HR Executive Tip #2 – Org Structures of Innovation

Does the structure of your organization increase the likelihood of your employees producing breakthrough ideas? Or does it hamper innovation?

In John Gertner’s fascinating book about Bell labs, The Idea Factory, he describes a study done by Bell Labs’ patent attorneys. They wanted to know why certain individuals produced more patents than others.

“They discerned only one common thread: Workers with the most patents often shared lunch or breakfast with the Bell Labs electrical engineer named Harry Nyquist. It wasn’t the case that Nyquist gave them specific ideas. Rather, as one scientist recalled, ‘he drew people out, got them thinking.’ More than anything, Nyquist asked good questions.”

Who are the Harry Nyquists in your company? Are they in positions that make best use of their natural talent for sparking ideas in others? Are they centrally located?

Tip: Explore the social networks of innovation. You can do this yourself, or delegate the following:

Step 1: Ask innovators and key players across functions, “Who sparks your creativity?”

Step 2: When enough people tell you who sparks their creativity, map out the Networks of Innovation in your company. You’ll see the mutually catalytic relationships and which individuals provide the  creative spark.

Step 3: Organize work flow, roles, proximity, and team configurations to keep the creative fires burning. Amplifying that spark increases the likelihood of “lucky” innovations emerging from your teams.

If you want my help in thinking through how to implement this, contact me at