Tag Archives: organizational change

Learning to Innovate

Learning to Innovate

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

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

Learning to innovate

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

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

The innovation imperative has shifted

  • Productivity growth needs to accelerate

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

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

  • Adapting to the new net zero reality

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

  • Improving cost efficiencies

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

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

  • Generative Ai is a critical enabler of innovation

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

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

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

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

The innovation imperative is paradoxical.

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

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

  • Thinking and acting differently

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

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

Learning to innovate requires a radical strategic shift

  • Harnessing collective intelligence

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

  • Revealing and closing knowing-doing gaps

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

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

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

Innovation requires a strategic and systemic focus

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

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

Commitment and conviction to learn to innovate

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

Image Credit: Pexels

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Nike Should Stop Blaming Working from Home for Their Innovation Struggles

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“But even more importantly, our employees were working from home for two and a half years.  And in hindsight, it turns out, it’s really hard to do bold, disruptive innovation, to develop a boldly disruptive shoe on Zoom.” – John Donahoe, Nike CEO

I am so glad CNBC’s interview with Nike’s CEO didn’t hit my feed until Friday afternoon. It sent me into a rage spiral that I am just barely emerging from. Seriously, I think my neighbors heard the string of expletives I unleashed after reading that quote, and it wasn’t because it was a lovely day and the windows were open.

Blaming remote work for lack of innovation is cowardly. And factually wrong.

I’m not the only one giving Mr. Donahoe some side-eye for this comment.  “There were a whole bunch of brands who really thrived during and post-pandemic even though they were working remotely,” Matt Powell, advisor for Spurwink River and a senior advisor at BCE Consulting, told Footwear News.  “So I’m not sure that we that we can blame remote work here on Nike’s issues.”

There’s data to back that up.

In 2023, Mark (Shuai) Ma, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and Yuye Ding, a PhD student at the university’s Katz Graduate School of Business, set out to empirically determine the causes and effects of a firm’s decision to mandate a return to work (RTO).  They collected RTO mandate data from over 100 firms in the S&P 500, worked backward to identify what drove the decision, and monitored and measured the firm’s results after employees returned to work.

Their findings are stark: no significant changes in financial performance for firm value after RTO mandates and significant declines in employee job satisfaction.  As Ma told Fortune, “Overall, our results do not support these mandates to increase firm values.  Instead, these findings are consistent with managers using RTO mandates to reassert control over employees and blame employees as a scapegoat for firm bad performance.”

Or to justify spending more than $1B to double the size of its Beaverton, OR campus.

When you start blaming employees, you stop being a leader.

CEOs make and approve big, impactful, complex, high-stakes decisions.  That’s why they get paid the big bucks.  It’s also why, as Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” 

Let’s examine some of the decisions Mr. Donahue made or supported that maybe (definitely) had a more significant impact on innovation than working from home two days a week.

Ignoring customers, consumers, and the market: Nike has a swagger that occasionally strays into arrogance.  They set trends, steer culture, and dictate the rules of the game. They also think that gives them the right to stop listening to athletes, retailers, and consumers, as evidenced by the recently revealed Team USA Track & Field uniforms, the decision to stop selling through major retailers like Macy’s and Olympia Sports, and invest more in “hype, limited releases, and old school retro drops” than the technology and community that has consumers flocking to smaller brands like Hoka and Brooks.

Laying off 2% of its workforce: Anyone who has ever been through a layoff senses it’s coming months before the announcement and the verdicts are rendered.  Psychological safety, feeling safe in your environment, is a required element for risk-taking and innovation.  It’s hard to feel safe when saying goodbye to 1500 colleagues (and wondering if/when you’ll join them).

Investing too much in the core: Speaking of safety, in uncertain times, it’s tempting to pour every resource into the core business because the ROI is “known.” Nike gave in to that temptation, and consumers and analysts noticed.  Despite recent new product announcements like the Air Max DN, Pegasus Premium, and Pegasus 41, “analysts point out these ‘new’ innovations rely too much on existing franchises.”

Innovation is a leadership problem that only leaders can solve

Being a CEO or any other senior executive is hard. The past four years have been anything but ordinary, and running a business while navigating a global pandemic, multiple societal upheavals, two wars, and an uncertain economy is almost impossible.

Bosses blame.  Leaders inspire. 

