How Companies Are Shifting from an Alpha to a Beta Paradigm

When we take a moment to look, we can see that the world around us is changing. The ‘ new paradigm ’ – whether we call it this or not – is emerging in all aspects of our lives, not just in business and marketing. Every week I meet someone new who is a maven of these changes; each one plays an important role in our social evolution.

One of those mavens I’ve met recently is a woman named Dana Ardi, author of a new book called The Fall of the Alphas: the new Beta way to connect, influence and lead. Dana refers to herself as a ‘corporate anthropologist’, i.e. someone who observes the culture of companies and the way people within businesses behave. As a new paradigm approach, I thought Dana’s work (and her book) would be of interest to our 7 Graces readers. So today, I’d like to share with you a recent interview I did with Dana, where I ask her about the difference between the ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ paradigms, and how this shift from alpha to beta changes the way we work, communicate and lead.

Click the audio player below to listen to the interview (about 26 minutes long) or you can read the transcript below. I hope you enjoy it and that you’ll share your thoughts about this topic below.
LYNN: Dana, your book is called The Fall of the Alphas: the new Beta way to connect, influence and lead. Could you summarise what the book is it about? What is the premise of the book?

DANA: Yes, so to give you a little context, The Fall of the Alphas is really about how hierarchies are being replaced by networks. So if we see change in what is happening in business today and if we think about the ‘Alpha’ model, as I define it in the book, as a military model. It was based on the returning veterans from World War II where they came back and had organising principles that were very militaristic in chain of command. We have led our businesses that way. But now with the tools and the changes that I document, which I look at both historically and anthropologically, we are coming to an age of what I call the ‘Network Economy’. So it’s more like an orchestra, it is more like a conductor who is the leader rather than a General.

LYNN: I love that. I really do agree with you on the fact that this is where we are coming to in society in general, not just in business. Can you tell me: is this something you think is a natural part of our evolution or is this something we are consciously doing?

DANA: I absolutely think that there are certain things that are mega-trends that have led us to this point, and I think it comes out of the root of what I call the whole Human Rights Movement – the Gay Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the technology revolution, globalisation, cultural change, self-awareness and the beginning of mindfulness and consciousness. So, business is changing because we are changing. And when we look at all the ways in which we have changed socially and culturally, one of the last bastions that has yet to change is how we organise ourselves at work.

I became very curious about this because increasingly in my practice I had people coming to me that were voicing dissatisfaction. And they weren’t unhappy with their professions and they weren’t unhappy with the quality of their work, or the choices they made in terms of their career, but they were unhappy about the organisations that defined them. Because they felt like they didn’t have a voice at the table, they weren’t doing meaningful work, they weren’t connected to other people, and they weren’t collaborating in a way that was satisfactory. In fact, they were competing with people in their organisation rather than being unified as a group, and looking towards ‘how is this community going to do the best work possible?’, and ‘who really are our competitors?’ and ‘how are we as a team going to face that competition?’

LYNN: Everything that you said kind of underscores all the reasons why I left the educational sector. It was very top-down management, we weren’t tapping into the teams, there was competition within the teams and having a voice at the table – even at the management level, which is when I left – was almost impossible. I agree with you entirely. So tell us some signs of how we can tell that this Alpha model isn’t working? You describe the discontent, but how else is it impacting our businesses?

DANA: I’m not a black or white person. So I’m not saying in the book that Alpha is bad and Beta is good, and there is nowhere in between. Think of me as a ‘corporate anthropologist’. So when I look at business or an organisation, I study their culture, their morés, their values, their communication systems, their shared history, the roles and identities of people, how status is treated in the community, their humour, etc. What I am seeing are the changes taking place because people are changing. For example, you have the millennials coming into the marketplace who have grown up with technology in their hands, in their pocket. They are used to collaborating. They come into work and they have already voiced their ‘e-pinions’ online. They’ve yelled, they’ve produced books, they’ve chimed in on everything. But then we tell them at work, ‘You are a junior player. Just do what you are told.’ Or we say, ‘Here’s our mission, don’t challenge anything, don’t think about it, don’t share ideas. Just keep your head down and do your job.’ So one of the changes that is happening is that this new generation is coming in with new tools and new ways of connecting to our customers and to each other at work. They just don’t want to be silent, and many of them are choosing to start their own businesses or be entrepreneurial.

You also have the baby-boomers who don’t know how to handle these complex global workforces with all the technology and communication. It’s a different way of communicating. And also the complexity of business, the pace of which it operates, the conversations that customers are having with you – all these changes are happening. So leadership is still leadership, whether it’s an Alpha model or a Beta model. What I am saying is that this Beta model – that that is flatter, that relies on more decentralised, horizontal shared leadership, collaboration , different distribution of rewards, open communication, self-awareness – this is a model that will take you to the future. And it’s not because I say it’s changing; it’s because it is changing and I am observing this change and highlighting to people that this is happening in your business. Look around. How do you harness it? How do you incorporate it into your style? How do you provide your employees with what they deserve – which is work environments that are more like communities, where people can experience real joy of their work?

