Industry Discussion
What do industry leaders, clients, and employees say?
I took three approaches to the industry discussions: interviews, workshops with fellow hyper students(mainly designers and project managers) and simple surveys. In preparation I followed the guide 'Do the user talky right' given to us by Laurence Kitson at Hyper Island (Kitson, 2016). The four basic principles for interviews are: 1 Preparation, 2 Opening ,3 Gathering and 4 Closing. More tips for interviewing were also found here from UXmatters (UXmatters, 2008).
I started with a quick survey for design agency employees across London, asking 20 colleagues I knew (designers, directors, and HR managers) to gauge how they felt about agency culture. The results were very mixed and patterns were not obvious but generally people enjoyed the fast pace of agency life, happy with the culture but mixed feelings about leadership.

- Most thought their leadership were reasonably transparent with information.
- Most didn't like the politics or people in suits.
- Most thought that people develop their skills outside the agency and wouldn't rely on the agency.
- Many were happy not being in leadership roles now, saying they had been before but prefer running on their own.

The objectives for my interviews are to explore my hypothesis questions and validate them using these questions below, supported by a presentation of research as starting points for conversations.

Jan Pautsch
Head of Creative,
Cogs Berlin
Thomas Euler
Management Consultant,
Speaker, thinker and writer
Jon Barnes, Co-Founder
Ex-Hyper Island Course leader

Susan Basterfield
Founding Partner at Enspiral Labs
Richard Botting
Strategy Partner at Rokker/ TEDx Committee Member
Kadosa Orosz
Creative Developer
Questions on culture:

I'm looking at skills/qualities needed to support a culture of strong character and high-trust. (I believe these are essential skills and need to prioritised in work, education and family)

What characteristics or qualities do you think are important for high-trust teams or cultures?
How do you look for 'character and trust' qualities in employees?
How can these qualities be measured?
What steps could individuals take to 'shift' to a self-organising, self-leading culture?

On Self-leadership:

We should 'all' be self-leading and self-organised. I'm looking at what practises and qualities define the new role of self-leadership?

What are the main principles to define a self-leading mindset in your opinion?
What do you look for when recruiting leaders?
How will this change in self-governing model?
How can leaders 'unlearn and relearn' new approaches to self-governing models?
What if our younger generation being 'misled' under outdated leadership?
What if the younger generation are better equipped to be leaders?

I spoke to Jan Pautsch, head of Cogs Berlin, Jan has experienced both sides of the Creative Culture (ideas and technology) as an ex-Creative Leader at German agency Aperto. Leading recent projects such as DECODER which is about 'unlearning and relearning' new methods of collaboration across technology and creative skillsets, in highly innovative environments.

Jan describes Cogs as a Meritocracy - "where it isn't what you say you do that is important, it is what you actually do". Their Founders Liam Morgan and Chris Frost founded Cogs with the vision/purpose: bringing true value to our clients and making the difference to their businesses and them personal by finding and representing the best talent. Their core principles are: Hard work, Insight and Effectiveness. They are: Self-organising, distribute authority, transparent with information, lead by example, constantly learning, invest in training, nurture culture and inspiration, and adopt agile working processes.

Cogs understand that we are in an age of empowerment and collaboration where individual performances become less important than the team. Understanding the candidates motivation and inner purpose/driver is vital for fining them the role rather than the interview for a particular job. It is important to not confuse communication skills with technical abilities and knowledge.

Cogs take time with candidates using long observation techniques and extensive testing at times. The key is to build long lasting relationships looking for the potential not just the skills.

Qualities can be measured with challenges and presentations, and for senior candidates let them interview you. Set a defined and agreed process. The chemistry test is important, when just spending time side by side working on a real task.

An interesting article is - How to hire great people (Vishnepolsky, 2016)

On self-leading organisations I spoke to Thomas Euler, successful management consultant, who works, thinks, writes and speaks on digital business, technology and decentralised systems. Thomas states it's the responsibility of the leader/CEO for any self-organising model to work. Moving to a model such as 'Teal' the CEO has to be onboard. He understands that it is important to create safe spaces (psychological safety) and the right environment for colleagues to be their whole selves at work.

Workshops are great for teaching new organisation theory and approaches but sometimes employees with IT/development backgrounds may find it trivial at first. The key to this, after getting the CEO on board, is simply communication and how to package these ideas so that get well received. Some leaders may be cynical of employees leaving for workshops, Thomas says the workshops need to be integrated into the actual work within the organisation day-to-day.

