Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

17
Jul
11

Change v. Persistence — Riding the Wave

The choice between change and persistence is one of the toughest decisions we ever need to make. Nothing difficult ever happens without persistence. It’s important to be able to stick it out through tough times. Still, there comes a time to cut losses and move on. It was an interesting week to contemplate the dilemma.

The OWM Himself!

My Dad (remember the OWM?) celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination last Sunday. Dad is the model of persistence. He served causes and congregations his whole life. He made it through good times – and a whole bunch of bad times as well. No matter the situation, Dad stood firm, held the course, and made progress because he stayed persistent. He changed numerous lives and organizations all because he fought for his causes. 

Dad did a great job, but he might have more difficulty in the times that are evolving. Change continues to accelerate and all of us must adapt to those changes. Technology connects us all. Those connections make good ideas more visible, causing them to spread faster and easier than ever before. Ideas and information fuel change and make adaptation a critical skill. 

Persistence is critical, but it’s just as critical to be able to stay flexible and change when necessary. The old paradigms of persistence, loyalty, and perseverance fall short in this new environment. Those qualities take on new forms. Instead of building a firm, inflexible foundation, like a house; the new environment demands a more flexible base.  

The picture of a solid stance on a surfboard is more apropos: Standing firm to ride a wave, but able to adjust to changing conditions. In these times it’s important to find the right wave, ride it long and strong, learn from the ride, and find the next wave. The best progress will still be made by those who can show persistence, but now use that persistence to adapt and take advantage of changing conditions. 

Change versus persistence is still a difficult choice. Find your wave and give it a long ride, adjusting to conditions as they change. Change they will. Don’t be afraid to change with them! 

Oh…and enjoy the ride!

  

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24
Apr
11

Happy Easter! Ready for Transformation?

Easter always mean a lot to me. First, it means that Lent is over. I give up sweets and alcohol every year, so it’s always great fun to enjoy the Easter treats. More importantly, it’s a time of reflection and thanksgiving. A time when I stop to reflect on my position in the creation and to say thanks for all the blessings put into my life. 

This year was no different. I didn’t make it through the first stanza of the first hymn before tears started welling up in my eyes. It’s been a good Lent for me. I’m down eight pounds and I’ve worked hard to make changes in my health and life position. It’s going to be a time that springboards the rest of the year for me.  

It could be a great time for you as well. Easter is a great time for change. Winter is over and the flowers are starting to bloom. It’s a perfect time to start working to make changes in your life. There is still plenty of time to make 2011 a terrific year. New approaches can create huge results for you. 

Transformation?

If you’re not happy with your life, it’s time to jump in! Don’t try to transform your whole life in the next two weeks. Instead, make modest changes to start the process moving. Learn something new. Change a habit. Build new relationships (or repair old ones). Reach out and volunteer. Almost anything can make a positive change for you. Start a new habit and build on it. 

Use the change to reset the messages in your head. Replace the negative messages with positive thoughts. Use whatever works to change the message. For me, I found an old recording of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and play it whenever I need a positive charge. The words become a part of my psyche and give me the energy to believe good things and then act on them. It’s important to move ahead on the things you want. Even God can’t steer a parked car, so get moving!  

Shoot for steady incremental change. Little improvements can make a big difference. The key is to make the change steady and consistent. Use these changes to build the new habits that will put your life in a new place.  


It’s Spring! The flowers are blooming! Use the season as the impetus for making 2011 the best year ever! 

Happy Easter!

 

27
Mar
11

Five Key Ethical Breakdowns

Businesspeople are facing an ethical crisis in their profession. Our public esteem is at an all-time low with no signs of rising. It will take all of us working together to fill in the hole we have made. Ethics have never been more critical – or more precarious. 

