Tag Archives: change

You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing

You Can't Innovate Without This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

It just landed on your desk. Or maybe you campaigned to get it. Or perhaps you just started doing it. How the title of “Innovation Leader” got to your desk doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that it’s there, along with a budget and loads of expectations.

Of course, now that you have the title and the budget, you need a team to do the work and deliver the results.

Who should you look for? The people that perform well in the current business, with its processes, structures, and (relative) predictability, often struggle to navigate the constant uncertainty and change of innovation. But just because someone struggles in the process and structure of the core business doesn’t mean they’ll thrive creating something new.

What are the qualities that make someone a successful innovator?

70 answers

A lot of people have a lot to say about the qualities and characteristics that make someone an innovator. When you combine the first four Google search results for “characteristics of an innovator” with the five most common innovation talent assessments, you end up with a list of 70 different (and sometimes conflicting) traits.

The complete list is at the end of this article, but here are the characteristics that appeared more than once:

  1. Curious
  2. Persistent
  3. Continuously reflective
  4. Creative
  5. Driven
  6. Experiments
  7. Imaginative
  8. Passionate

It’s a good list, but remember, there are 62 other characteristics to consider. And that assumes that the list is exhaustive.

+1 Answer

It’s not. Something is missing.

There is one characteristic shared by every successful innovator I’ve worked with and every successful leader of innovation. It’s rarely the first (or second or third) word used to describe them, but eventually, it emerges, always said quietly, after great reflection and with dawning realization.

Vulnerability.

Whether you rolled your eyes or pumped your fist at the word made famous by Brene Brown, you’ve no doubt heard it and formed an opinion about it.

Vulnerability is the “quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”  Without it, innovation is impossible.

Innovation requires the creation of something new that creates value. If something is new, some or all of it is unknown. If there are unknowns, there are risks. Where there are risks, there is the possibility of being wrong, which opens you up to attack or harm.

When you talk to people to understand their needs, vulnerability allows you to hear what they say (versus what you want them to say).

In brainstorming sessions, vulnerability enables you to speak up and suggest an idea for people to respond to, build on, or discard.

When you run experiments, vulnerability ensures that you accurately record and report the data, even if the results aren’t what you hoped.

Most importantly, as a leader, vulnerability inspires trust, motivates your team, engages your stakeholders, and creates the environment and culture required to explore, learn, and innovate continuously.

n + 1 is the answer

Just as you do for every job in your company, recruit the people with the skills required to do the work and the mindset and personality to succeed in your business’ context and culture.

Once you find them, make sure they’re willing to be vulnerable and support and celebrate others’ vulnerability. Then, and only then, will you be the innovators your company needs.


Here’s the full list of characteristics:

  1. Action-oriented, gets the job done
  2. Adaptable
  3. Ambitious
  4. Analytical, high information capacity, digs through facts
  5. Associative Thinker, makes uncommon connections
  6. Breaks Boundaries, disruptive
  7. Business minded
  8. Collaborative
  9. Compelling Leader
  10. Competitive
  11. Consistent
  12. Continuously reflects (x3)
  13. Courageous
  14. Creative (x3)
  15. Curious (x4), asks questions, inquisitive, investigates
  16. Delivers results, seeks tangible outcomes
  17. Disciplined
  18. Divergent Thinker
  19. Driven (x3)
  20. Energetic
  21. Experiments (x2)
  22. Financially oriented
  23. Flexible, fluid
  24. Formally educated and trained
  25. Futuristic
  26. Giving, works to benefit others, wants to make the world better
  27. Goal-oriented
  28. Has a Growth mindset
  29. Highly confident
  30. Honest
  31. Imaginative (x2)
  32. Influential, lots of social capital
  33. Instinctual
  34. Intense
  35. Iterating between abstract and concrete thinking
  36. Learns through experiences
  37. Likes originality, seeks novelty
  38. Loyal
  39. Motivated by change, open to new experiences
  40. Networks, relates well to others
  41. Observes
  42. Opportunistic mindset, recognizes opportunities
  43. Opportunity focused
  44. Passionate (x2)
  45. Patient
  46. Persistent (x4)
  47. Persuasive
  48. Playful
  49. Pragmatic
  50. Proactive
  51. Prudent
  52. Rapidly recognizes patterns
  53. Resilient
  54. Resourceful
  55. Respects other innovators
  56. Seeks understanding
  57. Self-confident
  58. Socially intelligent
  59. Stamina
  60. Takes initiative
  61. Takes risks
  62. Team-oriented
  63. Thinks big picture
  64. Thrives in uncertainty
  65. Tough
  66. Tweaks solutions constantly
  67. Unattached exploration
  68. Visionary
  69. Wants to get things right
  70. Willing to Destroy

And the sources:

Image Credit: Pixabay

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3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Most of my advice to leaders who want to use innovation to grow their businesses boils down to two things*:

  1. Talk (and listen) to customers
  2. Do something

But what if you don’t want to talk to customers?

After all, talking to customers can be scary because you don’t know what they’ll say. It can be triggering if they say something mean about your product, your business, or even you as a person. It can be draining, especially if you’re an introvert.

Plus, there are so many ways to avoid talking to customers – Send a survey, hire a research firm to write a report, invoke the famous Steve Jobs quote about never doing customer research.

Isn’t it just better to stay tucked away in the office, read reports, state opinions as if they are facts (those opinions are based on experience, after all), and make decisions?

Nope.

It is not better. It is also not safer, easier, or more efficient.

To make the best decisions, you need the best data, which comes from your customers.

But that doesn’t mean you need to talk to them to get it.

The best data

The best data helps you understand why your customers do what they do. This is why Jobs to be Done is such a powerful tool – it uncovers the emotional and social Jobs to be Done that drive our behavior and choices (functional Jobs to be Done are usually used to justify our choices).

But discovering Jobs to be Done typically requires you to talk to people, build rapport and trust in a one-on-one conversation, and ask Why? dozens of times so surface emotional and social JTBD.

Luckily, there are other ways to find Jobs to be Done that don’t require you to become an unlicensed therapist.

Observe your customers

Go where your customers are (or could be) experiencing the problem you hope to solve and try to blend in. Watch what people are doing and what they’re not doing. Notice whether people are alone or with others (and who those others are – kids, partners, colleagues, etc.). Listen to the environment (is it loud or quiet? If there’s noise, what kind of noise?) and to what people are saying to each other.

Be curious. Write down everything you’re observing. Wonder why and write down your hypotheses. Share your observations with your colleagues. Ask them to go out, observe, wonder, and share. Together you may discover answers or work up the courage to have a conversation.

Quick note – Don’t be creepy about this. Don’t lurk behind clothing racks, follow people through stores, peep through windows, linger too long, or wear sunglasses, a trench coat, and a fedora on a 90-degree day, so you look inconspicuous. If people start giving you weird looks, find a new place to people-watch.

Observe yourself

Humans are fascinating, and because you are a human, you are fascinating. So, observe yourself when you’re experiencing the problem you’re hoping to solve. Notice where you are, who is with you, the environment, and how you feel. Watch what you do and don’t do. Wonder why you chose one solution over another (or none).

Be curious. Write down everything you did, saw, and felt and why. Ask your colleagues to do the same. Share your observations with your colleagues and find points of commonality and divergence, then get curious all over again.