LYNN: Yeah, and as you are describing it – I really love this idea of corporate anthropology – I mean I did my postgraduate work in anthropology when I was in my 20’s, I’ve always been an anthropologist at heart. But what I really like about what you talk about this Alpha-Beta is I can really get a picture that there is the old system of top-down management which is expected to be controlled from the top, and the top also expects to control from the top down. Whereas the Beta, as you are describing it, is more organic, more holistic, more democratic, more transparent (which is one of the 7 Graces). You are using so many of the 7 Graces in this model that you are talking about.

There are going to be many challenges for people who tend towards either the Alpha or the Beta way of working. It’s not just about meeting with each other but knowing how to take the best of both to create something new. So what are the challenges that you as the observer, the anthropologist, think they are both facing?

DANA: They are both facing the ability to be adaptable, to make quick decisions and to be more flexible in their decisions. You know, when I first went into the business world, we were drafting 10 year plans and 5 year strategies. I mean that is totally ridiculous. My young companies that I consult with – my New Economy companies, my young technology and software companies that are experiencing extreme hyper-growth – they reinvent their strategy and adapt this strategy every 30 days! And bigger companies have yearly planning, but then things happen and all of a sudden, they realise that if they are not adaptable – if they don’t leverage the intellect in the organisation, if they don’t capitalise on people really keeping the strategy in check and challenging the strategy with regularity – they could derail because things are changing so quickly.

So these are challenges. The omnipotence of leadership says ‘it’s my way or the highway’, or ‘this is where we have to stick to plan’, ‘this is the way we are going’, doesn’t have the Beta sensibility of openness to dialogue, and doesn’t continually want to be challenged and look at what is happening. So how do you do that? You need to have an organisation where people at all levels [have a voice]. Because sometimes, in any organisation, it is the foot soldier or the person in the field, or the young employee who is coming in with fresh eyes who is really looking at something and may be able to say, ‘Wait a minute, there’s danger here’ or ‘There’s another course we could take that may be more effective’ or ‘Let’s try something new that may captivate the imagination of our talent or our customers.’

So no one leader can now take responsibility for channelling all the way up. And that pace of getting information has got to be fired from everywhere in the organisation. It’s got to be aggregated, it’s got to be shared, and knowledge has to be collected and used in very effective ways and this is a challenge for everyone.

LYNN: I imagine that it would be very scary both for the person ‘at the top’ who is used to being in control and, at the other end, for people at the so-called ‘bottom’, who are used to ‘passing the buck’ upwards.

DANA: Exactly! And so, we talk about, ‘You’ve got to trade your ego for your eco.’ And that means it’s really about ecosystems within networks, within your organisation. You really need to use the collective consciousness of the organisation to feed in to your decision-making. That doesn’t mean its lack of leadership. Quite to the contrary. It’s a little messier. It’s not as neat. You really have to have people you rely on. You need to have project initiatives and the highest potential folks in your organisation becoming the gurus of certain paths of action. But it’s got to be an environment where people feel free, and feel that they can participate – that they are there to bring their best ideas and those ideas will be heard. They may not all be acted on, but they will all be considered. It’s an environment where everyone in the community is there with a shared value to make the community the best it can be.

LYNN: Well, that’s a wonderful vision. I’d love to know, if you can take a step back and not be just the ‘corporate anthropologist’, but more of a ‘global vision anthropologist’ and share what you believe: as we allow the corporations and businesses in general, to come into this new model, this new paradigm, how do you think that will impact society?

DANA: Well, I think we are all learning, and that in our personal lives we have to look at Beta in a way that we have to operate. There are different roles in families, there are more collaborative ways we think about our lives. For example, if you are a working mum and you need a babysitter, you open up your network to other working mums and ask, ‘Who is the best caretaker for the kids? How do you manage?’ So we are sharing all the time. One of the things I say in the book is that not only do our business leaders and our political leaders need to think about collaboration and this Beta paradigm, but that each of us as individuals – to be able to play in the world we live in – has to have this understanding of what I call the ’3 C’s’ which are: Communication, Collaboration and Curation.

Communication is open communication, dialogue, the ability to be articulate, having a managed ego, the ability to listen, etc. That’s part of the communication cycle.

Collaboration is the ability to work with other people, the ability to share ideas, the ability to bring your best self into a situation, your talent, your skills, your knowledge, etc.

