A. Alexandra Michel’s new book, “Bullish on Uncertainty: How Organizational Cultures Transform Participants,” explores the case of two major U.S. investment banks – with two differing philosophies on how to structure business processes and organizational strategies.
Her counterintuitive findings: the bank that amplified bankers’ uncertainty produced better overall results than the bank that reduced bankers’ uncertainty. The book’s conclusions have implications for every knowledge-based industry.
“In our society we tend to believe that knowledge workers can better cope with complexity when we decrease their uncertainty and give them the tools they need to become experts,” says Michel who is a faculty member at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “This research, in contrast, shows that people are often better at complex jobs when they know less. This gives them the incentive to question assumptions and collaborate with others.”
What’s more, Michel’s analysis found several traits that marked the bank that achieve the best results by amplifying uncertainty. [See Michel discussing her research: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBCQQ9K9V3M].
Here are some of the unusual practices that uncertainty-amplifying organizations use:Bubble-Up Strategy
Adopting these management techniques can help create what Michel calls the “insecure overachiever,” a professional who compulsively doubts what he or she knows and by lack of relevant knowledge is forced (not only incentivized!) to collaborate. “These ad-hoc collaborations are more likely to notice the uniqueness of a situation and design the right solution—versus merely apply the same template that has worked in the past,” she says.
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