Tag Archives: time

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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Time is Not Fundamental

Time is Not Fundamental

GUEST POST from Geoffrey A. Moore

For all my life I have been taught that time is the fourth dimension in a space-time continuum. I mean, for goodness sake, Einstein said this was so, and all of physics has followed his lead. Nonetheless, I want to argue that, while the universe may indeed have four dimensions, time is not one of them, nor is it a fundamental element of reality.

Before you think I have really jumped off the deep end, let me just say that my claim is that motion is a fundamental element of reality, and it is the one that time is substituting for. This is based simply on observation. That is, we can observe and measure mass. We can observe and measure space. We can observe and measure energy. We can observe and measure motion. Time, on the other hand, is simply a tool we have developed to measure motion. That is, motion is fundamental, and time is derived.

Consider where our concept of time came from. It started with three distinct units—the day, the month, and the year. Each is based on a cyclical motion—the earth turning around its axis, the moon encircling the earth, the earth and moon encircling the sun. All three of these cyclical motions have the property of returning to their starting point. They repeat, over and over and over. That’s how they came to our attention in the first place.

If we call this phenomenon cyclical time, we can contrast it with linear time. The latter is time we experience as passing, the one to which we apply the terms past, present, and future. But in fact, what is passing is not time but motion, motion we are calibrating by time. That is, we use the cyclical units of time to measure the linear distance between any given motion and a reference location.

As I discuss in The Infinite Staircase, by virtue of the Big Bang, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the ongoing rush to greater and greater entropy, the universe is inherently in motion. Some of that motion gets redirected to do work, and some of that work has resulted life emerging on our planet. Motion is intrinsic to our experience of life, much more so than time. As babies we have no sense of time, but we immediately experience mass, space, energy, and motion.

Because mass, space, energy, and motion are core to our experience, we have developed tools to help us engage with them strategically. We can weigh mass and reshape it in myriad ways to serve our ends. We can measure space using anything as a standard length and create structures of whatever size and shape we need. We can measure energy in terms of temperature and pressure and manipulate it to move all kinds of masses through all kinds of spaces. And we can measure motion through space by using standard units of time.

The equation for so doing is typically written as v = d/t. This equation makes us believe that velocity is a concept derived from the primitives of distance and time. But a more accurate way of looking at reality is to say t = d/v. That is, we can observe distance and motion, from which we derive time. If you have a wristwatch with a second hand, this is easily confirmed. A minute consists of a wand traveling through a fixed angular distance, 360°, at a constant velocity set by convention, in this case the International System of Units, these days atomically calibrated by specified number of oscillations of cesium. Time is derived by dividing a given distance by a given velocity.

OK, so what? Here the paths of philosophy and physics diverge, with me being able to pursue the former but not the latter. Before parting, however, I would like to ask the physicists in the room, should there be any, a question: If one accepted the premise that motion was the fourth dimension, not time, such that we described the universe as a continuum of spacemotion instead of spacetime, would that make any difference? Specifically, with respect to Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity, are we just substituting terms here, or are there material consequences? I would love to learn what you think.

At my end, I am interested in the philosophical implications of this question, specifically in relation to phenomenology, the way we experience time. To begin, I want to take issue with the following definition of time served up by Google:

a nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future.

From my perspective, this is just wrong. It calls for using events to measure time. The correct approach would focus on using time to measure motion, describing the situation as follows:

an intra-spatial continuum that can be measured in terms of time as one event succeeds another from a position of higher energy to one of lower energy.

The motive for this redefinition is to underscore that the universe is inherently in motion, following the Second Law of thermodynamics, perpetually seeking to cool itself down by spreading itself out. We here on Earth are born into the midst of that action, boats set afloat upon a river, moving with the current on the way to a sea of ultimate cool. We can go with the flow, we can paddle upstream, we can even divert the river of entropy to siphon off energy to do work. The key point to register is that motion abides, inexorably following the arrow of entropy, moving from hot to cold until heat death is achieved.

If motion is a primary dimension of the universe, there can be no standing still. Phenomenologically, this is quite different from the traditional time-based perspective. In a universe of space and time, events have to be initiated, and one can readily imagine a time with no events, a time when nothing happens, maybe something along the lines of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In a universe of space and motion, however, that is impossible. There are always events, and we are always in the midst of doing. A couch potato is as immersed in events as a race car driver. Or, to paraphrase Milton, they also move who only stand and wait.

