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Friday, April 30, 2010

How Many Futures Are You Considering?

by Holly G. Green

How Many Futures Are You Considering?Have you ever noticed how when people talk about what lies ahead we always say the future? As if there is one, and only one, immutable future that will come to pass.

Fact is, there are an unlimited number of possible futures, and it's up to us to create the one we want. This is especially true when engaging in strategic planning.

Many leaders and managers mistakenly see strategic planning as a process of predicting the future. In reality, it's a process of creating the future, one that will provide ample rewards to the organization and all its stakeholders. Assuming that only one future exists can lock us into a course of action that may not serve our organizations well.

Despite the dangers, it's easy to see how we fall into the pattern of thinking there is only one future.

We start out by investing a lot of time and energy in crafting a strategic plan, which is nothing more than a blueprint for achieving a certain destination at some point in the future. In other words, we write a plan for creating the future we want. Once the plan is finalized and in place, we then devote all our organizational resources toward achieving that future exactly as planned.

The problem is that strategic plans never unfold exactly as written. The world simply doesn't work that way. Too many factors, both internal and external, are involved for any plan to unfold without some degree of change along the way.

But instead of making adjustments in response to changing circumstances, many leaders insist on sticking to the plan as written. They either see the changes as temporary blips to be ridden out. Or, more often, they get too locked into the future as spelled out in the plan, and fail to respond to significant changes in markets, customers and global conditions.

How can you avoid falling into the single-future trap?

Start by automatically assuming that your market is constantly changing (it is!), and monitor it on a regular basis. Then develop a formal process for managing your strategy.

Select a time, preferably once a month but no less than once a quarter, to review your strategy. During the meetings, identify any changes in your environment, review how your strategy is unfolding compared to how you thought it would, and make any necessary adjustments to the plan.

When monitoring the environment, pay close attention to uncertainties. For example, what assumptions are you making about your markets and customers, and are they still valid? What are your customers and suppliers uncertain about? What are their customers and suppliers uncertain about?

When reviewing your strategy implementation, ask questions like: What has changed, internally or externally, that might alter or undermine our strategy? Is our strategy working as expected? Are we executing correctly? If not, what do we need to refine or change in order to get back on track?

If envisioning multiple futures seems like a waste of time, consider the current plight of Toyota and General Motors. Do you think Toyota envisioned a future where they would face $16 million dollar fines and billions of dollars in lawsuits? Did GM imagine that one day they would need a massive government bailout to keep from going out of business?

Certainly they did not plan those outcomes. Yet they happened anyway. We can only wonder where Toyota and GM might be today if they had taken the time to consider many different futures rather than just the one where they reign as unchallenged market leaders.

When thinking about possible futures, I'm always reminded of the old Star Trek show (yes, I am a closet Trekkie) where the crew members of the Enterprise used a 'holodeck' to act out various possible scenarios. Obviously we don't have the technology (yet) to create fantasy simulations of that caliber.

But I would suggest that leaders and companies strive to create virtual holodecks in the minds of all employees so that they practice thinking and considering on a regular basis. Help people get in the habit of pondering what seems unreasonable, impossible or even incredulous. That way, when sudden market changes throw your strategic plan for a loop, you won't get stuck following a plan of action that no longer makes sense.

The future always seems to get here sooner than we expect. The question for business leaders is, "Which one will it be... One you created or one you have to deal with?"

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Focus on Performance

by Mike Myatt

Focus on PerformanceI'm going old-school with today's message - it's going to be direct, and to the point... focus on performance. One of my pet peeves is the voluminous amount of management speak and self-help propaganda currently in circulation designed to codify a lack of performance. I'm an individual that believes in clear and direct communication, so I'll spare you the rhetoric and just do what I do best... cut to the chase. Put simply, the formula for success, what truly differentiates you, is that you either PERFORM or your don't.

The text that follows is not going to nurture you, nor will it serve as a disingenuous pat on the back. I'm not going to tell you what a nice person you are, but I am going to ask you to lose the excuses, rationalizations, justifications, platitudes, theories, and spin and just get the job done. This message is about zeroing-in on the main difference between the impact players and the wannabes... it's called delivering a certainty of execution. Don't give me excuses... give me results.

See if this rings true... have you ever noticed that it seems to be those soothsayers who can wax eloquent in the planning stages, that always just seem to fall flat on their face when it comes to the implementation? Again, in an effort to keep it simple, don't tell me; show me! A great strategy that cannot be executed is not a great strategy at all... it is a failed strategy. Let me put it this way... It's pretty darn hard to look smart if you cannot deliver the goods.

Think of any successful leader and you'll find they consistently get the job done. They accomplish the mission; they find a way to win; they execute. Sadly, all it really takes to stand out in today's business world is to follow through on your commitments. It doesn't matter where you went to school, how smart you are, what your title is, or any number of other considerations. If you want to succeed, learn to honor your commitments and execute.

The best advice I can give you is to immediately cease and desist from majoring in minors, learn to harness your passion, leverage your resources, be disciplined in your approach, and always focus on performance. Contrasted with an earlier statement above, it's hard to appear as anything other than smart when you are a master of execution and performance. Few things speak to a leader's ability like consistently putting points on the scoreboard.

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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of "Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual", and Managing Director of N2Growth.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Are You Going to Innovate?

by Holly G. Green

Are You Going to Innovate?Are you sick and tired of hearing about the constant need to innovate in today's markets?

If so, I have some bad news. Innovation is not just another catchphrase of the day. It's a new business imperative, and it's not going away any time soon. The good news is that most leaders and managers are finally starting to accept this fact, although some more grudgingly than others. They understand the need for innovation, and they see the wisdom in coming up with new products and services that add more value to their customers as well as in gaining efficiencies for processes and approaches.

The problem is that most leaders and organizations don't know how to do innovation very well. At least, not on a consistent basis.

I recently came across an insightful report from the consulting firm A. T. Kearney, entitled "Best Innovators: A Synopsis of the Second Annual European Best Innovators Roundtable." The report looked at how five global companies are successfully making innovation an integral part of the way they do business.

Although these were all very large, international companies, the principles distilled from the report apply to companies of all sizes.

Aim high. First and foremost, strive for disruptive innovation. Most companies settle for incremental innovation, which does little more than tweak existing products and services. Disruptive innovation redefines your market and the value you bring to customers.

Have a vision and set clear goals. Innovation doesn't just happen. It requires planning, follow-through, and hard work. As with anything in business, it helps to know where you're going and what you need to do to get there.

