Category Archives: Creativity

The Downside of Likemindedness

The Downside of Likemindedness

GUEST POST from Rachel Audige

You know that extra buzz of care you feel for people like you? That might be you caught up in like-mindedness bias. We have a tendency to seek out people like us and ideas like our own. That may be just fine but let’s not kid ourselves that it fosters new thinking!

It’s hard not to enjoy kindred spirits. There is something very comforting about spending time with people who share similar values and desires, but I tire of meetings and work situations where people speak of the pleasure of being with folk like them:

“It is so good to be amongst like-minded people,” I heard in a local business meeting that I attend to be challenged.

“An event for the like-minded,” is supposed to attract us to an innovation event.

“Feeling like meeting like-minded women over lunch?” says an invitation I receive in my inbox.

We welcome people, but the sub-text is that they need to ‘be like us’. “There is nothing wrong with you as long as you look like, think like, act like, lead like, advance like, decide like, keep time like, create like, socialize like and consume like us,” writes Nancy Kline in More Time To Think.

It is a bias at large in the workplace and, indeed, in most other places. We just seem to want to self-replicate.

More pervasively, even social media algorithms nourish this thinking and feedback to us only the ideas and world views that we have ‘liked’. The result is that our own narrow views are played back to us in a mind-narrowing echo chamber. This is not an innovative ecosystem, it’s more like an echo- system where our own thoughts and ideas are reflected back at us.

This is not an innovative ecosystem, it’s more like an echo- system where our own thoughts and ideas are reflected back at us.

I believe this obsession with like-mindedness stems from a range of factors including:

▶ A fear of being different. Our desire to fit in and belong is usually greater than our willingness to stand out.

▶ A false idea of mateship that tells us we can only be ‘mates’ if we get on. We see this a lot in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

▶ Avoidance of conflict. In organizations where we are not encouraged to challenge the leadership or each other, some will choose to behave as though they agree to avoid any negative consequences.

▶ Fear of rejection. This is the people-pleasing side where people show agreement whether they agree or not.

▶ Need for Approval. This is very apparent in many large corporations and can lead to a passive/defensive culture in an organization. It may be amplified by the fact that for many the HiPPO (the bias where we defer to the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) is offshore and there is a sense that we need to walk the corporate line.

▶ And lastly, what Nancy Kline would see as an untrue limiting assumption, that someone else’s divergent thinking ‘does not count’; a sense that we are—or our thinking is—superior.

“When we all think alike, there is little danger of innovation” — Edward Abbey

I don’t believe that like-mindedness is conducive to innovative thinking or the best decision making. I have sat on a board where the CEO and Chair were so close they did not call each other out on important matters. I have also been in a team where the Head of Sales and Head of Marketing were being told they should agree of things when I was convinced that each of them was likely to be more effective if they represented their divergent take on the customer, strategy and long-term versus short-term priorities.

A CREATIVE CULL

The like-mindedness bias not only impoverishes thinking but excludes those who are ‘un-like’ us in a variety of ways. Some expressions of this like-mindedness bias and its consequences that I have witnessed with regards to creative thinking are:

▶ Groups that place too much value on similarity and getting on. As a result, they are less likely to bring divergent thinking into the room. They may then consciously — or unthinkingly — not invite those who we believe are not ‘like them’. I have seen this lead to ideas that are less rich and less inclusive of a diverse range of views where I had to speak up for the absent (needless to say, I also had blinkers and would have left people out).

▶ Countless idea generation sessions where we have not consciously asked the question: who does this idea exclude? We tend to be very good at looking for benefits and challenges but many workshops have fallen into the trap of the mythical notion of ‘one size fits all’. This could exclude any number of people.

▶ I recall a meeting where a panel was seeking creative ideas around addressing the disproportionately low number of women positions of power in Australian businesses. Incredibly, only two men were in a room of over 100 women. This was unlikely to bring the most creative ideas or engage those that needed to be part of the conversation.

▶ Conversely, I have run a roundtable explicitly for people living with disability and upset a person who was hard of hearing and was seated at the back of the room, unable to lipread. Albeit unintentional, we need to watch out for ‘micro-aggressors’; those (seemingly) little things that remind people that the world wasn’t built for them. We talk a lot about ‘scalability’ in innovation. But how can we see something as truly scalable if we are leaving out about 15% of the population?

Most of us have been in a meeting — creative or otherwise — where the unwritten rule involves sacrificing more challenging, disruptive ideas for consensus and groupthink. In a creative session, if my goal is to get on with another person, I am unlikely to improve on their ideas. I am also unlikely to contradict them. This leads to a lowest common denominator effect whereby we settle on what is agreeable to all.

If we are not pushing each other for better, we are likely to stop at safe, possibly ‘vanilla’ concepts. This erodes our creative edge and our point of difference. Nancy Kline clearly sees the danger: “We worship at the altar of homogeneity. Actually, we sacrifice there… Homogeneity sounds so nice. Same, comfortable, familiar, predictable. But it is ruthless. And it infects even our conception of how to slay it.”

The most helpful way of exploring the many negatives of the like-mindedness bias and its impact on innovation is to highlight the value of its opposite…

DIVERSITY | DIVERGENT THINKING | INCLUSION and UNIVERSAL DESIGN

One of the most powerful measures to keep most biases in check is to invite diversity, divergent thinking and actively foster inclusion.

Mid-Covid-19 discussions in Australia, I was delighted to hear Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy’s response to a question about whether he agreed with the different stakeholders involved in making wellbeing decisions. He replied that it was preferable for them not to agree and that their decisions would be better for it.

Diversity is manifesting an understanding that each individual is unique and recognising individual differences. These differences may be in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies. As Kline states: “The mind works best in the presence of reality. Reality is Diverse.”

‘Diversity’ has been part of the business vernacular for years now. Diversity is the mix. What matters is how we make this mix work once we combine different backgrounds, vocabularies, paradigms and processes. That’s inclusion. Not getting this right can whitewash creativity and, potentially, undermine the inclusiveness of any creative output.

Dr Jennifer Whelan, founder of Psynapse, offers a simple illustration of why diversity is preferable. Whelan describes two rooms. In the first room, you see people just like you; people who share the same language, skin colour, gender and even background. You can relax, these are ‘your kind of people’. You can build rapport, make assumptions, enjoy high levels of certainty. It feels efficient.

But there are risks to this, warns Whelan: “Too much agreement means we don’t consider alternative solutions, or discuss a broader range of ideas. We are at risk of groupthink and biases because we don’t have a fresh set of eyes on how we’re thinking. We don’t feel challenged so we go with the easier option and stick with tried and tested solutions. While some of the routine things we do at work might not suffer, when it comes to some of the more challenging things, this room acts as an echo chamber.”

In the second, you open the door to a room full of people who are both different to you and to each other. In this room, you’ll have to bring your A-game. You’ll need to listen more attentively and be better prepared.

“This second room doesn’t feel as comfortable as the first room. You have to work a lot harder and the outcome might not be as predictable,” says Whelan. However, this room has many potential upsides. This is likely to be a space which is more conducive to creativity. A place where more varied ideas are aired, less shortcuts are made and people are more likely to notice what might otherwise be overlooked.

Room one is more comfortable but it is less well equipped for creative thinking and is more prone to biases, errors and assumptions.

“Getting more comfortable in room two, the diverse room, is the goal of inclusion and, without inclusion, room two can risk higher levels of conflict. Different perspectives and ideas aren’t explored without an open, curious mind, so the team’s diversity can go to waste,” says Whelan.

So, what can we do to counter the like-mindedness bias to disinvest in sameness and think more inclusively and creatively and ‘make the mix work’ in our innovation?

My experience of corporate innovation workshops and idea generation sessions is that we focus on desirability, feasibility and viability but forget to ask the question: Who am I excluding?

