Tag Archives: change

Learning to Innovate

Learning to Innovate

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

One of my coaching clients shared with me recently how she was feeling insecure in her job role and lacking motivation. The company she works for is acknowledged as an entrepreneurial industry leader. Because it is currently being challenged by poor sales performance, it has hunkered down and frozen any change initiatives, learning programs or new projects until mid-2025. My client is in a substantial Research and Development function, crucial to innovation, so we aimed to explore new ways of helping the company use their existing equipment (capital investments) and resources (people and expertise) to design and deliver low-cost and sustainable innovations to the market. To create a focused, meaningful, purposeful role and a values-based motivating opportunity for my client to be proactive, that impacts the company by adding value to the bottom line by improving productivity and cost efficiency because anyone can learn to innovate.

Learning to innovate

As a result of our short time together, my client felt confident and empowered, motivated and energized, to invest time in learning how to apply her current skills and strengths, focus and attention to connect with key people and resources, explore options globally for identifying new business development opportunities, and in developing her technical skillset.

My client enrolled in an online innovation learning program to learn to innovate by acquiring the fundamentals of mindset and behavior changes to shift their thinking and act differently.  

The innovation imperative has shifted

  • Productivity growth needs to accelerate

According to McKinsey and Co, in the article “Investing in Productivity Growth” it’s not only time to raise investment and catch the next productivity wave; the world needs to and can accelerate productivity growth.

“Productivity growth means getting more from our work and our investments. It is especially needed now as the world faces the many challenges of a new geo-economic era. Productivity growth is the best antidote to the asset price inflation of the past two decades, which has created about $160 trillion in “paper wealth” and even larger amounts of new debt”.

  • Adapting to the new net zero reality

The world is currently not on track to meet net-zero targets, yet many opportunities are available to accelerate efforts and help meet de-carbonization goals. Whilst some progress has been made to reduce global carbon emissions, under the current trajectory, the world won’t achieve net-zero emissions even during this century. Again, according to McKinsey and Co., in an article “Adapting to the new net-zero reality”, mitigation efforts alone are no longer sufficient – the world will need to adapt as well by going green, ramping up technologies and increasing investments.

  • Improving cost efficiencies

According to new BCG research, corporate leaders are making better cost management a priority as a hedge against ongoing economic, financial, and political uncertainties, stating that:

“Wholesale cuts are one way to manage costs. However, drastic measures such as sudden workforce reductions may lead to unintended consequences because they fail to address the root causes of inefficiencies. Nor do they position an organization for future success”.

  • Generative Ai is a critical enabler of innovation

Whether the organization focuses on developing new products, services, processes, or business models, Generative AI (GenAI) can enhance and challenge the work of leaders and teams across all phases of the innovation cycle and process.

By learning to innovate through knowing how to generatively question and listen, reveal and challenge operating beliefs and test assumptions to enable them to emerge, diverge, converge and prioritize high-quality creative ideas for change.

According to BCG in a recent article, “To Drive Innovation with GenAI, Start by Questioning Your Assumptions.”

“GenAI’s most prominent contribution is in idea generation and validation—innovation’s divergence and convergence phases. Yet, it can play an even more critical role in helping leaders confront and update the strategic assumptions at the foundation of their business and innovation strategies: the doubt phase of the cycle. Organizations that regularly question their beliefs are more resilient because they are more likely to see and position themselves to benefit from the shifts on which competitive advantage turns”.

The innovation imperative is paradoxical.

Suppose we combine the contradictory features or qualities of developing productivity growth while adapting to the new net zero reality and improving cost efficiencies. In that case, many organizations have reverted to their conventional, business-as-usual focus, relying on Generative Ai to solve their problems.

This demonstrates a typically faddish response to a revolutionary, transformative new invention whilst being avoidant and resisting the urgent need to change by building the fundamental foundations in learning to innovate.

  • Thinking and acting differently

Anyone can learn to innovate, and it starts with allowing, accepting and acknowledging that a business-as-usual focus, avoiding risk, making the tough decisions and resisting change are no longer effective, profitable, or sustainable because:

  • We all know that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.
  • We can no longer afford to keep producing the same results that no one wants.
  • We can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it; we have to learn how to be, think and act differently to deliver the sustainable and innovative solution we want to have.

Learning to innovate requires a radical strategic shift

  • Harnessing collective intelligence

Anyone can learn to innovate; it’s simply a matter of knowing, combining, leveraging and scaling people’s multiple and collective intelligence – heads/cognition, hearts/emotions and hands/actions.

  • Revealing and closing knowing-doing gaps

Then, we should align these to close the significant knowing-doing gap or disconnect between what people know and what people do.

Everyone knows that innovation is the most impactful lever to use to scale and leverage change, yet are primarily unwilling to pause, stop and take time to retreat from their short-term focus, pay attention and reflect on how to equip people with the innovation fundamentals by getting people’s:

  1. Heads to make sense of innovation and what innovation means by defining and framing it in their organization’s unique context, setting a strategic focus, determining the level of risk involved in achieving it, and mitigating the roadblocks that may arise.
  2. Hearts aligned to embody and enact what innovation means by setting and sharing a passionately purposeful reason for innovation, building change receptivity and readiness for designing and delivering a range of bespoke deep learning processes and equipping people to activate it.
  3. Hands dirty by creating a safe environment where people are encouraged to emerge and share creative ideas and permission and be allowed to experiment by making small bets and mistakes and learning by doing to know what not to do.

Innovation requires a strategic and systemic focus

Innovation is subjective and contextual, so it must be defined and framed in an organization’s unique context.  It requires a strategic and systemic focus, so an organization needs to agree on whether they will choose an incremental, sustainable or disruptive strategy and the level of risk.

The 21st century requires us to unlearn, learn, and relearn a different set of mindsets, behaviors, and skills, and anyone can learn to innovate.

Commitment and conviction to learn to innovate

It’s only through being committed and having the conviction that my coaching client now has – to explore new ways of helping their organizations use their existing capital investments, collective intelligence, people resources, and expertise, supported by Generative AI and deep learning processes, to design and deliver low-cost and sustainable innovations to the market.

Image Credit: Pexels

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Good Intentions Pave the Way to Innovation Hell

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and nowhere is that more true than in innovation.

Good Intentions Pave the Way to Innovation Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

That’s one of the insights I took away from InnoLead’s Q1 report on corporate innovation priorities.  The report is an eye-opening look at the impact of AI on corporate innovation as experienced by corporate entrepreneurs themselves.  But before deep diving into that topic, the report’s authors shared intriguing data about member companies’ innovation structure, leadership engagement, organizational connections, and results. Nestled amongst the charts were several that, when taken together, got my Spidey senses tingling.

61.0% of innovation teams are “directly under a high-visibility leader with a broad company focus.”

This is great because innovation needs senior leaders’ support and active engagement to survive, let alone survive for long enough to produce meaningful results. Add this to the fact that 45% of senior leadership teams frequently discuss the “progress and value of the innovation program,” and all signs point to innovation as a strategic priority.

