Why We Need Organizational Innovation

The Power Paradox

A shifting landscape and changing forces are calling for citizens and consumers to create systemic change through authentic leadership, networks, and organizations, but what does it all mean? As a nation, we are constantly at war with traditional leaders, networks, and organizations. We hope for less stress, less hierarchy, less problems, and less tasks, but what we really want is more autonomy, more collectivism, more informed decision-making, more support, more praise, and more empowerment. In short, we want more of organizational innovation. But, what does organizational innovation mean? What do we need from our leaders to support organizational innovation, and what networks are required? In the Power Paradox, as described by Dacher Keltner, in The Power Paradox — How We Gain and Lose Influence, “we gain a capacity to make a difference in the world by enhancing the lives of others, but the very experience of having power and privilege leads jus to behave, in our worst moments, like impulsive, out-of-control sociopaths.” So how then do we balance our wants and needs with the amount of power we have, and what do we do when we feel powerless?

Laying the Foundation to Success

As humans evolved, we have learned as groups to “grant power to those who advanced the greater good rather” rather than through force, fraud, ruthlessness, and strategic violence — instead, “we gain power by acting in ways that improve the lives of other people in our social networks” (Keltner, P.5). Authenticity and the honest desire to create positive impact within groups then is the key to balancing our wants and needs. We want more autonomy to do good, but we need permission to do so — how then can we beat this paradox? Second to authenticity, is the need to be empowered to effectively balance our wants and needs. What leaders, networks, and organizations can do to create positive, systemic change is to establish or reinforce social norms such as empathy, giving, expressing gratitude, and telling stories to bring the human touch back to the group. It is the relationships we have with one another that gives us power to do, and that begins with building bonds. Fear is the opposite of close bonds; powerlessness is the opposite of empowerment — the words we use in everyday conversation, written or spoken casts a spell on us, and binds us in roles that become habits and behaviors. If we are consciously building positive and authentic relationships, we can break the spell of an oppressive authoritarian and despondent traditional hierarchy.

The Strengthening Affect

More productivity, more employee satisfaction, more customer satisfaction — the list goes on. There are many benefits to organizational innovations. When groups have the autonomy to make decisions for themselves, they are more invested in the success of the entire network or organization because they themselves become their own leaders and feel the accountability to succeed. When each persons individual strengths are praised for and capitalized on, groups feel a better sense of belonging and community. When organizations and networks are freed from constricting and redundant rules and procedures from a single leader, everyone feels the freedom and paradoxically, responsibility to their groups. Again, we touch on the Power Paradox, but with the right foundation, we see more benefits than any harm to the organization. The final affect, is a sense of mutual trust, something that cannot be bought nor enforced, and should not be taken lightly. With trust as the social lubricant, “things happen organically on a voluntary basis; nobody is being allocated to a team by a higher authority,” people self-organize and reorganize when priorities shift (LaLoux, P 77). Knowledge becomes a network of its own either through informal face-to-face interactions, or through digital and built infrastructure, and these interactions become energizing and positively constructive to the organization.

Fun and Play for an Agile Organization

Not only are self-directed groups more fun and enjoyable, they are also a key component to an agile organization. “Truly agile organizations, paradoxically, learn to be both stable (resilient, reliable, and efficient) and dynamic (fast, nimble, and adaptive). To master this paradox, companies must design structures, governance arrangements, and processes with a relatively unchanging set of core elements — a fixed backbone. At the same time, they must also create looser, more dynamic elements that can be adapted quickly to new challenges and opportunities” (Aghina, De Smet, Weerda, Agility: It Rhymes with Stability) In a dynamic and fluid market, our individual strengths in either collaborating, creating, controlling, or competing are more important than ever. It is up to leaders, networks and organizations to bring those strengths out of people, and to provide the right foundation to grow those strengths and to find balance in our wants and needs.

Design & Research for Social Innovation