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The Five Gifts of Uncertainty

The Five Gifts of Uncertainty

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“How are you doing?  How are you handling all this?”

It seems like 90% of conversations these days start with those two sentences.  We ask out of genuine concern and also out of a need to commiserate, to share our experiences, and to find someone that understands.

The connection these questions create is just one of the Gifts of Uncertainty that have been given to us by the pandemic.

Yes, I know that the idea of uncertainty, especially in big things like our lives and businesses, being a gift is bizarre.  When one of my friends first suggested the idea, I rolled my eyes pretty hard and then checked to make sure I was talk to my smart sarcastic fellow business owner and not the Dali Lama.

But as I thought about it more, started looking for “gifts” in the news and listening for them in conversations with friends and clients, I realized how wise my friend truly was.

Faced with levels of uncertainty we’ve never before experienced, people and businesses are doing things they’ve never imagined having to do and, as a result, are discovering skills and abilities they never knew they had.  These are the Five Gifts of Uncertainty

  1. Necessity of offering a vision – When we’re facing or doing something new, we don’t have all the answers. But we don’t need all the answers to take action.  The people emerging as leaders, in both the political and business realms, are the ones acknowledging this reality by sharing what they do know, offering a vision for the future, laying out a process to achieve it, and admitting the unknowns and the variables that will affect both the plan and the outcome.
  2. Freedom to experiment – As governments ordered businesses like restaurants to close and social distancing made it nearly impossible for other businesses to continue operating, business owners were suddenly faced with a tough choice – stop operations completely or find new ways to continue to serve. Restaurants began to offer carry out and delivery.  Bookstores, like Powell’s in Portland OR and Northshire Bookstore in Manchester VT, also got into curbside pick-up and delivery game.  Even dentists and orthodontists began to offer virtual visits through services like Wally Health and Orthodontic Screening Kit, respectively.
  3. Ability to change – Businesses are discovering that they can move quickly, change rapidly, and use existing capabilities to produce entirely new products. Nike and HP are producing face shields. Zara and Prada are producing face masks. Fanatics, makers of MLB uniforms, and Ford are producing gowns.  GM and Dyson are gearing up to produce ventilators. And seemingly every alcohol company is making hand sanitizer.  Months ago, all of these companies were in very different businesses and likely never imagined that they could or would pivot to producing products for the healthcare sector.  But they did pivot.
  4. Power of Relationships – Social distancing and self-isolation are bringing into sharp relief the importance of human connection and the power of relationships. The shift to virtual meetups like happy hours, coffees, and lunches is causing us to be thoughtful about who we spend time with rather than defaulting to whoever is nearby.  We are shifting to seeking connection with others rather than simply racking up as many LinkedIn Connections, Facebook friends, or Instagram followers as possible.  Even companies are realizing the powerful difference between relationships and subscribers as people unsubscribed en mass to the “How we’re dealing with COVID-19 emails” they received from every company with which they had ever provided their information.
  5. Business benefit of doing the right thing – In a perfect world, businesses that consistently operate ethically, fairly, and with the best interests of ALL their stakeholders (not just shareholders) in mind, would be rewarded. We are certainly not in a perfect world, but some businesses are doing the “right thing” and rea being rewarded.  Companies like Target are offering high-risk employees like seniors pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems 30-days of paid leave.  CVS and Comcast are paying store employees extra in the form of one-time bonuses or percent increases on hourly wages.  Sweetgreen and AllBirds are donating food and shoes, respectively, to healthcare workers.  On the other hand, businesses that try to leverage the pandemic to boost their bottom lines are being taken to task.  Rothy’s, the popular shoe brand, announced on April 13 that they would shift one-third of their production capacity to making “disposable, non-medical masks to workers on the front line” and would donate five face masks for every item purchased.  Less than 12 hours later, they issued an apology for their “mis-step,” withdrew their purchase-to-donate program, and announced a bulk donation of 100,000 non-medical masks.

Before the pandemic, many of these things seemed impossibly hard, even theoretical.  In the midst of uncertainty, though, these each of these things became practical, even necessary.  As a result, in a few short weeks, we’ve proven to ourselves that we can do what we spent years saying we could not.