But (you knew there was a but, didn’t you)…

If “broad company focus” means “no P&L responsibility,” we have a problem.  In every for-profit company I’ve worked for and with, people with P&L responsibility have greater power, influence, and access to resources than people without a P&L.  This division may not feel fair, but it makes sense – the people who bring in profit and revenue will always be more influential than people who represent “cost centers.”

You can see the impact of P&L owners who are, understandably, focused entirely on delivering short-term results throughout the report – 75% of companies have shifted their focus more towards near-term priorities, and 61% shifted their innovation portfolio away from Horizon 3 (also known as radical, breakthrough, or disruptive innovation).

As for all those discussions, it’d be great if they focused on walking the talk of innovation. But suppose it’s only innovation platitudes or, worse, questioning innovation’s ROI. That doesn’t bode well for the “high-visibility leader with broad company focus,” the innovation team, or the company’s culture.

71.2% of innovation teams’ customers or business partners are unaware of the team’s existence, don’t engage, or engage only occasionally.

Welcome to Innovation Island!  Where the cool people work on cool things in cool offices while all you drones slave away doing the same thing you’ve always done and making the money that pays for the cool people to do cool things in their cool offices.

I’m sure this isn’t the message the innovation team intends to send, but it’s the one received by most organizations.

When arguing for Innovation Island, managers often point to the organizational antibodies likely to swarm and kill H3/radical/breakthrough innovation and even some H2/adjacent innovations.  They’re right, and those innovations must be “protected.” But not every innovation needs protection.  H2 and certainly H1 innovations, where most portfolios are now, should be shared with the core business because the core business will eventually run them.

The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that innovation teams don’t seem to be reaching out to others in the organization.  Like the P&L owners they report to, people in the core business are busy running the business and generating revenue.  Very few have the time or energy to seek out the innovation team to discuss and explore innovation.  Companies that want to build a culture of innovation need to turn their innovators into evangelists, not residents of an island connected to the mainland by a single drawbridge.

23.4% of innovation teams are considered outsiders or actively undermined by other functions and business units.

This may not sound bad, but add to it the 55.0% that are “somewhat integrated with occasional collaboration” with other departments and business units, and you may be tempted to believe that Innovation Island would be wise to invest in a surface-to-air missile defense system.

Sadly, this perception of the innovation team as “The Others” isn’t surprising when considering that the most important tactic for building a relationship between innovation and the functions or business units is already having strong relationships and interpersonal trust (75.3% of respondents).  The least effective (4.7% of respondents) is “writing down shared objectives and expectations.”  So, no, the email you sent is not enough to win friends and influence people.

Bottom line

Well-intended companies appoint a senior executive to lead the innovation team because they’ve been told that doing so is powerful proof that innovation is a strategic priority.  They hire outsiders to inject new thinking into the organization because they know that “what got you here won’t get you there.”  They cordon the team and their work off from the rest of the organization because they read that separation is essential to preserving innovation’s disruptive nature. 

But if the senior executive doesn’t have the organizational power and influence that comes with P&L ownership, the team doesn’t have strong personal relationships with others in the business, and other functions and business units don’t know the team exists or how to interact with it, innovation will go nowhere.

But that’s better than where it could go.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Thinking Differently About Leadership and Innovation

Thinking Differently About Leadership and Innovation

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

We live in a world, with less stability, certainty, simplicity, and predictability, where regional conflicts, societal divisions, and civil unrest have increased globally. Simultaneously, technological-induced disruptive innovations and the climate crisis impact every aspect of our daily lives. This means that we live in an age of overwhelm and a world of unknowns, requiring us all to know how to uncover and eliminate our individual and collective blind spots, to be adaptive and innovative. By thinking and acting differently about leadership and innovation, we can all grow, survive, and thrive within it.

This a moment in time that calls for leaders to boldly and courageously, step up, shift out of any myopic, reactive, cost, and short-term focus, and develop their leadership consciousness.  By taking personal responsibility, and being accountable for owning and shifting their interior state or inner being, to eliminate flaws, maximize core strengths, and build confidence, capacity, and competence to adapt, innovate, and grow through disruption.  

To refocus on developing future-fit systemic and innovative solutions, that add real value in ways that serve and sustain people, profit, and the planet, differently.

Leadership is in crisis

We are experiencing a global leadership crisis.

Many leaders, in the corporate sector, and national and international institutions have become increasingly reactive. In ways that are passively or aggressively defensive, egotistic, and often self-serving. By vacillating between political correctness, denial, justification, and avoidance – and between attacking, shaming, and blaming groups, individuals, and nations for the current state of social unrest, political chaos, cultural divisions, and regional and religious conflicts.

  • Hitting a pause button

The missing key element is the leadership consciousness required in taking the time to pause, retreat (step back), reflect, and explore the deep causes, current implications, and nature of challenging, complex, and systemic problems.

Leaders are obliged to step out of their habitual comfort zones and boost their ability to bravely make sense of what is going on – and develop the foresight skills to risk mitigate and identify the most intelligent actions that will deliver high-value and high-impact outcomes that serve people, profits, and the planet.

To uncover the repetitive mindsets and behaviors that keep on producing results that no one wants, by bravely exposing and eliminating their leadership blind spots. 

Leadership blind spots

We know that most of the innovative solutions to the complex challenges we face already exist.

To unleash these desirable, value-adding, and innovative solutions, we need to empower, enable, and equip leaders to bravely and safely expose and eliminate their largely, unconscious and unknown leadership blind spots. These exist in our individual and collective leadership, they also exist in our everyday team and social interactions.

Because most leaders are smart and know what to do, and how to do it, identifying and eliminating any leadership blind spots will enable them to do it better.

Yet, despite, in many cases, years of leadership training they are at risk of being perpetually reactive, unfocused, overcome with “busyness” and addicted to the tasks involved in “getting stuff” (usually the urgent “small stuff” and not always the “important stuff”) the done. 

As defined by Dr. Karen Blakeley in “Leadership Blind Spots and What to Do about Them,” a blind spot is “a regular tendency to repress, distort, dismiss or fail to notice information, views or ideas in a particular area that results in an individual failing to learn, change or grow in response to changes in that area.”

  • Source of leadership blind spots

The majority of leaders are mostly blind to the Source from which they operate. This is often because many do not have the self-awareness and emotional intelligence to manage and self-regulate any of their unconscious un-resourceful emotional states, mindsets, and behaviors. 

Leadership Consciousness

“An ordered distinction between self and environment, simple wakefulness, one’s sense of self-hood or soul explored by “looking within”; being a metaphorical “stream” of contents, or being a mental state, mental event or mental process of the brain”.

  • Igniting the brain

Leadership blind spots are typically contained in our neurology and can be exposed and eliminated by:


Paying attention to their three core neurological levels and being intentional in cultivating their leadership consciousness.

