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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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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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Monday, April 19, 2010

A Tribute to CK Prahalad

by Rowan Gibson

CK PrahaladOf all the management 'gurus' I have met and worked with, CK Prahalad will always stand tall. His sad and sudden departure a few days ago has robbed the world not only of a great mind, but also of a great heart. I bid him farewell.

CK and I first joined forces in 1995, when I was writing the manuscript for "Rethinking The Future." Our conversations back then taught me a great deal about strategic renewal - the capacity to maintain continuity by constantly creating new sources of profit. In fact, this principle went on to become a cornerstone of my work in the field of business innovation. I therefore feel I owe it to CK to repeat some of those strategy lessons here by way of a tribute. Think of the following words (which are CK's own) as a last lecture - a legacy - from a true intellectual giant:

"With the tremendous turbulence and the speed with which industries are changing today, you can't just sit around and wait. While high levels of profits from existing businesses are a must, companies need to be reinvesting in a consistent fashion to create new businesses, and new products, and to shape the pattern of market evolution. They need to imagine new markets for tomorrow, and to build new core competencies that will give them an advantage in those markets. So it's about creating a virtuous cycle in the organization, where you are continuously increasing the capacity for leverage and profitability within existing businesses, but you are also continuously redeploying resources to invent new sources of profit - new strategic growth opportunities.

Senior managers should therefore be spending less time looking inward and backward, and more time looking outward and forward. They need to be thinking about the implications of new trends and technologies, and about how their industries might be different in five or ten years. Of course, operational issues are important and legitimate - how to reduce overheads, how to respond to a competitor's last move, how to improve quality or reduce cycle time - but unless you are growing new markets, new businesses, new sources of profit, you will find yourself on a treadmill, always trying to improve the ever-declining margins and profits from yesterday's businesses.

It's not enough to imagine the future - you also have to build it. Many companies have had incredible industry foresight, but they lacked the capacity to execute it. Xerox has probably had more technology, and yet missed more opportunities, than any other high-tech company. In order to build the kind of future business which you have imagined, you need to develop this capacity for execution. You need to make a strategic blueprint for turning the dream into reality - a link between the present and the future. You need to carefully work out which new competencies you should be building, which new customer groups you should be trying to understand, which new distribution channels you should be exploring, in order to create a winning position for yourself in a new opportunity arena.

Two things seem to characterize most of the companies that succeed in capturing future opportunities. First, they have aspirations which lie outside the resource base of the company, and they manage to stretch and enlarge their resources in order to succeed in this new market. Second, successful companies have come to a view of the future that provides a sense of direction, a sense of common purpose, a sense of destiny, a single-minded and inspiring challenge which commands the respect and the allegiance of every person in the organization. The role of senior management is to make sure that the company develops this broad aspiration, and in addition that it is clearly articulated, understood and continuously reinterpreted. Every two or three years, management should again interpret its aspiration and say, 'This is what it means to us in the next two years', so the challenge is always renewed but the overall strategic intent remains consistent.

A company must also learn to look at itself as a portfolio of competencies, of underlying strengths, and not just as a portfolio of business units. Business units are focused on products and markets, whereas core competencies are focused on customer benefits, such as Apple's 'user-friendliness'. Organizations should identify their core competencies and ask themselves what strengths they could leverage in new ways as they move into the future, and what they could do that other companies might find difficult.

Companies are going to have to unlearn a lot of their past - and also to forget it! The future will not be an extrapolation of the past. Like a space rocket on the way to the moon, a company has to be willing to jettison the parts of its past which no longer contain fuel for the journey and which are becoming, in effect, excess baggage. That is particularly difficult for senior managers - those who actually built the past, and who still have a lot of emotional equity invested in it. If you want to escape the gravitational pull of the past, you have to be willing to challenge your own orthodoxies, to regenerate your core strategies and rethink your most fundamental assumptions about how you are going to compete. Most often it takes a crisis before a company is willing to do that. It takes a sense of urgency, a sense that the company's future success is not inevitable.

Of course, to create the future you do not have to abandon all of your past. There is a need for selectivity. But essentially, the success recipes from your past may no longer be the success recipes for your future. For example, quality was a source of competitive advantage in the past. That is where the efforts of many companies have been focused. But quality is now merely the price of market entry, so there is a need to move on. The most important source of competitive advantage for the future is the capacity to create fundamentally new products and businesses.

With new product development costs escalating, if you want an appropriate return on your investment, you have to develop products for a global market. In other words, you have to get access to critical channels of distribution around the globe and then quickly drive the new product to the market in as many of these countries as possible. In other words, the issue becomes not just time to market but time to global preemption. Ed Artzt, former Chairman of P&G, put it this way: 'If we don't do it early on globally, someone else will.' Ultimately, the race to the future becomes a mad dash to the finish line.

