How to Improve Your Horrible Organization

A few days ago I asked the following question on social media:

“Does anyone have any thoughts on what you would call the opposite of a fear-based organisation.”

The question was prompted by a re-reading of Steve De Shazzer’s ‘Words Were Originally Magic” which focuses on the benefits of moving discussions with clients away from problem orientation to solution orientation

there were some great contributions including “all Ricardo Sumner’s videos on you tube”.

I am a big Ricardo Semler fan and one of the things I really like about him is his disinclination to evangelise on the basis of what Semco has achieved in Brazil. He shows an intuitive understanding of how every situation is unique.

And we talk very often about how do we achieve this new and better kind of organisation (which I am asking about in terms of it being the opposite of fear-based). We look for lists of actions, executable change programmes of every shade and hue, we may even spend millions or even billions on executing and implementing them.

And very often the “better kind of organisation” is a design arrived at by a very few people who know that in their new organisation they now want qualities XYCT and F. And these qualities can be those evidenced by Semco, Gore industries and other celebrated companies. This almost certainly won’t work because each organisation has a unique structure and a unique history just like each person does and the route to unfolding qualities XYCT and F is different for each one.

Some of the answers to the question are listed below:

Jason Grant Happy Organisation

Shaun Barker Empowering?

Jason Grant I would actually say: ‘Happy Company’

I then thought it would be interesting to go on and ask the miracle question which are often using coaching and which is also taken from solutions focused brief therapy and originally developed by Insoo Kim Berg:

“If you went to sleep tonight and unknown to you a miracle occurred overnight and the organisation was changed into one not based on fear and you got up and went into work, what would be the first thing you would notice that would tell you this change had occurred and this was a happy company”?

Adelaide Forbes Usually they say that human behaviour is driven either by fear or love. In the context of organisations, I would probably say trust.

Joe Presley

Fear Disposal Corporation

David W Gray

I think the opposite of fear is curiosity. Fear shrinks away from things, avoids things. Curiosity moves toward things. So maybe the opposite of a fear-based organization is a curious organization, or maybe an interested organization.

Mike Parker I like “interested organisation” as it implies open-ness to inquiry. How about ‘Open’?

David W Gray Open is good but does not imply approach. What would be the name of an organization that approaches the unknown with curiosity and openness?

Jerry Michalski Lots. See Workplace Democracy watch all the videos of Ricardo Semler on YouTube, starting with his TED talk.

Jeff Dodson


David W Gray Fear needs to be replaced with something. If we apply Liminal thinking the mantra would be something like “reduce fear, seek truth.” So I like the idea of a truth-seeking organization. Finding truth requires exploration outside the walls, curiosity, openness to new ideas.
 So perhaps “truth-seeking organization” might be an interesting construct?

Martha Valenta I keep coming back to “Trust” and “Support”.
 In a supportive environment I feel safe, trusted, and assisted.

Simon Joseph Compassionate workplace.

Martha Valenta empathic Workplace.

Balázs László Karafiáth The opposite of fear is love. No way around it. We have to get back love from Disney and Hollywood.

Simon Mhanna I would add “collaboration” to the list, true collaboration requires transparency, fearlessness, open mind, empathy and full support …

So what is the point of this particular piece? Well looking above you will see that absolutely no one answers the question by saying “oh I don’t think most organisations are fear-based” but perhaps that just reflects the particular bubble of people that I choose to have in my social media environment. What do you think?

Whatever you do think, the other thing I notice from this exercise is that the respondents all had ideas about what a transformed organisation might feel like to be in and to work in.

So if we wish to transform an organisation to a better version of itself which will be more productive and more efficient because it is not fear based, perhaps we should be asking all the people who work there the miracle question.

What would it be like in your imagination? How would it feel? What would you see?

It would then, of course, be necessary to really listen to what they said.

#LiminalThinking #LiminalCoaching