These are gifts to be cherished, remembered and used when the uncertainty, inevitably, fades.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Hyper-Innovation

A Change Management Strategy for Better, Faster Ideas

Hyper-Innovation

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

The nature of innovation is that it is a hyper-fluid force that is never fully predictable. A well-curated change management strategy helps to harness the power of innovative change.

Innovation plays a significant role in driving positive change, as 51% of organizations attribute their success to innovative initiatives, all of whom also experienced an 11% increase in revenue.

In this article, we trace the pathway to innovative change in the following topics:

  • The Plan for Change
  • Designing Strategies for Change
  • An Agile Approach to Transformation
  • Getting Curious About Change

The Plan for Change

In charting a course to bigger and better ideas, a clear change management strategy helps to identify a direct path forward. Creating a thoughtful change management strategy allows you to plan several steps ahead and steer change in your favor.

The most intentional change management strategies focus on proactive change. The following are key elements in creating a proactive path for change:

1. Prepare to Plan

Preparing to create a change management strategy is essentially planning to plan. As you consider the best approach to creating change, take time to map out each step of your strategy. While it may seem more effective to just dive in, remember that intentionality is the name of the game in lasting change.

2. Cultivate Transparency

Many changes are unexpected and unwanted. For this reason, many organizations make the mistake of keeping changes quiet from the rest of the team. However, this type of secrecy can sabotage your organizational transformation.

Make it a point to cultivate a sense of transparency at every level of your organization. By including all parties in your plans for change, you’ll get a head start on driving innovation. When team members feel included in major decisions like a big change, they are more likely to accept and support it going forward.

3. Encourage High Tolerance

Tolerance for change is a muscle that should be exercised. Challenge your team members to fight their resistance to change by sharing the benefits of change. Explaining “what’s in it for me” gives team members a reason to root for change while increasing their tolerance for the unknown.

4. Monitor and Measure 

Just as true change is a long-term endeavor, creating a change management strategy isn’t just a one-time event. Successful strategies for change will never be static, making monitoring and measuring key performance indicators a perpetual part of the change management process.

Design a fluid change management strategy by teaching your team to measure success, monitor potential problems, and resolve issues as efficiently as possible. This way, your strategy for change will evolve according to your needs.

Designing Strategies for Change

A design thinking change management strategy places team members at the heart of a change. This people-first approach to purposeful change lets team leaders curate a strategy with the greatest benefits for all parties involved. At Voltage Control, we explore design thinking as a change management practice to inspire the most innovative ideas, allowing team members to shape new initiatives together.

Apply design thinking to your change management strategy in the following ways:

1. Find the ‘What’ of Change

Design thinking facilitates purposeful change. Shape your change management strategy by determining the “what” of your change to inform your path to the most viable and innovative solutions.

2. Center Empathy

Successful changes tap into our emotions. Design thinking cuts to the heart of a change by prioritizing empathy from the very beginning. Harness empathy in your next change by considering your team members’ mindsets and perspectives before implementing change. Continue to research how all participants will be impacted by a change as you incorporate empathy into your change strategy.

3. Use Divergent Thinking

Employ divergent thinking in your change management strategy. Through a design-centered approach, shape a plan for change that encourages collaborative thinking, integrated innovation, and holistic decision-making.

4. Practice Constant Experimentation

Experimentation is the beating heart of design thinking. Make the strategizing process more tangible by testing new ideas and running experiments to see what works. By testing an idea on a small scale, you’ll be able to make the necessary changes to help shape your initiative for real change.

An Agile Approach to Transformation

An agile approach to change management zeroes in on a faster, more urgent need for transformation. Agile principles offer a valid framework for transformation. Agile is tailor-made for systemic problem-solving, allowing team members to find the most groundbreaking solutions to the most persistent problem.

According to Carie Davis, a corporate innovation specialist, inventing new methods for problem-solving is the key to driving innovative change. Regardless of how powerful an initial initiative is, lasting change won’t take hold until it truly transforms an organization. For this reason, Davis suggests that businesses initiate long-term shifts by starting small and by making little changes at the core of the company. These smaller changes are a key part of Agile change management strategy and are instrumental in catalyzing lasting transformation.

