5 Things Smart Risk Takers Do WellTaking Smart Risks, isn’t really about making your next risky decision smarter or safer; it’s about pushing all of your choices to be riskier, but smarter on a daily basis.
We tend to view our choices as risky or safe. Safe is good while risky is well, risky. You’re taking a chance with a risky choice; it could lead to ruin. Sundheim says that view doesn’t capture the essence of what taking a risk is all about. Taking a risk is “exposing oneself to the possibility of loss or injury in the hopes of achieving a gain or reward.” It’s really the reason we would consider taking a risk rather than just playing it safe. It’s not an either/or proposition—safe or risky. But because we perceive it that way, we tend to do all we can to avoid risk and stay in our comfort zone.
Sundheim lists five common dangers of playing it safe for too long:
• You don’t win.
• You don’t grow.
• You don’t create.
• You lose confidence.
• You don’t feel alive.
Are you caught in the comfort zone? Here’s a thought we can all relate to:
Being caught in the comfort zone doesn’t mean that you’re sitting around doing nothing. It’s more nuanced than that. You could be making progress, but not quickly enough. You could be taking chances, but not boldly enough. You could be going out on a limb, but not far enough, and the extra push is what will make a difference.What Sundheim is advocating is a change in our mindset regarding risk. Rather than perceiving risk as negative (“Things may not be perfect now, but they’re not all that bad. If I make a move, things could end up worse. I’d better not risk it.”), we should view it as a balanced focus on both the downside of taking risks and not taking risks (“I’ll regret it if I don’t pursue this thing. I’ve got to find some smart ways to take risks to move it forward.”). A limiting mindset versus a liberating mindset.
The shift from limiting to liberating is “a move from needing total security before moving forward to understanding that you can’t have total security before moving forward.” Between safe and risky is the smart-risk zone.
Smart risk takers consistently do five things well to disrisk whatever they’re up to:
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The Secret to Leadership GrowthThe number one way leaders grow is by listening.
Leadership feels like a talking role, but it is predominately a listening role. That can be hard to accept. It feels counterintuitive. A leadership role often makes us feel like we should be talking all the time; like we’re the most important person in the room. We’re not.
Listening takes us outside our own heads. It gives us a chance to see things from a different perspective. It creates options. It creates the space for serendipity.
Listening takes us beyond our egos. Without it we begin to miss very elementary things. When we miss elementary things we crash and burn in a self-made morass of complexity. Listening clarifies.
Listening renews and refreshes. Without it we get stuck and tedious.
When we help others grow, we grow. Leaders guide people and then listen. Listening is the best way to turn someone from a victim (of your talk) to a supporter of your idea. Listening gives others the chance to take ownership.
Listening is the catalyst for making individuals a community.
Listening creates the space for leadership.
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Think Like a Futurist
Think Like a Futurist by Cecily Sommers, is just such a book. What we can imagine or create or any manifestation of future thinking must link to something that already exists in our mind. The more points of connection we have, the more possibilities we have for discovery. This is the key idea.
Sommers explains, “If our capacity for prediction is limited by what we already know, then the solution is to know more about things.…With a richer store of memories, we are able to imagine a vast range of possibilities, understand their nuances better, and make more of the associative links that produce our best predictions about the future.” It’s not magic. It can’t be.
Sommers claims that the four building blocks of all change are: resources, technology, demographics, and governance. Resources is the foundation of the system of forces and is the slowest moving. Technology is the next and gives us the power to leverage ourselves. Demographics, both in numbers and composition is next, followed by governance which is the rule of law. Understanding how these forces work together to drive change is helpful when trying to understand the world around you and how it might impact the future. That these four forces will change is a given, the unpredictable part is how.
To make the best and most informed decisions today for the future, Sommers introduces what she calls the Zone of Discovery. It is a method for “effectively accessing the imaginative power that precedes, those decisions.” Through the process you will answer two basic questions: Who are you? and Where are you going? The answers to these questions will become a filter through which you create meaning from the information you collect and process into the best choices for you and your unique situation. The method is a way of thinking to pry you from thinking only in the present and removing you from the cycle of reactivity. Not surprisingly, developing greater self-awareness is key.
She urges everyone to spend at least 5% of their time – two hours a month – on this process. Start where you are. “There’s no point in resisting or trying to change a limitation (in this case, people’s full schedules and existing commitments). You must accept things as they are and shift your focus to your First Movable Piece.”
What we’re doing, at the most basic level, is reconciling dualities. Our life experience is constantly about navigating the existential tensions between objective and subjective realities, Us and Them, male and female, right and wrong, known and unknown, questions and answers, and present and future. The duality even shows up in our biology, as the two separate hemispheres of the brain indicate. Our life’s energy is spent negotiating the space in between, a place in which we find purpose, meaning, and possibility.
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Resilience: How We Can Learn to Bounce Forward
The goal of resiliency is not necessarily to bounce back, but to bounce forward. It is the ability to maintain your purpose even while adapting your methods.
“If we cannot control the volatile tides of change, we can at least learn to build better boats,” write Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience. “We can design—and redesign—organizations, institutions, and systems to better absorb disruption, operate under a wider variety of conditions, and shift more fluidly from one circumstance to the next.”
Resilience-thinking is not the same thing as being in a defensive mode. It’s engaging the world in a different way. They discuss tight feedback loops, dynamic reorganization, built-in countermechanisms, decoupling, diversity, modularity, simplicity, swarming, and clustering, as proactive ways to encourage resilience. They don’t give check-lists or quick fixes (indeed, there are none) so you’ll have to think about the ideas they offer. Most of the ideas are quite useful in principle on a personal level.
Interestingly—but not surprising—they found that resilient communities had a special type of leader: a translational leader. “These leaders demonstrated an uncanny ability to knit together different constituencies and institutions—brokering relationships and transactions across different levels of political, economic, and social organization.” They were leading from the middle out.
Translational leaders do not dispense with hierarchies; they recognize and respect their power. Instead, standing at the intersection of many constituencies, translational leaders knit together social networks that complement hierarchical power structures. Rooted in a spirit of respect and inclusion, these complementary connections ensure that when disruption strikes, all parts of the social system are invested, linked, and can talk to one another.It sounds like they have a high degree of emotional intelligence or ego-control. That necessitates a leader that is reflective and operates from strength rather than weakness; a grounded mindful leader.
Many of the lessons learned from the disruptions discussed in the book boil down to adhocracy, say the authors. Adhocracy is adaptive, creative, flexible and non-permanent organizational style. “In the digital age, an adhocracy can be put together in a plug-and-play, Lego-like way, well suited in fast-moving, fluid circumstances where you don’t know what you’ll need next. If it were a musical genre, adhocracy would be jazz.” (Robert Waterman on Adhocracy.)
They caution: “When systems are structurally overconnected … or when interventions are bureaucratically imposed on communities rather than developed with them, there is no space for adhocracy to germinate.” Of course formal organizations have a role to play. “But when we focus too strongly on them as the sole actors in response to a disruption, we don’t just ignore, but can actually smother the opportunities for these kinds of successful, improvisational approaches to emerge.”
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Leading Apple With Steve JobsLeading Apple with Steve Jobs, he writes that “Isaacson’s Steve is not the Steve I knew.” He believes that there has been too much focus on the negative aspects of how Jobs dealt with people and not enough on the positive. “I think,” he writes, “most people who worked for him, including me, would say they did the best work of their lives for him and don’t regret the experience a bit.” While his stories regarding his time with Jobs don’t do much to polish his image, he does bring out aspects of his thinking that undoubtedly have given people the opportunity to feel that in spite of the negative aspects of Jobs' behavior, Apple is where they wanted to be.
When analyzing anything, it always a challenge to pull out the important lesson and learn how to integrate the good without the bad. We are all a complex mix of motivations and behaviors and everything we do seems like an indispensable part of achieving our success (or not). But we can always improve—diminish the negative and emphasize the positive.
It is not unusual for any of us to find ourselves in a position where our intention is admirable but we lack the skill to implement it in the most beneficial way. Frequently, we can find ourselves stuck without alternatives to our own patterns of behavior. As leaders we have to constantly be learning—by reflection and reading about the lives of others—to discover where we could expand our thinking and therefore our options.
Not only does Elliot help us understand why Jobs was the way he was, he does a good job of explaining the development of and reasoning behind much of the Apple mystic that is worth implementing.
Jobs said that “It’s not my job to pull things together from different parts of the company and clear the ways to get resources for the key projects. It’s my job to push the team and make them even better, coming up with more aggressive visions of how it could be.” Jobs believed that accountability, attention to detail, perfectionism, simplicity, and secrecy, would sustain innovative leadership at Apple.
Getting the right people was as important to Jobs as creating a new product. “When you’re in a startup, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not.” Elliot says that he learned from Jobs the value of “knowing your own values so well that you can instinctively recognize someone who shares those values.” It would be good to reflect on our own values from this standpoint. Another way of thinking about this would be to consider: if you don’t know why you do what you do, why would anyone want to follow you?
The right people make the difference. “A leader in the Steve Jobs model needs to have a set of lieutenants who can translate his goals and vision into detailed action plans. The success of Apple through the years has largely been due to Steve’s talent for surrounding himself with people who could bear the heat when he wasn’t satisfied, were strong enough to stand up to him when he was wrong, and were able to relay not just his instructions but his commitment, drive, and vision to the crew.”
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Leadership as Provocative CompetenceYes to the Mess, Frank Barrett knocks it out of the park. How do we create a culture where people can innovate? Barrett wants us to look at leadership differently and increase our leadership repertoire beyond hierarchical models, “so that we more fully appreciate the power of relationships.” And in that he succeeds.
Barrett introduces us to what he calls Provocative Competence. It is the capacity “to create the discrepancy and dissonance that trigger people to move away from habitual positions and repetitive patterns.” Barrett says “Leadership as a design activity means creating space so that people will be tempted to grow on their own.”
Herbert Simon, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 for his research on decision making in organizations, believed that we should not think of leaders as making decisions on past data, “but as creating forms so that people can flourish in the future,” or as Barrett expresses more clearly, as shaping “worlds of interpretation in which others can make meaningful contributions.”
The outcome then, is to enliven activity and rouse the mind to life. It isn’t about authority but is “relational moves within an unfolding context” and are judged by “how well they work with the resources at their disposal … and how effectively they help free their own potential and that of others.”
Barrett breaks provocative competence down into five component parts:
First, it is an affirmative move. “What makes these interventions powerful is that the leader holds a positive image of what others are capable of. This often means seeing other people’s strengths better than they see their own strengths.”
Second, provocative competence involves introducing a small disruption to routine. “What makes provocative competence an ‘art’ is the introduction of just enough unusual material that it engages people to be mindful—to pay attention in new ways.” Timing and pacing is important he cautions. “Leaders who disrupt on a regular basis or try to be provocative all the time are obnoxious, and are eventually ignored and probably mimicked.”
Third, it is important to create situations that demand activity. People are expected to jump in and work it out and discover as they go.
Fourth, provocative competence means facilitating incremental reorientation by encouraging repetition. There is a balance here. “Not all repetition is the same. Sometimes you need to repeat a gesture and then start to notice it from a slightly different angle…. Even while people are learning on old habits, they have to attend to new cues and new options, and start to manage and process information within a new, broader context.”
Fifth, provocative competence involves analogic sharpening of perspectives and thought processes. “This is the point at which people look back at what is emerging and jump into the morass as they make comparisons, links, and connections to a larger, emerging whole.” This is the thrust of innovation. Net effect: “People start to notice affinity between pieces that previously seemed disconnected; resemblances that no one noticed before start to emerge.”
Of course, notes Barrett, “different groups have different levels of performance, and leaders certainly have to deal with imperfect talent, but saying yes to the mess means finding affirmation in the best of what already exists.” That’s the job of a great leader. It’s what separates leaders from bosses. “That’s a true gift: to be able to see people at their very best when their current behavior is far less than that.”
Of Related Interest:
Making Your Team Swing
Leadership: Artistry Unleashed
Does Your Leadership Have “White Space?”
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Innovation at Bell Labs
Finding an aspect of modern life that doesn’t incorporate some strand of Bell Labs’ DNA would be difficult. Cellular communications, the laser, digitized and synthesized music, the solar battery cell, the first orbiting communications satellite, and the UNIX operating system, are all products of Bell Labs.
AT&T officially created Bell Telephone Laboratories on January 1, 1925. At its peak in the late 1960s’, Bell Labs employed about twelve-hundred PhDs and produced 13 Nobel Prize winners.
In The Idea Factory, author Jon Gertner brings back to life not only the story of Bell Telephone Laboratories through the people that worked there, but the story of innovation—how it happens, why it happens, and who makes it happen. It is a well told and fascinating story.
(My first encounter with Bells Labs was like many school aged kids in the sixties, through their series of science films—Hemo the Magnificent, Our Mr. Sun, Gateways to the Mind and others. A great way to spend an hour in science class.)
John Pierce is one of the brilliant and interesting people we are introduced to in Gertner’s story. It was Pierce that suggested calling the new device of 1947 a transistor. Peirce was what Gertner calls an instigator. “An instigator is different from a genius, but just as uncommon. An instigator is different, too, from the most skillful manager, some able to wrest excellence out of people who might otherwise fall short.” Pierces real talent was “in getting people interested in something that hadn’t really occurred to them before.”
Humans all suffer from a terrible habit of shoving new ideas into old paradigms. “Everyone faces the future with their eyes firmly on the past and they don’t see what’s going to happen next,” observed John Pierce.