As the self-organising companies grow this movement will get bigger and better understood through data. Many employees in the business organisations have very analytical backgrounds, which is not enough to get the job done, so these types of workshops around emotional intelligence and other social skills are very important.

We discussed leadership not being differentiated enough, in a self-organising we can take management and then break down their leadership skills into smaller roles such as - intellect, rationale, emotional. There is real need for more nuanced roles in leadership.

There are some self-organising models such as Holacracy, that are now packaged and sold to companies, these are a methodology, but the still have hierarchy within them.

Creative agencies are an optimal field to try different approaches to organisational structures, but the big advertising/design agencies have adopted the standards and organisational methods from the client side. It starts with pricing by seniority or job title. Which all seems really wrong - creative agencies should try different structures, they can be more progressive and bold, and this can be attractive to the clients. What is often overlooked in these new organisations is how you sell it, they need to talk about outcomes, not process.

In self-leading organisations the development of these human skills such as EQ and empathy, trust , collaboration, reflection, storytelling, listening, coaching, facilitating and not fearing of failure are all of key importance for organisations.

Re-imagining HR

Speaking to Susan Basterfield, Founding Partner at Enspiral Labs, we briefly discussed how HR works with self-organising organisations. In a Teal company there would not be a HR department, but they may have someone to deal with contractual compliance within a team(s). Teams take care of development, search and hiring of new employees themselves. Ongoing development should take place through the work, so therefore separate initiations aren't going on.

Susan says "self-organising companies are in the game of retaining/attracting talent and they will need to look beyond pool tables and drinks on a Friday."

Question is how are they going to support ongoing personal and cognitive development? Every organisation will be different on how they develop and support. The biggest shift in these companies will be from HR telling people what they need, to people actually manifesting for themselves what they need, and where/how they do it.

Susan says the Teal theory feels a little 'elitist' that you can only be at a certain level to recognise what level you are, and the dogma of making it seem like the pinnacle or better than. However the three breakthroughs described by Frederic Laloux are very good for organisations.

Apart from the winning over the CEO, a good starting point with companies wanting to transform is to run an extrinsic/intrinsic exercise on people's job descriptions - this allows people to see what they actually do at work, which can be motivating by seeing what they are actually accountable for beyond the extrinsic job description.

A couple of highlight from Jan's conversation on interesting initiatives in HR and some ideas on how we can innovate:
Re-imagining HR
Currency Instead of processes (Data, Knowledge, Innovation, Change, Network, Engagement, Health)
Closer to IT.
Closer to Business.
More information -
Re-imagining our business values
In the face of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we need a new radical humanism (Leberecht, 2012). This means designing organizations and workplaces that celebrate authenticity instead of efficiency and questions instead of answers.

- Tim Leberecht: 4 Ways to build a human company in the age of Machines
New models for work
Self organised and trustful teams. No hierarchy.
Bring your own Team - hiring whole teams.
Job Sharing - eg. Tandemploy
More Diversification
Inclusive diverse company cultures, engaging different ethnic backgrounds, gender equality, switching modes of working, older and younger member working together.
New hybrid roles
Eg. Holocracy
More Storytelling

Reveal more of who we are.

We also discussed how creating a more empathic culture and transforming to self-leadership is so important for our education systems. It is often education that gets left behind. Thomas states "our education systems implement all of the opposite values to what we discuss now (e.g grading, tests). Education is simply creating people for the jobs market still. We will need people very soon that are not functioning like machines, with emotional intelligence and strong collaborative human skills. Artificial Intelligence is coming and we need people with ideas."
"Most of the work we do today can already be automated by existing computer technologies today. Computers can do 45% of the tasks today"
- Mike Arauz, Speaker (Arauz, 2016)

Decentalisation of everything

I spoke Jon Barnes, ex-Hyper Island course leader and co-founder at We discussed the future and whether decentralisation and self-organising models could end up running the planet. It's possible but highly unlikely. In reality we can expect to see major breakthroughs in the next five years with technologies such as blockchain and machine learning/artificial intelligence.

As Jon states, with blockchain we can decentralise the notion of trust, meaning the centralised systems we are born to accept and trust, regarding money, valuables, policies, rights and health decisions (e.g.. banks, governments, polling). When people realise that they we don't need to trust these, potentially corrupt, centralised systems anymore, they will take their business elsewhere with the help of technologies like blockchain.

