Biotensegrity: It’s time for a strategic priority reset | Straight Talk


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This article is by Featured Blogger Ade McCormack from his blog Ade McCormack. Republished with the author’s permission.

Before we get into biotensegrity: We live in an increasingly uncertain and volatile world. One where being too adapted to one scenario, makes you weak in every other. For example:

  • Functional impairment: A large tortoise turned upside down.
  • Structural impairment: Your office building turned upside down.
  • The same is so for fragile organisations. A dinner plate can take significant force, particularly when lying flat on a table. However, if enough force is applied, it will break and never be the same again. Industrial era organisations tend to be like dinner plates.

So, we hear people talk of robust organisations. Like the gritty boxer who gets up each time they are knocked down. But over time, the delay in getting up increases. And one day, they will never get up again. So, robustness is not enough.

Today we hear of resilient organisations. Like a rubber ball when bounced, it returns to the initial height with no loss of energy. Organisations that can survive the digital age market forces without impairment are in better shape than most.

"But I propose that resilience is not the goal of organisational leaders. We should be building organisations that are not only able to survive digital age forces, but thrive on them. That is to say, the more force they bear, the stronger they become. They literally feed off adversity."

Humans exhibit this characteristic. It is known as biotensegrity. We have the ability to absorb forces from many different angles and to grow stronger as a result. Exercise is an example of embracing forces to make us stronger. As is a tough upbringing. Whilst humans might seem unstable given their bipedal structure, we have the capability to operate quadrupedally or even on our hands. Though industrial society has conditioned us to be maximally stable when sitting down watching Netflix, or similar.

Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb addressed this in his book Antifragile. I don’t feel it resonated as well as it should have in business circles. I prefer the term biotensegrity because it alludes to:

  • The fact that we need to nurture our organisations like biological organisms. Organisms that achieve their goals by navigating their environments through the use of senses and the smart interpretation of data.
  • It encapsulates the word ‘tension’. Our organisations need to behave like a collection of loosely coupled units where the level of cohesion between these units varies over time and varies across the organisation. An organisation that is completely tense becomes rigid and inflexible. An organisation that is completely limp will collapse under pressure. Think of a person jumping off a high wall. Too limp or too tense will lead to injury. A combination of tension and limpness in different parts of the body are needed at the time of impact.
  • It encapsulates the word ‘integrity’. Having jumped off the high wall and landed, the jumper has not suffered a change in structure, for example, a broken knee or a compressed spine. The organism does not suffer structurally as a result of the forces it is exposed to.

Biotensegrity might seem like an abstract, perhaps even intellectual, notion. But based on my experience, organisational leaders would be wise to make their transformational journey with a focus on biotensegrity. Because it is biotensegrity that will ensure your organisation has a long-term future.

There is no point endeavouring to build an organisation that can thrive in today’s volatile and uncertain conditions. Because what we are experiencing today, is simply a warm-up act for what is to come. Biotensegrity prepares us for an unknowable future.

I address this in my new online leadership education service, The DRI.