Quick note – This only works if you have approximately the same demographic and psychographic profiles and important and unsatisfied Jobs to be Done of your target customers.

Be your customer

What if your business solves a problem that can’t be easily observed? What if you don’t have the problem that your business is trying to solve?

Become your customer (and observe yourself).

Several years ago, I worked with a client that made adult incontinence products. I couldn’t observe people using their products, and I do not have important (or unsatisfied) Jobs to be Done that the products can solve.

So, for one day, I became a customer. I went to Target and purchased their product. I went home, wore, and used the product. I developed a deep empathy for the customer and wrote down roughly 1 million ways to innovate the product and experience.

Quick note – Depending on what’s required to “be your customer,” you may need to give people a heads up. My husband was incredibly patient and understanding but also a little concerned on the day of the experiment.

It’s about what you learn, not how you learn it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is one best way to get insights. I’m 100% guilty (one-on-one conversations are a hill I have died on multiple times).

Ultimately, when it comes to innovation and decision-making, the more important thing is having, believing, and using insights into why customers do what they do and want what they want. How you get those insights is an important but secondary consideration.

* Each of those two things contains A TON of essential stuff that must be done the right way at the right time otherwise, they won’t work, but we’ll get into those things in another article

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Meeting face to face, for a lovely lunch recently, with a coaching colleague, we were both shocked to discover how stressed and anxious we were feeling about being asked to deliver live workshops and face-to-face coaching to clients once again.

We shared how emotionally, mentally, and physically overwhelmed we felt, despite having decades of knowledge, experience, and skills in being able to deliver deep learning programs and face-to-face coaching sessions, about doing live gigs again! We also agreed, that despite the range of largely effective emotionally intelligent coping strategies we developed to help ourselves and our clients self-regulate, self-manage, to better adapt to the pandemic-imposed work-from-home restrictions that the past two and half years of working, alone, and in isolation, online, had taken its toll.

We acknowledged and accepted that we along with many of our clients were all suffering from elevated levels of stress, discomfort, and anxiety. We then agreed that it was time to focus on exploring how to better help ourselves and our clients reconnect and reset by enabling them to create states of well-being, emotional agility, and mental fitness, where they can feel good, can function well, and be effective and innovative in an increasingly chaotic world.

To seek new ways of enabling ourselves and our clients to deal effectively with a range of unresourceful feelings including helplessness, powerlessness, and fearfulness about an uncertain future. 

We noticed that these feelings often caused many of our clients to contract and freeze, and become immobilised as a result of what we describe as a “bubble” of self-induced silo-based behaviours. That often evolved into extreme self-centeredness, and unconscious selfishness, which ultimately increased their feelings of isolation and loneliness, and lack of belonging, resulting in defensive and avoidant behaviours, in what is becoming an increasingly chaotic world.

How are these ways of being and acting impacting organisations?

Partnering in a wide range of online global coaching sessions, we noticed that a number of common trends emerged as to how our client’s teams and organisations, are being impacted at the cultural level:

  • Immobilization – many people are unable to self-manage their work from home workloads and are quietly burning out, through being overly task-focused and busy, whilst others are preferring to work autonomously, and not waste hours commuting.
  • Lacking safety and trust – many organisations are freezing all of their change initiatives, learning programs, and projects, causing people to fear loss and overall job insecurity, where many people are contracting more deeply within their “bubbles” and become even more distrustful of leadership and even more passively defensive and avoidant.
  • Lacking clarity and foresight – many organisations have slipped into being so reactive, focussing only on delivering short-term results, and are not communicating a clear strategy for leading the way forwards.

Resulting in:

  • Increased resistance to change and going back to the office adds to people’s inertia, and to their sense of disconnection and lack of belonging.
  • Increased risk adversity and conventional (cost cutting), tactical and short-term focus, inhibits any investment in Research and Development or the skills development required in developing and executing a future innovation strategy.
  • People have become even more fearful of failure, and are not stretching themselves to adapt, grow, learn and innovate with disruption, and often choosing to merely change jobs, in a competitive job marketplace, driven by scarcity, as a perceived short term solution.

A unique moment in time

This has created an opportunity, in this unique moment in time, to focus on being kinder to ourselves and to others by helping and supporting each other, respectfully and compassionately, creatively and courageously, to reconnect and reset. Despite rising levels of economic, civic, and social uncertainty and unrest.

What made sense yesterday may not make so much sense today.

Many of the mental models we applied yesterday may not be relevant for tomorrow because corporate culture, civic and social structures have drastically changed and digitalization has become commonplace, noting that we are shifting from a VUCA to BANI world where:

  • Brittle has replaced Volatility.
  • Anxiety reflects Uncertainty.
  • Non-linearity is an addition to Complexity.
  • Incomprehensibility is ultimately the consequence of our non-linear world and goes one step further than Ambiguity.

Paradoxically, this has created new openings to genuinely explore and discover new thresholds to adapt, generate new mindsets, develop skill sets, and power up our toolkits to keep pace with the effects of the emerging BANI world and capture complex systems by asking a  key generative or catalytic question:

How might you support and enable others to think and act differently in such a world, where old patterns seem to crumble while new ideas and systems still need to be created, invented, innovated, and established?

As the world of work changes, so does the need for everyone to consider how to be more open-hearted, minded, and willed with one another.

A final word from Gallop CEO Jon Preston in the Gallop Global Emotions Report:

“All over the world, people are trying to understand the rise of violence, hatred, and increased radicalization. They will continue to argue over what the best policy responses should be and what role social media plays in fueling negative emotions.

However, policymakers must understand why so many more people are experiencing unprecedented negative emotions and focus on the drivers of a great life.

Our shared humanity and wellbeing depend on it”.

When we generously and kindly demonstrate care, respect, and appreciation for the value everyone brings, we can also demonstrate helpfulness and support, through our unconditional willingness to reconnect and reset.

Resulting in an ability to co-create a better sense of belonging and a more optimistic outlook, through enhancing our emotional intelligence.  To effectively self-regulation and self-manage the superpowers and strategies required to thrive, flourish and flow, and make transformational changes in the face of relentless uncertainty, disruption, and a chaotic world.

This is the first in a series of three blogs on the theme of reconnecting and resetting, to create, invent and innovate in an increasingly chaotic world. You can also register for our free 45-minute masterclass on Thursday, 25th August, to discover new ways of re-connecting through the complexity and chaos of dis-connection to create, invent and innovate in the future! Find out more.

Image credit: Pixabay

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The Battle Against the Half-Life of Learning

The Battle Against the Half-Life of Learning

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Leading with learning in mind is a necessary skill to consistently innovate as a team. Continually learning and revisiting skill sets is crucial to combating the half-life of learning.

As leaders, it’s important to make time available to our employees to freshen up their skills and knowledge through programs and tools. It’s equally important to ask ourselves, “how am I helping to provide the right resources?”.

Below, we’ll discuss the following:

  • What is the half-life of learning?
  • How can we contribute as leaders?
  • Why should individual growth be the focus?

What is the half-life of learning?

Now, what is the half-life of learning? For one, it’s something that is not talked about frequently enough. It affects all of us, no matter what we specialize in and touch day-to-day. It lives within marketing campaigns, our bodies, the living things around us, our skill sets, and more.

