Mandela

As I listened live to the funeral of Nelson Mandela I got thinking about why he has become the worldwide icon for exemplary leadership. You all know his story.

His early years were filled with violence as he led the fight for freedom from apartheid. This led to 27 years in a tiny prison cell as he continued the fight and refused to bend in order to get released. As apartheid ended and he was given his freedom, he forsook revenge for reconciliation as he became president of South Africa. In spite of overwhelming interest in his continuing as president, he left the presidency when his term ended rather than run again, an unusual thing for a president to do…particularly in Africa.

Think about the characteristics of a man or woman able to live such a life. Think about the strength of will, the absolute belief that all should be included and given the chance to prosper, the willingness to relinquish position for the greater good in spite of the wealth and power it promised. Think about someone so able to put the good of others before himself.

Few have such vision and strength of character.

He set an example for the world and the world embraced him. And yet, he did not let the reverence showered on him divert him from his path, the path to empowerment and freedom for all. The idea of creating a culture where all can shine and be their best.

 

 

Most of you have noticed that Google is doing quite well by just about every measure. It’s so ubiquitous that its very name has become a verb. Google’s stock price has risen over 900% since it went public nine years ago. It’s buying everything in sight and inventing what it hasn’t found to buy.

Google gets over 2.5 milion job applications a year, about 5 every single minute. They hire about 1 in 12 applicants. People are beating down the doors to work there.

How do they stay on top of things? Exceptional management that builds and maintains an exceptional culture. As with everyting at Google, they measure managers carefully which has led to their list of the 8 key behaviors of their most effective managers.

As listed in the Harvard Business Review article “How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management” by David Garvin, here are the skills exemplified by these top Google managers:

1. Is a good coach

2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage

3. Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being

4. Is productive and results-oriented

5. Is a good communicator-listens and shares information

6. Helps with career development

7. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team

8. Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team

Not a bad list for every manager out there. I was particularly intrigued that the very first one is: is a good coach. The most important skill for the best manages is coaching everyone else to be their best. Way down at the bottom of the list is: has technical skills that help him or her advise the team.

What struck me most about this is how the skills of the best Google managers are in the opposite order of how so many people hire their managers. First they look at technical skill and last…if at all…they worry about the ability to coach everyone else to greatness.

The most important things are the manager’s ability to build strong people, to empower people, to care about people. What happens? People respond and deliver superior performance.

Right people encouraging and guiding engaged and passionate employees and the results you hope for will follow.

 

 

Break Time

The year has entered its final month. The pressure is rising on everyone as they work to ensure final results meet whatever goals were set so long ago. The onset of the year end holiday season is building excitement…and tension…everywhere. Tempers get short, memories get shorter. And as the party season gets into full swing, it’s all often fueled by a bit too much to drink and a certain lessening of the normal rules of behavior.

It’s time for a break…a clarity break. A time to put it all aside, rest your body and brain, and let your thoughts wander to some desert isle.

So…instead of writing a few hundred words for you to read and ponder, I’m keeping this short. Take the time you save…no take the time and multiply it by 100…and go off, put your feet up, and picture that beautiful island.

Let the tension go, let you body and brain relax. Forget it all for a few hours while you recharge and prepare to stay calm, maintain your composure, and not do something you’ll regret as the year ends.

Set an example. Those around you will appreciate it.

 

While reading an article in the Wall Street Journal by Laura Landro, The Biggest Mistake Doctors Make, I noticed a chart. It is called “Common biases that can prevent a doctor from making a correct diagnosis”. In addition to causing me great concern about the next time I have an odd symptom so visit a physician, I realized that it describes exactly the same issues that keep executives from making the right decisions.

At first I was going to discuss the article but upon further reflection realized that I should just share it as is, including leaving it in medical mode. Perhaps some of these reasons for misdiagnosis will feel familiar…and require some strong personal medicine to overcome.

