A good organisation behaves, in many respects, like a healthy living organism. The simple logic is that organisations have faced, and are likely to face in the future, many situations which living things have experienced during their four billion years of evolution.
The primary goal of life is survival and reproduction. It does not like extreme conditions. It can, however, evolve or can be designed to adapt to extreme conditions. Organizations have learnt from life sciences that competition is essential for their evolution and survival. An organisation which is not under the threat of competition has little chance to evolve. Competition is natural for an organism as well as an organisation. Organisations are learning from life sciences that most severe competitions, and thus most rapid changes, result from environmental pressures, and also when the time is too short to respond to those pressures. An organization, like an organism, is selfish, as it allows long term changes to occur only if there is a reproductive advantage. The traits which give survival or reproductive advantage to the organism or organization are expensive to acquire, as these require either costly resources or are vulnerable to threats.
Another important question is the degree of complexity an organism or an organization can withstand. The complexity of an organism is observer-dependent. What is complex for one observer could be simple for another. It is thus important to recognize the ‘relativity of complexity’. A reasonable guiding factor could be that the system must be stable and persistent, that is, it must be able to survive. The degree of complexity is determined by all the destabilizing or disorganizing forces acting on the system. Survival should thus dictate the level of complexity an organism or an organisation can withstand.
A living being is made up of many atoms and molecules and there is a certain relationship among them. When the desired relationships are broken life becomes lifeless. In living beings cells die by another mechanism. They commit suicide. Some cells die purposefully to ensure proper development of the remaining cells. If these cells remain in the system, the integrity of the organism may get spoiled. It is thus essential to remove them. This pattern of cell death is so orderly that the process is called ‘programmed cell death’ (PCD). Programmed cell death is important for an organism to be able to eliminate unnecessary or damaged cells from its body. This is important for the generation of healthy new cells. If there was no PCD, we would face ‘runaway cell replication’. Our hand has five fingers, and that is only possible because the cells that lived between them died when we were embryos. PCD also allows the body to eradicate destructive cells.
A somewhat similar thing happens in organisations; new kills the old. ‘Creative destruction’ makes way for new organisations. In this age of innovation, we are in a hurry to take away resources from the losers and relocate them to the winners. In this environment ‘outperforming upstarts’ are not uncommon and ‘built to last’ organisations are becoming a rarity. Innovations are destroying obsolete technologies and people, only to be assaulted in turn by newer and more efficient rivals.
Life science tells us that the maturation of the human body, in preparation for reproduction, occurs several years before an age generally considered physically and psychologically appropriate for parenthood. In this, there is a message for organisations: capacity to produce (or diversify) and actual production (or diversification) are two different things. Our agility and rapidity decrease after a certain size and age. It points to the fact that mere growth is not enough. How much one should grow depends on how much one can metabolise. An organisation should know how much it can metabolise. “Block apoptosis and development goes awry. Were it not for death, we would not even be born”. A similar argument holds good for organisations. If something destroys everything, it should be destroyed. If something has outlived its utility, should it be destroyed is a moral question, and this needs to be addressed differently.
Continuance is the ultimate goal of an organization. When we talk of flexibility, adaptability, change, etc., they are meant only to meet this objective. An organisation can function even when a part of it is non-functional. This is also possible in living beings, but living beings being more integrated and complex, the chances of survival of remaining organisms are comparatively less likely.
Both organisation and organism, need to understand that the right to exist is not perpetual. Both grow when they have the ‘will’ to grow and survive. Both can sustain only when they begin to see the world beyond their own image. Both are aware that their growth will eventually stop if they continue to have confused and impaired vision. Both know that the process of death will begin once the sense of the self begins to become meaningless.

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