Tag Archives: transformation

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

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

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“We need to be more innovative.”

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

But what does it mean to be more innovative?

Innovation’s ABCs

A is for Architecture

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

Each of these elements answers fundamental questions:

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

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

B is for Behavior

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

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

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

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

C is for Culture

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

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

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

Easy as 123

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

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

Just like the Jackson 5 said

ABC, It’s easy a 123

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

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

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

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Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

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

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

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

Wha????

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

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

Questions

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

Tahani Al-Jamil

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

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

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

Decisions (not just Ideas)

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

Jason Mendoza

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

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

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

Actions (not just decisions)

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

Jason Mendoza

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

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

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

Perseverance

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

Michael

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

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

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

One final bit of wisdom

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

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

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

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

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Leveraging Opposition to Drive Change Forward

Leveraging Opposition to Drive Change Forward

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Clearly, we live in a time of great flux. First, #MeToo, then Covid-19 and now a new racial consciousness in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The most important task for leaders over the coming years will be to guide their organizations through change. Make no mistake, it won’t be easy. Important changes always encounter staunch resistance.

In Cascades, I researched dozens of change efforts ranging from historic turnarounds at major corporations like IBM and Alcoa, to political revolutions like the color revolutions in Eastern Europe and social movements like the struggle for civil and LGBT rights in America. Every one had to overcome entrenched opposition to succeed.

Yet probably the most impressive strategy for overcoming opposition I came across was how the Serbian movement called Otpor devised a plan to turn arrests to their advantage. The key to their strategy was to study their opposition, anticipate its actions and leverage them for their own benefit. Business leaders can use similar strategies to drive change forward.

Forming a Sense of Identity

Clearly, the threat of arrests poses a significant obstacle to any protest movement. In the case of Otpor, which was working to bring down the brutal Milošević regime, there was not only the threat of incarceration and embarrassment, but serious physical harm. The authorities depended on this fear to keep people in line.

So Otpor set out to make arrests a source of pride rather than fear. Anyone who was arrested got a t-shirt and the more times you were arrested, the better t-shirt you got. Once you were arrested five times, you received the coveted black Otpor t-shirt that you could wear to school the next day and impress all your friends.

Many of the transformational change efforts I researched used similar strategies. In his quest to reform the Pentagon from within, Colonel John Boyd gathered around him a passionate group of “Acolytes” which would support each other, help check facts, streamline logical arguments and hone the message of a particular reform plan.

Those who are working to undermine your efforts want to make you feel isolated and alone. Even a seemingly powerful CEO can face a skeptical board, investor community and media. So, the first step is to build a strong sense of identity, which is why even massive transformations tend to start with small groups and build out from there.

Devising an Infiltration Strategy

Whenever you set out to make a significant change, there are going to be some people who aren’t going to like it. Change of any kind threatens the status quo, which has inertia on its side and never yields its power gracefully.

Yet one of the biggest mistakes a change effort can make is to see the opposition as monolithic. While it’s easy to think that anyone who isn’t with you to be against you, the truth is that there are always shades of belief. Some really are dead set against the change you want to bring about, but others are only passively opposed, and most are probably fairly neutral.

One of the Otpor activists’ most brilliant strokes was to see arrests as an opportunity for infiltration because it gave them the opportunity to make friends with the individual police officers, most of whom didn’t particularly like arresting peaceful student protestors. Later, when many of these same officers had to decide whether to shoot into the crowd or join the movement, they chose the latter.

Make no mistake. To drive any kind of change forward you need to bring people in who don’t immediately agree with you. Transformation is never really top down or bottom up, but moves side to side. You don’t create change just by rallying your supporters, but by breaking through higher thresholds of resistance to bring in others.

Let Your Opponents Overreach and Send People Your Way

While Otpor’s infiltration strategy was highly effective, it didn’t solve the problem of arrests. Peaceful activists were still being taken in and, in many cases, abused. No amount of respectful behavior and playful banter could fully inoculate the activists from the reality that at least some of the police officers enjoyed terrorizing them.

Yet here too, Otpor found ways to use the situation to their advantage. First, every activist had the local Otpor office on speed dial. When someone got arrested, they pressed the button on their phones and their colleagues immediately knew that an arrest was under way. Which set into motion a number of actions.

