Creative Organizations…Are Rarely Tidy (with thanks to John Gardner)

“The 21st century is not for tidy minds!”

Boy, I’d like to claim ownership of this crucial observation. But alas, the credit goes to Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, the globe’s biggest ad agency. Sir Martin goes on to say, “The messier it is the better!” Yet, we’ve grown up to understand tidiness is good, messiness is bad. (NOTE: Just don’t look at my desk!) So just like our parents urging us to tidy our room and tuck in our shirt, we spend our time tightly honing our strategy; adroitly allocating resources; and pursuing really, really clear job descriptions for everybody. It just seems like the right thing to be doing…making it all tidier, less messy.

However if you’re so predisposed…here are three rather intentional and timely ways to untidy things—even create some messiness in the organization.

Reach beyond the organizational boundaries and initiate genuine collaborations that will challenge you and your organization to cede some of your authority, share real responsibilities for outcomes with others, and truly commit to shared success or failure. As Frans Johansson showed us in The Medici Effect, in the intersection of different fields, disciplines and cultures, there’s an abundance of extraordinary new ideas to be explored. If however, your organization, going it alone, is working just fine for you, please ignore this data.

Facilitate real work—of real consequence—across internal functions in ways that challenge everyone to reconsider their position in light of organizational outcomes. Two decades worth of research as documented in The International Journal of Management Review (IJMR) indicates that cross functional teams lead to some pretty critical successes like increased ability to handle complexity, increased speed in making key decisions, and enhanced organization wide creativity and learning. Not bad! If however, the silos, led by folks with really clear job descriptions are working just fine for you, please ignore this data.

Intensify innovation efforts in ways that challenge your most firmly held assumptions, and put at risk the outcomes you’re getting through current practice. The Australian Innovation System Report: 2011 just published by the Australian Government’s Department of Innovation, Science and Research, documents that innovative businesses far surpass non-innovative businesses in total income, profitability, productivity, and the range of goods and services offered. Again, not bad! If, however, you’re satisfied with current outcomes, please ignore this data.

So, three provocations for moving from tidy to messy. And for each, an easy way out—if the comfort of the tidy is simply more attractive than the discomfort with the messiness.

Whew, now with this done, I can finally tidy my desk!

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2 thoughts on “Creative Organizations…Are Rarely Tidy (with thanks to John Gardner)

  1. John McCann September 23, 2012 at 1:38 pm Reply

    Indeed, and beyond this translation and linking up of our narratives you identify…this kind of work requires courage…courage to advance from the comfort of what we know into the vast unknown of what we might learn

  2. elinorslomba September 22, 2012 at 11:31 am Reply

    Great advice and inspiration! Reaching beyond organizational boundaries often requires a lot of translation work – linking up discourses and creating cognitive maps across domains. Collaborations can only move forward with shared understandings.

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