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Posts tagged ‘Innovation’

Orbiting thought – 6

How do we become so bogus? Well, our artificiality is caused, in part, by the many teachers and trainers who work so hard to instill a professionalism that prizes correctness over authenticity and originality. … Diamonds-in-the-rough enter business schools and come out the other end as so many polished clones addicted to the dehumanizing power of classification and systematization.
 – Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting thought – 5

Orbiting thought – 5

Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mind set, beyond “accepted models, patterns, or standards” – all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate mission.
  – Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting thought – 4

Orbiting thought – 4

If you are in a position of power and want to lead well, remember:
  Allow those you lead…
    To lead… when they fell the need.
      All will benefit.
 – Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting thought – 3

Orbiting thought – 3

A management obsessed with productivity usually has little patience for the quiet time essential to profound creativity.

… Welcome to the If-we-work-hard-enough-long-enough-burn-ourselves-out-enough-we’ll-succeed-through-control Hairball.

… A healthier alternative is the Orbit of trust that allows time – without immediate, concrete evidence of productivity – for the miracle of creativity to occur.
  – Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting thought – 2

Orbiting thought – 2

Orville Wright did not have a pilot’s license.
  – Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting thought – 1

Orbiting thought – 1

If an organization wishes to benefit from its own creative potential, it must be prepared to value the vagaries of the unmeasurable as well as the certainties of the measurable.
  – Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Idea for reflection – 16

When questions derail the process

Given my passion for critical thinking and good questions, I was glad to find some balance in the world this week. Scott Anthony wrote a guest blog over at the Harvard Business Review about how questions can kill innovation. He discusses the way that people can use questions to endlessly delay action by analyzing each opportunity to its death. This is true of people within corporations or people who are entrepreneurs.

Continually researching the answer to questions that start out with, “What about . . .” or “What if . . .” can lead to gridlock or inertia. Tom Kelley in The Ten Faces of Innovation gives a name to the people who play this game, Devil’s advocate. They jump into a discussion, “Let me just play Devil’s Advocate for a minute . . . .”

Whether confronting an endless questioner or a Devil’s Advocate, it is possible to move forward. Anthony suggests trying a quick and dirty test in the marketplace with your concept to see what the response is. Kelley encourages people to engage in constructive criticism and debate – to move beyond an argument threatening to destroy a fragile idea or concept.

In my own experience, options for getting unstuck include asking the group or person to step back and remember what the larger goal; doing a quick prototype of an idea or concept; or changing the question to one that requires action, “What is the first step you could take in the two days to make this a reality?” Creativity and innovation can flourish when there is a balance between questions and actions.

The reality management never sees

A recent diary entry from an employee in a research study was titled, “The Reality Management Never Sees.” While managers may have an unspoken agenda in the workplace, what they can’t see is how employees process life at work. In order to learn what happens inside of employees’ minds, for three years, researchers studied 238 professionals – persons who use their knowledge collaboratively to solve problems. The question for reflection in this post is, “What is the reality managers can’t see and how does understanding that reality change how they manage?”

The research shows that every person is affected by emotions created by reactions to events at work and by how they perceive and make sense of these events. This interplay of emotions and perceptions drive employees’ process of choosing what tasks to perform, how to do a task, and where to do it or in other words: their  motivation to perform. While this may not be surprising to a manager who has reflected on the question of how employees experience the workplace, the argument among managers is how performance is influenced by employees’ subjective experience.

The debate between managers is whether employees perform better when they’re self-directed, happier, and love what they’re doing or when supervisors pressure them to meet objectives and design competition among peer groups. The evidence showed three elements impacting performance:

  • Positive emotions such as happiness, pride, warmth, and love directly affect people’s ability to solve problems creatively and successfully. And not only are they more likely to be 50% more productive on a day with positive emotions, the surprise finding was that the succeeding day was more productive as well. The reverse was true with fear, anger, frustration, confusion, and sadness decreasing employees’ ability to make progress not only on a given day, but on succeeding days with productivity falling between 65% and 80%.
  • Individual perceptions of organizations and leaders as collaborative and cooperative, willing to consider new ideas, providing a meaningful vision, and willing to reward excellent work led to higher performance. Perceptions of political game playing and lack of trust and confidence in leadership led to an unwillingness to take risks and share ideas.
  • Motivation to perform at their best comes when persons are interested in the work they are doing, finding enjoyment and challenge in the work itself. Motivation dips when external pressures rise and rewards are based not on doing meaningful work, but on meeting external expectations.

