An Underground of Missed Opportunity

Last Friday I spoke at Medtronic’s Global Technology Forum on the “Politics of Creativity”. I began by commenting how just beneath the surface of organizational “business as usual” there lies an “underground” of missed opportunity. I asked the audience, “Where does one go to find out what’s really happening?” The practice of the Politics of Creativity is about looking at the inhibitors to creativity and innovation that lie just beneath the surface of most organizations.

Chris Argyris of Harvard Business School documents extensively in his book, Overcoming Organizational Defenses how “underground dynamics” arise. What I was not anticipating on Friday was a question from the audience asking, “What advice do you have for us if we are the underground?” The audience was heavily populated with young, robust thinkers, scientists and engineers as well as business liasons, asking great questions about sometimes elusive matters (e.g. “How DO I sustain the creativity I had when I came to the company two years ago?”)

Underground dynamics are more about unspoken and often unrecognized maneuvers and manipulations to gain advantage than about a specific group of people. As Argyris points out, there are underground dynamics even in the Board Room. So perhaps I confused the audience by asking “where do you go to find out what’s really happening”?

In any case, I responded to the question by sharing my conviction that a small group with vision and passion can indeed make a tremendous difference in where a large organization is moving. Over lunch I cited how in the mid 90s a small group in the Finance Dept at Nestle USA was largely responsible for what became a company-wide initiative called “Leadership over the Top,” a program for leadership growth and renewal which was sustained for more than five years. I remain in contact with some of those individuals to this day.

In yesterday’s New York Times Noam Cohen writes a featured article entitled, “The Wiki-Way to the Nomination”. He describes how Barack Obama’s victory as the Democratic nominee is very much a result of “Facebook politics” and compares his success to a “classic internet startup”. He then quotes Obama: “We just had some incredibly creative young people who got involved and what I think we did was give them a lot of latitude to experiment and try new things and put some serious resources into it.” New strategies and accompanying tactics for political influence are very evident in this year’s political contests

I encourage you to read Cohen’s article. He concludes by citing the paradox that one person can make all the difference in leveraging the “wisdom of crowds”. Industry changing behavior is happening! Who would have imagined Radiohead or now Nine Inch Nails giving away their new hits on the Internet?