Can organizations be beautiful?

April 4, 2010 — 37 Comments

honeybee

At IDEO we have been working on the topic of designing organizations for a while, most specifically the design of organizations to be more innovative. My struggle with this particular domain of design thinking has been one of aesthetics. Great design thinking results in  functionally and emotionally satisfying solutions where the emotional value is generated through the creation of meaning. In design, meaning largely comes from aesthetics and so I have been wondering how to think about aesthetics when considering the design of organizations. Hence the question, can organizations be beautiful? More specifically can organizational designs be beautiful? Is there a ‘designerly-ness’ to the process of organizational design?

I have been wondering about this partly because I believe without an aesthetic component the best design minds will not apply themselves to these kinds of problems and partly because of a frustration with current organizational design practice that seems to largely be about arranging boxes in an organizational chart.

Are there overarching design concepts that can be described as beautiful? I think Shaker communities might be considered beautiful, not just because they created beautiful things but because of the simplicity of structure, clarity of purpose and thoughtfulness for every aspect of the experience.

Is Google, with its twenty percent personal project time, a beautiful organization?  Are there organizational archetypes that can be evaluated in aesthetic terms? A bee colony could be considered a beautiful example of emergence. What would a beautiful, innovative organization look like or feel like?

Tim Brown

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37 responses to Can organizations be beautiful?

  1. Ask any sport nut, and they will say there is beauty in the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, the West Offense masterminded by the Bill Wash on the 49ers, the Brazilian style of soccer, etc.

    So maybe we can draw inspiration from sports? Like companies (but on a micro level), sports teams are constantly trying to win with their own innovative “organizational designs”– player formations, responsibilities, and plays.

    As an example, diagramming the x’s and o’s in sports can be a thing of beauty. Similarly, can org charts also be functional and beautiful?

  2. I believe an organization can be beautiful; not so much in the way it looks, but in the way it feels. A beautiful organization is:
    open
    light
    warm
    pumping with energy
    dynamic
    kinetic
    pulsating
    vibrant
    glowing
    rich
    nurturing
    enabling
    receptive
    transparent
    supportive
    challenging
    trying
    testing
    validating
    enriching
    fostering
    exhilarating
    calming
    sustaining
    and so much more…

  3. I’ve been thinking a great deal about the makeup of largely volunteer or professional associations where most of the people in the group have other jobs. I work in an architecture firm, but am very involved in a both our professional organization and a non-profit that focuses on sustainable construction…

    These are both setup with larger and larger circles of committees (local branch, state chapter, regional council, national board)… and I’ve found that all of the cliches regarding ‘design by committee’ are quite true. Most notably, it seems like it can be very hard to either rid an organization of a bad idea or to limit effort and focus to the original scope of an issue.

    It’s hard to tell people ‘no’ in a committee, especially when you’re relying on them and they’re volunteering all of their time. It’s similarly difficult to limit scope creep… There are a trillion good ideas in the world, but a committee of 10 people who have other full-time jobs can’t tackle all of them in an hour a month… (Is that twitter feed really worth the effort?) People seem to have the hardest time understanding the opportunity costs of decisions…

    The only solution to this problem I’ve been able to come up with is strong leadership to set the correct path and tactfully turn down bad ideas, but one organization I’m involved with is so focused on the consensus model that it’s nearly impossible for individual leadership to govern… I’m very interested in any thoughts you may have on non-profit, volunteer organizational structures that would increase the efficiency of the group…

  4. Tim,

    I Iook forward to hearing where this line of thinking gets you. I’m a strategy consultant, but not an organizational designer, though I have done some of it. Having seen a few beautiful organizations and many not beautiful ones the things I like to see include:
    -Responsiveness to and engagement with the changing world outside
    -Clarity about how each person contributes to the overall purpose of the organization
    -Built to bring out the best performance of each individual person
    -Encouragement of trusting relationships up and down and across the hierarchy

    I do think many new pictures of organizations could be very helpful as the traditional lines-and-boxes don’t help an organizational designer see any of these things.