When engaged in a coaching partnership, a leader can learn how to shift, self-regulate, and self-manage at all three levels to effectively eliminate their flaws, and learn how to think and act differently in delivering successful transformation and change initiatives.

Power of Coaching Intervention

A coach is an external disruptor who seeks to bring out the best in a leader, tap into and maximize their potential, and adds value by facilitating deep, insight-based learning processes, that shifts mindsets and result in sustainable behavior change.

Coaching helps smart people be and think beyond who they are being and beyond what they are thinking now. In ways that can empower, enable, and equip leaders to adapt, innovate, and grow, cultivate their imagination and creativity, to think and act differently in an unstable world.

This enables them to develop and implement systemic and innovative solutions in a timely way and at scale.

  • Noticing, disrupting, disputing, and deviating

Coaches partner with leaders to enable them to notice, disrupt, dispute, and deviate by accessing and harnessing resourceful emotional states, and mindsets. Coaches safely explore the “boxes”, thinking, or the “stories” a leader may have been unconsciously living within, and constricted by.

Because we can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it in the first instance.

Especially in a 21st-century world where developing leadership consciousness enables us to adapt, innovate, and grow by:

  • Reducing our brain’s ability to hijack us when doing its best to constantly keep us safe from danger,
  • Letting go of old pervasive Industrial Age mental models and perspectives, especially around cost and efficiency,
  • Relearning new future-fit ways of being, thinking, and acting differently.

And increases our ability to be agile, centered, and focused in thinking faster in the Disruption Age, where technology is accelerating faster than our human brains are.

Upskilling our brains!

A coaching partnership will create a safe and collective holding space to help leaders deep dive into the unknown develop strategies and develop their leadership consciousness in ways that:

  • Opens their minds, ignites their imagination, curiosity, and creativity, shifts their perspective, makes sense of things develops a whole systems perspective, and think differently,
  • Opens their hearts to become connected with self, others, systems, and with Source, and be empathic and compassionate,
  • Opens their will to let go of the need for control, and allows them to deal with paradox and the new to emerge, which can be designed, iterated, and pivoted, in ways that enable them to act differently, in designing and implementing systemic and innovative solutions.

Closing leadership blind spots to adapt, innovate and grow

A coach empowers, enables, and equips a leader’s capacity, confidence, and competence, to identify and close their leadership blind spots, be in charge of their minds, and think and act differently, to adapt, innovate, and grow in times of great uncertainty.

To convincingly work with, and flow with both their peoples overwhelm, and with the constraints in the external environment by:

  • Developing an awareness of their neurological RIGIDITY which exists within their emotional, cognitive, and visceral states, in turn, impacts their ability to mobilise, focus, and engage their efforts.

When a leader has a blind spot in this area, they may demonstrate rigidity, or functional fixedness, resulting in an inability to mobilise, they will be withdrawn, reactive, and become overly passive or even aggressive.  Because they are unconsciously at the effect of the “mental blocks” resulting from unacknowledged fears and anxiety.

  • Developing their neurological PLASTICITY and flexibility to be able to attend to, regulate, and focus their thoughts, and feelings, and be grounded, mindful, present, and intentional in taking intelligent actions.

When a leader has a blind spot in this area, they will not be able to access their brain’s ability to change, reorganize, or grow new neural networks, learn, adapt, and become resilient. They will not develop the agility required to shift mindsets or behaviours, or even learn the new skills that will equip them to be future-fit and deliver the results they seek.

  • Generating the critical and creative thinking, problem sensing, and solving skills required to improve their leadership consciousness and GENERATE their crucial elastic thinking and human skills required to see, think differently in solving complex and wicked problems, be future-fit, and lead others to thrive.

When a leader has a blind spot in this area, they will take a conventional and linear approach to decision-making problem-solving, and team development. They will safely stay stuck in what they know, even though what they did in the past may not have worked.

Adding value to the quality of peoples’ lives

If we keep on trying to solve the problem with the same thinking (and neurological state) that created it, we will continue to reproduce the results no one wants.

We will not be able to shift beyond what we think now, nor will we connect, export, and, discover the crucial new horizons we need to emerge to develop and implement the systemic and innovative solutions, in a timely way and at scale, that the world needs right now!

Imagine if leaders truly and deeply committed to cultivating their leadership consciousness, and make the time and space to eliminate their blind spots, how peaceful and harmonious the world could become!

If leaders could learn how to think and act differently, focus on adding value to the quality of people’s lives in ways they appreciate and cherish, and contribute to the common good, to serve all of humanity, how people, profit, and the planet could flourish.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, and can be customized as a bespoke corporate learning and coaching program for leadership and team development and change and culture transformation initiatives.

Image Credit: Pexels

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Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Transformation and change initiatives are usually designed as strategic interventions, intending to advance an organization’s growth, deliver increased shareholder value, build competitive advantage, or improve speed and agility to respond to fast-changing industries.  These initiatives typically focus on improving efficiency, and productivity, resolving IT legacy and technological issues, encouraging innovation, or developing high-performance organizational cultures. Yet, according to research conducted over fifteen years by McKinsey & Co., shared in a recent article “Losing from day one: Why even successful transformations fall short” – Organizations have realized only 67 percent of the maximum financial benefits that their transformations could have achieved. By contrast, respondents at all other companies say they captured an average of only 37 percent of the potential benefit, and it’s all due to a lack of human skills, and their inability to adapt, innovate, and thrive in a decade of disruption.

Differences between success and failure

The survey results confirm that “there are no short­cuts to successful transformation and change initiatives. The main differentiator between success and failure was not whether an organization followed a specific subset of actions but rather how many actions it took throughout an organizational transformation’s life cycle” and actions taken by the people involved.

Capacity, confidence, and competence – human skills

What stands out is that thirty-five percent of the value lost occurs in the implementation phase, which involves the unproductive actions taken by the people involved.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) supports this in a recent article “How to Create a Transformation That Lasts” – “Transformations are inherently difficult, filled with compressed deadlines and limited resources. Executing them typically requires big changes in processes, product offerings, governance, structure, the operating model itself, and human behavior.

Reinforcing the need for organizations to invest in developing the deep human skills that embed transformation disciplines into business-as-usual structures, processes, and systems, and help shift the culture. Which depends on enhancing people’s capacity, confidence, and competence to implement the “annual business-planning processes and review cycles, from executive-level weekly briefings and monthly or quarterly reviews to individual performance dialogue” that delivers and embeds the desired changes, especially the cultural enablers.

Complex and difficult to navigate – key challenges

As a result of the impact of our VUCA/BANI world, coupled with the global pandemic, current global instability, and geopolitics, many people have had their focus stolen, and are still experiencing dissonance cognitively, emotionally, and viscerally.

This impacts their ability to take intelligent actions and the range of symptoms includes emotional overwhelm, cognitive overload, and change fatigue.