For creativity to flourish, it needs both freedom and structure. When pierce first came to Bell Labs “he was given free rein to pursue any ideas he might have. He considered the experience equivalent to being cast adrift without a compass. ‘Too much freedom is horrible,’ he would say in describing his first few months at the Labs. Indeed he eventually came to believe that freedom in research was similar to food; it was necessary, but moderation was usually preferable to excess.”
Gertner writes, “We usually imagine that invention occurs in a flash, with a eureka moment that leads a lone inventor toward a startling epiphany. In truth, large leaps forward in technology rarely have a precise point of origin. At the start, forces that precede an invention merely begin to align, often imperceptibly, as a group of people and ideas converge, until over the course of months or years (or decades) they gain clarity and momentum and the help of additional ideas and actors. Luck seems to matter, and so does timing, for it tends to be the case that the right answers, the right people, the right place—perhaps all three—require a serendipitous encounter with the right problem. And then—sometimes—a lead. Only in retrospect do such leaps look obvious. When Niels Bohr—along with Einstein, the world’s greatest physicist—heard in 1938 that splitting a uranium atom could yield a tremendous burst of energy, he slapped his head and said, ‘Oh, what idiots we have all been.’”
Today there is nothing quite like the Bell Labs of AT&T and Western Electric to produce the creative technology that they did. Bell Labs laser scientist Herwig Kogelnik describes the magic of Bell Labs well: “It’s the interaction between fundamental science and applied science, and the interface between many disciplines, that creates new ideas.”
The first transistor created in 1947 was a quarter of the size of an American penny. Now a computer-processor chip the size of a postage stamp contains 2 billion transistors. Intel alone, makes 10 billion transistors every second. Time marches on. “I am afraid that there will be little tangible left in a later age,” Pierce wrote of his world at Bell Labs, “to remind our heirs that we were men, rather than cogs in a machine.”
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Are You a Culturematic Maker?Culturematic, says author and anthropologist, Grant McCracken, is a little machine for making culture. It is an exercise in edge finding. But at the same time, a Culturematic must speak to us. It must make us go, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” A Culturematic is also an attitude of mind that goes beyond the box of ordinary thinking “not because it is mischievous to do so, but because there might be a world out there and it might be interesting to find out what this world is.”
McCracken says that because we live in a world of constant change and because we must adapt to it with an experimental stream of new ideas, we need Culturematics.
It is when the problem is too complex or difficult and the solution is not forthcoming that Culturematics shine. Culturematics aren’t sure where they are going. When we aren’t sure what we’re looking at but think, “I’ll know it when I see it,” then we need ideas we can’t possibly guess we will need. “The trick,” says McCracken, “is to invent our own serendipity, to establish a cloud of possibilities in which we can spot the telling pattern.”
Start a Culturematic by asking “what if?” Then, try it. The result should discover and distribute meaning. It helps us to see ourselves or something in the world, differently. It should also unleash value—even repurposing value; discovering “value in the artifact the maker does not know is there.”
“Culturematics manage a tension between the order of the starting point and the unpredictability and disorder of the ending point.” Which is not to say that we point a Culturematic in any direction and pull the trigger. A Culturematic is working with the culture that is already in place, so we point it in the direction where we think we might be able to create meaning and value.
• start playing in our heads immediately. They capture our attention.
• make the world manageable.
• are something we want to try.
• like order out of accident. They don’t file a flight plan, so we can’t tell where they’ll end up.
• find value invisible to others.
• are both playful and deadly serious.
• aim to change the contents of our heads.
• work from native curiosity.
• make scientists, social chemists, and adventurers of us all. The thing is to try. Failure is inevitable.
Fantasy Football, Twitter, and Reality TV are just a few of the examples of Culturematics discussed in the book. More can be found at the Culturematic Pinterest site.
Culturematic is not based on entirely new ideas. However, it will not only make you look at the world (and what you are doing) differently, but you will develop a new appreciation for what you see, feel, and think. McCracken explains how to Culturematic yourself or your organization. Worth the read if you’re trying to create meaning and value in the world.
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The 11 Essential Elements Needed to Achieve True CollaborationCollaborate: The Art of We is a practical guide to going beyond democratic or cooperative work to creating truly collaborative work environments as a growth strategy.
Collaboration is not a new concept, but globalization and new technologies have turned it into one of the best methods of competitive advantage available. Rather than engaging in an endless tug-of-war over the dwindling crumbs in a finite market, collaborative companies find ways to make the pie bigger, or create whole new pies, expanding everyone’s market and revenue. “It’s not about how many people you can defeat, but rather about how many people you can help win.”
Although networking, coordination and cooperation may look like collaboration, they are not. True collaboration is the “synergistic relationship formed when two or more entities working together produce something much greater than the sum of their individual abilities and contributions.” It results in something that did not exist before. The focus is on results and not process.
Collaboration is distinct from cooperation in that “although both cooperating parties may achieve a common goal, they do not necessarily enhance each other’s capacity. In addition, cooperating parties do not fully share risks, responsibilities, and rewards. In the case of collaboration, all available resources, as well as risks, responsibilities, and rewards, are fully shared.”
For a collaboration to be successful, Sanker says that eleven elements must come together:
Ongoing Communication. People need to be able to talk to one another freely and regularly. Groups that do not have this kind of interaction are nothing more than loose collections of individuals working on their own tasks, toward their own ends.
Willing Participation. Everyone believes that they are working toward the same, mutually beneficial goal and that each one of them will have gained something valuable when that goal has been achieved.
Brainstorming. It’s the creative part of the collaboration process, in which members of the group move beyond the “same kind of thinking” to come up with new ideas that bring true value to the collaborative effort.
Teamwork. It’s teamwork that keeps people with a diverse set of skills, knowledge, information, and perspectives working together effectively and efficiently to achieve their common goal.
A Common Purpose. If the group moves forward too quickly without taking the time to clarify their goal and make sure that everyone is in agreement about what it is, they will undoubtedly run into huge disagreements that are likely to tear the effort apart.
Trust. You need to feel confident that other people in the group are putting the group’s shared goal—not their own interests—first, and that they will keep confidential or sensitive information within the group, take you seriously, respect your point of view, and not take credit for your ideas.
A Plan for Achieving the Goal. Everyone needs to be working from the same script, clearly understanding roles and responsibilities, and they need to have the same understanding of what success looks like.
A Diverse Group. Diversity is the power behind collaboration. Without diversity groupthink sets in. It is diversity that gives a team the unique perspectives needed to create truly innovative solutions.
Mutual Respect. For collaboration to be successful, team members must encourage, listen to, and seriously consider all of the ideas suggested by others in the group, no matter how unworkable they might seem.
A Written Agreement. A written agreement helps the group avoid misunderstandings and lack of clarity that could derail the process after everyone has invested a great deal of time, effort, and resources.
Effective Leadership. Whether one person has been formally designated as the leader or the group is self-led, leadership of some sort is essential to keep the group focused on its destination and facilitating the process of getting there.
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Leading Views: Ideas are Immortal. Inspiration is Perishable.In ReWork—a go-to book for inspiration—authors Jason Fried and David Hansson explain why you need to get on with it. Just do it.
We all have ideas. Ideas are immortal. They last forever.
What doesn’t last forever is inspiration. Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk: It has an expiration date.
If you want to do something, you’ve got to do it now. You can’t put it on the shelf and wait two months to get around to it. You can’t just say you’ll do it later. Later, you won’t be pumped up about it anymore.
If you’re inspired on a Friday, swear of the weekend and dive into the project. When you’re high on inspiration, you can get two weeks work done in twenty-four hours. Inspiration is a time machine in that way.
Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.
Of Related Interest:
How to Decommoditize Your Leadership
Get to the Why by Starting at the Epicenter
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Why are Organizations Slow to Respond?Organizations are only human.
Organizations share many characteristics with the people that populate them. Organizations are born, they mature, they age, and they die. The life expectancy of most is about 15 years and only 5% last longer than 50 years.
Occasionally, some organizations resist these all too human tendencies and thrive. They continually reinvent themselves. They confront rigidity. They become serial innovators.
We create over time, our own and our organization’s rigidities. Individually, we develop rigidities in the form of biases, lack of self-confidence, and habits. The human mind is quite adept at this in order to create efficiencies. We can only process so much. Organizationally, we create rigidities like structures, performance management and reward systems, supporting cultures and capabilities that while necessary to some degree, often prevent us from adapting rapidly. Worse still, we add complexities to existing structures, processes, values and norms, without ever rethinking and possibly eliminating obsolete ideas and procedures. All of this can cause entropy and our demise.
Rigidities are not going to go away, but we can learn to manage them better. Feser says that organizations that want to become serial innovators must do the following:
If company leaders do not accept challenge and diverging views, neither will the organization.After all, organizations are only human.
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Creative People Must Be Stopped
In Creative People Must Be Stopped, David Owens suggests that it will come from at least one of six different areas:
Individual—your idea may not be that good
Group—your group criticizes it out of existence
Organizational—it dies in your organizations bureaucracy, lack of will and fear of risk
Industry-Wide—competitors or even customers torpedo it
Societal—it gets killed by regulation or cultural norms, or—
Technological—it can’t be done with current technology
Owens presents a framework “that will enable us to see in advance the vital factors that determine our chances for success when we embark on an innovation.”
We both lead and manage innovation, says Owens. “Think of the process of innovation as simply a set of steps that will need to be accomplished in order to get from the stage of identifying a problem all the way through to implementing a solution. Along this path, there will be a number of management activities that can smooth progress and make for a more efficient effort.” At the same time there are leadership type activities along the lines of emotion, motivation and mission. He writes:
One of the most important leadership skills is to discern whether the person standing in front of you is asking for your help as a manager or for your attention as a leader. Sometimes explaining the plan, clarifying a goal, or acquiring a resource is enough management to keep team members moving along a path. At other times, they may need something significantly different. They may want to understand whether this mission is truly meaningful given that they heard otherwise over the office watercooler. Or they may need help staying motivated in the face of seemingly endless late nights and setbacks in the project.He adds a crucial reminder for leaders as it’s easy for a leader to get to the place where you think, “Why are they questioning me? They should just do!:”
Everything we know about leadership suggests that people need reasonable answers to be willing to follow. Of course you can choose not to answer them proactively; but then don’t be surprised when rumor, gossip, and hearsay gathered from around the office watercooler quickly fill the void you have left.
David Owens offers a free Organizational Innovation Constraints Assessment on his web site.
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6 Concepts for Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want ItDemand.
Slywotzky has identified six insights and behaviors of demand creators:
Make it Magnetic. Demand creators begin with a very tough realization: Very Good does not equal Magnetic. When it comes to creating demand, it’s not the first mover that wins; it’s the first to create and capture the emotional space in the market.
Fix the Hassle Map. Mapping the hassles that dominate so much of daily life, and then figuring out how to fix them, provides the path to explosive potential demand.
Build a Complete Backstory. What you don’t see is often what makes or breaks the product. Backstory is the unseen, often overlooked factors, including infrastructure, ecosystem, and business design, that are essential to creating demand. Why did Sony’s Librié fail and Amazon’s Kindle succeed even though it was launched three years before the Kindle using the same technology?
Find the Triggers. The biggest obstacles to creating demand are inertia, skepticism, habit, and indifference. Finding the trigger to get people to act may take years, but great demand creators constantly search for them, always experimenting to find what turns fence-sitters into customers.
Build a Steep Trajectory. Even on launch day, demand creators ask themselves a very simple question: How fast can we get better? They know that every improvement they make—technical or emotional—will unlock new layers of demand, and leave less open space for imitative, piggybacking competitors.
De-Average. Demand creators know that the “average customer” is a myth. They allow for variation. The de-average by finding efficient, cost-effective ways to create product variations that more perfectly match the varying needs of very different types of customers, getting rid of overages (things we don’t want) and underages (gaps we want filled).
Most project launches fail because we fail to overcome our own human nature. We think the odds of success are pretty good. But we’re wrong. “Launch is a mind game. Success and failure hinge on how people think, and the degree to which they can overcome business as usual—and the innate proclivities of human nature.” Slywotzky offers these seven habits to help you with the odds of a successful launch:
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Uncertainty Will Freeze You in Place if You Let ItUncertainty: “The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas and creations.”
The problem is that most of us, to one degree or another react so strongly to ambiguity or uncertainty, that it becomes a limiting factor in our lives and stops us from acting in the face of it. The issue is not so much failure as it is not wanting to “be judged for taking the less-mainstream path and coming up empty.”
But taking the risk in the face of uncertainty is “not about tempting fate, it’s about going to that place where magic happens.” Living in the question. So how do we push forward when everything seems to be spinning out of control?
Fields suggests we first find our certainty anchors. Certainty anchors are rituals and routines that we build into our life that help to counter the resistance. On those occasions when you find that it is “Twitter-Time,” rituals and routines will help move the process along. “Ritual helps train you to sit down when you most want to stand, when you’re forced to work on the part of the process that leaves you anywhere from bored to riddled with anxiety.”
Get feedback along the way. Build a hive of heroes, mentors and champions. Consider ways to bring into the process the very people you are creating for.