It strikes me that we need to overlay—or better, underpin— all our creative thinking and work on new product and service design, process enhancement by this consideration and constantly strive to iron out the kinks to make whatever we are creating as inclusive as possible.

We also need to include universal design principles in our idea generation criteria: is it equitable? Flexible? Simple and intuitive? Is information perceptible? Is there a tolerance for error? Does it require low physical effort? Is the size and space adequate for approach and use? Who might this idea exclude? If we want to dial up our creative outputs, we need more divergent inputs. We need to actively seek out or create places where we will encounter different-minded people; divergent thinking and diverse group identities.

As Brené Brown says: “Daring leaders fight for the inclusion of all people, opinions and perspectives because that makes us all better and stronger.

“That means having the courage to acknowledge our own privilege and staying open to learning about our biases and blind spots.”

NOTHING KEEPS BIAS IN CHECK LIKE INCLUSIVE DIVERSITY

Whatever we are creating, we shouldn’t be considering difference after the fact. Literally — and metaphorically — we need to come up with ideas, systems, processes, designs, websites, buildings…where each and every person can enter through the front door.

I work on a simple premise that innovation should be geared towards making our lives better. When this view is shared, diversity really needs to be front and centre of any initiative. Online and off, we need to follow the thinking of the likes of Todd Rose, co- founder and president of non-profit Project Variability, who challenges the ‘myth of the average’ and recommends that we ‘design to the edges’ and optimise our processes, structures, systems, products and communication for the full range of human characteristics, traits, abilities and interests.

I have always found that my ideas can be improved and sharpened by people who think differently. As long as I listen to those voices with respect and interest — and genuinely contemplate the ideas of others.

I am convinced that we think better and are more likely to look at things from more angles with different perspectives in the room. This is why the best idea generation happens with multidisciplinary, cross-functional, cross-ability groups.

I’m not scared of a ‘clashing’ of ideas and debate. It keeps me sharp and it keeps me grounded. It keeps complacency at bay. It leads to more meaningful outcomes. I am conscious that my comfort with conflict may be another person’s discomfort.

Even when I’m overly partial to an idea, I try to think inclusively and not defensively, I try to make a point of inviting diverse voices to pipe up. Being challenged is a necessary part of the creative process. We need to embrace the discomfort.

Whatever we are creating, we shouldn’t be considering difference after the fact. Literally — and metaphorically — we need to come up with ideas, systems, processes, designs, websites, buildings… where each and every person can enter through the front door.

If you are interested in overcoming biases to enhance your innovation effectiveness, check out: “UNBLINKERED: The quirky biases that get in the way of creative thinking…and how to bust them” at www.rachelaudige.com

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Will CHATgpt make us more or less innovative?

Will CHATgpt make us more or less innovative?

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

The rapid emergence of increasingly sophisticated ‘AI ‘ programs such as CHATgpt will profoundly impact our world in many ways. That will inevitably include Innovation, especially the front end. But will it ultimately help or hurt us? Better access to information should be a huge benefit, and my intuition was to dive in and take full advantage. I still think it has enormous upside, but I also think it needs to be treated with care. At this point at least, it’s still a tool, not an oracle. It’s an excellent source for tapping existing information, but it’s (not yet) a source of new ideas. As with any tool, those who understand deeply how it works, its benefits and its limitations, will get the most from it. And those who use it wrongly could end up doing more harm than good. So below I’ve mapped out a few pros and cons that I see. It’s new, and like everybody else, I’m on a learning curve, so would welcome any and all thoughts on these pros and cons:

What is Innovation?

First a bit of a sidebar. To understand how to use a tool, I at least need to have a reasonably clear of what goals I want it to help me achieve. Obviously ‘what is innovation’ is a somewhat debatable topic, but my working model is that the front end of innovation typically involves taking existing knowledge or technology, and combining it in new, useful ways, or in new contexts, to create something that is new, useful and ideally understandable and accessible. This requires deep knowledge, curiosity and the ability to reframe problems to find new uses of existing assets. A recent illustrative example is Oculus Rift, an innovation that helped to make virtual reality accessible by combining fairly mundane components including a mobile phone screen and a tracking sensor and ski glasses into something new. But innovation comes in many forms, and can also involve serendipity and keen observation, as in Alexander Fleming’s original discovery of penicillin. But even this requires deep domain knowledge to spot the opportunity and reframing undesirable mold into a (very) useful pharmaceutical. So, my start-point is which parts of this can CHATgpt help with?

Another sidebar is that innovation is of course far more than simply discovery or a Eureka moment. Turning an idea into a viable product or service usually requires considerable work, with the development of penicillin being a case in point. I’ve no doubt that CHATgpt and its inevitable ‘progeny’ will be of considerable help in that part of the process too.   But for starters I’ve focused on what it brings to the discovery phase, and the generation of big, game changing ideas.

First the Pros:

1. Staying Current: We all have to strike a balance between keeping up with developments in our own fields, and trying to come up with new ideas. The sheer volume of new information, especially in developing fields, means that keeping pace with even our own area of expertise has become challenging. But spend too much time just keeping up, and we become followers, not innovators, so we have to carve out time to also stretch existing knowledge. But if we don’t get the balance right, and fail to stay current, we risk get leapfrogged by those who more diligently track the latest discoveries. Simultaneous invention has been pervasive at least since the development of calculus, as one discovery often signposts and lays the path for the next. So fail to stay on top of our field, and we potentially miss a relatively easy step to the next big idea. CHATgpt can become an extremely efficient tool for tracking advances without getting buried in them.

2. Pushing Outside of our Comfort Zone: Breakthrough innovation almost by definition requires us to step beyond the boundaries of our existing knowledge. Whether we are Dyson stealing filtration technology from a sawmill for his unique ‘filterless’ vacuum cleaner, physicians combining stem cell innovation with tech to create rejection resistant artificial organs, or the Oculus tech mentioned above, innovation almost always requires tapping resources from outside of the established field. If we don’t do this, then we not only tend towards incremental ideas, but also tend to stay in lock step with other experts in our field. This becomes increasingly the case as an area matures, low hanging fruit is exhausted, and domain knowledge becomes somewhat commoditized. CHATgpt simply allows us to explore beyond our field far more efficiently than we’ve ever been able to before. And as it or related tech evolves, it will inevitably enable ever more sophisticated search. From my experience it already enables some degree of analogous search if you are thoughtful about how to frame questions, thus allowing us to more effectively expand searches for existing solutions to problems that lie beyond the obvious. That is potentially really exciting.

Some Possible Cons:

1. Going Down the Rabbit Hole: CHATgpt is crack cocaine for the curious. Mea culpa, this has probably been the most time consuming blog I’ve ever written. Answers inevitably lead to more questions, and it’s almost impossible to resist playing well beyond the specific goals I initially have. It’s fascinating, it’s fun, you learn a lot of stuff you didn’t know, but I at least struggle with discipline and focus when using it. Hopefully that will wear off, and I will find a balance that uses it efficiently.

2. The Illusion of Understanding: This is a bit more subtle, but a topic inevitably enhances our understanding of it. The act of asking questions is as much a part of learning as reading answers, and often requires deep mechanistic understanding. CHATgpa helps us probe faster, and its explanations may help us to understand concepts more quickly. But it also risks the illusion of understanding. When the heavy loading of searching is shifted away from us, we get quick answers, but may also miss out on the deeper mechanistic understanding we’d have gleaned if we’d been forced to work a bit harder. And that deeper understanding can be critical when we are trying to integrate superficially different domains as part of the innovation process. For example, knowing that we can use a patient’s stem cells to minimize rejection of an artificial organ is quite different from understanding how the immune system differentiates between its own and other stem cells. The risk is that sophisticated search engines will do more heavy lifting, allow us to move faster, but also result in a more superficial understanding, which reduces our ability to spot roadblocks early, or solve problems as we move to the back end of innovation, and reduce an idea to practice.

