DNA May Be the Next Frontier of Computing and Data Storage

DNA May Be the Next Frontier of Computing and Data Storage

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Data, as many have noted, has become the new oil, meaning that we no longer regard the information we store as merely a cost of doing business, but a valuable asset and a potential source of competitive advantage. It has become the fuel that powers advanced technologies such as machine learning.

A problem that’s emerging, however, is that our ability to produce data is outstripping our ability to store it. In fact, an article in the journal Nature predicts that by 2040, data storage would consume 10–100 times the expected supply of microchip-grade silicon, using current technology. Clearly, we need a data storage breakthrough.

One potential solution is DNA, which is a million times more information dense than today’s flash drives. It also is more stable, more secure and uses minimal energy. The problem is that it is currently prohibitively expensive. However, a startup that has emerged out of MIT, called CATALOG, may have found the breakthrough we’re looking for: low-cost DNA Storage.

The Makings Of A Scientist-Entrepreneur

Growing up in his native Korea, Hyunjun Park never planned on a career in business, much less the technology business, but expected to become a biologist. He graduated with honors from Seoul National University and then went on to earn a PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Later he joined Tim Lu’s lab at MIT, which specializes in synthetic biology.

In an earlier time, he would have followed an established career path, from PhD to post-doc to assistant professor to tenure. These days, however, there is a growing trend for graduate students to get an entrepreneurial education in parallel with the traditional scientific curriculum. Park, for example, participated in both the Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp and Start MIT.

He also met a kindred spirit in Nate Roquet, a PhD candidate who, about to finish his thesis, had started thinking about what to do next. Inspired by a talk from given by the Chief Science Officer at a seed fund, IndieBio, the two began to talk in earnest about starting a company together based on their work in synthetic biology.

As they batted around ideas, the subject of DNA storage came up. By this time, the advantages of the technology were well known but it was not considered practical, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to store just a few hundred megabytes of data. However, the two did some back-of -the-envelope calculations and became convinced they could do it far more cheaply.

Moving From Idea To Product

The basic concept of DNA storage is simple. Essentially, you just encode the ones and zeros of digital code into the T, G, A and C’s of genetic code. However, stringing those genetic molecules together is tedious and expensive. The idea that Park and Roquet came up with was to use enzymes to alter strands of DNA, rather than building them up piece by piece.

Contrary to popular opinion, most traditional venture capital firms, such as those that populate Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, don’t invest in ideas. They invest in products. IndieBio, however, isn’t your typical investor. They give only give a small amount of seed capital, but offer other services, such as wet labs, entrepreneurial training and scientific mentorship. Park and Roquet reached out to them and found some interest.

“We invest in problems, not necessarily solutions,” Arvind Gupta, Founder at IndieBio told me. “Here the problem is massive. How do you keep the world’s knowledge safe? We know DNA can last thousands of years and can be replicated very inexpensively. That’s a really big deal and Hyunjun and Nate’s approach was incredibly exciting.”

Once the pair entered IndieBio’s four-month program, they found both promise and disappointment. Their approach could dramatically reduce the cost of storing information in DNA, but not nearly quickly enough to build a commercially viable product. They would need to pivot if they were going to turn their idea into an actual business.

Scaling To Market

One flaw in CATALOG’s approach was that the process was too complex to scale. Yet they found that by starting with just a few different DNA strands and attaching them together, much like a printing press pre-arranges words in a book, they could come up with something that was not only scalable, but commercially viable from a cost perspective.

The second problem was more thorny. Working with enzymes is incredibly labor intensive and, being biologists, Park and Roquet didn’t have the mechanical engineering expertise to make their process feasible. Fortunately, an advisor, Darren Link, connected the pair to Cambridge Consultants, an innovation consultancy that could help them.

“We started looking at the problem and it seemed that, on paper at least, we could make it work,” Richard Hammond, Technology Director and Head of Synthetic Biology at Cambridge Consultants, told me. “Now we’re about halfway through making the first prototype and we believe we can make it work and scale it significantly. We’re increasingly confident that we can solve the core technical challenges.”

In 2018 CATALOG introduced the world to Shannon, its prototype DNA writer. In 2022 CATALOG announced its DNA computation work at the HPC User Forum. But CATALOG isn’t without competition in the space. For example, Western Digital‘s LTO-9 from 2022, can store 18 TB per cartridge. CATALOG for its part is partnering with Seagate “on several initiatives to advance scalable and automated DNA-based storage and computation platforms, including making DNA-based platforms up to 1000 times smaller.” That should make the process competitive for archival storage, such as medical and legal records as well as storing film databases at movie studios.

“I think the fact that we’re inventing a completely new medium for data storage is really exciting,” Park told me. “I don’t think that we know yet what the true potential is because the biggest use cases probably don’t exist yet. What I do know is that our demand for data storage will soon outstrip our supply and we are thrilled about the possibility of solving that problem.”

Going Beyond Digital

A generation ago, the task of improving data storage would have been seen as solely a computer science problem. Yet today, the digital era is ending and we’re going to have to look further and wider for solutions to the problems we face. With the vast improvement in genomics, which is far outpacing Moore’s law these days, we can expect biology to increasingly play a role.

“Traditional, information technology has been strictly the realm of electrical engineers, physicists and coders,” Gupta of IndieBio told me. “What we’re increasingly finding is that biology, which has been honed for millions of years by evolution, can often point the way to solutions that are more robust and potentially, much cheaper and more efficient.”

Yet this phenomenon goes far beyond biology. We’re also seeing similar accelerations in other fields, such as materials science and space-related technologies. We’re also seeing a new breed of investors, like IndieBio, that focus specifically on scientist entrepreneurs. “I consider myself a product of the growing ecosystem for scientific entrepreneurs at universities and in the investor community,” Park told me.

Make no mistake. We are entering a new era of innovation and the traditional Silicon Valley approach will not get us where we need to go. Instead, we need to forge greater collaboration between the scientific community, the investor community and government agencies to solve problems that are increasingly complex and interdisciplinary.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credits: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.

