Thursday, 24 December 2009
Blind Drivers of Innovation
Understanding innovation leadership is a bit like driving a car. At present, most organisations manage their psychology of innovation like drivers of cars who happen to be blind. It is possible to become relatively successful at leading an organisation through the medium of traditional performance measures. These are much like the cues that a blind driver uses to stay in the correct lane on the motorway. By listening to the sound cues of irregular bumping of tyres over cat’s eyes on one side of the car, and the screeching noise of the other side of the car grinding along the side of the oncoming traffic or stationary vehicles or building, a crude form of progress can be managed; even if getting onto and off the motorway is problemmatic. Every year, there are stories of blind drivers in remote rural areas (usually with a child or drunk giving instructions from the passenger seat) being chased and halted by astounded traffic police. It clearly can be done, and is being done, more or less: but does it make sense? And is it acceptable?
Not being in control of your own innovation leadership behaviour as a leader, is like leading your team or organization as though it is a car that you choose to drive with your eyes closed. Most people have no idea what their innovation leadership profile is. They are in effect, blind leaders of innovation. We are probably all familiar with the idea that it is not what leaders say, but how leaders actually behave that has the most impact on organisations, and that it is their behaviour that sends the strongest messages and provides the most powerful cues as to what defines successful performance in the organisation.
The key to successful leadership of innovation begins with understanding
• The 4 Innovation Leadership Behaviours (ILB),
• The limitations of where you are now (in terms of your actual ILB profile)
• The nature of the challenge (in terms of your preferred ILB profile), and
• Being hungry enough to want to change, to take control, to do something about it.
For some leaders, the idea of developing an understanding of their own ILB profiles (actual and preferred) can be intimidating, much as primitive tribes were afraid that photography would steal their souls, or that to study and seek to understand the behavioural patterns might destroy the power of a secret formula by exposing it. But as they say at the Royal Air Force’s Parachute Training School: “Knowledge Dispels Fear”. And this knowledge is essential, and if you have it then it becomes possible to ask yourself:
1.What will it take to move out of efficiency strategies into effectiveness strategies?
2. What can I contribute to making this organisation more successful?
3. What kind of innovation leadership should I be working on?
4. How can I develop myself to make a difference, and become more effective?
The 4 Innovation Leadership Behaviours (ILBs)
For innovation to occur in an organization, you need a mix of at least 4 generic types of Innovating Leadership Behaviours – Creators, Translators, Stabilisors and Navigators. When planned for, encouraged and balanced correctly they can promote and deliver continuous innovation.
Creators - Who provide the source of new, disruptive ideas.
Translators - Who connect new ideas to new opportunities.
Stabilisors - Who build quality delivery systems for products and services.
Navigators - Who anticipate what’s coming, know when to get in, when to get out, and how to manage it.
The 4 Innovating Leadership Behaviours are extreme stereotypes and usually (but not always) I find that leaders’ profiles have proportions of all four in their own characteristic “portfolio” depending on the limitations of their experience, work environment and their natural work preferences.
Understanding the implications of leaders' ILB patterns is a powerful source of information on the limitations of the existing strategy and what is going to be required to move out of efficiency and survival into effectiveness and growth, in difficult times.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
The “Rule of 3” is an idea I engineered from studying leadership, change and innovation. It’s the product of combining Pareto’s Principle, Williams’ close observation of Field Marshall Montgomery’s characteristic approach to getting things done and Max Atkinson’s research on successful speech-making.
Pareto’s Principle suggests that 80% of the effects observed in a situation are caused by a mere 20% of the population. His original 1906 observation was that 80% of the wealth in Switzerland was held by only 20% of the population. This has become a quality method for identifying the most powerful variables in a situation which need to be controlled to manage failure.
Field-Marshall Montgomery: Brigadier Williams serving as Montgomery’s Intelligence Chief [i] noticed his preference for 3-part lists as a means of simplifying complex issues and concentrating resources. In Hamilton's biography of Montgomery[ii] , he notes that in the last year of WW2 Monty was constantly trying to stop the Americans attacking across a broad front to incur 100,000 casualties instead of concentrating at a few points, feinting at one and then making the main effort at another. As Monty said in a letter after the command performance scandal of the Battle of Bulge: "We have failed to date by trying to do too many things and not giving enough resources to any of them to ensure success..."
Max Atkinson[iii] points out the power of leaders simplifying big issues through 3-part focused lists in his analysis of powerful political speeches, particularly their “air of unity or completeness”. It is as though we are programmed to listen more deeply to a 3-part list when we know it is coming, and that audience interruptions tend to occur after 3 points have been stated within a longer list.