Put succinctly, it’s the halfway point of one’s strength becoming ineffective. Regarding learning or knowledge, the half-life is the halfway point for a current skill set or facts to no longer be true or effective. 

Ernest Rutherford discovered the concept of a half-life within the context of science. He deduced that it takes a certain period of time for an element to decay halfway.

For example, we can ask, “what’s the half-life of caffeine in a group of 100 people?“ Caffeine’s half-life is about five fours. By the fifth hour, the caffeine’s effects have fully diminished within half (50/100) of the people. Within the half-life period of the next five hours, the effects expire on half of the remaining 50 people (25/100), and so on. Like any other element, its effects vary per person, but the half-life serves as a comprehensible range for its lifespan.

We can also practically apply this to work. Within marketing, how long can a campaign represent relevant and effective information? Within learning, how long are someone’s learned skills still relevant?

Say that you’ve been operating with skills you learned years ago. Since then, your competitive advantage with those learned skills has diminished. The World Economic Forum claims that “the half-life of a job skill is about five years (meaning that every five years, that skill is about half as valuable as it was before).”

How can we contribute as leaders?

Suppose you consciously support your employees in real learning, educating themselves, participating in important programs within their specialty, etc… In that case, they remain relevant in their field and are significantly more valuable in their role. It’s a no-brainer when spelled out. As leaders, we need to make this a priority and hold ourselves and others accountable for staying ahead rather than playing catch-up.

We lose information without practice and reinforcement. Putting this concept into practice is critical to working against the half-life of learning.

How are we approaching accountability in this realm? These organizations offer structuring opportunities for learning and upkeep accountability. At Voltage Control, we have programs designed to keep organizations on track and sustain change.

Maintaining a competitive advantage requires this continual learning. An environment for innovation can only be cultivated by staying ahead of the curve with knowledge and skills.

What are the best resources for knowledge? Knowledge can be taught with content. Find the relevant educational content, and commit to time with it regularly. Are there education programs that employees can attend? Who in the space is in the business of educating others? We should be absorbing information that’s new to us.

It’s also key to observe trends within certain fields. What is changing within their expertise in the next ten years, and is knowledge or experience required?

What are the best resources for skills? They’ve learned through experience with others. The more we can encourage collaboration amongst individuals, the better our team. We develop skills by learning from those with more or different experiences, so it’s important to have confidence in your team’s structure and provide room for growth within the company, as well as to educate individuals about the half-life of learning so that they’re invested in their growth.

Setting aside time specifically for continuing education in both knowledge and skills is vital.

Where are we headed?

As innovators, not only do we need to be ready to address change. We need to expect it and get well ahead of it.

Within the workplace, demand does not match supply long-term. In 2020, the World Economic Forum claimed, “This lack of attention to upscaling will lead to an urgent disparity between workers and jobs. In the future, nine out of 10 jobs will require digital skills, yet today 44% of Europeans age 16 to 43 lack even basic digital abilities. In Europe, the impending skills gap will lead to 1.67 million unfilled vacancies for ICT professionals by 2025.”

The world around us is constantly evolving.

The half-life of learning is something to be embraced. It’s an opportunity to recognize that everyone’s skills fade and that innovation will always play a role in our lives. It’s a matter of whether we choose to continue learning or accept our past experience as the extent of it. Learning and management play equal roles in the workplace. To impact our work, leaders need to allow employees the time and resources to develop and learn information relevant to business goals.

Why should individual growth be the focus?

Keeping this half-life of learning in mind is crucial from a hiring perspective. Degrees from decades ago have little to nothing to do with the knowledge that’s relevant now. Thinking long-term, it’s also important to consider how roles need to evolve with time. Automation is likely to greatly impact needed skill sets in the current decade. For example, McKinsey claims, “6 of 10 current occupations have more than 30% of technically automatable activities.” They claim that while job opportunities will still exist, a significant portion of the population will need to learn new skill sets to remain relevant.

People need to feel that there’s room for groove within their rules and that their responsibilities can develop as they do. How are we allowing employees to explore their interests and strengths? Are we using them to our advantage within the organization? Are we allowing them the flexibility to understand their strengths and value?

Article originally published on VoltageControl.com

Image Credit: Pixabay

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The Phoenix Checklist – Strategies for Innovation and Regeneration

The Phoenix Checklist - Strategies for Innovation and Regeneration

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought.”   Sun Tzu

As reference I love using Michael Michalko book, Thinkertoys. It’s been on my shelf since first released in the 1991, especially in the most challenging times. This book has gotten me and my businesses through 2 gulf wars, 9/11/01 economic aftermath, 2008/9 deep recession and even good times where innovation felt no need.

In chapter 14, Phoenix, he shares the CIA’s checklist for dissecting and solving critical problems. BUT don’t just use this for tackling a problem, use it to help you design new business models, new revenue models, innovating a new product… the checklist applies to scenario planning and breaking down opportunities into manageable strategies to execute new ideas, processes and products.

It’s a strategy used and touted by experts over and over again and it works: The Phoenix Checklist Strategy. Challenging your own assumptions every minute of the day is not a bad thing right now. Putting a framework around how best to challenge your team and build stronger more reliable assumptions and plans is a great idea. I am sure there are strategies already at play and that too is a great thing. What more could be done today that you are not already doing? Maybe this is a great basis for the first question you want to answer using the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) trusted Phoenix checklist.

Below is the Phoenix Checklist but broken down in the way we at Plazabridge Group use the tool for innovating new ideas and solving critical issues for our clients.

>Start here: Can you imagine the result if you solve the problem?

Illusion licensed from iStock by PlazaBridge GroupGet those creative juices flowing.

What do you see?

What’s the first thing you see?

What’s the 2nd thing you see?

I. Define the problem– The first stage is to tackle the checklist.

Below are the Typical questions we ask and may have answers for… but go deeper!

  • Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
  • What benefits do you get by solving the problem?
  • What are the unknown factors?
  • Have you encountered this problem before?
  • What data do we have to help us dissect the problem down into smaller pieces?

We often fail to go deeper into defining the challenges to be solved or opportunities to create Go deeper questions:

  • What are you not yet understanding?
  • What information do you have?
  • What is not the problem?
  • Is the information you have sufficient? Insufficient? Superfluous? Contradictory?
  • Can you describe the problem in a chart?
  • Where is the limit for the problem?
  • Can you distinguish the different parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships between the different parts of the problem? What is common to the different problem areas?

Then go even deeper exploration:

  • Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form? Do you know a related issue?
  • Try to think of a familiar problem with the same or similar unknown factors.
  • Suppose you find a problem similar to yours that has already been resolved. Can you use it? Can you use the same method?
  • Can you reformulate your problem? How many different ways can you reformulate it? More generally? More specifically? Can the rules change?
  • What are the best, worst and most likely outcomes you can imagine?

Designing the plan checklist:

Our team starts here cutting through most challenges or designing new opportunities we want to tackle.

What will solving this problem do for our company? Answer this question daily for two weeks. See what happens. It’s magical really!   Define, Write, chart, and visualize every step of the way. Assign roles to each member of the team to tackle component outcomes of the exploration.

