Kill Your Business to Keep it Alive! Organisational Implosion for Post-Innovation Survival.

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Kill Your Ideas Early

In a blog post by Peter Diamandis last weekend, he gave some hot tips on how to organise creativity. The advice is based on his work with semi-secret R&D facility Google X, or  X as it’s called now.

It’s an interesting read, and there was particularly one section which grabbed my attention. Principle 2: Try to Kill Your Best Ideas Early.

According to Diamandis, we need to kill ideas as soon as possible. Because we don’t want to waste resources, time, money and people on ideas that won’t work.

This makes sense to many of us who love ideas and ideation, but become bored once we need to act on them.

But for me Diamandis’ principle triggered another thought. Can this principle of killing ideas be applied in a larger context?

Kill Your Organisation

An organisation is also an idea.

An idea, which usually exists for a long time. But it’s still an idea. Google was originally an idea to catalogue all the world’s information. Twitter is the simple idea to let people write instant 140-character blog posts. Uber is an idea to let everyone be a taxi driver.

These ideas seem to work. Most people even consider them to be good ideas. They’ve obviously inspired and helped many many people and made a dent in the universe as Steve Jobs put it. The companies threw out these ideas from the drawing board into the global marketplace to see if they worked. And they did. Or rather, they seem to work today.

But if we take a longer perspective, we don’t know if they actually are good ideas. They might be considered bad ideas in hindsight. Or even destructive.

In the 19th century we humans began to drill oil. This seemed like a great idea at the time. The black gold helped modernize societies and our living standard increased vastly. But now we know that this idea wasn’t that good after all. Unintended consequences, which were unknown back then, has damaged our planet enormously – and together with mining of other non-renewables – perhaps so much that it will become uninhabitable soon.

Standard Oil and other organisations, which were founded on the idea to remove oil from the ground and sell it, are now rapidly being killed. By lack of innovation, external pressures, a change in values, shareholder fear etc.

Kill your organisation! shout the anti-oil and gas protesters who are now after COP21 backed by the majority of the world’s politicians and more and more investors.

Innovation is Dead

Diamandis’ creative / destructive principle of killing ideas also made me think about how to generally “do” innovation these days.

I’m actually pretty fed up with the word innovation. There are so many ways to innovate, so many books, blogs and consultants who help organisations innovate. So many…. no, too many people talk about innovation.

I think it’s time to cut the crap and be really innovative. I think the best way – or perhaps the only way – to innovate is to actually extrapolate Diamandis’ principle and kill organisations from within. Before external pressures (like those mentioned above) will kill an organisation, an organisation should kill itself.

Let me explain.

One of the buzz words of the past decade (since Clayton Christensen wrote the book The Innovator’s Dilemma) is disruption. Digital disruption, disruptive innovation, disruptive everything. How to avoid being disrupted. Disrupt or be Disrupted! 8 ways to avoid getting disrupted within your industry. Blah blah blah…

I believe that the only way to avoid being disrupted is to disrupt yourself. Innovation is dead. Implosion is the way forward. A slow implosion if you want your organisation to survive.

Nine Principles for Organisational Implosion

So how do you disrupt yourself? Because I think it’s only the organisations which manage to do this that will survive in the future. Here are my nine principles:

  1. Make the decision that your organisation is obsolete.

    First you must realize that your organisation will be disrupted and die. If you don’t do this already, start by researching and reading. Douglas Rushkoff and Jeremy Rifkin are good for instance. When readning books you have shied away from, you will realize that your organisational structures are wrong. Your culture is wrong. Your staff are great people, but there is no place for that greatness in your organisation. As soon as people come in the door on Monday morning they enter another state of mind. Sure, you encourage creativity and push for a new innovation culture, but the structures and systems in place won’t tolerate this. Too many people will try to stifle it. It’s too dangerous. It will rock the boat so that it capsizes.

    So first you have to deeply believe in that your organisation will be disrupted. This is not 2006. Disruption happens much faster today. So you will make the decision that your organisation is obsolete. Most CEOs won’t / can’t do this, so you’re ahead of the game if you do it now.

  2. Launch the Organisational Implosion.

    Once you’ve convinced the few people in power that you are history, decide that you will attempt organisational implosion. Most organisations won’t do this so will be disrupted and die at this principle.

  3. Create a parallel organisation on the edge.

    And now for the real innovation.

    Once you’ve let go of your organisation, you’ve left it behind, and truly realized that it has no reason to live, you shift your focus on a new organisation at the edge of the old one. There is quite a lot of literature on this work, for example by John Hagel, @ScottDAnthony, Gary P. Pisano and Prof. Thomas Schildhauer. Literature on how to set up a space / lab / experimental unit in parallel to your organisation is easy to find.

    To do this, you basically start from scratch and look at the problems and challenges you want to solve. What was the original purpose of the organisation? What could we do to make this happen instead of the old useless way?

    Of course it’s impossible for you to answer these questions as your leaders and staff work in the old tired organisation, and hence don’t see fresh ideas with a beginner’s mind.

    You need new blood.