One of the issues we all face is our ability to assess ethics – our own and others – under changing conditions. In the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review, Max Mazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel show how any of us can go astray. In their article “Ethical Breakdowns,” they outline five critical factors that can trip anyone up:

  • Ill-Conceived Goals. Inadvertently setting goals that promote a negative behavior. The pressures to maximize billable hours or revenue per customer are both examples of goals that can promote negative behavior.
  • Motivated Blindness. We can overlook the ethical behavior of others when it’s in our interest to remain ignorant. Baseball officials ignoring the spread of steroid use in their game is a good example of that phenomenon.
  • Indirect Blindness. We hold others less accountable for unethical behavior when it’s carried out by a third party. A drug company licensed one of its marginally profitable specialty drugs to a third party, then raised the manufacturing price, which in turn led the licensee to raise the consumer price. The company used the licensee to impose a 1,000% price increase, deflecting attention from itself.
  • The Slippery Slope. We are less able to see others’ ethical failings when they happen over time. Auditors may fall prey to this if a company’s questionable practices accumulated over time, rather than all at once.
  • Overvaluing Outcomes. We give a pass to unethical behavior if the outcome is good. A researcher with fraudulent clinical trial entries is more likely to be given a “pass” if the drug works than if it doesn’t.

We all face examples of these conditions in our everyday business roles. The article does a great job of pointing out how these biases can cause even the most ethical person to slip into an unethical position. It’s often not the clear-cut decision between good and evil that trips us up. Rarely is it that simple, clear, or visible. 

Almost all of us aspire to high ethics and the best of behavior. If that applies to you, I encourage you to read the article. You will be surprised how our internal biases and can throw us off that high road!

 

06
Mar
11

Changing Capitalism – Part 2

It’s time to refresh our capitalistic system. It is the greatest economic system ever devised by mankind and it requires constant attention and vigilance to maintain its relevance and vitality. These are times that demand that leaders step forward and take a courageous stand. 

At its core, capitalism depends on trust and leadership to survive and thrive. Right now, trust in business leaders is at an all-time low. We need to change business-as-usual in order to change the tide. If we don’t raise the bar and hold our profession to a higher standard, we will cede the right to control our future to politicians and regulators. 

Unfortunately, we deserve the ratings we are receiving right now. Our leaders have been involved in numerous ethical breaches from Enron to Wall Street. We have failed to truly embrace innovation in a way that harnesses all our talents and potential. We surrendered some of the strongest parts of our economy to foreign producers. As businesspeople, we have not done a terrific job in maintaining our world leadership. 

The Great Recession only emphasized these points. The downturn left us with high unemployment and slow growth. Our traditional growth engines have stalled with little opportunity for robust recovery. It’s unclear how we will grow in the future and people are looking for leaders who can make sense out of the present situation. 

It’s time for business leaders to step up and the downturn provides many opportunities. Managers can no longer masquerade as leaders: The present situation is too important and too fertile to be left to people looking for incremental solutions or actions that worked in the past. Stress opens gaps for genuine change and opportunities to engage in a new way. 

The true challenge to refresh capitalism is to raise the bar for all participants. It’s time to demand better performance on all fronts – not just the financial metrics. All of us must live up to a higher standard of personal performance and ethical benchmarks. It starts with each one of us individually answering the challenge. 

We live up to the standards individually, but we are judged collectively. Therefore, it is no longer acceptable to just look at our own performance and the performance of our charges. We must also accept responsibility for the actions of our peers and hold them to the same level of accountability. It’s no longer acceptable to say “I’m good” and leave clean-up to someone else. We are being judged as a group and we are only as strong as our weakest link. We can no longer stand by, wring our hands, and grumble about those who let us down. 

As leaders, we must demand more from the system. That means you and it means me. How are you making yourself better this week? How are you helping your organization live up to a higher standard? What are you doing to make that standard a norm in your community? 

It’s a difficult challenge…but no hill for climbers! Our future success demands that we set the new standard.

 Are you ready for the challenge?

 

20
Feb
11

Change Badger Style

I learn about change from many different sources. This time it’s been fascinating to watch the turmoil with the Wisconsin State Budget battle. The crisis is certainly a unique time in state government. I’ll let others analyze the politics. Instead, I prefer to look at the actions and consequences of the new Governor’s actions, and how it can apply to all of us. 

Scott Walker made it very clear that he would attack the budget deficits and state Unions would bear some of the brunt of his initiative. He won the election and his party took charge of the legislature. Gov. Walker was firmly within his rights and abilities to make the changes he proposed: Demanding that Unions pay for their benefits and curtailing their collective bargaining rights. 

He certainly caused incredible upheaval. Opposing Senators left the state in order to prevent the Senate from reaching the majority necessary to pass the bill. Tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the Capitol and the surrounding square. Several school districts – including Madison and Milwaukee – were shut down as teachers joined the protests. All of this action brought national attention to the state, probably in an unwanted way.

