Basically, a scientific paper by Richard Daft*, since cited over 1000 times, found organisational innovations trickle simultaneously upward and downward.
In a study of the way schools operate which concluded in 1972, where there are both teachers (the do-ers) and administrators (the managers), he found:
- For delivered innovations about teaching, 77% came from teachers, whilst only 16% came from administrators.
- For delivered innovations about school management, 75% came from administrators, whilst 16% came from teachers.
And for those astute enough to pick up the missing percentage point, those were accounted for by “collaborators”, a term applied to anyone who introduced something new that was neither a teacher nor and administrator.
This led Daft to propose a “dual core model of organisational innovation”. The dual core model suggests innovations get delivered both at the frontline where technical experts change the way the organisation delivers its core business, and at an organisational level, where managers make systemic changes that affect everything.
Daft went on to suggest the cores can be quite uncoupled from each other as a function of the “professionalisation” of each core.
He then said:
“The dual core concept helps answer the question – what is the role of top administrators in the innovation process? When innovation and adaption within the technical core is desired, the advice is relatively straightforward: Acquire highly professional employees for the technical core and let them handle innovation. Professional employees are aware of the problems in their work, they are versed in the state of the art of their technology , and they should have the freedom to innovate as they see fit. Approval of their proposals should be relatively routine”
Important advice, since the current state of the art is to design innovation processes which reduce the number of ideas to that number sufficiently small “administrators” have enough bandwidth to actually make decisions.
But is this the only direction innovators should be pursuing to move their organisations forward?
I think not, and here are the reasons why:
- Teachers and their classrooms have significant autonomy and are often not directly supervised. With the interests of their pupils in hand, they can make direct changes in their work to improve things. That’s rather like the new model of decentralised authority beginning to percolate through old-style command-and-control organisations.
- There is now a professional managerial class in organisations who did not begin with technical disciplines that directly drive firm outputs. They’re MBA qualified, and know all about organisations and how to structure them and so forth. What they don’t know is how to do the jobs which deliver the actual outputs of their companies. So they’re not expert enough to actually drive innovation that matters to the front line in the first place.
- Social technology has made it simple for relatively distributed technical workers to gang themselves together without any top down organisational impetus.
- The pace of change is speeding up. Its much too fast now for any hierarchical organisation to cope, simply because leadership has run out of bandwidth.
- Gen-Y are now in their first leadership roles. They couldn’t care less what the heirachy thinks. They’d much rather make a difference regardless.
What do you think? Did Deft really discover the future of innovation management?
* Here’s a reference to the paper if you have access to library services.
edit: Thanks to a few of you for pointing out I made a mistake in the year of the reference, not 1987, but 1978.
A Dual Core Model of Organizational Innovation
Daft, Richard L.
Academy of Mamnagement Journal; Jun 1978; 21, 2, p193
If you don’t ping me and I’ll see if I can find a way to get you a copy.