It seems that many people lack the capacity, confidence, and competence, to underpin their balance, well-being, and resilience, which resources their ability and GRIT to engage fully in transformation and change initiatives.

The new normal – restoring our humanity

At ImagineNation™ for the past four years, in our coaching and mentoring practice, we have spent more than 1000 hours partnering with leaders and managers around the world to support them in recovering and re-emerging from a range of uncomfortable, disabling, and disempowering feelings.

Some of these unresourceful states include loneliness, disconnection, a lack of belonging, and varying degrees of burnout, and have caused them to withdraw and, in some cases, even resist returning to the office, or to work generally.

It appears that this is the new normal we all have to deal with, knowing there is no playbook, to take us there because it involves restoring the essence of our humanity and deepening our human skills.

Taking a whole-person approach – develop human skills

By embracing a whole-person approach, in all transformation and change initiatives, that focuses on building people’s capacity, confidence, and competence, and that cultivates their well-being and resilience to:

  • Engage, empower, and enable them to collaborate in setting the targets, business plans, implementation, and follow-up necessary to ensure a successful transformation and change initiative.
  • Safely partner with them through their discomfort, anxiety, fear, and reactive responses.
  • Learn resourceful emotional states, traits, mindsets, behaviors, and human skills to embody, enact and execute the desired changes strategically and systemically.

By then slowing down, to pause, retreat and reflect, and choose to operate systemically and holistically, and cultivate the “deliberate calm” required to operate at the three different human levels outlined in the illustration below:

The Neurological Level – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to comprehend, connect to, and work with. Because people lack the focus, intention, and skills to help people collapse any unconscious RIGIDITY existing in their emotional, cognitive, and visceral states, which means they may be frozen, distracted, withdrawn, or aggressive as a result of their fears and anxiety.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by accepting “what is”:

  • Paying attention and being present with whatever people are experiencing neurologically by attending, allowing, accepting, naming, and acknowledging whatever is going on for them, and by supporting and enabling them to rest, revitalize and recover in their unique way.
  • Operating from an open mind and an open heart and by being empathic and compassionate, in line with their fragility and vulnerability, being kind, appreciative, and considerate of their individual needs.
  • Being intentional in enabling them to become grounded, mindful conscious, and truly connected to what is really going on for them, and rebuild their positivity, optimism, and hope for the future.
  • Creating a collective holding space or container that gives them permission, safety, and trust to pull them towards the benefits and rewards of not knowing, unlearning, and being open to relearning new mental models.
  • Evoking new and multiple perspectives that will help them navigate uncertainty and complexity.

The Emotional Cognition Levels – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to take into account because people need to develop their PLASTICITY and flexibility in regulating and focusing their thoughts, feelings, and actions to adapt and be agile in a world of unknowns, and deliver the outcomes and results they want to have.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by supporting them to open their hearts and minds:

  • Igniting their curiosity, imagination, and playfulness, introducing novel ideas, and allowing play and improvisation into their thinking processes, to allow time out to mind wander and wonder into new and unexplored territories.
  • Exposing, disrupting, and re-framing negative beliefs, ruminations, overthinking and catastrophizing patterns, imposter syndromes, fears of failure, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Evoking mindset shifts, embracing positivity and an optimistic focus on what might be a future possibility and opportunity.
  • Being empathic, compassionate, and appreciative, and engaging in self-care activities and well-being practices.

The Generative Level – which most transformation and change initiatives ignore, because they fail to develop the critical and creative thinking, and problem sensing and solving skills that are required to GENERATE the crucial elastic thinking and human skills that result in change, and innovation.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by:

  • Creating a safe space to help people reason and make sense of the things occurring within, around, and outside of them.
  • Cultivating their emotional and cognitive agility, creative, critical, and associative thinking skills to challenge the status quo and think differently.
  • Developing behavioral flexibility to collaborate, being inclusive to maximize differences and diversity, and safe experimentation to close their knowing-doing gaps.
  • Taking small bets, giving people permission and safety to fail fast to learn quickly, be courageous, be both strategic and systemic in taking smart risks and intelligent actions.

Reigniting our humanity – unlocking human potential  

At the end of the day, we all know that we can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it. Yet, so many of us keep on trying to do that, by unconsciously defaulting into a business-as-usual linear thinking process when involved in setting up and implementing a transformation or change initiative.

Ai can only take us so far, because the defining trait of our species, is our human creativity, which is at the heart of all creative problem-solving endeavors, where innovation can be the engine of change, transformation, and growth, no matter what the context. According to Fei-Fei Li, Sequoia Professor of Computer Science at Stanford, and co-director of AI4All, a non-profit organization promoting diversity and inclusion in the field of AI.

“There’s nothing artificial about AI. It’s inspired by people, created by people, and most importantly it has an impact on people”.

  • Develop the human skills

When we have the capacity, confidence, and competence to reignite our humanity, we will unlock human potential, and stop producing results no one wants. By developing human skills that enable people to adapt, be resilient, agile, creative, and innovate, they will grow through disruption in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives, that are appreciated and cherished, we can truly serve people, deliver profits and perhaps save the planet.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, and can be customized as a bespoke corporate learning and coaching program for leadership and team development and change and culture transformation initiatives.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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4 Simple Steps to Becoming Your Own Futurist

An Introduction to the FutureHacking™ methodology

FutureHacking Foresight and Futurist Primer

by Braden Kelley

The starting point for becoming your own futurist is of course to first understand what futurology (or a futurist) is. Then we must also understand what strategic and market foresight are as well.

What is Futurology (or a Futurist)?

  • Futures studies, futures research, futurism or futurology is the systematic, interdisciplinary and holistic study of social and technological advancement, and other environmental trends, often for the purpose of exploring how people will live and work in the future. Predictive techniques, such as forecasting, can be applied, but contemporary futures studies scholars emphasize the importance of systematically exploring alternatives.

Source: Wikipedia

What are Strategic and Market Foresight?

  • Strategic Foresight is about combining methods of futures work with those of strategic management. It is about understanding upcoming external changes in relation to internal capabilities and drivers.
  • Market Foresight is about the consideration of possible and probable futures in the organization’s relevant business environment, and about identifying new opportunities in that space.

Source: Aalto University

Now we are ready to look at the four simple, but powerful steps to becoming your own futurist using the FutureHacking™ methodology:

STEP ONE: Picking the Signals That Matter

FutureSignals™ Radar & NowBuilder™ Canvas

  • Identify up to the eight most critical signals to monitor or amplify in order to look back, reach an innovation goal, describe them and capture for each signal what the status quo, small change and big change scenarios might look like – and which scenario is most likely.

STEP TWO: Mapping Signal Evolution

FutureSignals™ Radar Summary & Tracking

  • Summarize the most likely scenarios for up to the eight most critical signals along with their descriptions and whether you plan to monitor or amplify each. Use a tracking sheet to record changes in the signal over time – revisit and re-prioritize as needed.

