Organiz­a­tions must be-come more agile — but how?

The last article in our series “Navigating Complexity” discusses the question: How might we best translate insights gained through strategic navigation tools into sustainable growth and business success? One key element of an answer is ‘Agile Organiz­a­tions’. But what does this mean for companies? And which paths lead to agility? Which obstacles have to be overcome?

By Dr. Friedhelm Böttcher and Dr. Karl-Michael Schumann

Estab­li­shing Agile Organiz­a­tions

Navigation the VUCA-World uncovers both needs to act and options for action. However, in a VUCA- World only agile companies can act appro­priately. True agility of a company goes far beyond agile project management, SCRUM, innovation labs or “agile workplaces”. True agility impli­cates the ability of a company to recognize relevant changes, to initiate strategic change, and to generate sustainable compe­titive advan­tages based on change. This ability requires openness, flexi­bility, the right speed of consi­stent decisions and actions, as well as an unres­trained dispo­sition to shape the future by changing tradi­tio­nally accepted rules.

Although agile companies are stable organiz­a­tions, they adapt their organiz­a­tional struc­tures flexibly to changing condi­tions. They under­stand the world as a process of conti­nuous change and use the resulting challenges as oppor­tu­nities to grow.

This requires decisions to be made by people (as indivi­duals or as part of a team) who are directly confronted with the necessity of this decision, and also those who have the highest compe­tence for assessing the situation [1]. These people must be identified quickly and integrated into the decision processes – a need that rigid hierar­chies are not capable to meet. Agility thus presup­poses a high degree of individual respon­si­bility and self-organiz­ation to form new types of coöpe­ration and patterns of behavior outside of defined struc­tures. Agility of an organiz­ation enables individual abilities and organiz­a­tional functions to be brought together in such a way that efficient, coöpe­rative problem solutions are achieved through joint actions. These principles anchored in the organiz­a­tional culture are more important than fixed rules and prescribed processes [2].

Agility needs to be anchored in operative actions as well as in strategic corporate leadership. It also includes the design and management of the surrounding business ecosystem. Project management and self-organized project teams are the supporting elements of agile companies. They unite different internal and external disci­plines dynami­cally to form task-oriented ‘Power Teams’, which co-create even beyond enter­prise boundaries. These ‘Power Teams’ (as part of agile project management) are charac­te­rized by …

  • almost daily coöpe­ration of subject matter experts and developers during the project,
  • self-organizing teams that plan and execute the project,
  • self-reflecting teams that analyze and optimize their own ways of thinking and acting to progres­sively improve their effec­ti­veness, efficiency, and perfor­mance [3].

Design thinking and knowledge creation as core disci­plines

Agile companies are creative companies in which success takes prece­dence over formal processes and efficiency. Acting in the VUCA world is under­stood as a design process that identifies the need for action and options for action at an early stage, initiates a conti­nuous process of trans­for­mation and “reinvention” and is based on creative knowledge work. Agile design includes all levels of the company, i.e. the repro­duction of the organiz­ation through the develo­pment and adapt­ation of the employee structure, the organiz­a­tional structure, work processes, individual behavior patterns, roles and internal coöpe­rative relati­onships, and also the design of relati­onships to the surrounding business ecosystem.

People and their inter­action, if possible in face-to-face conver­sa­tions, come to the foreground. The company as a whole assumes the respon­si­bility of creating meaning, as well as of providing and supporting an environment that enables motivated indivi­duals to live up to their challenges.

This implies that obstacles to innovation are identified and removed to reduce the workload of Power Teams by better recognizing the relevance and context of task, improve their selection and foster networking.