Don't rely solely on customer research for new ideas. By itself, customer research is not sufficient for generating disruptive innovation because it only uncovers expressed, or known, customer needs. Stay in close contact with your customers, and listen closely to what they say they want and need. But don't depend on customer feedback as your only source of new ideas.

Develop a culture of communication. This is especially true in larger corporations and in those that seek new ideas from outside the company. Innovation isn't cheap. The last thing you want is duplication of ideas and/or efforts because different parts of the organization weren't talking to each other.

Provide full management support. Innovation can't succeed if employees see it as just another 'flavor of the month' management fad. Management must have the ability to distinguish between disruptive and incremental innovation, and commit sufficient expertise and resources to deal with both.

Develop an appropriate reward system. It takes more than lip service to instill a culture of innovation throughout a company. If employees don't get rewarded for new ideas, they won't come up with any. The reward system also needs to match the innovation model you adopt.

For example, Proctor & Gamble uses an innovation model that seeks new ideas from outside the company as well as inside. To support that model, all successful innovations are equally rewarded, regardless of whether the product idea was internally or externally generated. This ensures that the best ideas rise to the surface no matter where they come from. It also helps to shift the culture away from the old 'invented here' model, which typically leads only to incremental innovation.

When people think about innovation, they usually picture a bunch of 'creative types' sitting around a boardroom table and having brainstorm sessions to come up with all kinds of wild ideas. Although brainstorming can certainly help to generate new ideas, developing an ongoing process of innovation requires much more.

Start by identifying the innovation model that best fits your business. Develop strategic targets to guide your innovation process. Understand the value of customer relationships, but actively seek ideas from many different sources. And train your management team to recognize and skillfully handle breakthrough ideas that lead to disruptive innovations. Learn how to use the power of your own brain to create new possibilities and ways of doing things. Push yourself and others with "What if...?" thinking constantly.

Innovation does not come naturally to most of us. And if you are a manager, it is typically beat out of you early on. You have to give yourself and others the skills and tools necessary to ponder possibilities, generate ideas, value them against your strategies, and implement them quickly.

The next generation of market leaders will do more than just brainstorm their way to success. They will make innovation a way of life. Isn't it time you got started?

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are you too smart for your own good?

Intellect... an Asset or Liability?

by Mike Myatt

Are you too smart for your own good?My question is this: Is your intellect an asset or liability?

All one has to do is watch a very bright person defend their position to understand what I'm driving at with today's post. Observing intelligent people lecture, spin, posture, position, cajole, rationalize, or justify their beliefs in order to "get the win" is often times entertaining, but it can also be exceedingly frustrating. I've come across more than a few self-proclaimed "intelligent" people who believe that their intellectual acuity is far superior to the discernment ability of their peers and co-workers. Not only are these intellectual giants wrong, but sadly, by the time they awaken to a state of reality it is already too late. In today's post I'll share the keys to leveraging your intellectual assets as opposed to having your intelligence serve as a barrier to your success.

When a person begins to believe their own smoke, they have placed themselves on a very slippery slope. I am a big believer that there is truth in the statement that "a person can be too smart for their own good." How many times have you witnessed a very bright person fail to solve a problem that a younger, less experienced, and perhaps even a less intelligent person solved with seemingly little effort? While raw intelligence is a valuable commodity, in-and-of-itself, and to the exclusion of other traits and characteristics, the sole reliance on IQ can be a barrier to professional growth and maturity.

Is your intellect standing in the way of your success? Are you so enamored with how smart you are that you can't get anything done? Consider this... Is it more important to be right, or to achieve the right outcome? I tend to respect those who can lead others to the proper outcome as opposed to those who excoriate others just to prove they're right. If your certitude overshadows your wisdom, you may want to dial it back a notch.

By nature of what I do for a living I tend to work with very bright people. It has been my observation that hyper-intelligent people can tend to think themselves into trouble and out of opportunities with great ease... Whenever I find myself discussing issues of intellect, ego, leadership etc., I'm always reminded of the cartoon which reads: "Rule number one: the boss is always right. Rule number two: When in doubt refer to rule number one." If you find yourself rationalizing or justifying positions based solely upon intellectual reasoning without regard to practical realities, timing, or other contextual considerations, you may be too smart for your own good. Just as a lack of belief in gravity won't prevent you from tripping, simply believing a particular opinion or theory to be fact doesn't mean you're right.

Often times the problem with intelligent people lies simply in the fact that they have come to enjoy being right. Bright people can quickly find themselves in the position of confusing ego with intellect, and can sometimes defend ideas to the death rather than admit they're wrong. This confusion of ego and intellect often stems from bright people successfully arguing wrong positions over time such that they've built their persona around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it's based in delusion.

So how do you know when you've crossed over to the dark-side and can't tell the difference between fact and fiction? The following items will help you discern whether or not you are using your intellect properly or whether you've just simply bought-off on your own propaganda:

  1. Consistent Conflict

    • Do you find yourself in a perpetual state of debate? Do you find yourself thinking "why am I the only one that gets it?" Is it more important for you to be right than to arrive at the correct resolution to an issue, problem or opportunity? Are you known as a bitter, pessimistic or negative person? If any of these issues describe situations that hit too close to home then you may want to take a step back and do some self-evaluation.

  2. Exclusivity vs. Inclusivity

    • Do you use your intelligence to intimidate and stifle others or to encourage, inspire and motivate others? Do you wonder why you can't seem to retain tier one talent or why you lose key clients? If your brilliance is polarizing as opposed to serving as a magnet which attracts, then how smart are you really?

  3. True Success

    • If an independent third party came into your business and interviewed your peers and subordinates alike, what would that feedback look like? Do others see you as successful, or are you merely a legend in your own mind? What I think of myself is not nearly as important as what my family, friends, clients, and co-workers think of me. If those you surround yourself with don't hold you in high regard, then you have no reason to.

The bottom line is this... the gift of intellect is an asset to be thankful for, and put to good and productive use. It is not an excuse to be lazy, arrogant, mean-spirited or delusional. Don't let your intellect stand in your way, but rather use it as an asset to develop those around you to their full potential thereby increasing your chances for long-term success.

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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of "Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual", and Managing Director of N2Growth.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wal-Mart's (Latest) Identity Crisis

by Steve McKee

Wal-Mart's (Latest) Identity CrisisWal-Mart is a study in contrasts.

Its low prices are awesome. Its shopping experience, not so much. Its positioning is terrific, but its advertising leaves something to be desired. It serves well its paycheck-to-paycheck customers, but panders too much to the politically correct.