A second consequence of the spacemotion continuum is that there is no such thing as eternity and no such thing as infinity. Nothing can exist outside the realm of change, and the universe is limited to whatever amount of energy was released at the Big Bang. Now, to be fair, from a phenomenological perspective, the dimensions of the universe are so gigantic that, experientially, they might as well be infinite and eternal. But from a philosophical perspective, the categories of eternity and infinity are not ontologically valid. They are asymptotes not entities.

Needless to say, all this flies in the face of virtually every religion that has ever taken root in human history. As someone deeply committed to traditional ethics, I am grateful to all religions for supporting ethical action and an ethical mindset. If there were no other way to secure ethics, then I would opt for religion for sure. But we know a lot more about the universe today than we did several thousand years ago, and so there is at least an opportunity to forge a modern narrative, one that can find in secular metaphysics a foundation for traditional values. That’s what The Infinite Staircase is seeking to do.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Time for Innovation

Why keeping an eye on the clock matters in the world of bright ideas

Image: Dall-E via Bing

GUEST POST from John Bessant

On 29th September 1707 a fleet of 21 ships under the command of Admiral Cloudesley Shovell was returning from Gibraltar where it had been supporting action during the long-running war with the French. Crossing the Bay of Biscay the weather grew worse and they were struggling to make their home port of Plymouth in the south-west of England. At around 6pm they believed they were in safe waters but in fact were heading on to the rocks near St Agnes’s Bay in the Scilly Islands — fifty miles west of where they thought they were. Four ships were lost in the disaster including HMS Association, the flagship of the fleet which carried Sir Cloudesley and over 1400 other sailors to their deaths. It was one of the worst naval disasters to befall the British Navy.

And an avoidable one. The problem — which urgent follow-up enquiries highlighted — was familiar. The ships were lost because the experienced seamen steering them didn’t know where they were. Navigating the rocky coastline with hidden shelves and shallows depended on accurate awareness of position — but the methods available at the time weren’t up to it. Depth soundings could help but the key missing ingredient was an accurate measurement of longitude. For which they needed a reliable timepiece on board; despite an array of clocks and pocket watches the technology wasn’t good enough to maintain an accurate sense of the time relative to the Greenwich clock on which all naval longitude is based. Time slipped away — and with it any clear sense of where they were.

Cue one of many early innovation contests — attempts at crowdsourcing a good solution to the problem as fast as possible. The British government offered a huge prize of £20,000 in 1714 equivalent in today’s money to around £3m) to anyone who could construct a clock that would enable sailors to calculate their longitude at sea with an accuracy of within half a degree. It was famously won by John Harrison, a carpenter by trade who spent over twenty years working on the problem, producing four models of chronometer each improving on the previous one. His H4 model finally achieved the accuracy and reliability required and he duly won the prize. More important he — and the many others working on the problem — changed the face of seaborne navigation forever.

Image: Dall-E via Bing

We’re used to thinking about the Industrial Revolution in terms of Britain as the ‘workshop of the world’, driven by a steady stream of manufacturing technology innovations coming from men like Arkwright, Wedgwood, Boulton and Watt. But we should add the clockmakers to that list; without them the workshop of the world would not have been able to get its wares reliably to anywhere but the closest markets. Their innovation heralded the first wave of globalisation in world trade and we’re still building on that legacy.

Nor was their effort confined to seaborne navigation in its impact; with reliable clocks it became possible to standardise time itself. Prior to 1880 different cities in the UK kept different versions of time, each geared to a local standard timepiece. But the introduction of standardised time, all linked to Greenwich Mean time allowed for important shifts like the expansion of railways with trains running on a clear and predictable timetable.

Time is in many ways a key part of the enabling infrastructure, a foundation on which so much innovation can be built. Like today’s internet it enables things to happen which would not have been possible before — and in similar fashion the early days spent innovating towards a reliable infrastructure represent an important but often neglected innovation history.