Train your brain in the art of focused awareness through meditation, mindfulness, visualization, and exercise to stay focused and grounded. Randy Komisar, author of The Monk and the Riddle, told Fields:
It’s a process of stripping myself bare of all the pressures, all of the barnacles that accumulate around you every day as you interact in the world—the pressures, the expectations, the ego, the things that ultimately make your vision unclear.Exercise in the list above wasn’t an afterthought. Most of us feel we don’t have time to work out. But we really can't afford not to. Fields, writes:
Studies now prove that aerobic exercise both increases the size of the prefrontal cortex and facilitates interaction between it and the amygdala. This is vitally important to creators because the prefrontal cortex, as we discussed earlier, is the part of the brain that helps tamp down the amygdala’s fear and anxiety signals.I emphasize this a lot on the Leading Blog, but I think it’s something we really have to work at. Randy Nelson, Pixar’s former head of education said, “The core skill of innovators is not failure avoidance, it’s error recovery.” Fields adds, “When that’s baked into your creative culture on all levels, people become more empowered to lean into the creative abyss—and magic tends to happen.”
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Innovation Creates UncertaintyWe don’t like uncertainty. It’s not comfortable.
We want innovation. We like creativity. It’s engaging.
But innovation creates uncertainty. So while we say we want creativity and innovation we often reject it because it is new, different and risky. It takes us to places that we are not familiar with and places where we don’t have all the answers. The irony is that while we say we like innovation we develop a deep bias against it.
Interestingly, a recent study from Cornell University states that “Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.” In other words, our aversion to uncertainty means we find it difficult to even recognize a creative idea when we see it, focused as we are on removing the risky, uncomfortable strain on the status quo.
Consequently, new ideas are often rejected out-of-hand in favor of the tried and trusted at times when we need new ideas the most. This resistance is so strong at times that even supporting objective evidence may not help break down barriers.
The study concludes, “Our results show that regardless of how open minded people are, when they feel motivated to reduce uncertainty either because they have an immediate goal of reducing uncertainty, or feel uncertain generally, this may bring negative associations with creativity to mind which result in lower evaluations of a creative idea.”
If you want to change the world, get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
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The Art of LeadershipMax DePree popularized the idea that leadership is an art. So much of what a leader does cannot be objectively measured. To reduce leadership to a set of algorithms is to remove it from its context; to ignore the complexities, the contradictions, and the possibilities. Artists must deal with uncertainty, contradictions and diversity almost by definition. Leaders need to have this capacity.
Julie Burstein has created a valuable achieve of thought about art and artistry in Spark: How Creativity Works. Her book is drawn from hundreds of hours of conversations from the radio program Studio 360. Studio 360 was created to show how creativity works by talking to some of the world’s most talented people. I hope you find these artist’s thoughts on their work inspiring to you no matter where you lead.
Painter Chuck Close reminds us that leadership is about results. You will be judged on your accomplishments. So, you have to get on with it.
Inspiration is for amateurs, and the rest of us just show up and get to work. But so much of it comes out of the process … if you try to preconceive everything you do and conceptualize it, you’re gonna do the same thing over and over. If, however, you just get busy and things occur to you in the process, you make the rules and therefore you can break them.Sound designer Ben Burtt talks about the importance of being what Saul Bellow once called a “first class noticer.” We need to observe more, to listen closer, and be open to surprises.
Many of the most useful sounds I’ve used were discoveries made by accident. I would be going about some other business but then hear something interesting. I learned to keep my recorder nearby. I’d grab a sound that caught my attention. Even if you don’t know what it’s going to be. If something interests me, if something is provocative in some way, if it has a sense of suspense to it, or power, or humor, then it’s worth gathering and stockpiling until I find a place in a movie to use it. I have a big collection and it’s always growing. I’m probably always listening to what goes on around me, whether I want to or not.Being a leader means stretching yourself and your team; getting out of your comfort zone; becoming more than is expected. Choreographer Elizabeth Streb knows the importance of taking a risk.
“What the audience sees is somebody taking their physical entity and just stretching it beyond their comfort.” It’s not that the dancers want to put themselves in harm’s way, she explained. “It’s the other way around. To effect certain actions onstsage, it’s necessary to put yourself in harm’s way. I think it’s a means to an end. If you don’t allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone, then you can’t discover new physical territory. And it comes with that territory that here’s going to be certain things that scare you. You’re going to try to locate them, and unravel them, and go further and further and further toward something that you couldn’t imagine doing physically prior to that initial investigation.Getting out and discovering new territory is how leaders define choices. And some days it’s easier than others says Streb.
We are all normal people and we’re scared of similar things that other people are scared of. We just have an appetite to dig into them and conquer them on some level. And then the fear switches…. All of a sudden, on a Wednesday, you’re just terrified, you can’t do it. There’s no accounting for those shifts in fear.The late poet Stanley Kunitz reminds us that like most things in life, leadership requires pruning; eliminating those things that distract and detract. Creative destruction. It’s an art.
As with the making of a poem, so much of the effort is to get rid of all the excess, and at the same time be certain you are not ridding the poem of its essence.While it’s in a leader’s DNA to shake-up the status quo, it has to be done with the past in mind. The past is not all bad, and the future is not all better. The past can serve as an anchor, but it can also provide depth to the future. Director Alexander Payne points to the importance of our past.
We forget our past do quickly, but we need it for a sense of identity. For some idea of who we are.Photographer David Plowden would agree.
I fear that we are eradicating the evidence of our past accomplishments so quickly that in time we may well lose the sense of who we are.Of course, leaders can’t do it alone. We are made better by the teams we build and the people we associate with. It’s how we learn and grow. Robert Plant speaks of his collaboration with Alison Krauss on the album Raising Sand:
Something had to happen for me where I was going to learn something. I wanted to work with people who were going to push me, and not threaten me but challenge my whole capacity to be a really proper singer. Not just a one-trick pony, but somebody who could actually modify and adapt and get into some kind of dreamscape. As it happens, this is the combination that transpired, and it couldn’t be better, really.If our insecurities get in our way and we exclude those with differing opinions or those who might be critical of what we are doing, we attenuate our leadership potential. We narrow our perspective. Architect’s Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi are a married couple and partners in work. They value each other’s criticism in the creative process. Denise explains:
We jump-start the design process by batting ideas around between us. Our ideas bounce back and forth….This questioning intensifies the process and speeds it up. Self-criticism might eventually have led him to the same position, but my questions and suggestions push him and he gets there faster. Of course, he does the same for me.“Intensifies the process and speeds it up.” That’s a good way to think about it. As in any creative endeavor—and each of us is a creative endeavor—we need to be who we really are and not a reflection of someone we admire. Robert Venturi’s respect for the past doesn’t mean recreating it. Our heroes should serve as a reference point, but not a straightjacket.
Reference to the historical past can enrich architecture; copying stultifies it.When it isn’t working you have to have the courage to rework it or even start over if necessary. Novelist John Irving once took an 800-page book back from the publisher because it wasn’t right.
It was such an enormous undertaking to rewrite this book from the first person to a third-person novel. Took me nine months, all by hand. I hope I come to that conclusion sooner if it happens again.But when it is working, Chuck Close says you should celebrate!
Every time I finish a painting, I play Aretha Franklin full blast, from start to finish, and I usually sing along with her as my celebratory end to each painting.Author and producer Julie Burstein says that we should “never miss this essential step of celebrating the accomplishment.” The work now, she concludes, is for each of us to create our own stories.
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Hacking the Creative ProcessWhile creativity is associated with artists, creativity is really part of life. It is how we shape our work into something meaningful. Benjamin Franklin put it this way: “To cease to think creatively is but little different from ceasing to live.”
The Accidental Creative.
Henry believes that you can create faster and more effectively over the long term if you build powerful practices into your life to help you to do so. Ironically, if you are going to thrive in a create-on-demand world, you need structure. “Creativity craves structure. When you establish effective boundaries, you are focusing your creative energy rather than allowing it to run rampant.” Working harder isn’t the answer. An “always on” approach works against you says Henry. “You need to incorporate practices that instill a sense of structure, rhythm, and purpose in your life.” Consistent creativity demands it.
In creative work there is the tension between possibilities and pragmatics. Creativity is about exploring, innovation, and the next big breakthrough. But it’s also about budgets and deadlines. It’s easy to get off-track doing creative work. "Because we tend to gravitate toward possibilities, many creative people wrestle with focus." We can become fascinated by the process and never really accomplish anything. Yet we are paid for the value we create. It’s important to be able to articulate exactly what we are trying to accomplish.
Henry discusses the assassins of creativity and offer many ways to counter them. One very simple yet profound suggestion is “The Big 3.” The Big 3 is not a to do list, a wish list, or a project list. It is “best described as the three most important ‘open-loops’ in my life and work. They are the three most important items that I’m still looking for critical insight on.” The key thought here is that by identifying them and writing them down, it helps you to filter the stimuli you take in each day through the lens of your most important creative priorities.
This technique is a very helpful way of keeping your mind focused and looking for connections to create unexpected insights.
Henry also emphasizes the importance of relationships. “We sometimes begin to see the act of maintaining a relationship as an obligation that pulls us away from our important work, rather than as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, explore new possibilities, and take advantage of collaborative opportunities within our team.” You must engage with other people. This is a big point for leaders. When we get busy this always seems like the first thing to go. Big mistake.
Relationships give us perspective on our unique strengths, on which of our ideas are most likely to gain traction, and on how we can most benefit the world around us. Our relationships play a vital role in helping us understand how we can get moving on, and devote our best efforts to, the work that really matters.This is an essential read for all knowledge workers. You will find ideas here to help you to reduce non-work, focus on real work, and filter information, to produce better and more consistent results.
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5 Leadership Lessons: Redesigning Leadership
John Maeda is the president of the Rhode Island School of Design. In Redesigning Leadership, he—with co-author Becky Bermont—pulls the leadership lessons from the ups and downs of his time there. In his transition from MIT to RISD he found that the two words “free pizza” were a powerful motivator to convene large numbers of students. “Making people work together can be fairly challenging, but getting them to eat together is somehow vastly easier. A meal is often a catalyst for a conversation that can lead to a collaboration, and a meal is a natural happening to signify closure when the collaboration has been completed.”
Leadership is never easy and it is made more difficult by what I perceive is a growing sense of entitlement we all feel in our culture. It’s not all good or bad, but it is something to deal with. Redesigning Leadership is a slim book, but it is full of great thoughts like these:
Learning something new means finding not just a new way to see the world, but often a new way to change the world. Artists constantly seek to find new and improved means to transform ideas into reality.
Artists rely on their intuition much more than those who are analytically trained. Analytical people tend to take a complex problem and reduce it to its component parts in an effort to solve it step by step. Artists, however, attempt to make giant leaps to a solution, seeming to ignore all constraints. By making those leaps, they sometimes miss the solution completely. But they are not afraid to miss the target.
Ironically, with all the communication technologies at our disposal today, it’s still difficult to get a message across to the person sitting right next to you in a reliable fashion. The shortest communication path between two people is a straight talk.
In forming any team, the most basic challenge: getting folks to take the big step away from just being themselves (the thing we all know best) and joining something larger (the thing we fear may let us down).
Whether brought by duty or desire, once people are in the same room, they’ve assumed the basic stance of being a team—which is to be together. Preconceived negative opinions don’t evaporate, but at least negativity can mix with positivity in the room, which by electrical principles results in the neutralizing of the respective +/- charges. I now consider this the most basic concept to leading a team.
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Bill Roedy: From West Point to MTV
Bill Roedy, former Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks International, began working for HBO in 1979 when it was broadcasting only nine hours a day. There he learned that distribution was everything. It was to be his mantra at MTV—aggressive, creative, relentless distribution.
Roedy shares his experiences and lessons in What Makes Business Rock. From virtually nothing, he built MTV International into the largest media network in the world. For anyone involved doing business internationally, it is essential reading.
As manager of HBO’s national accounts, he learned that “In life as well as in business, the ability to sell is the foundation upon which success is built.” Some people don’t understand that he says, but even in Vietnam, although he had the formal authority to force troops obey my orders, I found that if people didn’t believe in the mission, I never got a total effort from them.” Leaders are always selling.
Although reluctant to leave HBO and move to London, in 1989 he became managing director of MTV Europe. What he inherited wasn’t working. He had to quickly create a better product, get more distribution and generate revenue. Getting the right people in place was crucial to creating an entrepreneurial organization. “Never take ‘No’ for an answer.” “Take chances.” “Break all the rules.”
Their objective was to be the most visually engaging channel in the history of European television. To make sure viewers always knew they were watching MTV, they put their logo in the corner of the screen and left it there. No one had done that before. (Now everyone does.)
Here is a lesson every leader could bear to keep in mind: as a leader, your opinion matters—maybe more than you know. But it can actually be having a negative impact. The MTV playlist is extremely important to its viewers and giving them what they want to hear is essential to MTV’s survival. Roedy says that in the beginning he attended those meetings if only to be the voice of reason and a subtle reminder that they were running a business. “But after attending half a dozen of these meetings I realized I was making a huge mistake. I was much older than our demographic and my musical tastes were very different. I was skewing the choices older.” So he stopped attending those meetings. “As much as I enjoyed being part of that process, I had to remind myself that I was a manager, and I had to delegate decision-making authority to those people I trusted.” How many leaders, for all kinds of well-intentioned reasons feel they have to leave their fingerprint on everything, while they are in-fact stifling their people and skewing the results?
Roedy’s success at MTV can be attributed to the fact that he was always reinventing. “The longer you stay with the same strategy, the more vulnerable you become to your competitors.”
