All that everyone, no matter how powerful, can do is to continue participating with intention and continually negotiate and respond to others who are also intentionally doing the same. It is in this ongoing, intentional, local interaction of strategizing that the population-wide patterns of strategy emerge.” – Ralph Stacey & Chris Mowles ‘Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics. 

emergence of innovation within a company

There is an interesting belief, and bias within organizations and the people who work within them, especially those in leadership positions who want to create an air of certainty and control: 

Hindsight bias is the common tendency for people to perceive past events as having been more predictable than they were. People often believe that after an event has occurred, they would have predicted or perhaps even would have known with a high degree of certainty what the event’s outcome would have been before the event occurred. 

When we look back at decisions and events, we tend to see a path or pattern that makes the decisions and steps appear obviously good or bad based on where we are currently. This hindsight gives us some security in our identity and who we are through time. It also tends to neglect or take little stock of the lack of knowledge and other information sources informing our thinking at that time. 

Your view of time will impact how you make sense of the present and think about the future while considering your past. 

When you view the past as an evidence-based set of objective things that happened and the linear arrow of time supports past happenings, then a causal if-then sense-making pattern happens. When you view the past as reflecting your current understanding, your existing knowledge (which you did not have in the past) impacts your views and objectivity. Then you may also interpret your future through current and future-based thoughts and knowledge, constructing a more circular or complex-adaptive-systems sense-making pattern. 

The Stacy and Mowles quote at the top of this post points out that our current interactions (with whatever view of the past you have) are what causes the emergence of strategy to happen. 

How can interactions help strategy?

You can have all the great ideas you want by yourself. 

And once you interact and share strategy, knowledge, and views with others (even the voice inside your head), the mixing, changing, informing, and adaptation of the strategies happens. When you feel that important things happened from an individual doing singularly heroic things, you ignore all the interactions that this hero had and all the connections through intentional discussions and support or detractors that informed and held this singular hero up or knocked them down. 

Have you ever noticed that when your company has a list of values or vision statements, they synthesize from multiple interactions, usually by senior leadership and a consultant? Then made more plain and vague, then offered as if they are some noble proclamation of how we all ought to behave. Then we expect autonomous, knowledgable adults to act autonomously within a prescribed series of vague values that are broad enough to be interpreted and narrowly used to punish you when you are not ascribing to the values that are part of the company culture? Even when the value statements and the strategic plans are helpful and supportive of people plus company needs, they still have to happen through people.

Strategy happens through people interacting to interpret, make sense of, and through their interactions and experience apply to their work – and then they share their experiences with others, which mutate the examples to fit into their work and behaviors. Interactions and mutation are how emergence and variation of work processes happen through intentional interactions (sharing of experiences) through a population of people within the workplace. By sharing these experiences, different ways of getting the work done spoken, shared, tried, adjusted, watched, shared, communicated, tried, and shared — then they may be placed into a standard operating procedure, then formed into formal policy. 

We form groups and work practice while being formed by them simultaneously. 

“Change is self-organizing, emergent processes of perpetually constructing the future as continuity at potential transformation at the same time…Order arises in specific dynamics of social interplay in particular places at particular times”  – Stacey & Mowles. 

Novelty and innovation emerge through people acting and sharing. This acting and sharing usually start with small local interactions. People see and share, then it spreads and takes on a pattern through populations within work – while changing or reinforcing the local patterns. The current view, seen through our sense of the past, creates a different present while we make a shared sense of our future.