Four Questions That Make Better Innovators

Four Questions That Make Better Innovators

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In 1999, the day before his eighth startup went public, Steve Blank decided to retire at the age of 45. With time to reflect, he sat in a ski lodge and began to write a memoir with a “lessons learned” section at the end of each chapter. “In hindsight, it was a catharsis of moving from one part of my life to another,” he later told me.

“I was 80 pages in when I realized there was a pattern. When I sat inside the building things didn’t go very well, but when I got outside the building things turned around and got much better,” he remembered. What he meant was that it was only when he got out and talked to customers that he could really get a handle on the business.

We like to think that innovation is about ideas, but it’s really about solving problems. In order to surface problems, you need to ask questions, which is why Steve’s businesses started doing better when he got out of the building to talk to customers. The better questions you ask, the better problems you can identify. Here are four questions that will help you do that.


Problems come in all shapes and sizes. Some problems are relatively minor and can be worked around. Others are more fundamental and represent serious impediments to effective operations. Clearly, the more fundamental the problem you can identify, the greater the impact you can create by solving it.

One very effective technique to do that is called the 5 Whys. For example, when NY Times columnist Charles Duhigg noticed that however much he and his wife wanted to get home on time to eat dinner with their kids, they inevitably ended up getting caught up at work and arriving home late, he began to ask “why?”

The first “why” of he and his wife arriving late to dinner was because they had work to finish. Why? Because there were pesky little tasks, like responding to emails, that they needed to get done. Why? Because they couldn’t get to them during the day. Why? Because they arrived at work just before their first meeting. Why? Because they were busy getting the kids ready for school.

By the fifth “why” he realized that the problem wasn’t so much that they got caught up at work, but that it took too long to get the kids ready for school. The conundrum was solved by having the kids lay out their clothes for school the night before. The Duhiggs soon began having family dinners regularly.

It’s an incredibly powerful technique. Each why takes you a bit deeper into the problem and, as you begin to identify root causes, you’ll be able to come up with more effective solutions.

2. Where’s The Monkey?

When I work with executives, they often have a breakthrough idea they are excited about. They begin to tell me what a great opportunity it is and how they are perfectly positioned to capitalize on it. However, when I begin to dig a little deeper it appears that there is some big barrier to making it happen. When I try to ask about that, they just shut down.

One reason that this happens is that there is a fundamental tension between innovation and operations. Operational executives tend to focus on identifying clear benchmarks to track progress. That’s fine for a typical project, but when you are trying to do something truly new and different, you have to directly confront the unknown.

At Google X, the tech giant’s “moonshot factory,” the mantra is #MonkeyFirst. The idea is that if you want to get a monkey to recite Shakespeare on a pedestal, you start by training the monkey, not building the pedestal, because training the monkey is the hard part. Anyone can build a pedestal.

The problem is that most people start with the pedestal, because it’s what they know and by building it, they can show early progress against a timeline. Unfortunately, building a pedestal gets you nowhere. Unless you can actually train the monkey, working on the pedestal is wasted effort.

3. How Will We Fail?

Innovation is not a mere intellectual endeavor. It’s highly emotional. You thrive on your hopes and dreams. That’s what keeps you going and helps you block out doubts, both your own and those of others. Failure is just not something you want to contemplate. It’s just too painful.

Yet thinking seriously about failure can actually help you succeed and there are two techniques that can help you do that productively. The first, called pre-mortems, asks you to imagine that the project has failed and figure out why it happened. The second, called red teaming sets up an independent team to find flaws in the idea.

The idea isn’t to figure out ways to kill the project, but to identify holes to be plugged. For example, when the Obama administration thought it had identified Osama bin Laden’s hideout, it set up a red team to challenge the evidence. Because the red team had no emotional attachment to the initial analysis, they were able to look at it far more objectively.

As we now know, the raid on bin Laden’s compound went ahead, but the red team was able to raise important questions that strengthened the plan. To successfully innovate, you need to do the same. Identify every potential for failure that you can so that you can address those issues before going forward.

4. What Kind Of Problem Are We Trying To Solve?

Go to any innovation conference and you will undoubtedly see a wide variety of innovation experts championing their favored strategy and each will have stories that will amaze you. Design thinking, disruptive innovation, lean startup methods and open innovation have all become buzzwords because they have produced real results.

Yet none of them is a cure-all. Each performs well with some classes of problems, but not so well in others. That’s why in my book, Mapping Innovation, I advocated using the whole innovation toolbox. The trick is to match the right type of problem with the right type of solution.

The truth is that there is no one “true” path to innovation. Many organizations get stuck because they end up locking themselves into a single strategy. They find something that works and say, “this is how we innovate” and end up trying to apply essentially the same solution no matter what the problem is. Eventually, that ends badly.

That’s why it’s so important to ask good questions. Every problem is, to some extent, unique. You can’t simply assume you know the solution beforehand. That’s why Steve Blank’s businesses failed when he stayed “in the building” and prospered when he got out of it. If you want to become a better innovator. Ask better questions.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— 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.