Video Killed More Than the Radio Star

Video Killed More Than the Radio Star

by Braden Kelley

If you are a child of the eighties, you will remember when MTV went live 24 hours a day with music videos on cable television August 1, 1981 with the broadcast of “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.

But I was thinking the other day about how video (or taken more broadly as streaming media – including television, movies, gaming, social media, and the internet) has killed far more things than just radio stars. Many activities have experienced substantial declines due to people staying home and engaging in these forms of entertainment – often by themselves – where in the past people would leave their homes to engage in more human-to-human-interactions.

The ten declines listed below have not only reshaped the American landscape – literally – but have also served to feed declines in the mental health of modern nations at the same time. Without further ado, here is the list

1. Bowling Alleys:

Bowling alleys, once bustling with players and leagues, have faced challenges in recent years. The communal experience of bowling has been replaced by digital alternatives, impacting the industry.

2. Roller Skating Rinks:

Roller skating rinks, which were once popular hangout spots for families and teens, have seen declining attendance. The allure of roller disco and skating parties has waned as people turn to other forms of entertainment.

3. Drive-In Movie Theaters:

Drive-in movie theaters, iconic symbols of mid-20th-century entertainment, have faced challenges in recent decades. While they once provided a unique way to watch films from the comfort of your car, changing lifestyles and technological advancements have impacted their popularity.

4. Arcade Game Centers:

In the ’80s and ’90s, video game arcades were buzzing hubs of entertainment. People flocked to play games like Pac-Man, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat. Traditional arcade game centers, filled with pinball machines, classic video games, and ticket redemption games, have struggled to compete with home gaming consoles and online multiplayer experiences. The convenience of playing video games at home has led to a decline in arcade visits. Nostalgia keeps some arcades alive, but they are no longer as prevalent as they once were.

5. Miniature Golf Courses:

Mini-golf courses, with their whimsical obstacles and family-friendly appeal, used to be popular weekend destinations. However, the rise of digital entertainment has impacted their attendance. The allure of playing a round of mini-golf under the sun has faded for many.

6. Indoor Trampoline Parks:

Indoor trampoline parks gained popularity as a fun and active way to spend time with friends and family. However, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns forced many of these parks to close temporarily. Even before the pandemic, the availability of home trampolines and virtual fitness classes reduced the need for indoor trampoline parks. People can now bounce and exercise at home or virtually, without leaving their living rooms.

7. Live Music Venues:

Live music venues, including small clubs, concert halls, and outdoor amphitheaters, have struggled due to changing entertainment preferences. While some artists and bands continue to perform, the rise of virtual concerts and streaming services has affected attendance. People can now enjoy live music from the comfort of their homes, reducing the need to attend physical venues. The pandemic also disrupted live events, leading to further challenges for the industry.

8. Public Libraries (In-Person Visits):

Public libraries, once bustling with readers and community events, have seen a decline in in-person visits. E-books, audiobooks, and online research resources have made it easier for people to access information without physically visiting a library. While libraries continue to offer valuable services, their role has shifted from primarily physical spaces to digital hubs for learning and exploration – and a place for latchkey kids to go and wait for their parents to get off work.

10. Shopping Malls

Once bustling centers of retail and social activity, shopping malls have faced significant challenges in recent years. Various technological shifts have contributed to their decline, including e-commerce and online shopping, social media and influencer culture, changing demographics and urbanization. Shopping malls are yet another place that parents are no longer dropping off the younger generation at for the day.

And if that’s not enough, here is a bonus one for you:

11. Diners, Malt Shops, Coffee Shops, Dive Bars/Taverns, Neighborhood Pubs (UK) and Drive-In Burger Joints

If you’re a child of the seventies or eighties, no doubt you probably tuned to watch Richie, Potsie, Joanie, Fonsie and Ralph Malph gather every day at Al’s. Unfortunately, many of the more social and casual drinking and dining places are experiences declines as diet, habit and technology changes have kicked in. Demographic changes (aging out of nostalgia) and the rise of food delivery apps and takeout culture have helped to sign their death warrant.

Conclusion

In the ever-evolving landscape of entertainment, video and streaming media have reshaped our experiences and interactions. As we bid farewell to once-thriving institutions, we recognize both the convenience and the cost of this digital transformation. For example, the echoes of strikes and spares have faded as digital alternatives replace the communal joy of bowling. As we navigate this digital era, let us cherish what remains and adapt to what lies ahead. Video may have transformed our world, but the echoes of lost experiences linger, urging us to seek balance in our screens and our souls. As these once ubiquitous gathering places disappear, consumer tastes change and social isolation increases, will we as a society seek to reverse course or evolve to some new way of reconnecting as humans in person? And if so, how?

What other places and/or activities would you have added to the list?
(sound off in the comments)

p.s. Be sure and follow both my personal account and the Human-Centered Change and Innovation community on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Pixabay

References:
(1) Duwamish Drive-In was not really about the movies. https://mynorthwest.com/289708/duwamish-drive-in-not-really-about-the-movies/.
(3) How online gaming has become a social lifeline – BBC. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201215-how-online-gaming-has-become-a-social-lifeline.
(3) Social media brings benefits and risks to teens. Psychology can help …. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2023/09/protecting-teens-on-social-media.
(4) Frontiers | Social Connectedness, Excessive Screen Time During COVID-19 …. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fhumd.2021.684137/full.

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

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.

Great People Are the Reason Companies Become Great

Great People Are the Reason Companies Become Great

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

You can look at people’s salaries as a cost that must be reduced. Or, you can look at their salaries as a way for them to provide for their families. With one, you cut, cut, cut. With the other, you pay the fairest wage possible and are thankful your people are happy.

You can look at healthcare costs the same way – as a cost that must be slashed or an important ingredient that helps the workers and their families stay healthy. Sure, you should get what you pay for, but do you cut costs or do all you can to help people be healthy? I know which one makes for a productive workforce and which one is a race to the bottom. How does your company think about providing good healthcare benefits? And how do you feel about that?

You can look at training and development of your people as a cost or an investment. And this distinction makes all the difference. With one, training and development is minimized. And with the other, it’s maximized to grow people into their best selves. How does your company think about this? And how do you feel about that?

