the Power of Human Ingenuity
Steven Wille & Dr.
To lead a
great organization you need strength in two critical areas:
Great people doing great things. That was the conventional wisdom
in the 20th century, but many excellent companies from
that era did not make into to the 21st century. Today,
we need more. We need innovation and human ingenuity. Things are
changing fast and if we don't keep up our companies, and our
careers, are likely to falter and fade quickly. Back in the
mid-nineteen hundreds, companies lasted an average of 61 years on
the Standard & Poor 500 list, which was longer than a normal
career. Today, the average is 18 years. How can you survive and
We are not
proposing that the old management leadership formulas should be
discarded. We are saying you need all three,
It is like the three colors in your television coming together to
make white light. It simply cannot be done with just two colors.
The three color LED lights in your television are red, blue and
green. We will use these three colors to represent the three
critical skills for management leaders, with red representing
people, blue representing process, and green representing human
ingenuity. All three are needed in appropriate quantities to create
the full picture.
with human ingenuity, the green in our model. You notice there's a
butterfly in the graphic, representing the
butterfly effect. Small changes in
starting conditions can result in big changes in outcome. Because
of the butterfly effect we will never be able predict the outcome
from a complex system. The butterfly effect came from Edward
Lorenz, who is known as the father of chaos theory. He wrote a paper
Predictability, does the flap of a butterfly's wing in Brazil set
off a tornado in Texas?"
There is an interesting story behind this. In 1961,
he and a group of meteorologists were using computers to predict the
weather. Digital computers were relatively new in 1961 and they did
not have graphical monitors with pictures back then. They had
printouts with numbers on paper that represented quantifiable data,
such as temperature, humidity, wind speed, and other variables.
Lorenz wanted to extend a forecast, so he keyed in the printed
numbers from the first run, ran the model, and was surprised by the
results. For the first few days, the weather was similar to the
first run, but 30 days out, it was completely different.
first he thought that there must be a vacuum tube broken in his
computer. Then he realized the printout was rounded to three decimal
points, but the computer memory was rounded to six decimal points. A
difference in temperature of less than one-one thousands of a degree
in his model changed the outcome dramatically 30 days out. Right
then, he knew we would never predict the weather 30 days out. Here
we are 50 years later, and we still can't. He was right. He spent
the rest of his life looking at non-linear equations and at problems
that can't be solved in a traditional linear way, but exhibit
predictable patterns and possibilities. Today, chaos science, also
known as complexity theory, is recognized as the way the natural
world works. So many variables come together at one time it is
absurd to attribute any natural event to a single factor. It is the
interaction of variables that delivers the outcome.
To see human ingenuity emerge from complexity, we are
going to look at history. Consider ancient Athens, the birthplace of
what we know as western thought, including democracy, philosophy,
and the scientific method. Where did this human ingenuity come from
in this small city on the Mediterranean two thousand five hundred
years ago? When we think of Athens we often picture the temples on
the acropolis, but that is not where the human ingenuity emerged. It
emerged from the city. The Acropolis, with its temples, is on the
hill. The people were in the city. Here is a recent picture of
Athens, the very same streets where Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and
so many other great thinkers roamed. There was an unusual quantity
of highly intelligent people along with political and economic
condition where they could think, debate, write, and do cool things.
They changed the world.
At many times and places in history human ingenuity
emerged to change the world. Consider William Shakespeare. Some
people say he couldn't have written the works of Shakespeare. It was
too good. There must have been more to the story. He lived in
Elizabethan London when poetry and plays were valued. There were no
copyright laws, so writers could borrow from one another. Every
iteration got better. It was because Shakespeare lived in London in
the Elizabethan age that he could interact with other great
writers. From this place and time emerged some of the greatest
literature in the English language.
There is a modern day ancient Athens and Elizabethan
London where ideas are emerging at an incredible rate. Consider the
Silicon Valley in California. Because it is a concentrated area
with smart people packed together, unintentional collaboration leads
to new ideas. New products emerge. Marissa Mayer, a long time
Google employee was hired by Yahoo to be CEO and bring more of the
Google culture to Yahoo. One of the first things she did was
announce the end of telecommuting so that people would be together.
She recognized that people may be more productive when working
alone, but she was willing to give up productivity to get more
The Gallup Business Journal reported that according
to their studies when employees spend no time working remotely, 28%
were engaged in their work and 20% were disengaged. Gallup found
that by spending 20% of their time working remotely, employee
engagement went up to 35% and disengagement down to 12%. Above 20%
working remotely, the engagement and disengagement trended
backwards. This suggests there is a human need to work alone and a
human need to interact in the same space. In other words, doing
both is better than one to the exclusion of the other. Going back
to the red, blue, green model, one color to the exclusion of the
others throws the picture off color. We need the green of
collaboration that lets human ingenuity emerge, and we need the blue
of routine work that is best done working alone.
This leads us to the blue in our model, represented
by a watch. The watch maker makes the watch, sells it, and never
visits the customer again. This is possible because of the quality
craftsmanship that goes into building a machine that operates in a
controlled and predictable way. Extending the watchmaker model to
the business world, we need organizations that operate in controlled
and predicable ways. Repeatable processes and best practices are
key to achieving this.