STEP THREE: Choosing the Possible, Probable and Preferable Future

FutureCanvas™ & Picker (macro view)

  • Leveraging your FutureSignals™ summary, create a headline for an imagined future. Then capture the problems that have been solved, how society has changed, the new problems that may now exist and what we must do to shape the future. Rinse and Repeat.

STEP FOUR: Making Your Preferable Future a Reality

FutureSignals™ & FutureCanvas™ Action Plans (micro)

  • Leveraging your FutureSignals™ summary, create a headline for an imagined future. Then capture the key signals related to this headline, how the customer is changing and how the company must change in response.

These four simple steps to becoming your own futurist are accelerated by adopting the 20 new tools of the Futurehacking™ methodology that I have created.

“FutureHacking™ is the art and science of getting to the future first.”

It’s a methodology I’ve created that contains a suite of simple, but powerful tools at its core that will enable you to be your own futurist.

FutureHacking™ is designed to make foresight and futurology accessible to the average business professional.

Prototyping the Future

FutureHacking™ is a revolutionary approach that empowers cross-functional leadership teams to visually prototype the future and collaboratively create the roadmap and guideposts for manifesting your preferred, possible future.

FutureHacking Tool Collection

Why is Investing in Futures Research (or a Futurist) important?

  • Every stakeholder-responsible organization is compelled to realize its vision, execute its strategy, and achieve its goals – indefinitely. But, the future is uncertain. We cannot extrapolate that what has made an organization successful this year or last year will make it succeed in future years. Responsible organizations must invest in understanding the possible futures and realizing their preferable future. FutureHacking™ makes this investment much easier, cheaper and faster – helping you get to the future first.

“FutureHacking™ tools help you facilitate the future.”

Click the image to download a PDF flipbook:

Two Ways to Join the FutureHacking™ Ecosystem

  • Data and trend research partners to create service offerings as an input into the FutureSignals™ component
  • Futurists, consulting partners, and technology providers (interactive whiteboarding, etc.) to get FutureHacking™ certified and profit from the delivery of services to help people leverage the FutureSignals™, NowBuilder™ and FutureCanvas™ tools

One Way to Connect and Succeed

Contact me if you think you have a compelling partnership value proposition and subscribe to my newsletter below to find out when the certification program and facilitated off-site offerings are launched!

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Continuous Improvement vs. Incremental Innovation

Are They the Same?

Continuous Improvement vs. Incremental Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“Isn’t continuous improvement the same as incremental innovation?  After all, both focus on doing what you do better, faster, or cheaper.”

Ooof, I have a love-hate relationship with questions like this one.

I hate them because, in the moment, they feel like a gut punch.  The answer feels obvious to me – no, they are entirely different things – but I struggle to explain myself clearly and simply.

I love them because, once the frustration and embarrassment of being unable to offer a clear and simple answer passes, they become a clear sign that I don’t understand something well enough or that *gasp* my “obvious” answer may be wrong.

So, is Continuous Improvement the same as Incremental Innovation?

No. They’re different.

But the difference is subtle, so let’s use an analogy to tease it apart.

Imagine learning to ride a bike.  When you first learn, success is staying upright, moving forward, and stopping before you crash into something.  With time and practice, you get better.  You move faster, stop more quickly, and move with greater precision and agility.

That’s continuous improvement.  You’re using the same solution but using it better.

Now, imagine that you’ve mastered your neighborhood’s bike paths and streets and want to do more.  You want to go faster, so add a motor to your bike.  You want to ride through the neighboring forest, so you change to off-road tires.  You want a smoother feel on your long rides, so you switch to a carbon fiber frame.

That’s incremental innovation.  You changed an aspect of the solution so that it performs better.

It all comes down to the definition of innovation – something different (or new) that creates value.

Both continuous improvement and incremental innovation create value. 

The former does it by improving what exists. The latter does it by changing (making different) what exists.

Got it. They are entirely different things.

Sort of.

Think of them as a Venn diagram – they’re different but similar.

There is evidence that a culture committed to quality and continuous improvement can lead to a culture of innovation because “Both approaches are focused in meeting customer needs, and since CI encourages small but constant changes in current products, processes and working methods its use can lead firms to become innovative by taking these small changes as an approach to innovation, more specifically, incremental innovation.”

Thanks, nerd.  But does this matter where I work, which is in the real world?

Yes.

Continuous Improvement and Incremental Innovation are different things and, as a result, require different resource levels, timelines, and expectations for ROI.

You should expect everyone in your organization to engage in continuous innovation (CI) because (1) using CI helps the organizations change adoption and risk taking by evaluating and implementing solutions to current needs” and (2) the problem-solving tools used in CI uncover “opportunities for finding new ideas that could become incremental innovations.”

You should designate specific people and teams to work on incremental people because (1) what “better” looks like is less certain, (2) doing something different or new increases risk, and (3) more time and resources are required to learn your way to the more successful outcome.

What do you think?

How do you answer the question at the start of this post?

How do you demonstrate your answer?

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Eddie Van Halen, Simultaneous Innovation and the AI Regulation Conundrum

Eddie Van Halen, Simultaneous Innovation and the AI Regulation Conundrum

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

It’s great to have an excuse to post an Eddie Van Halen video to the innovation community.  It’s of course fun just to watch Eddie, but I also have a deeper, innovation relevant reason for doing so.

Art & Science:  I’m a passionate believer in cross-pollination between art and science.  And I especially believe we can learn a great deal from artists and musicians like Eddie who have innovated consistently over a career.  Dig into their processes, and we see serial innovators like The Beatles, Picasso, Elton John, Bowie, George Martin, Freddie Mercury, William Gibson, Lady Gaga, Paul Simon and so many others apply techniques that are highly applicable to all innovation fields. Techniques such as analogy, conceptual blending, collaboration, reapplication, boundary stretching, risk taking, learning from failure and T-Shaped innovation all crop up fairly consistently.  And these creative approaches are typically also built upon deep expertise, passion, motivation, and an ability to connect with future consumer needs, and to tap into early adopters and passionate consumers.  For me at least, that’s a pretty good innovation toolkit for innovation in any field.  Now, to be fair, often their process is intuitive, and many truly prolific artists are lucky enough to automatically and intuitively ‘think that way’. But understanding and then stealing some of their techniques, either implicit or explicit, can be a great way to both jump-start our own innovative processes, and also to understand how innovation works. As Picasso said, ‘great artists steal’, but I’d argue that so do good innovators, at least within the bounds allowed by the patent literature!

In the past I’ve written quite a lot about Picasso and The Beatles use of conceptual blending, Paul Simon’s analogies, reapplication and collaboration, Bowie’s innovative courage, and William Gibson’s ability to project s-curves.  Today, I’d like to to focus on some insights I see in the guitar innovations of Eddie.   