Wal-Mart has a rock-solid heritage in founder Sam Walton, but too often loses sight of what makes it special. The latest example came in the form of an announcement last week that the company was cutting prices on some 10,000 items. With any other retailer that would be cause for celebration, but with Wal-Mart it's just disappointing.

Wal-Mart = Low Prices. Period. Not margins. Not promotions. Not rollbacks. If prices are always as low as possible - as Wal-Mart has worked so hard for so long to convince us of - how then can they be cut, especially across such a wide swath of products? In one of its "rollback" TV commercials, Mike the truck driver says, "just by driving smarter routes and making sure our trailers are packed fuller, we save millions of dollars on fuel costs." Does the world's leanest company expect us to believe that it just figured that one out?

In an April 9 story about the price cuts, the Wall Street Journal's Miguel Bustillo and Timothy W. Martin cited a J.P. Morgan analyst whose regular Wal-Mart price survey resulted in a bill 2.3% higher than it was in the previous month. That's a pretty big jump. While it's any company's prerogative to raise or lower its prices, Bustillo and Martin wondered "...whether Wal-Mart is committed to pushing the envelope on pricing as it did in the days of its late founder, Sam Walton, or is it merely hyping promotions as it pursues a more margin-driven approach?"

Judging from what Wal-Mart CMO Stephen Quinn said of the cuts, it appears to be the latter: "We felt we needed to increase the intensity and excitement with our customer, especially the feeling that Wal-Mart has great deals."

Yuck. "Great deals," "hyping promotions" and "a more margin-driven approach" are what you'd expect from Kroger or Macy's, not Wal-Mart. I don't know about you, but I expect the "great deals" at Wal-Mart to be baked into its everyday low prices, not used as underpinnings of a grand promotion.

Like many companies trying to cope with slowing sales, Wal-Mart can be its own worst enemy. Instead of fiddling with margins and flirting with upscale customers, Wal-Mart should aggressively tout its all-the-time, every-day, low-low-lowest prices. Always. It's the one company with the credibility to do so, and promotions like this threaten that very crediblity. Wal-Mart needs its customers to believe that it always - always - gives them the lowest prices it can.

That's what made Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart. It shouldn't mess with success.

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Steve McKeeSteve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of "When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You're Stuck, and What To Do About It." Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at http://twitter.com/whengrowthstall.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Are You a Helicopter Manager?

by Holly G. Green

There's been a lot of talk in the media lately about the dangers of over-protective parenting. In fact, it's gotten so bad that psychologists have coined a new phrase - 'helicopter parents' - for the moms and dads who get over-involved in their kids' lives.

These are the parents who yell at the soccer coach when Emma doesn't get enough playing time during the game. These are the parents who intervene at school when Dylan receives a B instead of an A, even though he turned the assignment in late and poorly done. And these are the parents who constantly hover over their kids and swoop down to rescue them any time it looks like they might stub their toe or suffer some minor distress.

Helicopter parents mean well. But they end up doing real damage to their children by being way overprotective and micro-managing every aspect of their lives. Their kids never learn how to solve problems or deal with the harsher realities of life. So when they go off to college or enter the workforce, they struggle to deal with everyday challenges in the adult world (especially when those parents hover in those worlds as well)!

Unfortunately, the business world has its share of helicopter managers as well.

These are the managers who make most or all of the decisions for their employees.

They tell people what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. They withhold information for fear of upsetting people, and tend to avoid conflict rather than addressing the underlying issue. Worst of all, they solve problems for their employees rather than letting people figure it out for themselves.

Like their parental counterparts, helicopter managers mean well. But the result is the same. By micromanaging every aspect of people's jobs, they stunt the growth and development of their employees. And in doing so, drastically limit what the organization as a whole can achieve.

Helicopter managers aren't bad people; they're just stuck in the past. They're using management concepts and techniques that no longer jibe with current market realities. In a world where everything you know about your customers and your industry can change in a flash, you can't afford to get stuck in the present, much less the past.

In the old days managers got results by hovering and micromanaging. Today's market conditions require a very different approach. For starters, employees will no longer put up with being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. If you don't offer them some input into how they do their jobs, they will go elsewhere.

More important, to succeed in constantly changing markets you must have a flexible, adaptable organization that can change direction on a dime. And you get that by having empowered, enabled employees who can perform at high levels and achieve goals and objectives without someone constantly hovering over them.

As a manager, your job isn't to make decisions for employees. It's to teach them how to make decisions that are good for the customer and the organization. Your job isn't to solve problems for employees. It's to coach them to creatively solve problems on their own. Your job isn't to micromanage every aspect of your employees' jobs. It's to give them the information and resources they need and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs!

And don't confuse this approach with withholding answers if your employees ask you for them. There is nothing worse than a manager who thinks he/she is teaching an employee how to think by asking questions versus telling them what you know. If you know the answer or have strongly held opinions about how something needs to get done, give the answer and expose your thinking process to get it. Your employees learn more that way and won't talk bad about you in the break room or on twitter!

If your company is struggling to respond to changing customer expectations and market realities, land your helicopter, turn in your pilot's license and start learning a new and more flexible way of leading your organization. Helicoptering works great during police chases and traffic reports. Not so much in parenting. And in today's markets, it won't get the results you need for your business either.

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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You Don't Grow a Plant by Pulling On It

by Yann Cramer

You Don't Grow a Plant by Pulling On ItThe Work Foundation published the results of an interesting study: Exceeding Expectation: the principles of outstanding leadership. Amongst the differences that make the difference between good and great leadership, I picked this distinction: Delegate task v. Delegate space for autonomy

The distinction most definitely applies to innovation leadership. You do not grow a plant by instructing it to do so, or worse by pulling on it. You do not get people to innovate by tasking them with innovating. You grow a plant by providing the Soil, the Space, the Sun... and letting it happen. You foster innovation by providing:
  • The Soil - access to internal and external knowledge and experiences where people can extend their roots,

  • The Space - the autonomy, as opposed to breathing down their neck,

  • The Sun - letting people draw their energy from their own passions,

  • The Strategy - direction and challenge.

... and letting it happen.

Great leadership in general and innovation leadership in particular call for leaders to invest their energy and trust in people, not in action lists and delegation tracking systems.

"Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts." - Albert Einstein.

An executive summary of the study can be found at the Work Foundation.

