MJ Kaplan, Brown University

From Triangles to Circles: The Future of Work is Now
MJ Kaplan


Fall 2017
Lecture Time: 
Friday, October 27, 2017 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 
R0220 Ross School of Business
Introduced By: 
Liz Morris


In Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux writes, “throughout history, the types of organizations we invented were tied to the prevailing worldview and consciousness. Every time that we, as a species, have changed the way we think about the world, we have come up with more powerful types of organizations.” Laloux adapts Integral Theory from developmental psychology to define these major organizational stages. Hierarchy has been the prevailing organizational construct for more than 100 years. Frederick Taylor introduced scientific management to improve productivity and scale operations during the industrial era. The metaphor for this structure is a machine with a priority for command and control. In the wake of social change beginning in the 1960s, organizations pursued redesigns to reduce the rigidity of traditional hierarchy. Change management initiatives aimed to more effectively engage dissatisfied employees crafting hybrid matrix structures to prioritize empowerment, values-based culture and inclusion. In spite of these modifications, the basic top-down framework persisted.

Laloux posits that we are entering a new stage of development and organizational form that align with an emerging stage of human evolution. He labels this era ‘Teal’ characterized by self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose. Globalism, the pace and nature of technological change, complexity, demographics, natural disasters and political fragility are some key drivers of this new developmental era and organizational architecture. Start-ups in particular are experimenting with devolved approaches to work that are based on networks and teams of teams. There is an emphasis on integrity of the system and the interconnections that enable learning and adaptation based on real-time feedback. Cultural norms prize purpose and meaning, freedom, creativity, high trust teams, protocols and discipline, transparency, collective accountability and passion for customers. Self-management, software applications and other emerging technologies, agile process and an influx of millennial talent provide scaffolding. The metaphor is an organic living and adaptive system.

Are we on the cusp of a fundamentally new approach to how organizations operate, emerging in the context of broad socio-economic-technological and developmental change? Is the metaphor of organization as living system apt and will the form be based on network architecture and circles? What are characteristics of the whole operating system, including governance and ownership? Will this new organization structure address entrenched issues of equity and fairness as well as organizational resilience?

Recording & Additional Notes

MJ is an organization and community transformation consultant, social entrepreneur, academic, mentor, writer and activist. Her work weaves across sectors and industries to enable groups and networks to align purpose and operationalize impact. MJ’s consulting, research and writing are largely focused on the transformation of work/workplace to be deeply human-centered, participatory, creative and effective.

Partner, The Ready, a firm that partners with organizations pursuing transformation to be adaptive and fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Co-creator and Board member: Loomio, a global social enterprise that enables digital collaborative decision making.
Founder: Kaplan Consulting in 2000, a networked consulting group that works globally with groups to gain clarity about shared purpose and to design innovative and adaptive approaches to work
Associate: The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Former, Adjunct Instructor at Brown University
Associate: Centre for Social Impact, New Zealand: Contribute to strategy and network development
Board Member, Commerce RI, Social Enterprise Greenhouse

In 2013 MJ was Ian Axford Fulbright Fellow in New Zealand and she speaks and writes frequently about social enterprise and impact in New Zealand. She was a keynote on the Future of Business at the Social Enterprise World Forum September 2017. MJ was awarded the Cordes Innovation Fellowship by Asoka U and honored as The Outstanding Mentor for RI Business Women Awards. MJ earned her M.Ed. from Harvard University and B.A. Brown University.

Reading List

Laloux, Frederic, Reinventing Organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014, or http://www.reinventingorganizationswiki.com
‘New Economic Spaces,’ Esko Kilpi, Aug. 12, Medium - https://medium.com/@EskoKilpi/new-economic-spaces-b5fd19f6a668
‘10 Principles of Emergent Organizations and How We Live Them at The Ready,’ Sam Spurlin, Dec. 15, 2016, Medium - https://medium.com/the-ready/10-principles-of-emergent-organizations-and...