Part 2 The Tyranny of Decisiveness – Innoliteracy


The Tyranny of Decisiveness

This part of the book will focus on how we create a better starting point for making decisions related to the development of new products, services, and strategies – or for managing a regeneration or change process – by discussing the concept of reflection. The objective of this is to render the idea of working systematically with reflection more relevant, and to discuss how you work with reflection as a professional, in an organizational context and as a methodology.

One of the most prominent and appreciated values of masculinity in our time is decisiveness. Often considered a predominantly male attribute – however increasingly appreciated and adopted by women as well – driven by profitability and risk aversion, determination, and urge of conquest; decisiveness is one of the most sought-after characteristics when hiring managers and others with bottom-line responsibility, in the private as well as in the public sector. Decisiveness has become the very symbol of masculinity and strength, of control and of always knowing what the most appropriate thing to do is – at all times and in any given situation. Unfortunately, decisiveness is often confused with dynamics – or even worse, with effectiveness – and with the ability to avoid any waste of time, always targeted and convinced, always in motion, and always one step ahead. Decisiveness warrants focus on the target, on results, on the bottom-line. It often – however, not always – equals “cut the crap,” “get on with it,” and “keep moving.” Determination and performance focus on delivering and on time.

Indecisiveness, on the other hand, is often regarded as a predominantly feminine privilege – the right to admit the weakness of doubt and bewilderedness, often coupled with a certain degree of submissiveness and lack of courage. I guess it’s no coincidence that another word for courage is “balls” – and we’re talking neither tennis balls nor volleyballs. While the decisive profile sees the end of discussion and signing the order or winning the argument as the only acceptable outcome, the indecisive looks for the opportunities in keeping the door open, in bringing new alternatives on the table, and in keeping the discussion going for as long as it takes, and in picking it up again another time, as the iterative and organic process is to constantly move a little closer to, yet possibly never actually reaching, the goal. Because nothing is final, everything can be improved, or at least, done in other ways and even, possibly, with better results.

An example many of us will recognize, if having lived with or even worked with someone from the opposite sex or disposition. When moving into a new house or flat, or even office, certain decisions have to be made with regard to how to dispose of the rooms and space available, where to put the cupboard and where to put the flat-screen, so to speak. For the decisive, such a decision is final, except from often also being regarded as quite trivial; done and over with, let’s move on to something more important. The indecisive will most probably suggest changes as time goes by – as the space is being lived in or the office being used – based on incrementally sensing and understanding how things work and how they can be improved. Sometimes, these improvements are also made, though often, slowly and gradually to avoid confrontation with the other – the decisive party.

The sharply traced differences between the two genders – albeit undergoing change – are, of course, and fortunately so, distorted. Not least so in boards and managements, we find women who are both more decisive and tougher than many men. Some would even go as far as claiming that it takes both more guts and more “manliness” to reach the top for a woman than what it takes for a man, and then, on the other hand, fortunately again, we see female leaders at the very highest of levels – and even a few men – acknowledging the value of historically female values and attributes.

Nevertheless, whether practiced by men or women, the disproportional focus on decisiveness often leads to both unintended results and a tyrannical culture by sacrificing time for reflection and profoundness on the altar of effectiveness and efficiency. Just like a piece of art, a complex problem will consist of several layers. There are the immediately recognizable, and then, there are the more subtle ones, which are gradually revealed as one keeps studying the object of art, asking questions, discussing, and wondering. For these underlying factors to become overt, often also disclosing the meaning of the piece of art, time and space for reflection is needed. Exactly the same goes for getting to the core of a problem. Unfortunately, though, the trend seems to be faster, instead of better and more carefully measured decisions.

We need a new paradigm. Our time calls for more reflection and more prudence, but also, more courage and more consciousness. Far too many decisions are made – whether the situation craves it or not – hastily on a feeble or faulty basis. Far too often, one out of many possible easy ways out is chosen over one out of few possible, more demanding, but also, more right ones, which also more than implies that the scenario of one right and one wrong decision is a rare one. Obviously, if you are faced with the choice between an orange and a banana, you pick the one of your preference, or if allergic to one, the other one will be an obvious and the only right choice, except from possibly refraining from both. However, that kind of trivial dilemmas must be saved for another time – or rather, leave it up to the individual reader to deal with.

I will also quite deliberately stay away from decisions made under pressure or under abnormal circumstances. Under severe stress, mechanisms such as instinct and intuitively mixed cocktails of previously accumulated experience, knowledge, and attitude are activated.

Our instincts are our remaining beastly mechanisms of defense. Acting instinctively does not observe or require reflection or any other form of intellectual processing of the current situation; one does what needs to be done – full stop. Responding to intuition is something else: a sometimes unconscious, and sometimes, partly conscious deployment of stored experiences and deeply anchored attitudes and ethics, but very little reflection and structured processing is involved.

My interest is primarily focused on the decisions we make, which have or may have far-reaching consequences – often for many people – based on assessment and analysis, either individually or collectively. My concern is, as already brought to the table, that such decisions are often made with haste and – if methodically at all – by stringent, strictly linear and risk aversion-focused mechanisms. This, in particular, comes across as provocative when there would actually be time and rationale for choosing other tools than the Gantt chart and others alike, and in situations where a better result would most certainly be achieved by other means, and by allowing time for reflection and reframing. On the other hand, there is a time for everything, and knowing when to cut through and when to make decisions is a vital element of working more iteratively – as important as knowing who to involve, when, and why in the process itself, and at the end of the day, a question of good management and leadership skills. For the individual participant in the process, it can be difficult to stay on track and red lights are often overlooked. Focus on and professional management of the process, thus, is a fundamental precondition of this new paradigm.

Reflection and Decisiveness

In principle, there is no inherent contradiction between the two, between reflectiveness and decisiveness. And still, they very often appear in juxtaposition as adversaries, as they seem to represent two fundamentally different approaches to life.

Reflection, as a mental exercise, derives from reflection as in a mirrored image. It reflects, not always with great precision, an object or person, depending on the surface by which it is mirrored. This is also the case with a mental reflection, where a situation or idea is reflected by the accumulated sum of experience, attitude, knowledge, and aspirations held by the individual. For the same reason, reflection requires time, as very few of us can access this reservoir of insight immediately and simultaneously. The mirrored image we are confronted with needs to be deciphered and interpreted to make sense. The reason for this is simple. Subconsciously, we have all installed filters and a filing system, which prohibits our accumulated experiences and previous reflections to interfere with and mess up our daily lives. On the other hand, we also know when to reach out for them, and exactly which ones will be relevant and valuable in each and any given situation – still subconsciously and at the spur of a moment.

