Designing the distinctive organisation

A distinctive organisation is one that behaves and performs with distinction. It distinguishes itself clearly from its competitors and its peers. A critical element in its make-up is the ability to comprehend and not just tolerate but celebrate paradox and complexity.

Organisations are organic entities. They are made up of a motley bunch of human beings, each with their own peculiarities. Each one is, as the amazing Thomas Leonard would have said, perfect. Clearly not having reached nirvana, but every human being is the perfect blend of strength and strangeness that makes them the individuals they are. Distinctive organisations revel in this perfection, in having access to this much individuality. They recognise that this is where their strength lies.

You can’t design a distinctive organisation by taking a blank piece of paper and drawing. You can try. It won’t work. Whatever shape you make the holes, the human beings you work with just aren’t pegs.

There are two necessary ingredients. Firstly, a clear intention, a clear sense of purpose. Secondly, a clear understanding of what you currently have, warts and all. It is far too easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater if you don’t take an analytical and open minded look at how things are working now.

Armed with a clear understanding of both of these ingredients, you are then in a position to consider knowledgeably how things might be, to play around with the options, and to get to the real design work.

Then comes the critical stage of carrying the decision into action, which is always harder than we think it will be.

In the following pages, I explore each of these stages, and outline my approaches to them.

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