Estab­li­shing coöpe­rative value creation systems

The trends described earlier are indicators of very real develo­p­ments with far-reaching conse­quences for virtually all branches of industry. They offer companies new growth oppor­tu­nities through offerings and business models that go far beyond the well-known and controlled fields of activity. However, companies will be less and less able to cover on their own all the required fields of compe­tence to capitalize on these oppor­tu­nities. At the same time, they all need to confront a general challenge: They are tradi­tio­nally entangled with the existing logics of their industry and their customers. But now, they have to open up to non-tradi­tional, sometimes alien external innovative triggers and forces in order to close their innovation gaps. It is getting less and less possible to handle the ever faster growing complexity of the tasks of a changing world on one’s own. For example, new business models often integrate service offerings that only different market parti­ci­pants can provide. Manufac­turing and service-oriented companies, software and hardware providers, grow-ups and start-ups, large corpo­ra­tions and medium-sized companies, univer­sities and R&D‑driven companies must coöperate across the boundaries of their industries and sectors. In tradi­tional value chains diffe­ren­tiated companies provide clearly diffe­ren­tiated elements of value. In many cases we see this model disap­pearing: “Solutions in the areas of perfor­mance contracting, demand response and supply chain management are becoming preferred business models for customers. Suppliers must develop service compe­tencies and service capacities in order to operate in the most dynamic market segments and maximize value creation through co-creation. A business model that wants to represent a complete solution for the customer must include the conver­gence of service and solution-based industries” [4].

The ability to act in the VUCA-World demands, in addition to the agility of the company, to develop new models of cross-company coöpe­ration. Today’s common forms of strategic alliances such as share­hol­dings, joint ventures and joint R&D projects are not suffi­ci­ently far-reaching. They do not provide the degree of flexi­bility needed to meet the challenges of the future. The companies’ actions in the market can no longer be reduced to largely static, linear customer-supplier relati­onships or compe­tition. Tradi­tional roles are being replaced by new images and models of colla­bo­ration in which companies see themselves as part of a complex business ecosystem. “A company is no longer to be regarded as a member of a parti­cular industry. Rather, it is part of a business ecosystem that extends across the boundaries of a multitude of industries. Within this system, companies jointly develop compe­tencies and capacities that serve an innovation and group themselves around it: the parti­ci­pants work in coöpe­rative compe­tition to promote new products, satisfy customer needs, and ultimately ring in the next round of innovation … Like its biolo­gical counterpart, a business ecosystem gradually evolves from a random collection of certain components to a more struc­tured colla­bo­rative system. …. Business ecosy­stems condense out of an original, swirling pull of capital, consumer interest and talent that comes from innovation. Just as a successful new species rises from the natural founda­tions of life such as sunlight, water and soil nutrients” [5].

Business ecosy­stems describe in a new way the framework in which companies operate, in which all direct and indirect exchange relati­onships are made clear as inter­con­nected system that mutually define each other. For companies, this results in new design options and a new under­standing of compe­tition and coöpe­ration.

Figure 3: In coöpe­rative value creation systems, the partners provide services for joint customers in mutual coördi­nation.

A parti­cular aspect of business ecosy­stems is the conscious and targeted estab­lishment of coöpe­rative relati­onships between different partners with the aim of generating joint added value. Partners with different compe­tences, roles and interests work together to generate coöpe­rative compe­titive advan­tages through WIN-WIN situa­tions. “The fact that each parti­ci­pating partner contri­butes its specific core compe­tencies … resolves the conflict between a high degree of specia­liz­ation on the one hand and a broader, more diverse range of services on the other. In such an .… ‘Association’, advan­tages of a more flexible distri­bution of tasks and capacity utiliz­ation … can be combined with specia­liz­ation advan­tages at the level of the value-added units” [6].

Management in the VUCA world requires management of complexity on the basis of a few simple principles and rules. Navigation systems, agile organiz­a­tions and coöpe­ration systems form their basis. The greatest challenge today is seems to be the conti­nuous and simul­ta­neous design of new or improved offerings and business models, processes and struc­tures, and the business ecosystem at the level of the “Daily Business”, and of the medium-term oriented “New Business” to the same degree that often is already taking place in the develo­pment of the “Future Business”.

The path to an agile, sustainably growing business organiz­ation in the VUCA world is full of obstacles. It is necessary to implement coöpe­rative value creation systems that go beyond the tradi­tional and today’s forms of coöpe­ration to cope with complex tasks. What does this mean for companies? How can obstacles and challenges be overcome? Please read for example our article “How do we find the way to successful co-operative value creation systems? Your feedback and contri­bution to this important, future-oriented discussion is always welcome on and in the social media.