Go back and look at the Fortune 500 or the Fortune 100 over the last 50 years, and ask yourself how many companies have disappeared from the list, and what the survivors do to stay in that league. You will find that they are continually looking forward, not backward. They are continually changing the rules of competition, rather than following the accepted rules. They are regularly defining new ways of doing business, pioneering new product concepts, building new core competencies, creating new markets, setting new standards and challenging their own assumptions. They are taking control of their future. You can't do that if you are not willing to change and to move from where you are today. The opportunities are out there for everyone, but capturing new business opportunities is like shooting flying ducks - you can't do it with fixed gun positions."

Since CK first spoke those words to me over one and half decades ago (and they are just as relevant today as they were then), my respect and admiration for his insights has only grown. After his seminal HBR article The Core Competence of the Corporation, and the incredible global success of "Competing For The Future", co-authored with Gary Hamel, he went on to pioneer the concept of "co-creation" with an organization's customers in "The future of Competition". But the crown of his achievements was undoubtedly "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits", which was both brilliant and humanitarian. With this masterstroke, he changed forever the way global corporations view emerging markets, and helped improve quality of life for countless underprivileged people, particularly in his homeland, India.

I will remember CK Prahalad as a man who made our world a richer place, not just in terms of business knowledge, or in terms of company profits (for those who were smart enough to listen to him), but also in terms of economic prosperity in the Third World. Thank you, CK. You will be sorely missed.

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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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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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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Avoiding Innovation Chaos

by Hutch Carpenter

Avoiding Innovation ChaosGreat news... you've established your innovation platform to solicit ideas, and gosh, did you get them! Hundreds of ideas. Wow!

Now what?

It just doesn't make sense to go into an innovation initiative with only half a plan. As in, a plan to market to employees and get the ideas, but not have nailed down what happens afterward. Do that, and you're going to regret the deluge. Employees will rightfully grouse, and become cynical.

It is vital to have a plan for soliciting ideas. It is also vital to have a plan for handling the ideas once they are submitted. This benefits both employees and management:

Innovation Governance Model
Before addressing the benefits, what exactly is a governance model?

Who Does What When

If you needed a headline for a governance model, that'd be it. Let's break it down:

Who: Companies decide who has a role in the process of evaluating, informing and approving ideas. It is a given that many, if not most, ideas will impact different areas of an organization. Ideas will also collide with other ideas and projects that need resources.

Ideas also generally, and properly, start out incomplete. It's important to reduce the friction to capturing good ideas. There will others inside an organization who are well placed to build out an idea with their authority, knowledge and experience in a domain. Companies should:
  • Identify internal experts for a given category
  • Identify decision-makers for a given category
  • Identify connectors for a given category

These are the people with roles to play in the process. Knowing who these people are beforehand is critical to getting the most from an innovation program.

This isn't a control on the front-end of ideas being posted, nor of the discussions that occur. Locking that down damages innovation. But it's important to recognize the basis on which resources are allocated inside a company, and integrate people with responsibilities into the process.

What: As an idea progresses from half-formed concept into full-fledged project, it receives plenty of feedback and refinement along the way. In terms of governance, it's important to have a sense of what these steps are.

As ideas vary in their scope and what they address, it can be hard to set a one-size-fits-all approach to what steps are needed to advance an idea. But there are some best practices here:
  • Have a connector follow up on posted ideas, and share it with others who may be interested
  • Get a recognized expert to write up a review of the idea
  • Have an expert provide additional input on a good idea to improve it
  • Have departmental heads provide reviews, as needed
  • Departmental heads approve ideas

Here's a key thing about the 'what'. Don't make everyone do all these actions for every idea! With limits on time and attention, getting experts, connectors and department heads involved should be reserved for ideas that have made it through an initial filter. This filter includes have the initial community suss out what ideas are most interesting.

Of course, as the case may be, individuals with an interest can track new ideas per category or by key word to augment what the crowd identifies as a top idea.

When: Pace is an important factor in the innovation process. Establishing a general "innovation tempo" keeps things moving. Ideally, companies create an atmosphere of quick decisions and little experiments.

As described in the 'what' section above, there will be a series of steps that an idea has to go through. It makes sense to sequence them. For instance, finance may need to provide a review and/or approval for an idea. But you don't need finance doing that too early in the process. So the 'when' for a finance review only happens after an idea has gone through several previous steps. At a point where the idea is "knocking on the door" to becoming a project.

The other aspect of 'when' is to set expectations for turnaround times. These need to be realistic in light of work people already have on their plates. But they can't stretched too far out, because ideas lose their attention, and the company's innovation tempo suffers.

Benefits for Employees and Management

As shown in the flow chart graphic above, establishing a defined innovaiton governance model benefits both employees and management.

Employees: Seeing the way the process of innovation is mapped out is a HUGE benefit for employees. Think about how innovation inside a company happens now. It's often ad hoc, and not entirely clear to employees where the buck stops, or how they can make a difference.

