Le Vide

There are two types of management. You can try to design for everything, or you can leave le vide and say, ‘I don’t know either, what do you think?

I’m halfway through a post on Ronald S. Burt’s really very good 2003 paper on The Social Origins of Good Ideas. But there is a concept in it which is worth a post on its own. Burt emphasises the importance of ‘structural holes‘ in determining who is perceived as having good ideas in an organisation. If an individual’s network bridges a structural hole between 2 dissimilar groups then that individual is more likely to be perceived as having good ideas by the other people in the organisation. And Burt’s detailed network analysis in the paper seems to bear this out.

As with many of these concepts they seem like common sense writ large, and indeed Burt quotes Adam Smith (1766, 539)

“When the mind is employed about a variety of objects it is some how expanded and enlarged.”

Amongst others he refers to the concept of ‘le vide‘ (literally, emptiness) attributed to Jean-Rene Fourtou former CEO of French chemical company Rhone-Poulenc;

“Le vide has a huge function in organisations… Shock comes when different things meet. It’s the interface that’s interesting… if you don’t leave le vide, you have no unexpected things, no creation. There are two types of management. You can try to design for everything, or you can leave le vide and say, ‘I don’t know either, what do you think?'”

Structural holes or le vide? I don’t know, but I do think ephemeral and intellectual concepts sound much better in French :)