List of sources

[1] Weick,K.E.; Sutcliff, K.M.: “Managing the Unexpected”, Wiley, New Jersey 2015, p.115f

[2] Anderson. H.; Uhlig, J.: “The Agile Company”; Campus, Frankfurt 2015, p.16

3] Quoted from Wikipedia

4] Frost&Sullivan: “Service Business Models and Chang-ing Compe­titive Landscape for Energy Management”; 9AAF-19, February 2015

[5] Moore, J.F.: “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Compe­tition”; Harvard Business Review 1993

6] Bach, N.; Buchholz, W.; Eichler, B.: “Business Models for Value Creation Networks — Conceptual and Conceptual Founda­tions” in Bach, N.; Buchholz, W.; Eichler, B. (Ed.): “Business Models for Value Creation Networks”; ilmedia 2010

Picture credits: Title: iStock; graphic in text: Böttcher Consulting

Framing the Future — Which Instru­ments are at our disposal?

The previous articles in our series “Navigating Complexity” discussed the essence of changes and options for action in our VUCA world. This issue will present instru­ments, which help to make comple­xities and inter­re­la­tions of forces of chances more trans­parent, and thus enable developing powerful frame­works of the future. As a result urgent needs to act, options for action, and new potential areas of growth become more visible based on an advanced under­standing of the mecha­nisms and inter­ac­tions of ongoing change processes.

By Dr. Friedhelm Böttcher and Dr. Karl-Michael Schumann

Strategic Mapping — Orien­tation by Visua­liz­ation

Effective Navigation systems need to make complex inter­re­la­ti­onships trans­parent, and simplify complexity in a way that the essen­tials are quickly recognized and under­stood. At the same time they need to ensure that the relevant and deter­mining links between the key factors are not lost.

In this sense, Strategic Mapping [1] can create compact, visua­lized repre­sen­ta­tions of complex inter­re­la­ti­onships which offer unique oppor­tu­nities. The challenges of creating and managing business growth in a VUCA world have proven Trend Maps and Innovation Maps to be parti­cu­larly useful.

Trend Maps visualize a landscape of trends and counter-trends that are partly already effective and partly still to come, and which might transform entire industries and business sectors. By displaying the develo­pment of these trends along a time axis, it is possible to predict when certain trends will likely become percep­tible and by when they will have reached their maximum effect. Practi­tioners of Trend Maps can draw conclu­sions about which trans­for­ma­tional develo­p­ments might affect their company and industry and initiate measures in good time.

Our Trend Maps are based on simple trend catalogues, which are regularly updated via surveys and workshops among the wider community of our cross-industry network “future_bizz”. They are subse­quently adapted and optimized to match the parti­cular needs of individual companies.

Figure 1: The landscape of the future presented by a Trend Map provides oppor­tu­nities for predicting trans­for­mative develo­p­ments for initiating responsive measures in good time.

Innovation Maps function as central navigation systems to sustainably create and growth businesses in our VUCA world. Every Innovation Map is based on a Trend Map. The Innovation Map contains …

  • A description of the present situation by visua­lizing (a) the most important physical and non-physical assets of the business, (b) the recognized business oppor­tu­nities and challenges, and most import­antly © the innovation gap, which represents the requi­re­ments and challenges of the company’s innovation portfolio relative to its business growth goals;
  • a picture of the future, derived from the trends that are important for the company;
  • areas of potential business growth evaluated in terms of growth potential and innovation level;
  • a roadmap that highlights how the company intends to exploit its areas of potential growth and to close its innovation gaps.

The effec­ti­veness and efficiency of a navigation system depends to a large degree on its ability to involve the key employees of a company in their entirety, so that they collec­tively (a) recognize changes, challenges and oppor­tu­nities in their markets (and in their wider business environment), (b) define their common goals, and © coördinate their actions. Jointly recognizing and agreeing on priorities is a crucial factor in a situation where available resources are scarce, and where compe­tition exists between the needs of day-to-day businesses and future-oriented growth activities. Effective collective action presup­poses that common images of reality exist and that these images are constantly updated via multi-direc­tional commu­ni­cation [2]. The quality and quantity of future-oriented inter­ac­tions among the key employees of a company have a profound impact on the usefulness of its navigation systems, and therefore on the long-term success of the company as a whole.

This is where Strategic Maps come in. Strategic Mapping requires intense inter­ac­tions at the map-creation stage, but also during discus­sions of the maps, which are printed out as posters as a means to stimulate debates of the future-orien­tation of the company. The Maps become working tools. They are written and noted on. They are thus the subject of permanent change and they make the change process trans­parent.

