Each member of the MAIM Class of 2016 proposes their perspectives on innovation management in the lead up to their Degree Show “Through the Kaleidoscope: Perspectives on Innovation Management”. In this post, Ruta Eva, shares her perspective on how self-governing organizations adopted the creativity of entrepreneurs, criminals and deviants and the lessons businesses should take from their approach.
The quest for autonomy
The inspiration for conducting a year’s worth of research came from the two most influential men in my life. They shared many things in common – both rebellious-at-heart individuals, displaying opportunity- and advantage-seeking behavior and extreme disdain for conformity to norms and rules. Both left my life too soon and with a great many lessons still to be learned.
The initial intention of my research was to investigate how entrepreneurial, criminal and deviant mind-sets can be compared, with a view to seeking lessons by which traditionally structured organisations can challenge their existing systems and foster new approaches to their business. It led me to contemplate how companies could potentially draw on greater levels of ingenuity, flexibility and risk while creating an environment in which individual employees are encouraged to both maximise their potential and at the same time take responsibility for company’s operations within an established blueprint.
I have seen that opportunity-taking and advantage-seeking behaviours of many criminals are a fertile ground from which entrepreneurs may take learnings and directions. Some of the criminal behaviors considered in the fields as diverse as hacking and cybercrime, fraud, theft, or wider organized crime show underlying interrelationships with the entrepreneurial approach, though acting in the black market. The question that then arises is: how do you tap into the natural skills and leadership of criminals and transfer these to managing business; how can these be translated for the formal economy?
From Hackers to Burners
The current economic transition could be leveraged as an opportunity to change how we think in our economy. Where ideas come from need no longer necessarily be guided by rigid hierarchies, but arise by looking at different kinds of collective forms of organization. We should be looking at self-governance and be inspired by those working in the liminal spaces of a society’s legal system. How can one appropriate and put into operation some of the techniques seen at work at Burning Man, within Anonymous, the hacker collective, and open source networks such as Linux? How can these models of decentralized leadership be applied in the workplace and how would they then advance companies’ strategies?
The rapid economic change and the uncertainty that it brings could and should be used as an opportunity to form new PERSPECTIVES about our economy – how we conduct business, how ideas are developed and for what purposes exactly. You don’t need massive resources, a perfect team or the right environment in order to succeed. In fact, quite the opposite is being suggested – much innovation derives from constraint, from challenge and even scarcity. One could argue that innovation occurs as a response to scarcity of resources or other constraints and obstacles. For instance, the hacker culture uses limited resources to operate, however, this does not stop them to have a large impact on society. It is those very limitations that led them to be creative, developing new and innovating solutions to achieve their goals. Thus, if an individual or a group isn’t able to access traditionally available resources, they are forced to develop all kinds of creative approaches to survive and move forward. In order to envision different possible scenarios, we should take inspiration from different types of collective systems that ditch rigid hierarchies, promote self-governance and have decentralized leadership. Burning Man, Hackers Anonymous and Linux are just a few examples of such collectives that transcend typical architectures of organizations. Entrepreneurs, criminals and other deviants tend to have diverse portfolios of resources because their circumstances simply require them to diversify. Primarily because in the event that one project isn’t succeeding, one could be able to quickly and effectively diverse their actions in another direction and tap into otherwise invisible resources.
Some of the personal traits shared by criminals and entrepreneurs is ingenuity, resourcefulness, opportunism, non-conformity, a willingness to break norms, toughness in the face of resistance, and resilience. In terms of processes involved in the execution of criminal acts, essential components consist of the ability to scanning environment, recognizing opportunities, seeing remote possibilities, making unexpected links and recognizing effective strategies, all of which resonate with the model theories, principles and practices of the entrepreneurial mind-set.
A shift to a new stage of organisational consciousness
One particular aspect of the development of this approach to economic strategy is the forming of a favour or gift economy wherein you see entourages forming not just around one operator but rather around a group of people constantly supporting each other and doing favours for one another. In return, an immense trust and thick connection develops between people. Such levels of trust are primarily enabled by the idea of the individual’s autonomy. This gifting structure is visible in both the approaches of Linux, the Burning Man festival’s organisers and participants, and in the work of international hackers, whether autonomous operators or organised collectives.
In place of the out-dated model of top-down hierarchical structures, collective organisations would require from team members to adapt fluidly to the shifting challenges of the business environment and to be less concerned with rigidly delivering a prescribed job description than balancing resources and problems in the most effective and creative ways possible. This kind of organisation offers an architecturally structured permission for individuals to approach their real potential through cultivating instinctive and enabled responses. Other advantage of this model also relates to the collaborative environment that exists between organisations of this nature and how companies with diverse projects and goals can find success by sharing common principles and values at governance level that aid co-operation. As in the example of the open source software Linux, wherein a miscellaneous collective of businesses and individuals converged in an effort to advance the program. In this example is seen a merging of interests into delivering a shared goal, and there is a rich seam here to be explored as to the extent to which businesses with similar flexibility in their governance level have the vision to share and produce resources with a collective attitude.
In the future we should expect organisations that are going to bring most innovation and change to be lead by more disruptive entrepreneurs, geeks, creatives and other deviants working in more autonomous environments. These types of individual bring agendas of their own, aiming at creating change from within a company. Why would companies want to do that? It is a sign that organizations want to empower their team members to take ownership of important projects and operate as mini companies within the larger entities. This strategy would be for companies that are more mature, understand and execute innovation, and have considerable powers of foresight into the future.
By shedding the rigid traditions of the centralised leadership organisations, companies are opening the floodgates for the creativity of those with entrepreneurial, criminal or deviant mind-sets to flourish. Thus, giving them avenues of boundless opportunity for risk and expansion, but also and much more importantly, by inculcating in them a tangible relationship to their own responsibility within the dynamics of the greater operation working around them. With a decentralised leadership program one would see the potential for key business strains to merge, as individuals became at the same time the creative mavericks of a team and also the very managers, often in the past tasked with reining in and often stifling such creativity. With a clear vision of the objectives of the collective they are a part of, these individuals would devise a harmonious balance between self-development and management.
Disruptive spirit is needed in business and this is being recognised as disorganization within our institutions is fostered alongside the type of individual who brings the disruption that is essential to cultivate innovation in a workplace. It demonstrates that companies are gradually coming to replace the traditional organizational man, who is bound to follow the rules without question, his own and the organization’s output driven by the status quo and accepted value systems, with the disruptive disorganization man. The role of entrepreneurship has already been shifting in the past decade from traditional entrepreneurs to general managers – also known as intrapreneurs – mostly working in very large companies, whose task is to create new ventures or product innovations. I suggest that the next evolutionary step for organizations won’t just be the need to employ the creativity of visionary intrapreneurs but to change organizational architectures at a much deeper level. I simply don’t believe that true intrapreneurship can happen inside the the four walls of institutions, as this climate intrinsically contradicts the organic environment that entrepreneurs, criminals and deviants thrive in.
Stay tuned for the upcoming MAIM 2016 Degree Show, taking place at Central Saint Martins from 22 to 26 June 2016.