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The Adaptive Organization:
Process, People, and Invention, You Need all Three 

Process, is what sustains a successful organization.  Quality products and services must be delivered in a consistent way, every day, without exception.  A repeatable process drives predictable results.  Through policies and procedures, the retained knowledge of organization goes beyond what exists in people's heads, extending reach of the people who invented the process.  Through continuous improvement of processes, the organization can gain efficiency over time.  Through accountability and controls you can enforce the process to deliver top quality products all the time.

With all the great things you can say about a great process, it would be a fatal mistake to focus on process, alone.  People are just as important as process.  Feelings matter and feelings can defy logic.  You will not go far if the people are not with you.  In fact, people can get pretty creative about sabotaging a great process when they donít like it.  You will get what you deserve if you treat people like the hired help, ignoring their needs and dreams.  To get people fully committed and engaged, you need to lead from the heart, paying attention to the human spirit.  The more engaged people are with the organization, the more the organization can accomplish.  Conversely, the less they care, the more likely they are to meet minimum standards and nothing more.

The dual need for process and people is intuitively obvious.  An organization will not last long without some degree of people and process focus.  The third dimension, invention, is of equal importance for sustained success, but not so obvious.  In fact, the mere presence of invention runs counter to the goals of the process dimension.  Predictable products and services are disrupted by allowing invention and unproven ideas.  People's routines are disrupted by inventions that have not yet settled down into new predictable processes.  Without invention, however, the organization will stagnate, delivering yesterday's products for tomorrow's market.  The market for your products and services changes quickly and unpredictably.  Unless there is room in an organization for unplanned and unanticipated invention, the old people and old processes will stand in the way of long term survival.

Invention, alone, does not deliver success.  Most inventions go nowhere, and most should go nowhere.  Once in a while something new comes along that succeeds and is worth building into a new process to be managed and operated by people who are committed to making it work.  The adaptive organization does all three well, people, process, and invention.  This is easier said than done because most of us have strong preferences for one or two of the dimensions, making us blind to the importance of the third.  Inventors donít want plans and procedures because the get in the way of invention.  Corporate managers who are accountable for staying on plan and on budget donít want unpredictable and uncontrolled invention. In general, most of us want to get along with one another, avoiding the unpleasant effects of accountability or disruptive invention.  It takes great discipline to evaluate all three dimensions before picking a direction for ourselves and our organizations.

 Copyright © 2013, Steve Wille

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