Figure 2: The Innovation Map exhibits pathways to sustainable growth in a coherent form

So there are proven tools to help us sustainably grow even in our highly complex VUCA world. There is value already in simply recognizing this fact.

However, these tools will not deliver their full potential if applied bureau­cra­ti­cally so that decisions are delayed or watered-down. In order to reap the full benefits of Strategic Mapping, many companies must lean to act with higher degrees of Agility. But how can agile organiz­a­tions be realized? This will be the subject of another article in this series on within the next few weeks.

And by the way: How do you judge your chances of navigating your business in our changing world with the outlined approaches of Strategic Mapping? We look forward to your feedback and sugge­stions.

List of sources

[1] See also:
[2] Weick, K.E.; Sutcliff, K.M.: “Managing the Unexpected”, Wiley, New Jersey 2015, p.21f

What is really inevi­table about digital change?

Inevi­table – What is really inevi­table about digital change?

“Inevi­ta­bility in the digital realm is the result of momentum of an ongoing techno­lo­gical shift.“ Based on this thesis statement, Wired Magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly identifies unavo­idable trends in his book “The Inevi­table — Under­standing The 12 Techno­lo­gical Forces. Indeed, there seems to be little doubt about the inevi­ta­bility of trans­for­mation. But this makes it inevi­table to discuss the topic of change and its possible expres­sions in an open and unbiased way – if we want to co-shape the digital future.

Our world in present progressive tense – where are we heading to?
By naming 12 major trends, Kelly[1] provides a description of how our world, driven primarily by digitiz­ation, is changing:

  1. Becoming: „We are constant newbies“,
  2. Cogni­fying: „ubiquitous artifical intel­li­gence“,
  3. Flowing: „stocks to flows“,
  4. Screening: “all infor­mation will become liquid”,
  5. Accessing: “the availa­bility of anything … immediately without owning”,
  6. Sharing: “everyone creates and it’s all shared”
  7. Filtering: “an exponen­tially expanding universe requires filtering based on who we are”,
  8. Remixing: “whatever is new is a remix of what exists”,
  9. Inter­acting: “interact with our devices and with others”,
  10. Tracking: “We will track and be tracked every­where and everywhen”,
  11. Questioning: “creating a new level of organiz­ation where questioning is the norm”,
  12. Beginning: “These forces will shape our future and we are only at the beginning”.

Without going into every detail of these trends (or being able to do so in this context), we could summarize by saying that it is, in general, about trans­for­mation, dynamiz­ation and poten­tiation on an unpre­ce­dented scale.

The poten­tiation of human possi­bi­lities

Taking a closer look at the trends described by Kelly, we can – aside from the “lique­faction” of products into processes – make out a poten­tiation of human possi­bi­lities. Here, a good example is the trend of “Remixing” (8.). In this context, Kelly gets to the heart of matters, stating:

„All new techno­logies derive from a combi­nation of techno­logies … [which] creates an unlimited number of new techno­logies“[2].

After all, the digital world itself is the result of remixing, using knowledges, techniques, and techno­logies from all times like, for example, numbers, letters, codes, cables, electricity, electronics, audio-visual media, etc., thus enhancing the possi­bi­lities of humankind. Of course, there are issues arising in this context like those of intel­lectual property, patents, etc. However, according to Kelly, it would be nearsighted to only call for regulation[3] since the tradi­tional concept of property is based on the principles of agrarian societies, which do not corre­spond to the realities of the digital world any more. The property of the future will not consist of material goods, but “intan­gible bits”, i.e. immaterial things. Service and product providers as well as manufac­turers will gain value from things that are “better than free”: Immediacy, Embodiment, Integration, Acces­si­bility, Authen­ticity, Disco­vera­bility, Perso­na­liz­ation, Liquidity.[4] Though, as Kelly states, legis­lation is lagging far behind develo­p­ments, it will eventually follow them. The trend of “Sharing” (6.) provides one good example of how little techno­lo­gical develo­pment can be delayed by legis­lative regula­tions. In 2001, the p2p sharing platform Napster was taken off the net after inter­vention by the music industry. Now sharing is being commer­cia­lized and legally offered by net giants like Apple and Amazon[5] – with conse­quences for the whole music industry.

