Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

On A More Personal Note

It has been a little while since I wrote my last entry, but I promise I have good reason: my family and I have finally moved back to Maryland!  The last year has been absolutely crazy, and while this may not seem like a huge event, for us it is.  My wife is from Maryland, and I lived here for almost 4 years before getting a promotion last year and being moved to Philly.  After losing my job in February and starting my own business in March, things have been very tough on many fronts, so this is a much-needed change back to an area where we want to be.

As I have finally been able to sit and gather my thoughts and think about what my next article should be about, I came upon a blog by Roger O. Crockett called White Executives Should Head to the ‘Hood.  At first glance, this article sounded interesting, potentially politically incorrect, and possibly crazy, but once I read it I really thought about myself and my own experiences.  The premise behind the article was that many more executives should take the time to get out in to the “‘hood” and take some lessons from the people there, as well as use it to help bridge the gap in communication and understanding of others situations.  I can relate, and think about this quite often.

I grew up in a town that had the rural areas, as well as some of the city lifestyle.  My parents separated very early on (before I could remember) which made me somewhat strange in a time when that certainly wasn’t the norm, at least for everyone else.  I had a step-dad who didn’t really want much to do with me because I wasn’t really his child, and he let me know that physically, emotionally, and mentally through degradation and abuse.  We didn’t have a lot of money, and I was always told that if I wanted to go to college I was going to have to figure something out on my own, because we just didn’t have the money and never would.  I was gifted intellectually, but didn’t want to be branded a nerd and get picked on any more than I already did for not having name brand clothes, being a big kid, and being smart.  Because of this, I downplayed my intelligence in school, and did just what I needed to get by.

My Mom owned and ran a print shop where I was fortunate enough to gain quite a bit of business experience, as well as my grandparents owned their own concrete servicing company (building and servicing concrete plants internationally).  Even with all of this going on, I managed to get in to the wrong crowds and spiraled down very quickly from about age 13 to age 21.  I became involved in drugs, drinking, and anything else that I could get in to, simply trying to find my way.  I don’t blame anyone for my mistakes, and know that I have myself to blame for my decisions.  After a failed marriage, receiving an Other Than Honorable discharge from the US Navy, and essentially losing everything that I had gained up until that point, I knew it was time for a change.  At the age of 21 I made the decision that I wanted more than what I had and what I saw myself as ever having on the path that I was on; I knew that I should and could have more.  I left everything I had left, and where I was, and moved back in with family and started over.  That was about 7 years ago.

I still don’t have a college degree, but I have had a tremendous amount of experience over the years, both in business and in life.  I have accumulated education over the years, and look towards the future and getting a formal education, but now it’s because I find what I do interesting and I want to learn as much about it as I possibly can.  So why am I even telling this?  How many people do you think ever ask about, or even care about, my life experience or my intelligence past my formal education?  Believe me when I say very few.  I have had recruiters tell me outright that my resume looks great and my experience is impressive, but I must have a Bachelor’s, no exception.  It makes me wonder how many bright, talented people out there are missing out on opportunities and how many organizations are missing out on their next bright start because of this thought process?

Because of my history, I have an appreciation for everything that I have, and loyalty almost to a fault.  My work ethic is above reprieve and I am proud of that.  My passion for what I do is just about second to none.  I have a diverse understanding and appreciation of life and the people in it.  Those are the good traits.  I also know that because of my history, I am more direct in my communications than most people like, and generally speak matter-of-factly.  I also know that I tend to take on more responsibility than I should at times, and allow myself to get overburdened.  I strive to continuously receive praise and recognition for my work, and to make a real impact.  How many of you would want an employee that exhibits these traits? 

How many companies are missing out on these opportunities?  Which is more important, someone who has the passion and wants to learn and grow and is excited about it or someone who comes in and does the job and has a sense of entitlement, or does it simply because that is what they are “supposed to do”?  I’m not saying that this is specific to any one generation, ethnicity, age, sex, religion, or otherwise; what I’m saying is that organizations need to put more time and effort in to finding the people, like myself, who once given the opportunity can and will strive for excellence and helping the organization that they belong to.  I have seen it time and again, as I am sure that many of you have as well.  As I say many times, everything in your organization is impacted by your human capital; are you diversifying your portfolio enough, or are you playing it safe with degrees and credentials that will get steady results and obedience?  Could your organization use an injection of innovation, creativity, and passion?  I encourage you to give an opportunity to some people whom you might otherwise overlook (a measured risk of course), and see what kinds of results you get.