You can look at new tools as a cost or as an investment. Sure, tools can be expensive, but they can also help people do more than they thought possible. Does your company think of them as a cost or an investment? And how do you feel about that?

Would you take a slight pay cut so that others in the company could be paid a living wage? Would you pay a little more for healthcare so that younger people could pay less? Would you be willing to make a little less money so the company can invest in the people? Would your company be willing to use some of the profit generated by cost reduction work to secure the long-term success of the company?

If your company’s cost structure is higher than the norm because it invests in the people, are you happy about that? Or, does that kick off a project to reduce the company’s cost structure?

Over what time frame does your company want to make money?

When jobs are eliminated at your company, does that feel more like a birthday party or a funeral?

Are you proud of how your company treats their people, or are you embarrassed?

I’ve heard that people are the company’s most important asset, but if that’s the case, why is there so much interest in reducing the number of people that work at the company?

In the company’s strategic plan, five years from now are there more people on the payroll or fewer? And how do you feel about that?

Image credit: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.

How to Create a Good Loyalty Program

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

What is a loyalty program? It’s a program designed to get customers to come back. That’s different than true customer loyalty, but it’s a pretty darn good start. In our 2024 State of Customer Service and CX research (sponsored by RingCentral), we included a section of questions that focused on customer loyalty and rewards programs. Before we get into the findings, let’s look at three examples of some of the best.

1. Amazon Prime: When I Googled the question, “Is Amazon Prime a membership program or a loyalty program?” the first answer came from an NBC News article that included this description: “Amazon Prime is Amazon’s paid loyalty program. …” First, Amazon offers tremendous value for its program, including free shipping, Prime TV and more, which by itself is worth paying for. However, there is also the psychology that if you pay for something, you want to get value from it, so use it. Therefore, many Amazon customers choose Amazon over competitors because they pay for the loyalty program and want to get the most value from it. Of course, Amazon is known for its stellar customer experience, so that combined with the Prime program gives it a competitive advantage over other online retailers.

2. Restoration Hardware: When you pay $200/year for its RH Members Program, you get 25% off all full-priced merchandise and 20% additional savings on sales items. In addition, you get complimentary access to its designers. The RH program is more of a discount program than a true loyalty program, but it does what it’s supposed to do, which is to get customers to come back. Like Amazon, I Googled the RH Members Program to see what others said, and many referred to it as a “Premium Loyalty Program.” And with that premium price, an RH customer expects a premium customer experience, and Restoration Hardware delivers.

3. American Airlines: American Airlines consistently ranks high among frequent flier programs, and The Points Guy rates AA as the best for earning status without ever flying. Using the AA credit card (most airlines have affiliations with credit card companies), you can rack up miles for free trips and status. An Omnisend.com article on loyalty programs included AA as the only airline in its list of 10 Businesses with the Best Loyalty Programs. I’ve been in the AA program since the 1980s and have amassed miles, perks and status. Reaching any level of status on the airline gives you more than perks. Employees recognize when passengers are members of their program and, quite simply put, “They treat you right.”

These are examples of paid and/or free loyalty programs and membership programs. There could be a book written to describe the many versions of loyalty programs. Most are marketing programs, focused on repeat business. There are points, discounts, perks, and now, experiences. Zsuzsa Kecsmar, co-founder of Antavo, a customizable loyalty platform and publisher of the Global Customer Loyalty Report, adds, “Loyalty programs used to be earn-and-burn. You spend a dollar and earn a point. But today’s loyalty programs can do much more with experiential rewards, early access and rewarding other activities outside of purchasing.”

As mentioned, are many versions of loyalty programs. A restaurant may offer a punch card where every fifth sandwich is free. Customers may be willing to pay to be part of a “loyalty program” to get perks and discounts. With all that in mind, here are some interesting findings from our research to help you decide if the effort to create a loyalty program is worth it:

  • 61% of customers said rewards programs were important to giving a company or brand repeat business.
  • 46% are willing to pay more for a company or brand that has a good loyalty or rewards program.
  • 76% are more likely to return to a company that has a good customer rewards program.
  • 57% would choose to switch to a brand that has a loyalty program if another brand did not.
  • 55% have recommended a brand or company to others because of its loyalty program.
  • 39% have made an unplanned purchase just to earn more points or rewards.

If a loyalty program is part of your business model (or if you’re considering it), these findings make the point. The numbers make a compelling argument for developing a loyalty program. The last finding is especially intriguing. Almost four in 10 customers made a purchase just to earn more points or rewards.

Realize that a loyalty program is more often a marketing program. Some consumers become loyal to the program more than to the company or brand. True loyalty is about a customer being emotionally connected to a company, not just to the perks and points in a loyalty program. If you combine an amazing customer experience with a loyalty program, you have a winning combination.

Image Credits: Unsplash

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.

Agile Innovation

How to Embrace Agile Leadership to Innovate at Speed

Agile Innovation

GUEST POST from Diana Porumboiu

In a world dominated by uncertainty, how can we prepare for the unpredictable and keep innovating in what seems like a highly chaotic environment?

We simply need to be faster in adapting to change and navigating uncertainty. Studies show that organizations that move faster achieve significantly better results across various metrics, including profitability, operational resilience, organizational health, and growth.

How to make sure your organization is fast enough? Innovation at speed is more relevant than ever, but someone must put the pedal to the metal. Typically, that someone has to be a leader, because in the face of unprecedented change, leaders are needed to get us through the transformation.

However, unless organizations rethink leadership, they won’t be able to innovate systematically. In this day and age, great leadership requires a different mindset and a new approach to drive innovation and keep pace with change. We call this agile leadership.

This article, the second in the series dedicated to Agile Innovation Management, explores the critical role of agile leadership in innovating at speed.

Discover the key challenges and misconceptions surrounding the topic and understand why many leaders struggle with it. We’ll also provide practical steps and examples that will hopefully inspire you to increase the agility of your organization.

From Old Leadership Models to Agile Leadership

Let’s begin by clarifying what we mean by agile leadership and its position in relation to established leadership models.

The history of leadership traces back to Frederick Winslow Taylor, American engineer renown for his methods aimed at enhancing efficiency and productivity. Innovative at his time for shaping industrial management, his legacy still lives on today.

