Assessment of Adaptive Capacity of Business Organizations
by Tomas Kolka
The original source of inspiration for my thesis project were works of ecologists (Gunderson, Holling, Walker, Salt, Folke and others) who started to draw connections between cyclical dynamics characteristic for ecological systems and the ones that occur in social systems (in my case namely business organizations).
According to their observations, systems accumulate resources (capital, human potential, knowledge etc.) during expansion times. Simultaneously however, they tend to become increasingly conservative in their behaviour. Connectedness among actors active in such systems grows, markets become saturated and controlled by few, efficiency efforts set in and innovative voices face obstructions.
All such seemingly natural behaviour causes rigidities that lead to decrease of systems’ resilience. In such case, organizations become accidents-waiting-to-happen. Any unexpected crisis can trigger a major disaster (or in better scenario – a need for reorganization). When that happens, previously accumulated potential is released and can be used in attempts to move towards new, reinforced equilibrium. According to some, such cyclical developments are unavoidable. Attempts to optimize systems in order to prevent such developments, despite good intention, cause even more rigidity. Freezing a system in optimal state has been common practice in past decades. The new trend seems to be ability to adapt to the environment (adaptive capacity) and move forward. This is how some of the oldest corporations have managed to stay profitable for generations.
In my research I am trying to back up the claim that organizational longevity is an outcome achievable mainly (if not exclusively) in result of careful and ongoing efforts towards aligning resilience, curiosity, innovation, modularity, ambidexterity as well as cultivation of quality social capital through appropriate leadership, is of crucial importance for achievement of longevity. My interpretation of these seven features will be later provided in a presentation.
In the practical part of my research I intend to carry out interviews with representatives of organizations which (ideally) withstood the test of time. I will attempt to identify traces of the above mentioned characteristics in order to find an optimal ratio among them and their relevance to adaptive capacity of examined subjects.
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