    -Thom

  5. I really like the question of beauty and aesthetics of organizations. The major challenge with organizations is that you can not feel, touch or experience organizations. So you can not easily build prototypes or enact the service experience. And I guess organization is also related to the corresponding business model and in some cases has a legacy/history/tradition aspect that is hard to capture.

    The underlying issue here is that we are lacking a agreed visual representation of organizations and business model that would allow us to use aesthetic rules to evaluate them. The closest I have come across up to now is the Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder (http://www.businessmodelalchemist.com/) that allows to show business model, but still lacks aesthetic criteria.

    Evaluating organizations the question is also what the final success criteria is and whether “beauty” is really translated in to innovation or business success or profitability. And is a hierarchical organization more beautiful than a small team collaborative approach. Is the 150-organization size limit at Gore beautiful ?

    So I would start with looking at ways to visualize organizations and translate business models that allow aesthetic evaluation.

  6. There needs to be some traditional structure for leadership, decision-making, and accountability (esp. to shareholders/owners). Then it depends how you want to facilitate what needs to happen for the organization to succeed. Margaret Wheatley (business and management consultant and writer) sums it up nicely: “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.”

  7. Tim — It may seem strange to say, but J.R.R. Tolkien tackled this question in his Lord of the Rings series. One statement about Orcs and Goblins that has stuck with me, “They could not make beautiful things.” As one studies Tolkien, one finds that the question of Good and Evil arise in the context of Light and Dark as well as Ugly and Beautiful.

    In addition, it is the Elves who have the highest form of culture, art, civilization, beauty, and grace. It is the Elves who seemed to have attained “shalom.” We commonly translate the Hebrew “shalom” into English as “peace.” It is actually much more — it means completeness, or to be made whole. With this in mind, does it make sense that a beautiful organization is one in which there is completeness, or wholeness?

    I think it is also important to identity what makes an un-beautiful organization — one in which senior executives receive excessive bonuses for laying off thousands of workers. Peter Drucker cried out that this was one of the moral failures of our time. I but echo his insight.

  8. Hi Tim

    couldn’t stop thinking about your “organizational beauty” question on top of
    my previous post and here are a few more thoughts.

    You take the bee colony as an example of beautiful organization and I would agree. The focus of the bees, however, is not so much on innovation but on robustness and survival. So innovation might require a specific view on organization.

    Your question tries to map the abstract concept of organization to the abstract concept of beauty (and throwing in innovative-ness as a third) and I feel you probably need to put some “facts” in the mapping process.

    So I would start by identifying measurable criteria/factors assumed to be relevant for innovation and organization like: team size, different areas of knowledge/competency involved in innovation process, number of
    contacts required in teams, geographical distribution of teams, speed and levels of decision making within organization, innovator archetypes involved in teams, distribution of power within team (equal votes vs. few leaders).
    I would then put this in some tool that could translate this for different organizations into a visual representation, e.g. using Processing and tree diagrams (see for example http://www.generative-gestaltung.de/M_6_4_01_TOOL ).

    Playing around with this I guess you could already see whether there is beauty, e.g. very colorful or evenly distributed patterns in specific organizations.

    Coming to the organizational archetypes for innovation you could feed organizational structures for teams which could be considered innovative/creative and look at the results, e.g. film studios/tv productions, ad agencies, research institutes, product design/development firms, startups, etc.

    I would think that this could also generate some overarching principles for innovative teams, e.g. like Gore’s “not more than 150 people in one organization” or Shaker-like principles you already mentioned.

  9. Tim – I’ll flip the question. What is a not-beautiful organization? Environmental polluter? Pyramid schemer? Depends on one’s point of view I suppose, but could there be universals here?
    -Nigel
    PS: I teach design thinking for e-services at the UM Ross School of Business (your book is an assigned reading). You are the “guest speaker” for our upcoming Thursday class and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on “from design to design thinking” at the Penny Stamps lecture in Ann Arbor on Thursday.