Decisiveness is a valuable quality, but – as previously described – potentially dangerous if it becomes too dominant and stands in the way of exploiting the potential that reflection represents. Decisiveness is not only about being able to make decisions, but to make them fast and efficiently. The two last ones very often create the aforementioned conflict – a conflict of fast versus time-consuming, of focus on the goal versus focus on how to get there.

As already indicated, reflection requires the existence of four building blocks – four interdependent components: knowledge, experience, values, and aspirations. The first one is knowledge, regardless of how it has been acquired. The second component is experience, as a mass, as well as individual experiences, but first and foremost, the collated baggage of experience that we carry with us as individuals – our own, unique empirical property, based on our sensual experiences and observations, our successes and failures, all that we have tried “on our own bodies” – as in contrast to knowledge, which is a result of a theoretical and intellectual process. The third component required is a certain set of values, an attitude toward and an outlook on life and fellow beings, on what is important and what is not, an orientation or mind-set.

Finally, reflection loses its purpose, unless the fourth component is also present: a certain degree of aspiration, one’s individual or collective desire to reach a goal or to obtain something of a higher value or of greater importance. I will revert to each one of the four components soon.

Knowledge is the most measurable out of the four, and the one which is most often regarded as the most crucial precondition for good decision making. However, we do not always possess more than rather basic and shallow knowledge about areas where we might suddenly need to make a decision. In fact, it is quite likely that our knowledge of numerous domains, where we are expected to make decisions, is rather incremental, as there is a natural limit to how many domains of which each one of us – within reason – can call ourselves knowledgeable and whether we excel at technical, practical, or critical knowledge.1

Most people are – except from being averagely informed – knowledgeable within a handful or so, and often interrelated, areas. One might, for example, be knowledgeable about food and wine, design and architecture, aviation and space technology. These can be areas where we have built our knowledge through dedicated training and professional experience, or through passionate interest and curiosity. Thus, many of the important decisions we are expected to make fall within our professional domain, but still, quite a few decisions fall outside of our professional comfort zone. And yet, we cannot always avoid making decisions within areas where we are admittedly not very knowledgeable.

In some instances, this failure to possess the needed knowledge can be rather easily compensated for by simple sourcing – whether by asking someone or consulting a reliable online or offline source. However, sometimes, we do not even possess the language to understand the knowledge we find or to search for the right information, or we might be too lazy or complacent to even search, and yet, we are still expected to – sometimes even demanded to make a decision. As a matter of fact, we are probably both making decisions, as well as being subjected to decisions made by others, where facts make up only a minor portion of the decision-making material.

Experiences are stored in the brain stem, cerebral cortex, and have to be found and dusted off every time we need them, just like in an old-fashioned filing cabinet or in one’s own kitchen drawer – the one with all the different utensils in it, where at least I have to search for a while before I find that specific instrument needed to make a lemon peel julienne every time I use aunt Maggie’s recipe for lemon custard, and which happens once a year at the most.

Attitudes and values can be specific or overruling. One has attitudes related to private matters as well as to political and societal matters, and we all have an attitude toward life itself. Very often, we hear ourselves saying, “I haven’t really got an attitude towards that,” and we are wrong. We might not have articulated an opinion about it – either because it doesn’t interest us much or because we were never asked that specific question before, but provided the question allowed for it, we would most probably be able to come up with one, derived from what our attitude is to related questions. In any case, our values and attitudes are constructed from what we have inherited and been raised to believe, the experiences we have made, the knowledge we possess, and the degree to which we are open to being influenced by the people we meet, the context we’re part of, and the constant stream of impressions we are exposed to every single day.

Aspirations – just like and closely related to our values and attitudes – are products of our experience and the knowledge we have acquired, but it is also more than that.

An ideal is a conception of perfection or model of excellence around which we can shape our thoughts and actions. An aspiration, by contrast, is an attitudinal position of steadfast commitment to, striving for, or deep desire or longing for, an ideal.2

Aspirations contain dreams and visions – elements which are not part of our rational machinery. Most of the time, in our day-to-day decision making, our aspirations play a very submissive part, as there is simply not enough at stake. The very moment our aspirations are drawn upon, we reveal a part of ourselves, which can be both personal and private, so most of us learn to measure it carefully. As social beings, we gradually disclose our attitudes and values through who we are and how we relate to colleagues and other fellow beings, as we share our experiences and argue our points of view as part of the processes we take part in. But our aspirations are more intimate and often stick much deeper than our attitudes and opinions. However, even though most of us keep them to ourselves or share them with great care to only a few, they have a great deal of influence on our professional dispositions and our contribution to processes, where the visions of projects or organizations can be influenced.

Raymond Turner is one of the world’s leading authorities on design management and strategic application of design, and among many other major projects, responsible for the design planning and development of London Heathrow Terminal 5 and Heathrow Express, design consultant to a range of international companies, and design in-charge for numerous urban development projects. While I’ll come back to Raymond Turner later, for now, he introduced the term “design leadership” and claims that creative leadership is all about having a vision for, and thereafter, to create the future.

Reflection balances the four components – knowledge, experience, attitude or values, and aspirations – and holds them up against the situation at hand and the decision we may or may not be involved in taking; we will focus on those that we will, as well as the complexity of the situation. This takes time, and it calls for a conscious choice of giving reflection a chance.

To some extent, reflection is also about filtrating our most immediate and spontaneous reactions and the most obvious answers to any given question through each one of the four. What do previous and analogue experiences tell me? Do I have the knowledge needed to make a decision or do I need to search for more, and if I have – does the most obvious solution also seem like the smartest one? Will it seem consistent with what I otherwise stand for? And, does it underpin or does it contradict the visions and dreams that make up the fabric of what I believe in?

Later on, I will filtrate some of the decisions we often face and some decisions made by others, but where we might all wish that we had more influence. Through examples, I hope that the qualities that we miss out on by rushing decisions and by not giving ourselves time to reflect become more obvious. I also hope to show that the time needed to linger a little more on the possibilities and choices that we have before irreversible decisions are made is worthwhile. Finally, I will plunge into introducing a more formalized and structured model for the entire reflection process.

Reflection as Shortcut to the Right Decision

While indecisiveness has the color of weakness and submission, lack of courage, interest, or engagement, and is very often attributed to the female gender, decisiveness has the color of control and energy, dynamism, action, and the ability to cut through, and is very often attributed to the male gender.

We are not short on prejudice and biases; they play an unquestionable – however, not always acknowledged – role in which decisions are made with influence on our daily lives, professional and private alike.

