Posts Tagged ‘Organizations’

Missed the Closing Innovation Forum Summit: Reinventing the University?

March 21, 2012 Comments off

Watch it here!

Read the recap here.

Missed the Opening Forum Event, “Fostering Innovation in Organizations”?

March 15, 2012 Comments off

Photos from “Fostering Innovations in Organizations”

February 29, 2012 Comments off


Pictured: Chancellor Kenyon Chan, Professor Alan Wood, Richard Shea, Lou Gray, and Deborah Wilds

Innovation Forum Highlights: Fostering Innovation in Organizations

February 10, 2012 Comments off

I am writing to invite you to the kickoff panel for the Innovation Forum at 9:30 Monday morning.  Chancellor Chan will introduce the session, which will include Richard Shea, President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Olympus Respiratory America, Lou Gray, entrepreneur and CEO, and Deborah Wilds, President and CEO of College Success Foundation.  I will moderate.

I thought I might provide some background thoughts on the issues that prompted the focus of this panel for those of you who are interested in attending.  As some of you know from my previous ruminations on the mission and identity of this campus, I tend to see the world through the lens of paradox, and nothing could capture the essence of paradox better than the relationship between innovation and bureaucracy.  The first great scholar of bureaucracy, Max Weber, observed a long time ago that bureaucracy itself is not a bad thing (in spite of our visceral dislike of it).  It is necessary to do complex tasks and to preserve knowledge.  In stable times, doing routine tasks, it accomplishes miracles of organization.  But it also has drawbacks.  Because of its commitment to process (normally a good thing), bureaucracy is slow to respond creatively to rapid change and to emergencies.  Its success in promoting stability becomes a failure in promoting innovation.  Innovation requires risk, and risk requires a high tolerance for failure.  But bureaucracies have a low tolerance for failure—the bigger the bureaucracy, the lower the tolerance.  In other words, the very qualities it needs to run properly during times of stability are opposed to the qualities it needs to run properly during times of rapid change.

So what does that mean for us?  Are we in a time of stability or change?  Most folks would probably opt for the latter.  In the 21 years since the University of Washington Bothell campus was founded, there have been (at least) three major changes in the larger environment that surrounds the university.  First, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of globalization have transformed the world economy and given birth to a global commons.  Second, the advent of the Internet, advances in computer technology, and the proliferation of mobile phone technology have revolutionized human communication and learning.  Third, the social contract between American society and the academy has eroded to the point that education is no longer seen as a public good but a private benefit, undermining the long-standing commitment of the American republic to its once-fundamental faith in equality of opportunity through education.  Increasingly, the best universities in the United States are private and expensive (and now, increasingly, public and expensive).  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that this trend is not a terrifically good thing.  Can we do anything about it?  I think so.  At UWB, we have the opportunity, with leadership and with the support of the community that surrounds us, to innovate on a grand scale.  Because we are new, small, and growing rapidly, we just might be able to create a new model of higher education based on a public-private partnership that enhances learning while reducing costs to students.  I don’t know yet what that might look like, but I do know that we cannot do it alone.  We need all the help we can get.

Hence this panel, the members of which have a good deal of experience in large K-12 education organizations, non-profits, start-up companies, and Fortune-500 companies.   All these organizations employ varying levels of bureaucracy.  And yet these individuals have all been successful in fostering innovation.  So I asked them to think about two questions:  What strategies have they found to be successful in getting their organizations to innovate, given all the pressures that act against innovation?  And are any of those strategies applicable to the present predicament of higher education?  To be sure, universities are unique entities in their mission and their function.  Nevertheless, there still might be some principles that apply to all human organizations, regardless of time and place.  So join us and explore this rich terrain of new possibilities!

Guest Post: David Socha

February 7, 2012 1 comment

Our third guest post is from Professor David Socha, a presenter during the TIC TALK Series: “Building Great Teams.”  David Socha is an Assistant Professor in Computing and Software Systems at the University of Washington Bothell. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering and his M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Washington. He earned a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin.

Socha’s interests, research and teaching focus on how to create effective software-enabled systems that solve important human needs. This is a holistic design space involving many aspects from technical to social, business to science, quantitative to qualitative. Currently, he is focusing his research on two areas: software testing, and biomimicry. In software testing, he works with industrial colleagues to explore various aspects of what is now called computer aided software testing. This is a simple and effective way of combining the best of what humans do well and what computers do well. One question he is exploring is the dynamics of why and how software testers accept, or do not accept, to follow these practices. In biomimicry, he is exploring how the biomimicry design process is, and could be, used to create better software systems and better organizational processes. A third area of interest is organizational design and team effectiveness.