  10. Doesn’t the aesthetic arise from the available palette, the choices made and the communication of goals and cultural values and how these are embodied in the end result? If so, isn’t there a resultant aesthetic that emerges in the elegance, efficiency and transparency of processes (or not) and clarity of purpose (or not)in how business processes map to an organizations delivery on its aims, objectives, ethics and value proposition?

    In any organization there is a palette of elements i.e. functional business units interlinked by formal and adhoc business processes. Business process design is a selective process of choosing how different elements are arranged, interoperate and how they contribute to the overall organizational behavior (and culture) to achieve achieving declared organizational goals.

    Doesn’t the distribution of elements , their composition and how effectively they contribute to the resultant organizational behavior within a defined context produce an an aesthetic state?

    A complex system can result out of the simple interaction of elements.

    A seemingly simple system can be invariably complex when elements are poorly intertwined or the problem they are trying to manage is either not well understood , inefficiently addressed or infinitely more complex than first thought when examined in detail.

    Anyone who has looked at a plot of a strange attractor knows that the resultant visualization can have distinct aesthetic. Some of which are undoubtedly beautiful. Such mappings help scientists understand the inter-relationships of dynamical systems and can convey significant meaning. Is there an organisational equivelent which emerges from business process design?

    Perhaps the problem is really communication – how to relay the complex composition of business elements, cultural values and goals with the resultant behavior and context in such a way that readily conveys a systems aesthetic state in an understandable manner that encourages discussion and innovation? Can the choices that an organization makes in its business process implementation be attuned to one aesthetic or another? If so what are the implications?

    Less traditional org charts and more Six Sigma re-interpreted using tools from information visualisation and ecology as seen through the bifocal lens of information theorists (entropy of communication) and the design community with the results conveyed as dynamic maps showing beauty or ineffectiveness… :-)

    It would certainly be interesting to see comparative case studies of organizations that try to identify such states, what tools are used to map and communicate them and what lessons are learned in the process.

  11. Jeremy Seligman April 7, 2010 at 11:43 am

    I found this discussion today while doing some background reading on Tim Brown and Ideo in preparation for attending Tim’s talk at the Penny Stamps lecture here in Ann Arbor tomorrow that Nigel mentioned above. Here is the link: http://www.art-design.umich.edu/stamps. It’s a great series, and many of the lectures are online.

    This is an subject of great interest to me as an organizational development specialist. Phillip’s comments certainly resonate for those of us here at UofM with ties to the Center for the Study of Complex Systems, an outgrowth of the Santa Fe Institute. Rigid structures, whether in fractals, natural systems, or organizations, produce uninteresting and inflexible outcomes. Insufficient structure does not allow for convergence of pattern- or sense-making in the system. But at the point of emergence, where there is a dynamic play between degrees of freedom and requisite structure, striking beauty often displays itself.

    I apply this directly to organizational design, and believe that the aesthetics of organizations is a function of the elegance of the design of that organization that allows it adapt to changing internal and external environmental factors by adding and dissolving structure as necessary. An “ugly” organization is one that carries with it the detritus of old, dysfunctional structures, and which can no longer (if it ever could) bend and flex as it needs to in response to changing circumstances. A beautiful organization is one that appears kaleidoscopically to the mind’s eye, as it continually senses and responds and adjusts naturally as the world around it shifts.

    There are many ways in which to apply this to organizational design, which we may want to talk about in subsequent postings, but I wanted to at a minimum claim that an aesthetic of organizations can be articulated, and that it can and should be the departure point for design principles for “beautiful” organizations.

