Leaders Instill Vision and Creativity

 

“Vision is the best manifestation of creative imagination and the primary motivation of human action. It’s the ability to see beyond our present reality, to create, to invent what does not yet exist, to become what we not yet are. It gives us capacity to live out of our imagination instead of our memory.” 

– Stephen Covey

Vision cogAs a management consultant of 25 years, I have had the opportunity to interact with a variety of companies, their leadership teams, and employees. What Covey describes above is the missing ingredient in many businesses and the critical success factor in others. Jeff Orr, who coaches executives and their organizations, has this to say about Covey’s quote:

Vision. A key component of leadership. The ability to see what doesn’t exist…yet. And then to communicate that vision, so compellingly, that anyone who hears it can’t help but jump on board. This is the stuff of great leadership.

I have found that one of the most challenging aspects of vision casting is not the actual speaking of the vision, but what the person receiving the message actually sees in their mind regarding that vision. I have discovered that I can verbally paint a vision for a group of people and, depending on their experience, upbringing, etc., each person can have a slightly different picture in their mind of what the vision looks like. They also have a particular view of how they play a part in that vision – which may or may not be what I had intended. This has led to miscommunication and missed expectations. So how do we as leaders cast a compelling vision that is caught by our audience as we intend it to be caught?

Know your audience-their background, personalities, language and culture; (then) you can (better) craft your message to connect with them. If your audience is diverse, you may need to use multiple word pictures to say the same thing to different people. This takes a bit more time, but can be an eye-opener for you. Learning how to convey your vision in multiple “languages” will make you a better communicator.

Once you feel enough of your audience has “gotten it,” you still need to continually cast that vision. As one great leader has said, “Vision leaks.” Imagine a bucket with small holes in the bottom. As you fill that bucket with water, some of it leaks out the bottom. If you don’t continually fill the bucket, all of the water will eventually empty out. People are no different. The concerns of their department, projects, and life in general, all compete for their attention, crowding out the vision. It’s up to you as their leader to keep “filling their bucket” with the vision so it stays top of mind. As you utilize various methods of delivering the same message, you will see your team gain energy, synergy, and momentum.

What applies to leadership applies to intrapreneurship especially well. Organizations that lack visionary leadership often stagnate in their business performance. As the followers sense that the leaders care about creative capacity and are doing something about it, they become very motivated to produce.

When the workers are unable to see beyond their current reality (and not encouraged to do so), they can become disheartened. Being able to envision a better day with more positive outcomes fuels the fires. Given the opportunity to be creative, to look for what lies beyond the obvious, most will work harder with less need for exterior reward because they are motivated by what they can contribute. Seek to be an organization that values vision!

 

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Dissimilarity Creates Innovative Thinking

How often does your organization examine ways to apply a concept from one part of the business to an entirely different component? I’d like to suggest that you do it far more often. Many innovative ideas flow from simultaneously considering two thoughts that, on the surface, seem to have little connection. For instance, what do you think of design mixed with meeting planning? Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing at INXPO and author of the book “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events,” thinks this juxtaposition is an interesting one. After watching a 60 Minutes episode recently that featured an interview with David Kelley, founder of both IDEO and Stanford’s d school, Shiao was inspired:

Overview: Design Thinking
The design thinking process can be broken down into three components: inspiration, ideation and implementation. To quote a design thinking article co-authored by Mr. Brown:

  • Inspiration: “Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions.”

  • Ideation: “Ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas.”

  • Implementation: “Implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.”

Corporate events

Incorporating Design Thinking into Meetings and Events

I’ve (Shiao) taken a look at the tenets and methodologies of design thinking and considered how they could be applied to meetings and events. Let’s consider some.

Attend Your Own Event (Empathy)

Meeting and event planners should take off their “planning hats” and attend one of their events solely with their “attendee hats” on. That means that you can have no part in planning the event. Go through the entire cycle of registration, travel, sessions, workshops, social events, etc. Practice further empathy by understanding how fellow attendees are experiencing the event.

Deepen (and Broaden) Your Team Roster

Design thinking introduces the notion of “multidisciplinary teams,” in which people of assorted backgrounds (and schools of thought) ideate, iterate and collaborate. You need a group that creates divergent thinking, which, according to Mr. Brown of IDEO, “is the route, not the obstacle, to innovation.” I’d recommend adding folks from Finance, HR and Engineering. 

Where No Idea is a Bad Idea
If you make an early judgment on the quality of an idea, you may have just squashed a “germ” that would develop into a breakthrough. The ideation process is critical in creating the next breakthrough event. Instead, design thinking teaches you to build upon each other’s ideas, sort of like the “yes, and..” methodology in improvisational theater. 