So time deserves credit as a macro-level innovation enabler — but it also has an impressive history at the micro-level in terms of its innovation impact. In 1909 Frederick Taylor published his book on ‘The principles of Scientific Management’ which became, (in the view of the 2001 members of the Academy of Management) the most influential book on management ever. His principles laid the foundations for the ways in which factories and later many service businesses were constructed and operated and paved the way for Henry Ford’s mass production model. At heart the approach involved applying rigorous engineering principles to the flow and execution of activities throughout a process and they still underpin much of the industrial engineering curriculum today.

Its impact was huge — for example in Ford’s Highland Park factory where he began experimenting towards the model using Taylor’s ideas, the productivity gains were stunning. In the first assembly line, installed in 1913 for flywheel production for the Model T, the assembly time fell from 20 man minutes to 5. By 1914 three lines were being used in the chassis department to reduce assembly time from around 12 hours to less than 2.

Model A Ford 1928 Wikimedia Commons

Key contributors to enabling this to happen were an American couple, Frank and Lilian Gilbreth. They worked on what became known as ‘time and motion study’, analysing and breaking down work processes into individual motions, and then eliminating unnecessary motions to improve efficiency. (They also followed in the above illustrious tradition of creating reliable timepieces, in their case developing the micro-chronometer, a clock that could record time to the 1/2000th of a second).

The image of stop watches and clipboards goes back to their influence — and while (like Taylor) their work often receives a negative press (think Charlie Chaplin in the film ‘Modern Times’ in which he is literally caught up in the machine and under enormous time pressure), the reality is that the Gilbreth’s enabled major improvements not just in productivity but in working conditions and employee satisfaction.

They were early but key figures in what later became ‘lean thinking’ — essentially reducing unnecessary waste, especially in movement. Ergonomics owes a lot to their measurement approach which charmingly gave us a unit of measurement — the ‘therblig’ (Gilbreth spelled backwards) which they applied to analyse a set of 18 elemental motions involved in performing a task in the workplace. These elements include movements such as reach, move, grasp, release, load, use, assemble, and disassemble, as well as unnecessary ones like hold, rest, position, search, select, plan, unavoidable delay, avoidable delay, and inspect.

Paying attention to detail, especially around the time taken to carry out a task, and then redesigning it to reduce wasteful effort, movement, queuing, temporary storage, etc. lies at the heart of another revolutionary process innovation — lean thinking. Pioneered in Japanese factories during the post-war years lean is essentially a focus on waste elimination through the application of core principles and key tools. Amongst the ‘seven deadly wastes’ which lean focuses on is time — and not surprisingly the toolkit which emerges from that places a premium on reducing unnecessary expenditure of that precious commodity.

For example one of the early challenges to the emerging car industry was set-up time. With giant machines capable of pressing a piece of steel into the required shape the ability to make different models depends on how quickly those presses can be set-up for a new job. In the early days this typically took up to a day to reset; now (using the widely-applied techniques originally pioneered by Shigeo Shingo and captured in his excitingly titled book ‘Single minute exchange of die — the SMED system’) that time is routinely counted in single minutes.

The implications of this reach far beyond the car factory. Anywhere where rapid changeover of a key resource is needed can benefit from the approach — and has done. Formula 1 pitstop teams can ‘reset’ an entire car with new tyres, fuel and many other changes within seconds. Hospital operating theatres can maximise the productive (and life-saving) time for operations by applying the principles to changeovers. And the revolution in short-haul flying which we have seen in recent decades owes a great deal to the simple performance metric of turnaround time — how fast can a plane land, empty , be cleaned, refuelled and refilled with passengers and take off again? Southwest Airlines have held the crown for years with turnaround times typically around 15 minutes.

Saving time is at one end of an innovation spectrum — it’s worth looking at because wasted time adds no value and saving it enhances productivity. But there’s another end of this spectrum, one which William McKnight discovered in his work at 3M in their early years. It’s all about spending time.

Innovation is about ideas and sometimes coming up with the good ones , the ones which may offer a whole new angle on a problem, needs time for the innovation to incubate. He observed that by giving people a sense of having a little extra time in which they could play around paid off for the company. His 15% policy did just that, giving people the sense that they have time to think and explore without needing to show productivity — the opposite of the tightly-controlled time of the Gilbreths.

(In reality this didn’t cost much in the way of lost productivity since McKnight observed that 15% of a working day, is taken up with coffee and tea breaks, lunch and other time. Plus people don’t religiously take their 15% and then stop thinking about their innovation; most give much more of their own thinking time for free!)

