The Social Life of Information

At long last I'm reading The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. It's been out for several years now (since 2000) but is packed with nuggets of good sense and sharp observation on the interactions, and lack of them, between information, knowledge, technology and social fabric. Some of the standouts I highlighted. 'Work is rarely well understood', 'You can't redesign process effectively if you don't understand practice', 'all organizations have to balance routine and improvisation. It was written pre Facebook's huge growth and I wonder whether the authors would have (or will) write on that type of phenomenon. Take a look at John Seely Brown's website.

Business models and designers

I'm starting to think about the curriculum for the 'Business Models and Stakeholders' course that I'm going to lead on the new CCA Design Strategy MBA. My module does not run until spring 2009 so there's planning time available. I'm thinking of having one session on the business models architectural firms use. On the basis that they are also designers. Philips might be another good business model to look at as they have a whole strategy around design of their products. It would be interesting to see if design, and design related companies have distinctive business models, and whether they approach their stakeholders in an identifiable way that's different from non-design oriented organizations.

Pancreatic cancer

It's an odd series of coincidences that yesterday I spoke with a friend, Emily, whose beloved singing teacher aged 80 died earlier this week of pancreatic cancer. Emily's response to this is to plan take up singing again – a passion that she's let lie fallow for several years. I then turned on a video someone had sent me on Randy Rausch and discovered that he too has pancreatic cancer, and is living life to the fullest while he can. Just now, I got an email from another friend which told me her aunt has pancreatic cancer. Paula's now with her aunt arranging medical care in a situation where. "There are NO skilled beds at any price in the town where she lives". Out of curiosity I looked on the web to find out if the incidence of pancreatic cancer is increasing and came across the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and lo and behold, March 9 – 11 is pancreatic cancer advocacy weekend.

The stretch to an organization design slant on this might be a bit much but certainly there's a connection between having a change thrust upon one and doing something positive (with a resilient, resourceful, and adaptive mindset) to make the best of the situation.

Organizations that develop these types of cultural attributes are front runners e.g. Philips, IBM, GE.

Making change stick

At a client dinner last week someone asked me how he could 'make change stick'. I gave him a few answers like making sure all the organization elements were aligned and supporting the change, and that there were carrots and sticks in place. Then I started to think more about the question. Now it seems a tautology. Change cannot stick because it is changing. If change 'sticks' then it's not change. I think what he meant was how can he make sure that the organization doesn't revert to a previous state (though it wouldn't be exactly the same). I guess my more thought through answer would be by designing the organization so that change doesn't stick. To design in characteristics that keep it constantly alert, responsive, and adaptable – much more of the organic design approach than the mechanistic systems approach.

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.