Proof Innovation Takes More Than Genius

Proof Innovation Takes More Than Genius

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

It’s easy to look at someone like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk and imagine that their success was inevitable. Their accomplishments are so out of the ordinary that it just seems impossible that they could have ever been anything other than successful. You get the sense that whatever obstacles they encountered, they would overcome.

Yet it isn’t that hard to imagine a different path. If, for example, Jobs had remained in Homs, Syria, where he was conceived, it’s hard to see how he would have ever been able to become a technology entrepreneur at all, much less a global icon. If Apartheid never ended, Musk’s path to Silicon Valley would be much less likely as well.

The truth is that genius can be exceptionally fragile. Making a breakthrough takes more than talent. It requires a mixture of talent, luck and an ecosystem of support to mold an idea into something transformative. In fact, in my research of great innovators what’s amazed me the most is how often they almost drifted into obscurity. Who knows how many we have lost?

The One That Nearly Slipped Away

On a January morning in 1913, the eminent mathematician G.H. Hardy opened his mail to find a letter written in almost indecipherable scrawl from a destitute young man in India named Srinivasa Ramanujan. It began inauspiciously:

I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of £ 20 per annum. I am now about 23 years of age. I have had no university education but I have undergone the ordinary school. I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at Mathematics.

Inside he found what looked like mathematical nonsense, using strange notation and purporting theories that “scarcely seemed possible.” It was almost impossible to understand, except for a small section that refuted one of Hardy’s own conjectures made just months before. Assuming some sort of strange prank, he threw it in the wastebasket.

Throughout the day, however, Hardy found the ideas in the paper gnawing at him and he retrieved the letter. That night, he took it over to the home of his longtime collaborator, J.E. Littlewood. By midnight, they realized that they had just discovered one of the greatest mathematical talents the world had ever seen.

They invited him to Cambridge, where together they revolutionized number theory. Although Ramanujan’s work was abstract, it has made serious contributions to fields ranging from crystallography and string theory. Even now, almost a century later, his notebooks continue to be widely studied by mathematicians looking to glean new insights.

A Distraught Young Graduate

Near the turn of the 20th century, the son of a well-to-do industrialist, recently graduated from university, found himself poorly married with a young child and unemployed. He fell into a deep depression, became nearly suicidal and wrote to his sister in a letter:

What depresses me most is the misfortune of my poor parents who have not had a happy moment for so many years. What further hurts me deeply is that as an adult man, I have to look on without being able to do anything. I am nothing but a burden to my family…It would be better off if I were not alive at all.

His father would pass away a few years later. By that time, the young Albert Einstein did find work as a lowly government clerk. Soon after, in 1905, he unleashed four papers in quick succession that would change the world. It was an accomplishment so remarkable that it is now referred to as his miracle year.

It would still be another seven years before Einstein finally got a job as a university professor. It wasn’t after 1919, when a solar eclipse confirmed his oddball theory, that he became the world famous icon we know today.

The Medical Breakthrough That Almost Never Happened

Jim Allison spent most of his life as a fairly ordinary bench scientist and that’s all he really wanted to be. He told me once that he “just liked figuring things out” and by doing so, he gained some level of prominence in the field of immunology, making discoveries that were primarily of interest to other immunologists.

His path diverged when he began to research the ability of our immune system to fight cancer. Using a novel approach, he was able to show amazing results in mice. “The tumors just melted away,” he told me. Excited, he practically ran to tell pharmaceutical companies about his idea and get them to invest in his research.

Unfortunately, they were not impressed. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t understand Jim’s idea, but that they had already invested — and lost — billions of dollars on similar ideas. Hundreds of trials had been undertaken on immunological approaches to cancer and there hadn’t been one real success.

Nonetheless, Jim persevered. He collected more data, pounded the pavement and made his case. It took three years, but he eventually got a small biotech company to invest in his idea and cancer immunotherapy is now considered to be a miracle cure. Tens of thousands of people are alive today because Jim had the courage and grit to stick it out.

Genius Can Come From Anywhere

These are all, in the end, mostly happy stories. Ramanujan did not die in obscurity, but is recognized as one of the great mathematical minds in history. Einstein’s did not succumb to despair, but became almost synonymous with genius. Jill Allison won the Nobel Prize for his work in 2018.

