The Future of Finance

The power of Chaos

Getting uncomfortable as an organization: Why we need some chaos to do great work

Published on April 15, 2018

Nadeem Shaikh

Founder and CEO at Anthemis Group

It takes energy to deviate from the familiar. But discomfort and chaos are crucial ingredients for building organizations that adapt to and thrive in the digital age. Innovate, experiment, get outside your comfort zone. All of this is much easier said than done.

My co-founders and I at Anthemis recently acknowledged that our organization was comfortably moving toward the same hierarchical systems that have been alive in financial services for decades, if not centuries. Our mission is to redefine business and organization models, investment frameworks and ways of thinking about the future of finance, but, after a period of fast growth, our own structure began to deviate from this mission.

At this point in Anthemis’ business trajectory, we need to be intentional about sustaining a culture that inspires our team and the organizations we work with to break from the status quo. This involves experimenting with new ways of leading and governing; prioritizing diversity, inclusion and belonging; creating space for divergent thinking; researching and drawing inspiration from companies in other industries, like Patagonia, that are rethinking what it means to be a sustainable business in the 21st century.

The way forward involves testing, observing and evolving how we operate as a business and a broader financial services ecosystem. One of the biggest experiments for us has been starting to dissolve unnecessary hierarchy and break down chains of command within our organization so that we resemble a decentralized network more than a managed pyramid.

This decision was uncomfortable and scary, but it is already leading to a significantly more adaptable organization. We are now making more decisions through “collabotrarian” groups— self-organizing teams that are meant to be both collaborative and contrarian (hence the name). Anyone in the organization can join one or multiple groups, which form around topics such as business development and incubating the ideal founding team. The point of these groups is not to come to a consensus but to engage in healthy debate to and think about problems and solutions in new ways.

Similarly, our journey as an organization is an ongoing process. We don’t have all the answers, and I think that’s a good thing. I’d love to hear from others who are asking similar questions: how can our organization break away from familiar structures and imagine different possibilities for our future? What experiments have you introduced, and what have you learned so far?