Tracking – Problem or oppor­tunity?

Describing the trend „Tracking“ (10.)[6], Kelly addresses a topic which is consi­dered especially proble­matic by critics of the ubiquitous digitiz­ation. In this context, some buzzwords are “glassy” citizens, consumers, humans. However, Kelly focuses on the oppor­tu­nities of the surveil­lance of everyone by everyone (e.g. in the Internet of Things, IoT), leading to a better self-knowledge, the possi­bility of optimized health care, but also – and this is really intere­sting – to an expansion of the sensual possi­bi­lities of man. „Coveil­lance“ is consi­dered much less a threat than a “natural state“.[7] Societies must be trans­parent, because anonymity would be destroying any social system. In ancient times, as Kelly points out, clans were strangers to the idea of privacy as we under­stand it today.[8] But he goes even further, saying:

„The internet makes true anonymity more possible today than ever before. At the same time the internet makes true anonymity in physical life much harder.”[9]

To sum it up in a simple way: digital anonymity will be incre­asing in the digital world while, at the same time, it will be decre­asing in the real world. As a result, tracking will be providing enormous oppor­tu­nities, coming along with the risks. So then, we are on a journey toward two “singu­la­rities”: one of them the enslaving dominance of Artificial Intel­li­gence (AI), which is referred to as “hard singu­larity”, the other an AI which will be, fortu­n­ately, not smart enough to enslave us („soft singu­larity“)[10]. Although Kelly considers the soft variant to be more likely, there is still enough potential left for disturbing visions. But we have to face these develo­p­ments if we want to be able to influence and control them in the direction of a “soft” singu­larity anyway. Apart from the question of which ’singu­larity’ will prevail, Kelly uses the example of ‘Tracking’ to shed a light on the potential for change coming along with digitiz­ation and as well as on its enormous potential for change, deeply impacting both our lives and the societies we live in. Without doubt, his point of view has the potential to raise a great deal of contra­diction, especially in regions and societies with a totali­tarian heritage or present. Hence, it is all the more important to lead and maintain and open and unbiased discussion on the most critical topics and issues, always aiming to find viable solutions to present and future challenges. Only in doing so, we will be able to properly seize the oppor­tu­nities of digitiz­ation, provided, for example, by innovation areas like the IoT.

Mind the trap of self-fulfilling prophecy

Already the title “The Inevi­table“ gets Kelly’s point across: „We can or should attempt to prohibit some of results or manife­sta­tions the techno­lo­gical shift, but the techno­logies are not going away. Change is inevi­table. We now appre­ciate that everything is mutable and under­going change, even though much of this alteration is imper­cep­tible“.[11]

Nonetheless, he recognizes that, although human beings are exposed to the universal forces of digital change, there is still scope for action with regard to the expres­sions of digitiz­ation: “But while culture can advance or retard expression, the under­lying forces are universal”.[12] And elsewhere:

„We are morphing so fast that our ability to invent new things outpaces the rate we civilize them. These days, it takes us a decade after a technology appears to develop a social consensus on what it means and what etiquette we need to tame it.”[13]

This raises the question of the inevi­ta­bility of certain techno­lo­gical develo­p­ments. Basically, it can be said that few things have proven to be unavo­idable in history in the long run. There is, and always has been, the possi­bility of refusal, withdrawal, or regulation. The latter may come late but will come all the same.[14] Even though many evange­lists, but also companies, challenge the option of regulation, we know that there is always counter-movement to every movement, resulting – at least in the majority of cases – in mutual compromise.

The problem is, however, that we can only under­stand and recognize any result and process in retro­spect. And even a suppo­sedly ‘fixed’ status quo such as the nuclear phase-out can be changed at a later time when the use of nuclear energy would become socially accepted in a modified form again. In this context, the term “inevi­table” generates the embarr­assing feeling of being trapped and at the mercy of our desires and peer pressure – the need to fit in. At this point, the term becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Invitation to an ‘inevi­table‘ dialog
As apodictic as Kelly’s theses come across, and as much as we agree that (techno­lo­gical) develo­p­ments are unavo­idable for a period of time – at least as long as we want to parti­cipate in them: they should be under­stood less as a prediction of inevi­ta­bility, but as an offer to start a fruitful dialog on the matter of digital change. And this is the special merit of Kelly, helping us under­stand present develo­p­ments, identify and interpret them. Describing, for example, that there are many various forms of intel­li­gence, and pointing at the fact that machine intel­li­gence is very different from human intel­li­gence, Kelly provides valuable insights into the huge potential of digitiz­ation. At the same time, it is becoming clear that there are risks that could far exceed the possi­bi­lities and oppor­tu­nities of “Artificial Intel­li­gence” (AI).