Reflection – however more common it is among those who give themselves more time to make the right decision – will often be characterized as gender neutral, especially by the male part of the population. The reason, I guess is, that those who are not necessarily prioritizing time for reflection would still like to see themselves as well reflected, but they would most probably also claim that they do not need as much time to reflect as others, and that they make sure that the reflection does not end up as an intellectual pastime. For many, the activity of reflection is an intellectual and somewhat elevated activity, introverted, and exclusive – something scholars and people with too much time on their hands engage in. Something that would be waste of time for many people, such as mechanics or hairdressers or copying machine sales people, but which, on the other hand, could possibly add to one’s image as a little more “reflected” or even smarter than one actually is.

So now, after having insulted a large portion of the grown-up population in the Western world, and without malice, it is a fact that some people see the value in contemplative activities and some do not. On the one hand, a prejudice, implying that one has made a judgment without knowing all the facts or having reflected upon them, and on the other hand, a fact, which has to be acknowledged to exploit the potential of reflection.

I will try to remove reflection from the assumedly elitist sphere and apply it to situations we all run into from time to time, regardless of whether one is an apprentice or literary professor and regardless of whether one’s primary decision-making domain is a private or professional one. The only requirements, as already stated repeatedly, are a certain amount of relevant experience, relevant knowledge, familiarity with own attitudes and values, and that one has an aspiration in life, a desire to make the best decision possible. And, of course, that one grants oneself the time it takes.

My claim is – and it is a claim – I cannot substantiate it scientifically, so take it for what it is; my claim is that reflection leads to better quality decisions, where the potentially adverse effects they might have are known in advance, which are assessed among and consciously chosen among alternatives and for which it is easier to argue – as simple as that.

What really fascinates me about reflection is that applying it systematically benefits all parts of one’s life; vis-à-vis decisions of the most private character, in relation to individuals, whether close or not and whether the relation is lasting or not, in family matters, social relations, and friendships, in one’s professional life and as political beings, formally or informally and whether one’s role is that of making or that of influencing others’ decisions.

However, as this book is primarily about creating a better environment for better decisions with regard to the development of new or the improvement of existing products, services, and strategies, or to planning, facilitation, and execution of change processes, the following chapters intend to cast some light on the very concept of reflection, while we will get back to discussing it as a methodological ingredient at a later stage.

Prerequisites for Reflection

As already mentioned, there are four fundamental prerequisites for reflection: the existence of knowledge, experience, attitude, and aspirations – all parts of our own personalities. Furthermore, a number of external prerequisites influence our reflections, whereof I have chosen the two most important ones: time and space. All this, of course, will be contested by many and accused of grave simplification, which is OK. One could, of course, discuss reflection from any one among numerous other angles, but focusing on the aforementioned four components is what I believe is the most conducive way of discussing reflection as a means to spur innovation, hence my point of departure.

Prerequisite # 1 Knowledge

The knowledge we accumulate over time – both specialized knowledge of whatever area we are expert in and more general knowledge, either related or complimentary to our own expertise or any other, more or less arbitrary knowledge that we possess – is perhaps the most important catalyst we have for reflection. Our knowledge determines which consequences we anticipate that any given disposition will have. If we know the rules, the theories, the statistics, and relevant specific and factual conditions relating to a situation, our reflection of cause and effect – thus on what to do and what not to do – builds on a solid base. Interestingly enough, though, the role of knowledge as a component of our reflection diminishes over time, as a consequence of growing experience and a more conscious understanding of our own motives, values, and attitudes.

Together with knowledge, one’s skills also might play a role in which decisions we make. Knowledge and skills are different and yet closely related, and most of all, skills are composed of knowledge and experience within a specific trade, craft, or topic.

Prerequisite # 2 Experience

Every time any one of us experiences success at our undertakings, and every time we fail, the experience sediments and is stored as en element which will inevitably contribute to shaping all future decisions. Taking time to reflect upon a situation, where the result was not as foreseen means to question the risks as well as the expected outcome of it, what the gain envisaged was – as measured either in time, savings, credits, or credibility – and whether the risk of failure versus chances of success ratio was reasonable and assessed with sufficient care. Or, perhaps risks were run for other reasons altogether. Often, consciously running a risk is motivated by rather irrational and personal reasons – as to prove to oneself that one possesses the guts to challenge destiny or the law, or to show others that one has the courage and the self-esteem to choose what Robert Frost calls “the road not taken.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood, And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay, In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

R. Frost. (1916). Mountain Interval (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company)

Whichever experiences we have as we move along will influence our actions and reactions forever after, more or less consciously and more or less reflected. Most often, we store our experiences without reflecting upon them as they occur, but they may very well be activated at a later stage, when we face a situation either resembling the first or where a given experience may come in handy and relevant – either consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously – thus contributing to a more qualified and better choice this time around.

Prerequisite # 3 Attitudes

One’s fundamental values and views on life itself, the pillars on which one’s life is built, will also influence on how much, how, and in which situations we indulge in reflection. The latter, in particular, as we generally reflect very little upon issues on which we have no influence or which are deeply and firmly rooted in our own private norms, whether defined by religious conviction or by other social and cultural mechanisms.

Attitudes can be individual, but also collective, in the form and shape of a generally accepted norm or culture, a determining factor for what we consider as normal and socially acceptable. However, as this book primarily focuses on decisions made within an organizational context, and where the right to serve and to make decisions depends on a certain ability to observe organizational norms, I will concentrate on which influence others’ norms have on our own individual choices and reflections.

Regardless of how individually focused we are, the society and culture to which we belong or subscribe do have a rather significant influence on whether and how we reflect upon any given event. In a society, culture, or organization where the opinions and judgment of others mean a lot, failure will often be perceived as more severe, even shameful or embarrassing, influencing on the degree of courageousness displayed and risks one is willing to run – unless one belongs to a group of individuals, where choosing the road not taken is valued and appreciated, thus benefitting one’s identity and peer recognition. In any case, though, no man is an island, and we will inevitably be influenced by the reactions of others, whether articulated or silent, and influence our reflections and choices made the next time we face a similar situation.

Our attitudes do have a significant influence on our reflections, our decisions, and how we relate to the world around us, and they also determine to which extent the importance of others’ recognition outplays one’s own aspirations and ideals.

Prerequisite # 4 Aspiration

The fourth prerequisite for reflection is the presence of an aspiration – something one is willing to fight for, and which awakens a passion within. One’s ideal scenarios and the dreams one pursues influences the desire as well as the ability to learn from one’s experiences, regardless of whether the ideal is to become more courageous, more decisive, more generous, or more firm, or whether one’s passion is to fight malaria or to fight for world peace. What matters is that one possesses a desire to move on from the current toward something better; otherwise, reflection is meaningless and a waste of time.

