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How Optimization Is the Enemy of Innovation

Want your organization to get new things done? A first step might be to recognize how the usually admirable drive for optimization gets in the way.


"The crowning accomplishment of the hierarchy and its management processes is the enterprise on autopilot, everyone ideally situated as a cog whirring on a steady, unthinking and predictable machine. Thus, the hierarchy ignores new opportunities that require transformation because these don’t align with its core purpose of maintenance and optimization."

-- John Kotter, Emeritus Professor at Harvard Business School

There’s plenty more where that came from; Kotter is one of the world’s best-known scholars on the process of effectively leading change. The quote on this page is from his blog on how hierarchical structures came to exist in organizations. From there you can search Harvard’s long list of Kotter's books and articles.

He’s not alone on the innovation-versus-optimization front, though. Once again we may have Peter Drucker to thank for early crystallization, in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Harper and Row).

And there’s a fabulous Inc. article that goes way past innovation/optimization complaints by describing how Jack Stack and Springfield Remanufacturing created mechanisms to innovate repeatedly.

IMAGE: InSapphoWeTrust/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 16, 2014

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.

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