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Organizations learn like horses

Ari Tikka
Ari Tikka
9.3.2015
Founding Partner

Individuals are intelligent. Organisations are not, they are adaptive, just like horses. Organisations learn from reality, not from imagination.

My son teaches riding. He once gave a lesson to a lady, who did the right things, but the horse was confused. Then, after careful observation, he realized that the rider tried to train two things at the same time. After reducing to one thing at a time, the horse relaxed and started to work well.

When you train a horse you hold it from the mouth by reins the and press from behind with your calves. This makes the horse pressurized and uncomfortable. Then you give some, often small, aids with your weight, feet and reins. Immediately when the horse does the right thing you reward it by releasing the pressure.

The horse learns from experience. Pressure-guide-right action-release. Repeat. Anything more complicated confuses.

Organizations learn like horses. Some people have taken my statement as offending.

“People are intelligent, how can you say that organizations are stupid?”

Yes, individuals are intelligent. Organizations are not. Organizations are adaptive, just like horses. Organizations learn from reality, not from imagination.

“But wait, there is an alternative. If I create a plan, a process, and explain it to every intelligent individual.”

Yes that helps to begin. The organization will learn that you know, decide and explain. However, there is a good change that it will continue forever. That is how “normal” organizations are born. It is also called the machine metaphor of an organization. It is like hiring managers to guide how the different parts of the horse move.

The alternative is that you train the organization like a horse. Create a clear goal and simple enough structure. It is wise to give aids in the form of coaching and training. Pressure comes naturally from transparency and immediate feedback. So does the reward. And the organization will adapt to this reality, learn to achieve the real goal.

Why is this so rare?

This is what horses can learn: The unreal dressage performance of Totilas.

Ari Tikka
Founding Partner

Before finding Agile, Ari built software for embedded distributed fault tolerant software for seven years. For the next decade he worked as an organizational therapist with cultural change, teamwork and leadership. Since 2006 he has contributed to LeSS-flavoured Agile transformations including mechanical engineering, market automation, and embedded system development. For the last couple of years Ari had international coaching assignments ranging from teams to board.

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