Consider applying agile methodology to your change strategy in the following ways:

1. Go Lean

  • Focus on a change strategy that provides increased value and positive change. Going lean allows for rapid transformation by limiting factors that waste resources, energy, and time.

2. Practice Continuous Improvement

  • Agile champions continuous improvement through small changes over time. These small changes lead to the most significant shifts.

3. Encourage Employee Authorship

  • Innovative change doesn’t happen with a top-down approach. Create an agile-informed change management strategy by bringing your employees into the decision-making process. This way, all team members can determine the most pressing areas for improvement and make meaningful contributions as they work together to co-create the next change.
  • 4. Practice Reflective Improvement 

  • In shaping a change management strategy to grow with your organization, practicing reflective improvement guarantees consistent long-term change. Regularly evaluate your organization’s performance and initiatives as you continue to shape your change management strategy into a better, leaner plan.
  • Getting Curious About Change

    In designing the most innovative change management strategy, don’t forget to consider a sense of curiosity. Thrive through change and drive innovation by cultivating a curious desire to be better than ever.

    Research shows that curiosity allows us to welcome new experiences with less defensiveness and aggressiveness. By responding to the unknown in uniquely positive and inquisitive ways, your teams can dream up the most imaginative solutions on their path to lasting change.

    In addition to helping teams accept change, facilitating a sense of curiosity is an essential component in designing an innovative workplace. In creating a culture of curiosity, you’ll encourage team members to become change agents themselves. With a desire to learn more, be more, and do more, you’ll be able to reframe the potential pitfalls of change and the fears that come with it as an opportunity to get better and better.

    Innovation and change are infinitely interconnected. Harness the power of both by designing a change management strategy that continues to transform your organization in the best ways possible. Explore our offerings to learn more about taking change management to the next level.

    Image credit: Pixabay

    Article first seen at VoltageControl.com 

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    What Business Are You In?

    (Hint: It’s Probably Not What You Think)

    What Business Are You In?

    GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

    “What business are you in?”

    How do you answer this all-too-common question?

    Do you name the company you work for?

    The industry you’re in?

    The function you perform?

    Bad news, your business isn’t defined by the company, the industry, and even your function.

    Good news, the business you’re in is defined by your customers.

    And their definition unlocks incredible potential for innovation and growth.

    The 2:00 am Answer

    In my first few months as an Assistant Brand Manager at P&G, I had a truly terrifying experience. Sitting in a training session, a senior executive locked eyes with me and asked, “What is Brand Equity?”

    My first thought was, “you tell me, buddy. I’m the newbie here.”  My second thought, and the one that came out of my mouth, was probably something straight out of a marketing textbook.

    “Wrong!” he exclaimed. “Brand equity is what a consumer says if you wake them up from a dead sleep at 2:00 am and scream ‘What is [brand]?’ in their face.”

    I don’t know what scared me more, being yelled at for being wrong or the idea that breaking and entering and screaming brand names at unsuspecting sleepers was suddenly part of my job description.

    The 2:00 am Answer is the business you’re in

    The 2:00 am answer applies to more than just brand equity.

    It reveals the business you’re in.

    Because it’s the Job-to-be-Done your customers hire you to do

    As the training went on, we learned how this mantra manifests in everything a brand (or company) does – its products, pricing, packaging, distribution, and marketing.

    For example, if the most important thing to you about laundry is that clothes come out of the washing machine clean, you have dozens of options and probably buy the cheapest one.

    But, if you want to be sure that clothes will be immaculate after the first wash because you know your kids will wear anything, even if it has stains, which will lead the other parents to judge you, you have one option – Tide.

    Why the 2:00 am Answer matters

    The 2:00 am Answer also defines where you have a right to play and to win.

    Sometimes this space is bigger than you expect, revealing incredible opportunities for innovation and growth.

    Sometimes it’s smaller than you want, exposing a strategic misalignment between what you offer and what your customers want. This happened to LEGO and took the company to the brink of bankruptcy.

