Organisations are facing increasing a dilemma in how they organise and manage within their systems and structures.

They are being forced to deal in increasingly complexity and environmental turbulence and ‘adapting the appropriate response’  remains increasingly a difficult one to master within our existing regime and structures.

On the one hand the value in stability is still essential, working within specific routines and practices gives a clear ‘path dependence.’

This allows for efficiency and effectiveness to be constantly at practice, constantly building the problem-solving processes so as to master tasks in complex environments to resolve ‘known’ problems in ‘given’ ways.

We need to become increasingly fluid but how and why?

Yet there is considerable discussion around changing structures and models to become more adaptive, agile, and fluid, to react and deal with this increasing turbulence. We need to react and become more responsive, becoming more adaptive to changing environments and business challenges, that are often unknown, unexpected, or not yet explored or exploited.

The need for a different innovation interplay

In a recent series, of introducing the innovation interplay, co-authored with Jeffrey Phillips of Ovo Innovation, we discuss how change needs a higher appreciation and focus within any innovation design. We go on and suggest the importance of thinking new innovation design is increasingly coming through the business model and this requires increasing undertaking of change.

This change thinking is not just for the innovator, but for the customers and markets that any innovation is channeled towards but also, in how it has a real impact on the dynamics of current competition and the potential effect on competitors. 

Designing deliberate change into innovations eventual outcome, increasingly through new business models, is a powerful point of real advantage that needs greater leveraging.

So we have this dilemma of needing stability, but trying to build increasing fluidity.

Yet today, our organisations are far too rigid, they are not adaptive or agile enough to really exploit innovation to the full. They struggle with this organisational constraint imposed by the singular, or dominating pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness at the cost of ‘fluidity.’ Organisations and individuals see change far too often in negative terms, and not in the way innovation can bring positive change that seeks constant adjustments to deliver the best solution.

How can both work alongside each other? Many theorists have suggested having in place the ‘ambidextrous organisation.’ This combines focus on ‘being efficient’ and being ‘change orientated’ to create a diverse and well-equipped organisation. 

I have been drawn to this dual system of ambidextrous organisation as it helps resolve one of the consistent stumbling blocks for innovation to ‘take hold’ and evolve. Innovation is constantly fluid, needing to be adaptive as we learn and adjust to new learning. This requires a change-orientated approach. Often innovation comes up against a rigid system, and for many, “it just seems not to fit” is the excuse. It gets rejected as not appropriate.

Innovation struggles if it remains outside the prevailing system. Innovation constantly challenges against the dominant mindset within organisations, especially those who like the idea of innovation but instead want to focus on their short-term performance. Innovation then ‘sits outside’ their domain of focus. Something needs to change if innovation is really important.

Yet the very essence of our stability in organisations is under threat.

There is so much change being undertaken, the growing call for quick improvisation and ad-hoc responses will move us away from those rigid processes into open and fluid ones. The solutions of fluid, agile and adaptive innovation are aiming to develop highly flexible and responsive organisations. This is an attractive answer to move forward, especially in more uncertain times. The ability to make this very defining move in any organisation does seem very fraught with risk.

We do need to extend our thinking about fluidity, so let’s initially step back to see if we can then move forward into a more fluid organisation..

There is no doubt that the classic change model needs an update.

The classic “unfreeze, change, refreeze” approach to change just does not work anymore. This still remains one of the most classic change models as a three-phase model, introduced by Lewin in 1947. This Model became the basis for many subsequent change models. 

Lewin’s change model seeks to “unfreeze” the existing conditions, in order to allow “change or transition” to occur, so as to then arrive at a new state of higher capability or competence, at which point the operating model is again “frozen” or “refreezes” into its new state.

This model is certainly becoming very outdated, and is dangerous from an innovation perspective, for two reasons. First, the model anticipates resistance to change rather than engagement with change. Second, the model assumes an eventual “refreezing” state, where the company remains in stability without change. 

Today, we need to be constantly improving our operating model and exploring growth in order to influence markets.