(a) Parallel or Simultaneous Innovation.  I suspect this is one of the most important yet under-appreciated concepts in innovation today. Virtually every innovation is built upon the shoulders of giants. Past innovations provide the foundation for future ones, to the point where once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, many innovations become inevitable. It still takes an agile and creative mind to come up with innovative ideas, but contemporary innovations often set the stage for the next leap forward. And this applies both to the innovative process, and also to a customers ability to understand and embrace it. The design of the first skyscraper was innovative, but it was made a lot more obvious by the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The ubiquitous mobile phone may now seem obvious, but it owes its existence to a very long list of enabling technologies that paved the way for it’s invention, from electricity to chips to Wi-Fi, etc.

The outcome of this ‘stage setting’ is that often even really big innovations occur simultaneously yet independently.  We’ve seen this play out with calculus (independently developed by Newton and Leibnitz), the atomic bomb, where Oppenheimer and company only just beat the Nazi’s, the theory of evolution, the invention of the thermometer, nylon and so many others.  We even see it in evolution, where scavenger birds vultures and condors superficially appear quite similar due to adaptations that allow them to eat carrion, but actually have quite different genetic lineages.  Similarly many marsupials look very similar to placental mammals that fill similar ecological niches, but typically evolved independently. Context has a huge impact on innovation, and similar contexts typical create parallel, and often similar innovations. As the world becomes more interconnected, and context becomes more homogenized, we are going to see more and more examples of simultaneous innovation.

Faster and More Competitive Innovation:  Today social media, search technology and the web mean that more people know more of the same ‘stuff’ more quickly than before.  This near instantaneous and democratized access to the latest knowledge sets the scene and context for a next generation of innovation that is faster and more competitive than we’ve ever seen.   More people have access to the pieces of the puzzle far more quickly than ever before; background information that acts as a precursor for the next innovative leap. Eddie had to go and watch Jimmy Paige live and in person to get his inspiration for ‘tapping’.  Today he, and a few million others would simply need to go onto YouTube.  He therefore discovered Paige’s hammer-on years after Paige started using them.  Today it would likely be days.  That acceleration of ‘innovation context’ has a couple of major implications: 

1.  If you think you’ve just come up with something new, it’s more than likely that several other people have too, or will do so very soon.   More than ever before you are more than likely in a race from the moment you have an idea! So snooze and you loose. Assume several others are working on the same idea.

2.  Regulating Innovation is becoming really, really difficult.  I think this is possibly the most profound implication.  For example, a very current and somewhat contentious topic today is if and how we should regulate AI.  And it’s a pretty big decision. We really don’t know how AI will evolve, but it is certainly moving very quickly, and comes with the potential for earthshaking pros and cons.  It is also almost inevitably subject to simultaneous invention.  So many people are working on it, and so much adjacent innovation is occurring, that it’s somewhat unlikely that any single group is going to get very far out in front.   The proverbial cat is out of the bag, and the race is on. The issue for regulation then becomes painfully obvious.   Unless we can somehow implement universal regulation, then any regulations simply slow down those who follow the rules.  This unfortunately opens the doors to bad actors taking the lead, and controlling potentially devastating technology.

So we are somewhat damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.  If we don’t regulate, then we run the risk of potentially dangerous technology getting out of control.  But if do regulate, we run the risk of enabling bad actors to own that dangerous technology.  We’ve of course been here before.  The race for the nuclear bomb between the Allies and the Nazi’s was a great example of simultaneous innovation with potentially catastrophic outcomes.   Imagine if we’d decided fission was simply too dangerous, and regulated it’s development to the point where the Nazi’s had got there first.  We’d likely be living in a very different world today!  Much like AI, it was a tough decision, as without regulation, there was a small but possible scenario where the outcome could have been devastating.    

Today we have a raft of rapidly evolving technologies that I’d both love to regulate, but am also profoundly worried about the unintended consequences of doing so.  AI of course, but also genetic engineering, gene manipulating medicines, even climate mediation and behavioral science!  With respect to the latter, the better we get at nudging behavior, and the more reach we have with those techniques, the more dangerous miss-use becomes.  

The core problem underlying all of this is that we are human.   Most people try to do the right thing, but there are always bad actors.  And even those trying to do the right thing all too often get it wrong.  And the more democratized access to cutting edge insight becomes, parallel innovation means the more contenders we have for mistakes and bad bad choices, intentional or unintentional. 

(b) Innovation versus Invention:  A less dramatic, but I think similarly interesting insight we can draw from Eddie lies in the difference between innovation and invention He certainly wasn’t the first guitarist to use the tapping technique.  That goes back centuries! At least as far as classical composer Paganini, and it was a required technique for playing the Chapman stick in the 1970’s, popularized by the great Tony Levin in King Crimson. It was also widely, albeit sparingly (and often obscurely) used by jazz guitarists in the 1950’s and 60’s. But Eddie was the first to feature it, and turn it into a meaningful innovation in of itself. Until him, nobody had packaged the technique in a way that it could be ‘marketed’ and ‘sold’ as a viable product. He found the killer application, made it his own, and made it a ‘thing’. I would therefore argue that he wasn’t the inventor, but he was the ‘innovator’.  This points to the value of innovation over invention.  If you don’t have the capability or the partners to turn an invention into something useful, its still just an idea.   Invention is a critical part of the broader innovation process, but in isolation it’s more curiosity than useful. Innovation is about reduction to practice and communication as well a great ideas

Art & science:  I love the arts.  I play guitar, paint, and photograph.  It’s a lot of fun, and provides a invaluable outlet from the stresses involved in business and innovation.  But as I suggested at the beginning, a lot of the boundaries we place between art and science, and by extension business, are artificial and counter-productive. Some of my most productive collaborations as a scientist have been with designers and artists. As a visual scientist, I’ve found that artists often intuitively have a command of attentional insights that our cutting edge science is still trying to understand.  It’s a lot of fun to watch Eddie Van Halen, but learning from great artists like him can, via analogy, also be surprisingly insightful and instructive.   

Image credits: Unsplash

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AI and Human Creativity Solving Complex Problems Together

AI and Human Creativity Solving Complex Problems Together

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

A recent McKinsey Leading Off – Essentials for leaders and those they lead email newsletter, referred to an article “The organization of the future: Enabled by gen AI, driven by people” which stated that digitization, automation, and AI will reshape whole industries and every enterprise. The article elaborated further by saying that, in terms of magnitude, the challenge is akin to coping with the large-scale shift from agricultural work to manufacturing that occurred in the early 20th century in North America and Europe, and more recently in China. This shift was powered by the defining trait of our species, our human creativity, which is at the heart of all creative problem-solving endeavors, where innovation is the engine of growth, no matter, what the context.

Moving into Unchartered Job and Skills Territory

We don’t yet know what exact technological, or soft skills, new occupations, or jobs will be required in this fast-moving transformation, or how we might further advance generative AI, digitization, and automation.

We also don’t know how AI will impact the need for humans to tap even more into the defining trait of our species, our human creativity. To enable us to become more imaginative, curious, and creative in the way we solve some of the world’s greatest challenges and most complex and pressing problems, and transform them into innovative solutions.