  12. Jeremy – there is certainly a great body of work in the complex systems field that is deeply relevant to these discussions starting with Langton’s Computation at the Edge of Chaos: Phase Transitions and Emergent Computation paper on cellular automata (as is Wolframs continued work in this area) through to more recent discussions of the phase transition concept which have focused on better definitions and measurements such as excess entropy vs. entropy rate. Related recent studies such as Conceptualizing Birkhoff’s Aesthetic Measure Using Shannon Entropy and Kolmogorov Complexity from Jaume Rigau et al at the University of Girona, Spain or the tools employed for mapping social networks and social visualization provide great discussions on potential toolsets and techniques which may be useful.

    I also think an aesthetic of organizations can be articulated and there is in fact wonderful foundation from the both the design and complex systems communities to have meaningful conversations about this. More importantly I think there is enough commonality between these communities and with related fields of information visualization and graphic design to help build useful tools and techniques which help articulate this discussion further.

    Enjoy this evening’s lecture.

  13. Tim, what a stimulating post (and many equally stimulating comments!) I think there is much to learn from nature about beauty and how it might apply to organization design. In nature, beauty is generally associated with life, survival, evolution, replication, etc., and if an organization is to be ‘beautiful’ it must be able to evolve and sustain itself.

    Therefore, when I think about organization design, I think about self-organization (though not exclusively); fractal forms; mechanisms equivalent to ‘genetic codes’ for organizational components and their ecosystem (such as strong ‘value systems’, clear sense of purpose). The fields of natural systems, complexity and the science of chaos have, I believe, much to offer here.

    This feels like an important aspect of Design Thinking, and one that lends itself to support by emerging information technologies such as those generally referred to as ‘Web 2.0.’

  14. Keith Lundquist April 9, 2010 at 6:43 am

    Start by taking a closer look at the photo of the beehive accompanying this blog. Each cell has six sides and each of those six sides is not only touching, but is inter-dependent to such an extent that it becomes part of the adjacent cell. It IS the adjacent cell Maybe there’s a lesson within the organization of this colony for non-winged organizations.

    Keith

  15. @Phillip

    I really appreciate your bringing communication into the mix Phillip. After all, what are organizations if not systems of coordinated discourse (thoughts, actions, relationships, etc.)?

    This, however, does not answer the question: what communication aesthetics characterize “beautiful” organizations? I believe the answer requires a fundamental shift in thinking about how communication constitutes individuals and social systems. From communication as functional transmission of ideas to communication as invention (e.g., of meaning, identity, structure, brand and so forth).

    If we assume that communication constitutes systems (i.e., defines them by performing action, not merely representing something else like “culture” or “values”), then a logical question to ask is what are we inventing together through our negotiations of meaning? Are we creating something beautiful, positive, and generative? Or are we creating something rigid, stultifying, and energy-depleting?

    Embracing the constitutive power is easier now than it has ever been (especially as organizational structures become completely discursive located in many different virtual spaces). Once we embrace this, we can begin to design better (more beautiful?) communication processes for coordinating meaning, being together, and acting into the world.

    Thanks for the great conversation!

  16. Great question, but maybe an unfair one.

    But maybe the real question is whether any body really knows at all how to design a organization to be that functional. If no one really knows how to design organizations, especially large ones, then there is no surprise that many might be that beautiful.

    It is interesting that some people know how to design sports teams well. Maybe because performance is so visible and transparent on the field of play, we know authoritatively and unambiguously what each player’s role and talents are and how they need to complement the other players, we can design and staff teams to near perfection? The performance results help to learn and understand the requirements.

    Does any one really understand in the same way and to the same degree what a major corporation or governmental agency and all its players need to perform?

    Perhaps you are too prematurely and unfairly applying design thinking to an area or problem that is just too underdeveloped? Is this like asking design thinking to be applied to a cure for multiple-sclerosis for which we really have no clue on how to cure?

  17. I certainly think aesthetics apply to organisations. Hekkert (2006) describes the following 4 principles of Aesthetics: Maximum effect for minimum means, Unity in variety, most advanced yet acceptable, congruency/appropriateness.

