CHAD – I know you’ve listened to the podcast some, you know I love innovation quotes, so I asked you to bring one too. What’s the quote you have for us?
JOHN – So I had to bring a different one this time, and I thought the one that fit what we were talking about the best was one that I think is attributable to Peter Skillman at IDEO. But I could be wrong. But we’ll call it Peter’s until we’re corrected. It is,
Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius.”
I think it applies to what we’ve been talking about for two reasons.
Myth of the Lone Genius
First of all, the whole notion of the lone genius being the innovator. It is true that there are lone geniuses that are innovative. But the innovation we’re talking about in organization design is not usually possible with a single individual. It’s a collaborative approach and requires a lot of diverse input for a couple of reasons. Organization design and the whole notion of architecture brings together the art and science from so many disciplines that you really have to have those people in a collaborative effort. So it’s not about being a lone genius. Nobody knows enough to do great organization design, or at least I haven’t met anybody.
Iterative Series of Experiments
The other issue is you actually can’t do good organization design in the boardroom. You can do a good hypothesis and initial design in a boardroom or in a room somewhere, but until you implement it in the organization and prototype it and implement it and test it out, you don’t really know how it’s going to work because the “thought experiments” that we do in a room are useful, but they’re often wrong. Some of the biggest mistakes and maybe this has happened to you, it’s happened to me, where, in one part of the organization they invented a new way of doing something, and it worked so well there, everybody had to do it.
The Importance of Context
So we were all forced to do it that way. Well, they forgot a little context issue, that process didn’t work the same way in the different divisions or the different functions. For us, all to do it that way was going to require some modifications to make it work. Unfortunately, management’s answer to that usually is the people need to change, not the process and so suck it up and make this work because it does work. We know it works, it works over here. So that’s the whole enlightened trial and error and being flexible and testing it and every time you change the context, you test it and allow for feedback and variation and improvement when necessary to make it work.
Good organization design is not about coming up with a brilliant design in a room, although that’s part of the process. The real work of design comes in testing it, trial and error, redesigning, retesting. And that’s a collaborative approach, so to me this quote just kind of sums it up. What Peter Skillman said and in a few words, I just took a paragraph (or two) to do.
Enjoy the journey!
Also published on Medium.