Chunking as a Technique (or Identifying and Working on the Vital Few)
This technique is designed to gain a rapid understanding of the vital few issues that need to be managed to be successful. It requires use of the Creative Silence technique to brainstorm all the problems and obstacles involved in delivering the goal.
The goal or the aim must be clearly stated. The team must have had time to immerse themselves in the data involved in the situation.
In preparation a flipchart sheet needs to be prepared with the word “Start” at the top and “Finish” at the bottom, everyone must have pink post-its (for brainstorming issues or obstacles to delivering the goal) and black medium pens to write with. You invite the group to silently brainstorm the issues or obstacles that need to be managed to deliver success. They share these, 3 at a time. You apply CGSM (Common, Ground, Special, Missing) and concentrate the groupings to simplify the themes down to at least 3, with a hidden willingness if necessary to reduce to 2 or expand to 4 or 5, depending on the nature of the challenge. These pink issues or obstacles post-its are then put in an approximate sequence to the left of the vertical arrow connecting “Start” and “Finish”.
Having broken down the issues or obstacles to the vital few (possibly the top 3), then break your team into 3 parts, and allocate 10 minutes for the 3 sub-teams to work concurrently on developing solutions for overcoming the top 3 issues, writing their solutions onto blue post-its and positioning these to the right of the vertical arrow, parallel to issue or obstacle they deal with.
Invite the sub-teams to share these and for the others to add value to their prototype solutions. Identify or vote on the optimal solutions. Use the 3-part list of obstacles and matched solutions in your communication strategy.
[i] Howarth, T.E.B (1985) Monty At Close Quarters, Leo Cooper/ Secker & Warburg: London/ New York, p22.
[ii] Hamilton, N. (1987) Monty: The Field-Marshall, Vol.3; Hodder & Stoughton, p254.
[iii] Atkinson, M. (1984) Our Masters’ Voices: The Language and Body Language of Politics, pp57-72.
Monday, 9 November 2009
Rock'n roll, like business is old and yet it is eternally new whenever a new practitioner comes along with some passion (and a willingness to mine the gold of sexual imagery, or at least romance) who can successfully manipulate a few variables and change the context. David Bowie managed it by taking William Burrough's consciously random cut'n paste manipulation of printed text and visual fashion imagery, with a willingness to adopt an ambiguous sexual persona. And the rest is history, and millions made.
Peter makes some key observations that leaders need to take on board, that discipline and creativity need each other, but that if you don't have ingredient "X" you won't get invited back to the next gig, that if you don't have the passion that lifts others and the ability to "play" in the moment, the passion that helps others to be great in turn, you cannot lead: you can only preside.
As Ken Olsen said: "Leaders do the right thing, managers do things right". And it takes passion to do the right thing because you are probably going to be seen as behaving unreasonably by people who have no sense of the importance of doing something different, now: before it is too late.
Q&A with Peter Cook: Sex, Leadership and Rock'n Roll: http://dontcompromise.askeurope.com/2009/09/03/humdynger/
Sunday, 1 November 2009
And it’s true, up to a point: especially when the focus is upon optimising existing products and services. But when the environment changes radically, then the issue of having the right people to innovate becomes important.
I have noticed that innovation consultancies tend to focus upon time-intensive innovation process consultation with a few useful techniques thrown in. This is because whilst they help to focus attention on developing a shared understanding of an agreed approach to turning an invention into an innovation, and on the need to understand customers’ needs, such consulting enables at least 5 additional benefits:
• Consultancies can sell high-priced consulting time, acquire practice and gain another case study to use with new clients,
• The illusion of purposeful activity without having to question the customer’s existing strategic assumptions, political hierarchies, and investment rationales,
• Gives confidence to an employing customer with academic mindset that measures good intentions by the size of investment,
• Enables leadership to sponsor the solution to a problem that appears to be solveable, rather than forcing leadership to work on the real problem that they prefer not to discuss,
• Reinforces the myth of leadership knowing what it is doing.
Whilst I disagree with the attractive book-selling post-rationalist approach of Jim Collins in “Good To Great” (2001) and Tom Peters & Rob Waterman in “In Search of Excellence” in retrofitting plausible success models onto case studies which subsequently decayed a few months or years later in public, both hint at the importance of getting the right people involved in changing an organisation. As Collins puts it, leaders must understand: “the importance of getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus, and (only) then (figuring) out where to drive it.” More revealingly, on the same page, Collins observes that “a company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people”.
But what and who are the right people, how do I recognise them; and what do I do about myself?
