#172 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 8
Discovery: Ways to
Sustain Inventive Organizations
Ms. Janov is
founder of Jill Janov Associates ((415) 821-3277), a consulting
firm specializing in systemic approaches to the design of work
processes, roles, relationships, structures and strategies.
She is author of The
Inventive Organization: Hope
& Daring at Work (Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco,
1994), from which this article was adapted.
This article is
about inventive organizations, what constitutes them, and what
sustains them. Specifically,
it focuses on stimulating processes of discovery about what we
have and how we can use what we have in our collective endeavors.
Types of OrganizationsóFixed, Adaptive and Inventive
Perhaps the best
way to define an inventive organization is to
compare and contrast it with fixed and adaptive organizations. A fixed organization is focused on the technology that
created its greatness and on enhancing that which initially
captured its market share. It
continues to operate on the basis of assumptions that gave rise to
its initial success. It
seeks to maintain its greatness by doing more of what made it
great to begin with. Because
its focus is inward, itís not attuned to changes in its external
operating environment. The
organization is fixed because itís caught in a syndrome of
staring at its own belly button.
organization is reactive. In
its drive to rapidly adapt to changes in its operating
environment, it doesnít take the time to determine the
underlying patterns of change within the environment.
Nor does it take the time to illuminate its own underlying
assumptions about the impact of those changes.
Reactions usually take the form of continuous tinkering
with the organizationís structure and processes in an effort to
compete with those who are more successful in the marketplace.
This often results in the simultaneous undertaking of
multiple improvement initiatives, the outcomes of which include a
loss of focus and/or misalignment between strategy, structure,
espoused values, and operating practices.
The adaptive organization is chaotic.
In its efforts to adapt, it traps itself by trying to
imitate rather than innovate and ultimately becomes caught in a
knee-jerk, reactive syndrome.
organization is focused on creating a future that utilizes the
organizationís past learnings and incorporates the aspirations
and requirements of its constituents--customers, stakeholders,
suppliers, and employees. Inventive
organizations create the playing field.
Theyíre capable of producing and pacing continuous
improvement and developing core competence--the know-how and
know-what that are the real wealth of any enterprise or
organization is one with enhanced capacities to imagine and
capable of more than meeting customer requirements.
An inventive organization is one that:
continuously questions the assumptions that gave rise to
surprises and delights customers in service and product,
warranty, and function;
knows what causes customers to choose one product or
service over another;
focuses on how something is used, and not simply what it
was designed to do;
leads change through a well thought-out strategy thatís
aligned with organizational structure, policies, and practices;
knows when and how to obsolete its existing product or
service advantages without alienating customers;
learns how it learns;
encourages and rewards experimentation; and,
chases dreams instead of the competition.
Inventive Is and Isnít
To be inventive,
we must use whatís known to nurture, rather than inhibit what
can be imagined. To
be inventive means we preserve and perpetuate those
assets--those ways of being and doing--that create organizational
strength while we grow by daring to be what weíve
not been before. Invention
requires that we look within ourselves and our organizations--with
a focus on all employees; that we look beyond ourselves and our
organizations--to our customers, suppliers, financiers, society,
the environment; that we look back and look forward
is a process we can undertake as individuals as well as in our
collective endeavors. When
we do it well, we act courageously to create what we can and to
preserve what we need--and we know the difference between the two.
Processes of Discovery
organizations create the playing field by thinking about how they
think. They seek to
uncover the underlying assumptions that frame choices and lead to
they are focused on stimulating processes of discovery.
Such processes of discovery enable us to get out of the box
of our current thinking, to discover how we discover, and to
illuminate the filters that constrain what we perceive and
of discovery are supported by guidelines and stimulated by
guidelines in stimulating processes of discovery include:
learning to ask "why not?" versus
growing ideas versus taking a position;
seeking to broaden the inquiry;
being open to versus attached to outcomes;
asking "what would happen if we didnít make this
inquiring "what we would do if we werenít
constricted by a certain assumption?";
treating something we believe is true as a myth.
that provoke thinking anew include:
What are we here to do?
What do we want to achieve?
What do we want this organization to stand for?
Stimulate Thinking About Answering Meta Questions:
Who are the customers;
what do they want; what use do they make of the product/service;
what causes them to choose; how do we know this; how do we know we
work/competencies are required to meet or exceed customer
agreement binds us; how do we want to relate to our customers,
our work associates, and the means by which we produce?
Why are we doing
this; on whom do we depend; who depends on us; what are the series
of relationships that constitute our organization?
is required to support responsibility; whatís required
for each of us to be accountable--to see ourselves as the
source of the product or service, the source of the organization?
are we living with; who else needs to be involved; what needs
to touch what to achieve the outcomes we seek?
processes of discovery that sustain inventive organizations, we
must start with the belief that we already have what we need, and
that our challenge is to use what we already have.
Itís not a question of which organization is inventive
and which isnít, but which has the courage to use what it has.
Believing we have what we need is more than an act of
faith. Itís an act
of optimism, of hope. Using
what we have requires not only stimulating processes of discovery,
but acts of courage, of daring.
philosopher, Seneca said, ďIt is not because things are
difficult that we do not dare.
It is because we do not dare that things are difficult.Ē
To stimulate processes of discovery that sustain inventive
organizations, we need both hope and daring.