 How many times do we plunge into change situations the same way? As bosses we have the legitimate right to make the changes we want in the way we want. We believe that if we communicate the change and it makes sense to us, all will go well. The change is made and very quickly we stumble into a gauntlet of unintended consequences.  

Change always takes more time and effort than expected. Communicating, gaining agreement, and implementing change is both an art and a science. Might doesn’t always make right, and our common sense is not necessarily our colleagues common sense. My experience says that most situations call for a pedantic approach to major change. Take time to plan, communicate, and understand the reactions to any moves. 

The reaction in our organizations rarely winds up in protests in the street. In fact, many times those reactions fail to reach the surface. Instead, disagreement goes underground, colleagues shut down, and key players can resort to malicious compliance in order to get by. We can create a situation every bit as complicated as Gov. Walker’s. 

As we watch the drama unfold in our neighbors’ Capitol, take the opportunity to reflect on how your approach to change can cause more disruption and reaction than you intended. The disruptions in your world may not make the nightly news, but they could have a bigger impact on your organization’s success.

 

06
Feb
11

Courage to Change

It takes courage to change. That was driven home to me through the world of politics and government this week.  

David BrooksI’m a big fan of David Brooks, the political commentator. He works very hard to develop deep, nuanced, and insightful perspectives on complicated situations. Brooks has a way of cutting through the clutter and getting to the heart of the matter. 

This week I heard him speak twice about the upcoming budget fight in Congress. On the positive side, Brooks sees cooperation in the coming weeks. It’s a great time for change and making good decisions about the future. There’s some great momentum to solve problems and get positive things done. 

Unfortunately, Brooks also fails to see the courage necessary to tackle the most difficult issues. Without that courage, it will be impossible to attack the ingrained entitlements in the system. Instead, we are likely to see cuts to programs that may actually generate returns and position the country for the future. A lack of courage may limit our future. 

I’m involved with Safe Passage, an organization that helps Minnesota counties focus on our at-risk kids. We focus attention on the most critical situations and facilitate solutions. Through this organization, I see the parallels in our state government. 

The state is in budget trouble. We are clearly spending too much money and having a difficult time coming to grips with competing interests. There are many obligations with few easy answers. Match that with little will or courage to compromise, and it becomes easy to pass the problems along. In our case, the requirements are passed to the counties – without funding – and the problem is solved. 

Is it the same in your life? Are there problems you can solve or situations that you can make better, but you aren’t acting? Is there something in your personal, professional, or community life that could benefit from your attention? Change requires courage to make a difference. It’s the perfect time to step up and move out of your comfort zone. Make an impact in a time where every impact is critical. 

Do you have the courage to change?

 

23
Jan
11

Innovation: Talk or Action?

I participated in two different innovation events last week. Sen. Amy Klobuchar held her Innovation Summit at the University of Minnesota and the GRIT met again. These two events showed the stark difference between talking about innovation and actually innovating. 

Sen. Klobuchar

The Klobuchar event had a terrific panel: Senators, CEOs, academics, and financiers. It was a great crowd, full of enthusiastic people from throughout the community. It was a great location in the middle of the University of Minnesota. The setting was perfect for a great session on innovation and how great leaders will make our state an innovation hotbed. 

Instead, we heard perspectives about old subjects – about the ways innovation is limited by conditions out of anyone’s control. The need for the four ts: Talent, Trade, Taxes, and Trade. The restrictive regulations that government puts in place. The panel talked about all the different things that are hindering innovation. 

It was a fine conversation, but without much action. I learned that success comes in “cans”, not in “can’ts”, and most of the talk surrounded the reasons we can’t innovate. The panel missed the entire side of the equation that involves engaging employees in new ways and building systems that foster innovation. It’s much easier to talk about why innovation can’t happen than to do the hard work to make it a reality. 

Contrast this with the GRIT – the Grass Roots Innovation Team, formed by employees of 3M to boost innovation in one of the most storied companies in the world. The group expanded to include those living innovation and making great new things happen. The GRIT and its members are oriented to action. 

True innovators move. Sure, they talk about innovation and highlight the need to change, but they find it more important to act. As I looked around the table, I saw innovators who worked their whole career to overcome obstacles. Their passion overcomes the nos in order to bring new ideas to fruition. 

Great innovators act rather than talk. They find a way to make the impossible happen and create new futures for all of us! Are you one of the talkers or the doers?  




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