    I think these principles beautifully apply to Semco.

    Here there were no job titles, no personal assistants. People set their own salaries and working hours and workers choose there own managers. Definitely varied and advanced if you ask me. Mayb it even sounds like a recipe for disaster but this wasn’t the case. Semco splitted profits among all workers and people had to quit their job after a certain amount of time and had to apply with for that job with their direct collegeaus again. So there was definitely unity, these condition where acceptable and i think the company had maximum effect for minimum means.

  18. You’d think so wouldn’t you? And yet I agree with few exceptions and after two decades in OD and communications [where you'd think the expression of the organization would be compelling] I can come up with only two examples where I think there was an opportunity for functional and emotionally satisfying solutions that had potential for creating meaning.

    The first come from work of Henry Mintzberg. His book ‘The structuring of organizations’ was a complete revelation when I first saw it. Granted the boxes are there, but the overlay of different functional emphasis for different types of organizations is quite beautiful and simple if not too emotional.

    The second was from work done by Russell Grossman and the team at BBC a few years ago where their interpretation of the new structure was drawn as a flower. Emotionally compelling. Perhaps not that functional though we’d have to ask Russell.

    Given the technology we have today to express both formal and formal relationships in organizations I think the time has come. And thank you for a reminder of the potential.

  19. Hi Tim, i’m a strong believer in ‘people only remember how you make them feel’ and organisations are not void of this basic human trait. The appreciation of beauty is processed through ones feelings towards an experience. Despite which sense the beauty stimulates, a person will feel a strong attraction to that experience. So, organisations can be beautiful, but I personally believe it’s their long term behaviour that will inspire beauty and not a cosmetic overhaul.

  20. Hi again. I’ve just come back from touring the latest exhibit at the Canadian Centre for Architecture: Other Space Odyssey [it's a beautiful and compelling show]. I came into the section where one of the architects’ – Michael Maltzan – latest designs for the American Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena are displayed. And there in blue and green what one interpretation of the building based on the functional and working relationships [organigram]. Definitely functional and emotionally compelling. Check out the images and look for the blue and green model [it pops!]… http://bit.ly/cbUcxP. Imagining and representing these relationships virtually or as this is within the context of the working space is beautiful.

  21. Hello Tim, I consider myself a lifelong sudent of human organizations and find your comments and many of the comments generated by your recent posting on the aesthetics of organizational design and innovation one of the most fascinating and captivating discourses taking place on public forums.

    One assumption about the aesthetics of organizational design that is implicit in some of the previuos comments or briefly acknowledged in others, but that has yet to be discussed in explicit terms concerns the relativistic nature of aesthetic qualities; cultural relativism in particular. For some, there is beauty in the simplicity of traditional Hopi or Mennonite communities if simplicity and harmonious relationships are valued. It can also be argued that there is beauty in the simple yet frequently hostile relationships attributed by anthropologists to the Yanomamo communities in the Amazon forests, particularly if one values living in the moment. Similarly, if one values a continuous flood of external stimuli, fierce competition, and incomparable opportunities to accumulate vast amounts of wealth, one can be adamant and affirm that there is beauty in the complex hustle-and-bustle of global urban communities and in the functional structures and architectural configuartion of their highly diverse constituent organizational units, as in Tokyo, Paris, or SF.

    I don’t have the empirical data to claim that it is a proven fact, but it seems reasonable to suggest that in advanced forms of human civilization, the adaptiveness and sustainabilty of organizations coincide with the ability of its organizational units and its individual members to innovate and generate new forms of expression. The inherent value and aesthetic appeal of this principle is likely to manifest itself in diverse architectural and functional patterns over extended periods of time that contain a shared organizational element or principle.

