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Innovate with Form and Function

Innovate with Form and Function

Form Follows Function.

Or does it?

This phrase appealed to the common-sensible manager in me from the very first time I heard it. It seemed so pragmatic; so logical and reasonable; matter-of-fact even.

In business early on, I was taught that good managers manage good processes. While earning some of my supervisory stripes in the heyday of the Total Quality Management movement I learned how to hunt and destroy process variation like a heat-seeking missile. So the concept that form —in other words, our form called the operational process— would naturally, practically, and sequentially follow the function it was intended to support, automate, or make easy in some way, was divine. I wanted to believe in it.

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How very naïve I was.

The phrase may largely hold true with invention: Function defines need, and the form of the invention follows. My son recalls the phrase as a relentless lesson of his biology teacher; there is a reason different life forms have evolved as they have. Yet our behavior at work is not necessarily as logical, nor as natural.

I’ve learned that the origin of the phrase “form follows function” has its roots in architectural design. This is from Wikipedia:

The origin of the phrase is traced back to the American sculptor Horatio Greenough, but it was American architectural giant Louis Henri Sullivan who adopted it and made it famous. Sullivan actually said ‘form ever follows function’, but the simpler (and less emphatic) phrase is the one usually remembered. For Sullivan this was distilled wisdom, an aesthetic credo, the single “rule that shall permit of no exception”.

Well, most naiveté long gone, this older manager has gotten wiser. (Or let’s just say more battle worn, for I’m still working on the wisdom part.) In stepping back far enough to have some operational objectivity, looking at a whole slew of different operational processes with a bigger curiosity, I’ve come to know that ‘form follows function’ is not necessarily a “rule that shall permit of no exception.”

Operational process is just one type of form. In our workplaces, it can be an interesting brainstorm to separate when in fact, function has followed form. In doing the exercise with my own work team at Say Leadership Coaching, we can often discover some ways in which our adopted form has followed precedent, and diagnosis made, we have learned to get better at asking ourselves “Why?”

  • Why do we do it (whatever the function is) this way?
  • Why have we accepted this (the traditional, or precedent-comfortable form)?
  • Why haven’t we been bolder, or taken a different route? Can, and should we innovate?
  • Why do we perceive certain obstacles? Exactly what are the risks?
  • Why not tweak it somehow, experiment, or run a new pilot? What more can we learn?

Guess what normally happens in this questioning? We discover that neither form nor function is as static as we may have once thought. Function can grow so much larger; it begins to look like new possibility. Improvement follows, and soon, on its heels can come innovation.

So now, the phrase of choice in my company, and in my coaching, has become form and function. The coaching is to look at processes from both directions;

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a) to uncover the true cause and effect of what we do, and
b) to be sure we are not too quick to settle on the first answer.

Finding more answers, and finding new answers, is where we innovate.

Form and function leads to many more ways to think, and to question, and it can serve us wonderfully. Add the phrase to the process design within your workplace, and discover where you are meant to innovate. Create your new best.

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Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog. She is the founder and head coach of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership. For more of her ideas, click to her Thursday columns in the archives; you’ll find her index in the left column of www.ManagingWithAloha.com

Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: Huddle up; Meet well

More by this author

Rosa Say

Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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Last Updated on October 28, 2020

The Crucial Letter Your SMART Goal Is Missing

The Crucial Letter Your SMART Goal Is Missing

SMART goals are a simple, logical way to organize your goals as you set them throughout life. Not only does this technique help you identify reachable goals, but it helps break down goals into smaller and more manageable pieces.

However, there is one crucial element (or letter) that is missing from this acronym. This missing letter can potentially make it harder for you to reach your goal – no matter how well you have broken down your goal into different pieces and action steps. However, once you understand this missing piece, you’ll be able to use it to move forward with your goals.

What Are Smart Goals?