We can be proactive by asking these two generative questions:

  • What if the true potential of AI lies in embracing its ability to augment human creativity and aid innovation, especially in enhancing creative problem solving, at all levels of civil society, instead of avoiding it? (Ideascale)
  • How might we develop AI as a creative thinking partner to effect profound change, and create innovative solutions that help us build a more equitable and sustainable planet for all humanity? (Hal Gregersen)

Because our human creativity is at the heart of creative problem-solving, and innovation is the engine of growth, competitiveness, and profound and positive change.

Developing a Co-Creative Thinking Partnership

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review “AI Can Help You Ask Better Questions – and Solve Bigger Problems” by Hal Gregersen and Nicola Morini Bianzino, they state:

“Artificial intelligence may be superhuman in some ways, but it also has considerable weaknesses. For starters, the technology is fundamentally backward-looking, trained on yesterday’s data – and the future might not look anything like the past. What’s more, inaccurate or otherwise flawed training data (for instance, data skewed by inherent biases) produces poor outcomes.”

The authors say that dealing with this issue requires people to manage this limitation if they are going to treat AI as a creative-thinking partner in solving complex problems, that enable people to live healthy and happy lives and to co-create an equitable and sustainable planet.

We can achieve this by focusing on specific areas where the human brain and machines might possibly complement one another to co-create the systemic changes the world badly needs through creative problem-solving.

  • A double-edged sword

This perspective is further complimented by a recent Boston Consulting Group article  “How people can create-and destroy value- with generative AI” where they found that the adoption of generative AI is, in fact, a double-edged sword.

In an experiment, participants using GPT-4 for creative product innovation outperformed the control group (those who completed the task without using GPT-4) by 40%. But for business problem solving, using GPT-4 resulted in performance that was 23% lower than that of the control group.

“Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, current GenAI models tend to do better on the first type of task; it is easier for LLMs to come up with creative, novel, or useful ideas based on the vast amounts of data on which they have been trained. Where there’s more room for error is when LLMs are asked to weigh nuanced qualitative and quantitative data to answer a complex question. Given this shortcoming, we as researchers knew that GPT-4 was likely to mislead participants if they relied completely on the tool, and not also on their own judgment, to arrive at the solution to the business problem-solving task (this task had a “right” answer)”.

  • Taking the path of least resistance

In McKinsey’s Top Ten Reports This Quarter blog, seven out of the ten articles relate specifically to generative AI: technology trends, state of AI, future of work, future of AI, the new AI playbook, questions to ask about AI and healthcare and AI.

As it is the most dominant topic across the board globally, if we are not both vigilant and intentional, a myopic focus on this one significant technology will take us all down the path of least resistance – where our energy will move to where it is easiest to go.  Rather than being like a river, which takes the path of least resistance to its surrounding terrain, and not by taking a strategic and systemic perspective, we will always go, and end up, where we have always gone.

  • Living our lives forwards

According to the Boston Consulting Group article:

“The primary locus of human-driven value creation lies not in enhancing generative AI where it is already great, but in focusing on tasks beyond the frontier of the technology’s core competencies.”

This means that a whole lot of other variables need to be at play, and a newly emerging set of human skills, especially in creative problem solving, need to be developed to maximize the most value from generative AI, to generate the most imaginative, novel and value adding landing strips of the future.

Creative Problem Solving

In my previous blog posts “Imagination versus Knowledge” and “Why Successful Innovators Are Curious Like Cats” we shared that we are in the midst of a “Sputnik Moment” where we have the opportunity to advance our human creativity.

This human creativity is inside all of us, it involves the process of bringing something new into being, that is original, surprising useful, or desirable, in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives, in ways they appreciate and cherish.

  • Taking a both/and approach

Our human creativity will be paralysed, if we focus our attention and intention only on the technology, and on the financial gains or potential profits we will get from it, and if we exclude the possibilities of a co-creative thinking partnership with the technology.

To deeply engage people in true creative problem solving – and involving them in impacting positively on our crucial relationships and connectedness, with one another and with the natural world, and the planet.

  • A marriage between creatives, technologists, and humanities

In a recent Fast Company video presentation, “Innovating Imagination: How Airbnb Is Using AI to Foster Creativity” Brian Chesky CEO of Airbnb, states that we need to consider and focus our attention and intention on discovering what is good for people.

To develop a “marriage between creatives, technologists, and the humanities” that brings the human out and doesn’t let technology overtake our human element.

Developing Creative Problem-Solving Skills

At ImagineNation, we teach, mentor, and coach clients in creative problem-solving, through developing their Generative Discovery skills.

This involves developing an open and active mind and heart, by becoming flexible, adaptive, and playful in the ways we engage and focus our human creativity in the four stages of creative problem-solving.

Including sensing, perceiving, and enabling people to deeply listen, inquire, question, and debate from the edges of temporarily hidden or emerging fields of the future.

To know how to emerge, diverge, and converge creative insights, collective breakthroughs, an ideation process, and cognitive and emotional agility shifts to:

  • Deepen our attending, observing, and discerning capabilities to consciously connect with, explore, and discover possibilities that create tension and cognitive dissonance to disrupt and challenge the status quo, and other conventional thinking and feeling processes.
  • Create cracks, openings, and creative thresholds by asking generative questions to push the boundaries, and challenge assumptions and mental and emotional models to pull people towards evoking, provoking, and generating boldly creative ideas.
  • Unleash possibilities, and opportunities for creative problem solving to contribute towards generating innovative solutions to complex problems, and pressing challenges, that may not have been previously imagined.

Experimenting with the generative discovery skill set enables us to juggle multiple theories, models, and strategies to create and plan in an emergent, and non-linear way through creative problem-solving.

As stated by Hal Gregersen:

“Partnering with the technology in this way can help people ask smarter questions, making them better problem solvers and breakthrough innovators.”

Succeeding in the Age of AI

We know that Generative AI will change much of what we do and how we do it, in ways that we cannot yet anticipate.

Success in the age of AI will largely depend on our ability to learn and change faster than we ever have before, in ways that preserve our well-being, connectedness, imagination, curiosity, human creativity, and our collective humanity through partnering with generative AI in the creative problem-solving process.

Find Out More About Our Work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, which can be customised as a bespoke corporate learning program.

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 innovation context. Find out more about our products and tools.

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LEGO Knows Why Companies Don’t Innovate

LEGO Knows Why Companies Don't Innovate

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“Lego’s Latest Effort to Avoid Oil-Based Plastic Hits Brick Wall” – WSJ

“Lego axes plans to make bricks from recycled bottles” – BBC

“Lego ditches oil-free brick in sustainability setback” – The Financial Times

Recently, LEGO found itself doing the Walk of Atonement (see video below) after announcing to The Financial Times that it was scrapping plans to make bricks from recycled bottles, and media outlets from The Wall Street Journal to Fast Company to WIRED were more than happy to play the Shame Nun.

