Our evolution has been a constant struggle to find the balance between the chaos of primordial nature and the order of cultural development. As a species, our primal wiring is to fear the unknown. But nothing remains the same, and all things must pass.
[Listen to audio version, read by David Hodes]
The natural state of our minds, when exploring the frontier of our experience, is to struggle with the flight, fight or freeze impulse. To be most fully alive, however, we must find the courage to explore beyond our walled garden of safety. Besides the obligation to confront or avoid threat, the work is to identify opportunity and bring to ourselves and our communities a steady stream of innovation and novelty.
Those discoveries beyond the frontier of the known need to be understood, codified and incorporated into our existing stores of knowledge in a way that ensures a certain dynamic tension between the explored and the unexplored. A failure to venture beyond the frontier inevitably produces sterility and tyranny—old rules used by decree to bend new reality to its will. Conversely, if there is no order, there is no foundation upon which the new insights can be built, leading to atomisation and anarchy.
It turns out that our brains are built to accommodate and integrate these two domains of life—the chaos and the order. Our right brain is a patternseeker and sensemaker. When we act, its operation looks into unexplored territory and seeks to discern whether the phenomena it finds represent threat or opportunity. If opportunity, it undertakes the process of sense- and meaning-making. The left hemisphere of the brain is the repository of order, the explored territory, the place where wisdom, cultural norms and security abide. Grounded in the deeds of the heroes of the past, the left brain represents the solid foundation upon which we shape into value the new thinking of the right brain.
As an aid to understanding the fundamental concepts of chaos and order as they relate to your organisation, at Ensemble, we have developed the ‘dynamo’ model. When you look at the categories listed in the diagram, think of yourself as being right in the middle of it.
A dynamo generates energy and is where we want to be to work, and live, to our fullest potential. When you combine a grand vision with remarkable operating discipline, the creative tension between the two provides the best possible chance of outperforming even your own expectations. In our model, the vision axis stands for the ‘chaos’ outlined above and the ‘operating discipline’ for the order.
Let’s take a look at each of the eight categories in a little more detail.
Deadbeat: A person who turns up without any idea of what their goal is, how their future might unfold, and what agency they have in getting there is the deadbeat. They are ill-disciplined, indifferent to process and likely complain incessantly that the world will not bend to make them happy. They are a drag on team morale and a drain on energy. Any initiative is met with a cynical sneer and their level of motivation to get any work done is very low. They have no sense of how what they do will carry them forward, as they have nowhere to which they’re moving.
Drifter: The drifter has an idea of what a brighter future could hold, but they have not put in the hard work of fully developing their vision. They are comfortable following a general direction, but readily give up when the going gets tough. It’s easy come for them and then just as easy go. They’re the sort who will tell you that they’re ‘ideas’-type people and are only interested or good at the ‘big picture’. Whenever there is an assignment to hand out, they’re usually at the back of the queue, hopeful that they can hitch a ride off of their more conscientious colleagues. They are quick to claim credit for any successes and have an oversized sense of the value of their ideas.
Dreamer: These impassioned souls have a powerful sense of calling to their vision but spend an inordinate amount of time inhabiting the future, which is yet to be built. Their theme is a constant ‘wouldn’t it be good if…’, but it rarely gets beyond that. When paired with a ‘doer’, they can provide a burst of energy, but it soon becomes apparent that their head is in the clouds and they become a distraction. They are highly idealistic and very low on pragmatism. They build dream upon dream without ever seeing a result and are eventually written off by their colleagues as being nice, with some good ideas, but useless.
Devotee: Moving beyond the mere words of the dreamer, devotees have a strong desire to turn their vision into reality. They have organising skills and can mobilise a team to pursue an audacious goal. They have difficulty, though, with follow through. The processes they follow are rarely standardised and they thus spend too much time reinventing the wheel every time a new initiative is launched. They are fully committed to being open about innovative thinking, but struggle when wrestling with the devil in the detail. They often need to be goaded into action as they indulge their tendency to get lost in reverie. But, once they have the bit between their teeth, they head off at an inspiring gallop until they run out of puff. They consume too much energy running an always hands-on show rather than investing the time to set up the system to do the heavy lifting.
Definer: With a strong background in process management, definers do things by rote. These types are more interested in being ever better in their career discipline and forget why they are there in the first place. They may have qualifications after their name which indicate levels of achievement in the field of projects, production, and process management and will routinely complain that, but for the ill-discipline of the people they are managing, all would be well in the world. ‘Definers’ are seen by the people they micromanage as very two-dimensional. As a result, those being managed find it challenging to feel inspired about their work.
Decreer: The tyrant in the pack. These types have a lot of power, and everything about them is about getting others to do their work the way it is decreed. There are deficient levels of trust, and the team usually only stays on because they either have no other options or haven’t yet sorted them out. There are frequent requests from team members to managers further up the chain to transfer them to other projects or business units resulting in high levels of team churn. While the operating procedures are well documented, and process mastery is a given, the decreer often uses the systems as a big stick with which to beat the team into compliance. The objective is conformance rather than performance.
Deliverer: Strong on operating discipline, deliverers have one eye fixed firmly on the vision for the future. They make for loyal followers, but find it difficult to provide their less-disciplined colleagues with a compelling case for why a high level of discipline is essential for realising the vision. They are often anxious about their role as hero and would rather play second fiddle. They find comfort in process and analysis, but prefer to use their mastery of data to support the effort rather than lead it. There is a threshold of leadership they will not cross as they believe deep within that they are incapable of mustering the courage to lead something genuinely new. They are by nature incrementalists, preferring to serve the vision of their leaders rather than imagine themselves capable of heroic deeds.
Dynamo: A source of energy for everyone. Dynamos are a force of nature whose courage is in direct proportion to their grand vision. They have a clear idea of where they want to go and have a highly disciplined mind when it comes to working out how to get there. They can handle competing social, economic and environmental demands in a way which is held together by an incandescent will to achieve what would otherwise be thought unreasonable or impossible. Their teams enthusiastically embrace their big idea and are inspired to turn up as the best version of themselves. Those teams deeply appreciate that their dynamo leader always has in mind that what they do is in service of the greatest good for all.
Dynamos have an incredible attention to detail and great mastery in the disciplines of the planning and performance of work. They are inveterate learners and would rather be proven wrong than right. They never sacrifice the multifaceted achievements of doing profoundly meaningful work on the altar of expedience or meaningless compliance. Their gaze is fixed on realising their long-term vision, but their focus is intense and relentless on architecting better ways to do better work. In doing so, they build a better world for us all.
Of course, no one is always and forever one of these archetypes, and these are not scientifically derived descriptions—though I expect a few individuals sprang to mind as you read them. People also move between adjacent segments. In our experience, though, they rarely jump across the map. A ‘drifter’ might become a ‘devotee’, but almost certainly not a ‘decreer’. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine a ‘definer’ becoming a ‘dreamer’. The good news is that sometimes people take on an archetype within a specific role, or under a specific manager. So it may be possible to change mindsets by switching them to a different role or team.
On the other hand, if you’re the dynamo and you want to realize a transformation, you may need to get, as Jim Collins calls it, ‘the right people on the bus’. Sometimes, to change people you have to change people. This is why organisational design and organisational learning are indispensable components of a systemic transformation. With the right leadership, too, you can encourage devotees and deliverers to step up and become dynamos themselves.
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[Background image: Light in hand, Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash]
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