Underground Innovation

How giving people space can make a big difference to your innovation profile

Underground Innovation

GUEST POST from John Bessant

If you’d snuck up behind me last weekend you’d have caught me in the act of painting walls. Not the most exciting of pursuits but it needed to be done so that now I can sit here and write in a freshly-painted room. And importantly one where even my clumsy brushwork doesn’t show in unsightly streaks and overruns. I am amongst millions of painters, professional and otherwise who regularly mutter small votes of thanks to Richard Drew and his invaluable contribution to the world of painting and decorating — masking tape.

This humble but essential innovation is getting on in years but still turns a profit for the company which originated it way back in 1925–3M. But it would never have seen the light of day if company strategy and official policy had prevailed. It exists because of Drew’s late night and unofficial efforts in direct defiance of his boss’s orders.

Drew was working as a technical salesman, dealing with some of the copmpany’s biggest customers for their core product — sandpaper. He spent a lot of time visiting car factories in that newly-growing industry, and in particular the paint shops where sandpaper was used to prepare metal surfaces for painting.

The paint crews were well aware of the good old days when Henry Ford had simplified their job — in 1909 he’d outlined a strategy for his company, which concentrated on a single model (the Model T) which could be built in high volume at low price. Doing this involved a number of trade-offs, not least in terms of massively editing down the choices available to customers. It was at this strategy meeting that he reputedly said ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.’

That decision helped establish the Model T as ‘a car for Everyman at a price every man can afford’, bringing the price down by 75% and putting it within the reach of many people. But it didn’t satisfy the market for long. People wanted more choice in models, styles — and colour schemes. All of which made life more difficult for the skilled craftsmen in the paint shops, trying to deliver ever more exotic paint jobs without slowing down production.

The problem is that when you want to paint with more than one colour then you need to cover up the area you don’t want painted. Which is a clumsy fussy business; early attempts involved using rags, newspapers and scraps of cardboard but then they had to be held in place, making a one-man job into a two-man job. Attempts to solve this by using sticky tape to hold the mask in place also failed; the solvents in the paint dissolved the adhesive on the tape making the whole mask slip and slide all over the surface.

An Innovation Dust-up

Which is where Richard Drew came in, trying to sell a new kind of sandpaper which 3M had launched which offered to cut down the dust created when preparing a metal surface for painting. Hearing some choice language coming from one corner of the shop he walked over to ask what the problem was — to be given an expletive filled tutorial in how not to mask up a paint job. What was needed — he was told in no uncertain terms — was a better adhesive tape which would actually stick and stay stuck!

He went back to his office and began to tinker around with various formulations to try and make something suitable. His boss wasn’t too pleased, ordering him to get back to his main job of selling sandpaper — but he kept on with the quest.

It took him two years and involved a variety of vegetable oils, chicle, linseed, various resins, glue, glycerine and treated crepe paper. What he eventually came up with was a tape strong enough to stick to the surfaces but easy enough to peel off without leaving any scars on the paintwork. Despite its promise his boss wouldn’t allow him to buy the machinery he needed to produce it in quantity — so Drew turned his innovative skills to the problem of financing capital equipment. He bought his machinery in small pieces, each of which cost less than the $99 he was permitted to spend on an item of equipment., and then assembled the machine himself.

This last act finally convinced his boss to let him go ahead — and also provided a lesson which became a company mantra. The boss in question was William McKnight and he made a key policy out of the experience. “If you have the right person on the right project, and they are absolutely dedicated to finding a solution — leave them alone. Tolerate their initiative and trust them.”

And so 3M’s ‘bootlegging’ approach was born, and it persists today embodied now in formal company policy. Give people permission to play around, don’t control them too tightly and let their natural creativity and entrepreneurship do the rest. Their 15% policy (allowing employees to spend up to 15% of their time in pursuit of their own ideas and hunches) has been responsible for thousands of product and process innovations, a few of which (like PostIt Notes) have gone on to be breakthrough radical innovations.

Operating Below the Radar

The masking tape story is a classic example of innovation happening below the radar screen (except the radar wasn’t invented in 1925!). We know today that smart companies who care about innovation invest in the capacity for innovation — R&D and market research, future scoping, etc. Organized innovation, buying themselves options on the future. All good — but maybe only focusing on the formal means potentially missing out on what might be happening underground. Because by their nature people are innovators, prone to experiment and tinker around, frustrated with aspects of their work which they think a little hacking around the edges might help them with. Why not tap into this as another source of innovation?

(Especially since it’s actually not that expensive in terms of lost productive time. The origin of the 15% figure at 3M was McKnight’s the observation that this was the time people spent on coffee breaks and on lunch breaks and so on, times when they could do some of this unofficial innovation).