    In 1998, LEGO posted its first loss in company history. To reinvigorate growth, it shifted from being in the business of Toys to being in the business of Play. This led to two decisions that, while strategically aligned with Play, almost bankrupted the company. First was the introduction of new toys specifically designed to be built in less than 10 minutes so kids could start playing quickly. The second decision took LEGO into other aspects of play – video games, amusement parks, and a TV show supported by a line of action figures.

    In 2003, LEGO reported a $238M loss, and with only one profitable product line, the future was bleak. So, LEGO started talking to customers (though probably not at 2:00 am). Through the conversations, LEGO learned that its expansion into all forms of play and the prioritization of Play over creation (building) wasn’t LEGO-y in the minds of consumers. So they rejected the new offerings. Instead, people loved LEGO because it offered “creative play” – the freedom and ability to turn ideas into tangible and interactive 3D models.

    LEGO listened and went “back to the brick.”  The results speak for themselves. In 2015, LEGO overtook Ferrari to become the world’s most powerful brand. In 2021, LEGO earned $8.06B in revenue, a 27% increase from the prior year.

    How to get and use the 2:00 am Answer (without committing a felony)

    First, get clear on the business you WANT to be in. Ask yourself and your colleagues, what do we want our customers to hire us to do? Push beyond the easy and obvious answers (usually functional Jobs to be Done). How do you want customers to feel after hiring your company (emotional Jobs to be Done)? How do you want them to be perceived (social Jobs to be Done)? What Job to be Done do you want to do uniquely well?

    Second, talk to your customers one-on-one at a time and place of their choosing. Ask them why they hire your business. Again, push beyond the easy and obvious answers to understand what they want to feel and be perceived after choosing you. Ask what other options they considered and why they hired your business.

    Find and close the gap. What’s the difference between what you wanted to hear and what you actually heard? If the gap is bigger than expected, how can you expand and innovate your business to grow into all the Jobs people want to hire you to do? If the gap is smaller, how can you shift or redirect efforts to grow in ways where you have permission to operate?

    The 2:00 am Answer can be the key to defining, growing, and transforming your business.

    Who says nothing good happens after midnight?

    Image credit: Unsplash

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    Engaging Consciousness in the Emotional Work of Organizational Transformation

    Engaging Consciousness in the Emotional Work of Organizational Transformation

    GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

    Organizational transformation is a uniquely human endeavor. Navigating the journey to change starts with understanding the employee experience and creating space for emotional safety in the workplace.

    According to organizational behavior expert Sigal Barsade, emotions are the key to encouraging higher performance and achievement. Her research shows that emotions influence employees’ wellness in addition to driving productivity. Thus, to influence organizational transformation, leaders need to take a closer look at how emotions factor into the employee experience.

    In this article, we’ll discuss emotions and their role to change management in the following topics:

    • The Employee Experience
    • The Transformation Timeline
    • Emotions at Work
    • An Engagement of Consciousness

    The Employee Experience

    Without a keen understanding of the employee experience and your team’s emotional state, sustainable change is more fantasy than reality. In your efforts to initiate organizational transformation, consider first transforming employees’ work experience to promote a sense of emotional well-being.

    In shaping the employee experience, it’s critical to understand employees’ expectations for emotional safety in the workplace. As most employees value their mental health above all else, they expect their working environment to promote trust, purpose, and social cohesion. Moreover, they want to know that leadership recognizes their contributions and that there is room and opportunity for sustainable growth and development. Similarly, team members want their personal sense of purpose to be in alignment with the organization.

    With increased emotional wellness comes higher employee engagement and a more motivated workforce. With a stronger sense of emotional safety in the employee experience, leaders will find that their team is prepared to engage in organizational transformation.

    The Transformation Timeline

     “You have to attract people… you can’t bribe or coerce transformation.”
    Greg Satell

    Once you prioritize the employee experience in your change strategy, you can begin the organizational transformation timeline. Organizational transformation is a process that happens through gradual change, resulting in sustainable behavioral transformation. This type of comprehensive change can only occur through a series of repeatable actions and innovative systems, not one-time initiatives.

    Take steps towards sustainable change with the following phases of organizational transformation:

    Phase One: Fight Resistance

    To sustain organizational transformation, leaders and team members need a solid strategy for managing resistance. Resistance often stems from the discomfort that change brings.

