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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 June 13, 2019

15 Best Entrepreneurs Books to Start Reading Now to Be Successful

15 Best Entrepreneurs Books to Start Reading Now to Be Successful

Knowledge is power, and you’re going to need a lot of it if you’re going to be able to steer your business to success.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 15 best entrepreneurs books to get inspirations about success and grow your business.

1. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

    This book has been dubbed the Granddaddy of All Motivational Literature, and it was actually the first book that gave a prescription of what it takes to be a winner.

    Napoleon Hill draws from the stories of millionaires like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison to illustrate the principles he put forth.

    Get the book here!

    2. The Lean Startup by Eric Reis

      A lot of startups end up failing, but many of these failures are actually avoidable. The Lean Startup provides a different approach that is now being adopted all over the world and changing the way that companies are developed and products are being launched.

      In The Lean Startup, Eric Reis describes what is required for a company to penetrate the fog of uncertainty in order to discover a path to a sustainable and successful business.

      Get the book here!

      3. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

        In a revised edition of the 150,000-copy bestseller, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber refutes some of the myths that surround starting your own business and shows just how commonplace assumptions can end up getting in the way of being able to run a successful business.

        Gerber succeeds in walking the reader through the steps that occur in the life of a business, from infancy, through the pains of growing as an adolescent, to the perspective of the mature entrepreneur.

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        Get the book here!

        4. Rework by Jason Fried

          Most of the business books that you get today will give you the same advice: draft a business plan, study the competition, look for investors, and all that.

          However, Rework shows you a more effective, easier and faster means of succeeding when running a business. By reading it, you’ll be able to know why some plans are harmful, why you don’t really need to get investors, and why you’re better of shutting out your competition.

          Get the book here!

          5. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

            This is one of the most successful motivational books in history, selling well over 15 million copies since it was released in 1936. The book is timeless, and it appeals to businesses, self-help startups, and general readers.

            Carnegie believes that a lot of successes come from an ability to communicate rather than having brilliant insights. In his book, he teaches how to value others and make them feel appreciated and loved.

            Get the book here!

            6. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

              Through this amazing book, Malcolm Gladwell is able to take the reader on an intellectual journey through the world of ‘outliers’. He asks the question of what truly differentiates high-achievers.

              His answer to this question is that we tend to pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and less attention to where they are actually from.

              Get the book here!

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              7. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

                This is the best personal finance book ever written. It tells the story of Kiyosaki and his two fathers; his real father, and that of his best friend (his rich dad), as well as how the two men helped him shape his opinions on money and investing.

                It refutes the myth that you need to earn high to become rich, and it distinguishes between working for money and having money work for you.

                Get the book here!

                8. The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson

                  Niall Ferguson, in this book, follows the money to tell the story behind the evolution of the word’s financial system, from the beginning way back in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest occurrences in what he had dubbed Planet Finance.

                  Fergusson also reveals financial history as the backstory behind our very own history, with an argument that the evolution of debt and credit is as significant as the history of technological innovation and the rise of civilization.

                  Get the book here!

                  9. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

                    Michael Lewis landed a job at Salomon Brothers after getting out of the London School of Economics and Princeton within three years, he had risen to the rank of bond salesman, making millions for the firm and cashing out steadily.

                    Liar’s Poker is the amalgamation of these years — a look behind the scenes at one of the most turbulent times in American business. His book is Lewis’s account of an era where greed and gluttony were the order of the day.

                    Get the book here!

                    10. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Michael H. Pink

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                      A lot of people see money as the best motivator. Michael pink says it’s a mistake.

                      In this provocative book, he asserts that the secret to high performance anywhere is the need to direct our lives, to learn and create, and to do better by our world and ourselves.

                      Get the book here!

                      11. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

                        Outdated methods don’t work in today’s world. In this book, Allen shares some awesome methods for stress-free performance that he has shared with thousands of people all over the world.

                        His premise? That productivity is proportional to your ability to relax.

                        Get the book here!

                        12. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

                          In this book, Stephen Covey presents a holistic approach for overcoming both professional and personal issues. With insights and anecdotes, Covey presents a way to live with integrity fairness, service and dignity.

                          Get the book here!

                          13. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss

                            In this book, Ferriss dishes on the tips he has learned from studying the New Rich, a subculture of people who did away with the deferred life plan and mastered time and mobility to developed luxury lifestyles for themselves.

                            If you’re looking to make your way in this revolutionary new world, this here is your compass.

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                            Get the book here!

                            14. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh

                              The CEO of Zappos shows how a unique kind of corporate identity can help deliver a huge difference in the way results are being achieved — by creating a company that values and delivers happiness.

                              Get the book here!

                              15. Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson

                                From Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Records and V2 to Virgin Cola, Virgin Megastores and a wide array of other companies, Richard Branson is the rockstar billionaire that a lot of us want to be.

                                Branson, however, did business by following a simple philosophy:

                                “Oh, screw it, let’s do it”

                                Losing My Virginity is an unusual, borderline outrageous autobiography of one of the greatest business geniuses in the world. Branson and his friends named their business “Virgin” because that was what they were — virgins at the game.

                                Since then, he’s written his success rules, creating a global business that has no headquarters, no management structure no corporate identity as it were.

                                Get the book here!

                                More Inspirations for Entrepreneurs

                                Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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