In this volume, Lynda Gratton explains how and why "boundaryless cooperation fuels innovation...why some teams, workplaces, and organizations buzz with energy - and others don't." The business model she recommends is an "open" one. In fact, it is precisely what Henry Chesbrough brilliantly explains in Open Innovation and in his more recent book, Open Business Models. What is a "boundaryless" organization? GE is probably the most prominent example. (Curiously, there are no references in Hot Spots to Chesbrough, GE or its former CEO, Jack Welch.) According to Gratton, a "boundaryless organization" is one within which people are engaged in "purposeful conversation"; there are no barriers to communication, cooperation, and collaboration; and the organization has an ever-widening "net of involvement."
Those whom Gratton calls "boundary spanners" are very important because they break down the "walls" between in-groups and out-groups. They have a network of relationships that form a natural bridge between the two groups. (Chesbrough calls them "innovation intermediaries.") In a boundaryless organization, people feel energized and vibrantly alive. Their brains buzz with ideas as they share with others the joy and excitement of "exploiting and applying knowledge that is already known and genuinely exploring what was previously unknown." Relationships between and among those involved create a Hot Spot.
"One of the most profound insights about Hot Spots is that their innovative capacity arises from the intelligence, insights, and wisdom of people working together. The energy contained in a Hot Spot is essentially a combination of their individual energy with the addition of the relational energy generated between them." Hence the importance of (a) having a "cooperative mindset," (b) "boundary spanners," (c) "igniting purpose," and (d) sustaining sufficient "productive capacity." Gratton acknowledges that there is much of substantial value to be learned by examining best practices in exemplary companies (e.g. BP, PgilvyOne, Nokia, and Linux)but also other types of practices, notably what she characterizes as "signature processes" which embody a given organization's character. They arise from passions and interests within the organization. Whereas best practices "bring the outside in," signature processes "bring the inside out."
To Gratton's great credit, after identifying the "what" in the Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2, she focuses most of her attention on "how" and "why" in the remaining six chapters. I also appreciate the provision of information in three appendices, especially in the first ("Resources for Creating Hot Spots"). And I especially appreciate Gratton's decision to want until the final chapter before explaining how to design (or re-design) an organization in which Hot Spots "emerge." The process consists of five phases best revealed within Gratton's narrative (i.e. in context) but I do presume to suggest that Hot Spots are inevitable and can exist anywhere, both physically and electronically. The challenge is to encourage and support them without institutionalizing ("housebreaking") them. That is a very real danger, one which Bob Taylor obviously recognized when he insisted that the Xerox Corporation allow him to establish - with unlimited funding -- the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which those at Xerox's corporate headquarters (in Connecticut) viewed as a "renegade" think tank. In fact, Taylor and his associates conceptualized the very notion of the desktop computer, long before IBM launched its PC, and it laid the foundation for Microsoft Windows with a prototype graphical user interface of icons and layered screens. Even the technology that makes it possible for these words to appear on the screen can trace its roots to Xerox's eccentric band of innovators. It is possible but highly unlikely that any of this could have been achieved, had the research center been absorbed within the Xerox corporate culture in the 1970s.
Guided and informed by Gratton's observations and recommendations, senior-level executives will be well-prepared to provide the leadership needed to avoid or overcome barriers to innovation within their organizations by nurturing a cooperative mindset, encouraging and supporting those who are "boundary spanners," igniting purpose at all levels and in all areas throughout the given enterprise, and - as a result -- sustain sufficient "productive capacity."
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out two of Gratton's earlier works, Living Strategy: Putting People at the Heart of Corporate Purpose and The Democratic Enterprise: Liberating Your Business with Freedom, Flexibility, and Commitment. Also When Sparks Fly: Harnessing the Power of Group Creativity by Dorothy Leonard-Barton and Walter C. Swap, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration by Warren G. Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, and Juice: The Creative Fuel That Drives World-Class Inventors by Evan I. Schwartz.