In addition to writing my monthly newsletter, Edison's Notebook, I blog on innovation for Forbes.com You can follow my Forbes posts by subscribing here!
18 Oct 2014
CAN MIDDLE MANAGERS INNOVATE? CREATING DISRUPTION READINESS
Operating behind the scenes in roles often unrecognized by senior leadership, this unique group constitutes 7.6% of the US workforce – some 10.8 million people. An integral part of the ethos that makes companies excel, middle managers prove pivotal to the successful launch of any new product, service, or business platform. So crucial is the role of the middle manager to daily operations that this cadre of workers is described by Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist as “the most durable tech-proof profession out there.” Read the full Forbes post here.
12 Aug 2014
AVOIDING THE DIGITAL DUSTBIN: 4 WAYS COLLABORATIVE WORKSPACE DRIVES INNOVATION
There’s more to innovation than finding clever people and throwing them into a room in hopes that game-changing collaboration will follow. Today, to drive innovation and attract the best talent, it’s crucial to create workspaces that cater to diverse forms of collaboration. Organizations that fail to embrace the innovation power of collaborative workspace risk winding up in the digital dustbin. Research from Steelcase confirms 4 innovation drivers that Thomas Edison intuitively employed in designing the world-famous Menlo Park laboratory. Read full Forbes.com post here.
25 June 2014
WHY FORD'S ALAN MULALLY IS A TOP INNOVATION CEO
In less than one week, Alan Mulally will resign as CEO of Ford Motor Company after an 8-year run, packed with achievements and an innovation track record that should be the envy of every executive today. When Mulally steps down, Detroit will lose a true innovation leader. Mulally’s turnaround of Ford will likely be studied by business students for years to come as an artful combination of needed financial belt-tightening, plus a cultural change that took the car and truck maker from the brink of bankruptcy to the forefront of growth in the U.S. auto industry. Read more on Forbes.com.
28 May 2014
MICROSOFT CEO SATYA NADELLA'S COLLABORATION BATTLE - CAN HE DRIVE INNOVATION GROWTH?
I have an exciting announcement! I've been invited to blog about innovation for Forbes.com! I'll be posting 2x monthly...follow my posts here! I'll also be posting unique versions of the blog from time to time on this page of my website. Have a look at my first Forbes.com post featuring insights on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's battle to drive collaboration and innovation at the company. Read full post on Forbes.com.
30 April 2014
WHEN COLLABORATION GOES MISSING: 3 LESSONS FROM HEALTHCARE.GOV
Now that Healthcare.gov has crossed the 7 million subscriber threshold, lawmakers and contractors are drawing a collective breath. While it’s likely that more gremlins lurk for the beleaguered healthcare portal, software bandaids furiously applied prior to the March 31 enrollment deadline seem to be holding for now.
The much-touted failings of the Healthcare.gov website offer a textbook example of how a lack of collaboration can deeply damage important projects – even careers. Just ask former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who resigned April 11th after a tumultuous ride as head of the department responsible for delivering the website. Development of the site, a key part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, was overseen by Sebelius and her team working closely with the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and numerous contractors. But all parties came up short.
Whether or not you’re in favor of Obamacare itself, it’s hard to be neutral in observing the potholes that have plagued the project since it’s intended October 1, 2013 kickoff. Just weeks after the March 31, 2014 launch date, there are 3 core lessons Healthcare.gov project failures can teach us about why collaboration is so essential to innovation success.
Remember…before you snicker at the ham-fisted efforts of the Healthcare.gov team, think about which of its failings may be symptomatic of your own organization. The lessons offered here stand as basic guidelines for any group endeavoring a broad scale initiative that draws together people who’ve never met, yet who must innovate effectively together.
ORGANIZE FOR COMPLEXITY RATHER THAN EFFICIENCY
The first big fumble we see lies at the very start, with the mindset of the Powers That Be. This mindset focuses on “efficiency” as king. A holdover tenet of the Industrial Age, “efficiency” becomes a thorn when complex projects are in play. Executives then (and now) are typically trained to focus on efficiency as the primary goal of project leadership. Think of all the pressures that drive raw efficiency: Just In Time philosophies, Lean principles, Six Sigma guidelines. Senior leaders ask “Couldn’t you do all this with fewer people?” or “Why can’t you deliver this in 6 months rather than 16?“ Yes, it’s important to deliver the right outcome - but efficiency is not always the driver that gets you there, particularly when complexity reigns.
Often missing from the mindset of leadership is an understanding that complex projects don’t operate on a task-driven basis. Instead of ticking off checklists and streams of tasks that indicate “what’s been accomplished,” a different gauge is needed when an innovation initiative is in play.
Rather than being organized for efficiency, innovation projects must be organized for complexity. Complex projects rarely proceed as repeatable, linear efforts. Discrete stages or legs of the project are tougher to delineate at the front end, especially when a team is endeavoring an initiative that is first-of-its-kind. Little or no history exists to offer guidelines that might advance the ball more rapidly for the project team.
In the case of Healthcare.gov, we see a massive project with over 14 different contractors flailing away with poorly envisioned interface points and communications. Healthcare.gov was set up to be a plug-a-chug exercise with pods of code pasted together as the core of a complex website that would be visited, in many instances, by individuals who are not digitally savvy. Ensuring clarity of instructions, appropriate menus of options and explanations, and empathy for what the customer would be experiencing as they logged in and navigated the massive site were completely lacking.
Collaboration Lesson #1: When complexity is in play, don’t design the project structure as an uber efficient stream of tasks. Ensure that there are vehicles built in for dialogue, learning cycles, and a continuum of engagement options for teams serving the project.
PROJECTS MUST BALANCE LEARNING AND PERFORMANCE
A second lesson we can learn from the collaboration failures of Healthcare.gov involve gaps in the contextual learning available to project teams. None received a broader technical vision of the project beyond their own individual pod. Gaps in contextual knowledge caused major delays in Healthcare.gov delivery timeline. Even the most basic facets of the site’s design were lacking, including log-in and “search” features for the massive marketplace of healthcare providers – one of the innovation hallmarks of Obamacare itself.
Often at the start of an engagement, contractors are given a ‘problem statement’ or a ‘scope of work’ (SOW) to run with. Unfortunately, sometimes this is as far as it goes. In the worst case, there is no additional background, no briefing (live, written or virtual) and no opportunity for contractors to interact and assess whether the problem statement or SOW is even on-target. Rarely does Contractor A have an opportunity to reframe their phase of a project within the context of what Contractor B is doing – even when those efforts may bear directly upon the quality of the outcome.
Collaboration Lesson #2: Allow contractors to learn from each other. The structure of large, complex projects actually requires more collaboration early in the game rather than later. Think of each contractor as a body that needs to be onboarded, and brought up to speed on the macro context of the project itself, not just their portion.
COLLABORATION MEANS "QUESTIONS FIRST"
Sniping between contractors, subcontractors, and the Healthcare.gov mother team was well-documented by pundits and Congressional hearings. While faulty work by any company is never an option, the churn-and-burn mindset that put “project completion” as the supreme outcome meant that questions got quashed. Dialogue was not encouraged. Without enabling contractors or individual project leaders to jointly learn – or ask questions – as project work progressed, the entire effort was put in jeopardy.
A big chunk of the fault here lies with the government itself. Sebelius and her counterparts within CMS team did not scope out the project effectively. Even when faced with an innovation initiative that clearly entailed ‘moving mountains’ in a short time, no one from her staff sought input or resources from the business community to aid in creating appropriate questions – or a positive learning environment – for the contractors involved.
Collaboration Lesson #3: When the scope of an initiative is large, it’s crucial that all parties involved recognize that discovery learning will be part of the process. It’s not all about the project checklist. Encourage teams to ask questions which yield new learning, speeding the entire project trajectory. By giving teams the opportunity to ask questions first – rather than jumping in with solutions and actions straightaway – they will be more deeply engaged in the outcome, and minimize the likelihood of costly errors.
COLLABORATION IS AN ONRAMP TO INNOVATION SUCCESS
Today, advanced nations must know how to build complex networks. They must be able to deliver virtual systems that are fully functional and operationally robust. A 21st century US healthcare portal is the conceptual equivalent of a ‘power grid’ for the healthcare industry. If Healthcare.gov could not move nimbly out of the starting gate to enroll people and offer them new coverage, how is it going to handle billing problems? Or deal with provider squabbles? That shoe hasn’t even dropped yet.
Imagine Thomas Edison’s innovation dilemma over 130 years ago. In 1880, he had committed to the city fathers of New York that he would deliver a power station that could offer electricity to hundreds of residents in lower Manhattan in just two years. All his Wall Street investors would be watching. The media would be watching. He knew he would have to invent every single component of the system itself in that brief time frame - the power dynamos, the wiring, the voltage meters, the control dashboards, and more.
Yet Edison did not blink. To ensure nimbleness and speed, Edison created small teams to advance development of the individual technologies that would be required for the new system. These small teams had both experts and generalists, accelerating their ability to troubleshoot rapidly. The teams could even test their own componentry in small labs Edison established in Manhattan not far from the building site. Edison created ready access to resources so that his teams were not impeded in their goal to bring insight and skill to their portion of the project as well as the effort as a whole. Teams communicated with each other in the field through written messages delivered by courier – and sometimes by Edison himself. With Edison serving as a master catalyst and meta communicator across the teams, protocols were developed to address real-time “bugs” as well as integration of entire branches of the system. Each team knew the role of the other teams.
The depth and breadth of collaboration across Edison’s network of teams enabled the power system to work perfectly from the moment Edison ‘flipped the switch.’ Today, any organization – public or private - that cannot collaborate effectively risks falling behind the innovation curve. Without collaboration, complexity cannot be tackled. The absence of collaboration has a multiplicative effect on time and cost. Take up the collaboration lessons that the foibles of Healthcare.gov offer. Design your project teams for complexity. Allow them to learn in realtime, asking questions and developing context that propels a robust outcome. The collaboration pitfalls of Healthcare.gov which were clearly avoidable. Innovators like Edison knew it a century ago.
FROM OPEN TO SEAMLESS INNOVATION: 7 LESSONS FOR GROWTH
I recently attended the 2014 Open Innovation Conference in Baltimore along with a deep bench of senior executives from Intel, Amazon, Under Armour, Pfizer, Clorox and other leading companies. As an official social media voice for the event, I had a unique opportunity to track themes across a content-packed 2-days.
To my surprise, insights emerging from this intense 48-hour event offer benefits not only the Open Innovation (OI) community, but those of us who primarily navigate the ‘Closed Innovation’ realm as well. In fact, I would estimate that 85% of the content of the OI conference applied equally to folks who champion the innovation process inside their companies and never actually take on an OI role.
Interestingly, many of the OI projects described by the presenters are akin to social innovation initiatives. Unilever in particular is endeavoring huge open innovation programs impacting communities as well as nation-wide resource use in Asia. This struck me as a far different ‘innovation exercise’ than one we would have heard about even 5 years ago. In fact, Unilever is championing the term ‘seamless innovation’ – a combination of closed and open innovation that permeates an entire organization and its activities.
As a joyful aside, it was thrilling to note that 10 of the 21 presenters were senior women in their organizations, many with PhDs. (A photo later in this piece includes many of them.) Here are 7 core innovation lessons I took away from the OI conference:
1. Open innovation is increasingly viewed as an area of competitive distinction. Although we often shower accolades on organizations that grow their innovation advantage internally, firms that wrangle success in OI are viewed by peer organizations as leading players in their industries. Rather than indicating that internal strategies are failing, OI success now means that companies are wising up and becoming more agile. OI success offers firms newfound abilities to pivot rapidly into diverse business models, distant geographies, as well as gain access to new target audience groups and technology platforms. Increasingly, as voiced by Dr. Sophia Zhou, head of research and Clinical Decision Support Solutions for North America at Philips, “Open innovation is part of our way of working…We create a unique market position by combining external input with our own innovation skills.”
2. “In order to drive change, you need to offer something.” OI today is really a form of change management. Svetlana Dimovski, manager for Open Innovation with BASF USA, has learned that in order to attract the best people to her OI practice area, she must offer something in return. Dimovski emphasized that actual training around what opening innovation is and how it works has been a key magnetizing point to draw top internal talent. BASF has assembled an entire cadre of tools embracing licensing opportunities, scouting techniques, leads management, and more. Their proactive efforts in driving increased access to what an OI ecosystem involves has yielded “greater engagement around innovation, more explosiveness of thinking, action, and momentum.” This momentum has begun driving cultural change within the sphere of influence each project wields. Thinking about my own research on Edison’s world-changing practices, this concept offers parallels to how information traveled from Thomas Edison’s laboratories to his manufacturing partners. When “microcultures of innovation” begin to connect, a dynamic new fabric is formed.
3. OI champions need to stay with their initiatives from funding to proof-of-concept. Many false starts were experienced by OI teams that completed one too many baton hand-offs over the course of their projects. Rather than collaborating and bringing competencies onto their internal team, several failure stories emerged from groups that delegated responsibilities too broadly rather than grooming areas of deep internal knowledge. This point was emphasized by Barbara Sosnowski, VP of Worldwide R&D at Pfizer. As pharmaceutical companies move further away from the ‘blockbuster drug’ model to drive revenues, they have now been forced to generate new innovation competencies within their internal teams. Team leaders are thus often behaving differently when they reach out to external partners, actually staying with an initiative all the way from funding to proof-of-concept. This ensures that passion and key insights are not lost as the project progresses. Sosnowski indicates this new trajectory has enabled Pfizer to have a better view of which projects are at an early stage, mid-stage or in a final stage of product development with key partners. The term given to this new approach is “strategic externalization.”
4. Senior technical contributors are crucial to open innovation success. One question on the minds of every attendee was “How do I create a successful OI team?” Dr. Victoria Scarborough, Director for Open Innovation at Sherwin Williams, hit this issue head-on, and her message resonated across the entire two-day session. She noted that senior technical people must be present on the OI team – particularly in mature industries – as they have the respect of others in their field, they often hold strong business knowledge and not just technical knowledge, and they are more willing to personally accept responsibility for politically navigating the OI process. This latter point proved a crucial differentiator between success and failure for OI teams in every industry group. Because open innovation means that team exchanges are happening at multiple levels in an organization, OI today is also increasingly a driver of change management flowing from the center upward and outward. It goes deeper than ‘just doing projects successfully.’ OI now entails reweaving the fabric of the firm one project at a time, with senior technical contributors serving as major catalysts.
5. Open innovation + Closed innovation = Seamless innovation. Dr. Shimei Fan, R&D Director of Open Innovation at Unilever, brought home the reality that “Abundance is over.” She emphasized that with global R&D budgets declining in real dollars over the past 10 years, many R&D teams have been required to shift perspective on where they can influence the business when joining with external partners. At Unilever, open innovation has meant a shift toward a cradle-to-grave mindset which impacts not only revenues and profit, but the entire means of undertaking production in its partnered ecosystem. “We are working toward a marriage of open innovation with closed innovation to create seamless innovation. Our aim is to achieve seamless innovation by 2025.”