It’s not just the benefits in terms of the possible product and process innovations which it might lead to. It’s also a powerful motivator, something which can help retain and inspire employees. Allowing people time and space to explore communicates a core company value — — it’s an invitation to tinker to hack things, to play around. And it has certainly paid off for 3M and other companies; consider these examples:

  • The Sony PlayStation started as a bootleg project by Ken Kutaragi, an engineer who secretly worked on a video game console with Nintendo without Sony’s approval.
  • The HP DeskJet printer was originally developed by a group of HP engineers who wanted to create a low-cost inkjet printer for personal use. They used bootleg parts and software to build their first prototype, which they hid under a tablecloth when not in use.
  • The first spreadsheet software was created by two programmers Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, who worked on their project without any formal support or funding from their employers. They went on to found their own company, Visicalc, which for a while was the market leader in the field.
  • Google’s 20% allowing employees time to spend on personal projects led to several innovations including Google Maps, Google News and Gmail.
  • Toshiba’s pioneering notebook computer was developed by a team of engineers who worked on it covertly for four years. They used their own laptops and software tools to create a prototype that featured innovative elements such as a lightweight design, a long battery life and a high-performance processor. The project was initially rejected by the management, but later accepted after some modifications. Introduced in 1985 it became a global leader in the portable computer market.
  • BMW has a long history of bootleg innovations which have gone on to become success stories. For example the Z1 roadster was developed by a small team of engineers who worked on it secretly for four years. They used their own time and resources to create a prototype that featured innovative elements such as a plastic body, retractable doors and a modular design. The project was eventually discovered by the top management and approved for production in 1986. And the iDrive was developed by a team of engineers who worked on it without any formal mandate or budget, using their own laptops and software tools. They also conducted user tests with their own cars and friends. The project was initially rejected by the management, but later became a standard feature in many BMW models. These projects helped legitimise what the company now calls ‘U-boat’ projects , recognising the value of the bootlegging approach.

Forbidden Fruit

Peter Augsdorfer made a classic study of the phenomenon, reported it in his wonderful book ‘Forbidden fruit’ in which he highlights many examples of such ‘bootlegging’ approaches. (The term originated during the 1920s when the US government banned the manufacture and sale of hard liquor; the measure didn’t have the desired effect of wiping out the industry and sobering up the country. Instead it triggered a wave of illegal but at times highly innovative ways around the problem, essentially driving innovation underground and out of sight . This included hiding illicit liquor down the inside of boots).

Augsdorfer argues that bootlegging can be seen as a form of learning under uncertainty, where employees experiment with new ideas and technologies without formal approval or support. In other words it’s an unofficial extension of the R&D/exploration work which companies need to do anyway.

Importantly it’s an approach which can have other positive benefits for organizations beyond the innovations which its employees create, such as enhancing motivation and employee retention and fostering a culture of internal entrepreneurship. But it has its ‘dark side’; there are negative outcomes including wasting time and resources, violating ethical norms and — a big challenge for those trying to ‘manage’ it — undermining organizational control and co-ordination frameworks.

Innovation Missionaries

Augsdorfer orginally wrote about this 25 years ago but a recent article in the Sloan Management Review reminds us that such underground innovation is alive and well. It’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’ and their article highlights a number of different approaches. It also usefully identifies three key archetypes of characters who may be innovators of this kind. They call them ‘missionaries’, ‘users’ and ‘explorers’.

Missionaries have a particular interest in the development of the company; their self-adopted ‘mission’ is to improve things. Characters like Richard Drew would fall into this category, seeing their own progress as being tied up with the fortunes of the company they work for and tapping into its resources to help them achieve their goals.

User innovators are essentially frustrated in what they are doing — they develop hacks and work arounds to solve problems particularly in the area of process innovation and their ideas can often be surfaced through suggestion schemes and other mechanisms.

And explorers are concerned with pushing the frontiers of what they do, sometimes going in directions which the company does not believe is possible. The risk here is that they pursue their ideas too far, detracting from their mainstream work and official company strategy.

Making Space for Innovation

So what makes underground innovation work? It’s not simply waving a magic wand, Harry Potter style, and casting the ‘Innovate!’ spell. Instead a number of things need to come together:

  • Allowing space — time, access to resources, etc. The exact amount — 15, 20 or even higher percentages of time — is irrelevant. It’s the signal that matters, communicating that it is OK to experiment around the edges and that there won’t be negative consequences for such action. What often happens is that this small amount of investment encourages employees to spend much more of their own time and initiative, often working long unpaid hours in pursuit of their ideas. At the limit (as Paula Criscuouolo and her colleagues point out) there are good examples of bootlegging arising from contexts in which there is no formal space or time allocation but an underlying perception that it is still OK to ‘dig around a little’.
  • Giving boundaries — defining the space within which innovation is possible and permission to explore there. For example we don’t necessarily want bootleg innovation in the formulation of pharmaceutical products but that leaves plenty of scope for other ideas, particularly in process innovation.
  • Establishing a development pathway to pick up on bootleg ideas. There’s no point stimulating lots of bootlegging behaviour if employees have nowhere to channel their ideas once they start to develop. In the case of 3M there’s a clear pathway which allows employees to take bright ideas and pitch for varying amounts of internal funding and other resources to grow and scale their innovations. Such functionality is increasingly built into innovation collaboration platforms and many companies — such as Liberty Global with their Spark programme — have established employee entrepreneurship pathways in parallel to their suggestion schemes.
  • Communicate trust as a core value — allowing bootleggers to feel a sense of psychological safety about what they are doing and that they will not be penalised for their activities.
  • Reward and recognise — it’s no coincidence that one of the things about 3M is that the people who have been involved in developing bootleg projects to fruition are then rewarded not just with resources and money but also with the opportunity to carry their venture forward. One of the two people involved in the development of Post it notes was Art Fry who moved on to run the division for 3M. The originator of the laptop computer within Toshiba similarly went on to run that division of their business.
  • Encourage intelligent failure — the down-side of allowing people to take initiative is that they will make mistakes. Importantly one of McKnight’s famous comments was that Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.’

