How To Become A Disobedient Organisation

You Don’t Change The World By Doing What You’re Told

Image for post
Image for post

Imagine being given $250,000 for deliberately breaking the rules. No strings attached.

That’s exactly what MIT are doing.

Recognising that societies and institutions lean toward order and away from chaos they have launched an award and cash prize that will go to a person or group engaged in an extraordinary example of disobedience for the benefit of society.

MIT want to see if they can identify creative and principled disobedience.

Perhaps 2017 is a time for not doing what you’re told.

70% of us are not engaged in the work we do with over a third saying our jobs are meaningless.

This lack of engagement with work comes at a time when we need more world changing ideas than ever before.

Maybe the answer lies in a move away from complex and bureaucratic systems.

As Joost Minnaar and Pim de Morree write — organisational complexity has gone up 6 fold since 1955. The number of procedures & rules to fight the same complexity have seen a 35-fold increase.

In the most complicated organisations managers spend more than 40% of their time writing reports, and between 30–60% of their time on meetings.

There could be a very simple reason for the growth of organisational complexity:

We are employing more managers than ever before. And management is the least efficient activity in your organisation.

Image for post
Image for post

As Gary Hamel has pointed out, the U.S managerial workforce has grown by 90%. In the UK the employment share of managers and supervisors increased to 16% in 2015.

Removing managers is never going to be a popular choice — not least with managers — so a better focus might be to encourage people to overtly identify complex or perverse rules.

  • Hootsuite has appointed a Czar of Bad Systems — with the authority to challenge the rules and fix the things that never get fixed –anywhere in the company.
  • Adrian Cho at Shopify is Director of Getting Shit Done , a role aimed at breaking tradition and accelerating decision-making.
  • Philippa Jones at Bromford encourages colleagues to “Do the right thing, not the rule thing” — building positive rule breaking into everyday service.

On the latter — it’s interesting to note that some people have interpreted this as a potential route to chaos. It’s perfectly possible to get rid of rules without unleashing anarchy.

Generally getting rid of rules doesn’t bother anyone except managers. The average colleague sees needless complexity every day.

Image for post
Image for post

Whilst most executives have a very good understanding of collective complexity at a strategic level, relatively few consider the forms of individual complexity that the vast majority of employees face.

I’m deep in the midst of some service redesign work at the moment — helping colleagues detoxify the organisation of needless complexity. I had a long conversation with John Wade yesterday and it reminded me that it’s important not to think of complexity as a bad thing in itself — it can be very good for business too.

Older organisations are often bad at change and innovation for a reason — they are designed that way. They are built to execute on delivery — not to spend time thinking about things or engaging in discovery. That execution is what made them successful in the first place.

However — if we want to be world changing rather than system sustaining we need very different behaviours. That means leaning towards chaos and rewarding positive deviance.

Whilst organisations need to get better at encouraging rule breaking, but they also need to get better at understanding why the rules needed to be broken in the first place.

The answer really lies in replacing rules with values and by leaders encouraging behaviours that challenge the status quo.

It’s a time for disobedience, not acquiescence.

Originally published at paulitaylor.com on March 24, 2017.

Written by

Innovation Coach and Co-Founder of @BromfordLab. Follow for social innovation and customer experience.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store