In February the book of the month for our free online business book club was Adapt by Tim Harford (Bookworms). This book applies evolutionary thinking to how organisations and other systems develop. The author makes a distinction between the circumstances in which trial and error is an effective and useful solution, and those where it can be dangerous. This second category, as you may guess, includes situations where the risks of error are too great for the system to survive. He defines these situations as ones which are both complex and highly interdependent.
Most of the examples in the book are of large systems, institutions and organisations, but we wanted to draw some specific learning from the book for those of you who work in smaller organisations:
• (Controlled) trial and error is important – not news for regular readers but we are a big fan of trying things out, keeping data and analysing it in order to determine the best course of action.
• Build a new control tower – in his examples of interdependent (coupled) systems he talks about oil rig disasters where an early explosion took out the control tower. This meant that other safety systems couldn’t then be activated. In a small business you may well be the control tower. What happens if you are out of action (flu, car crash, snowed in). If you can’t work for a day, 2 days, 3 days what would happen? Would someone know how to access your diary and reschedule your engagements? Would invoices still go out on time? Who would your family need to phone to keep the wheels turning at work?
• Write the book – In some of the examples in the book someone else had to wade into an organisation and try and work it out from within – some of these had process/systems manuals, some didn’t. Can you guess which ones were easier to save? If you needed someone else to get to know how you do things…… and fast? Where would they start? This doesn’t need to be a long complex document, just a brief, update guide to the main important stuff – who is authorised to use the bank account, does anyone else have passwords for key systems, where are client contact details kept?
Have you got all of these things in place? What do you do in your organisation to keep evolving, without creating unnecessary risk?