Underground innovation has a lot to offer -but as the above suggests it isn’t a simple matter of mimicking Google or 3M, allocating a percentage of time and then waiting for the magic to happen. Successful organizations make employee involvement a key plank in building their innovation culture; something William Mcknight learned from his experience as Richard Drew’s manager. By 1929 he was running the entire 3M company and he pulled together some of the core principles through which their culture developed — including what he called his ‘Basic rule of management’. It’s deceptively simple and it serves well as a motto for anyone interested in tapping into underground innovation:

“delegate responsibility and encourage men and women to exercise their initiative.”

Image Credits: Pixabay

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

And if you’d like to learn with me take a look at my online course here

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.

Fear is a Leading Indicator of Personal Growth

Fear is a Leading Indicator of Personal Growth

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

When was the last time you did something that scared you? And a more important follow-on question: How did you push through your fear and turn it into action?

Fear is real. Our bodies make it, but it’s real. And the feelings we create around fear are real, and so are the inhibitions we wrap around those feelings. But because we have the authority to make the fear, create the feelings, and wrap the inhibitions, we also have the authority to unmake, un-create, and unwrap.

Fear can feel strong. Whether it’s tightness in the gut, coldness in the chest, or lushness in the face, the physical manifestations in the body are recognizable and powerful. The sensations around fear are strong enough to stop us in our tracks. And in the wild of a bygone time, that was fear’s job – to stop us from making a mistake that would kill us. And though we no longer venture into the wild, fear responds to family dynamics, social situations, interactions at work, as if we still live in the wild.

To dampen the impact of our bodies’ fear response, the first step is to learn to recognize the physical sensations of fear for what they are – sensations we make when new situations arise. To do that, feel the sensations, acknowledge your body made them, and look for the novelty, or divergence from our expectations, that the sensations stand for. In that way, you can move from paralysis to analysis. You can move from fear as a blocker to fear as a leading indicator of personal growth.

Fear is powerful, and it knows how to create bodily sensations that scare us. But, that’s the chink in the armor that fear doesn’t want us to know. Fear is afraid to be called by name, so it generates these scary sensations so it can go on controlling our lives as it sees fit. So, next time you feel the sensations of fear in your body, welcome fear warmly and call it by name. Say something like, “Hello Fear. Thank you for visiting with me. I’d like to get to know you better. Can you stay for a coffee?”

You might find that Fear will engage in a discussion with you and apologize for causing you trouble. Fear may confess that it doesn’t like how it treats you and acknowledge that it doesn’t know how to change its ways. Or, it may become afraid and squirt more fear sensations into your body. If that happens, tell Fear that you understand it’s just doing what it evolved to do, and repeat your offer to sit with it and learn more about its ways.

The objective of calling Fear by name is to give you a process to feel and validate the sensations and then calm yourself by looking deeply at the novelty of the situation. By looking squarely into Fear’s eyes, it will slowly evaporate to reveal the nugget of novelty it was cloaking. And with the novelty in your sights, you can look deeply at this new situation (or context or interpersonal dynamic) and understand it for what it is. Without Fear’s distracting sensations, you will be pleasantly surprised with your ability to see the situation for what it is and take skillful action.

So, when Fear comes, feel the sensations. Don’t push them away. Instead, call Fear by name. Invite Fear to tell its story, and get to know it. You may find that accepting Fear for what it is can help you grow your relationship with Fear into a partnership where you help each other grow.

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.

Latest Interview with the What’s Next? Podcast

Latest Interview with the What's Next? Podcast

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Shannon Phillips and Tristan Ham of the What’s Next? Podcast, about altering your mindset to become future-focused and the impact this can have on your business.

We had the opportunity to discuss the links between curiosity, imagination and creativity. And how to bring urgency to imagination leveraging among other things – The Nine Innovation Roles.

From there we explore how imagination can atrophy in an organization, how our educational and corporate institutions fail us and how we can bring back imagination and innovation through world building.

Some of the elements of the conversation came from things I have incorporated into a set of tools designed to help anyone be a futurist called FutureHacking™, which is designed to take some of the mystery out of futures research and foresight, and help you get to the future first!

But most importantly, we spoke about how a futurist is not the same as a fortune teller.

I think you’ll enjoy the conversation!

Here is the Spotify version of my visit with the What’s Next? podcast:

If you’d like to sign up to learn more about my new FutureHacking™ methodology and set of tools, go here.

