Tag Archives: networks

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of August 2023

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of August 2023Drum 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 August’s ten most popular innovation posts:

  1. The Paradox of Innovation Leadership — by Janet Sernack
  2. Why Most Corporate Innovation Programs Fail — by Greg Satell
  3. A Top-Down Open Innovation Approach — by Geoffrey A. Moore
  4. Innovation Management ISO 56000 Series Explained — by Diana Porumboiu
  5. Scale Your Innovation by Mapping Your Value Network — by John Bessant
  6. The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Future Employment — by Chateau G Pato
  7. Leaders Avoid Doing This One Thing — by Robyn Bolton
  8. Navigating the Unpredictable Terrain of Modern Business — by Teresa Spangler
  9. Imagination versus Knowledge — by Janet Sernack
  10. Productive Disagreement Requires Trust — by Mike Shipulski

BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in July 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 three years:

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When the Startup Romance Dies

When the Startup Romance Dies

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Every startup is exciting and romantic in the beginning. The founders usually know each other well and want to work together. They bring on others who are likeminded and committed to the mission of the enterprise. Long hours and shared experience makes the business feel less like work and more like a family.

Yet as the company grows and more people are brought on, the social fabric begins to fray. Roles, which once were fluid and interchangeable, begin to formalize and solidify. Tight camaraderie gives way to office politics. What was once a “family” begins to seem like just another place to work and earn a living.

The story is so common that nobody should be surprised when it happens, but inevitably most are, which is why few entrepreneurs prepare for it. Often, because they still feel connected to the senior team, they don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late. That’s a shame, because the breakdown of the family atmosphere can be avoided if you prepare for it.

The Dunbar Dilemma

In 1992, anthropologist Robin Dunbar published his groundbreaking paper on optimal group sizes. For humans, he estimated the maximum group size that can maintain stable relationships to be about 150, now known as the Dunbar Number. Other researchers using different methodologies have come up with slightly higher numbers, but the general principle stands. Go past a certain point and natural connections start to break down.

That’s why around when an organization hits 150-200 employees, the “family atmosphere” starts to break down and take on a decidedly more corporate feel. Early employees don’t feel the same bonds with the latecomers and new employees don’t build the same camaraderie when they join the company.

Inevitably, the change in atmosphere is attributed to the type of people hired, rather than the number of people in the organization. So the first step to solving the problem is to simply acknowledge that running a larger enterprise is different than running a small one. Culture will no longer take care of itself, you have to work to build and maintain it.

All too often, entrepreneurs attempt to reorganize the company at this point. That’s almost always a mistake. Valdis Krebs, who researches organizational networks, notes that reorganizations can often sever informal ties that you aren’t aware of but that are crucial to how the company functions.

The Importance Of Boundary Spanners

In the early 1970s, sociologist Mark Granovetter began researching how professional, technical and managerial workers found jobs in the Boston area. He was somewhat surprised to find that they often found work someone they knew, but not a close contact, like a friend or family member, but someone more removed, like a friend of a friend or a distant cousin. He called this principle the Strength of Weak Ties.

Further analysis shows why it works. Those who are closest to us know pretty much the same things we do, because they frequent similar places and do similar things. So if we want to gain access to new information, we need to broaden our scope and connect with people further out on the social spectrum.

In a small startup, the strength of weak ties plays a negligible role, because everybody knows each other through first-degree connections. However, once the Dunbar threshold of 150-200 people is passed, that’s no longer true. As the company grows, information increasingly needs to flow through second and third degree connections.

Network scientists call people who link disparate networks in an organization boundary spanners and they are crucial for maintaining culture as an organization grows. Once you understand the importance of boundary spanners, you can start redesigning programs and platforms to optimize for connection.

Redesigning Programs And Platforms For Connection

Every organizational culture is unique, so there are no hard and fast rules for designing programs and platforms to optimize for connection, but the best place to start is to build on what you already have. Often, companies accidentally find that an existing program that was built for another purpose effectively builds boundary spanners.

For example, Facebook originally designed its six week engineering bootcamp to help it scale by immersing new engineers in its methods and codebase, no matter what their level of experience. However, what it found was that bootcampers would build bonds during those six weeks that would persist long after they moved to disparate parts of the company.

