Image: Nephrons Alight, Jefferson Brown

The Feeling of Organization

by Dara Blumenthal, PhD and Nathan Snyder

Despite our desire to make organizations into machines or social technology, they are in fact complex, organic systems that use and manufacture technology.

We are quickly approaching a point in time where the technical progress of organizations will change their underlying intent. Where organizations once sought to build technologies through the labor of individuals to augment what was humanly possible, we now use technology to extend and further develop who we are and what we can achieve. With this shift, employees are starting to realize that they’ve been inscribed to roles that artificially limit their possibilities — as if they too were pieces of technology built solely to augment the organization. Rather than merely cogs in the machine, employees are living, breathing, elements of the organizational ecosystem.

Furthermore, each employee has a whole version of the organization within themselves. While employees are parts of the system objectively, they also embody a system. In other words, any one person from the CEO to the front-line employee, holds within themselves a version of the whole organization. However expansive or limited, that representation is formed of their understandings, associations, experiences, and everyday dealings with others. We posit that these ‘inner organizations’ — when understood in combination — are the most real expression of the organization that one can locate. An organization is best understood through the aggregate levels of human experience. These are the organizational ecosystems.

In this way, there are no organizational structures, but only practices which, overtime, coalesce into the feeling of a structure through repetition. Thus the most vital intervention into an organization is through these ‘inner organizations’ — and that happens from the inside-out.

We are waking up to the fact that the control of organizations is very much in the hands of those who operate them, who practice them. This impacts not only the people who run organizations but also how we conceive of and continue to build these systems. Where organizations were once designed to idolize the manufacturing lines that birthed them, our organization-design-protocols have buckled under the pressure of their own matrixed success. We’ve produced ‘structures’ whose practices are too complicated and too slow to metabolize the compounding change we face in the world today. The definition of success has radically changed. Organizations are no longer the technical means to human labor interactions, but the fabric of many human systems. And in so doing, organizations have become the doctor, and patient, to our social lives.

The organizations we know today were formed to overcome nature; they now operate to serve themselves; the organizations of the future will operate for and through those who embody them.

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