The Platform of Desire, Part 2

Desire or Rationality?

We live in an era created by science and rational thought. But the culture that we live in is not rational. It is sub-rational, almost primal, in its elevation of the expression of desire over everything else.

This elevation of desire is a two-edged promise. It on the one hand, a promise of engagement in all that life has to offer.

On the other a promise of total exhaustion, of even annihilation, if embraced without thought, direction and boundaries.  It is the power behind the passion of ambition and human connection.

Images of desire capture our attention, draw us into experiences that touch us, change us and can ultimately transform us into new persons. Our rational selves rarely do that. It is the passion of desire that makes it possibly for us to make the sacrifices to be people who create the goodness that lies dormant in the potential that we all have.

If that desire is let loose, never guided by our rational selves, then like Icarus' flight to the sun, we can crash and burn.

Desire = Love

I'm calling desire those inner drives that draw us toward what we love. Philosopher James K. A. Smith sees this love lived out in a sort of secular liturgy of worship. There are rituals that we observe because they reinforce the importance of our desires.

“…  we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities – what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are – is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate – what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hoped for, what we think the good life looks like. The vision of the good life shapes all kinds of actions and decisions and habits that we undertake, often without our thinking about it. ”

Our loves and desires are shaped by how we live in the world around us.  The social and organizational systems and structures that are the context of our life and work is a place of engagement where we either find our desires fulfilled or frustrated.  Our happiness is not so much about what we think, but how we intersect with the social and organizational places where we live and work. Smith writes,

So when I say that love defines us, I don’t mean our love for the Chicago Cubs or chocolate chip scones, but rather our desire for a way of life. This element of ultimacy … is fundamentally religious. But religion here refers primarily not to a set of beliefs or doctrines but rather to a way of life. What’s at stake is not primarily ideas but love, which functions on a different register. Our ultimate love/desire is shaped by practices, not ideas that are merely communicated to us.

Or to put it another way, our real world context is both outside of us and within us. The  connection between our desires and the physical places where we spend our days is intimate and integral to every aspect of our lives.

If you are like me, there are places you go to find restoration and perspective. For me it is the spiritual geography of wild places. Remove the technological noise and perspective returns. At these places, we reconnect with the desires that drive us toward what we love.

When I go to a place like Max Patch (below) I find myself standing on a high mountain bald with a 360 degree vista of mountain ridges.

Max Patch Edge

The vastness of this mountain scape, like that of this panorama of the Grand Tetons of Jackson Hole (below), touches me deep inside, reminding me of vastness of the opportunities that we each have each day to make a difference.

Jackson Hole Valley

The desires of my life and work resonate with the bigness of these mountains. It is why I constantly return to them, where I find balance and proportion between me as an individual and the bigness of the world in which I live and work.

Smith presents a compelling view that contemporary consumerism is set of liturgical practices that both inform and form us as people. He writes,

"Because our hearts are oriented primarily by desire, by what we love, and because those desires are shaped and molded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate, it is the rituals and practices of the mall - the liturgies of mall and market - that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world. Embedded in them is a common set of assumptions about the shape of human flourishing, which becomes an implicit telos, or goal, of our desires and actions. That is, the visions of the good life embedded in these practices become surreptitiously embedded in us through our participation in the rituals and rhythms of these institutions. These quasi-liturgies effect an education of desire, a pedagogy of the heart. ..."

What is true of the mall's impact upon us is also true of the social and organizational structures where we live and work. They are not inert, neutral, artificial places. They are living contexts which engage our desires, and where our lives take root in a real world.  These "places" affect how we develop as human beings. 

It is this deeper truth that lies behind the design development of office space between those of an open plan and the closed kind advocated by Susan Cain in her book, The Quiet.  The architecture of space in social and organizational structures affects who we are and how we perform. This is the tangible representation of the role that human desire has.

A Structure for Desire?

We don't look at the way we organize our businesses and organizations from this point of view though. We tend to see space or organizational systems as just a place where work takes place. We think of organizational structural design as primarily about creating efficiency and production. We don't think of them as a determining factor in how people connect to their inner desire for meaning and impact.Three Goals of Life-Work-CircleofImpact It is the same reason we don't see people, but rather human resources. It is the utilitarian mindset of the industrial age that cannot see what is evident when one stands outside of that context.