Yet it is easy to see how it all could have turned out differently. Ramanujan sent out letters to three mathematicians in England. The other two ignored him (and Hardy almost did). Einstein’s job at the patent office was almost uniquely suited to his mode of thinking, giving him time to daydream and pursue thought experiments. Dozens of firms passed on Allison’s idea before he found one that would back him.

We’d like to think that today, with all of our digital connectivity and search capability, that we’d be much better at finding and nurturing genius, but there are indications the opposite may be true. It’s easy to imagine the next Ramanujan pulled from his parents at a border camp. With increased rates of depression and suicide in America, the next Einstein is probably more likely to succumb.

The most important thing to understand about innovation is that it is something that people do. The truth is that a mind is a fragile thing. It needs to be nurtured and supported. That’s just as true for a normal, everyday mind capable of normal, everyday accomplishments. When we talk about innovation and how to improve it, that seems to me to be a good place to start.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: MisterInnovation.com (Pixabay)

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Why Diversity and Inclusion Are Entrepreneurial Competencies

Why Diversity and Inclusion Are Entrepreneurial Competencies

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers, M.D.

A competency is the ability to do something successfully. There are many entrepreneurial competencies. One of them is interdisciplinary teamwork and collaboration i.e. the ability of individuals to form partnerships with a team of professionally diverse individuals in a participatory, collaborative, and coordinated approach to share decision making around issues as the means to achieving improved health outcomes .

In the public health world, D & I means dissemination and implementation i.e. how does a intervention come into common use or become the standard of care. Here is what you need to know about it.

In the education and student success world, D, E & I means diversity, equity and inclusion. Here is the case for it.

In the entrepreneurial world, D, E & I is even more expansive and is measured by:

  1. Your ability to lead high performance teams both face to face and virtually
  2. How you create psychological safety – Here are four ways to boost psychological safety.
  3. The composition of your teams
  4. International representation
  5. Demographic representation
  6. Functional representation (marketing, engineering, finance, etc)
  7. Results
  8. Persona representation: coaches, teachers, cynics, mentors, etc
  9. Listening to both good rebels and bad rebels
  10. The people on your leadership team, advisory board and board of directors
  11. How you incorporate ideas from industries outside of your own. Sickcare cannot be fixed from inside.
  12. How you avoid bias and noise to influence outcomes and variability in decision making.
  13. How you avoid colorism in your sales and marketing approach.
  14. Ownership, not just fairness
  15. Improving your emotional intelligence along the narcissistic-empathy spectrum

Measuring the results or your efforts requires people analytics.

Are you ready to innovate?

I’m a privileged, old white guy who won the ovary lottery. My child of immigrant, first generation to college father got an advanced degrees. Consequently, I was able to grow up in the right ZIP code and take advantage of the opportunities afforded to me by sheer dumb luck. As a result, I wound up being an academic surgeon and worked at the same place for 40 years until I retired as an emeritus professor to pursue my next encore side gig, including working with several non-profits that sit at the intersection of sick care, higher education, biomedical and clinical entrepreneurship and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Four key arguments make the case for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What are the barriers to leading DEI?

Rather than making leaders solely responsible for their own effectiveness, these researchers allow a balance between managerial competences and the many constraints that limit leaders. With bounded leadership, they look past the leader’s characteristics and consider the many constraints they encounter at the individual, team, organizational and stakeholder levels.

In bounded leadership, there are five distinct abilities leaders require to be effective:

  • Anticipation competence: The ability to predict market patterns and conditions, which are essential to the organization, such as future trends or customer needs
  • Mobilization competence: The ability to inspire employees to put an extraordinary effort into their work
  • Self-reflection competence: The ability to analyze past experiences and draw useful conclusions
  • Values-creation competence: The ability to promote a leader’s values in the organization
  • Visionary competence: The ability to create an attractive vision of the organization, communicate this vision to followers and empower them to implement it

Each of these competencies presents several hurdles: cultural (difficulties in changing values and norms), emotional (strong negative emotions that prevent rational behavior), entitlement (formalized organizational responsibilities and hierarchy), ethical (leaders’ dilemmas), informational (difficulties in processing or collecting data), motivational (problems with inspiring others) and political (office politics and power plays).

Competencies are measured by entrustable professional activities defined by a performance rubric. Creating diverse, equitable, inclusive teams that deliver expected results is one of them. But, getting from said to done takes more than education, training and policy changes.

