Do you think it’s possible for an organization to deliberately create an “anti-hierarchy” to encourage employees to engage in acts of creative deviance? What steps might a company take to encourage creative deviance? I think is it very hard to deliberately create an “anti-hierarchy” environment in an organization, but it is not impossible. The first step is to ensure that the organization’s culture supports and encourages creative deviance. This, in and of itself, is a challenge. Every organization leadership understands that unity of command and chain of command is highly important to achieve set performance goals. This dilemma creates a fine line between the phenomenon of “creative deviance” and simple disregard to “acceptance theory of authority”. The lines get blurred and confusion sets in different organizational units without proper management and direction of any creative thinking. Another way to encourage creative deviance is create a contemporary organizational design that inspires it.
Team structure, boundaryless structure, matrix-project structure, and learning structure can promote the idea of “thinking outside the box” and innovate where innovation is not really expected. Such environments are highly flexible and responsive and strive best in less mechanistic and more organic organizations. It is that sharing of the knowledge throughout the organization that creates sustainable source of competitive advantage. What are the drawbacks of an approach that encourages creative deviance? Creative deviance is great when it “strikes gold” and brings the company much needed competitive advantage and high revenues. 3M is the great example of that with all of its innovative products. But what if those “stars” and “question marks” from BCG Matrix never become more than just that??? Then the employees have wasted valuable company resources deviating into something completely not profitable. Creative deviance is also very hard to manage or police. Once one employee starts going is own way doing something he/she believes is beneficial for the company, who is to say that another employee is not allowed to do the same?
Lack of control and communication difficulties will quickly bring down the hierarchy and order in any organization. Why do you think a company like Apple is able to be creative with a strongly hierarchical structure, while other companies find hierarchy limiting? I believe Apple with its creativity in a strong hierarchical structure is more of an exception than the rule. Steve Jobs did an outstanding job leading the company into creating the most ground breaking technologies of the time while holding Apple in iron-grip control. He had an amazing ability to balance creativity and innovation with complete control. Very few organizations can boast the same. Once again, the proof is in the management’s vision of the degree in which “self-governing” works or does not. The secret sauce is in the ability of the leader of the company being able to set the vision and the direction of the organization in such a way that hierarchy is stimulating innovation. Apple definitely represents the omnipotent view of a manager. Apple understands that innovation sustains its competitive edge.
They dedicate resources within a highly structured environment that focus just on groundbreaking technologies. These engineers are not being pulled different directions because management understands the stake of these creative minds being focused on tasks at hand. Other companies find hierarchy limiting because they are trying more organic approach that they believe will foster creativity when, in fact, it just blurs the lines and creates more complexity in assigning people to projects. Additionally, democracy is important to an extent, even in a highly structured environment. Creative people should have a say so in the direction of the projects even if it affects timelines. But when it comes to managing and synchronizing work of many employees across different time zones while keeping up with ever changing landscape in competitive outside market environment, most companies sink low faced with such challenge. “Democratic” innovation is messy, time consuming, and difficult to manage. For this reason, many companies like Apple have created controlled environments in which innovation can occur (2).
1. Robbins, Stephen P., and Mary K. Coulter. Management. 12th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print. 2. Sam Ladner. When Can Innovation and Hierarchy Co-Exist? January 6, 2010. Michael Lopp, senior engineering manager at Apple, described design process in place. He admits that all initial mockups of “crazy” creative ideas take a huge amount of time upfront to develop. But management understand that it is worth it because it removed all ambiguity in the beginning without costing enormous amount of resources to correct mistakes at the end of the process. Apple also religiously used “10 to 3 to 1” rule. 10 completely different mockups are designed independently for any
new feature of the product, not 7 “fluffy” ones to make the other 3 “real” ones look better as it is done in some other companies. 10 strong ideas get narrowed down to 3 following with months of additional work to finally arrive at 1 best design. All design meetings are done in two pairs. Every week, the teams get together for the first meeting to “brainstorm” with no boundaries and to design “freely”. Then, they hold a production meeting with entirely different purpose of bringing designers and engineers together to nail down all the “crazy” ideas to how it might actually work in production. From the few above examples, we clearly see that Apple’s has “logic” in all of its “madness”. This is what separates it from some many other IT companies that are a long gone history. The above hierarchical process-driven examples show that Apple reserves the option for creative thought even at the very latest stage of the game which proves that creativity can strive in highly structured environment. It is up to the genius of the management to apply the same concept to their organization.