In a similar vein, Experian found that its employees that participated in its “Le Tour de Experian” bike rides to benefit charity would build bonds that would span across organizational boundaries and lead to professional collaborations. So it built Employee Resource Groups and Clubs to build connections across a wider variety of interests.

Other companies, such as General Electric, encourage high potential executives to work in different divisions to create boundary spanners. Still others create seminars and best practice programs. There are many ways you can network your organization, once you learn to prioritize connections to build boundary spanners.

Evolving Leadership & Culture

In the early days of a startup most of the energy is necessarily focused on action items, such as developing a product, coming up with a go-to-market strategy and executing basic tasks. Job titles tend to be fluid and everybody pitches in where they can. With a small number of people, work can often be organized through quick huddles and whiteboard sessions.

Yet as the organization grows, more formal procedures and processes begin to take shape. Communication, necessarily, becomes more formal and less ad hoc. Roles within the company solidify and employees are increasingly expected to “stay in their lane.” Entrepreneurial leaders begin to spend less time focusing on the details of day-to-day execution.

This is when it is crucial for leaders to evolve from operational managers to what General Stanley McChrystal, in his book Team of Teams, calls “empathetic crafters of culture.” In a larger organization, a leaders role cannot be merely to plan and direct action, but needs to increasingly focus on shaping connections within the firm.

Perhaps most of all, entrepreneurs need to understand that the transition from a small startup to a significant enterprise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to lose “the family.” It just means that the leadership and culture need to evolve. That won’t simply happen all by itself. You have to put in the time and effort to make it so.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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How Networks Power Transformation

How Networks Power Transformation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In February 2004, Viacom announced that it would spin off Blockbuster Video into its own independent company, which gave its CEO, John Antioco, the opportunity to begin addressing the disruptive threat emanating from Netflix head on. He developed a viable strategy, executed it well, but in the end his efforts were for naught.

Around the same time General Stanley McChrystal was tapped to take command of Special Forces in Iraq. Much like Antioco and Blockbuster, he faced a disruptive threat in the form of Al Qaeda that, using unconventional tactics, threatened to thwart his efforts. Unlike Antioco, however, McChrystal succeeded brilliantly.

We tend to think about transformation in terms of strategy and tactics, but if that was all there was to it, Blockbuster would still be thriving today. As I explain in Cascades, the difference between Antioco and McChrystal wasn’t that one had a good plan and the other didn’t, but that McChrystal saw that he had to rewire the networks in his organization.

Why Blockbuster Really Failed

Today, Blockbuster is a cautionary tale, but for all the wrong reasons. When the spinoff was announced, Antioco moved quickly to build an online rental business and remove the late fees that so many found annoying. Later, in 2006, he created the Total Access program that allowed customers rent DVDs online and return them in stores.

The convenience of the Total Access program was something that Netflix couldn’t match and almost immediately Blockbuster began to surpass Netflix in adding new subscribers. Yet within a few months, a compensation dispute arose between Antioco and the corporate raider Carl Icahn, who had gotten control of the company. Antioco left, the new CEO reversed the strategy and Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010.

The tensions had actually been building for some time. Antioco’s shift to the online business made franchisees, many of whom had their life’s savings tied up in Blockbuster stores, uneasy. The changes were also costly, which depressed earnings and made investors and analysts skeptical. The stock price cratered.

It was the low stock price that led Icahn to buy up stock in Blockbuster, a proxy fight that allowed him to take control of the company’s board, the compensation dispute, Antioco’s departure and the reversal of the strategy. What really killed Blockbuster wasn’t external competition, but internal opposition.

Addressing The Internal Struggle

While Antioco framed the challenge Blockbuster faced largely in terms of strategy and tactics, McChrystal saw his task as an internal struggle. His forces were among the best in the world and were winning every battle. Yet somehow, they were losing the war and losing it badly.

As McChrystal would later write, “the world had outpaced us. In the time it took us to move a plan from creation to approval, the battlefield for which the plan had been devised would have changed. By the time it had been implemented, the plan—however ingenious in its initial design—was often irrelevant.”

