I love a great metaphor, like this one from the 2015 Better By Design CEO Summit. The speaker likened an organisation to a growing sphere to illustrate how organisations can lose touch with what happens out in customer-land.
The speaker was Joe Lassiter. A professor at Harvard Business School and chair of their Innovation Lab. He was sharper than sharp, and here’s what he said:
“Information enters and leaves organisations at the interface to the outside world.
If you think of an organisation as a sphere growing over time that interface to the outside world is the surface area of that sphere while the internal organisation is the volume of that sphere.
If you look at the ratio of surface area to volume, it reduces to 3/r where r is the radius or distance from the centre of the sphere to its surface.
If you imagine the senior team of an organisation at the centre of the organisation, the unfiltered information that they get decreases with growth.
That can be pretty dangerous…”
Ok, so I’m not really across the 3/r bit, but the picture he paints is clear to me – of organisations as spheres, becoming victims of their own volume, less able to breathe insight from the outside world despite their greater ‘surface’ area.
… and here I was thinking pie was 3.14 times the diameter of the pastry minus the hypotenuse of the gravy!