Living Organisations® – for a life to the full
We work and live in organisations that are run and driven by groups of organic, social, emotional animals – human beings. Some activities in organisations can be automated – and seem to happen without human intervention, however, nails and hair growing after death only give the appearance of vitality. Good systems are important, but they are not the life-blood of an organisation’s vitality. They are not true signs of life.
To build, grow, maintain, and then develop Living Organisations®, we must embrace both the “human” and the “living” aspect of organisations.
The Joy of Mission
My first degree is in Theology. Aged 18, I knew it all, and knew what my purpose was on Earth. I was surrounded by a surprisingly high number of idiots who didn’t agree with me! Now, at 51, I recognise that I was the idiot, and I am surrounded by a surprisingly high number of wise and intelligent people! Beliefs change… and thus, naturally, so do behaviours.
Theology was helpful in that it gave me, as a young man, a framework that made sense of the Universe, and gave me purpose – a mission. This purpose and mission led to a sense of direction, and a high degree of happiness. Over the years my beliefs have undergone a metamorphosis, and I have been changed by new patterns of thinking about life – new paradigms. Those few original beliefs that have stood the test of time are my foundation upon which I build.
So how is this relevant to Living Organisations? Well, Living Organisations are mission driven. By far my favourite enduring aspect of Theology is the clarity of Jesus’ own mission as a leader of his own organisation. He said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” (John’s Gospel, chapter 10, verse 10.) This is the identical mission of a vibrant organisation – that it should be a place where we can live – and live a life that is to the full – that is fulfilling.
Many people give the best years of their lives, and their highest quality time of the day, to organisations in exchange for various rewards. Many do this, looking forward to a fuller life in retirement! This is madness. My vision is that work within organisations should be a main component of living a full and worthwhile life.
A Template for Life
For this to happen, organisations must be vibrant, vital, vivacious – living. If Theology was my first degree, Biology (and Ecology) was my first passion. Biology offers us a template of what it is to be called, “Living”. For elementary biology we are taught that there are seven characteristics of a living organism. All seven must be true for the organism to be said to be truly alive. These seven characteristics become a useful model for building an organisation that can offer us more of a fulfilling life (at work at least!)
So what are the seven characteristics?
When we apply these metaphorically to organisational development, we arrive at a recipe to overcome most threats to an organisation’s well-being (including life-threatening factors such as “recession”.)
The Seven Characteristics of a Living Organisation, In Brief…
1 Movement. Living Organisations are those which move. They move towards positive objectives, or they move away from threats. They are not static.
2 Nutrition. To thrive, Living Organisations must get their energy from somewhere; they must feed upon something. In times of famine, organisations may feed upon themselves – just like a body. This will lead to the muscles and organs atrophying. In stark contrast, healthy organisations eat well. What gives you energy?
3 Reproduction. Living Organisations replicate excellence. They do not fear staff-turnover because they have ensured that knowledge and skills are shared and spread throughout the ‘parts of the body’. Everybody is valued but no-one is unexpendable. That which defines the organisation is passed on from generation to generation of the organisation – ensuring its future. Great brands can work like this – the brand is bigger than the parts!
4 Excretion. Living Organisations have to deal with waste – the by-products of doing business. In natural systems, waste that builds up poisons the body. In a similar way, organisations that do not learn to deal with waste, end up as toxic organisations that cannot sustain healthy business practice.
5 Growth. All living things grow. Whilst there may be seasonal variations, or times in the life-cycle when there is more or less growth, growth nevertheless happens. Thus a healthy, living organisation must be one that enjoys positive, healthy growth. Not all growth is healthy – and some organisations have harmful growths that must be removed. Inappropriate growth kills as many organisations as no growth at all.
6 Respiration. Respiration is a form of exchange that underlines the fact that all organisms are a vital part of their environment. They must give and receive. Plants take in Carbon Dioxide and, through photosynthesis, produce Oxygen. Both plants and animals use Oxygen to produce the energy that drives the processes of living. If current business challenges have taught us one thing, it is that businesses cannot continue to see themselves as separate from the environments in which they operate. The financial well-being of one economy or sector impacts all the other economies and sectors around the globe. We are all connected.
Living organisations recognise that sustainability is based upon fair exchange – a fair trade. There are three states in nature: parasites, hosts, and symbionts. Parasites take, giving little in return. Hosts give, receiving little in return. Symbionts recognise and harness the power of diversity – and both give and receive. This symbiosis is a true win-win.
7 Sensitivity. Organisms have adapted to their environments. To do this effectively, they must be sensitive to those environments. They must be able to recognise both threats and opportunities. Those organisms with better senses, are able to respond faster to threats and opportunities.
In a similar way, Living Organisations benefit from enhanced sensory awareness. Those who know what is happening in their environment – threats from competitors and other market forces, or opportunities arising – can respond rapidly and take appropriate action. Organisations that have limited awareness are often only left the option of reacting to events that have already happened. They cannot anticipate opportunities, nor can they prepare adequate contingencies.
So What About Your Life?
My purpose in writing is to provide organisational leaders with ideas that will provoke greater health in their organisations (and environment), and that will bring greater job satisfaction to multitudes of people that give the time of their lives to their organisations. The model, however, works equally well at an individual level.