Being DEI competent is not about changing your mind. It requires changing your mindset.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Your Next Best Action is Up to You

Your Next Best Action is Up to You

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can try to remember why you started the whole thing or you can do something else. Either can remedy things, but how do you choose between them? If you’ve forgotten your “why”, maybe it’s worth forgetting or maybe something else temporarily came up that pushed your still-important why underground for a short time. If it’s worth forgetting, maybe it’s time for something else. And if it’s worth remembering, maybe it’s time to double down. Only you can choose.

If you still remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can ask yourself if your why is still worth its salt or if something changed, either inside you or in your circumstances, that has twisted your why to something beyond salvage. If your why is still as salty as ever, maybe it’s right to stay the course. But if it’s still as salty as ever but you now think it’s distasteful, maybe it’s time for a change.

When you do what you did last time, are you more efficient or more dissatisfied, or both? And if you imagine yourself doing it again, do you look forward to more efficiency or predict more dissatisfaction? These questions can help you decide whether to keep things as they are or change them.

What have you learned over the last year? Whether your list is long or if it’s short, it’s a good barometer to inform your next chapter.

What new skills have you mastered over the last year? Is the list long or short? If you don’t want to grow your mastery, keep things as they are.

Do the people you work with inspire you or bring you down? Are you energized or depleted by them? If you’re into depletion, there’s no need to change anything.

Do you have more autonomy than last year? And how do you feel about that? Let your answers guide your future.

What is the purpose behind what you do? Is it aligned with your internal compass? These two questions can bring clarity.

You’re the only one who can ask yourself these questions; you’re the only one who can decide if you like the answers; and you’re the only one who is responsible for what you do next. What you do next is up to you.

Fork in the road” by Kai Hendry is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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People Drive the World-Technology as a Co-Pilot via Center of Human Compassion

People Drive the World-Technology as a Co-Pilot via Center of Human Compassion

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

People at the Center – Technology as a Co-Pilot

Are people at the center of your innovation and new product plans? Have we made people the center of all things digital? Are human’s and our environment the center of the new world entering the 4th Industrial Revolution? When innovation is during groundbreaking disruptive inventions or whether innovation is iterating into new products… what is placed at the center of your strategies? What are the reasons for these new inventions?

So much is at stake, as the world turns to being driven by AI, humanoids, rockets’ red glare searching for new lands to inhabit, games and more games feeding our brains with virtual excitement and stimulation, devices galore on our bodies, in our hands, in our homes helping us navigate our every move and in many ways directing us on how to think. The acceleration of digital permeating our lives is mind boggling. The news we are fed, seemingly unbiased, the product advertisements that sneak into our feeds, the connections via too many social and work-related networks that appear all too promising and friendly too is overwhelming. Technology is encompassing our lives!

The Power of Technology

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology for all the positive it contributes to the world. Technology is allowing individuals to create! To create and earn! To take control of their lives and build meaningful endeavors. The creation of TIME and SPACE to live how we to live has been a major outcome of

1. technology but also 2. the pandemic.

Let’s explore the creator economy which has experienced an explosion of late. As referenced in the Forbes articleThe Biggest Trends For 2022 In Creator Economy And Web3, by Maren Thomas Bannon, Today, the total size of the creator economy is estimated to be over $100 billion and 50 million people worldwide consider themselves creators. Creators will continue to bulge out of the global fabric as individuals seek to augment their incomes or escape the confines or rigged corporate cultures. Technology is enabling creators no doubt!

Technology is also allowing forward acting organizations to scale growth at unprecedented speeds. Let’s look at a recent survey conducted by Accenture

Curious about the effects of the pandemic, we completed a second round of research in early 2021 and discovered the following:

  1. Technology Leaders have moved even further ahead of the pack and have been growing at 5x the rate of Laggards on average in the past three years.
  2. Among the “Others” there is a group of organizations—18% of the entire sample—that has been able to break previous performance barriers—the Leapfroggers.

Let’s look at a recent survey conducted by Accenture

Curious about the effects of the pandemic, we completed a second round of research in early 2021 and discovered the following:

  1. Technology Leaders have moved even further ahead of the pack and have been growing at 5x the rate of Laggards on average in the past three years.
  2. Among the “Others” there is a group of organizations—18% of the entire sample—that has been able to break previous performance barriers—the Leapfroggers.