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Yann Cramer is an innovation learner, practitioner, sharer, teacher. He's lived in France, Belgium and the UK, he's travelled six continents to create development opportunities with customers or suppliers, and run workshops on R&D and Marketing. He writes on www.innovToday.com and on twitter @innovToday.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

35 Critical Thinking Strategies

by Mike Myatt

35 Critical Thinking StrategiesCritical thinking skills are not a luxury for senior executives - they're a survival skill. In today's hi-tech business world we have become reliant on any number of available business tools to help us achieve better results and to perform at higher levels. We attend classes, workshops, webcasts, conferences etc., and we read books on how to master everything from the newest software application to the latest management theory. We seem to have an insatiable thirst for anything that will provide us with a perceived competitive advantage, yet we often ignore the one tool which can provide an unequaled return on investment if developed to even a fraction of its potential... the human mind. In today's post I'll examine the virtually unlimited benefits of becoming a better critical thinker.

Most professionals intellectually understand that learning is a life-long endeavor, but the reality is that many executives and entrepreneurs invest very little in the development of the human mind once they have finished their formal education. Given that the human mind is without question the greatest and most powerful tool we possess, and that we all have free and equal access to it, I find it odd that it is also the most underdeveloped tool for many professionals. It has been my experience that business people tend to overestimate their intellectual ability, and as a result, they often fail to make investments in endeavors of intellectual development.

Developing sound critical thinking skills are a requirement for CEOs and entrepreneurs. Being both quick of mind, and intelligent in approach to your mental analyses of a given situation simply results in fewer mistakes in judgment. The external perception with regard to a person who possesses excellent critical thinking skills is often that they have great wisdom and discernment. Critical thinking skills while related to intelligence, are not one in the same. A great critical thinker may or may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but they will have a disciplined, fluid approach in thinking things through that often gives them the appearance of being a genius. Strong mental acuity is a competitive advantage not to be taken lightly.

Paul, Binker, Jensen, and Kreklau (1990) developed a list of 35 dimensions of critical thought. While the following list can get a bit academic, if implemented consistently, these tactics will help you better navigate the complexities of the business world:

Affective Strategies
  1. Thinking independently
  2. Developing insight into egocentricity or sociocentricity
  3. Exercising fair-mindedness
  4. Exploring thoughts underlying feelings and feelings underlying thoughts
  5. Developing intellectual humility and suspending judgment
  6. Developing intellectual courage
  7. Developing intellectual good faith or integrity
  8. Developing intellectual perseverance
  9. Developing confidence in reason

Cognitive Strategies - Macro-Abilities
  1. Refining generalizations and avoiding oversimplifications
  2. Comparing analogous situations: transferring insights to new contexts
  3. Developing one's perspective: creating or exploring beliefs, arguments, or theories
  4. Clarifying issues, conclusions, or beliefs
  5. Clarifying and analyzing the meanings of words or phrases
  6. Developing criteria for evaluation: clarifying values and standards
  7. Evaluating the credibility of sources of information
  8. Questioning deeply: raising and pursuing root or significant questions
  9. Analyzing or evaluating arguments, interpretations, beliefs, or theories
  10. Generating or assessing solutions
  11. Analyzing or evaluating actions or policies
  12. Reading critically: clarifying or critiquing texts
  13. Listening critically: the art of silent dialogue
  14. Making interdisciplinary connections
  15. Practicing Socratic discussion: clarifying and questioning beliefs, theories, or perspectives
  16. Reasoning dialogically: comparing perspectives, interpretations, or theories
  17. Reasoning dialectically: evaluating perspectives, interpretations, or theories

Cognitive Strategies - Micro-Skills
  1. Comparing and contrasting ideals with actual practice
  2. thinking precisely about thinking: using critical vocabulary
  3. noting significant similarities and differences
  4. Examining or evaluating assumptions
  5. Distinguishing relevant from irrelevant facts
  6. Making plausible inferences, predictions, or interpretations
  7. Evaluating evidence and alleged facts
  8. Recognizing contradictions
  9. Exploring implications and consequences

If you want to do everything possible to ensure your success as a C-level executive or entrepreneur, don't rest upon your laurels, but rather continue to make investments in your personal and professional development. Good luck and good thinking!

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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of "Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual", and Managing Director of N2Growth.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Think What Nobody Else Thinks

by Paul Sloane

Think What Nobody Else ThinksHow can you think of things that no-one else thinks of? The answer is by deliberately taking a different approach to the issue from everyone else. There are dominant ideas in every field. The innovative thinker purposefully challenges those dominant ideas in order to conceive new possibilities.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who discovered Vitamin C, said, "Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no-one else has thought." If you can identify the standard viewpoint then survey the situation from a different viewpoint you have an excellent chance of gaining a new insight. When Jonas Salk was asked how he invented the vaccine for polio he replied, "I imagined myself as a virus or cancer cell and tried to sense what it would be like."

Ford Motor Corporation asked Edward de Bono, who originated the concept of lateral thinking, for some advice on how they could clearly differentiate themselves from their many competitors in car manufacturing. De Bono gave them a very innovative idea. Ford had approached the problem of competing from the point of view of a car manufacturer and asked the question, "How can we make our cars more attractive to consumers?" De Bono approached the problem from another direction and asked the question, "How can we make the whole driving experience better for Ford customers?" His advice was that Ford should buy up car parks in all the major city centers and make them available for Ford cars only. His remarkable idea was too radical for Ford who saw themselves as an automobile manufacturer with no interest in the car parks business.

The spectators at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 were amazed to see a young athlete perform a high jump with his back to the bar. Until then, every high jumper 'rolled' over the bar with his or her face down. Dick Fosbury, and American, introduced an entirely new approach, the 'flop', leaping over with his back close to the bar and his face up. Fosbury was ranked 48th in the world in 1967; yet in 1968 he caused a sensation when he won the Olympic Gold Medal with his unprecedented technique and a leap of 2.24metres. What he introduced was literally a leap of the imagination - and it revolutionized high jumping. Nowadays all the top jumpers use his method. He thought what no-one else thought and conceived a new method.

How can we force ourselves to take a different view of a situation? Instead of looking at the scene from your view try looking at it from the perspective of a customer, a product, a supplier, a child, an alien, a lunatic, a comedian, a dictator, an anarchist, an architect, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci and so on. Apply the What if? technique. Challenge all the common assumptions. If everyone else is looking for the richest region, look for the wettest. If everyone else is facing the bar then turn your back on it.

If you had to study a valley, how many ways could you look at it? You could look up and down the valley; you could scan it from the riverside or stand and look across it from each hillside. You could walk it, drive along the road or take a boat down the river. You could study a satellite photo. You could peruse a map. Each gives you a different view of the valley and each adds to your understanding of the valley. Why not do the same with any problem? Why do we immediately try to frame a solution before we have approached the problem from multiple differing perspectives?

