People Own What They Create

Myron Roger’s first maxim for working with living systems is that ‘people own what they create’. As human beings we are intensely creative. We are good at making stuff. Look around you and you will see the output of human endeavour. And it isn’t just buildings and machines, physical things. It is ideas and mental models too.

Kurt Lewin proved over 60 years ago that self-directed work teams out perform others. His work at the Harwood pyjama factory turned around an under-performing facility such that productivity was on average 25% higher than the sister factory where no such intervention occurred. In some teams it was over 50% higher.

Co-creation is increasingly a mantra for business and governments. It feels as if this age old truth may once again be coming to the fore. Yet for most workplaces this is far from the norm. The default position is still to direct. Command and control are seen as signs of strength, even if in reality they are illusory.

Every time we tell people what to do rather than involve them in decisions we deny them an element of their humanity. We are saying our view is superior. Your view doesn’t matter. Just do as you’re told. Sure, certain circumstances have immediate pressures that demand the quick responses of isolated decision making.

However, if we do this as the norm, because we lack courage and conviction or because we have never invested the effort in our own capacity to handle more complex processes, it is a failing. It is a failing that for decades has cost us hugely in missed opportunity and robbed people’s work of its meaning.

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