Creative Conversations

Creative ConversationsThe organisation of the future will not have a hierarchical structure chart like most of today’s organisations. It is most likely to resemble a Twitter or social media connection map where people and functions are connected by many lines and importance (if it is measured at all) is determined by the number of connections or conversations that take place.

These connections are not simply routes for passing data such as telephone lines, these are routes where data, information and knowledge flow backwards and forwards. These are multi level conversations and they are key to Innovation.

Currently such conversations do exist but not throughout organisations. They are often identified as ‘water cooler’ or ‘coffee machine’ conversations and many backward thinking managers brand them as gossip or a waste of time. In some cases they do have a point!

Why do we want such conversations in the first place? Ideas tend to come into being when problems are aired amongst groups of people. They then get refined as part of conversations and solutions created or retrieved from the rich banks of knowledge that exist in our heads, libraries and computer systems. Conversations are something that we are used to having, after all we are social creatures.

So how do we make these conversations mainstream and encourage them? First of all the attitude of management must change to allow a whole range of things to happen. We could encourage conversations around the water coolers but Health and Safety issues might prevent too many gatherings. We should identify a) where people converse b) for how long c) for what purpose d) how we capture results. If conversations are short then having white boards or flip charts near to our coffee machines might help but for long exchanges then we might need more seats around our desks or a number of small ‘islands’ in our buildings where impromptu conversations might take place.

Employees also need to know that it is ok to have these conversation and that they can be continued using other modes of communication if need be. They should also be encouraged to eavesdrop on conversations that might be of interest to them.

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Bullying Kills Creativity

Bullying kills creativity! Much has been written about bullying within organisations. Depending on which survey you read, statistics show that anything between 30% and 50% of workers are affected. The large spread may even be indicative of the fact that in some countries and cultures, workplace bullying is under reported. It goes without saying that this topic should be addressed purely from an HR point of view, but what else is it doing to your organisation?

On a personal level, bullying directly affects the motivation of employees. The effect on extrinsic motivation may simply mean that as an employer you notice a decrease in performance. Intrinsic motivation will also suffer as employees ask ‘why should I make extra effort at work?’ As an employer, there is a double whammy here if you are not seen to be tackling the issues. Along with knowledge and experience, intrinsic motivation is one of the biggest drivers of Creativity on a personal level so ignore bullying at your peril.

Creativity is also one of the major components of Innovation, something that many of us strive for in the current tough economic environment. One of the underlying principles for embracing Creativity and Innovation is the new type of ‘network’ that needs to exist within our organisations. It is more informal than those shown in structure charts and helps us to share ideas and expertise. These networks are ‘soft’, they are not built from cables and computers, and they incorporate real people, your employees. Such networks are built on trust and sharing and are of course easily damaged by systematic bullying i.e. bullying that is not personal but which is accepted as the norm.

There are so many more things that you could also be damaging by ignoring individual and systematic bullying such as team working, scanning your external environment, developing initiative, organisational learning and decision making. ‘So what?’ you may say ‘Why should I care?’ To answer this simply take a look around you. The world has changed and to cope with the changes you need to change too. Old fashioned change management is not as effective as it used to be and to continually demolish and rebuild your organisation structure is expensive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an organisation that changed according to its environment, that could change shape and function as the economy changed, and which could, as part of its normal day to day operation generate ideas for new products, services and processes? This is all possible, from the smallest business to the largest most bureaucratic government department. But you will never achieve any of this if bullying or harassment is rife within our organisation. Apart from physical or verbal abuse, this also includes deliberately delegating boring tasks, not carrying out annual reviews or withholding professional development opportunities.

Get started now before it is too late. You owe it to your employees and the other stakeholders involved in your business.

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Organisational Structures For The Future

Governments and most businesses will readily understand the term ‘infrastructure’. It is a collective term for roads, railways, airports, ports, telecommunications networks, supply pipelines etc. It is all to do with movement and these networks are all ‘hard’ i.e. they are made out of steel, concrete and copper and they can all be touched.