Of course, so much technology is doing good things for the world. 3-D printing is emerging at the center of homelessness. As reported in the #NYTIMES, this tiny village in Mexico is housing homeless people. The homes were built using an oversized 3-D printer.

Another example positive outcomes of technology is the emergence of over-the-counter hearing devices. Fortune Business Insights estimates the global hearing aids market is projected to grow from $6.67 billion in 2021 to $11.02 billion by 2028 at a CAGR of 7.4% in forecast period, 2021-2028.

These devices, until this year, were regulated to being sold by medical professionals at, for the majority of population in need, very high prices $2000 to $5000+ per hearing aid. Yes typically you need two. But recent innovations in ear buds and bluetooth are allowing other technology companies into the game! Take Bose for example, the FDA recently approved Bose SoundControl Hearing Aids to be purchased on their website for $895/pair. No need for a hearing professional. This significantly changes the playing field and opens the doors for so many that have put off purchases (of these not covered by insurance by the way) devices.

Entertainment & leisure travel is going to a whole new level with the help of technology. It’s wonderful that anyone with connectivity and travel the world and explore via Virtual Reality. Here are 52 places you can explore in the comfort of your home shared by NY Times. Many of us attended conferences and events over the past two years virtually. We’ll see an exponential growth in virtual reality experiences in the coming year.

So why am I talking about creating a Center for Human Compassion if so much good is really coming out of technology? Because many of the outcomes are also unrealized and not anticipated or at least publicized to prepare people. It is essential for companies, technologists, and product teams to consider the consequences of new technologies. Not as an afterthought but at the forethought, from inception of ideas we must ask what are the downsides? How will people be affected? What could happen?

The quote below is taken from the World Economic Forum report, Positive AI Economic Futures

machines will be able to do most tasks better than humans. Given these sorts of predictions, it is important to think about the possible consequences of AI for the future of work and to prepare for different scenarios. Continued progress in these technologies could have disruptive effects: from further exacerbating recent trends in inequality to denying more and more people their sense of purpose and fulfillment in life, given that work is much more than just a source of income.

WeForum brings 150 thought leaders together to share thoughts on how we create an AI world we want. For all of AI’s good, there are potentials for negative outcomes.

Let’s take the military’s fight again hobbyists and drones. In the recent article from WSJ, The Military’s New Challenge: Defeating Cheap Hobbyist Drones, how much energy was placed on Human Compassion if drone technologies, IoT and AI got in the wrong hands?

The U.S. is racing to combat an ostensibly modest foe: hobbyist drones that cost a few hundred dollars and can be rigged with explosives. @WSJ

I feel certain there was some consideration but not enough to draw out possible negative impacts and how to mitigate them before they could even start. Did we really put people at the center of what is possible with drone technologies? What do you think?

This is no easy task. We know what is good for us can turn to bad for us when in the wrong hands, or if it’s not moderated to healthy limits. How do we help facilitate a more compassionate relationship with technology and put people at the center?

Here are four strategies to ensure you are keeping people at the center of your innovation, new products and technology development efforts.

  1. Create a Center of Human Compassion, or People Centered Technology Consortium, or what ever you wish to brand your initiative. Select trusted advisors from external (customers, partners…) and a select group of internal stake holders to join your collaborative to gather input, feedback and push back!
  2. Discuss with your trusted group very early on. Gamify initiatives around gathering what ifs! Anticipating the worst you will plan better for the best! (leaving the hope out)
  3. Build a continuous feedback loop. It is important that insights and scenarios are revisited and rehashed over and over again.
  4. Join other consortiums and get involved with AI and tech for good initiatives. If you can’t find ones you feel are of value to you and your company, start one!

Mantra for the year: #lucky2022 but not without work and placing people front and center of plans will good fortune and luck come for the masses.

As always, reach out if you have ideas you’d like to share or questions you’d like to discuss!

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4 Ways to Create Trust with Your Customers

4 Ways to Create Trust with Your Customers

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

What brands do you trust the most? And why? There are certain products and companies that seem to own the trust of their customers. It stems from product quality, reliability, managing expectations, good customer service and, perhaps most importantly, consistency.

