Developing new knowledge on organization design: part 3

Here's the final piece on ways of developing new organization design knowledge. As I said a couple of weeks ago it's really about 'scanning, listening and looking out for bits and bobs of information that aren't a trend or a fad but could have a big impact on 'connecting the dots', or getting a completely new insight or perspective that developed new knowledge.

I mentioned one item that had caught my eye that week about Bitcoin and several others I have noted this past week that might be relevant for developing new knowledge about organization design. Here are six that struck me. (Several of them I've tweeted: @naomiorgdesign)

  1. Mindfulness research suggests that decision making processes can be improved through mindfulness training. "We found that a brief period of mindfulness meditation can encourage people to make more rational decisions by considering the information available in the present moment, while ignoring some of the other concerns that typically exacerbate the 'sunk cost bias,'" explains Hafenbrack (one of the researchers). The co-researcher added, "Our findings hold great promise for research on how mindfulness can influence emotions and behavior, and how employees can use it to feel and perform better." This could have a useful impact on organizations if it were shown as valid research that was transferable to a variety of organizational situations and could mean new knowledge gained from mindfulness research.

  2. I came across an organization called in-visio.org . It's the 'International Network for Visual Studies in Organization [that] brings together researchers, practitioners and artists exploring the visual dimensions of business, management and organizational life'. There's also a very good book on that topic, The Routledge Companion to Visual Organization with a particularly memorable chapter on the way leaders are visually portrayed e.g. in photos or paintings and what effect this has on the viewer. I think as we move towards info graphics, various other forms of visualization and things like word clouds the organizations will a) be depicted differently and b) the visual depictions will have a profound effect on their organization design (in an as yet unknown iterative process). This could mean new knowledge gained from visual depictions.

  3. Robots are having an inevitable effect on the way organizations are designed – their use in various ways e.g. on assembly lines, as service agents, to do dangerous work – is likely to increase rapidly and exponentially in the very near future. So I was interested in a piece about fleets of robots that can collaborate with each other. This use of robots means changes to human jobs (different skills needed and perhaps fewer jobs). The knowledge to be gained here is how to alert organizations that don't have robots on their radar that they certainly should as robots will affect their design. Scenario planning activity could help here.

  4. I listened to one webinar on social media as a disruptor or facilitator of organizational change. A fascinating topic as organizations struggle to get to grips with current knowledge on social media and establishing social media teams to handle its various aspects (including the legal and reputational ones). Again social media use both internal to organizations and external will have a profound effect on their design. There is a lot of new knowledge to be gained on how to use social media to good effect in design work.

  5. And another webinar from Info-Tech Research Group IT Transformation – Are You Ready? You can view a recording of the presentation here. I got some useful reminders from this on involving the right people in IT decisions, communicating carefully and making sensible decisions based on business outcomes required. IT transformations are big business right now – getting the right design for them is crucial so learning from others is one good way of developing new knowledge.

  6. Also during the week the Zappos holacracy thing kept reappearing. I started to look more closely at it and review the articles I had on holocracy and holonics. (I don't know why the Zappos consultants have changed the second 'o' to an 'a' and they haven't answered my question to them on that). Anyway I found on their website the holacracy constitution: a work of many rules that seems counter to the intention to be a self-organizing network, but judge for yourself. I loved the bureaucratic language of the document and the 31 pages of it – how long does it take to explain to people? Is it energizing or does it feel like having to read all the instructions before you can put together your new gizmo? The new knowledge to be gained here is from seeing an organization taking an apparently bold and innovative step and tracking what happens as it proceeds using what seems to be a cumbersome approach..

The scanning, listening and looking out for information can almost be a full time job in itself. It involves seeing what people are saying on Linked In communities, reading other people's tweets, following up on snippets in email newsletters, scanning through various journals and updates I get, paying attention to the requests to complete a survey, attend a conference, take a webinar and so on. I guess I spend at least two hours a day on this type of activity. The next step is to consider what it means. What makes something stand out or stick in my mind in relation to organization design and then to consider what its impact might be on organization design knowledge?

In answer to my own question I seem to be focusing on things which change the way interactions take place:

  • between people
  • between people and objects/processes/systems
  • between people and currently held assumptions about the way things happen.

These three aspects I find fascinating and note that they are not three independent threads but interactive. Take the notion of vertical farming. Apparently it is 'taking off as an efficient way to grow food close to people who will eat it'. That means a series of interactions will change here are some that might happen:

Between people: People will start talking about the merits/demerits of soil-free hydroponic systems. No doubt there'll be all kinds of conflicting research on the nutritional value of soil or water based plant growth. Then there'll be discussions on replacing 'real' farming with this type of farming, there may be more on loss of 'real' farmers' livelihoods, etc. The conversations around vertical farming will start changing the way organizations are designed e.g. some may include vertical farms to feed their workforce, others may only buy food from vertical farmers (or from 'real farmers'). Then there are the discussions on the designs of vertical farm organizations themselves …

Between people and objects/processes/systems: People in organizations that purchase food supplies might have to change their supply chain processes and systems, their quality indexes, their labeling, their procurement. They might start heralding the virtues that they feed their workforce/customers on 'zero food miles' – a potential reputational benefit for huge campus style organizations like hospitals, universities, or Google. (Or not, if the tide turns against vertical farming).

Between people and currently held assumptions about the way things happen: We've seen the debates around genetically modified foods. Will hydroponic vertical farming be similarly debated? Vertical farming requires different individual and organizational skills from traditional soil based farming. Who will decide to be a vertical farmer? What universities or MOOCs will start skilling up vertical farmers? What will happen to traditional farmers? Can we change our assumptions about farming?

So just in this one example there are multiple ways of thinking that it could develop new knowledge about organization design. If you don't currently know anything about vertical farming do you think you should (if you are an organization designer). Why? Why not? And what about the other topics I mentioned? What bits and bobs are you collecting that you think will lead to new knowledge on organization design? Let me know.

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