Shared Traits of Persistent Organizations

For any organization (including biological organisms) to persist over time, a certain balance between what might appear on the surface to be competing priorities determined by environmental context must be expressed. Safety vs. the need for food, for instance. Regular patterns of structure and behavior are surrounded by increasingly dynamic and less frequent ones that work together to maintain coherence in the context of the environment. This is the bone and flesh of coherence that applies to any coherent system. Out of this pool of necessities emerges a particular structural-behavioral form. The more persistent patterns form a “bone structure” architecture of the system. This is the grammar from which increasingly dynamic flexible elements of structure and behavior appear. These more flexible elements of structure are more suited to contend with wider ranges of environmental variables. This is the essence of persistently coherent systems in the context of the environment.

One of the most useful lenses to make this grammatical pattern of structures more visible and able to be acted on is the Wardley model. It parses organizations into pioneers, settlers, and town planners. Using this lens, the town planner types are the bone structure of an organization and the pioneers are the flexible explorers who contend with the future and embrace discovery. A specific blend of each that is proportional to contexts such as marketplaces and social economy environments is required for organizations to persist over time.

This model of persistently coherent organizations also applies to civilization. How well we manage the embrace of traditions and innovation that are relevant to successfully navigating our present and future environments will determine whether we persist or not. Negotiating in this nuanced multifaceted context is key.

Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners – How Innovation Works


3 responses to “Shared Traits of Persistent Organizations

  1. Síochána Arandomhan

    Cool! I have been fascinated lately with stories of that first human civilizations. I don’t have the expertise to evaluate them, but I’m fascinated by the theories about how and why humans adopted farming for example , or why a certain environment created a certain kind of society.

    On a personal, family level, I wonder about how to continue values and maybe traditions over generations. This seems to me a very different, and more complex question, than that one I was taught to be preoccupied with as a child: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There was an awful lot of pressure attached to that question, too, albeit unintentionally I’m sure. “You were given this blank slate of a life: now create it from the beginning!” Perhaps a better question might be: “What do you think has been given to you of value and how can you continue it and build upon it?” That was the question I eventually learned to ask and answer, but it took a while to get there.

    • I think you are hinting at one of the vital organs of the host of reasons for the meaning crisis in today’s world. Options. “What will you be when you grow up?” used to be defined for almost everyone. The environment or set roles in society by way of birth coupled with our lack of leverage to influence the environment made it clear If we didn’t act in service of the predefined things demanded in our local context, we would not do well. Now we have choices. While this sneaky emergent evolutionary quirk is wonderful, we are ill prepared with the requisite biological algorithms to properly contend with it. This is especially true since we’ve increasingly added individualism to the orienting maps with which we guide our steps. What do you believe has a much broader range. Now we have to figure it out and forge our way, not simply comply. It’s much harder.

      Also I love that the name of your blogs “torthuil” means fruitful in Gaelic.

      • Síochána Arandomhan

        An interesting extension on the ideas as usual! Thanks! Yes more choices begs the question of how to make good choices, or even if one should make good choices, or what good choices are, or, or…

        Yes, torthuil means fruitful or fertile. My “journey” blog started specifically as a blog about the challenges we faced in having children. I noticed that many women used the word “infertile” in their blog name and I couldn’t do that….it felt too limiting. So I named it for what I wanted rather than what I was facing in the moment.

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