The great geniuses did not take the traditional view and develop existing ideas. They took an entirely different view and transformed society. Picasso took a different view of painting; he saw cubes, shapes and impressions instead of accurate images. Einstein imagined a new approach to physics; a world where time and space were relative. Darwin conceived a different view of the origin of species; he saw how they might have evolved rather than been created. Each of them looked at the world in a new way. In similar fashion Jeff Bezos took a different view of book retailing with Amazon.com, Stelios took a new perspective on flying with Easyjet, Swatch transformed our view of watches and IKEA changed the way we buy furniture.

If we can attack problems from entirely new directions then we can think of things that conventional thinkers miss. It gives us unlimited possibilities for innovation.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Employee Traits Hierarchy for the Creative Economy

by Hutch Carpenter

In his keynote for the 2009 Spigit Customer Summit, management guru Gary Hamel discussed the Creative Economy. What is the Creative Economy? Combining descriptions from this BusinessWeek article and Gary's keynote, here is a simple way of conceptualizing it:
  • Industrial Economy was based on physical capital
  • Information Economy was based on information
  • Creative Economy is based on ideas

Ideas around business models, products, improving existing processes. These define the basis of competition in the future. In a way, these economic cycles reflect Maslow's Hierarchy. As our society gets better at solving our basic physiological and safety needs, we see the economy tracking to higher order human needs.

In considering the Creative Economy, Gary put forth his own hierarchy of employee traits that will define the winners in the future. His representation of this hierarchy is below:

Employee Traits Hierarchy for the Creative Economy
The chart above depicts six traits that any of us can recognize in ourselves and others. Notice the line separating the bottom three traits from the top three. That's the separation of winners from everyone else in the Creative Economy.

The Line of Commoditization

As Gary observed, the bottom three traits are those that defined success in the Industrial and Information Economies. The Industrial Economy required the mass scaling of production and distribution. This required the design of systems for scale, and the ability to plug workers in to execute their specialized tasks. The Industrial Economy has been incredibly successful and beneficial to humanity.

The Information Economy has brought us new advancements, as workers have applied their intellect to solving problems with data. Information is used to uncover patterns, reduce the costs of production and consumption and find new solutions to vexing issues. The Information Economy continues to evolve and drive forward societal advancement.

The traits that defined success in these eras include obedience, diligence and intellect. All are valuable, and represent the expectations of modern work. That third element - intellect - is what a lot of us go to college and grad school to demonstrate.

As Gary Hamel sees it, though, these traits are becoming commoditized. Not that every individual has an abundance of these traits; but with a generation of expectations and a global workforce, they are easier to secure than ever. Note IBM's 2008 study found that corporations are conducting "global searches for sources of expertise".

These traits are valuable, they're indispensable... but they no longer represent a competitive advantage.

What Determines Leadership in the Creative Economy

Employees with these traits are best positioned to help their companies - and themselves - in the Creative Economy:

Initiative: Seeing opportunities to try something new, and actually following up on them. This is a marked contrast to the obedience trait.

Creativity: Designing something different than what exists currently, be it business, product or process. Contrast creativity with intellect. Creativity is less bound to the rigors of logic and proof, more responsive to our individual yearning for things that are new.

Passion: Our internal engines provide the fuel that spurs us to action. We pursue something because it answers an internal calling. Contrast this with diligence, which is the application of one's mind and efforts to a task or project. Diligence is a more mechanical effort, passion is an emotional one.

These are the traits that fuel advances in an economy based on ideas. And as Gary Hamel notes, they cannot be commanded. They are intrinsically persona. But when they are given full bloom in employees, they are the basis for competitive advantage in the Creative Economy.

The Creative Economy Traits are Advanced Enterprise 2.0

Gary Hamel gave some great examples of companies that are innovating in terms of management to encourage these traits in their employees. W.L. Gore is one such example. It has made the list of Best Places to work for the past 25 years. The Great Place to Work organization noted these four aspects of W.L. Gore's culture:

"People experience tremendous freedom at Gore: the freedom to talk with whomever they need or want to, the freedom to make comments and provide input, the freedom to bring who they are to work, and the freedom to make commitments."

Enterprise 2.0 ethos includes the traits of greater information visibility, tapping the emergent knowledge of employees and increased collaboration. Those characteristics are the fertile ground for growth in the Creative Economy.

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Hutch CarpenterHutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Are You a Great Leader?

Or are you just running with the rest of them?

by Holly G. Green

Are You a Great Leader?If you were to compile a checklist of attributes for great leaders, it would certainly include the following:

Visionary? Check. JFK's powerful vision of "We will put a man on the moon by the end of a decade" is a classic example of great leadership through a compelling vision.

Great communication skills? Check. Ronald Reagan's ability to inspire others through passionate oratory earned him the moniker "The Great Communicator."

Focus? Check. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln saved a nation (and changed the world) with his relentless focus on keeping the United States whole.

Courage under fire? Check. When things looked their bleakest for England in the early days of WWII, Winston Churchill rallied the country with his personal courage and bulldog tenacity.

Personable? Check. Despite his other character flaws, Bill Clinton had a charm and charisma that attracted people to him in droves.

Strategic thinker? Check. The business landscape is full of great strategists who have guided their organizations to positions of market leadership. Steve Jobs of Apple. Gordon Moore of Intel, to name a few.

If you asked people which of these is most important for a leader to have, many - at least those in the business world - would probably say strategic thinker. With so many competitors in every market and with change happening in the blink of an eye, it takes a great strategy to come out ahead. It takes someone who can look around, make new connections, and connect the dots faster.

But creating a winning strategy is only half the battle. In fact, it may be the easier part. Leading effectively in today's business environment requires the ability to think strategically and to implement according to that strategy. And that's where many leaders and entire organizations are falling short.

I firmly believe that the #1 job of today's leaders and managers is constant focus on both strategy and implementation. This represents a huge difference from a generation ago, when it often took several years for a good strategy to unfold. These days, speed, the rate of change, and universal access to information have created a whole new set of demands that require your daily attention.

The key is to balance your energy and attention across strategy and execution. Find a tool (or tools) that will enable you to develop the same sense of urgency around strategy and focused implementation that you normally devote to putting out all the "emergencies" that occur throughout the day.

These tools can be as low-tech as a sticky note reminder or as sophisticated as an automated "task ping" from your PC or laptop - anything that keeps you focused on the activities necessary to turn your plan into reality.

To stay focused on implementation, pause for a few minutes and plan out your time for the week ahead. Segment it into separate activity blocks, such as collecting data on strategy X, hands-on work on initiative Y, feedback sessions, customer meetings, communication events, etc. Really think about where you are spending your time and how much of it correlates to actually achieving your strategy.