    To move beyond this fear, leaders should explain that while transformation involves many unknown factors, the forthcoming change will bring overall positive results. By showing team members how they will benefit from a change, leaders can overcome resistance and encourage their employees to support the initiative.

    • Freezing of Behaviors
      In Lewis’ Change management model, change is broken into three steps: freezing, changing, and refreezing.

      In the first phase of organizational transformation, the “unfreezing” process will occur. This involves recognizing one’s need for change and defining new behaviors that replace the former methods and practices. During this very fluid phase, team members and leaders identify and share data that supports a need for change.

    Phase Two: Facilitate Adjustment

    After strategically managing resistance to change, the next phase in achieving organizational transformation is facilitating the adjustment period. During this phase, team members are no longer actively resisting transformation but still need time to adjust to the changes the new initiative brings.

    In the adjustment period, changes are discussed in detail, and team members are invited to provide criticism and feedback. This phase allows team members to personalize the change as they recognize their individual roles in achieving organizational transformation. In a successful adjustment phase, every team member is aligned with the necessary actions for the next phase: acceptance.

    • Changing

    Within the adjustment phase of organizational transformation, team leaders will actively change their old habits. At this time, all stakeholders work to replace undesired behaviors with desired ones.

    Phase Three: Foster Acceptance

    In phase three of the organizational transformation timeline, you’ll lead your team into the acceptance phase with a solid vision and strategy for sustaining the changes over time.

    • Refreezing

    In the foster acceptance phase, refreezing occurs when changes are stabilized and become the new normal. As the organizational transformation nears completion, team members are in the best position to cement these changes by ensuring a legacy of growth.

    Phase Four: Ensure Consistency

    The fourth phase of organizational transformation establishes consistent and sustainable growth. Consistency is a direct result of repeatable actions from strategic processes, intentional routines, and innovative practices that allow each team member to enact changes that carry into the future continuously.

    Emotions at Work

    A clear strategy for long-term change is only a roadmap to organizational transformation. After setting the stage for change to take place, leaders must engage in the emotional work of transformation.

    Change takes emotional labor, requiring an environment that is uniquely attuned to address employees’ emotional needs. In the workplace, emotions can be an accelerator for transformation. To engage emotions in the most effective way, leaders can create conditions that ensure psychological safety.

    Research shows that to solidify organizational transformation, we must mitigate emotional harm and, in doing so, foster emotional commitment from team members. While emotional harm isn’t tangible, it presents itself in certain ways that can create anxiety, fear, and similar negative responses in employees. Essentially, working to facilitate positive experiences alongside potentially negative emotions is the key to harnessing a safe space for transformation. Leaders that are able to manage the effects of stress successfully can transform a high-pressure environment into a space for high performance.

    Sonja Kresojevic, the founder of Spinnaker Co. and a proponent of using agile principles for organizational change, firmly believes that true transformation is a product of an empowered organization. According to  Kresojevic, the more we humanize change through emotional labor and healing initiatives, the more we are able to influence others and start shifting organizations in the direction of transformation.

    Leaders can promote healing and psychological safety by allowing employees to share their thoughts and criticisms freely and without retribution. With an increase in support and emotional safety, your team will be ripe for organizational transformation.

    An Engagement of Consciousness

    An organization’s penchant for the unknown is essential in driving organizational transformation. In your efforts to humanize change management, it’s crucial to understand and accept human nature’s role in experiencing change. In understanding our natural inclinations toward risk aversion in the face of change, we can work to replace this avoidance of uncertainty with curiosity, vulnerability, and authenticity in the workplace. This approach to change management will transform the way we work, the risks we take, and our willingness to accept change.

    Much of organizational transformation is dependent on accepting uncertainty: that the future is unclear and we don’t have all the answers. The real secret to driving organizational transformation is empowering people to develop and accept new ideas on their own. Managing the uncertainty of organizational transformation takes time, allowing for the unfreezing, changing, and refreezing process to take place as stakeholders consider their options.