3. Eureka Moment: That’s the ‘conscious’ watch out, but there is also an unconscious one. It’s no secret that quite often our biggest ideas come when we are not actually trying. Archimedes had his Eureka moment in the bath, and many of my better ideas come when I least expect them, perhaps in the shower, when I first wake up, or am out having dinner. The neuroscience of creativity helps explain this, in that the restructuring of problems that leads to new insight and the integration of ideas works mostly unconsciously, and when we are not consciously focused on a problem. It’s analogous to the ‘tip of the tongue’ effect, where the harder we try to remember something, the harder it gets, but then comes to us later when we are not trying. But the key for the Eureka moment is that we need sufficiently deep knowledge for those integrations to occur. If CHATgpt increases the illusion of understanding, we could see less of those Eureka moments, and the ‘obvious in hindsight ideas’ they create.

Conclusion

I think that ultimately innovation will be accelerated by CHATgpt and what follows, perhaps quite dramatically. But I also think that we as innovators need to try and peel back the layers and understand as much as we can about these tools, as there is potential for us to trip up. We need to constantly reinvent the way we interact with them, leverage them as sophisticated innovation tools, but avoid them becoming oracles. We also need to ensure that we, and future generations use them to extend our thinking skill set, but not become a proxy for it. The calculator has in some ways made us all mathematical geniuses, but in other ways has reduced large swathes of the population’s ability to do basic math. We need to be careful that CHATgpt doesn’t do the same for our need for cognition, and deep mechanistic and/or critical thinking.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Stop Recycling Old Ideas and Start Solving New Problems

Stop Recycling Old Ideas and Start Solving New Problems

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

Creating new ideas is easy. Sit down, quiet your mind, and create a list of five new ideas. There. You’ve done it. Five new ideas. It didn’t take you a long time to create them. But ideas are cheap.

Converting ideas into sellable products and selling them is difficult and expensive. A customer wants to buy the new product when the underlying idea that powers the new product solves an important problem for them. In that way, ideas whose solutions don’t solve important problems aren’t good ideas. And in order to convert a good idea into a winning product, dirt, rocks, and sticks (natural resources) must be converted into parts and those parts must be assembled into products. That is expensive and time-consuming and requires a factory, tools, and people that know how to make things. And then the people that know how to sell things must apply their trade. This, too, adds to the difficulty and expense of converting ideas into winning products.

The only thing more expensive than converting new ideas into winning products is reusing your tired, old ideas until your offerings run out of sizzle. While you extend and defend, your competitors convert new ideas into new value propositions that bring shame to your offering and your brand. (To be clear, most extend-and-defend programs are actually defend-and-defend programs.) And while you reuse/leverage your long-in-the-tooth ideas, start-ups create whole new technologies from scratch (new ideas on a grand scale) and pull the rug out from under you. The trouble is that the ultra-high cost of extend-and-defend is invisible in the short term. In fact, when coupled with reuse, it’s highly profitable in the moment. It takes years for the wheels to fall off the extend-and-defend bus, but make no mistake, the wheels fall off.

When you find the urge to create a laundry list of new ideas, don’t. Instead, solve new problems for your customers. And when you feel the immense pressure to extend and defend, don’t. Instead, solve new problems for your customers.

And when all that gets old, repeat as needed.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Pele and Vivienne Westwood – Innovators Lost

Pele and Vivienne Westwood - Innovators Lost

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

The loss of Pele and Vivienne Westwood, two giants of innovation in their respective fields, marks a sad end to 2022. But both left legacies that can inspire us as we navigate a likely challenging New Year.

Humble Beginnings: Both rose from humble beginnings to become national and international institutions. Pele was an artist with a football, Westwood with fabric and design. Both were resilient, multifaceted, creative, and had the courage to challenge the status quo. Pele famously honed his football skills by kicking around grapefruits in desperately poor neighborhood. Westwood originated from humble British working-class origins, where her parents were factory and mill workers.

Pele was a complete footballer, talented with head, foot and mind. He was both creative and practical, and turned football into an art form. A graceful embodiment of the beautiful game, he invented moves, and developed techniques and skills that not only entertained, but that also created a new technical platform for future masters such as Cruyff, Neymar and Messi. But he was also extremely successful, winning three world cups, and scoring over 700 goals for club and country. Furthermore, he was a great ambassador for Brazil and for football. But perhaps most important of all, he was an inspiration to countless youngsters. He embodied that hard work, hard earned skill, a creative mindset and a passionate work ethic could forge a path from poverty to success. A model that inspired many in sports and beyond.

Westwood was similarly both skilled and creatively fearless. She emerged as part of the leading edge of the punk scene in the UK, closely entwined with Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols. But after splitting with McLaren, she forged her own unique and highly successful path. She blended historical materials and fashion references with post-punk individualism to create emergent, maverick designs. Designs that somewhat ironically mainstreamed and embodied British eccentricity, but that also held global appeal.  Like Pele, she was a leader who saw things before anyone else in her field, and ultimately, as the first Dame of Punk, turned that vision into both financial and social success.

Nobody lives forever, and few get to reach the heights of Pele or Westwood. But we can all hopefully learn a little from them. But were leaders, unafraid to follow their own vision. Both were resilient, with the courage and belief to overcame hardship and challenges. Both blended existing norms in new ways to create new, emergent forms. They didn’t just stand on, but rose above, the shoulders of giants. Both are missed, but both live on both in the legacy and lessons they leave

Published simultaneously on LinkedIn

Image credit: Unsplash

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Preserving Ecosystems as an Innovation Superpower

Lessons from Picasso and David Attenborough

Preserving Ecosystems as an Innovation Superpower

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

We probably all agree that the conservation of our natural world is important. Sharing the planet with other species is not only ethically and emotionally the right thing to do to, but it’s also enlightened self-interest. A healthy ecosystem helps equilibrate and stabilize our climate, while the potential of the largely untapped biochemical reservoir of the natural world has enormous potential for pharmaceuticals, medicine and hence long-term human survival.

Today I’m going to propose yet another reason why conservation is in our best interest. And not just the preservation of individual species, but also the maintenance of the complex, interactive ecosystems in which individual species exist.

Biomimicry: Nature is not only a resource for pharmaceuticals, but also an almost infinite resource for innovation that transcends virtually every field we can, or will imagine. This is not a new idea. Biomimicry, the concept of mimicking natures’ solutions to a broad range of problems, was first coined by Janine Benyus in 1997. But humans have intuitively looked to nature to help solve problems throughout history. Silk production in ancient bio-technology that co-opts the silk worm, while much of early human habitations were based on caves, a natural phenomenon. More recently, Velcro, wind turbines, and elements of bullet train design have all been attributed to innovation inspired by nature.

And Biomimicry, together with related areas such as biomechanics and bio-utilization taps into the fundamental core of what the front end of innovation is all about. Dig deep into virtually any innovation, and we’ll find it has been stolen from another source. For example, early computers reapplied punch cards from tapestry looms. The Beatles stole and blended liberally from the blues, skiffle, music hall, reggae and numerous other sources. ‘Uberization’ has created a multitude of new business from AirBNB to nanny, housecleaning or food prep services. Medical suturing was directly ‘stolen’ from embroidery, the Dyson vacuum from a sawmill, oral care calcium deposition technology was reapplied from laundry detergents, etc., etc..

Picasso – Great Artists Steal! This is also the creative process espoused by Pablo Picasso when he said ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’. He ‘stole’ elements of African sculpture and blended them with ideas from contemporaries such as Cézanne to create analytical cubism. In so doing he combined existing knowledge in new ways that created a revolutionary and emergent form of art – one that asked the viewer to engage with a painting in a whole new way. Innovation incarnate!

