'Snowmelt' in organisations

Jan 2023

Snowmelt represents a change of state—the transition from solid to liquid. For us, it’s more than just a name; it describes how we think and work. We found Snowmelt to be a powerful metaphor for what we had been observing: the ability to unlock new value by understanding and creating organisations not as fixed and bounded entities, but as fluid and open processes that connect and adapt to their changing contexts.

Organisations and change

Organisations and their structures and systems have evolved to meet the needs of an ever more complex society. Many endure well beyond any individual person; like governments, universities, and corporations. In their development, we might assume that we are creating something that will have permanence.

When we think about change, we typically focus on applying effort to these organisations; we define change, seeking then to apply a force to shift the organisation. We define the new solid form it should take, develop a plan to get there, and implement it. In our heads, we might imagine the institution begins as solid and permanent, is briefly in flux, and takes a new solid form as soon as possible.

Of course, the world changes around these institutions and us. The need for change, evolution and adaptation is undeniable. When we zoom out, we might notice the natural cycle of creation and growth towards transformation or dissolution.

Towards 'liquid' organisation

As enduring and bounded wholes, our institutions developed for, and still reflect the problems of the past. They were created for different needs in different cultures are almost always out of step with the present.

If the pace of change is accelerating and its impacts accentuated, then long-running plans and projects face more significant risks. If the world is interconnected and interdependent, decisions to benefit individual entities are unviable. If our environment shifts suddenly, we might not have the resources to sustain us.

As social, technological and environmental changes collide, organisations need to adapt quickly. The value that was created through hierarchies, stable division of labour, linear processes and exchanges now has less utility. These models have now been challenged by the emerging principles of networks, contingent workforces and capabilities, and multidimensional and platform-based exchanges. This transition has been accelerated by the rise of knowledge- and service-based work facilitated through information technology.

Change is no longer discrete - it is perpetual and ephemeral. At some point, the world shifted from complicated to complex, making it impossible to respond to change one piece at a time. As a result, institutions and organisations can’t find a new solid form - their demands are too great.

Finding opportunity in change

If change is constant and the solid, stable, and predictable world is truly behind us, we must learn to embrace the complex liquid world we now inhabit. Adapting to this new, overlapping, fluid world requires more than an iteration of the tools and processes that have proven effective in the past.

To think in these ways requires support. We need new ways to embrace the fast-flowing currents of data, capital, attention and others. We ebb, interdependent with many others and we must be sensitive to their perspectives. Beyond conventional methods, there are new tools and approaches that embrace the complexity of our world. We can use these to reconceive and remake our organisations as we drift - attuned to emerging risks and new opportunities.

Snowmelt has adopted this disposition, and these new tools and approaches are at the core of our practice. We invite you to explore with us.


The richness of this metaphor comes from the ideas of many others, including Zygmunt Bauman, Saskia Sassen, Bruno Latour, Richard Rorty and Donna Haraway. Additional thanks to Dreu Harrison for reflecting on these topics with us.

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Tim Tompson
Co-Founder and Principal
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