Leadership as “guided serendipity”

Adam Cutler, design studio director, IBMTo thrive in a changing world we will have to find new ways of leading.

Adam Cutler, design studio director of global giants IBM, calls one such way “guided serendipity.” It is working for him.

Guided serendipity involves letting go of trying to control everything, and focusing instead on the key elements that create the conditions for success.

In this article he describes how hiring more than 100 new designers at once led him to start thinking of difficult conditions as “raw potential” instead of treating them as “something to dominate.” Mastery, he came to understand, “isn’t so much an attainable end result as it is a quest… the application of ongoing curiosity to continuously expand and improve.”

In this way he now sees his role as to provide an environment where his people can produce their best work. Each ‘pod’ of designers is expected them to make their space their own, constantly shifting their workspaces in ways he could never have planned.

He optimises “for possibilities rather than outcomes.” He gives each team the basics, and they show each other what can be done. Then they show him ways to take their ideas and scale them globally. “The recursive effect through the studio helps spread ideas that, in turn, influence the quality of everyone’s work.”

“By designing the circulatory flow of our studio, the hope is to create a self-sustaining culture of curiosity and collaboration that feeds itself by mobilising thoughts, ideas and possibilities.”

His focus as a leader for 2015 is on “reducing and removing drag from collaboration, whether in a physical or virtual studio.”

He is putting his attention not on outcomes (things) but the processes that creates those outcomes.

This is entirely the shift we’d expect to see as we move into the more dynamic 21st century. And we’d expect to see it first in the creative parts of the business that directly face the changing outside world — like design, sales, and marketing.

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