First, lawyers were called to ensure that the rights of the activists would be protected. Then, a protest would be organized outside the police station and the media would be notified. An affiliate group, “Mothers of Otpor,” would show up and demand to know why their sons and daughters were being persecuted and abused.

So instead of arrests embarrassing the protestors, they embarrassed the regime. Every time it arrested an Otpor activist, it was subjected to a media barrage that showed peaceful protests outside police stations including not only well-behaved activists, but their mothers demanding to know why the regime was terrorizing their children.

Once your opposition senses that you are gaining traction, they will tend to lash out and send people your way. In my research, I’ve been truly amazed at how consistent this behavior is. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an activist executing peaceful protests, a change agent trying to scale an important program or simply someone trying to win a consensus in a meeting. Getting your opponents to overreach will often be the thing that breaks the logjam and brings change about.

Learning To Love Your Haters

Every transformational change starts with a heartfelt sense of grievance, and it doesn’t take a brutal regime to arouse passions. The need to adopt a new technology, transform a business model or shift an organizational culture, can be just as emotional as a political movement like Otpor. So it can be incredibly frustrating when people stand in the way of change.

Yet in my research, I found that successful change efforts didn’t demonize their opposition, they learned from them. In some cases, those that resisted change had good reasons and helped point out flaws in the plan. In other cases, by engaging in dialogue, they helped identify shared values and a common purpose.

The genius behind Otpor’s arrest strategy is that it made a distinction between the institution of the regime and the humanity of the police officers who were just trying to do their job and go home to their families at night. It was that insight that led them to engage with the individual officers, joke with them and get to know them on a personal basis.

And that’s the lesson we can learn, whether we are working to transform an organization, an industry, a community or society as a whole. Those that oppose us often feel just as passionately about their cause as we do ours. We overcome opposition not by overpowering it, but through identifying shared values and attracting others to our side.

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

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

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You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing

You Can't Innovate Without This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

It just landed on your desk. Or maybe you campaigned to get it. Or perhaps you just started doing it. How the title of “Innovation Leader” got to your desk doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that it’s there, along with a budget and loads of expectations.

Of course, now that you have the title and the budget, you need a team to do the work and deliver the results.

Who should you look for? The people that perform well in the current business, with its processes, structures, and (relative) predictability, often struggle to navigate the constant uncertainty and change of innovation. But just because someone struggles in the process and structure of the core business doesn’t mean they’ll thrive creating something new.

What are the qualities that make someone a successful innovator?

70 answers

A lot of people have a lot to say about the qualities and characteristics that make someone an innovator. When you combine the first four Google search results for “characteristics of an innovator” with the five most common innovation talent assessments, you end up with a list of 70 different (and sometimes conflicting) traits.

The complete list is at the end of this article, but here are the characteristics that appeared more than once:

  1. Curious
  2. Persistent
  3. Continuously reflective
  4. Creative
  5. Driven
  6. Experiments
  7. Imaginative
  8. Passionate

It’s a good list, but remember, there are 62 other characteristics to consider. And that assumes that the list is exhaustive.

+1 Answer

It’s not. Something is missing.

There is one characteristic shared by every successful innovator I’ve worked with and every successful leader of innovation. It’s rarely the first (or second or third) word used to describe them, but eventually, it emerges, always said quietly, after great reflection and with dawning realization.

Vulnerability.

Whether you rolled your eyes or pumped your fist at the word made famous by Brene Brown, you’ve no doubt heard it and formed an opinion about it.

Vulnerability is the “quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”  Without it, innovation is impossible.

Innovation requires the creation of something new that creates value. If something is new, some or all of it is unknown. If there are unknowns, there are risks. Where there are risks, there is the possibility of being wrong, which opens you up to attack or harm.

When you talk to people to understand their needs, vulnerability allows you to hear what they say (versus what you want them to say).

In brainstorming sessions, vulnerability enables you to speak up and suggest an idea for people to respond to, build on, or discard.

When you run experiments, vulnerability ensures that you accurately record and report the data, even if the results aren’t what you hoped.

Most importantly, as a leader, vulnerability inspires trust, motivates your team, engages your stakeholders, and creates the environment and culture required to explore, learn, and innovate continuously.

n + 1 is the answer

Just as you do for every job in your company, recruit the people with the skills required to do the work and the mindset and personality to succeed in your business’ context and culture.

Once you find them, make sure they’re willing to be vulnerable and support and celebrate others’ vulnerability. Then, and only then, will you be the innovators your company needs.