At one time,
Japan inferred low
quality products that would fall apart quickly. Today,
infers high quality. What changed? Much of the credit for the
transformation goes to W. Edwards Deming who emphasized statistical
process controls. In the late 20th century when American companies
were falling behind in quality, Deming returned to America and
helped create a quality awakening. Today, American companies
compete globally with quality products.
The great American productivity that emerged in the
early 20th century can be traced to the work of Frederick Taylor who
is recognized as the father of scientific management. Prior to this
time labor was cheap and not much attention was paid to worker
productivity. Who cared about immigrants, serfs, peasants, or
slaves, as long as the work got done? Taylor quantified the value
of labor. He walked around with a stopwatch to see how long any
task might take, and then he looked for a faster way to do that
task. He also engineered the tools to aid productivity. For
example, he optimize the size and shape of a shovel, making it
appropriate for the material to be shoveled. A worker should go
home tired but not exhausted. Peter Drucker, another great
management thinker of the 20th century said of Taylor, “On Taylor's
scientific management rest, above all, the tremendous surge of
affluence in the last 75 years which has lifted the working masses
in the developed countries well above any level recorded before even
for the well-to-do." Scientific management changed the world.
One of the greatest scientific management experiments
of all time, was at the Western Electric Hawthorne plant, just south
of Chicago. In the 1920s, there were 40,000 people working in this
plant where telephone equipment was made. The telephone was to the
early 20th century what the internet is to the 21st century. In
today's dollars, the annual output of this factory was 3.7 billion
dollars' worth of goods. It was a great place to test scientific
management because a small gain in productivity would lead to a
large gain in profit. That thinking led to the illumination
experiments. Before starting the experiment, productivity was
measured to create a baseline at a specific level of light. At the
time, factories were lit by natural light coming in through
windows. The question at hand was the potential value of increasing
the illumination through electric lighting. Illumination was
doubled and productivity went up. It was doubled again and
productivity increased. To be a valid experiment there had to be a
negative test. The lights were dimmed. Productivity remained high.
They had to bring the lighting down to 0.06 foot candles, the level
of moon light, before productivity went below baseline. This
experimenting ran for two and a half years.
The Hawthorne plant was still operating in 1975 when
the director of corporate planning for AT&T, Henry Boettinger, said,
"The experimenters at the Hawthorne plant did not discover what they
set out to find and the researchers had sense enough to recognize
what they had found." A whole new world opened up because of this
experiment. That takes us to the red part of our model, the people
side. A factory is more than a building with equipment, processes
and procedures. Human beings do the work. Human systems are
complex and it is difficult to isolate one factor, such as lighting,
and say it will lead to higher productivity.
For next six years the human factor was studied. A
relay assembly test room was set up so the output from a team could
be accurately measured. Working conditions were modified in many
ways, such as work hours, breaks, and earning more pay for more work
output. In addition to this, over 20,000 workers were interviewed
personally in open ended sessions conducted by trained interviewers
who were focused on how people really felt about their jobs.
Aaccording to the testers, as summarized by Elton
Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger, many human factors come together, but
one thing that stood out. The supervisor's method was the single
most important variable. That launched the whole business of
management training with a focus on the human relations side of
management, in addition to the process side of management. The
Hawthorne phenomena is much bigger than a single interpretation of
what caused the increase in productivity. It is the complex
interaction of many factors coming together.
This pivotal experiment was nearly a hudred years
ago. Is it relevant to the 21st century? In 1994,
reported an odd occurrence. Some teams in a call center were more
productive than other teams, even though all teams were essentially
the same in human skills and experience with the same working
conditions. An outside experimenter focusing on human interaction
observed that the teams that took their breaks together were fifteen
to twenty percent more productive then teams that took staggered
A retired engineer from Hewlett Packard told us that
back in the 1960s, when HP was the great innovative company, every
mid-morning a coffee cart would roll in with free donuts and coffee.
Engineers quit working to stand in line for donuts and coffee. How
many companies roll in a cart with free donuts and coffee 10:30
every morning so that they can get some better collaboration? It
may seem like a waste of time, but fifteen to twenty percent more
productivity is not something to be ignored.
It would be fair to say that management practice in
the 20th century evolved to encompass both people and process. It
also would be fair to say that the massive corporate productivity
and quality gains of the 20th century were related to these
enlightened management practices. Since then the world has changed
century solutions many not be sufficient for 21st century problems.
We live in a Wiki world. Wiki is Hawaiin for quick. Rod Collins,
author of Wiki Management, says, “Nobody is smarter and everybody
and nobody is faster than everybody.” People around the globe are
working simultaneously on new opportunities. The old hierarchy and
bureaucracy from the 20th century cannot keep up. It is dead. The
authors of this paper agree with Collins when examining corporations
under the green light in our model, but we maintain the hierarchy is
alive and well under the blue light of process control and quality
operations. In other words, we are proponents of red, blue, and
green light making white light, and that is the place to be in the
The historical support for this three color model for
management leadership is interesting, but it does not tell us what
to do in the future. Therefore, we offer three color proposals.