And it wasn’t just media outlets ringing the Shame Bell:

  • In the future, they should not make these kinds of announcements (prototype made from recyclable plastic) until they actually do it,” Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics
  • They are not going to survive as an organization if they don’t find a solution,” Paolo Taticchi, corporate sustainability expert at University College London.
  • “Lego undoubtedly had good intentions, but if you’re going to to (sic) announce a major environmental initiative like this—one that affects the core of your company—good intentions aren’t enough. And in this instance, it can even undermine progress.” Jesus Diaz, creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, writing forFast Company

As a LEGO lover, I am not unbiased, but WOW, the amount of hypocritical, self-righteous judgment is astounding!  All these publications and pundits espouse the need for innovation, yet when a company falls even the tiniest bit short of aspirations, it’s just SHAME (clang) SHAME (clang) SHAME.

LEGO Atlantis 8073 Manta Warrior (i.e., tiny) bit of context

In 1946, LEGO founder Ole Kirk Christiansen purchased Denmark’s first plastic injection molding machine.  Today, 95% of the company’s 4,400 different bricks are made using acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), a plastic that requires 4.4 pounds of oil to produce 2.2 pounds of brick.  Admittedly, it’s not a great ratio, and it gets worse.  The material isn’t biodegradable or easily recyclable, so when the 3% of bricks not handed down to the next generation end up in a landfill, they’ll break down into highly polluting microplastics.

With this context, it’s easy to understand why LEGO’s 2018 announcement that it will move to all non-plastic or recycled materials by 2030 and reduce its carbon emissions by 37% (from 2019’s 1.2 million tons) by 2032 was such big news.

Three years later, in 2021, LEGO announced that its prototype bricks made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles offered a promising alternative to its oil-based plastic bricks. 

But last Monday, after two years of testing, the company shared that what was promising as a prototype isn’t possible at scale because the process required to produce PET-based bricks actually increases carbon emissions.

SHAME!

LEGO Art World Map (i.e. massive) amount of praise for LEGO

LEGO is doing everything that innovation theorists, consultants, and practitioners recommend:

  • Setting a clear vision and measurable goals so that people know what the priorities are (reduce carbon emissions), why they’re important (“playing our part in building a sustainable future and creating a better world for our children to inherit”), and the magnitude of change required
  • Defining what is on and off the table in terms of innovation, specifically that they are not willing to compromise the quality, durability, or “clutch power” of bricks to improve sustainability
  • Developing a portfolio of bets that includes new materials for products and packaging, new services to keep bricks out of landfills and in kids’ hands, new building and production processes, and active partnerships with suppliers to reduce their climate footprint
  • Prototyping and learning before committing to scale because what is possible at a prototype level is different than what’s possible at pilot, which is different from what’s possible at scale.
  • Focusing on the big picture and the long-term by not going for the near-term myopic win of declaring “we’re making bricks from more sustainable materials” and instead deciding “not to progress” with something that, when taken as a whole process, moves the company further away from its 2032 goal.

Just one minifig’s opinion

If we want companies to innovate (and we do), shaming them for falling short of perfection is the absolute wrong way to do it.

Is it disappointing that something that seemed promising didn’t work out?  Of course.  But it’s just one of many avenues and experiments being pursued.  This project ended, but the pursuit of the goal hasn’t.

Is 2 years a long time to figure out that you can’t scale a prototype and still meet your goals?  Maybe.  But, then again, it took P&G 10 years to figure out how to develop and scale a perforation that improved one-handed toilet paper tearing.

Should LEGO have kept all its efforts and success a secret until everything was perfect and ready to launch?  Absolutely not.  Sharing its goals and priorities, experiments and results, learnings and decisions shows employees, partners, and other companies what it means to innovate and lead.

Is LEGO perfect? No.

Is it trying to be better? Yes.

Isn’t that what we want?

Image Credit: Pixabay

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The Comforter Cold War of 2006

(or How Assumptions Stifle Innovation)

The Comforter Cold War of 2006

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In the room were two single beds, each with a fluffy white comforter folded neatly on top.

“Yeah, this is not gonna work.”

I had just entered my one-bedroom corporate apartment in Copenhagen, and while everything else was pleasantly light and spacious, there was no way I would spend the next six months sleeping in a single bed.

So, I set down my suitcases and immediately pushed the two beds together, using the two nightstands to secure them. The two comforters would work since there was just one of me, and I made a mental note to request a king-sized comforter from the desk when I left for work in the morning.

Thus began the great Comforter Cold War of 2006/2007.

Every few days, I would request a king-sized comforter for my jerry-rigged king-sized bed.  I would return to find one queen-sized comforter.  The luxury of a larger comforter would diminish the disappointment of not getting an appropriately sized one, and I would bask in the warmth of fully covered sleep.  For one night. The next day, I would return to my room only to find that the two single comforters had returned.

This went on for nine months.

I shared this story of passive-aggressive housekeeping at my going away party with my colleagues. Midway through the story, I noticed the absolutely baffled looks on their faces.

“What?”

“Why did you want one comforter?”

“Because I have one bed.  A comforter should cover the bed.”

“Why?  A bed doesn’t need a comforter.  A person does.  You just need a comforter to cover you.”

[extended silence while we try to process each other’s points]

“So, does that mean that in Denmark, if a couple sleeps together, they each have their own comforter?”

“Yes, of course!  Why would we share?  Each person has their own temperature preferences, and there’s no worry about someone stealing your covers.”

My mind.  Was.  Blown.

This made so much sense. A comforter covers a person, so the 1:1 ratio of comforter to people is far more logical than a 1:1 ratio of comforter to bed (and often a 1:2 ratio of comforter to people).  Seriously, how many relationships would be saved by simply having separate comforters?

Yet, for nine months, it made more sense to me to battle for a comforter size that apparently doesn’t exist in the country without ever asking why I couldn’t get what I was so clearly and reasonably (in my mind) requesting.

I assumed the apartment building didn’t have king-sized comforters or only enough for the actual king-sized beds.  I assumed housekeeping was on automatic pilot, not realizing they were replacing a queen-sized comforter with two single ones.  I assumed that communication amongst the staff was poor, so my request wasn’t being shared.  I assumed a lot.

But I never assumed that I was wrong and that the root of the problem was a cultural difference so deeply ingrained and subtle that it never occurred to anyone to question it.

Question your assumptions.

Assumptions are a shortcut to understanding our world.  Based on culture, experiences, and even stereotypes, we make assumptions about what came before, who we’re interacting with, what’s happening now, and what will happen next.

Most of the time, we’re right (or at least more right than wrong), so we keep making assumptions. It’s also why, when our assumptions are wrong, we tend to question everything but our assumptions.

And that kills innovation because it limits our curiosity and imagination, our perception of what’s possible, and our willingness to engage with and learn from others.

We all cling to assumptions that lead to Cold Wars. 

What’s yours?

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