Is “Monkey Business” a reality in real business?

One of the things that I inevitably find myself drawn to is science of any kind.  I think that’s why I fell in love with cooking; it’s simply a form of chemistry that’s edible (and for those that know me, I LOVE to eat!).  With that in mind I always seem to be reading a new article somewhere about some type of science, which then causes me to make connections and comparisons to things I already know.  In fact, I almost wrote a blog today talking about how we need to challenge what we already know in business and scrap what we thought we knew before based on an article that I read yesterday involving a string theorist who is challenging the concept of gravity(if you’re interested, you can read that article here).  That is, until I read an article that I think really speaks to why we are where we are currently in the business world, and why having an outside perspective can really help in making change.  I think as you read this, you will understand the connection quickly as well as be entertained with the test itself.

First, before you go any further, I want you to take a look at this video:

So how did you do?  It’s really interesting how something so obvious can go unnoticed.  I’m pretty sure that you can already begin to make the same connections that I did.  How often are we told what to focus on in our business life (or any aspect of life for that matter) that we miss something so big, hairy, and conspicuous?  I’m fairly certain that we can all relate to this.  In the business world I think this is where there are many mistakes made, because we’re so focused on expected outcomes, or measurements, or whatever it may be at the time that we fail to see the unexpected things that are happening or could be coming.  That stops us from being able to adjust and be agile enough to meet needs as they happen.

Wouldn’t you think that someone would notice?  This is where I think that it’s important to understand that there are those around you that can see what’s going on, but the question is whether or not you will listen.  Of course, there are also many people who you are surrounded by that are seeing exactly the same thing as you are, because they are as focused and immersed in the situation as you are.  I believe this is part of the reason for the proliferation of consulting.  It’s also the reason that leaders are saying that the number one trait that they are looking for in their senior leadership is innovation, which if we use this study can be primarily described as the ability to identify the unexpected issues as, or before, they happen and then create solutions based on that vision and understanding.  Everyone knows that there are things that they are missing, but just can’t quite seem to grasp.  (It begs the question if this is why MBA’s are beginning to be questioned as the grail of the business world.  That’s not to say that education is bad, but perhaps there needs to be some changes to the program.)

Even with all of the people who are able to see what is going on and being able to discover or create solutions, many business are mired in what they have always been doing or are concentrated on the new hot focus of the moment and miss the opportunity to identify the gorilla in the room.  Just as in the video above, it’s obvious that it doesn’t make you a bad person, or a business a bad business.  But by being so focused on only one thing, you can really lose sight of the things happening around you and the business and the related human capital will suffer because of it.

So now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s try again (don’t read ahead until you watch this!):

Okay, so I’m going to guess that this time you noticed the gorilla…but what about the curtain change and the person leaving?  i will admit, when I watched the second video, I noticed the gorilla and the person leaving, but not the curtain change!  So what does this tell us?  When we are given a suggestion of only one thing to look for or focus on, whether it be directly or indirectly, we can lose focus on other things that are changing around us.  In other words, we need to be able to keep our, and our team’s,  focus broad and be willing to listen to feedback about the changes happening when we get it.  Just because we didn’t or don’t notice it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real, and unfortunately we don’t generally get the opportunity to rewind and see it over again (or at least if we can, by that time it’s too late!).  It’s also important to note here that we need to involve multiple perspectives consistently, so that we can see all angles of a situation, and facilitate proper measures to address, embrace, and capitalize on the changes.  As Dr. Rupert Loyd often talks about in his blog Relational Leadership this is an important concept, albeit a difficult one for many leaders to genuinely accept and utilize.

In conclusion, many of the things that I talk about for change management, organizational development, human performance improvement, and performance consulting as a whole is summarized through these videos and the concept surrounding them.  Utilizing outside perspectives can certainly help, but even more important is to develop your organization and yourself to function in the same manner as a performance consultant: questioning, analyzing, evaluating, gathering input and feedback, looking at things both systemically and systematically to ensure that all pieces fit at all times, and continually looking for ways to improve what is being done.

