When I first started work, the lift in our building had buttons for basement and sub basement. Various functional activities took place in these windowless zones. Then after a year I discovered that there was also a sub sub basement. A nether world of hissing pipes and curious cubbyholes. I had to go down there to find a carpenter who was making a piece of a model for our project. It seemed entirely plausible that he had been in there for years, living from scraps coming down the rubbish chute.
On another occasion I was invited to the top floor – cocktails with the chairman, a convivial chap who made us all feel very welcome.
Interesting how 20th century organizations evolved this elaborate interpretation of Upstairs Downstairs. A social order,, a pecking order. At that time there were at least three levels of restaurant according to rank – one was even called the Senior Mess as I remember and different toilets in some places.
Small wonder then that so many senior managers growing up in this world have a hierarchical default when it comes to running the business.
Let’s call this the Tower system. Acme Towers. You all know where you are positioned and have a clear sense of how many floors above and below your desk are open for your interaction. Communication tends to travel up and down rather than across. Silos flourish and middle managers with a canny sense of how to control information can build up a power base, sometimes at the expense of the overall business.
And now lets consider an alternative structure.
The Torus is a mathematical shape developed by Marko Rodin in his quest to find the secret behind intelligence. He started this when he was only 15. It encompasses addition and subtraction, multiplication and division as well as exponentials (eg squared or cubed numbers) in a multi-dimensional version of the magic squares you might have seen.
Imagine if you will, an office on the scale of the one described above, organized in this way. The interconnections are legion, the synergy is clear, the flow is universal.
It requires fundamental changes in attitude and working practices to structure in this way. To create a building like this would be marvellous but probably impractical in the short term. But we could think this way and work this way.
One of the beauties of the torus is that the number in every square is defined by its neighbours. The community of numbers have a relationship with each other that allows them to build on each other. No number has absolute authority over any other.
So project teams could connect easily across this space, knowledge could be joined up – a learning organisation would be a natural outcome.
Torus Mutual Impact
Change one number on the torus and they would all change. There has been lots of research on the impact of networks demonstrating how we all affect each other, even at a step or two removed. As Christakis and Fowler explain in their book Connected, using the example of obesity, having a close friend who is obese makes you 45% more likely to be obese – or 25% if your friend’s friend is obese. See their TED talk here
I often see this aspect of change management being underused. There is focus on the change management team and what they do, rather than how they are. I often hear of the situation where those TALKING about the required changes are not modelling them. Enforcing change from the outside is one option, but how much easier to allow it to flourish and spread naturally.
In mathematics, the torus is a flexible shape. It can be twisted, stretched, made as slim as a rubber band or, in the opposite way, a sphere. It can even become a propeller. Make your own here
You might see this in action watching a flock of boards or shoal of fish swooping through the air or the water forming and reforming. And in today’s fast changing world flexibility and adaptability are key survival techniques. Doing that smoothly and gracefully like a flock of birds intuitively feels so much more effective than dismantling and rebuilding blocks.
Torus Scope – adding dimensions
This gets a bit obscure if you are not a mathematician but bear with me. We are used toliving in 3 dimensional space. Maths lives in infinitely dimensioned space and one of the things that is examined is how shapes and facts can exist in different numbers of dimensions. For example a knot exists in 3 dimensions (as we know from our everyday experience) but not 2 (try drawing it!) or 4. But it does in 7. OK, why doesn’t really matter but the torus is one of the shapes that can exist in more dimensions.
The internet might be seen to have added a new dimension to the way we work, evolve ideas and connect with each other. There will be more to come, as yet envisaged. So this characteristic is likely to be an advantage.
Creating a torus organization
Now here is the less obvious part. Either you will be starting from an existing Tower based organization that you wish to convert, or you will be creating a brand new organization. Either way, given our social conditioning, you are more likely to end up with a Tower than a Torus unless you set the intention and create the conditions for the latter.
A good start will be sharing the idea with those involved. Getting new language into our networks is one of the ways new ideas develop and take hold. Giving members of the organization permission to ask “Tower or Torus?” in a meeting or brainstorm or when reviewing a piece of communication will already shift the way people are thinking.
The very essence of the Torus model makes it unsuitable for a centrally driven change program with webinars and instructions. Co-creation will be at the heart of the shift, empowering everybody – every number on the torus – to realize that they have an influence not only on their own behaviour but on everybody around them.
Now what are you thinking? Make like a Torus and let me know what thoughts this has sparked for you