His most important contribution was the idea, “Think global, act local.” MTV was already local to Europe, but it had to be broken down to the national level, country by country. “Learn the local culture and reflect it in every decision we make,” was their business strategy. He created a structure similar to what he learned in the military: small operating units in the field fighting the competition. “My belief was that the local people would best reflect the needs, tastes, and desires of the local audience, and because their jobs would depend on the bottom line, they were much less likely to make risky or destructive financial decisions. In Vietnam, I had seen over and over the benefits of dealing directly with the loyal population on their own terms, rather than trying to impose our beliefs on them.” Because of the complexities of operating an international business, you need be there on the ground to really feel it.
On MTV Arabia for example, they broadcast the call to prayer on the channel five times every day. For Ramadan they produced an animated film explaining the meaning of that important religious holiday to young people in a creative way and refrained for a month from showing any music videos.
Throughout the book there are stories of music celebrities—singing karaoke with Bono and Bob Geldof dressed as a nurse in Tokyo at 4a.m.—and others like Sumner Redstone, Robert Maxwell, Jeff Bewkes, Nelson Mandela, Jiang Zemin, Fidel Castro, Tony Blair, and the Dalai Lama. They add color to the book and make it all the more interesting. But read it for the insights into global business.
More lessons from Bill Roedy can be found on the LeadershipNow Facebook page.
What Makes Business Rock
Heritage and Innovation: Finding the BalanceIn times of change there is the tendency to either stick doggedly to what has always worked in the past or to throw it all out and start new. Neither extreme is the answer.
Heritage and innovation is a tension that needs to be managed—thoughtfully. Our default thinking is to view the world in terms of what has worked before so we often fail to address the changes going on around us. As a result we tend to lose our influence. At the same time, to overhaul everything without regard to our roots—our traditions, our heritage—can take us away from why we began doing what we are doing in the first place.
Howard Schultz recognized as he began to deal with Starbuck’s identity crisis in 2008 that they had to strike a delicate balance between heritage and innovation. In Onward he writes: “I understood that we had to return to our roots, but if that heritage was not linked to a willingness to reinvent and innovate, then we would fail.”
Our heritage is the repository of our values and unshakable truths. Applying them to a changing world makes them relevant. But how to go about this is not always self-evident. As we naturally view what we do through the lens of what has worked before, it is hard to envision a different world. If we don’t learn to apply them to what is happening today, they begin to look worn and outdated to the present world.
We have to begin by asking, “What is Truth (for us) and what is habit?” Truths are maintained. Habits can be adapted.
We need to learn to translate our heritage into a meaningful direction aligned to the present situation. Heritage either stands the test of time or it is a fad. Change for change sake, is faddish. Sustainable influence and growth is achieved when heritage and innovation overlap. Innovation should be informed by heritage which is in turn, made relevant by it.
Change is essential to growth. More than anything else, fear keeps us from making necessary changes. Fear of the unknown. “What will happen?”
Innovation rocks the boat. It creates instability, yes, but the kind of instability needed for growth. If we don’t make heritage relevant by innovation we can stunt growth and diminish our influence. We actually aid people’s ability to cope and thrive in a changing world when we find ways to change what we do without changing who we are. Heritage and innovation is an ongoing tension that needs to be managed.
How did they get Ten Steps Ahead of the Rest of Us?
Blending cognitive psychology, neuroscience and (mostly) first-hand accounts of the visionary’s life, in Ten Steps Ahead, he builds a picture of what makes them tick. He identifies the importance of intuition and emotional intelligence and the role of courage and conviction in separating visionaries from mere dreamers.
“Visionaries don’t succeed by lying in bed with their dreams floating idly by above their heads. They get out into the world and experience things, and from that, shape their ideas.” It’s being a first-class noticer as Warren Bennis suggested.
Calonius cites Thomas Kuhn’s work on paradigm shifts and the years of “mopping up” that follow them. Julian Huxley wrote in 1957, “Once science has reached the stage of having a coherent theoretical basis, it will inevitably proceed … to make further discoveries and further extension of its theory.” Calonius explains:
That’s why commercial products often follow scientific breakthroughs by about 20 years or so. … “First movers,” in other words (and contrary to the mantra of the “New Economy” of the late 1990’s), very often do not prevail. This means you don’t need to deliver the paradigm to mop up quite successfully in its aftermath. You don’t even need to be the first mover. Just be clever enough to make off with the flotsam of the paradigm after it has crashed upon the shore.The reoccurring insight I find in these pages is that it really comes down to the ability (and confidence) to walk a fine line, to develop a balance of thought. For example, pattern recognition allows visionaries to make connections and see what is not yet seen. Yet at the same time, pattern recognition can lock us into a constrained view of life of our own making. “The same patterns that help us predict the future are also the ones that lock us into the present.”
Calonius observes, “Intuition is essential to the visionary. Visionaries almost always work at the edge of our understanding, where information is scarce or nonexistent and where intuitive decisions are often the only choice.” But again, there’s a balance. If we follow our intuition blindly, we can lose it all. “Intuition is a judgment call” that must be developed. “Practiced insight, leavened with intuition.”
Emotional intelligence is also an important element. It is “that rare balance between dry logic and emotional intuition.” It gives the visionary that ability to read others, and thereby be able to rally others behind their idea.
Of course, luck plays a part. In The Drunkard’s Walk, Leonard Mlodinow writes, “Keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at-bats, the number of chance taken, the number of opportunities seized.”
One of the greatest challenges to visionaries—indeed all of us—says Calonius, is “to get outside the walls, to rise over the yes-men and sycophants and even their confidence in their own ideas, to be able to see clearly.”
Visionaries are all around us. The brain is remarkable in that it is an ever-changing network of circuitry that learns as we live our lives. We can guide that process to, as Joseph LeDoux says, “transcend our genes.” We can be visionaries too. Visionaries keep “running forward, adjusting their ambition along the way.”
A Case for Reconsidering the Way We’ve Always Done ItA society that doesn’t train their children to think critically, to be aware of those around them, and to serve, must create more rules and regulations than can be accounted for. There will never be enough rules—there are too many variables—especially when people begin to direct their creativity in dysfunctional ways.
The challenge is to develop sound minds. As Kant determined, a person with a sound mind is one that can think for oneself, is able to place oneself in the place and viewpoint of others, and can think consistently and coherently. But it‘s easier, in the short term, to create rules. And we pay a price.
To be sure, I am not advocating anarchy—we absolutely must have rules—and some rules unquestionably make possible the learning process, but when the rules we have in place reflect our lack of engagement, they become disrespectful and de-motivating. It’s easier to lay down the law or set up a checklist than it is to explain the why; to communicate where we’re headed with this idea. From time to time, it is good to think about the rules we have created (or have had handed down to us), that are impeding progress, relevance, imagination and growth both for ourselves and others. Here are a few thoughts to guide that process:
I am a big advocate of tradition, but when “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s how I learned to do it” gets in the way of relevance or growth, we need to take a step back and reconsider our stand. What we have done may have served us well in a particular place and time, but may only be an irritation here and now.
Rules can reveal a lack of trust. “I don’t trust you to be as smart—considerate or creative—as I am.” And they never will be if not given the chance.
As leaders, we need to be aware of where we are blanketing people with rules and procedures that do nothing more than to serve us and not the people it is our intention to serve. We need to consider that perhaps we have implemented rules to create a comfort zone for ourselves. A world where people act and think like we do. A world of clones. A world on autopilot that requires less of us.
Often our need for rules and procedures is just masking our fear of the unknown. Our attempt to manage a world that is changing faster than we are learning. No leader can do it on their own and rules are no substitute for not trusting, growing and building relationships with people. Where are we hiding behind rules?
Rules, for the most part, do not leverage other people’s strengths and thinking, they mostly mirror our own. Given the chance, people will surprise us with new, different, and better ways to push our agenda forward.
Leadership: Artistry Unleashed
The executive functions … are feeling, judgment, sense, proportion, balance, [and] appropriateness. It is a matter of art rather than science, and is aesthetic rather than logical.Leadership is an art. But what does that really mean?
Leadership can be taught in the way that art can be taught. There are techniques and principles that need to be understood. Seeds that can be planted. But ultimately it has to be practiced and experienced. There is the part that really matters, as Georges Braque observed, that can’t be explained. That is the art; the ever-changing context of leadership and the dance between leaders and followers that molds and shapes both the leader and follower. There is an art to bringing leadership teaching into the nuance of life.
Leadership practiced, is artistry unleashed.
Artistry Unleashed. She takes design thinking beyond the surface concerns of practical design and to the processes behind it. These are important issues for leaders as we face what Austen terms enigmatic problems: those that push us to the edge of what we know. “Our best solutions to such problems lie not just in better analytical tools but in a fundamentally different approach to our work—an approach that follows from cultivating qualitative intelligence in our given profession or medium.” Anymore quantitative approaches alone won’t work. She explains the difference:
“Quantitative thinking allows us to be precise and to share understanding; we use it to define fairness and rationality and effectiveness. It’s this utility that has led so many people to equate quantitative thinking with intelligence.”
“A qualitative approach embraces the unexpected, the subtle, the open-ended, the unique, the poetic; it escapes rules, single answers, or single perspectives. These features are by their very nature hard to pin down and can be quite unnerving to people who want precise information and specific answers. The quantitative approach gives us the means to predict and control what we can measure, to record and codify what can be clearly defined, to collect sharable facts, and to identify universal rules and laws.
To be sure, Austen is not advocating one or the other. “Each has its own set of purposes, and developing one does not mean abandoning the other. Achieving artistry means being able to use qualities to help you work, when that’s what the situation demands; it doesn’t mean rejecting quantitative methods.”
We gravitate to quantitative thinking. We like things nailed down. Numbered. Labeled. Defined. It gives us some certainty. It makes us comfortable. We can check it off and move on confident that we’ve done the “right thing.” Unfortunately life is messier than that. Austen cites Ted Sorenson’s observation from his book Decision-Making in the White House: “White House decision-making is not a science but an art. It requires not calculation but judgment….Every decision a president makes involves uncertainty.”
Qualitative thinking is less about imposing an answer and more about shaping an answer from awareness of the present and feedback from the application of knowledge to it, when predetermined steps and measurable goals are absent. The present and the possible are considered at the same time so that ends and means influence each other as they occur. Austen writes, the “interdependent relationship between ends and means is a hallmark of artistic work. As your effort to solve an enigmatic problem proceeds, the ends evolve as means are generated. Likewise, as means unfold, new ends become possible; these may in turn demand new means.”
It means managing the tension between mastery and originality in search of the possible. “The forces that drive mastery are conservative. Mastery brings predictability and control to action. By contrast, originality is driven by often unpredictable responses to immediate experience. Finding originality means leaving behind some of what you know. Artistry is driven forward by the interplay of these two competing forces.”
New York University professor David Ecker’s six phases of qualitative problem solving developed from the work of John Dewey, described in Artistry Unleashed by Austen is helpful:
In the first phase, artists engage what Ecker calls the presented or initial relationship between existing qualities….Some of these relationships may be problematic, others intriguing, and so they attract the artist’s attention. Different practitioners may see different qualities and make sense of what they see differently, depending on the ideals, concepts, and sensibilities they bring to bear on the situation.A leader’s function is to create the disequilibrium needed to go from the known to the unknown possibilities. Qualitative thinking is important to the leader because without it we can easily impose answers rather than exploring possibilities. We can too, get in our own way by overvaluing the importance of our own experience and thought and thereby limit possible outcomes.
Austen develops a Knowledge System model comprised of the interdependency of Experiential Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge and Directional Knowledge, that can be used to help anyone develop and apply qualitative thinking. The cursory view I present here of the connection between business and art, she more fully develops in her book. The examples she gives dramatically demonstrate this important connection and essential understanding needed by leaders of every type.
5 Leadership Lessons: Artistry Unleashed
Shifting From a Supply-Driven Economy to a Demand-Driven EconomyHow Companies Win that we “have now entered an era of oversupply.” ... Consequently, “organic growth and profitability become increasingly difficult to achieve.” At the same time, “it is imperative that you construct a framework in your company that encompasses and aligns everyone toward meeting not just the current but the latent and emerging demand of your highest-profit customers and consumers.”
How Companies Win is a book about learning to understand demand. If you are relying on your customers to tell you what they want it’s too late. You’re playing at best a defensive game because they’ve already told your competitors as well. Getting ahead of the demand “whole it is still forming” is the key. Successful companies are looking at what the demand will be like tomorrow, next year, and five years from now. They get their cues, the authors report, in these ways:
It’s a Jungle in ThereRainforest Café, knows it's a treat. Created by Steven Schussler, the Rainforest Café holds the record as one of the top-grossing restaurant chains in the world and was the first restaurant concept to be featured at every Disney theme park worldwide. Schussler shares in It’s a Jungle in There, what it takes to make it happen and the lessons he learned that can be applied to your dream.
Schussler embodies the five Ps of successful entrepreneurship—Personality, Product, Persistence, People, and Philanthropy—that he teaches in the book. He writes, “As a leadership quality, one’s own passion is what galvanizes others into action.” Passion and persistence has played a big part in everything Schussler has done. It’s “not going through the motions but going through with the emotions.”
Schussler says that he’s always wanted to create a rainforest themed restaurant but the problem was getting investors interested in the idea. To get their attention he turned his home into a tropical rainforest. “Over a period of a few years, my standard split-level home was transformed into a jungle dwelling complete with rock outcroppings, waterfalls, rivers, layers of fog, mist that rose from the ground, a thatched hut covered with vines on the roof, tiki torches, a twelve-foot neon ‘paradise’ sign, and a full-size replica of an elephant near the front door.”
