In 2008 or 2009, my father, a seasoned traffic police officer, found himself captivated by the seemingly chaotic traffic of Ho Chi Minh City. As we sat on a terrace overlooking a bustling crossroad, he pointed out a concept I had yet to grasp: “It is remarkable, how traffic scientists in Germany argue how self-organized traffic would not work, but you just need to look at a crossroad here. It does work”. Looking back from now, this experience would shape my understanding of self-organization in corporate cultures.
Shared Space in Traffic: The Magic Beyond Rules
Shared Space, pioneered by Hans Monderman, challenges the conventional wisdom of strict traffic rules. It’s about altering the environment and letting individuals self-organize. Monderman’s belief, “If you treat people like idiots, they behave like idiots,” rings true as we observe a seemingly anarchic traffic flow guided not by signs but by an unwritten code of conduct. In Vietnam, due to the sheer number of Motorbikes, traffic laws were at that time often disregarded to optimize flow – albeit it was not technically a shared space.
But also as in Shared Space, also in Vietnam, traffic becomes a dance of collaboration. Research hints at reduced accidents and fatalities, attributing this success to the mutual respect and empathy that arises (albeit more profound studies are still required). There’s a stark contrast between rigid rule adherence and the flexible, self-organized chaos of Shared Space.
Applying Shared Space Principles to Organizational Dynamics
Drawing parallels between traffic and organizational settings, one cannot ignore the irony. Most companies thrive within a framework of strict rules and policies, rewarding compliance over creativity. Shared Space in organizations means fostering an environment where individuals contribute innovative solutions without the constraints of excessive rules.
Digging into the scientific underpinnings, Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety becomes a guiding light. The necessity of self-organization in complex environments resonates in the success stories of companies like Morning Star and W.L. Gore, emphasizing the role of autonomy in fostering creative problem-solving.
Overcoming Barriers: A Personal Reflection
Reflecting on the barriers to self-organization, many companies cite the lack of the right people or the right time. Yet, if these are perpetual obstacles, perhaps the root lies in mindset. Adopting a Theory Y mindset assumes that employees are inherently motivated to contribute creatively. It’s about removing impediments rather than waiting for ideal conditions.
In the intertwining realms of traffic and organizations, Shared Space emerges as a transformative concept, challenging traditional models. It’s a journey from chaos to collaboration, from rigid structures to creative freedom. If your organization aspires to embark on a self-organized future, consider embracing the chaos with Shared Space principles. Reach out if you need guidance on this profound journey.