Issue 02 / Human Futures

Tomorrow's Organizational Structure

Building for change

Late last year, my fellow Joneses and I were struggling with a problem we saw across business: How does a company operate more fluidly? Consumers want companies to match the rapid pace of culture and to evolve their offerings at that same speed. The companies who want to succeed must be hyper-adaptive, interactive and progressive. But most companies have rigid structures with rigid operating models. So we looked to the natural world for a different model and found an unexpected mentor—the octopus. Octopuses exemplify operationalized fluidity; they’re adaptive, strong, efficient and always what they need to be in that exact moment. 

When we landed on the Octopus as the model, we knew we were on to something, but we had no idea how essential it would become in just a few months. Today, more than ever, we recognize the need to have fluidity built into how everyone works. COVID-19 has shown us many places where the underlying infrastructure was thought to be strong but was actually quite weak, and now it's struggling to survive.

Companies are now all recognizing a need to adapt their structures in the short-term while still being proactive about the future. Many are hoping to wait out the issues while others are attempting to answer these needs with new processes and mechanics. But you can't build a process to cope with the unknown.

That’s the crux of why the Octopus model is essential—we humans can't seem to adapt to emergent change fast enough or with an eye to the future, but Octopuses have evolved in relation to uncertainty. They can not only adapt to a given moment but can come out better on the other side. 

This is the model we should all strive to create.

There are 4 key attributes to the octopus model.

Sensing

The octopus senses the environment and then adapts their response. Their 8 arms and over 1,500 suckers are always independently and constantly sensing, monitoring, listening and potentially even seeing. They can also have instant coordinated responses in reaction to threats or changes in their environment. But businesses often have one or more elements of insights and analytics that are centralized for efficiency. And the response to change is very slow, often lacking any sort of coordinated support.

The key shifts for business

Always-on insights

Insights aren’t “commissioned,” and sensing happens constantly against multiple different environmental dimensions.

Fast, structured communication

Critical information is relayed immediately to the rest of the organization. Not all insight needs to be shared.

Built-in redundancy & flexibility

Different parts of the organization have the capacity and capability to shift to supporting others immediately.

Practices Zeus Jones has adopted

Specialty Marketplace

We created an open-source resource model that helps us access folks with specific vertical skills.

Vertical and horizontal skills

We've all outlined our vertical skills (expertise leadership) and horizontal skills (project leadership).

Distributed leadership and responsibility

We've expanded our partnership team to 11, and created teams around key jobs to be done within our business flywheel.

Working out loud and creating a metabolism

We're always doubling down on transparent communication has meant less duplicated work and faster progress.

Download the workbook

Decentralized Intelligence

What makes the octopus so extraordinary is its nervous system. Most of its neurons are in the tentacles. For humans, it's hard to conceptualize a kind of intelligence in which the head plays a secondary role: What would it be like to think with your arms? All corporations protectively centralize their intelligence. From bureaucratic, hierarchical structures to the relentless protection of corporate information and IP, companies are fundamentally built to centralize the intelligence that matters.

The key shifts for business

Independent intelligence at the edges

The latest, most strategic and progressive thinking is done at the edges of the company. Not in ivory-tower isolation, but in conjunction with the environment.

Centralized coordination

The center operates as a nervous system rather than a brain, intelligently coordinating and communicating with all parts of the organization.

Visibility across entire organization

Rather than focusing on communication across the org, aim for transparency. Intelligent edges must be able to access information from anywhere when they need it.

Practices Zeus Jones has adopted

Innovation on every project

Zeus Jones never approaches a project the same way twice. We're always building on our IP, rather than guarding it and treating it as sacred.

Athena

We created a platform for thinking and experimentation that's guided by our own interests.

Ops model built around IP

We've built our project ops models around our IP and how we're adding to it and sharing what we've learned back to the organization.

Pallas

Everyone at Zeus has access to all of our IP, research, and thinking through Pallas—and you're expected to build upon this body of work.

Download the workbook

Adaptability

Adaptability and fluidity are superpowers of the octopus. Octopuses are well known for their impressive survival skills—from their ability to fit into impossibly small spaces and regrow lost limbs, to their quick camouflage capabilities and ink that clouds predators’ senses of sight and smell. Companies are fundamentally built for rigidity. Regardless of organizational model, companies tend to be extremely fixed and built for stability. But those structures are often in stark contrast to the pace of change most companies must endure today.

The key shifts for business

Optimize against progress, not efficiency

Align incentives, measurement, and operations around tangible output and progress rather than efficiency.

Prioritize connection over communication

Communication is slow and transactional. Organizations must prioritize connection instead. A common purpose, language and operating system that keeps everyone in sync.

Speed the organizational metabolism

Focus and shrink initiatives so that they can be completed quickly. Break down big transformation into a set of smaller, faster moves. Increase the pace.

Practices Zeus Jones has adopted

New ways of working

We’re constantly figuring out the smartest way to work. Recently that's meant smaller core teams and organically pulling in "verticals"—specific expertise—when needed.

Jobs to be done

Instead of organizing around departments, we organize around jobs to be done. For us, that means a group around creativity and thought leadership, a group around talent, and one around expanding opportunities.

Values as a decision-making framework

Our values and purpose guide both day-to-day and long-term decisions. They act as a filter for everyone at the company and help ensure we make the right choices.

Discomfort with stability

One of the first things we tell candidates is that this is not a place for people who want to do the same thing twice. You must be comfortable being uncomfortable—and even have a preference for discomfort.

Download the workbook

Future-focused

Octopuses are thriving as a result of climate change. They have a unique set of biological traits—such as rapid growth and short lifespans—that allow them to adapt quickly to changing conditions. Even in good times, companies were dying younger and at a much faster pace. A recent study by McKinsey found that the average life-span of companies listed in Standard & Poor's 500 was 61 years in 1958. Today, it is less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that, in 2027, 75% of the companies currently quoted on the S&P 500 will have disappeared.

The key shifts for business

Adopt a long-term mindset

Report quarterly but plan against generation-long time periods.

Create the future

Don’t simply study and serve existing demand. Actively envision and build toward a future that you can own.

Think cooperation over competition

Establish your role within an ecosystem of businesses and align your success and survival with the success and survival of all actors within the ecosystem.

Practices Zeus Jones has adopted

Trajectory planning

We've looked at multiple horizons—different cultural scenarios over 5, 10, and 15 years based on our research. We've started to plan numerous possible trajectories for our business against these scenarios.

Investing in and practicing imagination

We relentlessly push ourselves to be more ambitious. We've invested in staff cultural tours and learning programs for all Joneses to continue to bring fresh inspiration.

Fixed values, fluid process

We don't have a single way of operating. Instead, we have fluid cultural norms and use every project as a stepping stone to the next one. We're guided by our values, not our process.

Nostos

We're independent and not part of a holding company. But we know our ecosystem matters. So we've created a referral community of best-in-class indie agencies who offer capabilities that are complementary to our own, bringing them in on projects that fall outside of typical wheelhouse. See Nostos.

Download the workbook

Want to apply this model to your business?

We’ve created a workbook to help. Fill out the form below, and we’ll send it right over.

Athena is a playground for uncommon wisdom. Created by Zeus Jones.