Divergence of Character for Organizational Success

             Organizational reform is the central framework for the improvement and sustainability of organizations. When operating in a world of constant change – a form of change becomes almost necessary  for survival or sustainability.  If we consider organizations to be similar to organisms operating in a world that is constantly changing  than organizations must do the same – change to improve and thus survive.  An examination of Darwin’s diversification can help to elucidate the value of organizations embracing change.  Author James T. Costa discusses the meaning behind Darwin’s Diversification in The Darwinian Revelation.  He states: 

“Divergence of character is a process, Darwin envisioned, by which natural selection acts on varieties of a species to enhance their competitiveness, an important outcome of which is the differential survival and reproduction of the most divergent varieties on average (insofar as the most divergent varieties compete least). This leads to a de facto ecological division of labor—niche partitioning, in modern terms—yielding an ever-ramifying divergence pattern when iterated over time: the tree of life.” (Costa, 2009). 

How is your organization adapting to a new environment and what changes are you adopting for increased survival and work efficiency?

         This ability of organizations to embrace change in accordance with their environment and experience a divergence of character can also be understood as organizational adaptation. Those organizations who survive branch out within the tree of life and either through a change of character or innovation extend the ability to operate within a new environment.  This process is important both for external growth and internal growth.  Leading authors have suggested that organizational adaptation is necessary to correct imbalances and improve inefficient processes within an organization. This ability to change is also fundamental to how that organization works and sustains itself in the world at large. The adaptation can be reactive and come after a change in the external environment, or it can be preempted (Purna, 2017).  If we understand change followed by improvement to be a necessity for the sustainability of organizations than the central question is:

“How do we change organizations to improve?” 

           More specifically with this recognition, how do leaders and managers initiate, implement, and sustain a change process that leads to successful outcomes? The answer to the question of success in the face of change is multidimensional and dependent on the complexity of the organization undergoing change, but also the intricacies central to change in the working environment.  A simple equation can help to provide the factors necessary for change and improvement.   

(Change + Improvement/Organization = Success /Organization) / Changing World

           We must first understand that there is a relationship between organization to change, as well as a connection between organization to success and a relationship to organizational improvement.  This equation may appear to give the impression that organization’s success due to change and improvement is a simple endeavor. On the contrary, we recognize organizational  change to be a complex and a precarious undertaking with many challenges as well as unknowns. However, it is our responsibility as leaders to take this complex task and produce or derive a simple answer. 

It is as Steve Jobs once said: 

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

        By this token, the next step In “moving the mountain” of implementing change for organizational success is to explain  your organization change  in simple terms.  A simple analogy for Creating Organizational Change for success can be reflected through the  process of creating a car.  Building a car requires  – A driver or a system of navigation, an engine, a body, equipment, fuel and a designer. A look at each of these positions can help us construct an organization and understand how change can provide or continue success.

Can your organization be reflected in simply? Such as the parts of a car?

        A car cannot run without a system of interrelated parts functioning together.  These interrelated parts performing synergistically can be understood as an operating system which is manipulated by a driver or manager.  This system is a state of constant specified action and expected response.  Consider this system as an entity composed of parts that operates in a circular fashion with clear, uniform goals leading to a targeted and finite set of results. 

Circular Thinking Systems

A good system assesses, functions towards its objective and responds to change accordingly.  A system is the natural state of an organization. This is sometimes dictated by management and is an important component when discussing success.  A system is not just a plan. Plans can fail. “No plan survived contact with the enemy”. Michael Fullan states this as evidence that one must pay attention to the reality of action than to theoretical strategy.  It’s not just important to have a plan or a strategy for change, but you must also have a well run functioning system that can appropriately deal with the reality of a situation.  Michael Fullan also quotes von Moltke to suggest that strategy by itself is insufficient for dealing with life.  A well functioning system in many ways is synonymous to attentiveness or clarity.  Systems cannot exist without clear direction. Fullan again, demonstrates the importance of clarity within a system when he talks of the advice given by Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov in preparation for war.  “Immediate attentiveness to unfolding possibilities was going to be more valuable than forward planning”.

