Originally, people were by necessity a ‘Jack or Jill’ of all trades. If something needed improving or changing, there wasn’t an 0800 number to call, or an online help manual. You just tried to fix it yourself, endured the inconvenience, or perhaps bartered some help from someone else.

Then came; trades, crafts, guilds and professions, markets, apprenticeships, vocational (on-the-job and pre-job) training, secondary education, further education, higher education, standards of proficiency, continuing professional development and the internet.

When it came to workplace innovation, employers discovered the benefits of; teamwork, specialisation, committees and project teams. Meanwhile, the employees became; empowered, customer focussed, globally inter-connected, career self-managed, social network-engaged and change-management orientated.

Artificial Intelligence in the workplace is still in its relative infancy, so we don’t yet know how it can best integrate with human endeavour to generate future innovation. In the meantime, when it comes to innovation, what’s the best human group size? Too small and both the pace and multi-dimensional thinking required will be limited. Too large and there are all the negative features of committees with; hidden agendas, political lobbying, irreconcilable differences (values or sets of information), meeting distractions and lack of responsibility taken. Perhaps an optimal size is up to boardroom size. In the same way that boards limit the number of decision-makers to a relative few, each bringing a diverse set of experience and ability to the table, teams could emulate this model too.

A handful of multi-dimensional thinkers would bring; theoretical, visual, social and analytical perspectives, coupled with some creative techniques such as the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ (de Bono) to improve on the current approach of having a bunch of narrow specialists assemble to deliver a project before handing over the result to the ‘change manager’ of the operations team to then manage.

At present, seasoned architects, engineers and product designer entrepreneurs perhaps offer a tangible illustration of a diverse set of ‘skills in your head’ to tackle complex problems in innovative ways. Why single them out as the best model for the future? They typically have a balance of creative and analytical perspectives that can operate internally to generate translatable (practical) innovation. Perhaps it’s less about their particular profession and more about their internal qualities that is the point to note. Of course put a group of them in a room and there will still be emotion, attitude, political behavior and dissent. It’s just that already self-selecting for multi-dimensional thinking, it might help them agree on a great collective solution that much faster that the current approach.

On a related note, are all jobs slowly becoming change-management jobs?

Advertisements