Bottom up organizational management for innovation and success.

Not unlike Aristotle’s achimedian point, Keith Sawyer calls for a balance between top down and bottom up structures for effectiveness in innovation and organizational management. Before his talk at Harvard Business School Keith correctly highlights:

However, at some point (at least 50 years ago) researchers realized that no matter how hard you try to structure an organization, there’s always going to be stuff that goes on outside of the formal org chart–the informal organization, those social network ties that people form on the fly just to get their work done. And that realization led to another one: even within the formal structure, nothing would ever work right unless some of that informal, bottom-up, emergent stuff happened too. Maybe even a lot of it. The challenge since that realization has been to explain how effective organizations manage to blend both the formal, intended structure and the unintended, emergent processes that always happen when people come together.

My argument is that organizational learning and organizational innovation are always part of the unplanned, unintended, emergent side; they can’t be commanded, and no organizational structure–no matter how clever or well-designed–can make learning and innovation happen. Fortunately, research now tells us what features of an organization are associated with effective emergent learning and innovation:

* Lattice organization
* Teams form and reform spontaneously
* Dense social networks
* High information flows
* Porous boundaries
* Reduced emphasis on top-down control
* Creative contributions come from everyone


3 responses to “Bottom up organizational management for innovation and success.

  1. Most companies are looking to leverage open innovation my deploying external idea portals for their partners and customers. We’ve seen this trend over the past 2-3 years. Cisco launched iPrize on our system and found over $20B in new markets on their top 3 ideas. 

    Here is more information on what companies are succeeding by leveraging open innovation concepts: 

    WebStorm 5.0 Product Overview 


    Paul Tran 

    BrightIdea – Innovation and Idea Management 

415-992-2082 office/mobile 

    415-842-0300 fax 

    Yahoo IM: paultran888

  2. I just read a research article saying that in companies with severe downsizing, so many people are let go that the informal networks start to fall apart, and innovation and agility suffer. Of course, because those networks are invisible, those planning the downsizing aren’t able to predict the full extent of these negative effects.

  3. @Keith

    That’s really too bad. I feel it for a lot of people.

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