The original article from which these videos were pulled can be found here.

It’s what everyone wants, but few want to take the chance.

I’m a huge fan of the Harvard Business Review, and strongly recommend that anyone that is serious about their business utilize it (I even follow them on Twitter …great resource!).  Today I read an article that really struck a chord for me called Innovation: Who else is doing it? by Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  It brings an important point to light, and one that is certainly near and dear to my heart.  To give a quick synopsis of the article (but I still strongly suggest reading it yourself), it talks about the desire of senior leaders for more innovation in their organizations, and how they believe that without it their organizations will fall behind, but even with this understanding  they still ask questions like “Who else is doing it?”  Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of innovation if someone else is doing it?!

Innovation is at the top of lists for most senior leaders in any organization.  Just do a Google search for innovation, or business leaders want innovation, or business innovation.  You will literally get MILLIONS of results.  That should tell you something!  NASA is facing challenges based on some changes to their budget and requirements from President Obama ( that according to a statement recently from NASA’s Administrator Charles Bolden, Jr will require getting back to basic research to create new inventions and innovation.  In T+D Magazine in 2007 there was an article written that talks about a study from BlessingWhite that found that many business leaders desire innovation and find it necessary, but are scared to encourage it because of the inevitable failures.  Another article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, also on the Harvard Business Review, called “Column: Block-by-Blockbuster Innovation” talks about how innovation bust be equal parts incremental innovation as well as blockbuster innovations.  The environment must be right in an organization for there to be new ideas and new paths created, and there will certainly be risks associated at times; it is just that simple.  However, innovation is certainly necessary as Bill Buxton, Principal Scientist at Microsoft, talks about in his article “The Problem with Great Ideas” in Bloomberg Businessweek.

So what is stopping us, what are the results, and how do we get past it? 

I am a firm believer in utilizing the people who are in an organization to find answers to issues and to create new products, ideas, services, pathways, and whatever else you can imagine!  It’s all about fostering the correct environment for and trusting your people to be engaged in the organization, believe in it, and be committed to it and what it does.  This is something that I preach about more than just about anything else, and to be quite honest, this is why I do what I do!  Organizational leaders need to understand that good ideas and innovation can come from all levels and all people and should not be restricted by level or title.  Organizational Development, Performance Consulting, Human Performance Technology…these are all about helping to make sure that your organization has the right people and the right environment in which they, and in turn you, can succeed.  

This isn’t something that happens overnight, and in most cases doesn’t happen without some help.  Most organizations need support and can utilize an external perspective to assist in making this transition and change in the culture of the organization.  It is something that must be not only understood at all levels, but supported as an organization.  Jeneanne Rae talks about organizational support, and the absolute necessity of it, in her article “Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret“.  The process that she describes used by Kaiser Permanente in identifying the “O-Gap” is essentially what a Performance Consultant can help with in any organization.  No matter what title you give it, the methodologies are essentially the same. 

So what about the potential for failure?  The truth is that while you can mitigate failures you can not, nor should you, stop them.  Nilofer Merchant talks about this in her article “There’s More to Innovation Than Good Ideas“.  As she acknowledges, there is a tendency to make huge commitments that have a plausible, but not probable, chance of succeeding.  Then when the commitments fail, everyone starts to point fingers to explain why it didn’t work.  Employees at all levels should be comfortable saying “Hey, I really don’t think this is reasonable, and here’s why” with no fear of retaliation, and with a clear and true knowledge that they will be heard and listened to (which are definitely two different things!).  Again, this is an opportunity to have a Performance Consultant whether internal or external work with your organization to make sure that this type of environment exists so that you can create and drive strategies appropriately and successfully.  Employees who care enough to say that something isn’t going to work and give reasons care about whether or not the organization succeeds, and that is a true test of engagement and “ownership” (meaning in their hearts and minds) of the business.  You truly can’t ask for more than that.  Not to mention that the business results will certainly show the fruits of this engagement.

What is the environment right now in your organization?  What could new innovations do for your business?  Are you truly utilizing all of your people, and do they really want to be a part of the business?  Take just a minute to reflect on that.  I hope that you enjoyed my blog this week, and the associated articles.  I look forward to seeing you back again next week, and as always please feel free to leave comments, or otherwise contact me with ideas, questions, or feedback!