Structure, Creativity, and Error: The Foundations of the Minding Organization
Hierarchies and Network
Organizations come into being with creativity and innovation, sparked by a network of people who have shared sense of purpose. They self-organize with no rules or procedures codified in a manual. There is neither a manual, nor is there any organizational hierarchy; everything is loose, evolving, and in a state of flux. As the young organization grows and learns from experience what worked and what did not work, it begins to codify and institutionalize rules and procedures to guide people to do in the future what worked in the past. With this comes the assignment of authority, responsibility, and status to enforce the rules. This is the beginning of hierarchical structure. Entrepreneurial conduct is displaced by bureaucratic structures, which stifles creativity. Now, people have to bend the rules or go around the rules to find a network of supporters, collaborators, and champions of ideas, who are in many different places in the hierarchy. A process of evoking new networks begins to take place. Authority, responsibility, status, and compensation are not the criteria for centrality or key positions in the network. A key position might be held by the person who makes the appointment for the chief financial officer. By being linked to such a key person, you might get the timely appointment that opens the door to engaging a champion to support your new idea.
The informal network in the organization can promote change or stifle it; it can augment or disrupt the structure that the hierarchy is attempting to create. Hierarchies are formal, explicit, rigid, guided by rules of ma manual, and bound by authority. Hierarchies are like trains moving on fixed tracks, making stops based on predetermined plans. Networks are informal, implicit, flexible, guided by rules of thumb, and bound by mutual trust. Networks are like taxis cruising the city, moving randomly through surface streets and making stop that are most unplanned.
Networks are more prevalent early, in the creative and innovative stags of a new undertaking, whereas hierarchies are more prevalent and useful when ideas are to be implemented in the market place. A thriving, growing, renewing organization is one that learns to operate on the edge of chaos. Such an organization learns to maintain the delicate shifting balance between hierarchies and networks, the deliberately planned and the emerging, surprising, unplanned responses to a world marked by chaos and uncertainty
Organization, by their very nature, require structure, order, and rules to function. This is contrary to the environment necessary to tap into human creativity. Chaos, flexibility, and looser framework are the requisite characteristics for developing fresh ideas and novel plans. Unconventional ideas cannot be fostered in conventional organizations that are dominated by excessive structure. There is, then, a need for a new balance within organizations, which will nurture the creative thinking necessary for the organization’s survival, together with a framework that can respond to the more mundane, daily needs of the organization, which depend on structure an order.
Organizations must find a way to oscillate between chaos and order, a process that fosters creative thinking. Just as excessive order can stifle creativity, excessive chaos have its own pitfalls. Without closure to ideas, without a structure that can deliver a finished product, creative ideas float without direction. At some stage, the product must reach a customer who will have little or no knowledge about the creative process that fostered the development of the product but who will know when and where they want the product delivered. This aspect of organization demands structure and order, a bureaucracy that is responsible for the skeletal working of the organization.
Essentially then, we have two extremes: excessive structure, which stifles creativity, and excessive chaos, which may produce individual creativity but never produce the goods. This dichotomy results in mental creative tension most strongly felt by those within the organization who want to innovate.
The Pac-Man Story
There are four Pac-Men. Are they an organization? They certainly do not look like they are coordinating their efforts toward any common goal. They look more like a random collection of Pac-Men
Here, they are closer together, but they all seem to have their backs to one another and do not look they are on speaking terms. If someone were to walk into this type of organization, what would they think? Is this an organization with which you want to do business?
The Pac-Men are now aligned at least, and we can discern structure, but they are all doing exactly the same thing. How much added value does each Pac-Man contribute to the whole? Does this seem like an interesting stat-of-the-art organization? Does this structure create a vital, thriving organization?
Per the picture below, What figure immediately jumps to the forefront? The Pac-Men appears to form a square. The amazing aspect of their coordinated effort is the creation of a new entity, which in reality does not even exist – if you cover the Pac-Men with your hands, there will be no square. We see lines connecting the Pac-Men, despite the fact that there are no lines on the paper. The image is so forceful that the square appears to be brighter than the surrounding context, when in fact, even this is not so. What we perceive with respect to the square exists solely in our brains, and it is the result of our tremendous perceptual capabilities. Imagine yourself as the customer coming into this organization. The organization has created a structure that causes you to perceive a square. Thus, their efforts are toward your perceptions, and perceptions are the force of the future.
The appearance of the square depends on the effort of each individual Pac-Man; each must coordinate its effort with the two adjacent Pac-Men. The Pac-Men are able to create squares of various sizes; essentially, they can create custom-sized squares to fit the demand of individual customers, but they can only do so if they work as a team. Likewise, there are limits and constraints on their productivity. If they move too far away from each other, the image of a square will disappear from sigh. The structure of the team is critical determinant of the success in this organization. We see, therefore, that the choice of internal structure determines the type of creative ideas the organization is able to produce. The structure must be flexible enough to maximize the contribution of each individual within the organization.
With computer technologies taking over information processing and logical operations, the human brain must now move forward and upward by going back to what we humans do best perceive acutely. Our powers of perception, our ability to enrich the potential meaning of information channeled through out senses, applying greater depth and breadth to the way we look and see, hear and listen, allows us to improve the quality and quantity of our ideas, thoughts and actions.
One of the most fertile grounds for developing alternative perceptions is conversation. The word conversation contains the root of the word for opposite, converse. It comes from the Latin for turning around together. This is the essence of a conversation. Opposite views are articulated, and in the process, new insights are gained. To truly benefit from a conversation, we must enter the process with a readiness to listen and comprehend the perceptions of others, to understand the frame of reference regardless of how remote these are from our perceptions. To comprehend another point of view does not mean to accept it as superior to one’s own point of view. Mature, clear thinking is taking the time to give a new perception a chance to be tested.
