Building or planning things?

I was reading in a recent innovation article “like with most tech accelerators, the emphasis is more on building things than planning things” and this sparked in me a conundrum that I’d be curious to read your ideas about.

What should be the ratio in a truly innovative company between building many MVPs or not so minimum, viable products and planning the best way forward?

It seems instinctive to keep trying and failing fast, yet you would think that a “little” planning might go a long way in reducing the liabilities and increasing the likelihood of success.

It seems to me that how you define success might push you to act in one or the other way:
if your organization’s success is measured in the amount of sales, the amount of clients, the amount of profit then clearly a more focused, planned, path forward makes more sense.

What if you define success as the amount of learning?
In that case clearly the balance shifts towards more new frontier-pushing trial and error.

That is why I feel that a missing connection could be the solution: the connection between academia and enterprises. People in academia have a different time sensitivity and are very complementary with the speed of innovation in enterprises (big and small).
So finding your source of learning and experimenting whilst balancing with enough time for planning might be one way forward for the best innovation and learning and overall success to emerge.

WE NEED TO CHANGE! NO, we don’t. We need to PAUSE

Contrary to all the headlines telling us to change fast, what we really is to pause and re-connect.

We don’t need to change 
We need to pause

Pause, reflect, understand what is happening around us.
Allow what is really important to emerge in our team and then make that new focus and awareness central to who we are,
to what we do,
and to how we do it.

Then we will put the ladder on the right wall,
Take the path in the right direction
And THEN we can go and move fast.

But never forgetting to stop and pause from time to time and enjoy just thinking and having / savouring those meaningful dialogues that give focus, direction, energy and team unity.

What we need from a team member vs what they can perform vs what they want to do: a gap that can break your company.

Typical situation, you are expecting a person in your team to do something, to take an action, to perform a task.
Yet they don’t. Or they deliver way less than what you expected.

They do not meet your / your team’s expectations of what that person should be doing or should have done.

There is a gap between expectation and reality that often creates sub-optimal at best, or more likely terrible outcomes. Preventing the need for great innovation and best possible outcomes to come from your team.

That is because we all too often assign tasks to people, because they always did it, because that is what the title on their desk says, but not necessarily because they are the best person for the job. They might be great at something BUT, they do not have the tools, the information, the processes, the resources … any of a number of elements that are necessary for them to succeed.

And second but most important: do they want to do that task?

They might be great at it, have all they need to excel, but guess what, because they don’t feel in the mood, not motivated, had a bad day, going through complex personal times, they might not want to do it. They might be missing one of my favourite words in the dictionary – the volition – to perform at their usual best.

So next time you ask a team member to make some magic innovation happen, also ask yourself:
can they make it happen? Are they able to do it and have I created the best possible environment for them to thrive?
Do they want to do it?

Thinking of the actions you need to take to create good answers to both questions, will greatly increase the mood and success at your organisation.

Can exponential innovation arise from a step by step linear approach?

Addressing the uncertainty that surrounds your team, might be the starting point to allow a linear step by step approach ending up creating exponential innovation. Or should I say the innovation that can be most useful to make you and your organisation successful.

Uncertainty is both what we are surrounded by and what our human brain is trained to avoid as much as possible. Lack of controlnot knowing, being uncertain about the future is not a positive but a negative status that people instinctively resist.

So how do we move from uncertainty to some degree of control and a better place from which to take decisions and act towards the best possible outcomes and innovations?

In the only way you can go from the place where you are sitting or standing right now physically, to the other point you wish to go to, in the room where you are or the place where you aim to go to: taking steps to get there.

Contrary to popular belief: you cannot be teleported to that next place, you need to move, step by step to where you want to be. Whilst the mind is undoubtedly much more able to take much wider steps and strides than our body can physically take, the best way forward is step by step. The mindset, attitude in which you operate and create is that will make you and your team make those linear steps, tiny or important ones.

Each step can be shorter and more risk-management change-averse limited. Or it can be a bigger more ambitious step but still it will be a path that you are walking, together with others.

As a leader you need to create the conditions for your team (people internal or external to your organisation, whoever you are working with, it is still a team) to take the best decisions and creating the best state of mind to take those great decisions.

So what are the conditions that will allow people in your team to take the best next steps that will make them feel more comfortable and serene and able to make relaxed mindful decisions as opposed to panicked fear-driven ones? 