Monday, 12 October 2009
A few years ago, I was working with the consulting arm of a national healthcare system on the issue of the low rate of adoption of innovations developed at centres for excellence into local practice. I have always been intrigued by the joined issues of the psychology of incompetence and the form that resistance to change can take, often known as Not-Invented-Here (NIH) culture.
I ran an exercise involving both local practitioners and government consultants, and we came up with some powerful and interesting lessons for accelerating adoption of innovations. Being a big fan of the rule of 3 (the idea that if you can identify the top 3 issues and resolve these, then the remainder will probably take care of themselves), I facilitated the exercise to identify the 3 most powerful influencers of local adoption of innovations:
1. Use the language of the people who are going to implement the innovation, don’t use MBA language. Consultant language has a tendency to alienate user audiences and trigger powerful NIH behaviours. If you can, employ a typical “user” of the solution who has strong links with the audience that you want to influence, and who expresses themselves authentically.
2. Demonstrate the real results gained to show it’s worth doing: ideally, try to show benefits not only to the customer, but also to the user who makes the innovation happen.
3. Recruit people who think innovating is part of everyday work. Try to employ people who want to innovate, or at the very least make it clear that work is going to involve a continual interest in improving and changing performance.
On reflection, the lessons can be reduced to 3 words: language, benefits and perhaps they are all about the psychology of innovation.
At the beginning of 2008, I was working with the Heads of Innovation of 2 businesses which had recently been acquired. I was facilitating a series of discussions about the future shape and direction of innovation strategy in the newly-merged organisation. On the surface, these Heads of Innovation were complying, but in reality they were stressed, and naturally jockeying for dominance and succession or for golden exits. The official outcome was going to be their agreed strategy for doubling turnover through innovation within 3 years. After 2 sessions together, I found that they were playing the old scientist game of questioning me in detail about the legitimacy of the facilitation techniques I was employing, instead of focusing on the issue. Once I had resolved this, I found that we moved onto a technical discussion of stage gate innovation processes (where you segment your invention to innovation process into defined stages, and apply rules that determine progression beyond each stage). The game they wanted to play here, was to pretend that having an integrated, and shared approach to stage-gate definition and decision-making would solve the problem of innovation to drive an aggressive growth target. When I began to pressure them on the issue of innovation talent, and demolished the assumption that scientific ambition was the same thing, it became clear that creative individuals were largely marginalised and isolated within a scientific bureaucracy that was under-performing.
They wanted to avoid the fact that when it came down to people, they didn’t have the right people to deliver the kind of innovation to drive growth that the new organisation required. And that they didn’t think that it was important. Life would go on (they hoped) much as before.
Both these consulting exercises (first and second stories) had a profound effect on my thinking. I have always been a “process” man. I have developed and facilitated the co-creation of innovation processes, applied lean thinking both within and outside the automotive industry, implemented business process redesign, and even taught process leadership as a technique for making processes work within organisations. But I couldn’t avoid the obvious conclusion over time, that
1. Whilst processes are useful as a means of focusing attention and reducing the need to relearn the obvious, they cannot be a substitute for understanding the psychology of innovation.
2. Whilst history has shown us examples where innovative people with deficient processes have found a way to succeed, there are few examples of mediocre people succeeding because they had great processes.
Friday, 25 September 2009
- They help leaders and teams manage attention by offering a deliberate sequence of key steps in an appropriate order to reduce failure.
- They embody key lessons from the past in an accessible format.
- They reduce the need to reinvent the obvious with new groups and new situations.
While we probably believe that we understand what processes do for us, do we understand the necessary psychology of leadership required to make this happen?
"Process leadership" is the ability that great leaders have to manage the day-to-day tactics of getting things done while putting those tactics and tasks within larger, strategic processes that ensure that the right stuff gets done in the right way, at the right time, through adherence to an overarching, logical approach.
Process leadership is about learning how to manage the adrenaline rush that can pull you into taking over other people's jobs and destroying their confidence and capabilities by interventions that diminish them. We've all worked with bosses who were fundamentally happiest on the line taking over their subordinate managers' and leaders' work, but who were unable to step back to mentor and model the kind of behaviors that build leadership and integrity in others.
Process leadership is a form of conscious confidence developed by growing three abilities:
- The ability to ask great questions at the right time, in the right order;
- The ability to move into a "helicopter" perspective at the drop of a hat, consciously locating activities and priorities within a larger, process context; and
- The ability to realize when the current approach is delivering diminishing returns or doesn't match the emerging situation, combined with the courage and confidence to say "stop" and ask for a different approach.
