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Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Financial TImes ran a story about IT and the financial industry (‘IT to fore the financial sector’s growth path’, Sept 20, 2011).

We need financial markets and IT is indispensable in the market. For the IT industry their marriage with the financial industry is made in heaven. From the perspective of the financial sector it often is also a troublesome marriage. But it is a marriage nevertheless and had brought many good things. And bad, depending on your position in the financial universe.

And the article was in line with this view, so nothing really new under the sun. What stroke me, where two remarks: ‘technology, rather than people will be at the forefront of that battle’ and ‘(IT) will make it possible to squeeze the maximum out of the most important clients’. In my view two elements of frightening and utter ugliness.

OK, there is a notion that people sometimes tend to be irrational creatures, technology does have that trait. But people are capable (for a very long time) to make fair judgements. The question is what we really need in times of crisis.  And because of that engrained ability to judge, there might be people (also in the financial world) that could imagine that being an important customer, you might not particularly like to be squeezed out, and certainly not to the maximum.

Elements of ugliness, such as these two, creep in what at a first glance seems a reasonable story. And (quasi logical) elements such as these still too often dominate the management thinking and design of an organisation. I am an optimist believing that beauty will win in the end, despite the reality of an abundance existence of ugliness. And that optimism strengthens the necessity to see, notice and uncover ugliness.

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Real diamonds?

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El Bulli, the famous restaurant of Adrian Ferran closed last month, for good. At nearly the same time, the film El Bulli,cooking in progress was released. Mr Ferran worked six months in winter to research and develop new dishes and his restaurant was only open during  the summer months. The film is a very interesting account of what happened in the 2008/2009 season. A hard working staff that in no way wants to let down the hyper critical chef who is sparse with his words. A great story and in sober style of filming, that is both very direct and convincing.

It is a wonderful account of the legend of El Bulli and its chef. And at the same time, it is impossible to grab the real meaning of Adrian Ferran, because you can’t taste the intriguing food. Only few people were lucky enough to get a seating in this Spanish culinary hot spot and experience the taste, texture and looks of the often complex food.

Seeing the film made me aware again that writing about the elements of beauty, can only be at its best, a good documentary. Only the experience of a beautiful organisation, is the proof of the pudding. All other things, although important, neatly told and instructive, are not the real experience.

Management book give many great examples of great companies, but one can never grabs what the experience of the company is, how it feels to work there, in the organisation. We remain the watchers of the film, who can be completely caught by the magic of the story and the people in the film, but can not experience the real thing.

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Realising new experiences through clever design of organisation is always be at the heart of my work. The film reinforced the idea  to let hein duijnstee evolve into Stordes, a multi-branche European company for strategic organisation design, that provides these experience not only for customers, but also for the people who work at Stordes.

In organisations the word ‘product’ permeates through all thinking and talking. All the things organisation do for the outside world and sometime also for internal transfers, is increasingly called products. It makes costing, listing, selling, storing, categorizing, counting, assigning, managing easier.

And that is great, because a product is a great carrier of the value an organisation creates. Cars, smartphones, clothes, milk, petrol, all products that carry value. The difficulty starts when the tangible goods are enhanced with services or the value is a  service. And it even gets more problematic when there is in essence nothing else then a kind of intangible  legal obligation, such as financial services.

In such cases the value of the organisation provides relates only to the interaction, to what you experience as a customer. And managing that value in terms of a product may seem logical and smart, but it forgoes the real quality of the customer value. Giving a performance (e.g. cutting hair, playing music), creating a dialogue (e.g. advertising) and setting the stage (e.g. retail), engaging in real relationships between real people (e.g legal advise)  requires a different approach than just the management of the making and distribution of products. And by abandoning the word product, people in the service industry create the mental space to come up with new and appropriate design for their organisation and can the frequent mix-up of production and product be avoided.

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Is this a product?

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Organisations do not exist in a vacuum. Organisations always exist in their environment and distinguish themselves from the environment.Without a perimeter there is no organisation. Without a boundary, an organisation merge into the environment and stops to exist. Organisations exist because of a border between what is the organisation and what is not.