Do keep in mind that the concept of “what is possible” in people’s mind is based on their history, their experience and the assumptions that they built over the years of what will happen next, of how others behave, of how things around them will evolve.

With the current degree of uncertainty all those reassuring (and at least half of the time wrong) assumptions are less and less relevant, less and less useful.

So to get you and your people walking in the right direction, taking the best next steps, with an ideal and not sub-optimal mindset, you need to open the space of possibility without creating a panic mode of too many options that lead to immobility: the absolutely last thing you wish to see in your team.

Four questions you might wish to ask yourself to open the space of possibility and create the right attitude for your team:

  1. Are you creating a safe space, where making mistakes is ok and – truly – learning opportunities?
  2. Are you encouraging the free, useful, not chaotic, exchange of knowledge and of experiences (experiences are often more useful than knowledge) that will allow faster gathering of relevant information to make the steps more secure?
  3. Are you creating an excitement and a creative habit to stretch by using unusual but not uncomfortable situations for your team to experience? (An example from a previous article “Why you should take a painting to work to accelerate innovation“)
  4. Are you encouraging others in your group to make good positive, challenging questions that are able to not break down all the assumptions that block fresh new thinking but always careful not too create too much uncertainty? Questions that stretch people’s imagination and give a great taste of new possibilities?

I’d be very curious to learn from you:

What are you using to open the minds, possibilities and breaking down the limiting assumptions of your team to make the best kind of innovation happen in your organisation?

How are you creating the best attitude and way of being in your company to encourage fresh thinking, create stability and serenity at the same time?

Zebra or Unicorn? The power of metaphors to give clarity, unite and drive to innovation

“Project Target” seems to be going well! How often have you used a code name, or event better a metaphor, to define key projects in your innovation-seeking organization? You really should.

People need clarity and a uniting force to drive forward and to really put all their energy into innovative projects.
The reality surrounding us is confusing, uncertain and fast changing.

Exactly for those two reasons using metaphors and giving specific names to complicated concepts (and to your key projects) is increasingly useful to simplify complexity and give a “ah yes I understand that” “yes I remember that well” reaction from a team that is constantly receiving so many different new messages from inside and from outside the organization.

“We have four key plans moving forward” has a different level of clarity than giving specific, memorable, names to those four key plans.

What catches the imagination and drive of your team even further is when those names mean something to them. When they created them. When they chose a name that is memorable to them, that incites a direction, a clear message.

So try it out, get your team to name at least one of your key projects, and see how much more often it is mentioned and addressed in the next few months.

She is so amazing! The problem with inspiring leaders

You think you need to give breathtaking presentations, rousing speeches, outstanding levels of work outputs but actually being great might be detrimental to you and to your team’s best outcomes.

Why getting a standing ovation at the end of each of your weekly team meetings is NOT what you should be aiming for.

It’s a delicate combination but the best possible outcome to have your team create the best innovation is spreading the amazingness.

When people feel part, feel they are not left behind, too far behind to contribute is when they give their best.
Here is where perceptions play a big role: you think that person over there is useless and well below par and bringing the entire team down. But might they be better at another role, another task?

You want to identify (or train and develop) at least one place where each member of your team is amazing.

Then unite the individual amazingness; as Simon Sinek mentioned “It’s better to have a great team than a team of greats” so making everyone else really aware of each person’s role, skills, amazingness and how they all create the outcomes that make the highest possible outcomes possible.

So try and resist that standing ovation for your next team meeting and identify ways to find that magic spot where everyone in your team feels truly part and amazing.

Information does not create a desire for action, emotion does.

How do I stimulate my team’s (*) desire to both be creative AND then implement that creativity into innovative ways forward?

By “innovative ways forward” I mean not only ideating great new products / services but also innovating / improving / adapting to an ideal level the way we work, take decisions, communicate … do things.

Just informing your team of the plan is unlikely to get most people excited about their work.
But also just being emotional, communicating in an emotional way, will only touch one part of the inspiration of your team.

Instead being empathic, understanding your team, listening to the people in your team and knowing what emotions move them … THAT is where we can really connect with the deep motivation of your team.

So the emotion we as leaders of great teams where work is lovely and where you love to work starts by an emotional connection, by investing the time to create that sincere, authentic connection that will ignite pure magic.

(*) My Team = anyone I work with

Three reasons why you should give your best talent the space for a side job outside your company.