  4. Put new people in charge of the new.

    So the only way to create a parallel organisation on the edge is to let new or fresh employees loose. Let them experiment. It’s the only hope you have. Hire new interesting people who you’d never hire in the old organisation. Then let go of control. You might as well, as you will die if you don’t. It’s either new blood or death.

  5. Suck out the blood from the old dying organisation, purify it, and inject it into the new.

    This is hard.

    The aim of this exercise is to move as many people as possible from the old to the new organisation. Most people are not ready to move. So one of the tasks for the new organisation is to educate the hesitating people so that they can take the leap. Why do we need to implode? Why can’t we just continue business-as-usual in the old organisation? Most people will not be able to shift their mindset, and hence cannot thrive (or even survive) in the new organisation. A landing pad must be built. Upsetting but still safe experiences must be designed. Provocations followed by reassuring activities are key.

  6. Clear Goals.

    The only goal of your organisational implosion is to close down the old organisation asap. Nothing else really.

  7. Pull, Don’t Push

    Don’t ever explicitly try to push people from the old space to the new. They will come when they’re ready. If they’re ready… Some people will never move. They cannot or do not want to shift to the new. Retrenchment programs and costs will be a heavy burden for you.

  8. Don’t Bring Them Back!

    Here’s a thing that most organisations don’t get, but that you must understand: When people jump from the old to the new, they cannot be expected to come back and operate within the old one. Once they have made the leap and changed their thinking, learnt the new way, opened their minds, gone through the dark night of the soul, the catharsis etc, they will not identify with their old role. So don’t ask them or expect them to share or implement their learnings back in the old organisation.

    No, what they learn in the new space on the edge will be used only in the new space. If it would be used in the old organisation, it might help that entity survive longer. And that’s exactly against principle 6 – the goal of implosion is to kill the old organisation asap.

    Many organisations struggle to implement or embed knowledge they gain through hiring outside consultants, sending staff to external learning and development programs, letting staff work in open innovation hubs such as coworking spaces etc. Why this fail is obvious. Knowledge, understanding, insight and wisdom and other “content”, which is new and fresh, should not be stored in a container that is old, rusty and falling apart. This might have been the case before – McKinsey and others might have helped organisations over the years do this, but it won’t work any more. Organisational implosion must come from within.

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  9. Give Them a Home

    A physical space where people can build the new organisation will speed up the process. Physical interaction and experimentation, which is kept separate from the old organisation is important. Buy them a big old house at the other side of town. Don’t give them bean bags, ping-pong tables and fixed-gear bikes though. They can decide what to buy themselves. A free innovation space like this is impossible to control. The new people might waste all your money and sink your ship. But that’s a risk you’ll have to take. So give them a home.

***
Organisational implosion is obviously an incremental exercise. A gradual shift of power and people from the old to the new. The old organisation must of course still run the old business, which pays for it all, but that can be done with less people as you know.

I strongly believe that organisational implosion is the only cure for disruption. In order to survive the ongoing slaughter of weak organisations, you have to disrupt yourself. No matter whether you’re disrupted by the digital, by Silicon Valley behemoths, by new values or by your own idiocy.

Organisational implosion is the new innovation. And a hell of a lot more fun.

 

The Holiday-Break-Sense-Making Experiment

Over the Christmas / New Year break I decided to do an experiment. Instead of aimlessly throwing out things that interested and excited me online (retweet them, post them on to my Facebook wall etc), I decided to save them for after the holiday.

Instead I wanted to try an experiment where I tried to find logic in the combination of this  information, of these thoughts and feelings. Thoughts from others which generated thoughts from me. Generated feelings and intuitions from me. To find patterns and make sense of these social media fragments. To weave them together.

After the break I had collected 15 “scan hits”.

1. An article about how “A New Working Constitution Emerges to Codify a “Liquid Holacracy” Governance Model”. Apparently “Bitnation in partnership with Swarm is developing a proto-constitution, or what it referred to as a holonic contract to govern interactions within its “Slack Community”, which is  a collaborative messaging and sharing platform used globally by organizations for a better workflow, while emphasizing the autonomy of its various holons and individual contributors.”

2. A new book called Platform Scale: How an emerging business model helps startups build large empires with minimum investment.
You’ve heard of it: “Over the last decade or so, we’re seeing the emergence of a new form of scale. Today’s massively scaling startups – which rapidly grow to millions of users and billions in valuation – do not sell a product or service. Instead, they build a platform on which others can create and exchange value.

3. A public policy paper put together by Stacco Troncoso from one of my favourite organisations, The P2P Foundation. Proposal for Public Policy Paper: “From Smart Cities to Smart Citizens: City as a Commons”. A policy advocacy paper to explore and promote the vision for a ‘city as commons. The paper will bring together specialists and advocates in a range of area, including: tax policy, co-working, co-ops, food production/consumption, peri-urbanism, sharing, political space, place-making, cultural diversity, de-gentrification, anticipatory governance, social enterprise and making / industry (to name a few). Overall about 20 authors can be accepted in this first round.