The effect of this mindset is to diminish our understanding of human potential, reducing it to whatever is needed for the task assigned. Consequently, any connection to human desire is lost all together.

It was James K. A. Smith who provided me the insight to see something in my work with clients that had been evident all along: three human desires that everyone has. Desires for personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships and to make a difference that matters.

What we love drives us towards these desires. And we need to structure the social and organizational systems of our lives and work to enable these desires to find fulfillment. 

In part 3 of this essay, I will look at how we can create organizational structures that enable people who work within them to find personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships, and to make a difference that matters.

The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.

Closed Collaboration

In his Introduction of his book Design-Driven Innovation, Roberto Verganti writes,Cover[1]

The process of design-driven innovation is not codified into steps. Rather, it is interwoven into relational assets with a network of key interpreters. These relationships are an engine of innovation - a core capability - that competitors can seldom replicate.

It is crucial to notice that the firms that pursue this approach do not source thousands of ideas from hordes of anonymous inventors, as touted by popular models of open innovation. Rather, they carefully search, select, and attract the most promising interpreters and work jointly with them. Collaboration is closed and not open. Not everyone is invited, and the capability to invite the right interpreters  - thereby keeping them from competitors - is what makes the difference. These firms invest in relationships. Solutions will follow.

If he is correct, in the future, we will be judged not by what we know, but a wider ranger of capabilities that enhance collaboration and relationship building.

I'm convinced that most people do not how to build relationships. They know how to network, how to be congenial in a social situation, how to go-along-to-get-along in the office, but they don't know how to build a collaborative network of relationships as he describes here. I believe people don't because it is hard and requires us to give of ourselves in ways that make us uncomfortable. And until we learn different, we are behind the innovation curve because it is the contributions of our networks that matter, not the numbers in them.

Read Roberto Verganti's comment again. This I believe is the future of successful organizations. Read his book.

Design - Translating Ideas into ...

Most of us follow trends, and most of us need to learn how to establish our own trends, so that others follow us.  In other words, each of us needs to think like designers.  Here are two new references works that provide insight into how things go from an idea into a real-life usable product.

1. In Search of the Valley DVD. Here are interviews with the early pioneers of the computer revolution.  Watch the the Woz outtakes. It takes 10 minutes. What you need to see are a couple things.  First, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs were just being creative young guys. Just following their passions. Second, that their creative work was more than self-expression, but it was a means of establishing a way to communicate with other people.  In essence, their early computer work was social art.

HT: Guy Kawasaki.

2. Designing Interactions, by Bill Moggridge. Moggridge designed the first laptop computer.  In his book, he interviews people who have designed products, like the laptop computer, for their insight into how people interact with the technology itself.  The book looks fascinating because it is about how you take an idea and turn into something useful.  I can't wait to read it.  Check out the website.

 Thanks to Robert Sutton who writes about Moggridge's book. Here's a portion of it.

This book --using interviews with many of the most influential and important people and their stories in the product design and innovation world over the past 30 years or so -- demonstrates what design thinking is and how great people do it. Read it, studying it, talk about it. I've read a lot of books on creativity and design, I've try to study it, teach it, apply it myself, but while there is a lot of good stuff out there, this is the masterpiece, the top of the pops.

If you are going to read one book on how to do creative work in the real world, this is it. The 700 images, the stories, the writing are all relentlessly beautiful and instructive.

Not only that, the process that Bill used to create the book also is an example of the design thinking and action at its best -- the process and the product demonstrate why Bill is known as one of the most skilled designers in the world (and I mean both technically and socially skilled).

What occurs to me as I look through all this is that design - the process of turning ideas into something - is not just a personal experience, but a social one as well.  Possibly the more social, the more innovative, the better able we are to "see" the insights we have.


Not All Who Wander are Lost, Yet Some Are

The other day I had an appointment in the Bank of America Tower in Charlotte. Its the tallest of the buildings seen from Grandfather Mountain 87 miles away in Avery County.

Not having ever been in the building, and never in the maze of shops that connected a number of buildings together, I was lost. Twice I went to the wrong building, even talked my way up to the 47th floor of the wrong building. I finally found my appointment, and we had a good laugh.