Mr. Donohue just showed us which one he is.  Which one are you?

One MORE thing

This is a losing battle, but STOP USING “DISRUPTIVE” INCORRECTLY!!!!  “Disruptive Innovation,” as defined by Clayton Christensen, who literally coined the phrase, is an innovation that appeals to non-consumers and is cheaper and often lower quality than existing competitors.

Nike is a premium brand that makes premium shoes for premium athletes.  Employees could spend 24/7/365 in the office, and Nike would never develop and launch a “boldly disruptive shoe.”

Image credit: Pixabay

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Time is a Flat Circle

Jamie Dimon’s Comments on AI Just Proved It

Time is a Flat Circle

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton


“Time is a flat circle.  Everything we have done or will do we will do over and over and over and over again – forever.” –- Rusty Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, in True Detective

For the whole of human existence, we have created new things with no idea if, when, or how they will affect humanity, society, or business.  New things can be a distraction, sucking up time and money and offering nothing in return.  Or they can be a bridge to a better future.

As a leader, it’s your job to figure out which things are a bridge (i.e., innovation) and which things suck (i.e., shiny objects).

Innovation is a flat circle

The concept of eternal recurrence, that time repeats itself in an infinite loop, was first taught by Pythagoras (of Pythagorean theorem fame) in the 6th century BC. It remerged (thereby proving its own truth) in Friedreich Nietzsche’s writings in the 19th century, then again in 2014’s first season of True Detective, and then again on Monday in Jamie Dimon’s Annual Letter to Shareholders.

Mr. Dimon, the CEO and Chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co, first mentioned AI in his 2017 Letter to Shareholders.  So, it wasn’t the mention of AI that was newsworthy. It was how it was mentioned.  Before mentioning geopolitical risks, regulatory issues, or the recent acquisition of First Republic, Mr. Dimon spends nine paragraphs talking about AI, its impact on banking, and how JPMorgan Chase is responding.

Here’s a screenshot of the first two paragraphs:

JP Morgan Annual Letter 2017

He’s right. We don’t know “the full effect or the precise rate at which AI will change our business—or how it will affect society at large.” We were similarly clueless in 1436 (when the printing press was invented), 1712 (when the first commercially successful steam engine was invented), 1882 (when electricity was first commercially distributed), and 1993 (when the World Wide Web was released to the public).

Innovation, it seems, is also a flat circle.

Our response doesn’t have to be.

Historically, people responded to innovation in one of two ways: panic because it’s a sign of the apocalypse or rejoice because it will be our salvation. And those reactions aren’t confined to just “transformational” innovations.  In 2015, a visiting professor at Kings College London declared that the humble eraser (1770) was “an instrument of the devil” because it creates “a culture of shame about error.  It’s a way of lying to the world, which says, ‘I didn’t make a mistake.  I got it right the first time.’”

Neither reaction is true. Fortunately, as time passes, more people recognize that the truth is somewhere between the apocalypse and salvation and that we can influence what that “between” place is through intentional experimentation and learning.

JPMorgan started experimenting with AI over a decade ago, well before most of its competitors.  As a result, they “now have over 400 use cases in production in areas such as marketing, fraud, and risk” that are producing quantifiable financial value for the company. 

It’s not just JPMorgan.  Organizations as varied as John Deere, BMW, Amazon, the US Department of Energy, Vanguard, and Johns Hopkins Hospital have been experimenting with AI for years, trying to understand if and how it could improve their operations and enable them to serve customers better.  Some experiments worked.  Some didn’t.  But every company brave enough to try learned something and, as a result, got smarter and more confident about “the full effect or the precise rate at which AI will change our business.”

You have free will.  Use it to learn.

Cynics believe that time is a flat circle.  Leaders believe it is an ever-ascending spiral, one in which we can learn, evolve, and influence what’s next.  They also have the courage to act on (and invest in) that belief.

What do you believe?  More importantly, what are you doing about it?

Image credit: Pixabay

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Do You Find Growth By Searching, Seeking, or Stalking?

Do You Find Growth By Searching, Seeking, or Stalking?

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Growth is the lifeblood of any organization, and the quest for growth opportunities is not just a strategic imperative. It is a fundamental necessity because the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities is a game-changer for companies wanting to achieve sustainable success and stay ahead of the competition. 

