Management Innovator’s Bookshelf: Creative Experience by Mary Parker Follett (1924)

I recently mentioned Gary Hamel’s vital work on Moonshots for Management. Moonshots is part of a larger initiative at the Management Lab on Management Innovation. Hamel defines Management Innovation as an organization’s ability to effect fundamental changes in its way of working. Recall Hamel’s premise that many of today’s management principles remain grounded in the industrial era where a large portion of work was physical labor. Today, a much larger percentage of our work is based in knowledge and creativity, resulting in a need to change organizational management processes and adopt more innovative approaches.

Hamel recently published his list of essential reading in Labnotes. I’ll share some thoughts on my favorites from the list over the next few posts. Whether you get a chance to read the books, or just have a comment, let me know what you think.

It’s no surprise that Follett’s Creative Experience is at the top of Hamel’s reading list. Today, where national competitiveness and productivity are measured in terms of knowledge and innovation, Follett’s analysis of integration, power and experience provide key insights into a highly productive, post industrial workforce.

Follett defines integration as the ability to successfully introduce new information that resolves an an apparent contradiction without inducement, compromise or domination. Successful leaders use integration to reveal common interests among diverse groups or individuals.

Follett contrasts power-with and power-over. Power-over disregards will, purpose and motivation. It can introduce resentment. Power-with naturally follows from the process of integration. It preserves will and purpose. It is sustainable and its origin is in experience. Follett says: “These three are bound together: the unifying, controlling, the sustaining are one. Whenever we are talking of actual power, then, we are talking of something which is generated by circular response […] It often has tragic consequences when our control attempts to run ahead of our integration.”

Follett describes experience as a self sustaining and self renewing process of creativity. Creative experience implies that organizations increase capacity by evoking unity of purpose from richly diverse individuals who respect differences while retaining their identity.

Creative Experience contrasts sharply with Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Managment. If you’re a student of management practice, you’ll appreciate that both of these influential texts are available on line. Take a few minutes and compare Chapter 2 of the Principles of Scientific Management with Follett’s Creative Experience. And be thankful that today we have a wide variety of opportunities to bring innovation to the workplace, unlike the industrial workers of decades ago who were incentived simply to perform the same task over and over without end.