Tag Archives: Leadership

How Do You Judge Innovation: Guilty or Innocent?

How Do You Judge Innovation: Guilty or Innocent?

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Several months ago, a colleague sent me a link to Roger Martin’s latest article, “The Presumption of Guilt: The Hidden Logical Barrier to Innovation.”  Even though the article was authored by one of the preeminent thinkers in the field of innovation and strategy (in 2017, Thinkers50 voted him the #1 most influential management thinker in the world), I didn’t have too much hope that I would read something new or interesting. After all, I read A LOT of articles, and 99 times out of 100, I’m disappointed (80 times out of 100, I roll my eyes so hard I give myself a headache).

This one blew my mind.

With just a few sentences and applying a well-known analogy, Martin explained a phenomenon that plagues every organization and kills most innovation.

Presumed Innocence is a fundamental human right

Martin begins by pointing out that in the legal systems of modern democracies, all citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In 1948, the United Nations extended this concept to all nations (not just democracies) in Article 11.1 of their Declaration of Human Rights.

The presumption of innocence is so important because “the presumption of guilt (or even neutrality) puts an almost impossible burden on the defendant. The State is strong and has resources far beyond that of the individual.”

Presumed Innocence is not a fundamental innovation right

Now let’s apply this analogy and the lens of presumption of innocence or guilt to business, arguably a field where we spend much more time and make far more judgments.

You, and your fellow decision-makers, are judges and jury.

It is up to you to determine whether the projects in front of you are innocent (worthy of additional investment) or guilty (not worthy).

If you presume all defendants are guilty, you place the burden of proof on them. They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they will succeed and are, therefore, worthy of investment.

If you presume all defendants are innocent, you place the burden of proof on yourself (or the business as a whole). You must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they will fail.

What type of judge are you? What kind of decision-making system do you preside over? Do you presume guilt or innocence?

In most boardrooms, projects are presumed guilty.

Presumptions in practice

Let’s consider the two “defendants” (types of projects) that appear before you – core business projects and innovation projects.

Each defendant has a team of advocates. The core business typically has a large team with ample resources and a history of success. Innovation has a much smaller team with far fewer resources and few, if any, “in-market” successes.

To be fair, you ask the same questions of both defendants – questions about market growth, performance versus competitors, and what the P&L looks like.

The team advocating for the core business produces data-filled slides, reports from reputable third parties, and financials blessed by Finance. In the deluge of facts, you forget that all the data is about the past, and you’re making decisions about the future. You find the evidence compelling (or at least reassuring), determine that the team met their burden of proof, declare the Core Business innocent, and allocate additional funds and people.

Innovation’s team also comes with slides, reports, and financials, but it’s not nearly as compelling as what you just saw from the current business team. But you are a fair judge, so you ask most questions like

  • We believe we can get X% of a Total Addressable Market estimated to be Y
  • There are no direct competitors, but consumers rated this better than current solutions
  • We don’t have a 5-year NPV or P&L for this business at scale because we’re not asking for permission to launch. We’re asking for $100,000 to continue testing.

Believe? We need to know!

No direct competitors? Perhaps there’s a reason for that!

No P&L? I’m not going to throw scarce money away!

“Guilty!” you declare, “no more resources for you! Try again!”

This example illustrates what Roger Martin considers corporate innovation’s fatal flaw. In his article, he argues,

“the status quo must play the role of the prosecutor and prove that the innovation is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The innovation asserts its case, laying out the future that it imagines is plausible and explains the logic that buttresses the plausibility. The onus is on the status quo to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the innovation’s logic is flawed — e.g., the proposed economics are unrealistic, customers haven’t shown a hint of caring about the unique selling features of the innovation, competitors already have a lead on us in the proposed area, etc.

If the status quo can do so, then the innovation is guilty. If it can’t, then the innovation is not guilty, and the organization should invest.”

As much as I love the idea of requiring the status quo (managers? Executives? Stockholders?) to prove that investments should not be made (i.e., the default answer is “Yes” to all requests), it’s just not a practical solution.

Burden of proof as barrier

There’s another fundamental principle in our legal system that Martin doesn’t touch on: the burden of proof shifts as the stakes increase.

