12 takeaways from future companies and innovative organizations

The second in our maize.LIVE series looks at what lies ahead in the world of future companies and innovative organizations.

by maize

Why did we choose this as a topic? Well, today, the world is changing faster than ever before, with technologies and cultures rapidly shifting as the digital era kicks into full gear. Yet how are we changing as humans? To look to Parmenides, change is but an illusion, the river changes but its bed is always essentially the same. Us humans are indeed the same specimens as our ancestors, but our experiences are undoubtedly changing.

So with such speed, and such a disconnect between our changing context and our human nature, how can our organizations continue to not only function but flourish moving forward? We are already mastering our systems and processes, yet we find that innovation today is still elusive to the many. This is why we must look to the human factor as the cornerstone of this next period of innovation.

Split across two days of individual stories and parables that we can take lessons from, this is 12 takeaways we gained from this edition of maize.LIVE: Future Companies & Innovative Organizations.

 Parable: Home Of The Brave  Carlo Boccadoro 

 Takeaway: Have Courage in What You Do 

Bravery in art is everything, if you are not brave you are not an artist you an entertainer which is about reinsurance”. This was the message Carlo Boccadoro, the esteemed classical composer, delivered in his opening talk, Home Of The Brave, about the need to push buttons and be courageous in order to succeed.

Taking on us a musical journey spanning centuries, from Matteo Da Perugia’s shaking up of rhythm, through to Claudio Monteverdi’s invention of Opera and insertion of humanity into music – a medium only for the gods prior – all the way to the Beatles and their game-changing release of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Band in 1967.

Whether it be Beethoven, Chopin, or Steve Rage, by challenging their audiences and going against the grain, these artists managed to make music for the future, music that would be respected by music lovers and scholars alike for centuries to come.

It is this courageous ethos that must be imparted into everything an organization does going forward. If not, it has no chance of making an impact in the future, a future that is already upon us.

 Talk: Why Leaders Should Bet On Freedom and Responsibility Isaac Getz 

 Takeaway: Ego a Go-Go 

Next up were some wise words from Isaac Getz, a celebrated professor who has had a huge hand in informing businesses about how a strong culture eats strategy for breakfast every time.

In his speech, Why Leaders Should Bet On Freedom and Responsibility, Getz points out that corporate liberation can only begin when leaders put aside their ego, stating that the true measure of leadership is the measure of freedom granted to any given talent within an organization. The question now then is not: “Can any company be liberated?” but, “Can any leader let off their ego and let the company be liberated?”

Leadership then is not a position assigned by superiors but a role granted by those who decide to follow. Self-realization and self-direction are key in achieving this, as what individuals need on the ground are very simple: “Respect, consideration and the feeling that you trust to their intelligence.”

Among numerous examples, Getz pointed out how in 1973 Harley Davidson had 80% market share, this dropped dramatically to only 15% in 1982 and rose once more to 51% in 1999. How did they do it? Over the course of two years, a new company mission was drafted, the executive committee resigned, and the company decided to capitalize on their own people’s intelligence through natural work groupings by approaching their talent through a more coach-like role than that of a traditional leader.

In short, leadership is about transferring inspiration to talent and encouraging them to lead themselves.

 Talk: Don’t Try This At Home  Tomas Barazza 

 Takeaway: Forge Your Own Path 

Tomas Barazza from Strategy & Innovation Culture shared his journey in creating an organization that is distributed and self-managed. The main message of his talk, “Don’t Try This At Home”, was to highlight some of the core values that underpin any innovative organization.

Throughout his career, as ideas were revised, recycled, and revamped elsewhere, Tomas’ journey began to include more people in the developing story. To do this, Tomas and his team began to leverage people’s ideas and interests, encouraged collaboration and bolstered an already project-oriented approach. This would culminate in wethod, an operating system with no organization chart and a project-oriented approach. No roles, even fewer rules, this approach helped to reduce an individual’s ego without crushing their entrepreneurial spirit.

For Tomas, he believes his business’ success relies on some key factors: self-determination, space to maneuver, as well as purpose, trust, and transparency. Self-determination is taking responsibility to direct your own path. Space to maneuver is the acceptance that mistakes will be made but also learned from. Purpose, trust, and transparency are the pathfinders in this journey. If the purpose is known, everyone is working in the same direction, if we trust and show transparency when it comes to information, everyone involved knows how to go about directing themselves in that same direction.

Tomas states that although this was his experience, it was exactly that. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to innovation today. However, if you are consistent in your values and willing to challenge the status quo – great things are likely to happen.

