Time for anatomy: the hard- & soft- tissue of an organization…

If you frequently read about management- & strategy- fundamentals, you’re probably very familiar with certain common terminology – vision, mission, goals, strategy, objectives, processes…

On the other hand, if you’re into human dynamics & development, you’re probably more in tune with another set of terminology – values, culture, behaviors, competencies, skills, people…

While most would agree these two “families” are certainly not in opposition, I find that many become somewhat hamstrung when trying to relate them. Should they even be related?… are they apples and oranges (completely different)?….or maybe just apples of different color or flavor (somewhat the same, but expressed differently)?

I think the answer is “neither!”… and propose to use a different metaphor – the hard- and soft- tissue of the body.

The hard tissue is all the structural “stuff” (skeleton) we typically think of in the “strategy family,” while the soft tissue (nerves & organs) is all the “stuff ” we would typically put in the “human dynamics” family.

So, beyond the metaphor, how do these two “tissues” of an organization’s body line up? Let me propose a very simple framework:

Hard & Soft Tissue

Clearly, just as in our bodies, it’s not a question of either or, it must be BOTH AND. Neither can exist in isolation or in parallel worlds, their interconnection has to be understood and intentionally managed in order to ensure optimum health and high-performance.

As a teaser, my next post will deal with exactly the above point and answer the question: “so what”? I’ll explore some tangible interconnections, similarities and differences that will hopefully make it come to life in an impactful way.

In the meantime I’d love to hear from you…Does the metaphor make sense to you?…does it provide a useful lens to reconcile concepts and see the alignment between them?…have you already thought of “vital” interconnections applications?

Need ideas? Open your eyes to see the “super-NORMAL”…

The following is an extract of a book I recently read called Change by Design, written by Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO, one of the foremost design firms in the world). The central theme is: “how design-thinking can be used to unlock creativity and innovation.” I especially appreciate how Brown boils down “design-thinking” to simple “how-to-level” concepts. “Open your Eyes” is one of these that makes design-thinking accessible to all of us.
“We spend most of our lives not noticing important things. The more familiar we are with a situation, the more we take for granted, which is why it usually takes a visiting relative to get us to visit Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge, or spend a weekend in the Wine Country. (Tim Brown lives in CA)
My friend Tom Kelley (co-founder of IDEO) likes to point out that “Innovation begins with an Eye,” but I’d like to take this one step further. Good design thinkers observe. Great design thinkers observe the ordinary.
Make it a rule that at least once a day you will stop and think about an ordinary situation. Take a second look at some action or artifact that you would look at only once (or not at all) as if you were a police detective at a crime scene. Why are manhole covers round? Why is my teenager heading off to school dressed like that? How do I know how far back I should stand from the person in front of me in line? What would it be like to be color-blind?
If we immerse ourselves in what Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison have recently called ‘the Super-Normal,’ we can gain uncanny insights into the unwritten rules that guide us through life.”

Picture: www.dannygugger.com

Where’s your trash pile?

In a recent study featured by Harvard Business Review a manager was cited who routinely asked his employees the above question in their performance evaluation. Those who had trash heaps of “good efforts gone awry” were rewarded and encouraged to continue to have courage to forge ahead. Those who didn’t (aka “small trash piles”) were admonished to aim higher, push harder and take more initiative and risk.tumblr_inline_nuo9bzxitv1rajhbn_400

What’s the rationale behind such a “reckless” question? Isn’t it better to “manage by objective” and handout trophies for spectacular performance?

Let’s cut to the chase…if you want to raise a workforce that’s safe, slow, incremental and perfectionist – YES; if you want a learning and innovative organization that takes risk…and yes, sometimes fails spectacularly…BUT reaches far beyond the current paradigm – NO.

Why? Just think of the chef’s kitchen – vegetable peelings, pots, pans, dishes…or the artist’s studio with pictures, sketches, drawings, crumpled papers…

An old German saying captures it well: “wherever you cut wood, you’ll find sawdust.” In other words “trash” (aka failure) will happen whenever serious work is being done. It means new things are being tested, risk is being taken, learning is happening.

Here’s the bottom line – there’s no great performance and no breakthrough unless there’s trial & error, risk & failure (if so, it’s being hidden). Every failure is a step closer to success. If you don’t have a good-sized trash heap you’re not stretching far enough.

So as we’re just coming out of the “January review- & objective setting- season,” I challenge you to have courage to ask the “trash pile question.” Ask yourself…your spouse…your children… your subordinates. Help them recover from the shock of the question by breaking through the existing “performance paradigm paralysis” and framing the “trash heap” positively.

What‘s being learned? What should we try next? How could it lead to the next iteration of progress?…what if it ends up in the trash heap again?…some of it will – guaranteed!…but, so what! – we’ll try hard, learn, keep moving, one failure closer to success – GO for it!

Picture: theramtimetimes