April 1, 2015

Purposeful, focused creativity for organizational change

Kipum Lee
Kipum Lee is a doctorate candidate in the department of design and innovation at the Weatherhead School of Management and head of design at Microbac Laboratories, Inc.

When IBM asked over 1,500 CEOs worldwide in a 2010 study what the single most important leadership competency organizations needed, the response was creativity. Not the pie-in-the-sky type of creativity that is so utterly detached from the reality of management, but the type of creativity governed by a controlled imagination that critically asks if something can be other and better than what it is today.

What the study points to is a desire by executive management for the engine that fuels the change needed to chart their way across the landscape of an increasingly complex and uncertain world. Managers shape the environments in which we work and live. And for ones who seek opportunities to improve their organizations and themselves, the principles of design offer a powerful skill set for flexible thinking and creativity. Design is a rich concept that captures the idea of purposeful and focused creativity.

When people hear the word "art"--another term that comes to mind when one thinks of creativity-- they might think of self-expression or "art for art's sake;" design, on the other hand, conveys something more grounded, inherently containing notions of utility (although not excluding the beautiful) and making in order to accomplish a particular purpose.

Despite this ability to be down-to-earth, design is typically understood in the narrow sense as stylization, the final embellishment of something that has already gone through rounds of decision making at higher levels. Design as stylization might be valuable in helping to explore a product feature, e.g., presenting an assortment of fanciful color or layout options on a corporate website.

While there are quite a number of senior managers and executives who actively participate even at this level of production – most notably, the late Steve Jobs – most managers are perfectly fine delegating end-of-the-line work to so-called Creatives. When design is taken more seriously, Creatives are given greater responsibility over the product development work of the organization.

At this point, the organizational challenge is to manage design. Creatives are a unique group of individuals with distinct needs, and management's task is to motivate and protect them so they can produce great work. The most mature form of design occurs in organizations that ask, "Is creative work limited to just the Creative group?"

So far, design has found it comfortable to nest in areas in which one would expect it to fit almost naturally, such as product development or customer service. But what about the other areas of an organization? Is there a way to develop vendor relations with methods different from those of today? How might managers discover unconventional ways to create and reinforce a culture of safety? How might managers innovatively close the gap between what brand and marketing communicates to customers and what really happens within operations?

If one begins to realize that everything within an organization is designed, the idea of designing management emerges. In fact, another way of stating the insight from the IBM study is that organizations are in need of managers who are designers – of meetings, presentations, services, processes, plans, organizational structures. Likewise, from the perspective of designers, organizations are large and complex products.

As the head of design for an analytic, chemical testing company, I have the unique opportunity to do my doctoral research on this very topic, design in organizations. There are moments when all three forms of design – stylization, managing design, designing management – converge to present an important opportunity for organizational change.

For example, it took me a while to realize that the custody form that accompanies the submission of client samples is much more than a piece of paper containing fonts and letters. It plays multiple roles: defending our reputation and business when questioned by the authorities, communicating the terms of agreement with our clients, providing the material needed to improve our processes and train our employees, guiding the actions needed by operations and quality assurance teams to fulfill the work, conveying principles of our brand, and embodying a sense of local ownership and pride since each of our facilities has historically crafted its own unique form.

The effort to tame the complexity of multiple versions and make changes to this single artifact required an understanding of the three forms of design. Making deliberate stylistic changes to the document were met with comments such as, "The white space created is a waste. More elements should be added to the form." Working with the IT team responsible for production and implementation of the document in electronic form led to the invention of an approach to making – a new product development process – that would benefit other similar products.

Finally, arguments had to be carefully designed in oral, written, and visual form to persuade possessive senior managers that there is both an internal and client-based need to standardize the form. This would require managers to make appropriate behavioral adjustments from both the front and operational ends of the business. These arguments were accompanied by the crafting of a new client services team that would have to be added to our overall organizational structure.

At the Weatherhead School ofManagement, we continue to have vibrant conversations on concrete topics like this – how things designed within the organization can be used as vehicles to redesign the organization itself. And that is just one theme. We have packaged our understanding of purposeful and focused creativity under the banner of manage by designing, a work-in-progress prototype that has led to the first department of design and innovation within a school of management. For managers seeking change in their career path, realization of their full potential, or positive organizational change, the Weatherhead Executive Education program provides a great place to explore what it means to lead such transformations in concrete terms.

If organizations truly need leaders who live and work creatively – people who know how to manage by designing – it is time for managers to devise new courses of action that change current situations into new and better ones.

March 30, 2015

#MyWSOMYear Photo Project

The Weatherhead School of Management Marketing Office is looking for photos representing the full experience of the Weatherhead student for its graduation day slideshow, as well as for inclusion in next year's Student Handbook. Photos with other students, with faculty members, at gatherings, in other cities, around campus, casual and formal are all welcome and encouraged.

Share your photos with us by tagging your tweets and Instagram posts with #MyWSOMYear, or email Nicole Rothstein njr6@case.edu with your photos. 