With a defined process - which includes flexibility for idea variance - people have a greater confidence an idea gets a fair heating. And they also know to whom they can talk if they just know the idea has merit. Having a highly motivated employee lobby for an idea is valuable. Even if the original idea must change, you want people to have a stake in it, and passion.

Management: As mentioned above, companies need to establish their innovation tempo. It's no good to say you want innovation (and its amazing effects on the company stock price), without putting in place the culture, process and technology to make it happen.The innovation governance model shouldn't be etched in stone. It needs to be adapted as companies learn what works and what doesn't in the process.

The other benefit of establishing the governance model is that you learn where your innovation bottlenecks are. As ideas flow through the governance model, see where they get hung up. Why do they get hung up? This learning process by itself is highly valuable.

Avoid innovation chaos. Set up your flexible, adaptable governance model.

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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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Innovation Perspectives - Where's Your Innovation Friction?

This is the eighth 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 Braden Kelley

Innovation Perspectives - What's Your Innovation Friction?When it comes to creating an innovation culture, often people make it far too complicated. If you're part of the senior leadership team and you're serious about innovation then your job is simple - reduce friction.

If you're serious about innovation and you're not a senior leader, then your job is to do what you can to convince senior leadership that innovation is important. Then, gently help your execs see the areas of greatest friction in your organization so they can do something about it.

When it comes to creating a culture of innovation, the most frequently cited area of friction in organizations is the acquisition of resources for innovation projects (the infamous time and money). Senior leaders serious about innovation must eliminate the friction that makes it difficult for financial and personnel resources to move across the organization to the innovation projects that need them (amongst other things).

But this particular impediment is just a part of a much larger barrier to innovation - the lack of an innovation strategy. When senior leadership commits to innovation and sets a strong and clear innovation strategy then policies and processes get changed and resources move.

I recently ran a poll on LinkedIn asking people to identify their organization's biggest barrier to entry. 548 people responded and 58% of respondents identified either the absence of an innovation strategy or the psychology of the organization as the biggest barrier. 'Organizational psychology' came out on top with 32% of the vote, with 'Absence of an innovation strategy' a close second (26%). Other choices in the poll included - 'Organizational structure', 'Information sharing', and 'Level of trust and respect'. See the poll results and comments here.

A second major area of innovation friction is the movement of information. Too often there is information in disparate parts of our organizations that remains separated and unknown to the people who need it. Organizations that reduce the friction holding back the free flow of relevant information to where it is needed will experience a quantum leap in not only their product or service development opportunities, but in many other parts of their organization including sales, marketing, and operations.

So, what are the areas of friction that are holding your organization back from reaching its full innovation potential?

What are the barriers to innovation that have risen in your organization as you struggle to maintain a healthy balance between your exploration and exploitation opportunities?

My contribution to the body of innovation literature out there will be published this fall from John Wiley & Sons and focus on some of these issues.

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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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Who cares if it is an innovation?

by Yann Cramer

Who cares if it is an innovation?I sometimes hear argument about whether this or that proposition represents an innovation or not: to which extent is it really new? How do we know we are the first? How different is it from this other proposition?

Who cares? If it creates value, it's worth pursuing. It may not be new-to-the-world, but if it is new-to-my-corner-of-the-world it is innovation all right.

40 years ago, in "Diffusion of Innovations", Everett Rogers described the life-cycle of an innovation as it journeys from innovators to early adopters, early majority, late majority, to finally reach laggards. As long as there is a market segment to be reached and value to be made from it, the innovation is alive and kicking. It may not be as exciting as it reaches the late stages of the journey, but innovation it remains. As a matter of fact, some small incremental innovations may have to be added to the initial one to make it more easily adopted by the late majority. For instance, while early adopters of the iPhone were prepared to put off with the short battery autonomy, the late majority will certainly require this and other teething problems to be fixed before taking the plunge.

Every second spent debating the nature of the beast is a second lost: while you talk about it, others who have a greater sense of urgency are doing it.

In "The Ten Faces of Innovation", Tom Kelley provides one of the best illustrations I have ever heard of: that of Tellme's VP of Caller Experience, Gary Clayton, receiving during a business dinner feedback from a prospect about an issue with Tellme software platform, placing a discrete phone call to his staff, and getting it fixed before dessert! Arguably such performance had never been seen by the prospect before and in that sense was an innovation in its own right, but that is not the point.

The point is: don't debate it, just do it, innovate today!

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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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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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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Get Rid of Those Pesky Innovators

by C. Mudgeon III

Our special guest columnist today is C. Mudgeon III, CEO of Dumbleton & Dorfly. C. Mudgeon is an Alumnus of the Machiavelli School of Business at Screw U.

Get Rid of Those Pesky Innovators I think that we can all agree that Innovation is a tremendous waste of time. The money that we all waste on these initiatives could be much better spent on cappuccino service for the executive boardroom or cashmere toilet paper for the restrooms on the top floor. These upstart "Innovators" challenge our assumptions, threaten the status quo and upset the delicate political stagnation that we've worked so hard to cultivate over the decades.