  • How will you solve the whole problem? Can you break the problem down?
  • How much of the unknown can you influence?
  • Can you deduce something useful from the information you have?
  • Have you used all available information?
  • Have you taken into account all the essential factors in the problem?
  • Can you identify the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the accuracy of each step?
    • Draw these out –
    • Then redraw them
    • And again
  • What creative techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?
    • After exploring creative techniques go back to the previous bullet point and draw out the steps again.
    • Then again
    • And yes ONE MORE MAGICAL time

Imagine again the results in the perfect world! What would the results be, look like, feel to everyone in the company, to you and to your customers?

  • Can you imagine the result? How many different types of results can imagine?
  • How many different ways can you try to solve the problem?
  • What have others done?
  • Can you intuitively see the solution? Can you check the result?
  • What should be done? How should it be done?
  • Where, when and by whom should it be done?
  • What do you need to do right now?
  • Who will be responsible for what?

Now what? Can you do more with the plan?

  • Can you use this problem to resolve any other issues?
  • What are the unique qualities that make this problem what it is and nothing else?
  • Which milestones can best highlight your progress?
  • How do you know when you are successful?

This last point is so very important and often left out of processes. There are stages of success. Success doesn’t happen all at once so how will you create your timeline to give any new plan a chance to succeed? Better yet, how will you know if you are not succeeding? The plan was well thought out, a lot of time was invested and possibly a lot of money! Don’t give up but in your scenario planning do know what you are watching for to say, how and where shall we adjust along the way and constantly question how to improve the plan. Give it long enough, give it a fighting chance, put your top minds in the company on these challenges and opportunities.

Create your opportunity team of diverse thinkers! They are your innovators.

Create your action team! They are your executors!

Now you are ready for the next challenge or opportunity. Start at the top and repeat.

Original Article

Image credits: iStockPhoto (purchased by the author)

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The Resilience Conundrum

From the Webb Space Telescope to Dishwashing Liquids

The Resilience Conundrum

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

Many of us have been watching the spectacular photos coming from Webb Space Telescope this week. It is a breathtaking example of innovation in action. But what grabbed my attention almost as much as the photos was the challenge of deploying it at the L2 Lagrange point. That not only required extraordinary innovation of core technologies, but also building unprecedented resilience into the design. Deploying a technology a million miles from Earth leaves little room for mistakes, or the opportunity for the kind of repairs that rescued the Hubble mission. Obviously the Webb team were acutely aware of this, and were painstaking in identifying and pre-empting 344 single points of failure, any one of which had the potential to derail it. The result is a triumph.  But it is not without cost. Anticipating and protecting against those potential failures played a significant part in taking Webb billions over budget, and years behind it’s original schedule.

Efficiency versus Adaptability: Most of us will never face quite such an amazing but  daunting challenge, or have the corresponding time and budget flexibility. But as an innovation community, and a planet, we are entering a phase of very rapid change as we try to quickly address really big issues, such as climate change and AI. And the speed, scope and interconnected complexity of that change make it increasingly difficult to build resilience into our innovations. This is compounded because a need for speed and efficiency often drives us towards narrow focus and increased specialization.  That focus can help us move quickly, but we know from nature that the first species to go extinct in the face of environmental change are often the specialists, who are less able to adapt with their changing world. Efficiency often reduces resilience, it’s another conundrum.

Complexity, Systems Effects and Collateral Damage. To pile on the challenges a little, the more breakthrough an innovation is, the less we understand about how interacts at a systems level, or secondary effects it may trigger.  And secondary failures can be catastrophic. Takata airbags, or the batteries in Samsung Galaxy phones were enabling, not core technologies, but they certainly derailed the core innovations.

Designed Resiliency. One answer to this is to be more systematic about designing resilience into innovation, as the Webb team were. We may not be able to reach the equivalent of 344 points of failure, but we can be systematic about scenario planning, anticipating failure, and investing up front in buffering ourselves against risk. There are a number of approaches we can adopt to achieve this, which I’ll discuss in detail later.

The Resiliency Conundrum. But first let’s talk just a little more about the Resilience conundrum. For virtually any innovation, time and money are tight. Conversely, taking time to anticipate potential failures is often time consuming and expensive. Worse, it rarely adds direct, or at least marketable value. And when it does work, we often don’t see the issues it prevents, we only notice them when resiliency fails. It’s a classic trade off, and one we face at all levels of innovation. For example, when I worked on dishwashing liquids at P&G, a slightly less glamorous field than space exploration, an enormous amount of effort went into maintaining product performance and stability under extreme conditions. Product could be transported in freezing or hot temperatures, and had to work extreme water hardness or softness. These conditions weren’t typical, but they were possible. But the cost of protecting these outliers was often disproportionately high.

And there again lies the trade off. Design in too much resiliency, and we are become inefficient and/or uncompetitive. But too little, and we risk a catastrophic failure like the Takata airbags. We need to find a sweet spot. And finding it is still further complicated because we are entering an era of innovation and disruption where we are making rapid changes to multiple systems in parallel. Climate change is driving major structural change in energy, transport and agriculture, and advances in computing are changing how those systems are managed. With dishwashing, we made changes to the formula, but the conditions of use remained fairly constant, meaning we were pretty good at extrapolating what the product would have to navigate. The same applies with the Webb telescope, where conditions at the Lagrange point have not changed during the lifetime of the project. We typically have a more complex, moving target.

Low Carbon Energy. Much of the core innovation we are pursuing today is interdependent. As an example, consider energy. Simply replacing hydrocarbons with, for example, solar, is far more complex than simply swapping one source of energy for another. It impacts the whole energy supply system. Where and how it links into our grid, how we store it, unpredictable power generation based on weather, how much we can store, maintenance protocols, and how quickly we can turn up or down the supply are just a few examples. We also create new feedback loops, as variables such as weather can impact both power generation and power usage concurrently. But we are not just pursuing solar, but multiple alternatives, all of which have different challenges. And concurrent to changing our power source, we are also trying to switch automobiles and transport in general from hydrocarbons to electric power, sourced from the same solar energy. This means attempting significant change in both supply and a key usage vector, changing two interdependent variables in parallel. Simply predicting the weather is tricky, but adding it to this complex set of interdependent variables makes surprises inevitable, and hence dialing in the right degree of resilience pretty challenging.

The Grass is Always Greener: And even if we anticipate all of that complexity, I strongly suspect, we’ll see more, rather than less surprises than we expect.   One lesson I’ve learned and re-learned in innovation is that the grass is always greener. We don’t know what we don’t know, in part because we cannot see the weeds from a distance. The devil often really is in the details, and there is nothing like moving from theory to practice, or from small to large scale to ferret out all of the nasty little problems that plague nearly every innovation, but that are often unfathomable when we begin. Finding and solving these is an inherent part of virtually any innovation process, but it usually adds time and cost to the process. There are reasons why more innovations take longer than expected than are delivered ahead of schedule!

It’s an exciting, but also perilous time to be innovating. But ultimately this is all manageable. We have a lot of smart people working on these problems, and so most of the obvious challenges will have contingencies.   We don’t have the relative time and budget of the Webb Space Telescope, and so we’ll inevitably hit a few unanticipated bumps, and we’ll never get everything right. But there are some things we can do to tip the odds in our favor, and help us find those sweet spots.

