Posts Tagged ‘creativity


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. 


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!



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?



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?



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?  


The Power and Danger of the Bell Shaped Curve

The Bell Shaped Curve (BSC) is one of the most powerful statistical tools for driving quality and consistency in many human endeavors. Used correctly, it improves the reliability of critical equipment; increases the consistency of vital processes; and reduces the costs of many of the products we use every day.

Danger arises when the same BSC is used to manage the selection process for our employees or the projects we choose to pursue. Flexible organizations rely on a full spectrum of compatriots to make the organization flexible enough to respond to the changing needs of the marketplace. Innovation requires a broad portfolio of projects in order to discover the breakthroughs necessary to stay consistently ahead of the competition. Eliminating variation by applying the BSC incorrectly destroys flexibility and innovation.

Broad diversity is the key to flexibility. Great organizations staff their organizations with people from across the entire BSC. They recruit aggressively and make personnel decisions based on the impact they will have on the diversity their people bring to the company.

Unfortunately, economic pressures are playing havoc with ongoing diversity. Companies have made extensive layoffs a part of these tough times. It takes great insight and discipline to execute these reductions in a way that maintains diversity and the flexibility of the organization. Most companies reduce their workforces by eliminating the people on the tails of the BSC; preferring employees closer to the overall mean. After all, these people are more homogenous and easier to manage. This limits the ability to react to diverse situations.

Improper use of the BSC can also destroy innovation by limiting the projects considered for development. Great innovation requires a broad project portfolio in order to find the best opportunities. Breakthroughs are found at the tails of the BSC – the very projects unlikely to be sustained through the usual review process. The most successful projects are impossible to predict at the beginning of the innovation process. The music industry discovered this decades ago and maintains a portfolio of artists to insure that the breakthrough acts are under contract when they hit it big.

The need for a broad project portfolio is just as essential in other companies. The trick is to try many things in ways that are fast, cheap, and driven by enthusiastic champions. Small expenditures can go a long way to support projects brought forward by enthusiastic fans. The fans can move quickly in order to see that the most promising projects move forward. Life and death become organic outcomes from the movement of these fans as they support some projects and ignore others. Use this process to stay out of the judgment game. Remember, breakthrough success is impossible to predict. Why set yourself up for failure?

An enthusiastic outlier!

Be sure to use your creativity to let the BSC help you. Find and nurture leaders on the tails. You need them to build flexibility. Keep an active portfolio of diverse projects in motion. Breakthroughs happen unexpectedly. Be prepared for the unexpected and take advantage when it happens!


Playing in the Innovation Sandbox: Participation

“I had a quicksand box as a kid. I was an only child… eventually.”

— Steven Wright

Even the best Innovation Sandbox is nothing without participation. The best sandboxes are inclusive places, filled with great projects.

In my childhood sandboxes, the best projects never had trouble attracting talent or attention. The kids building the 10-story castles and the replicas of the Hoover Dam always had plenty of willing hands to help with their exploits. If you were the one playing with your road grader in the corner of the sandbox, even your best friends left you alone in your trifles. The best projects always attracted the most help.

The same holds true with the Innovation Sandbox. The best projects attract the most talent. People want to participate where they can make a difference and can have fun while doing it. Great Innovations Sandboxes encourage participation.

Systems should be built to take advantage of this natural tendency of talent to flow to the best projects. Everyone in the organization should be encouraged to participate in the innovation efforts. Projects and success should be made visible. Celebrate success and recognize progress in order to reinforce and encourage participation and action.

Building that participation and action is a terrific way to allow projects to organically grow or fade. I’m amazed that one of the first questions people ask when discussing innovation is when to kill a project. It’s the wrong question to ask and totally unnecessary. Set up the system where the people involved make that decision. They flow to the best projects and away from the worst ones. Have resources follow the people and watch that system feed and starve projects without the bureaucracy and overhead that formal evaluation systems create.

Set up your Innovation Sandbox with a system that creates energy and participation. Do it right and watch it grow and flourish without management intervention.


Boundaries in the Innovation Sandbox

Every organization needs to innovate. Accelerating change, increased competition, and shorter product life cycles make it essential to find new and better ways to meet the needs of the marketplace. Innovation is critical and requires a different approach to free up the best ideas. The Innovation Sandbox provides a framework for fostering those new approaches and getting the most from those innovation efforts.

The first element in the Innovation Sandbox is the need to set clear boundaries. Your childhood sandbox had boundaries. When your parents told you to go play in the sandbox, you knew right where to go. The same is true for the Innovation Sandbox. Boundaries create a clear safe zone and provide the structure necessary to keep the traditional control organization at bay.

The Safe Zone is a place where innovators can experiment, play, and learn. It’s a place where the players can feel free to make intelligent mistakes in an effort to find breakthrough ideas. Strong boundaries provide a feeling of control to the traditional organization and time and space to the innovators to explore breakthrough ideas.

The boundary is formed by creating a clear understanding of the time, financial resources, people, and enforcement that will be invested in the innovation effort. Time must be allocated – both in terms of quantity and when it will happen. Financial resources, including cash and other assets, must be clearly budgeted for innovation efforts. The proper people must be available at appropriate times. Finally, everyone must understand the way the boundary will be “patrolled” and enforced. This preparation allows everyone in the organization to feel more comfortable with the experiments and mistakes being made in the name of innovation.

Strong boundaries create an effective safe zone for active innovators, and a sense of control for the traditional gatekeepers of the organization. Proper planning sets up a system that everyone can understand and creates an effective innovation engine.

Next week we’ll discuss setting rules within the Innovation Sandbox.

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