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A Generative Organization is as fertile ground for autonomous initiative, collaboration, innovation and experiment. As a result, stakeholders adapt rapidly and change their plan for reaching their shared ambition, even if the context changes suddenly and unexpectedly and very complex and unprecedented challenges arise. At that moment, no one has “the” answer, it has to be done without orders, without “proven solutions” and immediately.

“When dealing with a complex, multi-dimensional world, expecting a leader to be able to see the future and show the way may cause more problems than it solves.  (…) trying to figure out the right answer before you engage the people who will have to implement that answer is the road to ruin
Bushe, G.R. & Marshak, R.J. (2016). The dialogic mindset: leading emergent change in a complex world. Org. development journal, 34:1, 37-65.

The crucial challenges of our VUCA world cannot be figured out through a solid analysis or dealt with trough planning and implementation of ‘the right solution’. Analysis and planned strategy do not work if you have no idea how it will turn out, and when the situation can be completely unrecognizable overnight (remember Corona).

Then you need a culture where stakeholders in dialogue try to understand the ‘adaptative challenge’: “what is happening to us now?” and where autonomous professionals ‘intervene’ immediately, collaborate in a multidisciplinary manner, continuously learn from what is happening and thus achieve results. You have to develop that organizational culture NOW, in order to get back on your feet when your organization is ‘hit by the bus’.

Generative versus Stagnation (terminology used by developmental psychologist Erik Erikson). Generativity refers to “making your mark” by creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place. Generativity stands for developing the ability to innovate, for individuals and for the organization as a system.

‘Generative’ is a label for actions, ways of working and thinking where you don’t work from a ‘pre-made plan’ but alternatively creates ‘opportunities’ for everyone to think up ‘the way forward’. A ‘Generative Mindset’ is an organizational culture where it becomes easy to devise, try out and put into practice new working methods and solutions, where everyone can autonomously take the initiative. An organization is generative if it is able to initiate new things and nurture new possibilities.

  • Generative ideas trigger new ideas
  • Generative processes produce new ways of doing things
  • Generative leadership helps everyone in the organization ‘take the lead’ and see opportunities for initiative.

These generative ‘practices’ are important because they enable innovation that would not be tapped from ‘top down’, planned, strategic thinking.

It’s about ‘making room’ for others and their ideas. Not wanting to prescribe or control, but rely on the expertise and motivation to contribute to the common project that an organization is.

The motivation for employees and stakeholders to participate in this comes from that ‘common project’, that shared ambition that is formulated as ‘Generative Image’ (eg: ‘Sustainable Development’) and makes them all enthusiastic and gives them the opportunity to contribute to that ambition with their specific expertise, in very different ways.

It all starts here : let’s look at our organization

  • as a collaborative project based on a shared ambition that people want to realize together, added value for all stakeholders and the society for which they feel responsible.
  • and not as a ‘transaction’ between ‘the employer’ who ‘says what to do’ and ‘the employee’, who exchanges his time for a wage and during that time does what is asked of him.

And that shared ambition makes it possible for people to mobilize their passion and energy and explore new paths for themselves and others. This ambition makes stakeholders feel connected and thus co-owner in the organization.

That means also change, is not seen as a planned process conceived by management based on a rational analysis of the problem. But change is a dialogic process to understand the ‘challenge’, to reinvent itself as an organization and thus to find ways to realize the ambition, even when the situation is complex and completely unpredictable. In the video below, Gervase Bushe elaborates on this generative vision of change in organizations.

Comparison ‘planned’ versus ‘generative change (click to enlarge)

HRM therefore becomes strategic when its policies and practices also facilitate that space and initiative to do and think new things. When HR invites people to engage in a dialogue in search of that ‘adaptive challenge’, that challenge to perform sustainably and to be able to develop further in the ‘thick VUCA fog’.

Are your HR practices made to ‘rein in’ people, to keep what is happening in your organization primarily manageable and transparent, in line with the ‘right vision and strategy’ (ie stagnation) ?

Or is HR mainly trying to ‘give way’ to everyone to experiment and to innovate autonomously, fueled with passion and expertise, driven by the shared ambition (ie generativity)?

Does HR go for ‘co-creation’ or ‘implementation’? Do your procedures and processes preserve the past, or do HR actively make room for people to reinvent their work and their organization? (as we saw during the Corona crisis in 2020)

Corona offers a good starting point for an organization to think about the ‘adaptative challenge’ that people face and the ‘shared ambition’ that they are going for.

In a time of drastic change, the future belongs to learners. The learned usually find themselves equipped for a world that no longer exists.
(Eric Hoffer)

In this website we investigate how HR can discover its own ‘adaptative challenge’ and reinvent itself in dialogue with all stakeholders. We will zoom in on a number of HR practices and try to provide an initial idea of how those practices could look different from a ‘generative mindset’.

We love to share with you some of the books that inspired our vision on organizations.

Organization Development
Comparison of some of the characteristics of Generativity with those defining Stagnation

Source :

A record company, in the seventies, had the vision to become the biggest record company, producing the very best quality music on vinyl records. And they were very successful at that. But then the CD was invented.

They considered the CD an attack on their business and started to defend the vinyl record. We all know by now how that story went.

Just suppose they would have worked from a generative image such as ” helping our customers to enjoy music ” ?

If then the world is changing and the CD appears, it could have been embraced as one more possibility to realize their ambition.

And besides that, the generative image would have allowed all kinds of professionals to contribute in very different ways to that ambition. Just suppose somebody would come up with the idea to develop a special kind of wall paper with beter acoustic qualities…

Source : Rudy Snippe, (2014)., Doorbreek uw bedrijfscultuur. Hoe managers organisatieontwikkeling tegenhouden. Academic Service, 196 pp.