This is not the definitive story of the BetaCodex movement. Instead, is a story that we think outlines the context, the events and their outcomes well enough to serve as an introduction to the movement’s roots and accomplishments.
This story begins not with Beta, but with a think tank called the Beyond Budgeting Round Table, BBRT. Over the course of the year 2007, some nine years into the BBRT’s existence, it is clear that the Beyond Budgeting movement is stuck. It has achieved a lot, during those nine years. Not just with regards to conducting case research and to understanding/conceptualizing organizational leadership “beyond budgeting” and beyond command-and-control. But also in terms of gaining recognition and raising public awareness. It is becoming more and more clear, however, that the movement needs to change, in order to fulfill the promise of what the BBRT itself refers to as “the Beyond Budgeting model.” While there has been plenty of insight, there is now little too action, too little energy and too little real-world progress arising from the BBRT's work.
The initiating moment for the foundation of the BetaCodex Network is a work gathering of six BBRT directors in Basel, Switzerland, in December 2007. Ahead of that meeting, an 8-page proposal for a bold new vision and mission for the BBRT has been drafted together by BBRT directors Robin Fraser and Niels Pflaeging. The two underwent a process of intense inquiry and self-questioning. The vision that Fraser and Pflaeging end up suggesting, prior to the Basel session, is quite simple. It says: “The Beyond Budgeting model is the standard management model.” What this means: The movement should aspire to turn “its model” into the natural choice of organizing for work of all kinds, everywhere. That new aspiration, and the related concepts outlined in the reform proposal, make sense to everyone at the Basel meeting: The vision is bold, it is clear, it is “true”.
During the session in Basel, some other great ideas for the further development of the movement are dashed out. The discussion is energized. Spirits are up. Then something awkward happens: When the group of directors comes to vote on approving and installing the new vision and mission statement, both proposals are rejected by a majority of the BBRT's director. The reasons for rejecting the new vision and mission, it turns out, have to to with personal motives and preferences of the group's members. No more, no less. But, as things stand, the attempt has failed to transform the Beyond Budgeting think tank, in order for it to become more ambitious, more open, more action-oriented and more relevant. An opportunity for transformation has been wasted.
The meeting’s uncomfortable outcome results in the immediate retirement of Robin Fraser from the BBRT. Robin is one of the “founding fathers” of the Beyond Budgeting movement, and one of the leading figures in the BBRT’s transformational wing. The other such figure is Niels Pflaeging, who at the time has served as a BBRT director for five years, since 2003. Then there is Gebhard Borck, who has undertaken transformational and innovative consulting work together with Niels for a few years. Gebhard attended the Basel meeting as a guest, and as a potential new BBRT director. As the reboot of the BBRT does not materialize, Gebhard and Niels choose to move into another direction than Robin: Not out, but ahead. The two decide that this moment has to be the starting-point of something new. Something bold and energizing, something exciting. A new beginning and the start of a new movement.
In response to what happened in Basel, Niels and Gebhard conclude, together with Valérya Carvalho, to pick up the freshly developed (yet abandoned) vision and mission statement, and to initiate the foundation of a new network, separate from the BBRT. They envision a more international and more welcoming, more open kind of network. It is to be an association that will not just “talk” Beyond Budgeting, but that will also walk the talk. The new network will be about more than just conversation. It will instead make organizational transformation a reality. Initially, the new group started by Valérya, Gebhard and Niels is named Beyond Budgeting Transformation Network, BBTN.
- 2008: A focus on content. Between April and December of that year, Niels Pflaeging and Gebhard Borck work hard on generating initial content for the network, based on their previous research and consulting work. They focus on what they think could be starting-points for positioning the network. This results in the first five of the network research papers, which outline a practical approach to transformation, as well as introductions to the model's principles and to the network itself. The three founders also try to solve the riddle of how to take the model open source, and mobilize a community. In late 2008, the three arrive at the conclusion, together with help from a few peers, that all commercial interests are to be kept separated from the network, strictly and permanently.
- 2009: New brand, new community, first website. Finally, the new name and brand for the model and the network are established. Plans for a rather complicated, multi-tier membership concept are abandoned. All ranks, titles or positions, such as the title of “director”, are scrapped. The network, if it is to be truly open source, is not to have any formal hierarchy. Its finances are not to be based on membership fees, either, but on voluntary contributions. The network's first web portal, designed by Valérya Carvalho and Niels, is launched later that year. The Drupal-based platform features a social network community forum, which is eventually transferred to LinkedIn, in 2017. The website showcases a great deal of BetaCodex content.
- 2008-2017: Publications reach large audiences, globally. The BetaCodex Network white papers – 14 in total, over the first 10 years, plus two “special edition” papers – attract more than half a million views during that period. Starting in 2014, books published by BetaCodex Network associates become best-sellers. Notably Organize for Complexity (2014) by Niels Pflaeging, which becomes available in seven languages. Komplexithoden (2015) by Silke Hermann and Niels is a big best-seller in German.
