Demand Leadership Innovation Like a SEAL

My son is a senior in high school. He has his mind made up on entering the special forces. His top choice would be the Navy SEALs. Many, many, many of our conversations are about the SEALs these days. Recently, I came across the Navy SEAL Creed: “We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me. My training is never complete.”  

Anyone who knows much about the Navy SEAL job requirements would not be surprised that the training required to be selected is extremely rigorous. Physical and mental training beyond compare prepares one a recruit to join the ranks of the “elite.” However, as former Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson writes, “you realize you are just another new guy in an already well-established organization. And it only gets tougher from there. The training never ends, and every single mission is rehearsed.”

Seal subWell-run businesses are very similar. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Dan Cathy, the current president of Chick-fil-A. Cathy discussed  the extensive training they provide every new hire and how they try to help the employees to anticipate needs rather than simply wait for them to be expressed. 

Gleeson described key characteristics of leaders:

1.     Leaders define the mission. A clearly defined mission starts with the leadership, is ingrained in the team, and is constantly reviewed. Mission success relies more on training than it does on planning. Rarely is a plan executed exactly as it has been laid out, because external forces prevent this. Thus the leadership and team must be ready to adapt. Adaptation requires ability, and ability comes from training.

2.     Leaders set, and reset, the vision. It’s up to leadership to know when shifts in a company’s vision must happen. The organization’s ultimate direction may not change but how you get there most certainly will. That means having a keen understanding of industry trends, economic cycles, and competitive movement. Leaders must be constantly acquiring knowledge and looking to the future.

3.     Leaders build the team. As a company grows it will require different types of talent. If you find the right people and train them accordingly, they will stick around and the business will thrive. It takes good leadership to identify who to hire and the roles to put those people in. This too requires ongoing knowledge development.

4.     Leaders embrace the necessity of growth, both personal and professional. If the mind and body are not in a constant state of growth, eventually things stagnate and progress stalls. Instilling the importance of learning in the team is one thing, but leadership has to embrace this first. Great leaders are always seeking knowledge, developing their minds, and maintaining their bodies. Mental and physical wellness is essential for optimal leadership.

5.     Leaders execute. An organization’s strategic plan means nothing without exceptional execution. As a company grows, the methods of mission execution will change. So will the way in which products and services are provided. The leadership has to build this into the culture, provide the team the proper resources, and remove obstacles. Companies that fail do not fail because the plan wasn’t good enough. They fail because the leaders didn’t execute.

All of these are great guidelines for leaders. What I want to return to from the SEAL Creed is the expectation of innovation. This expectation is something I’d like to see more businesses embrace. The fact that they don’t creates a need for great leaders to champion culture changes. 

 

 

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Does Your Company Have an Innovation Identity Crisis?

 

Intrapreneurship – some would argue it to be a subcomponent of innovation; others, an outgrowth of; still others, a precursor to. Regardless your perspective, the concept that some organizations lack the culture to innovate effectively begets the question of how to change said culture. Many wonder what makes the greatest difference in an organization’s ability to innovate. Matthew May is a blogger on innovation and consultant at EDIT Innovation. He wrote recently of the”things that prevent a company from cultivating a companywide culture of innovation:”Corporate culture

1. Innovation identity crisis. If you assume that the consultants at Booz & Co are correct, there are perhaps three distinct approaches to innovation: needs-based, market-driven, and tech-centered. The first is the “humanist” approach good designers take.  The second is the “capitalist” approach…the fast followers that optimize…like a Hyundai, or in many respects Toyota. They capitalize on Clayton Christensen’s “innovator’s dilemma,” quickly copying and even improving on game-changing innovations as they hit the market. The third is the “technologist” approach, like an Apple. Many big companies simply don’t know or can’t easily conceptualize which of these categories they fall into, or should fall into, given their bench strength. 

2. Unclear innovation strategy. Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School and coauthor of Playing to Win, likes to ask “given your chosen approach, where will you play and how will you win?.” It’s a question of focus, which is something different (albeit a nuanced difference) than prioritization. It’s the ability to identify what you’re going to say NO to. Steve Jobs was great at this, and you’re now seeing the clear picture under his rule become blurry. 

3. Inaccessible definition of innovation. People hear innovation and think: gizmo. Or app. Or code. Or product. Or service. Or feature. JetBlue’s founder David Neeleman said,  “Innovation is figuring how to do something better than it’s ever been done before.” 

4. No common methodology. We’re not taught in school to innovate. We lose our natural born capacity to learn and create new knowledge. Unlearn the ways of business execution and (learn to) define a problem by observing or experiencing it, guessing how to solve it, creating a solution based on that guess, and quickly seeing if what you assumed might work actually does. 

5. Methodology doesn’t feature experimentation. The mindset has to be “I think this may work so let me try it out.” Scientists work on hypotheses, which is a fancy term for guesswork. If people aren’t getting their hands dirty out in the field with users and customers, testing early low-fidelity prototypes and adjusting a solution, they won’t be able to truly innovate. 