The ABCs of Misdiagnosis

Anchoring: Locking on to salient features in the patient’s initial presentation too early in the diagnostic process and failing to adjust for conflicting or new information

Availability: Recent experience with a disease may inflate the likelihood of its being diagnosed. Conversely, if a disease has not been seen for a long time it may be underdiagnosed

Bandwagon Effect: The tendency for people on a medical team to believe and do certain things because many others are doing so

Confirmation Bias: The tendency to look for confirming evidence to support a diagnosis rather than look for evidence to refute it, despite the latter often being more persuasive and definitive

Diagnosis Momentum: Once diagnosis labels are attached to patients, what might have started as a possibility gathers increasing momentum until it becomes definitive and all other possibilities are excluded

Fundamental Attribution Error: The tendancy to be judgmental and blame patients, especially psychiatric and minority patients, for their illnesses, rather than examine the circumstances that might have been responsible

Gender Bias: The tendency to believe that gender is a determining factor in the probability of diagnosis of a particular disease when no such bias exists

Need For Closure: Drawing a conclusion or making a verdict about something when it is still not definite, often when the doctor feels obliged to make a specific diagnosis under conditions of time or social pressure, or to escape feelings of doubt or uncertainty

Outcome Bias: The tendency to opt for diagnosis decisions that will lead to good outcomes, rather than those associated with bad outcomes

Overconfidence Bias: A tendency to act on incomplete information, intuition or hunches. Too much faith is placed in opinion instead of carefully gathered evidence

Sunk Costs: The more time and mental energy clinicians invest in a particular diagnosis, the less likely they may be to let it go and consider alternatives

Unpacking Principle: Failure to elicit all relevant information from patients in a medical history

Zebra Retreat: Occurs when a rare diagnosis, or zebra, figures prominently, but the physician retreats for various reasons: perceived inertia in the system and barriers to obtaining special or costly tests, self-consciousness and underconfidence about entertaining a remote and unusual diagnosis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fired

I’ve been following the firing of Steve Ballmer, soon to be ex-CEO Microsoft. Among other things, I noticed he has personal wealth estimated at $18 billion so I don’t feel too bad for him figuring he will still be able to eat out often. What did get me interested was the manner of his firing and the time it took.

It seems that the board…and many shareholders…have been unhappy with his leadership for quite some time. In fact, it’s been years. Yet even as he clearly showed he was unable to be the leader Microsoft requires these days to fight off the myriad of competitors, the board bought into excuse after excuse and promise after promise. Perhaps bought in is too strong but certainly they allowed themselves to be convinced to give him one more chance to show he could re-build shareholder value and regain the leadership place Microsoft once held.

In spite of overwhelming evidence that change was required, the board dawdled.

Finally, under pressure from major shareholders and the continual failure not just to anticipate technological advances but even to take advantage of them when they proved winners for competitors…they sent him packing. Well, at least they have hired recuiters to begin the search and one of these days he will be replaced.

It got me thinking about one of the best interview questions ever when hiring top executives. “Tell me about the last person you fired.”

So much comes forth in the response. You learn about the candidate’s willingness to make difficult decisions, ability to act rather than delay, tolerance for excuses, compassion for others. How long it took to bid the fired good by and the way it was done tell you much about the candidate’s style as a leader and the culture they will build.

Most interesting are those who say “the last person I fired was myself.” It is a rare person who is so committed to doing what is needed that when they build an organization that doesn’t need them anymore they recognize this and fire themselves.

Then there are those who just can’t act no matter how badly the ship is leaking. It takes a catastrophe or intense outside pressure to force them to make the decision they should have made months or years ago. It’s quite a different culture they build.

In today’s world of decreasing size and increasingly rapid change, good leadership requires the ability to make decisions rapidly and then act on them even if the person creating the problem and requiring a change of venue is the leader themself. The most difficult decisions of all are those requiring you to deal with yourself.

Damn! Did It Again

When I sat down to write this regular Tuesday more or less calm missive on things leadership, I noticed I sent off as Benari LTD what should have gone as Steve’s World a few days ago. This is the second time I have done this in the last month or so. Very odd. The sites look nothing alike, including the fact that this one says Benari LTD on it, including the place where I write this, and the other says Welcome to Steve’s World. Hardly close.