Here’s the full list of characteristics:

  1. Action-oriented, gets the job done
  2. Adaptable
  3. Ambitious
  4. Analytical, high information capacity, digs through facts
  5. Associative Thinker, makes uncommon connections
  6. Breaks Boundaries, disruptive
  7. Business minded
  8. Collaborative
  9. Compelling Leader
  10. Competitive
  11. Consistent
  12. Continuously reflects (x3)
  13. Courageous
  14. Creative (x3)
  15. Curious (x4), asks questions, inquisitive, investigates
  16. Delivers results, seeks tangible outcomes
  17. Disciplined
  18. Divergent Thinker
  19. Driven (x3)
  20. Energetic
  21. Experiments (x2)
  22. Financially oriented
  23. Flexible, fluid
  24. Formally educated and trained
  25. Futuristic
  26. Giving, works to benefit others, wants to make the world better
  27. Goal-oriented
  28. Has a Growth mindset
  29. Highly confident
  30. Honest
  31. Imaginative (x2)
  32. Influential, lots of social capital
  33. Instinctual
  34. Intense
  35. Iterating between abstract and concrete thinking
  36. Learns through experiences
  37. Likes originality, seeks novelty
  38. Loyal
  39. Motivated by change, open to new experiences
  40. Networks, relates well to others
  41. Observes
  42. Opportunistic mindset, recognizes opportunities
  43. Opportunity focused
  44. Passionate (x2)
  45. Patient
  46. Persistent (x4)
  47. Persuasive
  48. Playful
  49. Pragmatic
  50. Proactive
  51. Prudent
  52. Rapidly recognizes patterns
  53. Resilient
  54. Resourceful
  55. Respects other innovators
  56. Seeks understanding
  57. Self-confident
  58. Socially intelligent
  59. Stamina
  60. Takes initiative
  61. Takes risks
  62. Team-oriented
  63. Thinks big picture
  64. Thrives in uncertainty
  65. Tough
  66. Tweaks solutions constantly
  67. Unattached exploration
  68. Visionary
  69. Wants to get things right
  70. Willing to Destroy

And the sources:

Image Credit: Pixabay

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3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Most of my advice to leaders who want to use innovation to grow their businesses boils down to two things*:

  1. Talk (and listen) to customers
  2. Do something

But what if you don’t want to talk to customers?

After all, talking to customers can be scary because you don’t know what they’ll say. It can be triggering if they say something mean about your product, your business, or even you as a person. It can be draining, especially if you’re an introvert.

Plus, there are so many ways to avoid talking to customers – Send a survey, hire a research firm to write a report, invoke the famous Steve Jobs quote about never doing customer research.

Isn’t it just better to stay tucked away in the office, read reports, state opinions as if they are facts (those opinions are based on experience, after all), and make decisions?

Nope.

It is not better. It is also not safer, easier, or more efficient.

To make the best decisions, you need the best data, which comes from your customers.

But that doesn’t mean you need to talk to them to get it.

The best data

The best data helps you understand why your customers do what they do. This is why Jobs to be Done is such a powerful tool – it uncovers the emotional and social Jobs to be Done that drive our behavior and choices (functional Jobs to be Done are usually used to justify our choices).

But discovering Jobs to be Done typically requires you to talk to people, build rapport and trust in a one-on-one conversation, and ask Why? dozens of times so surface emotional and social JTBD.

Luckily, there are other ways to find Jobs to be Done that don’t require you to become an unlicensed therapist.

Observe your customers

Go where your customers are (or could be) experiencing the problem you hope to solve and try to blend in. Watch what people are doing and what they’re not doing. Notice whether people are alone or with others (and who those others are – kids, partners, colleagues, etc.). Listen to the environment (is it loud or quiet? If there’s noise, what kind of noise?) and to what people are saying to each other.

Be curious. Write down everything you’re observing. Wonder why and write down your hypotheses. Share your observations with your colleagues. Ask them to go out, observe, wonder, and share. Together you may discover answers or work up the courage to have a conversation.

Quick note – Don’t be creepy about this. Don’t lurk behind clothing racks, follow people through stores, peep through windows, linger too long, or wear sunglasses, a trench coat, and a fedora on a 90-degree day, so you look inconspicuous. If people start giving you weird looks, find a new place to people-watch.