    Rob Evans, Master Coach of Collaboration and Transformation Designer, shares that giving people a chance to court the unknown, is essential for change acceptance as it allows new ideas to seep in and take hold.

    Practicing patience during the change management process allows for “engagement in the full consciousness,” in which leaders can kickstart the organizational transformation timeline and encourage employees to buy into the change. By pairing deliberate strategy with time for authentic employee engagement, radical transformation is an inevitability.

    Ready to start the journey to organizational transformation? Consider a new approach to the employee experience. Voltage Control can help you and your team define the best path for your organization’s transformation. 

    This article originally appeared at VoltageControl.com

    Image credit: Pixabay

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    3 Steps to a Truly Terrific Innovation Team

    3 Steps to a Truly Terrific Innovation Team

    GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

    “What had a bigger impact on the project? The process you introduced or the people on the team?”

    As much as I wanted to give all the credit to my brilliant process, I had to tell the truth.

    “People. It’s always people.”

    The right people doing the right work in the right way at the right time can do incredible, even impossible, things. But replace any “right” in the previous sentence, and even the smallest things can feel impossible. A process can increase the odds of doing the right work in the right way, but it’s no guarantee. It’s powerless in the hands of the wrong people.

    But how do you assemble the right group of people?  Start with the 3 Ts.

    Type of Innovation

    We’re all guilty of using ‘innovation’ to describe anything that is even a little bit new and different. And we’ve probably all been punished for it.

    Finding the right people for innovation start with defining what type of innovation they will work on:

    • Incremental: updating/modifying existing offerings that serve existing customers
    • Adjacent: creating new offerings for existing customers OR re-positioning existing offerings to serve new customers
    • Radical: new offerings or business models for new customers

    Different innovation types require teams to grapple with different levels of ambiguity and uncertainty.  Teams working on incremental innovations face low levels of ambiguity because they are modifying something that already exists, and they have relative certainty around cause and effect.  However, teams working on radical innovations spend months grappling with ambiguity, certain only that they don’t know what they don’t know.

    Time to launch

    Regardless of the type of innovation, each innovation goes through roughly the same four steps:

    1. Discover a problem to be solved
    2. Design solutions
    3. Develop and test prototypes
    4. Launch and measure

    The time allotted to work through all four steps determines the pace of the team’s work and, more importantly, how stakeholders make decisions. For example, the more time you have between the project start and the expected launch, the more time you have to explore, play, create, experiment, and gather robust data to inform decisions.  But if you’re expected to go from project start to project launch in a year or less, you need to work quickly and make decisions based on available (rather than ideal) data.

    Tasks to accomplish

    Within each step of the innovation process are different tasks, and different people have different abilities and comfort levels with each.  This is why there is growing evidence that experience in the phase of work is more important than industry or functional expertise for startups.

    There are similar data for corporate innovators. In a study of over 100,000 people, researchers identified the type and prevalence of four types of innovators every organization needs:

    1. Generators (17% of the sample): Find new problems and ideate based on their own experience.
    2. Conceptualizers (19%): Define the problem and understand it through abstract analysis, most comfortable in early phases of innovation (e.g., Discover and Design)
    3. Implementers (41%): Put solutions to work through experiments and adjustments, most comfortable in later stages of innovation (Develop and Launch)
    4. Optimizers (23%):  Systematically examine all alternatives to implement the best possible solution

    Generators and Conceptualizers are most comfortable in the early stages of innovation (i.e., Discover and Design).  Implementers and Optimizers are most comfortable in the later stages (e.g., Develop and Launch).  The challenge for companies is that only 36% of employees fall into one of those two categories, and most tend to be senior managers and executives.

    Taking Action

    Putting high performers on innovation teams is tempting, and top talent often perceives such assignments as essential to promotion.  But no one enjoys or benefits when the work they’re doing isn’t the work they’re good at.  Instead, take time to work through the 3Ts, and you’ll assemble a truly terrific innovation team.

    Image credit: Pixabay

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    Forbidden Truth About Innovation

    Forbidden Truth About Innovation

    GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

    If you heard it once, you heard it a thousand times:

    • Big companies can’t innovate
    • We need to innovate before we get too big and slow
    • Startups are innovative. Big companies are dinosaurs. They can’t innovate.

