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Former Member

I’ve had this topic on my mind since attending SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando a few short weeks ago. Swirling through my head have been:

  • my experience as a design thinking coach;
  • the session (read about it here) I had with the 3 Millennials that attended SAPPHIRE NOW;
  • and the ‘conversation’ between Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen and SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.

And then on top of that I recently read this great blog written by Taylor King about collaboration and the Millennial. As you’ll see, it fit right into the maelstrom of my mind.

So what does this all mean for the future of work?

Here’s how it all comes together for me. Design thinking tends to flatten any structure that exists at the outset of a project. It forces and then allows collaboration at the lowest common denominator – the individual participants. Of course it also opens for each person an avenue to greater creativity and innovation. It continues to gain popularity and traction at SAP and beyond.

My experience with DT and Millennials at SAPPHIRE NOW gave me a greater ease and comfort with knowing the next generations will seemingly be able to adopt the design thinking mindset. My reading of Taylor’s blog leads me to believe this was not an aberration. Social, community, technology and focus on the individual’s contribution seem to come almost naturally.

That’s great, right? Well, yes, but…for me there is at least one caveat that happens to lie with the organization. I thought Clayton Christensen made a brilliant point comparing SAP’s concept of flattening the data (and therefore technological) landscape by eliminating aggregates to the organization. Clayton attempted to explore the impact that complex, complicated (read: traditional) organizations would have on this new data and platform paradigm. What I took away from this was that there is the potential this all breaks down because the organization isn’t structured to consume in this way.

I believe there are close parallels here to some of the obstacles facing Millennials and even design thinking in the workplace. There are two organizational elements of relevance in my mind.

First, it’s about culture. I don’t think there would even be a discussion about this if most companies had adapted a culture of collaboration and innovation. Individuals would already feel more empowered. Millennial and other talent would be attracted to be a part of such an organization. Most companies I’ve worked with just aren’t there yet and most of them haven’t even started the journey.

Second, it’s about the organizational structure. The traditional system of hierarchies and silos still dominates the landscape. I would go far as to liken these to the data aggregates that Hasso discussed. As a matter of fact I’d posit that data aggregates roughly match the existing organizational hierarchies/silos. As Christensen asked I also wonder: “what happens to the organization when these aggregations disappear?”

In the end, I think both Millennials and technological change continue to pressure the organization to adapt both their culture and structure. What I do each day with design thinking also exposes and pressures the same points. The real question then is just where the inflection point lies to move companies in the right direction.

What do you think?

Follow me @jeremycthomas.

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