4. A tweet conversation with Nadia El-Imam, co-Founder and CEO of Edgeryders, a online community and distributed think-tank of citizen experts from across the globe. It was spurred by a quote in one of her recent blog posts: “Make relevant art“. This quote felt very important to me.

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5. An article on Salon.com about the rise of the techno-Libertarians: The 5 most socially destructive aspects of Silicon Valley. It argues that the tech industry is morally and ethically bankrupt, and it’s starting to take its toll on ordinary Americans.

6. An old article in The Age, where former US president Jimmy Carter tells how he is losing his religion for equality.

7. A blog post by one of today’s most interesting thinkers and doers Vinay Gupta: Tell Me Who You Are. Identity, institutional memory, and the persistent illusion of the self.

8. Another p2p foundation blog post about living amongst the ruins after capitalism.

9. More doom and gloom in A NY Times article by author Roy Scranton. We’re Doomed. Now What?

10. A third collapsitaritarian post (!) from one of my Facebook friends about the carrying capacity of Earth.

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11. A quote in a TV interview with the master of weird and wonderful cultural production David Lynch. He described his creative process and ideation with a fishing metaphor. Apparently he uses that often, as I found it again online:

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure.They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

12. An article about eight New Types of Digital Fabrication Machines from 2015.

13. Another NY times article – How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity.  This one written by Pagan Kennedy, author of the forthcoming book “Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change The World.” I wrote about serendipity a couple of years ago. A concept which is very popular and overused in management blogs at the moment. But I think it’s hugely important and needs to be considered and further explored.

14. A third text from the p2p Foundation by founder Michel Bauwens (actually excerpted from Matthew Heskin): Cooperation is better for innovation, than competition.

15. A tweet from @macroscope_ about how systems thinking can help you become a better person.

 

***

So after putting these themes down on a paper I started to think. I saw a couple of connections and clusters, but nothing interesting. I looked at them with my explorer glasses. Which of these 15 themes would I like to explore further? I ended up with serendipity, ideas as fishing, identity & the self and relevant art.

The next day I looked at my paper again. This time I tried to divide them into three categories: problem, dichotomy and solution. This was interesting and I saw some similarities between the solutions and those I wanted to explore more. Perhaps I am drawn to solutions rather than problems at the moment?

Finally I used Wilber’s four quadrant model, which I find very helpful to check that I’ve taken a broad perspective on something. I placed the remaining five themes in it as per the figure.

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All these quadrants are linked and the themes in one of them will impact on all others. For example an  internal idea in my head (coming from my identity and Self) will lead to external output (art). Serendipitous encounters will rearrange my view of systems. My creations (which can be seen as art) will serendipitously lead me to new people, which will lead me to new ideas and a new identity.

***

Well, this experiment didn’t really turn out as expected. The sense-making became more of a personal guide for my future thoughts and actions. But that’s not bad I guess.

Five reasons for rapid blogging

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Phew! This May experiment is over.

One month ago I posted some thoughts on cleanin out my ideas closet.The purpose with this challenge to myself was to get rid of my huge ‘to-blog-list’ over one month, instead of slowly posting when I “had time” to do it.

I did get rid of most of the items on my list. But of course this exercise in rapid blogging made me have other, new ideas, which are now on my list for future posts. So, some items were crossed out while others were added – to put ideas out of our inner sphere and into the world is a never-ending quest. But I think it’s very important that we do it and stop keeping ideas to ourselves. Here are some reasons why:

1. Vulnerability

The earlier you share an idea, the more vulnerable you feel. And feeling vulnerable is good as we know from Brene Brown’s TED talk The Power of Vulnerability.

2. Trust

The earlier you share an idea, the more you let others into your mind and give them access to your self. This will hopefully break down some barriers and lead to trust.

3. Support

The earlier you share an idea, the earlier others can help you.

4. Share

The earlier you share an idea, the earlier others can steal and remix your ideas, which is good.

5. Innovation

The earlier you share an idea, the more you learn and get used to releasing things into the world that are not perfect. As my good friend Juan says; “perfection is the enemy of innovation”. This experiment has taught me that it’s ok to release half-baked ideas early.

6. Speed

I write faster after this month. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I have learned to write without thinking so much (too much thinking is not good for writing). Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have time to care much about what others thought as I wrote faster than normal.

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Some other learnings from this experiment:

  • I started with the intention to post once a day, but this was too hard. This was inspired by a similar challenge that some friends of mine participated in a couple of years ago. Apparently they didn’t manage to post every day either. It is quite ok in the beginning, but after a couple of weeks it’s hard with work, family, weekends and life in general. You need a break some days. So therefore – if I’ll ever do this again – I’ll rather aim for 30 posts in one month. I published 22 posts this time, which I’m happy with for a first time.
  • The stats and social media attention I got for some of the posts were much bigger than for others. The big hit during the month was Serendipity is the New Black – a post I had no idea would be popular. There were many other posts, which I found more original and interesting myself, and had thought would generate more hits. This is good to know for my future activities.

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To summarize, I can recommend this experiment. My ‘ideas closet’ is cleaner and my mind is clearer than a month ago.

Now I will try to be quiet for a month.