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The Official Baldrige Blog

The Emergent Organization, Strategy, and Innovation

emergent era

According to Beth Comstock, we are in an emergent era, characterized by a constant state of evolution, in which complexity can arise from simplicity and order emerge from chaos. As Vice Chair of General Electric, she has been pondering the impact of the emergent era on organizations and how to best operate in this environment. This has led her to define the emergent organization as an adaptive organization where solutions to problems and opportunities will spontaneously emerge, before needs demand or exist. Her challenge is to structure GE as an emergent organization. With this in mind, she has suggested six principles for leading in the emergent era:

  1. Organize around information flows; ditch hierarchy and bureaucracy — This involves access to real-time data and open communication throughout the organization.
  2. Empower individuals — Encourage collaboration and localized decision-making.
  3. Replace long lists of rules with a good m.o. — M.O. is not only modus operandi, but more importantly mission objective and mindset orientation. This combined m.o. is intended to encourage creativity and speedy execution.
  4.  Get used to living in the "in between"  — We have to abandon the concepts of total safety (risk aversion) and comprehensive knowledge, and embrace uncertainty.
  5. Open up new feedback loops —Feedback needs to be open and honest. Failure, after honest effort, is seen as a mode of learning and should be communicated. It could lead to the next great idea.
  6. Tap into the Power of Minds and Machines — Capitalizing on machine simulations and artificial intelligence to spark human creativity can multiply the independent strengths of each and lead to innovation.

I see the Baldrige Framework and its Criteria for Performance Excellence as always emergent. They live in the "in between".  They bridge current organizational systems and leadership with always striving for the next leading edge of  leadership and performance practice. Hence the regular revision/evolution of the Framework.

Furthermore, many of the questions in the Criteria help organizations adapt to the emergent era and help them to become emergent organization. Some examples of these touch points are:

  1. How do senior leaders set vision, values, encourage frank two-way communication, and create a focus on action?
  2. How do senior leaders cultivate innovation and intelligent risk taking?
  3. How does your strategic planning process address the potential need for organizational agility, including operational flexibility?
  4. How does your strategic planning stimulate and incorporate innovation?
  5. How does your strategic planning address key elements of risk, including finding potential blind spots?
  6. How do you decide which intelligent risks to pursue?
  7. How do you build and manage organizational knowledge, share it, and use it as a platform for innovation?

What is your organization doing to prepare for the emergent era? Let me know!  

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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This is such a timely topic. While at first blush, it might be seen as "giving in" to chaos; it is insightful strategy. Not fighting uncontrollable forces, but using the energy around you to fuel adaptation and innovation.
I agree that there are huge benefits to be gained if organisations can tap into emergent thinking, hence my suggestions when the criteria were amended for 2015-16 and 2017-18 and, more recently, my presentation at the 2016 Asia Pacific Quality Conference. I would be delighted to provide more details / discuss further....
I believe that executives who follow a more emergent strategy approach, encourage frugal innovation from front-line troops and middle management, let a 1,000 flowers bloom, and then scale a chosen few based on hard data from pilots in the real world will have a greater chance to  achieve meaningful growth in tough times. Karl Moore, is an Associate Professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University and an Associate Fellow at Green Templeton College, Oxford University.

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