The Four Simple Rules of Organizations
Derek & Laura Cabrera
Derek Cabrera (Ph.D., Cornell) is an internationally known systems scientist and serves on the faculty of Cornell University where he teaches systems thinking, systems leadership, and systems mapping and is Program Director for the Graduate Certification Program in Systems Thinking, Modeling, and Leadership (STML). He is a senior scientist at Cabrera Research Lab. Laura Cabrera (B.S., M.P.A, & PhD, Cornell) currently teaches Systems Thinking and Modeling and Systems Leadership at Cornell University at the Institute for Policy Affairs. She is also a senior researcher at the Cabrera Research Lab. Over the past decade, Cabrera has applied her expertise in research methods and translational research to increase public understanding, practical application, and dissemination of sophisticated systems science and systems thinking models.
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This post is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Flock Not Clock.
So what are the simple rules of an organization? How do we leverage them to maximize organizational learning, adaptation, and success? These are precisely the questions we have been focused on answering, in our academic research and in our work with corporations. We strive to discover the tools and technology they need to help them adapt and thrive. We have defined four simple, deeply interconnected rules that apply in all types of organizations.
- Vision (V): The future you see. This is NOT your grandma’s vision statement. In Chapter 2, you’ll learn that defining your vision—your desired future state—is precise, demanding, and ultimately rewarding work. We will show you how to align all aspects of your organization to bring about this future, so your vision needs to be motivating, simple, and measurable.
- Mission (M): The actions you take, repeatedly, to bring about your vision. In Chapter 3, we’ll make sure you are not putting together a hackneyed hodgepodge of biz speak. Your mission statements will be clear, concise, and measurable.
- Capacity (C): The systems that provide readiness to execute mission. We will examine how to measure the organizational capacity required to execute your vision day in and day out.
- Learning (L): Continuous modification of mental models based on feedback from the external environment.
Your vision, mission, capacity, and learning (VMCL) should form the tenets of your culture—they are the key mental models to inculcate. Just as all organizations possess culture, they also possess these natural VMCL functions. Every organization has some ultimate purpose, a desired future state or goal (vision), whether or not it is articulated clearly or widely shared. Similarly, every organization possesses a mission—it takes repeated actions to achieve the vision. All organizations have capacity (adequate or not, ultimately aligned with the vision via the repeated steps of the mission or not). Finally, all organizations (that are complex adaptive systems) learn. That learning may or may not further the vision and increase the organization’s fitness.
Table 1.4: VMCL: the simple rules for the CAS that is your organization.
Figure 1.12: Thinking drives Individual and Organizational Learning, which drives Capacity, which drives Mission, which brings about Vision.
VMCL is a systems leadership model that helps us to better design, guide, manage, and change our organizations. Throughout this book, we will guide you through VMCL, using the following 20 point check list. By the time you are done, you will have the blueprint to build the culture you need to attain your ultimate goal: to have your entire organization, at every level, working toward realizing your company’s vision—your desired future state.
See Dr. Cabrera do a tactile demonstration of the four functions of organizations for his graduate students at Cornell University.