Organizational Illusions

Most optical illusions require that the observer stand in one place with a limited view of the situation. In an Ames Room, for example, looking through one peephole causes the observer’s sense of perspective and scale to be thrown off.

Simply observing the room from other angles, or looking at the broader context, reveals what is really going on. Some illusions are intentional, as in the Ames Room example, and some are just caused by an observer missing the bigger context.

The path to success for many organizations seems pretty straightforward from one angle. We have studied some organizations, for example, who have looked at their path from the technology angle, and who have subsequently dumped a lot of money into building digital collaboration platforms that did not get used. Other organizations have looked at their path from a strategic angle, and dumped a lot of time into determining strategies and organizational structures that were not effective. Still other organizations focused just on their fantastically gregarious, talented people,  who had trouble working together when they started using digital collaboration tools.

So what is the likely problem here? Relying on just one angle for perspective creates organizational illusions. If your organization seems to be looking from just one of these perspectives, try asking a few questions from the others as well:

  • Do our people have the skills and relationships necessary to carry out our bold digital strategy?
  • Does our shiny new technology leverage the skills our people have now?
  • What sorts of new technologies will really help us to accomplish our organization’s goals?
  • Is our strategy or technology destroying or enhancing our people’s relationships?

Even better, try broadening the context of your questions altogether:

  • Are all of these things in alignment in a way that will allow us to adapt to the changing economy and society?


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