The challenge, however, is that not all opportunities are the same – some are head-smackingly obvious, while others are like trying to nail down JELL-O.  Yet companies take a “one size fits all” approach to finding, developing, and capitalizing on them.

SEARCH when need to transform

What do you do when you need information but don’t know precisely what you need and certainly don’t know where to find it? You Google it or, in less-branded terms, you search for it. 

When searching for growth opportunities, you’re looking for something but don’t know exactly what you need or where you’ll find it.  Finding opportunities requires you to go beyond traditional market analysis and adopt a learner’s mindset to see ways to disrupt the status quo, challenge existing paradigms, and create new value propositions for your customers.

Searching is a creative process that entails investing in R&D, fostering a culture of intrapreneurship, and experimenting with new technologies. It requires a culture of creativity, experimentation, and agility to adapt to changing market dynamics.  You have to be willing to be wrong on your way to being right, to move slowly so you can act quickly, and to throw out the timeline to harness the game-changing opportunity.

SEEK when you need to innovate

What do you do when you know what you need and generally where to find it?  You seek it out – you go to where you think it will be, and, on the off-chance it’s not there, you pivot to Option B.

When you’re seeking growth opportunities, you have a target in mind but are not 100% sure how to hit it.  Maybe you know you want to enter a new geography, but you need to figure out how to do it successfully and avoid the mistakes of previous entrants.  Maybe it’s a new industry or category, but you must understand if and how to do it without disrupting your existing business model.

Seeking is both creative and analytical.  You look for data and market intelligence, interview experts and individuals, analyze industry trends and explore untapped segments. It also requires you to stay open to surprises and new possibilities and take calculated risks to capitalize on emerging trends or consumer preferences.  Like searching, it requires patience.  Unlike searching, it respects a deadline.

STALK when you need to improve

Just like a lioness stalking a wildebeest, you do this when you see an opportunity and know exactly how to capture it. Yes, there will be zigs and zags along the way, and an unexpected competitor may pop up. But this is who you are and what you do. 

When stalking opportunities, you bring the full value and power of your experience, expertise, resources, and capabilities to bear on an opportunity.  This may happen when you’re operating and improving your core business.  It may also occur after you’ve searched (and found) an opportunity, sought (and decided on) a strategy, and now you have the confidence to launch and scale.

Do Your Approaches Align with Your Goals?

Most companies say that they want to transform. Still, very few have the patience or intestinal fortitude to search because there is no Google for Transformation that produces the exact plan you need to transform successfully.

Companies also tend to stalk when they want to innovate, leaving opportunities to change the game and build sustainable competitive advantage on the sideline because they’re too uncertain or take too long.

Growth requires all three approaches – search, seek, and stalk – but only happens when your chosen approach aligns with your goals.

Image credit: Pexels

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Five Lessons from the Apple Car’s Demise

Five Lessons from the Apple Car's Demise

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In 2014, rumors started to circulate that Apple was developing a self-driving autonomous car to compete with Tesla.  At the end of February 2024, rumors circulated that Apple was shutting down “Project Titan,” its car program. According to multiple media outlets, the only logical conclusion from the project’s death is that this decision signals the beginning of the end of Apple.

As much as I enjoy hyperbole and unnecessary drama, the truth is far more mundane.

The decision was just another day in the life of an innovation.

As always, there is a silver lining to this car-shaped cloud: the lessons we can learn from Apple’s efforts.

Lesson 1: Innovation isn’t all rainbows and unicorns

People think innovation is fun.  It is.  It is also gut-wrenching, frustrating, and infuriating.  Doing something new requires taking risks, which is uncomfortable for most people.  Even more challenging is that, more often than not, when you take a risk, you “fail.” (if you learned something, you didn’t fail, but that’s another article). 

What you can do: Focus on the good stuff – moments of discovery, adventures when experimenting, signs that you’re making life better for others – but don’t forget that you’re defying the odds.

Lesson 2: More does not mean success

It’s been reported that Apple spent over ten billion dollars on Project Titan and that over 2000 people were working on it before it was canceled. With a market cap of over two trillion dollars, a billion dollars a year isn’t even a rounding error. But it’s still an eye-popping number, which makes Apple’s decision to cut its losses downright courageous.

