13 Apr The Mycelians: Your Dissenters and Agents of Change
In a time of extreme uncertainty, the natural tendency to stick to the tried-and-true may seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, almost everybody else will be heading down that path. Some faster than you, some cheaper, all of them almost equally motivated. The only thing entrenched viewpoints guarantee in a time of extreme uncertainty is more competition. A better way seems to be to “out-terrify” terrifying reality by learning some new tricks, both individually and in terms of the organizations we lead.
Orthodoxy cannot usually be fought head-on. The visionary engineer Buckminster Fuller knew this when he said:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
The most essential new trick we can learn—as individuals and organizations—is to decrease our tolerance for same-think, and simultaneously increase our capacity for handling diversified teams. That a broad diversity of backgrounds and opinions enables better decision-making has been amply demonstrated. It may take longer for a diverse group to coalesce into a true team — which is why management orthodoxy has usually seen diversified teams as unnecessarily expensive — but diverse teams pretty much uniformly produce better results, even if they take longer to get there. Disagreement and discussion fuel necessary bursts of innovation.
Sustainable innovation, however, requires diversified teams plus an organization suffused with a culture of openness to creativity and discussion. That requires long-term effort in building up the internal systems, tools and methods that support such a creative culture. And most importantly, it means identifying and enabling a group of people who will usher the process along — your Ambassadors of Change.
Admittedly that phrase is a bit grand, but the key concept I want to introduce here sounds more esoteric still: the “mycelium of innovation.” Bear with me. Mycelium, the “root structure” of mushrooms, is extraordinary. It is delicate, ever-changing, yet penetrates deep into the substrate, carrying with it the next generation of mushrooms. As mycelium does its work of spreading, enlarging, and penetrating, it changes the ground above it, to enable the build-up of ever-deeper layers of soil. This makes it possible for ever greater forests to grow above.
Creativity is the mycelium of civilisation and, at a smaller scale, of organisations. It permeates and grows in all directions, enabling organisations to build something new and great on top of what has gone before.
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