One of the major functions of an organization hierarchy is to increase standardization and control for top managers. Using the chain command, managers can direct the activities of subordinates toward a common purpose. If the right person with a creative vision is in charge of a hierarchy, the results can be phenomenal. Until Steve Jobs’ regrettable passing in October 2011, Apple had used a strongly top-down creative process in which most major decisions and innovations flowed directly through Jobs and then were delegated to sub-teams as specific assignments to complete. Then there is creative evidence, in which individuals create extremely successful products despite being told by senior management to stop working on them. The electrostatic displays used in more half of Hewlett-Packard’s instruments, the tape slitter that was one of the most important process innovations in 3M’s history, and Nichia’s development of multi-billion-dollar LED bright lighting technology were all officially rejected by the management hierarchy.
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In all these cases, an approach like Apple’s would have shut down some of the most successful products these companies ever produced. Doing “business as usual” can become such an imperative in a hierarchical organization that new ideas are seen as Threats rather than Opportunities for development. It’s not immediately apparent why top-down decision making works so well for one highly creative company like Apple, while hierarchy nearly ruined innovations at several other organizations. It may be that Apple’s structure is actually quite simple, with relatively few layers and a great deal of responsibility placed on each individual for his or her own outcomes. Or it may be that Apple simply had a very unique leader who was able to rise above the conventional structures of a CEO to create a culture of constant innovation. Do you think it’s possible for an organization to deliberately create an “anti-hierarchy” to encourage employees to engage in more acts of creative deviance? What steps might a company take to encourage creative deviance?