It’s hard not to love Curious George. It’s an unfair contest really—here’s a cute little monkey who, with the best of intentions, constantly gets into trouble as he explores the overly-structured world around him! There is something about his curiosity that excites us.
But there is a subtle symbolism in George’s tales: his curiosity leads to experimentation which leads to disruption.
In direct contrast to Curious George’s exploratory nature, organizations are designed and managed with structure and processes at the center. Such processes are designed to avoid inefficiencies, eliminate errors, and minimize costly disruptions. But this road can, and often does, lead unintentionally to a stifling of the forces that drive curiosity; ultimately discouraging experimentation and thus limiting creation. We see this all too often in large, bureaucratic organizations that have lost the will to innovate.
One way out of this seeming creativity-conundrum is to encourage some disruption within your organizational process. But finding the right balance can be tricky. Encourage too much or in the wrong ways and you get chaos, inefficiency and waste. Encourage the right amount in the right ways and you get innovation, wealth-creation and success. Google’s famous “20 percent time,” the amount of time employees are encouraged to spend experimenting on their own ideas, is an example of disruption-in-process that has led to innovations such as Gmail, Maps and AdSense. And while Google has since modified the original policy to optimize the balance between inefficiency and innovation, the principle behind 20 percent time still rings true: disruption-in-process driving innovation.
One way we implement disruption-in-process at Mawer is by encouraging our team to identify and focus on “genius areas.” Genius areas represent the intersection of an individual’s expertise and interest. When a greater amount of the team’s time is spent working in their respective genius areas it results in in a higher pace of innovation with the added benefit of more motivated and satisfied employees.
Encouraging curiosity in any organization will lead to experimentation, creation and disruption. Embracing this disruption, and the uneasy feelings of disorder associated with it, requires mental strength and strategic vision. We are instructed by the example of the patient and supportive “Man with the Yellow Hat” who effectively encourages George’s curiosity by granting him the independence to explore, to experiment, to disrupt and, ultimately, to create.