The Life-Cycle of the Heroic Organization

This is part of a series of harvests from the Thrivable World Quest, a learning adventure across multiple cities to explore how organizations must be if humanity is to survive – and thrive.

On the first “island” of the Thrivable World Quest, we explored the need for Heroic Cause in organizations. And one of the things we discovered is that what’s needed is something that feels quite a lot like a Quest – a little boldness, a lot of determination, a sense of adventure, and a band of people who are resolved to defy the status quo and to overcome the challenges they face, against all odds.

In fact, this quest-y approach is the daily existence of many young companies, which is what can make them such great places to work. The big question this raises, then, is: as companies grow and add stability and predictability, how can they still be Heroic, if this is what’s needed of them (as we found that it is)?

Conventional wisdom says they can’t. We assume that there’s an inevitable life-cycle of an organization – that, like a person, an organization goes through a youthful stage, full of learning, adventure and vitality, and then passes into growth and maturity, becoming increasingly set in its ways and lacking in life, only to stagnate and die an inglorious death.

Maybe this cycle is inevitable. Just as forests contain some young trees and some old, maybe we need a mix of companies – some young, vital and heroic, and others older and more stable, providing important basic services and enjoying different charms and more subtle forms of learning. Maybe we need places of stability in order to practice wisdom, as the balancing force to heroism.

But then again… can’t an older person still be heroic? Isn’t it the continued quest to serve some heroic cause that keeps us vital and thriving throughout the stages of our lives? That keeps us exploring the edges of our comfort and invites us into our courage? And couldn’t this be true of organizations, too?

Maybe each company is more like a forest ecosystem than an individual organism.  In this case, it has the potential for immortality, like a forest or a coral reef – but only if it continuously renews and regenerates. Do we need each company to endeavour to keep its youthful spirit – calling forth courage and heroism – even as it develops stability and wisdom in some foundational aspects of its existence?

I think it must be so. There is too much at stake for any of our organizations  to contribute only half-heartedly to life’s ability to thrive. And the courageous life is too precious not to strive for.

The thing we have to remember is that this is not about youthfulness, and it’s not about “innovation” as a buzzword or trendy management topic, done for its own sake or for the sake of continued competitiveness. It’s about renewal and regeneration for life’s sake – your life, my life, and all life on the planet. It’s about remaining vital so that we can serve life as boldly and courageously as possible.

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