To the four prerequisites already listed, numerous other factors may or may not influence one’s talent for and one’s benefit from reflection. Clearly, one’s intellectual capacity plays a vital role, as does one’s cultural sensitivity and one’s literacy of both one’s own and other languages and the ability to articulate thoughts and ideas. In a professional context, six different kinds of competencies are often mentioned: organizational competencies, core competencies, technical competencies, behavioral competencies, functional competencies, and management competencies. The degree of formal and informal competences as well as one’s influence on other people and their expectations of the individual in question – all of this influences to which degree one feels obliged to do the right thing and to make the best possible choice, not only because it’s important to oneself, but also because it’s important to others.

Legislation, rules, and regulations as well as custom, habits, and tradition – what is and what is not comme-il-faut, what one can and cannot get away with, and which sanctions can be foreseen if any of these directions are disregarded – also influence one’s reflection and to which degree one’s decisions are based on one’s own rather than others’ set of values.

All these factors – and more – and the role each one of them plays in any individual’s outlook and points of view have a great deal to do with the individual’s own profile and character, but they also influence quite generously the quality of our decisions and our ability to work constructively with reflection as a tool for personal and professional development.

In addition to the already mentioned “internal” prerequisites, two more “external” factors – facilities, if you will – also play a vital role in successfully applying reflection as a tool.

Prerequisite # 5 Time

There’s no way around it – reflection takes time – however, it is not necessarily time stolen from something else. The kind of reflection which is not schematically and methodically applied can, instead of “unconsciously” enjoying or disliking a situation – whether already passed or coming up – by using the same time and energy more “constructively” and by trying to actually relating to and reflect upon the situation, be quite valuable. Both retrospective and advance reflection are equally important components of building a solid base of experience, even though they serve two different purposes at the time that they are applied.

For the structured and more methodical reflection – the one that we often skip because we see it as an extra and time-consuming “step” toward any given goal – it is true that it needs to be “scheduled” and prioritized, possibly also at the cost of something else. But for the most of us, both at work and at home, time is quite abundant. I simply do not believe people who constantly claim that they have no time on their hands and that they are constantly busy doing something important and something that contributes to any kind of value creation.

On the other hand, the return on the time invested in reflecting upon a situation or question of importance is, on average, higher than any other investment I can think of, including stocks and bonds, bricks, or vintage wine or whatever else your investment profile dictates. And why should we be less meticulous about how we manage our intellectual capital than we are at managing our finances and other assets? It requires, of course, that one has the ability to distance oneself from the traditional image of dividend – something we expect regularly and in measures that can be counted and recorded (and paid taxes from). The dividend of reflection is rather intangible, as it comes in the form of a higher probability that your choices and decisions are the best possible ones. The upside is that it is not vulnerable to ups and downs in the market, to financial crises, or unpredictable rating agencies, and it can be reinvested immediately and at no extra cost. Actually, I also believe that it can deliver tangible and measurable results over time, but it is hardly measurable before a sufficient number of projects and undertakings have been carried out, and where structured reflection has been built into the process.

Is it possible to identify the direct correlation between the amounts of time invested in reflection and the quality of the decision made? Probably not, but I do believe that if you know that your decision has been made with care and after careful and systematic consideration of cause and effects, you will feel much more reassured and be able to defend your decision much more firmly and with greater conviction. And, that in itself is a quite tangible return on investment.

We make informed decisions every day. Do I take the bike, public transport, the car, a taxi . . .? Do I follow her home, or would it be better not to . . .? Do I stay in for lunch or do I skip and do the groceries . . .? Do I offer myself voluntarily to coach my new colleague and make sure he or she anchors well, or do I stick to what’s my formal responsibility . . .? I could go on and on, but from here on, I’ll stick to the professional arena and leave the domestic decisions until another time.

Adding to all the above, just as important it is not to be bullied by the expectation of everything to be fast and efficient, it’s also important not to be bullied by a self-imposed expectation that every single decision one makes is thoroughly reflected and negotiated at length. We all need to be impulsive and cut the crap in between, and we all benefit from making mistakes and learning from them. Otherwise, life would be unbearable and boring – and innovation would be rare, by the way. As Steve Jobs is attributed to saying, “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

So, one has to be prepared for reflection taking time and to see it as an investment, and for that reason alone, it has to be managed as carefully as any other available resource.

While we can decide on turning the reflection knob up and down as we wish in our private lives, in our professional lives, seeing reflection as a methodical development tool, we need to be prudent and conscious about how much time we devote to it and prior to which decisions or actions. I will get back to how to deal with this later in the book.

Prerequisite # 6 Space

Umair Haque, who is director of the company Havas Media Labs, author of several books, and listed among the world’s most influential thinkers of management and innovation, Thinkers50,” in a Harvard Business Review article called for a better doing/reflecting ratio:

We seem to be clueless about making room for deep questioning and thinking: reflecting. Our doing/reflecting ratio is wildly out of whack. Most action items might just be distraction items – from the harder work of sowing and reaping breakthroughs that matter.3

Better conditions for pursuing intellectual processing of the questions and situations we face on a daily basis are not something that should be left to the individual and his or her personal priorities. Actually, the individual should not be expected to decide on how much and when to take time for reflection at work, and as individuals, none of us can decide on making it a natural, respected, and recognized professional activity. It has to be addressed as a structural and political element of the framework offered to individuals, something which is encouraged and facilitated by organizational policies and culture. Part of being a modern human being is our dependency on others’ assessments, decisions, and choices, leaving many of us primarily with choices of marginal significance and decisions, which are expected to be made “quick and dirty.” Hence, the responsibility of providing time and room for reflection rests with those who are also responsible for corporate culture, strategic direction, and for which goals to pursue.

All the way from primary school – hence, before the prerequisites for reflection are all fully developed – and all the way through to old age, we face “structural barriers” for reflection. One structural barrier is time; the time not granted – we want everything to be fast and efficient – as well as the time we live in failing to appreciate and acknowledge reflection and profoundness as value-creating activities. Not being sure is seen as a weakness, not strength; answers are rated higher than questions; and metrics rule. One might go as far as claiming that we have become less and less intellectual over time – less able to relate to the abstract and the unknown, and to rationally and objectively reflect upon the world around us, at least to the same extent as we excel at new technologies and economic growth.

One might question whether this is a result from conscious choices made by whoever defines the rules, or whether the decreasing level of intellectuality is a result of decreased intellectuality, so to speak. Have we capitulated at valuing this component of classic formation, defined as relating to the ability to think in an intelligent way and to understand things, especially difficult or complicated ideas and subjects”4 because we are no longer able to recognize the value it adds?

