New Thoughtpiece: How and Why do Organisations Suppress Insight and Innovation?

Why do organisations seem to impose frictions on insights and ideas in ways that as individuals we find stupid and bureaucratic? Why do organisations fail to exploit the smarts and common sense of their people? In this paper, written for a Masterclass on Insight and Storytelling with Gary Klein and Shawn Callahan, I explore the idea that social collectives have cognitive behaviours that sit above our individual cognitive awareness, and that have strong and often unperceived influences on how we behave and feel.

Read or download the article here (pdf)

4 Comments so far

Stephen Bounds

Hi Patrick,

You’ve done it again — a riveting article.  I’m absolutely fascinated by this space.  Actually, I think that if KM is to ever achieve mainstream acceptance, it will be by making progress in this field of collective cognition and action.

I have just one niggling area of discomfort and I suspect I’ll struggle to explain it clearly. 

Both Rogers and Douglas appears to focus on collectives I would describe as ‘societies’ or ‘cultures’.  By this I mean that all members of the collective hold intrinsic value in belonging to the underlying group.  Someone who did not value the existence of the collective would be seen as a traitor or fake and quickly expelled.

On the other hand, many companies are full of people who are at best ambivalent about the actual collective they form part of.  Of course, the “value” is made explicit in the form of wages, but increasingly this is turning into a parasitic phenomena — ie “How much money can I extract with a minimum of effort or commitment?”

Most damagingly this can be exhibited by CEOs, but in many smaller ways worker bee staff can do the same thing.

So I suppose my question would be:  Do these individuals still participate in the social “grammar” or should they be treated more as foreign agents which can lead to a pathological diagnosis of the “natural” state of the collective?

Posted on September 01, 2011 at 08:24 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

A great comment - my own nagging discomfort is that I have not thoroughly enough explored the differences between open collectives (such as communities and cities) and closed collectives (such as companies). I think they have common grammars to the extent that the same people inhabit both. But companies have different “rules” from eg cities, and need to. I think cities (in the form of markets) “programme” companies to fail, in the same way that cells and organisms are “programmed” by evolution to die - this is the most effective way to innovate quickly. I am sure this has an effect on the behaviour patterns in corporate cultures, but I am not sure how.

But I think the main point was that it doesn’t actually matter what the individual motivations are. At the collective level, predictable patterns emerge independently of who’s filling the slots. Individuals can comply or not comply with what the culture suggests to them, but even in non compliance we are adopting and leveraging pre-evolved patterns of behaviour prepsred for us by the collective - “there is nothing new under the sun”. All we can do, is strive to discern the nature of the patterns and repertoires available to us, so that we can exploit them to our (ideally collective) advantage.

At least that’s where my thinking is currently taking me.

Posted on September 01, 2011 at 08:38 PM | Comment permalink

Matt Moore

Patrick. Thanks for putting this up. It’s going to take me a while to digest it. A few thoughts:

- The contrast between cities and companies is an interesting one. BTW it makes me think of this:

- The witchcraft section is fascinating but feels like a lengthy, scenic detour.

- “To become managers, very often (depending of course on the function they serve), people have to display leadership and idea-chasing behaviours
characteristic of Early Adopters.”

I’m not so sure about this. At the middle management layer in large organisations especially, I think that Early/Late Majority behaviours tend to be rewarded with managerial promotions. Being an Early Adopter can be a risky business (and it makes me think of the idea practitioners in Davenport & Prusak’s “What’s the big idea?").

Posted on September 11, 2011 at 06:08 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Thanks for these thoughtful first reactions Matt… I’ve ordered DeLanda’s book, it looks fascinating (the publisher’s blurb was an impenetrable turnoff, but the reviewers - and your recommendation - saved it for me).

You’re right, the witchcraft section could be pruned.

We have a little survey instrument that we use in change management workshops based on the Rogers typology… and managers attending change management workshops typically came up Early Adopter. I think that’s where my assumption came from, but you’re right, it needs checking against a proper representative sample.

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 04:09 PM | Comment permalink

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