Fluid and solid: the Oobleck organization

Jan 19, 2015

In the digital age, both agility and robustness are necessary to deal with the constant stream of new technologies, new entrants and changing customers.

To cope with the fast-moving market, companies are starting to move towards a dual organization. The goal of such a dual organization is to be able to adapt quickly to the changing market (the fluid part) while resisting to shocks and keeping the existing optimized, industrial processes (the solid part).

Combining the two modes of operations in a consistent whole can be, however, quite challenging. There are indeed many ways such initiatives may fail. Organizations could end up not really being agile or fluid, and not really industrial or solid either. The fluid mode can easily die a slow death by a thousand cuts from the solid part. Or the fluid part can end up going in a totally different direction than the solid part, creating a bipolar organization instead.

So the goal is really to end up with one coordinated organization, instead of two separated ones. It’s not about being solid or fluid, or solid and fluid separately, but solid and fluid at the same time. Being a physicist, this thinking immediately led me to one of the most fascinating form of matter: ooze, also called Oobleck.[1] Oobleck is a gooey substance that behaves both like a solid and a liquid at the same time.[2] Rather than a tedious technical explanation, I recommend watching this video instead:  



This video is interesting for at least three reasons. First, it is fun to watch and, unexpectedly, it’s been made by a bank!

Second, it illustrates well how something can be fluid and solid at the same time. You can see how the ooze is resilient against fast external impacts (i.e., bouncing people), yet able to adapt its form to slower external pressure (i.e., sinking people).

Third, it also illustrates another important point about why organizations must achieve this fluid-solid state. With its ability to absorb and respond to unexpected solicitations, an Oobleck organization becomes a platform upon which customers can build. Look at how people start experimenting, having fun, and inventing new ways to take advantage of the Oobleck pool!

Being Oobleck, i.e. achieving a functioning synchronized dual mode of operations, is thus crucial for adapting to the accelerating market changes and for empowering your customers. It is no small feat to achieve, but following best practices can guide organizations through the journey. As a matter of fact, for those interested in playing with Oobleck at home, the recipe is easy to make.

David Andrieux, PhD

[1] The name "Oobleck" is derived from the Dr. Seuss book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, where a gooey green substance, Oobleck, fell from the sky and wreaked havoc in the kingdom.

[2] Oobleck is an example of a non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian fluids have unusual viscoelastic properties. Other examples include ketchup, silly putty, flubber or plant resin.

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