One of the fundamental assumptions for this book and its justification is my own belief that the people, the decision makers, possessing the power and influence it takes to facilitate reflection by providing both time and space to do so have not altogether lost their own ability to reflect and dwell. I somehow choose to make the assumption that deep within politicians and bureaucrats and corporate leaders, there is a certain degree of confidence in the potential of reflection and a will to recognize its value – provided the arguments for doing so are strong enough, and the value created through reflection matches the time devoted to it.

Going back to room for reflection, to a certain extent, room and space need to be understood as mental room and space, and an understanding of the nature of reflection. But it should also be understood quite literally, as in creating physical rooms and spaces, which encourage reflection and contemplation. All the way through school, I was dreaming of “silent carts” just like in the trains where instead of constantly working in groups in high-ceilinged, frigid rooms painted in an unidentifiable yellowish color, one could retract and indulge in one’s own thoughts. That never happened.

As a parallel, I would have wished that the organizations I have worked for since had provided space for oneness and for meetings between individuals – room for contemplation or conversation – what some architects call unprogrammed space, where no one expects you to perform or produce anything in particular, but where staring into the air or reading a magazine or thinking out loud would be welcome, but which were equally suitable for conscious, structured, and targeted reflection. “People need both overview and intimacy. This requires ‘unprogrammed’ spaces, resembling delta landscapes – overview, plains, caves and crannies.”5

The challenge exists partly in being able to detach oneself from technological remedies such as mobile phones and tablets, but also in convincing oneself that the introverted activity that reflection is gets promoted from being considered asocial, thus somewhat suspect and counterproductive behavior to being embraced as an activity for which consideration and respectfulness is shown. If our current perception of overt reflection were liberated from its suspicion of useless idleness, it would be much more natural to upgrade it as an activity in its own right, thus also an activity with its own right to suitable premises to be pursued, just like we establish spaces for physical activity – playgrounds to play in and football fields to play football, or other dedicated spaces such as canteens to eat one’s lunch. We’re just not there yet, possibly as a question of priorities, or rather more likely because we’ve had our backs turned toward all that is not obviously and measurably productive activity, failing to see the potential value of contemplative and introverted behavior.

At home, we decide – at least to some extent – how we want to dispose of the square meters available, and yet, we make decisions which discourage rather than encourage solitude, as we prioritize big, multifunctional rooms designed to facilitate everything from cooking and hospitality to school homework, home entertainment, and power napping – at once. Perhaps our domestic lives would also benefit from granting the individual a little more space for and ownership of own thoughts – at least just once in a while.

Back to the office, which I keep reminding myself that this book is all about, where decisions are made on behalf of the department or company, the public body or institution, and all those whose futures will be affected by them. In all these places where new wisdom or new products or new services are developed, nowhere will you see or find much room for reflection. At least, that’s the general rule. Only very few companies or organizations have dedicated space – physically and mentally – to step back from the bustle and reflect as an individual or as a group of individuals, if that is deemed to serve the purpose better.

In other words, both time and space – in the widest sense of the word – need to be given if one believes in the value of reflection beyond the few stolen moments during a hectic workday, either in the elevator or the unmentionable, on our way home (where it’s often too late), or standing in line to be served at the supermarket cash register, despite the often noisy or visually disturbing environments characterizing such places. I will spend some time later on in this book to discuss how suitable spaces for reflection are actually made for reflection to happen as a strategic, structured, and methodical approach to innovation and change.

One could extend the reflection to how one makes sure that people who are not a permanent part of the organization, but whom we have already identified as important and valuable contributors to innovation processes – people such as clients and suppliers and partners and other stakeholders – are also offered inspiring and inclusive facilities to join in and partake in the reflection process, together with and on equal terms with internal staff. But for all this to happen, reflection has to be built in to the culture and DNA, and into the structured processes of the organization.

Reflection Does Not Equal Free Play

Just to make sure that all are on the same page with regard to what it is that reflection as an integrated part of structured processes means, it makes a whole lot of sense to steer people’s reflective activities to a certain degree. One might, for example, ask people to reflect upon any given challenge or problem in light of where it sits in a chain of transactions or in a hierarchy of understanding.

An old example that most of us have run across at some point is Maslow’s pyramid, classifying and prioritizing our needs – from physical needs via our need for safety, social belonging, personal or egotistical needs, to our need for self-realization as the highest. The pyramid reflects the importance of the specific needs – physical needs being most important and self-realization least, and the view that a need can only be addressed when the underlying need in the pyramid has been fundamentally fulfilled. Glenn Jacobsen6, a Danish consultant and author, in 1999 turned Maslow’s pyramid upside down. His thesis was that physical needs and the need for safety are not any longer important to people, as they take them for granted, and that for a modern human being, everything starts with self-realization.

No matter which one is right – or least wrong – the framework of their thinking is relevant. Which needs does our organization fulfill – and for whom? If we are suppliers of corporate lunch schemes, what is it that we deliver? Is our mission to make sure that people do not starve? Do we deliver reassurance that the individual gets a healthy and nourishing meal every day, and that the quality and level of hygiene is acceptable? Or, do we deliver a context for human relations between colleagues? Or, do we provide a space for the individual to express him- or herself through their choices of what they take from the buffet? The answer is quite determining for how to develop and improve and innovate the service provided, and having a common understanding of how we see ourselves is crucial for the individual member of our team to understand how he or she is expected to or invited to contribute. Prior to a “product development session,” I would have given all members of the team, internal as well as external, the assignment to reflect and elaborate upon what it is that we do offer today, and whether we could possibly offer something else or something more.

A “reflection brief” can take many angles, shapes, and formats. If the process in question is an “organic” and ongoing evolution, rather than a targeted product or service development process pointing toward a specific date of launch, one could, for example, encourage people to reflect upon which barriers they see from their own cubicle or desk to this “new stuff” being welcomed and embraced by the organization at large, or to reflect upon some predefined, statistically quite significant barriers for organizational development.

The Dutch researchers Henk Kleijn and Fred Rorink7 have identified the seven most common and most significant psychological motives to resist change. They are: fear (I don’t know if I can handle it), guilt (I could never subject my colleagues to this), alienation (will the change make me superfluous), infringement (do I retain my privileges), own needs (will the change hamper my career), threat (this will weaken my position), and uncertainty (I have no idea what this will mean to me). Before embarking on such a process, or as a stage along the way, it would be quite valuable for each member of the team to reflect on whether they possess any of these worries or inhibitions – thus, motives for not really embracing the process and contribute fully to it – but also, to ask people to reflect upon how these fears can be met, reckoning that somewhere in the organization, they will exist and possibly be a peril to the process itself.