Open innovation projects at Unilever have newly directed how the entire organization buys, uses, and distributes products. Unilever is intensely mindful of its water usage, waste stream, and emission of greenhouse gases across the globe. In undertaking OI initiatives with Dow Chemical, for example, “External R&D” teams have remapped the environmental impact of palm oil groves and palm oil production in Asia. A complete reexamination of how the organization uses clean energy for manufacturing and reduced land usage for actual palm fields has also led to a lower carbon footprint and more favorable environmental impact. As well, this new mindset has yielded the creation of new metrics, such as examining social implications rather than just raw ‘cost’ or ‘revenue.’ For example, in its partnership with TaTa on developing clean water for rural India, Unilever’s OI effectiveness has included focus on reduced rates of diarrhea, eye infections, and respiratory ailments. Dr. Fan commented, “Using open innovation, we are working to ensure that every child in India can reach the age of 5 and be healthy enough to go to school.” Even 5 years ago, those objectives would likely never have shown up as a form of ‘innovation ROI.’
6. Ensure you are constructing a ‘sponsor spine.’ Among the many war stories shared at the conference, one in particular stood out. Luis Solis, President of Imaginatik North America, described failures of projects that did not consciously construct what he termed a ‘sponsor spine.’ A sponsor spine refers to the massive network that links scientists, executives, thinkers, champions, and passionate team members so crucial to the success of an individual innovation effort. Luis emphasized that this sponsor spine must touch all constituencies linked to an OI project team. In fact, counter to our often-insistent desires for efficiency, Luis urged “building redundancy into the system.” Due to mobility of executives and things like budget shifts or team re-designs, holes are likely to develop in sections of the spine over time. The spine itself must always thus remain a focus for the OI project team. “Some teams start in the middle, get their project underway, but never connect it to any other part of the organization. Those teams typically fail.” In urging executives to organize for innovation, Luis was actually emphasizing a precept that Thomas Edison continually reinforced. By organizing for complexity (like connected networks) rather than efficiency (like hierarchies that move in lockstep), the work of innovation can be accomplished more rapidly.
7. “Data allows development of infrastructure in minutes rather than weeks.” Emphasizing that the prevalence of public data has transformed the ability of small internal teams to reach out and rapidly build something entirely new, Amazon Web Services guru Frank DiGiammarino pointed to the OI ecosystems created by growth companies like Netflix, OpenTable, and Kiva (as well as – of course – Amazon). Here’s the comment Frank made which still rings in my ears: “You can scale innovation in a moment’s notice.” Today, small teams can act solo or link up with external partners to provide a ‘big infrastructure’ feel to their idea. Citing Onemap.sg as an example (a website whose developers are based in Singapore), Onemap developed a toolkit allowing diverse partners to build collaborative platforms using their public data, and easily bring others into new projects. Now that’s collaboration! DiGiammarino noted, “We are encouraging all of our clients to bring public data into one frame.”
Although the OI movement has gained considerable traction over the past few years, one big gap remains. Not a single presenter offered a definition of what collaboration is, nor how they consistently exercise collaborative activity in their innovation efforts. I was disappointed to hear “teamwork” and “collaboration” equated as identical animals over and over again. Some real focus is needed on that front to help leaders discern the difference.
But there is no gap in the heart, knowledge, and courage of the OI community today. Clearly, heading toward seamless innovation is an important goal that will yield integration of key OI tools with core resources resident within organizations themselves. As seasoned innovator HP Director of R&D Chris Kruger commented, “Don’t dilute the innovation message. Stay with it to the very end.” Thomas Edison couldn’t have said it better.
4 WAYS TO IDENTIFY AN INNOVATION CATALYST
One unique shift accompanying the global proliferation of smart devices is the ability of small teams to become more self-directed. Rather than requiring hovering managers to scrutinize their every move, it’s possible for small teams to be guided through catalysts rather than seasoned ‘leaders.’ This is especially true when these small teams are embarking on an innovation-related objective.
Catalysts are those people in your organization who show up to meetings and good things happen. They are the people who draw out the best in others with seemingly little effort. Employees brighten in their presence, rolling up their sleeves a few inches higher. For team members who tend to be on the quiet side, catalysts perk them up and offer unique ways to get them talking, writing and contributing. Catalysts effectively draw reluctant employees out of their comfort zone into new ways of thinking. This is what makes them especially valuable to the innovation process.
Don't simply label catalysts as "the cool people” in your organization. There are four qualities you’ll want to intentionally seek out to determine if an individual can truly function as a catalyst in an innovation endeavor:
3) Expertise relevant to the team or organization
4) Communication that inspires
The key value of catalysts lies in their ability to transform the actions of others, to transform their thinking styles or work styles in ways that create alignment rather than disengagement. In an era where markets and business models are morphing at lightning speed, catalysts can help you innovate and drive organic change within your organization faster than having outside parties come in and tell you what to do. Let’s examine each of the four qualities that define a catalyst.
QUALITIES OF AN INNOVATION CATALYST
Catalysts propelled Thomas Edison and his teams to extraordinary innovation success during the most intense period of innovation in US history. In my research for new book Midnight Lunch, I identified four qualities these catalysts consistently exhibit – all of which Edison himself embodied. The qualities you can seek out in your workforce today.
Optimism aids in developing a mindset of ‘new possibilities.’ Do not mistake optimism for blind faith, or smarmy acceptance of the company line. Optimists are individuals who hold a belief that powerful new things can be accomplished when ingenuity and resources are brought to bear. They are often adventurers tempered by the realities of what it takes to get things done. Optimists offer a valuable balance to the often more prevailing mantras which cause people to ‘stay in the box’ and simply accept the status quo. Warning: Those individuals who hold a glass-half-empty view of their work cannot serve as catalysts. They will drag others down with them, and jeopardize team momentum, especially when the going gets tough.
Catalysts foster collegiality by creating an environment of contribution. One Holy Grail every leader seeks is the magic elixir concocted when team members are bonded, aligned, and consistently offering their best thinking. Collegiality is created when team members feel their ideas are being heard even if they are not always adopted. Catalysts aid groups in creating respect for each member, offering feedback and objectivity when necessary. Respect flows from these exchanges, the kind of respect that transforms the willingness of employees to contribute to each other – and to the team as a whole. Catalysts enable team members to become colleagues rather than cogs.
Expertise of the catalyst drives new learning across all members of a team. Most often, catalysts hold expertise in some area respected by a group. This expertise can lie in most any area – even when the catalyst holds a non-technical background, for example, and is working with technical individuals. To be a true catalyst, the area of expertise held must in some way be translated to learning within the team that he or she is part of. In turn, the catalyst will take on new learning from those in the broader group. This two-way learning exchange is a critical part of what defines a catalyst from a ‘mere’ subject matter expert. Catalysts expand a group’s passion for learning, even when the area of learning differs from the catalyst’s own knowledge base. In this respect, catalysts can become one of the most important drivers of a culture of innovation.
Catalysts communicate at both an aspirational and a motivational level. According to a recent study conducted by noted leadership experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, catalysts touch cords in others which connect to a broader vision. Often, their communications also offer a pathway toward a vision which the individual can grasp for their own purposes. Catalysts are adept at making emotional connections even if their words are not perfect, their style is not ultra polished. Zenger and Folkman note catalysts are “better at establishing a clear vision…(and) more effective in their communication and willing to spend more time communicating.” They are ardent champions of change, and are perceived as effective role models within an organization. We can see in the legendary Steve Jobs an extraordinary catalyst who modeled these qualities.
CATALYSTS HELP LEADERS TACKLE A KEY HUMAN CAPITAL CHALLENGE
Catalysts offer a unique human capital resource for leaders today – especially in the realm of innovation. Rather than feeling that you must consistently assign employees who have served long tenures within an organization to an innovation effort – as has often been past practice – search for the catalysts in your company to help populate your innovation teams. They can be found in virtually any echelon within a company, save for the very entry level.
Importantly, as we see from Edison’s laboratory, catalysts can also work side-by-side on different types of initiatives. Edison deployed catalysts Charles Batchelor and Reginald Fessenden to galvanize new thinking around incandescence and other challenges. It’s even possible to have multiple catalysts on the same team, operating at different times, serving to bring their unique expertise at points in a project with those perspectives may be most important.
For your next wave of innovation activity, rather than having a single designated ‘team leader’, consider having multiple catalysts working together in propelling a team forward. By being exposed to the transformational work of catalysts, other employees will offer up their best thinking, expanding the change capacity of an organization, and increasing its nimbleness. Value your catalysts like gold, and give them hands-on opportunities to work with projects that can transform your company.
24 December 2013
TECH AND AWE: THE FIRST CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
What do a blabbing journalist and the world’s first display of Christmas lights have in common? Thomas Edison! As we revel in glittering displays of holiday lights this season, we can hark back to the “tech and awe” the nation felt upon Edison’s first unveiling of twinkling Christmas lamps at his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory.
A masterful showman, after hitting a media home run in 1878 with live demonstrations of his revolutionary phonograph, the Wizard of Menlo Park decided he should do the same thing with the light bulb roughly one year later. In a wild burst of enthusiasm, Edison elected to publicly display strings of incandescent lamps at his laboratory in the winter months of 1879, and use his numerous newspaper connections to get word out.
Talk about gutsy… it had been merely weeks since Edison’s October 1879 patent application for the patent on the electric light. He’d just masterminded the world’s first electric circuit, allowing him to connect light bulbs together, and turn on an entire string of lamps simultaneously. He was also still working out bugs in the large electrical generators which powered his lighting networks.
In deciding to run a campaign for the wondrous light bulb via the press, Edison imagined drawing scores of people to Menlo Park to witness the thrill of seeing a landscape aglow on a winter night. In his zeal, Edison offered an interview several days before Christmas to a New York journalist from the Herald, but made the journalist promise he would not spill the beans about his invention before the intended release date.
Well…of course, after interviewing Mr. Edison, the journalist realized he had one of THE greatest scoops of all time. Unable to contain his excitement, the journalist leaked his story for a handsome fee, which forced Edison’s hand on the timing of the public display. Rather than showing the lights in January 1880, the newspaper leak forced Edison to put up strings of lights on an accelerated schedule.
Here’s an account from Francis Upton, one of Edison’s most trusted lab employees, describing the frenzied situation in a letter to his father on Dec. 21, 1879:
“Today has been quite exciting here since the morning’s Herald contained an account of the discovery of the lamp and the whole invention. Mr. Edison had allowed a Herald reporter to take full notes as to prepare his account for the exhibition which was to come off in a few weeks. The reporter was Edison’s friend and he thought he could keep a secret. Yet newspaper traditions were too strong and he sold out at a good price I suppose for he had the first full account.”
Due to the leak, Edison had to fast forward his lighting display by several days. Ever the strategist, Edison staged a presentation of 40 light bulbs “to financiers and newspapermen” on Dec. 27. Frantic to complete adequate testing and to secure sufficient materials for several light strings, Edison and his teams rushed around to prepare for a public opening on Dec. 29. According to accounts, Edison reportedly looked “as if he had worked half his life out in searching for this electric light, and was ready to sink into a premature grave.”
But even Edison at his most wild-eyed could not have anticipated the exuberant public response. Upon hearing of the great inventor’s plans to display electric lights at Menlo Park, exuberant crowds of celebrities, politicians, journalists, scientists, urban dwellers, and suburbanites flocked to New Jersey to see the illuminations with their own eyes.
On Monday, Dec. 29th of 1879, “the afternoon trains brought some visitors, but in the evening every train set down a couple of score at least…(T)he next evening the depot was over rum and the narrow plank road leading to the laboratory became alive with people…many hundreds have already come and hundreds more are coming…”
Managing crowds on the weekend was one thing, but Edison had not anticipated that throngs of visitors would stream in for days throughout the week. People arrived in droves, stepping into the private workspaces of the labs rather than just the designated interior and exterior spaces where the twinkling lights were displayed.
“On New Year’s Day the railroad ordered extra trains to be run and carriages came streaming from near and far. Surging crowds filled the laboratory, machine shop and private office of the scientist, and all work had to be practically suspended…”
The volume of visitors was challenging not only for reasons of crowd control, the physics of weight-bearing in the laboratory area and viewing sites threatened the safety of the Menlo Park facility. “(T)he people came by hundreds in every train, and their combined weight more than once threatened to break down the timbers of the building.”
“Although Edison gave orders on 2 January to close the laboratory buildings to the general public and resume work, hundreds of visitors still came to see the illuminated windows and outside lamps.” Yet, Edison’s tour de force of technology was nearly thwarted multiple times by nefarious folk who intended a sullied outcome for Edison, aiming to short-circuit the electrical system. Some even tried to tamper with Edison’s generators. Were it not for Edison’s watchful teams, these interlopers might have succeeded.
The Timeless and Magnetic Appeal of Innovation
In reading accounts of Edison’s first display of Christmas lamps, it is no wonder that the light bulb has become the universal symbol for creativity. Even today, over 130 years since crowds first thronged to witness the electrical conjurings of the Wizard of Menlo Park, we are still drawn like fireflies to the “tech and awe” of innovation. Twenty-first century technology giants like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson still captivate us with tangible renderings of the human imagination. Technological breakthroughs tap a universal chord of creativity which resides within us all.
In 1879, those awe-struck visitors at Menlo Park sensed something entirely new, entirely transformational was in their midst. A new and extraordinary technology – lighting – had dawned on the horizon, and was now just within reach.
Over and over again during the course of his 62-year career, Thomas Edison made tangible the power of human imagination. In bringing us decades of technological breakthroughs, he tapped the universal awe we all feel when the seemingly impossible becomes real. Today, the magnetic power of innovation still strikes awe in our hearts with every twinkling Christmas light.
3 WAYS INNOVATION IS CHANGING
25 September, 2013
Innovation has commanded our attention for the past decade with an intensity matched by few other subjects. It offers us one of the most dynamic canvases to be found anywhere in the business realm.
How fascinating, then, to see that innovation itself is changing. It’s taken me a few weeks to wrestle with ‘what new stuff’ has begun impacting the innovation landscape so profoundly. Why are our heads turning anew to conversations around innovation, and what makes these conversations so fundamentally important for executives today?
I believe there are 3 core ways innovation is shifting. These 3 shifts impact not only how and where innovation takes place, they represent key filtering criteria for what successful innovations must display going forward. As well, in the grand scheme of things, these 3 themes will impact workforce agility and organizational competitiveness in a significant way.
Though everyone is talking about Mobile + Social + Cloud as the magic innovation triumvirate, what I see transforming the innovation landscape in the coming years does not solely rest on these components. In fact, though social networks are indeed powerful, this chart from Business Insider reveals that venture capital investments are actually moving away from social media and toward big data and analytics, driving significant implications for innovation.
In the second decade of the Internet (2005 – 2014), over 5 billion mobile phones and smart devices came into use across the globe, with more on the way. Ready access to information available through these channels has reshaped our lives, repatterning daily decision-making in everything from buying cars, to going to the bank, choosing a TV show to watch, or planning a trip. Now, these billions of devices can not only connect us peer to peer, they can connect us to machines. We can receive (or send) information to buildings, cars, and a host of inanimate but ‘smart’ objects. The proximity and power of this Internet of Things is already transforming innovation, and will continue to do so for the next decade.
But here’s the tricky part. Now we have the capacity to add a dollop of neuroscience to all this. In a recent post for the Harvard Business Review, cognition guru Roger Martin notes that this burgeoning of data, devices, and networks will parse our decision-making into two major camps – both related to how our brains process complexity. Martin says the first decision-making camp addresses detail complexity. Detail complexity shows itself when we make choices about ‘which option do I want?’ Detail complexity confronts us when we wade through dozens of facts, when we ponder what to purchase based on a search query, or agonize about flavor combinations at Starbucks.