You won't find these in any book. We made them up, but they're
based on the idea that all three dimensions are useful, and one to
the exclusion to the others is a mistake. The purpose of our
proposal is to get you into three color thinking in every
interaction. We will look at three situations and offer three
different ways of seeing these situations.
Under the blue light, showing respect is to respect
the position. The chair represents the authority of the person
sitting in the chair. What do you do when a person of authority
tells you to do something? You do it, unless it's illegal or
unethical. If you cannot get this right you will not last long in
the organization. Under the red light it is a whole different
picture. This is where you respect the person, not the position.
The red and blue are in direct opposition. Do I respect the person
or the position? The answer is both. This was learned in the 20th
century. Most organizational people have figured out how to do
both. In the 21st century equality and position are still
important, but a third dimension has emerged. The green light has a
libertarian tint to it. We respect the individual and we do not
treat everyone the same. We do not say, “If we do it for you, we
have to do it for everyone.” Instead, we look at individual
opportunities. That is the only way to allow human ingenuity to
emerge. What if you had Aristotle working for you, and Aristotle
did not feel like doing it your way? Would you say, "If we do it for
you, Aristotle, we have to do it for everybody." There are many
Aristotles working at your place right now. We have a highly
educated workforce. Many workers do not mind trying new ideas that
may or may not work. Are you shutting them down with simplistic
rules that apply to everybody? We have no trouble giving the people
in the hierarchy special privilege. Is it unreasonable to give
special privilege to the highly ingenious people?
Under the blue light, numbers are the key to quality
and process improvement. A feedback system with objective
measurements tells you where you are out of compliance and gives an
opportunity for corrective action. Measurements work is sports,
too. When you keep score you focus on things that affect the
score. In general, you get what you measure.
Under the red light, feedback is not measurable. It
is about how people feel. The response is not corrective action,
but rather, empathy. Only through a non-directive, non-judgmental,
empathetic response do you get people to open up and tell you what
they really think. This kind of feedback is just as valuable as the
numbers, but it is different and serves a different purpose. You
need both, all the time.
The type of feedback you get under the green light
can be a challenge for management leaders because the feedback is
slower. You wait and see. How long does it take to solve a
difficult problem? No one knows because it has not yet been
solved. There are no simple answers for complex problems.
Admitting you do not know everything is a mark of maturity.
Eventually you might know, and based on that longer term feedback
you can make appropriate decisions, but anything quicker can be
Employee engagement is a hot topic. We want people
to be all they can be. That is good for the person and good for the
organization. Disengagement serves no one. Our third proposal is
about maximizing employee engagement.
Under the blue light it is all about being a part of
something bigger and making a meaningful contribution to the mission
of the organization. We set goals and tie them to meaningful
organizational goals. We also delegate meaningful work to people as
they progress in their careers. The reward for a job well done is
more work and more responsibility.
Under the red light it is about feelings. Even if a
person is making a meaningful contribution, if there is no
indication that the work is valued, why bother? Pay for performance
without an equal dose of genuine gratitude is the fast path to
disengagement. Human beings can be so complicated and demanding.
Even with a meaningful contribution and feeling of
value, there is a limit on what a person can do. The green light
symbolizes the multitude of other things required for a person to be
enabled to be fully engaged. Enablement includes skills training
and general support, plus the freedom to act. It also includes room
for failure and trying again.
These three proposals are intended as a general guide
for thinking in three dimension and seeing things under a different
light. We all have our personal filters and selective
color-blindness. Only by taking the time to remove the filters and
see the situation differently can we manage and lead when the world
keeps changing at a rapid pace.
questions are welcome:
RAIRDON, DM, FLMI
National American University
The Harold Buckingham Graduate School of Business
1325 S. Colorado
Blvd Suite 100
Denver, Colorado, 80222
WILLE, PMP, MBA
Rocky Mountain Information Management Association
1790 E. Easter Ave. Centennial, CO 80122
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Gallup Business Journal
March 13, 2014
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– only in 16th Century London)
(2012-03-19). Imagine: How Creativity Works (p. 215).
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
Great Place to Work conference
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(1941). The Hawthorne Experiments. In J. M. Shafritz, J. S. Ott & Y.
S. Jang (Eds.) (2005). Classics of Organization Theory (6th ed.)
(pp. 152-157). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth Publishers.
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(1939). Management and the worker. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Review September 10, 2013
Taylor, F. W.
(1911). Scientific management. As found in Taylor, F. W. (1975)
Scientific Management (3rd ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,
Taylor, F. W.
(1903). Shop management. A paper presented to meeting of The
American Society of Mechanical Engineers. As found in Taylor, F. W.
(1975) Scientific Management (3rd ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood
Steve Wille Photography
Copyright on the Taylor and Hawthorne photographs are unknown.
These pictures are in multiple places on the Internet. They can be
found in the following places.