The quote above comes from Ed Catmull’s book Creativity Inc., a worthy
endeavour in the history of Pixar
. I find this quote remarkably eye-opening, particularly in the wake of so much management literature that always looks to highlight this or that leader as the “maker” of a company’s success. The reality is that randomness
constantly play a role in any social system. This also partially explains why executives who exceptionally performed in one context did not perform well in another.
Catmull suggests a complete decalogue
of how to build a creative culture. Still, most of the suggestions are about designing the scaffolding that allows informal processes to unfold and develop creativity.
This is the case of Serendipity
, a vital engine in creative innovation. Yet the concept of serendipity involves the idea that events happen “by chance”. So how do you design
for this to happen?
In summary, there are two elements for this to happen.
- On one side, you plan for occasions for serendipity to happen, increasing the frequency of occasional encounters with people. For example, Steve Jobs planned the Pixar head office with only one location for toilets because he wanted to have people stumble into each other occasionally. This is the organisational architecture that needs to be created.
- On the other side, you need to ensure that the individuals are “open-minded” to ensure that the power of idea generation really breaks through. This is the individual component, which, in an organisational context, is achieved through recruiting and selection, training activities, learning and so on.
All of the above looks exactly like a “Petri dish”: you create the environment in which emergent factors get vehiculated more quickly and allow growth. This is why I chose an image of bacteria because these simple unicellular beings are masters in self-organisation.
Why mixing up is dangerous?
The problem with seeing, for example, emergence and design as two opposites is that we lose sight of enormous opportunities. A lot of the issues with some companies trying to implement contemporary organisational models is that they try to do so solely from a design perspective. But autonomy and self-management, two critical factors for the success of many of these models, cannot be “imposed”. It would be best if you created a fertile ground for them to grow. So you need to Design for Emergence.
Yet on the other side, we also see how important it is to “steer” self-management experiments. Most successful self-management are born with a robust and top-down decision making leadership, at least initially, which provides the scaffolding for the model to emerge then.
I think that most of the complexity in spreading these new organisational systems lies precisely because we’re looking at them from opposing perspectives.
Intentional Design is therefore as much about creating the conditions for self-organised consistency to emerge than directly designing specific managerial systems.