Accelerate your change and transformation success

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

Customers Have Bad Days Too

Customers Have Bad Days Too

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

You’ve probably experienced this. No matter how hard you try to please some customers, they aren’t happy. It’s frustrating, but at the same time, it’s reality.

And speaking of reality, no matter how good you are at creating an amazing customer experience, it is the customer’s perception that counts. Their perception is their reality.

I once went to an amazing restaurant – at least, I was told it was amazing. That evening, I had a bad cold. The people I was with raved about the food, however, I didn’t have the same experience. It had nothing to do with the food. It had to do with how I was feeling.

When customers aren’t responding to the excellent service you’re providing the way you want them to, you might refer to them as “difficult” customers. The question to ask is, “What’s making them difficult?” Maybe they have a legitimate gripe. Maybe they have unreasonable expectations. Or maybe, as in my example of the restaurant, they aren’t feeling well.

I was reading a LinkedIn post from Valerie Choniuk, the national director of patient experience at Agilon Health, who described exactly what I’m referring to. A hospital may be known for its compassionate treatment and commitment to taking care of its patients, but if patients are in great pain, they may not be able to “enjoy” the experience you provide. That patient may be the nicest person in the world, but because of the pain, may become a difficult customer. To Choniuk’s point, “Patients are not purposely GIVING us a hard time. They are HAVING a hard time.”

Sure, some people are chronic curmudgeons. You may never be able to make them happy. Accept it. Other customers are very nice people just having a bad day. You must accept that, too. Continue to do your best, regardless. If you can turn the mood of a person having a bad day into something better, you can declare victory. But don’t stress over it if you can’t.

Not every experience you create for your customers will be exceptional, no matter how hard you try. But the point is that you try. Nobody is perfect, and things can go wrong. That’s okay. It’s how you fix it that makes the difference. And then there are days when it seems things did go well, but you still can’t make that customer happy, no matter how hard you try. It’s like a professional sports team that played a great game but lost. It’s going to happen. It’s not your fault. If you can sleep at night knowing you did your best, you should sleep well.

So do your best, and remember, sometimes customers are just having a bad day!

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.

A Tipping Point for Organizational Culture

A Tipping Point for Organizational Culture

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Like millions of others globally, I watched with fascination, the sensational and striking spectacle of the ceremony, significant symbolism, spectacular artifacts, and rituals at the recent King of England’s majestic coronation. At the same time, I allowed my mind to wander and wondered how this visually stunning and unrivaled British ceremony would impact the nations and realms’ culture and leadership, today and in the future, wondering if, indeed, it is at a cultural tipping point.

Where it is believed, by some, that the coronation made “two statements of great importance for today’s world about the place of religion in public life and the importance and meaning of the nation”. Acknowledging that such a monumental and marvelous event is indicative of a cultural tipping point, not only for the people it embraces but also for organizations, nations, and realms as a whole, to search for what is meaningful and valued by its people.

Making the connection

My mind wandered and made some obvious connections between the core and common elements that embody both organizational, and national cultural realms – the values, beliefs, assumptions, and mindsets that drive key behaviors and deliver the common implicit messages. As well as the disciplined systems and processes that deliver the results, the rituals that are enacted, and finally, the artifacts whose symbols represent what the culture values.

Maintaining relevance and engagement 

Like the monarchy, what do organizations need to do to maintain relevance and engagement to thrive in unstable and uncertain times, especially when their existence and legacies are being questioned and evaluated by the people they serve?

At a pivotal time when new sets of global, societal, and organizational demands are being made, largely as a result of the fourth industrial revolution, encompassing the convergence of exponential technologies impacting all of us globally.

At the same time, we are all still affected by the consequences of the global pandemic-induced lockdowns, impacting every fabric of our social and civic structures in our world today.

A case study for leveraging cultural tipping points differently 

The coronation of King Charles III provides us with a great case study of an outstanding and remarkable display of English cultural attributes.

This enables us to ask some serious questions about how national and organizational cultures and leadership in times of exponential change, like today, might thrive with uncertainty and co-create solutions to some of the most complex global challenges, by leveraging the range of cultural tipping points differently.

A range of organizational cultural tipping points

We are in effect, experiencing globally a range of cultural tipping points:

  1. At the macro level, according to a recent article here in Australia, where King Charles still resides as our head of state, the local SMH states that this realm is in a state of flux:

“The King is head of state in 15 countries. More than half of the so-called “realm states” are in the Caribbean and most of them are bailing out. Barbados two years ago, Jamaica probably next year. Belize, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are planning their exit as well”.

  1. At the micro level, according to Mc Kinsey & Co, in a recent article “New Leadership for a new era of thriving organizations” stated that organizations and leadership are also in a state of flux:

“Organizations such as Allianz, Haier, Microsoft, and Nucor are transforming their industries with a new organizational approach that seeks to be open, fluid, and adaptable; unleashes the collective energy, passion, and capabilities of its people; reimagines strategy; and focuses on delivering greater value to all stakeholders”.

“Their cultures support a more open, collaborative, and emergent way of working. And the shift to this new kind of model changes the way businesspeople must lead”.

