Have you ever seen the B-39 Soviet submarine at San Diego Bay’s Maritime Museum? Last Sunday, I took a tour and it got me thinking.
Military organizations have spent almost two and a half centuries perfecting the science of descending into the great abyss. One of a sub’s most important safety features is the ability to separate sections of the ship from each other by closing waterproof hatches. These compartments ensure that damage, water, and danger can be contained until the sub surfaces.
Some corporations are built like submarines. They are strategically constructed around the notion of compartments that serve their organizational goals, yet unfortunately these compartments hamper innovation. Departments, Cube walls, office doors and policies block the flow of innovative ideas and solutions.
In my experience, the key to innovation is found in sharing ideas with other people, and subsequently adding to these ideas and making them better. We observe people at work and play, determine a need, and have multiple people from diverse backgrounds work together to solve a problem. When designing a product, that also means making something physical as soon as possible, sharing it, and having people interact with it.
Change it. Make it better. And repeat. This process often leads to a breakthrough solution that could not have been imagined at the start. The most reputable design firms consider this one of the foundations of their success.
Once in a while, we encounter a company built like a sub, where the flow of information stops at the next hatch door. Compartmentalization may keep a sub from sinking, but it will certainly not help a company soar to new heights.