Maps/Gear | Generative Capacity Building | The next big thing isn't a thing

Generative Capacity-Building
as a Core Organizing Strategy

Why is it that—

  • Most all business organizations fail to be financially sustainable over time, much less contribute to the sustainability of the larger whole?
  • Most of our governments and governmental agencies seem to be less and less competent at serving their direct constituencies, much less the larger whole?
  • Our philanthropic foundations are struggling to find ways to build the capacities of grantee organizations to effect sustainable change—to make an lasting difference?
We suggest that there are two fundamental and often fatal flaws to these organizations. Understanding and transcending these flaws are keys to achieving an evolutionary leap in the true value-adding capacity of all such organizations.

This section of the Site

  • Identifies those "fatal" flaws,
  • Provides some insight why they are so pervasive,
  • Describes an emerging strategy that can not only overcome those flaws, but also open up a huge new opportunity area for all involved.
Two flaws common to today's large organizations:

  • Fatal Flaw #1 — Leadership settles on a narrow and severely limiting definition of "success."
  • Fatal Flaw #2 — Organizations haven't been designed for capacity-building.

Check out "Why is the world in the state it's in?" in Paradigm-Shifting Questions. It draws from Sally Goerner's wonderful After The Clockwork Universe, and highlights the invisible power our inherited worldviews have on the quality and sustainability of life on this planet.

The above two flaws are both a natural consequence of our "clockwork-dominator culture" as described in After the Clockwork Universe. Both of these flaws might be thought of as failures in design.

First we shape the structures, then the structures shape us.

What's exciting about these two flaws is that they provide us the keys to making a quantum leap in the true value-adding capacity of our organizations. They open the door to vast new opportunities—for all stakeholders. These flaws provide us a splendid design challenge.

An Emerging Strategy for Turning These Flaws Into Huge New Opportunities

This web site features a pragmatic strategy, not only for addressing both of these pandemic flaws, but also opening the door to evolving new organizing forms with vastly greater flexibility and resilience.

We're calling this strategy, "generative capacity-building."

Below are a couple of lenses that can help you and your leadership team better understand Flaw #1 and begin to visualize some exciting new possibilities for the organization(s) you serve. But first check out these research results:

John Kotter and James Haskett's Culture and Performance summarizes research of 205 US corporations over an 11-year period. Their findings conclusively show the business costs of narrow focus, one reason why Flaw #1 can be fatal. See "Economies of Wholeness Versus the Poverty of Partial Purpose" subsection of the Stakeholders Lens.

The Stakeholder Lens challenges us to embrace all of our stakeholders as potential partners in the success of our organizations.

The Rainbow Lens is designed to make invisible essentials visible. The three Rainbow Charts summarized in the Lens writeup provide a new way to look at the current and potential future health and resileince of our organizations.

Not everything that counts can be counted

These two lenses, in combination, do a fairly good job of bringing Fatal Flaw #1 into focus. They can help a leadership team take a fresh look at its current definition of "success" and also explore more expansive and rewarding definitions.

Addressing Flaw #2 (Most organizations haven't been designed for capacity-building) is a bit more involved.

Below are examples of typical organizational capacity-building challenges for business organizations:
  • Improving efficiency, quality, reliability, safety, responsiveness, etc., within existing operations
  • Developing innovative next generation products/services
  • Attracting, developing and retaining talent
  • Handling challenges and capitalizing on opportunities close to the source
  • Bridging between cultures in a way that produces synergies
  • Discovering and acting on the potential for synergy in "triple bottom line" innovations
Business organizations that don't learn to transform these kinds of challenges into developmental opportunities die. It's that simple. Our landscape is littered with the carcasses of corporations that weren't designed to adapt, much less reinvent themselves.

Our public institutions are faced with an equally compelling need to develop capacity-building capacity. Unfortunately, they don't have the benefit of marketplace feedback loops to provide a sense of capacity-building urgency.