Going back to culture and leadership fundamentals

Because culture and leadership are, according to Edgar H. Schein “two sides of the same coin and cannot understand one without the other” we have to be in charge and focused to intentionally, constructively, and creatively manage their interdependence.

He also states that culture matters because it is a “powerful, tacit, and often unconscious set of forces that determine both our individual and collective behaviors, ways of perceiving, thought patterns, and values”.

If we do not intentionally and strategically take charge, focus, and leverage these forces, we will simply always be at the effect of them, as they take us down the path of least resistance, remain implicit, and will not deliver the results we want and need in a disruptive world.

Going back to culture and leadership fundamentals

Because culture and leadership are, according to Edgar H. Schein “two sides of the same coin and cannot understand one without the other” we have to be in charge and focused to intentionally, constructively, and creatively manage their interdependence.

He also states that culture matters because it is a “powerful, tacit, and often unconscious set of forces that determine both our individual and collective behaviors, ways of perceiving, thought patterns, and values”.

If we do not intentionally and strategically take charge, focus, and leverage these forces, we will simply always be at the effect of them, as they take us down the path of least resistance, remain implicit, and will not deliver the results we want and need in a disruptive world.

Sharing the key messages

My mind then wandered and considered what might be the key messages being communicated by this incredible series of marvelous events, and wondered how relevant and engaging they might be to people today:

  • A coronation signals the conferment of God’s grace upon a ruler,
  • A coronation appoints the king as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England,
  • A coronation is a joyous and celebratory event.

Back to the SMH “The people got what they wanted. The cheers in the Mall, the boulevard built for the adoration of royalty, were real, even if the masses were down on those for the Queen’s Jubilee.”

Impacting the future

It remains to be seen if this powerful, majestic, memorable, and significant once-in-a-lifetime ceremonial event will ultimately help unify or divide the English realm. Which it seems, is facing its own range of unique challenges and a controversial cultural tipping point, ultimately and seriously impacting its future viability.

Back to the SMH “But Charles’s big show might be his last great day. The last dance of a wheeling, brilliant circus that has entertained and beguiled but which soon enough, in its distant realms, will stutter and shrink and reel no more.”

Why does this matter?

This matters today because we are individually, and collectively at a range of social, civic, and organizational cultural tipping points.

Where our organization and leaders are also dancing many of our “last dances”, and “stutter and shrink and reel nor more” because, according to some, we are not strategically focussed on leveraging the culture and leadership basics:

  • Implicitly clarifying values that focus on delivering value that improves the quality of people’s lives that they appreciate and cherish and explicitly making them an active part of corporate life.
  • Ensuring that leaders role model and enact behaviors that demonstrate the values in action, where people are accountable and rewarded by rigorous systems and supportive disciplined, and agile processes.
  • Co-creating powerful sets of rituals, symbols, and artifacts, aligned to the values, that deliver the “new architectures” to create permission, safety, and trust that drive collaborationexperimentation, innovation, inclusion, and sustainability.
  • Communicating engaging and inclusive messages that resonate creativity, respect, and appreciation for people, profit, and the planet.

Shifting the organizational cultural tipping points

It’s time to transform leadership to transform organizations, in ways that are self-aware and inspiring, meaningful and purposeful, equitable and sustainable, with increasing speed, resilience, and efficiency to guide organizational cultures and leadership that:

  • Helps people navigate and balance in-person and remote work, be mentally healthy and well, and make the way for both applied AI and human skills development.
  • Develops new rules for attracting and retaining people, close the capability chasm and walk the talent tightropes to better equip, empower and harness people’s harness collective intelligence to make both the organization and the world better places.
  • Creates, invents, and innovates new ways of thinking, and acting that ultimately shift the range of cultural tipping points to meet new sets of global, societal, and organizational demands and challenges emerging in the 21st century, and lets go of what is no longer relevant to better serve humanity as a whole.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

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

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 innovation context. Find out more about our products and tools.

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.

3 Innovation Types Not What You Think They Are

But They Do Determine Your Success

3 Innovation Types Not What You Think They Are

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

The Official Story

When discussing innovation, you must be specific so people know what you expect. This is why so many thought leaders, consultants, and practitioners preach the importance of defining different types of innovation.

  • Clayton Christensen encourages focusing on WHY innovation is happening – improve performance, improve efficiency, or create markets – in his 2014 HBR article.
  • The classic Core/Adjacent/Transformational model focuses on WHAT is changing – target customer, offering, financial model, and resources and processes.
  • McKinsey’s 3 Horizons focus on WHEN the results are achieved – this year, 2-3 years, 3-6 years.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options and worry about which approach is “best.”  But, like all frameworks, they’re all a little bit right and a little bit wrong, and the best one is the one that will be used and get results in your organization.

The REAL story

Everything in the official story is true, but not the whole truth.

“Innovation” is not peanut butter. 

You can’t smear it all over everything and expect deliciousness.

When doing innovation, you must remember your customer – the executives who make decisions, allocate resources, and can accelerate or decimate your efforts.

