On Saturday Gillian Tett wrote an interesting piece in The FT Weekend magazine on how organisations try to drive innovation by fostering serendipity.

Tett asks whether it best achieved by mixing teams up, training specialists or just hoping that it will strike. Using examples from the MIT Media Lab in Boston, Palo Alto Research Center and the Deloitte Center for the Edge, Tett reviews how those organisations structured themselves to allow innovation to occur when different disciplines rub up against each other.

Interestingly (and fortunately for me and my desk) she also discussed the benefits of  “controlled sloppiness” – allowing a certain degree dissent, subversion and the willingness to embrace failure. Tett sums up the article with this warning;

Of course, this is not a popular message for most corporate or political leaders to absorb. These days some trendy tech companies, such as Google or Facebook, have made a virtue out of letting their employees “roam” at regular intervals. But most do not. After all, “sloppiness” often looks costly and is hard to justify in a world where the cult of efficiency tends to rule supreme.

The article made me think about how many organisations I come across that say that innovation is key to their on-going success and yet give their people no freedom to roam; to try usual experiments knowing that they might not succeed first time; and insist on a clear desk policy… Finding the balance between risk and control is all important and something that we put at the heart of our process through the various workshops we use to innovate business models, solve seemingly intractable problems and develop creative solutions to help answer our clients’ business requirements.