Embrace the Buzz

I recently received a subscribed-to update email from the American Management Association (AMA).  The first piece of content, titled “A new leadership role model: honeybees” struck me as an interesting one so I delved a little deeper.

It turns out that professor Michael O’Malley form the Columbia Business School has written a book called The Wisdom of Bees where he aims, among other things, to demonstrate that bees have much to teach the business world about how to be productive.

As I read the abstract in the AMA newsletter and browsed other Blog articles where Michael’s work had been discussed, I couldn’t help but make the link between the lessons Bees teach us and their applicability to an organization’s attempt at being innovative.

According to Michael, bee colonies teach us 3 important organizational lessons:

1.  Protect the future

2.  Permit individuality

3.  Promote stability

Let’s consider each in turn in the context of Innovation.

Protect the future

One need only look at the graveyard of brand name companies to know that many don’t protect their future.  With the average life expectancy of a multi-national/Fortune 500 company at about 40-50 years, it’s clear that even the biggest and best don’t do it well.

An organization’s innovative capacity is critical to its longevity.  Organizations that orient themselves to their external environment and are hyper aware of, and adapt to, its changing circumstance are better equipped to protect their own futures.   There is a direct correlation between your ability to protect your future and your ability to innovate.

Permit individuality

I see two dimensions to this lesson.  The notion of permitting individuality is both about the distribution of decision making as well as the diversity of personnel.  While innovation is both a product and a process (see below), ideas themselves are usually the byproduct of individual creativity and group collaboration.  Permitting individuality at both layers in an organization increases its agility and creativity, thus boosting its innovative capacity and ability to protect its future.

Promote stability

In an earlier Blog post I talked about the barriers to innovation in the public sector – delivery pressures and administrative burdens, lack of resources, and low tolerance for risk – and how public sector organizations need to better embrace failure and ensure that the learnings from those failures are harvested and harnessed.   The lesson of promoting stability is again one that has two dimensions to it.  First, and related to the above barriers, organizations need to create stability in the minds of resources within the organization that innovation is indeed important and will be supported both politically as well as with resources.  Because innovation entails risk, particularly political risk in the public sector, psychological stability needs to be created by senior management by demonstrating a higher risk tolerance and an acceptance of failure in support of learning.  Second, organizations need to promote stability by trying to habituate innovation.  While ideas are creative, innovation itself is a process that requires practice.  Building an innovative process capability in the organization promotes stability in execution which will, over time, increase innovative capacity and once again better enable protection of the future.

 


Stephen Karam is a Systemscope Partner with over 15 years of experience providing thought leadership and consulting services in the areas of government service transformation, multi-channel service delivery and related information management projects. Stephen has extensive experience in providing business transformation, project management, and business development services, giving him a unique background that allows Systemscope’s customers to realize the value of feasible service solutions within the context of their business. His in-depth understanding of the Government of Canada’s policies, practices, and culture contributes to his ability to propose workable, reliable, and repeatable business solutions for Systemscope’s public sector clientele. Stephen has more recently focused on government service transformation initiatives, including business vision & strategy, service delivery strategies, enterprise architecture, information management and project management consulting services for Systemscope’s clients.


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