“The direction of life is from duality to unity.”Deepak Chopra
Johann Sebastian Bach ingeniously balanced two opposing, contradictory forces in music: diatonicism and the contradictory force: chromaticism.
Diatonicism is the use of the normal seven tones of a standard musical scale. (the white notes on the piano to a musical amateur like myself). It is the diatonic scale which is the foundation of a piece of music. This is “basic music” with no chromatic alterations.
Chromaticism is the use of the full 12 notes (the white and black keys on the piano) in musical composition. This gives music more colour, variation, depth and emotional range.
Bach was the pioneer in perfectly intertwining these two musical forces to achieve musical equilibrium. This intertwining of two contrasting forces is a great analogy for business today. Leaders must explore and exploit in tandem.
Experimentation leads to Equilibrium
“Companies need to figure out how to execute and innovate in parallel.”Steve Blank (Innovation Show Episode 194)
Organisations are at their best when the socio-economic environment is steady and predictable. Today, our world is anything but steady and predictable. Established organisations are optimised for pristine execution, not exploratory search, and because explore mode is the polar opposite of exploit mode, leaders struggle.
On the Innovation show, Steve Blank tells us it is very difficult for an organisation with “Execution DNA” to survive in a disruptive world. Therefore, almost every organisation that is an excellent executor cannot transition to become a new organisation fit for a new world.
This is where Bach’s method of intertwining two divergent styles is useful. The organisations that will survive disruption will achieve organisational equilibrium by embracing contrasting modes. To succeed, they understand it will mean a lot of failure and learning. Many of their explore efforts may not even lead to success.
Remembering that Diatonicism is the use of only the basic seven tones (the white keys) most businesses operate within these metaphorical confines. They (ahem) play it safe. And why wouldn’t they? Since their success criterion rests with the boundaries of the metaphorical white keys.
Very few organisations encourage the exploration of the full range of keys. Fewer still encourage the mingling of both. Most companies don’t even have any way to measure such experimentation, which further deters people from ever trying.
The problem is by doing nothing — we risk losing everything. Wemay have a grand piano, the finest ever made, and we may train all our staff to play those seven white keys meticulously.
Meanwhile, a small startup who cannot afford a grand piano uses a makeshift keyboard and because they are not classically trained, they experiment. Their experimentation unlocks new value, that was lying there waiting for us to exploit, but we were limited by the confines of our organisational structures.
This is happening in every industry at a faster rate than ever before. Established companies who feel they have too much to lose by taking their eye off the cash cow allow smaller indie brands, startups and entrepreneurs into the market by innovating with regulation, with business models.
Organisations need to master contradictions more than ever before. It was easy when everyone was playing the same seven white notes, but today the keys are disaggregated and the piano unbundled, in a global world anyone can play.
It is a much different playing field.
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