The choice for your organisation: evolution or extinction?

Every organisation needs constant improvement and innovation. The alternative is the fate of the dinosaurs: extinction due to failure to adapt to a changing environment.

If you don’t start start changing now, you might not be around in five years’ time.

Before you start

  • Does your IT department have agile methodology?
    If not, how will you put constant innovation into practice?
  • Do you routinely seek customer-feedback on your products and services?
    You need to be the first to know of any problems and fixing these must be your top priority.
  • When was the last time you researched your customers’ needs?
    You need to be sure you are meeting these needs before you focus on processes.

In the broadest terms, for yours to become a learning organisation, which is what I am describing, it will need to adapt and to learn from experience.


Your organisational culture must encourage improvisation rather than penalise it. Wherever there is a difference between a formal process and its improvised enactment, focus on the reason for it, with a view to revising the process. The new way might be quicker, cheaper, better. It might highlight an obsolete routine or duplicated effort.

Corporate culture

This culture of experimentation and the inherent risks can be particularly challenging for process-driven corporations to embrace. There are bound to be bumps and scrapes along the way. You will need to marshall corporate culture to inspire the creativity that comes more naturally to workplaces where confusion, chaos and ambiguity are the norm.


Create collaborative practices where useful improvisations can be shared by people engaged in similar or connected tasks (team meetings, forums, webcasts, etc.).


To bring new ideas from outside the organisation you might recruit experts from other companies; send staff for external training; monitor competitors; send delegates to conferences, forums and trade fairs; participate in industry associations and regulatory bodies; subscribe to specialist publications; monitor news and developments in your market sector and share anything interesting.


Develop a means of recording successful adaptations in organisational memory, so they can be stored and make them easily accessible (via wikis, manuals, intranets, etc.).

I’m also a great believer in keeping an eye on other industries to see if they’ve come up with something that could be applied to yours. For instance, digital publishers could learn a lot about personalisation from the e-commerce industry.

If you put all these processes in place, you will soon identify potential improvements within your organisation.

You still need to evaluate, prioritise and cost them, calculate the potential benefits and risks and decide what metrics are appropriate to measure their effectiveness.

Adapt and apply

Then you need to adapt innovations to your own organisation and the environment it operates in.

And this must be an ongoing, iterative process, which will require you to revisit problems periodically. The environment we operate in shows no sign of stabilising any time soon and we will all have to continue evolving to keep up with it.

Organizational Population Theory suggests that a corporation with an inflexible core fails when its environment changes and Organizational Learning Theory describes how to create a learning organization. Both are part of  Stanford University’s Organizational Analysis course, taught by Prof. Daniel A. McFarland and available online via Coursera.

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