Why haven't organizations been designed to evolve themselves to develop capacity-building capacity?

There are many reasons, most a consequence of the "clockwork-dominator culture" we've all have been swimming in.

For instance, if your game is business, with success defined primarily in terms of profit, and your organization is a proven money-generating machine, why mess with success. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I remember these words from Lee Raymond before he became CEO of Exxon: "Bill, you make things too complicated. If an organization isn't working, it's either the structure or the people. If changing one doesn't fix it, you change the other."

With mental models based on a clockwork-dominator worldview, we can develop relatively simple ways to think about "fixing" organizations when they're "broken." In the finite game of business Lee and Exxon-Mobil became big "winners".

It's tough to fight success when it's reinforced by our prevalent worldview. However, we can create a new game—an infinite game—with a much more generative definition of success that will contribute to all of life. Such a game will seem as "more complicated" by those wedded to business as usual.

How would organizations be different if they were designed for capacity building?

The ABC Lens will help in answering this question. Since essentially all organizational infrastructure is designed to focus only on A-work, the B- and C-work essential to building new organizational capacities almost always gets short shrift.

If organizations were designed for capacity-building, B- and C-work strategies would be given the same kind of priority as A-work strategies, and leadership would be conscious of the huge prize associated with mastering capacity-building, and the potentially fatal consequences of failing.

The above True Cost-Benefit Curves are intended to depict the difference between generative (Blue Zone) approaches to organizational capacity-building and the more typical (Yellow Zone) approaches. Refer to the color-highlighted portions of the ABC Lens writeup to help you distinguish the quality of B and C- Work in your organization.

The architectural design and execution of major capacity-building initiatives would be approached with the same care as the design of a physical structure. The 3-Span Bridge Lens helps distinguish the challenge of building organizational capacity from the simpler challenge of developing individual capabilities.

In an organization designed to achieve mastery in capacity building, leadership development would necessarily need to be broader, deeper and more on-going deeper than today's traditional approaches.

We offer an assessment tool that contrasts two overlapping but importantly different sets of assumptions about leadership development. Box #1 Assumptions contain much "conventional wisdom," assumptions that perpetuate our traditional approaches. Box #2 introduces a new level of imagination and opens the door to new possibilities.

"The significant problems we face in life can not be solved at the level of thinking that created those problems."  — Einstein

The Box #2 Assumptions are foundational to designing and building the 3-Span capacity-building bridge appropriate to your organization's needs. They are especially relevant to Span 2, the special infrastructure essential to supporting generative capacity-building.

Action-Learning Strands provide the kind of infrastructure support that seems essential to weaving capacity-building capacity into the fabric of all an organization's culture and operations.

The Action-Learning Strand model is not new. Many highly effective approaches to organizational learning utilize some variation of this design. Communities of Practice follow this model. Many leadership development programs are designed to alternate learning nodes with action threads.

The Action-Learning Strand model is particularly well suited to support actualizing the Box 2 Assumptions described in Re-inventing Leadership Development. See the 3-Span Bridge Lens write-up for a more detailed description of this model.

Leaders for the future will be accomplished spinners and weavers of these strands.

The resemblance of this graphic depiction to DNA is nicely synchronous. When woven into the fabric of an organization these strands help shape, develop and sustain a culture of on-going, ever improving organizational learning and change.

With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, in the work of organizational capacity-building, the infrastructure is the message.

Leaders can speak of high purpose, compelling visions and inspiring values. However, if appropriate infrastructure isn't evolved to address the capacity-building challenges implicit in their visions, they're just blowing smoke. Conversely, if infrastructure is constructed that is both robust and congruent with the special needs of this special work, a powerful message is sent—and magic is unleashed.

If any/all of the above excites you, and you want to begin exploring possibilities within the organization(s) you serve; then, it would be good to study Design Principles for Generative Initiatives. Each of these ever-evolving, ever-expanding principles has serious box-expanding potential.