Breakthroughs (of which 3M has many to be proud of) come more frequently if people have time to think — which is why the approach has been successfully adopted by many other organizations. Google, for example, links many major innovations like Gmail to allowing their engineers to spend 20% of their time on their own projects.

There’s another reason why time pressure shouldn’t always be too strong in the innovation area. By its nature innovation is uncertain — which means that we need to experiment and things will go wrong which need time to explore and fix. But sometimes the project level pressure is too strong — prestige, racing the competition, the need to meet performance targets — there are plenty of culprits turning the temporal screws. Think about the fateful Challenger space shuttle explosion back in 1986 which eventually was blamed on a faulty O-ring seal. But importantly — as the Rogers commission of enquiry commented later — it wasn’t the component which was the problem but the system which put so much pressure on the engineers to push past it and press ahead.

That’s sadly not a new tale; the novelist Nevil Shute spent much of his early life working in the aircraft industry and had first hand experience of the race to design an airship. In response to the German dominance with their Zeppelin designs in the 1920s the British government pushed for a challenger and backed two projects, the R-100 which was built on a shoestring by Shute’s company and the other the R-101 which was built with government resources. The latter had all the advantages of unlimited resources and budget but that came with enormous political pressure to get the job done — and fast.

Image: National Archives UK

Sadly on a test flight in 1930 the R101 ploughed into a French hillside killing all on board. Once again the enquiry found that the engineers had been pushed to cut corners and ignore safety concerns; Shute and his fellow engineers had enormous sympathy for the difficult situation in which their R101 colleagues had found themselves. As he describes in his book ‘Slide Rule’

‘The R101 team was working under impossible conditions; they had to design and build an airship that was larger and more complex than anything ever attempted before. They had to meet unrealistic deadlines and specifications imposed by the government. They had to cope with constant changes and revisions to their plans. They had to deal with political interference and public scrutiny…… they were doomed to fail’.

It would be good to think we’ve finally learned this lesson — but the 2022 well-researched Netflix documentary ‘Downfall’ which charts the disastrous history of the Boeing 737-Max points once again at the same kind of time pressure as being responsible for pushing too far too fast.

There are many more places where we can see time playing a role as a key innovation enabler or shaper. For example the challenge to board-level patience in the face of the long slow haul towards bringing innovation impact at scale. Evidence shows it takes a long time to move from pilot success to widespread impact. As Ray Croc (the architect behind the scaling of McDonalds) pointed out, ‘I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night’.

So providing support and commitment over the long-haul is going to be as important as having an innovation team with a clear vision and strategy to undertake the expedition. Not for nothing does the term ‘patient money’ first appear in the findings of the famous Project Sappho study back in the 1970s which looked at factors affecting success and failure in innovation.

Or the challenge of innovation timing — we hear a lot about ‘first mover advantage’ and it would be easy to think that speed is always the key factor. But being too early is often as risky as being too late; pushing untried innovations into the market too soon can sometimes mean being cut by the bleeding edge of technology. And sometimes the innovation is so far advanced it has to wait for the wider infrastructure or for the social or political climate to catch up. Shai Agassi’s vision for making the world a better place through his electromobility solutions is a good example. The collapse what had been one of the world’s biggest start-ups came ten years before the underlying idea (of battery swap technology for electric vehicles) found widespread acceptance in niche markets like city taxi networks in China.

Time is a precious commodity which, used wisely, is a key part of the innovation story. So when you glance at your watch or the little clock running in the corner of your computer screen spare a thought for the innovators, thousands of them over the centuries, who solved the problem of measuring it reliably and accurately.

Additional Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

You can find a podcast version of this here and a video version here

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No Time to Innovate

Take an Innovation Vacation

Innovation VacationA popular set of questions that I get asked repeatedly by clients and audience members includes the following:

We know we need to innovate, but who has time?

How do companies balance the day to day operations with the need to innovate?

Without a budget to allocate people to innovation, how can I make innovation part of people’s day jobs?

We all know that when it comes to business, and life in general, that there are two major constraints we all face – and often trade off one against the other – those two constraints are time and money.