High performance was described as increases in productivity, a commitment to the work at hand, and respect for and contribution to the work of team members. The inner reality of employees clearly impacts effectiveness, productivity, and team participation. So what can managers do that will have the biggest impact on employees’ inner experience – emotions, perceptions, and motivation?

Surprising to me was what did not make the list of good management behavior: daily thanking an employee, working side-by-side with an employee as a peer, injecting lighthearted jokes, or buying a pizza for lunch. While these do have an impact, the most important and fundamental management activities were:

  • Enabling progress by setting clear goals, communicating where the work is headed and why it matters and makes a difference; giving assistance when needed; providing resources and time to get the job done, and managing success and failure as learning opportunities. A few opposite examples include frequent changing of goals and objectives, placing obstacles in the way of progress, focusing on trivial issues, evaluating without explanation or learning, offering inadequate resources to reach the goal, forcing unnecessary time pressure, and engaging in political infighting.
  • Treating employees as human beings, with dignity and respect.

As employees are connected to their work 24/7 ripple effects from organizations spread through employees’ lives. This knowledge emphasizes the importance of understanding the inner life of employees, It is good for our organizations and reaffirms life and our value as human beings.

Read more about Inner Work Life at

Rushing ahead for more of the same

I’ve been thinking about change and transformation. It seems to me that most things that are “new” are often just the same things we’ve always had, perhaps with an incremental change here or there. A new computer has a slightly faster chip or a screen that’s an inch larger on the diagonal. Even the questions we asked are often worded in such a way as to create the context or framework for the answer.

The current buzz word flying through the air is innovation. For me the challenge with innovation is not to design a process that creates an opportunity for brainstorming or mind mapping that leads to the slightly different. And I will concede that any process or method has built-in biases for outcomes.  The challenge is to create an environment or an experience that pushes us to go beyond our assumptions and self-imposed boundaries.

Perhaps the key is to live the questions, to hold the opposing demands together: experimenting with reproducibility, spontaneity with stability, and surprising serendipity with effective efficiency. This is easier said than done. The beginning is to move to the level of systems thinking where we not only seek to understand and be understood, but to integrate the pieces into a whole.

Creating an environment that fosters space for innovation will require strategic planning and storytelling, mission statements and poetry, and schematic drawings and publicly visible art. My hope is to discover a road less traveled rather than rushing along the interstate of life, rushing ahead for more of the same.

Beware of Straight-jackets

I’m reading Cats: The Nine Lives of Innovation. I’m taking a break from my usual preference to look at what’s working to look at Lundin’s challenges to innovation. He lists the following four challenges to our ability to innovate, calling them “straight-jackets”. I include them here along with my comments:

  1. Distractions. Noise, doubts, fear, and the accumulated opinions, thoughts, and feelings of  a lifetime that drown out new ideas. When is the last time I turned off all electronics to experience life uninterrupted?
  2. Normal. Our preference for standardized and repeatable experiences and process inhibits breaking out in new ways. Of course, this is the safe and secure, normal and average way we stay in our comfort zones.
  3. Failure. We’re taught from childhood to avoid failure. In recent years I’ve seen parents applauding children for everything from taking a step to playing with toys. To create something new, we have to be willing to risk failing, to risk not getting the applause and approval of co-workers, family, and friends.
  4. Leadership. Here I think he means the old style of authoritarian, command and control management, where everything is measured, directed, and done by-the-playbook. To innovate, we have to go where the energy and passion are.

I’m ready to think about and discover what it means to be innovative and creative in my life and in the interactions I have with clients. After all, while we may spend time talking about how innovative Toyota or General Electric are, in the end, people are the ones who create new things and ideas.

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