What you can do: Be on guard for the sunk-cost fallacy.  It’s easy to believe that you’ll eventually succeed if you keep working and pouring resources into a project.  That’s not true, as Apple experienced.  And in the rare cases when it is, executives are often left wondering if the success was worth the cost.

Lesson 3: Pivot based on data, not opinions

At least four different executives led Project Titan during its decade in development, and each leader brought their own vision for what the Apple Car should be.  First, it was an electric vehicle with driver assistance that would compete with Tesla.  Next, it was a self-driving car to compete with Google’s WayMo.  Then, plans for fully autonomous driving were canceled. Finally, the team returned to its original target of matching Tesla’s Level 2 automation.  

Changes in project objectives, strategies, and execution plans are necessary for innovation, so there’s nothing obviously wrong with these pivots.  But the fact that they tended to happen when a new leader was appointed (and that Jony Ive caused an 18-month hiring freeze simply by expressing “displeasure”) makes me question how data-based these pivots actually were

What you can do: Be willing to change but have a high standard for what is required to cause a change.  Data, even qualitative and anecdotal data, should be seriously considered.  The opinion of a single executive, not so much.

Lesson 4: Dream big, build small

Apple certainly dreamed big with its aspirations to build a fully semi-autonomous vehicle and it poured billions into developing and testing the sensors, batteries, and partnership required to make it a reality.  But it was never all-or-nothing in its pursuit of the automotive industry.  Apple introduced CarPlay the same year it kicked off Project Titan, and it continues to offer regular updates to the system.  Car Key was announced in 2020 and is now offered by BMW, Genesis, Hyundai, and Kia.

What you can do: Take a portfolio approach towards your overall innovation portfolio (Apple kept working on the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Vision Pro) and within each project.  It’s not unusual that a part of the project turns out to be more valuable than the whole project.

Lesson 5: ___________________________

Yes, that is a fill-in-the-blank because I want to hear from you. What lesson are you taking away from Project Titan’s demise, and how will it make you a better innovator?

Image credit: Dall-E via Bing

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How I Use AI to Understand Humans

(and Cut Research Time by 80%)

How I Use AI to Understand Humans

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

AI is NOT a substitute for person-to-person discovery conversations or Jobs to be Done interviews.

But it is a freakin’ fantastic place to start…if you do the work before you start.

Get smart about what’s possible

When ChatGPT debuted, I had a lot of fun playing with it, but never once worried that it would replace qualitative research.  Deep insights, social and emotional Jobs to be Done, and game-changing surprises only ever emerge through personal conversation.  No matter how good the Large Language Model (LLM) is, it can’t tell you how feelings, aspirations, and motivations drive their decisions.

Then I watched JTBD Untangled’s video with Evan Shore, WalMart’s Senior Director of Product for Health & Wellness, sharing the tests, prompts, and results his team used to compare insights from AI and traditional research approaches.

In a few hours, he generated 80% of the insights that took nine months to gather using traditional methods.

Get clear about what you want and need.

Before getting sucked into the latest shiny AI tools, get clear about what you expect the tool to do for you.  For example:

  • Provide a starting point for research: I used the free version of ChatGPT to build JTBD Canvas 2.0 for four distinct consumer personas.  The results weren’t great, but they provided a helpful starting point.  I also like Perplexity because even the free version links to sources.
  • Conduct qualitative research for meI haven’t used it yet, but a trusted colleague recommended Outset.ai, a service that promises to get to the Why behind the What because of its ability to “conduct and synthesize video, audio, and text conversations.”
  • Synthesize my research and identify insights: An AI platform built explicitly for Jobs to be Done Research?  Yes, please!  That’s precisely what JobLens claims to be, and while I haven’t used it in a live research project, I’ve been impressed by the results of my experiments.  For non-JTBD research, Otter.ai is the original and still my favorite tool for recording, live transcription, and AI-generated summaries and key takeaways.
  • Visualize insights:  MuralMiro, and FigJam are the most widely known and used collaborative whiteboards, all offering hundreds of pre-formatted templates for personas, journey maps, and other consumer research templates.  Another colleague recently sang the praises of theydo, an AI tool designed specifically for customer journey mapping.