Signage ... no signage. In the artificial human environment of urban skyscrapers where one can move from building to building without leaving with Elvis, signage is an important consideration. Turns out that no only was I lost, but I parked in the wrong lot. So, there you go. Wandering and lost.

What are the signs that leaders should see to tell them that they are wandering, lacking direction and perspective. And does not seeing the signs, and continuing to search for the right, without asking for directions, mean that we are lost in the isolation of our own humiliation?

The other lesson I gained from my foray around the downtown Charlotte Overstreet Malll is that if you don't ask for directions life, you have a good chance of getting lost. And if you make the wrong assumptions, you may find yourself in the wrong building. So, when in doubt ask.

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Simplicity and Enablement, at the Intersection of technology and my calendar

Grant McCracken writes on the intersection of antropology and economics.  I'd like to suggest that he writes on the cultural intersection of the two, rather than the abstract theoretical intersection of them. However, that is beside the point. This intersection is captured well in his posting on a reading of Adam Smith.  Here the text is about the effect of technology, or as Smith describes it, "a multitude of baubles."

Smith is writing about the effect of a watch on the owner.  McCracken comments,

"The view of the object (watch or PDA) treats it as a statement of the owner's enablement or potentiality.  And clearly the other Scottish philosopher was on to something.  Objects add enablement to the owner.  Without apology or hesitation, we claim this enablement as our own.  Nice work, Mr. Smith.   The utility is not (only) the function.  The utility is not (only) the enablement.  The utility is (also) that new confidence that in a world of astonishing complexity and dynamism, we are enabled."

This topic is real immediate for me.  Six weeks ago I purchased a Blackberry 7100.  I originally wanted to have everything at my disposal. Phone, calendar, addresses, files, web-acess and email.  I held off on the web-access and email until I felt comfortable with the phone and PDA functions.  I'm pleased with my Blackberry. To the point that I have no need for web-access and email.  I have found that by just adding the PDA functions that it has simplified my daily life to the degree that I am more relaxed and in control of my most horrendous pressure point, my schedule.  I don't have to carry a paper calendar.  I don't have to update my Outlook calendar, and then print off a hard copy every week. It's all there with me 24/7.  I don't have to write down on little slips of paper appointments, that I then put into my Outlook calendar.  I just punch into to my Blackberry. 

I feel like the man in the Adam Smith quote who went from a watch that gave okay, approximately good time, to a watch that was absolutely dependable.  A little handheld device has now simplified the most important aspects of my organizational life.

This reminds me of philosopher Albert Borgmann's thinking on information in a postmodernism world.  He makes the following distinction.
The signs that we pick up from Nature provide us Information about Reality.  Reports about that reality, like a menu or a recipe provide us a Cultural perspective that is Information for Reality, and in the modern / postmodern era Technology has become Information as Reality

My Natural life is the series of scheduled interactions and tasks that fill my days.  My old paper calendar helped to organize that information in a manner that helped me make decisions, instead of merely reactivelyh responding to the natural information that is before me at any moment.  The beauty of the kind of technology we find in Blackberry's and Treo's is that the very experience of managing our schedule changes how we perceive and experience our schedule and life. 

I love the fact that I can take notes with my Blackberry.  I'm sitting in a coffee shop reading a magazine, waiting for an appointment, and I find myself entering a quote in my Outlook Notes function.  I copy Mapquest directions into a note file, and there it is to guide me a day later.  I know that some of these devices can do more, but to do more means less simplicity. 

What I find at the intersection of human life and technology are a set of choices about to what degree to we want the technology to become our life, or less intrusively, enhance and simplify it.  This is a question of balance.  And I'm comfortable with the balance and enablement that I have found with my Blackberry. 

There is another piece I want to add that comes from British journalist G.K. Chesterton.  He writes about the effect that a lovely walking stick has.  The quote is at the office, and I'll post it as an update as soon as I can get to it.  So come back in a couple days.