Observe yourself

Humans are fascinating, and because you are a human, you are fascinating. So, observe yourself when you’re experiencing the problem you’re hoping to solve. Notice where you are, who is with you, the environment, and how you feel. Watch what you do and don’t do. Wonder why you chose one solution over another (or none).

Be curious. Write down everything you did, saw, and felt and why. Ask your colleagues to do the same. Share your observations with your colleagues and find points of commonality and divergence, then get curious all over again.

Quick note – This only works if you have approximately the same demographic and psychographic profiles and important and unsatisfied Jobs to be Done of your target customers.

Be your customer

What if your business solves a problem that can’t be easily observed? What if you don’t have the problem that your business is trying to solve?

Become your customer (and observe yourself).

Several years ago, I worked with a client that made adult incontinence products. I couldn’t observe people using their products, and I do not have important (or unsatisfied) Jobs to be Done that the products can solve.

So, for one day, I became a customer. I went to Target and purchased their product. I went home, wore, and used the product. I developed a deep empathy for the customer and wrote down roughly 1 million ways to innovate the product and experience.

Quick note – Depending on what’s required to “be your customer,” you may need to give people a heads up. My husband was incredibly patient and understanding but also a little concerned on the day of the experiment.

It’s about what you learn, not how you learn it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is one best way to get insights. I’m 100% guilty (one-on-one conversations are a hill I have died on multiple times).

Ultimately, when it comes to innovation and decision-making, the more important thing is having, believing, and using insights into why customers do what they do and want what they want. How you get those insights is an important but secondary consideration.

* Each of those two things contains A TON of essential stuff that must be done the right way at the right time otherwise, they won’t work, but we’ll get into those things in another article

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Strategy for a Post-Digital World

Strategy for a Post-Digital World

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

For decades, the dominant view of strategy was based on Michael Porter’s ideas about competitive advantage. In essence, he argued that the key to long-term success was to dominate the value chain by maximizing bargaining power among suppliers, customers, new market entrants and substitute goods.

Yet digital technology blew apart old assumptions. As technology cycles began to outpace planning cycles, traditional firms were often outfoxed by smaller competitors that were faster and more agile. Risk averse corporate cultures needed to learn how to “fail fast” or simply couldn’t compete.

Today, as the digital revolution is coming to an end, we will need to rethink strategy once again. Increasingly, we can no longer just move fast and break things, but will have to learn how to prepare, rather than just adapt, build deep collaborations and drive skills-based transformations. Make no mistake, those who fail to make the shift will struggle to survive.

Learning to Prepare Rather Than Racing to Adapt

The digital age was driven, in large part, by Moore’s law. Every 18 months or so, a new generation of chips would come out of fabs that was twice as powerful as what came before. Firms would race to leverage these new capabilities and transform them into actual products and services.

That’s what made agility and adaptation key competitive attributes over the past few decades. When the world changes every 18 months, you need to move quickly to leverage new possibilities. Today, however, Moore’s Law is ending and we’ll have to shift to new architectures, such as quantum, neuromorphic and, possibly, biological computers.

Yet the shift to this new era of heterogeneous computing will not be seamless. Instead of one fairly simple technology based on transistors, we will have multiple architectures that involve very different logical principles. These will need new programming languages and will be applied to solve very different problems than digital computers have been.

Another shift will be from bits to atoms, as fields such as synthetic biology and materials science advance exponentially. As our technology becomes infinitely more powerful, there are also increasingly serious ethical concerns. We will have to come to some consensus on issues like what accountability a machine should have and to what extent we should alter the nature of life.

If there is one thing that the Covid-19 crisis has shown is that if you don’t prepare, no amount of agility will save you.

Treating Collaboration as a New Competitive Advantage

In 1980, IBM was at an impasse. Having already missed the market for minicomputers, a new market for personal computers was emerging. So, the company’s leadership authorized a team to set up a skunk works in Boca Raton, FL. A year later, the company would bring the PC to market and change computer history.

So, it’s notable that IBM is taking a very different approach to quantum computing. Rather than working in secret, it has set up its Q Network of government agencies, academic labs, customers and start-ups to develop the technology. The reason? Quantum computing is far too complex for any one enterprise to pursue on its own.

“When we were developing the PC, the challenge was to build a different kind of computer based on the same technology that had been around for decades,” Bob Sutor, who heads up IBM’s Quantum effort, told me. “In the case of quantum computing, the technology is completely different and most of it was, until fairly recently, theoretical,” he continued. “Only a small number of people understand how to build it. That requires a more collaborative innovation model to drive it forward.”

