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December 31, 2007

« City of the Future | Main | Funny Stuff »

1.  Over at Innovation Playground Idris Mootee writes (pointer from CEOs for Cities):

Any atmosphere of crisis and tension kills creativity. Creative people need downtime to recharge so always give them time to dream. There is nothing called optimized creativity. Exploration requires time and we need to accept the fact they may have “strategic time wasting” mission as part of their job description. . A situation of constant stress does not let new ideas to flourish. We should encourage them to apply their imagination in the workplace and make sure they are appreciated for those efforts.

Have faith in the process and the people and do not try to micromanage their work. While routine tasks are important, you have to give people the freedom to explore “white spaces” and work out what may seem foolish ideas.

2.  Check out this Business Week story on how a "clouds," major new innovation happened at Google.

3.  William Holstein reviews Gary Hamel's terrific new book, The Future of Management over at the New York Times.

Mr. Hamel argues that these innovative companies realize that employees should not be treated like 13-year-olds who need clear boundaries on their freedom. Employees are on the front lines and are often closest to customer needs. As a result, they should have power to reveal to their hierarchies what products and services are needed, and they should be involved in deciding how the company’s time and money are spent. Moreover, they should be pursuing a passion or a mission, not just quarterly profits. The implication of all this is that we don’t need as many managers in organizations. Yes, we still need some managers and some centralized processes to prevent an organization from spinning wildly in all directions. But the best organizations will be those whose employees have the power to innovate, not just follow orders from on high, Mr. Hamel says. In such an environment, the notion of a whole class of managers evaluating and re-evaluating each action of those below them in a vertical hierarchy becomes nonsensical.

Here's the clincher.

As insightful as Mr. Hamel’s book is, it’s surprising that it has attracted so little attention since being published in October.

Why do you think that is - and might it say anything particularly relevant about the state of business management these days?


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Thanks for the #2 link to the very interesting Business Week story. (One nit: they're a bit vague in crediting Google for "clouds". The cloud idea was big in the .com era with lots of companies. But those clouds were essentially proprietary, and it's the idea of a shared, programmable cloud that's the new thing.)

On #3, I'd point out that there are already very few MBAs in the low to middle management ranks at many tech companies -- at least in product development, it's all technical backgrounds (with people skills varying wildly). I'd agree that "managers evaluating and re-evaluating each action of those below them" is silly, but I'd argue that many of the things people hate about new technology -- e.g. that it never quite works the way it should -- can be traced to failures of management. The best tech managers I've seen act more as champions for the ideas of their teams and coordinators of the responsibilites that cross team boundaries, both essential roles.


Matt - Very nicely said. And remember those intrinsic rewards and needs for creative people.


On #1, easier said than done.

One thing I've noticed is a strong generational difference in management styles, and I also think this is also related to the perception many of Boomer generation have that the Millennial is lazy and self-obsessed.

Many Boomers in leadership positions whom I've encountered in my life have had a hard time loosening up their control on their employees. They may theoretically understand the importance of creativity, but in practice, they still are focused on command-and-control. Very frustrating, to say the least!


Frank - I couldn't agree more. Most boomers bear a deep imprint of the industrial age. They started to rebel against it's constraints but mainly in the sphere of culture. Of course, boomers in Silicon Valley initiated the trend toward new work organization and creative management styles. But outside of that most boomer managers remain trapped by industrial age practices. It's going to take a generation or two for this to truly take hold.

Kare Anderson

When I spoke about Gary's insightful book to five audiences (from doctors to insurance company mid-managers) the attendees seemed to want something that related to helping them "get ahead." Yes, most in the audiences were boomers (like me) and I failed to describe his book as I saw it - the way people can thrive in their work, get recognized for their ideas and ability to collaborate with people much different than them, be accountable, etc..... Many want out of the "cage" of the company that holds them back yet may feel uncomfortable with the kind of organizational structure that Gary sees happening.

As a former reporter one of my favorite stories was covering Gore - the creativity, mutual support and positive spirit there was captivating to be around.

Kudos to you, Richard, for highlighting this valuable book and Holstein's thorough review.
- Kare

Zoe B

Dr. Temple Grandin in a recent book (Animals in Translation, Harcourt, Inc., 2005) has something to say about 'command and control'. She is an autistic woman who claims to understand animals better than she does humans. In particular, she has worked to reduce animal suffering in slaughterhouses. I think her point of view is relevant to efficient and effective management of creative types (see "Animal Welfare: Taking Care of Animals the Wrong Way", pp. 266-272).

Grandin describes the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) audit process that measures animal welfare at a farm or slaughterhouse :

"My HACCP system works by analyzing the *critical control points* in a farm animal's well-being. I define a critical control point as a single measurable element that covers a multitude of sins. For instance, when I'm auditing the animals on a farm, one thing I want to know is whether the animals' legs are sound. There are a lot of things that can affect a cow's ability to walk: bad genes, poor flooring, too much grain in the feed, foot rot, poor hoof care, and rough treatment of the animals. Some regulators will try to measure all of these things, because they think a good audit is a thorough audit.

But that's not my approach. I measure one thing only: *how many cattle are limping?* That's all I need to know, just how many cattle are limping. That one measure covers the multitude of sins that can cause cattle to go lame. If too many animals are limping, the farm fails the audit and that's it. The only way the farm can pass the next audit is to fix whatever it is that's making their animals lame...." (p. 267)

Grandin's audit involves only 5 easy measurements (with clear standards for acceptability) and 5 abuse behaviors that confer automatic failure.

"The plants love it, *because they can do it*. The audit is totally based on things an auditor can directly observe that have objective outcomes. A steer either moos during handling or he does not.

Another important feature of my audit: people can remember two sets of five items. That level of detail is what normal working memory is built to hold on to." (p. 268)

Grandin then discusses why she thinks that highly verbal people tend to construct elaborate audit processes that fail to improve the conditions they are intended to control. Her ideas here are worth following up.

How to apply Grandin's ideas to settings other than the slaughterhouse? A manager must deeply understand the entire process s/he is trying to manage, in order to develop a relevant set of critical control points. Once you have a good audit system, you don't need to micromanage in order to have control. Audit scores measure output, not input. You reward any creative idea that improves the scores.

Of course, getting YOUR set of critical control points is the hard part!

BTW, Grandin is a wonderful example of the benefits of diversity in your workforce. Her considerable handicaps are her advantage for seeing what we do not.

Bernhard Kast

@1: stress is a situation, where you want to be at another place than you are right now. (roughly taken from Eckhart Tolle) Thus stress prevents someone entering a flow state, where high challenge meets high skill...
we are also not compassionate, if we are in a hurry or pre-occupied as Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) points out in the first minutes of this presentation:

@3: kinda interesting sounds like a typical command & control structure. The answer would be (theoretically?) "leadership" like in the form that is expressed by Marvin Bower's (McKinsey) "The Will to Lead".

thx for the inspiration, just got some news ideas and association

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