Review the percentage of time you allocate to each activity block and ask: Does this align with getting us to our destination? Am I ignoring or missing critical areas? Are there areas taking up too much of my time for the anticipated return? Of what I am doing right now, what will have an impact a year from now?

Spending all your time contemplating the future might work for think tanks and ivory towers. But in the business world, it's the day-to-day actions (communicating, providing feedback, realigning behaviors, recognizing others, etc.) coupled with the strategic thinking and doing that equates to success.

Many leaders can come up with a winning strategy. It's the follow-through and focus on getting the right things done that separates the great leaders from the good ones. Don't just run, run in the right direction!

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Experiments - The Key to Innovation

by Tim Kastelle

Experiments - The Key to InnovationThere is a big problem that organisations often face: they want to be innovative, but they also want to minimise risk. This creates a certain amount of tension. If I had to pick the number one thing that I would recommend to organisations that are trying to become more innovative, it would this: experiment. Experiment all the time. Try everything that you can possibly think of to try. An experimental mindset is absolutely essential to successful innovation.

We were talking about this idea in class this week, and it clearly makes people nervous. I was suggesting that in an uncertain environment, normal strategy tools such as SWOT analysis, five forces and so on are actually pretty dangerous to use. One of the students asked "so everything is chaos, and we throw out the tools and models, then what? What are we supposed to do?"

That's a good question. I replied that in part this was a rhetorical trick - in terms of the narrative of the class, we were at a point equivalent to just before the end of the Two Towers in The Lord of the Rings trilogy: we're trapped in a castle surrounded by tens of thousands of orcs, Gandalf is missing, the hobbits are spread all over middle earth, and we have absolutely no idea what is going on. How do we navigate from this point to the five different happy endings that conclude the story?

Again, my answer is to experiment. The tools that I have talked about previously that are designed for linking innovation to strategy are all built around experimenting. The way to combat high levels of uncertainty is to spread your bets. Try as many cheap experiments as you can.

There must be something to this idea, because I've run across three different people saying basically the same thing in the past three days. The first was Dan Ariely:

"They asked me what I thought the best approach was. I told them that I was willing to share my intuition but that intuition is a remarkably bad thing to rely on. Only an experiment gives you the evidence you need...

Companies pay amazing amounts of money to get answers from consultants with over-developed confidence in their own intuition. Managers rely on focus groups - a dozen people riffing on something they know little about - to set strategies. And yet, companies won't experiment to find evidence of the right way forward."

Unsurprisingly, he goes on to make a case for the value of experimenting. Part of this reluctance is that experimenting leads to short-term losses - if you try several things to find out what works best, you have wasted resources by trying the ideas that end up not working. Or do you? Rita McGrath doesn't think so:

If your organization can approach uncertain decisions as experiments and adopt the idea of intelligently failing, so much more can be learned (so much more quickly) than if failures or disappointments are covered up.

So ask yourself: are we genuinely reaping the benefit of the investments we've made in learning under uncertain conditions? Do we have mechanisms in place to benefit from our intelligent failures? And, if not, who might be taking advantage of the knowledge we are depriving ourselves of?"

She includes a list of conditions that can lead to what she's calling 'intelligent failures', the approach that she outlines is both good and practical. Then I ran across this by Bob Sutton:

"The final point that Jeff Pfeffer and I make in Hard Facts is about failure. We emphasize that is impossible to run an organization without making a lot of mistakes. Innovation always entails failure. Most new products and companies don't survive. And if you want creativity without failure, you are living in a fool's paradise. It is also impossible to learn something new without making mistakes...

Failure will never be eliminated, and so the best we can hope for from human beings and organizations is that they learn from their mistakes, that rather than making the same mistakes over and over again, they make new and different mistakes."

To be innovative, we have to try out new ideas. Some of these will fail. If we're smart, we'll set up our experiments so that we can learn as much as possible from the ideas that don't work.

We face an environment that is filled with uncertainty. This makes planning dangerous. The best possible way to meet this uncertainty is not with intuition and guesswork, but with experimentation. If you can combine experimenting with empathy, then you'll be building a formidable innovation capability.

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(Photo from flickr/jurvetson under a Creative Commons license)

Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Open Innovation Frustration

by Stefan Lindegaard

Open Innovation FrustrationLast week, I held a workshop in which a couple of the participants - all from the same company - had some struggles finding out why they should embrace open innovation.

This skepticism was not driven by satisfaction with their current innovation processes and culture. On the contrary, this seemed to be seriously flawed and creating lots of frustration within their organization.

So you should think they would be open to changes in their approach. They were not. I think their main reason for being skeptical came as they understood that open innovation requires a lot of hard work, while also bringing with it the uncertainty that usually follows change.

Even more importantly, they could see this will not happen in their organization if they do not have the full support of their executives to go open. They do not have this. The executives did talk about going open, but they had not yet managed to truly embrace this new paradigm shift.

No wonder innovation-driven employees in a company with a flawed innovation process and culture and no clear leadership on how to deal with this become frustrated.

So they rightfully asked the question - why should they embrace open innovation? I used the traditional arguments, that if done right open innovation provides access to larger pool of resources, faster speed to market and higher innovation productivity. It took a while but the participants eventually bought fully into the idea that you need to go open in order to win the innovation game.

It helped that the other companies at the workshop did not have this scepticism. On the contrary, they fully believed in the concept although they - as any other company - had their struggles getting this right.

This made me think that open innovation - with all the change and uncertainty it brings - can be extremely frustrating to innovation leaders and other employees. Especially if they are led by executives who are not fully capable of leading in tough times.

How can companies as well as individual deal with this frustration?

I will think further about this and would love to hear your input...

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Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Managing Live or Die Market Transitions

by Adam Hartung

Managing Live or Die Market TransitionsRecently SeekingAlpha.com ran the article "Time for Tivo to say Ta Ta." The author (a professor) took the point of view that Tivo had filled a need, but now there were ample new options - such as on-line downloads - making Tivo obsolete. As a result, the company should fold up its tent and let the employees move on.

I was struck, because the good professor did not seem to think it might be possible for Tivo to change its business model and move into the other growing opportunities while simultaneously maintaining the traditional Tivo set-top business until the market figures out what customers really want. That sort of predicting future markets is dangerous for 2 reasons:
  1. the inherent assumption that Tivo can be in only one market is flawed. There is nothing stopping Tivo from participating in the marketplace robustly with mutliple solution offerings. It can even cannibalize its own "base" revenues if the market shifts into other solutions. Tivo could remain top of the market - regardless of what solution dominates

  2. predicting future markets is a fools game. The good professor may guess some of these futurist positions right, but he's sure to get many wrong. Any business that bets its product development or investments on future predictions is destined to eventually get it wrong - and possibly destroy itself. Good leaders use scenarios to realize there are multiple possibilities, and then participate in several of them in order to be assured of growth.