Unfortunately, his methods are not adapted for this century. Despite this, many leaders and managers still adhere to “Taylorism”, a top-down approach where leaders make the decisions and plans, and employees are tasked with executing them.

This model conflicts with the flexible and adaptable mindset required for agility. The gap between employees and Taylorist leaders trying to implement agile practices often leads to frustration and inefficiency.

Even if they introduce squads and sprints, Taylorists maintain a top-down approach, telling people what to do and how.

For successful agile transformations, you need to move away from rigid, outdated models. As we saw in the ING examplepresented in the “Guide to Business Agility” article, simply copying other companies without suitable leadership will not produce the desired outcomes. Therefore, fundamental change is needed.

True agile leadership allows for rapid decision making, resilience, adaptability and innovation. It requires leaders to embrace new ideas, offer clear direction without micromanaging, and create a culture that supports speed and innovation.

Agile leadership is about rapid decision making, resilience, adaptability and innovation.

It’s also important to remember that managers and leaders are not the same. Leadership goes beyond overseeing a group and delivering desired outcomes.

As Seth Godin stated in his “Leadership vs Management” speech, “managers do things right, leaders do the right things”.

While it would be ideal for all managers to cultivate leadership skills, the reality is that their primary focus is on increasing efficiency and productivity within their domains, often overlooking the broader picture. Such skills are essential in leading people, lifting them up and empowering them to become agile, innovative problem solvers.

Despite the progress of AI and technology automating mundane tasks, we still need leaders capable of making decisions that address both present and future challenges. Effective agile leaders should be able to navigate failure and complexities, and map a way to move forward.

To succeed, we need to hone in on critical thinking and those often overlooked “soft skills” like navigating tough conversations, giving and receiving feedback, and showing empathy. No matter where you fall on the org chart, mastering these skills can be the game-changer between just getting by and achieving excellence.

While agile leadership might not be about the “Agile” way, being familiar with the agile values and principles can be useful on a practical level.

For example, the authors of Doing Agile Right help leadership teams shift to agile methods by tailoring the Agile Manifesto’s core values to fit their unique situations. It’s about adapting and making it work for you.

Viima design created from Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos

To give another example, think of the principle of self-organizing teams. It’s important to know how to build self-organizing teams that thrive, collaborate and continuously learn from each other through continuous feedback and transparent communication.

We’ve seen this time and again in how teams use Viima to collaborate on their ideas, assess, prioritize and develop those that have been discussed openly. We noticed that most successful projects created using Viima have strong leadership too.

But moving away from the practical details to the bigger picture, how much can leaders influence the speed of innovation at an organizational level?

Can Agile Leadership Drive Innovation?

We established in The Guide to Agile Innovation Management that agility enables innovation by embracing experimentation and learning, implementing adaptive planning processes, emphasizing cross-functional collaboration and bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise.

All these elements would not be possible without the guidance of a great leader. So how can a good agile leader unlock innovation in an organization?

Adapting fast by building trust

Agility in leadership is about adapting to changing environments quickly, often under the pressure of performance.

However, this can have negative consequences. The Work Trend Index from Microsoft surveyed over 20,000 people across 11 countries and found that half of them reported experiencing burnout. Although 83% of employees claimed to be productive, only 12% of leaders felt confident their teams were genuinely productive.

To build trust and participation in feedback systems, leaders should regularly share what they’re hearing, how they’re responding, and why. — Work Trend Index 2022

As a leader, offering support and trust can help balance the pressure of performance. Including people in the organization’s narrative and showing them where they fit in helps build trust and provides a sense of purpose.

This sense of purpose encourages people to commit, learn, grow, improve, and innovate. Which brings us to the next point: agile leadership nurtures not only the ability but also the willingness of people to innovate.

Speed requires commitment

Many large firms still rely on outdated “industrial-era management” models. These models focus on hierarchical organizational charts, emphasizing static reporting relationships.

In such environments, it can be extremely difficult for ideas and initiatives to navigate through the many layers of hierarchy and reach the right decision-makers. If they do make it through, the process takes so long that the opportunity may be lost by the time an idea reaches approval.

This approach can lead to a culture with limited transparency and collaboration across teams and departments, along with an attitude of “every man for himself.”

It’s no surprise that over 70% of workforce is disengaged or quietly quitting, which significantly stifles an organization’s ability to innovate. When employees lack motivation, everything slows down. But when there is a sense of ownership and pride, there is higher commitment.

An agile leader fosters a sense of community and nurtures people’s commitment and dedication. This leads to speed and adaptability.

While the right mindset is crucial, using the right tools can also help build trust and promote collaboration. Many leaders use Viima to create processes that enhance idea sharing at all levels, collaboration and trust. They can provide feedback and follow up on people’s ideas in a timely manner, while employees can see the progress of their ideas.

But to reach this level, it’s important to understand the behavioral changes needed. In the next section, we’ll dive into practical tips on how to adapt your mindset by examining leaders who have successfully guided their organizations to thrive and innovate.

How to Be an Agile Leader

How can you become a great leader who adapts to change and guides others into the future? To provide some practical examples, I turned to Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation by Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback.

The authors conducted a decade-long research study of 24 leaders across different organizations and industries. They offer valuable insights into how exceptional leaders cultivate environments that foster collective creativity, collaboration, and experimentation.

In a nutshell, the authors describe the ABC of leadership which drives innovation and makes the shift from “vertical ideology of control” to “horizontal ideology of enablement”.

Their research has identified that to lead an organization that innovates at scale with speed, you need leaders that fill in three different functions:

  • the Architect — to build the culture and capabilities necessary to collaborate, experiment and work.
  • the Bridger — to create the bridge between the outside and the inside of the organization by bringing together skills and tools to innovate at speed.
  • the Catalyst — to accelerate co-creation through the entire ecosystem.

The Architect: Create the right environment

The paradox of business agility is that it takes time to build the capabilities needed for fast response and adaptability. Even if you want to move quickly and encourage others to do the same, you can’t force change.

