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The Organization Is Alive

More generally, to develop an effective change initiative in an organization means improving all these circulatory systems, often in a deliberate order. You might start with a network, putting the right people in a room together. Then build on the connections they develop to improve the leanness of the market structure. Next, start thinking carefully about the core group members and how they can improve the way they influence the clan. Perhaps only then will you be in a position to rethink the organizational hierarchy.

Ideally, all these moves would happen iteratively, with enough self-awareness that the whole system would evolve continually, becoming healthier in the process. With an understanding of the circulatory systems, an individual within a company or organization can become an internal catalyst for change — with greater impact than what his or her position in the hierarchy, network, market, or clan might imply.


  • Art Kleiner is the editor-in-chief of strategy+business and the author of The Age of Heretics (2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, 2008). He is co-leading a seminar, based in part on these ideas, in June 2010 at the ALIA (Authentic Leadership in Action) Institute in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


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  1. Art Kleiner, “Karen Stephenson’s Quantum Theory of Trust,” s+b, Fourth Quarter 2002: Introduction to network theory and “hubs, gatekeepers, and pulsetakers.”
  2. Art Kleiner, “Elliott Jaques Levels with You,” s+b, First Quarter 2001: The great theorist of hierarchies explaining his requisite structures.
  3. Art Kleiner, Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success (Doubleday, 2003): The clan system and the nature of the core group, in detail.
  4. Gary L. Neilson and Bruce A. Pasternack, “The Cat That Came Back,” s+b, Fall 2005: How Caterpillar rebuilt its organizational DNA (and its workflow and hierarchy).
  5. Gary L. Neilson, Karla L. Martin, and Elizabeth Powers, “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution,” Harvard Business Review, June 2008: How implementing a strategy starts with information flow and decision rights.
  6. Sherwin B. Nuland, The Wisdom of the Body (Knopf, 1997): How biochemical interactions, via our circulatory systems, explain the quintessence of Homo sapiens.
  7. Authentic Leadership in Action Institute website: Programs include weeklong courses on social innovation, collaboration, and human systems dynamics. 
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