Looking ahead, innovations that can boil down a myriad of choices to a few options meaningful to the user will hit gold. While Amazon’s comparative algorithms are as yet unequalled, we are heading toward new types of onscreen displays, visual scanning technologies, and customer dashboards which can serve as powerful vehicles for conquering detail complexity.
Even more intriguing, however are innovations that will help us address the second form of complexity, which Martin describes as dynamic complexity. Here we encounter ‘systems embedded within other systems.’ Dynamic complexity is in play when factors which cannot be precisely quantified simultaneously interact with each other. Think about predicting the weather: a sunny day depends on ever-changing combinations of wind speed, moisture levels, altitude, topography, barometric pressure, and more; there’s no way to precisely know at what hour the sun will emerge. Ironically, our brains are wired to effectively processing dynamic complexity because it can capture aspects of nuance, probability and context, assessing which of many elements could surge forward to dominate the outcome.
Computers, however, can fail us in the realm of dynamic complexity. For example, although IBM’s Watson knew more facts than its Jeopardy opponents in 2011, Watson sometimes faltered on questions related to nuances of culture. Because machines are not able to create context the way the human brain can, Watson couldn’t process the subtle meanings or aesthetics associated with movies, entertainment, or fashion. Now, IBM is building software which imitates the cognitive processes the brain uses when it forms words and language. IBM believes this natural language approach to software development will yield programs that are more context-based, more intuitive, and less fact-dependent than any technology that exists today.
Forming context rapidly will become a crucial competitive advantage in the next decade. As innovation and strategy guru CK Prahalad noted after the Great Recession, we are moving away from an era where ‘sense and respond’ was the dominant requirement, and the ability to ‘anticipate and create’ will be key. Navigating complexity and forming context are requirements for success in the new environment.
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE CONTINUUM YIELDS COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE
The second big shift I term the continuum of experience. A continuum of experience is created when multiple tasks are completed by an individual (or organization) in the journey toward purchasing something, or solving something. No two individuals or companies will complete this journey identically. Innovations that help customers and companies make sense of the disparate collections of tasks that comprise a continuum which matters to them will stand out. Products and services that offer a meaningful synthesis or ‘story’ of the continuum as it unfolds create a baseline for gathering collective intelligence about users and their journey.
Recently we’ve seen the ascendance of customer experience mapping (sometimes called customer journey mapping – CJM) as a tool for organizations to navigate the dramatic increase in the number of touchpoints that now impact decision-making. Experts in CJM, UK-based Mulberry Consulting has identified more than 20 experiences which form a ‘standard’ engagement in a given purchase – and this figure can range much higher. The tricky part in this type of mapping is not just the connection of facts and data (which harks to detail complexity) but the emotional connections as well.
As Chief Design Office Mauro Porcini noted in a recent speech at the 2013 World Innovation Forum in New York, “Now we must connect different dimensions to innovate.” Rather than just closing the gaps between production, order, and delivery, we must look at the discrete tasks and touchpoints that are part of a total end-to-end experience. “Experiences embrace our physical needs, our cognitive needs, our emotional needs,” Porcini says. We also see the emergence of story - and story-telling - as a synthesis of this continuum of experience. Story becomes a way to link all the touchpoints and tasks into a cohesive whole. Story is a kind of dynamic complexity – it creates context that is meaningful both factually and emotionally.
The experience continuum is where Groupon faltered. Although Groupon broke new ground in aggregating massive information (ie detail complexity) about its ‘deals’ in local geographies, it never took users to the next level. The Groupon experience continuum ended with the completion of a transaction. Compare this approach to what is happening at the Empire State Building (ESB) after being restored to its original glory in 2011, while also being transformed to new green standards. While waiting in line to enter, ESB visitors have a chance to use QR codes to access deeper information about the building which may be of specific interest to them on their tour. Codes include details on how visitors can apply green principles used in the building’s redesign to their own lives, offering a level of relevance which touches many visitors. The ESB has created an experience continuum allowing customers to carve their own unique path, using technology to help them creating their own unique story as they journey.
Innovations related to the ‘continuum of experience’ allow individuals to drill down into a deep level of micro-action. They can engage in what I call a self-solving environment. More than just being self-guiding, individuals are bringing new levels of self-awareness or self-knowledge to these experiences. Neurologically, these experiences become embedded deeply in the mind. With similar intention, innovative products like the Nike Fuelband, the FitBit, and the new Misfit Shine not only track your step-by-step activity during the day, but your sleep patterns as well. If you wish, your experience continuum can last anywhere from 24 hours to a full week, or more. This type of continuum of experience creates unique collective intelligence that directly impacts quality of life, and yields a sense of progress for the user.
NEW MATERIALS EMBED SMART COMPUTING POWER
In an era when we can actually buy a Dick Tracy watch that really works, we can’t forget the importance of new materials and the ability of these materials to house sensors, advanced microchips, and other electronics which make them ‘smart.’ CEO of Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides, is actively leveraging these innovations at Virgin Galactic to transform transportation, and make space travel a commonplace occurrence.
In a recent speech, Whitesides commented that he’s often asked how Virgin Galactic compares to NASA. “How can we do so much with fewer people? It’s the new materials coming together with new computer processing capacity.” Whitesides notes that Virgin Galactic has been able to reduce the cost of space vehicles because of thinner exterior skins which make its space vehicles lighter, while still being able to withstand extreme temperatures. In a similar science fiction-like vein, Intel has just introduced the Quark, an ultra-small chip measuring only 14 nanometers across. Capable of operating in dry or liquid environments, these sophisticated chips are designed for use in wearable technologies and flexible electronics. The Quark is even ingestible, and can transfer signals to exterior monitors as it flows through the body.
Not to be left off the list is 3D printing. Also known as additive manufacturing, it has been around at GE and aerospace companies for decades. The reason it makes my ‘new materials’ list now is that costs are dropping for these machines, and organizations can bring them in-house to tinker, prototype, and experiment. In fact, the realm of 3D printing may kickstart a whole new ‘maker movement’ given the ability to share programming and design files in the Cloud. Who knows? It may be just the inspiration Gen Y needs to generate the next wave of new materials.
Thomas Edison himself would relish the chance to propel these 3 new innovation shifts. A believer that innovation itself was a means to tackle complexity, he would view mastery of detail and dynamic complexity as essential to competitiveness. A skilled materials scientist who harnessed the best of nature and the best of machines, breakthroughs in materials and smart surfaces would inspire his deepest imaginings. As I note in my new book Midnight Lunch, the collaborative work structures required to generate these leading edge innovations were part and parcel of Edison’s laboratory and manufacturing operations. Are they in yours?
Look within your own organization. See where one of these three shifts could impact your ability to anticipate and create the future. Set up collaboration teams that focus on enabling customers to capture a continuum of experience. Catalyze new pathways to innovation in your organization by embracing complexity, and the tools to master it.
2 July 2013
Guest post by Dale Carnegie Training (See Sarah's guest post on the Dale Carnegie site here)
In a guest post a few weeks ago on the Dale Carnegie Training blog, innovation process expert and author Sarah Miller Caldicott offered 3 Ways to Gauge Great Team Collaboration. Here is our reciprocal guest post from the Dale Carnegie Training team offering another in-depth view of collaboration as exemplified by the teams of Thomas Edison -- world renowned innovator and Sarah’s great-great-uncle.
Collaboration is a crucial element that can drive team success beyond the mere sum of the capabilities of each member. Moreover, Edison’s success reminds us that there is a significant distinction between true collaboration and the simple notion of “teamwork. ” There are key indicators today’s leaders can look to for determining whether true collaboration exists in a team or not.
A leader must not only be able to identify a lack of collaboration, but inspire and foster opportunities that help collaboration increase. It takes strong leadership and management skills to transform a group of employees from simply ‘working together’ to collaborating as a coherent unit. Today, leaders must know what to do if they see that a team's collaboration indicators are lagging. Here are 3 strategies offered by Dale Carnegie Training which align with Edison’s own thinking as reflected in Sarah's new book Midnight Lunch. These 3 strategies can help leaders encourage and promote increased collaboration among team members.
NURTURE A GROWTH MINDSET BY CREATING CHANCES FOR LEARNING
First, to ensure that team members are truly collaborating, create opportunities for learning at work. Employees that come together to problem-solve have the chance to learn-by-doing, and can engage in true collaboration. When drawing upon the perspectives of others, employees often perform their best work and arrive at solutions they could not have if they had worked individually. Leaders can facilitate this type of learning by constantly challenging teams to push themselves beyond what is perceived to be possible.
Leaders can also create opportunities for learning and discovery by providing training in new areas to help teams feel more equipped to handle difficult tasks and assignments. When individuals have opportunities to learn in team settings they feel more challenged, more engaged, and become more self-motivated. As Caldicott points out in her research on Edison’s success, his teams were frequently encouraged to run experiments together and thereby develop new context around the problems they faced. Their discovery learning endeavors led to development of a ‘growth mindset’ which allowed them to rapidly adapt to new market conditions. By expanding the discovery learning opportunities in a team setting, leaders deepen the growth potential for their entire organization.
DRAW UPON DIVERSE EXPERTISE AND PERSPECTIVES
A second tool leaders can employ to drive increased collaboration is to value team diversity. In a team context, diversity embraces bringing together a mix of expertise, work styles, and ways of thinking. When a team brings different perspectives to the table, there are more opportunities for the exchange of ideas, more skills at the team’s disposal, and more viewpoints to challenge until the best possible solution is determined. To expand the collaboration capacities of their employees, leaders must find ways to leverage each team member’s strengths, encouraging frequent opportunities for casual discussion. Intentionally develop opportunities for team exchange when there is no prescribed agenda for such dialogue. Edison found that keeping his teams small – typically no more than 8 people – expanded the ‘multiplier effect’ that is yielded by encouraging casual dialogue within diverse groups. He realized that even greater productivity resulted when teams came together in a spirit of debate, without fear of judgment or criticism. Today’s leaders must recognize that while every idea contributed in team dialogue will not be the ‘winning’ one, the diversity and range of thinking will propel a higher quality result, and allow the team to drive its collaboration efforts to a higher level.
ENCOURAGE COLLABORATION THROUGH SHARED PURPOSE
And third, to expand the presence of true collaboration on a team, leaders and members alike must share a common purpose. A sense of inspiration must surround the activities of the team itself. This helps guide a healthy ‘balance of power’ between team members, and vaults their sense of cooperation beyond their need for ego or dominance. When one person believes their words have more or less value than those of another, the process of collaboration is hindered, and creates unnecessary limitations for the team. A sense of shared purpose emerges through dialogue, and the ability to openly express ideas that unite the group in some way. This sense of unity can be felt with regard to either the ultimate output of the team, the emergence of a new process or way of conducting business, or the positive impact the team’s work will have on outside parties such as clients, stakeholders, or even an entire community. To help drive this sense of shared purpose, leaders should focus on ways of rewarding the team as a whole, offering incentives which ‘challenge the team to challenge themselves.’ Respect and trust must be present as core values, and leaders must emphasize these values as they observe and encourage the team.
Today’s leaders - in any organization or business - should keep these 3 strategies in mind as they seek to expand collaboration on their teams. By offering learning opportunities that nurture a growth mindset, valuing team diversity, and encouraging shared purpose, leaders will increase the capacity for collaboration within their organization, and drive team results to their fullest potential.
This post was contributed by Dale Carnegie Training, the training company founded on the principles of the famous speaker and author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Today, the company offers sales training and helps businesses and individuals achieve their goals. Visit Dale Carnegie Training online to learn more about leadership programs.
(1st in a series of guest posts developed for Dale Carnegie Training)
3 May 2013 - Read my guest post on the Dale Carnegie training website!
20 March 2013
Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent announcement of a back-to-the-office work policy for all Yahoo! employees has created a firestorm of controversy. A uniquely surprising move for a modern executive woman who has been a bright star in Silicon Valley, the underlying roots for Marissa’s decision offer stark insights into why collaboration is crucial in digitally-driven work cultures today.
It also provides a glimpse into the tug-of-war between "collaboration" and "power." Whether or not you agree with zapping telecommuting as fair or unfair, Marissa’s stance underscores profound gaps in our understanding of what collaboration is, and how it operates as a driver of innovation.
Here are 3 collaboration insights to chew on. I look at Marissa’s controversial edict to discontinue telecommuting as well as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s thoughts on amping the power of women in the workplace via her new book Lean In. Also on deck is recent research into a phenomenon known as the “Queen Bee syndrome” and its impact on the rise of women to leadership roles. Collaboration and its connection to innovation is fundamental to all 3 of these viewpoints, and I’ve integrated comments from research conducted for my new book Midnight Lunch: The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success, from Thomas Edison's Lab as a lens for each one. Here are the basics:
- CEO Marissa Mayer was right to focus on creating a more collegial culture at Yahoo!, but stumbled by not laying out a strategic vision for Yahoo! before asking employees to stop telecommuting.
- COO Sheryl Sandberg’s aim in Lean In is authentic, but misses an even bigger problem: women dropping out of the workforce mid-career, impeding their rise to innovation and collaboration power.
- Entrepreneur Jody Greenstone Miller sidesteps the Queen Bee syndrome and gets collaboration right by championing new project-focused structures that allow women to chunk their time in either a steady stream or intense bursts.
YAHOO LACKS THE FUNDAMENTALS FOR COLLABORATION TO THRIVE
Because collaboration is also the heartbeat for innovation success in a digitally-driven economy, it’s relevant to examine how collaboration is – or is not – operating in organizations today. Several specific factors can be used to gauge the health of collaboration in a company, whether it has a highly face-to-face (FTF) culture or a more distributed one. In Midnight Lunch, I describe four crucial collaboration factors: Capacity, Context, Coherence, and Complexity.
As numerous pundits have noted, Marissa’s back-to-the-office clarion call came after intense internal debate within Yahoo’s leadership team. If Marissa was nervous about how this news would land coming from a woman who herself enjoyed the benefits of work/life balance at Google, she didn’t show it. (And bravo!) While many have speculated that her decision was impacted by the more FTF environment at Google, I don’t think this was the core issue.
I believe Marissa made the right call in asking employees to return to the office. Collegiality, a core component of what I describe in Midnight Lunch as Phase 1 – Capacity, is fundamental to establishing common, shared experiences across the employee base. A distributed work culture which has suffered an exodus of key talent over the past 3 years, Yahoo! has been rudderless for an internet eon, lacking momentum and inspiration at a time when its competitors were growing rapidly. With few internal mid-level leaders to offer guidance amidst the turmoil of Carol Bartz’s final days – or the C-suite cataclysms that followed – there is no current fabric of trust or collegiality in the firm. Even ex-Yahoo employees admit the company is sorely in need of collaboration, and the invisible glue that can only come when people rub elbows and share insights side-by-side.
Marissa’s misstep lies not in that she championed a return to an office-centric environment, but that she did not frame any semblance of a new strategy for Yahoo! first. Her efforts to weave collegiality back into the company would have landed better if she had painted a more compelling master plan, or a new strategic direction first. I was disappointed that Marissa’s announcement didn’t offer even an inkling of strategic vision.