Achieving agility requires a different mindset — letting go of some control that conventional leadership often demands. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect for many leaders who believe their power lies in maintaining control.

However, as an agile leader, you must recognize existing interdependencies. You rely on employees’ willingness, commitment, and ability to drive progress. Your success depends heavily on others, which is why it’s crucial to create an environment where people can ideate, create, and execute. As we will see in the next chapter, agile leadership involves balancing relinquishing control with providing enough direction and guidance to prevent chaos.

Many elements are at play here, but one of the most innovative animation studios, Pixar, offers a clear example. They created the first feature-length computer-animated film, Toy Story. What’s remarkable about Pixar is that every film they released after Toy Story became an instant commercial success.

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, is a mastermind of innovation and a pioneer in technology and storytelling. His legacy offers numerous inspiring lessons for leaders, but here are some key points on how he and other company leaders fostered an environment where innovation thrives.

Pixar’s culture is built on two essential elements: diversity and conflict.

  • Diversity

In this context, diversity means intellectual diversity — bringing together people with different perspectives, skills, working styles, and problem-solving approaches.

At Pixar, three different worlds converged: creative, technical, and business. People from all areas were treated as peers, and all perspectives were valued equally. Among visual artists and tech people, you could also find cultural anthropologists, music producers, and even a professional cheerleader.

When different views come together, great ideas, solutions, and innovations can emerge. But inevitably, disagreements and conflict can also arise.

  • Conflict

Conflict is something many leaders fear and seek to minimize. When conflict becomes destructive, personal, or a battle for who is right and who is wrong, nobody wins. However, at Pixar, feedback is honest and direct. Sometimes even brutal. But the aim is to improve things and find the best solution.

A confrontation becomes a debate in search of a better solution that serves everyone’s goals. Those who receive and provide feedback should always keep this in mind.

Naturally, this is not always achievable, and tempers can flare quickly under pressure, frustration or when passionate people clash. When conflict turns into a fight to win an argument, you should intervene, remind people of the greater purpose, and bring them back on track.

As a leader, community building should also be on your radar. Foster a strong sense of “we” and psychological safety. This encourages people to stand up for their ideas and pursue the solutions they believe are best for the greater good.

This is what contributed to Pixar’s continued innovation. As a leader, Ed Catmull realized early on the critical role of leadership in creating the context for innovation.

I realized the most exciting thing I had ever done was to help create the unique environment that allowed that film (Toy Story) to be made. My new goal became … to build a studio that had the depth, robustness, and will to keep searching for the hard truths that preserve the confluence of forces necessary to create magic.

The Bridger: Decentralize decision making

Decentralized decision-making is key to breaking down silos and eliminating bottlenecks, enabling faster experimentation, learning, and improvement. Although this approach is increasingly popular and recommended for driving innovation, many struggle with its implementation.

Decentralization demands strong leadership that empowers teams to drive progress, avoids micromanagement, and provides the right support while removing barriers and building innovation capabilities.

For teams to collaborate effectively, they need a leader who plays a central role — not to manage decisions, but to facilitate innovation.

Take the example of Volkswagen. In 2010, Luca De Meo was the CMO for VW, a group of nine brands, helping the organization achieve its goal of becoming a leading car manufacturer.

VW’s marketing decisions were decentralized, with local marketing teams independently creating and implementing their own strategies based on general guidelines from headquarters.

However, this approach led to a lack of communication and collaboration among marketing teams worldwide. Marketing spoke with different voices in each market, lacked alignment, and had no clear strategic role within the organization.

To build mutual trust and respect De Meo organized a two-day design lab where he brought together over seventy people to collaborate, ideate and work together to build a global brand. Of course, a one-time brainstorming workshop is not enough, so this became a recurrent event. Each gathering had different goals or action points on which diverse teams had to work together, bring their own experience and expertise to the table.

He also took a new approach in handling launches by creating a cross-functional team that brought together fresh perspective from young employees in marketing or other fields. He created a small team and gave them a free hand to come up with an integrated marketing strategy for the launch of a new city car model.

De Meo did not interfere and did not tell them how to go about it. Instead, he encouraged them to work as intrapreneurs within the larger organization. He set high expectations and tried to nudge them in the right direction when needed. Most importantly, he encouraged them to take risks and allowed them to make mistakes. The agile way.

A very important thing to highlight from this story is that De Meo made sure that minority voices were heard. In setups with a conventional approach to leadership, the loudest (or more experienced) voices usually get their ideas across. This means that many opportunities can be missed.

Long story short, leadership created the environment for people to innovate and removed barriers and enabled people to move faster. The efforts paid off and VW grew both as a recognized brand and in financial results.

The Catalyst: Grow capabilities of everyone around you

Visionary leaders made history, but if we take a closer look, it was not all about vision. It’s not enough to have a vision and expect others to follow you. You also need to set direction on how to get there, not just by dictating but by unleashing and amplifying people’s own capabilities, talents, passion and strengths that are useful for the bigger goal.

In our latest conversation in The Innovation Room podcast, we had the great pleasure of talking to John Bessant, an innovation veteran. From his vast experience he shared a few examples of how innovation leaders focused on facilitating conversations and debates to lead people to the future.

Such leaders can cultivate agility, and what is called dynamic capability: the ability to integrate, build and reconfigure internal and external competences to address rapidly changing environments.

To illustrate dynamic capability, Bessant gives the example of Procter and Gamble. P&G made a major change after 150 years of excelling in R&D and market research. They switched to a model they called “Connect and Develop” — their open innovation approach — well ahead of the open innovation trend. This shift involved a significant change in mindset and took them 20 years to get through it. They stepped back, reassessed, and adapted to the changing world.

This is a summary of their achievements, but reaching such results required an internal shift in culture. P&G needed to get everyone on board with open innovation, not just to embrace external ideas, but internal ones too. Early on, they recognized this model as essential for adapting to future challenges.

P&G leadership understood the critical role of employees in driving these changes. The new approach required employees to be more agile and flexible, to develop skills like curiosity, collaboration, and connectedness.