Although you may notice absolutely none of theses things, all are within everyone’s line of vision, but are not within everyone’s frame of reference.
What We Look For and What We See
The more flexible and rich our repertoire of ways of looking, the more fertile is the domain of what we see, and the more stimulated is our thinking. Flexibility and richness in how we look can reduce the potential for errors of omission and errors of commission that attend a fixed way of looking with a rigid perception. A rigid perception acts as a filter. The filter rejects that which does not fit the model and accepts only that which does fit.
Strategies to Enhance Creativity in Organizations
Creativity thrives on diversity. Teams, working on projects requiring creativity, should comprise individuals panning a wide range of diverse interests, specialties, cultures, and talents. The more diverse the group, the richer and wider-ranging will be the conversations, and the more fertile the field for yielding creative ideas. Studies have shown that diverse groups take longer to get started, but they end up with much higher levels of creative and innovative ideas than homogeneous groups. Homogeneous groups are more potent, effective, and quick to implement ideas and plans requiring habitual thinking. Heterogeneous, diverse groups are more powerful with the unplanned issues that require spontaneous thinking. These findings provide a strategy for organizations to create or plan an environment for both homogeneous and heterogeneous networks to emerge.
Embrace early on the full spectrum of opposites on the scales of issues, attributes, and measurement. For example, view positive and negative aspects of an issue. Consider a competitor as a potential ally, and consider an ally as a potential competitor. Consider a compliment whenever you have a reprimand in mind; perhaps you will use both. Opposites, conflicts, dichotomies, and paradoxes kept simultaneously in mind tend to trigger ideas that break out of the bondage of old contexts and create surprisingly new ideas. By embracing opposite, the familiar is made strange and the strange is becomes familiar.
Sharing Knowledge: The Global Organization Network
Becoming a part of such a network helps member organizations achieve the following
- Leverage wisdom, knowledge, and skills
- Leverage corporate resources, both human and financial
- Provide early detection and awareness of trends
- Promote self-renewal on a timely basis
- Form business alliances and partnerships
- Provide an unbiased arena to experiment with new ideas
- Visit the future
The Hebrew word for sin is derived from the root of a word that means “missing the target.” If to sin is to miss the target, then to err is no more than target practice before the real contest takes place. Errors and mistakes are, indeed, target practice and continued experimentation in the quest for improvement. To learn from errors is imperative if we are committed to continued learning. Experience is not only to know what will work in a particular situation, but also to know what will not work. Errors provide the most profound opportunity to foster an environment of total amnesty, in which trust and mutual respect drive out the fear of mistakes and permit quick experimentation with ideas in which all involved continue to learn.
Learning is a function of trail and error. To err comes from the Latin, errare, meaning to wander off course, not in the wrong direction, but in a different direction from the anticipated path. In the process of erring, phenomenal discoveries may be unearthed. WIsdom is the collection of experiences that teaches us not only what will work, but also what will not work. A healthy attitude toward error is a lucrative asset that creates a mind open to new opportunities. An error is a gap between what was anticipated and what actually resulted. The gap can be negative, so that the results are less than what was anticipated. The gap can just be easily positive, so that the results are more than what was anticipated. Either way, the difference must be thought through to maximize benefits by learning from what went wrong as well as what went right.
One way to foster a healthy attitude toward error is to treat failures the same way we treat success. We ought to celebrate failures! Our Western culture is partially responsible for the way most of us treat errors as a negative forces to be ignored or challenged.
This is not an attitude of “feel good, set no standards.” Some educators today feel that self-esteem is more important than learning; thus, they do not create challenges, to avoid failures. The attitude we are advocating is to embrace failures willingly and learn form them, and turning unanticipated outcomes into opportunities.
Children need to make their own mistakes to achieve maturity; an organization should also be allowed to learn from its own mistakes. Just as the child must try and err to establish an identity, so must an organization challenge itself an learn from resulting gaps to identify itself. Every single person associated with the organization must be given the responsibility for learning. This is tantamount to declaring that every single person in an organization must be given the responsibility to be right but also the authority to be wrong.
Error, then, must be articulated, comprehended, related to past experience, and made part of the organization’s memory. People learn more when something goes wrong than when everything goes right. If there is one way to do something right, there are hundreds of ways to do it wrong. Refusing to recognize that errors are important to articulate is the single most damaging error one can make.
Errors as Organizational Strategy
The attitude toward errors and the articulation of errors are central elements in the creative process. Creative people handle errors in a way that enhances the creative process. Most people performing a difficult task tend to be careful, controlled, and wary of making errors. Creative people have the opposite predisposition to errors. When they are engaged in the creative process, they experiment freely through fields of possibilities that span the spectrum of scales of opposite. They look at the positive and negative aspects of an issue as different levels of manifestation of attributes. To the creative person, slavery and liberty are on the scale of freedom, with slavery representing very little of this attribute. Thus , they take chances with thoughts an ideas that almost invariably leads to errors, which means they wander off course. When errors appear, they do not result in paralyzing stress and frustration; to the contrary, they are integrated in to the creative process. Errors are articulated broadly and put into context, so that the errors can become a source of innovation.
The articulation of errors is an important strategy. The root of the word articulation stems from joint, such as a joint between limbs of the body or between the parts of speech that create sentences. An articulate speaker joins sentences together in way s that make a message coherent. The joint can both connect and separate the parts – hence, the power of articulating errors. The artist shaping a statute out of clay may squeeze and pull by error, only to be taken by surprise, and the become excited wit the emerging creation when random wanderings off the intended course is articulated and made part of the creation. A slip of the hands of the sculptor, the brush of the painter, or the error in the scientific laboratory, when articulated , can be joined and incorporated to innovate and invent. Error should become a strategic posture of the minding organization.