Book Review: Accelerate Change at Ohio State

Imagine being able to run with new ideas generated from a cohort of the most energetic people you’ve met at Ohio State. Imagine focusing your energy on strategic projects, and taking risks by releasing new digital services that refocus the university’s attention, while laddering up into shared goals and objectives. Imagine moving the needle, even with small improvements.

Accelerate by John Kotter

Accelerate by John Kotter

John Kotter’s latest management book, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World, implores forward thinking firms and progressive organizations to establish a new organizational structure to accomplish this cultural change. This new structure, the Dual Operating System, is actually based on a state most organizations have experienced in the past; one organizations pass through naturally, but cannot maintain over time. The Dual Operating System is separate from, but moving in concert with, an operational/hierarchical structure, and keeps the organization on pace with the ever changing digital landscape.

Led by a “Big Idea,” and a “Guiding Coalition” of supporters, teams are formed where inspiration and innovative opportunity meet. Overarching principles must be agreed to in order to get this dual system off the ground. More than 50% of the organization must be bought-in, and a “get-to” environment needs to be established to motivate volunteers. People must be inspired by the new opportunities, and invited and encouraged to participate through many small acts of leadership.

Kotter’s overarching premise is that the traditional hierarchical management structure, rooted in the post WWII economic boom and cemented by corporate growth, will not provide the innovation and flexibility needed to succeed in today’s fast-paced digital world. To make his point, Kotter plots out the creative energy stages of most organizations – from start-up, to well oiled machine, reliable operator, and finally a bureaucracy unable to adapt quickly to changing opportunities. Kotter explains that there is a moment in time just before hierarchical structures completely take over and processes are necessarily operationalized, where innovative risk still remains at the core of a company’s culture. It is this moment, Kotter claims, an organization must recapture in order to progress in the new digital space. This moment is where hierarchies and agile structures recognize the need for one another, and work toward common goals.

It would be very easy to claim that Ohio State University is an organization stuck in the bureaucratic phase. However, I have witnessed all kinds “states” of Ohio States. We are many organizations at once. Without a doubt I have run up against bureaucracies, but I’ve been a part of innovative bursts, grassroots initiatives, and small creative efforts that have moved the needle in how Ohio State’s constituents use digital services and applications. There is no “one way” Ohio State progresses with digital advances and innovations. Ohio State is a hugely diverse organization that ebbs and flows with innovation – moving into command and control, settling into bureaucracy, only to be rocked by new innovation.

An obvious example of this would be OSU Mobile. I would place how social media programs were launched at Ohio State into this “strategic, agile, grassroots” category as well. The (Go) project also fits nicely into this paradigm. Go was first described to me by Eric Schnell, Beth Black, and Jim Muir at the Innovate 2010 conference, and then again in the basement of the Science and Engineering Library later in the Spring. Eric and Beth were looking for a way to keep URLs short and reliable over time, while utilizing the Ohio State brand to signify a trusted association with the university. Their original concept was centered around citation URLs for academic journal publication.

Since Go’s launch, the entire university has embraced the shortened URL service. Over 30,000 URLs have been shorten by Ohio State faculty, students and staff, and today, the largest users are social media managers and marketers providing short memorable links for promotion and general consumption. Go links are used in Wexner Medical Center TV commercials, on athletics promotions, on WOSU, and many other public spaces. Go started as an agile, grassroots, digital success that moved the needle on how Ohio State offers digital services to its constituents. Today Go has been operationalized, and it is a reliable, stable service.

How do we replicate this kind of innovation? How does Ohio State promote small projects that contain the potential to shift and accelerate digital innovation? For this digital innovator, the answer lies in John Kotter’s new book.

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