They worked to support employees who were inclined to control more, were insecure, or were resistant to sharing and opening up. P&G set new challenges and increased the complexity of some tasks to push employees’ capabilities. They ensured that employees worked across the business in different markets. As employees gained experience in different areas and improved at identifying and solving problems, their mindsets began to evolve.

Cultivating an innovative mindset is a process that takes time and a structured, intentional approach.

These are just a few examples, and although summarizing them may make it sound simple, each of these leaders struggled in their journey to achieve the desired outcomes.

Excellent agile leadership is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Let’s explore these challenges in more detail to help you assess what you can realistically implement in your own leadership role.

Challenges and Limitations of Agile Leadership

Being a great leader is never easy and being an agile one — navigating through uncertainty — is even tougher. Whether you call it agile leadership or not, your role as a leader is to create spaces for your teams to adapt quickly and steer the organization toward future success.

Let’s see what are some of these challenges and how you can address them by leading with agility.

1. Providing a sense of certainty in an uncertain environment

Certainty is an emotional state that can influence how we perceive our work environment. While you can’t control uncertainty, you can manage the fear of the unknown by being transparent. The least transparent environments often breed anxiety, rumors and speculations.

Remember: Share the big picture with your team, and don’t shy away from the truth. Provide updates on ongoing projects, successes, and setbacks. This way you build trust and foster a sense of purpose. Balance transparency with discretion — too much detail can overwhelm people, but too little breeds suspicion.

2. Managing the chaos

You want your team to take initiative and explore new ideas, but a lack of guidance can cause confusion and inefficiency. I’ve seen leaders struggle with this balance, either micromanaging their teams or stepping back too far.

Remember: Define clear ground rules and processes to guide your team. Support people to innovate within a framework that provides structure. Encourage ideas to surface and provide top-down guidance to turn them into actionable innovations.

3. Adapting to a new leadership model

Embracing agile leadership requires stepping out of your comfort zone and taking others with you. It demands discipline and a low tolerance for incompetence, with a focus on striving for excellence.

Remember: Encourage a disciplined approach to experimentation and ensure that failures lead to valuable lessons rather than wasted efforts. Candid feedback should flow both ways. Both leaders and employees should be open to having their ideas challenged. Embracing this kind of culture fosters growth and adaptability, but it also demands discipline and high standards to strive for excellence, as mediocrity thrives in comfort zones.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a leader or aspiring to be one, it’s important to recognize that perfection in leadership doesn’t exist — everyone has their own shortcomings and challenges. While we should empathize with these struggles, we must also hold leaders accountable.

Today, speed is a crucial competitive advantage, often going hand in hand with scale. Agility at the team level alone may not be enough; you need speed and scale in innovation to drive meaningful change.

Achieving this requires responsible and committed leadership that understands the need for both rapid and large-scale innovation. As you navigate your leadership journey, strive to lead with accountability, adaptability, and a focus on accelerating innovation.

Article originally published on viima.com/blog

Image credits: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.

The Beginning, Middle, and End of Innovation

And How Moneyball Fits In

The Beginning, Middle, and End of Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Not long ago, pitchers and catchers reported to MLB Spring Training facilities in Florida and Arizona.  For baseball fans, this is the first sign of Spring, an occasion that heralds months of warmth and sunshine, ballparks filled (hopefully) with cheering fans, dinners of beers and brats, and the undying belief that this year will be the year.

Of course, there’s still a lot of dark, dreary cold between now and Opening Day.  Perfect weather for watching baseball movies – Bull DurhamMajor LeagueThe NaturalField of Dreams, and, of course, Moneyball.

Moneyball is based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis and chronicles the 2002 Oakland Athletics season.  The ’02 Oakland A’s, led by General Manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), forever changed baseball by adopting an approach that valued rigorous statistical analysis over the collective wisdom of baseball insiders (coaches, scouts, front office personnel) when building a team.  This approach, termed “Moneyball,” enabled the A’s to reach the postseason with a team that cost only $44M in salary, compared to the NY Yankees that spent $125M to achieve the same outcome.

While the whole movie (and book) is a testament to the courage and perseverance required to challenge and change the status quo, time and again I come back to three lines that perfectly sum up the journey of every successful intrapreneur I’ve ever met.

The Beginning

I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall…he always gets bloody…always always gets bloody.  This is threatening not just a way of doing business… but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. Really what it’s threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. It’s threatening the way they do things… and every time that happens, whether it’s the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins – they have their hands on the switch – they go batshit crazy.”John Henry, Owner of the Boston Red Sox

Context

The 2002 season is over, and the A’s were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  John Henry, an owner of the Boston Red Sox, has invited Bill Beane to Boston to offer him the Red Sox GM job. 

Lesson

This is what you sign up for when you decide to be an Intrapreneur.  The more you challenge the status quo, the more you question how business is done, the more you ask Why and demand an answer, the closer you get to “tak(ing) it in the teeth.”

This is why courage, perseverance, and an unshakeable belief that things can and should be better are absolutely essential for intrapreneurs.  Your job is to run at the wall over and over until you get through it.

People will follow.  The Red Sox did.  They won the World Series in 2004, breaking an 84-year-old curse.

The Middle

“It’s a process, it’s a process, it’s a process” — Bill Beane

Context

Billy has to convince the ballplayers to forget all the habits that made them great and embrace the philosophy of Moneyball.  To stop stealing bases, turning double plays on bunts, and swinging for the fences and to start taking walks, throwing to first for the easy out, and prioritize getting on base over hitting a home run.

The players are confused and frustrated.  Suddenly, everything that they once did right is wrong and what was not valued is deeply prized.

Lesson

Innovation is something new that creates value.  Something new doesn’t just require change, it requires people to stop doing things that work and start doing things that seem strange or even wrong.

Change doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s not a switch to be flipped.  It’s a process to be learned.  It takes time, practice, reminders, and patience.

The End

“When you get an answer you’re looking for, hang up.” — Billy Beane

Context

In this scene, Billy has offered one of his players to multiple teams, searching for the best deal.  When the phone rings with a deal he likes, he and the other General Manager (GM) agree to it, Billy hangs up.  Even though the other GM was in the middle of a sentence.  When Peter Brand, the Assistant GM played by Jonah Hill, points out that Billy had just hung up on the other GM, Billy responds with this nugget of wisdom.

