Career in the Creating Organization

R. David Cummins
7 min readDec 17, 2019

Is it possible to talk about “career” in new forms of organizations or is it contradictory? How do people measure their progress when we have less hierarchy and fewer clearly defined career-paths?

But first of all: What is this “Creating Organization”?

All organizations produce value. The Creating Organization doesn’t just produce value but continues to create it anew. It is built to continuously improve the way it creates — to generate ever more value — but not just for its customers and clients but also for its members as well, as part of the creative/generative process. Ideally then value will be created directly or indirectly also for the community, for society and for the world.

To develop the Creating Organization we work with Mindset, Models and Methods on three levels. The first is the level of the individual who is a member of the organization. Often it is important to develop leadership first — working with leaders occurs also on this level. The second level is the team/process level that creates value for the customer. The third and highest level is the level of the organization itself.

The Creating Organization Matrix

Mindset leads to appropriate models. The models provide the basis for the methods, which lead directly to creating value on each level. Creating value on one level automatically positively influences the value creation of the other levels. In the Creating Organization the models and methods also create a loop-back to Mindset, since mindset represents a belief system (espoused theories) that is affected by hidden beliefs that people carry with them (theories-in-use). Methods should help uncover theories-in-use in order to align them with espoused theories (the desired mindset).

Value is the output, Mindset helps develop or choose Models but Methods and Models should also help develop Mindset.

Is it possible to have a career in a Creating Organization?

This question is quite clearly one we need to address at the level of “Member/Leader.” Here I would like to start at Mindset and examine where this would lead us, if it is taken all the way to the end of its consequences.

For the Creating Organization the following theories about human nature and what people desire can be useful in defining our mindset (please refer to the references at the end of this article for the sources):

  • Theory Y (versus Theory X posed by Douglas McGregor)
  • Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)
  • Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck)

In a short, simplified version that would be:

What people really want, what makes them “happy,” is to be part of something bigger than themselves, to create something in a state of flow, to have autonomy in their activity, and to be continuously learning and pushing their own limits.

The vision

Ideally then, creating while being challenged and learning is the indication of progress. As long as I am creating meaningful value and learning I feel like I am getting somewhere. Taking this a bit further: the sharing of what I have learned and the creating together with others takes me to even higher levels.

I don’t need more money or a better title to feel like I am getting somewhere. I define my progress myself by what I am learning and creating.

Let it sink in … and don’t worry, we are not finished yet.

The reality

We live in a world that recognizes not what we learn but what we can prove — it rewards the individual performance (we are taught this in school). This system judges us extremely at each step along the way and only allows us to move on if we prove we are better than others. Our progress is tracked by how much salary we make and how high we have climbed the hierarchical ladder. There are few other indications of progress. Furthermore, since I am judged individually in relation to others I am forced to see myself in competition to others.

Moving from current reality toward the vision

A useful model for change is provided by Robert Fritz, who explains that if there is something I really want — I am committed to it and willing to achieve it — and if I then get a grasp on current reality as well as I possibly can, then what he calls creative tension builds up between that which I want and the situation the way it is now. This tension will draw me toward the vision or goal.

That is a simplified version of the model, but yes, it does mean no detailed plans or milestones all the way up to my goal — the next steps will show themselves.

I have found that this model is not only useful for individuals but also for teams. It is much harder to get to a “shared vision” with a group of people but on the other hand the picture of reality gets much better when multiple perspectives can be integrated.

Getting to our vision of career

We can want the vision and we can be pulled toward it, but we can’t jump to it. If we suddenly replace one system with another, we risk falling in to confusion, insecurity and ineffectiveness. Particularly in the question of career, we need to find a way to retain a sense of progress for the members of the organization. We can’t just say: “Your learning and creating is your progress.” We will have to transform gradually.

Creative tension— possible first steps

We move slowly, look at reality and start to change meanings. We don’t get rid of hierarchies; we start to make leaders out of our managers.

And we allow people to become leaders who weren’t managers already. We give them the chance to take on more responsibility to help others grow and learn. Perhaps the current reality requires this responsibility to correspond to higher salary — then do that.

Then we start separating things that have been together for a long time. We give feedback everyday, from those from whom it is relevant — because feedback is a gift to learning and creating. We separate “development talks” from “appraisals” or “performance reviews”. In development talks it will be just about the particular member of the organization — where is he/she going and who can help. “Appraisal” defines the amount of salary that will be earned — to take it further than “performance,” we try to appraise the learning that has taken place as well as that which has been created by the member. We include the factor of “how” creation has taken place — in other words according to our shared values — and how well the person has created together with others, how much he/she has shared his/her knowledge and been a mentor for others.

These are just possible first or next steps — they are real examples from developing the organizations that I have been a part of. They may or may not be useful for your organization at the current time, but if you have a clear vision and view of reality, I think you will come up with even better first steps for yourself.

Changing the way we think about employee retention (German: Mitarbeiterbinding)

In the meantime you probably will lose people who have a fixed mindset and are not prepared to transform. People who have been good at proving themselves, were good performers and no longer see a possibility to make progress.

People with such an attitude are useful now, but will have a hard time learning for the changes that are coming to the organization, so let them go. Others with growth-mindset will replace them, when your organization becomes attractive to them.

Personally, I want to work with people who are growing and learning and if they are not, they should move on. That might sound hard, but it is actually better not only for them, but also for the organization. People who are unmotivated will hurt the organization more by being there than by their absence.

Continuing

Transformation is a process. Knowing where we want to go (because it will create more value) and understanding where we are right now, everyday we continue on this path.

This path opens up before us, and we use models and methods that help us not only to create more value, but also to develop our mindset. Thus we continue creating an environment that fosters flow, learning and creativity.

Is it possible to have a career in a “Creating Organization?”

Definitely: YES!

… and

… the way we define and measure career will transform at the same time.

Reading recommendations

The following resources I have found helpful in providing models and methods as well as for developing mindset. I do not profit in any way financially from the following of the links or through any purchases of the books referenced. I do wish that you gain much value from the reading of them.

The Human Side of Enterprise, Douglas McGregor

Finding Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Mindset, Carol Dweck

Creating, Robert Fritz

The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge

Drive, Daniel Pink

How Creative Workers Learn, Alexandre Magno

and an excellent introduction in German to modern concepts of working:

Management Y, Brandes, Koschek, Gemmer, Schültken

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R. David Cummins

inspiring & facilitating impeccable leadership, creating organizations & generative transformation