organizations as prototypes

Yesterday afternoon, I visited Stanford d.School. I briefly spoke with Liz Gerber who's joining Northwestern this fall. It was exciting to talk to people who share similar vision and ideas. Among many things we talked about, I was particularly excited about the idea of treating organizations as prototype. It is consistent with the idea that I wrote here. One of the challenges in innovation is that organizations are not designed to innovate. In fact, they are designed not to innovate. Most industrial organizations are designed to reduce the variance. In order to innovate, however, organizations need to create. Therefore, most organization design and organization practices for that matter are designed to keep the status quo — keeping things in place. We love the idea of templates, defaults, standard operating procedures and best practices. All of these are there to reduce variance. When we treat organizations as prototypes, we are no longer threatened to keep organizations as something that is inherently stable. Prototypes are meant to be an experimental and exploratory. Prototypes are meant to be temporary and transient. We are not supposed to take prototypes seriously. However, such variability and flexibility need to be balanced with familiarity and consistency. I proposed the notion of design gestalt as a way of dealing with this dialectics in organization design. Therefore, the idea of organizations as prototypes need to be complemented with another idea, together which they will form the basis of design gestalt.

I took some pictures from the d.school.

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