Every organization may understand the need for innovation, but it is difficult to execute in a repeatable way because so many of our organizations are set up to maximize the extraction of value from today’s operations and do a poor job of balancing this admirable and necessary goal with the need to develop tomorrow’s revenue and profit-generating operations.

Some organizations set up research and development departments, new product development departments, corporate venturing arms, incubators, or skunkworks to try and address the needs for future revenue and profit streams, but this limits the number of people that can potentially contribute to the potential innovation process and success of the organization – and isolates the efforts from other valuable perspectives and inputs.

Other organizations like Google and 3M also have some of these structures, but in addition try and say to employees that they can spend up to a certain percentage of their time on innovation projects (or whatever work-related pursuit they might want). In 3M’s case the figure is 15% and in Google’s case it is 20%.

There is only one problem with percent time.

The day-to-day deadline pressures and fire drills never disappear in any organization (even an innovative one), and so often the joke goes – sure Google employees get 20% time, but only if it’s on Saturday or Sunday.

So what’s the solution?

Well, after talking with the folks at Intuit as part of the research for my next book project, I’ve come to discover that they approach the time for innovation problem slightly differently.

Instead of just allowing people to spend up to a blanket 10% of their time on innovation projects, instead they allow employees to accumulate that time and then schedule time off to pursue a specific innovation project, often doing so at the same time with 3-4 other employees so they can collaborate on the project idea and push it forward.

I like to call it taking an innovation vacation.

I think this is the best approach I’ve heard so far to balancing the needs of the day to day business and its need for predictable resourcing, with the desire to invest in innovation to sustain the business into the future.

Allowing employees to schedule a collaborative innovation vacation achieves SEVERAL key business goals:

  1. Predictability – It allows managers to do capacity planning and schedule around the employee’s absence
  2. Retention – Allowing employees to take a week or two here or there to pursue an innovation project they are interested in, is likely to lead to higher job satisfaction and retention
  3. Collaboration – If you encourage people to take their time off as cross-functional groups, we know that not only do diverse teams solve problems better, but we also know from EMC’s data on innovation submissions and finalists that projects pursued as teams instead of by individuals are 33% more likely to make the final cut
  4. Increased Organizational Performance – Organizations that have deeper networks and stronger cross-functional knowledge (more T people) are more likely to work together more efficiently, have fewer blind spots, have higher employee engagement, and just have more fun

Time out for a sanity check. 10% time equates to about five weeks a year, and 20% time would equate to about ten weeks a year. So, if you choose to pursue an innovation investment strategy like innovation vacations, you must plan accordingly in terms of staffing (factoring in of course that most employees won’t make full use of it), but I believe it can be done and should be done – for the long-term health of the business.

We try and convince people to allocate 10-15% of their income towards retirement so that they have money to provide for themselves when they grow old and retire, why shouldn’t an organization allocate a similar percentage?

What do you think, could you establish something like this in your organization?

What would you do with an innovation vacation?

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Creating a Culture of Continuous Innovation

Creating a Culture of Continuous InnovationIn this economic downturn there is more pressure than ever on executives to find new sources of growth, and as a result leaders are increasingly talking about innovation. In some organizations the leader may say “we need to be more innovative” or “we need to think out of the box” and stop there. While for other organizations it may become part of the year’s goals or even the organization’s mission statement. Only in a small number of cases will there be any kind of sustained effort to enhance, or create, a culture of continuous innovation.

By now everyone has probably heard of six sigma and continuous improvement, and maybe your organization has even managed to embed its principles into its culture, but very few organizations have managed to transform their cultures to support innovation in a sustainable way. For most organizations, innovation tends to be something that is left to the R&D department or that is thought of on a project basis. Some organizations create new innovation teams, but it is rare for an organization to invest in transforming their entire culture. There are many reasons for this:

  1. Support from top leadership is required
    • Challenge: Most executive teams are focused on short-term results and transforming organizational culture is a long-term investment of financial and leadership resources.

  2. Clear goals and guidance are needed
    • Challenge: This is a bigger barrier than you might think. Most organizations struggle to understand how to set innovation goals and to provide a vision for employees on how they might get there. Goals to ‘be innovative’ or ‘think outside the box’ are not specific enough to be successful.