Practice your prompts

“Garbage in.  Garbage out.” Has never been truer than with AI.  Your prompts determine the accuracy and richness of the insights you’ll get, so don’t wait until you’ve started researching to hone them.  If you want to start from scratch, you can learn how to write super-effective prompts here and here.  If you’d rather build on someone else’s work, Brian at JobsLens has great prompt resources. 

Spend time testing and refining your prompts by using a previous project as a starting point.  Because you know what the output should be (or at least the output you got), you can keep refining until you get a prompt that returns what you expect.    It can take hours, days, or even weeks to craft effective prompts, but once you have them, you can re-use them for future projects.

Defend your budget

Using AI for customer research will save you time and money, but it is not free. It’s also not just the cost of the subscription or license for your chosen tool(s).  

Remember the 80% of insights that AI surfaced in the JTBD Untangled video?  The other 20% of insights came solely from in-person conversations but comprised almost 100% of the insights that inspired innovative products and services.

AI can only tell you what everyone already knows. You need to discover what no one knows, but everyone feels.  That still takes time, money, and the ability to connect with humans.

Run small experiments before making big promises

People react to change differently.  Some will love the idea of using AI for customer research, while others will resist with.  Everyone, however, will pounce on any evidence that they’re right.  So be prepared.  Take advantage of free trials to play with tools.  Test tools on friends, family, and colleagues.  Then under-promise and over-deliver.

AI is a starting point.  It is not the ending point. 

I’m curious, have you tried using AI for customer research?  What tools have you tried? Which ones do you recommend?

Image credit: Unsplash

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Predicting Unintended Consequences

The 93% Rule

Predicting Unintended Consequences

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Unintended consequences often catch us off guard despite their predictability.  The moment they occur, we gasp in shock, shake our heads, and look at each other in wide-eyed horror at this thing that just happened that we could never ever ever have anticipated. 

Yet, when (if) we do an After-Action Review, we often realize that these consequences were not entirely unforeseeable. In fact, had we anticipated them, we might have made different decisions.

The Unintended Consequences of Spreadsheets

In 1800 BCE, ancient Babylonians started recording data by scratching grids and columns onto clay tablets, and the spreadsheet was born.  Over the millennia, we went from clay tablets to papyrus to parchment and then paper. 

Fast forward to 1963 when R. Brian Walsh of Marquette University ported the Business Computer Language (BCL) program to an IBM 7040, and electronic spreadsheets became a reality.  The introduction of VisiCalc by Apple in 1979 revolutionized spreadsheet capabilities, followed by Lotus 123 and Microsoft Excel. Today, spreadsheets are ubiquitous in education, business operations, financial markets, budgeting, and even personal inventories.

Unintended yet predictable consequences

While spreadsheets have undoubtedly enhanced efficiency and accuracy compared to traditional methods like clay tablets or hand-drawn tables on parchment, their ease of use has inadvertently led to complacency.

We stopped engaging in a multi-millennial habit of discussing, debating, and deciding before making a spreadsheet. We started flippantly asking people to create spreadsheets and providing little, if any, guidance because “it’s easy to make changes and run scenarios.”

This shift resulted in a reliance on automated models and a lack of shared assumptions or analytical rigor in decision-making processes.

Of course, these behaviors were never intended.  They were, however, very predictable.

93% of Human Behavior is predictable.

Research spanning disciplines as varied as network scientists, anthropology, neuropsychology, and paleontology shines a light on how truly predictable we are.

Here are some examples:

Emotions before Reason: Ask someone if they make decisions based on their motivations, aspirations, and fears and use data to justify the decisions, and they’ll tell you no. Ask them the last time someone else made a decision that “made no sense,” and you’ll listen to a long list of examples.

Small gains now are better than big gains later: Thoughtfully planning before using solutions like spreadsheets, word processing, email, and instant messaging could save us time at work and help us get home 30 minutes earlier or work a few hours less on the weekend.  But saving a few seconds now by brain-dumping into Word, setting up a “flexible” spreadsheet, and firing off a text feels much better.

Confidence > Realism: We’ve all been in meetings where the loudest voice or the most senior person’s opinion carried the day.  As we follow their lead, we ignore signs that we’re wrong and explain away unexpected and foreboding outcomes until we either wake up to our mistakes or adjust to our new circumstances.