Fast Company points out in "Avoiding Corporate Death Spirals in a Sea of Change" that all companies hoping to remain long-lived MUST learn to transition with shifting markets. The article parallels this blog in discussing failures at Blockbuster Video, Silicon Graphics, Digital Equipment - and more recently dramatic share declines in Palm. All are attributed to management Lock-in on early wins, then trying to Defend & Extend the early Success Formula too long. Market transitions killed them. The article goes on to point out that Cisco Systems, a company held up as an example of Phoenix Principle Management here, has succeeded and grown principally because it has learned how to adjust to market shifts.

No company needs to give up. But all companies that want to survive HAVE to learn to manage market transitions. There is no other choice. Shift happens.

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Adam HartungAdam Hartung, author of "Create Marketplace Disruption", is a Faculty and Board member of the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, Managing Partner of Spark Partners, and writes for "Forbes" and the "Journal for Innovation Science."

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

5 Key Questions for Quick Decisions

Don't Overthink It

by Mike Brown

5 Key Questions for Quick DecisionsI used to ask weekly on Twitter what strategic or innovation topics people would like to see addressed in Brainzooming articles. One request from back then was to write about how not to over think business strategy.

Having been in a business where it seemed you'd hear "don't over think it" five times a day, the topic hit a little too close to home, and I didn't ever do a post on it.

Now, with a little distance, I offer some strategic thinking questions to ask your team when you need to quickly move into convergent thinking mode during business planning:
  1. Does this issue really matter for our business opportunity? Will it materially change any important business results?

  2. What if we could only implement one innovative strategy in this situation? What would it be?

  3. If we had only 25% of the time (or resources), would we concentrate our efforts on this business opportunity?

  4. Without any additional information, what does our experience suggest as the most successful potential business option?

  5. If we had to halt our business planning and make a decision in the next five minutes, what would it be?

Couple any of these strategic questions with a fixed amount of time for dialogue (i.e., "We'll talk about this for 10 minutes") and a required decision (i.e., "When time's up, you have to briefly state what business decision you'd recommend or the course of action you'd take right now").

You may not get the most rigorously vetted, innovative ideas, but using a strategic thinking exercise and a limited amount of discussion time will help quickly catalyze your strategy decision so you can move to implementation.

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Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning innovator in strategy, communications, and experience marketing. He authors the BrainzoomingTM blog, and serves as the company's chief Catalyst. He wrote the ebook "Taking the NO Out of InNOvation" and is a frequent keynote presenter.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Show Them Some Love!

Three Strategies for Creatively Recognizing Employees

by Holly G. Green

Show Them Some Love!Usually we stay away from the topic of love at work but we're talking about positive recognition here, not the stuff that gets you in a sexual harassment lawsuit!

Smart leaders and managers know that it's a good time to show your employees some love as well. In other words, let them know how much you appreciate their hard work toward achieving your organization's goals. (You did set the goals in January, right?)

Recognition doesn't have to be big, time-consuming, or expensive. In fact, the most meaningful recognition often comes simply from saying thank you for a job well done. But there are times when the situation calls for more than just a simple verbal acknowledgment. There are a lot of things that get in the way, but you do need to do it.

Here are three strategies for letting your employees know how much you care:

1. Start Small

Start by saying thank you on a regular basis. Over time, change what you say and how you say it so that it doesn't become routine. Be specific. Instead of, "Nice job," say, "Nice job on the quarterly audit. I know you worked incredibly hard to get it in on time."

Recognize individual accomplishments with a short e-mail note or comment in a team meeting. Send the employee a handwritten note of appreciation, and send a copy to your boss. How many of us have those handwritten notes saved away because they are so rare and really do mean something? Leave a sticky note with a snack thanking the person for his or her efforts. Leave a message on their desk that the employee will receive first thing in the morning.

Give small gifts such as cards, desk toys, picture frames, gift cards, or chocolate. To make sure your gift will truly be appreciated, check out the employee's work area to see what types of things they display. Or find out where they go for coffee in the morning or lunch at noon. A gift card to a favorite coffee shop or restaurant shows that you are observant and thoughtful.

2. Get Personal

For performance that requires more than your basic pat on the back, orchestrate a thank-you letter or e-mail from senior leadership. Have the company leader call the employee with personal thanks. Make sure the employee is recognized publicly perhaps in a company e-newsletter, on the intranet, or at an all hands meeting. Send flowers or a gift basket on behalf of the company to the employee's home.

Offer the employee an assignment or project that will stretch their current skill set. Give them an increase or change in responsibility and authority. Offer them an opportunity to shadow someone in a job they want to have next. Increase flexibility of work hours and/or occasional comp time (hint: employees really like this one).

Give employees a relevant book inscribed with a message from leadership recognizing their accomplishment. Allow them to observe a team or project that would represent a big promotion (and thus a learning opportunity to observe). Arrange for your manager or a senior leader to take your group out to lunch or dinner to celebrate a team accomplishment.

3. Use Peer Recognition

It is just as important for employees and teams to recognize each other as it is for leaders and managers to acknowledge good work. One good way to recognize a team, department, or organization is to establish a 'Caring Credits' program.

At the beginning of the month, give everyone three cards. Employees write notes acknowledging their colleagues for going above and beyond their job requirements, and submit the cards to a designated individual (someone in HR, the team leader, etc.). At the end of the month, the person with the most cards written about them earns some sort of recognition. Distribute all the cards collected to employees acknowledged so people can see the praise they received from co-workers. That way, everyone gets recognized, not just the winner.

Another good strategy involves setting aside some wall space for public recognition. Pick a Friday afternoon to engage employees in creating their own (and your own) "What's Great?" wall boards.

Employees use the boards to write a brief note about something great that occurred during the week. Notes can include professional or personal achievements or events. Encourage people to contribute to each other's boards as well as their own, and watch how easily they begin to add to the boards without weekly prompting. The different handwritings and colored markers will brighten up the workspace. And others will stop by just to see what's new on the boards.

So take a few moments to show your employees some love today - the legally appropriate kind! Then look for simple and effective ways to do it throughout the year. A little bit of recognition goes a long way toward maintaining a happy, motivated workforce. Remember, recognition doesn't have to be big, time-consuming, or expensive. It's not brain surgery... sometimes it's harder!