    The examples I can offer at the moment include the overlapping hierarchical group structure proposed for participative organizations in Rensis Likert’s System IV model of organizations. A concrete set of organizational design principles I find aesthetically appealing can be observed in the 5:1 ratio for salary structures, the democratic and representative principles that govern the composition of executive boards for each organizational unit, and the one-worker one-vote principle that governs policy decisions in each organizational unit of the Mondregon Corporate Cooperative System located in the Basque Region of Spain. This cooperative system and its organizational design principles survived the Fascist onslought against it during its early years of operation and it continues to adapt and compete on several fronts with transnational competitors. Yet these organizatioal design features may have little if any aesthetic appeal to the executive board members or to investors whose personal wealth depends on the ROI of corporations with capital assets that surpass the economic assets of most of the world’s nation states. Hence, the aesthetic appeal of organizational design principlse may be based on the beliefs and values that are inherent to a given culture.

    I lookforward to the ongoing discourse you’ve ignited. Thanks!

  22. “More specifically can organizational designs be beautiful? Is there a ‘designerly-ness’ to the process organizational design?”

    Beauty of a design is often in the simplicity with which it fulfills the purpose. An organization that has well defined purpose (measurable goals and objectives) and operates from a bigger context (Creating Value for “Universe/World/Country/Society “) that allows for fulfillment of individual aspirations and needs would be a beautiful organization. Such an organization would allow each individual to achieve his/her potential of being able to contribute to the world and to realize his greatness.

  23. wiki says: An organization is a social arrangement which pursues collective goals, controls its own performance, and has a boundary separating it from its environment.

    I wrote this down on my sketchbook..

    Product – Formal Arrangement – Look (object based)
    Service – Touchpoint Arrangement – Experience (time based)

    Organization – Social Arrangement – Relationship (interaction based)

    It seems to me that when we describe a beautiful product or service, we tend to describe its look and the experience we had.

    If the above assumption is valid.. does it mean we can begin to describe
    what is a beautiful relationship, leading us to some answers to the original
    question?

    thanks for the inspiring comments!

  24. Marcia Conaghan April 25, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    As I read the question I had the following thoughts…

    1. Why not?
    2. Of course organizations can be, but most probably are not.
    3. “Beauty will save the world.” (Dostoyevsky) is one of my favorite quotes.
    4. If Quality is what you like, Beauty is what you love.
    5. But isn’t a democratic society beautiful? It is a design of function. So yes, there is beauty in organizations that have checks, balances and high principles to uphold. Are corporations, LLC’s, partnerships and other business structures beautiful? I think only when they work and do no harm. And you would have to ask the individuals who work there “Do you work for a beautiful organization?” They would have to love working there to say yes.

  25. Jumping in a little late here, but this one is of particular interest to me. The principle difference between “arranging boxes in an organizational chart” and a living, emergent bee colony is that in the former there are busy little workers in those boxes being rearranged. I think the real dissatisfaction is in how little is left renegotiable in our work environments. Social meta-structures are recycled and rebuilt daily, but our physical and hierarchical structures are literally bolted to the walls. And that’s ok – it’s a safety feature that has served us well as a species so far. But once these can be recycled and rebuilt to reflect behavior I think we’ll see all kinds of beautiful, emergent, living configurations, and in such a thoroughly homogenized business environment a little risk and variety may finally be a good thing.

  26. Plato (or at least my Plato prof) would say that a person who has hit his stride, is beautiful i.e. found his niche, practicing his craft, pursuing the good life, etc.

    With an organization, like a person, you can look deeper at how the parts that make up the organization help it hit it’s stride or not. Beauty doesn’t have to feel good… be perfect. Interesting thoughts!

  27. It all makes me wonder what a beautiful organization feels like. When I walk away from a meeting/encounter feeling ‘joy’ vs. ‘frustration’, I think “that was a beautiful thing!”.

  28. Its a fantastic question, very relevant to us personally. Have been building this organization finalmile in Mumbai, India. We have asked similar questions along our journey. Here’s our take.

