The paradox of structure in business

Several decades ago, there was a wide belief that school playgrounds should not have fences because they would inhibit children’s creative play and sense of freedom.

Someone conducted an experiment to prove this*. But surprisingly, the opposite was true.

In this experiment, there were two playgrounds – one of these had a fence around it and the other one did not.

When a group of children were let into the fenceless playground, the children used a limited space and stuck together right in the center of the playground. Yet, when they were let into the fenced playground, the children used the entire space.

In this example, the physical structure paradoxically created a sense of freedom.

Photo by zendt66

Photo by Zendt66

This is the same in business too.

I recently took part in a systems thinking workshop.

As part of this workshop, we were given a role. We were either ‘tops’, ‘middles’, ‘bottoms’ or ‘customers’ – representing different stakeholders of an organisation.

In teams (tops, middles, bottoms) we were given a brief, a day (represented by 12 minutes) and an area of the room.

What was really interesting was, as the ‘day’ played out, most of the ‘bottoms’ were becoming frustrated because of the lack of direction from the ‘middles’ and ‘tops’. They hadn’t been given enough boundaries and this translated into a lack of understanding and knowledge to get on with the task in hand.

What was interesting was that not all of the ‘bottoms’ felt like this and some of them had thrived from the freedom they felt to get on with things in their own way and style.

This is because people have different creative styles.

The key, for any leader, is to create ‘gates’ in structures, to allow people to choose the structure that is right for them.

This can mean making the physical and emotional structures more flexible. It’s no coincidence that most creative agencies have open offices, lots of big whiteboards and encourage flexible working hours.

But there’s also something a bit deeper at stake here. It’s about giving people a purpose to work towards and a set of values to work by, and letting them do the rest, in their way.

*Source: Coursera – Creativity, Innovation and Change

I’m bored of social media and here’s why…

I’ve spent the last few years telling organisations  to invest in social media, to create a Facebook Page, set up a Twitter presence, start buzz monitoring and to be equipped to engage customers in conversations online…

…usually to find that most people are only concerned about not keeping up with their customers. And although this is a valid concern, it shouldn’t be the only reason for investing in social media.

The thing is, I don’t actually care about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat etc. Although I think these can be really useful tools to help some of the more important stuff – the stuff that is really going to help your business deliver its mission.

Maybe it’s the words ‘social media’ which are misleading some people.

They’ve got bad connotations. They’ve become associated with the idea that your office doing the ‘harlem shake’ is the best way to engage your customers (I put my hand up – I’ve suggested this before).

The thing is, it does work… sometimes. Organisations having fun is really important. It’s when it’s a pretence that I get bored with it, and customers are getting tired of it too.

What I’m really talking about is ‘kulturelle etterslep’ (which is a Norwegian term meaning ‘cultural lag’).

The term cultural lag refers to the notion that culture takes time to catch up with technological innovations and that social problems and conflicts are caused by this lag. — Wikipedia

What I mean by this is that we’ve moved on from believing the hype. We, as consumers, can see whether your employees are really happy or that you have true purpose in what you do.

But you can solve the kulturelle etterslep problem if you start looking beyond the digital tools and start focusing on authenticity, trust, purpose and meaning. It is this which will shine through.

If you invest in developing a culture which is truly authentic and has purpose and meaning, then your Facebook/ Instagram/ Twitter/ Vine/ Snapchat account will look after itself.