When we think about the notion of “talent” — all the thousands of things that human beings do well — and how our personal talents interact with what we do at work, we often discover a few gaps.

And by “a few gaps,” I really mean “A HUGE GAPING HOLE.

Most organizations are built for the 19th Century, not the 21st. We’ve gotten rid of almost all the assembly lines (at least here in the US) but we’ve clung tightly to the mindset that powered them.

This is a problem because today, in order to achieve the outcomes desired of us at work, we can’t do things in task-driven, predictable, or linear ways. Unfortunately, though, because of that lingering old-world mindset, this is the only kind of work that “fits” into how our companies are structured. So, work that is inherently creative, unpredictable, and holistic gets sequestered into functional “departments” and stuffed into a “job description.”

Do you see the dissonance?

…If you don’t see it, can you feel it?

There is much dissatisfaction at work, and this is the reason why: the work is shifting, but the way we’re doing it is not. And no amount of “change management” can fix the problem, because we’re not changing the right things.

For all the innovation that’s currently happening in the world, where’s the innovation in our organization design? Why do we keep defaulting back to the old structures? Do we really think we can generate new life-giving work in old soul-sucking environments? (I even seem to recall a parable which might have some relevance here.)

I think there’s a lack of innovation simply because there haven’t been enough new ideas in this sphere. To an extent, it’s easy to see why: structures and systems aren’t very sexy. But I’ll tell you what is: environment design and ecosystem creation — and that is precisely what this is actually about.

This is the future of would-be company builders, leaders, and entrepreneurs: to become environment architects who deliberately fashion environments which bring life to the people who give so much of their time and energy to work there.* Leaders of these tribes aren’t the greedy, CEO-turned-despots of the (recent) past, but instead are the kind of person who gives you the credit for their success, and sees their job as helping you be a better person by fashioning a vibrant, healthy workplace.

Sexy enough? (I’d work there.)


*NOTE: Despite the incredibly sexy office picture above, I’m not just talking about updated office furniture. Is that stuff important? Hell yes (and check out this amazing post for some great examples). But while a lack of focus on workplace design is a huge lost opportunity, if  your org design ends with a trip to IKEA, you’ve (almost) entirely missed the point of this article.


2 Replies to “The Sexy Organization”

  1. Scott Asai says:

    Fully agree. New furniture isn’t the answer, but it’s a good start. How we set up the conditions to start the conversations and engage people is what makes the difference. We can’t control what people do, but we can sure positively influence them by creating open and collaborative structures that promote community learning and engagement. Yeah, I’ve gone Peter Block on you…

  2. There are definitely worse places to go than to Peter Block-ville!

    (For other readers: Scott is talking about Block’s book Community: The Structure Of Belonging. It’s truly insightful, full of depth, and highly recommended.)

    It’s worthwhile to note that the notion of “community creation/curation” will be central to all organizations in the future — any kind of business, for-profit, non-profit… everything. Immediate implications? Salespeople: stop “selling” right now. Start building a community instead.

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