What if we are at the end of a societal life-cycle?

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Hmm! Societal life-cycle eh?

Could it be that we are at the end of a societal life-cycle?.Have you ever thought about that possibility?

I was stunned recently while reading William Bridges’ 1991 book, “Managing Transitions: Making The Most of Change.” What caught my attention was his statement, “The idea that organizations and societies have life-cycles has been around a long time.” Of course I have been long aware of the concept of the product life-cycle but the idea of an organizational life-cycle was something I had seldom consciously thought about. And I had certainly NEVER thought about a society having a life-cycle! The idea stopped me in my tracks.

Could this perhaps explain much of the political turmoil in the world today? That is a question that certainly warrants consideration.

Building on Shakespeare’s “Seven ages of man” idea, Bridges argue that organizations also go through what he depicts as “The seven stages of organizational life.” He identifies these stages as:

  1. Dreaming the dream (i.e. Identifying a better way)
  2. Launching the venture (i.e. Finding others who share that vision)
  3. Getting organized
  4. Making it (i.e. Turning the vision into reality)
  5. Becoming an institution (i.e. Becoming fixated on status – and hence the status quo)
  6. Closing in (i.e. Complacent self-satisfaction with the way things are)
  7. Dying (i.e. Lost sustainability results in some form of demise)

Bridges freely admits that this is his own framework and that there may be others, and also that there is no fixed time for these stages, but his point is that they exist and there are dynamic stages of transition between each one, with what he calls applicable “Organizational Development laws.” These are:

  1. Those who are at home with the necessary activities and arrangements of one phase are likely to experience the subsequent phase as a severe personal setback
  2. The successful outcome of any phase of organizational development triggers its demise by creating challenges it is not equipped to handle
  3. In any significant transition the thing that the organization needs to let go of is the very thing that got it this far
  4. Whenever there is a painful, troubled time in the organization, a developmental transition is probably going on
  5. During the first half of the life-cycle – up to and including Making it – not to make a transition when the time is right for one will cause a developmental “retardation” in the organization.

Accordingly Bridges argues that “failing to understand the developmental course of organizational life not only confuses issues like the organization’s resistance to innovation, but mistakenly suggests that these are simply “problems to be fixed, rather than the normal behaviour of a stage in the life of the organization. What such an organization needs is not fixing but renewal.”  Citing examples like the US army and IBM he identifies renewal as involving finding ways to reincorporate the energy of the first 3 phases by:

  • Redreaming the dream
  • Recapturing the venture spirit
  • Getting reorganized.

So, what if this does also apply to societies? It seems to me it would be a worthwhile exercise to assume it does. What worlds it might open up. Yet, whether it does or doesn’t may actually be irrelevant. Either way, it certainly seems that we need to take stock and to follow these three steps to recreate, revitalise and re-energise our broken society.

To find this path we need only to ask 3 basic questions:

  • What is it time to let go of?
  • How will we spend our time in the “neutral zone” between the old and the new?
  • What is this new beginning going to require of us and others?


Please get hold of my book,  The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped read my ideas as to how we could change our economic systems and promote discussion and debate around them so that we can answer these questions to restore democracy and safeguard a better future for future generations.

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