Home Concepts Organizational Theory Evolutionary Change and Organizational Innovation: Implications for Coaches and Their Leader Clients

Evolutionary Change and Organizational Innovation: Implications for Coaches and Their Leader Clients

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In order to promote organizational innovation, a coach must encourage her leader client to value diversity within the organization. However, the coach should also help her client to recognize that diversity requires the client (and other members of the organization) to tolerate increased ambiguity, effectively manage conflict, and provide safe settings in which alternative ideas can be explored. Therefore, the coach should help her client identify strategies (training, setting of norms, creating supportive settings) that enable her client and other members of the organization live with ambiguity, work with conflict and provide safe places for idea exploration.

Migration and Open Boundaries

Evolution will not take place if a specific population is isolated. If individual members can’t migrate into or emigrate out of that specific community then evolution is likely to be stymied.


Organizational theorists and change agents have often emphasized the difference between open and closed systems. Organizations are systems that can be differentiated in this manner: some have relatively open boundaries and others have relatively closed boundaries. Closed systems and organizations with impermeable boundaries are likely to be stable and secure over the short term, but are also likely to soon die because of a lack of replenishing resources from outside the system and because of an inability to respond effectively to the impingement of outside (environmental) forces.

Cross-pollination of ideas in a cross-cultural context occurs in open-boundary organizations and is critical to innovation, sustained success and even organizational survival.  At the individual level, we are talking about those men and women who are cosmopolitan in their perspectives as compared to those who are parochial in their perspectives on life and the world.  The cosmopolitans create and live in a world of open boundaries. These are the early adopters in the diffusion of innovations.  (Rogers , 2003)

We see the increasing viability of open boundary systems in the flat world made famous by Thomas Friedman (2007).  Clearly with the Internet and globalization of many markets, there is the need for more open boundaries. However, as I mentioned in The Postmodern Organization (Bergquist, 1993), the challenge of open boundaries is the need for some “glue” that holds the organization together. This glue can be found in the clear and compelling mission, vision, values and social purposes of the organization, in the strong and enduring culture of the organization, or (sadly) in the absolute control exerted by a central leader or C-Suite coalition of leaders.

The flat world of Thomas Friedman is filled with many additional challenges–including the emergence of Power Law dynamics in the Internet-based markets of our 21st Century world. In many instances, the market for specific products or services has expanded at an exponential rate (the Power Law in operation)—or collapsed at an exponential rate (also exemplifying the Power Law).  As Taleb (2010) has noted in The Black Swan, a few products (books, technologies, etc.) and a few websites tend to account for most of the sales and traffic on the Internet. Furthermore, the tides created by these sales and Internet traffic tend to ebb and flow quickly and in unanticipated ways.

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