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Mistakes on the table or: Collective Revolt

30 people from 25 different disciplines are founding a company. They are all equal; there are no bosses. Everyone is friends with each other too. Surely it can only go wrong? The Berlin innovation consultancy Dark Horse is living evidence to the contrary. The agency has been its own prototype for new ways of working for seven years.

Patrick Kenzler recalls the time with the hourly hotel straightaway. One of his colleagues at Dark Horse needed to visit a customer in Frankfurt and quickly searched online for accommodation nearby. »As soon as he got through the door he realised that he had ended up in an hourly hotel,« explains Kenzler. A high-class hotel nearby still had a room free, so his colleague spent the night there. Unfortunately, the customer refused to pay the expensive bill. Annoying? Absolutely. However, at least there was a clear winner for the next Failure award at innovation agency Dark Horse. All the employees submit their own mistakes for this and a prize is awarded to the most remarkable. »And this was definitely one of the funniest mistakes that we had in the awards ceremony,« recalls Patrick Kenzler. Of course, for him and his colleagues, itʹs not just about fun. The award is intended to promote a company culture which does not cover up mistakes. Courage is rewarded, failures accepted. According to the 32-year-old, mistakes should be laid out ont he table as early as possible during the creative process. »The further a project advances, the more annoying and difficult the mistakes become,« he explains.

OFFICE PORTRAIT: Dark Horse was established in 2009 in Berlin.

The founders of Dark Horse learned that mistakes are part of the learning process at the School of Design Thinking in the Hasso Plattner Institute at the University of Potsdam. There, on a postgraduate course, they discovered what design thinking is – an innovation method which consistently focuses on the user when designing new products or services. Literature experts, computer scientists, artists and mechanical engineers in the team spent one year there working on new ideas. After that, nobody wanted to be pigeon-holed, as in a corporation or medium-sized business. »Working conditions and appreciation simply arenʹt right in many companies,« says Patrick Kenzler, an Architecture graduate. The 30 friends decided to form a collective revolt against the traditional world of work. At Dark Horse, everyone is a founder and a boss. The fixed employees, so-called monks, decide once a year whether they want to work three, four or five days a week for the agency. Those with other projects or wanting to travel remain connected to Dark Horse as pilgrims. So far, nobody has completely left. For strategic decisions, the agency experiments successfully with the principle of sociocracy. »Itʹs about finding a consensus which those present can live with,« explains Patrick Kenzler. If anyone has serious objections to a proposal, they can use their veto, but then need to work out a counterproposal. This avoids blockades and endless discussions. Due to its unusual structure, the multi award-winning agency obtains half of its work from the area of organisational development. In countless presentations, conferences and in their book »Thank God itʹs Monday«, they explain how the much-discussed Generation Y would really like to work. In their Kreuzberg loft they demonstrate how the dream of practical and good work can be turned into reality. Deutsche Telekom and many other companies regularly send people to the old industrial yard who want to understand the changing world of work. The other half of the work is made up of typical innovation projects. Groups such as Eon, Audi and Bayer want to initiate change in their businesses with the help of Dark Horse. Innovation hubs, in which their own employees unleash new ideas, are popular. However, design thinking is also increasingly sought-after. »Large companies often limit themselves to just the methods. Itʹs much more important to focus on the people, « says Henning Trill von Bayer. »The collaboration with Dark Horse was wonderfully enriching for us and brought about a kind of cultural change.« Currently, the unconventional consultancy is working with its colleagues on new ideas for the future of auditing. Together with traditionally socialised numbers people, they are building new worlds of work out of pieces of Lego. It is primarily a space in which digital services are to be developed and tried out. »Of course, itʹs also about the companyʹs self-image,« explains Patrick Kenzler. »The new space is a symbol for the change to a digital company, in which employees obtain space in order to do good work.«

Words: Julia Graven
Illustrations: Herzette

»We are what we do. If we don’t like what we do, then we don’t like ourselves.« Quoted from the first book by Dark Horse »Thank God it’s Monday«.

The new book from Dark Horse, »Digital Innovation Playbook«, a guide for makers and managers who want to develop innovations.