David Sibbet | Inventing the Future of Management: Initial Insights
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Inventing the Future of Management: Initial Insights

Inventing the Future of Management: Initial InsightsI have a little distance on the amazing gathering that I facilitated recently with Gary Hamel and his MLab team called “Invent the Future of Management.” McKinsey, the strategy consulting firm, co-sponsored the event along with the London Business School, and MLab, Gary’s new non-profit venture focused on catalyzing collaboration and contribution to the field which has been his life— leadership and management of organizations, businesses in particular.

He gathered 30 leaders in management development, education, consulting, and the CEOs of Whole Foods, Gore, Ideo, Google, and HCL (one of the fastest growing IT companies in India.) His gathering question was, “Why can’t we bring as much innovation, adaptation, and engagement to our organizations as we do to our development of products and technologies?”

Inventing the Future of Management: Initial InsightsThe Grove was involved at the suggestion of Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, who experienced my work at TED this year during a luncheon talk where I visualized his presentation on a large mural. As we walked out of the hotel at the end of the session on Friday, Gary said, “involving you folks was one of the best choices we made!” Kristen Schaefer and I, The Grove team at the event, were very, very pleased. This meeting was NOT easy, but all the work paid off!!

So I’d like to share some of the fruits of this gathering, from both a process and content perspective. Gary is encouraging everyone to write and blog about the event, and will be posting material on the new MLab website at some point. In the meantime I’m finding some themes ringing like a bell clapper in my imagination – seasoned with 30 years of experience listening to all kinds of people thinking about the future and being personally interested at this particular time in history. So as a first post I’d like to just share some of the story ideas that might be explored later, framing the themes in the form they appeared in the gathering – as questions.

1. Are we at a momentous turning point in history?

Inventing the Future of Management: Initial InsightsGary Hamel framed the meeting as a time when the old management paradigm is long in the tooth and no longer viable given the forces at work in our times. He identified several that I had mapped up in a chart of core premises that was posted high on the wall in the session. The chart showed a tradition “S” curve arcing up and over from the early periods of Taylorism, through Hawthorne, McGregor, Sloan and other pioneers. “Are we at an inflection where another management revolution is needed?” Gary asked the group. There is no question that hyper-competition, globalization, the web, next gen workers and accelerating change seem to be changing the game, but is this all historic?

Some 80% of the attendees thought so, if only because of the revolution of the Internet and how it changing business models. There were those who saw the credit crisis, globalization and retiring boomers alone as imminent threats to the current order. But some, like Henry Mintzberg, a professor an McGill University and author of many provocative books on strategy and organization, did not agree. He did not see momentous change happening but people and organizations acting much as they always have, with power and control issues abundant. He did not see a new management model emerging, but tried and true practices continuing.
I thought it was interesting that the evidence for big change pointed outside organizations, for the most part. That was until the management maverick panel started.

2. Why aren’t the innovations that are happening catching on?

Much of our first morning was spent listening to five CEO’s talk about their “disruptive” business models. John Mackey from Whole Foods, Vineet Nayar from HTL, Terry Kelly from W.L.Gore, Tim Brown from IDEO, and Jeffrey Hollander of Seventh Generation each talked for about 20 minutes, focusing on what was distinctive about their companies. They all had different models, but were similar in that all have departed radically from the command and control norm for large, successful operations. None of these people carry themselves like imperial CEOs. And none of them went to business schools! They live and breath the culture of their companies from the inside out, nary a game player in the group.

We were rocked by their inventiveness. John Mackey talked about Whole Foods’ focus on deeper purpose and core values, and the manager’s role being to empower his self-managed teams and see that they are happy and well trained. Vineet Nayar shared about posting all 55,000 employees 360degree feedback scores on their intranet, in a culture that overtly puts employees first and is very open about what is going on. “Transparency creates trust,” Nayar said. Terri Kelly from Gore shared a similar culture focus, within a strongly technical culture. Their belief in the individual, the power of small teams, being in the same boat, and taking a long term view have generated such practices as calving off any group that grows larger than 200, insisting on leaders who live the culture, and practicing freedom in a box.

It would take a book to share all the gems and conversation. But what stuck is the extent to which—in each case— committed, trusting leaders were willing to experiment and adapt and change in the interests of their people. While I’m sure each of these organizations has a shadow, as any entity does, there was a lot of hopeful light generated out of this maverick session.