Machine learning will enable us listen to what masses are saying through digital channels such as Twitter. Using algorithms to gauge opinion faster than anything humans can do, we can understand mass coherence to enable smart decisions. A more nuanced decision making process for the masses. a good example is by that collaborated with Uber using machine learning to gauge opinion and introduce new policies for drivers. With more decentralisation, less people will be in centralised power and decision making will be more evenly distributed through the network and less corrupt (through something called platform co-operativism).
"Organisations are finding that a lot of the wisdom is at the nodes of the organisation not the centre"
- Colin Megill, founder of (in an interview for Democracy Squared by Jon Barnes)

With organisations as machine, we have a network built by engineers and computers, for example Holacracy is a system built by engineers. The problem they have is that the nodes at the end of the structures are people, and the pathways between those nodes are human relationships. This is why we need to collaborate across all specialist areas of engineering, psychology and sociology. Organisations as living systems need the soft psychology, sociology element and the engineering understanding to really innovate. (Barnes, 2016)

After completing my interviews it became very clear there was a correlation between human resources, CEOs or owners, and the company culture. HR is a space that needs to keep up with organisational transformation, re-inventing itself all the time. There is an opportunity to completely re-invent job roles and how we work on day-to-day basis, escaping the rigidity of most of today's industry norms.

There seems to be a blurring between work/life balance, as if it's becoming one, but with a new system emerging of self-organising principles, in a more nuanced society.

Education seemed to become what I would think the 'elephant in the room', meaning something glaringly obvious that needs to be transformed or revolutionised to reflect a newer way of thinking. Some interesting school initiatives are happening with companies like IDEO, creating new self-organising systems in schools where kids take ownership over what they learn, the results are mindblowing. We need to stop running schools like military institutions.

Alongside education is revolutionising the government locally and globally! As states in Jon Barnes and Jim Ralley's new book Democracy squared - "In the past 25 years, the internet has changed pretty much everything we know... Except a politician" (Democracy Squared, 2016).

We are now in a period of rapid technological change, and the innovations over the next 50 years with be inconceivable right now, but it starts with blockchain and machine learning, then reflected on human sociological side by rapid organisational change and emotional intelligence.

Remote Workshops
To discuss and explore my hypothesis from a design thinking perspective I invited four of my Hyper Island colleagues to two remote design thinking workshops (roughly two hours each) where I facilitated and led the conversation through a series of exercises carefully selected from IDEO's design thinking method cards (IDEO, no date) and following a double diamond framework (Stickdorn, 2012).

This helped gather more insights into personas, relationships within organisations, key insights, how might we's, and some initial solution ideation. The workshops were fun, collaborative and extremely helpful. They can be viewed and downloaded here.

> Workshop 1 - Culture
> Workshop 2 - Self-leadership
Culture Workshop - Insights

Performance - Teams need empathy, trust and transparency across all levels, to reduce stress and improve performance.

How might we... increase empathy and trust?
How might we... understand the stress level in the company?

CEO - Managers need more input with the goals they are trying to achieve

How might we... increase transparency?

Trust - A lack of trust and shared authority can lead to micromanagement and high pressure.

How might we... build trust and share responsibility under pressure?

Values - There is an unclear portrayal of values and lack of responsibility in organisations

How might we... create a clear vision of values and responsibilities? Ensure values act as a north star?

Human resources - Hiring and retaining talent is crucial. Predictive vs. Reactive planning. Integrate at board level decision making

How might we... better understand our employees and their needs?

Self-leadership Workshop - Insights

Human Qualities - People are used to decisions being taken for them and are afraid of being their full selves in a work environment.

How might we... shift the company structure towards a new model?

Changing Salary Structures - Extreme lack of transparency, people are confused regarding their financial value and growth opportunities, affecting long-term performance and stability of the team.

How might we... develop an efficient, open human resources system, to offer a clear picture of the employee status - growth plan, how to bring value, and managing future opportunities?

Client expectations - Internal change is difficult because of how this will look from the client point of view.

How might we... establish a model based on transparency, both inside and outside the organisation. Set up a profit share system to take focus away from salaries?

Running the workshops was more difficult than anticipated, however knowing the people taking part and also having the experience of remote working throughout the Hyper Island course also helped. We quickly focussed on the tasks and worked a Discover>Define>Develop sections of the Double Diamond framework, ending with ideating solutions. Everyone taking part thought using Mural for workshops worked well and only issue was time, I learnt that remote workshops need to be kept to short manageable bursts of approx. 45 minutes per session, based on feedback.
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