Reflection as a Contextual Framework

Reflection – or to act or relate consciously reflective toward – can be observed as a contrast to its two opposites, to act or relate either “instinctively” or “intuitively” as previously described. They both seem to prevail across managements and boardrooms all over the world, some more based on stored experience and insights than others, being directed by inherited mechanisms of defense.

I cannot help thinking about how many situations would have been handled differently, how many decisions would have been of a higher quality, and how many relations between management and staff and between managers would have thrived if the individuals in the position of making decisions – often with wide-ranging consequences – had dared to give it some extra time, to process the situation intellectually through reflection, and consulted other points of view than one’s own, instead of acting on impulse, whether instinctively or – at best – intuitively on the spot.

The obligation; that’s what I see it as – the obligation to reflect – has to be seen alongside the power and influence, and not least, the responsibilities embedded in one’s position. The more influence and power, and the more responsibility, the greater one’s obligation. Responsibility is a rational and measurable entity, often linked, and at least related to compliance. Obligation is more diffuse, less tangible and less measurable, and rather, related to conscience than to compliance. Obligation is a moral rather than legal issue and comes from taking on – instead of or as a result of having been given – a responsibility. Power can be executed in reflected as well as nonreflected ways, and living up to a formal or legal responsibility one has been given can be done without any trace of passion, while taking responsibility (to feel committed and obliged) requires reflection on the power vested in one’s position.

Reflection for reflection’s own sake is a luxury and something that we should never undervalue or underestimate. But as a strategic tool, reflection is only valuable if contextualized, just like design – which is quite uninteresting in itself, and only becomes meaningful and valuable as phenomenon and methodology when it becomes part of a context including a sender and a receiver, an idea, a material (tangible or intangible), a production line or a transaction, financial, technological, and ethical as well as aesthetical considerations. All these elements create a context needed to manage and inspire the process forward toward a predefined goal. When referring to design, it is clearly because I see reflection and the creative parallels of the design process as closely related and inseparable, and because the whole objective of discussing reflection in this book is to argue its relevance alongside design thinking and design practice as an integrated part of any innovation process, as a management tool, and a means to manage and reduce risks. As such, it also serves as a bridge to the core of INNOLITERACY – scoping, framing, and reframing, and reflection as preparation and prerequisite for, as well as ground pillar of, the creative process.

Reflection as a Management Tool and Source of Innovation

In her first bestselling book,8 Susan Cain salutes the introverted part of the population and their ability to make decisions powered by the fact that they spend much more time reflecting upon the impressions they receive than extroverted individuals. At the same time, she points toward another fact; that in our Western culture, we both misunderstand and underestimate the contributions of the introverted and the resource they constitute.

In a time, where being able to position oneself is key to success, taking time for reflection can be a brake to one’s career, but it does not change the fact that the quality of decisions made after a certain degree of reflection in general is higher than those notoriously shot from the hip.

Professor Joseph A. Raelin has dedicated part of his research to what he calls “reflective practice.” One of his own reflections is whether our current times allow for reflection:

Reflective practice is possible or practical in this age of the busy corporate executive who is socialized to be the person of action, not of reflection. In our turbulent global environment, it appears almost definitional that we need managers, who can inspire reflection to the extent of generating new ways of coping with change. A reflective culture makes it possible for people to constantly challenge without fear of retaliation. Yet, a culture that permits questioning of assumptions is difficult to tolerate because it requires that people in control lose their grip on the status quo.9

Another senior within management and organizational theory, Edgar H. Schein supports that point of view. He goes as far as to lament the fact that almost no one smokes any longer – though not from a health perspective, but from an organizational theory point of view;

Many people will not stop for a relaxing tea and pastry (and a bit of reflection) because they may be seen as “wasting time” sitting at a café. Let’s begin by reflecting on why we don’t reflect more. Most of us don’t smoke anymore, but maybe the “smoke break” should be brought back as an institution to provide 5 to 10 minutes of reflection time out on the balcony. Instead of bringing our coffee back to the desk, what about taking a coffee break to walk around the block or to sit alone staring at the landscape and reflecting?10

A culture allowing for reflection time and encouraging reflection by allocating suitable spaces to do so needs to come from the very top of an organization. If the CEO has a frenetic personality and behavior, the likelihood that the rest of the management team dares to encourage a more laidback style and coffee breaks on the balcony is rather slim. If time and space are given to enjoy and cherish the small spaces of slack time that most of us experience during a day at the office, and to embrace and exploit them, it is more than likely that the individual member of the team will give birth to more and more and valuable ideas than if the culture demands that we all look terribly busy all the time.

I will revert to some more reflections on corporate and organizational culture in a while.

So, on the one hand, good management allows for time and space for reflection by sending signals and ideally also by practicing that slack time and taking time for reflection are valued. On the other hand, a more structured and targeted strategy to encourage individuals to reflect upon their own roles in the organization, the organization’s overall activities and performance, current issues of concern or the coming of spring – you get the idea – can be even more valuable, either on its own or in combination with the first. As a management tool, reflection can turn slack time into productive time, no matter how paradoxical it may sound, praising slack time to the skies just a minute ago. One can actually allocate and dedicate time for the individual team member to step back from his or her role and space for a certain amount of time a week or month, paired with a certain degree of engagement in how the time is being disposed. Let’s say that every member of staff is given one day a month to reflect – either literally a day or the equivalent time spread out over a month – left up to the individual to decide. What’s important is that he or she is committed to do something that could encourage reflection and new ideas. One part of the deal could be that the time is not spent on activities which normally fill up the individual’s free time. Reflection time is not free time – it is work. And since it is work, the management should be free to hand out “assignments” – areas of concern, where they would appreciate the team member’s input. I heard about companies sending their R&D staff to fairs and trade shows, which are as remote from and unrelated as possible to their own industry – just to look for possible inspiration and solutions which could possible “travel” across to their own industry and inspire innovation. The contract is simple: report back with and share your own personal experience from the show; then, we’ll take it from there. No other commitments and no pressure on return on investment.

However, structured and systematic reflection does not require that you dedicate half or whole days to do so. Where it becomes really interesting as a management tool is where it’s built into managed processes of innovation, business and organizational development – aiming at accessing the tacit knowledge and accumulated experience of individual team members, and which would never come to the surface, unless written into the process itself. Such processes otherwise often reflect the pace and prevailing culture of “he, who shouts louder. . . .” To benefit from the contribution to such a reflective process, it is crucial that all team members are assured that their input is valuable, and that everyone is expected to listen to his or her own guts to decide on when, how, and to which extent to play an active, and ditto more subdued, role.

This structured and managed approach to reflection, however, is more effective if the aforementioned facilities are in place, so that looking inwardly – as individuals and as a team – feels natural and is experienced as part of how we do things around here. Hence, it becomes part of the planning phase of any project to build in time for reflection as a catalyst of better ideas and a more facetted dialogue with project stakeholders, thus bringing in valuable input that would otherwise have been lost.