When considering why these ideas aren’t spreading, we were back wondering about the influence of context, intention, timing, virtuous cycles, and other things. It’s clear than most of the organizations we consultants work for aren’t led by leaders with the kind of integrity, passion and inventiveness we were seeing in the five Gary picked for this meeting. They are organizations glazed over with history and procedures, best practices from earlier times, and tons of inertia. How can these organizations change or will they Gary kept asking?

3. What challenges might we take on?

In the design of this two-day conference Gary focused on the idea of identifying our 21st Century “moon shots” that in management might parallel the engineering challenges that galvanized a generation of inventors and technologists in the 20th Century. Small groups of mixed teams of five tackled this question in the afternoon.

Inventing the Future of Management: Initial InsightsHere are the challenges they emerged with:

1.    Holographic information systems

2.    Creating “bungee” chords for people who need change

3.    Creating more “liquid” organizations

4.    Collapsing the distance between center and periphery

5.    Changing models of how leaders lead

6.    Breaking up into smaller groups and teams

7.    Rethinking how people are measured and rewarded.

8.    Systematizing collective decision making

9.    Recalibrating ownership incentives

10. Making transparency a feature not a “bug”

11. Replicating enthusiasm and alignment of the best social movements

12. Continuous and instant feedback and transparency of true markets

13. Making organizations as immersive and interesting as computer games

14. Shifting the balance of power; measure something other than R.O.I. for investors

15. Harnessing cognitive surplus

16. Creating emergent, creative, adaptive organizations

17. Finding what it will take to create cultures of innovation

18. Determining how to balance all THREE sectors—private, public and social/

19. How to get around short-term ownership orientation?

20. How to develop purposes beyond shareholder maximization.

At the end of this reporting back, the group had an unsettled feeling that they hadn’t really come up with much new. These ideas have been around for a long time, and many have been tried and proven before.

Something was missing. Several people tried to put their intellectual finger on it. Shoshana Zuboff, a professor at the Harvard Business School and author of books on industrial cluster theory and social support networks said, “This seems less interesting than when people this morning spoke as individuals. We haven’t been together enough to even get our baseline vocabularies understood. The engineers list (which included the literal moons hot) would change the world.”

This catalyzed some to wonder why they hadn’t brought up equity and justice, an enormous problem, or the global warming crisis, or the role of diffuse networks. What about globalization, taxation, intellectual property?

4. Is Goggle a new model. Really?

Eric Schmidt talked at dinner, interviewed by Gary. Google, the company of “self-selected smart people” goes out of its way to say it doesn’t believe in management, and in fun calls itself the “Borg.” Every decision is debated. The founders and Eric review all hires. People are empowered. They ship and iterate in a transparent information environment. When pressed to say what part of his role and Google might translate, he said “my role as CEO is to be the person who knows 1). what is the real nature of our business and how do we actually make money and 2). that 97% of our revenue comes from text ads and we love it!”

While appreciating that his style was not the imperial CEO style, and he was quite open and accessible, many commented afterward that he sounded pretty traditional when it came right down to the bottom line.

5. Is this group a mirror of what’s to come?

Native American’s have a concept that people are a “smoky mirror,” in that our responses to each other are reflections, and we can see ourselves in others, but it isn’t clear and precise. I began to get more and more interested in the smoky mirror of this group as time went on.

Inventing the Future of Management: Initial InsightsSeveral people pushed back on the format of assigned topics and relatively short breakouts. Others challenged the metaphor. Everyone was completely engaged and turned onto the rich exchange. As Gary and his staff and Kristen and I huddled late in the evening to think through day two, I began to get fascinated with the idea of practicing what the mavericks were preaching, and letting the group self organize around their true centers of interest. This would teach us a lot. I explained the possibility of having an Open Space session in the morning, inviting the participants to generate the next round of small groups, and I volunteered to facilitate its organization. Gary had heard of the approach, and through this was a good idea.

So after a wonderfully rich reflections session first thing that Gary led, he turned the group over to me and we generated some topics. I was very interested in what they proposed, for this to me was a true harbinger of what is moving in the field. If this group of completely successful, established people are entertaining these ideas, then they probably are true shifts.