Meeting and Event Prototypes
Recall that part of the ideation phase is “testing ideas.” It’s an iterative process in which you deploy a prototype, collect “real user feedback,” determine what you learned, then ideate on product refinements (repeating the cycle all over again).

Let’s say you’re planning next year’s 5,000 person sales kick-off meeting and you have innovative new ideas for it. Create a prototype using 50 sales people and actually implement those ideas in a “real prototype” (event). Determine what worked, make adjustments, then plan another prototype. When the “real thing” comes around, you’ll have a much better “product.”

This type approach is both novel and holds promise for adaptation to a variety of other tasks, disciplines and situations. What dissimilar business processes can be combined in a brainstorming session to help you approach your customers, employees, or suppliers differently? What may be the outcome of such crazy thinking? Does your culture support such “frivolous” exercises, or disdain them? While the temptation would be to apply the concept only to new product development, the value is cross-functional!

 

 

Foster Intrapreneurial Activity

Today I had the opportunity to attend an Innovation Symposium culminating a 125 year anniversary celebration at North Carolina State University. While NC State is the arch rival of my alma mater, UNC, it is a great university located in my hometown.  One of the recurring themes today as presidents of other land grant universities took their position at the  podium was how many schools have done a good job of incorporating the business community into campus life–particularly as it relates to launching novel startups with a research basis made possible by the work of faculty and students. An outgrowth of that theme was the concept that more corporate citizens needed to catch the entrepeneurial spirit and turn it into intrapreneurial initiatives.

When I did an internet search for examples of universities partnering with businesses in intrapreneurship, one of the results was a story from Louisville, Kentucky. Beth Avey, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Indiana Exchange said in a blog post on their website, “Over the years I’ve often heard people talk about how the corporate culture stymies creativity and new ideas, and how companies lose their most talented people in pursuit of more innovative opportunities. Well, in our region there are employers doing just the opposite.”

Health intrapreneurshipWhat a great idea! Companies who are tuned into the need of workers to have their ideas heard and implemented–regardless of whether the workers hold a management or traditional R&D role. Would that all companies embraced the challenge to foster intrapreneurial activity! Avey goes on to illustrate:

The Kentucky Indiana Exchange (Kix) has long sought to showcase the great entrepreneurial spirit of our region, but what about the “intrapreneurial” spirit of our employers? Maybe it’s a concept that some of you are aware of, but it was unknown to me until a recent visit to Signature HealthCARE as a member of the 2013 class of Leadership Louisville.

When we arrived for our monthly gathering, we were given the opportunity to select one of several regional employers, and I chose Signature. I had heard so much about the company — the decision its leaders made to move the headquarters to the region; the work they were doing with the University of Louisville to foster innovation and business start-ups in the long-term care industry; and about their leader, CEO Joe Steier, a Louisville native who guided the company’s move to Kentucky.

We spent much of the morning with our host Joe Barimo, the VP of Corporate Learning. His passion for the company was quite apparent. We then visited with what seemed to be the entire senior leadership team, including Joe Steier. We had a terrific exchange, learning about the company, their move to Louisville and Signature’s three organizational pillars – Learning, Spirituality and Intrapreneurship. Learning and Spirituality were certainly two concepts with which I was familiar, but not “Intrapreneurship.”

It’s the idea of acting like an entrepreneur within a larger organization where employees are expected to be innovative, to take risk and pursue the development of innovative products or services within the company. This style of management allows the employees to feel as if they’re part of something bigger, as well as something they have a stake in. Traits like conviction, zeal and insight are encouraged. As a result, employees become more likely to try the kinds of approaches they might take if they were running their own business. The end result can be a breakthrough technology or a new and profitable product line.

What a great lesson in visionary leadership. How can it be applied to your organization? Your alma mater? Your business community? 

 

Are You Aggressive Innovators, or Defenders of Status Quo?

Our world has sped up. The demand for faster, “instant,” responsive products and services drives business competition for customers. A computer, for instance, with a faster processor is worth more than one with a slower one because faster page loads mean either a more enjoyable gaming experience or work productivity. Consequently, a higher price can be charged for a faster computer. In many markets, people are willing to pay a rush charge for added convenience or quicker availability. Why is the need for speed, then, missing in typical product development efforts? My friend, Jeffrey Phillips, addressed this issue with a recent blog post:

Three innovation clockspeeds

The pervasive lack of enthusiasm or even awareness of time in regards to innovation is a constant source of amazement for me.  In organizations transfixed by time, speed and efficiency, innovation and product development are often the slowest out of the gate, the longest efforts to accomplish and seem completely unrelated to the real world. There are, of course, reasons why innovation is slow:
  1. Innovation is uncertain and risky, so organizations try to move slowly to reduce risk
  2. Innovation (if done well) is often ahead of the market, so organizations try to time innovation to market needs and demands
  3. Innovation requires tools and techniques that are unfamiliar, which slows the process
  4. Innovation and subsequent product development processes are sclerotic, like blood vessels full of plaque, stuffed with unimportant but time consuming activities.