If you are not familiar with the SMART goal setting technique and what the acronym means, here is a brief rundown with a simple example:

  • S = Specific — Your goal has to be specific enough (“I want to lose 4 inches off my waist”).
  • M = Measurable — You can measure your waistline every week to keep track of your progress.
  • A = Achievable — Do you think that you can do this? Or are you going too far by getting rid of yet another 4 inches? Or should you expand the goal to 5 inches; is that within reach?
  • R = Realistic — Is your lifestyle stable enough that you can commit to this goal?  Are you mentally prepared to do this? Do you have the resources you need for this goal?
  • T = Time-framed — You could want to achieve this goal within a week or within six months, but it should have a specific time frame.

As you can see, when you break down your goals like this, they become much more manageable and concrete than just saying “I want to to be slimmer.”

All fine and well, except that there is a crucial letter missing in this package – another letter “A.”

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The Missing Letter

The other letter “A” stands for accountability, and this is a great way to make sure that your defined plan is actually executed and is not left just on the talking or planning level. Even if you have crafted a masterful plan by using the SMART goal technique, it becomes useless if you don’t actually execute it. To make sure you start the execution phase, you want to throw some accountability into the mix.

By having some external pressure on your back (in the form of accountability), you are more likely to take action on your goal steps than if you just keep the plan to yourself. Accountability is based on the fact that you want to stand behind your words and save face. When you announce your goal to the world, you realize that the world is now watching you, and you don’t want to let the world down.

Accountability is also about facing the expectations of others. If you announce a goal or a task in public, other people are expecting you will achieve the tasks and goals you have laid out for yourself.

Watch this video and find out how by having dependable accountability, you can reach your goal more efficiently:

Ways to Implement the Letter “A” in Your Goal

There are plenty of ways you can go about creating accountability. Choose which one will work to motivate you the most.

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1. Keep It to Yourself

I was a bit hesitant to include this, since in this scenario you are not telling others about your plans or tasks. However, for some people this might work since your conscience is your accountability partner in this situation. And you don’t want to let your conscience down.

2. Announce It to Other People

Your people could be your colleagues at work, your local golf club buddies, the subscribers and readers of your blog, or your Twitter followers. I would say that accountability is more effective when dealing with “offline people.” Being accountable face-to-face to someone is very effective.

I’m in no way underestimating the power of “online people” either. If you are trying to form solid relationships with others online, you want to keep your word – even if you don’t necessarily meet the people in the same sense as in the offline world.

3. Find an Accountability Partner

A more intimate way of being accountable is to find an accountability partner. This could be a friend or spouse, but it needs to be someone you feel comfortable reporting to. When this route is chosen, you might decide to call your partner on a frequent basis to tell them how well you are progressing on the goal.

4. Get on Stickk.com

If none of the above ways work for you, it’s time to put Stickk into play.

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Stickk.com is a website where you can announce your goal (“Commitment Contract”), and to make you even more committed to reaching that goal, there is money at stake. Money is not mandatory to get set up with Stickk, but knowing that you will lose a certain amount of money if you don’t reach your goal can give you an extra push to get stuff done.

5. Join Mastermind Groups

A mastermind group is a group of like-minded people gathering on a frequent basis (online or offline), trying to push each other closer to their goals. This type of accountability is very common in the business world. When you are in a mastermind group and you have set the objectives you want to achieve by the next meeting, you want to get stuff done and fulfill other’s expectations.

Mastermind groups are a great way to improve your productivity and reach your goals with the help of others.

6. Hire a Coach

If you really want to get personal attention for your goals, then hiring a personal coach may be the best way to stay accountable.

Not only are you accountable to your coach, but you also have to pay for his/her attention. This makes the coach option even more effective. You want to make sure you do everything you can to get the assignments done before the deadline you two have set. So, there is a money factor to keep you accountable as well. Since you want to quickly move forward, this option is a very effective for staying accountable with your SMART goals.

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The Bottom Line

Next time, set your goal using “SMARTA,” instead. Add that letter “A” to the SMART goal setting technique:

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-framed, Accountable.

The accountability factor of reaching your goals may be just the thing you need to make them a reality.

More Tips on SMART Goals

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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