The legendary American cartoonist, Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void fame famously sketched the following picture of company hierarchy.
These labels could be how each group would describe each other, perhaps they are merely the meanest interpretation of each group’s faults, or it could simply be Hugh’s wicked humour and sense of perspective. The genius of the cartoon though, is that we instantly understand the idea and are then faced with the prospect of deciding which group we are in. The good news is that even if we can’t make up our minds, we’re really glad we’re not in the other two.
From the top to the bottom
Taking Hugh’s extreme perspective, the top tier of the company is the most likely to suffer from (mild) sociopathic tendencies – have absolute faith in their convictions, are relentlessly determined to achieve their objectives and couldn’t care less who gets in the way.
The bottom of the pile is the losers, another extreme label – possibly those who work to live rather than live to work, but lambasted for this positive attitude and dismissed as wage slaves. For a while in America, this group might have been described as holding McJobs.
It is the middle tier, the clueless – somewhat hopeless salaried careerists, neither brutal enough for the top flight nor carefree enough for the bottom tier. This group of middle managers believe the dream they are sold by their sociopathic bosses and devote substantial energy to moving the business forward, even though they are in fact relatively inconsequential in the broad picture.
Our innovation managers, one has to assume, are drawn from the ranks of the clueless and the sociopaths, with the latter, sadly, more likely to succeed.
Any truth in the perspective?
How true this picture really is of most businesses we leave to you to decide, but it certainly hints at the complexity any of us faces when attempting to get existing businesses to do new things. The sociopaths will get on board (perhaps) if they can see how the move will benefit them. The clueless, often those in fact tasked with making the numbers work, resource allocation and so on, are likely to be more conservative, concerned about the immediate impact on their status or what their sociopathic leaders will do if they get it wrong. The losers will be concerned about any potential change to the status quo, seeing change and new ‘opportunities’ as euphemisms for disruption, risk and an increase in effort required.
In order to get our companies to do new things, we will need to think about how each of these groups – although we may use more politically correct and real-world descriptions of them – is involved (or not) to best effect and how their ability to derail the process because of personal agendas can be minimised.
If you’ve missed any of our previous instalments, check the list below.
- When a Revolution is Required
- The Myth and Magic of Innovation
- Where do Ideas come from?
- Money and Politics – why innovation could be doomed to fail
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