“In the bedroom, my bed was constructed to look like it was suspended in a tree….Birds and animals moved freely through the area during showings of the house….Every room, every closet, every hallway of my house was a ‘scene’: an attempt to present my idea of what a rainforest restaurant would look like in actual operation….No venture capitalists were going to invest their money in my far-out concept without actually seeing it, so I transformed my house into my vision of what a rainforest restaurant would look like in order to make them believe in my dream.”
Naturally, this would catch the attention of your neighbors (and law enforcement) too. There were problems of all sorts as you can imagine. And Schussler writes, “Being passionate doesn’t totally shield you from moments of doubt.” But his passion finally won out.
How far are you willing to go to see your dream realized?
In short, high-content chapters, he explains his guiding philosophy and backs them with concrete experiences. He has two quotes framed on the wall over his desk: “When you’re out of quality, you’re out of business” and “The noblest search is the search for excellence.”
He talks about looking for “enhancement gaps.” Those gaps between “what you are seeing and what you could create to make what you are seeing better by providing some product or service.”
He asks, “Are you willing to help other people succeed even when it’s not a requirement of your job to be of assistance?”
Self-control: “What you don’t want to do is say things and/or act in a manner that will create negative impressions and the unwanted consequences that are certain to follow.” You must know your audience.
Burning Bridges/Writing People Off: Don’t do it. “What I learned that day reconfirmed my belief that ego can be a killer, especially an unchecked ego. Most entrepreneurs need to have a healthy ego, but you also have to be realistic. That’s a very delicate balance—the kind of balance you need to cross a bridge you tumbled off the first time around.”
Anyone would benefit by reading and integrating the lessons offered here.
The Innovation Secrets of Steve JobsThe Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs is more than just about innovation. It’s about principles that have guided Jobs throughout his life. Innovation is about thinking differently, making new connections and making things better.
Author Carmine Gallo offers not rules, systems, or steps to greater innovation, but inspiring principles that can be applied to your own situation to get you to think differently. The principles are:
Gallo provides a lot of background on Jobs and in doing so has written an inspiring, down-to-earth book that will encourage you to imagine what you could do by thinking differently.
Getting Ideas to FlowCharles Landry is the founder of Comedia, and works to help cities to be more "creative for the world" so that the energies of individuals and companies can be brought into alignment with their global responsibilities. He recently told Sally Helgesen that his experience has taught him that “the single biggest problem in the world is not finding great ideas but getting great ideas to move, to flow.”
Getting stuck is an issue we face both individually and organizationally. At its core, it’s a thinking problem and is often self-inflicted. Creating the right kind of movement and in the right direction begins with re-thinking our view of reality. If we keep applying the same patterns of thinking even after they have been shown to be counterproductive we skew our perception of even everyday life situations and block the flow of growth, ideas and influence. Here are some common areas we need to rethink to get ideas to flow:
Re-think complexity. We create complexity by over-analyzing our situation; creating issues where there are none; forgetting our purpose. Complexity obscures the issues. Keep the issues as uncluttered as possible. Often an outsider can see the situation and the real issues more clearly than you can. Try asking, “Am I making this a bigger problem than it is because of fear, insecurity or lack of knowledge?” “Is this really a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?” Stick to what needs to be addressed. Complexity can lead to procrastination.
Re-think systems. Trying to create a new vision without addressing old systems is at best counterproductive. Tenaciously grasping the old ways of doing things just because that is what you have always done, can stop the flow of ideas and innovative solutions and lead to hopelessness. If you are experiencing a chronic lack of movement, a resistance to change or lack of compliance to your “really good idea,” you probably have a system in place that discourages the very behavior you seek. A system should reward the behavior you want. What systems are getting in your way?
Re-think ego. Our ego frequently keeps us from exploring new ideas. We get so invested in what we have done that we can’t get out of our own way. We keep retrying to work the old and deceive ourselves into thinking we’re making progress when all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Sometime we need to set aside our ego and simply abandon what isn’t working and start over with a better design.
Re-think boundaries. Think bigger. Think interdisciplinary. Growth often involves blurring boundaries to open your mind to new possibilities. What principles outside of your world of experience could expand the possibilities for your idea?
Re-think reactions. Repetitive reactions are the result of ingrained patterns of thinking that we have hard-wired into our brains long ago. Take the time to reflect on why you think the way you do; why you do what you do. Default patterns of thinking lead to more of the same. Ask yourself, “Is this working for me?” Think about the unspoken.
Re-think failure. If you’re afraid of being wrong, embarrassed by failure or paralyzed by insecurity, you will never find the solutions that lead to meaningful growth. Failure provides the nutrients for growth when we respond to them positively. Keep failure in perspective, it’s a regular part of life. You can’t avoid them so learn to work with them. Failures help you to raise the bar and reorient your thinking to possibilities and new ways of thinking.
Re-think success. Know what success looks like. How will you know when you have arrived? Muddy expectations lead to exhaustion and defeat before you even get started. Praise short-term accomplishments to appeal to your heart and not just your head. It will keep your ideas moving along.
IdeaSellingIdeaSelling, says Harrison, is for “anybody who knows the pain and suffering of presenting an idea and having it slammed to the ground, picked over, or altered beyond recognition.”
Simply saying, “They just don’t get it” is playing the victim. It doesn’t help you get your idea sold. One of the first reminders he gives us is one that is easily forgotten in the moment: It’s not about you. He writes:
Decision makers aren’t interested in your pain.A few others:
How Many Surface Areas Do You Have?
In The Power of Pull the authors share their conversation with entrepreneur Jack Hidary. He explains that people overlook obvious situations because they “paint themselves into a corner such that their entire interaction with the outside world is mediated through this one facet. Then they’re unable to critically analyze where they are. That’s how they end up going down with the ship.”
This is important because as authors John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison point out, “If we are going to succeed in this rapidly changing world, we face two challenges: making sense of the changes around us, and making progress in an increasingly unfamiliar world.” To do this we need to approach what we do in a way that allows us to be in the flow of knowledge and open to serendipitous events that inform us of things we didn’t know and didn’t even know we were looking for.
That approach they call pull: the ability to draw out people and resources to address opportunities and challenges. It’s different than push. Push predetermines our needs and then creates systems and standardized processes designed to provide what we need when we need it. It says, “I know better than you. Do this, not that.” It says, “I know. Here’s what you do.” On the other hand, pull says, “I don’t know. I’ll seek.”
The pull approach works to help us to find and access people and resources when we need them, the ability to attract people and resources that are relevant and valuable and then to pull from ourselves the insight and performance required to achieve our potential.
The attract aspect of pull is critical. In a world that is changing so quickly, we often don’t even know what we are looking for or the questions to ask to get there. It calls for a different approach. It increasingly depends upon serendipity. You need to increase your surface areas. You need to look for ways to pull people and their knowledge toward you. “If you want to find out what it is you don’t know that you don’t know, you need to hang out with other people who might already know it.”
We need serendipitous encounters with people because of the importance of the ideas that these people carry with them and the connections they have. People carry tacit knowledge. … You’ve got to stand next to someone who already knows and learn by doing. Tacit knowledge exists only in people’s heads. As edges arise ever more quickly, all of us must not only find the people who carry the new knowledge but get to know them well enough (and provide them with sufficient reciprocal value) that they’re comfortable trying to share it with us.The authors claim that serendipity in certain respects can be shaped. Of course luck is involved, but we can materially affect it by our actions. We need amplifiers and filters. Amplifiers “that can help us reach and connect to large groups of people around the globe that we do not know.” Filters “that can help us to increase the quality as well as the number of unexpected encounters and ensuing relationships that are truly the most relevant and valuable.” We can manage serendipity by:
Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive AdvantageWe live in a reliability-oriented world. And understandably so. We want predictable outcomes. We want things to keep working as they have always been—perfectly.
Success. Repeat. Success. Repeat.
But that thinking ultimately limits our growth and quite possibly harbors the seeds of our own destruction. It can be (very) valuable to a point, but it isn’t adaptable because by its very nature it has to leave something out of the equation. While reliable outcomes “reduce the risk of small variations in your business, they increase the risk of cataclysmic events that occur when the future no longer resembles the past” and the reliable is no longer relevant or useful.
To remain relevant—to foster innovation—you need to incorporate into your thinking outcomes that are valid. That is, outcomes that produce a desired result even if the solution employed can’t produce a consistent, predictable outcome. A perfectly valid solution is one that produces a result that is shown, through the passage of time, to have been correct. It is best to have a system that incorporates both—validity and reliability—into their approach. Balancing and managing the two approaches—analytical and intuitive—is what design thinking is all about.
In The Design of Business, Roger Martin presents the knowledge funnel to show how knowledge moves. Each stage represents a simplification and ordering of knowledge. At the beginning is a mystery; a question. It is the observation of phenomena. Things we see but don’t yet understand.
The next stage is a heuristic, “a rule of thumb that helps to narrow the field of inquiry and work the mystery down to a manageable size.” Heuristics don’t guarantee success but do increase the probability of success.
The last stage is the development of an algorithm. “An algorithm is an explicit, step-by-step procedure for solving a problem. Algorithms take the loose, unregimented heuristics—which take considerable thought and nuance to employ—and simplify, structuralize, and codify them to the degree that anyone with access to the algorithm can deploy it with more or less equal efficiency.”
Martin uses the example of the development of McDonalds to illustrate how they proceeded down the knowledge funnel. In 1940 the McDonald brothers opened their first drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino, California. It did well, but by 1950 they began to lose business. Food was getting cold before it was delivered and families were put off by the hoards of teenagers they attracted. They had to develop a winning heuristic. They reduced and standardized the menu, and implemented their Speedee Service System.
Ray Kroc saw an opportunity in it and bought them out. While the Speedee Service System was good, Kroc thought it left too much to chance. So he refined it and simplified it down to an exact science. The new system left nothing to chance and it was repeatable. “Kroc relentlessly stripped away uncertainty, ambiguity, and judgment from the processes that emerged from the McDonald brothers’ original insight. And by fine-tuning the formula, he powered McDonald’s from a modestly prosperous chain of burger restaurants to a scale previously undreamed-of.”
The problem is getting stuck in any one stage. We tend to operate within a knowledge stage as opposed to moving across the knowledge stages. We need to explore and question, we need to exploit our solutions, even reducing them to a repeatable, efficient, formula where possible, but we need to be doing these things simultaneously.
The vast majority of businesses follow a common path. The company is birthed through a creative act that converts a mystery to a heuristic through intuitive thinking. It then hones and refines that heuristic through increasingly pervasive analytical thinking and enters a long phase in which the administration of business dominates. And in due course, a competitor stares at the mystery that provided the spark for this company, comes up with a more powerful heuristic and supplants the original business.McDonalds did well for decades, but eventually the heuristic (Americans want a quick, convenient, tasty meal) changed (Americans want a healthier menu). The solution for McDonalds is to go back and rethink the mystery and develop new rules of thumb to guide them. A trip back through the knowledge funnel.
first-class noticer.’” Always cycling through the knowledge funnel.
Of Related Interest:
How to Develop Integrative Thinking
Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry
Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind
Are You Leading Creatively?The new economy brings with it new demands. New ways of thinking. New ways of communicating. “The world is spinning faster,” said a Government CEO in Australia. “We need to keep pace.”
In the face of complexity and uncertainty, over 1500 CEOs interviewed in a study conducted by IBM, said that creativity was the leadership quality they valued most. Creativity: “the basis for “disruptive innovation and continuous re-invention”—new risks, new ideas, new ways of influencing and communicating. “Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.” CEOs are looking or a significant shift. IBM’s Global Chief Executive Officer Study asks:
Of Related Interest:
Building Teams that Capitalize on the Innate Creativity of Everyone on the Team
Leading for Creativity
Thinking Gray and Free
Five Great Innovation Myths
Dreamers, Doers and Incrementalists. Which One Are You?Making Ideas Happen is all about. Anyone can develop the capability to make an idea happen. That capacity is derived from a combination of forces that he builds on in detail:
Making Ideas Happen = Ideas + Organization + Communal forces + Leadership capability
Organization enables you to manage and ultimately execute your ideas. Belsky’s Action Method helps those with creative tendencies live and work with a bias toward action. By broadcasting your ideas you put communal forces to work for you. They will help you to refine your ideas. Finally, a specific leadership capability is required to manage the “delicate chemistry of a creative team” and to help them to withstand and capitalize on the inevitable doubts and pressures that will be felt along the way.
Belsky identifies three broad categories of creatives: the Dreamer, the Doer, and the Incrementalist.
Dreamers are always generating new ideas. They’re always starting new projects. “Dreamers are fun to be around, but they struggle to stay focused. In their ideas frenzy, they are liable to forget to return phone calls, complete current projects, even pay the rent. While Dreamers are more likely than anyone to conceive of brilliant solutions, they are less likely to follow through."
Doers are focused on the logistics of execution. They ask, “How are we going to implement this?” “While Dreamers will quickly fall in love with an idea, Doers will start with doubt and chip away at the idea until they love it (or, often, discount it). As Doers break an idea down, they become action-oriented organizers and valuable stewards."
Incrementalists have the capacity to play both roles. “An Incrementalist is able to bask in idea generation, distill the Action Steps needed, and then push ideas into action with tenacity.” Incrementalists may seem like the best of all worlds, but they “have the tendency to conceive and execute too many ideas simply because they can. This rare capability can lead to an overwhelming set of responsibilities to maintain multiple projects at the expense of ever making one particular project an extraordinary success.”