  3. Every organization is different
    • Challenge: The starting place, needs and barriers to creating a culture of continuous innovation are different for every organization – making easy implementation of best practices impossible

  4. Most companies lack a shared vocabulary for innovation
    • Challenge: People in different parts of the organization use different terminology, methodologies, frameworks, and have different understandings of what innovation is. The lack of a shared vocabulary prevents organizations from achieving shared success.

  5. Change is painful
    • Challenge: Creating a culture of continuous innovation threatens the power base of a critical few, and disrupts the way people think about their jobs and the organization. Even if change is for the better, people tend to want to avoid change.

    Accelerate your change and transformation success

  6. Change needs to be managed
    • Challenge: This means pulling employees off of their day jobs or hiring consultants to commit to the leadership and communications surrounding the change effort. This investment may prove challenging in the current economic climate.

  7. Change takes time
    • Challenge: Organizations seeking to create a culture of continuous innovation must realize that the transformation will not happen overnight. People can only absorb so much change at once. The transformation will likely have to be broken up into separate phases with discreet goals (don’t try to do it all at once).
      • Make sure to stop and share the successes of each phase, and also to identify what you’ve learned that can be implemented in the next phase.

  8. Visualize the outcomes of participation
    • Challenge: Often people withdraw and choose not to participate in organizational transformations because they don’t believe that their participation will positively impact their daily lives. If those who choose to participate don’t see an impact from their early efforts, might choose to disengage as the process continues.
      • You must celebrate participation and highlight the impact of individual contributors throughout the process.

  9. New systems and processes may be required
    • Challenge: To innovate continuously, you need to be open to receiving great ideas from anywhere in the company, and must have systems and processes to manage idea gathering, evaluation, and development. Often this requires a financial and personnel investment.

  10. Change efforts require lots of communication and storytelling
    • Challenge: You have to bring the change to life for employees. This requires involvement of employees early and often in the communications surrounding the goals and outcomes of the cultural transformation
      • Create a story that is easy and fun to tell – this will make it easier to cascade the change downwards through the organization

This should give you a better idea of why very few organizations embark upon the difficult work to enhance or create a culture of continuous innovation. It may not be an easy or a short journey, but creating a culture of continuous innovation is the only way to increase your chances of avoiding organizational mortality.

Successfully creating a strong culture of continuous innovation also represents a huge opportunity for an organization to attract the best talent, to lower costs, to continuously add new revenue streams, and to better achieve competitive separation.

Is your organization ready to invest the hard work towards achieving the rewards of a culture of continuous innovation?

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Rise and Fall of Innovation at Yahoo!

Rise and Fall of Innovation at Yahoo!Can people really innovate when they have to tend to all of their day-to-day responsibilities?

Unfortunately, people don’t get promoted for being innovative, they get promoted for getting stuff done, developing people, and meeting or exceeding goals or stretch targets. If people are busy making sure they do all that, when are they supposed to innovate? And if they do come up with a good idea while they are in the shower (after all they don’t have time to do it at work), how many hours of sleep are they willing to give up to help move it forward?

This is one of the key problems established organizations have in making innovation happen in their organizations. First, people get rewarded for executing not creating. Second, everyone is so overworked that getting funding and staffing up a project team to make the business more profitable or to ensure its longevity, is incredibly difficult.

So, what’s the answer?

I came across an article in 2007 that showed that Yahoo! believed the key was a set of dedicated off-site resources charged with taking employee ideas and suggestions and developing them. In the article they cite a product development example in which the product was developed in a third of the time it would have taken within the normal Yahoo! reality. 65% faster than an internal project. What does that say?

What this article reinforces is that people must have time to execute new ideas. Top levels of management have to commit to ring-fence a portion of people’s time to develop new product or process ideas that will improve the efficiency and profitability of the enterprise OR they have to commit the resources to a group external to the normal operations of the company. 3M has its 15% time and Google has its 20% time (if your 20% time project is approved), but Intuit’s group-focused, aggregated percent time seems the most sustainable because it allows managers to schedule and plan for innovation time away like they do vacation.

Bringing in outsiders is a third alternative, but not that different from number two with the exception of a little more of an outside perspective that comes from working with multiple clients and living outside the political culture.

So, which approach are you prepared to commit to? Or, are you committed to driving the best ideas and people out of your company and seeing your competitors blow by you?

P.S. Yahoo! Brickhouse opened in 2006 and closed in 2008.

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