Senescence for Hierarchies

Senescence is the process by which cells irreversibly stop dividing and enter a state of permanent growth arrest without undergoing cell death.


If we spend time outside, we can sense Autumn long before the leaves begin to turn and can admire the beauty of the change in that brief period before they fall and winter arrives. The trick, such as it is, is to spend time outside.

The same is true of our organisations. If we spend all our time at our desks and screens, rather than looking at them from the outside, organisational winter arrives whilst we’re still in our summer clothes.

That’s what it feels like now. What is happening has been signalled for a while. We’ve talked about it as though it’s something in the future that we’ll have plenty of time to plan for, and yet here we are, feeling like victims.

There has been increasing evidence of hierarchies ceding power and influence to networks, and those early falling leaves are now a cascade. 

The organisations we have been brought up with: Structures, corner offices, titles and plans are floundering as the complicated world they were designed for becomes increasingly complex and tilt into periods of chaos.

I think the implications are profound, in quiet, unexpected ways. Hierarchies are neat “lego bricks” arranged into different forms and traded with other hierarchies. They can accommodate long power distance ratios and remote leadership. Networks, on the other hand, are fluid and flow where events take them. They separate and branch and reform in unpredictable ways. Fell a tree, and you can predict precisely where it will land. Good luck with plotting where individual autumn leaves will land.

It’s the Autumn Equinox today, an ancient signalling of a change in the seasons. 

I think we sense the same in the way we work. If we rely on a hierarchy to provide for us, whether political or business, we will be in for a tough winter as decisions are made based on templates and algorithms by people appointed to lead us and who live in a different world. 

Networks, on the other hand, are messier. They need hard work to maintain the relationships and connections that keep them together. They morph quickly, and do not take well to plans but when the weather turns, provide much better shelter.

It’s an excellent time to consider our networks.

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

Albert Camus

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