Monthly Archives: August 2011

Have a look at the advertisements  in an international business magazine: it’s all about success, luxury and comfort. Read through management literature and the aim of management seems to be: seamless cooperation, unlimited possibilities, smooth leadership.  Sugar sweet images of an easy to chew and enjoyable corporate life . Business leaders are portrayed as fighting hero’s, but there always is that sweet victory at the end of the corporate battle.

But is this oh so comfortable picture, the most interesting, the most rewarding, the most challenging and satisfying, the most insightful, the most beautiful?

Is there another picture, one of the edge of comfort? On the border of what we don’t like, where we are confronted with what is contrary to our (good) taste and believes, where we are physically and mentally not so comfortable anymore.

In art, on the edge is more or less the norm. Great art asks the questions we do not want to ask, confronts us with the our preferences. That is fine (for some), as long as it is outside our organisational thinking.

Are there elements of organisational design, that puts people on the edge? Allowing confronting visions, stimulating new perspective, new dialogues? Not as an end in itself, but as a kind of inevitable way to ask other questions and find new answers. As a way forward to strengthen the basics of organizations and create true beauty.

I find this edge an interesting thought. In organisation design, it is mostly uncharted territory and where that edge is and what form it has, remain to be discovered.  It certainly requires excellent helmsmanship to avoid a destructive ride into the abyss, and bring unforeseen possibilities.




A not so comfortable statue by Maurizio Cattelan  called ‘Him’


When it comes to beauty tangible objects have an edge. The beauty is crafted in material. Once the objects is designed and made, it is and hopefully remains  beautiful. Clothes, iPads, cars, tables, chairs, building, lamps, cups, shoes, all these objects have dimensions, surface and material that are fixed, they stay the same. The elegance of cleverness with which the purpose and usage (and often image) is shaped into material is in the end what convey the beauty. That beauty is static. The same counts for tangible objects of art. They have little practical use and their form is totally subject to the meaning. The only purpose of the object is to carry and communicate the meaning. Once it is made, it holds its shape for years. The appreciation and interpretation may change over the years, their physical form stays the same.

Organisation are fluid, dynamic, in a way artificial and little tangible. Their beauty is dependent on the behaviour of the people who make up the organisation. An organisation is more an abstract object. It is the sum of all elements of structure and interaction of human beings that transmit the idea and the experience of the organisation and hence its beauty.

So crafting a beautiful organisation is, because of its intangible character, complex and difficult. But there also is a characteristic that gives organisations an edge when it comes to beauty. Organisation can evolve. A work of art may survive all the trends and tastes during many centuries, but its form remain as it is. Organisation can change, adopt, improve and in doing so remain very relevant.

Organisation can change themselves, they can look at their own shape and redo it. Organisation can learn. It is not only about the particular shape they take at a specific moment in time, but also about how they change and reshape themselves over time.  Organisations have dynamic beauty. Take for example teamwork. Good teamwork can provide satisfaction, a sense of belonging and value through the division of labour. But the composition of teams may change. The environment in which the team operates will certainly change. And the beauty may be in its current shape, but it surly also can be  in its ability to adjust to new circumstances. Double loop beauty, not only the beauty of the current form, but the beauty of looking at its own performance and improve it, the beauty for a changing and unknown future.  Teams with that ability to long last, I call deep teams. And deep team have a beauty that certainly have a unique edge over all more physical objects of beauty.




This work of art will not change. Organisation can change.

Richard talked a lot with his co-workers about his wish to have a rare breed cow for his small farm where he lived. And one saturday morning, a truck arrived at his farm delivering that special cow. As a surprise, from his manager, because Richard pulled off an exceptionally difficult project.  A special, non-monetary recognition.

Clara, an office clerk, loved great food, but couldn’t afford the pleasures of a three Michelin star meal. After a year of hard work and many extra hours, her managers offered her, as a token of appreciation, to have diner in a great (and expensive) restaurant of her dreams, together with her husband. All costs were taken care off, including the taxi and the babysitter. And her manager encouraged her not to hold back when choosing the  fine wines.

Two real life examples of a rewards that were not in the employee benefits guidelines of the companies Richard and Clara worked for. The initiative of managers who grabbed the space provided by the managers’ discretion policies, was key.

Trusting manager’s en teamleader’s insight and judgement and allowing room to act as they see fit, is an interesting alternative to organisation red-tape, with its standards and procedures that only deliver non-disctinct, dull outcomes for recognition. The bureaucracy of strict and detailed policies and guide-lines may be predictable and seemingly fair, but the chances for true and personal appreciation are rather small.

A policy of  manager’s discretion (or teams’s discretion) combined with an encouragement to use it (creatively), is a small thing that can work wonders. And not only for recognition of exemplary work. Such an element of organisation design proofs not only to be worthwhile for the employee, it provides also a lot of fun for the manager when he or she succesfully acts at the discretion provided (or taken).

Beauty is not in the standardisation of behaviour, but in the room for initiative and creativity.




A nice bonus.

There is a kind of common understanding that strategy and organisation are connected.  The organisation and the strategy should be aligned, although which of the two is leading, remains open for discussion.

But there is be an interesting element of organisational beauty: the n0-strategy, organisation-only approach.

Strategy as a business tool is rooted in two elements of business that have dominated management thinking up to now: capital and products. Products (from cars to ipods and from medicines to petrol) traditionally cary the value of an offering. The development, production and marketing of thess tangible products requires extensive planning en coordination. Much capital is needed to produce and sell these products and to gain access to that capital, good business plans and strategies for success are required. Hence the position of strategy in business.

But the relative importance of products and capital is becoming smaller. Knowledge and interaction become more crucial in realising valuable customer experiences. A larger share of our disposable income  is spend on goods and services that are tangible and capital scarce and knowledge and interaction rich.

Success in this space requires new thinking because top-down strategy might hinder the required human interaction and creativity. People that produces these kind of value need room for wondering, experiments and personal judgement, not capital biased strategies and pre-thought of scripts of behaviour.

A new, contemporary strategy is the ex post result of an dynamic sum of all the intensions and creativity of the people working together. New business management (management may be the wrong word) is how to create that sum.  It is an organisation centered approach. The capital and product centered approach of deducting individual action from the strategic total is becoming less effective.

Deliberately shunting ex ante strategy as an instrument in what is important in creating contemporary organisations might be scary, but could open new space for ideas on how to build really meaningful organisations.




This guy might become less important in organisational thinking:


Carl von Clausewitz, the famous proponent of strategic thinking.