It’s not just IBM either. We’re seeing similar platforms for collaboration at places like the Manufacturing Institutes, JCESR and the Critical Materials Institute. Large corporations, rather trying to crush startups, are creating venture funds to invest in them. The truth is that the problems we need to solve in the post-digital age are far too complex to go it alone. That’s why today, it’s not enough to have a market strategy, you need to have an ecosystem strategy.

Again, the Covid-19 crisis is instructive, with unprecedented collaborative efforts driving breakthroughs.

Drive Skills-Based Transformations

In the digital era, incumbent organizations needed to learn new skills. Organizations that mastered these skills, such as lean manufacturing, design thinking, user centered design and agile development, enjoyed a significant competitive advantage. Unfortunately, many firms still struggle to deploy critical skills at scale.

As digital technology enters an accelerated implementational phase, the need to deploy these skills at scale will only increase. You can’t expect to leverage technology without empowering your people to use it effectively. That’s why skills-based transformations have become every bit as important as strategic or technology-driven transformations.

As we enter the new post-digital era the need for skills-based transformations will only increase. Digital skills, such as basic coding and design, are relatively simple. A reasonably bright high school student can become proficient in a few months. As noted above, however, the skills needed for this new era will be far more varied and complex.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that everybody will need to have deep knowledge about things like quantum mechanics, neurology or genomics a decade from now any more than everybody needs to write code today. However, we will increasingly have to collaborate with experts in those fields and have some sort of basic understanding.

Making the Shift from Disrupting Markets to Pursuing Grand Challenges

The digital economy was largely built on disruption. As computer chips became exponentially faster and cheaper, innovative firms could develop products and services that could displace incumbent industries. Consider that a basic smartphone today can replace a bundle of technologies, such as video recorders, GPS navigators and digital music players, that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars when they were first introduced.

This displacement process has been highly disruptive, but there are serious questions about whether it’s been productive. In fact, for all the hype around digital technology “changing the world,“ productivity has been mostly depressed since the 1970s. In some ways, such as mental health and income inequality, we are considerably worse off than 40 or 50 years ago.

Yet the post-digital era offers us a much greater opportunity to pursue grand challenges. Over the next few decades, we’ll be able to deploy far more powerful technologies to solve problems like cancer, aging and climate change. It is, in the final analysis, these physical world applications that can not only change our lives for the better, but open up massive new markets.

The truth is that the future tends to surprise us and nobody can say for sure what the next few decades will look like. Strategy, therefore, can’t depend on prediction. However, what we can do is prepare for this new era by widening and deepening connections throughout relevant ecosystems, acquiring new skills and focusing on solving meaningful problems.

In the face of uncertainty, the best way to survive is to make yourself useful.

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

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Five Myths That Kill Change and Transformation

Five Myths That Kill Change and Transformation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

I first became interested in transformation in the fall of 2004. I was managing a leading news organization in Kyiv, Ukraine when the Orange Revolution broke out. It was an amazing thing to witness and experience. Seemingly overnight, a habitually dormant populace suddenly rose up and demanded change.

One of the things that struck me at the time is how no one really knew what was going on or what would happen next—not the journalists I spoke to in the newsroom every day, not the other business leaders and certainly not the political leaders. Anyone with any conventional form of power seemed to have completely lost their ability to shape events.

That’s what started me on my 15 year-long journey to understand how transformation works that led to my book, Cascades. What I found was that many traditional notions about change management are not only wrong, but they can also actually kill a transformational effort even before it really starts. Here are five myths that you need to avoid if you want to bring change about.

Myth #1: You Need to Get Off to a Fast Start

Traditionally, managers launching a new initiative have aimed to start big. They work to gain approval for a sizable budget as a sign of institutional commitment, recruit high-profile executives, arrange a big “kick-off” meeting and look to move fast, gain scale and generate some quick wins. All of this is designed to create a sense of urgency and inevitability.

That may work for a conventional project, but for something that’s truly transformational, it’s a sure path to failure. Starting off with a big bang will often provoke fear and resistance among those who aren’t yet on board. Real, lasting change always starts with small groups, loosely connected, united by a shared purpose.