More importantly, you need to remember their Jobs to be Done (JTBD) – keep my job, feel safe and respected, and be perceived as competent/a rising star – because these jobs define the innovations that will get to market.

Three (3) REAL types of innovation

SAFE – The delightful solution to decision-makers’ JTBD

Most closely aligned with Core innovation, improving performance or efficiency, and Horizon 1 because the focus is on improving what exists in a way that will generate revenue this year or next. Decision-makers feel confident because they’ve “been there and done that” (heck, doing “that” is probably what got them promoted in the first place). In fact, they’re more likely to get in trouble for NOT investing in these types of innovations than they are for investing in them.

STRETCH – The Good Enough solution

Most like Adjacent innovation because they allow decision-makers to keep one foot in the known while “stretching” their other foot into a new (to them) area. This type of innovation makes decision-makers nervous because they don’t have all the answers, but they feel like they at least know what questions to ask. Progress will require more data, and decisions will take longer than most intrapreneurs want. But eventually, enough time and resources (and ego/reputation) will be invested that, unless the team recommends killing it, the project will launch.

SPLATTER – The Terrible solution

No matter what you call them – transformational, radical, breakthrough, disruptive, or moonshots – these innovations make everyone’s eyes light up before reality kicks in and crushes our dreams. These innovations “define the next chapter of our business” and “disrupt ourselves before we’re disrupted.”  These innovations also require decision-makers to let go of everything they know and wander entirely into the unknown. To invest resources in the hope of seeing the return (and reward) come back to their successor (or successor’s successor). To defend their decisions, their team, and themselves when things don’t go exactly as planned.

How to find the REAL type that will get real results.

  1. “You said you want X. Would you describe that for me?” (you may need to give examples). When I worked at Clayton Christensen’s firm, executives would always call and ask for our help to create a disruptive innovation. When I would explain what they were actually asking for (something with “good enough” performance and a low selling price that appeals to non-consumers), they would back away from the table, wave their hands, and say, “Oh, not that. We don’t want that.
  2. “How much are you willing to risk?”  If they’re willing to go to their boss to ask for resources, they’re willing to Stretch. If they’re willing to get fired, they’re willing to Splatter. If everything needs to stay within their signing authority, it’s all about staying Safe.
  3. “What would you need to see to risk more?”  As an innovator, you’ll always want more freedom to push boundaries and feel confident that you can convince others to see things your way. But before you pitch Stretch to a boss that wants Safe, or Splatter to a boss barely willing to Stretch, learn what they need to change their minds. Maybe it will be worth your effort, maybe it won’t. Better to know sooner rather than later.

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.

How Networks Power Transformation

How Networks Power Transformation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

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

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

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

Why Blockbuster Really Failed

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

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

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

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

Addressing The Internal Struggle

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

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

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

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

Rewiring Networks

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

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

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

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

Rethinking Leadership For A Networked Age

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

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

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

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

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

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.

8 Strategies to Future-Proofing Your Business & Gaining Competitive Advantage

The Power of Harnessing Strategic Foresight

8 Strategies to Future-Proofing Your Business & Gaining Competitive Advantage

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

“Patience and foresight are the two most important qualities in business.” — Henry Ford

In the dynamic business landscape of the 21st century, strategic foresight stands as the beacon that lights the path toward future-proofing businesses and gaining a competitive advantage. More than a mere tool for predicting trends, it is a sophisticated compass that allows businesses to navigate the turbulence of change, seize emerging opportunities, and ensure long-term sustainability.

Below are eight key strategies that form the backbone of strategic foresight. These strategies will enable you to effectively navigate the future, transforming uncertainties into opportunities, and driving your business towards lasting success:

1. Leveraging the “Got You There Shuffle”

Adapting to the future begins with understanding the past. Grounded in the wisdom of renowned leadership thinker Marshall Goldsmith’s philosophy, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” businesses are urged to reflect on their past successes. Unpack what led to your success and how it can be reshaped to meet future demands. The key here is not merely sticking to what has worked before but reshuffling and reimagining these elements to adapt to new realities.

2. Embrace the Power of Imagination

Building a resilient business requires thinking beyond the constraints of the present. Push the boundaries of your team’s creative thinking, considering the possibilities and the seemingly impossible. Encourage a culture where imagination is not restricted but nurtured. Remember, today’s unimaginable can become tomorrow’s reality. Your next breakthrough idea might just be hidden in the peripheries of your imagination.

3. Mastering the Anticipation Game

The future, by its nature, is laden with ‘what-ifs.’ Anticipate all possible scenarios – from the most optimistic to the most challenging. Proactively playing the anticipation game enables you to create effective plans to navigate potential pitfalls and seize emerging opportunities. With a well-thought-out contingency plan in place, you ensure the resilience of your business no matter the scenario.

4. Celebrating Success and Embracing failure

Understanding each scenario’s potential outcomes- success and failure – provides crucial insights for your business strategy. Create detailed visualizations of success and failure: identify potential pitfalls, anticipate customer challenges, and plan for various market dynamics. This allows you to monitor progress and adjust your course as necessary, ensuring you remain on the path to success.

