The Fractal Wheel of Design Thinking
Organizations are like plants and forests- they all share initial growth, conservation, release and reorganization.
The growth of plants requires having good seeds, good soil and balanced nutrients all within an inviting environment.
Assuming the environment and the seeds needs are met, the challenge is for having balanced nutrients. This is well-explained in what is known as the Liebig’s barrel representing the theory of constraints. It is the shortest stave in the barrel that is the prime limiting one in determining the capacity of the wheel.
This barrel and in spite of its importance isn’t sufficient because the missing element of nutrition may be interacting with other parts or all of the other elements and its shortage will cascade to the other elements.
The Soil Mineral Wheel was first introduced by D. Mulder to reflect on the importance of the interactions between minerals in the soil. Arrows aimed away from each other show mutual mineral interference and antagonism. These interactions show antagonism in which the presence of one element decreases the presence of part or all other elements. In contrast, Arrows aimed at each other show mineral synergy. the stimulation relationship is wherein the presence of one element leads to the increasing availability of few or all other elements.
The interactions among these elements are complex- a nutrient interacting simultaneously with more than one nutrient. This may induce deficiencies, toxicities, modified growth responses, and/or modified nutrient composition. The wheel shows visually the interactions and the resulting complexity.
Other factors adding to such complexity are the insurance of the quality of planted seeds and the need for a healthy climate to support the germination and subsequent growth of the plant.
The Organizational Mineral Wheel
Organizations grow like plants grow from the seeds that we plant in their soil. The farmers are responsible for guaranteeing that only good seeds are selected and who share the responsibility for taking care of the resulting crop.
Now, if we have good farmers and good seeds, friendly environment what would be the critical factors for the successful growth of the germination and growth of the plants? What are the types of interactions among them and whether they are antagonism, stimulation or buffered as if the interactions didn’t change anything?
Literature search revealed many different opinions on the main minerals (factors) that should be on the circumference of the wheel. Some references suggested seven factors including: clarity, certainty, commitment, strategy, structure, systems and skills. The image below represents superimposing the soil wheel atop the Liebig’s Barrel.
Overlaying Liebig’s Barrel atop the Soil Mineral Wheel
In our VUCA world (standing for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) the above model is questionable. Bridgespan finds that truly effective organizations exhibit strengths in five key interrelated areas: leadership, decision-making and structure, people, work processes and systems, and culture.
Key Elements of Effective Organizations: Bridgespan’s Organization Wheel
Culture represents in my view the soil for plants. Culture is the emerging property of the way people in an organization interact.
The Challenges to construct the Organization Mineral Wheel
In many views trust is seen as a key mineral component that has to be present in the “soil of an organization”.
What adds to this complexity is that trust itself is an emerging property of interactions. Let me explain by example. I combined two approaches in one image to explain my point
The right part of the image explains the feedback effect. If we place trust on the circumference of the Organizational Mineral Wheel then we are placing a dynamic property that changes with time. So, what trust and at what level are we talking about? Trust maybe a fractal-like and the more we dig into it, the more we shall discover.
This isn’t the only issue. The other issue is trust might reverse direction by blinding us to the need to trust with verification. Trust grows fast eventually and then we need to tame it with verification. Same is with excessive love, reliance on talents and other aspects of social behaviors
The growth of organizations depends on the support of their leaders. If leaders exercise empathy so that the employees will produce more this may happen for a while with a reinforcing loop emerging (the image below Part 1).
This works fine, but for a while, because the employee shall get burnout and her/his productivity drops.This will create a negative downward loop. The less productive the employee is, the more dissatisfied the leader shall be. The negative loop emerged after sometime and wasn’t present at the beginning or was unnoticeable being ineffective. Such time gaps between the loops makes the predictability of their outcome difficult indeed (Part 2 in the image below).
Back Loops Are Natural
The above discussion extends to all facets of life, If you love a girl excessively you shall eventually lose her. This is because the more love you have, the more jealous and controlling you become.
We have limited capacity to grow. Capacity determines the diameter of the Organization Mineral Wheel, We are limited by this capacity. When we reach our the limit of an organization’s capacity what would happen? A balancing and countering loop shall emerge.
All throughout history societies have undergone fractal social cycle. I discussed this before;. The image below shows the cycle and its phases, Ideas cause exponential growth to grow and then a counter balancing loop emerges to atbilize the. Again, eventually a stabilizing feedback loop shall emerge leading to the next release phase. This is followed by reorganization of the society into new structures.
The social cycle is very similar to the Panarchy even though the two carry different names for the four phases. They are both made of Growth, Conservation, Release and Reorganization. They look different because of the different names we give to each phase.
It is all about self-reinforcing loop at the beginning in all of them til lat a later time a balancing loop emerges.
Because of rapid growth conservation emerged
Because conservation emerged release emerged
Because release emerge self-organization emerged
And the loop starts againThe growth of plants, the growth of societies and the growth of organization have very similar loops. These cycles keep repeating at lesser and lesser times to form fractals .
The Fractal Growth of the Logistic Equation
The logistic equation is subject to the same reasoning that applies to Panarchy and social cycles for it also undergoes the same phases. These are growth of population, conservation, release and re-organization.
If we just look at the bifurcation diagram of the logistic equation you shall see what I mean.
In deign thinking we need to cater for the front and backward loops, or the reinforcing and stabilizing groups. It shall be interesting to form the “Organization Mineral Soil wheel” and place the controlling factors and their interactions on the circumference of this wheel like we do for minerals on the Wheel of Minerals. This visual presentation may help group think in identifying the needed minerals and to decode the possible interactions among them so that may enable us to take “Dynamic Decisions”. I mean decision that adapt with time and to cope with the adaptations of the organizations over their life spans.
I dedicate this post to Gary-Gregoire Coquillo, MSc.- with whom I had recently enjoyed few very informative exchanges of comments. Few exchanges, but they impacted my thinking resulting the penning this post.
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