Structure is only one element of organization design

Today I got embroiled in a recurring conversation. One where my colleagues equate 'organization design' with 'structure' i.e. in most cases what is depicted on an organization chart. The message of all my writing and thinking is that 'structure' is only one element of an organization design. A well designed organization is th conscious harmonization of all the elements to produce the desired performance outcome. In my experience focusing on just one element rarely has the desired outcome effect.

Schipol Airport

Schipol Airport has a very effective design of its security screening. Travelers are asked to show their boarding passes and ID as they enter the airside area of the terminal – a very swift checking procedure.

When they reach the gate for their flight departure they are security screened there. Each gate has its own screen equipment and screeners. The line moves quickly and no-one is in danger of missing the flight because they are being screened as they line up to board.

Experiencing this approach recently it seemed a significantly more effective design than the one used at all other airports I've been to where the security screening is part of the process of getting into the airside area.


The people at the happy hour drink on Friday started discussing Facebook. What was fascinating was that the group of Millenials: those born between 1980 and 2000 (who all have a Facebook presence) were talking about the differences in the way they interact with it compared with the way their younger siblings do.

Among other things, they use it to find out more about people they are interviewing for potential positions within our company, and are relatively circumspect about what they post about themselves.

It’s time I conquered my fear of Facebook and signed on/up/in. At a fund raising party I went to this evening (for one contingent of the San Francisco Carnaval) I discovered that the contingent uses Facebook for all its non face-to-face communication having set up a private community within Facebook (as I understand it – but I may be wrong on this).

I wonder how Facebook will impact the design of organizations? What value could it add if organizations embraced it rather than blocking access (as my own company did until forced to concede to the outrage).

Cultural indicators

Joining a new company means being alert to (and maybe embracing) any cultural conventions that are specific to that organisation. Over many year I have worked in companies where no-one has commented on the fact that I reply to emails without including the original (the one I am replying to) in my message. In my new company I've been asked by several people why my emails do not contain the message I am replying to. Today (four months in) I have bowed to convention (or pressure) and will start to include the original in my reply. My preference is not to do this as I like a clean page but maybe in order to fit in and get on I need to over-ride this particular preference of mine.

Design Strategy

It's interesting how design matters are percolating mainstream business thinking. Sooner than we think we'll be including discussions on the impacts of physical design in driving the business strategy – not only in terms of managing facilities costs but also in terms of reflecting organizational values, enhancing productivity, and so on.

Take a look at an MBA in Design Strategy launching later in 2008 at the California College of the Arts.

The innovative MBA in Design Strategy, which will enroll its first class of students in fall 2008, unites the studies of design, finance, and organizational management in a unique curriculum aimed at providing students with tools and strategies to address today's complex and interconnected market. The program's approach encompasses performance, strategy, innovation, and the encouragement of meaningful, sustainable social change.

Chinese NY Year Parade

Today was the day for the Chinese NY parade here in San Francisco. I noticed the San Francisco Chronicle headline this morning was that 'weather could disrupt the parade'. It was good to see a later report that 'rain can't stop the parade'. "Rats were king at the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco on Saturday night, as crowds of people turned out to celebrate the animal known for its witty, generous and cunning behavior. And rats are quick".

I was musing on the organization that goes on behind the scenes to design the 100 entries and 27 floats on the parade route. It appeared that hearing the weather forecast "Many participants have spent the last few days waterproofing their floats and costumes for the parade." I wonder if organizations have been categorized by their Chinese year characteristics? Maybe that's a topic for my next book. It seems that the parade designers took on the rat characteristics as they adapted plans to meet conditions.


Walking the labyrinth in the forecourt of Grace Cathedral was a new experience the other day. I then found the website for The Labyrinth Society ( which has the statement "The labyrinth is an archetype of transformation. Its transcendant nature knows no boundaries, crossing time and cultures with ease. The labyrinth serves as a bridge from the mundane to the divine. It serves us well." I wonder whether a good organization design could emulate good labyrinth design becoming transformational. So much is written about business transformation and so few businesses seem to transform.

Dave Allen

I've just read an article on Dave Allen torn out of Wired of October 2007. His techniques, in my view, are perfect for people who want to organise their stuff and I've adopted many of his suggestions. I was facilitating a workshop recently and one of the participants commented on the fact that I had Dave Allen's book 'Getting Things Done' in the 'Further Information' section of my book. He used Allen's techniques and found them helpful too. The article made me laugh as it says, 'This book is for those who are striving hard. "The people who take to GTD are the most organized people," Allen says, "but they self-assess as the least organized, because they are well-enough organized to know they are fucking up."

A whole new mind: why right brainers will rule the future

Daniel Pink's book "A whole new mind: why right brainers will rule the future" gives food for thought. The discussion on the six senses he thinks will become ascendant (not just in organizations) are design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. If he is right we're likely to see very differently designed organizations emerging.

Teaching the horse to talk

The story of teaching the horse to talk is one that is good to bear in mind in many situations. It runs like this.

Many years ago in a far away country a wise old teacher was in trouble with his King. The King sentenced the teacher to death, but listened to the teacher's appeal.

The teacher pleaded for the King to give him five years in which to teach the King's horse to talk. The King liked to own unusual things and a talking horse would certainly be unusual and after considerable thought said "yes".

A friend of the teacher said to the teacher "Why did you make such a rash promise? You know no one has ever taught a horse to talk." The teacher said in reply: "Sometime before the end of five years:

1. The King might change his mind and pardon me.

2. The King might forget that he sentenced me to death.

3. The King might die.

4. I might die.

5. I might teach the horse to talk.

In any event, I gain five years."