1st. Conscious Capitalism: Purpose, Stakeholder Orientation and the Energy of Engagement

2nd. Creating the Conditions of Self Organization: How can organizations mirror living systems

3rd. Maximizing the Potential of the Organization: Creating and Architecture around clarity of purpose, guiding principles, role of leadership, how work gets done, knowledge transfer and reward systems

4th. Creating True Internal Markets: Applying prediction networks, resource auctions, etc.

5th. How Can We Use the Psychological Principles of Multi-Player On-Line Games as a Setting or All Work?

John Mackey gathered nine people around the 1st topic, and a specific conference on this subject that he is organizing. Terri Kelly of Gore was at the heart of the second group, creating a systems view of organization. John Malone of MIT headed up the 4th group looking at very technical ways market theory could be applied to internal organizations, using the power of the Internet and other mechanisms. Another group, inspired by the work of the Santa Fe Institute and complexity theorists, looking at how living systems can inform organization design, took a look at self organizing systems. Leighton Read, a successful biotech investor, headed a games group that actually invented a game.

The output of these groups deserves more attention than I can give here, but at a top level, I was fascinated that there was so much emphasis on networking, self-organization, and purpose–centered organization. These are all hallmarks of living systems. I found in this smoky mirror evidence that we are indeed moving to a whole system, ecological paradigm, albeit slowly. Interestingly the younger players were the most articulate in this regard.

6. What is the role of immersive visualization?

Inventing the Future of Management: Initial InsightsIn my role as graphic facilitator I was completely absorbed in the challenge of reflecting this group’s thinking back at itself. I couldn’t help but have many thoughts about how visualization will play in the future of organizations. I realized after the fact that we had used the entire keyboard of possible display formats in this event.

1st. Posters: We had a logo, high up on the agenda—a focal icon, and directional posters and quotes

2nd. Lists: Is there an easier way to do an agenda? For flowing through information, it is the format to use.

3rd. Clusters: Our “Passion and Provocations” introduction was a big popcorn diagram or cluster map—no connections, just clouds for ideas and sparkles for passions.

4th. Grids; Our first small group template was a grid of question, and my recording of the Management Mavericks was basically a grid across the front of the room

5th. Diagrams: All the groups that talked about seeing organizations as whole systems were drawing diagrams. It’s the core language of systems thinking, and may be what we mean by systems thinking at some level.

6th. Drawings: The Core Premises chart high over everyone on the wall was a drawing of the familiar “S” curve, with a globe, as was the action plan at the end.

7th. Mandala: The way Whole Foods and Gore and Ideo talked about their companies it was clear they think of them as unified around central purposes, and that was the way I drew them. Participants created circles too to show how to think about parts and wholes together.


Inventing the Future of Management: Initial InsightsThere are lots more, but this is a good start. The MLab will be sharing what happened in MUCH more detail. I’ll make sure I link to their work. In the meantime I’m feeling more optimistic about this profession of organization development and its role. I didn’t expect this group of people at the peak of their careers to be on the edge of invention—but they are as bright and experienced a group as I’ve seen focusing on this topic, and they are aware of the signals.

It is a time of change. Historic? Maybe. Important? Absolutely. Stay tuned.

  • Ago Cluytens
    December 13, 2008

    Aside from the urgency of the topic the session addressed, I feel your post also delivers great insight into the process of how the gathering went.
    Having worked in OD myself, I found your account fascinating – thanks for sharing.
    Personally, I feel much of the problems we are currently facing in our organisation arise from what I have termed “corporate doublespeak” Click here in case you’d like to know more
    The only solution is a consistent and shared desire to talk about the things that really matter, and be open and courageous in our communications.

  • Alex Osterwalder
    September 27, 2008

    David – this meeting addresses a really interesting management challenge. In a time when very few people go to work enthusiastically and motivated, we must question our current organizational forms.
    Thank you for your sketches. They are on the wall beside my desk to inspire me every day…
    Best regards from Switzerland, Alex

  • Betsy Sanders
    July 7, 2008

    Fond Greetings, David:
    Having stumbled upon this post just this morning, I have read and reread it, shared it with three leaders who shoulda/coulda been there and am letting it sift into my own pores. On the long threshhold of my own elderhood (re: your blessed vision quest sharing), it seems with this you have just stirred enough of my juices to keep me committed for at least two more lifetimes to the urgency as well as the possibility of change being practiced in and emerging from the workplace. What an experience and what richness you added. Thank you, thank you!
    With love,

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