Posts Tagged ‘innovation index

more self-managing organizations?

Hello fellow orgtheory readers!   Orgtheory was kind enough to invite me back for another stint of guest blogging.   For those of you who missed my original posts, you can read my 2009 series of posts on analyzing “unusual” cases, gaining research access to organizations, research, the IRB and risk, conducting ethnographic research, ethnography – what is it good for?, and writing up ethnography.

Those of you are familiar with my research know that I have studied an organization that mixed democratic or collectivist practices with bureaucratic practices.  Here’s a puzzle: although we operate in a democracy, most of our organizations, including voluntary associations, rely upon topdown bureaucracy.  However, this doesn’t mean that alternative ways of organizing can’t thrive.

Valve, the game developer behind Portal, has attracted much buzz (for example, see this article in the WSJ and various tech blogs entries, such as here and here) about its self-managing processes.  The company prides itself on having no bosses, and their employee handbook details their unusual workplace practices.  For example, instead of waiting for orders from above, workers literally vote with their feet by moving their desks to join projects that they deem worthy of their time and effort.  Similarly, anthropologist Thomas Malaby describes how Linden Lab workers, who developed the virtual reality Second Life, vote how to allocate efforts among projects proposed by workers.  Sociologist David Stark has described how workers mixed socialist and capitalist practices in a factory in post-Communist Hungary to get work jobs done, dubbing these heterarchies.

Interestingly, several of the conditions specified by Joyce Rothschild and J. Allen Whitt as allowing collectivist organizations to survive may also apply to these workplace organizations – for example, recruiting those like existing members and staying small in size.  However, my research on Burning Man suggests that these are not always necessary or desirable conditions, particularly if members value diversity.

Although these self-managing practices may seem revolutionary to contemporary workers, orgtheory readers might recall that prior to the rise of management and managerial theories such as Taylor’s scientific management, workers could self-determine the pacing of projects.  Could we make a full circle?

Any thoughts?  Know of other interesting organizations or have recommendations for research that we can learn from?  Put them in the comments.


Written by katherinechen

July 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm

measuring innovation

 A long-awaited report on how to measure innovation in the U.S. economy has just been released by the U.S. Commerce Department. The report is called “Innovation Measurement: Tracking the State of Innovation in the 21st Century Economy”. I first learned about this high-profile initiative last October; a press release revealed that a panel of CEOs and academics had met in Washington DC to discuss how to measure innovation in the U.S. economy. When I say “high profile” I mean folks like Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Medtronic Chairman and CEO Art Collins, IBM CEO Samual Palmisano, and Harvard economist Dale Jorgenson. The original press release said that the panel’s recommendations would be published in November; perhaps only an innovation junkie like me would be checking every week since then!

To measure the impact of innovation on the economy, analysts often use a measure called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). Any growth in TFP is assumed to result from innovation. Of course, the problem is that productivity could grow for other, non-innovation, reasons (for example, if existing innovations are diffused more broadly, TFP would grow even without new innovations). Other common measures of a country’s innovation have their own problems. You could count up the number of patents; but, patents alone don’t translate into successful innovation. You could count up the number of professionals working in R&D and university research labs; but as with patents, that’s a crude measure that doesn’t directly track successful innovation.

In the end, the panel’s report doesn’t tell us exactly what to do. Panel member Ashis Arora, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon, said that “The current advisory panel did not opt to recommend an index, because there is no serious evidence on how different measures of innovation should be combined, either at the organizational level or at the aggregate national level.” However, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez outlined a plan for moving forward: a better measure of the impact of high-tech goods and services (to be developed by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics); a better way to measure productivity increases that result from innovation investment (to be developed by the BEA); and new data collection efforts to measure the role of basic research (spearheaded by the National Science Foundation).

A longstanding problem has been getting different government agencies to share data with each other. The stumbling block has always been confidentiality concerns. Secretary Gutierrez announced his intention to work aggressively with the relevant agencies to try to find a way to share the relevant data while addressing confidentiality concerns. That’s going to require working with a wide range of agencies including the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisors, the Census Bureau, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. That’s a pretty tall order, but if that could happen it would result in a much better picture of national innovation.