All three types have their strengths and weaknesses. The answer here is to collaborate. You have to pick a partner carefully, but when it works, “ideas can flourish on a much larger scale.” Doers and Dreamers are a good fit because of their very different strengths.
If you work in isolation as a Dreamer, your ideas will swiftly come and go without accountability and stimulation from others. As a Doer, you may struggle to come up with new ideas and solutions in favor of becoming mired in the details. As an Incrementalist, you will likely conceive of and execute a raft of projects that eventually sputter and grow stagnant, short of their true reach. No matter which type you fall into, developing meaningful partnerships will make you more effective.
Share Your Ideas Liberally
Making Ideas Happen for sharing your ideas with others. To make it part of the corporate culture you may even have to “move people around and literally share people to share ideas.” Former Belsky colleague Steve Kerr, even went so far as to say that “’hording information is an integrity violation,’” making the case that failing to share a best practice with your team or department was essentially akin to stealing from the company.” Belsky explains the rationale for sharing ideas liberally:
The notion of “sharing ideas liberally” defines the natural instinct to keep your ideas a secret. Yet, among the hundreds of successful creatives I’ve interviewed, a fearless approach to sharing ideas is one of the most common attributes. Why? Because having the idea is just one tiny step along the road to making that idea happen. During the journey, communal forces are instrumental in refining the very substance of the idea, holding us accountable for making it happen, building a network that will push us to go above and beyond, providing us with valuable material and emotional support, and spreading the word to attract resources and publicity. By sharing your idea, you take the first step in creating the community that will act as a catalyst to making it happen.
He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening mine. That ideas should spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been particularly and benevolently designed by nature.
Adapted from Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision & Reality by Scott Belsky.
Where Does Innovation Begin?Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, is heavy on the consumer products side of innovation. Nevertheless, the 10 rules he presents can be applied in any setting.
Innovation is first a leadership issue. Innovation begins with the Chief Executive Officer who has to be the Chief Innovation Officer. It is the important first step.
Throughout the book he gleans insights from other innovators he has worked with like Jill McCurdy of the Innovation Center of the Rexam’s Plastics Division. She offers a few keys to getting started:
Overcommunicate and underpromise “without hyperbole or pie-in-the-sky verbiage. Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Keep it real.” And remember communication is two-way.
“Knock down the barriers,” Brands says, “that keep silos apart by creating cross-functional teams between groups that don’t typically interact.”
Provide accountability and ownership. “Even the most technical of innovations require leaders with superior people and communications skills.”
Brands’ book details 10 rules to create and sustain a culture of innovation:
Get to the Why by Starting at the EpicenterWhen beginning or introducing anything—an idea, a project, or a new venture—you need to start with asking yourself why. In Rework, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write candidly about where to begin:
When you start anything new, there are forces pulling you in a variety of directions. There’s stuff you could do, the stuff you want to do, and the stuff you have to do. The stuff you have to do is where you should begin. Start at the epicenter.They suggest you begin by asking, “If I took this away, would what I’m selling still exist?” It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and get off on tangents. And while details are important, they can distract you, pulling you in the wrong direction or even derail your idea. They caution: “Getting infatuated with details too early leads to disagreement, meetings, and delays. You get lost in things that don’t really matter. You waste time on decisions that are going to change anyway. So ignore the details—for a while. Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.”
The Right FightThe Right Fight.
The book is based on a counterintuitive premise: In an environment where alignment is the only goal, alignment robs us of necessary dissent, of the checks and balances that mitigate risk, and of the tensions that create innovation and sustainable value. In short, you need to systematically orchestrate the right fights but … you need to fight them right.
The Right Fight principle is based on the idea that you learn and grow by the right amount of friction and stress. “A certain amount of healthy struggle is good for organizations and for individuals. Indeed, people and organizations perform optimally when they are under the right kinds and amounts of stress.” They add, “With alignment and properly managed tension, organizations hit a sweet spot and start realizing their potential.”
Citing a studies by Theresa Wellbourne of eePulse, the single greatest predictor of poor performance is when employees are happy or complacent and thus unmotivated to change. The second greatest predictor is when employees are overwhelmed. Both groups exhibit a low level of energy. They conclude that, “Tension in the right measure creates the emotional energy people need to change.” The trick for leaders is to avoid these extremes. “Knowing where and when to use tension is critical. Knowing how to work through the tension is equally important.”
They lay out three principles that identify right fights and three more principles that clarify the rules of engagement. The first three Right Fight Principles will help you in identifying and eliminating destructive tensions:
Right Fight Principle #1: Make it Worth Fighting About. Make it Material. “A right fight has to create significant value, require integration of multiple perspectives, and change the way work gets done in an organization. In short, a material fight is worth the trouble.”
Right Fight Principle #2: Focus in the Future, Not the Past. “Obsession with past performance, or intense interest in decisions made months or even years before, is a dead giveaway that your organization is stuck in a wrong fight.”
Right Fight Principle #3: Pursue a Noble Purpose. “Right fights connect people with a sense of purpose that goes beyond their own self-interest, unleashing profound collective abilities to create in ways they didn’t think possible.”
The final Right Fight Principles guide you in fighting right fights right:
Right Fight Principle #4: Make it Sport, Not War. “Right fights, like sports, have to have rules. One of the key tasks for leadership in a right fight is to define the parameters so everyone involved understands how to participate and what it takes to win.”
Right Fight Principle #5: Structure Formally but Work Informally. “You need to structure right fights through the ‘formal organization,’ but work out the tensions created by those fights through the ‘informal organization.’”
Right Fight Principle #6: Turn Pain into Gain. “There is a fine line between productive tension and destructive distress, and no two people draw that line in exactly the same place. For right fights to be fought right, leaders need to make sure no one is put under unbearable pressure. Turning pain into gain requires leaders to relate to their team members as individuals and to figure out what creates synergy, stretches skills, and honors outcomes for each of them.”
There are case studies to illustrate each of these principles in action. It’s easy to see the negative side of tension: focusing on the past, stigmatizing the losers, fighting over turf. “But without tension, nothing moves.” Tension creates an opportunity for leaders to help their organizations fight the right fight.
Of Related Interest:
Focus on the War, Not the Battle
A Pyrrhic Victory
Leading Clever PeopleClever the authors write, "Without clever people, leaders cannot hope to succeed. Without good leadership, clevers can never realize their full potential."
Making the organization more valuable to the clevers requires a different approach from leaders. Leaders cannot be the ones that lead the charge up the mountain. "Rather they must identify the clever people with the potential to reach the summit, connect them with others, and help them get there.
In fact, successful leaders of clevers they interviewed don't even think of themselves as leaders. Instead they refer to their roles as a compass ("to give that compass, that direction"), as a magnet ("you have to be a magnetic field. You never touch anything."), as a bridge (bridging the technical side and the management side), or as a plug ("connecting clever people to the rest of the business ... many clever people have a blind spot here born of their own conviction that their way is definitely the right way.").
The paradox is that while they don't want to be led, they need leadership in order to achieve their potential and create value for society.
Clever helps you to identify who the clevers are and in a very practical manner, what a clever organization should look like. Nestlé demonstrates the importance of clarity in the clever organization—"clear about your priorities and efficient in delivering objectives." While they are keenly aware of those aspects of the business they should never change they have been able to change and continually innovate. That means avoiding the tendency to process people, an over-reliance on systemization, an addiction to efficiency, and the division of labor and the alienation of the workforce. These tendencies are an anathema to clevers.
The authors list several dos and don’ts for leading clevers:
Of Related Interest:
Leading for Creativity
The Block of Wood That Became the First Sony Walkman
Do You Have a System for Thinking?The Genius Machine. The eleven step system is designed to develop and polish an existing idea, think through a complete issue, or create something entirely new—to create something with a goal in mind. “It’s fast, it’s complete, it helps people get to the bottom of what they need to think through, and it anticipates the outreach part of innovation at the very beginning.”
Ideas enter the process fuzzy, weak, and partially baked. Using the eleven steps–
Distinction (seeing something new),
Identity (knowing who you are and why you are driven to share your idea),
Implications (exploring every possible consequence of your idea),
Testing (find the breaking point),
Precedent (who else has done something like this),
Need (who will it be most valuable for / focus on your audience),
Foundation (discover the underlying principles or rules),
Completion (can your idea stand on its own),
Connecting (flattening the learning curve),
Impact (is the impact of your idea in alignment with your goals)
and Advocacy (you must champion your ideas)
–those ideas are examined from every angle and leave robust, polished, bulletproof, and ready to change the world.
Sindell says that after you use The Genius Machine for awhile it will turn you into a noticer.
You’ll start to realize that you see things no one else does. And those are the very things that are important to you. You might notice really subtle things, like how the wind blows a leaf, or you might notice the various ways an airplane flying overhead sounds to you depending on the cloud cover, or you might notice how your sister kind of rolls her eyes when she has something important she’s about to say.The Genius Machine is a repeatable process that encourages the deeper exploration of complex problems for better solutions. When used properly, it becomes a thorough organized system of thinking to develop any intellectual property.
Newswire: Leaders as Learners and Teachers
The How of Innovation
Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, delivered a month ago, a thought provoking presentation on the process of innovation and its importance to solving the challenges faced in the 21st century. She believes that innovation is a skill that can be taught. Additionally, believing too, that innovation is not just a product, it’s a process, the Rockefeller Foundation is focusing their funding on the how, not just on the what. Below I have pieced together some excerpts from that speech:
Edison was arguably the first modern innovator: not just an early electrical tinkerer, but a systems thinker—a visionary—who recognized that how you innovate is as important as what you invent.
Tim Brown, CEO and President of the design firm IDEO, said it well in a recent Harvard Business Review essay: “Edison’s genius,” Brown wrote, “lay in his ability to conceive a fully developed marketplace, not simply a discrete device. Edison understood that the light bulb was little more than a parlor-trick without a system of electric power generation and transmission to make it truly useful. So, he created that too.”
Today, for firms and institutions in every sector—from the smallest nonprofits, to the biggest corporations, and at every level and branch of government—the financial crisis affords a crucial moment for innovation. And, perhaps surprising to some, according to the Wall Street Journal, America’s largest companies spent nearly as much on innovation during the last quarter of 2008 as they did during the last quarter of 2007, even as revenue declined nearly 8 percent. Call it the lesson of the iPod, the fruit of Apple’s 42 percent increase in R&D expenditures during the downturn between 1999 and 2002: Businesses that sow seeds of innovation during periods of economic contraction, studies attest, perform significantly better over the long-run than those that make big cuts.
Too often, though, innovation is considered a right brain activity. It’s equated with intuition—with a feeling that emerges from the gut-up or cortex-down. But innovation can also be a left-brain skill—an achievement of methodical experimentation, not just “aha!” inspiration. Innovation is a way of working, not just something you work on. Not only a product; a process.
In today’s world, innovation processes look different for two important reasons: First, because of technology and global interdependence, innovations that work in one place can be transmitted, translated, and transformed to work in another. Second, the intellectual processes—the methodologies—that enable innovation are increasingly user-driven, and not only by people in Manhattan, but also by those in the far reaches of Mumbai and Manila.
Indeed, technology married with interdependence gives birth to momentous changes not only in the ways we lead our lives and engage with the world, but also in the ways we learn, store, and share knowledge. Information is no longer a static, objective article, classified by Dewey decimals. It’s fluid. Because of innovations like wiki, for example, shared, collaborative knowledge development emerges in real time from people with diverse experiences and perspectives.
The implications are incredibly far reaching, particularly when applying “open” innovation, an approach that emerges from the revelation that the collective wisdom of strangers can be channeled to develop solutions to an array of challenges.
This entirely new concept is called “collaborative competition.” Collaborative competition facilitates two broad areas of learning: First, it identifies clusters and blank spots among proposed solutions. Problem-solvers can easily see where their counterparts are focusing and where there may be white space to propose alternative possibilities. Second, it enables collaborative revision and iteration. The sooner applicants submit their proposals, the earlier they can see others’ ideas, and the further they can sharpen their own thinking.
Still, the what was less important than the how. Hundreds of people, who never met each other—and likely never will—joined together to solve a common problem, pooling their expertise and putting their ideas into practice. This is a new way of working only possible in an interdependent world. This is smart globalization.
Like the invention of other tools—the telephone, the electrical grid, the accountant—the evolution of innovation practices helps people connect and communicate, compete and collaborate with one another in fundamentally new ways. These practices emerge not a moment too soon, for today is our once-in-a-generation opening for innovation in health care and infrastructure, energy and education, the environment and economy—21st century challenges that cannot be mastered with 20th century ideas.
Ten Leadership Skills You Need For An Uncertain World
In Leaders Make the Future, futurist Bob Johansen reports that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity will only get worse in the future. “Solvable problems will still abound, but top leaders will deal mostly with dilemmas which have no solutions, yet leaders will have to make decisions anyway.”
Johansen emphasizes ten leadership skills that will help leaders to cope and thrive in the volatile decade ahead. “We need not passively accept the future. Leaders can and must make a better future.” Although it’s “hard to even think about the future if you are overwhelmed by the present … looking to distant possibilities can provide new insight for the present.” The ten skills he lays out move from the instinctual to the complex and build on each other. Here is a summary of Johansen’s work for you to think on:
1. Maker Instinct: The ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making. Future leaders will need both a can-do and a can-make spirit. The maker instinct is what separates the leaders from the powerless.