Ecosystems as an Innovation Resource: The biological world is the biggest potential source of potential innovative ideas we have at our disposal anywhere.  Hence it is an intuitive place to go looking for ideas to solve our biggest innovation challenges. But despite many people trying to leverage this potential goldmine, including myself, it’s never really achieved its full potential. For sure, there are a few great examples, such as Velcro, bullet train flow dynamics or sharkskin surfaces. But given how long we’ve been playing in this sandbox, there are far too few successes. And of those, far too many are based on hindsight, as opposed to using nature to solve a specific challenge. Just look at virtually any article on biomimicry, and the same few success stories show up year after year.

The Resource/Source Paradox. One issue that helps explain this is that the natural world is an almost infinite repository of information. That potential creates a challenging signal to noise’ search problem. The result is enormous potential, but coupled with almost inevitably high failure rates, as we struggle to find the most useful insights

Innovation is More than Ideation: Another challenge is that innovation is not just about ideas or invention; it’s about turning those ideas into practice. In the case of biomimicry, that is particularly hard, as the technical challenge of converting natural technology into viable commercial technologies is hampered because nature works on fundamentally different design principles, and uses very different materials to us. Evolution builds at a nano scale, is highly context dependent, and is result rather than theory led. Materials are usually organic; often water based, and are grown rather than manufactured.  Very different to most conventional human engineering.

Tipping Point: But the good news is that materials science, technology, 3D printing and computational and data processing power, together with nascent AI are evolving at such a fast rate that I’m optimistic that we will soon reach a tipping point that will make search and translation of natural innovations considerably easier than today. Self-learning systems should be able to more easily replicate natural information processing, and 3D printing and nano structures should be able to better mimic the physical constructs of natural systems. AI, or at least massively increased computing power should make it easier for us to both ask the right questions and search large, complex databases.

Conservation as an Innovation Superpower: And that brings me back to conservation as an innovation superpower. If we don’t protect our natural environment, we’ll have a lot less to search, and a lot less to mimic. And that applies to ecosystems as well as individual species. Take the animal or plant out of its natural environment, and it becomes far more difficult to untangle how or why it has evolved in a certain way.

Evolution is the ultimate exploiter of serendipity. It does not have to understand why something works, it simply runs experiments until it stumbles on solutions that do, and natural selection picks the winner(s). That leads to some surprisingly sophisticated innovation. For example, we are only just starting to understand the quantum effects used in avian navigation and photosynthesis. Migratory birds don’t have deep knowledge of quantum mechanics; the beauty of evolution is that they don’t need to. The benefit to us is that we can potentially tap into sophisticated innovation at the leading edge of our theoretical knowledge, provided we know how to define problems, where to look and have sufficient knowledge to decipher it and reduce it to practice. The bad news is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Evolution tapped into quantum mechanics millennia before we knew what it was, so who knows what other innovations lie waiting to be discovered as our knowledge catches up with the nature – the ultimate experimenter.

Ecosystems Matter: But a species without the context of its ecosystem is at best half the story. Nature has solved flight, deep-water exploration, carbon sequestration, renewable energy, high and low temperature resilience and so many more challenges. And it has also done so with 100% utilization and recycling on a systems basis. But most of the underlying innovations solve very specific problems, and so require deep understanding of context.

The Zebra Conundrum: Take the zebra as an example. I was recently watching a David Attenborough documentary about zebras. As a tasty prey animal surrounded by highly efficient predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas, the zebra is an evolutionary puzzle. Why has it evolved a high contrast coat that grabs attention and makes it visible from miles away? High contrast is a fundamental visual cue that means even if a predator is not particularly hungry; it is pretty much compelled to take notice of the hapless zebra. But despite this, the zebra has done pretty well, and the planes of Africa are scattered with this very successful animal. The explanation for this has understandably been the topic of much conjecture and research, and to this day remains somewhat controversial. But more and more, the explanation is narrowing onto a surprisingly obvious culprit; the tsetse fly. When we think of the dangers to a large mammal, we automatically think of large predators. But while zebras undoubtedly prefer to avoid being eaten by lions, diseases associated with tsetse fly bites kill more of them. That means that avoiding tsetse flies likely creates stronger evolutionary pressure than avoiding lions, and that is proving to be a promising explanation for the zebras coat. Far less flies land on or bite animals with stripes.  Exactly why that is remains debatable, and theories range from disrupting the flies vision when landing, to creating mini weather fronts due to differential heating or cooling from the stripes. But whatever the mechanism ultimately turns out to be, stripes stop flies. It appears that the obvious big predators were not the answer after all.

Context Matters: But without deep understanding of the context in which the zebra evolved, this would have been very difficult to unravel. Even if we’d conserved zebras in zoos, finding the tsetse fly connection without the context of the complex African savannah would be quite challenging. It’s all too easy to enthusiastically chase an obvious cause of a problem, and so miss the real one, and our confirmation bias routinely amplifies this.

We often talk about protecting species, but if, as our technology evolves to more effectively ‘steal’ ideas from natural systems, from an innovation perspective alone, preserving context, in the form of complex ecosystems may likely turn out to be at least as important as preserving individual species. We don’t know what we don’t know, and often the surprisingly obvious and critical answer to a puzzle can only be determined by exploring a puzzle in its natural environment.

Enlightened Self-Interest. Could we use an analogy to the zebra to help control malaria? Could we steal avian navigation for gps? I have no idea, but I believe this makes pursuing conservation enlightened self-interest of the highest order. We want to save the environment for all sorts of reasons, but one of the most interesting is that one-day, some part of it could save us.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Innovate for Good – Breaking Paradoxes

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

At the time of my writing this, the world is in the midst of unprecedented triple crises. The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on healthcare and on the personal lives of people globally. The economic impacts of this pandemic are crippling nations, small towns, and people all over the world. And to top it off we are experiencing incredible social unrest – protests for Black Lives Matter are taking shape all around the world, with the goal of peaceful protests for change – but they’ve been hijacked by anarchists of varied profiles… individual crusaders, terrorists acting solo, antagonists of the left and the right wings… so many different factions creating chaos. All of this to say, change is happening at paces unimaginable, and ‘INNOVATION for Good’ – of all types, centered on human, economic, and environmental impacts – is a dire necessity.

The world faces many great challenges. For example, the World Economic Forum reports that “by 2050, global food systems will need to sustainably and nutritiously feed more than 9 billion people while providing economic opportunities in both rural and urban communities. Yet our food systems are falling far short of these goals. A systemic transformation is needed at an unprecedented speed and scale.”

Speed and scale, these days, are the operative words prioritized in innovation investments. When and how are the big questions that investors and stakeholders primarily ask? Of course, these are important questions. Breaking the cycle of ‘profit first’ is not an easy shift for capitalist societies. Social Entrepreneurism, Social Innovation Organizations, and Non-Governmental Organizations are charting courses toward innovating in new and socially impactful ways, but they need the support, collaborative partnership, and help from investors and from the public and private sectors. The world of business has been groomed for years to drive everything fast, faster, and fastest – fail-fast, rapid prototype, accelerated stage gates, hire-slow-fire-fast, rapid returns… and so on. Measured return on investments drives innovation decision-making from new cure-all drugs to the closet full of patents that sit in the coffers of giant industry leaders never making it out into the commercial world, even though these may be game-changing, lifesaving, humanity-improving innovations.

This chapter looks at examples of how to shift from ‘profit first’ to ‘ethics and innovation for good and safety first’. If you build it safely, ethically, and build it to serve humanity, improve the environment, and support socially good causes, the profits will come. But investors and stakeholders need to understand the WHYs – why safety, ethics, and serving are so important. How are we innovators sharing these three critical priorities in the stories we build to gain buy-in on new ideas? So often, safety and ethics are afterthoughts. Responsible Innovation: Ethics and Risks of New Technologies, Joost Groot Kormelink, TU Delft Open, 2019 note:

“If we do not critically and systematically assess our technologies in terms of the values they support and embody, people with perhaps less noble intentions may insert their views on sustainability, safety and security, health and well-being, privacy and accountability.”