I am shocked at the number of people I read about, speak to, or interact with over the internet who are simply not happy. They are just not living a life to the full. Could the seven characteristics offer each and every one of us the hope of a more fulfilling life? I think so. I believe that if you can say, “Yes, that’s true for me,” to the positive aspects of each of the seven characteristics, you may be said to be living a healthy life, well on the way to being a “life to the full”.
Whilst the rest of my book explores each characteristic in detail, I’d like to leave you with a sense that you’re well on your way to a better life before we finish this segment! So, let’s work through the checklist with you personally in mind.
1 Are you “Moving”? In your life, do you have a sense of voluntarily moving towards more of what you positively desire in life? Are you taking positive steps away from those aspects of your life you are less enamoured with? Would you like to feel more alive today? If your answer is, “Yes!” simply decide upon three things you would like to move towards today, and then define a physical action step you could take for each of these. For example, I’d like to play more guitar. My first physical action step would be to place my acoustic guitar in a position where it is easy to pick it up and play. I know that if it is too much hassle to get the guitar out and set it up, I will find reasons to not move towards my goal of playing more guitar. Remove some barriers to action.
I’ve said choose three things you want to move towards simply because the things we need to move away from often take care of themselves – once we have positive forward momentum. After all, we only have 168 hours a week to spend – and if more of that time is taken up with positive activity, there is necessarily less time for the stuff we want less of!
2 Are you getting good “Nutrition”? Where do you get your energy from? Most people draw energy from many sources. Some find ideas energising (others find too many ideas overwhelming.) Some find relationships energising (while others find them exhausting!) The vast majority of us are energised by taking positive action – so if you act on point 1 above, you’re already moving in the right direction. All humans need positive attention to feel alive. And, back to the literal biological basics, your body is going to be energised by sensible, healthy nutrition, and good exercise. So, what good food will you eat today? What simple exercise could you take? Which positive relationship could you tap into (remembering that giving positive attention can be as rewarding as receiving)? What could you do to capture and develop some of your ideas and good intentions today?
3 What could you do today to “Reproduce” a unique aspect of yourself for future generations to enjoy? Is there some aspect of your insights that you could write about and publish electronically? A blog? What wisdom can you share with others today?
4 Always a delicate one to address, but being truly alive means dealing with waste – and letting go of matters. The easiest way to do this is to let go of something physically. What could you recycle today? What could you let go of in your work? What could you let go of in your private life? Is there something you could lay aside to take to a charity shop? Maybe today’s the day to let go of a goal or a dream that’s been wasting your time and attention? It’s amazing what freedom can be found in letting go.
5 Growth is far more than moving forward. Growth is about positive expansion. It would be so easy to grow your knowledge today – to expand your understanding about something you’re interested in. Most people don’t get the most from their software – so a quick win would be to search the internet for a “How to…” article or video on an aspect of one of your software packages.
I like to have a sense of growing as a person. Again, it is simple to take 15 minutes to read up on some aspect of psychology today that would help you grow. It’s also valuable to reflect upon how much you have grown over the last 10 years. It is almost impossible to learn without such reflection.
6 Time to share. For well-being, we need a sense of connectedness. People who feel marginalised by society, who feel disconnected, are rarely happy about this! How could you increase your sense of connectedness today? What could you share with someone in your community? At work? At leisure? Connectedness involves a sense of exchange. There needs to be a transaction – a give and take. This can be a simple exchange of greetings. It can be the feel-good-factor of giving something worthwhile to charity (especially anonymously).
7 Have you ever heard yourself saying, “Oh, I hadn’t heard that”? This is a sure sign that you are not as aware of your environment as you could or need to be. “Sensitivity” is about being plugged-in to your network, your environment, your community. Perhaps today is the day to catch up with a member of your family? How about a loyal customer? A loyal friend?
The Living Week
Agreed, we are busy people. So, this taster is just to get you started. However, if you were to take one action per day of the week, you’d soon build a sense of great vitality and fulfilment. Here’s a worked example to finish this introductory chapter.
Monday: move it! In planning your week, decide upon three things you want to have positive movement towards this week. Make sure you have clear physical action steps you can take.
Tuesday: eat! Seek out sources of positive nutrition. Take time for ideas. Seek out a relationship that energises you. Give someone positive attention. Try something healthy (to eat!)
Wednesday: teach, train, coach! Spend time sharing some of your ‘best of…’ learning with someone else. This can be electronically as well as face-to-face. Reproduce an aspect of what is excellent in your life and experience. Leave a permanent part of your legacy in a form that can be replicated and enjoyed over and over again.
Thursday: give it up! De-clutter. Tidy. Get rid of or, even better, recycle some resource in your life that isn’t producing at the moment. Fix something! Throw something away. Give something away.
Friday: grow! Take time aside today to learn something new. Friday afternoon is a great time for reflection – a great aid to personal growth.
Saturday: share! Give and take. Find some way of giving and receiving from your community. If in doubt, seek to give – seeking no obvious return on your contribution.
Sunday: be sensitive! Take time to catch up with family and friends. Luxuriate in catching up with the newspaper so that you feel more connected to the world we live in.
Small steps – great strides – great life!