Daniel Hulter, U.S. Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer, wrote an article for Over The Horizon Journal titled May We Mutate.

«  Every branch, organization, and agency across the Department of Defense (DOD) is an ecosystem – a body of interrelated organisms that together comprise a larger, complex, adaptive, living system. Like any complex adaptive system, the organization’s survival and success requires exploration and experimentation at its existential periphery, where it makes contact with the adjacent possible, a term which Steven Johnson borrowed from complexity scientist Stuart Kauffman to refer to every potential future just outside the bounds of what a thing already is. »

«  Every organization must facilitate the institutional equivalent of random genetic mutations in evolution. Through trial and error, they can semi-intentionally stumble upon serendipitous connections and conceptual collisions, in order to discover and grow adaptive enhancements. These are what enable institutions to react, mutate, succeed, and survive as they accelerate into new contexts and future volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments (VUCA).  »

«  Why is it so important that our institutions evolve? Because the world and our context changes around us: enemies change tactics, new markets emerge, competitors come and go. Organizations must adapt at a speed faster than the rate of contextual change. The important role that exploration, tinkering, experimentation, and even the act of play have in facilitating such creativity, discovery, learning, and innovation are well supported by research. »

«  Organisms and ecosystems will not endure if their internal components are too strictly structured, because excessive constraint makes them less adaptive. »

«  an internally inflexible bureaucracy »

«  Viewed this way, the ecosystem isn’t comprised of rigidly engineered structures, but of organisms. These are internal organizations, cultural bodies, communities of practice, or capabilities. Each of them, while functioning as a component of the larger ecosystem, is also an evolving, adaptive organism. It makes contact with its own adjacent possible and, with its little tendrils, seeks out mutation at those margins to identify, experiment, and adopt adaptations that make it more fit, more efficient, and more value-creating. »

«  Execute with values: If you want the leaders within your organization to act with some degree of autonomy, they’re going to need clear boundaries… Clarity about the intended value of any given system or process can give those who execute the confidence to interdict when contextual shifts have made existing designs ineffective. For a great introduction to the power of aligning narratives and how to create an organization that fosters greater autonomy, read One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams by Chris Fussell. »

«  Foster psychological safety… For a primer on psychological safety and how it benefits teams and organizations, read The Fearless Organization by Amy C. Edmonson. For a   clear roadmap of how middle managers and front-line supervisors can foster psychological safety, read Radical Candor by Kim Malone Scott. »

«  Make room for exploration: Many leaders fail to recognize the importance of white space – free, unformatted time that gives us room for our minds to wander, for us to reflect and explore ideas and thoughts unimpeded by the normal rules about how we spend our time…  Facilitate mental breathing room.  »

« Use proven design and problem-solving frameworks… My personal favorite is Think Wrong, but there’s also Design Sprints from Google, Design Thinking approaches taught by Stanford’s D. School or IDEO, and many others.  »

« Increase connectedness: Possibly the most important thing in making your organization more innovative is conceptually the simplest, but the most difficult to implement: create a network and make it fluid… We need habits like ‘working out loud’ that enable serendipitous connections to occur and for good ideas and best practices to infectiously spread. A leader should always be seeking out ways to break down silos. »

« I explored the essential role of connectedness in Air Force innovation in this piece, which drew heavily on Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From, General Stanley McChrystal’s book Team of Teams, Geoffrey West’s mind-bending book Scale, among others. One of the most important things about increasing connectedness is that it allows weak ideas to combine into great ideas, scattered efforts to coalesce into stronger projects, and isolated innovators to find a community to draw strength from. Connectedness is a true force-multiplier. »

 

 

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