Messing the managers

I came across this pair of items that talk about a familiar topic.  Innovation and management are difficult to connect.  Innovation is inherently messy and requires openness, freedom, fluidity.  Management (traditionally) seeks structure and control.

Jim McGee wrote about it in response to commentary from Clay Shirky and suggests there is a balance between the messiness of innovation and the the right amount of control in management. 

What Clay is calling attention to is the value to be found in encouraging the fundamental messiness and disorder of invention and discovery. Unfortunately, managers generally don’t become managers because they are fond of disorder. Even managers who have long ago abandoned the caricatures of command and control models are likely to find guiding this kind of innovation a source of discomfort. But it is discomfort that is essential to encouraging the sort of retail level innovation made possible in the technology environment that is emerging.

In the same sitting, I read Mary Abraham's Control Freaks Need Not Apply about social media work and the general culture that has built up around the use of these tools within business.  Essentially,

If you’re a control freak, you might want to think twice about a career in social media.  After all,  some of the most successful social networks have flourished precisely because the control freaks got out of the way and, in their own words, let the lunatics run the asylum.

Of course, as both Jim and Mary suggest, all is not lost.  Management needs to "get out of the way," but there is still plenty of facilitation and direction to be provided.  Having a completely open field can be just as problematic as attempting to put everyone on the same single-track path.

6 Comment(s)

Brett Author Profile Page said:

It's all too easy to take an extreme approach (complete C2 or complete anarchy), finding a good middle ground is a real challenge.

Of course, once you find the right middle ground the trick is understand when you need to dip into one of those extremes to help keep things moving in the right preferred direction.

All things in moderation (including moderation itself).

I think that the problem is that different situations and work require different methods of facilitation (or "management", if you will). Working with people who are disciplinary like software developers or electrical engineers is very different from working with a group of investment bankers, even before the later were shown to be bankrupt. You have to know what you are managing for to create the right type and level of context. Not managing tightly (which does not mean "micro-managing") leads to less innovation on the shopfloor.

The level of type of discretion in work has to be defined. There is no single best way of managing or leading. Middle ways are wrong, too. You have to use the right tool for the situation at hand.

The problem is that many people who would seem to be disciplinary (e.g., developers) are actually just organizational workers. They don't really participate in the discipline.

And then there's people like lawyers and doctors who are by their essence unmanageable, but will consent to being led by one of their own.

Mary Abraham Author Profile Page said:

Jack -

You and the other commentators have identified a key challenge of management: calibrating the level of managerial control correctly to bring out the best in your team. While I certainly would not advocate anarchy,I do think that when it comes to social media tools, we should be careful about imposing unnecessarily our views (read prejudices) on the use of the tools. As long as we've properly identified the true risks and planned for those, we should give our teams plenty of scope to be creative. The folks on the front lines often see needs and responses that don't filter up to the managers, and it is precisely that front line experience that can help shape the tools into something truly useful.

- Mary

ian wooler Author Profile Page said:

I am reminded of the view that 'organisations are organisms'; they are difficult to control and need to be nudged toward goals and objectives. Nudging, in this context, means creating an environment where innovation and management (order) are two sides of the same coin. The role of management (and knowledge management) is to create this environment - recognising that innovation has to come before order.


Jack Vinson Author Profile Page said:

Thanks, Ian. I'm just reading a book by Leandro Herrero that suggests this direction as well. The gist of it so far seems to be: Create / model the behaviors that relate to the kind of organization you want to see.

ian wooler Author Profile Page said:

Jack, another interesting book you may have come across is Surfing the edge of Chaos - the laws of nature and the new laws of business; by Richard T Pascale, Mark Millemann and Linda Gioja. They argue that because every business is a living system the four cornerstone principles of the life sciences are just as true for organisations as they are for species. These principles are:
- equilibrium is death
- innovation usually takes place on the edge of chaos
- self organsiation and emergence occur naturally
- organisations can only be disturbed, noted directed.


Leave a comment

Previous entry: Goldratt on forecasting

Next entry: Goldratt continues to predict upturn this year

Picture a steaming coffee cup. Better yet, grab one and have a read!

KJolt Memberships

Follow jackvinson on Twitter

View Jack Vinson's profile on LinkedIn