Transformation as a game of chess

Last week I spoke to my friend Kevin Gohil, and he introduced me to the phrase “adaptive operating model”. Many people talk about a “target operating model”, which is what they want the organisation to look like after a corporate transformation, but the reality is the world keeps moving, and aiming for a fixed target is a mistake. Instead, we want to be always evolving, as best allows us to survive and flourish in an ever-changing world. Hence “adaptive” not “target”.

You can read what I think is the first reference to an adaptive operating model contrasted to a target operating model on the Sullivan & Stanley blog. That post is not only written with humour, it emphasises that the defining characteristic of the traditional view is statis. That is something almost everyone really needs to avoid these days.

All this talk of aiming for evolution reminded me of Gerben Wierda’s concept of “enterpise architecture chess”. Though he is working on a (slightly) smaller canvas, his perspective adds helpful detail to the idea of an adaptive operating model. In chess, he says, we don’t aim for a specific position of pieces to win the game (“I want one bishop here, my opponent with two pawns here and here…”). Instead we aim continually to position and reposition our pieces to increase our relative strengths, defend weaknesses, and be able to jump on opportunities as we see them. We have a good idea of what winning positions look like, but it’s a mistake to aim for a specific one.

Organisational transformation, then, is more like chess than archery.

In the future, I will use both the idea of an adaptive operating model and the analogy of chess when I talk about organisational change and transformation.

Photo by katie wheeler

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