Keep in mind that consistency is related to all of the attributes mentioned. A consistently bad experience and poor quality, while still consistent, is the opposite of what you’re trying to create. And inconsistency is almost as bad. A great experience one day followed by an average or poor experience will cause customers to question what the next experience is going to be. A pattern of inconsistency kills confidence and trust.

Let’s break it down:

1. Quality and Reliability: A product or service must do what it’s supposed to do. When you think of the most successful brands, you trust them because you know what you’re going to get. That comes from confidence in the product and/or the customer service. If that confidence is broken, it can take a long time to rebuild trust—if the customer even chooses to give the company or brand another chance. For example, a popular restaurant chain had an E. coli outbreak. Even with a stellar reputation, it took years to regain the trust of its customers.

2. Customer Experience: Customer service must be easily available. Customer service isn’t a department. The best companies know that serving the customer is more than reacting to problems, answering questions and resolving complaints. It’s the way customers are treated throughout their entire journey with a company or brand.

And while you may want to have a 100% flawless experience in which the customer never has to reach out, it’s impossible. Every company is going to have problems. In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos was famous for saying that Amazon should be so good that it didn’t need a customer support department. Maybe it was that good, but when the product left the warehouse a third party took over the shipping. And if the package was lost in transit, who would the customer blame? To the customer, it was Amazon’s fault. So, Amazon needed a support center, even for problems that weren’t its fault.

It’s not if there will ever be a customer service issue, it’s when. The best organizations recognize the need for an excellent experience combined with excellent customer support, when needed.

3. Managing Expectations: You don’t have to WOW a customer to get them to say, “Wow.” When people describe a “Wow” experience, it’s typically over-the-top. The problem is that you can’t always be over the top. The opportunities to be over-the-top or go above and beyond happen when there are special situations, such as a problem that is handled so well that the customer says, “Wow!”

The key is to not worry about trying to be over-the-top with every interaction, but to be just a little above average. It is consistent and predictable above-average experiences—even just a tiny bit above average—that make customers say, “Wow!” Speaking of consistent and predictable, we move on to the next attribute …

4. Consistency: Anything less than a consistent experience erodes trust. Consistency is where “the rubber meets the road.” As just mentioned, it is the consistent and predictable above-average experience that gets customers to say, “Wow!” What gets them to that point is when they say, “They are always so helpful … always so knowledgeable … they always respond quickly. …” It’s the word always followed by a positive comment. Often, those comments are basic expectations. Shouldn’t all employees be helpful, knowledgeable and respond quickly? Of course. Just meeting a customer’s expectations, with maybe a more positive attitude, will fuel the experience to be better than average. Consistency creates trust. Anything less erodes it!

Think of the brands you trust and why. The product does what it’s supposed to and meets your expectations. The experience is consistent, and the customer service is great. And to emphasize just how important the customer service part of this is, our 2022 customer service research found that 83% of customers trusted a company or brand more if it provided an excellent customer service experience.

If all of this seems like common sense, it is. Unfortunately, common sense is not always so common. So, be a little uncommon. Deliver quality and reliability, manage expectations and create a consistent and predictable experience that gets customers to say, “I’ll be back.”

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Pexels

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Reaching Beyond the Limits of Innovation and Transformation

Reaching Beyond the Limits of Innovation and TransformationRecently on Episode #873 of the Marketer of the Day podcast, I had the opportunity to sit down with Robert Plank, have a great conversation, and chat about a number of different topics. Here is a quick excerpt:

“When it comes to innovation, timing is a huge factor. Going in too soon or too late can both cost you lots of money. Innovation isn’t all about creativity and value-creation, it is also about the services that you provide around your new idea and helping people understand how your idea can be of value to their lives. But how can we know if our innovative ideas can really affect people’s lives?”


Click the play button to listen to the podcast right here, right now:

Here is Robert Plank in his own words describing what the Marketer of the Day podcast is all about:

The Marketer of the Day Podcast interviews entrepreneurs who have been through “the struggle.”

They’ve experienced the headaches of repeat failure, trial-and-error, scaling, delegating, course-correcting, and getting their online businesses to succeed beyond their wildest dreams… and want to help you get to where you need to go.