We're especially interested in LESS photos that look like this:

And MORE photos that look like this:

Don't forget that this is social media. Use your common sense and share only what you wouldn't be embarrassed to show your mom and future employer.

** By sharing your photos with us, we assume permission to redistribute and publish your photos on social media, in the slideshow, and/or in the Student Handbook. 

Now, go do fun things and take pictures of yourselves doing those fun things with other fun people!

March 25, 2015

Leadership roles in conflict and opposing neural domains

by Richard E. Boyatzis and Anthony Jack, PhD

Richard Boyatzis, PhD
Richard E. Boyatzis, PhD, is a Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve University, the H.R. Horvitz Professor of Family Business and a Professor in Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management.

Anthony Jack, PhD, is Director of Research at the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence, Principle Investigator of the Brain, Mind and Consciousness laboratory, and associate professor of Cognitive Science, Psychology, Philosophy, Neurology and Neuroscience at Case Western Reserve University.

David was smiling when he walked into his office building. The weekend was fun. Even his teenagers seemed to break out of their sulky mood and laugh with their cousins at his parents’ house. As if in an ambush, his executive assistant intercepted him just as he walked by the receptionist. A major client had just had an explosion in the client’s plant. No one was hurt, but the main production line was down. Officials at the plant used a set of David’s company’s electronic controls. Were their controls somehow at fault?

Anthony Jack, PhD
Before he reached his office, David stopped by several of the vice presidents' offices and called an emergency meeting in 15 minutes. When their meeting began, he told them what he knew and asked what they should do. Frank, the VP of finance, immediately began talking about their potential liability and that they should check with their insurance agent and corporate attorneys. Sid, the manufacturing VP, began to explain how the client's production line was most likely using his or her own control devices – and went on for quite a long time in excruciating detail. Finally, Barbara, the VP of marketing, asked whether or not David had talked to the president of the client company. She pointed out that since the client's plant was only 45 minutes away, David and a few others should drive over there and see what happened and how people are dealing with it. Frank interjected, "That could be read as an admission of guilt or culpability," to which Barbara replied, "Frank, get serious. We do not have to say it was our controls, but merely show concern. After all, they are a client and this is a big shock. Then we can find out what exactly happened and see whether our control devices were involved in any way."

David was hearing two points of view, which is all too typical in management. Frank immediately went on the defensive. Barbara thought about what the client was experiencing and how to collect more information quickly while showing concern – the right thing to do with a longtime client. These two perspectives and sets of reactions have often been called two different styles of management. One style, called Theory X by Douglas McGregor in the 1960s, is more task-oriented, treating people like parts of the machinery. Theory Y was what McGregor would have labeled Barbara’s reaction – more people-oriented and open to possibilities. What neither McGregor nor other management and leadership scholars for the past 60 years have known is that the roots of these two styles and perspectives rest in two very different neural networks.

In my Brain, Mind, Consciousness Lab, I – Professor Tony Jack – at Case Western Reserve University have been conducting neuroimaging studies and have confirmed with increased precision something suspected in the neuroscience literature. We use a network of neurons called the Task Positive Network (TPN) to make decisions, solve problems and focus. But when we are open to a new idea, other people or moral concerns, we use a different set of neurons called the Default Mode Network (DMN). Not only do these two networks have little overlap, research has shown that they suppress each other.

Identification of two different leadership styles and roles has been a part of management literature since the 1940s. We have called this the Task leader and the Relational (or social-emotional) leader. We thought it was a function of how people grew up, their mentors and coaches, their training and experiences. Which role a person prefers may be a function of some personality traits, but now we know it is more likely that if a person has a preference it is likely a result of using one neural network repeatedly more often than the other. David saw how Frank and Sid responded and how different it was from how Barbara responded. Each of them was correct in identifying a concern for their company. But which was the best way to respond to the client at this moment?

David sensed that it needed a more personal touch. He wanted to show concern but to be careful not to imply that the company's controls were at fault until more information was collected. He felt that showing the client that his firm wanted to help the client get production back up and running as soon as possible was more reflective of their long-term relationship than waiting for lawyers to call each other.

We suspected that effective leaders need both neural networks. Actually, we believe that the most effective leaders cycle back and forth between these networks in under a second and are sensitive to which network is needed in which situations. But the prevalence of each of these roles and styles may mean that we have not been developing managers and leaders with equal facility and skill in both domains. For example, most MBA programs teach people an abundance of analytic tools and are strategic and financially oriented. More effective leadership development would balance these important areas with interpersonal development and projects that involve active scanning of opportunities. Since the DMN also allows contemplating moral concerns – what is fair and just – it adds another dimension to how complex situations are.

This research and our research in how to develop effective leadership provide hope. There are programs, like our Leadership Deep Dive at WSOM Executive Education or our executive MBA program at WSOM, that involve learning analytics and action skills, how to focus (i.e., be mindful) and how to be open to others, and how to prepare your teams and organizations to survive and thrive. Leaders can be taught to recognize and use these different styles and to become more skilled at responding smoothly with both neural networks.

By the way, the explosion had nothing to do with David’s company’s controls.