Before embracing randomness organizations need transparency

Here is short excerpt of an interesting blog post on HBR about why organizations should embrace randomness:

Why are ant colonies so much better than the sum of their parts, while governments and companies are so often much worse?

I think it’s because of the different ways in which ant and human organizations deal with uncertainty. In my new book, I talk a lot about how ant societies exploit randomness and “leaderlessness” to learn and flourish. As a colony is exploring a new environment (such as your house), forager ants walk around aimlessly until they find something surprising, say a piece of fruit on the floor. Through random interactions, the location of this new information spreads quickly Very soon, thousands of ants converge on this food source and begin transporting bits of it back to the colony. When ants don’t find food, they increase the randomness of their searching. As Deborah Gordon, an ant biologist at Stanford, points out, “Elegant top-down designs are appealing, but the robustness of ant algorithms shows that tolerating imperfection sometimes leads to better solutions.” Without any central control, “food acquisition strategy” or risk management, ants are one of the most successful species on the planet, 10 million billion strong, giving them roughly the same global biomass as humans

I don’t know much about ant colonies, but the idea of decentralized organizations isn’t new. Generally, I agree with the idea, but there’s something missing that needs to exist before talking about embracing randomness.

How do you get people to accept randomness?

For me, acceptance of randomness depends on how transparent people are with each other, and how loose rules are. Put simply, are people encouraged to speak up? It is no secret that cultures that are transparent, even with their financial, exhibit a better working environment.

How so?

Well, if you are part of an organization that tells you what to do and how to do it, and you can’t question why or are allowed to offer your opinion, your organization is not going to accept randomness. Period.

Whether it shows up in popular media channels or not, randomness is part of innovative organizations. Inertia sets in when people can’t speak up for fear of being fired, ridiculed, ignored or anything that will hurt their feelings. And you know what? If the organization is transparent on the inside, it is much more likely to be open to collaborating with the outside world.

Or course, there are exceptions. But as we discussed on last week’s #innochat, copying without context, is stupid.

The bottom line: if you want to copy an organization that is innovative, you also have to consider “why” that company is innovative in the first place. And, if I were you, I would look at how your people communicate with each other. If transparency exists, then there is potential…



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