Q1: What can organizations do to get their proverbial share of the pie?

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch,” Carl Sagan famously notes, “you must first create the universe.” Finding answers to the above questions is an endeavor as difficult as this. How exactly is an “experience of economic barrenness” to be metaphorically related to the apple of Eden through which the paradisiacal fertility was lost? And with regard to today’s organizational inertia, what can act as a direct antidote to the bite of/from the Edenic apple for vivifying poisonous, toxic economic conditions. The apple that was “beautiful to behold and sweet to eat,” of course, didn’t present itself in the image of a deadly fruit at first glance, but rather as a “food of life” (‘cibus vitalis’). Similarly, the organizational environment (or context) is a vast ‘garden’ of strong, intelligible signals and distorted noise which both need to be questioned, explored, and scanned openly and systematically without failing to pick up the spark that is the idea and plant its seeds within the organizational “soil,” so that it results in continuous activity, change, and innovation. Hence, it ought to be obvious that every innovation starts with ideas. And, when observing new successful organizations (e.g., Silicon Valley’s Google, Apple, YouTube, etc.), these ideas have to be as disruptive as possible, shaking up the static equilibrium of structures, as well as initiating movement in the organization’s heart. The ‘seeds’ of innovation are best sown on the soil of the heart from which successful new products can then sprout like plants ensuring optimal growth.

Q2: How can myopic “couch-potato organizations” break their inertia?

Only very seldomly do organizations reach their full potential. Most companies, especially established ones such as physical retail chains and shopping malls, prefer to stick close to “old” basics, which made them successful in the past. They are not as agile and responsive as they used to be – if they ever were – and not as idea-oriented as they need to be. It would be surprising if they were looking for something paradigm shifting. Basic conceptual foundations are outdated, the execution often clumsy. ‘Discovery’ doesn’t happen anymore, and if ‘new’ ideas are ever found, they are most likely destined to end up in the trash can anyway. It should be clear now that a comfort zone (complacency) is always also a danger zone – simply because without risking anything at all, organizations risk fading away altogether. Rather than ranting on about how the ‘Internet’ – or the weather (retailers like this a lot) – is to blame, today’s organizations should always seek to go beyond tried and true methods for the sake of finding a balance between fear and the comfort of the mundane (a healthy “growth zone”). Engaging in ‘cockfights’ only drains organizational energy that could be used in building strategies to break away from the pack and become a swan instead. Typically, there is no safe course of action for this. Safety is an illusion anyway. Anything could happen. Anytime. Organizations are embedded in a more or less “unsafe” environment that also happens to be a relevant contextual universe, so one needs to be sensitive to all its subtleties.

Q3: What is the “secret sauce” for the successful future organization?

So what is the secret? Or, as they say: ‘what’s the secret sauce to become and remain a successful and creative organization?’ Of course, an ecology that advocates trust, openness, sharing, and a solid social capital (i.e., network structures) already partly makes for a perpetual innovation machine, but it is still not quite enough to keep it running like a well-oiled mechanism of economic growth and development through pioneering, differentiation and integration. A high degree of passion, energy and commitment for the company as much as its products, too, implies a ‘mission,’ a certain sense of direction, ingenuity and, above all else, focus. However, it is my conviction that a more concrete and technical ‘recipe’ can be identified: storytelling (and perhaps ‘world building’). So, while stories may not make up the tomato part of an “organizational ketchup,” it is also true that they add spice (and value) to a company’s brand name. And indeed, stories [I’m not talking about business storytelling or advertisements!] are not only more effective, but also allow for a very deep emotional connection between the organization and its customers, prompting them to buy a plethora of ‘embedded’ – for lack of a better word – items (within a frame story), rather than force-feeding a bland-tasting sauce of potentially boring products. Through storytelling, an organization’s portfolio becomes more specialized (and therefore less unmemorable), more intelligent, and better networked, co-operating with itself, with customers and the environment.

Q4: “To grow or not to grow?” — That is the fundamental question.

When talking about organizational growth, one can make out a clearly identifiable pattern of diverging motifs that involve barrenness and fertility. Economic growth, of course, is most often associated with a relatively concrete image such as an apple tree that is “laden with fruit, and always green” preferably bringing higher profits every year. To some contemporary critics like Frédéric Laloux, however, growth for the sake of growth, from a medical standpoint, corresponds to “the ideology of a cancer cell.” Since both of these opposing views are equally valid in their own right, it is reasonable to define “key success factors” that would enable organizations to have more positive (or less negative) outcomes (gains and progresses). In times of an ever increasing environmental consciousness, I would like to determine the new factor as organizational fertility rather than organizational growth. With metaphoric reference to ecological-economic models of long-term soil productivity (LTSP), I define organizational fertility (O.F.) as the status of the organization in relation to the amount as well as availability to output of structures and components necessary for production and growth. Organizations, therefore, are dynamic bodies; since organizational fertility is not a completely stable factor but changes with stage of succession and the organization’s profile development. Cultivating an organization’s “potential energy” allows smart, non-destructive values that don’t see this latter as a static inanimate object but an organism, instead.