    And yet you persevere because you know the truth:

    Big companies CAN innovate.

    They CHOOSE not to.

    Using Innovation to drive growth is a choice.

    Just like choosing to grow through acquisition or expansion into new markets is a choice.

    All those choices are complex, uncertain, and risky. In fact:

    Hold on. The odds of failure are the same!

    All three growth drivers have similar failure rates, but no one says, “Big companies can’t acquire things” or “Big companies can’t expand into new markets.”

    We expect big companies to engage in acquisitions and market expansion.

    Failed acquisitions and market expansions prove us (or at least our expectations) wrong. Because we don’t like being wrong, we study our failures so that we can change, improve, and increase our odds of success next time.

    We expect big companies to fail at innovation.

    In this case, failure proves us right. We love being right, so we shrug and say, “Big companies can’t innovate.”

    We let big companies off the hook.

    Why are our expectations so different?

    Since the dawn of commerce, businesses engaged in innovation, acquisitions, and market expansion. But innovation is different from M&A and market expansion in three fundamental ways:

    1. Innovation is “new” – Even though businesses have engaged in innovation, acquisitions, and market expansion since the very earliest days of commerce, innovation only recently became a topic worthy of discussion, study, and investment. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Innovation was recognized as worthy of research and deliberate investment.
    2. Innovation starts small – Unlike acquisitions and new markets that can be easily sized and forecasted, in the early days of an innovation, it’s hard to know how big it could be.
    3. Innovation takes time – Innovation doesn’t come with a predictable launch date. Even its possible launch date is usually 3 to 5 years away, unlike acquisition closing dates that are often within a year.

    What can we do about this?

    We can’t change what innovation is (new, small, and slow at the start), but we can change our expectations.

    • Finish the sentence – “Big companies can’t innovate” absolves companies of the responsibility to make a good-faith effort to try to innovate by making their struggles an unavoidable consequence of their size. But it’s not inevitable, and continuing the sentence proves it. Saying “Big companies can’t innovate because…”  forces people to acknowledge the root causes of companies’ innovation struggles. In many ways, this was the great A-HA! of The Innovator’s Dilemma: Big companies can’t innovate because their focus on providing better (and more expensive) solutions to their best customers results in them ceding the low-end of the market and non-consumers to other companies.
    • Be honest – Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can choose to do something different (and get different results) or do everything the same (and get the same results). If you choose to keep doing the same things in the same ways, that’s fine. Own the decision.
    • Change your choice. Change your expectations – If you do choose to do things differently, address the root causes, and resolve the barriers, then walk the talk. Stop expecting innovation to fail and start expecting it to be as successful as your acquisition and market expansion efforts. Stop investing two people and $10 in innovation and start investing the same quantity and quality of resources as you invest and other growth efforts.
    • The first step in change is admitting that change is needed. When we accept that “big companies can’t innovate” simply because they’re big, we absolve them of their responsibility to follow through on proclamations and strategies about the importance of innovation as a strategic driver of growth.

    It’s time to acknowledge that innovation (or lack thereof) is a choice and expect companies to own that choice and act and invest accordingly.

    After all, would it be great to stop persevering and start innovating?

    Image credit: Pixabay

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    3 Steps to Find the Horse’s A** In Your Company (and Create Space for Innovation)

    3 Steps to Find the Horse's A** In Your Company (and Create Space for Innovation)

    GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

    Innovation thrives within constraints.

    Constraints create the need for questions, creative thinking, and experiments.

    But as real as constraints are and as helpful as they can be, don’t simply accept them. Instead, question them, push on them, and explore around them.

    But first, find the horse’s a**

    How Ancient Rome influenced the design of the Space Shuttle

    In 1974, Thiokol, an aerospace and chemical manufacturing company, won the contract to build the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) for the Space Shuttle. The SRBs were to be built in a factory in Utah and transported to the launch site via train.

    The train route ran through a mountain tunnel that was just barely wider than the tracks.

    The standard width of railroad tracks (distance between the rails or the railroad gauge) in the US is 4 feet, 8.5 inches which means that Thiokol’s engineers needed to design SRBs that could fit through a tunnel that was slightly wider than 4 feet 8.5 inches.

