Somewhere behind my back I hear soft whispering: ‘Is she anorexic…?
’‘Goodness, no!’, my all-in-one-buddy (‘study together, party together’) replies. ‘This is just her build’.
I was about 20 and I weighed just under 106 pounds (48 kilos). That’s less than your average 14-year-old. Even though I ate like a horse. On a good day enough for a small herd.
It made no difference at all.
Apart from not being able to wear all the clothes I wanted, the more serious drawback was that when I got ill, I lost weight so easily that I had to put myself on a diet. To gain weight. I made myself eat even when I was far from hungry. Two days of not sticking to this regime and my jeans were loose around the waist again.
In short: there wasn’t enough of me.
My body couldn’t really cope with deviations from the normal routine.
My all-in-one-buddy and I studied Clinical Psychology at the time. We learned about anxiety disorders, depressions in any size, shape or form, personality disorders. You name it.
We also learned about eating disorders. How too little weight is potentially more lethal than too much. Because in those cases the body lacks the necessary back-up to deal with the unexpected. In extreme cases, a cold can be fatal.
This confirmed my own experience. Clearly, I had a job to do: I had to make sure I had enough fat on my bones. Just to stay healthy.
More and more organisations also suffer from having too little meat on their bones.
They too miss the reserves needed to deal with the unexpected.
Some organisations need to slim down in order to survive. Back to the core business, zero redundancy. Letting go of people, roles and jobs which are not strictly necessary to stay alive as a company.
Other organisations consciously try go get as lean as possible, almost like they are taking on a challenge. It’s a bit like ‘organisation anorexia’. With of course structurally different causes than we see in this devastating illness.
1a: lacking or deficient in flesh
b: containing little or no fat
2: lacking richness, sufficiency, or productiveness
3: deficient in an essential or important quality or ingredient:
Not exactly healthy.
It sounds great of course, if your organisation runs like clock- work. No redundancy, super-efficient and sleek as can be. Not an ounce too much.
But the same drawback I experienced with my body weight, also applies to your organisation. If you are too lean, any minor unexpected occurrence can unhinge the entire system. And that’s the issue. We live in a complex world. Predictions don’t count for much anymore. (Or we just see so much better how useless we already were at predicting what’s going to happen next.)
Especially in this day and age, having a bit of surplus ‘organisational- fat’ is crucial to stay successful.
Also when something unexpected happens, because it will.
To be clear, we’re not advocating having an obese organisation either. Superfluous processes, forms, tasks, regulations and rules? Ditch them, please! Organising things in such a way that they align better and you can learn and adjust in an agile way? Great stuff.
But pulling it all together too tightly, and slimming down too much? That’s a one way ticket into the danger zone.
The ability to learn, develop and innovate lies in that extra bit of organisational fat. That’s what you need to recuperate.
When you’re too skinny, you simply don’t have the resources for this. It makes your organisation hugely vulnerable. Everything is fine, right until something happens that requires space, time, and focus. When you don’t have enough of that in times of need, you’re in deep trouble.
Personally, I try to stick to a strict minimum weight. This boundary ensures that I always reserve a bit of ‘spare energy’. When I come too close to this minimum, it’s time to eat-up to a healthy weight.
To be clear: we are thoroughly aware of the complexity and seriousness of Anorexia Nervosa. We do not, in any way, try to simplify this.
But we cannot help but notice a parallel: just like a human being, an organisation too needs to have room to recuperate, to have its reserves for times of need. Loosing these reserves, either on purpose or as an unforeseen consequence, we deem far more dangerous for the health and wellbeing of the organisation than having a little too much redundancy.