So instead of trying to come up with better plans, McChrystal sought to change how his organization functioned. The problem, as he saw it, was one of interoperability. His forces needed not only to work with each other, but also partner agencies and other stakeholders, in order to succeed.

“I needed to shift my focus from moving pieces on the board to shaping the ecosystem,” McChrystal would remember. The moves paid off. The tide of the war soon shifted and the forces under his command would achieve their major objectives.

Rewiring Networks

The main difference between Antioco and McChrystal had less to do with their actions than it did with their mindsets. Where Antioco saw his task in terms of planning and execution, McChrystal saw his in terms of connection. “We began to make progress when we started looking at these relationships as just that: relationships— parts of a network, not cogs in a machine or outputs and inputs,” he would later write.

Antioco would take a very different approach. He set up the Blockbuster Online team in a warehouse down the street its Dallas headquarters. That allowed him to pursue the online strategy with little disruption to operations in the core business, but it also allowed suspicion and fear to fester and grow.

McChrystal, on the other hand, moved to forge links anywhere he could. He started embedding intelligence analysts into commando teams and vice versa. Liaison officer positions, traditionally given to marginal performers or those nearing retirement, were now earmarked for the very best operators.

Moves like these slowed down the individual teams — commandos in business suits placed at embassies don’t kill many terrorists — but that wasn’t the point, building networks of trust and interoperability was. Over the next few years, the effectiveness of his organization improved markedly and overall operating efficiency improved by a factor of seventeen.

Rethinking Leadership For A Networked Age

To a large degree, the most important difference between Antioco and McChrystal was how they saw their role as leaders. Antioco was truly a brilliant strategist and had built an enormously successful career devising effective plans and driving efficient execution. He had encountered opposition before, but had always been able to prevail by showing results.

McChrystal came to see things differently. “I began to reconsider the nature of my role as a leader,” he would later write. “The wait for my approval was not resulting in any better decisions, and our priority should be reaching the best possible decision that could be made in a time frame that allowed it to be relevant.

In other words, where Antioco saw a vertical hierarchy for carrying out tasks efficiently, McChrystal saw a horizontal network of connections which needed to be cultivated. Where Antioco built a strong senior management team to drive his strategy, McChrystal forged shared values throughout his organization so that units could act independently.

The truth is that we need to reimagine leadership for a networked age to focus less on driving strategy and tactics and more on widening and deepening connections in networks. Or, as McChrystal put it, “The role of the senior leader was no longer that of a controlling puppet master, but that of an empathetic crafter of culture.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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Designing Your Organization for Transformation

Designing Your Organization for Transformation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

The March on Washington, in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, is one of the most iconic events in American history. So it shouldn’t be surprising that when anybody wants to drive change in the United States, they often begin with trying to duplicate that success.

Yet that’s a gross misunderstanding of why the march was successful. As I explain in Cascades, the civil rights movement didn’t become powerful because of the March on Washington, the March on Washington took place because the civil rights movement became powerful. It was part of the end game, not an opening shot.

Unfortunately, many corporate transformations make the same mistake. They try to drive change without preparing the ground first. So it shouldn’t be surprising that McKinsey has found that only about a quarter of transformational efforts succeed. Make no mistake, transformation is a journey, not a destination, and you start by preparing the ground first.

Start with a Keystone Change

Every successful transformation starts out with a vision, such as racial equality in the case of the civil rights movement. Yet to be inspiring, a vision needs to be aspirational, which means it is rarely achievable in any practical time frame. A good vision is more of a beacon than it is a landmark.

That’s probably why every successful transformation I found in my research first had to identify a keystone change which had a tangible and concrete objective, involved multiple stakeholders and paved the way for future change. In some cases, there are multiple keystone changes being pursued at once seeking to influence different institutions.

For example, King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), mobilized southern blacks, largely through religious organizations, to influence the media and politicians. At the same time, through their work at the NAACP, Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall worked to influence the judicial system to eliminate segregation.

