Thursday, 18 September 2008

The organisational zoology of Wellington (and other places)

It's been a pretty busy week, despite its unstructured beginnings, and I've been meeting people from all kinds of organisations while I'm here. Instead of organisations, you could say, "beasts" - as in, that's a strange beast - and then the title of this post will make sense.

The main two groups have been public sector organisations and startups. Very different beasts indeed!

Public Sector organisations...
  • Large (some would say oversized)
  • Uncomfortably comfortable (ie everyone gets paid market salaries, but as the recession bites they are getting budgetary pressure)
  • Reactive (especially in the comms department, and knowing that it's good to be proactive, but there's just so much to do!) As Jason Ryan told me today, there's always a crisis.
  • Siloed - perhaps even more than corporations, although I think they'd have some competition from some not-so-old but pretty traditional sectors (film industry, anyone?). Sam Farrow had some good thoughts on why this is endemic for public sector agencies - they're just mirroring the structure of Westminster democracy, which is founded on the separation of powers. Collaboration sort of goes against that, and it's hard to strike a balance.
  • Necessarily inclusive - while a business can decide to drop a particular audience or market, a public sector org must reach all its stakeholders. That's tough!
  • Not cool. While a business or a political party can gather passionate fans, evangelists even, a public sector org just has a job to do. While brands have pressure to stand for something, to have a point of view, public sector orgs are prevented by law from doing so.


  • Focused. Focused on audience, on revenue, on what will achieve their big goal. If they don't have this, they won't succeed. It's about survival.
  • Passionate. This ties in with the focus piece. You focus on what you're passionate about.
  • Changing ... actually this is just the same for larger orgs, but startups are more aware, and more responsive, to change. Again, it's about survival.
  • But when I say survival, it's sometimes ok to quit, and sometimes okay to let some parts of the business go. It's quick. It's exciting!
It's been an interesting trip, and my brain is just about full up with raw material ... I need to get some thinking done over the next few days while the raw material settles. I've been camping out at the spare desk at startup Ponoko, and I've let them convince me to make something before the end of the week - which is coming up pretty fast! :)

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