Curation is when you have the chance to lead. We are all followers AND we are all leaders in this new Beta paradigm. When you have a chance to lead, you have to curate from the best thinkers around you. You have to be able to bring them together as a group and lead them. If you are a mum, it may be curating your family. If you are a dad, you may be curating the extended family. If you are in a book club, you may be curating the voices at the table as to the next selection. We can apply it to everything from the very technical in business to the very mundane of how we live our lives, and how we share with our friends and families.

LYNN: The one ‘C’ that isn’t in that list is ‘Conflict’. When talking about shifting paradigms, or changing leadership or blurring the lines of expectations of managers or teams, I think a lot of people expect conflict and worry about it. How can we understand how to deal with the inevitable conflicts that are going to arise as we shift roles?

DANA: I talk a lot in the book about what I call ‘team ego’ and ‘managed ego’. I think self-awareness is step 1. Conflicts will arise, disagreements will arise, different sensibilities will arise. But how you resolve those conflicts, how you share ideas around it, how you are together as a community, weigh those alternatives – again, the leader will decide. There will be leadership and ultimately decisions will be made that are not always the decisions you want to hear. But [we need to learn] how to have those tough conversations, and how to leave people’s egos intact if they had ideas but the community chose to go a different way. So those are the kinds of things we talk about. There are many times in business, as part of my coaching, when I do have to help a leader have a difficult conversation with an individual, with a group – how they have it, how they keep that person’s integrity intact, how they allow dignity in business to happen. I always tell the CEOs I counsel that any conversation with a member of the talent community is a conversation with the entire talent community. There are no secrets anymore. If you treat people with respect, if you allow people to have a voice at the table, if you try to get to a place of understanding, you may not get there, but at least you have explored and shared. Most people in business want to do the right thing, by their colleagues, by their company, by the communities they choose to engage with.

LYNN: Dana, I feel like we could go on talking for a really long time. I love all the things you are saying, I love the new model, I love the idea of corporate anthropology, I love the word ‘e-pinions’ (I think that’s terrific). Let’s talk about the book The Fall of the Alphas itself. Who is the book for, what are they going to get from it by reading it?

DANA: I think the book has general appeal for anyone that is in business today, or is thinking or anticipating having a career, or is taking leadership in any form in the community or in the family. It is basically a leadership book, whether you are leading a community group or a multinational corporation. It’s really about how things are changing and how you have to engage as part of a community, and as a leader in the community. So I think the book has general appeal – at least I hope so. I have tried, as an anthropologist, to tell some stories of how we got to this point, why do we organise the way we do, what do the Hunters and Gatherers do, how it evolved, what happened when women came into the workplace, what happened with the Human Rights Movement that started to change, and how technology is influencing these changes.

So I think you will see a pattern when I talk about how this is changing leadership in business. What I am hearing from people who are reading the book is ‘Wow, all those changes in all the ways you describe the anthropology of changes, are changes I see in my personal life, and let me tell you why.’ So, it really does knock you on the side of the head and puts it in a historical and anthropological perspective.

LYNN: Fantastic. I just want to say I can’t wait to read the rest of it. It’s right up my street.

DANA: If you want to lead, it certainly is a handbook for what you need to think about to be able to bring diverse people into your organisation and to have a different kind of dialogue.

LYNN: Dana, the frequenters of this blog are people who are interested in New Paradigm business , ethical marketing , ethical business practice, etc. They know that everything is about change. I loved the fact that you said this isn’t about making Alphas wrong and Betas right, this is about finding ways to co-create and move into something new. Knowing that these are the kind of people who will be listening to this, what last thoughts would you like to leave them with, to hold on to, or to explore?

DANA: We have to temper our confidence with this understanding: that we live in a diverse world of diverse ideas and we need to evolve and change how we behave to be able to incorporate some of the things that are happening and changing around us. The human spirit is always there. Embrace the change. Change is only fear of the unknown. If we knew change was good, we’d change all the time. What we are seeing is that people are happier, more joy in their lives and their work. If they open themselves, they are more innovative. It’s very self-motivating and it leverages your intellect and the intellect of others. Be open to it and I think there are wonderful things ahead.

I am very encouraged by the response not only to the book but the way people are treating each other – because they recognise that they work in community. They are not just businesses; they are communities and they have the responsibility to make those places, places where people can thrive and do their best, just like you would do it in their neighbourhood.

LYNN: Thank you so much, Dana. It was a pleasure interviewing you today and I hope you will be engaging in conversation with the 7 Graces community on Facebook when I post this podcast, because I am sure they are going to want to speak with you and connect with you.

DANA: Well I appreciate it very much, Lynn, and thank you for so much to your audience for listening.


I hope you enjoyed this interview with Dana Ardi. You can find her book The Fall of the Alphas: the new Beta way to connect, influence and lead on Amazon

Posted in Strategy.