The same principle holds for corporate transformations. When Paul O’Neill set out to turnaround Alcoa in the 1980s, he started by improving workplace safety and, more recently, at Experian, when CIO Barry Libenson set out to move his company to the cloud, he started with internal APIs. In both cases, the stakeholders won over in achieving the keystone change also played a part in bringing about the larger vision.

Lead with Values

Throughout his career, Nelson Mandela was accused of being a communist, an anarchist and worse. Yet when confronted with these, he would always point out that nobody needed to guess what he believed, because it was all written down in the Freedom Charter way back in 1955. Those values signaled to everybody, both inside and outside of the anti-apartheid movement, what they were fighting for.

In a similar vein, when Lou Gerstner arrived at IBM in the early 90s, he saw that the once great company had lost sight of its values. For example, its salespeople were famous for dressing formally, but that was merely an early manifestation of a value. The original idea was to be close to customers and, since most of IBM’s early customers were bankers, salespeople dressed formally. Yet if customers were now wearing khakis, it was okay for IBM’ers to do so as well.

Another long held value at IBM was a competitive spirit, but IBM executives had started to compete with each other internally rather than working to beat the competition. So Gerstner worked to put a stop to the bickering, even firing some high-placed executives who were known for infighting. He made it clear, through personal conversations, emails and other channels that in the new IBM the customer would come first.

What’s important to remember about values is, if they are to be anything more than platitudes, you have to be willing to incur costs to live up to them. When Nelson Mandela rose to power, he couldn’t oppress white South Africans and live up to the values in the Freedom Charter. At IBM, Gerstner was willing to give up potential revenue on some sales to make his commitment to the customer credible.

Build a Network of Small Groups

With attendance at its weekend services exceeding 20,000, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church is one of the largest congregations in the world. Yet much like the March on Washington, the mass of people obscures the networks that underlie the church and are the source of its power.

The heart of Saddleback Church is the prayer groups of six to eight people that meet each week, build strong ties and support each other in matters of faith, family and career. It is the loose connections between these small groups that give Saddleback its combination of massive reach and internal coherence, much like the networks of small groups convened in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the civil rights movement.

One of the key findings of my research into social and political movements is that they are driven by small groups, loosely connected, but united by a common purpose. Perhaps not surprisingly, research has also shown that the structure of networks plays a major role in organizational performance.

That’s why it’s so important to network your organization by building bonds that supersede formal relationships. Experian, for example has built a robust network of clubs, where employees can share a passion, such as bike riding and employee resource groups, that are more focused on identity. While these activities are unrelated to work, the company has found that it helps employees span boundaries in the organization and collaborate more effectively.

All too often, we try to break down silos to improve information flow. That’s almost aways a mistake. To drive a true transformation, you need to connect silos so that they can coordinate action.

Make the Shift from Hierarchies to Networks

In an earlier age, organizations were far more hierarchical. Power rested at the top. Orders went down, information flowed up and decisions we made by a select priesthood of vaunted executives. In today’s highly connected marketplace, that’s untenable. The world has become fast and hierarchies are simply too slow.

That’s especially true when it comes to transformation. It doesn’t matter if the order comes from the top. If the organization itself isn’t prepared, any significant transformation is unlikely to succeed. That’s why you need to lead with vision, establish a keystone change that involves multiple stakeholders and work deliberately to network your organization.

Yet perhaps most importantly, you need to understand that in a networked world, power no longer resides at the top of hierarchies, but emanates from the center of networks. You move to center by continually widening and deepening connections. That’s how you drive a true transformation.

None of this happens overnight. It takes some time. That’s why the desire for change is not nearly as important as the will to prepare for it.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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Planning to Spread

We’ve all seen the viral videos that seemingly come out of nowhere to garner millions of views on YouTube, videos like this one where five people play one guitar singing Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”, which as of this date has garnered more than 163 million video views:

And if you add up all of the other postings of this same video, the total number of video views goes much, much higher.

Now, surely Gotye’s version of the song couldn’t have possibly garnered more views than this viral sensation that Walk Off the Earth’s cover created, could it?

Um, actually it did. To date Gotye’s official video has captured nearly 600 million video views, or nearly FIVE TIMES as many video views. So, it hasn’t turned out all bad for Gotye.

