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Freeman Dyson is a man of giant intellect, an extraordinary gem in a global sea of new age mumbo jumbo and imaginary hocus pocus. He is the raison that shines a burning light on the real world of science and technology and how we can best apply this knowledge in our lives today.
His recent essay on Biological and Cultural Evolution is a work of linguistic art, combining beautifully, science and the humanities. (See below.) He explains how our biological evolution has ended and that the history of our civilisation over the past ten thousand years has been driven by cultural evolution.
Leaders and their organisations need to heed the lesson. If cultural evolution is the driving force then customising our own strategic DNA must be the foundation for strategy if we wish to control and benefit from this evolution.
"The cultural evolution that damages and endangers natural diversity is the same force that drives human brotherhood through the mutual understanding of diverse societies. Wells's vision of human history as an accumulation of cultures, Dawkins's vision of memes bringing us together by sharing our arts and sciences, Pääbo's vision of our cousins in the cave sharing our language and our genes, show us how cultural evolution has made us what we are. Cultural evolution will be the main force driving our future." Freeman Dyson
The philosophical history of mankind has been a never-ending search for the missing link between the real world of rivers, trees and lions and the imaginary world of gods, nations and organisations. Organisational culture sits firmly in that imaginary world. When organisations are in trouble there is always an immediate cry for 'cultural transformation.'
But what is culture? The Greeks never bothered to have a word for it. Herbert Read the artist and philosopher wrote the book 'To hell with culture' and Eric Gill said the following.
When will....leaders realise that culture is dope....To hell with culture, culture as a thing added like a sauce to otherwise unpalatable stale fish!
Therefore if we are to speak of culture we need a clear definition of the mechanics that drive it. Otherwise how can we measure it? How can we transform it?
The first step in developing a deeper understanding of culture is to move as rapidly as possible from the imaginary to the real world. This means not confusing the brand with the product. For example Coca Cola is one of the world's strongest brands, delving deeply into the imaginary world of fun and happiness with very little focus on the real product of a black, gooey, sugary and diabetes inducing beverage. The brand is not the DNA. But the DNA can create the brand.
Every organisation evolves two things that are unique to itself. A system energy level and a system strategic DNA.
The system energy level measures the potential to do work. It indicates the organisation's ability to think intelligently and act intelligently. The greater the energy, the greater the probability of being agile, innovative and sustainably profitable.
The strategic DNA is the integrated set of conscious rules and powerful but unconscious meta-rules that combine to drive the way people think and act in organisations and they way we experience organisations as customers. The most common example is usually found in established systems that have become bureaucratic, hierarchical, silo-driven and over-staffed. When the alarm bells start to ring the cry goes out to batten down the hatches and 'transform the culture'!
Thus the organisation's current system energy and DNA has brought it to the point where it knows it must change, but it has no knowledge or experience of how to change. The two events are mutually exclusive. The essential capability of how to transform the culture is simply not in the current DNA.
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast!" is a Peter Drucker meme that has permeated management folklore. But as we have learned, there is a catch. It is an imaginary catch-phrase, sitting firmly in the warm and emotional fuzzy set. It makes sense but at the same time it makes no real sense. What we need is the essential foundation that drives cultural evolution. We need to know how to build and implement a new Strategic DNA. A method and set of tools that will do the following.
In summary. An organisational strategy can only be as successful as the Strategic DNA that underpins it. It is time to move the spotlight.