Positive Transformation - How Organizations can become creative Workplaces (2)

The Road to Innovation

What is the input that provides creative and marketable ideas? Today, markets have become “… too fast, too complex and too networked for any company to have all the answers aside” (Benkler, 2007). Unpredictability is the “normal” of our time. In a complex environment with only fuzzy goals rather than clear objectives, expertise may be less important than adapting a “beginner’s mindset”: making mistakes, learning fast, and taking corrective action very quickly. Successful organizations will be able to bring good ideas to market by using people’s intellectual and cultural power in a creative way.


Innovative organizations of today need to be proficient in:

  • ideation (the process of getting good ideas);
  • incubation (nurturing them into an actual business concept); and
  • acceleration (bringing them to market with the mainstream business)

(McGrath, 2015)


Whether ideation, design thinking or human-centered design (In 2008, Tim Brown of the design firm ideo wrote “Design Thinking” for Harvard Business Review, which explored how thinking like a designer can transform the way in which we develop products, services, processes and strategies) are quoted, they all represent processes developing ideas in a highly flexible way, with a strong focus on the client, allowing mistakes and iterations to create solutions that have a market.

The process usually has three phases: the first phase opens up on new subjects, requirements or topics coming from internal or external sources, while the second, exploring phase lets people experiment with these requirements. Experimenting happens in iterative procedures, by testing ideas and prototyping them until eventually a so-called minimum viable product can be presented, marking the final, closing phase in which the product or idea can be brought to market. The process follows the principles “play”, “iterate”, “make mistakes” and “learn”!


Source: Gray et al, 2010

All of these principles are habits boosting positive emotions, bearing in mind that being allowed to make mistakes and learn from them can be a very positive experience. Moreover, positive emotions broaden people’s awareness and encourage innovative and exploratory ideas and actions..( Fredrickson, 2004)

Organizational designs will need to be transformed to unfold people’s creative potential.

The Road to Happiness

Making organizations flexible to react to dynamic challenges, improving the efficiency of work and making people happier requires a change in the way in which we think of work and design workplaces.

“The diffusion of innovation is a social process, based more on psychology and sociology than technology.” (Seligman, 2012).  Companies need to innovate, but people need meaning and accomplishment to be creative, both of which are indicators of happiness (Rogers, 1983)

This is where positive psychology comes into play: people who are happier at work tend to be more creative and innovative. Positive emotions lead to more unusual thoughts, flexibility, increasing creativity, thinking in broader contexts and greater openness towards new impulses. All these experiences are summed up by the “broaden and build theory”. (Fredrickson, 2014)

Applying the thoughts, concepts and interventions of positive psychology not only to individuals but also to teams and whole organizations can help to make organizations fit for the future.


The road to innovation and the road to happiness both lead in the same direction: people’s creativity comes along with their well-being. Workplaces raising both innovative and soulful cultures require adequate organizational designs.


The Problem with Management Hierarchies

In a seminar, I asked attendees to name limitations of today’s companies. Their responses included power struggles, unclear objectives, silo-thinking, painful meetings, lack of engagement, micromanagement, difficulty to embrace change, etc., which are altogether not appropriate attributes for organizations to disrupt themselves. By contrast, management hierarchies are rather stopping people from developing creativity, instead making them waste their energy with politics and hidden agendas.

Management Hierarchies

The reasons can be found in their organizational design:

“the tension of our times is that we want our organizations to behave as living systems, but we only know how to treat them as machines”

(Wheatley, 1996)

And these machines can only change as quickly as their leaders handle the change.

With their hierarchical structures, they multiply the effects of employees’ negative emotions and very often support frustration, boredom or burnout: mental states that psychologists sum up under the theory of learned helplessness. (Seligman, 1975)

“…Successfully adopting a native digital perspective requires mastering a mindset that traditional management culture is both unfamiliar and rather uncomfortable with.” (Hinchliffe, 2016)  The sources of discomfort are quite system-immanent: they lie in the way in which companies are organized, power is distributed and ideas are drowned, including the way in which people are promoted, rewarded or fired. The conviction that work is unpleasant has created a self-fulfilling prophecy.(Imperative, 2015)

Well-intended concepts like leadership or workplace engagement are just a drop in the ocean.

“…The failure of the multi-billion leadership industry is that it assumes leadership to be confined to a few people at the top ... Words like ‘management’ and ‘control’ immediately evoke the image of someone in a top leadership position. This image is incomplete and misleading (Romme, 2015). Indeed, empowerment initiatives or strengths assessments can lead to even further discomfort if applied only selectively in annual performance reviews, while the structural and behavioral patterns remain unchanged.

In addition, recent trends like declining employee engagement and increasing burnout foreshadow how mangement hierarchies are stretched to their limits.



management hierarchies work best in steady environmentsNetworked structures work best in complex environments


Management hierarchies                     Complex environments

work best in steady environments          require adaptive organizational systems


The way in which organizations are designed has a remarkable impact on employees’ creativity and well-being.


As companies strive to become more agile and customer-focused, organizations are shifting their structures from traditional, functional models toward interconnected, flexible teams. More than nine out of ten executives surveyed (92 percent) rate organizational design as a top priority, and nearly half (45 percent) report their companies are either in the middle of a restructuring (39 percent) or planning one (6 percent).” (Deloitte Human Capital Trends, 2016)


It is time to design living systems.