Also in the textbook, Responsible Innovation: Ethics and Risks of New Technologies, it sites are case study examples of how conflicting values can open up new opportunities to innovate responsible. As a learning method, the case study opens up our minds to the point of view or moral foundations as an opportunity:Moral dilemmas can help stimulate creativity and innovation, and innovative design may help us to overcome problems of moral overload.”

In the case study excerpt below: “Smart meters and conflicting values as an opportunity to innovate.” The case study points to an example of smart meter design.

The smart meter 3.0, which is what we are ideally looking for, is designed to accommodate both of the functional requirements in order to make energy use more efficient, while also protecting personal data. It gives us privacy and sustainability. In this respect, innovation in smart metering is exactly this: the reconciliation of a range of values, or moral requirements, in one smart design, some of which were actually in conflict before. Similarly, if we would like to benefit from RFID technology (enabling to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects) in retail, but fear situations in which we might be tracked throughout the shopping mall, it has been suggested we can have it both ways. A so-called ‘clipped chip’ in the form of a price tag with clear indentations would allow customers to tear off a piece of the label, thereby shortening the antenna in the label so as to limit the range in which the label can transmit data.

Clarity of Values-Based Purpose

In the case above, there is clear purpose-driven innovation. Study after study has shown clarity of purpose is key to engaging people in new ideas.

A Kin&Co survey conducted by Populus points out that “Not embedding purpose properly also alienates customers, because in this age of transparency employee problems leak out online, and into the press. Over a third of employees surveyed (34%) said they’d consider writing a negative review online.” One example cited is of “… the Etsy employee who started a petition against the company’s leaders for not living their purpose and values, which was signed by thousands of employees and then went viral.” From: Why purpose matters and four steps companies can take to get it right”, Rosie Warin, 14 February 2018, Ethical Corporation Magazine, Reuters Events – Sustainable Business, the conclusion was thus that …

 Having a purpose and not living it will actually hurt your business more than not having one at all! Why Purpose Matters

There is a hunger for more transparency, having our work be meaningful, and knowledge that ethics and privacy are forethoughts, not afterthoughts. It’s good for business, and certainly will drive better profits in the long run.

Breaking the ‘Fast Profit’ Addiction and Adapting Innovation for Social Benefits – Seeking Purpose

Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.  Winston Churchill

What if we asked the BIG ‘What if?’ What if we were more focused on the benefits of our innovations to humans, the environment, and society – making these priorities over profits first? Can it be proven that if you build it, the profits will come?

The United Nations: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The chapter Foundations of Moral Innovation (Chapter 3 – page 57) mentioned the ‘triple bottom line’ that socially conscious companies focus on serving – People / Planet / Profit… the social, environmental, and financial aspects of an organization’s impact. In 2015 the United Nations cast a vision (and put actions to their words) to build a better world for all people by 2030. Engaging a world of collaborators is key to the success of these 17 Development Goals (noted below).

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are one of the world’s best plan to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030. Adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the SDGs are a call for action by all countries – poor, rich and middle-income – to promote prosperity while protecting the environment. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, equality, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and working to preserve our ocean and forests. See Transforming A World: A 2030 Agenda.

The Division for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG) within the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) provides substantive support and capacity-building for these SDGs and their related thematic issues.

To say the least, as we read these 17 audaciously massive and impactful goals, the goals feel incredibly lofty; the actions to innovate solutions for three of the goals, much less 17 of them, feels nearly unachievable (in our fast prototyping, rapid release, ROI-focused, capitalistic mind-sets) and CFOs around the world sense that acting on these in any way may weigh heavily on profits. Yet many companies are collaborating to drive solutions to these goals. The United Nations built a values-based and purpose-driven platform to participate in solving these world challenges. They provide guidelines, research, information on other collaborators, tools, data, and so much support to help those that choose to participate. And participating they are! Noted from a press release in July 2019: “28 companies with combined market cap of $1.3 trillion step up to new level of climate ambition. Ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit, companies commit to set 1.5°C climate targets aligned with a net-zero future, challenging Governments to match their ambition”.

Here are a few of the participating companies from this release: AstraZeneca, Banka BioLoo, BT, Dalmia Cement Ltd., Eco-Steel Africa Ltd., Enel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Iberdrola, KLP, Levi Strauss & Co., Royal DSM, SAP, Signify, Singtel, Telefonica, Telia, Unilever, Vodafone Group PLC, and Zurich Insurance, amongst others. The release goes on to note that this collectively represents over one million employees from 17 sectors and more than 16 countries.

It seems that the United Nations has created an intensely collaborative framework that offers a moral ground to innovate. It’s just one example, and as complex as these goals are, the framework is simple… build a mission-driven platform, engage thought-leaders around the world, set up metrics and measures for success, provide as much data as possible, offer support when and where needed, and provide as many tools as possible to encourage collaboration amongst them.

ESG – A Moral Compass

Social investors are a group growing in popularity and size. These investors focus their investments and their portfolios on corporations around the world with metric-driven processes to ensure they are building sustainable and responsible companies – a practice known as environmental, social and corporate governance, or ESG.

An example of such an organization is Philips Corporation, which has made a commitment to ESG and thus to ethics over profits. In the article, “Good business: Why placing ethics over profits pays off”, they share “When companies work ethically, they will naturally outpace competition. Why? Simply because customers, as we’ve discovered, will see them as a trusted partner, not only for what they do, but how it is delivered. Commitment from management is a key factor to effectively deal with these situations.”

In Stanford Social Innovation Review, authors Chris Fabian and Robert Fabricant write, “An ethical framework – ‘a way of structuring your deliberation about ethical questions’ – can help to bridge disparate worlds and discourses and help them work well together.” Their article further notes that, “Ethical questions might include: ‘Is this platform / product actually providing a social good?’ or ‘Am I harming / including the user in the creation of this new solution?’ or even ‘Do I have a right to be taking claim of this space at all?’”11 Such a strong ethical framework can help innovators to plan for ‘value-based collaborations’. Establishing such a framework within your innovation practice also provides a process whereby collaborators can monitor the work, and consistently ensure that ethics are intact. Moreover, planning for positive outcomes and managing to an ethical framework gives customers, buyers, stakeholders, users, and investors some comfort that the ‘net new disruptive innovations’ will be safe for all, which will result in strong profits and longevity in due time.

Very importantly, this article also points out that while ethics may involve subjectivity, nevertheless “an ethical framework can bridge the worlds of startup technology companies and international development to strengthen cross-sector innovation in the social sector.”

Fabian and Fabricant outline a 4-model framework in this article:

  • Innovation is humanistic: solving big problems through human ingenuity, imagination, and entrepreneurialism that can come from anywhere.
  • Innovation is non-hierarchical: drawing ideas from many different sources and incubating small, agile teams to test and iterate on them with user feedback.
  • Innovation is participatory: designing with (not for) real people.
  • Innovation is sustainable: building skills even if most individual endeavors will ultimately fail in their societal goals.

“Critical to the world’s innovation effort is harvesting the Human Imagination!”  Patrick Reasonover – writer and producer of They Say It Can’t Be Done

Incorporating any of the above four models provides the basis for forethought and planning. There may be additional considerations accompanying the above framework to drive even better outcomes yet – especially for those with big audacious visions of disruptive innovation. But often there are unexpected barriers. So how can one plan for the unexpected? There is a documentary film that explores some of these barriers, and four companies working to overcome them.

They Say It Can’t Be Done, written and produced by Patrick Reasonover, is an excellent documentary exploring how innovation can solve some of the world’s largest problems. The film tracks four companies on the cutting edge of technological solutions that could promote animal welfare, solve hunger, eliminate organ wait lists, and reduce atmospheric carbon. The film explores often unexpected challenges and barriers that are potentially keeping these companies from realizing success. They each share steps and strategies on how to break through the ‘concrete walls’.