Specifically, the State’s burden of proof increases from warrant to arraignment to grand jury to trial. For example, the State must provide probable cause based on direct or other reliable information to get a warrant. But the State must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt when the defendant goes to trial and risks losing their freedom or even their life.

But in the example above, the questions (proof required) remained the same.

The questions were appropriate for the Current Business because it’s already in the market, consuming massive resources, and its failure would have a catastrophic impact on the company.

But the questions aren’t appropriate for innovation in its early days. In fact, they were the business equivalent of demanding proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to get a search warrant. Instead, a judge evaluating a project in the early Design phase should ask for probable cause based on direct or other reliable information – observed consumer behavior, small-scale research findings, or simple prototypes.

The Verdict is In

I love the concept of Presumed Guilty vs. Presumed Innocent. I see it all the time in my work, and it is painfully prevalent in Innovation Council meetings and other boardrooms where managers sit as judge and jury over a project’s (ad a team’s) fate.

I want to flip the paradigm – To make “yes” the default instead of “No” and to require managers, the keepers of the status quo, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a project will fail.

But I don’t think it’s possible (if I’m wrong, PLEASE tell me!).

Instead, our best bet for true innovation justice is not to shift who bears the burden of proof but rather how heavy that burden is at various points. From probable cause when the stakes are low to beyond a reasonable doubt when they’re high. And certainly more than a ham sandwich at any point

Image credit: Pexels

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Making Innovation the Way We Do Business (easy as ABC)

Making Innovation the Way We Do Business (easy as ABC)

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“We need to be more innovative.”

How many times have you said or heard that? It’s how most innovation efforts start. It’s a statement that reflects leaders’ genuine desire to return to the “good ol’ days” when the company routinely created and launched new products and enjoyed the publicity and growth that followed.

But what does it mean to be more innovative?

Innovation’s ABCs

A is for Architecture

Architecture includes most of the elements people think of when they start the work to become more innovative – strategy, structure, processes, metrics, governance, and incentives.

Each of these elements answers fundamental questions:

  • Strategy: Why is innovation important? How does it contribute to our overall strategy?
  • Structure: Who does the work of innovation?
  • Process: How is the work done?
  • Metrics: How will we know when we’re successful? How will we measure progress?
  • Governance: Who makes decisions? How and when are decisions made?
  • Incentives: Why should people invest their time, money, and political capital? How will they be rewarded?

When it comes to your business, you can answer all these questions. The same is true if you’re serious about innovation. If you can’t answer the questions, you have work to do. If you don’t want to do the work, then you don’t want to be innovative. You want to look innovative*.

B is for Behavior

Innovation isn’t an idea problem. It’s a leadership problem.

Leaders that talk about innovation, delegate it to subordinates and routinely pull resources from innovation to “shore up” current operations don’t want to be innovative. They want to look innovative.

Leaders who roll up their sleeves and work alongside innovation teams, ask questions and listen with open minds, and invest and protect innovation resources want to be innovative.

To be fair, it’s incredibly challenging to be a great leader of both innovation and operations. It’s the equivalent of writing equally well with your right and left hands. But it is possible. More importantly, it’s essential.

C is for Culture

Culture is invisible, pervasive, and personal. It is also the make-or-break factor for innovation because it surrounds innovation architecture, teams, and leaders.

Culture can expand to encourage and support exploration, creativity, and risk-taking. Or it can constrict, unleashing antibodies that swarm, suffocate, and kill anything that threatens the status quo.

Trying to control or change culture is like trying to hold water in your fist. But if you let go just a bit, create the right conditions, and wait patiently, change is possible.

Easy as 123

The most common mistake executives make in the pursuit of being “more innovative” is that they focus on only A or only B or only C.  But, as I always tell my clients, the answer is “and, not or.”

  1. Start with Architecture because it’s logical, rational, and produces tangible outputs like org charts, process flows, and instruction manuals filled with templates and tools. Architecture is comforting because it helps us know what to do and how.
  2. Use Architecture to encourage Behavior because the best way to learn something is to do it. With Architecture in place (but well before it’s finished), bring leaders into the work – talking to customers, sharing their ideas, and creating prototypes. When leaders do the work of innovation, they quickly realize what’s possible (and what’s not) and are open to learning how to engage (behave) in a way that supports innovation.
  3. Leverage Architecture and Behavior to engage Culture by creating the artifacts, rituals, and evidence that innovation can happen in your company, is happening and will continue to happen. As people see “innovation” evolve from a buzzword to a small investment to “the way we do business,” their skepticism will fade, and their support will grow.

