Margaret J. Wheatley: The Unplanned Organization

Source: Margaret J. Wheatley: The Unplanned Organization



From Noetic Sciences Review #37
Spring 1996

by Margaret Wheatley ©2007

In my work with large organizations, one of the questions we often ask is, “How would we work differently if we really understood that we are truly self-organizing?” The first thing we recognize is that, just like individuals, the organizations we create have a natural tendency to change, to develop. This is completely counter to the current mantra of organizational life: “People resist change. People fear change. People hate change.” Instead, in a self-organizing world, we see change as a power, a presence, a capacity, that is available. It’s part of the way the world works — a spontaneous movement toward new forms of order, new patterns of creativity.

We live in a world that is self-organizing. Life is capable of creating patterns and structures and organization all the time, without conscious rational direction, planning, or control, all of the things that many of us have grown up loving. This realization is having a profound impact on our beliefs about the nature of processin interpersonal relations, in business organizations, as well as in nature itself. In this article, I will focus on some of the recent shifts in our understanding of the way things change.

Three images have changed my life — one, a picture of a chemical reaction, another, a termite tower in Australia, and a third, an aspen grove in my new home state of Utah. Each image in its own way represents a profound shift in my understanding about the nature of change in organizations. I will explain their significance later, but first I want to discuss eight tenets of what I call “unplanned organization”, inspired by these images.