    1. No silly policies or rules, more energy on finding self disciplined people

    2. One that allows people to be in a relaxed state of mind, built through less than optimal work/person, fearlessness and freedom

    3. Uncluttered. No designations and hierarchies based on years, but a knowledge hierarchy

    4. Everyone has a share in success and in wealth creation

    5. People unlike each other

    6. One that laughs a lot

    7. One that encourages spontaneous dialogue and instant sharing of ideas or knowledge

    8. Premium on likability – Allow people to stop doing what they don’t like, even if it leads to potential loss of business

    9. A big premium on honesty and integrity, being unambiguous and uncompromising

    10. One that values failure little more than it values success

    We have had good success so far, more importantly, a bunch of happier people.

    Guess we need to have better design for attracting and recruiting talent, the dominant system today seems inefficient.

  29. A beautiful organization thinks: “Rather develop individuals and risk they leave – than not develop them, and risk they stay.”

  30. Aesthetics is about fit, feel or appearance that seems just right and appropriate in context. It’s not about merely being right, but conveying rightness in a visceral and intuitive way to anyone who chooses to look at it. Hence, an aesthetic organisation would have to have projective and extroverted qualities that are not artificial or superficial but integral & intrinsic, and hence shine from within, so to speak, by its simply being itself. This means that everything about the organisation – its people, its processes, its culture, its contribution, its architecture and buildings, its communications (I hear you, Tina!)… everything has to radiate just-right-ness!

  31. I certainly think organizations can be beautiful, and I agree that a beautiful organization is one that develops its employees, allows them creative free time and is good to the environment.

  32. Tim,
    yes, there is potential beaty in an organization design, but not in the sense that it will remove hierarchy, procedures, or other aspects that some may find unattractive. When I think of beauty in this context I think of two things:

    - Structures, systems and processes that have a certain symmetry to them, an intuitive appeal because they seem “right”. For example, the first time I saw Russel Ackoff’s concept of the multidimensional organization I immediately felt that it had both a functional value and an aesthetic appeal (being “balanced” in three dimensions etc.).
    - A design process that leads to a creative reconfiguration, such as when you see a pattern in a set of messy data, or when you develop proposal for a new organizational structure that removes a contradiction or solves a dilemma that people in an organization have been struggling with.

    The flip side is that there is also a lot of ugliness in this area. A lot of designs are both functionally inadequate and aesthetically unappealing.

    By the way, interesting comments from several people. Ernesto Reza mentions Rensis Likert’s ideas; I will look into that. And I agree with him that worker-owned firms and cooperative organizational arrangements represent important organizational design innovations that need to be studied more carefully.

  33. A bit late to comment but this is a topic that has occupied my thinking throughout 2010.

    We form organisations because we believe that combining different skills is more efficient and will produce a better outcome than operating separately. That worked well in the late 1800s and the 20th century, but business complexity now means “silos” are operating more often than not apart. And cross-functional dialogue and working is no longer enough, from what I can see.

    Most of the implications are discussed above. I’m intrigued by the idea that rather than moving the boxes around, we need new boxes that are designed more around audience than task/traditional business function… Hmmn.

  34. When I’m thinking of designing a better world, I’m thinking of designing more beautiful organisations. People spend about 40% of their life in organisations. I was initially educated as a product designer (Design Academy Eindhoven) and studied Business Administration as well. I wondereded whether organisations can do beautiful things in a beautiful way (beauty prodcution X production beauty). Therefore, I started a PhD-research project which I will finish within a year.

    Unfortunately I will not submit for IDEO’s ‘designing a better world’ fellowwhip. But probably my knowledge about beautifying organisations could be transferred in another way.

    Regards,
    Steven de Groot

  35. This might be really simplistic, but the first idea that came to my mind about beautiful organizations, are organizations that allow diverse groups of people to tap into their potential as a full human being – which might include efficiency, ideas, emotion, grit, health, passion, creativity, and fulfillment.

    That might be a tall order, but it might be a good vision of beauty for any organizations to work toward!

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