Just like the Jackson 5 said

ABC, It’s easy a 123

Architecture, behavior, culture – they’re all essential to enabling an innovation capability that repeatedly creates new revenue.

And while starting with architecture, building new leadership behaviors, and investing until the culture changes isn’t easy, it’s the 123 steps required to “be more innovative.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You have, no doubt, seen the design squiggle. The ubiquitous scribble is all loopy and knotty in the beginning until it finally sorts itself into a straight line by the end.

It illustrates the design process – “the journey of researching, uncovering insights, generating creative concepts, iteration of prototypes and eventually concluding in one single designed solution” – and its elegant simplicity has led it to be adopted by all sorts of other disciplines, including innovation.

But when I showed it to a client, her immediate response was, “It’s Jeremy Bearimy!”*

Wha????

And that is how I discovered The Good Place, a sitcom about four humans who die, go to The Good Place, and struggle to learn what it means to be good.

The show, created by Michael Schur of The Office and Parks and Recreation fame, is a brilliant treatise on ethics and moral philosophy. It also contains valuable wisdom about what innovators need to succeed.

Questions

With all due respect, “It’s the way it’s always been done” is an excuse that’s been used for hundreds of years to justify racism, misogyny…

Tahani Al-Jamil

This quote was a gut punch from the show’s fourth and final season. As innovators, we often hear people ask why change is needed. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” they proclaim.

But sometimes it is broke, and we don’t know it. At the very least, it can always be better.

So, while “it’s the way it’s always been done” at your company probably (hopefully) doesn’t include racism, misogyny, sexism, and other genuinely horrible things, framing the status quo as an enabler of those horrors is a harsh wake-up call to the dangers of an unquestioning commitment to continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.

Decisions (not just Ideas)

If you’re always frozen in fear and taking too long to figure out what to do, you’ll miss your opportunity, and maybe get sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat.

Jason Mendoza

Even though Jason Mendoza is the resident idiot of The Good Place, he occasionally (and very accidentally) has moments of profound insight. This one to a situation that innovators are all too familiar with – analysis paralysis.

How often do requests for more data, more (or more relevant) benchmarks, or input from more people slow down decisions and progress? These requests are rarely rooted in doubt about the data, benchmarks, or information you presented. They are rooted in fear – the fear of making the wrong decision, being blamed or shamed, and losing a reputation or even a job.

But worse than being wrong, blamed, shamed, or unemployed is missing an opportunity to radically improve your business, team, or even the world. It’s the business equivalent of getting sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat.

Actions (not just decisions)

In football, trying to run out the clock and hoping for the best never works. It’s called “prevent defense.” You don’t take any chances and just try and hold on to your lead. But prevent defense just PREVENTS you from winning! It’s always better to try something.

Jason Mendoza

Jason does it again, this time invoking a lesson learned from his beloved Jacksonville Jaguars.

Few companies publicly admit to adopting a prevent defense, even though most companies engage in it. They play prevent defense when they don’t invest in innovation, focus exclusively on maintaining or incrementally improving what they currently do, or confine their innovation efforts to events like hackathons and shark tanks.

Incremental improvements and innovation theater keep you competitive. But they won’t get you ahead of the competition or make you a leader in your industry. In fact, they prevent it by making you feel good and safe when you’re really just running out the clock.

Perseverance

Come on, you know how this works. You fail and then you try something else. And you fail again and again, and you fail a thousand times, and you keep trying because maybe the 1,001st idea might work. Now, I’m gonna and try to find our 1,001st idea.

Michael

It’s hard to explain this quote without sharing massive spoilers, so let’s just say that The Good Place is an experiment that fails. A lot.

But it’s also an experiment that generates profound learning and universe-altering changes, things that would not have been possible without the failures.

Yes, smart innovators know when to kill a project. They also know when to try one more time. Wise innovators know the difference.

