Steve Jobs of Apple understood the creative potential when employees are able to engage with each other. When he took on Pixar, he acquired a discarded warehouse for their office. The initial idea was to have separate sections for the specialised divisions. But Jobs decided to put them together in one large hall with a central atrium serving as a gathering place. It was not just about creating a space, he wanted to encourage people to go there. Since his challenge was to get the different cultures to work together and collaborate, he regarded separate offices as a design problem. So he shifted the mailboxes to the atrium, moved the meeting rooms, the cafeteria, the coffee bar, and a gift shop to the centre of the building.
Whilst to some this seemed like a waste of space, Jobs realised that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. That’s about unlocking potential.
People against technology
Now, as the world transitions into the fourth industrial revolution with artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and bio-synthetics, the age of traditional top-down macro-strategies for bringing about organisational change is over. Often, even before the ink has dried on the grand piece of strategic planning, further developments in technology, changing business and market conditions, new legislation and environmental change has already altered the playing field. As Kees van der Heijden stresses in ‘The Art of Strategic Conversation’ the shift now is from ‘strategic’ planning to on-going ‘strategic thinking’. The emphasis is on the on-going ‘conversation’. That’s what Steve Jobs was wanting.
At a conference on complexity science in Southampton in 2010, Eve Mitleton-Kelly from the London School of Economics offered an approach to dealing with dynamic situations. She stressed the importance of identifying the multidimensionality of any complex problem space. The question is: Who are the key players, what are the different variables, and how do you prepare for what author Nassim Taleb calls the ‘black swans’? These are surprising and unforeseen disruptive events. She emphasised the importance of creating an enabling environment. The next question is: How do you establish the conditions in which all key players with their different agendas, can participate in addressing the factors that affect them? Then she encouraged engaging in the field of possibility. The final question is: How do you creatively unlock the potential that is latent in any dynamic system? Steve Jobs created such an enabling environment.
People and self-organisation
Ed Olsen, co-author of, ‘Facilitating Organization Change’ offered complexity theory insights to assist change agents; especially focusing on the inadequacy of the macro-strategic level of the organisational system. The most powerful change processes occur at the micro level where relationships and interactions shape emerging patterns. This clearly points to the powerful feature of ‘coherence’ where, as Olsen puts it, the idea of spontaneous creativity of a jazz band applies. Just as the live performance mixes complex interactions between the individual musicians, their instruments and the audience, so too creativity and efficiency emerge in an organisation. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/examining-freedom-creativity-foundation-holism-claudius-van-wyk/
The importance of unlocking this latent capacity cannot be overemphasized. As automation increasingly takes on routine function, including quality control and performance management, the role of management will inevitably transform. It shifts to enabling innovation, generating a quality experience, and managing relationships. And that’s where employee potential becomes paramount.