March 21, 2000
In the world’s harshest environments, the life forms that survive are those with the ability to adapt. In today’s tough and unpredictable business climate, the same scientific principle applies. If your organization cannot adjust, it will struggle and eventually die – overtaken by faster, nimbler, and more competitive forces.
William E. Fulmer, a highly respected senior fellow at the Harvard Business School, has done extensive research and consulting in fast-changing organizations. Dr. Fulmer has found that companies in all fields learn to cope with volatility and uncertainty by borrowing strategies from two seemingly disparate sources: biological models, especially those known as complex adaptive systems, and companies in the technology sector, which operate in especially chaotic environments.
Interpreting the work of such groundbreaking scientists as Charles Darwin, Stuart Kauffman, Marie Gell-Mann, and John Holland, Dr. Fulmer illustrates that the business world, like the world of biology, is a complex system. For your company to succeed, he argues, it must become adaptive in the biological sense. Thus, Shaping the Adaptive Organization presents a framework that helps you explore:
- Landscape. What is your business environment? Is it rugged or flat? And how fit is your organization, relative to others, to navigate it? Understanding the landscape, and your company’s changing role within it, is the first step to thinking beyond the box and rethinking critical strategies.
- Learning. Companies that successfully create an adaptive culture are those that not only encourage individual learning but encourage sharing it. Further, by considering some of the adaptive concepts introduced here, a company can adjust its very structure in order to leverage learning and respond faster to changing market conditions.
- Leadership. Managing an adaptive company requires nontraditional vision and skills. Paying special attention to the distinct needs of startups versus established companies, Dr. Fulmer shows executives how to meet the challenges of complexity and create a resilient organization.
Through examples from numerous innovators – including small entrepreneurial start-ups as well as giants such as Cisco, Microsoft, and Intel – you’ll discover how leading-edge companies are dealing with a rapidly changing landscape. As a source of inspiration and a practical, hands-on guide, Shaping the Adaptive Organization will convince you that “the edge of chaos” is in fact the best place for a company to be. Better yet, it will show you how to keep your balance there.
William E. Fulmer is a Senior Fellow and Senior Vice President of the Executive Development Center of the Harvard Business School, where he also directs the Service Management Initiative. Dr. Fulmer has served on the faculties of George Mason University, the College of William and Mary, the University of Virginia, and the University of Alabama. The author of several books and monographs, he has had articles published in the Harvard Business Review, California Management Review, Business Horizons, and other prestigious journals. In addition, he teaches in executive development programs around the world and has consulted to many corporations and public agencies. Dr. Fulmer, who divides his time between Cambridge, MA, and Stafford, VA, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D. and MA degrees) in Florida State University (MBA).