Sustainability has become one of those buzzwords that I hear flying around my client and community circles. People want to create sustainability in everything from agriculture to business to endowment funds. I’ve heard others discussing the desire to “leave a legacy” for future generations. All of these are well-meaning intentions, but what is hidden beneath the buzzword?
Creating sustainability often means putting a system structure into place that is designed to produce the most benefit in the present while maintaining those benefits in the future. I do not deny that we need systems that function efficiently and effectively in the present, but is the ultimate goal to maintain them for the future?
Another word comes to mind: chronic. This word is usually used in association with a disease or other undesirable condition that has to be managed. C.S. Holling said, “Placing a system in a straitjacket of constancy can cause fragility to evolve.” In other words, if we carefully maintain a system, we run the risk of eventually creating weakness that leads to a chronic condition. Chronic conditions take much more time in management, and, after a period of time – perhaps a few years or even as long as a generation – can lead to the death of the system.
So should the idea of sustainability be abandoned? The answer isn’t to be found in keeping our organizations and ourselves in chaos. Instead, I invite you to consider expanding the goals of sustainability from only maintaining a static, stable operating environment to include building a resilient space.
Lest you think I’m piling buzzword on buzzword, I’m defining resilience as creating a bounded space where the system can function effectively and efficiently and have elastic in its boundary. That elastic allows the system to learn, change, and grow in new directions in response to changing conditions around it, while offering a measure of protection. It is both stable and ever changing. If we are going to “leave a legacy,” our organizations must embrace the paradox of sustaining change.
I’ve collected more than a few classic Organization Development resource links over the last several years. If you are just getting started in the Organization Development field or are looking for on-line resources to lead your own process, here are resources that I’ve found useful (in alphabetical order):
Appreciative Inquiry Commons
Balanced Scorecard Institute
Open Space Technology Links from Peggy Holman
Society for Organizational Learning
World Cafe: Juanita Brown and Tom Hurley
And, links to past posts of resources:
Resource: Harvard Business Review
Resource: Leader to Leader Institute
Resource: Organization Development resources on the web
Resources for Positive Organization Development
The Learning Organization has been a buzz word in companies since MIT’s Senge published The Fifth Discipline in 1990. Yet organizational learning can happen only when individuals in the system learn. And, in most organizations, the individuals in the system are adults.
In my last post I talked about the ways that our brains continue to grow and change throughout our adult lives. There are implications for adult learning environments. Adults work primarily with concepts and patterns, not facts. If we want adults to learn facts, it’s best to introduce the information in small amounts followed by a question, “How does this fit or not fit with what you already know?” Followed by more questions for reflection:
How does this change your view of the way things work?
What do you agree with?
What do you disagree with?
What new patterns do you see when you consider the new information?
Does this make you think of a story or something you’ve experienced?
Those who already practice critical thinking may recognize some of these questions. Critical thinking and reflection are what allow adults to learn, to grow new neurons, to lay down new neural pathways and reinforce old ones. Shaking up our cognitive pathways allows us to continue to learn and grow . . . allowing our organizations to be learning organizations. Let’s make sure our learning opportunities are appropriately scrambled and not all in one basket.