Without a one-two punch that starts with strategy then revamps the collaborative underpinnings of Yahoo’s work culture, Marissa has a much lower chance of gaining collaboration – and innovation – momentum following this change. This means that she not only will have drawn the ire of employees, she won’t be able to readily establish new Context around collaborative thinking…the linchpin of Phase 2 in the true collaboration process.
“LEANING IN” WITH SHERYL SANDBERG
The emphasis in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In lies in helping women develop staying power as members of today’s workforce. Sheryl’s message offers tools and concepts to help women begin their career on a strong footing, then stay-in-the-game through their child bearing years. This is a noble aim. Sheryl made the cover of TIME magazine…a coup that is already helping spread her message. Insisting that women ask for mentors right from the beginning of their careers and sharpen their negotiation skills at every turn indeed are tips that can always use reinforcing.
A goodly portion of Phase 3 – Coherence in Midnight Lunch hinges on leadership. Without coherence, teams fall apart. Women offer a crucial ingredient to collaboration success through the holistic thinking styles they bring. Women can be inspirational leaders, catalysts, and serve as solid shoulder-to-shoulder leaders. All of these qualities propel collaboration success.
Although victories by Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Ursula Burns have helped us get past the primordial conversations about “Can women lead in the C-suite?” I think we haven’t even come close to addressing why they often leave corporate life mid-career. Even though women have outnumbered men in the workforce for 30 years, not only have we failed to translate this to a greater percentage of CEO roles, but we have not unlocked a deeper understanding of what makes women want to stay in corporate life for the long haul.
And this is where Sheryl falls short. I had hoped for a more game-changing message on this front. I had hoped to read about some new approach, some disruptive concept that would revive the value-creation potential of all the women who leave companies in their mid-30s and mid-40s. While these mid-stream departures have spurred strong rates of entrepreneurship among women – which is a positive trend in the absolute – what remains unaddressed by Sheryl’s message are the stopping points and the barriers that cause talented, qualified women to throw up their hands and say “no more.” Companies can become very homogenized in their thinking, and less agile in addressing crucial collaboration drivers, including Complexity, when women leaders are absent.
GAME CHANGERS AND THE QUEEN BEE
In the mid-1980s when I started my career at the Quaker Oats company, one of my Quaker colleagues – Katie Glockner Seymour – appeared on the cover of Business Week in 1989 (see photo) as a pioneer for a dramatic new concept: job sharing. A graduate of Mount Holyoke and the Kellogg School of Management, Katie was one of our most respected peers in the cadre of 10+ professional women who started at the company together. Job sharing was a totally new and disruptive idea. No one had ever heard of it.
Just before the article broke, Katie actually asked several of her women colleagues out to lunch. Not only did she announce to us that she was going to be appearing in a feature article for Business Week, she told us she was pregnant. A pioneer on what became known as The Mommy Track, we were all genuinely thrilled for Katie, but also genuinely nervous that she would lose her standing as one of the most respected women executives in our peer group.
The memories around Katie’s announcement flashed through my mind as I read the subtitle to Sheryl Sandberg’s Time magazine cover (Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful) and a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled The Tyranny of the Queen Bee, by Peggy Drexler. Peggy recounts a phenomenon called The Queen Bee syndrome, a series of findings which hark back to research from the University of Michigan conducted in the 1970’s about women who achieve success, and then intentionally prevent others from following in their footsteps through career sabotage, gossip, bullying, or other means.
Findings which parallel the Queen Bee syndrome surfaced in 2011 among a survey of 1000 working women conducted by the American Management Association, who found that 95% of respondents believe they were undermined by another woman at some point in their careers. Drexler notes, “What makes these queen bees so effective and aggravating is that they are able to exploit female vulnerabilities that men may not see, using tactics that their male counterparts may never even notice.”
Although I’ve never experienced the Queen Bee syndrome, it indeed exists. And this is a unique challenge for women in power to tackle. But if we are to gain more seats of power, and bring more diversity to the crucial leadership and decision-making roles that drive collaboration and innovation, we need to find ways for women to stay in the game through their mid-30s and 40s when they often lose heart for corporate life.
I would advocate a project-based approach outlined by business owner and entrepreneur Jody Greenstone Miller in her recent Wall Street Journal article, The Real Women’s Issue: Time. Jody argues the need to rethink the notion that high-level work can only be done by people who labor 10+ hours per day in an office. She advocates offering ranges of 3-days per week, or six hours per day, or even 10 months per year. This allows women to participate in the workforce either in a steady stream, or intense bursts. Rather than focusing on whether they are full-time or part-time, she recommends flexing schedules around projects managed via collaborative teams.
If Marissa can articulate a breakthrough strategy for Yahoo!, and if Sheryl can remap her position to inspire women who have exited corporate life and get them back-in the-game, the collaboration impact would be huge. We want women to be entrepreneurs. We want women’s businesses to be funded. However, the key to changing the playing field lies in unlocking the pathways to decision-making power. Giving women them the time, latitude, and collaborative power to be corporate decision-makers can be a game-changer for value creation in today’s workplace.
11 February 2013
In scanning the recent bevvy of articles trumpeting slips in US competitiveness, I cannot help but wonder what Thomas Edison’s reaction would be to America’s current innovation stature. As the world celebrates Edison’s 166th birthday on Feb 11th, it prompts us to think about what Edison would be doing now to shape his own workforce, equipping it to drive an innovation colossus in the digital era.
A lover of data and trends, Edison viewed numbers and statistics with deep appreciation. As the man who invented one of the most extraordinary value-creating platforms of all time -- the phenomenon we today call Research and Development (R&D) -- Edison was a tireless experimenter who used notebooks to track every finding, every bit of data he and his teams generated.
But Edison was also a visionary who pondered the future. Every day, he used his prowess as a master scientist and chemist to imagine not just new ways of shaping things that already existed, but new ways of perceiving the world that were meaningful and generated ongoing value – both in dollars and in terms of human assets.
Because Edison was able to powerfully devise alternative futures, he rarely viewed statistics as absolutes. So, while I don’t think Edison would be happy
today with the present US workforce and its sliding innovation focus, he would also
find reason for optimism. I believe Edison’s optimism would rest on the fact
that a high percentage of what the US needs to power innovation and workforce competitiveness lies within its
grasp. Through a workforce “reskilling” process that has been vocalized by many, including guru Emily DeRocco -- past president of the Manufacturing Institute based in Washington, DC -- the country must, of necessity, undertake reskilling to remain relevant as a player in the global economy.
Importantly, however, Edison's approach to reskilling looks different than platforms others have forwarded.
As Edison would envision it, the notion of workforce reskilling does not involve separate buckets of money solely earmarked for “innovation.” Nor would he advocate that this reskilling charge be led by a Chief Innovation Officer, or even a Chief Education Officer, or a Chief Manufacturing Officer.
Rather, Edison would view the reskilling challenge on par with changing
all the engines on a once-sleek jet that’s losing altitude. The necessity is not
just to replace the tired engines with turbo-models that can propel new
altitude, but to revamp and reimagine the body of the jet as well. It is not
about just changing one thing. (Indeed, that would risk an inglorious
landing.) Instead, Edison would view this
reskilling as changing multiple things simultaneously. He would view it as concurrent efforts falling
within a bigger vision, a motivating goal to recapture American ingenuity
In large measure, this reskilling engages qualities that are already intrinsic to our human design as thinking beings, as individuals capable of vastly creative power when placed within a framework of true collaboration.
I believe Edison would view reskilling the current US workforce
– students and young employees included – in ways that not only provide
capabilities to connect them with the technological accelerations of the digital
era, but that also fundamentally reshape their engagement practices….the ways
they connect with each other, and with the world.
RESKILLING AND INNOVATION ARE NOT MERELY BEST PRACTICES
Most of the time when we think about innovation, we view it as an array of “best practices.” Managers and C-suites love this type of thing, because best practices generally boil stuff down to a list that must be actioned in a linear, sequential way.
This is not how Edison viewed innovation. He viewed it as a force, a central, propelling heartbeat that was virtually inseparable from most facets of his laboratory – including his 150+ manufacturing, marketing, sales, and business operations. He viewed innovation as complex and simultaneous, yet a force that could ultimately be guided in ways that built momentum and drove forward movement as part of a continuous learning environment.
RESKILLING THROUGH COLLABORATION PROPELS INNOVATION
For Edison, collaboration proved to be the glue of his innovation colossus. Edison’s approach to collaboration represented a kind of built-in mechanism that allowed him to skill and reskill his employees as markets changed. Collaboration served as an almost invisible bond, a tapestry of happenings that operated almost unseen in the background at his storied Menlo Park and West Orange, New Jersey labs. Within Edison’s collaboration process lay the seeds which skilled and reskilled his employees, allowing them to shift from working on projects related to capturing sound, to challenges of distributing electricity, capturing motion, or unlocking the secrets to store power.
Edison’s collaboration process – which I describe in my new book Midnight Lunch – was a multi-phase system which “baked in” the power to unlock the brain’s creative wiring, to engage questioning, dialogue and debate that in turn propelled new perspectives. For Edison, collaboration was not “separate” from the things which centrally drive innovation. They were virtually inseparable from them.
RESKILLING WORKERS WAS BAKED INTO EDISON’S COLLABORATION PROCESS
As such, the reskilling efforts that were part of Edison’s collaboration approach operated simultaneously to the work itself. Through continuously reinforcing a handful of core practices, Edison’s organization was able to shape and reshape knowledge assets in ways that drove extraordinary value. Reskilling took place as part of real, live initiatives and operated regardless of hierarchy, pay grade, or work tenure. Collaboration as Edison viewed it was a complex system, not a linear or sequential list of “best practices.” Among its many purposes, collaboration served as a vehicle for reskilling people through actual engagement with the problems they were trying to solve.
The term reskilling itself first evolved in 2010 from the UK, and was borne of challenges in Europe driven by escalating energy costs and
deteriorating educational platforms. Reskilling as a movement focused on:
Strengthening belief in the creative power of the individual
Mentoring and receiving mentorship across many age brackets
Understanding and engaging with smart devices and virtual networks
Synthesizing information from traditional sources with information from networks that lie beyond companies, governments, or libraries
Learning to establish rapport and work collaboratively with others to address challenges
If we look at Edison’s 4 phases of collaboration – Capacity,Context, Coherence, and Complexity – we see that the first salvo in the notion of reskilling was engaged by Edison decades ago. For Edison, reskilling thrusts drove important multiplier effects that powered Edison’s total innovation competitiveness. By focusing on these reskilling thrusts as part and parcel of his collaborative innovation efforts, Edison was able to skill and reskill his workforce in a manner which drove expansionary effects rather than merely additive ones.
I believe we can harness Edison’s reskilling principles, adapting them for our use in the digital era. If we consider Facebook’s trajectory versus Yahoo’s (prior to CEO Marissa Mayer’s tenure) we see the power of Edison's reskilling approach in play. Here are the 6 primary reskilling thrusts which must be present in any organization, or any educational platform, to drive renewed innovation competitiveness across the workforce. Of note,many of these thrusts are already part of an extraordinary engineering curriculum spearheaded by The Kern Family Foundation, called KEEN:
Questions first: Engage a small, diverse team in asking master questions at the outset of any innovation initiative. Find the biggest question and a handful of core sub-questions which flow out from them. View the master question as central, and core to everything.
Consideration of if/then: Develop hypotheses which flow from the master question and its subparts, developing new context for the insights which emerge, and propelling thinking forward to a future state. This includes a consideration of the prospective value - qualitatively or quantitatively - which can emerge.
Experimentation: Engage in hands-on experiments , which could include modern applications such as crowd-sourcing, or thought experiments, to forward diverse hypotheses. These can include simulations, laboratory-based work, community-based efforts, market research and more. (This is a key place where smart devices can add multiplying power using technology as part of the experimentation platform.)
Debating and distilling: Undertake casual dialogue to share questions, experiments, and insights within and across small teams, reshaping and understanding of the initial concepts. View the actual dialogue itself as a platform for value creation rather than raw absolutes. (Smart devices can be profitably leveraged here, too.)
Prototyping and synthesizing: Prototype and synthesize concept options or scenarios - using verbal, visual, three dimensional (ie tactile), technological (software based), or aural expression such as stories (narrative prototypes). This expands an understanding of the value-creation potential of the concept or platform.
Owning goals: Determine how the array of options or scenarios bring positive purpose and value-creation to the master question which launched the entire effort, inspiring others to join in actioning the solutions you' ve gleaned rather than merely talking about it.
For further insights on reskilling and collaboration, preview this slideshare on Midnight Lunch or purchase the book here.
11 January 2013
One Holy Grail pursued by the C-suite and executives of every stripe is the proverbial “culture of innovation.” Creating an environment in which innovation thrives -- and becomes woven into the very fabric of an organization -- represents a huge achievement. But for most companies, establishing an innovation culture is like nirvana…it’s something desired, but rarely attained.
Building a culture of innovation takes years – even decades – and lies among the most difficult goals for any business to realize. Why? Even the best-intentioned efforts to recalibrate an existing cultural landscape often stall. They stall due to changes in leadership…unforeseen shifts in the economic environment...disruptive thrusts from competitors…but most commonly, from the absence of an innovation microculture.
In our digital era, microcultures are becoming a crucial starting point for broader innovation engagement by an enterprise. As you will read, microcultures generate a hum of activity that cannot be squelched. Not by toxic leaders, not by dwindling resources, not by corporate hierarchies.
Ensuring you can spot – and foster – innovation microcultures in your organization allows you to set out on a solid path toward innovation achievement amidst the tumult of our global economy, and our digital addictions. By establishing innovation microcultures, you can use collaboration to begin organically weaving your efforts into a broader fabric that reaches beyond the bounds of your specific project. Your microculture hold the power to activate innovation-driving practices which can spread like an organization-wide fever…in the best possible sense.
I offer here three common innovation microcultures that I see operating today, as well as one gold-standard which offers foundational learning for us all…fostered by famed innovator Thomas Edison. See which microculture most resonates with you. Then begin driving it!
EDISON’S INNOVATION MICROCULTURES PROPELLED BY COLLABORATION
In my new book Midnight Lunch: The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success, from Thomas Edison’s Lab I argue that one reason Edison was so successful as a serial innovator was his creation of thriving innovation microcultures. These microcultures existed not only within his extraordinary laboratories, but in his manufacturing facilities as well. True to form, Edison wasn’t stopped by the walls of his company. His revolutionary projects led to the development of innovation microcultures within his supplier network, too. Edison’s integrative approach wove together the internal microcultures of his operations with those he set in motion externally, yielding a model which is highly relevant to our digital era.
In driving internal microcultures of innovation, Edison harnessed facets of what I describe in Midnight Lunch as Context (Phase 2) and Coherence (Phase 3).
Small teams of employees – inspired by Edison’s own actions and tutelage – undertook experiments on a regular basis. The practice of experimentation encouraged a mindset of questioning and risking. Experimentation yielded a posture of developing new context for solutions to emerge…effectively “anticipating and creating” rather than merely “sensing and responding.” Teams consistently asked central, pivotal questions which differed from the questions being asked by their competitors. They were willing to explore more conventional hypotheses alongside outrageous ones, then rapidly prototyping scenarios for their solutions.
