People

Tomorrow’s Goal

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Graffiti-01Indonesia has a youthful population, and this population will experience a phenomenal change in the opportunities available to them over the next decade.  Disposable income is expected to increase by 75% by 2020, and life expectancy currently averages 71 and improving.  The children of Jakarta today will be the first in their family to worry about the brand of car they drive but until then, like all kids around the world, the most important thing is still a pick up game of football with your friends.Football-01

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Bargains on the Streets

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Street VendorsIndonesia’s street vendors are a very large and profitable sector of the country’s economy.  Some estimates have the sector at about 90 million people or around 40% of the total population.   Aside from food carts and fruit stands on every corner there are independent vendors selling everything you can imagine, much of which you wont even have to get out of your car to buy.  The government has encouraged these entrepreneurs and has designated areas for street vendors throughout Jakarta, some indications are that poverty across the city has dropped by 8% due to this policy alone.  Spotted being sold car door to car door today included; books and atlases, a squirrel, rice cakes and a fully inflated swimming pool chair.

The Subculture of Innovation

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Subcultures are often thought of in a corporate environment as evidence of fragmentation of the organization or a failing of management to impart a compelling collective vision. Some have argued that strong organizational cultures, where members agree and care about an organizations values, almost preclude the formation of subcultures[1].  There is significant evidence however, that even within the most successful organizational cultures there can exist, and sometimes must exist, strong subcultures in order to provide the mechanism for adaptation and change. In the same way that the innovative company creates change in the world, the innovative sub-culture creates change within a company.

The evidence for subcultures within your organization will be all around you.  A few years ago I had an opportunity to meet with a large advertising agency and spent a few hours observing the differences between the very diverse people that can populate that industry.  What struck me most were the well defined dress styles that each group adhered to in order to define themselves as being part of their own subculture.  The creative tribe had their style (well pierced street fashion) and the business development tribe had their style (no tattoos, no jewellery, nice suits)and it was immediately obvious who was who. Returning to my office later in the day I could see the same tribal dress (with much reduced flamboyance) in the staff I spent most of my time with.

In some instances companies rationalize subcultures as the price of doing business, “you can’t expect artists to wear suits” or “you have to supply programmers with mini refrigerators” are themes that we might be familiar with but which infer that subcultures are necessary but not ideal.  Looking at some of the more diverse organizations however we often see examples of subcultures being nurtured, not just reluctantly accepted, maybe the most successful example would be Lockheed’s Skunk Works group.  Can other large corporations learn from this?

Subcultures and Corporate Innovation

In most corporate environments innovation is not a priority for all employees.  No matter how sensationally the “We are Innovative” PR machine spins, when pressed we all have to admit that an extremely large proportion of our collective time is spent maintaining the status quo.  We all work in extremely competitive environments and to ignore the effort that is required just to avoid going backwards is an injustice on those who have this as their primary responsibility.

One concept we love at Osmotic Innovation is that corporate innovation is best done by those who choose it, rather than those conscripted.  How this concept can manifest within the organization is the formation of ad-hoc innovation teams, matrix managed programs, skunkworks (in the adopted sense) and the many people from operations outside of formal innovation roles collectively bringing their ideas to life.

How then can the Osmotic Innovator use subcultures to support and nurture innovation within an organization?  Rather than taking the direct (and somewhat ambitious) approach of trying to generate sub cultures themselves perhaps it is simply a matter of loosening up.  Subcultures will form where a group of people have a shared opinion that differs from the collective paradigm.  Where they flourish is in environments where they are allowed to express their differences, that is, where an organization lets them and encourages them to be different.  Innovation as we mentioned earlier is by and large a fringe activity within most large organizations and so is an ideal activity to be the rallying point for sub culture formation.  By loosening up some of the organizational cultural norms the Osmotic Innovator empowers the subculture to define itself and thus achieve in the light of day rather than in secret.    Your innovators will identify themselves if you allow them to; just give them their own space, their own time or simply the freedom to dress themselves in the morning.


[1] Alicia Boisnier, Jennifer A. Chatman The Role of Subcultures in Agile Organizations. Accessed Sep 2012. http://www.hbs.edu/research/facpubs/workingpapers/papers2/0102/02-091.pdf

The Olympics

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Olympics-01With the Olympics upon us and all the worlds eyes on London the AIG have, like most sports fans, settled in when they can to get their dose of the four-yearly event. The first thing you notice about the Olympic coverage in India is how broad and diverse it is.  If you thought that week one of the Olympics was “the swimming week” I can share with you the truth that it doesn’t have to be.

In India the big name Olympic hopefuls are in shooting, boxing, wrestling and badminton.  Watch out for Abinhav Bindra and Gagan Narang in the 10m air rifle and the indomitable Rondan Singh Sodhi in the double trap. In boxing the story of Mary Kom is intriguing, a five-time world champion Mary would have surely been an Olympic medalist in the past if only her sport were included in the games. Now finally with the chance, will age deny her?  Keep an eye on the Women’s flyweight on August 5th to find out.

An Unexpected Treat

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Yoga-01The AIG was treated to a wonderful afternoon at the Sivananda Yoga Centre located in Gurgaon, one of Delhi’s four major satellite cities. Led by Yogacharya Arun Pandala, who instructs over 1000 classes a year, the team learned basic positions, breathing techniques, and participated in Shavasana, a form of concentrated meditation where one is conscious yet not awake. Our only regret was we had not done this sooner, as each team member relished the opportunity for peaceful inner reflection.

Much thanks to Arun of the Sivananda Yoga Centre and to our wonderful hosts (and friends!) for organizing the entire event, supporting us with our home visits, and putting up with all of our last minute requests and changes to the agenda. Your hospitality was truly appreciated. Looking forward to next time!