Seeing the World with S Curves

My mentor David Morgenthaler (, taught me the importance of seeing the world with S curves. It’s a shorthand version of seeing organizations and markets as a living system.

In other words, nothing is stable. Complexity economists discuss the “dancing landscape” on which organizations learn and adapt.

Or die.

That happens when doing the right thing strategically and operationally is no longer the right thing.


S-Curves also deliver us to the doorstep of evolutionary economics. We see strategy as emerging from experiments into the “adjacent possible”. The process of adaptation involves recombinant innovation.

To meet an adaptive challenge, we start by identifying assets in our networks.

We link, leverage, and align them in new combinations to define emerging opportunities or solutions.

We launch experiments to test our assumptions and generate new knowledge and insights.

We embed a simple process of double-loop learning to ask ourselves if we are heading toward our opportunity (the next right thing).

We build a culture – new patterns of thinking, behaving, and working together – to create new value and adapt to our “dancing landscape”.


But here’s the problem: an organization can’t quickly move from doing the old right thing well to doing the new right thing well.

It must embed new disciplines of recombinant innovation. Managers need to design and guide conversations to master this process.

That’s #strategicdoing which David helped me refine.

If the organization has an entrenched culture that tolerates no deviance from the old right thing, it fails to adapt and dies.


Moving toward a more adaptive, agile organization – one that embraces disciplines of collaboration and recombinant innovation -involves some deep changes.

>> Power structures flatten
>> Information increases in both volume and velocity
>> Different, denser patterns of connections emerge
>> People behave in ways to build trust and mutual respect

These subtle shifts trigger immune responses that often concentrate among middle managers.


How do we move past the immune response? First, stop doing what doesn’t work. Begin by reclaiming your time from wasted meetings.

Next, launch a small learning network. Start by exploring how to use conversations – our oldest technology – to manage collaborations. Learn about #strategicdoing, an open-source discipline to manage collaborations by following simple rules.

Finally, set a challenge and begin experimenting. People don’t change their thinking by being told to change their thinking.

They change their thinking with new experiences. They behave their way into new ways of thinking.

That’s the lesson I’ve learned in developing #strategigicdoing over the past three decades.

And along the way, I was fortunate to have mentors like David to guide me.