The compelling theme from these companies is innovation for good – innovation with a moral foundation to improve humanity. One of the first questions typically asked by stakeholders is “When will these companies or their new innovations become profitable?” Here’s the BIG ‘What if’ question.  What if we changed this question to, “What will it take to make this successful, and how can we help you get there faster?”  These are fairly typical questions. But what about roadblocks potentially challenging even the most knowledgeable and experienced teams and proven technologies? I recently spoke with Patrick Reasonover about his mission and the documentary. Reasonover shares, “Faced with similar challenges to the companies in the documentary, I felt if more people understood barriers, the world would see more successful outcomes that could save people, improve human conditions, and the environment.”  Reasonover went on to share four themes that would greatly help disruptors in their innovation practices. These four themes are summarized as follows:

  1. One of the most important points he made in our discussion was to engage regulators and government agencies – collaborating with them very early on in the process and all along your path. Help them to understand; listen and take in their input.
  2. Institute what Reasonover calls an ‘Ambassador of Imagination’. We need more imagination in the world and in our own world. It’s too easy to get boxed into an innovation framework and forget to take the blinders off in order to think and create big things!
  3. Optimism is sorely needed in the world and especially for innovators. Getting new things out the door is daunting. Infuse your efforts with doses of optimism grounded in reality.
  4. CELEBRATE… hitting milestones should be celebrated along the way. It’s a long road, and all too often we get push back from doubters, investors wanting faster outcomes, governing approval agencies, and so on. Celebrate and move forward!

These four practices create a culture that encourages and celebrates imagination, innovation, success, and all the collaborators helping you get there. And involving agencies early on in the process helps them to understand that you are taking safety and ethics seriously. Take for example 3D-printed organs for those needing transplants. There is so much at stake. Stepping through the approval process to prove it out on less risky organs – for example, 3D printed ears – helps to chart the course for other organs as the technologies and the discovery of new methods continues to develop.

The article “On The Road To 3-D Printed Organs” in TheScientist reports, “There are a number of companies who are attempting to do things like 3-D print ears, and researchers have already reported transplanting 3-D printed ears onto children who had birth defects that left their ears underdeveloped, notes Robby Bowles, a bioengineer at the University of Utah. The ear transplants are, he says, ‘kind of the first proof of concept of 3-D printing for medicine.”

Ethics First

All in all, there is much evidence pointing to success, longevity, scale, and profits when building a framework that places ethics, safety, values, and purpose as planned practices in any innovation effort.

These practices do not have to slow the process of innovation in the least. On the contrary… they will often speed up the effort, as in the example of engaging regulators as collaborators early on in your efforts. Engaging imagination and optimism are sorely needed, and keeps teams engaged and enthused. And.. leveraging one of Stanford’s four models could save a great deal of pain by monitoring outcomes all along your development stage gates. It all just makes good and safe business sense!

*Article is an excerpt contribution (chapter 6): The Other Side of Growth: Innovator’s Responsibilities in an Emerging World

Image credit: Pixabay

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Effective Facilitation for All

How Leadership Fundamentals Benefit Everyone

Effective Facilitation for All

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Effective facilitation isn’t limited to the inner workings of staff meetings. True facilitation goes beyond simply setting an agenda: it’s a mindset, framework, and way of being.

Excellent facilitators know how to get the best out of their teams and design conversations that are innovative, exciting, and productive.

In this article, we explore how the fundamentals of facilitation affect an organization in the following topics:

  • Leading with Great Expectations
  • Effective Facilitation for Everyone
  • Facilitation with a Purpose

Leading with Great Expectations

At its core, great facilitation is an engaging conversation. In practicing effective facilitation, leaders make sure all communication is as clear and thoughtful as possible. Facilitators can begin this conversation by intentionally setting their expectations with all stakeholders in every conversation, meeting, and project.

Often, meetings end with attendees unaware of their colleagues’ and leaders’ expectations. By focusing on effective facilitation, leaders can identify and communicate their expectations as well as the expectations of everyone else in the room.

Consider the following facilitation fundamentals when identifying others’ expectations and needs ahead of a meeting:

  • Personal Preparation

Preparation is essential for any form of facilitation. Whether you’re leading a meeting or heading up a project, participants expect you to come prepared. Demonstrate proper facilitation techniques by preparing to be physically, emotionally, and mentally ready for your presentation.

  • Practice

Practice is the next step in proper facilitation. In practicing, you’ll be able to review your process and identify any areas needed for adjustment. Moreover, practicing will help you visualize your upcoming session, anticipate problems, and prepare alternative plans should something go wrong.

  • Process

Effortless facilitation follows a seamless process designed specifically for your audience. Facilitators have a variety of processes to choose from, including strategic planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and more.

  • Place

Your physical or virtual environment plays an important role in your facilitation ventures. It’s essential to be as intentional as possible in selecting the space for your next session. Consider the requirements for a space, such as the size of the room, what equipment is needed, and any other elements that may affect the flow of your meeting.

  • Purpose

The purpose may be the single most important component of effective facilitation. Your purpose will outline the end goal of a meeting and will communicate why the session is taking place.

  • Perspective

Perspective is as essential to effective facilitation as the purpose. Your perspective allows you to contextualize the goals, mission, vision, and purpose of your meeting.

  • Product

As effective facilitation hinges on meeting with a purpose, understanding what that purpose will produce is just as important. Consider what deliverables should be created by the end of a project, meeting, or conversation. Additionally, be sure to define the most important goals and actionable steps required to achieve them.

  • People

Facilitate with intention by identifying who should be in attendance. Learn more about each participant by researching the bias, potential barriers, and preconceived ideas that they may bring to each meeting. Likewise, be sure to highlight their strengths to further assess how they can be an asset in your conversation.

Effective Facilitation for Everyone

Integrating effective facilitation skills and techniques goes far beyond the walls of a meeting. A facilitative approach to leadership zeroes in on the positives of leading an active and engaged group. Facilitation techniques such as active listening and encouragement work to stimulate participative group conversation and collaboration.

Every member of an organization can benefit from the power of facilitative leadership. Leaders that demonstrate and embody proper facilitation skills can impart these practices to their employees.

Facilitation techniques benefit employees in the following ways:

1. Fostering Collaboration and Learning

Facilitation skills are essential in encouraging an environment of collaboration and learning. Encouraging team members to look at a situation from a different perspective, consider new solutions, and understand how to bring the best out of each other will result in the most productive experiences.

In creating a culture of learning, leaders should take the time to learn from their teams as well. Giving your employees a platform to offer their own insights is the best way to invite them into this collaborative process of co-creating learning.

2. Getting More From Meeting Attendees

As employees adopt the elements of effective facilitation, they’ll bring more of their skills, focus, and energy to each meeting. Equipped with the skills to act as influencers amongst their peers, each employee will become an active participant in the meeting, encouraging each other to make the most out of their time together.

3. Improving Productivity

As team members work together on various projects, effective facilitation skills allow them to move forward in the most productive, cost-effective, and timely manner. When employees incorporate their finely-honed facilitation skills, they work together efficiently, converse productively, and solve problems effectively. Ultimately, facilitation fundamentals allow everyone from team members to management to make the most of their time at work.

4. Boosting Group Dynamics

Incorporating effective facilitation skills helps improve group dynamics as well. All team members benefit from improved communication strategies, both in and out of the structured setting of meetings. These strategies allow all participants to better express their thoughts, opinions, and concerns as they work together to achieve a common goal.

Teams that invest in developing their communication skills are likely to retain the best employees. Statistics show that organizations that practice strong communication skills experience 50% less attrition overall.

