Do Humans Get In the Way of Innovation?

innovation, execution, companies, human behaviorUnicorns, those wild magical beasts in folklore are sought for their healing properties and because they are so elusive. Rather like the quest some companies are on regarding innovation. Innovation is supposed to be the sustainer and life saver of companies. But there is something gumming up the works…there are humans in the way.

Why is innovation so hard?

A question with quite a few answers but we might be missing something crucial. People create innovation. People talk about innovation. We have talked about it on our Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz many times.

Is the work of innovation too boring?

There are many possibilities here ranging from individual behavior to breakdowns in the process. According to Tom Agan, companies are spending too much time ideating. As in, spending a part of or even an whole day coming up with new ideas for the company. Agan’s point is that time would be better spent on looking at ideas the company already has and then identifying and clarifying the best ones for the company to implement.

Another perspective is put forth by David Hasell. He writes that “the secret  path to innovation” lies with the reticular activation system (also known as the extrathalamic control modulatory system). This structure in your brain, is believed to be involved in behavioral motivation, mediating the shift from sleep to wakefulness including periods of high attention plus managing the dampening of loud noises and other intense stimuli. Hasell’s premise – if you activate the RAS on a regular basis, people in the company will begin to build an awareness for certain activities and ideas.

Akin to Agan’s point,  have written The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Problem. They ask if the execution part is too “humdrum” and therefore people don’t expect it to be work. In the book, Govindarajan and Trimble posit that people forget and/or dampen their enthusiasm when it gets to the implementation part of of the innovation process.

What if it’s really about how we understand ourselves and the way organizations are collectively “us?”

On an individual basis, there are many reasons people don’t follow through. In a parallel fashion, implementing an idea is much like goal completion. Some possible theories why organizations don’t execute their ideas well:

  • Too busy fantasizing: Research has shown that people get so caught up in the fantasy of what the result of their efforts will be that they neglect to do the work. The team that held the ideation session were so excited and enthusiastic that they got caught up in the dream.
  • People may misunderstand the business goals and/or the process or not want to change the status quo: Poor communication can derail a project before it has started. It may even be that certain revenue streams are still performing well so there isn’t enough motivation to explore something new.
  • Fear of unknown: The process of innovation is experimental by nature. You don’t know if a new product, service or process improvement is really going to work or make money. Without high-level sponsorship, the idea will remain an idea.
  • Mistrust of leadership: Ideas may not get implemented because it is perceived as a fad or chasing a dream.
  • Too robotic: Psychological research has discovered that a lot of our everyday behavior is robotic. People in companies may get caught up in the everyday work and not connect it to the innovation process, thereby, losing motivation and meaning.

Stop chasing the unicorns

There are probably more reasons why companies fail in their efforts to innovate. It makes sense to learn more about human behavior and then prepare an implementation process that takes the idea beyond the talking stage. Given that it is hard to know when something is going to truly disrupt the marketplace, paying greater attention to how new ideas get transformed into tangible things…the human thinking, feeling and acting…will make the innovation process cleaner.

How does human behavior play a role in the innovation process? Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, May 2, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to add your insights and expertise to our conversation.

What are your top 3 reasons why innovation is working well in organizations?

How could ratcheting down the rhetoric about the necessity to be innovative actually encourage more innovation?

Ideas only become innovations when they are implemented. Could the day-to-day work of executing an idea be off putting as it is not as sexy or stimulating as ideating?

How would understanding how our brains work and human behavior help companies get over the hurdle of executing their great ideas?

What would you put in place to bring ideas into actual products or services?

 

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Do We Understand Power, Authority and Leadership?

Power, authority, leadership, Greg SatellPower is not simple. Yet, leadership and authority depend on it. Leadership and authority  would seem to go hand in hand. If you have a leadership position, you have authority, right? When you look at the definition of authority, Merriam-Webster describes it as “the power to give orders or make decisions : the power or right to direct or control someone or something.” That seems straightforward. If you look at the definition of leadership, it says, “the power or ability to lead other people.”

Power is in both definitions

Both leadership and authority use power to get things done. It is how power is defined and used that makes these concepts diverge. When we think of authority, we often associate it with a top-down use of power. As in, the formally identified leaders tell everyone what will change. Naturally, there are a variety of responses to this use of power, mainly variations of compliance and resistance.

 Less top-down, more leadership

In a post from the HBR Blog Network, Greg Satell writes about how the change process is encouraged or hampered by the use of authority or leadership. Satell uses the examples of Dr. Semelweiss and John Antioco to show how authority does not bring about a desired change in an organization and there are probably examples from our own experiences which are similar. In fact, there have been a quite few conversations with my own clients about not getting too far ahead of their teams and/or staff. It is important to note that not every leader in an organization is necessarily the CEO or part of the executive team. People in leadership roles may have the capacity to see future trends and patterns emerging before everyone else and this is when the exercise of authority can backfire. A leader can be right and wrong at the same time as was the case for both Dr. Semelweiss and John Antioco.