6. Mismatched talent-to-task fit. Innovation is about divergence, rapid prototyping, testing and failure. Big outfits might go to school on Lockheed’s Skunk Works. Kelly Johnson, Lockheed’s maverick Chief Engineer (broke) away from the main operation, (stole) away the hip thinkers many consider the lunatic fringe, and set up shop in secrecy to essentially get back to the garage, with the charge being to design a working prototype under a few intelligent constraints. 

May’s points are well-taken. Companies that haven’t worked through their internal language of innovation find it hard to have productive conversations about how to go about improving their ability to “do something better than it’s ever been done.” Being able to have clear definitions provides the basis for shared goals, methodology, and talent strategies.  The sharing of desired outcomes, coupled with high level commitment to venturing, is the starting point for cultural fitness. 

 

Take Away 10 and Add 6 For Innovation

 

Preparing for a monthly webinar on intrapreneurship has led me to literature searches for resources that represent thought leadership on intrapreneurship and innovation. Most of the literature recognizes the inherent dichotomy between organizations wanting to be cutting edge for the sake of competition, but not wanting the risks and change necessary to go there. Consequently, many stumble in their pursuit of innovation. The book, The Innovative CIO: How IT Leaders Can Drive Business Transformation (CA Press/Apress), addresses practical suggestions to overcome some common barriers to successful innovation. Dennis McCafferty writes that “it also demonstrates how to take advantage of your human and tech resources to effectively evaluate, track and “sell” the value of innovation within your company. The Innovation CIO coauthors Andi Mann, George Watt and Peter Matthews discuss the following 10 Ways to Kill Innovation:

 

1. Unhealthy Internal Competition  Healthy competition encourages achievement. But when employees focus more on beating each other than benefiting their organization, it’s unhealthy competition.

2. Inconsistency in Rewards  If workers feel there’s no rhyme or reason in performance awards, they’ll grow demoralized and stop trying.

3. A Culture of Intimidation  Bosses who ridicule “dumb” ideas to present themselves as “the smartest person in the room” ultimately choke innovation through fear and ridicule.

4. No Organizational Framework for Innovation  Without a companywide framework for fostering innovation, it’s difficult for lower-level managers to leverage innovation as it happens.

5. The Pursuit of Perfection  Perfectionists tend to “hide” work until they feel it’s 100% ready. But innovation thrives from collaboration and dialogue while work is in progress.

6. Protection Obsession  Company “protectors” are often guilty of shooting down any proposals that they feel will harm their organization or department.

7. Inbox Overload  A relentless barrage of emails, meetings and phone calls–many of them unnecessary–keeps CIOs and their teams preoccupied with the mundane and urgent instead of something fresh, new and valuable.

8. Voluntary Isolationism  IT teams will often “go dark” and bury themselves in projects while closing off contact with stakeholders, customers and others who can help greatly via feedback.

9. Clinging to Legacies  Outdated IT systems and processes hinder innovation. However, too many CIOs stick with them because they cost money and/or they don’t want these deployments to be perceived as “failures.”

10. No Strategic Focus  Innovation teams must always keep concrete, business-benefiting goals in mind during collaboration. Otherwise, it’s just a fun but ultimately pointless “creativity exercise.”

What is true in IT circles is true, to some extent, in any kind of business. The environment and culture have so much to do with successful innovation. Agility Innovation and Ovo Innovation, in a joint whitepaper, provided a list of 6 key capabilities needed by executives to foster the skills and capacities for innovation in their companies:

  • creating alignment,
  • deploying trusted methods and tools,
  • effective communication and engagement,
  • empowering people, providing skills,
  • refocusing attitudes, perspectives and rewards ,
  • defining a corporate “governance” for innovation

The whitepaper authors argue that  these skills or capabilities can be developed in an appropriate strategic manner when applying the Executive Innovation Workmat (shown below).  They believe that executives can be trained to both understand how to innovate and how to acquire and inspire the skills requisite to do it well. Beginning with establishing a language for innovation, complete with agreed upon definitions of key terms, a systematic approach serves organizations best. When corporate strategy and innovation have linkage, the likelihood of success goes way up!

Executive Innovation Workmat

 

 

Entrepreneur Faith – Future, Attitude, Improvisation, Timing and Help

Reading outside one’s usual list of publications, blogs, and websites can be very eye-opening. Perspective emerges as familiar subjects are addressed in differing ways. When worldview is, in fact, only hemispheric or nationalistic, it is incomplete to say the least. Asia is exciting in the business world today, as can be parts of Europe. One European publication draws my occasional attention: Entrepreneur Country.

Entrepreneur Country recently held a forum in, of all places, the Royal Institution of Great Britain. (Same location where the first Industrial Revolution began.)  Contrast this austere setting with the arrival of Madonna as a guest lecturer and you get the sense that this was not “business as usual!”