  1. Plan for over capacity during transitions. If possible, don’t shut down old supply chins until the new ones are fully established. If that is not possible, stockpile heavily as a buffer during the transition. This sounds obvious, but it’s often a hard sell, as it can be a significant expense. Building inventory or capacity of an old product we don’t really want to sell, and leaving it in place as we launch doesn’t excite anybody, but the cost of not having a buffer can be catastrophic.
  2. In complex systems, know the weakest link, and focus resilience planning on it. Whether it’s a shortage of refills for a new device, packaging for a new product, or charging stations for an EV, innovation is only as good as its weakest link. This sounds obvious, but our bias is to focus on the difficult, core and most interesting parts of innovation, and pay less attention to peripherals. I’ve known a major consumer project be held up for months because of a problem with a small plastic bottle cap, a tiny part of a much bigger project. This means looking at resilience across the whole innovation, the system it operates in and beyond. It goes without saying that the network of compatible charging stations needs to precede any major EV rollout. But never forget, the weakest link may not be within our direct control. We recently had a bunch of EV’s stranded in Vegas because a huge group of left an event at a time when it was really hot. The large group overwhelmed our charging stations, and the high temperatures meant AC use limited the EV’s range, requiring more charging. It’s a classic multivariable issue where two apparently unassociated triggers occur at once.   And that is a case where the weakest link is visible. If we are not fully vertically integrated, resilience may require multiple sources or suppliers to protect against potential failure points we are not aware of, just to protect us against things we cannot control.
  3. Avoid over optimization too early. It’s always tempting to squeeze as much cost out of innovation prior to launch. But innovation by its very nature disrupts a market, and creates a moving target. It triggers competitive responses, changes in consumer behavior, supply chain, and raw material demand. If we’ve optimized to the point of removing flexibility, this can mean trouble. Of course, some optimization is always needed as part of the innovation process, but nailing it down too tightly and too early is often a mistake. I’ve lost count of the number of initiatives I’ve seen that had to re-tool or change capacity post launch at a much higher cost than if they’d left some early flexibility and fine-tuned once the initial dust had settled.
  4. Design for the future, not the now. Again this sounds obvious, but we often forget that innovation takes time, and that, depending upon our cycle-time, the world may be quite different when we are ready to roll out than it was when we started. Again, Webb has an advantage here, as the Lagrange point won’t have changed much even in the years the project has been active. But our complex, interconnected world is moving very quickly, especially at a systems level, and so we have to build in enough flexibility to account for that.
  5. Run test markets or real world experiments if at all possible. Again comes with trade offs, but no simulation or lab test beats real world experience. Whether its software, a personal care product, or a solar panel array, the real world will throw challenges at us we didn’t anticipate. Some will matter, some may not, but without real world experience we will nearly always miss something. And the bigger our innovation, generally the more we miss. Sometimes we need to slow down to move fast, and avoid having to back track.
  6. Engage devils advocates. The more interesting or challenging an innovation is, the easier it is to slip into narrow focus, and miss the big picture. Nobody loves having people from ‘outside’ poke holes in the idea they’ve been nurturing for months or years, but that external objectiveness is hugely valuable, together with different expertise, perspectives and goals. And cast the net as wide as possible. Try to include people from competing technologies, with different goals, or from the broad surrounding system. There’s nothing like a fierce competitor, or people we disagree with to find our weaknesses and sharpen an idea. Welcome the naysayers, and listen to them. Just because they may have a different agenda doesn’t mean the issues they see don’t exist.

Of course, this is all a trade off. I started this with the brilliant Webb Space telescope, which is amazing innovation with extraordinary resilience, enabled by an enormous budget and a great deal or time and resource. As we move through the coming years we are going to be attempting innovation of at least comparable complexity on many fronts, on a far more planetary scale, and with far greater implications if we get it wrong. Resiliency was a critical part of the Webb Telescopes success. But with stakes as high as they are with much of today’s innovation, I passionately believe we need to learn from that. And a lot of us can contribute to building that resiliency. It’s easy to think of Carbon neutral energy, EV’s, or AI as big, isolated innovations. But in reality they comprise and interface with many, many sub-projects. That’s a lot of innovation, a lot of complexity, a lot of touch-points, a lot of innovators, and a lot of potential for surprises. A lot of us will be involved in some way, and we can all contribute. Resiliency is certainly not a new concept for innovation, but given the scale, stakes and implications of what we are attempting, we need it more than ever.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScl

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Cultivate Innovation by Managing with Empathy

Cultivate Innovation by Managing with Empathy

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Managing with empathy is a leader’s superpower. Empathy opens the door to increased innovation, collaboration, and engagement.

Experts assert that empathy is the single most important skill in today’s workplace and the numbers don’t lie: 76% of workers with empathetic leaders are reportedly more motivated and engaged than those who experience leadership with less empathy.

Leaders can harness the power of empathy to create a more collaborative and engaged culture at work. In this article, we explore empathetic leadership in the following topics:

  • What is Workplace Empathy?
  • Becoming an Empathetic Leader
  • The Benefits of Managing a Team With Empathy
  • The Connection Between Empathy and innovation

What is Workplace Empathy?

Managing with empathy requires a keen understanding of the nuances of workplace empathy and empathetic leadership. Empathy allows one to understand another person’s emotions, actions, and thoughts. Our emotional or social intelligence helps us practice empathy and understand the mindsets and emotions of others.

Empathy belongs in the workplace. While work-related responsibilities should be top of mind, your team members won’t be able to do their best work if they feel as though their emotions and feelings are invalidated or ignored. It’s crucial that team members feel as though their feelings and emotions are prioritized both in their professional and personal lives. With the power of empathy, team leaders and managers can shift company culture for the better and motivate their team to be the best version of themselves.

Empathetic leaders understand the three types of empathy:

1. Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy relates to connecting to another person’s mentality and understanding how certain situations influence their thoughts. Cognitive empathy is related to “theory of mind” that explores how someone can think like another and predict what their future behavior may be.

2. Somatic Empathy

Somatic empathy occurs when one experiences a physical response to another’s feelings or experience.

3. Affective Empathy

Affective empathy involves understanding another’s emotions and responding most appropriately.

Becoming an Empathetic Leader

Managing with empathy is possible for all leaders and team members willing to start within. To connect emotionally with others, you have to first prioritize your connection with yourself. By cultivating your emotional intelligence and understanding your own emotions and feelings, you’ll be better equipped to lead with empathy.

In today’s ever-changing climate, workers have to navigate the likes of diverse workforces, virtualized teams, and global economic challenges. Being able to adapt and sympathize with the perspective and experiences of others will help you improve your empathetic leadership.

Consider the following steps to amplify your emotional intelligence and grow your leadership skills:

1. Listen

Listening to your team is one of the fastest ways to start managing with empathy. With every conversation comes the opportunity to build a better relationship and affirm your team member’s emotions. In each conversation, be sure to pay attention, avoid distractions, and wait for the person to finish before you speak.

In addition to letting your team members fully share their opinions, the art of listening requires you to fully understand the emotions that are behind each conversation. This includes understanding nonverbal cues, identifying the tone of voice, and paying attention to body language. If you’re working remotely, managing with empathy can be particularly challenging. Take advantage of voice notes, video chats, SMS messaging, and sending photos and videos to ensure you’re virtually communicating as comprehensively as possible.