If we want to further influence develo­p­ments and keep control over them, we have to deal with them in a constructive manner. And this is what we want and will do. In retro­spect, it has always been public discussion and the coöpe­ration of economy and society that enabled a “social consensus”, helping turn the benefits of technology into genuine progress.

Techno­lo­gical aberra­tions do not funda­mentally disprove progress, but can be seized as an oppor­tunity and used as approach to make correc­tions. Opening up whole new dynamics for us, the ongoing digitiz­ation calls for completely novel dynamics of questioning things. Already today, we can see new dimen­sions of how people challenge or argue – a develo­pment outlined by Kelly as a future trend (Questioning, 11)[15].

If digitiz­ation is inevi­table, we must under­stand it as our inevi­table task to ensure that new techno­logies will be used as an extension of human possi­bi­lities – but not as a means of limiting humanity. Techno­logies create oppor­tu­nities and options. They will gain accep­tance only if they support us in solving problems and helping us meet the most pressing challenges we face today and tomorrow.

One of these big challenges is the question of how we deal with the infinitely incre­asing amount of knowledge being generated every day and making us “permanent newbies”. Due to the fact that we are becoming such permanent newbies, we will not be able to fully master things anymore. We will be, on the contrary, subject to constant change. If we want to make use of this ever incre­asing amount of knowledge, we will have to accept change and develop new skills to tackle with upcoming challenges – which also includes the use of new techno­logies.

And this is where we experience a tremendous expansion of human possi­bi­lities. At the same time, this is the point where we face the need to think about the topic of ‘resilience’. We should think, in spite of all the euphoria, about possible negative effects and how we can prevent them. It is important not to bury our heads in the sand, but to follow the call to think ahead.

For example, ’smart home’: It is very good when smart home techno­logies help us protect privacy and prevent damage from burglary. At the same time, the same technology can be used by burglars to gain easier access to our homes. In addition, the constant collection of smart home-generated data could lead to negative effects on privacy, although they were, by definition, designed to improve the quality of services and products as well as to develop new appli­ca­tions.

The example shows how important it is to think ahead and make correc­tions if necessary. Only if we address present and future develo­p­ments and trends openly, we can prevent their concrete expres­sions from becoming inevi­table.

Thinking ahead and leading an open and unbiased discourse secures our further parti­ci­pation in change. This way, we will be acting and creative subjects and not objects. One the other hand, both hostility towards technology as well as uncri­tical enthu­siasm would lead to inevi­ta­bility at the end of the day. Risks are not colla­teral damages, but only a conse­quence of the refusal to think ahead, treat customers with respect, and under­stand problems within the context of change.

And this is where the challenge for innovators starts – and where the wheat is sorted from the chaff, separating the winners from the losers.

[1] Kelly, The Inevi­table: Under­standing the 12 Techno­lo­gical Forces That Will Shape Our Future, Hardcover Edition – June, 7, 2016, p. 4.

[2] Kelly, pp. 193 ff.

[3] Regulation without balancing the interests of economy and society is often seen as an obstacle to innovation (cf.

[4] Kelly, pp. 207 ff et passim.

[5] Cf.

[6] Kelly, pp. 237 ff.

[7] Cf. a more critical view on innovation in: Ai Weiwei lebt in unserer Zukunft,

[8] Kelly, pp. 261 ff.; on the develo­pment of modern privacy cf.: P. Aries, G. Duby, The History of Private Live, 5 volumes, 1993.

[9] Kelly, p. 262.

[10] Kelly, pp. 294 ff.

[11] Kelly, p. 5.

[12] Kelly, p. 4.

[13] Kelly, p. 5.

[14] Cf.

[15] Kelly, pp. 269 ff.