Now you might ask yourself, how could the huge success of the Walk Off the Earth viral campaign be trumped by traditional marketing if viral marketing is supposed to be the silver bullet?

Well, the truth is that whether you pursue traditional marketing and advertising or supposedly “viral” marketing activities, the goals are the same:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Desire
  4. Action

And it is within that first bullet point, that you find the viral component that any marketing activity or any evangelism activity (for innovation, for change, etc.) should always contain – spreadability.

Now, WordPress doesn’t seem to think that spreadability is a word, but let’s assume for a moment that it is and focus on the fact that most of the time, one of your goals in business (and your personal life) is spreadability. Ultimately, in many cases, success is determined by whether or not you can get your idea to spread.

This is true whether we are talking about an IT project, a Six Sigma continuous improvement effort, a change initiative, a Lean event, a marketing campaign, or a project commercializing an invention into a potential innovation.

So, can anyone guarantee that an idea or marketing campaign will spread?

The short answer is no.

Sorry, I wish I had better news for you, but the fact is that nobody can guarantee that your idea or your marketing campaign will go viral. Why?

You’re dealing with humans living in a complicated world. We’re not all built the same and the same person can have different reactions to the same stimulus (driven by mood and context among other things). This can result in a perfectly spreadable idea or message being stopped dead in its tracks, depriving you of all of the potential downstream sharing that you might have been hoping for or counting on.

Sorry, you can’t guarantee spreadability, despite what opportunistic marketing consultants claiming to know the magic formula might tell you.

Spreading ChangeBut, an idea can be built to spread.

And I’d like to share with you a simple framework, for free, that you can download and spread far and wide.

Click here to download the “Planning to Spread” starter worksheet as a PDF.

It’s based on the same priniciples as mind mapping and it will help you start either with a particular node in mind (someone you’d like to reach and influence) and work backwards, identifying both how to evolve your idea to best influence that particular node, and how you might be able to reach them (at the same time). Or you can work from the idea outwards. Focusing primarily on the WHO and the WHY as you move outward.

The key questions to consider as you are “Planning to Spread” your idea are the following:

  1. What is your idea or message? (Does it resonate with my target audience?)
  2. Who are you trying to reach?
  3. How will you reach them?
    • When will they be most receptive to the message or idea?
    • Where will they be most receptive to the message or idea?
  4. Why will they engage? (What value will they get?)
  5. Why will they share? (What value will they derive?)
  6. How will they share?

Working your way thoughtfully through these questions will increase the chances that your idea or message will spread, but they won’t guarantee it. Going through the process however will help you refine your idea or message, help you think through the mechanics of how you might encourage and increase engagement, and may even help you uncover flaws in your idea or message that you missed (and give you a chance to fix them).

Planning to Spread WorksheetHappy spreading!
(and please let me know in the comments below any things I might have missed)

So what am I trying to spread?

Well, in the run up to my second book (this time focusing on the best practices and next practices of organizational change), soon I will be releasing a new collaborative, visual change planning toolkit to help organizations work smarter by planning their change initiatives (and projects) in a less overwhelming, more human way that will help get everyone literally on the same page.

This is the idea that I will be spreading and there are many ways that you can benefit.

One way is by becoming a case study volunteer. I’m looking to select a handful of companies to teach how to use the toolkit for free and feature their experience in my next book on the best practices and next practices of organizational change. If you would like to get a jump on the competition by increasing your speed of change (and your ability to work smarter), register your interest here.

But there are several other ways you can benefit, and all of them can be found here (including upcoming chances for consultants to train on the methodology and boost their revenue and success as they work with their clients around the world to deliver positive change). I’ll be focusing on teaching and tools, not consulting.

What message or idea are you trying to spread?

Accelerate your change and transformation success

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Innovation Quotes of the Day – April 11, 2012

“Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into solutions valued above every existing alternative – and of course widely adopted.”

– Braden Kelley

“Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before.”

– Margaret J. Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science

What are some of your favorite innovation quotes?

Add one or more to the comments, listing the quote and who said it, and I’ll share the best of the submissions as future innovation quotes of the day!

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