2. Get Personal

Though personal bonds in the workplace are often discouraged, building healthy professional relationships is an effective way to start managing with empathy. By forming personal connections with your team members, you’ll encourage a culture of open communication and alignment. As you both connect, you’ll find commonalities in your shared vision and values.

3. Adopt their Point of View

As an empathetic leader, it’s essential to gain emotional insight into what your team is feeling and thinking by adopting their point of view. Whether your company is remote or in-person, it isn’t always easy to understand the perspective or emotional state of your team. While some leaders shy away from discussing emotions and feelings at work, the truth is that learning more about each employee’s emotional state will help you understand how they approach their work and why they work the way they do.

4. Get Leadership Training

Managing with empathy doesn’t always come naturally. Take the opportunity to invest in leadership training to learn how to better incorporate your emotional intelligence and empathy into your management style. With the help of professional leaders, you’ll learn how to emotionally connect with your team and manage the personal and professional challenges that come your way. Consider courses in facilitation and change management as you learn the ins and outs of empathetic leadership.

The Benefits of Managing a Team With Empathy

Don’t put empathy on the backburner. While it takes time and intention to cultivate a company culture rooted in empathy, making the journey to create an emotionally intelligent environment is worth it.

Consider the following benefits of managing with empathy:

1. Better Relationships

Better relationships are a direct benefit of managing with empathy. Empathy helps team members emotionally connect as they identify personal interests and can freely communicate with each other. Use empathy to deepen relationships by asking questions about how others feel and providing careful and thoughtful responses.

2. Enhanced Teamwork

Empathy is a key ingredient in designing stronger teams. Managing with empathy encourages a desire for team members to help each other and work together. As you learn more about the challenges your team faces, you’ll naturally want to assist them in finding solutions. This type of cooperation encourages a culture of camaraderie where team members feel as though they are a critical part of each other’s success.

3. A Stronger Work-Life Balance

Empathy is a natural part of a stronger work-life balance. At times, challenges from one’s personal life can affect the way team members approach work obligations. Understanding their challenges will help you shape a better work-life balance for your team. Whether they need more time off or want more remote work, listening to and understanding their needs will help them create a healthier balance between their personal and professional lives.

4. Increased Innovation

A workforce of engaged and emotionally aligned employees allows for increased innovation. A workplace culture of empathy helps to develop soft skills such as curiosity, generosity, and equality, which encourages team members to design new creative and collaborative solutions.

The Link Between Empathy and Innovation

The link between innovation and empathy is undeniable. Empathetic leadership allows us to understand and relate to each other in a deeply profound and authentic way. Empathy is an incredible tool for innovation as it works to encourage companies and teams to center the needs and feelings of others.

By encouraging team members to adopt another’s point of view, leaders can utilize empathy as a problem-solving framework. Empathy places the experience and satisfaction of others at the heart of the creative and collaborative process. These empathetic techniques and behaviors are undoubtedly linked to the most effective designs, products, and creative solutions.

In the workplace, empathy naturally reinforces a culture of innovation as it encourages and validates the feelings and opinions of others. Regardless of the problems at hand, human-centered thinking encourages organizations to empathetically eliminate their biases, reservations, and judgment to arrive at the solution that benefits the end-user and their fellow team members the most.

If innovation is at the heart of your company, it’s time to start managing with empathy. Voltage Control offers custom programs built around connection, psychological safety, community, and play. Connect with us today to learn how to use empathetic leadership for the greatest good.

Article originally published at VoltageControl.com

Image Credit: Pexels

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Taking Personal Responsibility – Seeing Self as Cause

Taking Personal Responsibility – Seeing Self as Cause

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our last two blogs on Taking Personal Responsibility, we stated that when people aren’t taking personal responsibility, they cannot be accountable, they will fail in their jobs, and their teams, and fail to grow as individuals and as leaders. Taking personal responsibility is an especially crucial capability to develop self-awareness and self-regulation skills in the decade of both disruption and transformation. It all starts with seeing self as the cause of what happens to us, rather than baling it on the effects events and problems have on us! Where people can learn to recognize the structures at play in their lives and change them so that they can create what they really want to create in their lives, teams, or organizations.

In the last two blogs, we shared a range of tips for shifting people’s location, by creating a line of choice, to help them shift from being below the line and blaming others for their reactive response, to getting above the line quickly.  Through shifting their language from “you, they and them” to “I, we and us” and bravely disrupting and calling out people when they do slip below the line. How doing this allows people to also systemically shift across the maturity continuum, from dependence to independence and ultimately towards interdependence.

In a recent newsletter Otto Scharmer, from the Presencing Institute states “Between action and non-action there is a place. A portal into the unknown. But what are we each called to contribute to the vision of the emerging future? Perhaps these times are simply doorways into the heart of the storm, a necessary journey through the cycles of time required to create change”.

Creating the place – the sacred pause

When I made a significant career change from a design and marketing management consultant to becoming a corporate trainer, one of the core principles I was expected to teach to senior corporate managers and leaders was taking personal responsibility.

Little knowing, that at the end of the workshop, going back to my hotel room and beating myself up, for all of the “wrongs” in the delivery of the learning program, was totally out of integrity with this core principle.

Realising that when people say – those that teach need to learn, I had mistakenly thought that I had to take responsibility for enacting the small imperfections I had delivered during the day, by berating myself, making myself “wrong” and through below the line self-depreciation!

Where I perfectly acted out the harmful process of self-blame, rather than rationally assessing the impact of each small imperfection, shifting to being above the line where I could intentionally apply the sacred pause:

  • Hit my pause button to get present, accept my emotional state,
  • Connect with what really happened to unpack the reality of the situation and eliminate my distortions around it,
  • Check-in and acknowledge how I was truly feeling about what happened,
  • Acknowledge some of the many things that I had done really well,
  • Ask myself what is the outcome/result I want for participants next program?
  • Ask myself what can I really learn from this situation?
  • Consciously choose what to do differently the next time I ran the program.

I still often find myself struggling with creating the Sacred Space between Stimulus and Response and have noticed in my global coaching practice, that many of my well-intentioned clients struggle with this too.

The impact of the last two and a half years of working at home, alone, online, with minimal social interactions and contact, has caused many of them to languish in their reactivity, and for some of them, into drowning in a very full emotional boat, rather than riding the wave of disruptive change.

Being the creative cause

In our work at ImagineNation, whether we help people, leaders and teams adapt, innovate and grow through disruption, their ability to develop true self-awareness and be above the line is often the most valuable and fundamental skill set they develop.

It then enables us to make the distinction that creating is completely different from reacting or responding to the circumstances people find themselves in by applying the sacred pause.

When people shift towards seeing self as the cause they are able to create and co-create what they want in their lives, teams or organization by learning to create by creating, starting with asking the question:

  • What result do you want to create in your life?
  • What is the reality of your current situation?

This creates a state of tension, it is this tension that seeks resolution.

In his ground-breaking book The Path of Least Resistance Robert Fritz, goes on to describe and rank these desired results as “Fundamental Choices, Primary Choices, and Secondary Choices.”

