Innovation Networks

An interview with John Kotter, Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School, Rotman Magazine, Fall 2015

The big challenge for today’s leaders is accept the fact that a certain amount of hierarchy is necessary, and to design a separate system – a network – for innovation right alongside it.

innovation networks

I call this a ‘dual operating system’, and it doesn’t force you to choose bureaucracy over innovation. It enables you to operate part of your organization like a startup – with all of the agility that entails – while at the same time running an efficient, reliable hierarchical system that excels in what you already do well. I am convinced that every company you can name that has been highly successful has gone through a stage where it operated with a dual operating system.

The network is not an easy thing to develop or hold onto, unless you know what it is and why it’s so important. Change isn’t easy; we all know that, and the core issue is that people don’t want to reorganize – they usually think the current approach is fine. What you have to do is develop a network with a strong sense of urgency, with its focus maintained on a Big Opportunity.

When it works right, there is an inseparable partnership between the hierarchy and the network. The two systems work as one, with a constant flow of information and activity between them, and significant numbers of people are waking up each morning with a compelling desire to do something that day to move the organization forward towards the big strategic opportunity. With aligned energy among enough people across the network, you have a targeted, passionate force that is unlike anything found outside of wildly successful entrepreneurial firms.