   Thus, we are beginning to understand that a plan is not enough, instead a system that denotes clarity is an important component of an organization wishing to change for success.  This system also requires discussion.  Discussion and evaluation is a necessary part of an operational  system and an organization looking to sustain success. Discussion and evaluation represent point in a system directly after assessment but can also occur at any point of intervention within a functioning system. It is a necessary part in refining a system. Leaders, managers and various intrinsic parts of an organization have discussions with each other to review and reestablish successful procedures. 

“Throughout that change is a process of coming to grips with multiple realities of the people who are the main participants of implementing change.”  Fullan understands that discussion amongst the constituents of a system is essential to it’s success.  An operational system not only has direction, leadership and assessment but it also has discussion. This  pattern  can be observed in the “Research Based Change Model” reflected in Marsha Specks “Best Practices in Professional Development for sustained  Educational Change”.  She presents an image of a systems that can start with  planning progress  to professional development activities followed by implementation of interventions or programs. This diagram represents a system and is a reflection of theoretical function of educational change for programming.

Organizational Change, Improvement and Success require more than a system. It also requires quality parts built to form  a resilient body. In other words,  Organization requires integrity, strength and malleability to the demands of Change for sustainability.  Understanding organizations and their relationship to change requires you to  understand the parts parts of an organization or the structural components of the car.  Knowledge of the body is insight that the limitations that can be placed on the axle of a vehicle before it snaps. It’s understanding that a car must have four wheels for appropriate function. It’s the knowledge of the manner in which the wheels of a car will respond to an environment from sand, to a paved road to grass. In understanding the body, we must also understand the environment.

“The fundamental flaw in most innovators strategies is that they focus on their innovations, on what they are trying to do – rather than on understanding how the larger culture, structures, and norms will react to their efforts”

Perhaps the most obvious requirement of a car is the engine. An engine is a system which helps to propel an organization. Knowledge of the engine provides insight to what drives the organization. How this engine is constructed can be instrumental in how well a car or organization functions in its objective. The same can be said about the fuel, or its parts. These elements are synonymous to the people of an organization.  In other words, understanding what drives the people of an organization is similar to understanding the engine and fuel of a system.

An engine however is designed. This fact helps to shape the most functional part of creating a car – the architect. An architect envisions, designs and instructs the construction of a car. Similarly, an architect envisions, plans, strategizes and creates an organization, change and its success. Authors and experience teaches us that those results cannot exist without a plan that is both principled, flexible and up for discussion.  In other words a principled strategy with a degree of flexibility is the architect and designer of organizations, change and success.  This principled approach along with a principle of limited flexibility allows for guidance, objectives and the opportunity to change. 

Fullan states that strategy formation is judgment designing, intuitive reasoning and emergent learning; It is about transformation as well as perpetuation; it must involve individual cognition and social interaction, cooperation as well as conflict. “It has to include analyzing before and programming after as well as negotiating during; and all of this must be in response to what can be a demanding environment.”   Strategy formation encompasses many of the elements necessary in producing and effective plan for successful change, and successful outcomes. It requires: Experience, material, equipment, people, financial support, discussion and engagement. 

 “To put it simply and Powerfully, people doing the work have information that policymakers don’t have. If Leaders don’t engage them through partnerships and collaborative, cultures, they don’t access that information. Under this scenario, planning fails every time.” 


Fullan, M. (2016). The NEW meaning of educational change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Purna, A. (2017, September 26). Organizational Adaptation Theory. Retrieved from https://bizfluent.com/facts-7533511-organizational-adaptation-theory.html

Speck, Marsha. (1996). Best Practice in Professional Development for Sustained Educational Change. ERS Spectrum. 14.  


James T. Costa; The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea, BioScience, Volume 59, Issue 10, 1 November 2009, Pages 886–894, https://doi.org/10.1525/bio.2009.59.10.10


Take away:

  • The world is in Constant Change
    • Operating/functioning/surviving in the world may require us to embrace change.
      • Darwin’s Divergence of character is a testament to this notion
        • It may help improve growth within and growth without.
  • How do we change for improvement?
    • Define your Organization Simply
    • Create a Simple Equation
    • Determine a Simple Change

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