Or visit Robert’s site here for additional information and all of the ways to subscribe to his podcast:

https://www.robertplank.com/873-innovation-change-customer-braden-kelley/

Time for Innovation Excellence

Time for Innovation Excellence

GUEST POST from Norbert Majerus and George Taninecz

Lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System started an industrial revolution (at least for those who adopted it). Transformative events that began in the automotive industry spread into many other sectors (including healthcare, finance, even innovation). However, the term “lean” may not have been the best description for what was occurring then or now.

Lean implies removing things, such as waste, which is an accurate description of a key lean tool. But lean but fails to address many other aspects of what we now know about this improvement method. Today the scope of most improvement transformations goes far beyond what was originally defined as “lean” and/or “continuous improvement.”

So, what should we call the current and future states of businesses that develop superior processes and a continuous improvement culture to become the best companies possible? I don’t know exactly who first introduced the term “excellence” but it’s all-encompassing nature of superiority certainly applies to what is going on in some — but not many — organizations.

For example, very few companies have attempted to apply excellence to innovation. Yet I started this transformation in the three Goodyear Innovation centers in 2006. In 2016, the Innovation Center in Akron, Ohio, received the AME Excellence Award, proving that innovation excellence works and that Goodyear got the right results from the transformation. The application of excellence to an innovation process delivers corporate results that go far beyond the cost savings traditionally achieved by focusing improvements on manufacturing. Innovation excellence moves both the top and bottom lines of companies as a larger number of new products and services are more quickly and efficiently delivered to customers, creating market advantages that are difficult for competitors to replicate.

So, what is “innovation excellence”? It is the implementation of a superior innovation system and the simultaneous creation of an innovation culture. The cultural part assures the continuous improvement of the system and its sustainability.

The innovation system includes processes and features like:

  • An agile risk management system that allows rigorous review of an abundance of new ideas at high speed and low cost
  • A superior knowledge management and technology development process
  • A cost-efficient mass design process
  • Lean principles to achieve perfect delivery, with much higher speed and lower costs

The characteristics of a culture of innovation are based on some well-known, lean people principles as well as change-management concepts that allow an organization to foster creativity and risk-taking:

  • Respect and care for people
  • Engagement and empowerment of all associates and stakeholders
  • Humble leadership
  • Change behaviors to change beliefs
  • The removal of fear at all levels
  • Allowing people to experiment effectively and efficiently
  • The right strategy and reward system

Although it is relatively easy to describe processes and systems, it’s hard to describe behaviors and cultural needs. Text definitions and bulleted lists often fail to describe the challenges of this type of work. I found that the most effective way to do that is by observation. Many executives think you must observe perfect behaviors at other companies and then try to apply them in their own; they forget that you can observe them (or the lack thereof) during gemba walks at their own company. First, you gain a technical understanding about your operations that isn’t possible from behind an office desk. By humbly watching and talking with the workforce, you also impart a sense of genuine interest and a willingness to support. Earnestly engaging individuals, asking sincere questions, and really listening to what’s said offers tremendous insight into a company’s culture and why — or why not — actions necessary to achieve excellence are being pursued.

I always devote significant time to “people transformation” in every presentation and workshop I teach on innovation excellence. I do this with stories and descriptions of real or invented characters, which I’ve learned are very popular with my audiences and tend to get the message across. They also give people enough of an understanding and motivation to change on their own.

Over the years I also learned to supplement the stories and descriptions with genuine emotions and feelings because they are at the core of change management. I’ve lived through all of this — the good and bad of cultural transformations — and I’ve felt the highs and lows that inevitably occur. That’s one of the reasons why George Taninecz and I wrote Winning Innovation as a business novel. The format has allowed us to show a cultural change coming alive and how the emotions, feelings, and actions of characters evolve along the way — eventually helping a company achieve innovation excellence.

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Four Lessons Learned from the Digital Revolution

Four Lessons Learned from the Digital Revolution

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

When Steve Jobs was trying to lure John Sculley from Pepsi to Apple in 1982, he asked him, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” The ploy worked and Sculley became the first major CEO of a conventional company to join a hot Silicon Valley startup.

It seems so quaint today, in the midst of a global pandemic, that a young entrepreneur selling what was essentially a glorified word processor thought he was changing the world. The truth is that the digital revolution, despite all the hype, has been something of a disappointment. Certainly it failed to usher in the “new economy” that many expected.

