Innovation Lessons from Garage Majal

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Here’s an interesting article about Ron Dennis, the leader of McLaren.  That’s him on the right in the photo above, accompanied by the author of the article, semiotician Stephen Bayley.  It’s a fascinating walk through the McLaren Technology Centre, which is where wickedly beautiful and effective machines like McLaren F1 racers and the Mercedes SLR are wrought.

One can’t read about Ron Dennis without thinking about Steve Jobs.  Both have created high-performance organizations which are able to innovate on a routine basis.  Both run organizations which are hierarchical and honest about it.  As Dennis remarks to Bayley, "Dust can be eliminated," and I think that’s as much an organizational metaphor as a statement about the level of hygiene found at McLaren.

How does one organize for innovation?  I’m beginning to think there’s a bimodal answer at work:  either build an organization around an exceptionally "right" individual like Jobs or Dennis, and have every aspect of it amplify their personal decision making abilities, or build a powerful network of individuals, a la Mozilla, which determines what is "right" based on the power of thousands of individuals — some talented, some not so — making deep bugs shallow.  In other words, brilliant dictator, or brilliant network.  Between those reigns the mediocrity of committees and task forces and focus groups.

What do you think?