The Uncertainty Mindset 2019-2020

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#16: Working for an uncertain future

vaughn2nd January 2021 at 3:40pm

This issue is about how organizations should find, choose, and bring on new members to encourage innovation and continuing adaptation to uncertain environments—in other words, it's about negotiated joining as a way to hire for uncertain futures.

In negotiated joining, each potential new member comes into the organization with some part of her role undefined. She negotiates this undefined part of the role by trying small things. If it works, she keeps doing it; if it doesn’t work or stops working, she stops doing it. Her role gets built up out of successful tests.

Negotiated joining is a way to apply maintenance by design to organizational structure: it builds an organization in which members’ individual roles and the overall role structure are both malleable and responsive.

An organization built around negotiated joining is soft in a good way, it pays attention to the its environment and moves and flexes quickly when the environment changes. The tradeoff is that soft organizations flex all the time—and are therefore continually imperfectly optimized and inefficient.

Organizations are increasingly aware that the really important challenges they face—innovation, unknown industry change, being a startup with an unproven business model or product—are not risky but truly uncertain. Conventional hiring, which depends on defining job requirements for new employees in advance, is inherently unsuited for situations of uncertainty.

The opposite of the soft and adaptable organization is a rigid organization with an optimized structure of predefined, stable member roles—in other words, any organization that hires conventionally, into conventionally static roles. In a stable, predictable environment, the rigid organization is undoubtedly more efficient. But when the environment changes enough from what's optimal, the rigid organization declines quickly and collapses.

You can find it here: #16: Working for an uncertain future