So how do we shut these programs down without being tagged as an "Enemy of Innovation" (like that's a bad thing?)

It's actually not that difficult. I have a few sure-fire suggestions for undermining your innovation programs, destroying that pesky enthusiasm and still making it look like you're supporting the program.

Starve them out

It's easy to just cut the funding, but that's too obvious and is easy to trace back. What you need to do is make them think that they have money, but make it impossible to get to it. Lump it in with some other organization's budget or simply subject them to the same ROI justifications or processes that everyone else has to go through. Most innovative ideas are going to have too much risk or too little guaranteed ROI to compete against real projects and you'll never have to fund anything. You can even openly support the innovation projects if you can be sure that your peers will vote them down. It's a win-win situation.

The Cage Match

This goes along with the Starve them Out strategy. If you pit the Innovation program against all of your other organizations and make them compete for funding, it's pretty easy to nurture some world-class resentment. Toss the Innovation program a bone, but very publicly take the money out of another group's budget. Nothing will piss your kids off more than slapping the cookie out of their hand to give it to someone else. Once the threat is firmly established, you can just consider some nice costly innovation projects and watch the rest of your organization start sharpening the knives. You can pretty much guarantee that there will *never* be any available resources from your other groups to help on the innovation projects ever again.

The Golden Child

This one is so ridiculously simple that many organizations stumble on it by accident. Just promote your innovation program as something new, unique, different, "Something you idiots never thought of doing yourselves." Innovation has been happening under the covers whether you had a program or not. The secret is to alienate and piss off those skunkworks innovators and make sure that they never cooperate with the formal program. Make sure to outsource any innovation work that sneaks through approvals so that your existing associates don't get to work on them. After all, they might start to enjoy their work. A happy employee is much harder to manipulate than a disgruntled one.

Buried Alive

The basic strategy is to deter innovation by burying the innovators in work.

In the first stage, you want to force all innovation proposals through your normal, bloated approval processes (if they aren't already bloated, you'll need to figure out how to do that on your own. It's outside the scope of this article). However, this probably won't be enough of a deterrent. You need to add an additional layer of paperwork and approvals specifically because it's an innovation proposal. Initial Approval to Develop a Proposal for an Innovation Investigation, Secondary Approval for Innovation Investigation, Tertiary Proposal for Developing a Business Case for a Primary Innovation Investigation Proposal. The more hoops that you make them jump through, the more likely it is that you can beat the desire to innovate out of them.

In the second stage, a project has miraculously made it through approvals. When that happens, the best strategy is to funnel all of the work to the person who made the suggestion, their peers, their boss and their boss's boss. Make sure that the innovation creates as much work and discomfort for that entire reporting chain as possible. Don't provide additional resources and don't let them engage externals. That would dilute the pain. Offer them the funding, but make sure that the work is all being forced into the margins so that they can't use it. Even if you have a stubborn innovator that happily takes on the extra work, if you punish enough of the reporting chain, you'll eventually have everyone whacking the offender for you. God help them if they ever post another suggestion.

Hidden in the Basement

Innovation programs have a real possibility of succeeding with support from the business and the customer base. So you need to bury the program somewhere away from those potential supporters. One of the most common strategies is to bury it in I.T. (Information Technology). They're usually the group with the worst relationship with the business and in many cases they're already viewed as a huge black hole for money. Burying Innovation here will help to distance them from the business and ensure that they're near the front of the line when the budget cuts come. Tie them into I.T.'s (likely already strained) budget and you have the perfect way to kill or at least neuter the program

Stealing from Yourself
Stealing from Yourself

Encourage other teams to run with the innovation proposals while shutting out your innovation team. That way you can execute on the good ideas without having to acknowledge where they came from. Your Innovation team can then appear to be a complete waste of time, money and resources while you still harvest the value from it. If done right, you can actually get your Innovation team to resent the groups and teams that are their partners and customers.

Supported into Submission

Provide funding for tools. Publicly declare your support for the program and encourage idea submission. Do everything possible to encourage people to keep submitting and submitting and submitting. If you can prevent any of them from actually being executed and you can keep the inbound flow going, it's just a matter of time before your program loses all credibility and the innovators give up. If you can increase the level of frustration enough, you can buy yourself a few years of the reflexive "We tried an Innovation program and it was a disaster" defense.

The Unfair Advantage

This one requires a bit of work, but you may already have the foundation in place. Make sure that all of your project proposals ignore the long term. Don't factor in "total cost of ownership" and make sure to never actually measure the long term ROI of a project. If you have this structure in place, your projects can promise the world and effectively lose all accountability as soon as the project is delivered.

Any long-term disasters will become a BAU (Business-As-Usual) expense and nobody will ever know what the projects actually cost or delivered. Since innovation tends to be more speculative and often involves short-term pain for longer term payoffs, these projects will all look like the ugly step-sisters in comparison. This is especially effective in an organization that has a focus firmly in the current and/or next quarter. This strategy alone can kill 90% of your innovation projects without ever lifting a finger.

I hope that these ideas help you to kill off those innovating leaches before they raise the bar for everyone else in your organization. If you aren't careful, those dangerous ideas might start to percolate into things like improved customer service, agility, efficiency, employee empowerment and other threatening trends. Innovation and those that encourage it need to be slapped down early and often or you may find that they can't be stopped.

C. Mudgeon was apprehended and medicated shortly after posting this article. John P. Benfield will return as a blog contributor sometime after April 1st.

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John P. BenfieldJohn P. Benfield is an Innovation Advocate for a global Financial Services organization. John has over 25 years of experience fighting the "Commodization of IT" and continually strives to bring IT back to the table as a true business partner and enabler of Innovation, Growth and Transformation. On twitter, John is @jpbenfield

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Why 'Top Down' Innovation is Difficult

by Jeffrey Phillips

Why 'Top Down' Innovation is DifficultAs a person who works with a number of firms attempting to improve innovation capabilities, I am constantly astonished by the disconnect between what senior executives say they want and what actually gets done in most businesses, at least within the context of innovation. As they say in government, the President proposes and Congress disposes. Most executives I interact with say they want innovation, but the force of their desire and the clarity of their vision doesn't translate down to the people who will actually do the work. I think there are at least three reasons for this.

First, most senior executives aren't innovators themselves. Most senior executives grew through the organization and moved up by being effective stewards of the company's funds, resource and culture. Most of them were respectful of the history of the company and the brands. They progressed by doing things well, and doing things efficiently. Few senior executives in most organizations got to their posts by being demonstrably different. In fact we create celebrities of the CEOs like Jobs from Apple or Branson from Virgin who are really different CEOs, who shook up an industry or market. Since most senior executives weren't innovators and didn't obtain their jobs because of innovation, they don't really understand what's required when they say they want innovation. If your CEO or senior executive team is asking for innovation from the organization and you believe they haven't defined what they really want, stop waiting for the definition. Like pornography they'll know it when they see it and not before, and will probably struggle giving you a definition. If you decide to respond, simply write down your objectives and how you think that aligns to corporate strategy and start innovating. Most likely your model will be adopted.

Second, since most executives are keepers of the culture, and in many cases creatures of the culture, they don't understand the amount of change necessary to move a company that's been focused on effectiveness, efficiency, cost cutting and minimizing errors or mistakes to a company that embraces innovation. The biggest barrier to innovation isn't creativity or generating ideas or the ability to spot new opportunities. The biggest barrier to innovation is cultural inertia and fear. After years of very clear communication about effectiveness, lean, cost cutting and so forth, it requires a lot of trust and change to shift to an innovation posture, and cultures like battleships turn slowly. Since most executives don't have long tenures, cultural change sounds like a Bataan death march, and those requirements are ignored, misunderstood or swept under the rug. Even executives who understand the need for cultural change in support of innovation blanch at the work involved. If you decide to start innovating in your product group or business unit, don't wait for the organizational cultural change. You know what needs to happen, so create your own local culture in your product line or business unit that embraces innovation. You'll give yourself enough rope to succeed, or to hang yourself. Either way it's a decision.

Third, most executives are driven by the quarterly drumbeat of the market, and therefore many don't have patience to examine and understand longer term goals and strategy. Innovation, especially the disruptive innovation that everyone wants, is by its very nature a longer term effort. So, while organizations talk about "white space" and executives demand 'disruptive breakthroughs' many of them don't have the stomach for the longer term effort and don't understand the investment involved. Trend spotting and scenario planning isn't hard, it just requires a commitment to doing the work and understanding what the future may hold. Most firms don't do this well, if at all. Strange to think that the one place we are all heading is the one place most firms don't do a good job of understanding. For most executives the future, especially anything more than 5 years out, is simply unknowable and perhaps beyond their expected tenure, so why try? If you want to innovate, you've got to piece together views of the future beyond the annual plan. Most organizations have a product development cycle greater than 18 months, so a three to four year look into the future on a regular basis should be automatic, but it's not.

Fourth, some innovation programs assume that executives should be the ones to generate the ideas, and the middle managers, product managers and so forth are the ones who should figure out how the ideas get implemented as new products. With a few exceptions, I can't think of a worse way to run an innovation program. Most senior executives are rarely in touch with the lives of their actual customers, and have little understanding about the challenges the customers are trying to solve or the new opportunities they have in their lives. Most executives sit in meeting after meeting with other executives and never actually meet their customers or understand their lives. Like the GM executives who only drove GM cars and never purchased their own gas, many executives are isolated from their customers and their customers' needs. If you want to innovate, listen to the strategies being defined by the executive team and then go out and find out what customers really want and need, and align your ideas if possible to both requirements, giving more weight to the customers' needs. The ultimate fulfillment of the Peter Principle is that the higher you climb in executive management, the further removed you are from what an average customer really wants. This makes dictating the kinds of innovation necessary very difficult and results in vague requests for innovation.

Finally, many organizations are so large that it is difficult to have a crisp statement of strategy or strategic intent. Without clearly defined corporate goals and strategies, it becomes hard for innovators to decide which problems are more important and which ideas are valid. In the absence of clear strategic and strategic direction, all ideas seem relevant. In a large firm, innovation is all about resource allocation - picking the best ideas among a number of competing ideas. Your executive team needs help here as well. They want organic growth, differentiation or disruption, or some combination of those three things. They need to know that innovation is a tool in service of these corporate goals, not a strategy in and of itself. If you can help them identify and clarify the goals for the firm, then you can apply innovation as a tool to rapidly improve any of those three factors. Strategic clarity is usually lacking, but executives don't understand why that is so important to innovators.

If you are still reading at this point, you may think that 'bottom up' innovation is the only way to succeed, and for many firms I think that's probably right. Having people who understand the need of the customer means being close to the customer or prospect, which is less likely to happen at senior levels. It means more flexibility and risk taking, and having a longer term point of view, both less likely to happen at senior levels. If these things are true, what can executives do to spawn innovation?

They can impact the culture through rewards and recognition. They can understand their value in creating clear strategic goals and communicating those effectively. They can introduce tools, techniques and methodologies to help the innovators accomplish their goals. They can introduce a common language and approach for innovation as tools for innovators to use. They can encourage networking and interaction with other firms which will spawn many more new ideas. They can introduce new tools to gain customer insight. They can create new funding mechanisms beyond an annual plan. In essence, they can become the cheerleaders, funders and tool-bringers, which is really all they can do effectively.

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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of "Make us more Innovative", and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Four Currents of a Culture of Innovation

by Mitch Ditkoff

The Four Currents of a Culture of InnovationI've been doing a lot of thinking these days about "culture of innovation" - trying to get down to the root of what the heck it's all about.

It's easy to wax poetic about the topic (and a lot of people do), but too much of the stuff I've been reading sounds like bad advertising copy for motherhood and apple pie.

So, at the risk of oversimplifying the whole thing, here's my blogospheric whack at boiling the mumbo jumbo down to the core.

If you want to create a sustainable culture of innovation, you will need to understand that there are always four forces at work - four currents that are always interacting with each other:
  1. Top Down
  2. Bottom Up
  3. Outside In
  4. Inside Out

TOP DOWN: Although the "revolution" never starts with the King, it is imperative that top leadership plays their "culture-enhancing role" far more than they currently do.

The people in the trenches need to know that the head honchos not only care about innovation, but are willing to do whatever it takes to establish a company culture conducive to it.

I'm not advocating phony pep talks from the C-Suite. I'm advocating that senior leaders actually lead the effort. I'm advocating that all those wonderful people with three letter acronyms after their name walk the innovation talk... stir the soup... shake and bake... and do everything they can do to martial company resources in whatever way is necessary to transform "business as usual" to "I love this place and I can't wait to get to work." Yes, it's possible.

BOTTOM UP: If an organization wants to innovate, it will need to get everyone into the act. Not just senior leaders. Not just R&D. Everyone. Ideas - the fuzzy front end of innovation - can come from anywhere, anytime. When an organization really GETS this and finds new ways to tap the collective brainpower of the workforce, the culture starts changing for the better. People become more proactive. More energized. More passionate about their work.

Indeed, it could easily be said that the democratization of the workplace is one of the most important social movements of the 21st century. As power and decision-making trickle down, creative output ratchets up. People become self-organizing, self-directed and, on a really good day, selflessly committed to being a force for positive change.

OUTSIDE IN: Establishing a culture of innovation is only meaningful if the fruits of the effort yield the kind of results that are valued by your customers. Otherwise, the effort to "change the culture" will turn into some kind of weird, solipsistic ritual that will have no impact on the people you are serving.

Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they want? Do you have any kind of process in place to track changing market conditions, demographics, and emerging trends? Have you figured out how to get real feedback and input from your customers - how to include them in your ideation process?

INSIDE OUT: Ah... now we're really getting down to it. If you want a culture of innovation, you will need to find a way to unleash the passion, fascination, and inspiration of your workforce.
Not by dangling carrots and sticks (read Dan Pink's new book, Drive, if you doubt me), but by finding a way to activate the innate desire for meaning, enjoyment, and success that is buried deep within the bones of every single person who shows up for work day after day.

Organizations don't innovate. People do.

If you can find a way to unlock the primal mojo of your workforce, you won't need to manage as much as you do. You won't need to rely so heavily on incentive plans, performance reviews, pep talks, frowns, and punishment.

That stuff only exists because your workforce is disengaged.

But when people are on fire with purpose, in touch with their own authentic desire to create, a culture of innovation will naturally evolve.

A big thank you to Val Vadeboncoeur, Tim Moore, Barry Gruenberg, Paul Roth, and Michael Pergola for their humongous collaboration, insight, creativity, and perseverance on this topic.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Are Your Thought Bubbles Killing Your Strategic Plan?

by Holly G. Green

Are Your Thought Bubbles Killing Your Strategic Plan?Those who follow my blog or have heard me speak to business groups and conventions know that I constantly talk about the dangers of MSU, or making stuff up.

Making stuff up occurs when we listen to the thought bubbles inside our heads that tell us the world must be a certain way; when we fill in the voids of information with our own interpretation or beliefs. We get into trouble when we make decisions or take action without testing to see whether the assumptions underlying our thought bubbles are actually true. Or when we forget to pause every now and then to question the thought bubbles that we have had for awhile.

Thought bubbles come in all shapes and sizes, and contain all sorts of half-truths and misinformation. Here are two that frequently wreak havoc with efforts to implement a strategic plan.

Killer thought bubble #1: "Once the strategic plan gets written, it will get done exactly as intended."

I can't tell you how many times I see this thought bubble undermine well-meaning strategic initiatives. It's almost funny, considering how most plans end up in binders or tucked away on the shelf never to be looked at again. But even those companies that refer to their strategic plans on a regular basis frequently succumb to this fatal mistake.

The hard truth is that even the best strategic plans do not unfold exactly as planned. As you progress towards your destination points, you will encounter surprises. Some will come from changes in the external environment that you couldn't possibly foresee.

Others will result from internal forces, such as old ways of doing things, resistance to change, and unspoken beliefs that underlie stated goals. Expectations that plans will not require fundamental organizational changes are dangerous because they can prevent you from properly managing the current state. Never underestimate the amount of change that might be required to see your plan through. And be careful of minimizing the difficulty of implementing that change.

Killer thought bubble #2: "We just have to execute and everything will turn out fine."

On the surface, this seems to make sense. Upon closer inspection, thinking that all you have to do is execute can lead to the assumption that alignment with and commitment to the plan already exist within your organization. Not so!

Most companies do a lousy job of communicating the strategic plan to front-line employees. When people don't know or understand the goals and objectives, they end up working on what is important to them rather than what is important to the organization. Without ongoing communication around the plan, you can throw any hopes for alignment right out the window.

Similarly, management often assumes that employees are committed to the future when in reality they remain much more committed to the past. The past almost always seems more compelling because people at least think they understand what happened and why. There is some comfort in knowing, even if they do not like what they know. Gaining commitment to the plan requires making sure that the future is more compelling than the past.

To avoid suffering the consequences of these thought bubbles, ask questions like:
  • How does the expected pace of getting to our destination points compare to the actual pace?

  • What new initiatives have we started in the past year? How have those progressed? What initiatives have we stopped?

  • What proportion of our resources is focused on maintaining and enhancing the status quo versus new initiatives?

  • How much time do we spend promoting and moving towards the destination points?

  • Are near-term problems and opportunities consuming everyone's time and preempting our longer-term progress?

  • Do we have clear champions who will keep others focused on making progress for each significant initiative?

  • Are there consequences for missing deadlines or other obligations?

Never mistake a written plan for reality. And don't assume that you know how everything will turn out, even if you have a beautifully documented plan.

Be prepared to adjust and communicate those adjustments as necessary, and those misleading thought bubbles will no longer derail your carefully crafted plans.

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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, March 25, 2010

Finding Time to Innovate

by Jeffrey Phillips

Finding Time to InnovateI've been in many corporate meetings that left me wondering where I could apply to get back the two hours I had just spent that were completely unproductive, so I am completely convinced that it is possible to lose time, or use it ineffectively in any organization. But what's puzzling to me is the argument that I hear from many people that they need to "find" time to innovate, as if there are spare pockets of hours or days in hidden corners in their office, simply waiting to be discovered.

Finding time to innovate is nonsensical, at several levels. First, if an initiative is important to you or your management team, then those activities make it onto your calendar. Second, if you are good at what you do, or are in demand from others, then they will place demands on your calendar to participate in their work or activities. Third, once the calendar is full, it's hard to take on something new, and many of us allow our calendars to fill up with tactical, firefighting exercises that are urgent but not important. Only then do many executives state that they simply "can't find the time" to innovate.

I would suggest that we reverse the order of placing items on the calendar. If innovation is important, then time for innovation needs to go on the calendar. This will provide evidence to those in your sphere of influence that you are placing an emphasis on creativity and innovation. Where you put your time sends signals to those around you, and those that report to you. Then, once you've anchored time in your calendar for important but perhaps not urgent tasks like innovation, you can then fill in the calendar with urgent but less important activities. You simply won't find time to innovate - you have to set aside time to innovate.

Once you've set aside time to innovate, what should you do with that time? Think expansively. Identify and track trends. Think about the future - five, seven, ten years in advance. Anticipate market and environmental changes. Draft a white paper that defines where you believe the market is going, and how to get there first. Get out and interact with customers or potential customers. Look for unarticulated or unmet needs you can satisfy. Rethink your customer's experience. Network with people in your industry and adjacent to your industry. Exchange ideas with people on your team, or in other organizations.

Sounds like fun, but doesn't look like work, is the complaint that's rattling around in your head. And you are probably right. This doesn't look like the work that gets done in your business, simply because everyone is focused on the here and now, the further and later is not being investigated, and can't be investigated or understood using the tools that look like work in most firms.

This has a cascading effect. Since the effort involved in understanding innovation opportunities doesn't look like work, we find other urgent but less important things to fill our day. Then, we are left with the conundrum that while innovation is important, we can't "find" time to innovate. It's a vicious cycle, eventually leading to the failure to create new products and services, or to miss new market opportunities. Then, what was urgent becomes even more urgent, and even less attention is paid to innovation. Eventually everyone is working on next quarter's efficiency savings and no one is taking time to innovate.

This isn't a question about "finding" time to innovate - it's a challenge to balance near term demands of the business with strategic vision about the future of the business. You can't make time, and it's our most valuable commodity. You can strategically select where you spend your time, and by doing so send signals to others. You make time to innovate by placing that time on your calendar before allowing the calendar to fill with other tasks and other work.

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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of "Make us more Innovative", and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Are You Killing Innovation in Your Company (Without Even Knowing It)?

by Holly G. Green

Are You Killing Innovation in Your Company (Without Even Knowing It)?In today's world, innovation is a business imperative. You either find new and better ways to add value to your customers, you play follow the leader with those who do, or you go out of business as others change the game and you lose.

Most business leaders intuitively know this. Which is why more and more are making sincere efforts to encourage innovation in their companies. Unfortunately, these efforts rarely produce the desired results.

According to a recent Forbes article, "Why The Pursuit Of Innovation Usually Fails," when it comes to business innovation, failure is the norm rather than the exception. Most "innovations" are little more than thinly disguised reformulations of existing products or services.

What's behind our systemic inability to innovate?

It's not a lack of creative ideas. People and companies come up with these in abundance. Instead, Forbes attributes the dismal results to how we go about trying to innovate.

Today's business leaders are trained to defend and extend the existing core business, not create a new one. This is especially true in successful companies. Instead of looking for the next breakthrough product, leaders seek to lower costs, improve operational excellence, and develop customer intimacy with the biggest clients.

As a result, most innovation efforts focus on making the innovation process efficient and effective rather than actually developing something new. They try to leverage the company's core brand, which may lead to incremental innovation but greatly reduces the odds of coming up with anything that transforms the market or industry.

At the same time, innovation initiatives rarely receive sufficient budgets or resources. In most companies, the lion's share of the resources go into supporting existing products and services.

These are all valid reasons for why companies struggle to innovate. But sometimes I think the reason is even simpler and more insidious. In the corporate world we are trained to kill good ideas. Instead of looking for ways to make new ideas work, we look for reasons why they won't work. And most of the time we're not even aware we're doing it!

How do we kill good ideas? Simply by the way we talk about them. This process is automatic and mostly unconscious, and it happens countless times every day on the shop floors and in cubicles and boardrooms everywhere.

How many times have you heard these phrases (and others like them) in your organization?
  • We already tried that.
  • That's never been done before.
  • We don't do things that way.
  • It will cost too much.
  • Management won't go for it.
  • That will never pay for itself.
  • The customer won't buy that.
  • Nice idea, but too far ahead of its time.
  • You're such a dreamer.

These are innovation killers! They sound reasonable. They sound practical. In some cases they may even be true. But they stop new and promising ideas dead in their tracks before they have any chance to blossom and grow.

Here's the interesting part - most of us do not intentionally set out to stifle innovation. When we hear a new idea, we don't consciously think, "That's a bad idea, I'm going to kill it." Instead, our response occurs at the unconscious level. A new idea contradicts what we believe is true, so our brain perceives it as a threat. This triggers an automatic response, and the innovation-killing phrases come out of our mouths before we even know it.

Don't believe me? Watch what happens the next time a new employee joins the company. Part of the reason we hire new employees is for their fresh energy and new ideas. Yet, when they start suggesting different ways of doing things, you'll hear things like, "Oh, we've always done it this way." Or, "That'll never fly!" Or, "You might want to learn how we do things around here before you go rocking the boat."

People say these things all the time! And we never take notice because they are so ingrained in our thinking and our culture.

I agree that we need to train our leaders better on how to manage innovation. And we could certainly allocate more money and resources in that direction. But it can start with an even simpler approach of identifying and eliminating all the different ways we unintentionally shut down good ideas with the way we talk. Of course, this does require we become aware of our own thinking process and reasons for our auto responses first.

The language we use to describe the world has a powerful impact on the way we see it. As long as innovation killers remain part of our lexicon and culture, our chances for meaningful innovation are greatly diminished.

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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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