    4 feet 8.5 inches wide is a constraint. But where did such an oddly specific constraint come from?

    The designers and builders of America’s first railroads were the same people and companies that built England’s tramways. Using the existing tramways tools and equipment to build railroads was more efficient and cost-effective, so railroads ended up with the same gauge as tramways – 4 feet 8.5 inches.

    The designers and builders of England’s tramways were the same businesses that, for centuries, built wagons. Wanting to use their existing tools and equipment (it was more efficient and cost-effective, after all), the wagon builders built tramways with the exact distance between the rails as wagons had between wheels – 4 feet 8.5 inches.

    Wagon wheels were 4 feet 8.5 inches apart to fit into the well-worn grooves in most old European roads. The Romans built those roads, and Roman chariots made those grooves, and a horses pulled those chariots, and the width of a horses was, you guessed it, 4 feet 8.5 inches.

    To recap – the width of a horses’ a** (approximately 4 feet 8.5 inches) determined the distance between wheels on the Roman chariots that wore grooves into ancient roads. Those grooves ultimately dictated the width of wagon wheels, tramways, railroad ties, a mountain tunnel, and the Space Shuttle’s SRBs.

    How to find the horse’s a**

    When you understand the origin of a constraint, aka find the horse’s a**, it’s easier to find ways around it or to accept and work with it. You can also suddenly understand and even anticipate people’s reactions when you challenge the constraints.

    Here’s how you do it – when someone offers a constraint:

    1. Thank them for being honest with you and for helping you work more efficiently
    2. Find the horse’s a** by asking questions to understand the constraint – why it exists, what it protects, the risk of ignoring it, who enforces it, and what happened to the last person who challenged it.
    3. Find your degrees of freedom by paying attention to their answers and how they give them. Do they roll their eyes in knowing exasperation? Shrug their shoulders in resignation? Become animated and dogmatic, agitated that someone would question something so obvious?

    How to use the horse’s a** to innovate

    You must do all three steps because stopping short of step 3 stops creativity in its tracks.

    If you stop after Step 1 (which most people do), you only know the constraint, and you’ll probably be tempted to take it as fixed. But maybe it’s not. Perhaps it’s just a habit or heuristic waiting to be challenged.

    If you do all three steps, however, you learn tons of information about the constraint, how people feel about it, and the data and evidence that could nudge or even eliminate it.

    At the very least, you’ll understand the horse’s a** driving your company’s decisions.

    Image credit: Pixabay

    Endnotes:

    1. To be very clear, the origin of the constraint is the horse’s a**. The person telling you about the constraint is NOT the horse’s a**.
    2. The truth is never as simple as the story and railroads used to come in different gauges. For a deeper dive into this “more true than not” story (and an alternative theory that it was the North’s triumph in the Civil War that influenced the design of the SRBs, click here

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    Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of September 2022

    Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of September 2022Drum roll please…

    At the beginning of each month we will profile the ten articles from the previous month that generated the most traffic to Human-Centered Change & Innovation. Did your favorite make the cut?

    But enough delay, here are September’s ten most popular innovation posts:

    1. You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing — by Robyn Bolton
    2. Importance of Measuring Your Organization’s Innovation Maturity — by Braden Kelley
    3. 3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers
      — by Robyn Bolton
    4. Four Lessons Learned from the Digital Revolution — by Greg Satell
    5. Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry? — by Teresa Spangler
    6. Why Good Job Interviews Don’t Lead to Good Job Performance — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
    7. Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups — by Soren Kaplan
    8. Why Diversity and Inclusion Are Entrepreneurial Competencies
      — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
    9. The Seven P’s of Raising Money from Investors — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
    10. What’s Next – The Only Way Forward is Through — by Braden Kelley

    BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in August that continue to resonate with people:

    If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 4-7 new articles every week built around innovation and transformation insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin feeds too!

    Have something to contribute?

    Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all innovation and transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have valuable human-centered change and innovation insights to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

    P.S. Here are our Top 40 Innovation Bloggers lists from the last two years:

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    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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