Change is the illuminator of power

Turnover, customer issues, organizational missteps, new products, discovering new markets or capitalizing on trends are commonly the beginning points for leaders. In Satell’s post, he describes an authoritarian approach to be counter-productive. A top-down, “do it my way” approach, regardless of how it is packaged, does not guarantee comformity or compliance. However, Satell might be using too narrow a definition of authority. There is a marked individualistic perspective underlying his premise. In his definition of authority, a leader (typically with a c-level title or equivalent) assumes a level of influence due to title and position and issues a new policy or procedure. Here is where one’s use of power in an organization is illuminated. The new policy or procedure may be followed or ignored and the leader is left feeling his/her power is diminished and wondering if more authority or more influence would have been effective.

Today’s leadership styles exercise power in less individualistic manner

Humans are used to hierarchies of one sort or another. Even in flat organizations, there are designated people who take on leadership roles and members of these organizations respond to their direction. An authoritative approach (one that encompasses talents, resources, personnel, time and readiness) may be used for specific initiatives or projects or the overall foundation. There is more of a give-and-take in an authoritative approach. Satell writes that, “Ideas take hold in small majorities; many stop there and never go any further, but some saturate those local clusters and move on to more reluctant groups through weak ties. Eventually, a cascading effect ensues.” Underlying his point of how the buy-in of the change process is accepted is how a leader used his/her authority to exercise power and have the message sent to the eventual small majorities.

Not clear you can divorce authority and leadership (or “Why should I listen to you?”)

Satell’s point that an authoritarian approach tends to backfire is well taken. On the other hand, it is reasonable to question if his definition of “authority” is oversimplified. Currently, it is considered that the most effective leaders are collaborative, humble, fair, open-minded, ethical, encouraging and emotionally intelligent. By setting this example, they establish themselves as authorities (having expertise and power) while not having to be the only one who takes or forces action. Employees want to know what direction to go in. This is how a leader can use authority. And…the leader then fosters the spread and adoption of the change process. The most crucial underpinning here is the leader’s understanding and willingness to exert and exercise power.

Are authority and leadership too dissimilar to co-exist as put forth by Greg Satell? Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, April 25, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to add your insights and expertise to our conversation.

How is power expressed by a leader?

What changes do you observe in how we understand power, authority and leadership?

How could power be exercised without leadership or authority?

Can you divorce authority from leadership as suggested by Greg Satell? Why/Why not?

Since command-and-control is now considered an ineffective leadership style, do current leadership styles use more influence or some other type of power?

 

 

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Building Business Resilience During Scarcity and Climate Change

Regardless if you believe that climate change is caused by human behaviors or caused by the natural warming and cooling of the planet. there are certain aspects to this topic that are bound to affect large and small businesses. There are intense weather patterns which are disruptive. Beyond climate change, there are questions about certain resources becoming more scarce such as oil, helium and some metals.

Certainty and uncertainty

The certainty is that particular parts of the world, specific countries even, are growing economically and therefore buying more stuff. This creates higher prices for commodities.

The uncertainty lies in how weather, costs and resources become unpredictable and affect the day to day operations of a business. The polar vortex experienced this winter in the US may have had a $5 billion effect. Natural disasters such as flooding, volcanic eruptions and typhoons can disrupt travel, supply lines and cause workers to slow down or stop production. While most businesses are looking at how the banks are functioning and other economic indicators, they may need to expand to include the environment(s) in which they operate.

Andrew Winston’s “Big Pivot”

Andrew Winston, author of The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World, advocates a more “…profound change in strategy, operations, and business philosophy that will make organizations more resilient and help them create new value in a hotter, resource-scarce world.” This is the “Big Pivot.”

In his Harvard Business Review article, “Resilience in a Hotter World,” he explains that there are three types of resilience that organizations must put in place:

  • Cost and risk resilience
  • Revenue resilience
  • Brand resilience

Pivot strategies: Vision, Valuation and Partners

These resiliencies are created when the pivot strategies are adhered to. According to Winston, companies who are more willing to make “…dramatic improvements in operational efficiency and cuts in material and energy use, waste, and carbon emissions, companies become much more flexible and, possibly, antifragile.” He also points out that this pivot is not based on corporate social responsibility. It is based on self-interest. As in, companies who uses renewable energy sources, seek ways to use less resources and increase trust in its relationships with consumers, competitors and communities are more likely to make a profit and thrive.

Winston’s perspective (in a nutshell)

Vision: Rather than simply looking at quarterly reports, companies need to take on a more long-term perspective that looks at years and not months. To do this, it is important to ask “heretical questions” regarding operational, manufacturing and/or economic growth.

Valuation: Not only should companies look at what will maximize their earnings by calculating what will create value. Winston points out that there are things that are much harder to assign a value to such as pollution or job creation. Valuation has to also include natural capital (things in the natural environment).

Partners: This is another area that Winston calls for radical differences. The partners seem like the natural go-to’s…governments, competitors and customers. The radical differences could be teaming up with competitors to lobby for certain environmental policies or partnering with suppliers and consumers to change potential or real systemic problems.