A much more effective strategy is to start with a keystone change that represents a concrete and tangible goal, involves multiple stakeholders and paves the way for future change. That’s how you build credibility and momentum. While the impact of that early keystone change might be limited, a small, but meaningful, initiative can show what’s possible.

For example, when the global data giant Experian sought to transform itself into a cloud-based enterprise, it started with internal API’s that had limited effect on its business. Yet those early achievements spurred on a full digital transformation. In much the same way, when Wyeth Pharmaceuticals began its shift to lean manufacturing, it started with a single process at a single plant. That led toa 25% reduction of costs across the entire firm.

Myth #2: You Need to Demand Early Commitment

Another thing that leaders often do is demand early commitment to a transformational initiative. They point out a new direction and they want everybody to get on board—or else. Any lingering questions or doubts are considered to be tantamount to disloyalty and are not tolerated.

This is silly. If an initiative really is transformational, then by definition it’s very different than what the rank and file have come to accept. If people don’t have any questions or doubts, then that means they never really believed in the organization before the transformation. They were just keeping their heads down and playing along.

Rather than demanding commitment, smart transformation initiatives start out as voluntary. By allowing people to opt-in, you are much more likely to get people who are truly enthusiastic and want things to work. That will make things much easier than wasting a lot of time and energy trying to convince people that change is a good thing.

Smart, devoted people should have questions. Certainly, you wouldn’t want people to change direction on a dime and have absolutely no doubts. At least in the beginning, you want to allow people to self-select. That’s how you ensure that people are genuinely enthusiastic and engaged, rather than just playing lip service to the idea.

Myth #3: You Have to Have a Unique Value Proposition and Differentiate Yourself

Because traditional change management programs rely so much on persuasion, they tend to borrow a lot from marketing. So the first step they often take is to differentiate the change they seek from the status quo by formulating a unique value proposition. This is almost always a mistake.

It is difference that makes people uncomfortable with change in the first place, so presenting unfamiliar concepts is a sure way to heighten resistance. Rather than focusing on differentiation, what you want to do is present change in the context of shared values.

For example, many organizations today are trying to adopt agile development techniques. Unfortunately, evangelists often start by promoting the Agile Manifesto, because that’s what makes them passionate about the idea in the first place. Yet for people outside the Agile community, the Agile Manifesto can seem strange, or even threatening.

If you want to attract people to your cause, you need to focus on shared values to create a comfortable entry point. In the case of Agile development, while most people are unfamiliar with the concepts in the Agile Manifesto, everybody understands the value of better-quality projects done faster & cheaper. As Darrell Rigby and his co-authors explain in Doing Agile Right, Agile, at its core, is really about becoming a high-performance organization.

Myth #4: You Have to Engage Your Fiercest Critics

One of the things we’re most frequently asked about in our workshops is how to persuade those who are dead set against change. The underlying assumption is that if you can come up with the right communication strategy or rhetorical flourish, anybody can be convinced of anything. That’s clearly not the case. Nobody is that clever or charming.

The truth is that if an idea is important and has real potential for impact, there will always be people who will hate it and work to undermine it in ways that are dishonest, deceptive and underhanded. You will not convince them, and you shouldn’t even try. You will just be wasting time and energy.

What you can do, however, is listen. The arguments your opposition uses will clue you in to the shared values that can bring people over to your side. For example, for a long-time people who opposed LGBTQ rights emphasized that they were defending families. It is no accident that gay marriage, with its emphasis on committed relationships and raising happy families, became the vehicle to drive the movement forward.

In a similar vein, those who oppose diversity and inclusion initiatives often do so on the grounds of performance (while strongly proclaiming that they support fairness). Yet the vast preponderance of the evidence shows that diversity improves performance. By making that case, you are tapping in a value that even your opposition has highlighted as important.

Myth #5: Transformation Is Either Top-Down or Bottom-Up

There has been a long running debate about whether change should be top-down or bottom-up. Some say that true change can only take hold if it comes from the top and is pushed through the entire organization. Others argue that you must first get buy-in from the rank-and-file before any real change can take place.

That is a false choice. For any given idea or initiative, you are likely to find both support and resistance at every level of the organization. You don’t start a movement for change by specifying who belongs and who doesn’t, you need to go out and identify your Apostles wherever you can find them.

The truth is that transformation isn’t top-down or bottom-up but moves from side-to-side. Change never happens all at once and can’t simply be willed into existence. It can only take place when people truly internalize and embrace it. The best way to do that is to empower those who already believe in change to bring in those around them.