Because there is one thing that we can all do right and is totally in our control – is to shift towards seeing self as the cause and make a set of conscious choices, with open hearts, minds, and wills, as to how we think, feel and choose to act.

“We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals.”

We all have the options and choices in taking responsibility, empowering ourselves and others to be imaginative and creative, and using the range of rapid changes, ongoing disruption, uncertainty, and the adverse pandemic consequences, as levers for shifting and controlling, the way we think, feel.

Benefits of seeing self as the cause and being above the line

Applying the sacred pause to make change choices in how we act – and being brave and bold in shifting across the maturity continuum, will help us to cultivate the creativity, interdependence, and systemic thinking we all need right now because it:

  • Helps people self-regulate their reactive emotional responses, be more open-hearted and emotionally agile, and helps develop psychologically safe work environments where people can collaborate and experiment, and fail without the fear of retribution or punishment.
  • Enables people to be more open-minded, imaginative, and curious and creates a safe space for continuous learning, maximizing diversity and inclusion, and proactive intentional change and transformation.
  • Promotes ownership of a problem or challenging situation and helps develop constructive and creative responses to problems and an ability to take intelligent actions.
  • Gives people an opportunity to impact positively on others and build empowered trusted and collaborative relationships.
  • Enables entrepreneurs and innovators to invent creative solutions and drive successful innovative outcomes.
  • Building the foundations for accountability, where people focus their locus of control on what they promise to deliver, enables them to be intrinsically motivated, and take smart risks on negotiating outcomes that they can be counted on for delivering.

Tips for seeing self as the cause and operating above the line

Taking personal responsibility and seeing self as the cause involves:

  • Acknowledging that “I/we had a role or contributed in some way, to the fact that this has not worked out the way “I/we wanted.”
  • Clarifying the outcome or result in you want from a specific situation or a problem.
  • Seeking alternatives and options for making intelligent choices and actions, and using the language of “I/we can” and “I/we will” to achieve the outcome.
  • Replacing avoiding, being cynical and argumentative, blaming, shaming, controlling, and complaining with courageous, compassionate, and creative language and acts of intention.
  • People become victors who operate from “self as cause” where they are empowered to be the creative forces in their own lives by making fundamental, primary, and secondary change choices.
  • Trust your inner knowing and deep wisdom that everything has a specific and definable cause and that each and every one of us has the freedom to choose how to respond to it.

Back to leadership basics

As Stephen Covey says, people need to deeply and honestly say “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday” because it’s not what happens to us, it’s our reactive response to what happens that hurts us.

Being willing to step back, retreat, and reflect on the gap between the results you want, and the results you are getting all starts with stepping inward, backward, and forwards, using the sacred pause, to ask:

  • What happened? What were the key driving forces behind it?
  • How am I/we truly feeling about it?
  • What was my/our role in causing this situation, or result?
  • What can I/we learn from it?
  • What is the result/outcome I want to create in the future?
  • What can I/we then do to create it?

As a corporate trainer, consultant and coach, I found out the hard way that developing the self-awareness and self-regulation skills in taking personal responsibility and seeing self as the cause is the basis of the personal power and freedom that is so important to me, and almost everyone else I am currently interacting with.

It’s the foundation for transcending paralysis, overwhelm, and stuck-ness and activating our sense of agency to transform society and ourselves.

This is the third and final blog in a series of blogs on the theme of taking responsibility – going back to leadership basics. Read the previous two here:

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 18, 2022. It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus,  human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique context.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Taking Personal Responsibility – Creating the Line of Choice

Taking Personal Responsibility - Creating the Line of Choice

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our last blog, we described how people’s personal power is diminished when they don’t take personal responsibility for the impact of their behaviors and actions and the results they cause. Where many people are feeling minimized and marginalized, anxious as a result of being isolated and lonely, worrying about losing their security and freedom, and dealing with the instability in their working environments.  Resulting in many people disengaging from the important conversations, job functions, key relationships, workplaces, and in some instances, even from society. Where managers and leaders lack the basic self-awareness and self-regulation skills to control the only controllable in uncertain and unstable times, is to choose how to respond, rather than react to it.

We have a unique moment in time to shift their defensiveness through being compassionate, creative, and courageous towards helping managers and leaders unfreeze and mobilize to exit our comfort zones.  To take intelligent actions catalyze and cause positive outcomes, that deliver real solutions to crises, complex situations, and difficult business problems.

Why do people avoid taking personal responsibility?

People typically avoid taking personal responsibility for reasons ranging from simple laziness, risk adversity, or a fear of failure, to feeling change fatigued, overwhelmed, or even victimized by the scale of a problem or a situation.

Resulting in a range of different automatic defensive, and a range of non-productive reactive responses including:

  • Avoidant behavior, where feel victimized and targeted, people passively “wriggle” and the buck gets passed onto others, and the real problem or issue does not get addressed or resolved.
  • Controlling behavior, where people ignore their role in causing or resolving the real problem or issue, and aggressively push others towards their mandate or solution, denying others any agency.
  • Argumentative behavior, where people play the binary “right-wrong” game, and self-righteously, triggered by their own values, oppose other people’s perspectives in order to be right and make the other person wrong.

Creating the line of choice

At Corporate Vision, we added a thick line of “choice” between “personal responsibility” and “blame, justification and denial” to intentionally create space for people to consider taking more emotionally hygienic options rather than:

  • Dumping their “emotional boats” inappropriately onto others, even those they may deeply care about,
  • Sinking into their habitual, and largely unconscious default patterns when facing complex problems, which results in the delivery of the same results they always have.
  • Not regulating their automatic reactive responses to challenging situations, and not creating the vital space to pause and reflect to think about what to do next.

To enable them to shift towards taking response-ability (an ability to respond) and introducing more useful options for responding in emotionally agile, considered, constructive, inclusive, and creative ways to the problem or the challenge.

Noticing that when we, or others we interact with, do slip below the line to notice whether to “camp” there for the long term or to simply choose to make the “visit” a short one!

Doing this demonstrates the self-awareness and self-regulation skills enabling people to take personal responsibility. Which initiates ownership and a willingness to be proactive, solutions, and achievement orientated – all of which are essential qualities for 21st century conscious leadership that result in innovative outcomes that result in success, growth, and sustainability.

Shifting your location – from “you, they and them” to “I, we and us”

Developing the foundations for transformational and conscious leadership involves:

  • Supporting people to acknowledge and accept that the problem or challenge is not “out there” and is within their locus of control or influence.
  • Shifting the “Maturity Continuum” to enable leaders and managers to be both independent and interdependent.
  • Creating a line of choice to think, act and do things differently.
  • Calling out people when they slip below the line.

It involves supporting people to let go of their expectation that “they” or someone else, from the outside, will fix it, and supporting them to adopt a stance where:

  • “I” or “we” can and are empowered to do it,
  • “I” or “we” are responsible for getting above the line,
  • “I” or “we” can choose a different way of being, thinking, and acting intelligently in this situation.

Developing conscious leadership

At any time, everyone is either above or below the line because it is elemental to the type of conscious leadership we all need to survive and thrive, in a world where people are seeking leaders, managers, and working environments that require interdependence.

To operate in the paradigm of “we” – we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.