It is a truism that, when organizations find that they can't solve the real problem that determines their future survival, they will find a problem that they can solve without having to smash existing social relationships and change technologies, and they will work on it instead. This is a symptom of what I call "sticky" organizations--organizations with highly evolved "consent and evade" approaches to change (where top leaders agree to change and then return to their business units to block it), organizations with a history of shooting the messenger and announcing victory before the implementation can be measured.
It is not easy to overcome this entrenched behaviour of sticky organisations. We may be fortunate that in General Petraeus in Iraq, we have a recent example of a leader who, at a strategic level, is capable of managing a conscious thinking process on a complex situation; who can apply the three process leadership abilities to balance his attention around a discrete problem-solving process; and who can work this process to arrive at alternative strategies, instead of enforcing fixed solutions to an emerging context like Warner Brothers' Wile E. Coyote in his perpetual and futile pursuit of the Road Runner.
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Emergent Knowledge is timely knowledge about the changing nature of reality at one moment in time, where we either act upon it and create a new opportunity, or we ignore it in the name of social stability and pay the price in terms of organisational decay, wasted resources and weakness.
There are two old jokes about consultants and change management.
The first joke asks: how many consultants does it take to change a light-bulb? The answer is: that the number of consultants is immaterial, the light-bulb has got to want to change.
The second joke observes that consultants are people who take your watch and then charge to tell you the time. Whilst there is an element of truth in this observation, it needs to be articulated in a slightly deeper way. What is core to this observation is that when consultants deliver their work in the form of a structured report, it has elements that are very familiar: the story that it tells and its conclusions are recognisable. It is this recognition of report content that that makes the executive summary familiar.
Introducing consultants into the organisation, permitting them to ask questions in terms of purpose, process, position and outcomes makes it possible for them to articulate the potential, emergent knowledge within a shared context, at a particular time, and in asking their questions, they trigger their audience’s thinking along their line of research and prepare their audience to recognise the answers subsequently presented.
This is why testing the Emergent Knowledge underpinning a strategy in participants’ heads is so important, needs to be done quickly (in order to fit the context, and reduce decay) and why having an inflexible model can be a killer with an agile competitors, and increasingly changeable customers.
We live in a changing and dynamic environment. The traditional dichotomy of tacit/ explicit knowledge is insufficient to cope with the need to renew and redefine purpose and strategy. Resilient leaders need to include Emergent Knowledge techniques in their thinking in order to survive as well as grow organisation’s willingness to want to change. Successful, resilient leadership depends on the ability to elicit and articulate the emergent choices organisations face, daily.
Monday, 21 September 2009
At one level, these statements look like an extension of July’s useful HEFCE/CBI report “Stepping Higher: Workforce development through employer-higher education partnerships”.
At another level, this begs several questions at a time that the LibDems are proposing raising the bar on middle-class tuition fees:
Firstly, is it the case that the only way a degree can be useful nowadays is if it is kite-marked as useful by a successful business?
Secondly, does this by inference mean that traditional degree curricula are no longer connected with the real world? (At this point, one remembers the story of the English Literature student at the back of the Oxford University lecture hall being asked why he wasn’t taking notes; and replying that he didn’t need to: he had his father’s).
Thirdly, if both one and two are largely correct, then what about using a classic business strategy to sort this out: disintermediation - cutting out the middleman? One way to integrate collaboration between HE and business would be to remove the Government from the equation, and allow businesses to pay their taxes in lieu directly to fund particular universities and as paymasters, to call the tune and set the necessary standards. We could even scrap tuition fees.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
The next variant of inadvertent leader incompetence is where in effect a leader says to their followers: “I can’t solve this problem alone, I need your help”; and followers in the meantime say: “I can’t get focused until you tell me what the plan is”. And so it goes, round and round. In the meantime the internal stock of confidence in leader and leadership decays with every day that the real problems of the organisation remain untreated. It is as though the fundamental problem that the organisation needs to get to grips with, the linked problems of innovation and power, is like a greasy pig which the leadership of the organisation wants to cook and eat, but is unwilling to allow itself to get dirty and bloody wrestling with in the dirt, when so far all that they have had to deal with is small rodents who like getting trapped.
Leaders must be able to frame the problems around innovating, and lead the process that unpacks the necessary dependencies that must be managed to deliver successful innovating, even if they don't understand the future.
The real problem of innovating is the absence of leaders willing to create a situation where the everyday allocation of power and resources has to be actively considered as though last year or the previous decade never happened, and to consciously share power with those who can innovate for the greater good of the organisation, even if they don't look like us.