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Brand Autopsy's take on Whole Foods Market

Read John Moore's 10 point description of Whole Food Markets. He is reacting to an article in Business Week.
Here's the list:
1 | Maximum Freedom. Minimum Governance.
2 | Small Pieces Loosely Joined
3 | Getting Bigger by Acting Smaller
4 | Food as Theater
5 | Shoppers as “Brand” Ambassadors
6 | Education Leads to Appreciation
7 | Everything Matters
8 | Price to Value
9 | Profit is a Good Competitive Game
10 | Team Members Make the Difference

What impresses me about this company is their commitment to decentralized leadership.  In essence, it means that the closer the decision is made to the customer, the better.  My question is whether this is a trend or an anomaly?  If it is a trend then we will continue to see large, complex, top-down bureaucratic structures changed to what WFM has developed.  If it doesn't work, then we'll see a chronic internal confict between the past and future in organizations.

Design, elitism and user-benefical innovation

Magnus Christenssen's posting on Mr. Roberto Verganti's, Professor of Management of Innovation, Politecnico di Milano, presentation on design-driven innovation vs. user-driven innovation has prompted another train of thought on design.

For discussion sake, the distinction between design-driven innovation and user-driven innovation is a good one.  But it is the sort of distinction that academics like.  It is an abstract luxury item for most businesses that is interesting over drinks at the end of the day, but is reflective of maybe the 80-20 rule.  80 percent are focused on the user side, and the 20% the design.  Who knows?  That is why it is a perfect topic for discussion over dinner.

The reality is that in today's business climate you have to be both design-driven and user-driven.  The challenge is to find a point of coordination so that what is produced is both innovative and meets people's needs.  That point of coordination is an understanding of people and human nature.

There has always been a lot of design.  On the one hand a lot of  it has been self-indulgent, media-centric design that never connected with people. (I suspect that was partly the point.  To demonstrate a certain aesthetic elitism.) On the other, design for mass consumption has lacked beauty.  It was a cost-effective, dumbed down design for the masses that still spoke to an elitist paternalism of taste that put design and the user at odds.

What I welcome about this discussion is that finally there is recognition that design doesn't have to be elitist or dumbed down.  It can be beautiful, even classical, and meet the perceived and unarticulated needs of people.
For example, I don't know who designed the "drain-back spout" cap for liquid laundry detergent, but it is brilliant demonstration of how design innovation serves people.  There is a sublime beauty about a cap that can return the liquid that adheres to the inside of the cap back into the container, instead of letting seep out, down the side of it, making a mess.

Or, Ziploc's new container twist bowls. Simple innovation to create a bowl with a limited lifespan that serves the user.  We live in such mobile societies that being able to take with you fZiploc_containertwistood in a container that won't leak or break open is fantastic.  I know Ziploc has revolutionized our scout troop's packing procedures for food.

When businesses and designers respect their public, they produce innovative products that make life easier for people. 

There will always be an elitism, a certain snobbery, toward the masses who supposedly lack class and real aesthetic taste. But what they don't understand is that people do appreciate beauty, innovative, useful design and will continue to use it as long it makes their lives easier and/or better.

Design-driven Innovation or User-center innovation

Hans Henrik at CPH127 offered a comment on my posting Why Creativity and Innovation are not enough. He points to a posting at his site by Magnus Christenssen where he discuss the difference between design-driven innovation and user-center innovation.  He is responding to a presentation by Roberto Verganti where the distinction is made.

Christenssen raises the question about the difference and how it fits within a business. 
He says that

Mr. Verganti answered that he believes the design-driven approach are more suited for radical innovation while the user-centred approach being more suited for incremental innovation. He continued saying that companies working with products which rely more on function than aesthetics  benefit from the user-centric approach and vice versa.

The question that comes to mind is whether the times that we are in require attention to both in coordination.  I know that the business of leadership development has changed dramaticall for me requiring me to look to "radical innovative" measures. But that those radical innovations can be difficult for client to absorb.   Therefore a soft touch with clients is needed when going beyond what is standard practice from ten years ago.

How does user-centric innovation work?  It has to be about concrete development, not just reflection on some new fangled abstract notions.  It has to have an emotional connection that elevates the relationship about merely an abstract transaction of goods and services. 

That is why I also talk with my clients about "impact."  And by impact, I mean change.  What needs to be changed?  What can wait, and what needs to change right now in order to meet your goals.  In this sense, being customer-centric and design-centric, in broader terms go hand-in-hand.  In fact, I am trying to understand precisely how to bring the element of design into my work.  My cilents will be the ones that will lead to that undestanding, I suspect.

Thank you Hans for noticing, and Magnus for pointing to an important distinction related to design.