Reflection and the Risks That We Run

The correlation between allocating sufficient resources to – and doing the right things in – the early phases of a development process and the risks of failure at hitting the nail at the end of the process is the core of the third part of this book. Hence, at this stage, I will merely introduce you to the idea. For decades, the design industry has had to face the claim that using design and working with designers involves varying and immeasurable degrees of risk taking. “One never knows what comes out of it” has been an argument, leaning up against the lack of metrics to measure the direct effects of design methods and design practice. And by the way, “we don’t really understand what it is that you do.” The design industry and its advocates have all accepted the claim, and met it with the counter argument that all creative processes involve a certain amount of risks, and that one has to believe that it actually adds value at the end of the day.

Not until around a decade ago, one was really taken seriously when claiming the effects of design, and for one good reason. Before that, very little research existed to document what design can do to products, services, and organizations, but from then on, it has been more and more acceptable to argue the role of design – and of design management as possibly one of the most effective measures to manage and actually minimize risks in development processes. Applying design methodology onto a process means that the challenge at hand is more carefully scoped and framed, that more options are searched and found, that more stakeholders are involved, that the process becomes more transparent and that the process leads to more viable scenarios and alternative solutions than any other process. It also means that possible solutions are prototyped and iterated throughout the process, facilitating qualified choices and decisions before the investments are so heavy that failure is fatal.

So far, so good, but what does reflection have to do with minimizing risks? Well, for me, it’s quite obvious that the more questions are asked and the more people with their individual backgrounds and angles are involved in the very early dialogue around which problem to solve and what to do about it, the more likely it is that the right challenge, the right project, is being defined. And what is the right challenge, then? The only thing I know from experience and from having monitored a number of projects is that it’s not necessarily the one that first comes to mind. Very often, we solve the problem we see – the most conspicuous one – and alas, quite often only a symptom of other problems, or even a pseudo-problem, thus wasting valuable resources without ever getting to the core of the problem. If that’s the case, it quite naturally influences the ROI, and often means that the only option is to start over again. In the meantime, one’s competitors might have solved the right problem or addressed the right need, or the citizens have moved to a neighboring community, or the costs of symptom treatment are crashing all conceivable budgetary constraints.

Allocating time for reflection at the early stages of exploration – where the core of the problem is gradually identified and an understanding of its complexity emerges – also means that the right stakeholders and critical factors are built into the process from as early on as possible. By doing so, the project is anchored from day one and the risk of rejection is minimized, instead of being victim to the “not invented here” syndrome – a powerful mechanism that is often activated toward projects and results, no matter how good they might be – which are perceived as being pushed down the throats of the users.

A reflective approach to any problem or situation one faces – often, more a complex of problems rather than an isolated one (they are rare and far between) – and relevant engagement of users and other stakeholders throughout the process contributes to allocating the resources smartly and to reducing risks of pitfalls and hostile interventions along the way, or simply that the end result is being dismissed.

Structured and managed creative processes are not necessarily collaborative or reflective. Some creative processes are perceived as truly intuitive and often unstructured beyond belief. And where that’s the case, it is fine and probably the only way, as long as the end result is a new work of art – whether in words, or music or on canvas or in clay, and even sometimes, when the expected outcome is a new product, or space or frock or scenography. However, if the desired outcome of a creative process is a new process or experience, relation, interaction, or transaction or a product or service, for that matter, which requires decoding and broad acceptance in a marketplace or community made up by numerous individuals with their own preferences and biases, collaborative, structured, and well-managed creative processes are much more likely to lead to success. And in those processes, reflection is one out of several means of achieving precision and accuracy when scoping and framing the challenge as well as the possible paths toward its response.

Corporate and Organizational Culture – Management and Chaos

Culture has become just another “rubber word” that can be used to describe a range of different things, depending on the context and purpose of it. From the outset, it encompasses the values and the material as well as immaterial production that we leave to our successors, to the next generation. Applied to a company or organization, it expresses the behavior, mind-sets, and values as well as the goals that its leadership encourage the entire organization to pursue. Some companies are well-known for strong and firmly vested corporate cultures – for example the Danish, yet global company Maersk – for many, mostly known for their star-adorned containers; or Google, for that matter, while other companies and organizations are less conscious of and concerned about their culture. This would typically mean that the culture is more fragile and plays a less prominent role in the lives of its people. It does not mean, however, that it has no culture – all organizations do, and it is the corporate management at any time, who is responsible for which culture characterizes the organization. Is the management accessible, open, and inclusive, and does it encourage dialogue and collaboration, or does it focus on the individual performance and on competitive behavior between staff members? Does it value diversity or does it nurture a certain type of staff members and a certain professional profile? Does it encourage and acknowledge or does it reign by criticism and mistrust? At the end of the day, it all depends on the management principles, values, and mind-sets, which principles, models and means an organization utilizes to reach the goals they have defined.

It seems to be more or less commonly accepted that innovation – at least in the sense and meaning of the word that I lean up against: development, renewal, and change rooted in a constant search for improvements through better understanding of and engagement with relevant stakeholders – can only take place in an environment of openness, inclusiveness, and diversity, managed by principles, such as recognition and trust. For the same reason, many organizations now strive to excel at the same. As innovation was slowly capturing the headlines and the attention of mainstream companies, the Danish professor Anders Drejer said in an interview that corporate culture and work environments might be the single most significant barrier for innovation;

Far too many corporate managements try to implement new business concepts by help of the existing organisation and by moving boxes and arrows around on their organisational charts – far too often to consider the need for behavioural change for innovation to succeed. Could that possibly also explain why so many innovation projects fail?11

Some years ago, a colleague of mine introduced me to the idea that to encourage innovation, you actually need to allow for – even create – a certain degree of chaos. Looking further into this idea, I came across the book The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success. In an interview with Forbes magazine, one of the authors, Ori Brafman says:

“In times of uncertainty, the temptation is to create more structure and order. Because that feels safe and predictable. However, in times of uncertainty you also need a lot of innovation and often times the way to foster innovation is by bringing organized chaos into the system” and continues “Chaos is scary because it is uncontrollable and unpredictable but companies can actually contain chaos and seed pockets of it throughout their organization. The idea here is that chaos can be extremely productive force, the question though is how to manage it.”12

Ever since I encountered this appraisal of chaos as a driver of innovation, I have reverted to the ideas that it represents. We need better understanding of the correlation between organizational structure and values on the one hand and the desired development on the other, and if you only indulge in what’s safe and secure, in protecting the comfort zones of the individual, weighing measurable professional competences over diversity, you will create an organization which is likely to excel at constant optimization and quality improvement of already existing products and services. However, an organization reaching for radical or disruptive innovation – finding unknown solutions to hitherto unknown problems – needs to nurture the individual freedom and creativity, diversity, and incompetence, and to allow for a certain degree of chaos. Furthermore, the potential of not knowing must be taken seriously, and admitting one’s ignorance needs to be both respected and encouraged. If ignorance, incompetence, and chaos is not acknowledged as resources, then the barrier for taking risks will be too high for most individuals. Radical innovation requires that both incompetence and a certain degree of chaos are embraced. This point of view, by the way, is also shared by the CEO of the world’s most successful design agency, IDEO, the previously referred to Tim Brown, who also is known for preaching that “Innovation requires willingness to embrace chaos.”

