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In Search of the Next Great Strategic Question

In 1999, the cover of Fast Company magazine, a leading voice of the so-called 'new economy,' proclaimed "How Digital Is Your Company?" as the next great strategic question. According to their story, business strategy used to be as simple as "What business are you in?" As organizations evolved, "What's your business model?" became the definitive question. Today, it's all about getting digital.

These questions matter, they said, because every time we get an evolutionary click from one question to the next, everything throughout the organization needs to evolve together, to answer it. Specifically, they said that organizations need to rethink the "four basics of business" which they named as (1) attracting talent, (2) segmenting and selling customers, (3) using speed, and (4) financing operations.

Their newest and greatest strategic question, "How digital are you?" demands a rethinking of how we use information and technology to drive the flow of goods and services. In their story, however, they held up examples like McDonald?'s, Wal-Mart and Intel that were working this digital question 15 years ago. "How old is this story?" is the question that came to my mind -- followed closely by "If this is a 15-year-old strategic question, then what's the NEXT great strategic question? What are the next leading-edge organizations asking now?"

At the time this story came out, I was already deep into the work of mapping my own understanding of evolution in organization, with the overlapping stories of first-peoples anthropologist Angeles Arrien, Open Space Technology originator Harrison Owen, organization developers Fred Emery, Merrelyn Emery and Eric Trist, and philosopher Ken Wilber. If these wise people, and the map I was making from their stories, were to be of any use at all, they had better point me to the next great question.

My map was (and is) a four-quadrant, five-stage diagram of evolution in organization. Fast Company's four basics of business mapped quickly and easily into my four quadrants. Their three strategic questions fit perfectly with my first three stages of evolution. And when I looked into my own fourth stage, the next great strategic question, "How inviting is your organization?" was right there waiting for me, jumping up and down begging to be asked.

Since then, this evolutionary map has been invaluable in orienting myself to what is going on in all kinds of organizations. Along the way, I've shared it in conversation with clients and colleagues. It's been universally understood and appreciated, even by friends with no training in business or practice in organization. While the map may appear either overly simple or overwhelmingly complex at first glance, the story itself has been easily understood by those who've heard it over the phone and other places where the actual map never was drawn.

What follows here is my story of evolution at work. It begins with the story of the map, which pulls together the old stories of spirit and new stories of business and organization. Along the way, the inviting organization will emerge and will be linked to a number of other developments in organization. So it will live in the context of other real stuff, not just in the context of my little map. Finally, we bring Open Space Technology into the picture, noticing its easy alignment and ready support for the emergence of inviting at work.

As I look back, this story gives me a deeper appreciation for where we've been in organization and real satisfaction that nothing's been wasted. Looking ahead, I find a hopeful clarity and confidence that all of this swirling does indeed work out in the end. All of which helps me now, in the present, to rest a little easier, stand a little readier, and invite a little more evolution at work. Please join me...

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Last edited April 21, 2006 9:19 pm CentralTimeUSA by Mherman
© 1998-2019 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael