Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lost In The Sauce On Innovation

Why do the very best intentions on innovation end up going downhill? There is more than enough urgency to go around -- so why can't we just pick a problem and fix it?

I think it's because we human beings tend to get lost in the sauce. That is, we start out on the right foot, but ultimately miss the point as we fall into five kinds of traps that distract us from the huge and life-changing goals that we can and must achieve:

1. We have a fixed mental model around what innovation looks like. In our agency, company, organization, institution, or what have you, there is a political and cultural environment that dictates what you can and cannot think, say, and do. It closes down the mind to disruptive and radical solutions that can actually work where the current approaches fail to.

2. We get fascinated by sparkly new toys. For example, social media is a toy. It's great and valuable and important of course. It's the new town square, it's a place where people are talking. But in the end it is the table upon which the main dish is served. You've got to focus on the main dish. (But toys are safer to talk about when there is disagreement about the cost of food.)

3. We try to adapt a bureaucracy that's inflexible. Big, established systems can be Too Big To Fail. When it comes to innovation, they most definitely are. Innovation defies all established ways of doing business. Trying to sprint forward while dragging a freight train behind you, repairing widgets as they pull apart this way and that, is no way to innovate.

4. We don't know what to do about culture. For one thing people move slower than the speed of thought or technology. For another they run the very real risk of getting left behind as organizations progress to the next phase. We have difficulty managing the very rapid pace of innovation and the very slow pace of human change at the same time.

5. We don't really believe that we can do it. Despite all the incredible progress that human beings have made on this planet over the past century, we treat every new approach and invention like a huge shock. If only we had a little more faith in our ability to think our way out of problems, maybe we'd be more successful at new ways to come out of our problems.

Ultimately I think there is only one way to truly innovate. And that is to support continuous and rigorous analysis and critique of all things existing. We have to be free thinkers, and support the right of others to be free. Then when we reach consensus, we know that it's real and not just a bunch of useless groupthink.

* All opinions my own.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Respect the rocks for what they are.

Respect the leaves for what they are.

Respect the trees for what they are.

Respect the sky for what it is.

And respect the earth.

If we could only respect people the same way.

* All opinions my own. Photos by me.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"The First Rule About New GM Is Don't Talk About Old GM"

I was watching this great spoof of the GM hearing that recently left our nation's Senators wringing their hands.

The message: Look at our silly litigious culture. You can't be honest anymore, unless you don't care whether someone will sue you.

We see the same problem everywhere. Screwups abound - they are inevitable - and leaders try to move us past them, largely by quickly apologizing and then ignoring the past.

I understand that impulse. I hate looking back at my high school photos. That miserable sulking face! That depressed, pity-me poem! The weird slogan I chose for my goodbye saying! Oh why!

But you can't wipe the past away and neither should you. It is your life. Your heritage and you own it.

Similarly, employees are stamped by the legacy of the "old way." You can tell them that there is a "new way," but they are not going to feel it for many, many years past the time of your telling. Probably not until two "new way" cycles from now.

You have to have compassion for people. You have to stand where they stand. When you tell the employee a thing they take it the way they take it, not the way you from your high perch want to drum it into them. People are perceptors, they are brains - they are not things.

There is a book called The Chosen that taught me a lot about being a leader. About having radical compassion.

Like the main character Danny, I was a bright but cold young person from a Hasidic background. Like Danny, I was alienated and did not find myself in religion. And like Danny, I learned that you become a compassionate helper of people when you suffer the pain of aloneness and silence.

Don't talk so much about the "new GM." Go to the people of the "old GM," and just sit with them. You may be able to lead the way. But you also have to walk many miles with them in their shoes.

* All opinions my own.

There is only one metric that matters.

Photo via Wikimedia (Prague Symphony)

Every new leader comes in with a plan. Employees have seen a million of them.

Every plan has five or six guiding principles.

With a web of goals and objectives underneath.

Followed by dozens of corresponding measures of success.

Nobody can follow all this. It's too complicated.

It doesn't get us moving forward either. We are too busy counting and reporting.

The only metric that matters is teamwork. And there are lots of ways to find evidence of that.

Teamwork sounds like a simplistic goal. But it is very difficult to achieve. And makes everything else possible.

We should focus employees on teamwork, all the time. And regularly evaluate its effectiveness. 

* All opinions my own.

Copyright @ 2013 On My Mind.