The irresistible future of organizing: think of brand as a living system

“The Irresistible Future of Organizing” is the title of Margaret Whitley’s article from 1996. It’s funny how the issues that digital marketing industry faces now are really not that new. She talks about self-organizing systems, and it’s impossible not to think of Twitter. In fact, it’s impossible not to think of any evolving online social aggregate. Digital makes the aggregates tangible, something like ‘organizing-made-visible’. Whitley starts her article with a question”Why do so many people in organizations feel discouraged and fearful about the future? Why does despair only increase as the fads fly by, shorter in duration, more costly in each attempt to improve? … We, and our organizations, exist in a world of constant evolutionary activity. Why has change become so unnatural in human organizations?” Yesterday, I accidentally came across this quote: “the only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery” — by Harold Wilson. It’s not the first time that the environment is developing faster than the firms: that is, that organizing tends to disfavor the established market actors at the expense of emerging ones. Whitley says that “it is time to change the way we think about organizations. Organizations are living systems. All living systems have the capacity to self-organize, to sustain themselves and move toward greater complexity and order as needed. They can respond intelligently to the need for change. They organize (and then reorganize) themselves into adaptive patterns and structures without any externally imposed plan or direction.” If I mentioned Twitter that’s because it created a framework, a blueprint, for social organizing but after that, it’s founders had absolutely no control over what was happening: innovation in applications, @replies, mr.tweet, etc. emerged out of use and from people who used it. As a brand, Twitter is a living system that evolves [for comparison, see NikePlus, and Apple iTunes = not much bandwidth for spontaneous evolution there]. The only plan for brand development is that there should be no plan. Somehow, the living system is going to reach the “greater order” (and yea, there’s going to be a lot of spam in the process — but the system is prob going to fix that too. FB is almost an example. and anyway, better spam than a cemetery tho).

This post originally appeared on I [Love] Marketing on January 7, 2009