Writing about the event, Peter Cook commented that “the day was characterized by entrepreneurs telling real life stories of their hopes, fears, successes and failures.” below he shares some of his observations and take-aways, with a few musical references (Cook is the leader of the Academy of Rock) for good measure:

iTrigga(Much) discussion was .. around what entrepreneurs do to avoid burnout. Ed Bussey of iTrigga was a prime example, having come to the conference after an all night vigil at hospital on the occasion of his wife giving birth! He did however point out the importance of pressing the OFF button from time to time to avoid the possibility of crash and burn entrepreneurship.  Others talked of rituals and routines such as working out in the gym, taking forced holidays, running the London Marathon, going to the North Pole (that’s hardly chilling out!) and so on. Seemingly obvious advice, yet not always taken by busy entrepreneurs.

Several speakers also gave witness to the importance of maintaining naivety if you are to succeed as an entrepreneur. Madonna’s contribution to this area is via her blockbuster hit “Like A Virgin”, which translates to the need to treat each new business situation like it’s the very first time. In particular, Sir William Sargent of Framestore painted a picture of the importance of intuition, creativity and the ability to remain adaptive and flexible as your company grows, saying, “If I stand still for 12 months, I will be out of business 12 months later.”

Entrepreneur Country Founder Julie Meyer and Dr Mike Lynch (offered opening remarks.) Julie presented her ideas about entrepreneurship clearly, concisely and without apology for wanting to create an enterprise economy, which produces both economic and social benefit. Business gets enough hard knocks and we need to start seeing it as an engine of improvement, rather than an evil empire as it is frequently portrayed by Governments and a self-righteous public sector. Mike Lynch extended Julie’s strident start to the day by giving us some home truths on entrepreneurship:

“Without good marketing you can have something amazing and no one will know.  Marketing is not cheating”

“Avoid the myth of doing things properly”

Another speaker, Stephen Linnecar, suggested that we gotta have FAITH – Not an allusion to George Michael, but the summary of his presentation which focused on five factors which he regarded as key to success as an entrepreneur: Future, Attitude, Improvisation, Timing and Help. Improvisation featured strongly throughout the day, a point that resonated personally with me, having taught creativity, improvisation and innovation for the Open University MBA for 18 years. However, what impressed me most of all about the speakers at the event was a real and unusual sense of authenticity.  Truths were told about successes. Much more importantly, we gained an insight into mistakes and outright failures. It’s much more important for an entrepreneur to learn from their mistakes than their successes and many speakers were candid about their regrets. 

 

 

 

 

anti-Innovation Sentiment and Intrapreneurship Collide

In order to stay current in a subject area that is constantly changing, one must be well read and, beyond that, follow the bets though leaders around. Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss intrapreneurship in person with one of my favorite innovation bloggers, Jeffrey Phillips. Tonight, I read a blog post by one of my other favorites, Gijs van Wulfen.

Gijs tackles the subject of anti-innovators in his recent post.  His writing echoes some of what Jeffrey and I discussed last week. As we  looked at different models for commercializing business ideas last week, we camped out for a while on what stultifies innovation. While many leaders acknowledge that innovation is a top priority, they would also be quick to add that implementation of innovative practices can be a challenge. The consequences, according to Phillips, include: 

 Poor execution of innovation goals
 Failure to achieve strategic goals
 Limited organizational design to sustain innovation
 The growth of disbelief or cynicism when innovation isn’t pursued.

Stubborn personvan Wulfen describes personnel as a main hindrance. He writes of employees who “are stuck in their habits.. ignorant the world is changing fast and (thinking) they have nothing to fear.” He goes on to describe the anti-innovator as a (negative) contributor to team culture:

There are often quite a few anti-innovators. Everybody knows this extravert guy or woman who is anti-everything. They have “the biggest mouth” at the lunch table in the company restaurant. Their influence on the company’s culture is often quite substantial. Don’t underestimate their impact. The herd goes as fast as the slowest animals. If the anti-innovators lean back nothing moves. So how do you get them up and running. That’s the question.

You can try to convince them. Unfortunately that often fails because they are experts in coming up with idea killers like: “We are too small for that… There is no budget… We need to do more research… We don’t have time… It’s too risky… That’s for the future. Everything is OK now.”

You can try to do it without them. But that won’t work either. You need an awful lot of colleagues and bosses to share your vision before a big change can truly take place. You need R&D engineers, production managers, IT staff, financial controllers, marketers, service people and salesmen to develop the product, produce it, get it on the market and service it. You can’t do it without them: you can’t innovate alone.

The way to get anti-innovators up and running is to respect them, to understand them, to connect with them and to let them experience change is necessary. They will only change their attitude if they get new insights themselves. So, you have to give them a chance to discover what’s happening out there. Invite them to join your innovation team and take them out on an expedition to discover how markets, customers, competitors and technology are changing.

If they, as the slowest animals of the herd, find out there’s a group of hungry lions following the herd they stop leaning backwards. They start running too as necessity is the mother of invention. They will spread the urgency to innovate among their colleagues. And that’s good news because If the slowest animals start running, your organization’s innovation power really gets up to speed.

Think about the anti-innovators in your organization. What motivates them? Do they travel in herds? How can innovators infiltrate their ranks yet respect them and build bridges for collaboration? As a mentor in an upcoming venture challenge competition, I will be working with teams that must have creatives and analysts. Often, including an anti-innovator on your launch team can bring helpful perspective. Stew on it!