Do you want to succeed in business? Would you like to be able to respond quickly to issues within your organization? Well, what if we told you it’s as simple as downloading a new operating system and taking a ride on a bicycle? Y

ou may think we are crazy, but read on! In a lesson featured on Big Think Edge, Brian Robertson, an organizational pioneer and co-founder of HolacracyOne, describes how the unpredictable nature of riding a bicycle is not unlike today’s business environment.

Robertson begins with a metaphor describing how business was done in early half of last century: “Imagine we rode a bicycle like we manage a modern company,” he tells us, “In contrast, how we actually ride a bicycle is much different.” This lesson is featured on Big Think Edge, an online learning platform designed to help employees help their companies cultivate the new skills and knowledge necessary to invent new products, new markets, new business models and new industries.

Robertson highlights key components of how business was conducted in the last century, and how the world has shifted dramatically, therefore requiring businesses to adjust their practices in order to become more successful. In other words, in order to be successful, a new operating system is needed.

He describes the predict and control method of doing business and if you tried this method while riding a bicycle, it simply would not work. “We’d have our committee meetings where we would all stand around for a long time planning how to ride the bicycle.  We’d analyze the path ahead.  We’d look at everything that might go wrong and then we’d try to put in place controls to make sure everything went according to plan, lock it down rigidly from top down.” He continues, “Finally with plan in hand we’d get on the bicycle.  We’d hold the handlebars rigidly at the angle we calculated was the right angle.  We’d close our eyes and we’d pedal and if that bicycle fell over somewhere along the way we’d get up and we’d say we know what went wrong and why didn’t we get this right the first time and probably who’s to blame so we can fire them and get them out of the picture and you know we’d know what to do differently next time.”

Instead he recommends the sense and respond method in both business and riding a bicycle:

  • Stay present in the moment

  • Eyes open

  • Take in data continually

  • Steering every moment of the journey, not just once upfront.

Instead of an upfront predicted and controlled plan, we are present, conscious and aware, and in flow responding to reality in our whole system.” Robertson explains, “We make minor course corrections constantly, with every muscle in our body.  It’s a very different response.”

Not unlike riding a bicycle, steering a business in the 21st century is less about predict and control of a situation, but more about sense and respond.  According to Robertson, predict and control worked well in the last century because there was less uncertainty and less complexity in the world. However a shift has occurred, in today’s world there is now greater uncertainty and interconnectedness, requiring the need for a more sense and respond approach to business.  

“If we want to be able to dynamically steer our organizations, we are going to need to take advantage of everything that they [anyone in an organization] can sense, so we can respond…”

To “dynamically steer” Robertson says we need:

  • Systems

  • Structures

  • Processes

Robertson explains, “We need meeting practices, decision making methods, and a new way of controlling and governing the organization.  A way that gives us a lot more real control, not just the illusion of control, which is typically what happens when we try a predict and control approach.” Lastly, Robertson likens this change to an operating system, that of a computer.  He says, “Overall, you can say it takes a whole new operating system.  In the same way your computer has an operating system. If we want to upgrade our organizations we need a new operating system.”

So, while you’re on your next scenic bicycle-ride, consider Robertson’s advice: be sure to dynamically steer and sense and respond, in business as well as in life.