Infrastructure is not quite the same as structure in an organisational context. Structure implies rigidity, a silo mentality and in many cases an adherence to the past (especially in terms of behaviour). The new Organisational structures of the future will be more like infrastructures, offering support rather than controlling. Unlike the past, future (infra) structures will be wildly different, varying according to culture, market niche, company size etc. They will of course all have one common theme – people.

People will be connected together in all sorts of ways. They are the valuable assets of the organization and must be looked after by Human Resources, connected by IT and rewarded by the boss. But there is more due to our dependence on intangible assets such as creativity, know how and culture as well as social interaction to create and exploit ideas.

For our businesses to function successfully, these things too must move around. Attempts have often been made in the past to codify these ideas, transmit them to another place and then try and extract both the message and the meaning of what has been received. Try having an email exchange with an angry colleague and you will understand the problems.

We also want things to travel in ways that are not constrained by boundaries and which certainly do not travel in straight lines. Just like the ripples on a pond we might wish some things to be broadcast, such as company culture. And like a networked computer system we will need some sort of storage and perhaps some form of maintenance function to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

When thinking of communicating within a corporate environment we often think of sending things out (pushing) or receiving from others (pulling). What about when things just sort of slosh about, and proceed at their own pace or when disruptive events occur and we need a system that repairs or heals itself? We need a new type of infrastructure, one that is invisible and which connects everybody to everyone else. It must allow meaning, intuition, creativity and emotion to flow with no bottlenecks and no burst pipes. What we need therefore is the right sort of ‘network’ – a soft infrastructure rather than a hard structure .

Based on concepts such as coaching, action learning and knowledge agents this might be somewhat strange, but it is all possible. Can we afford not to create such infrastructures in our organisations or in society in general?

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Innovation or Lean?

Innovation or Lean? A recent article published on the Knowledge@Wharton website suggested that the philosophy of Lean could exist along with Innovation. After reading the article I have two questions:

  1. Why would you want them to?
  2. Why put Innovation into a box (like Lean or BPR) when an Innovation system has the ability to change and respond to its surroundings?

The article states “Lean has come to mean an integrated, end-to-end process viewpoint that combines the concepts of waste elimination, just-in time inventory management, built-in quality, and worker involvement — supported by a cultural focus on problem solving. Can such practical principles be applied to innovation, or would lean’s structure and discipline snuff out the creative spark that underlies the birth and development of great ideas? Can lean co-exist with innovation?”

The article suggests that Lean brings structure and predictability to Innovation without sufficiently defining Innovation. Innovation requires a framework within which we generate ideas, experiment and develop new products, services and processes. Such frameworks exist and also provide ways of measuring and monitoring Innovation. In that sense we have structure and predictability within Innovation so we do not need Lean also. The very definition of Lean also implies that the flexibility and adaptability required to change, either in times of crisis or to seize opportunities, may have been engineered out of an organisation.

Those who fully embrace Innovation will understand that Innovation systems evolve and fully embrace such aspects as new ideas of collaborative working, new leadership and organisational models, empowerment and customer engagement. These attributes are not specific to Innovation systems nor are they specific characteristics of Lean.

An Innovation system can exhibit Lean characteristics if necessary, but a Lean system cannot be truly Innovative since there is always be an intellectual overhead in an Innovation system and so the Lean system will become ‘non Lean’.

Another contentious topic is that of separating idea from development. It is true that the mix of people that are required during the many phases of Innovation may change, but once more this is a characteristic of Innovation, that things change. In fact, idea and development must be connected. What if the technology to implement an idea does not exist and ideas must be generated in order to put an idea into production? Imagine the first time Silicon wafers were used to produce chips in large numbers. I cannot imagine that those who developed the chips were completely separated from those who developed production processes.

So if Innovation is an end to end process which provides a framework, is adaptable to changing conditions and which can be measured, why would we wish to consider Lean? One possible (and perhaps cynical) answer is that those who promote Lean would lose a possible source of revenue or that they simply do not understand Innovation – after all, it does have ambiguity built in!

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