For example, in pursuing groundbreaking work on incandescence, Edison and his teams asked “How do substances burn?” rather than repeating the question that scientists had been asking unsuccessfully throughout four decades of research preceding Edison’s efforts, namely “What will burn the longest?” By asking new questions, Edison, along with his teams, set in motion clusters of unique experiments that included natural fibers, metals, and manmade substances. Bamboo fiber – an unlikely solution – won in the end.
We can see another core facet of collaboration – Coherence -- that spurred innovation microcultures through Edison’s establishment of collaborative networks of suppliers beyond the walls of his companies…an approach which is more commonplace today, but revolutionary in Edison’s time. These hand-selected providers came to foster innovation microcultures within their teams as a result of Edison’s engagement of their expertise for his world-changing projects. Edison worked diligently to develop coherent, shared goals across his external network: providing Edison with crucial expertise in both manufacturing (glass, copper wire, construction materials) and financing. His supplier network included enterprising firms like Corning Glass, J.P. Morgan, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, Ansonia Copper & Brass, and Spencer Trask. Innovation microcultures still exist in each of these firms today. (See pages 184 to 195 of Midnight Lunch.)
The internal microculture which fostered experimentation, new context, and rapid prototyping of potential solution scenarios cascaded into broader innovation successes in Edison’s laboratory. The external collaborations he spearheaded supported the mental models and hands-on engagement he espoused, yielding a continuum of microcultures that delivered value-creation on a massive scale.
THREE INNOVATION MICROCULTURES WE OFTEN SEE TODAY
Although we cannot draw a straight line between Edison’s era and our own, we can see how collaboration plays a crucial role in spearheading successful innovation microcultures today. We all face tremendous complexity in navigating the innovation playing field – now literally on a global scale. Here are three examples of innovation microcultures which surface again and again in my research. (Several of the following illustrations are further highlighted in Midnight Lunch on pages 209 to 215.) Remember to look for the unsquelchable force within each of these innovation microcultures, and how this force connects to the presence of true collaboration:
MICROCULTURE #1 – CLANDESTINE INNOVATION POCKETS THAT DEFLECT TOXIC LEADERSHIP
3M: After two decades of spawning passionate internal innovation champions, like Art Fry (who spearheaded the invention and launch of the Post-It Note), networks of innovators have taken root across 3M’s multiple divisions and scientific realms of expertise. Despite more than 10 successive years of leadership that has been toxic to innovation (read Six Sigma gone wild) via former GE darling and past 3M CEO James McNerney as well as his 3M successor Bill Buckley, an innovation microculture lives on at the company. Dozens of 3M employees meet monthly -- often “off-campus” -- via a pioneering group formed in 1995 called the GRIT (Grass Roots Innovation Team). Like a band of freedom fighters dedicated to a positive cause, the resources of the GRIT ensure that innovation keeps humming at 3M despite slashed budgets, or toxic leadership. Edison would love the GRIT and would surely champion this type of microculture today when a once-proud innovation culture begins flagging.
MICROCULTURE #2 – FLAT STRUCTURES THAT ENCOURAGE EXPERIMENTATION
Two companies today, W.L. Gore and Google, exemplify a flat, family-esque type of innovation microculture. (This is separate and distinct from being a family-owned company…) At W.L. Gore, an innovator in water-repellant outerwear, founder Bill Gore and other key leaders across the organization actively encourage experimentation. The company espouses novel frameworks allowing individuals to self-organize and experiment, sometimes even offering nominal budgets for these activities.
As I describe further in Midnight Lunch, W.L. Gore is a flat organization with few hierarchies – highly reminiscent of Edison’s own preference for flat-ness. Like a family that lets members pursue core areas of interest under a coherent master umbrella, a recent wave of experiments at W.L. Gore yielded breakthroughs in coated guitar strings commercially launched as Elixir Strings. At Google, Larry Page describes the beta-loving company as a family, with a heavy emphasis on collegiality and experimentation. The innovation microcultures rooted at W.L. Gore and Google are both deep, and can outlast Bill Gore, or even Larry and Sergei.
MICROCULTURE #3 – RUNNING RECON ON INNOVATION USING DIGITAL NETWORKS
Whirlpool, which began a successful quest toward an innovation culture in the early years of the new millennium, flagged in its innovation prowess as the Great Recession hit. Growth in emerging nations was forcing Whirlpool to shift the standard Industrial Age business models it had mastered. But is was moving too slowly to sustain growth and profitability targets it had achieved in the past. Unwilling to watch the company falter, but less supported by the C-suite than his predecessors had been under past CEO Global Director of Innovation Moises Norena established a digital network to link internal innovators. Named the i-NETWORK – or iNET for short – Norena has enabled innovators to find each other. Midnight Lunch reveals in more depth the two-tracks the iNET offers. The first track connects internal leaders, helping to train decision-makers in innovation basics. And the second track is a practitioner workstream, for technical experts who work both with internal and external providers – just like Edison did.
By doing “recon” on the seeds of innovation capability dormant within Whirlpool, Norena and his team are creating microcultures which are reinvigorating innovation, and creating a more collaborative environment. The efforts of this microculture first showed themselves in 2011, when Whirlpool ranked #6 on Fast Company’s 2011 list of the World’s Most Innovative Company in Consumer Products.
Does anything here resonate? As you start 2013, don’t feel that you have to eat the innovation elephant all in one bite. Begin weaving collaboration into the fabric of your team by establishing an innovation microculture first. Focus on ways to engage Context and Coherence. By applying Edison’s true collaboration methods, you can begin creating a microculture that will have positive ripple effects across your firm, and your supplier network.
If you doubt your ability to establish an innovation microculture in your organization, look at what the clandestine pockets of innovators at Microsoft did in developing Kinect! They circumnavigated company leaders multiple times in creating the game platform in its early days. If they could beat the odds, so can you.
19 December 2012
I don't ever recall learning about complex systems in high school, college, or even graduate school, and rarely have I heard them mentioned by my clients. And yet, complex systems -- more formally known as complex adaptive systems, or CAS - are increasingly embedded in our economy and our daily world. In the digital era, we ignore them at our peril.
The nature of complex adaptive systems has been increasingly scrutinized over the past several years as humans continue to engage with massive virtual networks -- and smart devices. What is the nature of complexity and how can we deal with it? In face of the mounds of data and visual images we can now generate (and analyze in realtime), we must 'reskill' ourselves to look at multiple inputs simultaneously rather than just a few inputs sequentially.
What does this entail?
In my new book on collaboration, Midnight Lunch, I offer insights from complexity experts John Holland at the University of Michigan and Dr. Jean Egmon at Northwestern. They note that every complex system has 3 common characteristics:
- Multiplicity: The number of potentially interacting elements in a system.
- Interdependence: The level of connection among the elements in the system.
- Diversity: The degree of uniqueness or heterogeneity in the elements of the system.
We can readily see complex adaptive systems in play all around us, from manmade networks like the stock market or the Internet, to natural systems like bee hives or coral reefs. But, advances in technology are introducing the behaviors typicaly of CAS to areas we once considered highly sequential...like manufacturing.
While it might be a place you'd least expect, manufacturing is one arena today where members of an entire workforce are shifting what it means to evaluate input simultaneously rather than sequentially.
A fascinating New York Times article recently profiled an advanced GE manufacturing facility in Schenectady, NY. To my read, the write-up reveals that GE's workforce at this new battery plant is operating in the bullseye of a complex system. Employees respond and adapt daily to a broad network of input from its own internal teams as well as computer-generated data, and schematics generated by software accessible via touchscreens. Employees do not just function as plunk-a-chunk assembly line workers, but are proactively engaged in problem-solving is an intrinsic part of their job.
Among the multi-faceted efforts required of each individual at the Schenectady plant is communication with a nearby GE R&D facility that's working on next generation batteries. In their exchanges, teams are discussing how the progression of manufacturing requirements will be changing across multiple generations of batteries - long before these concepts are actually launched. Workers are creatively conceptualizing and designing new options as they progress through their day. Michael Idelchik, VP for advanced technologies at the Schenectady plant notes, “We believe that rather than a sequential process where you look at product design and then how to manufacture it, there is a simultaneous process.”
Thomas Edison would be nodding his head. As I note in Midnight Lunch, acknowledging complexity stood as a core facet of Edison's collaboration and innovation success. In fact, complexity constitutes the 4th of the 4-phase system Edison used in forming all his collaboration teams! For example, much as W.L. Gore - a leading manufacturer and designer of outerwear - does today, Edison positioned his factories no further than a 3-hour ride (by horse and buggy) from his Menlo Park or West Orange, NJ labs. Edison also encouraged frequent daily telephone and telegraph exchanges between the folks who designed products at the lab and the people who made them.
Uniquely for his era, the great inventor required lab employees to understand the manufacturing environment, and often asked them to work in his factories for a period of time so they could understand the linkage of the entire lab-to-market ecosystem. This allowed exmployees to simultaneously work on a project, and conceptualize in 3D how it would evolve.
CONSIDERING PROCESSES SIMULTANEOUSLY GENERATES NEW KINDS OF KNOWLEDGE ASSETS
Just as GE is doing at its advanced manufacturing plant in Schenectady, we can draw the practice of understanding muliple processes 'simultaneously rather than sequentially' into our work environments. Realtime changes in one area of endeavor can be received and processed in another. We can use smart devices to dynamically monitor the progress of ideas, and connect virtually with teams in other geographies about how context for concepts - or projects - is shifting.
Ultimately, as Edison did in his time, today we must recognize that we need to connect to an entire ecosystem to yield dynamic new forms of knowledge assets. By connecting its workers to a broader network of assets within GE as well as its supplier base, GE is enhancing workforce agility, and creating new knowledge assets. Being able to recognize the entire 'network of thinking' around a new initiative creates a new kind of collective intelligence that can be shaped and reshaped continuously over time.
By considering complexity an integrated leg in the process of collaboration, we can begin reskilling our workforce today with the big-picture view that Edison did, only with digital tools that allow us to see the broader network of concepts that impact our efforts rather than having them spoon fed to us sequentially, one-by-one.
WHAT IS A MIDNIGHT LUNCH? HOW COLLABORATION GETS NOURISHED
26 November 2012
In an age of smart devices and breathtaking changes to familiar business models, innovation continues to magnetize our attention. Every day the business press is packed with information on how to innovate more effectively. Sage advice ranges from transforming an entire organizational culture to shifting accepted go-to-market practices, or adopting radically new business models.
And lots of this advice is really good. Much of it is well written, and well researched.
Consider the huge body of material from respected innovation champions like Gary Hamel , Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, IDEO mavens David Kelley and Tom Kelley, Faisal Hoque, or the man who – in the eyes of many – first positioned innovation as a discipline worth studying, Clayton Christensen.
So, with all this good guidance, why aren’t we doing better at innovation? Why don’t we see successful innovation initiatives being hailed everywhere we look?
THE COLLABORATION GAP
I believe there’s a crucial gap in our approach to innovation: we've forgotten that collaboration plays a vital role in the process. In fact, I would go even further and say we’re lacking a baseline sense of what collaboration really is. This gap is especially dangerous given the expanding connection between human beings and virtual technologies…globally.
I’ve had a chance to deeply research the process of collaboration for my new book Midnight Lunch . The book takes a focused look at what I call ‘true collaboration,’ and offers specific action steps we can employ to engage collaborative innovation in our digital era. (If you'd like to delve into key themes from the book, Midnight Lunch is featured in the December/January edition of Fast Company magazine.)
Why is collaboration such a big gap in our innovation efforts? For one thing,
collaboration is quixotic. It’s hard to measure. Collaboration requires meshing ‘soft skills' like communication, inspiration, and leadership with hard skills like software programming, manufacturing prowess, or scientific acumen.
Because collaboration engages shoulder-to-shoulder processes which often make leaders squeamish, we don’t hear the C-suite mentioning collaboration in their organization’s core values. (Maybe it’s also because we rarely find real collaboration in the C-suite at all.)
So, where can we go to get some solid collaboration basics?
I recommend we look to one of the world’s greatest innovators: Thomas Edison. Odd as it may sound to those who still falsely describe Edison as a solo-preneur, Edison offers today’s executives a solid model for collaboration – especially in our digital age.
While we cannot draw a straight line from Edison’s era to our own, there is much we can learn from a man who spearheaded the development of 6 industries in less than 40 years. Working collaboratively with dozens of workers in his storied Menlo Park and West Orange, New Jersey laboratories, by 1910 Edison and his teams had churned out patents and industries valued at more than $6.7 billion – a figure that today would exceed $100 billion.
Although patent law at the turn of the 20th century only allowed a maximum of two people to appear on a patent, it’s clear from Edison’s notebooks that he served as a crucial catalyst for innovations derived in collaboration with a myriad of folks in his labs. Contrary to the popular lore that brings Edison to mind alongside tales of American inventors working solo in their garage, Edison collaborated with others even when he was a teenage inventor – and never stopped.
WHAT IS A “MIDNIGHT LUNCH?”
We can find the foundations for Edison’s collaborative culture stemming from a compelling practice called “midnight lunch.” Midnight lunch was the affectionate slang Edison’s Menlo Park crew used to refer to the meal Edison ordered in at about 9 PM on nights when workers stayed late at the lab to complete their experiments.
Edison would often finish his workday at 5 PM, head home for dinner with his family, then return to the lab if he had projects to oversee, or if he wanted to check on how key experiments were progressing. Starting at about 7 PM, all who were still present at the Menlo Park lab would roll up their sleeves, and share insights about the experiments they were undertaking. This meant that employees from any specialty could mingle with others holding completely different backgrounds, and learn from them. Often these casual, unstructured conversations yielded deeply creative outcomes.
After an hour or two, there would be a pause in this heady dialogue. Edison would order in sandwiches and beverages for everyone from a local tavern. Everyone present would kick back, eat, sing songs, tell stories, play music, and generally let their hair down -- regardless of title or tenure, there were no limits on participation.
During midnight lunch, no one was ‘monitoring’ things. No one was dreaming up something to put on your performance appraisal. From apprentices all the way up to Edison himself, during midnight lunch, everyone simply engaged their best thinking in a casual, hands-on environment. In short, workers became colleagues.
Midnight lunches formed the foundation for what I call ‘true collaboration’ - a process outlined in depth in my new book Midnight Lunch: The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success, from Thomas Edison’s Lab (Wiley). The practice of midnight lunch forms a crucial part of Phase 1 – Capacity, where the core underpinnings of collaboration are established.
Today, with the global proliferation of smart devices and the rise of virtual teams, we need to remember the power of simple rituals like midnight lunch. We need to draw forward the principles and practices that create ‘invisible glue’ and collegiality between team members. Turning on a computer monitor and logging into an online meeting is not enough. A foundation for collegiality must also exist.
Keep these factors in mind when seeking to build collegiality within your own collaboration team:
- Create opportunities for team members to meet and ‘talk shop’ while socializing in a casual environment
- Ensure that hands-on project engagement is a part of your efforts
- Listen for – and use – language that is “we” focused and not “me” focused
23 October 2012
Among the opinions you may have formed about Generation Y, where does their core definition of “progress” lie? Although mulling over this question is not something you may have attempted lately, several factors are linked to how Gen Y defines progress that hold direct impact on innovation. Gen Y’s definition of progress also impacts the ability to create innovators in your organization - particularly if your company falls within the ranks of the Fortune 500.