- 2011-2017: New theory, new platforms. Key “Beta” concepts such as Change-as-Flipping and OrgPhysics, Consultative Individual Decision-Making, Organizational Hygiene, and Peer Recruiting, are idealized and developed by Silke and Niels. The array of available content is broadened further with the launch of a 2nd generation web presence on a Wordpress platform, which goes live in early 2018. The website is developed by Sebastian Blum and Bjoern Janssen, together with Niels. A Slack presence with a discussion forum is created, in order to make the network's activity more visible, and to create a bias for action within the community.
- 2018-2021: A new dynamic in the network's activity. More people become actively involved. BetaCodex online forums like LinkedIn and Xing continue, Slack becomes the platform for interaction and joint work. Twitter accounts are established, as well as a BetaCodex Network YouTube channel. The network initiates a bunch of thriving local meetup groups, later (during the Covid pandemic) online meetup series are established – first in German, then in English. A lot of energy is generated within the membership.
- 2018-2ß19: Groundbreaking research on transformation. White papers Nos. 15 and 16 on the revolutionary change concepts Very Fast Organizational Transformation and Change-as-Flipping are published. These concepts will become foundations of OpenSpace Beta.
- 2018-2021: New socio-tech heralds a breakthrough for BetaCodex practice. A substantial review and update of the 12-item BetaCodex is undertaken by Silke Hermann and Niels Pflaeging in 2018. Around the same time, Red42 – the company founded by Silke and Niels around their joint BetaCodex work - begins to publish several social technologies under open source licenses. The four social technologies developed by Red42, in chronological order:
- OpenSpace Beta (2018) – for very fast, robust organizational Beta transformation. In OpenSpace Beta, insights from the network's research and the work of Daniel Mezick are combined. Learn the full story of how the approach came about by watching the recording from the OpenSpace Beta 5th anniversary event.
- Cell Structure Design (2019) – for decentralized organizational design, leaderships and consistent self-organization. Never have the concepts of organizational decentralization and functional integration been outlined as succinctly.
- LearningCircles by Red42 (2020) – for organizational learning on the edge of org development. This social technology leads to the creation of qomenius, a learning and development company founded by Silke and Niels.
- Relative Targets (2021) – for complexity-robust performance systems. This powerful social technology builds on insights originated in the BBRT’s research from the early 2000’s. It is shaped further by additional research and insight into Beta transformations.
- 2018 - : Beta transformations get done, reliably and fast. Silke and Niels, Peter Proell and Hans Fischer-Schoelch undertake a bunch of successful Beta transformations with client organizations, separately and together, employing the OpenSpace Beta approach. While the results may somewhat vary in intensity, the success rate of these transformations is 100%. In 2023, Niels begins to undertake Beta transformations by successfully employing a new, “light” approach to transformation: This approach is suited for smaller organizations of up to 120 people. It employs Cell Structure Design and Relative Targets, and relies on Very Fast Organizational Transformation principles, but it does not make use of OpenSpace.
- 2020-2021: Not impossible anymore. More and more companies are publicly referring to the BetaCodex as “their design principles.” In 2020, Niels publishes the book Essays on Beta, Vol. 1, a compilation of 20 BetaCodex-related articles. The books Organize for Complexity and OpenSpace Beta gain new, revised editions. Additional products to support BetaCodex learning, workshops and transformation are being offered by Red42, posters and learning bundles among them.
- 2022: A new membership model. In December, the network's membership model is rebooted. The network starts to define collaborative research as its core activity. Everybody who wishes to be associated with the network and movement can now join a research project, or create one, in consultation and together with others. A Code of Conduct is added to the website, clarifying the modes of association. The expectation is that the community will be able to create a thriving portfolio of research projects, publications and other activities, all aimed at sharing and disseminating the insights gained. The first research projects are initiated in early 2023, notably editing of the OpenSpace Beta Commentary, which seeks to extend research into the practicalities of Beta transformation.
- 2023: Getting the content out in new formats. In May, the network starts the weekly BetaCodex LIVE video podcast, presented by Rijon Erickson and Niels Pflaeging. In July, the 19th BetaCodex Network research paper is released under the title Cell Structure Design Patterns. In the same month, the Laws of the BetaCodex booklet is published by BetaCodex Press. BetaCodex Press publishes two books of quotes by two great Beta thinkers (edited by Niels), entitled What would Deming do? and What would Drucker do?
- 2024: Accelerating learning & insight. The 20th research paper, Cell Structure Design Patterns II, is published. The network's 3rd generation website (this website) is launched on a Typo3 platform, together with updates to content and features. BetaCodex LIVE continues its 2nd season. qomenius launches qomenius Nano, a scalable solution for self-organized team development, based on BetaCodex principles. The network is now present on the social media platform BlueSky – in addition to presences on LinkedIn, YouTube, X and Mastodon.
We invite you to contribute to the continuation of this story – and to join a movement. Our movement is principled, democratic, action-oriented and sharing. It has answers for organizations and for societies that need to overcome organizational command-and-control (a.k.a. Alpha), for good. The task is to put these answers to work. For more about how to join, and about how to contribute to the movement, please visit the network’s membership page. Or simply get in touch right away.