2. Clarity: The ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot see. Leaders are very clear about what they are making, but very flexible about how it gets made. How can you as a leader, create and communicate with clarity in confusing times – without being simplistic?
3. Dilemma Flipping: The ability to turn dilemmas – which, unlike problems, cannot be solved – into advantages and opportunities. We must be able to nurture the ability to engage with hopelessness, learn how to wade through it to the other side, and flip it in a more positive direction. Think Roger Martin’s concept of the “opposable mind.” How can you remake a situation with no solution?
4. Immersive Learning Ability: The ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments; to learn from them in a first-person way. Immersive learning requires active attention, the ability to listen and filter, and to see patterns while staying centered – even when overwhelmed with stimuli. Leaders can’t absorb everything, so they must filter out extraneous information and learn how to recognize patterns as they are emerging.
5. Bio-Empathy: The ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from nature’s patterns. It is big-picture thinking that respects all the multiple interrelated parts and nonlinear relationships, as well as cycles of change.
6. Constructive Depolarizing: The ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down – and bring people from divergent cultures toward constructive engagement. The next decade will be characterized by diversity and polarization. The temptation is to pick sides, but that is rarely a good strategy.
7. Quiet Transparency: The ability to be open and authentic about what matters to you – without advertising yourself. This begins with humility. Leaders who advertise themselves and take credit for their own performances will become targets. Are you self-promoting?
8. Rapid Prototyping: The ability to create quick early versions of innovations, with the expectation that later success will require early failures. Fail early, fail often, and fail cheaply. Accept failures as important ingredients to success and learn from them.
9. Smart Mob Organizing: The ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic and other media. Leaders are what they can organize. Can you organize smart mobs using a range of media?
10. Commons Creating: The ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit other players – and sometimes allow competition at a higher level. Can you create commons within which both cooperation and competition may occur?
Maybe What You Need is a Little DisruptionHow Disruption Brought Order, calls it Disruption. Disruption is “breaking with the status quo, refusing given wisdom, and finding unexpected solutions. We believe that the best way to help our clients grow their businesses is most often through strategies that involve rupture.”
In describing marketing campaigns for Nissan (Shift), Adidas (Impossible is Nothing), Apple (Think Different), and others, he shows how Disruption asks the public to see the brand in a new light and thereby refresh, transform and reinvent it. But, it’s not limited to marketing and advertising. It as application to both your business and your thinking.
“If you change nothing within a company you are sure to fail. As you also will if you try to change everything. The key to success lies within your ability to determine the fine line between what must change and what you must not.
Fiona Clancy, the TWBA Disruption Director, summaries it this way:
• Being endlessly curious
• Keeping an open mind
• Looking for new beginnings with larger futures
• Anticipating the future without fully expecting it
• Accelerating change to your clients advantage
• Recognizing patterns of success and building on them
• Being creative ahead of the usual agency creative process (Creative is not a department.)
• Turning intuition into a discipline, but without devaluing intuition
• Gaining stability from going somewhere fast
• Being in control rather than controlling
• Anticipating change rather than defending against it
• Questioning the way things are: imagining the way things could be
Disruption Is Not:
• Change for change’s sake
• Upsetting the client’s organization
• A particular creative style
• Throwing away the past
• Being deliberately wacky
• Limited to advertising
The Block of Wood That Became the First Sony WalkmanIn The Illusion of Leadership, Piers Ibbotson explains the difference between the creative and the managerial style of leadership. “Creative leadership thinks as it works. One of the fundamentals of the creative style is that you have a leader who can frame the task so that the led will be delighted to attack it and bring their imaginations with them as they do….you cannot define in detail the out come. He cites the following example of the development of the Sony Walkman:
The CEO goes down to the research labs where all the eggheads are working. He gathers them round and he pulls out of his shirt pocket a small block of wood. He holds it up and he says: “Make me a tape-player this big.” He puts it down on the table and he leaves.
Leading for CreativityIn a press release for Gosford Park, director Robert Altman explains, "The characters in Gosford Park had very few mandates. There are certain things that happen in the plot, and most actors will read the script and come prepared, but I don't say, 'This is the way to do it.' They have the whole sphere of their character in their head, and I don't want to cut it down to a little slice of pie. There are plenty of people [on a project] that keep track and see that we get through plot points, but if I'm just shooting to get that stuff in, then I'm looking for the wrong thing. What I really want to see from an actor is something I've never seen before, so, I can't tell them what it is.
We normally shoot a few takes, even if the first one was terrific, because what I'm really hoping for is a 'mistake.' I think that most of the really great moments in my films were not planned. They were things that occurred and we thought, 'Wow, look at that - that's something we want to keep!'"
The Illusion of Leadership. “The best directors did not know in detail what was going to happen in the play until they saw me do it. They didn’t tell me what I should do because they didn’t know. This ability to carry on being in charge and maintaining the trust of a company, when you and I do not and cannot know in detail how things will turn out, seems to me to be at the heart of creative leadership in business and the arts.”
Because, Ibbotson believes, that people outside the arts generally misunderstand the creative process and the behaviors necessary to encourage creative teamwork, they don’t put a culture in place that promotes group creativity. It doesn’t come from competitive individualism and it needs boundaries and constraints. “The creative juices get going when you are up against a boundary, at the edge of what is acceptable, possible, or known.”
Ibbotson presents the leader as director. He explains how they release creativity and optimize innovation, how they give space to the creative drives of performers but still maintain an outcome that is true to the original vision and delivered on time and within budget. If the right culture is in place, innovation is not an issue.
Thinking Gray and FreeIn The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, author Steven Sample, shares the idea that leaders think differently. “Leaders are able to maintain their intellectual independence by thinking gray, and enhance their intellectual creativity by thinking free.”
Leaders have to deal with ambiguities and unknowns. The idea is to learn to think gray while holding firmly to your core ideals. It’s not being binary and instant in your judgments and seeing the nuances to be found in many situations.
Free thinking is more than just brainstorming. It’s brainstorming beyond your current reality. What would we do if we had no budgetary constraints, no time restrictions, no personnel problems, no legal restrictions and no fear of failure? It’s to “contemplate absolutely outrageous and impossible” ideas and solutions.
The leader whose thinking is constrained within well-worn ruts, who is completely governed by his established passions and prejudices, who is incapable of thinking either gray or free, and who can’t even appropriate the creative imagination and fresh ideas of those around him, is as anachronistic and ineffective as the dinosaur. He may by dint of circumstances remain in power, but his followers would almost certainly be better off without him.
5 Leadership Lessons: Jim McNerney’s Top Tips For Implementing Innovation
In Business Management magazine, senior editor Ben Tompson reports on Jim McNerney’s focus on innovation at Boeing – specifically in the development of the 787 Dreamliner.
Never-ending incremental improvements are vital both to sustaining current business and to opening new opportunities.
Today we are managing inputs on a global scale across every boundary you can imagine – across engineering disciplines and in concert with all the other business disciplines. The challenge before us is to manage information better and get more information to more people in a more usable form. That requires more than being adept at using computers, cell phones and other tools; it requires exceptional teamwork across the entire enterprise – extending from our supplier-partners, on one side, to our dealings with customers, on the other.
Innovation is a team sport, not a solo sport. It depends on a culture of technical sharing and openness. It takes people working together across different groups, disciplines and organizational lines to make it happen. It also takes real leadership in charting the course and inspiring people to reach for the highest level of performance, supported by a never-ending focus on integrity. [When at 3M] the company changed its mindset in two basic ways. First was to switch the emphasis from the individual to the team, and to make the team an all-inclusive concept. Second was to move away from the thought of innovation for innovation’s sake and replace it with a disciplined focus on customer-inspired innovation. A heightened focus on the customer did not and does not inhibit the flow of ideas or creativity. On the contrary, through a more disciplined, customer-based approach, 3M raised the bar.
Even in the laboratory, innovation should not be left to happenstance….
In a business environment, you can’t have creativity without discipline because – like it or not – not all ideas are created equal. You need the rigor and discipline both to say “no” on some projects and to put the pedal to the metal on others. As a project moves from the lab, through marketing and manufacturing, and into the field, there is a continuing need for discipline. At every stage, you must ask whether the project is on target to deliver a compelling value proposition to your customer – and, in the business-to-business world, to your customer’s customers.
For a company’s growth to be sustainable, it must be combined with an unrelenting emphasis on productivity. On taking everything you do and finding a way to reduce waste, cut cycle time and do everything better, so you can free up resources for the next cycle of growth.
Creativity Is Not Just For Artists
Miguel Angel Corzo, President and CEO of The Colburn School, an accomplished leader himself and internationally recognized for his contributions to the arts, chaired a session on creativity at the What Makes Us Human? conference in Los Angeles. In his presentation, he touched on a concept that can’t be emphasized enough—the Creative Economy. We are caught up in a social and economic revolution that urgently calls for people that are creative, innovative and adaptable.
As choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote, “Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”
Corzo remarked, “What was once central to corporations—price, quality, and much of the left-brain, digitized analytical work associated with knowledge—is fast being shipped off to other countries. Increasingly, the new core competence is creativity—the right-brain stuff that smart companies are now harnessing to generate top-line growth. It isn't just about math and science anymore. It's about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation.”
It’s not just about getting better, but getting different. Everyone in an organization has the shared responsibility to be creative. We all have creativity, but we all have it differently. The challenge organizations face is to not only to utilize the creative capacities of their people, but to develop them as well. Corzo outlined six ways organizations are trying to develop creative capacities in their people:
Analogy and Metaphor - not only useful for visualization, but also for problem-solving: if we can resolve an analogous situation or issue, we can perhaps then solve the particular challenge we are facing.
Perception - the ability to see patterns where others are unable to do so
Simplicity - the most creative solution could be the most simple
Adversity - dealing with obstacles through innovative thinking
Technical Mastery - using the proper tools, techniques, and methods
Persistence - New ideas, new art, new discoveries and inventions that often defy traditional concepts or aesthetics and are not readily accepted. But creativity demands that the innovator persist in the face of such obstacles.
Corzo asserted, “Creativity is the ultimate intellectual property.” He added, “The time has arrived for creative people to take their places as leaders of society in professions other than the arts. The specific talent in people with a creative intelligence is the asset most needed by today’s emerging global creative economy: the expression of ideas through design and storytelling.”
Integrative Thinking: The Opposable MindThe Opposable Mind, “My critical question is not what various leaders did, but how their cognitive processes produced their actions.”
In examining how exemplary leaders think, he found an approach that was common to many, that he has termed integrative thinking. Integrative thinking is:
The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.In other words, integrative thinking examines problems as a whole, taking note of the complexities that exist and embrace the tension between opposing ideas to create new alternatives that take advantage of many possible solutions.
Is integrative thinking necessary for all problems? No. For some problems there is an easy solution. Some problems benefit from breaking them down to a single manageable issue and nailing the solution. These are generally simple, linear cause and effect problems. But there are those problems that stem from multiple avenues of causation and nonlinear relationships between cause and effect. For example, when you find yourself faced with win/lose solutions, problems to which there is no apparent solution or issues for which all of the solutions are choices between bad alternatives, then integrative thinking becomes necessary.
It’s easy to get into the destructive rut of thinking that money is the solution to most problems. School boards are notorious for claiming that their hands are tied because they lack the money they want. They cripple themselves. What they really need are creative solutions. Education is a complex issue and has for too long been subject to tunnel-vision problem solving. They need integrative thinking.
Einstein opined that we should make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. Too often we try to make complex issues too simple and leave ourselves with too few options based on our limited point-of-view. If we instead embrace complexity and learn to deal with it, we might find more and better solutions. Martin writes, “More salient features make for a messier problem. But integrative thinkers don’t mind the mess. In fact they welcome it, because the mess assures them that they haven’t edited out features necessary to the contemplation of the problem as a whole. They welcome complexity because they know the best answers arise from complexity.”
In The Opposable Mind, Martin clearly illustrates this thinking process in action by dissecting varied examples from both business and interpersonal situations. Martin claims that we are all born with an opposable mind—the ability to hold two conflicting ideas or models in constructive tension. “We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea….Opposing models, in fact, are the richest source of new insight into a problem. We learn nothing from someone who sees the problem exactly as we do.”
Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry
How to Develop Integrative Thinking
How To Get Great Ideas: Lessons for BrainstormingAlex Osborn (BBDO) came up with the idea of “Thinking Up” which was later changed to brainstorming by his “thinking-up” colleagues. In an excellent book about innovative and productive thinking simply titled, Thinking Better by Tim Hurson, he reviews Osborn’s list of four essential rules for effective brainstorming:
Hurson notes that studies have shown that the last third of a brainstorming session usually results in the best ideas. He calls it the miracle of the third third. “You’ll have a greater chance of coming up with that one brilliant idea if you get all the way to the third third than you will if you stop at the first “right” idea.” He writes:
The first third of the session tends to produce mundane, every-one-has-thought-of-them-before ideas. These are the early thoughts that lie very close to the surface of our consciousness. They tend not to be new ideas at all but recollections of old ideas we’ve heard elsewhere. They are essentially reproductive thoughts.He says, “Brainstorming is like cholesterol—there’s good and bad, and most people have only experienced the bad.” We have all experienced brainstorming like this:
There’s no separation of the different ideas of thinking going on. Creative, idea-generating thinking is being stopped cold by critical, judgmental think. Ideas are being killed before they’re fully articulated.He adds, that “Bad brainstorming is binary; ideas are either good or bad. Good brainstorming is full of maybes." The biggest issue we face in creative thinking is our own patterns of thought that keep us on the straight and narrow. We hold ourselves back because of personal notions of what is right and wrong and what will and won’t work. There’s no magic pill to conquer this. It takes a conscious effort. He suggests though that “Generating long lists of ideas flushes those early ideas out of your head so you can make room for new ones.”