Can ‘Definition of Progress’ for Gen Y Drive Innovation?
Earlier this year I read a provocative article recapping the findings of a 2012 study by Millennial Branding (Gen Y Traits in the Workplace Unveiled) conducted on Facebook, which addressed a question many of us Baby Boomers have heard before: Will the Fortune 500 exist 10 years from now?
According to the learned folks who ran the study, they projected 40% of the companies now listed on this esteemed roster would not be around by 2025. In surveying over four million Facebook users, Millennial Branding indicated that only 7% of respondents indicated they are currently working for a Fortune 500 company. Perhaps even more foreboding was the finding that – looking ahead – big company life was not something which connected to the aspirations of most Gen Y folk.
Unlike past warnings of the financial death of the Fortune 500, the Millennial Branding forecast relates to its demographic death. If a body blow is delivered to the Fortune 500 by Gen Y “voting with their feet” over the next decade, it will represent less a failure of financial prowess than a refusal to adapt to new definitions of progress and success emerging from this huge generation. Given that these budding young workers will comprise as much as 75% of the US workforce by 2025, organizations must heed Gen Y’s emerging views of progress, or risk losing vital fuel for the innovation and collaboration engines so crucial to staying competitive today.
In examining why Gen Y is not deeply enamored with large companies, several reasons emerge. But here’s one. Millennial Branding founder Dan Schawbel states, “Gen Y looks for more flexibility…they want to have access to social networks. Fortune 500 companies don’t usually allow this flexibility…Companies need to allow Gen-Yers to operate entrepreneurially within the corporation by giving them control over their time, activities and budgets as much as possible.”
Through a conscious focus on the implications and learning offered by Gen Y’s new definition of progress, companies within and beyond the Fortune 500 can recalibrate, driving innovation more effectively, and magnetizing more Gen Y-ers to their ranks. We can also look to some of the revolutionary practices of Thomas Edison for guidance on how to create context for the seemingly unorthodox thinking around progress now emerging from Gen Y.
Gen Y Holds New Definitions of Progress
If you’re 50-something, you may remember this famous car slogan from the late 1980s: “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile, this is the new generation of Olds.” That ad ran in an era dominated by the Baby Boom generation, a time when progress was equated with advances in new technology that appeared every few years, and when having your name on a corner office was considered “success.”
But today, “new technology” is the norm. ‘New’ is always happening. Thanks to the innovation engines at companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook, advances in technology show up multiple times a year rather than just once every 12 to 24 months. Rather than occasionally bursting onto the living room television, ‘new’ is thrust daily onto our tablet screens and smart phones. Today, for Gen Y, progress is equated with relevance, and the ability of a product or service to meaningfully connect them with activities that are important to the functioning of daily life.
In their book The Progress Principle, Harvard Business School professors Theresa Amabile and Stephen Kramer reveal results from studies linking Gen Y’s sense of progress to inner purpose and shared meaning. For Gen Y, progress goes beyond the seemingly straightforward pathways to financial gain or career success that propelled their Baby Boomer parents.
Gen Y seeks participation in collaborative activity that involves sweeps of people including – but also lying beyond – those co-habiting their office space. Greg Cox, President and CEO of Dale Carnegie, Chicago – the organization’s third largest global office – notes that Gen Y recognizes “the future will not be based on individuals, but on extraordinary combinations of people.”
How are you harnessing these extraordinary combinations in your innovation efforts? Are you allowing Gen Y employees to reach into the depths of social networks, or explore the expanses of digital territory that can bring your team innovative new ideas, or unearth new patterns? If not, you’re dampening a key connection with progress that Gen Y views as crucially important to their workplace engagement – and to your innovation success.
Here are three principles Amabile and Kramer recommend for organizations seeking to engage Gen Y’s need for progress while also contributing to a broader desire for innovation momentum:
1. Consciously develop a climate of progress: If you are a team leader, a consultant, or simply heading up a collaborative initiative in your workspace, develop a progress center that captures stories and insights about what is going right. These can either be accounts of actual experiences physically posted in your work area, or made available online via wiki’s, an intranet, or other internal communication vehicles. Encourage frequent postings which consistently balance transparency and authenticity. Big wins – and small wins – all count.
2. Define what progress means to your team: While working on a recent project for a mid-size manufacturing company, the CEO revealed to me that a specially-selected work team he headed made a lot more progress when he was absent from the team than when he was present on it. Noticing that Gen Y members in particular clammed up or became very nervous when he challenged their viewpoints, the CEO ultimately refocused the team around progress goals that weren’t simply time-oriented, nor based on alignment with the CEO’s views. That was smart. Amabile and Kramer emphasize the need to ensure your team’s definition of progress isn’t solely revolving around factors linked to money, time, and power. Definitions of progress also need to embrace experiential learning, purpose, and the broader meaning behind the team’s shared efforts.
3. Experimentation connects to progress: Gen Y sees progress as linked to adapting, creating, and experimenting rather than to adopting a “let’s wait and see how things turn out” attitude. Their desire is to be forward leaning and proactive. Engage Gen Y by soliciting their suggestions for “digital experiments.” Take on board their ideas about situations in which new digitally-driven approaches to market research or product development can replace – or complement – more traditional approaches. Ensure they have access to social networking tools which connect them to the world beyond your office. When GenY-ers are encouraged to engage in experiments, it yields positive impact on their sense of progress. Even small wins resulting from new learning through experimentation can outweigh many other workplace rewards.
Many of the beliefs about progress now emerging from Gen Y have roots in Thomas Edison’s own revolutionary notions of innovation, collaboration, and competitiveness. Part of Edison’s ability to motivate the collaboration teams which spearheaded his innovation success rested on linking experimentation to a learning continuum. The culture of Edison’s Menlo Park and West Orange laboratories viewed experimentation as the lifeblood of progress itself.
Edison said, “The only way to keep ahead of the procession is to experiment. If you don’t, the other fellow will. When there’s no experimenting there’s no progress. Stop experimenting and you go backward.”
Whether the Fortune 500 can transform its Industrial Age mantle and take on new form in the Innovation Age remains to be seen. But heeding Gen Y’s expansive definition of progress can help the workforce in any organization recalibrate to drive greater collaboration and innovation competitiveness now.
9 September 2012
“Today, for only a few hundred dollars, we can hold in the palm of our hands smart devices with computing power that 10 years ago would have cost more than $1 million. With gigabytes of storage capacity, anyone with a smart phone, a laptop, or a tablet computer can generate and analyze huge streams of data – data that would have cost billions of dollars in the 1970s. Smart devices today are a million times cheaper and a thousand times faster than anything available 30 years ago.”
Ray Kurzweil, famed technologist and author of The Singularity Is Near – a controversial book predicting that machines will best human intelligence by 2025 – spoke these words in an October 2011 speech at the World Technology Network conference in New York City.
Crystallizing the mind-numbing advances in digital technology driven by Moore’s Law over the past three decades, Kurzweil puts into perspective a new form of complexity impacting all innovators today: the immediacy and scope of data capture. Data is everywhere. We generate mountains of it every day, through daily Tweets. Facebook posts. Photo sharing. Music downloads. Streaming movies. Joining LinkedIn groups. Making purchases on Amazon. The list goes on and on.
As Guy Blissett a senior leader within IBM’s Wholesale Distribution group noted to me in a recent interview, “Data is increasingly at the heart of just about anything we do. Now, almost every interaction is quantified. Need something from a store? You can check online to see it it’s in stock, then purchase it virtually. Want to rate the store’s website? Complete their survey, then tell your friends about it on Facebook. Want to evaluate car insurance? Go to YouTube and see if there’s a video for the brand you have in mind. We have to become comfortable with more data and more technology. But for a lot of people, that isn’t their normal state of being.”
Indeed, grappling with more data and more technology may never be a ‘normal’ state of being for everyone. But it is rapidly becoming the ‘new normal’ state of being for innovators.
As data rises to become a center-of-the-plate phenomenon, we need to step away from old notions of industries as static forces, and recognize a new framework which I call “customer context.”
To glean insights about the power of customer context and its role in spurring innovation, we can look to many of the past successes of Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs, and to Intel for current examples of how we can begin tapping customer context now.
Billions of Data Generators Walk the Planet
The world’s growing collection of smart devices – now numbering in the billions – constitutes a walking army of data generation nodes. The data pools yielded by this mobile army are contributing to the disappearance of familiar industry boundaries in virtually every field…and a rise in the importance of customer context.
For example, consider the banking customer who used to visit their local bank branch for multiple transactions but can now use their smart phone to scan checks for deposit into their account, in seconds. They can pay bills from any smart device, transfer funds between accounts, even virtually authorize ‘buy’ or ‘sell’ transactions to their broker.
In a speech at Research Triangle Par by Bill Rogers, CEO of SunTrust, he commented on the vaporizing of industry boundaries powered by this data feast. Rogers noted: “The traditional boundaries of banking have been muddied. Customers no longer have to come into a physical banking location to deposit funds or get cash. Roughly two thirds of all bank transactions today are electronic. SunTrust now competes not just with the bank down the street, but with Facebook and PayPal. We find ourselves requiring new tools just to analyze where we are, and where we want to go.”
For innovators, the rise of data and the evaporation of industry boundaries means we must embrace new methods for understanding customers, as well as finding new modes for developing leading edge products and services in an accelerated way. The use of customer context aids us here.
What Is Customer Context?
Rather than a linear process which involves protracted stage gates and specific milestones in time, think of customer context as a playing field, a roughly bounded space in which many different kinds of activities or customer interactions can operate simultaneously. Rather than conceiving of what a target audience or user community does as discrete and bucketed, customer context encourages us to begin looking at streams of activity within an expansive nonlinear framework, connecting clusters of needs with new patterns emerging through previously captured data as well as realtime data.
Customer context is framed by a core question, or set of core questions, which ultimately drive breakthrough insights into what products or services can be developed for a targeted group, or user process. The nature of customer context is intentionally dynamic – it becomes a playing field that you and your target prospects iteratively define together over time. The tricky part is that sometimes this iterative process is conscious and directed, while other times it involves what can feel like uncomfortably wide-ranging experimentation.
Unlike “traditional” research formats, customer context embraces the importance of data patterns, linkages between human behaviors and technology (new or existing), and a desire to shape or shift how a given target audience or collection of users views the benefits of what they are doing. Thinking about context engages us in a different starting point than “knowing” what the industry boundaries are, or even what the value proposition may be as this iterative process begins. An understanding of customer context uniquely offers a rapid iteration and collaborative learning framework in which product development can be accelerated.
Here are two examples which illustrate ways to begin engaging customer context. Think of the development of customer context as an activation mechanism which allows innovators to examine user patterns and behaviors with a new lens.
1) Ask a new question: When Thomas Edison (began experimenting with incandescence in 1878, more than 40 years of data already existed about what scientists had discovered did not work in creating incandescence itself. Rather than treading the same path as his predecessors, Edison began his explorations by asking “How do substances burn?” rather than rehashing what others had asked, namely “What substances will burn the longest?” Asking a new question led Edison to develop a dynamic context around lighting that involved concepts 180 degrees opposite from the prevailing thinking about electricity. He devised a context which embraced oxygen-free environments, natural compounds rather than metals, and patterns from the world of telegraphy. He then conducted ethnographic research to determine how the technologies he had in mind would impact daily life. At the start, Edison had no idea that the light bulb would represent the end point of his search. But by asking a question which redefined the context of lighting itself, he generated breakthroughs that impacted both technology and customer behavior.
2) Imagine a new behavior: Steve Jobs, in conceiving the iPod, saw from existing data that “music” was a huge market. Yet, he was less concerned about leveraging the iPod to compete within the boundaries of the existing music industry, and more focused on generating a new context for behaviors that would entirely redefine music consumption itself. In order to generate this new context, he needed to create linkages between both new and existing technologies massive data storage, long battery life, plus others). He also had to imagine new customer behaviors which required connection to virtual libraries of music – ultimately birthing iTunes, a revolutionary means for digitally accessing music. Jobs focused on customer context and new behaviors in masterminding breakthroughs for both the iPod and iTunes, shunning industry boundaries.
We can see Intel applying both these customer context approaches today — asking new questions and imagining new behaviors. Recognizing the speed of market change in smart devices, and mapping this against the company’s historically slow pace of new chip development, Intel marketers began asking “What kinds of digital interactions appeal to young adults?” To address this, working under the direction of CMO Deborah Conrad, Intel brought together software engineers, R&D specialists, and data scientists to develop online as well as streaming content for prescreened Gen Y audiences delivered during live performances by popular rock artists hired by the company. The Intel team analyzed real-time interactions of audience members with online content during these live performances as part of their customer context exercise. Rather than focusing on industry boundaries, Intel found insights for new offerings via analyzing patterns of connections between users in this live concert community. They embraced the “data mountains” that were generated by this process and intentionally sought to create customer context that created a new ecosystem for chip applications.
Where can you begin employing customer context rather than the tired, linear constructs like stage gate mechanisms or other traditional research? Consider how asking a new question and imagining a new ecosystem of customer behaviors could revolutionize your offerings, and break old definitions for industry boundaries you may still be clinging to.
HOW COLLABORATION DRIVES NETWORK ROI: THE INTERACTION WORKER
1 October 2012
Are you an “interaction worker?” According to a provocative Harvard Business Review blog on the productivity potential of social media, an interaction worker is defined as a manager, sales person, marketer, or leader “whose work requires frequent interpersonal interactions, independent judgment, and access to knowledge.”
Interaction workers typically include the most expensive folks on the payroll — or the approved consultants list. Their work is highly valued and sought after. However, despite the larger salaries they command, blog authors Manyika, Chui, and Serrazin found that interaction workers spend nearly half their time chasing data or responding to requests for information:
% TIME ACTIVITY
28% Answering, writing, or responding to email
19% Tracking down information
Sadly, only 14% of time spent by most interaction workers is actually spent collaborating — a paltry sum. Given that these workers represent the movers and shakers who generate knowledge assets, spur innovative thinking, and drive revenue, larger chunks of their time must be allocated to collaboration. The authors argue that social networks can be an important part of making that happen.
How can we begin positioning collaboration as a more important part of the work week? How can we begin expanding the amount of time that highly valued interaction workers spend on collaboration? Is there a new way to look at this activity as a driver of ROI?
Begin Evaluating 'Return on Network'
One step we can take is to begin measuring the impact of the interactive networks that key employees access during their collaborative efforts. As marketers and innovators, we are accustomed to considering factors like “return on investment” (ROI) or “return on assets” (ROA) in our project work. I believe we must now consider a new measure: “return on network” — or "RON." While return on network is not a metric which exists today, I would argue RON is an important equation marketers can devise over the next several years.
Why? Though many reasons could be cited, let’s focus on two.
First, it’s crucial for organizations to begin encouraging collaboration as a more mainstream, more standard form of workplace interaction. In fact, collaboration will need to become a “superskill” for virtually every worker by 2015. According to a 2011 study by Forrester Consulting, over one-third of US companies now use virtual teams as part of their daily operations, with 40% of total employees involved in some type of virtual team structure. This percentage is expected to rise to 56% in the next three years, nearing the percentage of folks involved in face-to-face teams.
