Ethos is one of a small number of organisations in the world that practices a radical way of working which is more democratic, self-directed and non-hierarchical. Each project has one or more visionary leaders with a clear purpose and a passion for collaborating at its heart. One unique responsibility of these visionary leaders is somewhat paradoxical in an organisation that, on the surface, appears leaderless. That is a responsibility to ‘hold the ground for the vision’ – to ensure the culture and vision stays true to the ideal.It means that the natural pressures to revert to traditional power structures and control systems must be resisted. It means ensuring sufficient investment goes into alignment with the culture and ensuring that new entrants can really understand the nature of ‘how things get done around here’.
One of the harsh realities of complex problem solving is that it requires the full support of those at the top of existing systems. They need to become comfortable with ‘not knowing’, they need to be prepared to operate outside the traditional confines of command and control. They need to be comfortable with experimentation, to be accepting of failure. Hardest of all, arguably, leaders need to beware of point solutions, management consultants, training programmes and software environments and be prepared to ‘hold their ground’ on the vision and culture to enable solutions to emerge.
Perhaps the only place to start is people. No solution is possible without the ‘right people on the bus’ 1 according to Jim Collins and that is perhaps never more true than now. But this needs a word of caution. Even with the right people, they need to have the right intrinsic motivations to participate. Extrinsic motivations can sometimes result in behaviours and mindsets that have motivations tied to specific organisational and/or personal self-interest. I believe this is a recipe for failure. This means that these need to be unpicked first before embarking on a complex problem solving journey.
Our organisation is a continuous experiment on the future working environment, culture and tools necessary to bring to bear solutions to complex problems. For us, interfacing to the outside world creates challenges and opportunities. Much of the world expects us to behave in ways they understand. A common question is ‘what does Ethos actually do?’. There are also challenges from the people and organisations who will not embrace change or new ways of working. Most often they are deadlocked in systems that drive myopic behavior and allow no room for perspective away from their day-to-day contexts. This of course is the vast majority of world today. For those who innately or intuitively see the need for new ways of solving problems we can co-venture. We can provide a range of experiences of this new way of working and solving problems. In isolation of course none of these will change the World but together there is every chance that we can produce new and sustainable positive change.