Lesson

It’s advice intrapreneurs should take very much to heart.  I often see Innovation teams walk into management presentations with long presentations, full of data and projections, anxious to share their progress, and hoping for continued funding and support.  When the meeting starts, a senior exec will say something like, “We’re excited by the progress we’re hearing about and what it will take to continue.” 

That’s the cue to “hang up.”

Instead of starting the presentation from the beginning, start with “what it will take to continue.”  You got the answer you’re looking for – they’re excited about the progress you’ve made – don’t spend time giving them the info they already have or, worse, could raise questions and dim their enthusiasm.  Hang up on the conversation you want to have and have the conversation they want to have.

In closing

Moneyball was an innovation that fundamentally changed one of the most tradition-bound businesses in sports.  To be successful, it required someone willing to take it in the teeth, to coach people through a process, and to hang up when they got the answer they wanted.  It wasn’t easy but real change rarely is.

The same is true in corporations.  They need their own Bill Beanes.

Are you willing to step up to the plate?

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.

How Tribalism Can Kill Innovation

How Tribalism Can Kill Innovation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

While history tends to single out individuals, the truth is that when you look behind the story of any heroic leader, what you find is a network of loyal supporters, active collaborators and outside facilitators that are behind any great achievement. Nobody accomplishes anything significant alone.

That’s probably why it’s become fashionable for pundits to encourage us to “find our tribe,” a network of like-minded people who share your ambitions. Don’t listen to them. The truth is that great things are achieved not by taking comfort from your tribe, but from going beyond it and reaching out to those who aren’t of like mind.

The problem with focusing too much on your tribe is that those people tend to think the same way you do. They frequent the same places, watch the same TED talks and read the same blogs. That may be great for giving you some comfort and confidence, but it also acts as an echo chamber that will reinforce flawed assumptions and lead you down a false path.

The Problem With Closed Networks

In 2005, a team of researchers decided to study why some Broadway plays become hits and others flop. They looked at all the usual factors, such as production budget, marketing budget and the track record of the director, but what they found was that what was most important factor was the informal networks of relationships among the cast and crew.

If no one had ever worked together before, both financial and creative results tended to be poor. However, if the networks among the cast and crew became too dense—for all intents and purposes, becoming a tribe—performance also suffered. It was the teams that had elements of both, strong ties and new blood, that had the greatest success.

The same effect has been found elsewhere. In studies of star engineers at Bell Labs, the German automotive industry and currency traders it has been shown that tightly clustered groups, combined with long range “weak ties” that allow information to flow freely among disparate clusters of activity, consistently outperform close networks of likeminded people.

Just as we need to invest in building strong, trustful relationships, we also need to go beyond our comfort zone and seek out new connections. It’s far too easy to hide in a tribe.

The Discomfort of Diversity

While studies show that closed networks lead to worse performance, it has long been established that diversity improves performance. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that diverse groups can solve problems better than a more homogeneous team of greater objective ability. Another study that simulated markets showed that ethnic diversity deflated asset bubbles.

While the studies noted above merely simulate diversity in a controlled setting, there is also evidence from the real world that diversity produces better outcomes. A McKinsey report that covered 366 public companies in a variety of countries and industries found that those which were more ethnically and gender diverse performed significantly better than others.

Yet diversity also has a downside. In Political Tribes, Yale Professor Amy Chua notes that we are hardwired to be suspicious of others. For example, in a study where young children were randomly assigned to red or blue groups, they liked pictures of other kids who wore t-shirts that reflected their own group better. A study of adults had similar findings.

So you can see the attraction of tribes. We feel uncomfortable with people who we perceive as different. Surrounding ourselves with people who see things the way we do, on the other hand, makes us feel confident and powerful.

Mixing With The Heathens

Growing up in Iowa in the 1930s, Everett Rogers, noticed something strange in his father’s behavior. Although his father loved electrical gadgets, he was hesitant to adopt hybrid seed corn, even though it had higher yields. In fact, his father only made the switch after he saw his neighbor’s hybrid crop thrive during a drought in 1936.

This became the inspiration for Rogers’ now-familiar diffusion of innovations theory, in which an idea first gets popular with a group of early adopters and then only later spreads to other people. Geoffrey Moore later pointed out that most innovations fail because they never cross the chasm from the early adopters to the mainstream.

A study done by researchers at Kellogg and Stanford explains why. They put together groups of college students to solve a murder mystery. The groups made up of students from the same sorority or fraternity felt more confident and successful, even though they performed worse on the task than integrated groups that experienced more conflict, uncertainty and doubt.

That’s the problem with staying in your tribe. Sure, it feels great to have your ideas supported and reinforced by people you like and respect, but they are doing so because they already believe the same things that you do. To actually achieve something worthwhile, however, you have to go beyond preaching to the choir and start mixing with the heathens.

Do You Want To Make A Point Or Do You Want To Make A Difference?

In my book, Cascades, I cover a wide range of movements. Some, like the civil rights movement and the campaign to save 100,000 lives, succeeded brilliantly. Others, like Occupy and the technology companies along Boston’s Route 128, failed miserably. Another thing I found is that many movements that ultimately succeeded, failed initially because they failed to go beyond their tribe.

Here’s what Srdja Popović, who helped lead the Otpor movement that overthrew the brutal regime of Slobodan Milošević in 2000, told me about the initial student protests in 1992.

These were very ‘Occupy’ type of protests where we occupied the five biggest universities and lived there in our little islands of common sense with intellectuals and rock bands while the rest of the country was more or less supportive of Milošević’s idea. And this is where we began to understand that staying in your little blurb of common sense was not going to save the country.

In a similar vein, Nelson Mandela started out as an angry nationalist, but eventually learned that to get results, he would have to actively collaborate with others that didn’t quite see things the same way he did. In Poland, Solidarity’s first actions were disastrous, because they only involved workers. It was only through a later alliance between workers, intellectuals and the church that the movement ultimately succeeded.