There are changes in the environment

There are still concerns about certain resources decreasing and natural disasters affecting business resilience. It is likely that most companies would say they desire sustainability. However, there is still a mindset that profit and making stockholders happy are more important. There may even be resistance from companies following through on the “Big Pivot” because it may seem too costly or counter-intuitive to source materials differently or advocate for certain environmental policies. Many countries look to their governments to make the necessary changes and individuals (companies or people) do not see how they can be part of that process.

What do you think? Is Andrew Winston advocating some kind of “pie in the sky” behavior or is his “Big Pivot” actually necessary for long term resilience and sustainability? Join us on the Twitter chat #KaizenBiz Friday, April 11, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT and add your insights, opinions and expertise to the conversation.

To what degree have organizations had to change how they evaluate environmental events/storms?

Winston states that incremental changes are not enough. How would an organization make the radical thinking/behavioral leaps he is advocates?

If commodities are increasing in price and certain resources are dwindling, how would a manufacturer change consumer behavior?

Some of what Winston advocates seem high cost changes. How would you make the business case that the “Big Pivot” is smart move?

 

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A Deeper Dive into What #SocialMedia Trends Mean: Innovation & Biz Disruption

Technology social media the internetI’m Cathy Larkin, @CathyWebSavvyPR, a part of the team that supports Kaizenbiz chat. This week on Kaizenbiz I’m hosting, while Elli, @3Keyscoach, is not available. We’ll take a dive into the deeper waters of social media trends. Bring your favorite or least favorite social media trend to discuss. But let’s not just make it a love/hate complaining fest, but take a look into the whys and how it affects larger issues, or how they affect your business or industry. Join us Friday April 5th, 2014, 5 pm GMT/12pm ET/9am on Twitter, follow the #Kaizenbiz hashtag.

To bring us deeper into the topic – check out this video (and written transcript) from @McKinsey (McKinsey and Company)

Why every leader should care about digitization and disruptive innovation:

“For the first time we now have technology effecting every single sector of the economy….” Their post is about more than social media, but provides a strong context for our discussion… also from the video & @amcafee: “Lots of things are being digitized…our social interactions are being digitized largely thanks to all the different social networks and the social media that we have…,” “There’s good news and challenges here…”

To put this in perspective – here’s a reminder of how far we’ve come since the early days of the internet. We’ve come a long way from this news story in 1981 when cutting-edge folks took 2 hours to download the news paper to their computers  via dial-up modem (at $5/hour): http://www.wimp.com/theinternet/.

socialmediamap-1-MotherJones-com

A map from mother Jones 3/28/14 story: MAP: Here Are the Countries That Block Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – click to see article

Social media has been key in helping people around the world connect with one another and organize. This has caused some countries to block access to these sites.  This post shows a map of the various countries that as of March, 2014 have blocked these services; click to see the full story: MAP: Here Are the Countries That Block Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

On the up side: social media has also been used to help people around the world connect to information during disasters and other world events. Here’s a short post on how social media and other technology tricks worked to help save lives during the recent Chilean Earthquake: Chile Uses Earthquake Communication Technology To Saves Lives

Facebook Bait and Switch – How’s That for a Trend?

Facebook convinced many businesses, large & small to get lots of likes to their pages, with the assumption that when their customers were online, they would see the biz updates. Now with Facebook’s new proposed algorithm change – a tiny percentage of a business’s fans will see the posts – unless they PAY to promote it.

This is not the first major change made to make things better for Facebook, and often worse for their users. Did Facebook break a brand promise? Are they so big they can do what they want? How might setting a trend like this at Facebook, make Twitter and Google rethink their own pricing models. How will this affect your business?

And What About Twitter’s new Gambit – they are Considering Simplifying to Entice New Users to Stay or One-time Users to Return

Twitter is talking about doing away with two if their earlier innovations – the @ sign and  the #hashtag that was started by customers. They are trying to simplify or “dumb down” to regain 1billion lost users…great idea or alienate main user base?

Will new pressures to raise money after they went public drive users away?

On the Other Hand…LinkedIn Seems to be Gaining Traction, Yet Making Missteps Too

LinkedIn plans on adding blogs for members, but on the other hand has given the power to group owners to block people from commenting and posting in groups without being moderated…across the entire site – not just that group.

So How Disruptive ARE Social Sites to Business?

So many businesses and individuals build connections on these platforms to then have the rules change again and again – sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. Yes it is a business like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn’s right to change their options and terms of service, but the disruptive nature of innovation has consequences in the short and long term.

#Kaizenbiz Chat Questions

**QUEST 1 How do you think technology or #socialmedia trends have had positive effects in the world?

**QUEST 2 How have recent technology trends promoted #socialmedia to disrupt business strategy?

**QUEST 3 Are social sites making progress, alienating users or going all 1984/big brother?

**QUEST 4 How might FBk’s setting a trend of paying to access yr fans make Twitter, Google & LinkedIn rethink their pricing

**QUEST 5 What effect might Twitter’s potential simplifying to cater to new users have on your existing biz?

Next week, Elli St. George Godfrey will be back and we’re talking about business resilience in the current business climate

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