And that reveals what is probably the most important myth of all, that creating change takes special personal qualities. One of the things that amazed me in my research was how ordinary even legendary change leaders were at the beginning (as a young lawyer, Gandhi was too shy to speak up in court). What made them different is what they learned along the way.

Transformation is always a journey, never a particular destination. So, the most important thing you can do to bring change about is simply to get started. If not now, when? If not you, who?

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

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Transformation Insights – Part Two

Transformation Insights - Part Two

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

GUEST POST from Bruce Fairley

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

People coming together.

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

Collaboration Between Complementary Influencers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

connect@narrative-group.com

Image Credit: The Narrative Group

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Taking Personal Responsibility – Creating the Line of Choice

Taking Personal Responsibility - Creating the Line of Choice

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our last blog, we described how people’s personal power is diminished when they don’t take personal responsibility for the impact of their behaviors and actions and the results they cause. Where many people are feeling minimized and marginalized, anxious as a result of being isolated and lonely, worrying about losing their security and freedom, and dealing with the instability in their working environments.  Resulting in many people disengaging from the important conversations, job functions, key relationships, workplaces, and in some instances, even from society. Where managers and leaders lack the basic self-awareness and self-regulation skills to control the only controllable in uncertain and unstable times, is to choose how to respond, rather than react to it.

We have a unique moment in time to shift their defensiveness through being compassionate, creative, and courageous towards helping managers and leaders unfreeze and mobilize to exit our comfort zones.  To take intelligent actions catalyze and cause positive outcomes, that deliver real solutions to crises, complex situations, and difficult business problems.

Why do people avoid taking personal responsibility?

People typically avoid taking personal responsibility for reasons ranging from simple laziness, risk adversity, or a fear of failure, to feeling change fatigued, overwhelmed, or even victimized by the scale of a problem or a situation.

Resulting in a range of different automatic defensive, and a range of non-productive reactive responses including:

  • Avoidant behavior, where feel victimized and targeted, people passively “wriggle” and the buck gets passed onto others, and the real problem or issue does not get addressed or resolved.
  • Controlling behavior, where people ignore their role in causing or resolving the real problem or issue, and aggressively push others towards their mandate or solution, denying others any agency.
  • Argumentative behavior, where people play the binary “right-wrong” game, and self-righteously, triggered by their own values, oppose other people’s perspectives in order to be right and make the other person wrong.

Creating the line of choice

At Corporate Vision, we added a thick line of “choice” between “personal responsibility” and “blame, justification and denial” to intentionally create space for people to consider taking more emotionally hygienic options rather than:

  • Dumping their “emotional boats” inappropriately onto others, even those they may deeply care about,
  • Sinking into their habitual, and largely unconscious default patterns when facing complex problems, which results in the delivery of the same results they always have.
  • Not regulating their automatic reactive responses to challenging situations, and not creating the vital space to pause and reflect to think about what to do next.

To enable them to shift towards taking response-ability (an ability to respond) and introducing more useful options for responding in emotionally agile, considered, constructive, inclusive, and creative ways to the problem or the challenge.

Noticing that when we, or others we interact with, do slip below the line to notice whether to “camp” there for the long term or to simply choose to make the “visit” a short one!

Doing this demonstrates the self-awareness and self-regulation skills enabling people to take personal responsibility. Which initiates ownership and a willingness to be proactive, solutions, and achievement orientated – all of which are essential qualities for 21st century conscious leadership that result in innovative outcomes that result in success, growth, and sustainability.

Shifting your location – from “you, they and them” to “I, we and us”

Developing the foundations for transformational and conscious leadership involves:

  • Supporting people to acknowledge and accept that the problem or challenge is not “out there” and is within their locus of control or influence.
  • Shifting the “Maturity Continuum” to enable leaders and managers to be both independent and interdependent.
  • Creating a line of choice to think, act and do things differently.
  • Calling out people when they slip below the line.

It involves supporting people to let go of their expectation that “they” or someone else, from the outside, will fix it, and supporting them to adopt a stance where:

  • “I” or “we” can and are empowered to do it,
  • “I” or “we” are responsible for getting above the line,
  • “I” or “we” can choose a different way of being, thinking, and acting intelligently in this situation.

Developing conscious leadership

At any time, everyone is either above or below the line because it is elemental to the type of conscious leadership we all need to survive and thrive, in a world where people are seeking leaders, managers, and working environments that require interdependence.

