Social physics claims to be a new science*. It takes big data to a whole new level. Tracking human behaviour is a fascination for many of us but getting to understand what really drives what we do has been more about conjecture and inference than hard data. Now a group in MIT is taking social media, buying behaviour, data on feelings and emotions, data on our movements and mashing it together to see what most drives our behaviour. Their early conclusions are challenging:

  • We overestimate the extent to which we decide what we do
  • We are more strongly influenced by others than we previously thought
  • Personality is a factor but not as strong as our peer groups in shaping our behaviour – as they say, if everyone is eating doughnuts in the office you’ll probably have one too
  • Innovation and creativity is strongly influenced by the flow of ideas in the organisation.

Facebook’s controversial recent experiment on the impact of positive vs negative messages on behaviour gives another example of the extent to which the social or social media environment influences our actions, thoughts and feelings.

In this edition of The OE we focus on the positive organisation dynamics that shape performance at work. It is about the nature of work itself, freedoms to act, the flow of ideas, different notions of leadership and control: how to balance freedom with accountability. The discretionary effort we’ve often discussed in this journal is driven by both intrinsic motivation, and, the passion and belief that come from creating the right organisation dynamics.

Our guest author, Mark Brown sets out his five C’s that drive innovation and creativity in the workplace. Readers also have the opportunity to complete an online tool to assess various dimensions of culture and how your organisation compares to current UK norms.

The phases of organisational existence each brings its own strengths and crises. Ann Gammie and Chris Legge look at how organisations continue to grow by adopting appropriate leadership approaches at each key stage and growing their people as individuals and as a collective capability. They explore the role of ‘energy-releasing leaders’ in engaging the business to deliver success and the notion of ‘mastery’ as a perpetual journey along the growth curve.

Organisation dynamics is reawakening interest in self-managed work groups and in Susan Carroll and Gary Ashton’s article we are delighted to share some of the early findings of our research into autonomous teams. How do we create an environment with the right balance of freedom and responsibility?

Finally, Mark Goodridge writes about a topic close to his heart – the impact (both positive and negative) of rules in the dynamic organisation. He writes about the ‘tyranny of rules’ and their unique ability to drive out life and dynamism when taken too far…

We hope you enjoy this edition and, as always look forward to your feedback!

* “Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – the Lessons from a New Science” by Alex Pentland, MIT (January 2014) Penguin Press

Martyn Sakol