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Innovation Perspectives - Building Deep Innovation Capabilities

This is the fifth of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?'. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Rowan Gibson

Innovation Perspectives - Making Innovation a Systemic CapabilityWhen I go into a large company, one of the first questions I usually ask is this:

"Does your organization have a worldwide innovation infrastructure where anyone, anywhere can get access to the cash, the talent, and the management support they need to turn their ideas into market success stories?"

No prizes for guessing the answer. Most companies claim they want to encourage creativity, risk taking, and rule breaking, but what you invariably find is that their management infrastructure and corporate culture actually inhibit these things. Talk to successful innovators in any large company, and you will probably hear a familiar story: "I succeeded despite the system." But if would-be innovators can only succeed in an organization despite the system - if they have to fight their way heroically through a minefield to push their ideas forward - then by definition, innovation is not a systemic capability in that organization, nor is it a core value that is deeply ingrained in the corporate culture.

For innovation to become a core competence and a tangible cultural value, there has to be a substantial degree of internal consistency between processes, metrics, reward structures, rhetoric, and top management behavior - and it is precisely this synchronicity that is lacking inside most companies.

Let's take structure. In the majority of organizations, innovation is still forced to live in a disconnected silo like R&D, New Product Development, a Skunk Works, an incubator, or a New Ventures division, where it neither involves nor infects the rest of the organization. By their very nature, these enclaves lead a solitary existence, operating as an adjunct to the real work of the company, and in my experience they produce very few ideas that ever make a big impact on a company's profits.

If we want to create the kind of structure that is required for opening up innovation broadly to the organization and to people outside it, we need to think about the social systems or institutional structures that have proven to be most conducive to innovation - universities, cities, industry clusters like Silicon Valley, or, most recently, the Web itself. What creates the vibrancy and serendipity in these structures is the matrix of ever-changing human connection and conversation. However, in a large organization, over time, the conversational patterns tend to become etched in stone. There are fixed reporting lines, committee groups, task forces, and so forth. Companies tend to consign innovation to a small cadre of 'experts' in specialized departments, and they end up having the same people talking to the same people, year after year, so they lose that conversational richness. In many ways, the organizational chart actually inhibits rather than increases the chances of making random, serendipitous connections.

To make innovation a pervasive and corporate-wide capability, the responsibility for innovation needs to be broadened beyond traditional structures and spread throughout a company's businesses and functions. This is exactly what happened to quality in the 1970s and 1980s when it ceased to be the exclusive responsibility of a specific department and, instead, became distributed to every corner of the company. What is required is a similarly systemic infrastructure for innovation that starts at the corporate level and infiltrates every part of the organization chart. An infrastructure that makes managers accountable at all levels for driving, facilitating, and embedding the innovation process into every nook and cranny of the culture.

The best innovation infrastructures I have seen are linked directly to the CEO and include a global Vice President of Innovation (VPI), regional VPI's, business unit innovation officers, innovation boards, innovation consultants and innovation mentors. These new, pro-innovation structures are designed to actively foster interaction across the organization and to distribute the responsibility and expertise for innovation throughout the company. They destroy the structural silos that usually separate people, ideas, and resources, and create a high level of cross-boundary connection, conversation, and collaboration.

In addition to building such an infrastructure to orchestrate and support innovation from everyone and everywhere, companies need to create the cultural conditions that serve as catalysts for breakthrough thinking. It's not enough to simply list innovation as a core value in your corporate mission. When companies refer to innovation as a value, most of them are using the wrong term. If an organization has not yet succeeded in making innovation a truly tangible core value for all its employees, the leadership team should be calling innovation an objective or a commitment, not a value. Innovation may well be something the leaders consider to be an imperative, and that they plan to put considerable effort into, but that does not mean that it has yet become a deep value for the company. Talking about innovation - using it as a slogan in an advertisement or on a corporate letterhead - does not make it a value. Values are less about what you say and more about who you are. They define the beliefs an organization holds deep down about what is important and right, and they drive the way its people behave on a consistent basis. It is absolutely crucial to make this distinction.

For innovation to become a genuine value, it has to be deeply internalized and clearly tangible to an organization's employees. It must be something, as Marcus Buckingham might put it, that helps to "change the daily rituals" and "introduce new heroes and language" throughout the organization. It becomes the net sum of a whole variety of messages and behaviors. In fact, in many ways, it is not really something a company can work on directly; it is something that comes from addressing a lot of other issues.

Innovation can only become a true value in a company through collective learning across all its levels, functions, and businesses - usually over considerable time. People need to not just hear that ideas are welcome from everyone and everywhere, or that rule breaking and risk taking are encouraged, or that ideas are allowed to fail without incurring punishment; they need to experience these things every day. That is when a corporate value becomes tangible enough to guide patterns of behavior across the entire organizational culture.

There are certain mechanisms a company can employ and institutionalize which can help to make innovation a tangible core value. They include things like consistent messaging from leaders (in both word and deed); a discretionary time allowance for reflection, ideation, and experimentation: broad-based innovation training; an open market for ideas; easy access to incremental seed funding; management structures for mentoring and support; and incentive and reward structures that encourage challenging the status quo, risk taking and entrepreneurship.

When these mechanisms become firmly ingrained in the corporate culture they provoke the right attitudes in people. Employees get the feeling that they are part of a vibrant, innovative company. They get hooked on the excitement and energy of innovation. They find it stimulating to work in a collaborative, open culture. They see that innovation is not just management rhetoric but a widely held and deeply embedded value. And they automatically begin to demand more innovation from themselves and their peers. Thus, the demand for innovation ceases to be the sole province of the CEO or other top level executives. It starts to be driven from all levels of the organization. This is what it takes to make a corporate culture more conducive to innovation.

HR professionals can add a lot of value here. Their challenge should be to create a company culture where everyone in the company is responsible for innovation - whether as an innovator, mentor, manager, or a team member. That means that all HR systems - pay, spot awards, the long-term incentive plan, the balanced score card objectives - need to be hardwired into the company's innovation strategy.

The bottom line: building a deep innovation capability requires a systemic approach. It requires your company to patiently assemble all of the above components, and to put the necessary drivers in place so that your corporate innovation system becomes sustainable.

April Sponsor - Brightidea
You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?' by clicking the link in this sentence.
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Rowan GibsonRowan Gibson is widely recognized as one of the world's leading experts on enterprise innovation. He is co-author of the bestseller "Innovation to the Core" and a much in-demand public speaker around the globe. On Twitter he is @RowanGibson.

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