On Collective Genius

Collective Genius presents ethnographic studies of innovation in leading organizations including Pixar, Volkswagen, eBay, Google.

The range of case studies the book addresses is one of its main assets. Readers’ curious about how Pixar makes animated blockbusters or how Google handles its need for massive storage city will enjoy the deep and rich descriptions.

At the heart of the book is a  framework of principles that capture the interpersonal and organizational conditions that make innovation possible:

What I like most about the book is how it blends rich description from formal case studies, evidence and concepts from academic research, and practice principles and frameworks that managers and leaders can adapt and experiment with at work.

Service designers and design thinking¬†consultants will find the frameworks in Collective Genius useful tools for taking stock of the organizational cultural practices. The principles might enable cross-functional innovation teams assess the conditions and readiness for innovation work. As you may have noticed, the ideas of creative abrasion, creative agility and creative resolution share some similarities to Roger Martin’s ideas on abductive reasoning in The Opposable Mind.

Leadership team coaches, particularly those interested in advancing models of co-creation of value with stakeholders will appreciate the discussion of principles and paradoxes that underlie high performance collaboration.

Learning and development professionals interested in social learning should pay attention to the case studies on Volkswagen and Pixar. The Volkwagen case addresses how to create community amongst siloed, fragmented units, and to instil collaboration towards a common purpose. The initial Pixar case, which opens the book, explores how Pixar enables exceptionally creative workers with diverse skill sets to work together a common shared purpose and to enact shared values. The book will challenge the learning and development community’s focus the psychology and behaviour of the individual work.

Innovators, read Michael Quinn Patton

At the urging of my friend and colleague Barb Berry, I recently read Michael Quinn Patton‘s book Developmental Evaluation.

It has been a long time since I have read a professional text with as engaging a style and tone.

What challenges me about Patton’s book is that it addresses evaluation work at a high level of sophistication. It assumes readers are capable evaluators and explores the practice of evaluation in a way that focuses on the why? rather than the how. True the book offers lists of possible evaluation frameworks and describes cases and examples of how complexity concepts may be applied by evaluators, their clients, and collaborators. But, even though I am a dabbler in the field of evaluation, I appreciated not being told what to do and rather being able to reason my way to what might work in a given situation.

The book has resonated as I have gone about my week observing an innovative program and offering just-in-time developmental feedback to the people involved. It has primed me to attend to the emergent, unanticipated outcomes and situations and the obstacles that they have created for people.

Patton’s book will resonate for anyone who is working to develop a social innovation. It persuades me that there is value for an insider/outsider evaluator on high stakes innovation programs. Patton’s book will appeal to innovators who are already inclined towards complexity, systems thinking, and other outside-in ecological ways of looking at growing a product, service or program. Cynefin practioners may appreciate Patton’s application of Snowden and Boone.

For pioneering service and strategy designers, developmental evaluation offers ways to evaluate the impact of service and strategy prototypes and innovations. If a future goal of service design agencies is to take service designs all the way to implementation and evaluation, developmental evaluation should feature on user research teams’ learning plan.