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6 Characteristics of
Six Characteristics of Resonant Organizations Uday Dandavate The concept of "disruptive innovation" has become a buzz word, a silver bullet for business survival. Businesses are turning to creative professionals to conceptualize the ideal product that will increase competitiveness in a marketplace depressed by economic downturn. But I would like to offer an alternative to this popular notion— instead of focusing on revolutionary products or services, businesses should focus on nurturing resonance. Building a business is like raising a child. You cannot hope to nurture character, conviction, and survival skills in a child just by giving them occasional gifts. The popular proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” best clarifies why resonance is the key requirement for building a thriving business. How much the stakeholders are tuned into each other and into the changing market conditions will determine the health, vitality and growth of the business. In turn, the entire value chain will be inspired to innovate. In this article, I propose that a company can thrive in a fast changing marketplace only by turning itself into a resonant organization. Marc Van Der Erve, the author of the book "Resonant Corporation," suggests that “the art of creating business is in finding characteristics that reinforce one another or resonate.” He does not want business leaders to be blinded by revolutions; rather he suggests that businesses should "focus on changes inside and outside your organization which might reinforce one another.” The idea of resonance is borrowed from the field of Physics. It refers to sound that is produced or increased in one object by sound waves from another object. Resonant organization therefore means an organization in which people have cultivated an instinctive ability to understand each other’s perspectives, sense and respect each
others’ emotions and to learnand grow from the deep connection they have developed with each other and with other stakeholders within their value chain. I have identified six characteristics of a resonant organization: creative curiosity, sense of purpose, synchronicity, empathy, mentoring networks, and sense of self. Creative Curiosity The responsibility for innovation often falls on professionals trained in creative thinking skills. Companies commission celebrity designers or well-‐known design firms to create disruptive designs. However, the secret behind the creativity of design professionals lies in their ability to observe, interpret, and be inspired by their surroundings. Creative individuals approach mundane moments of life with a childlike curiosity and an opportunistic attitude. Leo Burnett, founder of Leo Burnett Worldwide, once said “curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people,” Curiosity opens minds to new ideas and directs our perceptions to things that escape our attention on a normal day. This curiosity can be directed through an opportunistic lens. When an individual or an organization is driven by a sense of purpose in pursuing one’s curiosity, it can be termed as creative curiosity. This creative curiosity can be directed at solving a problem, interpreting a natural phenomenon, or in discovering the truth. And when an entire organization activates its curiosity to track the environment for opportunities, the chances of breakthrough discoveries increase exponentially. Sense of Purpose In order to direct the creative curiosity of its work force, leadership must provide clear messaging to communicate the purpose of its existence in the marketplace—both from the perspective of the company and its customers— just as Steve Jobs told his stakeholders to “Think Different,” John F. Kennedy mandated NASA to put a man on the
moon in ten years, and Gandhi inspired an entire nation with a simple call for the British to “Quit India”. In all these instances, leaders inspired their followers to use their imagination and curiosity to find their own ways to develop appropriate response to a broad framework laid out by their leader. Your employees and trade partners will be motivated to independently apply their imagination to creating, communicating and delivering innovative ideas to the market if they have a clear sense of what your company stands for. If your stakeholders perceive a sense of purpose in your vision and relate to it, they are more likely to use their experience, relationships, and creativity to generate ideas that are guided by that purpose. Simon Sinek, in his popular book, "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action," says, “The goal [of a business] is [or should be] not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe." The purpose of a company may be clarified through a mission statement, a tagline, or an evolving conversation with stakeholders about the company’s relevance in the marketplace and its dreams for the future. A good leader, therefore, is one who provides a sense of purpose to the company through projection of his or her vision for the future. Inspired by the TED talk of Simon Sinek and challenged by the questions of our employees, the partners of SonicRim conducted rigorous consultations last year on why SonicRim should exist and what the relevance of its services is. These questions led us to create a new website that reflected our clearly defined sense of purpose. As a result of this exercise, we find a renewed enthusiasm among our employees to write regular blog posts for the site. This exercise also led the partners of SonicRim to seek out new ways of approaching potential clients with the message that “together we can make the world a better place.”
