",
then something systemic will, at a time and on a scale that they would not
have chosen themselves. There are serious implications for the behavior of
managers arising from this requirement for "creative destruction". Having
created a crisis, they cannot stand outside the system. They are not just
cooks, they are also ingredients and the last instruction in the recipe is
"throw yourself into the mixture!" I call the process "ethical anarchy".
In my future research I am particularly interested in the social dynamics
of entrepreneurial communities around the world, such as the Parsees of
India and the Basques of Spain, as well as the role of crisis and
destruction in organizational learning. We spend a good deal of time
talking about learning, but very little about "unlearning". I suspect that
crisis and destruction are keys to the latter process.
-- David DHurst1046@aol.com