Are all animals hierarchical by nature? Are humans? Bob Sutton posted a great topic comparing managers to baboons. And of course the easy inclusion of the Office character Michael Scott shows the ubiquity of our “dominant mindset” thinking about organizations. It is clearly the case that most organizations we know are hierarchical.
Some of you may know about biomimicry and how it can inspire great design. I read the Starfish and the Spider and had a few chats with Ori Brafman awhile back and it got me really interested in the idea of organizations as animals. With animals there are thousands of strategies for “survival of the fittest” and many of them don’t involve hierarchy. So couldn’t there be many types of organizations that don’t involve hierarchy? What advantages would the organization have if it was built from a different fundamental structure?
The real lesson from biomimicry here, is that animal adaptations come from interacting with the environment. That is, they are not internally developed as a strategy, but they are externally evolved based on the forces around them. So given the business environment you are in, what animal could inspire your organization design so you could succeed better?
By the way, this is not like adopting a mascot because it’s cool or cuddly, it’s about understanding the different mechanisms that help animals function and thrive and (wait for it, a big word is coming..) making isomorphic design choices for your organization.
Here’s a design device that provides three ideas to stretch your thinking about systems, tools, processes, and behaviors, using three animals for inspiration: