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Cause & effect

April 13, 2009

I have long suggested that the vast bulk of management literature confuses symptoms with causes. The classic one is the causal link made between innovation and creativity. Innovative people tend to manifest what we know as creativity, but it does not follow that running people through creativity programmes will make them more innovative. As I have argued before the preconditions for innovation are starvation, pressure and perspective shift; further that these are necessary but not sufficient conditions for innovation to take place.

Another example of this confusion has been running around the twitterverse (by the way, if you tweet and have a mac, try out Nambu, best twitter client around at the moment) has been a report that consultants with more social interaction have high billing rates. The article concludes that if you increase your connectivity you will be successful. In practice people in IBM (the firm studied) who do not have good connections would never get the bureaucracy to work for them. The more bureaucratic the organisation the denser the informal networks required to make it work, despite itself. Even if you don't buy that cynical explanation, its fairly obvious that successful people in a professional services firm are going to be good at networking. If you want to emulate that you have to replicate original quality as well as quantity.

Fortunately the wider world is starting to catch up with things. This HBR article argues cogently that luck is a major factor. It starts like this:

Studies that examine high-performing companies to uncover the reasons for their success are both popular and influential. They’re the basis of the insights behind best sellers like In Search of Excellence and Good to Great. But there’s a problem: The “great” companies from which these studies draw their conclusions are mostly just lucky.

I've mentioned this before, and will be elaborating on it shortly with a blog on scenario planning, but what matters is the ability to move quickly to take advantage of the evolutionary potential of the present. The future belongs to those who think differently, and who have the ability, and the perspective to see those potentials and the leverage points that achieve change. If you copy the past, you at best repeat the past.

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