Seeking innovation suggests that organizations are imperfect entities and therefore things will not always go as planned. In fact to induce innovation an organization must be capable of handling variation (Bergquist, 2011); which is often, ironically, the very thing most managers and leaders work very hard to eliminate. To cope Gryskiewicz (1999) suggests that “bringing in turbulence organizations are actually creating stability.” In this sense the concept of turbulence performs two functions; it serves as an early warning device to warn against potential dangers or opportunities and it allows for evolutionary change to occur based on these opportunities or threats. Herein rests the paradox, in order to establish some modicum of stability the organization must embrace risk. The type of risk depends on the organization, some organizations are risk averse others are more sensitive to the ambiguity that risk brings not necessarily simply risk averse.
Public sector organizations for example tend to be risk averse (Bhatta, 2003); preferring small incremental improvements based on updated controls rather than large scale improvements. I argue this is caused by the view that organizations are mechanistic entities not organic ones. Even if the view is in error, which I suggest it is, leaders who view organizations as mechanistic will in turn view turbulence as too scary and the potential risk to the stakeholder too extreme as it might result in a failure to deliver services, which in turn reduces the credibility of the leader. Another reason public sector organizations are incapable of coping with turbulence, positive or otherwise, is the majority of the change attempts are not really new. Public sector organizations should not attempt to invoke turbulence, chaos, or revolutionary change initiatives until their leaders are capable of discerning lessons from the experience of change, instead of spinning on to the next project (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1998).
Bhatta, G. (2003). Don’t just do something, stand there! Revisiting the issue of risks in innovation in the public sector. The Innovation Journal, 8(2), 1-12.
Bergquist, W. (2011). Evolutionary change and organizational innovation: Implications for coaches and their leader clients. Library of Professional Coaching, 1-8.
Gryskiewicz, S. S. (1999). Positive turbulence. Developing climate for creativity, innovation, and renewal. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Wheatley, M. J., & Rogers, M. E. (1998). A simpler way. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, Inc.