One final bit of wisdom

Innovation is hard. You will run into more resistance than expected, and things will rarely work out as planned. As long as you keep trying and learning, you won’t fail.

To paraphrase Jason Mendoza (again), you’re not a failed innovator, you’re pre-successful.

*For those of you who are, like I was, unfamiliar with Jeremy Bearimy, here’s a clip explaining it (WARNING: SPOILERS)

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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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Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

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

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

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

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

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

How are these ways of being and acting impacting organisations?

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

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

Resulting in:

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

A unique moment in time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our shared humanity and wellbeing depend on it”.

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

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

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

Image credit: Pixabay

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‘Fail Fast’ is BS. Do This Instead

'Fail Fast' is BS. Do This Instead

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“Fail Fast”

It’s an innovation mantra uttered by everyone, from an entry-level programmer at a start-up to a Fortune 100 CEO.

But let’s be honest.

NO ONE WANTS TO FAIL!

(at any speed)

The reality is that we work in companies that reward success and relentlessly encourage us to become great at a specific skill, role, or function. As a result, our natural and rational aversion to failure is amplified, and most of us won’t even start something if there’s a chance that we won’t be great at it right away.

It’s why, despite your best efforts to encourage your team to take risks and embrace “failure,” nothing changes.

A Story of Failure?

A few weeks ago, while on vacation, I dusted off an old copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. As a kid, I was reasonably good at drawing, so I wasn’t worried about being bad, just rusty.

Then I read the first exercise: Before beginning instruction, draw each of the following:

  • “A Person, Drawn from Memory”
  • “Self-Portrait”
  • “My Hand”

I stared at the page. Thoughts raced through my head:

  • You have to be kidding me! These are the three most challenging things to draw. Even for a professional!
  • How am I supposed to do this without instructions?
  • Maybe I’ll skip this step, read the rest of the book to get the instructions I need, then come back and try this once I have all the information.
  • Forget it. I’m not doing this.

Confronted by not one but THREE things to be bad at, I was ready to quit.

Then I took a deep breath, picked up my trusty #2 pencil, and started to draw.

The results were terrible.

A Story of Success

It would be easy to look at my drawings and declare them a failure – my husband is missing his upper lip, I look like a witch straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the thumb on my left hand is the same length as my index finger.

But I didn’t fail*.

I started

I did my best

I learned a lot

I did better the next time.

By these standards, my first attempts were a success**

Ask for what you want

Isn’t that what you want your team to do?

To stop analyzing and posturing and start doing.

To do their best with what they have and know now, instead of worrying about all the possibilities.

To admit their mistakes and share their learnings.

To respond to what they learned, even if it means shutting down a project, and keep growing.

Ask them to do those things.

Ask them to “Learn fast.”

Your people want to learn. They want to get smarter and do better. Encourage that.

Ask them to keep learning.

Your team will forget that their first attempt will be uncomfortable and their first result terrible. That’s how learning starts. It’s called “growing pains,” not “growing tickles,” for a reason.

Ask them to share what they learned.

Your team will want to hide their mistakes, but that doesn’t make anyone better or wiser. Sharing what they did and what they learned makes everyone better. Reward them for it.

Ask the team what’s next

It’s not enough to learn one thing quickly. You need to keep learning. Your team is in the trenches, and they know what works, what doesn’t, and why. Ask for their opinions, listen carefully, discuss, and decide together what to learn next.

You don’t want your team to fail.

You want them to succeed.

Ask them to do what’s necessary to achieve that

“Act Now. Learn Fast.”

*Achieving perfect (or even realistic) results on my first attempt is impossible. You can’t fail at something impossible

** To be clear, I’m not making a case for “participation trophies.”  You gotta do more than just show up (or read the book). You gotta do the work. But remember, sometimes success is simply starting.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Many years ago, Clay Christensen visited his firm where I was a partner and told us a story*.

“I imagine the day I die and present myself at the entrance to Heaven,” he said. “The Lord will show me around, and the beauty and majesty will overcome me. Eventually, I will notice that there are no numbers or data in Heaven, and I will ask the Lord why that is.”

“Data lies,” the Lord will respond. “Nothing that lies can be in Heaven. So, if people want data, I tell them to go to Hell.”

