Arts Journal Blog April 30, 2013 by Diane Ragsdale
A couple weeks ago, one of my favorite arts bloggers, Andrew Taylor (a/k/a The Artful Manager) wrote a post whose title conveys a pretty strong thesis: Organizations don’t evolve; they cope. While I share Andrew’s skepticism of the field’s use of natural world metaphors (ecosystem, ecology, evolve, adapt, sustainability, etc.) it’s not because I think the metaphors don’t apply (within limits); it’s because I think we sometimes misapply them. Andrew begins his analysis with a comparison between individual organizations and individual organisms, writing:
We’re calling on existing organizations to evolve to the new environment, as living organisms evolve to theirs. Only, individual organisms don’t evolve. They only cope. So, we can tell a nonprofit corporate organization to evolve just as effectively as we can tell a fish to grow opposable thumbs. Its traits and tendencies were inherited at birth. It can adjust its tendencies, it can retrain its reflexes, but it’s still a nonprofit corporate organization, even if it can do new tricks.
He then rightly points out a couple paragraphs later that there are differences between an organization and a fish:
An organization is a bundle of people, things, processes, and traditions, bound by contracts and covenants, and restricted in its operation by laws, codes, and norms. A fish is, well, a fish.
The distinctions that Andrew makes between an organization and a fish are critical; indeed, it is these very distinctions that would seem to make it possible for an organization to evolve and impossible for a fish to do so. Read More
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