Thursday, May 10, 2012

Innovation - What's in an Org Chart? More than you might think...

In my recent book, Living in the Innovation Age, I talk about "rethinking workspace design" as one of the ways you can spur innovation in your organization. Most people will agree with what Franklin Becker once said about organizations and employees performing either better or worse because of the way their workspaces are planned, designed, and managed. Scott Adams has made a fortune by mocking bland, dreary, and bureaucratic workplaces in his Dilbert cartoons. It might actually be funnier if it weren't so true! As I explain in my book, one reason innovative companies succeed is because they realize the disconnect between how traditional organizations are designed and what is really required for innovation to occur. They realize that enabling collaborative workspaces internally, on campus grounds, and virtually can unlock areas for workers to be inspired, socially energized, and refreshed. Organizations such as P&G, Google, and Mattel have boldly redesigned their workspace to reflect their innovative culture. They realize that their workplace design is not only a means of demonstrating this culture, but also a way to breed and strengthen the execution and delivery of innovative ideas and their implementation.

But workspace design is only half of the equation with organization design being the other half. As Chris Trimble explains in his recent blog entry on HBR, To Innovate, Turn Your Pecking Order Upside Down, executing breakthrough innovation requires breakthrough organizational design. One example of this is rethinking hierarchy. As Trimble explains, when Electrolux, the European appliance maker, decided that it needed to push its product line up market, it created a special team in which market researchers and industrial designers were at the top of the pecking order instead of engineers. This decision was specifically made to overcome the company's inertial tendency to design high-reliability but dull and mid-priced products.

The Bottom Line - Innovation, by definition, deals with uncertainty. Dealing with certainty requires challenging the status quo, both in workspace design and organizational design. In other words, if you really want breakthrough innovation, you must be willing to break through the barriers to innovation that exist in your organization and workspace!

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