5. Encouraging Active Participation

While effective facilitation is often considered from a leadership perspective, it is also an excellent catalyst in driving employee participation. Oftentimes, team members don’t feel comfortable enough to share their true opinions in a meeting. Moreover, they tend to bring the bare minimum to the workplace if they don’t feel as though their participation, efforts, and insights are valued.

Organizations that champion effective facilitation as part of their company culture are actively shaping an environment that makes employees feel as though they are truly part of their team. Feeling this sense of psychological safety allows all stakeholders to feel comfortable enough to put their all into their work.

6. Encouraging Team Competency

Leaders that excel in facilitation techniques are able to engender a sense of self-efficacy in their team. Oftentimes, leaders fail to go beyond methods of coaching to help their team members understand and internalize pertinent information. Effective facilitation helps to bridge the gap of competency in an organization.

Leaders must encourage team members on the path toward true competency. This approach to facilitation is essential to incorporate a culture where facilitation skills are easily transferable.

Lauren Green, Executive Director of Dancing with Markers, shares that the path to competency starts with meeting employees where they are:

“First, you’re unconsciously incompetent. You’re unconscious. And then you become aware [of] your incompetence, and then you’re consciously competent. And then you start to grow your skills. So then you’re consciously competent. And then when you don’t have to think about it anymore, then you’re unconsciously competent.”

Facilitation with a Purpose

Just as the purpose is a powerful tool in leading a meeting, it’s also essential in building effective facilitation skills in others. Intentionally investing in facilitation training allows organizations the opportunity to teach, practice, and embody the structured techniques of effective facilitation.

The nature of effective facilitation is that nothing can take place without purpose. From managing meetings to running projects, leading with the fundamentals of facilitation helps every facet of an organization run smoothly.

Lead with purpose by focusing on the following effective facilitation practices:

  1. Listening first and speaking second
  2. Leading with effective communication
  3. Managing time and tracking deadlines
  4. Asking intentional questions
  5. Inviting others to engage
  6. Creating a focused and psychologically safe environment
  7. Providing unbiased objectivity
  8. Acting as a decider in group discussions

Effective facilitation benefits everyone, whether you’re leading a meeting or encouraging employees to take their leadership skills to the next level. At Voltage Control, we help leaders and teams harness the power of facilitation. Contact us to learn how to apply these fundamentals to your organization.

Article originally published on VoltageControl.com

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Why Small Teams Kick Ass

Why Small Teams Kick Ass

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

When you want new thinking or rapid progress, create a small team.

When you have a small team, they manage the hand-offs on their own and help each other.

Small teams hold themselves accountable.

With small teams, one member’s problem becomes everyone’s problem in record time.

Small teams can’t work on more than one project at a time because it’s a small team.

And when a small team works on a single project, progress is rapid.

Small teams use their judgment because they have to.

The judgment of small teams is good because they use it often.

On small teams, team members are loyal to each other and set clear expectations.

Small teams coordinate and phase the work as needed.

With small teams, waiting is reduced because the team members see it immediately.

When something breaks, small teams fix it quickly because the breakage is apparent to all.

The tight connections of a small team are magic.

Small teams are fun.

Small teams are effective.

And small teams are powered by trust.

Image credit: Pixabay

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5 Simple Steps for Launching Game-Changing New Products

5 Simple Steps for Launching Game-Changing New Products

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

There has never been a better time to invent, create, and innovate game-changing products, new business models, and services. In fact, I will be so bold as to say, we must change it dramatically to succeed in the future. You know your team needs to be more creative, they need to collaborate, or many seek more outside influence, but this is counter to your current culture. For years, your company has spent much of its efforts and resources on becoming a lean, mean growth machine.

A few questions you might consider:

  • Are you creating for the future? How do you know?
  • Will what you sell today to be relevant tomorrow? Do you know where your customers are headed? How are your customers changing?
  • Are you paying close attention to the growth trends in your market space? Are there competitors you cannot see lurching behind someone else’s geographic lines?

The start-up world of entrepreneurship is escalating. New things are being developed all over the world. This is good news for our needy economy, but these are the very companies that could come up and bite you where it hurts…right in your future’s revenue pocket.

Inspiring our work teams (and leadership) toward a culture of creativity and idea generation is key to just keeping pace and preparing for the future. But that may not be so easy. I have surveyed and had many conversations and meetings recently with leaders of growth companies.  How proud we are of strong EBIDTA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). The bottom line is… this is their bottom line… very good profitability. It appears we will all earn our bonuses for managing expenses tightly.

If incentives are based on cost-cutting and expense tightening, there will be very little investment in the future. The addictive need for immediate return is paralyzing these leaders. I am all for fiscal responsibility! But, we need more balance in our plans between cost-saving efficiencies and game-changing strategies to fuel future growth.

“Ideas are great, our company has a lot of them, and we have a full innovation pipeline but there’s not been a lot of success getting these out the door to return on our investments.” One CEO shared with me. “We are not making money, so we’ve limited investments here!” First, let me say as you may already be aware, the world has some very big needs/challenges that need all hands on deck. Savvy entrepreneurs & companies that invest in the future are going to win in solving these problems and most likely to the disruption of latent business models & possibly your business.

First, let’s identify a few of the dramatic trends that may beg for new ways to serve up new ideas:

  • Boomer Segment and Aging: There is a desperate need for new ways to serve this market! Example: an elderly couple cares for each other in their home for many years but neither is very strong, and both have trouble walking much less driving, and getting around is challenging. They do not have the funds for assisted living facilities. They are, however, a lively couple wanting to do things together. What can home designers, product designers, emergency care facilities, security companies do to support these seniors?
  •  The World Is Getting Older (on average) -Shifts in demographics- this is a big change we will start to feel even more in the coming years. Where will the workforce of the future come from? Training older adults to take on new roles, providing new ways to employee talent, leveraging knowledgeable and experienced talent at any age will take shape. What are you doing today to prepare for this shift? Where can you innovate new services, products, solutions to help companies drive a successful shift.
  • The need for new ways to grow food, provide clean water, and ensure the safety of these precious resources, is a growing concern. Example: Some regions in the world still have little infrastructure to support their enormous population. The majority of the rural areas have not toilets, little running water, their streams are used for bathing and cleaning laundry and drinking… what can be created to help these rural regions around the world that have these needs. The U.S. in rural regions has similar needs. How can your company innovate to solve problems like these?
  • Consumer behavior is continuing to shift rapidly: Consider how we buy today which changed dramatically in 2020, what we buy has also changed, and so has what influences us to make a decision. And what about places where consumerism has declined for some regions, yet the birth of consumption is occurring in other regions? Example: Sensors that track us and our health (IoT), Tablets, ipads, iphones, and smart devices have changed our behavior as consumers. When you are in the car waiting for your child to come out of school … are you searching on your phone for new doctor, a home designer, a new car? Think NOT about how you are using these tools today but how these tools will progress and continue changing how we do everything. Another example: shopping for that perfect dress or suit. Take your ideas, drawings, colors, and any thoughts you have on the designs…go shopping and have your perfect outfit designed for you. Hyper customization will continue.
  • The need for alternative energy sources will only be exasperated by the explosive population growth in regions like Shanghai, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, and NYC.
  • Cybersecurity: The challenges are beyond comprehension and the solutions are not enough. With all the brilliant technology and creative talent in your community and network, how could you generate breakout ideas to solve some of our most challenging issues in the world today with cyber threats?’

Push the human race forward… and while some see them as the crazy ones, we see them as genius! — Steve Jobs, Think Different

  • Global Health Care:  we’ve watched the best and the worst first-hand over the last year. There is room for improving how healthcare is delivered, prepping for future pandemic-like events, and innovating new methods of caring for people in rural areas. There are so many challenges which is to say, there are so many opportunities.
  • Mental Health Supports- THIS IS A STAGGERING Statistic reported by TheHartfordNew research finds 70% of employers report mental health challenges among their employees, 52% also report substance misuse or addiction, while 72% say mental health stigma blocks care.