We cooperate together by creating the line of choice where we call out to ourselves and others when we slip below it, to get above the line as quickly as possible.

Where interdependent people and communities combine their efforts, and their self-awareness and self-regulation skills with the efforts of others to achieve their growth and greatest success by increasing:

  • Transparency and trust,
  • Achievement and accountability,
  • Diversity and inclusion,
  • Experimentation and collaboration.

All of these are founded on the core principle of taking personal responsibility, which is an especially crucial capability to develop self-awareness and self-regulation skills in the decade of both disruption and transformation.

Bravely calling out self and others

When we take responsibility for managing our own, “below the line” reactive responses, by habitually creating the line of choice, we can bravely call out ourselves and others when we slip below it.

Because when we don’t call ourselves and others we interact with, we are unconsciously colluding with their emotional boats, default patterns, and automatic reactive responses, which inhibit their ability to effect positive change.

When we safely awaken ourselves and others, we can get back above the line quickly and choose different ways of being, thinking, and acting intelligently in the situation.

Alternately, people aren’t taking personal responsibility, they cannot be accountable, they will fail in their jobs, and their teams, and fail to grow as individuals and as leaders.

In fact, developing a habitual practice of emotionally intelligent and conscious leadership by safely and bravely disrupting ourselves and our people, in the face of ongoing uncertainty, accelerating change, and continuous disruption.

This is the second in a series of three blogs on the theme of taking responsibility – going back to leadership basics.

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 18, 2022. It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus,  human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique context.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Taking Personal Responsibility – Back to Leadership Basics

Taking Personal Responsibility – Back to Leadership Basics

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

I was first introduced to the principle of Taking Personal Responsibility when I attended a number of experiential workshops facilitated by Robert Kiyosaki who is now well known globally as the successful entrepreneurial author of the “Rich Dad Poor Dad” book series. At that time, in the late 1980s, the concept simply involved taking personal responsibility for your role in getting the results you get, in both challenging and problematic situations.

This principle has since evolved as the most crucial foundation for developing our emotionally intelligent, conscious, and transformational leadership capabilities. Largely through focusing on the development of self-awareness and self-regulation skillsets, which are especially important skills to cultivate in times of extreme uncertainty.

Blaming, Justifying, and Denying

Taking personal responsibility involves encouraging people to step up and out of blaming themselves or others, out of justifying their position or denying what is really going on to largely avoid the cognitive, emotional, and visceral results and consequences of their actions.

Which are essentially, largely unconscious defensive reactions to the problem or situation. So, it sounds quite simple, yet, even now, it’s still largely a countercultural principle, and a neurologically challenging one, because we are wired to survive (fight/flight/freeze) in the face of what we perceive as danger!

Especially when many of us are living in an oppositional blaming and shaming political environment, or within a passively or aggressively defensive organizational culture. Where a large section of the community, has been forced by the constraints of the pandemic, into fearing that their security and survival needs will not be met. Alternately, the great resignation and the nature of the virtual hybrid workplace have increased some people’s fears about even being able to get their jobs done!

All of this creates distorted thoughts and language that focus on “scarcity” where many people are fearing that they are not “enough” and do not have “enough” to deal with their current circumstances. Rather than leaning towards exploring and eliciting the possibilities and opportunities available in our abundant world.  As there is no clear playbook about how people can effectively and responsibly lead and manage in this unique 21st-century context, many people are floundering, languishing into largely emotionally overwhelmed states.

Where it is easier, and sometimes safer, to be a victim, blame and shame others for their helpless or powerless situation, or to justify and deny any need to change their perspective about it, never mind their role in causing their own anxious and unresourceful emotional states.

Back to Leadership Basics

Yet, it is more important than ever, for leaders and managers to help people:

  • Take ownership of their consequences and be responsible for the emotional, cognitive, and visceral results of their actions,
  • Authentically connect, empower, and enable people and communities to flourish,
  • Provide safe, transparent, trusted environments and interdependence where people can dare to think differently and potentially thrive.

This means that the range of crises, uncertainty, and disruptions we are experiencing now is forcing us to go back to basic 101 management and leadership principles.

According to McKinsey & Co in a recent article “A Leaders Guide – communicating with teams, stakeholders and communities during Covid 19” – “Crises come in different intensities. As a “landscape-scale” event, the coronavirus has created great uncertainty, elevated stress and anxiety, and prompted tunnel vision, in which people focus only on the present rather than toward the future. During such a crisis, when information is unavailable or inconsistent, and when people feel unsure about what they know (or anyone knows), behavioral science points to an increased human desire for transparency, guidance, and making sense out of what has happened”.

The Maturity Continuum – Shifting to I and We

The principle of taking personal responsibility has evolved and been enhanced significantly through the work of Steve Covey, in the “Seven Habits of Effective People” and provides the core foundations for transformational and conscious leadership through the “Maturity Continuum”:

  1. Dependence is the paradigm of you – you take care of me; you come through for me; you didn’t come through for me; I blame you for the results. Dependent and approval-seeking people need others to get what they want.
  2. Independence is the paradigm of I – can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose. Independent people get what they want through their own efforts.
  3. Interdependence is the paradigm of we – we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together. Interdependent people combine their efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.

Putting the Maturity Continuum to Work

In the early 2000s I was an associate of Corporate Vision, Australia’s first culture change and transformation consultancy, now the globally successful Walking the Talk organisation, for fourteen years.

Where every culture, leadership, team development, or change program we designed and presented, introduced taking personal responsibility, as a fundamental, core learning principle. Aligning it with the principle of – For things to change first I must change, which deeply challenged and disrupted people’s belief systems, habitual mindsets, thinking styles, and ways of acting.

As a seasoned coach of twenty years, these two core principles seem to still profoundly challenge the majority of my coaching clients across the world, no matter how senior their role or position is, or how knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced they are!

Where many managers and leaders have failed to self-regulate, lack self-awareness, and have unconsciously slipped into feeling victimized, powerless, helpless, and in some instances, even hopeless about their futures where some are:

  • Feeling frozen, inert, paralyzed, overwhelmed, and immobilized in their abilities to affect any kind of positive change in both their work and home environments.
  • Unconsciously slipping into blaming and shaming others for their situations,
  • Justifying their inertia through a range of “reasonable reasons” and “elaborate stories” about how it’s “not their fault” or it’s not “up to them” to make any change.
  • Simply denying their current consequences, or the importance of needing to take positive actions, and make changes.
  • Unmotivated, lack any desire for control, or have the personal power to affect change in their situation.

Initiating Taking Personal Responsibility

To accept and share responsibility starts with being bravely willing to courageously connect with our whole selves and consciously stepping back to hit our internal pause button, retreat into silence and stillness, and compassionately ask:

  1. What happened?
  2. What can I/we learn from it?
  3. What can I/we then do to create it?

Taking personal responsibility becomes a compassionate, creative, and courageous exercise in continuous learning, self-awareness, and emotional self-regulation in ways that safely disrupt people’s defensiveness and awaken them to the possibility of being personally powerful in tough situations.

It is also the basis for taking intelligent actions catalyze and cause positive outcomes, that deliver real solutions to crises, complex situations, and difficult business problems.

This is the first in a series of three blogs on the theme of taking responsibility – going back to leadership basics.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

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