Literally, stuck in the past

You don’t need a new Operating System for your business.

It needs to change, for sure, but it drives me nuts when people start talking about ‘installing a new OS’ or ‘Business 2.0’ or similar nonsense.

An organisation is lots of things but it’s not a bloody computer. Or a machine of any kind.

It’s that sort of language that keeps us stuck in the past, stuck in the very paradigm we need to escape.

The machine paradigm is a very strong one, it permeates the language and metaphors we use to talk about organisations. It’s so ingrained in us, has such a deep hold in our minds that it’s difficult to escape. That’s not really surprising, it’s been around for over two centuries, since the industrial revolution. It’s been very useful and an aid to understanding, enabling amazing levels of economic and social development but it’s run its course and it’s no longer serving us. In fact, it’s constraining us.

It worked in simpler, less volatile times. Its strengths of efficiency, reliability, replication and scale led to the age of mass consumerisation and and unimagined leap in quality of life, first in the west and now across the world. 

But now we live in a much more complex, interconnected and interrelated world that is much more dynamic and volatile. The organisational machines we have built are rigid, static and brittle where we need them to be flexible, agile and adaptive. They rely on linear thinking when we need to be thinking laterally. They are no longer fit for purpose, they are not suited to the times we are in.

We need to think of organisations differently, we need to use a different paradigm, or even multiple paradigms. Whether we think of the organisation as an organism, a garden, a culture, an ecosystem or something else entirely, we have to change the way we talk about them.

You can’t move to a new paradigm whilst using the language, metaphors and structures of the old one. If we keep using the language of machines, we’ll always be stuck in that metaphor, we’ll never escape that paradigm.

So we need to stop talking about Operating Systems and Reprogramming the organisation.

You can’t reprogramme a jelly fish. You can’t reboot a flower bed. You can’t upload a new ecosystem.

So stop it, please. No more ‘Operating System’ nonsense, think about the words and metaphors you use because they really matter. Different metaphors and language can help us describe a new future but the old, familiar ones will keep us stuck in the past.

And then the future will be just like the past but with a whizzy new interface.

And we really don’t need that.

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