The reality of the organisational border becomes, in various dimensions, less obvious. The border gets less recognisable. Organisation in a business environment see more and more outsourcing, must tap into new sources of specialisation and make part of disrupted value chains and innovative product catagories. Exchanges between people are becoming faster, more diverse, mobile and ubiquitously accessible, making structures of exchange less geographically and socially determined.

Thinking about an organisation and shaping its form, is thinking about the border. The perimeter touches the essence of an organisation. And although the internal structure, interaction and dynamic is of great importance, the border defines the organisation in its existence. And that border – the shape, the transparency, the permeability, the surface,  the color – defines what the organisation is in the real world and thus provides a sense of the purpose of the organisation.

And the border with its increased complexity and its meaning of the existence of the organisation, makes it a source for innovation in designing and building organisations. Not only in the very practical sense of image, customer relationship, communication and internal organisation, but also in a strategic and conceptual way.

For myself one of the great sources for inspiration when in comes to borders and their meaning, is the work of the Italian artist Guiseppe Penone. His relentless inquiry in the meaning of border and the way he materialises this thought, is unique and both of a very mindful and magically intriguing creativity.

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Ideas and intention need to be clear in design. Big needs to be big, small needs to be small, thin needs to be thin, red needs to be red and bold needs to be bold. Good designers make sure that what needs to be conveyed, is conveyed. Without doubt, without hesitation. Very clearly and very precise.

For organisation there is that same challenge. Make clear what the message, what the organizing principle  is. Make sure that choices are not masked by unclear forms. Make your point. Too often the many considerations behind a choice, shine through in a compromised form. Of course emphasis is most effective in the scale of the context and few characteristic have an absolute dimension, most benefit from a relative scale. Never the less there is no room for doubt.

The choices in organisation design are as manyfold as in other design questions. And maybe even more than in the exactness of tangibility, the design of organizations benefits form clear choices. A lean organisation is lean in any aspect, not just in a few. A knowledge based organisation, should care for the brain always, everywhere. Customer service is customer service not inhibited by  short term monetary gains. Trust is not helped by control how useful it may seem, so trust and accept all the consequences, even of deceit.

Going big, small or red doesn’t mean you solely go big, small or red. Beautiful organizations are mostly characterized by more than one clear form. There is definitely room and often a need for more than one overriding characteristic. Big Red or  Long Thin. But too many and too vague attributes lead to mediocracy in form.

And there is a advantage in not holding back in the favorable: the better and more recognaisbale the big (or small) things, the more one is tended to tolerate the negative consequences of that choice. So give the organisation its dimensions without any doubt and it adds to its beauty.

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Red, very red indeed.

 

 

 

The world of organisation design is traditionally dominated by well defined elements that leave as little room for interpretation as possible. Clear processes, stringent pay and benefit regulations, extensive contract, detailed service level agreements, stringer budget cycles are the obvious exapmles. But  also the rigidity of customer focus groups and the absoluteness of business cases are mostly hard-lined.

The real world  is  full of ambiguity, full of qualitative and less exact measure. And in a lot of cases we can live rather well with vaguely defined objectives. People may understand them even better than the hard rules. Sketches are often even more  illustrative then the detailed design. Charcoal and soft pencil draw a different picture then computer aided design programs.

Designers know the value of the sketch in soft lines. It is undoubtedly helpful in a process of creative thinking. It provides freedom.

For the design of products, the sketch needs at a certain point become a very precise and exact design in order to enable the production. But other results of sketching and designing do not require that same hardness. A painting, a film script, a musical score  benefit from a lack of exactness and hard details in the end result. The soft lines of the end product leave room for valuable interpretation. The experience of the work leaves room for a personal touch.

And this double quality of the soft line can be applied to organizations,  both in the design proces of an organisation and as in the realized elements of an organisation. And although some exactness might be needed, leaving space for inspiring interpretation add to the beauty of an organisation.

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