Avoid the Beethoven mistake

Companies that have the most agility and resilience create differentiation. This requires responsive organizations that effectively anticipate changing (market) conditions and adapt organically. For this to be possible, a number of principles apply. These relate to employees, teams, departments and the way in which they work together. To become more responsive, a culture and behavioral change is often required. It is often assumed that realizing this change is closely related to structures and processes. But nothing is less true.

The Beethoven Mistake
In his book “Our Inner Ape”, biologist Frans de Waal discusses the relationship between the behavior of great apes and humans. He explains that for a long time people’s morals were explained by religion or culture and not by nature. Because by nature people would have no morals. But we now know that even great apes have a moral sense. According to De Waal, the earlier assumption arose out of confusion: because natural selection is a cruel and ruthless process of elimination, it was argued that it must produce cruel and ruthless creatures. In other words: the process is confused with the result. De Waal calls this ‘The Beethoven mistake’: Beethoven composed great and unparalleled music. You wouldn’t expect such a person to be unkempt and sleazy and living in a dirty and smelly house. Yet that was the case.

Confusion of process with result
In doing so, De Waal points out a fallacy that is often made in change projects: the tendency to develop structures or processes in the assumption that the intended behavioral change will arise naturally from this. But processes and structures are inconclusive about the success of cooperation between people.

Why is that?
Processes and structures work according to the laws of logic. You can set up a mechanical production process in such a way that the quality is statistically almost perfect. Six sigma is based on it. But people function according to ‘psychologica’ with their motivations, conditionings and (unconscious) beliefs.

As a result, collaboration in organizations is always a bit of a ‘black box’. You make agreements about objectives, responsibilities, tasks, way of working, et cetera. But just like with a football team, it is not yet certain how the match will develop and what the exact result will be. The outcome is largely determined by responsiveness: how events and setbacks along the way are dealt with.

Responsiveness and motivation
Effective behavioral change occurs when teams are given the space and freedom to determine the implementation of the plan themselves, based on a shared vision and goals. People are motivated to do this when their work matches their ambitions (am I doing what I want to do?) and talents (am I doing what I can do?). It is important that there is room for personal interpretation and a certain degree of autonomy.

Motivated employees connect easily, take responsibility and come up with solutions to problems themselves. As the production manager of a factory once put it: “If I let the employees focus on delivering the products to our customers on time, they are smart enough to order the necessary parts on time.”

Breeding ground to inspire change
It works the same way with behavioral change: the task of management is more facilitating than guiding. Aimed at the right breeding ground for change. One that brings people together and inspires change.

This requires managers to let go of control of the process and focus on the motivation of the people in the team and their mutual relationships. Employees need growth and inspiration and derive their meaning from the extent to which they are challenged and contribute to success. Not following processes ‘as such’. Successful managers understand this and focus on the emotional dynamics between people. As a result, they bring people together and create the right atmosphere. The creativity and connection that arises as a result often produces astonishing results. It is not without reason that there is increasing interest in working with self-managing teams.

Realizing the unique potential
In nature, the simple rule is that organisms exist by surviving and reproducing. How they accomplish this is left open. That is why nature has such a great diversity. The same law applies to responsive organizations: successful behavioral change ties in with the unique potential of an organization and can take many forms. Good processes and structures are of course helpful, but not decisive. Or, as De Waal puts it: ‘the process does not specify the path to success any more than the interior of a house in Vienna tells us what kind of music is coming out the window’.