Sunday, August 31, 2008

Managers Need to Become Innovation Coaches

I read an interesting post by Mitch Ditkoff, the author of Awake at the Wheel: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an Uphill World).

It's all about creating a culture of innovation, and I could not agree more with what Mitch writes. Below is a slightly shortened version of his original blog post.

"Intellectual capital" is the name of the game these days -- and it is the enlightened manager's duty to learn how to play.

Only those companies will succeed whose people are empowered to think for themselves and respond creatively to the myriad of changes going on all around them.

Managers must learn how to coach their people into increasingly higher states of creative thinking and creative doing. They must realize that the root of their organization's problem is not the economy, not cycle time, not strategy or outsourcing, but their own inability to tap into the power of their workforce's innate creativity.

Everything you see around you began as an idea. The computer. The stapler. The paperclip, the microchip and the chocolate chip. All of these began as an idea within someone's fevered imagination. The originators of these ideas were on fire. Did they have to be "managed?" No way. In fact, if they had a manager, he or she would have done well to get out of the way.

If you want to empower people, honor their ideas. Give them room to challenge the status quo. Give them room to move -- and, by extension, move mountains.

The arrival of a new idea is typically accompanied by a wonderful feeling of upliftment and excitement -- even intoxication. It's inspiring to have a new idea, to intuit a new way of getting the job done. Not only does this new idea have the potential to bring value to the company, it temporarily frees the idea originator from their normal habits of thinking. A sixth sense takes over, releasing the individual from the gravity of status quo thinking.

In this mindset, the idea originator is transported to a more expansive realm of possibility. All bets are off. The sky's the limit. All assumptions are seen for what they are -- limited beliefs with a history, but no future.

If you are a manager, you want people in this state of mind. It is not a problem. It is not the shirking of responsibility. It is not a waste of time. On the contrary, it's the first indicator that you are establishing a company culture that is conducive to innovation.

You, as a manager, want to increase the number of new ideas being pitched to you. It's that simple. You want to create an environment where new ideas are popping all the time. If you do, old problems and ineffective ways of doing things will begin dissolving. This is the hallmark of an empowered organization -- a place where everyone is encouraged and empowered to think creatively. Within this kind of environment managers become coaches, not gatekeepers.

How does a manager do this?

First off, by expressing a lot of positive regard. Get interested! Pay attention! Be present to the moment! This is not so much a technique as it is a state of mind. Simply put, if your head is always filled with your own thoughts and ideas, there won't be any room left to entertain the thoughts and ideas of others. It's a law of physics. Two things cannot occupy the same place at the same time.

And whether the pitch is now or later, your response -- in the form of exploratory questions -- needs to be as genuine as possible. Consider some of the following openers:
  • "That sounds interesting. Can you tell me more?"
  • "What excites you the most about this idea?"
  • "What is the essence of your idea - the core principle?"
  • "How do you imagine your idea will benefit others?"
  • "In what ways does your idea fit with our strategic vision?"
  • "What information do you still need?"
  • "Who are your likely collaborators?"
  • "Is there anything similar to your idea on the market?
  • "What support do you need from me?"
  • "What is your next step?"
Basically, you want the idea originator to talk about their idea as much as possible in this moment of truth. An idea needs to first take form in order to take root, and one of the best ways of doing this is to encourage the idea originator to talk about it -- even if their idea is not yet fully developed. The telling of the idea, in fact, is not unlike someone telling you their dream. The telling helps the dreamer flesh out the details of what they imagined and the subsequent hearing of it firmly installs it in their memory -- and yours -- so the idea does not fade quite as quickly.

Most of us, however, are so wrapped up in our own ideas that we rarely take the time to listen to others. Your subordinates know this and, consequently, rarely share their ideas with you. But it doesn't have to be this way. And it won't necessarily require a lot of time on your part. Some time, yes. But not as much as you might think.

Bottom line, the time it takes you to listen to the ideas of others is not only worth it -- the success of your enterprise depends on it. Choose not to listen and you will end up frantically spending a lot more time down the road asking people for their ideas about how to save your business from imminent collapse. By that time, however, it will be too late. Your workforce will have already tuned you out.

Text above is is a slightly shortened version of Mitch Ditkoff's original blog post.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Do I Decide What To Post On My Blog?

A couple of weeks ago I received this question from Laura.

I sometimes read your blog. I like the posts about designing impactful presentations. I also saw something that caught my eye about employees submitting ideas to their employer online. That sounds like an outstanding idea. I am known to be skeptical so I ask you, "How do you decide what to post on your blog?"

Are you concerned about accuracy or do you just reach for what is interesting?

I answered her.

I normally select to post some topic that is relevant to my work, or our company, or then just an interesting topic I run across in a couple of sources. Something that I feel I need on my everyday job as a leader and manager – in other words something that supports my mission and vision, and my strategy. I am not so concerned about (scientific) accuracy - I am more concerned about the usefulness of the topic. What I do is I combine the sources and try to keep the post under 1A4 page - keep it simple and specific and stick to one idea.