This means that interaction workers must increasingly operate in virtual environments. They will need to be sharing ideas and creating influence in settings which are not solely “live.” Of necessity, social networks will need to drive a big part of their productivity — and their success.
Second, Nilofer Merchant in her new book 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era argues that traditional strategy as practiced in the Industrial Age is dead. It is being replaced by new structures whose backbone hinges on social networks and technology platforms that will “redefine our organizations to be inherently more fast, fluid and flexible” by their very design. Rather than “doing a little bit more, or slimming down a bit here or there,” the structural shifts that organizations make must be bigger and deeper.
Increased collaboration represents one of these shifts. Organizations are now forming world sourced pools of resources and capabilities that can be mixed and matched fluidly, solving problems by bringing together folks who don’t know each other well. Virtual networks are crucial to aiding these fluid groups, accelerating productivity with an ability to drive shared connections and build shared knowledge across large geographic distances.
Two Forms of Pseudo Collaboration: Compliance and Cooperation
But using social networks and virtual structures are not a panacea for creating true collaboration. Having a virtual network in place does not automatically mean collaboration is actually present.
Consider the way you spend your own work hours. Are you using virtual networks to collaborate and build new shared knowledge or simply share existing information? And what about the C-suite? What does collaboration activity look like for leaders who are actually charged with driving value creation?
Consultant and Forbes contributor Ron Ashkenas notes that an emphasis on collaboration and the use of collaborative networks must start at the very top. Yet most senior leaders remain hesitant to collaborate in any form — including a reluctance to employ even the most basic social networking tools. Ashkenas, in his intriguing post “Why Teams Don’t Collaborate,” identifies the two primary pseudo structures that we often mistake for true collaboration: team compliance and team cooperation.
Compliance: Team compliance comes into play when each team member independently responds to a challenge by taking action in his or her own area of expertise. Everyone does something but avoids working together or gathering perspectives from others. The synergistic effects of real collaboration and knowledge sharing remain untapped.
Cooperation: Team cooperation is in play when larger groups come together to work jointly on a project, but the emphasis remains on separate approaches for each group — even if their overall strategies are aligned. While there can be agreement on team direction, a lack of discussion, ongoing dialogue, or synergistic sharing of resources leaves more powerful — and more novel — solutions unexamined.
Do these two approaches sound hauntingly familiar? What can we do to foster true collaboration rather than merely giving a head nod to more pseudo structures? And how is true collaboration different?
Collaboration Teams Build Collegiality and Share a Common Purpose
In the course of researching my upcoming book on collaboration, Midnight Lunch: The Four Phase System of Team Collaboration Success, I examined how Thomas Edison positioned collaboration as a driver of his innovation success. Collaboration proved crucial to Edison’s ability to pioneer totally new industries and drive billions of dollars in market value. Collaboration in Edison’s lab moved well beyond pseudo structures like cooperation or compliance. Rather than building clusters of individuals merely “doing their part,” Edison’s laboratories fostered collaborative teams that were coherent — a term drawn from the realm of physics. Coherent teams exhibit the following qualities:
- Create common goals and a common purpose.
- Establish new context for the problems they have been asked to solve.
- Ask new questions rather than repeating old ones.
- Value collegiality as a core bond.
- Foster debate and diverse perspectives
Rather than dedicating his collaboration teams merely to tasks or information gathering, Edison positioned collaboration as a process of discovery learning and creating collective intelligence. He organized his teams to navigate complexity and drive new knowledge — not just respond to what already existed.
Collective Intelligence Is One Form of Return on Network
We see in the development of the incandescent electric light, the phonograph, the movies, and the storage battery a reliance on coherent teams that could produce new knowledge through collective intelligence. Though Edison and his teams lacked the computer networks we enjoy today, the market value of Edison’s efforts supersedes any time stamp we may wish to impose.
What we really need to drive value creation today are interaction workers capable of driving collective intelligence through collaborative networks. Whether in the C-suite or at the grass roots of an organization, the use of social networks must be productively linked to asking new questions, creating new context, and applying new insights.
Are your teams coherent? Or are they compliant? Do they have a structural framework which enables them to be collaborative, or are they glorified extensions of a management system that is actually not seeking much change at all?
As innovators, we must not only begin modeling true collaboration through the teams we guide but also aim to drive a higher return on network through the development of collective intelligence. As “interaction workers,” we need to advocate new methods for more deeply sharing resources, and expanding the productivity potential of social networks.
HOW WILL YOU ENGAGE THE NEXT BILLION GLOBAL WORKERS?
21 August 2012
As a young girl, I loved watching the marquis sign at my hometown McDonald’s restaurant update the 'number of customers served' every few months. On its massive sign, the owner dutifully notched the total number of hamburgers served by the entire franchise across the US. At the tender age of 5, I remember that McDonald’s hamburger sales ran in the millions. It seemed an impossibly galactic sum.
But my astonishment reached new limits in 1963, when our local McDonald’s posted on its sign “1 billion served.” McDonald’s hamburger tallies continued to escalate during my teen years, climbing to 20 billion in 1976. When McDonald’s entered Russia, and the Moscow franchise yielded the (then) largest hamburger sales globally, total burgers sold reached 99 billion in 1994.
That same year, senior executives at headquarters sent word out to franchisees that they were simply to post “billions and billions served” on their marquis. Today, McDonald’s hamburger unit sales exceed 240 billion.
NEW GOALS TO EMBRACE NEW THRESHOLDS: BILLIONS VERSUS MILLIONS
Any shift from millions to billions represents a daunting tipping point. And yet, when we think about such a shift in terms of counting billions of hamburgers, it somehow seems less challenging than when we think about it in terms of powerfully reaching billions of people.
In the next decade, the planet will hit two crucial milestones. First, according to the World Bank, 1 billion young people will come of working age by 2020, meaning young minds which are impressionable and open to new thinking will begin emerging in unprecedented numbers, globally. And second, the planet will become home to an additional 1 billion people by 2020 if current estimates by the US Census and the United Nations hold true.
Whether you are a marketer, a strategist, or an innovator, these figures herald a new communications reality. What tools can we use to reach greater and greater numbers of people, effectively? What new core competencies will we require? What strategies do you have for engaging, as pundits term it, “the next billion?”
We already have some tools in hand via social media, digital networks, and mobile devices. Notably, Technology World estimates that over 5.6 billion cellular phones are operating on the planet today with a growing chunk of them being smart phones.
But this next era will not be characterized solely by “marketing outreach” but rather by the development of meaningful content that impacts large communities and drives deeper engagement via core questions that matter. I call it the era of the metalogue.
ENGAGING IN METALOGUE
Metalogue is a term I first heard via a 3M colleague, former senior R&D executive Wayne Lindholm, during a 2009 innovation conference. He described metalogue as “a method of inquiry for exploring diverse conversations and the context around those conversations.” Specifically, Lindholm had noticed that groups engaged best in innovation initiatives when they felt they were part of a massive, content rich dialogue.
Metalogue is characterized by the posing of a big meaty question, or series of related meaty questions, and the engagement in them by passionately interested clusters of people. These clusters can be geographically separated or locally based. Metalogue takes place when a small group of folks ask (i.e., curate) these pithy questions by putting them out to a large body of people — many of whom they do not know. Metalogue can last for hours, days, or even weeks.
For readers who are familiar with the pioneering “innovation jams” held by IBM as early as 2001 and later its “values jam” in 2003, this structure offers an excellent example of a metalogue — albeit a complex one. Then CEO Sam Palmisano felt an organization with 346,000 capable employees was capable of metalogue as a means to move faster in developing new products and bringing them to market. Likened to a “massively parallel conference online,” a metalogue becomes a vehicle for sharing content and generating solutions — not just marketing products or services.
THE FOUR ZONES OF METALOGUE
To engage in constructive metalogue, it’s important to align the complexity of the question(s) being posed with the type of technology platform used. To illustrate, we can parse metalogue into four segments which I call Zones.
Consider that these Zones lie in a 2x2 matrix with one axis representing the “complexity of the question” and the other “the degree of skill level required by the participants.” While the following explanation of the Zones represents a thumbnail summary, I offer it to reveal how metalogue can progress from the simple use of social media as a form of conversation to a more complex network of solutions by an engaged and passionate audience.
Zone 1: SIMPLE QUESTIONS / Few Technical Skills Required by Participants
Zone 1 represents the are where most social networking activity lies today. Metalogue in Zone 1 often comes in the form of a single basic query (think Mashable’s question of the day) and accesses low-cost or no-cost technologies such as Twitter’s # groups, LinkedIn exchanges, or Facebook communities that can be used to pose a particular question. Zone 1 provides a baseline for resonance around the question and its prospective responses with metalogue curators noting where these responses hail from and how they interconnect.
Zone 2: SIMPLE QUESTIONS / More Technical Skills Required by Participants
Zone 2 moves higher along the spectrum of skill and effort required for a user to engage in metalogue but still accesses low-cost or no-cost tools. Crowdsourcing is a great example. Specific websites or microsites can be constructed for broad communities of people to respond to a question or series of related questions. If you are hosting a Zone 2 metalogue, you can pose your question(s) via LinkedIn Groups or Google+ Hangouts. President Obama held a public Google+ Hangouts session in January 2012 following his State of the Union speech to tap feedback from young voters. He appeared “live” online for a portion of the metalogue. Importantly, in Zone 2, it’s often crucial to allocate resources for drilling into the results of your metalogue to visualize and cluster the data into meaningful pods. The results can help you refine your questions — or add to them — for use in Zones 3 or 4.
Zone 3: More Complex Questions / Few Technical Skills Required by Participants
Zone 3 allows you to combine relatively easy-to-use digital technology platforms with more complex question sets. It offers excellent applications for metalogue once you have refined your questions and understand how to pose them most effectively to prospective participants. Metalogue in this Zone can help you engage with specific participants who can help you test or experiment with a prospective solution you’re still developing.
Market research online communities (MROCs) represent one fascinating application of metalogue in Zone 3. An MROC functions like a pop-up community of users who will pursue specific questions and specific tasks you assign. They generally consist of prescreened participants with diverse backgrounds. Using smart devices and daily check-in periods, you can monitor how your questions are faring within the group. Participants operate in a virtual space and can upload pictures or videos of whatever they’re doing as part of your exercise. MROCs are gaining popularity as an inexpensive testing forum for new ideas that require hands-on engagement. They also offer the opportunity to monitor progress in real time by the group sponsoring the metalogue.
Zone 4: More Complex Questions / More Technical Skills Required by Participants
Zone 4 is the place where complex questions and complex technologies meet. Zone 4 embraces collaborative forums for metalogue involving massive amounts of data and huge computing power like the IBM Innovation Jams noted earlier. This zone is best to access when you want a broad array of collaborators to respond either in real time or within a set period of time. Metalogue in Zone 4 may involve a very specific question which is also accompanied by data or a small cluster of questions (paired with data) of deep interest to a particular community. These sessions can require extensive preparation and can be costly to administer and analyze. However, the output is often laser focused, offering a big “return on network” for your effort.
The Ford Motor Company employed a Zone 4 metalogue when war gaming its response for rejecting government bailout money in 2008. Although Ford used a custom developed system, other virtual platforms for metalogue, such as Brightidea’s enterprise software, help a single organization address very targeted questions in a condensed, preset time period. Brightidea’s software organizes massive information sets for each metalogue, including quantitative data, trend data, blogs, images, user posts, and user comments which can be seen by every participant either in real time or at staggered intervals. Brightidea’s online metalogues have been used for major product development efforts such as GE’s Ecomagination plus projects at Motorola, Kraft, Hewlett Packard, and Bosch.
THOMAS EDISON USED METALOGUE TO ADDRESS KEY CHALLENGES
Although Thomas Edison didn’t have the benefit of computers to aid his world-changing innovation efforts, he did use metalogue to engage the passions — and the best thinking — of his workers. When responding to an unexpected competitive threat, or when a breakthrough technology was needed ASAP, Edison staged what became known as “lock-ins.”
These lock-ins stretched for days at a time. Edison would pose a question, put it out to his entire laboratory team, and they would tackle it full bore. In 1888, hearing of a new phonograph technology in the works by Alexander Graham Bell, Edison’s engineers and prototypers slept at the West Orange Laboratory for five days “until the group could boast of the ‘perfect’ phonograph’” to best Bell’s design.
Metalogue takes us a big step beyond notching hamburger sales and creating marketing campaigns. It represents a new core competency we must develop in our teams and organizations as the next billion arrives.
IS SOCIAL MEDIA RALLY COLLABORATION IN DISGUISE?
21 June 2012
What’s the difference between using social media tools...and collaboration? If I’m using social media to the maximum extent, am I suddenly also being collaborative?
Lately, it seems in the business press that “using social media” is equivalent to “collaboration.” I hear this erroneous collapsing of genres particularly in the realm of open innovation and crowdsourcing. Have you noticed this subtle meld?
While much can be applied from social media to speed collaboration, the two are not synonymous. Considering them equivalent can create traps and send us down unproductive pathways that waste time and resources.
In reality, no amount of social media will fix underlying problems which stem from poor collaboration - whether it stems from team design, an incomplete definition of the problem being solved, or power grabbing in the form of ultimatums or back-biting. The best-intentioned social media efforts can be off track if its usage within a collaborative context is not aligned to the work of the team, project, or the organization itself.
In our haste as innovators seeking to create impact, we sometimes turn to social media for a quick answer, or a quick fix in some other project realm. But we can apply the wrong social media vehicles at the wrong time. Collaboration is a complex beast. If we don't understand its layers, employing social media tools at the wrong time won't aid our endeavors i the long run.
A deeper look at how collaboration works offers significanat benfits here. I've had a chance to research what collaboration meant to one of the world's most revolutionary innovators -- Thomas Edison -- and apply this to an understanding of how to more effectively engage social media as a complement to collaboration rather than a vehicle which substitutes for collaboration itself.
By placing social media into the various facets and phases of collaboration, it can offer us a valuable guide to how much social media is too much and how much is just right.
EDISON'S FOUR PHASES OF COLLABORATION
My research on Edison's collaboration success and the processes used by other successful innovators suggests that there are four facets of team design which are necessary for collaboration to progress successfully from an early phase – where interactions are still evolving – to a later phase, where they are intense yet far-reaching. By identifying how your teams align with these four phases, you can determine which tools within social media are most valuable as a complement for your collaboration efforts in each one.
• Phase 1: Capacity - While it is seductive to want to set large teams in motion at the start of a project, studies showthatat the front end of any effort, nimble teams of two to eight people are optimal. Ideally, members of these small teams are drawn from diverse disciplines, representing both generalists and specialists. Research from the Complexity in Action Network at Northwestern University as well as studies conducted by the Boston Consulting Group bear out the value of small, diverse teams.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a now famous 2004 Fast Company interview revealed a core success formula for Amazon’s teams in coining the phrase “two pizza teams.” Bezos believes if you need more than two pizzas to feed a team, it’s too big. Note to self: For teams or clients operating in Phase 1 of the collaboration process, social media works powerfully as an accelerator of internal team communication.
• Phase 2: Context - Few teams are ever made aware of the broader context for their efforts. Often direction is given which locks down and makes highly discrete the efforts of each individual team rather than understanding how their efforts connect to a broader whole. Rarely are teams offered the big picture where they can better understand how their efforts align with other activities taking place in real-time around them.