Yet what is also becoming clear is that the shortcomings have less to do with the technology itself, in fact the Covid-19 crisis has shown just how amazingly useful digital technology can be, than with ourselves. We expected technology and markets to do all the work for us. Today, as we embark on a new era of innovation, we need to reflect on what we have learned.

1. We Live In a World of Atoms, Not Bits

In 1996, as the dotcom boom was heating up, the economist W. Brian Arthur published an article in Harvard Business Review that signaled a massive shift in how we view the economy. While traditionally markets are made up of firms that faced diminishing returns, Arthur explained that information-based businesses can enjoy increasing returns.

More specifically, Arthur spelled out that if a business had high up-front costs, network effects and the ability to lock in customers it could enjoy increasing returns. That, in turn, would mean that information-based businesses would compete in winner-take-all markets, management would need to become less hierarchical and that investing heavily to win market share early could become a winning strategy.

Arthur’s article was, in many ways, prescient and before long investors were committing enormous amounts of money to companies without real businesses in the hopes that just a few of these bets would hit it big. In 2011, Marc Andreesen predicted that software would eat the world.

He was wrong. As the recent debacle at WeWork, as well as massive devaluations at firms like Uber, Lyft, and Peloton, shows that there is a limit to increasing returns for the simple reason that we live in a world of atoms, not bits. Even today, information and communication technologies make up only 6% of GDP in OECD countries. Obviously, most of our fate rests with the other 94%.

The Covid-19 crisis bears this out. Sure, being able to binge watch on Netflix and attend meetings on Zoom is enormously helpful, but to solve the crisis we need a vaccine. To do that, digital technology isn’t enough. We need to combine it with synthetic biology to make a real world impact.

2. Businesses Do Not Self Regulate

The case Steve Jobs made to John Sculley was predicated on the assumption that digital technology was fundamentally different from the sugar-water sellers of the world. The Silicon Valley ethos (or conceit as the case may be), was that while traditional businesses were motivated purely by greed, technology businesses answered to a higher calling.

This was no accident. As Arthur pointed out in his 1996 article, while atom-based businesses thrived on predictability and control, knowledge-based businesses facing winner-take-all markets are constantly in search of the “next big thing.” So teams that could operate like mission-oriented “commando units” on a holy quest would have a competitive advantage.

Companies like Google who vowed to not “be evil,” could attract exactly the type of technology “commandos” that Arthur described. They would, as Mark Zuckerberg has put it, “move fast and break things,” but would also be more likely to hit on that unpredictable piece of code that would lead to massively increasing returns.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, businesses do not self-regulate. Knowledge-based businesses like Google and Facebook have proven to be every bit as greedy as their atom-based brethren. Privacy legislation, such as GDPR, is a good first step, but we will need far more than that, especially as we move into post-digital technologies that are far more powerful.

Still, we’re not powerless. Consider the work of Stop Hate For Profit, a broad coalition that includes the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, which has led to an advertiser boycott of Facebook. We can demand that corporations behave how we want them to, not just what the market will bear.

3. As Our Technology Becomes More Powerful, Ethics Matter More Than Ever

Over the past several years some of the sense of wonder and possibility surrounding digital technology gave way to no small amount of fear and loathing. Scandals like the one involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica not only alerted us to how our privacy is being violated, but also to how our democracy has been put at risk.

Yet privacy breaches are just the beginning of our problems. Consider artificial intelligence, which exposes us to a number of ethical challenges, ranging from inherent bias to life and death ethical dilemmas such as the trolley problem. It is imperative that we learn to create algorithms that are auditable, explainable and transparent.

Or consider CRISPR, the gene editing technology, available for just a few hundred dollars, that vastly accelerates our ability to alter DNA. It has the potential to cure terrible diseases such as cancer and Multiple Sclerosis, but also raises troubling issues such as biohacking and designer babies. Worried about some hacker cooking up a harmful computer virus, what about a terrorist cooking up a real virus?

That’s just the start. As quantum and neuromorphic computing become commercially available, most likely within a decade or so, our technology will become exponentially more powerful and the risks will increase accordingly. Clearly, we can no longer just “move fast and break things,” or we’re bound to break something important.

4. We Need a New Way to Evaluate Success

By some measures, we’ve been doing fairly well over the past ten years. GDP has hovered around the historical growth rate of 2.3%. Job growth has been consistent and solid. The stock market has been strong, reflecting robust corporate profits. It has, in fact, been the longest US economic expansion on record.

