Nature teaches us a lot about the myth of control. When experiencing nature, we usually accept the limits of control.  We can’t control the weather, bee flight patterns, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, rainfall, or whether a fish will bite our fishing line. In fact, we aren’t surprised by these things because the lack of control over nature is well understood. Instead, we notice what happens around us, and adjust to those forces.

We use influence. We offer the fish attractive lures and employ knowledge of fish feeding practices.

We adapt. Weather depending, we dress in layers, use umbrellas or stay indoors.

As humans we’ve become experts at adapting to whatever nature throws our way.

Where nature is concerned, we accept the need to learn and adapt, rather than control.

We commune best with nature when we observe, identify patterns, and experiment ways to live through its challenges and so we adapt our behavior. For example, we know driving isn’t safe during blizzard conditions, so we modify our schedules and stay home until conditions improve. Wildfires or storm surges spur us to evacuate. We use tools – science-driven forecasts or simply looking out our windows – to assess weather conditions and dress accordingly.

These simple, obvious behavioral shifts toward learning and adaptation are mostly intuitive and/or learned at a young age. We adapt when we realize we can’t control what confronts us. Adaptation occurs when we fit behaviors with the larger external environment.

Why do we continue to try and control people and organizations?

Nature is a living system, and as such, uncontrollable. It is interdependent and dynamic. Conversely, control is possible only in static, predictable situations. What we often don’t realize is that much like nature, our organizations are living systems, filled with individual living systems (i.e. people). By recognizing this, we can begin to understand that our pursuit of control within organizational settings is a faulty myth. It is no more attainable than a goal of controlling nature.

In a world where organizational competence has become aligned with the ability to control events, messages and people, we build a myriad of unrealistic “controls”.  We create HR systems that are designed to control people.  We design processes and structures to control outcomes. We supervise and lead in ways that focus on controlling others with reward structures.

Nature doesn’t work this way and neither do our organizations! Let’s learn from nature, and instead:

  • Align competence with adapting and learning quickly.
  • Design organizations and HR systems that reward self-organization and reinforce purpose.
  • Redefine the hallmarks of supervision as being welcomed in the team and useful to the members of the team.
  • Relinquish the idea that control is possible, necessary, or useful.

In doing so, we approach our organizations as living systems that are in dynamic movement and that require us to learn and adapt to what is going on here and now. When we release control and turn to alignment, self-organization and reinforcement, our rewards include not only increased productivity, we usually experience a lot less stress. And also a lot more fun!

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