You can check out his own blog here:

“Everybody” Improves Whole Systems

I am always looking out for simple models that illuminate more effective ways of acting, especially when they relate to teams and organizations since these are the units of work in today’s world. Thus, I was pleased when I came across the following model at yet another excellent OSR seminar during which Marvin Weisbord spoke of his life’s work of experience exploring and describing how to improve organizations and communities. In particular, he showed a simple diagram, which I have scanned from the brand-new 25th anniversary, 3rd edition of his book Productive Workplaces: Dignity, Meaning, and Community in the 21st Century:

Marvin Weisbord’s Learning Curve

This diagram illustrates how our strategies for effective organizations have evolved over the last 100+ years. In 1900, the trend was for experts to solve problems. Insights into group dynamics in the 1950s led to adding a new strategy to the mix: “everybody” solving problems. The rise of general systems theory in the 1960s resulted in experts improving whole systems. This evolved in the 2000s to be “everybody” improving whole systems. Each addition provided a new set of tools and approaches that are helping to drive productivity to new all-time levels. Experts have led the way creating knowledge and practices that were then adopted by “everybody”.

Marvin goes on to say:

“While the four learning curve strategies coexist, if you aspire to dignity, meaning and community, you won’t be satisfied until you get everybody improving the whole. Not if you seek the economic benefits from ever-changing technologies.”

Dignity. Meaning. Community. Those are laudable goals. And essential parts of what make us human. And economic benefits are needed along the way.

Since becoming a professor in September 2010, I’ve been thinking more and more about our higher educational system and how to improve it to become even more effective. Marvin’s diagram resonates with me. It connects with my understanding of the complex systems in which we live and act: biology, organizations, products, teams, etc. One of the most illuminating descriptions of complex systems that I have found is David Snowden’s video describing the sense-making Cynefin Framework.

In complex systems cause and effect are only obvious in hindsight, changes to the system are largely irreversible, and the system has unpredictable, emergent outcomes. There are no “best practices” or “right answers”. The system is too large, too diverse, with too many interacting parts for any one person to understand the system. This is no longer the domain of experts. Every practice needs to be contextualized, adapted for the particular context of that person, and the context is always changing as is the person. Thus, practices need to be continually modified to respond to the emergent behaviors of the system.

In such complex systems, the most effective leadership move is to create an environment in which “everybody” does lots of experiments to continually learn about how to best adapt their practices. In other words, create a situation where “everybody” improves whole systems.

So what does this mean for UW Bothell, where I work?

UW Bothell is in the upper left quadrant of the Cynefin framework: it is a complex system (an organization) working with complex systems (students, staff, faculty, their families, communities, industries, etc.) doing complex activities (learning). We need to continually adapt to the changing context of the systems that we are in. We need to be acting in the upper right quadrant of Marvin’s Learning Curve diagram.

Are we training our students to effectively act in complex systems? Are we providing them with tools, principles, practices, and experience of being part of “everybody” improving whole systems? Do they understand that there are different types of systems with different ways of acting effectively? Do they understand what “whole systems” means? Do the faculty and staff emulate these practices?

And perhaps most important, how can we get “everybody” improving the whole UW Bothell system?

TIC Talk Series: Building Great Teams will be occurring Monday, Feb 13 12:00pm-1:30pm in the Rose Room.

Speakers: Professor Deanna Kennedy, Professor Tayfun Keskin, Professor David Socha

Building Great Teams features brief research presentations, followed by a panel discussion on organizations, teams and collaborative technologies. Presentations include:

  1. Analyzing Team Structures and Processes Now to Build Better Teams Tomorrow by Professor Deanna Kennedy
    What are the characteristics of an ideal project team? How does the ideal project team collaborate? How does an ideal project team communicate? By finding out the answer to these questions today we can build (and train) for better teams tomorrow.
    Herein the ideal project team is identified using computational studies of laboratory, simulation, and field team data. Using such methods as Monte Carlo simulation, particle swarm optimization and genetic algorithms, the composition, collaboration, and communication of ideal teams are studied. The implications for building the ideal team are discussed.
  2. Collaborative Technologies’ Role in Teamwork by Professor Tayfun Keskin
    Collaborative information technologies are integrated sets of information processing functions designed to facilitate knowledge sharing and integration among interconnected entities.
    Today, most organizations have access to some type of collaborative technology, such as messengers, e-mail, an online calendar, and sometimes a file sharing system despite unending debates on the effect of information technologies. So do really collaborative technologies enhance performance? If so, which functionalities help better performance? And under which conditions? Because we know sometimes IT does not matter. My aim is to develop a quantitative “role of information systems” theory to find answers to these questions.
  3. Greatness by Professor David Socha
    We all want greatness. How do we get greatness? By producing great results. How do we produce great results? By being part of a great team. The opportunities for producing greatness, the need for producing greatness, and our understandings of how to produce greatness have changed dramatically over the last few decades. How can we at UW Bothell, intentionally and effectively help to dramatically increase the amount of greatness done in this, our one world?

About TIC Talks:
UW Bothell faculty members discuss the real-world applications of their research at Technology, Innovation and Creativity (TIC) Talks, sponsored by the Office of Research. These interactive sessions, held Monday-Thursday at noon, highlight topics ranging from games for education to organizational innovation. The community is invited to join faculty, staff and students for these lively presentation-and-discussion sessions.