‘We are managing in chaos…our competition never knows what we are going to come up with next. The fact is neither do we.’ This a quote from the 1996 UK Innovation Lecture given by William Coyne who was VP for Research at 3M at the time. I used it a couple of months ago at a technical conference, where I was invited to be a panel member for discussion on innovation. This state of chaos from which innovation arises is characteristic of ‘organic’ organizations that lack formal job definitions, encourage lateral interactions and greater responsibility for individuals. Conversely, innovation is stifled in ‘mechanistic’ organizations that are characterized by specialisms, powerful functional roles, vertical management interactions, a command hierarchy and a complex organizational chart.
So, I suggested that innovation can be stimulated by removing or loosening organizational and intellectual constraints. The latter means allowing people to think differently and not hiring people who look or think like you. Of course, this is not easy – it requires a subtle balance of sustainable orderliness! However, as a member of the audience remarked ‘innovative organizations have fun!’. And maybe this gets to the heart of the issue, too much order leads to boring predictability while too much disorder is scary but the right level of disorder or entropy is exciting and stimulates creativity.