For example submitting ideas online is something I have proposed it in our company a couple of years ago. I heard about this tool a year ago, and proposed it again. In the spring I found a couple of articles about the tool being used by major companies and proposed it again. We might start considering it one day... But I also blogged it to remember the idea better.

Actually most of the posts are some ideas or advice I have given to my friends or colleagues (or needed on my own job). I realized I kept on sending same advice on email over and over again to different people. Those emails I have later converted to blog posts.

Why I decided to post this answer now, is because I read an interesting blog post at ZenHabits earlier this week.

The Dirty Little Secrets of Productivity Bloggers

  1. We're making it up. Yes, you heard that right. Some of what we write about we read other places, and tested it out, and found it worthy of passing on. Other stuff we just make up as we go along, and see if it works.
  2. We'e deathly afraid people will find out. Yes, we're afraid people will start pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes on, and we'll be in the middle of a crowd, naked, with everyone laughing at us. But because of this fear, we have to act like we know what we're talking about. Truth is, we don't know any more than anyone else.
  3. We don't always follow our own advice. If you had a fly-on-the-wall camera and could spy on the best in the biz, even they have days when they're not motivated, when they don't follow their systems or tips or general productivity advice.
  4. We can be lazy and let things go. I'll be the first to admit it. I take naps.
  5. We didn't invent any of this. Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero, for example, is based almost entirely on David Allen's Getting Things Done. Allen's GTD, in turn, is based on productivity advice that has been around for generations — each productivity guru improving on the previous one a little, but basically giving the same advice.
  6. We're just regular people, figuring things out. Think of our posts as the preliminary results of an ongoing experiment. We try things out, and if it seems to work, we pass it on. If it doesn’t, we'll let you know. But these posts aren't the final results — we're still testing things out, still trying to figure out what works when and for whom. It's an experiment that will probably last for as long as people do work.
  7. We really do love all this stuff. Despite all of the above, despite our flaws and secrets, this is a great job, and we love it. It shows in the enthusiasm and passion in our writing.

These pretty much summarize my own toughts (though I do not take naps during office hours – I can't, as I am not self employed full time blogger).

I am happy to answer more of your questions by email or on the comments below.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Change Resistance

Many wise people have said many wise words about change resistance. Jack Welch, in his book Winning says "What you have heard about resistance to change is true." I prefer more what Michael T. Kanazawa says in his ChangeThis manifesto People Don’t Hate Change, They Hate How You’re Trying to Change Them:

If you believe that people hate change and that it is your job to change them, they will hate it.
If you believe that people thrive on change and that your job is to unleash it, you will tap into a limitless source of ingenuity, energy and drive that will allow you to consistently take your big ideas into big results.

Kanazawa mentions Apple, Google, Nintendo, Starbucks and IBM as examples of “companies [whose employees] have thrived on change, bringing out their best talents, creativity, ingenuity and determination.” He continues “Why can’t we all work in organizations like these? We can, if we focus on the right challenges.” Check his manifesto for his view of the challenges.

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, talks about the dynamics of fear and change – how “change has to have enough force and enough energy to overcome people's fears and to overcome the power of the status quo.”

INSEAD professors Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen believe "that an organisation changes only as fast and as far as the front-line individuals implementing that change. Therefore, they need to be considered first, in the change paradigm." You can find a 2 page introduction to their new book It Starts with One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations, and a 25 minute video where they chat about change here.

John Spence mentions adapting to change as one of the foundations of Achieving Business Excellence. Jack Welchdoes the same by saying that "Change is absolutely critical part of business. You need to change, preferably before you have to." Apple got that right with iPod – Sony failed with Walkman... What happened to Sony? Last December Newsweek published an article about why they failed to change.

Leading change is a critical part of every leader's job. Leaders need to help everybody overcome their fears. Every successful company needs to change, and an organisation changes only as fast and as far as the front-line individuals implementing that change. At the end, it becomes a question of enough leadership to change the culture.

To the end, my favourite quote from Peter Drucker, from his article Management's New Role (HBR November 1969).

We will, therefore, increasingly have to learn to make existing organizations capable of rapid and continuing innovation.
How far we are from this is shown by the fact that management still worries about resistance to change.

Do you fear change?

Or are you driven by change?

Do you worry about change resistance?

Do you help others overcome their fear and resistance?

Is your organization capable of rapid and continuing innovation – or should you change?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Presentation Skills

Earlier this year I joined one of my colleagues to a presentation by Garr Reynolds, the author of the great book Presentation Zen. During his presentation I realized that

I have given many bad presentations
I have seen many bad presentations.

I decided to try a different approach, in the office, and at SlideShare. But as pictures tell a story better than words, I'll show you what I mean.

This presentation by Rowan, or actually the first half of the presentation, best describes bad PowerPoints. Have you seen any?

To get an idea of Presentation Zen, you need to give it a thought and spend some time on Garr's blog, check his presentation tips, buy his book, or take an hour to watch a presentation he gave at Google in March. It's pretty much the same presentation I saw live, and it's an hour well spent!

If you don't have much time now, here is a good example by Justin about points to remember. Not directly based on Presentation Zen, but sharing many of the topics. And nicely simplified!

When was the last time you saw a really great presentation?
How was it done and delivered?

How can we forget such simple hints so often?