How American is organization design?

I had lunch with someone today who contended that American companies are far too interested in quick fixes to have any wish to think systematically and sytemically about making their enterprises more effective. Her US clients all want the presenting problem solved with as little discussion and as much speed as possible regardless of the consequences. Her view is that Europeans are likely to be more interested in looking for the underlying causes of presenting symptoms. This may explain why my courses last week in the UK were both full and I am having an uphill battle in the US to get people here interested. At least it's one possible explanation.

Active steps to address trends

McKinsey published in March 2008 a survey reporting on how companies act on global trends. What's interesting is that whilst recognizing the importance of a trend, for example 'faster pace of technology' or 'increasing availability of knowledge' they are not, in fact, acting on that recognition (as least as far as the survey responses show). Why not? Well the survey suggests that they don't know how to, and/or lack the skills and resources. A reason not stated, which I am inclined to think is more likely but may not have been one of the survey questions, is that leadership teams don't spend enough time together thinking and talking about trends and how they could/should collectively respond to them. Their may be scenario planning exercises but these are not the same as trend spotting. The same week their was a two-part report released 'Trends Shaping Tomorrow's World' I wonder how many leaders have read this and how many are thinking how to act?

The Visitor

Yesterday I went to see a film "The Visitor" – the story of a deportation. I saw it as a whole play on cultures: Gen Y v Baby Boomer, cultural attitudes to skin color, national cultures (American, Syrian, Sengegalese), organizational cultures – academic, detention center, street drummer, ethnic market, musical preference in cultures: 4 beats for western classical, 3 beats for African drums. In its richness and interwoven-ness the film visually demonstrated the complexity of culture in a way that no 'cultural audit' could possibly expose.

Back from the Organization Design Forum Conference

Going to a conference where everyone is an expert in the same topic is both useful and odd. Useful because I always learn something – a new tool, an interesting approach, and a different spin on the known. It's odd because it's a small world of people speaking a special language which seems to boundaryline their world in a way that excludes the value of diversity. Suppose a truck driver came to the conference – what would he/she get from it? What would organization design experts get from the truck driver? Does professional expertise lose opportunities by being exclusive?

Corporate Design for the 21st Century

From the Tellus Institute and Corporation 20/20 comes this fascinating report:

"Corporate Design: A new report that challenges conventional views regarding the purpose and structure of corporations, and proposes "corporate design" as a new framework for shaping 21st century business". Download it from


Sports Basement

There's a retail outlet called Sports Basement close by that's housed in what was previously a supermarket. What's fun is that the space has not been refurbished and all the supermarket signage remains. When I asked an assistant where I could find the running kit she replied 'It's over in Dairy'. The ski stuff is in Produce and so on. I like the idea that things can work well in unexpected circumstances. Maybe we're too quick to rip out and refurbish. There's probably value in new wine in old bottles as it were. Sports Basement is doing very well with it's distinctive culture and partnership structure. "Lots of places have rules about how stores are supposed to look, and scripts saying what employees are supposed to tell customers," said Tom Phillips, 40, a boyhood pal of Prosnitz, who brought sports, English and construction acumen to his status as a founding partner. "We want our people to use their brains on the floor, show some entrepreneurial spirit. We have very experienced artists and craft people working for us. It never stays flat. Our stores change around every week".

It's a good organization design that's working.

Book list for business models and stakeholders

The CCA Design and Strategy MBA is getting ready to go. It's a new program starting September at the CCA and I'm teaching the Business Models and Stakeholders module. Last week I was asked what books I would like the library to buy (not textbooks). Here's the list as it currently stands:

Bhagwati, Jagdish. (2007). In Defense of Globalization. Oxford University Press

Egan, Gerard. (1994). Working the Shadow Side. Jossey Bass

Freedman, Edward, R. et al. (2007). Managing for Stakeholders: Survival, Reputation, and Success. Yale University Press

Ghemawat, Pankaj. (2007). Redefining Global Strategy: Crossing Borders in a World Where Differences Still Matter. Harvard Business Press

Heskett, J. (2005). A Very Short Introduction to Design. Oxford University Press

Klein, G. (1999). Sources of Power. MIT Press

Meyerson, Debra, E. (2003). Tempered Radicals: How Everyday Leaders Inspire Change at Work

Morgan, Gareth. (1996). Images of Organization. Sage Publication.

Nadler, D. et al (2005). Building Better Boards: A Blueprint for Effective Governance. Jossey Bass

Phillips, R. (2003). Stakeholder Theory and Organizational Ethics. Berrett-Koehler

Pink, Daniel, H. (2005). A Whole New Mind. The Berkeley Publishing Group

Seely-Brown, J. and Duguid, P. (2002). The Social Life of Information. Harvard Business School Press

Senge, Peter, M. et al. (1999). The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations. Currency

Stanford, N. (2005). Organization Design the Collaborative Approach. Elsevier

Stanford, N. (2007). The Economist Guide to Organisation Design. Profile Books

Tennent, J. and Friend, G. (2005). The Economist Guide to Business Modelling. Profile Books

Weick, Karl, E. (2000). Making Sense of the Organization. Wiley