Today, both America and the world have become increasingly tribal and it’s easy to retreat into what Srdja calls “your little blurb of common sense.” You can state your beliefs, make your point and see the heads nod around you. You can live in comfort, knowing that any voices of dissent will be quickly shouted down, as you self righteously feel they should be.

However, at some point, you will have to decide if you want to make a point or whether you want to make a difference. To achieve anything worthwhile, you have to go beyond your tribe.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credits: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.






5 Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

5 Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

GUEST POST from David Burkus

A sense of belonging on a team is crucial for its success and productivity. Belonging is that sense of acceptance and inclusion when people feel they can bring their authentic self to work. When team members feel included and valued, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and contribute their best work. And on a diverse team, belonging determines how much the team taps into diverse perspectives, opinions, and ideas. As a leader, you encourage that sense of belonging through the habits, norms, and behaviors that you model and that get mimicked by the rest of the team.

In this article, we’ll outline how to create a sense of belonging at work through five actions leaders take that get emulated on the team and make everyone feel included.

1. Share Information Openly

The first way to create a sense of belonging at work is to share information openly. Open and transparent communication is the foundation of a cohesive and inclusive team. When team members have access to all relevant information, including financials and decisions, they feel trusted and respected. That transparency fosters a sense of belonging, as everyone is on the same page and can contribute effectively.

Sharing information that is not typically shared can also increase the sense of belonging. By going beyond the basics and providing insights into the organization’s goals, challenges, and strategies, team members feel more connected to the bigger picture. This understanding helps them see how their individual contributions fit into the overall team’s success.

2. Share Credit Widely

The second way to create a sense of belonging is to share credit widely. In a collaborative work environment, it’s essential to recognize and appreciate the contributions of every team member. Sharing credit widely means acknowledging and celebrating success as a collective effort, rather than attributing it solely to individual achievements. Avoid taking credit for yourself—even if senior leaders attribute the win to you—and instead attribute success to the team. By doing so, you create a culture of collaboration and unity, where everyone feels valued and recognized for their contributions.

Teach team members to share credit for their wins and acknowledge the contributions of others. Encourage a culture of gratitude and recognition, where team members actively appreciate and celebrate each other’s achievements. This not only strengthens the sense of belonging but also promotes a positive and supportive work environment.

3. Create Rituals

The third way to create a sense of belonging is to create rituals. Rituals play a significant role in creating a sense of belonging within a team. They provide a shared experience and a sense of identity, fostering a feeling of unity and camaraderie. Rituals can take various forms, from formal traditions to informal inside jokes, and they contribute to the team’s culture and cohesion.

Whether it’s a team chant, a recurring icebreaker game, or a team-specific acronym, rituals create a sense of meaning and belonging. They establish a sense of familiarity and shared history, making team members feel like they are part of something special. However, it’s crucial to ensure that rituals include everyone and do not create an “us versus them” dynamic. Exclusionary rituals can have the opposite effect, alienating certain team members and undermining the sense of belonging.

4. Ask for Advice

The fourth way to create a sense of belonging is to ask for advice. Asking for advice is a powerful way to show team members that their knowledge and perspective are valued. It demonstrates trust and respect for their expertise, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment. When team members see that their input is genuinely sought and considered, they feel more invested in the decision-making process and the overall success of the team.

Regularly ask for advice before making decisions, especially those that directly impact the team. This not only allows you to gather diverse perspectives but also reinforces the sense of belonging by involving team members in the decision-making process. When decisions are made, make sure to show how their advice contributed to the final outcome, further reinforcing their value and impact.

5. Model Active Listening

The final way to create a sense of belonging is to model active listening. Active listening is a fundamental skill that leaders and team members should cultivate to create a sense of belonging. It involves giving your full attention when team members are speaking, showing genuine interest and respect for their ideas and opinions. Non-verbal cues, such as nodding or smiling, can also signal active listening and encourage team members to share more openly. Additionally, asking follow-up questions and seeking clarification demonstrates a genuine desire to understand and engage with the speaker’s thoughts.

Leaders who model active listening train the team to respond similarly when interacting with each other. And that creates a culture where everyone is engaged because everyone feels respected. That not only increases a sense of belonging but increases how much information is being shared between teammates—and how many different ideas are being generated when problem solving.

Creating a sense of belonging within a team is essential for its success and productivity. By taking the actions discussed in this article, such as sharing information openly, sharing credit widely, creating rituals, asking for advice, and modeling active listening, you can foster a positive work environment where team members feel included, valued, and motivated. Remember, creating a sense of belonging takes time and effort, but the benefits are worth it. When team members feel a strong sense of belonging, they are more likely to be engaged, committed, and willing to go the extra mile. In other words, they’ll be better able to do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published on DavidBurkus.com on July 17, 2023

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.






Stop Doing What You Did Last Time

Stop Doing What You Did Last Time

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If there’s no discomfort, there’s no novelty.
When there’s no novelty, it means you did what you did last time.
When you do what you did last time, you don’t grow.
When you do what you did last time, there’s no learning.
When you do what you did last time, opportunity cost eats you.
If there’s no discomfort, you’re not trying hard enough.

If there’s no disagreement, critical thought is in short supply.
When critical thought is in short supply, new ideas never see the light of day.
When new ideas never see the light of day, you end up doing what you did last time.
When you do what you did last time, your best people leave.
When you do what you did last time, your commute into work feels longer than it is.
When you do what you did last time, you’re in a race to the bottom.
If there’s no disagreement, you’re playing a dangerous game.

If there’s no discretionary work, crazy ideas never grow into something more.
When crazy ideas remain just crazy ideas, new design space remains too risky.
When new design space remains too risky, all you can do is what you did last time.
When you do what you did last time, managers rule.
When you do what you did last time, there is no progress.
When you do what you did last time, great talent won’t accept your job offers.
If there’s no discretionary work, you’re in trouble.

We do what we did last time because it worked.
We do what we did last time because we made lots of money.
We do what we did last time because it’s efficient.
We do what we did last time because it feels good.
We do what we did last time because we think we know what we’ll get.
We do what we did last time because that’s what we do.

Doing what we did last time works well, right up until it doesn’t.
When you find yourself doing what you did last time, do something else.

Image credit: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.