I read two articles this weekend that I found interesting.
The first was a blog post by Ben Horowitz.
I found this to be very germane to large companies attempting to innovate and transform.
To quote one paragraph of the blog:
Big companies have plenty of great ideas, but they do not innovate because they need a whole hierarchy of people to agree that a new idea is good in order to pursue it. If one smart person figures out something wrong with an idea–often to show off or to consolidate power–that’s usually enough to kill it. This leads to a Can’t Do Culture.
Contrast this with another paragraph from the blog:
The trouble with innovation is that truly innovative ideas often look like bad ideas at the time. That’s why they are innovative – until now, nobody ever figured out that they were good ideas. Creative big companies like Amazon and Google tend to be run by their innovators. Larry Page will unilaterally fund a good idea that looks like a bad idea and dismiss the reasons why it can’t be done. In this way, he creates a Can Do Culture.
When innovation is obviously working, it is much harder for the “can’t do” to suppress the “can do.” In many large companies, it is the other way around. Before innovation is obviously working, it is easy to question and criticize. Without counterbalancing forces and a willingness to take risks, new ideas often get killed before they have a chance to succeed.
The second article concerns Zappos. They are changing some of their management practices to eliminate traditional titles and hierarchy with a goal of preventing the company from becoming too bureaucratic as it grows.
The article acknowledges that this is a difficult system to grasp. Yet, it is actually pretty simple. It’s just different from the organizational model of the 20th century that most people are accustomed to.
Let me explain: An easy misinterpretation is that there are no leaders and everybody just does what they want. Who makes decisions? In reality, there are always people who are stronger leaders than others. What this change does for Zappos is to make clear to each individual what they are responsible for. It also makes clear to others what each individual is responsible for. In that way, it makes cooperation more natural and more focused on the important work that needs to be done. By making each “unit of work” (a term I use to describe a project or a business problem) explicit, it clarifies ownership and decision making responsibility.
Changes like this may be hard to understand and they may not work. Yet, unleashing the power of people and developing more leaders, what I call leaders leading leaders, is a 21st century idea worthy of consideration, experimentation and implementation.