We all chuckled at the punchline and at the strength of the language Clay used (if you ever met him, you know that he was an incredibly gentle and soft-spoken man, so using the phrase “go to Hell” was the equivalent of your parents unleashing a five-minute long expletive-laden rant).

“If you want data, go to Hell.”

Clay’s statement seems absolutely blasphemous, especially in a society that views quantitative data as the ultimate source of truth:

  • “In God we trust. All others bring data.” W. Edward Deming, founding Father of Total Quality Management (TQM)
  •  “Above all else, show the data.” – Edward R. Tufte, a pioneer in the field of data visualization
  • “What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker, father of modern management studies

But it’s not entirely wrong.

Quantitative Data’s blessing: A sense of safety

As humans, we crave certainty and safety. This was true millennia ago when we needed to know whether the rustling in the leaves was the wind or a hungry predator preparing to leap and tear us limb from lime. And it’s true today when we must make billion-dollar decisions about buying companies, launching products, and expanding into new geographies.

We rely on data about company valuation and cash flow, market size and growth, and competitor size and strategy to make big decisions, trusting that it is accurate and will continue to be true for the foreseeable future.

Quantitative Data’s curse: The past does not predict the future

As leaders navigating an increasingly VUCA world, we know we must prepare for multiple scenarios, operate with agility, and be willing to pivot when change happens.

Yet we rely on data that describes the past.

We can extrapolate it, build forecasts, and create models, but the data will never tell us with certainty what will happen in the future. It can’t even tell us the Why (drivers, causal mechanisms) behind the What it describes.

The Answer: And not Or

Quantitative data Is useful. It gives us the sense of safety we need to operate in a world of uncertainty and a starting point from which to imagine the future(s).

But, it is not enough to give the clarity or confidence we need to make decisions leading to future growth and lasting competitive advantage.

To make those decisions, we need quantitative data AND qualitative insights.

We need numbers and humans.

Qualitative Insight’s blessing: A view into the future

Humans are the source of data. Our beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions are tracked and measured, and turned into numbers that describe what we believed, wanted, and did in the past.

By understanding human beliefs, motivations, and aspirations (and capturing them as qualitative insights), we gain insight into why we believed, wanted, and did those things and, as a result, how those beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions could change and be changed. With these insights, we can develop strategies and plans to change or maintain beliefs and motivations and anticipate and prepare for events that could accelerate or hinder our goals. And yes, these insights can be quantified.

Qualitative Insight’s curse: We must be brave

When discussing the merit of pursuing or applying qualitative research, it’s not uncommon for someone to trot out the saying (erroneously attributed to Henry Ford), “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a horse that goes twice as fast and eats half as much.”

Pushing against that assertion requires you to be brave. To let go of your desire for certainty and safety, take a risk, and be intellectually brave.

Being brave is hard. Staying safe is easy. It’s rational. It’s what any reasonable person would do. But safe, rational, and reasonable people rarely change the world.

One more story

In 1980, McKinsey predicted that the worldwide market for cell phones would max out at 900,000 subscribers. They based this prediction on solid data, analyzed by some of the most intelligent people in business. The data and resulting recommendations made sense when presented to AT&T, McKinsey’s client.

Five years later, there were 340,213 subscribers, and McKinsey looked pretty smart. In 1990, there were 5.3 million subscribers, almost 6x McKinsey’s prediction.   In 1994, there were 24.1M subscribers in the US alone (27x McKinsey’s global forecast), and AT&T was forced to pay $12.6B to acquire McCaw Cellular.

Should AT&T have told McKinsey to “go to Hell?”  No.

Should AT&T have thanked McKinsey for going to (and through) Hell to get the data, then asked whether they swung by earth to talk to humans and understand their Jobs to be Done around communication? Yes.

Because, as Box founder Aaron Levie reminds us,

“Sizing the market for a disruptor based on an incumbent’s market is like sizing a car industry off how many horses there were in 1910.”

* Except for the last line, these probably (definitely) weren’t his exact words, but they are an accurate representation of what I remember him saying

Image Credit: Pixabay

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

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of June 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. We also publish a weekly Top 5 as part of our FREE email newsletter. Did your favorite make the cut?