These are big problems, big changes, and even bigger opportunities for entrepreneurs and brands alike to innovate. How might these trends be affecting you? Your customer? Your market?

I agree priorities should be on revenue coming in the door. It is a difficult balancing act with such tightly managed resources and focuses on the bottom line and profitability to add any new initiatives that may be futuristic and top-line focused. Much of our client work is about creating the balance for top-line growth initiatives while also managing bottom-line responsibilities.

How do you set aside resources and break down the barriers to game-changing ideas? And then how do you deal with the litany of barriers that will crop up on the path to any new inventive thing?

Let’s dissect a few of the challenges that keep us from continuous innovation on your way to market leadership. Here are 4 examples of barriers you may face along your inventive future:

  • Companies are fixated on quick returns… there is this addiction like quality to seeing our investments instantly returning benefit to us. But if we do not invest in the future to grow top line revenues and invest in new products, services that will engage the market of the future (and the future is coming at us faster and faster) we’ll extinct our own companies. Example solution: Use open communities or outside consultants that are experts at innovation and commercialization. You can budget your time, leverage their resources, and budget the funds without defocusing your current team.
  • Nay-Sayers stop us in our tracks all too often. Embrace the Nay-sayers. They should have their voices heard for their valued input but do not cave in the face of their fears. There are, what I call, negative risks and positive risks. Negative risks are those that are pushed through without planning, insights, trends or customer interactions. They are made in isolation.
  • We are Positive Risk-Takers– Positive Risk-Taking is when you’ve done homework, customer discussions, you understand the trends, but there are still certainly risks on this unknown path. Example solutions: Create pilot programs, move forward slowly, and know what metrics you need to know this big idea is gaining momentum. Give it enough time to get traction. Big ideas do not happen overnight. They do not happen even in a year or two sometimes depending on the nature of your game changing idea. Withstand the Nay-sayers, and hear them out.
  • Lack of time, mentorship, resources, and investments! in every client these are issues that persist, if you are growing you will always need more of all of those things. Leveraging our open collaboration methodology can be a great way to learn, manage early costs and keep investments low while you are in discovery, planning and building stages.
  • Lack of embracing older talent. Somewhere along the way of building our great country, corporate America narrowed our prime working years to ages 23 to 42. The employable world has been treated as this demographic is the only time creative brain power exists. What benefits could you receive by diversification of your talent pool? Example solution: build your own internal game-changing mentor network. I once did an innovation workshop and had 4 people from an AARP chapter office join the group. I was shocked (yes, maybe at the time, I had bought into the whole young creative minds thing too) to learn this group was designing alternative transportation and working with the local energy company to do so. Many of the group were retired from larger companies with great knowledge and experience and were very eager to volunteer mentor or contract themselves out. Leverage brilliance, not age.

No need to go it alone! Bring in experts to show you the way. Maybe you are very experienced. Is this where your valuable time should be spent? Leverage is the name of the game. Commercializing our client’s innovations (getting customers and revenue in the door), Aligning internal teams, and accelerating success is 99% of the work we do at Plazabridge Group. There are great options out there to help you. Use them and increasing your available time on critical priorities.

Five Baby Steps to Kick-start your way Game Changing Innovation

What tips can I provide you to break free some of the more challenging barriers? We must change our thinking, our behavior, our cultures to truly create game changing innovations.

1.   Be open to the possibility: Our educational systems educate us to research why things will not work, look for justifications, returns, market needs, corporations are stuck in this cycle of simplistic additions of products and services. Not mind-blowing, turn it all inside out, cool as innovations that excite and delight customers! So many great ideas are killed before they are even shared with 3 people. Case brief: In one of our consulting engagements with large consumer beverage company we heard, of course, under their breath “we’ve lost our coolness.” The project goal was to shift their leaders and their corporate culture (globally) from being risk averse to taking more risks. This is a big challenge in the face of Six Sigma black belts. Every idea was summarily dismissed before the idea could be written fully on the whiteboard. The young emerging leaders would get excited the senior team became paralyzed in fear and why it would not work in this lean operationally efficient system. Challenging everything they knew, they agreed to work on one of the ideas that came out of one of our sessions (this took 4 months). That idea took 3 years to finally reach the market, but it was a true game changer for this company. They captured desired market share goals, built a new sustainable revenue stream, and took back the title as “cool”!

2.   Yes AND! A first step to get there may be a simple shift: instead of YES BUT use YES AND! We often get stuck in the vision of the Mt. Everest like mountain climb but without training and dedicated Sherpas to lead the way: nearly impossible to reach the peak! We know the outcome before we’ve even taken one step. Drop this thinking now. It is devastating to any game-changing acts. You must be passionate, diligent, believe in the mission, be focused, and not worried about the ups and the downs and the back ups as that is the ride you will be on till the game is changed. Example: As a mentor to young entrepreneurs, I, too often, the words can’t and don’t. We stop ourselves before even getting a good strong start on our ventures. There are many programs through the universities, through organizations like Take advantage of all the resources you can find. In our larger client companies, we hear similar statements, “my ideas go nowhere”, “we aren’t getting traction to get game-changing technologies out the door”, “we are strapped for resources”, “where’s the ROI on the investments?” and so many other barrier statements that stop us in our tracks.

3.   Open up! Whether you “open up” to a closed circle of trusted friends and colleagues or to an open collaborative forum sharing your ideas with others who may have interest can propel ideas forward at speeds sometimes unimaginable! Example: In many of the companies we work with, there is the need for a shift in their culture to a creative and innovation culture and centering it on the customer and b. to encourage more creativity amongst themselves. I will admit this is not a baby step but one step that is critical to the success of innovation. There are many simple ways to shift cultures and. in tandem, drive successful results. Here are a few case studies on some of the work we have done:

4.   Enroll others into your vision over time! Not everyone may be as quick at seeing your idea or vision. Spend time with people one on one. Take time to grow consensus on ideas. We must help them see the way. Rarely, in game changing products or companies, do customers immediately flock to the new thing. Again, we must show them, educate, and encourage people to try new things. Example: Many of our clients are in the game changing business. To help them commercialize their new ideas and technologies we build a process that is slow, methodical, and measurable. By building in milestones and measures, we educate ourselves on what we need to do to bring our customers into buying mode. Simple steps are best to start out with and if you engage your customers for feedback along the way you will learn more about what they need from you to buy.

5.   Become a Savvy Money Navigator Vs a Bank! Money will always be the subliminal barrier at every stage of your growth! Take some time to learn where funding exists for ideas inside your company. For the CEO, really consider your future growth and task your teams to look forward! Where will growth come from? Will it be with existing customers? Do you know where their future plans are heading and how you align with their journey forward? Many companies lose sight of their customer’s future growth plans and more times than desired those plans do not include their current partners’ and suppliers’ products. Don’t assume…ASK!

How might we help you drive game-changing growth? Reach out directly to me.

Image credit: Pixabay

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What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

When you don’t know what to do, what do you do? This is a difficult question.

Here are some thoughts that may help you figure out what to do when you really don’t know.

Don’t confuse activity with progress.

Gather your two best friends, go off-site, and define the system as it is.

Don’t ask everyone what they think because the Collective’s thoughts will be diffuse, bland, and tired.

Get outside.

Draw a picture of how things work today.

Get a good meal.

Make a graph of goodness over time. If it’s still increasing, do more of what you did last time. If it’s flat, do something else.

Get some exercise.

Don’t judge yourself negatively. This is difficult work.

Get some sleep.

Help someone with their problem. The distraction will keep you out of the way as your mind works on it for you.

Spend time with friends.

Try a new idea at the smallest scale. It will likely lead to a better one. Repeat.

Use your best judgment.

Image credit: Pixabay

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