Genius Organisation Cézanne Picasso

Is Your Organisation More Cézanne or Picasso?

It’s great to celebrate visionary geniuses. Every so often, someone comes along who has an idea in their head, makes it happen, and then typically a lot of other people start to copy them.

There is another sort of genius; the experimental innovator, who doesn’t work in that way. Rather than having an idea and making it happen, they have a half-idea that they start to play with, and then revisit and iterate and rework before it starts to reveal its genius.

It’s not too difficult to think of examples of each one. David Galenson, in Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art, talks about the difference between Picasso, the visionary genius, and Cézanne, the experimental innovator. Picasso got an idea and made it happen, while Cézanne would start and scrap painting after painting before letting anyone see his work.

There’s Mark Zuckerberg, creating a social network in his bedroom that develops into one of the world’s biggest companies. And then there’s Stephen Covey, who was 57 before The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was published.

There’s the iPhone, the sleek and perfected work of engineering that ‘just works’. And then there’s the Google G1, a bug-ridden, delightfully imperfect smartphone that loosed Android among us all.

Genius is not a case of one or the other; both styles exist and are important.

We’re working in a world that is increasingly driven by innovation, and it’s tempting to feel drawn towards one of these two extremes.

Agile Consultation

We want to invest in something that will disrupt the market. And we want to release a minimum viable product that can fail fast or experimentally grow.

It’s not a case of choosing one over the other. Perhaps it’s a case of holding that idea of genius in tension with the practicalities of policies, procedures, personal objectives and shareholder returns.


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