Almost, but not quite: the ‘OS Canvas’

Today I read The OS Canvas with interest. In it Aaron Dignan from consultancy and research firm The Ready tries to make a case for designing an ‘OS canvas’ that a business can run on top of. The basic argument is that the activities of an organisation are similar to the concept of an app that runs on your phone: a series of routines and action driven activities that produce a (desired) outcome. These activities run atop an ‘operating system’ (hence the name), of underlying assumptions, understandings and shared(?) and accepted definitions of reality. These often unstated rules and beliefs structure the way in which actors within an organisation work.

The beauty behind this canvas is not the selection of the various elements that are included upon it, but rather that the elements provide focus for searching questions that members of the organisation can ask to clarify its purpose. An extension of this would be to ask external stakeholders to contribute to this process also.

The authors point out that their conceptualisation of the OS Canvas is version 1.0 and that it may change with further study and input, something that I have no doubt they will find. Nevertheless, this attempt at designing a canvas does encourage that which I believe to be the central activity of management: creative destruction and rebuilding of organisations in response to changes in the external and internal operating environments.

In making their point that this canvas works as an underlying operating system they may have overstated the importance of this canvas. While it is certainly an effective tool for understanding tensions within a business, for it to be the DNA upon which the organisation is built, the canvas needs to be understood as a fundamental to the operation of the business. And it is here that designers of tools like this fall into trouble: it’s not the tool that is important, it is the way in which people use the tool that matters. While I agree that this particular tool covers more ground that more narrowly focussed management and strategy tools like the TOWS matrix, Jay Barney’s VIRO model or even Michael Porter’s famous Five Forces Model I see it as only one in a constellation of thinking tools that managers need to be able to access, deploy, critique and recreate in the pursuit of creativity and organisational effectiveness.