Tim Hurson is a founding partner of thinkx intellectual capital. It is a global consultancy for productive thinking and innovation.
The Great Brain RobberyOn the heels of my last post where I quoted Will and Ariel Durant’s observation that out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace, comes a related idea. It may take a dose of humility to accept, but whatever problem you are faced with—whether personal of professional—someone else has faced the same problem and solved it. Although it sometimes gives us comfort to think we are different, we are not totally unique in this way.
Paul Sloan, author of The Innovative Leader, says that we should harness other people’s solutions. Ray Considine called it The Great Brain Robbery. Baseball Hall-of-Fame inductee, Bill Veeck said, “There’s nothing wrong with stealing other people’s ideas. And anyone who doesn’t is presumptuous. Because there simply aren’t that many new ideas. You simply take something used somewhere else and adopt it for your own use.” These people aren’t taking about plagiarism. What they are saying is that we should find ideas that have worked for others and adapt them to our own life situations and to make them our own. By careful observation, you can start where others have finished and be the better for it. This is part of the thinking behind listening to others (especially your elders), reading biographies and histories. Armed with the knowledge of what others have done, you can jumpstart you problem solving capabilities.
Paul Sloan relates this example: “Doctors had a problem with hypodermic needles. Patients were afraid of them. Children dreaded them. The pain the needles caused was not intense bit it was unpleasant and it dissuaded many people from having important injections. So the doctors asked – Who else has this problem? Who else injects into people and has solved this problem? The answer was quickly given. Mosquitoes insert a tiny needle into people and extract blood. They carry the deadly malaria virus. They go about their deadly work without being felt. By studying how the mosquito stings its victims, scientists were able to develop a hypodermic needle that patients do not feel.”
Sloan adds, “A successful innovation in your business does not have to be an all-new invention. It just has to be something new to your business that is beneficial…. Maybe every consulting firm does it but yours is the first doctors’ surgery to try it.” You need to cast your net widely and look around for connections in otherwise unrelated fields and disciplines and make their solutions your solutions. What can you adapt?
The Innovation MindsetThe Myths of Innovation. In his excellent and highly readable discussion of innovation, he explains the truth behind our popular ideas and misconceptions about innovation. While there may be no methodology, there is some good advice. He offers some attitudes one can adopt that are conducive to creating paths to innovation.
First, we must understand how we cloud our own judgement. We all make decisions based in part, on how we feel. “The best business opportunity might be the least interesting personal challenge, and vise versa.”
Second, be willing to step back. “Many successful innovators work passionately, but periodically step back and ask, ‘What is happening in the world that impacts my goals?' or ‘What else is my work good for?’ Innovation is powered by the combination of intensity and a willingness to reconsider assumptions, minimizing the chance of following dead ends and maximizing the potential for finding better paths.”
Third, keep ego in its place. “Changing the world or revolutionizing an industry is a nice fantasy, but it’s foolish to start with those ambitions because they’re out of any individual’s control. It makes more sense to attack a specific problem in a known field; only as successes accrue should the ambition grow.” Drucker wrote, “Those entrepreneurs who start out with the idea that they’ll make it big—and in a hurry—can be guaranteed failure. They are almost bound to do the wrong things.”
Finally, honor luck and the past. “Honoring luck doesn’t diminish an accomplishment: it’s an acknowledgment to others that you can do everything right and fail, and do many things wrong and succeed.
When looking at the great innovations of the past, Berkun cautions us that “these glorified accounts present innovation in a distorted way that is impossible to achieve because the neat arcs of progress, clear sense of purpose, and certainty of success are heavily shaped, if not invented, by hindsight.” Innovation is messy, hard work.
Fast Company Interview with Sir James DysonThe discussions on Appreciative Intelligence and Charles Pellerin’s views on the social leadership aspects of project management, parallel a good short interview in the May issue of Fast Company with Sir James Dyson. Here are a couple of his comments:
FC: You once described the inventor's life as "one of failure." How so?
I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That's how I came up with a solution. So I don't mind failure. I've always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they've had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.
FC: Not all failures lead to solutions, though. How do you fail constructively?
We're taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven't, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that's very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It's exciting, actually.
Fast Company Podcast: Sir James Dyson On Getting It Right
Charles Pellerin on Project ManagementAppreciative Intelligence—the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present—is an important component to develop as part of organizational culture. AI contributes to a high incidence of innovation and creativity and the potential development of previously unnoticed strengths in people. This happens by the actions of leaders at all levels, to encourage people to look at everyday issues—the commonplace—in a new way; by telling a new story.
Former Director of Astrophysics for NASA, Charles Pellerin believes that most projects fail around social and leadership issues. Both "unknown and unnamed" social undercurrents are at the root of many, if not most, project difficulties. NASA publication, ASK Magazine talked to him about project management and how social and leadership issues come to play in why projects fail. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Can you explain what you mean by "social issues," and how they relate to leadership?This would help to explain the recent experiment reported in the Washington Post by Gene Weingarten to discover if violinist Josh Bell—and his Stradivarius—could stop busy commuters in their tracks. Surprisingly, he did not. If our story is to ignore street musicians and includes the belief that no famous musician would ever do it, then we will ignore street musicians and we will not scan the streets looking for our favorite artists. (If you haven’t read it yet, do so. It’s a great story.)
Pellerin has been developing since his retirement from NASA in 1995, a leadership/culture assessment and learning system called "Four-Dimensional (4-D) Leadership." He states, “We began with workshops, and then added coaching, and now have Web-based diagnostics customized for NASA projects. Simply put, we make three measurements in each of the social dimensions -- directing, visioning, relating and valuing—that we believe are fundamental to effective leadership and efficient cultures.
“I truly believe that we can identify and address the root cause of most project difficulties. That's my story. And many of the projects I'm working with are choosing to run that story as well -- because they see results. You know, no story is "good" or "bad." Some just get you the results you want and some don't.”
In April 1990, shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope into its planned orbit. However, within weeks it became obvious that there was a serious problem with the primary mirror. Authors Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker describe the events that followed in their book Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn.
Congress demanded an explanation for the failure. The project and its creators became the butt of late-night television jokes. Stress was high among NASA engineers, as were health problems. “It was traumatic,” said Charlie Pellerin, the former director of NASA’s astrophysics division, who oversaw the launch of the Hubble. Nobody could see how to fix the problem, which many seemed afraid even to address.Appreciative Intelligence is defined as “the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present.” More simply, it is “the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn. It is the ability to reframe a given situation (or person), to appreciate its positive aspects, and to see how the future unfolds from the generative aspects of the current situation.” These three characteristics form the foundation of appreciative intelligence.
Reframing is about shifting reality by choosing what feedback we will ignore and what feedback we will pay attention to. Appreciating the positive is the ability to see the positive aspects of any given situation. To see how the future unfolds from the present refers to the ability to see what can be done instead of what can’t. Appreciative intelligence is the mindset that allows you to step back and access the situation and move forward instead of being thwarted by circumstances.
Appreciative intelligence can of course, be developed by consciously expanding your responses to situations as they occur. Asking yourself different questions by questioning your assumptions (what you know to be right), looking for positive and different meaning in what you experience, and becoming what Saul Bellow calls a first-class noticer, will help you improve your appreciative intelligence.
Additionally, keep in mind the AI qualities of persistence, conviction that your actions matter, tolerance for uncertainty, and irrepressible resilience. As these qualities develop, so too will your creativity and success in finding resolution to the issues you face. Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn provides in more detail what I have outlined here.
Tomorrow we’ll look at what Charles Pellerin has to say about leadership and project management.
The Prepared Mind of a Leader : Eight Skills Leaders Use to Innovate, Make Decisions, and Solve Problems
Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work
In Difference Lies the Potential to ContributeWe tend to think that if we get the smartest people all together in one room, we will get the best solutions. In a very readable book, The Difference, Scott Page shows that in fact diversity in thinking and perspective produces more and better solutions and contributes to overall productivity. He maintains that “when confronted with a difficult task, be it solving a problem, predicting the future, or making a choice, we benefit by including diverse people.” Value can be added just by virtue of its being different. How many disciplines have benefited from interdisciplinary approaches? Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean black/white or men/women, but diversity in thinking and perspective. He notes that “cognitive diversity increases innovation. Preference diversity leads to squabbles.” So we’re looking for relevant diversity and informed intelligence.
The trap we fall into is that we prefer to continue to work with and consult people who think like us—people with the same general background and types of experiences. The familiarity is more comfortable and seems right to us. In the end we get the same way of looking at things and we bring the same kinds of tools to the table to tackle our problems. We miss important clues. If one of us gets stuck, then we all get stuck. “People who think alike get stuck.” We also create barriers to innovation and radically new ideas.
A preference for working with people who bring the same formal perspectives to bear on a problem leads to segregation by function in firms and by discipline in the academy. In each case, the tendency to interact only with people like us creates the same micro-level dynamic. Each culture in a society, each identity group in a city, each department in a university, and each functional area of a firm ends up building walls around itself. As these walls become higher, the members of each group—be they Evangelicals, African Americans, chemists, or accountants—find themselves inside silos of their own creation.
He suggests that we should not only get more kinds of people involved in tackling the issues, we should also encourage our people to think differently by giving them time to pursue individual projects that interest them (varied experience) and by creating skunk works type groups within the organization. He observes, “as individuals we can accomplish only so much. We’re limited in our abilities. Our heads contain only so many neurons and axons. Collectively, we face no such constraint. We possess incredible capacity to think differently. These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress, and understanding.”
We Are Educating People Out of Their Creative Capacities
We don’t know what the future is going to look like, but we do know that it is moving away from the right brain dominated tasks brought on by the industrial revolution. (See Dank Pink’s, A Whole New Mind.) Robinson observes that our educational system is predicated on the idea of academic ability to meet the needs of industrialism. Yet it is this educational system is meant to take us into this unknown future. To meet this future we need to begin to educate the whole being.
Here are some thoughts from his presentation:
”Creativity is as important as literacy and we should treat it with the same status. We don't grow in to creativity, we grow out of it; or rather we get educated out of it.”
“I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value more often than not comes about from through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.”
His comments on making mistakes are important, because I believe that we really only pay lip service to this in our personal lives, our families and organizations. Robinson states, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time we become adults we are afraid to be wrong. We run our company’s this way. We stigmatize mistakes and as a result we are educating people out of their creative capacities.” How true. But I think it comes second nature to us to respond to mistakes in this way. It is something that we really need to be conscious of. Beyond personal growth, the issues he raises in his presentation have far reaching implications for developing and more importantly sustaining a learning organization. Einstein wrote, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” We lose the true value of our people by stigmatizing mistakes. Not all mistakes are acceptable of course, but a genuine mistake that people are taking responsibility for and learning from should be rewarded and encouraged. John Wooden said, “If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes.” By treating mistakes and failures as a positive learning experience, people get better and make fewer and fewer mistakes.
Five Great Innovation MythsBoeing's Chairman and CEO, Jim McNerney delivered a speech to the National Center for Healthcare Leadership and he spoke about innovation. He stressed that innovation is a team sport. It is best brought about by people working together across different groups and organizational lines. And it ought to be part of everyone’s job.
He asks, how do you cultivate innovation?
For starters, you should do no harm. Unfortunately, there are a number of popular but damaging misconceptions about innovation. From personal experience, I have seen how these romantic but misguided notions can lead to dysfunctional behavior—serving only to discourage creativity and growth. So here are five great innovation myths (Do you see these in your organization?):3M was one of those companies that were faced with this transition. It had lost its edge on the real reasons why innovation happens. McNerney added:
The team and I set out to change the mindset of the company in two basic ways:He concluded with:
I opened this discussion with the Apollo 13 story because it illustrates what an organization on the top of its form can do, in bouncing back from near catastrophe. The astronauts and the ground crews came up with one innovation after another—and none of those innovations, I might add, was especially high-tech. What they really involved was the brilliant use of scarce resources, a magnificent display of teamwork across a large organization, and the kind of gutsy decision-making that is the true mark of an organization with a high leadership component.
Innovation From the Inside OutDouglas Rushkoff's book, Get Back in the Box is worth going back to take a look at. He sees our current creative dearth as the beginning of a new innovative age. The tough part is proving to ourselves that genuine creativity is a result not of out-of-the-box thinking, but of true expertise. Experience counts. The chief barrier tends to have less to do with any external obstacle or competition than with our own reluctance to engage in our own enterprises. In other words, we need to get back to what got us fired-up in the first place. Understand what we are doing from the inside out. Innovation and meaning come from what we are passionate about. It's intrinsic. We need to take on a playful approach. Yet play is hard work. So instead we try to cover up and distract ourselves and our employees from the issues and delay the inevitable. Consider this observation from page 114:
"Employers are busy installing foosball tables, hiring chefs, and building gyms for their increasingly disgruntled employees, but these are just ways of trying to make a bad situation more tolerable. A foosball table is not the sign of a fun place to work; it's a glaring symbol indicating that work is not fun and employees need a break. Why would they rather be playing foosball than doing whatever it is they have been hired to do."Some food for thought.
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