My stipulation is that you should do innovation as fast as humanly possible, even at the risk of skipping steps or bypassing checkpoints, because your internal clockspeed is almost certainly out of synch with the market’s clockspeed.

Your internal clockspeed

Your clockspeed (how fast your organization works) was set by management – this means that your clockspeed is relatively high when working on (the) familiar … and very slow otherwise.  Your operating models slow innovation down at exactly the time that they should be speeding up.  The strange thing about internal clockspeed is that it is similar to the weather – everyone complains about it but few do much about it.  

Clockspeed

External market clockspeed

Your markets are likely moving faster than your internal processes, since the markets are subject to competition, new entrants, substitutions and other factors that Porter and others made famous.  The real problem is innovation clockspeed.

Innovation clockspeed

If you compete in a lucrative market, there are a host of firms innovating right now, seeking to disrupt your market, create substitutes for your product or to simply replace the need for your product or potentially your market.  Clockspeed isn’t simply about bringing a new product to market faster, but about making the product or market obsolete or unnecessary.  

Getting obsolete faster 

Nobody cares about how efficient or fast your existing processes are to provide existing products and services.  What will differentiate firms in the future is an accelerated ability to innovate, at least as a fast follower if not an innovation leader, carefully tracking the external market clockspeed and anticipating innovation clockspeed.  

The challenge — should you choose to accept this mission, is to synchronize the clocks! Within your organization, take a long hard look at impediments to rapid prototyping. Examine systems that disincentivize risk taking and experimentation. Determine how to reject more ideas faster so that your organization is known for the rate of idea generation and implementation rather than the amount of time taken to vet one idea at a time. 

Develop Innovation Skills Through 6 Techniques

When we write of intrapreneurship, we are addressing the need for businesses to foster innovation. While process and procedure can create a friendly environment in which creativity can occur, there are times when some individuals inside an organization need a jump start. How does an organization encourage its people to overcome what would be called in literary circles “writer’s block?” For, if your company can identify how to unleash the power within the minds of its employees, great things can happen on behalf of the customer and the company and its stakeholders–including the employees!

 

Catch 22Woody Bendle penned an article for Innovation Excellence recently highlighting that innovation instincts can be sharpened and expanded. It is necessary, according to Bendle, to “sharpen your instincts.” Bendle reminds readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s writings (Blink and Outliers) on how to become more intuitive. Gladwell, says Bendle, “provides several deliciously compelling examples of the human “Adaptive Unconscious” at work. This Adaptive Unconsciousness is discussed as one’s ability to intuitively connect a myriad of seemingly disparate dots in a split second in order to form an accurate expert opinion. And, fortunately this Adaptive Unconsciousness is something that one can develop over time.”

Furthermore, writes Bendle, Gladwell makes the case for developing “expert” knowledge and abilities through what he calls “The 10,000 Hour Rule:”

Gladwell’s thesis is that after 10,000 hours immersed in a particular field or activity, one begins to have a seemingly innate level of knowledge or capability. Put another way, with 10,000 hours of effort you can take your Adaptive Unconsciousness (instincts and intuition) to a new, almost uncanny level. But at this point, one’s expertise is potentially narrow, and one way to bring even more value to your innovation process is to expand your instinctive base.

Bendle suggest the following 6 techniques to awaken your latent innovative capability:

  1. Occasionally take yourself out of your daily, weekly and monthly routines. You’ll be amazed by what doing something different or doing something differently can do for your mind.
  2. Purposefully seek out the new and the different – and pay attention. There is a whole lot of life going on out there and to borrow a quote from Ferris Bueller – “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  3. Go Wander and Wonder. Go see, do, and experience something completely out of your wheel-house. Get out of your comfort zone and whet your appetite for confusion. Seek out things that are amazing to you.
  4. Challenge your senses. Take a moment every now and then to mentally catalogue what your senses are experiencing and then, maybe even push them a little further.
  5. Make note of things that inspire. Each of us are moved in different ways. Pay attention when you are inspired. Ask yourself why you were inspired. Make note of what this feeling is inspiring in you.
  6. Play! Have you ever spent any time watching two young animals playing around or rough-housing? They are developing their instincts and this is one technique that we human simply don’t do often enough.

Try these techniques the next time that you are trying to solve a tough problem at work. See if they propel your thinking toward greater objectivity and clarity. If you find that the techniques are working for you, take it to the next level by sharing your experience with co-workers, a supervisor, or subordinate. As more people learn to think about the everyday work world with more innovative mindsets, “breakthroughs” should become far more common and frustrating “Catch-22” situations less so!