Posts Tagged ‘Organizing_Innovation


Ready Made Leaders

The need to renew capitalism is clear. Trust in businesspeople is at historically low levels and our economy is struggling to make a comeback. Structural changes are needed, as well as each of us to take a personal stand on right and wrong. We explored some of the ways each of us can engage in order to change our poor public image.  

A friend of mine also reminded me of some great examples in our society. These people are consistently ranked at the top of public perception surveys. They are unquestioned leaders, taking on the toughest situations. Finally, they contribute to our country in innumerable ways. 

HeroOf course, these are the men and women of our armed forces. They make personal sacrifices so that we can live securely. They willingly step into to the toughest situations and provide an immediate response to difficult and complicated situations. They serve all of us and make our lives better by doing things we could never do for ourselves. 

These leaders are now finding new roles as business leaders. Their training and experience allows them to step into key roles and quickly make an impact. They only require some specific subject matter knowledge to become valuable members of a business team and ready to make a difference.  

Not only that, they are ready to be great examples and show us how to make a difference as well!



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?  


WikiLeaks Drives the Need for Transparency Home

We all know social media changes the game – both offensively and defensively. Offensively, the technology provides the opportunity to reach more people with more information faster and cheaper than ever before. Defensively, we can now hear people’s comments in real time and know what is being said about us. Mass communication is a much more democratic process. That means messy and accessible.

In this environment, transparency and authenticity becomes critical. Information travels quickly and freely between people and organizations. Nothing is secret anymore. Social media platforms make it possible to learn anything you want to know with either a PC or a smart phone. It’s impossible to manage a story or create a façade.

 WikiLeaks is driving that point home. In their latest high-profile leak, the website revealed internal State Department communications. Our diplomats thought their conversations were confidential and they made unflattering and unprofessional comments about foreign dignitaries. Those communications were discovered, disclosed, and posted to the Web. The reaction left our government scrambling to recover. 

Can your organization survive a similar incident? Do you embrace transparency and authenticity within your company? Personally? What if your confidential communications became public? Would those communications reveal professionalism and ethical conduct…or something else?

It takes hard work and consistent effort to create that environment. Leaders must set a clear vision and actively reinforce and clear set of values. They must consistently put in place the systems and practices to create a force of engaged and constructive employees. Finally, the entire enterprise must be kept on-track with constant, consistent, and multi-lateral communication.  

The game has changed. Have you put yourself in position to take advantage of the new social networks?



Old White Men…Again!!

(A quick prelude…The Minnesota Summit on Ethics takes place on Friday, November 12th at St. Thomas University. If you are ready to take your own personal stand on ethics, please join us! Click here for more information. We hope to see you there!) 

The OWM Himself!

The phone rang on Tuesday morning. It was my Dad. “Being old and white, I’m wondering if I’m still relevant.” 

It’s always good to hear from him and he started a week of discussions about diversity and the role each one of us play. The discussions ranged from the virtues and experience that old white men bring to critical roles to the need for diversity to address today’s challenges. 

Unique perspectives are critical to creating success. We live in times where change continues to accelerate. That acceleration means that tenure no longer guarantees increasing, relative experience. Opportunities are coming from multiple, unexpected directions, making it more critical to include diverse perspectives in the critical decisions within our organizations.


The challenge is to find and create true insight. It’s a changing challenge in a world where the traditional link between tenure, experience, and insight is broken. Gray hair is no longer a necessary condition for wisdom. Younger people, from a wider collection of traditions, bring new views and critical opinions to situations. How do you make good decisions about who to bring into the process? 

Find people with unique, relevant views. Start by looking for folks who are doing unique things. People running non-profits deal with diversity on their boards and among their contributors. Leaders in the technology fields understand innovation and how it’s changing the playing field for all of us. Entrepreneurs struggle with many of the same business issues as larger companies, but with far fewer resources. All three represent fertile fields for finding unique views. 


Contributor from a different tradition

Find people from different traditions. That certainly means people with different ethnicities. It also means finding people from different life situations: from the city, the country, and different regions of the country. Economic backgrounds should also play a role in the selection. People from tough backgrounds will bring a different perspective than those coming from more privileged circumstances. Consider all of them in your decision.


The key is to find people who can consider issues from all possible sides. Yes, even old, while men have a place at the table. Create a collection of contributors who expand your horizons and improve your ability to make great decisions.


Oh yes…there’s one other role critical for success: the Synthesizer. With all the different perspectives and experience brought together, someone needs to be able to pull all the talent and opinions in the same direction. That’s the Synthesizer’s job. Diverse groups are hard to lead, and the right person in this role pulls out the best thinking and the clearest ideas from the group. Great results require synthesizers who are strong, inclusive, patient leaders. 

Ok Dad. Old, white, men still have their place. Let’s make sure we find others who can help us create success in this new era.


Change or Be Changed

We all prefer “changing” to “being changed.” I had that driven home again leading a discussion with the GRIT. A terrific discussion around innovation showed once again that effective engagement produces good ideas and great energy.

I was privileged to lead the Grass Roots Innovation Team (GRIT) this week. GRIT is a group formed within 3M to preserve innovation within the company during difficult times. Now, we share ideas on how to innovate and make each other more effective. This week, we discussed two ideas from past writings: Innovation’s Slow, Painful Death and The Power and Danger of the Bell Shaped Curve. Both topics discuss the way we can stifle innovation by taking the wrong approach.

DiscussionThe ideas struck a nerve with the group and started a spirited discussion. Everyone had an opinion or another view of the issue. The synergistic discussion produced better ideas than any one of us had on our own and released incredible energy from the group. Everyone left ready to face their afternoon – armed with new spirit to that they could tackle anything they faced.

It showed me that given a good game and a fair shot, everyone wants to play. It’s our job as change leaders to engage people in creating the system that produces the outcomes we want. It’s also our job to support each other while we’re working within that system. We all know that even the best plans run into difficult stretches, requiring everyone’s best efforts. Finally, the focus should be on winning. Great planning, engagement, and hard work are only sustainable when we regularly reach our objectives…and win!!

Creating meaningful change is one of the most difficult pursuits in the world. It only happens under the right conditions and with the proper leadership. Pulling everyone in, letting them become part of the process, and turning them loose can create incredible results!


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.

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