 As the world evolves, competitive advantage will increasingly belong to those who can anticipate change, adapt swiftly, and reinvent themselves. Through strategic foresight, you can build a future-proof business that doesn’t merely survive change but leverages it for continued success. Remember, resilience isn’t just about bouncing back; it’s about bouncing forward.

5. Encouraging Cross-Pollination of Ideas

In an interconnected business world, fostering a culture of cross-pollination of ideas can help companies anticipate future trends and devise innovative solutions. Encourage your team members to collaborate, blend insights from different industries, and develop fresh perspectives. Not only does this approach boost creativity, but it also leads to more robust strategies capable of weathering future uncertainties.

6. Regular Horizon Scanning

Horizon scanning is a strategic foresight tool that systematically explores and interprets the business landscape to identify emerging trends, opportunities, and threats. Regular horizon scanning enables businesses to keep their finger on the pulse of change and stay ahead of the curve.

7. Building Learning Organizations

An organization that learns from its past, observes the present, and uses that knowledge to inform the future has a significant competitive advantage. Promote a culture of continuous learning within your organization, where failures are seen as opportunities for improvement and successes as steppingstones towards greater innovation.

8. Implementing Backcasting Techniques

Backcasting is a strategic planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backward to identify the steps necessary to achieve that future. It enables businesses to establish a clear vision and map a path aligning with their long-term strategic objectives.

 Shaping the Future through Strategic Foresight

Navigating the future may seem daunting, given its inherent unpredictability. However, with strategic foresight, businesses can convert uncertainty into an opportunity-filled landscape. Implementing these strategies equips your organization with the agility and resilience needed to respond to change and shape the future.

The crux of strategic foresight lies in understanding that the future isn’t something that happens to us – it’s something we can influence. As business leaders, we can turn our visions for the future into reality. By embracing strategic foresight, we gain the ability to foresee, adapt, innovate, and ultimately lead in an evolving business landscape. It’s not about predicting the future but about making informed decisions today that will shape the future of our organizations.

Additional Insights from Teresa Spangler:

Podcast links:

FutureForward on Linkedin | Plazabridge Group |  Spotify

Apple Podcast | iHeart Radio  |  Podcast |Youtube |Amazon  |Google  |  Podcast Addict

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.

Sprint Toward the Innovation Action

Sprint Toward the Innovation Action

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

Companies have control over one thing: how to allocate their resources. Companies allocate resources by deciding which projects to start, accelerate, and stop; whom to allocate to the projects; how to go about the projects; and whom to hire, invest in, and fire. That’s it.

Taking a broad view of project selection to include starting, accelerating, and stopping projects, as a leader, what is your role in project selection, or, at a grander scale, initiative selection? When was the last time you initiated a disruptive yet heretical new project from scratch? When was the last time you advocated for incremental funding to accelerate a floundering yet revolutionary project? When was the last time you stopped a tired project that should have been put to rest last year? And because the projects are the only thing that generates revenue for your company, how do you feel about all that?

Without your active advocacy and direct involvement, it’s likely the disruptive project won’t see the light of day. Without you to listen to the complaints of heresy and actively disregard them, the organization will block the much-needed disruption. Without your brazen zeal, it’s likely the insufficiently-funded project won’t revolutionize anything. Without you to put your reputation on the line and decree that it’s time for a revolution, the organization will starve the project and the revolution will wither. Without your critical eye and thought-provoking questions, it’s likely the tired project will limp along for another year and suck up the much-needed resources to fund the disruptions, revolutions, and heresy.

Now, I ask you again. How do you feel about your (in)active (un)involvement with starting projects that should be started, accelerating projects that should be accelerated, and stopping projects that should be stopped?

And with regard to project staffing, when was the last time you stepped in and replaced a project manager who was over their head? Or, when was the last time you set up a recurring meeting with a project manager whose project was in trouble? Or, more significantly, when was the last time you cleared your schedule and ran toward the smoke of an important project on fire? Without your involvement, the over-their-head project manager will drown. Without your investment in a weekly meeting, the troubled project will spiral into the ground. Without your active involvement in the smoldering project, it will flame out.

As a leader, do you have your fingers on the pulse of the most important projects? Do you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to know which projects need help? And do you have the chops to step in and do what must be done? And how do you feel about all that?

As a leader, do you know enough about the work to provide guidance on a major course change? Do you know enough to advise the project team on a novel approach? Do you have the gumption to push back on the project team when they don’t want to listen to you? As a leader, how do you feel about that?

As a leader, you probably have direct involvement in important hiring and firing decisions. And that’s good. But, as a leader, how much of your time do you spend developing young talent? How many hours per week do you talk to them about the details of their projects and deliverables? How many hours per week do you devote to refactoring troubled projects with the young project managers? And how do you feel about that?

If you want to grow revenue, shape the projects so they generate more revenue. If you want to grow new businesses, advocate for projects that create new businesses. If you need a revolution, start revolutionary projects and protect them. And if you want to accelerate the flywheel, help your best project managers elevate their game.

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.