Predict the 93%. Create for the 7%

Acknowledging the predictability of human behavior is not an endorsement of stereotypes but a recognition of our innate cognitive processes. By incorporating this understanding into design, innovation, and decision-making processes, we better anticipate potential outcomes and mitigate unintended consequences.

While 93% of human behavior may follow predictable patterns rooted in evolutionary instincts, focusing on the remaining 7% allows for the exploration of unique behaviors and novel solutions.  By embracing both aspects of human nature, we can navigate challenges more effectively and anticipate a broader range of outcomes in our endeavors, leading to informed decision-making and value creation.

Now, if I could only get Excel to stop auto-converting numbers into date/time format.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Positive Power of Negative Emotions Drive Change

Positive Power of Negative Emotions Drive Change

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You want to make life better for others. This desire is reflected in the optimism and positivity of your language – create value, love the problem, and delight the customer.  But making life better requires change, and, as the adage goes, “People want change, but they don’t want to be changed.”

You are confident that the solution you created will make life better and that the change people need to make is quite small and painless, well worth the dramatic improvement you offer.  Yet they resist.  No amount of explaining, showing, convincing, or cajoling changes their mind.  What else can you do?

To quote Darth Vader, “Give yourself to the Dark Side.  It is the only way to save your friends.”

“If only you knew the power of the Dark Side…”

The Dark Side is populated by “negative” emotions like anger, fear, and frustration, which are incredibly powerful.

Consider that:

Unfortunately, these are also some of the first emotions experienced when confronting change.   

Change requires people to let go of what they know in exchange for the promise of something better.  This immediately triggers Loss Aversion, the cognitive bias in which the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. 

As a result, people won’t let go of what they know until the pain of holding on becomes unbearable.  When you point out the problems and pain of the current situation, you help people understand and experience the unbearableness of the current situation. 

“Anger, fear, aggression; the Dark Side of the Force are they”

Not every “negative” emotion elicits the same behavior, so carefully choose the one to tap into.

Fear motivates people to seek safety, which can be good if your solution truly offers a safer alternative.  It’s a motivator used well by companies such as Volvo, SimpliSafe, and Graco.  But lean on it too much, and people may feel overwhelmed and remain frozen to the status quo.

Anger motivates people to take risks, which can be good when the change requires bold decisions and dogged persistence.  It can be great when it bonds people together to achieve a shared goal or protect a common value.  Apple used this emotion to brilliant effect in its famous “1984” commercial announcing the launch of Macintosh.  But incite too much anger, and things can get broken and not in a helpful way like Apple’s ad.

Frustration, one of the emotions that often drives aggression, is anger’s polite little sister.  When people feel frustrated, they’re likely to act, persistently pursue solutions, and creatively approach and overcome obstacles.  But if the change is big, feels scary, and puts their sense of self at risk, frustration isn’t powerful enough to convince people to let go of the old and embrace the new.

“If you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

Yoda is incredibly wise, but he gets this one wrong.  Using the Dark Side to speak to people’s “negative” emotions doesn’t doom you to a life or career of fear-mongering or inciting violence.  Start here, don’t stay here.

Multiple research studies show that positive emotions, like hope and joy, are more powerful than negative ones in maintaining motivation and even enable more creative thinking and problem-solving.  By speaking to both negative and positive emotions, the Dark Side and the Light, you enable change by giving people a reason to let go of the past and a future worth reaching for.

When people stop resisting and start reaching to the future you’re offering, change happens, and you realize that Yoda was right, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Image credit: Pixabay

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Good Intentions Pave the Way to Innovation Hell

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

Good Intentions Pave the Way to Innovation Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line

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

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

But that’s better than where it could go.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Thinking Differently About Leadership and Innovation

Thinking Differently About Leadership and Innovation

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

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

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

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

Leadership is in crisis

We are experiencing a global leadership crisis.

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

  • Hitting a pause button

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

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

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

Leadership blind spots

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

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

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

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

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

  • Source of leadership blind spots

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

Leadership Consciousness

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

  • Igniting the brain

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


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

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

Power of Coaching Intervention

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

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

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

  • Noticing, disrupting, disputing, and deviating

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

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

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

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

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

Upskilling our brains!

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

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

Closing leadership blind spots to adapt, innovate and grow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding value to the quality of peoples’ lives

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

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

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

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

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

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

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