To operate in the paradigm of “we” – we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.

We cooperate together by creating the line of choice where we call out to ourselves and others when we slip below it, to get above the line as quickly as possible.

Where interdependent people and communities combine their efforts, and their self-awareness and self-regulation skills with the efforts of others to achieve their growth and greatest success by increasing:

  • Transparency and trust,
  • Achievement and accountability,
  • Diversity and inclusion,
  • Experimentation and collaboration.

All of these are founded on the core principle of taking personal responsibility, which is an especially crucial capability to develop self-awareness and self-regulation skills in the decade of both disruption and transformation.

Bravely calling out self and others

When we take responsibility for managing our own, “below the line” reactive responses, by habitually creating the line of choice, we can bravely call out ourselves and others when we slip below it.

Because when we don’t call ourselves and others we interact with, we are unconsciously colluding with their emotional boats, default patterns, and automatic reactive responses, which inhibit their ability to effect positive change.

When we safely awaken ourselves and others, we can get back above the line quickly and choose different ways of being, thinking, and acting intelligently in the situation.

Alternately, people aren’t taking personal responsibility, they cannot be accountable, they will fail in their jobs, and their teams, and fail to grow as individuals and as leaders.

In fact, developing a habitual practice of emotionally intelligent and conscious leadership by safely and bravely disrupting ourselves and our people, in the face of ongoing uncertainty, accelerating change, and continuous disruption.

This is the second in a series of three blogs on the theme of taking responsibility – going back to leadership basics.

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 18, 2022. It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus,  human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique context.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Ten Transformational Change Principles

Ten Transformational Change Principles

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

It’s been clear to me for some time that 2020 would be a pivotal year. Globalization and digitalization, the two major forces of the last generation, have disappointed. The corporate mantra of shareholder value has proven to be bankrupt. The end of the Cold War has led not to a democratic utopia, but a rise in populist authoritarianism.

Much of what we believed turned out to not be true. At the same time, there is great cause for optimism. We are undergoing profound shifts in technology, resources, migration and demographics that will give us the opportunity to drive enormous transformation over the next decade. We are likely entering a new era of innovation.

We need to learn from history. Positive change never happens by itself. We can’t just assume that we can just set up some basic “rules of the road” and technological and market forces will do the rest for us. Any significant change always inspires fierce resistance and we need to overcome that resistance to bring change about. Here are 10 principles that can guide us:

  1. Revolutions don’t begin with a slogan. They begin with a cause. The vision always needs to be rooted in solving problems people genuinely care about. That’s why you can’t bribe or coerce change. Once you start trying to engineer change through incentives, you are signaling that this is a change that people don’t really want to make.
  2. Transformation fails because people oppose it, not because people don’t understand it. For any significant change, there are going to be some people who aren’t going to like it and they are going to undermine it in ways that are dishonest, underhanded, and deceptive. That is your primary design constraint. Change of any kind threatens the status quo, which never yields its power gracefully.
  3. To be effective, change efforts need to be rooted in values. Values represent constraints and constraints bring meaning and credibility. A movement without values is nothing more than a mob.
  4. Resist the urge to engage those who attack and undermine you. In fact, as a general rule, you should avoid them until you have gained significant momentum.
  5. Focus on building local majorities. You want to be continually expanding your majorities within communities and clusters. When you go outside your majority, however, you get pushback. Stay on the inside pushing out.
  6. Shift from differentiating values to shared values. Differentiating values are what make people passionate about an idea, but shared values create entry points for people to join your cause. You overcome your opposition by listening and identifying shared values in what they say that can be leveraged to attract others to your cause.
  7. You design effective tactics by mobilizing people to influence institutions. Every action has a purpose. You are always mobilizing someone to influence something. For everything you do, you ask who are we mobilizing and to influence what?
  8. Scale change and weave the network through cooptable resources. Instead of trying to get people to do what you want, find people who want what you want and give them tools to help them take action. It is through taking action, not taking orders, that people take ownership of the movement and make it their own.
  9. Survive Victory. The victory phase is the most dangerous phase. You need to think about how to “survive victory” from the start. It’s not enough to make a point, you have to want to make a difference.
  10. Transformation is always a journey, never a particular destination. The most important thing you can do to bring change about is simply to get started. If not now, when? If not you, who?

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

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