While it’s valuable to keep teams on track with timelines and milestones, we see how big projects like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner have gotten off track by lacking context. Individual work teams lacked a broader understanding of how their input connected to the broader framework of efforts for related components - or sections of the plane - preventing individual teams from making adjustments in work flow or materials management. Note to self: Social media can be valuably employed to create broader project context, generating insights plus an understanding of what else is happening in real-time from team to team.
• Phase 3: Coherence – If a project effort is ultimately going to fail but hasn’t gone off the rails in Phase 2, the Coherence phase often yields the biggest sticking point. If an inspirational leader is lacking, there are few mechanisms to rally a team when it hits roadblocks. Ideally, an inspirational leader emerges organically from within the team. But – as often happens – if a team is thrown together in Phase 1 without actually being diverse, or if it lacks the communications skills crucial for success, social media can be a way for an external source of inspiration to save the day.
Recent examples of social media offering inspiration and direction from outside an individual can be drawn from social innovation initiatives – both in the US (Occupy Wall Street) and abroad (Tunisia, Egypt) – where groups of people are sometimes operating in an information vacuum or possess minimal experience working in a collaborative environment. While it is not optimal to operate this way, social media can provide crucial “connective tissue” in times of group crisis. Note to self: As early in your process as possible, identify sources of inspiration for your team that can be accessed via social media. Check in with these sources periodically as you progress. They can become a reservoir of inspiration - as well as financial resources or other aid over time.
• Phase 4: Complexity – As you progress through these first three phases of collaboration, you will begin to realize that the scope of your project and its connection to the expertise and personal savvy of team members represents a complex web of interactions. You realize that you are actually operating in a complex environment that links to multiple systems, some economic, some human, some technological. Engaging with the fourth phase of collaboration means you have realized thaht you are in a big spotlight where rewards -- and pitfalls -- are often very visible and very public (even if this means that it lies within the walls of your organization).
The complexity phase of collaboration is actually where many teams not only spend most of their time, yet are generally the least prepared to navigate. This is because rather than tackling complexity as Phase 4, teams are often forced to tackle it as Phase 1. Most managers send teams directly to the complexity phase…rather than developing the first three collaborative skill sets first. A double whammy occurs when teams that are ill-prepared to handle complexity are also ill-prepared to leverage social media. Note to self: When using social media as part of your collaboration efforts, recognize the broader connections within your network. "Organize for complexity" with regard to your social media work.
Since complexity is indeed such a big part of our collaboratino work, let's delve in a bit more deeply for some clues on how networks operate, and see how we can harness them to help us tackle complexity rather than sending us into overwhelm.
NAVIGATING COMPLEXITY: DUNBAR'S NUMBER
In Chapter Five of Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Tipping Point, he describes why context (ala Phase 2) is an increasingly crucial part of collaboration, and why it’s important to progressively expand our ability to address complexity as part of a collaborative effort.
Gladwell also reminds us that, in part, the human brain evolved because humans were required to interact with increasing numbers of other tribes to survive. Humans are able to hold higher numbers of social relationships than other primates due to brain size and the processing power of the human neocortex.
But, in a world where we can “friend” literally hundreds of people on Facebook or send e-blasts to thousands from a smartphone, at what point does this form of collaborative communication collapse under its own weight? When does social media hold diminishing returns for collaboration? Or detract from our innovation power?
In addressing “how big is too big,” Gladwell turns to a discussion of Dunbar’s Number, a theory developed by Robin Dunbar as he examined the optimal size of large collaborative groups seeking to work together effectively whether in business or on the battlefield.
Dunbar’s conclusion? The best and deepest results are yielded if collaborations hover at about 150, with an upper max of about 230. Why? If team size gets larger than this upper bound, “you don’t have enough work in common” and the group fails to have enough common context to hold them together as a coherent unit.
Does this mean you can actually have too many friends on Facebook? No…it simply suggests that the power of a collaborative team to drive results has an upper limit. It’s crucial to consider social media as a tool that sharpens a team’s collaborative power while also building an awareness of how it impacts the common context it holds with other brands, divisions, or project teams within an organization.
So part of the poewr of navigating complexity through social media is using it as a binding force. Position your social media efforts in Phase 4 as a means to create connective tissue. Find common ground rather than differences.
HOW EDISON LEVERAGED THE FOUR COLLABORATION PHASES
World changing innovator Thomas Edison followed the four phases of collaboration quite closely. Although Edison didn’t have access to digital communication tools, he did create collaboration teams which followed the four phases noted above. By infusing collaboration as a core cultural practice within his organizations, he created connective tissue that allowed his companies to progress from tackling simple challenges to highly complex ones. Today, he would be an advocate for social media as a way to strengthen this connective tissue.
As innovators, we need to leverage social media when it makes sense to garner resources or create common ground. Using social media can be a driver of collaboration but will never be a substitute for it. Don’t overlook the four phases of collaboration when implementing your social media programs. By matching the phases of your collaboration efforts with the nature of your social media outreach, and you will gain traction faster and be more adaptive in tackling complexity as your project efforts progress.
ARE YOU FAILING OR EXPERIMENTING?
11 May 2012
Just a few weeks ago, I had a chance to hear marketing guru Seth Godin speak at the 2012 Edison Awards. Witty and provocative as ever, Seth weighed in on what’s happening in the world of innovation with the following juicy nugget:
"If failure is not an option, then neither is success.”
Wow. Did he really just say that?
As I tweeted out the quote, it struck me how enormous the emotional burden is that we carry around “failure.” Our fear can be so stultifying that we avoid endeavoring juicy new things – including valuable experiments that can create groundbreaking insights and rapid learning.
A core reason for our panicked response to failure is its link to what Godin calls our “lizard brain.” When failure looms, this primordial chunk of grey matter – the amygdala – would have us believe that death or danger lie ahead. Oddly however, modern neuroscience now tells us that the brain learns most powerfully from failures versus successes.
So, why do we keep running away from failure? Looking at failure with an objective eye not only helps make us smarter innovators, it helps us plumb the future more intelligently. Here are some perspectives on how we can begin developing a “spectrum” of language around failure rather than viewing it as a one-size-fits-all term.
GROWTH OF COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE REQUIRES NEW MINDSET AND NEW MODELS
A thought-provoking insight from colleagues Steve Bell and Steve Benton of KeySoGlobal illustrates the extraordinary shift in the last 10 years away from “aggregated knowledge” toward “collective knowledge.”
Aggregated Knowledge was king during the Industrial Age, when organizations achieved great success through investment in proprietary R&D and other forms of intellectual property. Aggregated Knowledge was shared externally in limited ways, but became powerfully leveraged through various forms of mass market infrastructure designed to drive revenue.
In the Innovation Age (aka the Knowledge Era), Collective Knowledge today refers to the information generated by – and available to – masses of individuals or groups. Whether operating as self organizing teams or solopreneurs, now we can each access a cornucopia of videos, blogs, podcasts, open sourceware, and other knowledge delivered electronically. As the chart depicts, this form of Collective Knowledge now dwarfs Aggregated Knowledge, feeding numerous trends ranging from open innovation to the explosive rise of social media.
In short: here is a vast mountain of Collective Knowledge for innovators to plumb.
FORRESTER REVEALS 13 CUSTOMER TOUCHPOINTS, 6 FORMS OF INFRASTRUCTURE
Adding to the complexity of the types of knowledge we can access is the decline of “channels” and the rise of “touchpoints." A recent post by colleague Stephanie Fierman described how research from Forrester suggests there are now 13 primary customer touchpoints flowing from six different types of infrastructure.
Including the research phase that precedes an actual purchase as well as the evangelizing that happens afterwards, Forrester indicates customers now undertake as many as 13 different actions around a purchase. As well, they will navigate a myriad of virtual, brick-and-mortar, and live telephone interactions in this process.
Sigh. What does all this mean?
It means that entire realms of understanding that innovators have gathered over the past two decades are shifting and – in some instances – dissolving.
Instead of metrics based on cusomer behavior and purchase occasions we must begin thinking about micro-segmenting and “personalizing” experiences. Instead of counting on multiple trips to the mall each week, we must position our brands ever more visibly via search technologies, ensuring experiences are then “evangelized” and transformed into positive “social” information streams. Innovation now must engage a decidedly collaborative component that embraces per-purchase as well as post-purchase behaviors.
Bottom line: in a brave new world with 13 customer touchpoints and a multi-phase purchasing process, we can’t shy away from experimenting -- and failing.
EMBRACING A "SPECTRUM" OF FAILURE: NEW LANGUAGE IS NEEDED
Among the most popular questions I receive from audiences and clients involve queries about Thomas Edison’s views on experimentation and failure. I was thus intrigued by a post on failure from Jamer Hunt (who writes for Fast Company). Hunt, a designer by training, calls for an end to conflating failure into one big bucket. Instead, he argues we should create a “spectrum” for failure that allows for greater insight and learning rather than panicked rejection.
His six facets of failure include:
1) Common Failure – Daily screw-ups or mistakes, like a PR gaffe.
2) Predicted Failure – Experiments or prototypes that don’t’ yet work perfectly.
3) Version Failure – Small glitches that lead to improvements in products or services.
4) Glorious Failure – Accomplishments which go unnoticed, such as being fourth in an Olympic event.
5) Structural Failure – Highly inconsistent performance, or total lack of performance.
6) Abject Failure – The proverbial face plant, where recovery is almost impossible.
While I might select different terms for facets of this spectrum, I laud Hunt’s intention. I would add that in reviewing failures, it’s crucial to understand what the "going in" hypotheses were. Like a general reviewing wounds and losses on the battlefield, it’s important to understand what led individuals or teams to believe they could expect a positive outcome – rather than a failure. What gaps lay hidden in their assumptions?
Hunt’s failure continuum – or one like it - needs to be considered as part of a broader learning continuum in our work as innovators. Our work isn’t just about “applying technology” to an existing structure, or burnishing rusty Industrial Age mindsets. It’s about establishing an entirely new mindset. British gaming expert Graham Hill states the direction we need to head with this mindset as an equation in a wonderful piece entitled "A Manifesto for Social Business:"
“Old Organization + New Technology = Expensive Old Organization”
Thomas Edison would heartily agree with the notion that we must examine failures to see what mindset underlies them, and what assumptions. Edison actually believed failure was really a different mode of learning. When queried by reporters following his invention of the light bulb, Edison said, “I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2,000 step process.” For Edison, experimentation, failure and learning were inseparable. Today, as innovators, we must embrace this same perspective.
Don’t sustain an “expensive old organization” because you are shying away from failure. Identify where you can begin learning - and actively experimenting. Success is still an option even if you don't immediately receive the results you're seeking!
COLLABORATION IS AN INNOVATION "SUPERSKILL" - 2012 EDISON AWARDS
9 April 2012
If you’ve been hanging onto your hats as the gale force winds of social media blow away the traditional innovation tools you’ve mastered, the ride isn’t over.
The pace of integration between innovation, strategy, and marketing – let’s call it “the big three” – is being palpably felt in business model redesign, open innovation strategies, and mobile marketing programs in virtually every industry.
There is a new skill innovators need to develop to stay relevant in this newly integrating realm. According to experts, marketers will have to polish up a new skill – collaboration – as they increasingly rub elbows with other disciplines.
In 2009, a year after the Great Recession sank its grizzly teeth into economies across the globe, top-ranked Thinkers50 sage and strategy guru C. K. Prahalad, during a speech at the World Innovation Forum, pronounced the world was undergoing a massive “global reset.”
In addition to the disappearance of traditional boundaries which once parsed “markets” and “industries” into discrete bundles, Prahalad predicted that long revered functions like strategic planning and product development would be totally reshaped. Smaller, nimbler team configurations that could “sense and respond” effectively would dominate, pushing Industrial Age hierarchies aside. In this new reality, marketing, innovation, and strategic planning would all become one function.
And Prahalad was right…his prediction is becoming a reality. How can innovators respond and remain distinguished players in this new mash-up?
COLLABORATION IS THE NEW 'SUPERSKILL'
Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for media group VivaKi, commented to me in a recent interview, “The top three things for businesses to focus on today are: 1) relevance; 2) innovation; and 3) attracting and retaining talent. Collaboration is crucial to all three.”
Although his answer caught me off guard, I see Tobaccowala’s emphasis on collaboration echoed by others, including Yves Morieux, a BCG Fellow in Boston Consulting Group’s Paris office – specializing in organizational and team design – who believes that soft skills will begin driving “power and influence” in companies for the next decade. Prime among these? Collaboration.
Collaboration has not been as widely researched as teamwork, and the two are often confused. But marketers are well served to note crucial differences between them.
In teamwork for example, each member typically fulfills a prescribed role, completing designated tasks and assignments. In collaboration, however, the capabilities of the group merge in a discovery learning process, forming knowledge assets that actually exceed the sum of the individual expertise in the group.
To become strong collaborators, marketers need to leverage clusters of skills which might individually be considered “secondary” rather than primary. According to research published in the Harvard Business Review by John H. Zenger, Joseph R. Folkman, and Scott D. Edinger, these seven qualities together drive collaboration excellence in individuals:
- Inspires and motivates others.
- Displays honesty and integrity.
- Communicates powerfully and broadly.
- Establishes stretch goals.
- Develops strategic perspective.
- Builds relationships.
- Develops others
Although collaboration is emerging as a crucial new “superskill,” few organizations have yet groomed superior collaboration prowess into their marketing, innovation, and strategy mash-ups. But some of them have.
INTEGRATION BETWEEN INNOVATION AND COLLABORATINO HONORED AT 2012 EDISON AWARDS
On April 25th, the 2012 Edison Awards will honor dozens of nominees with gold, silver, or bronze accolades in twelve categories. Many of the nominees you will recognize – including Apple, Corning, 3M, Amazon, Whirlpool, and Kraft. Others, like IdeoMed or PixelOptics, may be less familiar.
But this year, the Edison Awards has also established a special new category recognizing the blurring lines between innovation, strategy, and marketing. Powered by MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group), the new award is called the Thomas A. Edison Marketing Award and reflects outstanding collaborative ability in “crossing traditional lines” within markets and industries. By dovetailing the big three disciplines of marketing, strategy, andinnovation which Edison himself mastered, the following products and services will vie for special recognition:
- Seth Godin’s Domino Project for its new business model in publishing.
- Nielsen Catalina Solutions for its real-time in-store metrics blending purchases with couponing infrastructure.
- HubSpot for its all-in-one inbound marketing software.
- YouTube Space Lab for bringing science experiments from the classroom to outer space.
Please join me in congratulating this year’s 2012 Edison Awards nominees, with particular kudos to those in line for the Thomas A Edison Marketing Award. We can all learn from the leading edge collaboration abilities of these extraordinary teams!
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Build Competitive Advantage Through Edison’s Five Competencies of Innovation
Sarah works with organizations that want to bring innovative thinking to their everyday work practices so they can accelerate growth and create relevance. Drawing upon the innovation methods that drove Edison's proven success, Sarah guides you to build competitive advantage by:
- Inspiring you to think like an innovator
- Creating a common language for innovation across your team or organization
- Identifying growth platforms which deliver profitable new products and services
- Creating true collaboration
- Developing creative problem-solving skills.
What processes for innovation do you have in place? Sarah will show you how you can begin to Innovate Like Edison starting now.