With our and our team members’ schedules so full, it will sound very counterintuitive to suggest that giving them the space for a side job be a good idea but it is one of the best ways to bring a new level of motivation and of innovation to your team members.

People will grow and thrive and ultimately be more productive and useful to your team if they can get a balance of a stable job and the buzz and freshness of time dedicated to a side gig.

Think of all the great people you know who work very hard in their day job and then dedicate, either voluntarily or even paid time to create a side enterprise / blog / something outside their workplace.

Instead of being more tired, they are more energized, why? Three reasons:

  1. At work you often have to deal with problems that others created for you and are constrained by the rules and culture of the company (however great it is). In a side gig you have the freedom to experiment, to try things out, it is not your main job, it is something extra.
  2. Operating outside of your day-time working environment you get new insights. You will will work with people who are different than the usual people at work, you will be operating in an environment that is new and that will give you new insights, fresh new outlooks, an awareness of new trends that you can then bring back to the day-job.
  3. The passion that is let free in your out-of-work gig, what YOU decided to do, what you are free to do, what really drives you deeply, will rub off and bring new joy, new passion in yourself that you will then apply also during “the day” in your stable job.

Are you allowing / encouraging your team to have a side gig?

How can a new dishwasher, break down barriers to innovation in your organization?

In your team or company you might be frustrated about the way inefficient patterns seem to keep occurring. You try to explain, improve, nudge forward but no, all your efforts to bring about new, better ways of doing things keep being rejected and things go back to the bad normal.

Here’s what happened when we had to buy a new dishwasher at our my home that might be useful to you and your team to break those old bad patterns and bring about effortlessly new better ones.

You can imagine by looking at the image how easy and efficient it is to pick up all spoons, all knives etc in one swoop and put them all in their place, instead of trying to find all the forks spread around the surface in different parts of the cutlery drawer to then store them quickly.

I fought with my large-ish family for years trying to “educate” them to the effectiveness of dishwasher allocation [smiling] putting all spoons in one area, all forks in another etc. But despite some small successes from time to time, no way, they kept reverting to just throwing all the cutlery all over the dishwasher.

UNTIL, until the new dishwasher came, with its novelty cutlery tray in the image. All of a sudden every time, without fail, all the cutlery is now inserted by every member of our family into the “right” section of the dishwasher.

So what happened? What can you apply to your “old patterns-defaulting” team?

Instead of nudging improvements, change the entire “dishwasher”.
Bring your team into a disruptively new situation.
That way they will not have any old habits to cling to and will be forced (for everyone’s good) to embrace new better ways of doing things.

BUT CAREFUL: just a quick note to avoid you going and installing “new dishwashers” everywhere to try and make good change happen faster:
1. if you keep implementing new disruptive situations, your team will get tired, frustrated and disconcerted. So choose wisely how often you want to “install a new dishwasher”.
2. the new process should be simple to implement, have a low “how do I do this?” implementation friction.
3. the new process should also create fast rewards, for all and not just for one part of the company.
In my house everyone, takes turns to take out the dishwasher so everyone is affected positively by the “innovation” and this creates a good habit rewarding pattern.

So what’s the new “dishwasher” you will introduce into your organization to create the change you all need?

A framework to accelerate innovation

How can Geoff Mulgan’s “steering through capability” framework that he offers for governments, be used by your company to create the fast innovation that we all need?

He shows in his document here the importance of moving away from mandating and instead steering, guiding, enabling. Going from downwards control to upwards accountability. (see my other idea on this shift away from control).

Specifically he highlights the focus of a steering process to grow capabilities and knowledge. Doing so collectively in what he defines as constellations of partners.
Steering implies not leaving everything to creativity but offering some degree of accompaniment, which makes the innovation more effective and relevant: “combining direction with experimentation”. Examples of steering could be setting the aim of the organisation to “reach net zero emissions” or “moving towards a culture of learning”.

Three of Geoff Mulgan’s five elements to create this desired innovation could apply to your company:

  1. Direction plus experimentation : through a “steering that can combine clear long-term direction with experimentation and innovation.”
  2. Linking multiple partners through what he calls ‘constellations’, ‘Intelligence Assemblies’ which provide wider insights and ideas and allow faster implementations with all parties involved from the start
  3. Knowledge commons. Data and knowledge organised as commons to allow rapid accessibility when needed and mobilisation of relevant information.

How are you structuring yourself for your best change towards innovation?