Shifting to a different change model needs a high level of transition

We need to ‘unfreeze’ through recognition of our present rigidity. We should make a transition’ through experiment and exploration. Finally we should notrefreeze’ as has been previously suggested, instead we should build the adaptive, agile and fluid abilities required for today from learning, collaborating, and embracing a constant-change mentality.

To achieve a more organic fluidity, we must move from hierarchies to networks and from formal rules and high levels of coordination to more spontaneous interactions. The improvised processes that resolved specific issues and the constantly forming and dissolving project teams present real challenge for organisation-wide communications.

Everything seems to be flowing faster, and we have to respond.

We are seeing far more fluidity in relationships where the knowledge is flowing within, across and between organisations. The boundaries are blurring, that increasing fuzziness needs shifting our style of decision-making and solution finding.

There is also this growing sense that innovation is endless–that it never stops, but simply shifts from one stage to another. It often loops back to be re-evaluated and thought through. The old linear process is not working, learning and adjusting is a constant all along the pipeline development process and requires a higher level of fluidness to deal with it.

There is this nagging feeling of relentless destruction or disturbance, the very opposite of the stable equilibrium we seemed to enjoy in the past. Those that become capable of managing the constant change and disequilibrium will eventually thrive.

Yet, we need to face this paradox of fluidity and stability.

Those growing conditions of uncertainty and complexity also need boundary building, identity formation and problem-solving architectures that are stable and can provide replication of essential actions or activities. We need to seek out and maintain yet constantly challenge to “undo” and redesign.

We are still struggling with the dominant logic in organisations, and often this constrains innovation, restricts us to provide radically different business models, and limits our abilities to change fast enough. We are learning to be far more adaptive in our learning, but this is constantly meeting up with resistance of this linear logic.

What would help us build a higher fluidity into the design of our organisations?

Firstly, what makes up the competencies of fluid? 

Here we provide a list that has many aspects or enabling attributes to them you might recognize. Embracing all of them is not the answer but taking a more detailed and thoughtful approach to those capabilities, competencies and capacities to build fluid into your organisation becomes important.

Today, we are all searching for new adaptive infrastructures. We should be participating in platforms and building our ecosystems to extract outside knowledge to learn how to recombine it in new ways. Nothing today stands still; we are in that need to constantly redefine, to build in flexibility and adaptive skills.

We should encourage thinking and challenging present orthodoxies and explore ways to rewire and rethink much of the prevailing system and processes, as it has far too much built-in rigidity.
Today, we are losing predictability on much that was a constant within the past. We have a speed of development that must be reduced, in order to gain a competitive advantage and get our innovation to market earlier.

So can we identify competencies that would help embed a more fluid way of working?

We need to look for, or deliberately design, into our thinking the following:

We are all becoming far more digital, fluid, and fast, we are absorbing and responding at faster rates and we are adapting to a constant, multifaceted world of systems and knowledge piecing to combine up into different ‘wholes’.

  • To get there we need to be far more nimble: we need to learn navigation skills, we are increasingly assignment-driven, less exploratory in many things, and technology is taking on this role.
    • We need to become increasing agile, iterative, experimental, and constantly determined to execute to drive our results and add value.
    • We need to seek empowerment, focus on delivery, and collaboration outcomes.
    • We need to grasp the make-up of value creation, and why innovation is key for new business models.
    • We need to establish within ourselves, and our larger working environment, a sound conflict-resolution pathway, striving for authenticity and trust within the places we operate.
    • Lastly, we need real willingness to seek out diversity and visibility to drive our personal satisfaction and worth. 

Conclusion

We need to relentlessly challenge and push out our own boundaries and knowledge, adapting these for our exploits. The mantra of “adapting, exploring and quickly responding” to the market needs this fluidity.

The need for fluidity across our organisations is to respond to the different demands of today, requiring a far more adaptive and responsive business to work in increasing parallel of balancing stability with dynamism. 

This dual need of maintaining stability in the force of resisting shocks and keeping the existing optimisation has to yet to work alongside these increasing challenges. 

The end result is in delivering more innovation that meets the changes occurring, these require both fluid and stable thinking and approaches.