Innovation by (organisational) design

Dr Amantha Imber is an innovation psychologist who knows her stuff, you don’t get to run your own consultancy for 8 years if you’re not valuable to your clients (and I’m sticking to that, as we’ve been around for over 15).

She points out in her latest book that one of the most important factors for innovation is that people feel the right amount of challenge in what they are doing.  Key point being ‘the right amount’…in my words, in the tradition of one our better known cereals…what you are doing is not too heavy, not too light (showing my age there!)

Quoting from Amantha now: ”

The notion of challenging work leading to increased innovation is not surprising to most people. What is surprising is how little consideration is given to appropriately and deliberately matching the challenge or task complexity to the individual person.*

This is spot on.  She points out that managers need to consider both the complexity of the task AND the person when assigning work to try to create the right amount of challenge.  Absolutely.

So why isn’t this considered more?

My hypothesis – because those in charge of doing the matching, including CEOs in terms of how they design their organisation, simply aren’t aware that this is not guesswork or opinion.  It’s not well known that:

The complexity of a given role, and the complexity which a person will find to be the ‘right amount’ of challenge right now in their career…is appreciable.  It can be seen.  It can be modelled and understood.  

That is, matching the complexity of both roles and what people can handle is not guesswork.

I’m not talking about tick-box Mercer and Hays job-evaluation things, nor am I talking about psychometrics.  I’m talking about fundamental principles of work complexity which apply to both roles and to how we all process information that are both teachable and readily applicable.

Imagine that….having principles you can use to design your whole organisation so you’ll know the complexity of the roles that you need to deliver what you’re doing now and in the future. And imagine being able to understand where people’s natural level of handling complexity is at for now, and in the future.

What would you do with this knowledge?

You’d probably do what we do – design organisations so an ever-increasing percentage of the people there are ‘in flow’, are finding the level of challenge in their job ‘just right’.

As this is one of the most important factors for innovation….what does this give you?

Innovation by design.  Organisational design.


* Imber, Amantha (2016-02-19). The Innovation Formula: The 14 Science-Based Keys for Creating a Culture Where Innovation Thrives (Kindle Locations 728-730). Wiley. Kindle Edition.


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