Yet those figures were masking some very troubling signs, even before the pandemic. Life expectancy in the US has been declining, largely due to drug overdoses, alcohol abuse and suicides. Consumer debt hit record highs in 2019 and bankruptcy rates were already rising. Food insecurity has been an epidemic on college campuses for years.

So, while top-line economic figures painted a rosy picture there was rising evidence that something troubling is afoot. The Business Roundtable partly acknowledged this fact with its statement discarding the notion that creating shareholder value is the sole purpose of a business. There are also a number of initiatives designed to replace GDP with broader measures.

The truth is that our well-being can’t be reduced to and reduced to a few tidy metrics and we need more meaning in our lives than more likes on social media. Probably the most important thing that the digital revolution has to teach us is that technology should serve people and not the other way around. If we really want to change the world for the better, that’s what we need to keep in mind.

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

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Why Good Job Interviews Don’t Lead to Good Job Performance

Why Good Job Interviews Don't Lead to Good Job Performance

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers, M.D.

Many hiring managers, professional school and residency interviewers and search executives know there is not a single correlation that links how someone interviews with their on-the-job performance.

“In 30 years of executive search, over 1000 search projects, and interviews with over 250,000 candidates, we cannot find a single correlation that links how someone interviews with their on-the-job performance – as interviews are traditionally conducted by the vast majority of hiring managers.” — Barry Deutsch

Yet interview theater constantly appears at a location near you.

Why?

  1. By it’s very nature, there is a power imbalance so the interviewer almost always has the upper hand
  2. Telling truth to authority can be a non-starter
  3. The process is flawed
  4. Interviewers and interviewees are not trained to interview
  5. There is an inadequate or non-existent job preview
  6. It is almost impossible to understand the culture of a potential organization without acually experiencing it for a while
  7. Interviewers look for personality, not performance, fits
  8. There is bias and the inability to accept cognitive, demographic and psychographic diversity
  9. Here is how not to answer 10 medical school and residency interview questions
  10. The process for selecting those who are interviewed in flawed.
  11. It is impossible to pick your parents or pick your boss
  12. You can’t always trust people to do what they said they would do if you work for them.

How we are filling the sickcare worker pipeline is not working. Interview theater has had it’s run. It’s time for Medical School Powerball.

While you are at it, get rid of exit interviews and annual performance reviews too.

Image credit: Pixabay

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How to Solve Transparent Problems

How to Solve Transparent Problems

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

One of the best problems to solve for your customers is the problem they don’t know they have. If you can pull it off, you will create an entirely new value proposition for them and enable them to do things they cannot do today. But the problem is they can’t ask you to solve it because they don’t know they have it.

To identify problems customs can’t see, you’ve got to watch them go about their business. You’ve got to watch all aspects of their work and understand what they do and why they do it that way. And it’s their why that helps you find the transparent problems. When they tell you their why, they tell you the things they think cannot change and the things they consider fundamental constraints. Their whys tell you what they think is unchangeable. And from their perspective, they’re right. These things are unchangeable because they don’t know what’s possible with new technologies.

Once you know their unchangeable constraints, choose one to work on and turn it into a tight problem statement. Then use your best tools and methods to solve it. Once solved, you’ve got to make a functional prototype and show them in person. Without going back to them with a demonstration of a functional prototype, they won’t believe you. Remember, you did something they didn’t think was possible and changed the unchangeable.

When demonstrating the prototype to the customer, just show it in action. Don’t describe it, just show them and let them ask questions. Listen to their questions so you can see the prototype through their eyes. And to avoid leading the witness, limit yourself to questions that help you understand why they see the prototype as they do. The way they see the prototype will be different than your expectations, and that difference is called learning. And if you find yourself disagreeing with them, you’re doing it wrong.

This first prototype won’t hit the mark exactly, but it will impress the customer and it will build trust with them. And because they watched the prototype in action, they will be able to tell you how to improve it. Or better yet, with their newfound understanding of what’s possible, they might be able to see a more meaningful transparent problem that, once solved, could revolutionize their industry.

Customers know their work and you know what’s possible. And prototypes are a great way to create the future together.

Transparent” by Rene Mensen is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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