Synchronicity An organization that is clear on purpose and keen on fostering a culture of learning needs to implement programs and create spaces within its premises that allow for cultivation of synchronicity between its employees and other stakeholders. Informal socialization and participation in activities that have meaning beyond work help generate a sense of synchronicity between people. For example three years ago, we brought together our employees and their families to plant 5000 trees in rural Ohio. Sweating in barren land for hour to plant trees, helped inculcate a sense of connection to a larger ecological cause that both the employees and their families believe in. The concept of synchronicity was first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology Carl Gustav Jung as "meaningful coincidences." In his view, the idea of synchronicity refers to the relationship between minds at abstract level. These relationships are a more profound connection between people which, cultivated over time through shared memories, values and purposes, can manifest as simultaneous occurrences that are meaningfully related. An event that brings people together on a platform that is meaningful to them allows synchronicity to grow between them. Empathy Most organizations suffer from lack of empathy between people who are separated by distance or culture. Lack of empathy for people working in unfamiliar contexts often creates bottlenecks in learning. Organizations need to cultivate two types empathy: internal empathy and external empathy. People within an organization need empathy for colleagues (internal empathy) to foster respect for the diversity of perspectives that exist within the organization. And they need empathy for your trade partners and your customers (external empathy) in order to best understand the cultural and psychological frameworks that guide the thoughts, ideas and feelings of people from different
backgrounds. Cross-‐cultural empathy can help tap into the wisdom and insights of people who have a stake in the success of your organization, and help them come together to drive innovation and bring imagination to life. Often seeds of breakthrough innovation reside in the wisdom, ideas and local knowledge of regional teams in global companies, which gets lost due to lack of empathy between corporate and regional teams, and between executives and creative teams. To help cultivate external empathy, organizations often conduct segmentation studies and develop persona caricatures of their target customers and trade partners. However, this exercise is not an effective as a tool unless the organization—especially the leadership team— goes through an experiential learning process to understand the lives of their target audience. This is important because empathy Is formed through direct immersion in shared experiences, and through genuine efforts to understand each other. Empathy cannot be gained from reading persona profiles depicted in PowerPoint presentations or by reading personas displayed in corporate corridors. Organizations must also use similar methods to develop archetypal profiles of people within their organization to help employees develop empathy for each other. Mentoring Networks Every organization has resource limitations on how many people they can employ. At the same time rapidly expanding social networks are enabling people to learn from people and sources outside the confines of their organization. As a result, new forms of mentoring networks are being formed on Twitter and Facebook. Organizations can develop their human capital by harnessing the potential of social networks in expanding people’s opportunities for growth through internal exchanges and mentorship from people outside of their organization. At SonicRim we have formed a new initiative called “Engage”. The sole purpose of "Engage" is to bring together the community of design researchers and clients of design
research in an open-‐source learning platform. We have established a monthly whiteboard meeting where design researchers— even those who compete with each other during their day jobs— meet to ask questions, share ideas, and enjoy time together. Tamara Christensen from Portigal Consulting, said after a recent Whiteboard session, that “[the Whiteboard session] spoke to my head, touched my heart, and nurtured my soul!” Her reflection best articulates the value of efforts in building an open source network for learning. We are also launching a SonicRim Book Club, in which we open up our company blog to reviews from professionals in our field. This platform will help practitioners in the field consume the knowledge from a range of resources while also conserving their limited time, effectively creating an opportunity for design research professionals to enrich themselves and create new value within the field. Sense of Self
Image: SonicRim researchers Chris (L) and Isha (R) presenting their collage.
Finally, the most important aspect of a resonant organization is the importance of sense of self, and its impact on an individual's work. At SonicRim we have learned that people have greater sense of self-‐esteem and a positive self-‐image when their experience of work is synchronous with their values and aspirations outside of work. We have
developed a method for helping employees reflect upon the alignment between their aspirations for life and job through a collage activity. By asking people to select words and images that represent their ideal life and job, we help them to examine their evolving aspirations and realities, and understand the symbiotic relationship between their ideal job and ideal life outside of work. The collage serves as a framework for understanding one’s sense of self as the conditions at work change, and also helps the employer understand how experiences from within and outside the organization to can create a sense of fulfillment. During the times of recession, when employees feel frustrated by lack of external motivation or inspiration, a resonant organization plays a greater role in providing meaning and a sense of purpose for innovation. British macro economist John Maynard Keynes, best summarized the current context for building resonant organizations: “The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied by our real problems: the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion."
The point is, we can no longer afford to obsess about the recession and simply wait for consumer confidence to return. Resonant organizations will use the period of economic downturn to inspire their employees to focus on applying their imagination to serve their customers in meaningful ways.
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