1 If you are worried about time-management, then your strategy is weak.
2 If you want to eat the bacon, you’d better plan on getting dirty and,
3 You just might need to involve some other folks, and share the bacon with them.
Monday, 6 July 2009
What was exciting about this event was the timing: it’s clearly the case that the techniques of Social Network Analysis are about to manage a shift into offering potential new value. I found this interesting in terms of my own definition of knowledge – as really existing when you take an information pattern and put it into a new context (business) to create new potential value (and not just about being known or existential).
Headlines (as far as I was concerned) included the following:
· “Social knowledge architecture is more important than physical location” – David Ewbank, VP Lifesciences, CRA international.
· “Social network maps are a powerful message about existing communication and collaboration behaviours” – Bonnie Cheuk, Global Head of Knowledge & Information, Environmental Resources Management.
· “Network analysis is the key to (understanding) power in organisations (but can be ambiguous)” and “Power accrues to those who understand the amplifier within the network” – David Krackhardt, Professor of Organisations, Carnegie-Mellon University.
Putting it all together, it is clear that constructing social networks or maps is one thing, but interpreting the opportunity emergent within the structure requires a deep and ongoing interest in the context in which the pattern is found.
It was clear that interpretation to deliver emergent value depends on integrating at least 4 levels of information (which makes it an art!):
1. The social context (where is the group in terms of its social development, have they just gone through a defining crisis, or have they avoided one?)
2. The nature of the question posed about the relationship to be explored (academics linguistic naivity can mean dangerous results for participants’ honesty).
3. The position of the outlier: just because someone is not included in the social net, this may not mean that they are ineffective, just that they haven’t built the relationship capital required or been able to participate in crisis and show their “right stuff”; or they have decided that the core business is doomed.
4. The form that power takes in the shape and interaction of the network: is it reward, inclusion/ exclusion, resources or the reinforcement of groupthink?
To some extent, it feels as though all social network analyses share aspects of the Rohrshach inkblot test, Milgram’s infamous “learning” and Zimbardo’s “prison” experiments in being a means of surfacing hidden social scripts about corrent behaviour, in unpacking what people believe really work (but may not know consciously).
And it’s at this point that we realise that we are at the cusp of a new form of knowledge, as it shifts from being academic and interesting and becomes new practice. It is the awareness of the proximity of new practice that has led to the Centre for Business Network at the Greenwich Business School, deciding to focus on developing a cohort of collaborating partner organisations to learn to harden the interpretation of what were social, but will be, business networks for unpacking the hidden value in organisations by uncovering the social networks that critically affect your business performance and could make the difference in a recession:
• Streamlining operations by sharing inputs and reconfiguring the way people work together
• Tapping into previously isolated pockets of creativity to improve products & services
• Identifying influential customers and new markets, and
• Constructing business networks for competitive advantage
One of our next steps is going to be about building practitioner capability in terms of techniques, approaches to interpretation and lesson capture through case studies and the development of validated metrics.
If you are interested in joining or learning more, email: S.Kandola@greenwich.ac.uk
Tuesday, 30 June 2009
This cohort of experienced managers were beginning to see themselves as leaders and not managers, and the facilitated conversation upon powerful lessons that could be drawn into future programmes and from their time together as a cohort, led to some unusual candour within the context of likely cuts in public service expenditure.
1. We need a new paradigm for leadership within the context of the recession. We don’t have enough leaders, but we have lots of managers and backwoodsmen strumming old banjos and busily riding rocking-chairs.
2. Public service investments have tended to institutionalise social problems , when the real issue is about having the courage to face and address the social behaviours within families (or lack of them) that are root causes of problems.
3. If we really want innovation in public services, then we need big cuts to destroy the old models embedded in “modernised” services. Nothing innovative will happen unless we face targets of at least 30% cuts.
The top 3 solutions were frighteningly simple (which demonstrates the power of the technique):
1. Use the language of the user: try to introduce the innovation using the kind of language that the potential user understands, instead of consultant-speak which tends to alienate and trigger natural Not-Invented-Here behaviours.
2. Identify great benefits don't just apply to the customer of the service, but which also include benefits for the people applying the innovation.
3. Recruit individuals into your healthcare service who want to innovate, and make it clear that their role will involve continual improvement: the way we work will continually evolve.
This brings out an important issue, that if you recruit individuals who do not want to innovate, and who see innovation as someone else’s job, then you cannot be surprised at what you get. So maybe it isn’t about optimal processes, it’s about people. Having the right people with the right psychology.