 Talk: Serve People, Not Processes: Why HR Must Change Lucy Adams 

 Takeaway: Put the Human back into Human Resources 

Later on in the day, Lucy Adams took to the stage and delivered her talk, Serve People, Not Processes: Why HR Must Change. Pointing out how mechanical HR has become, Lucy set out her guidelines to bring the individual back to center stage in the HR world.

Her manifesto, EACH (Employee, Adults, Consumer, Human), aims to renegotiate the role of HR today and transform it into one where respect and dialogue take front stage.

Employees, Lucy states, aren’t assets. They are people with individual needs and ideas. This is why a more tailored HR, one that addresses this fact, is paramount moving forward: universal doesn’t work for the individual.

HR has always been tied closely to finances, this idea too must shift. Instead, Lucy says we should begin to think of HR as the cousin of marketing. Employees, as consumers, have specific needs and, like marketing, HR must study what their own end-consumer wants if it is to remain relevant and effective.

 Riding Giants: Re-Booting a Multinational Company’s OS Marius Swart 

 Takeaway: It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over 

The final talk of the first day, Marius Swart of Henkel explained that digital transformation is never finished. Technology, culture and people, the three core elements he identifies behind the digital transformation, are always changing. His talk, Riding Giants: How To Re-Boot a Multinational Company’s Operating System, explained how.

Whilst digital illiteracy and lack of time are major barriers for companies hoping to achieve digital transformation quickly, Swart states that a proper use of data analytics, an agreement on the metrics you wish to impact, and growth in the budget over time as those metrics are reached, are all key in facilitating this change. Further to this, by ensuring that your IT is agile and prepared for change and that your talents are aware of the developing digital context, businesses can surf the wave of digital transformation. Just make sure to remember that there is always another wave on the horizon.

 Parable: The Infinite Intelligence Of Plants Stefano Mancuso 

 Takeaway: Collaboration is Natural 

Professor of botany Stefano Mancuso channeled his inner Immanuel Kant to explain how we only see what we want to see: in particular, plants. In his talk, The Infinite Intelligence Of Plants, Mancuso noted that we rarely focus on plants, nor their collaborative nature, even though they account for 99.7% of the world’s biomass – citing the absence of plants in prehistoric drawings as evidence of this long-standing phenomenon.

Why this is, he states, is simple – we barely notice that which our evolution deemed unnecessary for our survival. But plants are not something we cannot learn anything from. On the contrary, they not only live but are also capable of sensing their existence in relation to other plants and their surrounding – making collaboration a fundamental tool for their survival.

But that is not the only tool at their disposal, in fact, plants are able to produce sounds as well as localize roots effectively. This has been proven time and time again by slime mold studies which have demonstrated that plants, when given the right stimuli, will generate the most effective and streamlined solutions to problems such as reproducing the transport networks of various cities across the world.

Mancuso’s point is that these living systems are highly intelligent and worthwhile of our attention. Until now, we have failed to see how we could possibly learn lessons from our inanimate neighbors because our evolution was rapidly different. However, with the emergence of distributed organizational structures (a common theme throughout nature), our ideas of animalistic hierarchies in the workplace are fast becoming outdated.

 Talk: How Technologies Change Collaboration Mark Van Rijmenam 

 Takeaway: Digest the Data 

Data is the new oil is the popular mantra of the moment. But what uses is oil if it is unable to be refined? In his talk, Come Together: How Technologies Change Collaboration, Mark Van Rijmenam pointed out that the deluge of data companies are now flooded with each day is useless if it cannot be harnessed in a smart, effective way.

How should companies deal with this problem going forward? Van Rijmenam suggests that in face of the approaching reality that by 2015 we will interact with a connected device every 18 seconds, companies who wish to be innovative must reject silo culture and instead focus on collaboration and the mixing of data in real time to react to their context innovatively.

Parallel to this change is the structure and framework that ensures that it can be achieved on the ground. Citing IBM as an example, Van Rijmenam detailed how they effectively imbued their organization with transparency by utilizing data in a new way. Blockchain is another example: with tools such as smart contracts allowing us to move into a system where trust, decision making, and governance are solved with cryptography, code, and reciprocity. Cryptography, for example, enables us to create new forms of identity, personal, private, persistent, portable and protected.

Van Rijmenam finished by reminding us that there are many layers to the digital transformation and that businesses cannot simply rest on their laurels moving forward. Instead, companies must utilize the many existing and emerging tools available and turn their organization into entities built on trust and decentralization – hallmarks of any innovative organization.

