The Soulful Organisation

I’ve just been to an inspiring presentation at the RSA given by former management consultant Frederic Laloux who was talking about his book called Reinventing Organizations.

He argues that many people intuitively believe that current management practices just aren’t working and that they are right and a big shift in how organisations work is about to happen.

He outlined three principles:
Self organisation
Wholeness, and
Evolutionary purpose

I have a lot of sympathy with the first two: I think it is quite clear that the less overhead you can put onto people who know what they are doing the better and I instinctively feel that fewer management layers is ideal; I also think all organisations would be much better with less ego and more emotional and social intelligence.

The third principle, though, I confess I’m having trouble with. The idea, as I understand it, is that instead of central strategy, planning and budgetary frameworks the organisation is left to respond to challenges and adapt as it goes along (almost like a susurration of starlings).

The presumption is that the people within the organisation understand where they are collectively going and what they are trying to achieve and are best placed to ensure the organisation gets there. I can’t help feeling this assumption may not always be true.

I’m looking forward to reading the book to see what more Mr Laloux has to say on the subject.

RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor (left) with Frederic Laloux


More Resilient Cities

Dr Judith Rodin, president of the Rockerfeller Foundation



What does it take to make cities resilient? In a thoughtful talk to the RSA Dr Judith Rodin, current president of the philanthropic Rockerfeller Foundation, summarised some of the findings of the foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities project.

In a nutshell she argues that cities can’t plan effectively based on past events – which is what they have a tendency to do.

Instead, she argues, they should build resilience focussed on their key risks (maybe earthquakes,  or flooding for example). But they should do this in a generalised way which makes them more resilient to a wide variety of different possible events.

The example she used was Boston which put in place a number of key policies (Governor in charge of communication, FBI taking the lead etc) which then served them extremely well when the bombing of the Boston Marathon occurred. This particular event couldn’t have been predicted, but because of the city’s general level of preparedness much loss of life was avoided.

The keys to resilience, she says, are: awareness of the risks, diversity in social and economic spheres, integration and cooperation , self regulation and adaptability.

The Government’s paradoxical approach to the climate

This week saw two significant climate change events.

Firstly climate scientists from NASA and NOAA officially confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. Most scientists now believe that the world is on track for warming of 4C or 5C by the end of the century – and nobody knows what sort of a world that will be, except that it is likely to be exceptionally challenging.

Secondly, the Environment Agency gave approval for Cuadrilla permission to resuming test drilling two miles away from the site that caused earthquakes last time they tried. The coalition government is hell bent on promoting fracking in the UK as aggressively as they can – probably keen to emulate the energy revolution which has happened in the US.

But it has become clear that the last thing the world needs is more fossil fuels. If we are keep warming to 2C – a target that world leaders are still ostensibly signed up to – then it is now recognised that a large proportion of extractable fossil fuels will need to be left in the ground. Actually, the figures are 82% of all coal, 49% of all gas and 33% of all oil.

So, if the Prime Minister is genuinely simultaneously signed up for action on climate change and developing fracking it must mean only one thing – he thinks we can boost our fossil fuel production while expecting others to do the heavy lifting. Given the fraught nature of international climate politics, that doesn’t sound like a realistic position.