Another interesting angle on innovation and enhancing an organization’s innovation capacity is to look at its “excess capacity,” hidden in the midst of the organization and embodied by its members of staff. This capacity is fairly easily accessible, provided a corporate culture truly encourages it to surface. The founder of the successful manufacturer of cabinets and storage systems Montana, Peter Lassen has said that The individual member of our team – from the CEO to the maintenance assistance is part of Montana’s design team – our design is renewed every time a new member of staff is recruited.”13

Nobody knows a company’s products or processes or a public administration’s service to its community better than the company’s own staff or the public service provider’s own officers. They meet both the products and services, but also the suppliers and processes behind them, and the receivers and users at the front. Hence, nobody is better suited to contribute with valuable input than them, to be found at both hands of the transaction. Many of them just don’t know it themselves, and are rarely encouraged to dig down into the valuable reservoir of knowledge they possess.

A corporate culture which encourages its individuals on all levels and regardless of their direct role in and responsibility for product, service, or business development to take part and contribute actively to development and change processes will gradually build an advanced degree of “innoliteracy” – knowledge about of understanding of how innovation happens, all the way from the CEO and down to the individual CNC operator or caretaker – a recognition of the excess capacity, thus latent innovation capacity that most organizations dispose of through the knowledge and experiences vested in their staff.

It does require, of course, that each individual member of staff is introduced to what innovation is and why it is important, and granted the trust and confidence that each and every one can contribute to creating innovation at their own workplace or whatever environment they are part of. And perhaps, most of all, it requires a common understanding of the fact that “good ideas couldn’t care less who got them.”

Innovation is rarely radical – only very few have the gift and the conditions to come up with transformational solutions. But less can do; even small, incremental improvements are valuable, and just as much innovation as the game-changing kind that hits the front pages of Time and Newsweek. Therefore, it does not necessarily take specialized knowledge on innovation as a process, about models and methodologies to contribute to valuable development and change. What it takes, though, is that this knowledge either exists in the organization, or that someone in the organization acknowledges the value of and is qualified to procure such expertise externally; people who can facilitate, manage, and moderate creative processes.

There is, however, a fundamental assumption for contributing to such processes of innovation and change, and that is to be invited and respected for one’s capacity to do so. This requires, as previously mentioned, an organizational or corporate culture that embraces the individual and what he or she brings to the table on his or her own terms. If one succeeds in doing so, however, the door to new knowledge, which has been hidden under one’s nose for ages, is opened, and some of the dogmas and “truths” that often build up in closed environments are suddenly being dismantled.

This is not about filling staff members with hot air, but simply a matter of granting the individual the reassurance that they actually possess valuable knowledge and experience, which can contribute to the organization’s development and well-being, and which nobody else has. Then, the understanding of how the game is played and where the individual has the most to offer slowly grows at his or her own pace.

The path toward a genuinely creative organization – with creative staff and creative leadership – can be long and bumpy, and an organization characterized by a mind-set and true understanding of how to work creatively as a rule and not as an exception does not come by itself. Fortunately, a solid base of research and empirical evidence of how one systematically builds such a culture – including how the individual’s creative potential is released – and how creative and collaborative processes are introduced in an organization already exists. One quite accessible, and for most corporate leaders, quite recognizable model is developed by the Swiss researcher Claudia Acklin.14 She considers the journey toward an organization embracing managed creative processes as a cultural battle, where one or more individuals in the organization believing in and possibly having own previous experiences of working with creative processes, often helped by external designers or other creative professionals, become frontrunners and show the rest of the organization how it works by inviting them in and to give the credits for the good results it produces. Slowly and project by project, inviting in the right people – one at a time – thus slowly building confidence and enthusiasm throughout the organization, fuelled by good experiences and good results. Through this “Trojan Horse” tactics, experience shows that permission is granted to apply these new methods and techniques onto gradually larger and more complex challenges, slowly and by help of empirical evidence transforming the way that the organization relates to phenomena such as creative iterations, stakeholder engagement, and scenario prototyping.


1B. Yang, W. Zheng, and C. Viere. (2009). “Holistic Views of Knowledge Management Models,” Advances in Developing Human Resources 11, no. 3, pp. 273–289.

2K. Brownlee. (2010). “Moral Aspirations and Ideals,” Utilitas 22, no. 3, pp. 241–257.

3U. Haque. (November 24, 2010). “Making Room for Reflection is a Strategic ­Imperative,” Harvard Business Review.

4Macmillan Dictionary.

5D. Mandrup. (February, 2003). From the conference “The Aesthetic Organisation,” Copenhagen Business School.

6G. Jacobsen. (1999). Branding in A New Perspective – More and Other Than Branded Goods (Copenhagen, Denmark: CBS Press).

7H. Kleijn and F. Rorink. (2005). Verandermanagement: een plan van aanpak voor integrale organisatieverandering en innovatie (Change Management – A Plan of Approach for Integrated Organisational Change and Innovation) (London, UK: Pearson Education).

8S. Cain. (2012). QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group/Random House, Inc.).

9J.A. Raelin. (2002). “Don’t Have Time to Think! versus The Art of Reflective Practice.” Reflections 4, no. 1. Society for Organizational Learning/MIT, Boston.

10E.H. Schein. (2009). The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (Hoboken, NJ: Joseph Wiley & Sons).

11A. Drejer. (February 2008). “There is a major communication challenge – or several – in innovation” MOK Magazine # 29.

12O. Brafman and J. Pollack. (2013). The Chaos Imperative – How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success (New York, NY: Penguin Random House).

13P. Lassen. CEO of the Danish furniture manufacturer, Montana, in an article by Wood Industry in 2008.

14C. Acklin. (2011). “Design Management Absorption Model – A Framework to Describe the Absorption Process of Design Knowledge by SME’s with Little or No Prior Design Experience,” Creativity and Innovation Management 22, pp. 147–160.