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

  1. An Innovation Action Plan for the New CTO — by Steve Blank
  2. The Lost Tribe of Medicine — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  3. What Can Leaders Do to Have More Innovative Teams? — by Diana Porumboiu
  4. Transformation Insights — by Bruce Fairley
  5. Selling To Generation Z – This is What They Want — by Shep Hyken
  6. It is Easier to Change People than to Change People — by Annette Franz
  7. Leading a Culture of Innovation from Any Seat — by Patricia Salamone
  8. Harnessing the Dragons of your Imagination for Innovation — by Braden Kelley
  9. Successful Asynchronous Collaboration — by Douglas Ferguson
  10. Four Reasons the Big Quit Exists — by Braden Kelley

BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in May:

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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Transformation Insights – Part Two

Transformation Insights - Part Two

“The world needs stories and characters that unite us rather than tear us apart.”~ Gale Anne Hurd, Producer of Aliens and The Terminator

GUEST POST from Bruce Fairley

In my early years I was fortunate to spend some time on film sets. Unlike how the entertainment industry is portrayed in the Netflix series, The Movies that Made Us, I did not come to blows with any of my directors as Eddie Murphy apparently did with John Landis during the making of Coming to America. Nor did I witness an entire crew mutiny, as James Cameron did on Aliens. Instead, I often saw the same dynamic I’ve witnessed in the tech sector from the first moment I stepped off set and into I.T.

People coming together.

Skilled, diverse, passionate people hard at work fighting against miscommunication, technical issues, and time constraints – coming together to achieve something significant. I referred to this in my previous Transformation Insights post, The Future Always Wins as:

Collaboration Between Complementary Influencers.

This dynamic is as true of a film set as it is of a firm engaged in digital transformation. In both cases, expertise in various areas is required to create a successful whole, with C-Suite leaders in the corporate sphere tasked with providing the articulated vision at the helm. Of course, the success of any endeavor comes down to human-powered action and decision making at every level of execution. And while the challenges of a digital transformation project may not be as bone-breaking dangerous as the stunts in an action film, getting to greatness requires a similar fusion of mind and machine – of talent and technology.

If that sounds like The Terminator, consider that its box office success speaks to the fusion of mind and machine as an unstoppable trajectory – but those who deepen their humanity rather than succumb to machine rule are the heroes that triumph. This was mirrored in the making of the film, which was nearly shut down when the crew put down their tools. Addressing their humanity and acknowledging the value of their contribution changed the story from disaster to blockbuster.

Humans lead – technology serves. Not the other way around.

When that is reversed, dystopia ensues whether on screen or in the boardroom. Having witnessed many occasions in which technology was expediently obtained before its value to the user could be established, I am convinced we have lost the plot in telling a wider, corporate story. Technology was supposed to liberate not enslave. Instead, how many times have you attended a Zoom meeting or prepared weeks for a presentation only to discover the sound not working, the slide deck freezing, or even a hidden ‘on’ button? These may be simple examples, but they rob the intrepid hero of the corporate journey; the chance to shine and advance their creative talent much like the crew of Aliens putting down their tools. Now multiply that by the large scale digital transformation projects I’ve spearheaded, and it becomes clear how a broken axis between human-powered decision making and technology can break the bottom line.

Optimism and momentum towards a more positive, successful outcome hinges on more than technological expertise. It requires an understanding of the whole story – and how the team, tech, leadership, and consumers each play a role. The story you wish to tell about your corporate journey requires buy-in at every level of service – human and tech. Obstacles are not indictments, they are merely obstacles. But they do often require a third-party complementary collaborator that understands how to transform pitfalls into profits.

When I launched the Narrative Group I wanted to amplify the genius of C-Suite executives through the optimization of the business-tech relationship. Similarly to how I observed the inner workings of a set and how all the pieces had to fit together to create a screen success, I spent years observing digital transformation from the inside. Across continents and boardrooms, I learned, led, and transformed as well. This only increased my commitment to helping talented leaders tell their story successfully.

If you’re a C-Suite leader that would like to storyboard the trajectory of your corporate success, please feel free to reach out and continue the conversation at:

connect@narrative-group.com

Image Credit: The Narrative Group

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