 Talk: Keep it Small, Keep it Simple Jos De Blok 

  Takeaway: Problems are Opportunities 

Buurtzorg’s founder Jos De Blok delivered a more succinct message that came from personal experience: Keep it Small, Keep it Simple. Detailing the outstanding climb of Buurtzorg since it’s launch in 2007, his talk made clear the importance of discovering how to overcome, in a creative way, specific industry challenges.

Before Buurtzorg was launched, an analysis of healthcare was taken which consequently shaped exactly the direction the company develops. The result? A decentralized private healthcare service model with no hierarchies that has now been adopted globally with cost savings of up to 40% and overhead costs almost 20% lower than average (25% down to 8%)Self-management was key here, and team sizes of up to 12 individuals were responsible for the organization and the complete care process. Both patient and employee satisfaction now sit a 9 out of 10.

Such a situation allows for the funding of more innovation within the company, and for Buurtzorg to focus more on its purpose then on its profits. By focussing on the problem at hand, clarity can shine a light on the solution moving forward. Those who try to take on board too much too soon will likely become disillusioned by the transformation. But with focus and dedication to the values you are built upon anyone can become a future company or an innovative organization and survive today’s fast-changing climate.

 Talk: Building a Culture in a Period of Self-Disruption Sebastian Shaw 

 Takeaway: Self-Disrupt 

Adobe veteran Sebastian Shaw made clear what had kept Adobe ticking all these years: self-disruption. In his talk, Reinventing the Organization: Building a New Culture in a Period of Self-Disruption, In 2013, Adobe announced that their multibillion-dollar portfolio of industry-leading creative applications would transition to cloud distribution. But why? The answer lied in the explosion of content that could be sourced from this new channel, and how this idea created an entirely new platform for creativity.

Adobe’s shift from a product company to a Software-as-a-Service one allowed it more time to react to consumer feedback. Instead of waiting months upon months to release a new product, they could update in real time whenever the situation required them too – listening to both data and feedback – reiterating their services as a result.

In this space, design, product development and engineering had to work together, creating a new environment for collaboration that would prove to be only the tip of the innovation iceberg impacting business models, industry standards and employees.

 Talk: Motivation Matters: Creative Spaces Jordi Closa 

 Takeaway: Start Now 

Jordi Closa from adidas centered his talk, Motivation Matters: Creative Spaces Where To Connect, Share and Learn From Each Other, on the importance of motivation in the workplace in remaining relevant and creative today. Explaining the concept behind adidas Makerlab – a dynamic workspace that fosters collaboration between any adidas employee, no matter their role – Closa explained the importance of challenging people and moving them out of the comfort zones and encouraging them to start new things as soon as possible.

Makerlab encourages experimentation, sees the importance of failure, and emphasizes the importance of coming together and making something new. The hardest part is starting this process, but once started, Makerlab is guided by the 3 c’s of adidas: Creativity, Confidence and Collaboration. Ultimately, this space is special due to its ability to grant the tools and the freedom to create. Less siloing, more collaboration, forever striking a balance between the digital and the physical, Makerlab at adidas is a model worth keeping an eye on.

 Talk: The Pathway to Sustainable Happiness  Sandro Formica 

  Takeaway: Take a Course in You

Sandro Formica was next on stage, in his talk, Self-Awareness: The Pathway to Sustainable Happiness, he communicates that society is entirely focussed today on doing rather than being – pointing out that throughout a child’s education, they are not once asked to study themselves and their personal state of mind.

Individuals, he states, need a purpose in life, and employers need to be aligned with their employee’s values (and vice versa) if they are to remain innovative. He stresses that companies must check on their employees’ needs and understand if they are satisfying them. To do this, Formica points out many ways to increase our emotional intelligence, and how to be more attuned to what makes employees their most effective. In short, it revolves around companies first being true to themselves. If they do that, they cannot fail.

 Parable: The Pursuit of Happiness. An Ethical Reflection Andrea Nicolini 

 Takeaway: Revolutions Create Happiness 

The final talk of the event, philosophy professor Andrea Nicolini explained the link between power, happiness, and revolution. In his talk The Pursuit Of Happiness. An Ethical Reflection on Revolution, Nicolini collected input throughout the event and using this content he theorized that revolution always revolved around the ego. It was the ego which would drive the need for the redistribution of power, and this ego grew out of an increased level of self-awareness that gave would-be revolutionaries the strength to attempt to bring their vision of the future into the present.

Citing the French Revolution as an example, Nicolini stated that revolution comes from a possibility becoming a necessity. In today’s climate, this is true of how businesses are reflecting on their own organizational structures, and beginning to implement the changes of tomorrow, today.

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