Clearly this is a case of the eyes seeing what they expect in spite of the reality in front of them. Which got me thinking about the implications for leadership and management in general. I have written both of these blogs weekly for several years and yet still managed to get them confused in my mind twice in the space of a month. Actually, “get them confused” is probably not the correct way of describing it since I didn’t notice the wrong heading in spite of editing and re-reading in final form a number of times.

I have never done this in reverse…writing a Benari LTD post and sending it off as Steve’s World.

From a leadership perspective it does lead to thoughts about being in your own bubble oblivious to the reality directly in front of you. In this case, staring at me a few inches above where the words are appearing as I type. If something as easy to notice as this can get past you, how much easier is it for less obvious things to escape your attention? How much easier to become so lost inside that you never notice that truck bearing down on you as you step off the curb.

In my case, it’s just an unbelievably embarrassing situation. Once is bad enough, but twice so close to each other? Clearly I really do need that keeper I keep thinking about finding. Luckily Steve’s World was relatively calm a few days ago, perhaps even interesting to those thinking about leadership since it talks about various travel issues, projects I’m working on, some excellent thoughts on leadership from Lars Bjork…CEO of QlikView, the power of words, and my upcoming appearance at the Wharton Africa Business Forum.

As last time this happened, I decided to find the way to take full advantage of my mistake. For from mistakes great things can come. After all, what really is leadership but turning mistakes and problems into opportunities and successes? When everything is just humming along, anyone can be a great leader.

Even more important for being an exceptional leader is building a culture where when mistakes happen, lots of people know how to grab on firmly and wrestle these mistakes and problems into new and better ideas and ways of doing things. Even better than great leadership is leadership where the culture you’ve built is so good…they hardly need you.

As Lars Bjork says, “the more I let go, the more powerful I get.”

 

it’s been a wild week since you heard from me. Most painfully, I had to get a whole bunch of shots and take a whole bunch of pills. No, you do not have to worry about my health. It was the damn travel medicine doctor working hard to keep the tiny critters from moving in on my upcoming Africa trip. Just about every vaccination I have expired in December. The only one that was still good…for another 5 years…was yellow fever.

Then the doctor went on about how there is no vaccine for Dengue Fever…which I know because I am on the board of Aviana Molecular which is working on a very cool, rapid, on site, diagnostic tool for Dengue Fever. We have the device ready for commercialization but need a few more bucks to get it to market. Yes, this is a pitch for funds. So open your wallet and help out millions of people.

He also yakked about malaria. No vaccine but there a number of pills you can take while in malaria zones. They mostly work. Mostly.

And then there are all the other things swimming around, flying around, dropping out of the trees, meandering through the vegetables, and looking for any possible way to find a nice home inside your oh so wonderful moist, warm, delicious body.

In case this has you wondering, I am off to Benin and Rwanda. Leave January 2 in the evening and return January 12 really early. If all goes well, I will get to spend more time on the ground than in airplanes. As with much of Africa, you really can’t get to them without lots of changing of airplanes. Going from one to the other is even worse. I leave from Dulles which is a nice airport although their immigration system is the worst. Luckily I have my Global Traveler permit so can skip the lines.

Leading a nice Wharton Global Consulting Practicum Project. While in Benin I have someone flying in from Nigeria to meet me. It’s right next door so since I am flying 10,000 miles to get to Benin he figured he could fly 500 to meet me. I do like it greatly when people want to see me this much.

Aside: On a completely different Africa note, I noticed a small news article while paging through a real newspaper. “Revenge fight kills 9″. It goes on to describe a fight between 2 families in Egypt that started over who was first in line to buy bread. Next thing you know, 9 members of the two families are dead. I leave you to think about this.

Before I leave on my Africa trip, I get to be part of the Wharton Africa Business Forum. I am moderating a panel on Disruptive Innovation in Pubic Services: The Role of Social Enterprise and Impact Investing. Lots of amazing people are on the speakers and panelist list. I hear it’s sold out and they are trying to figure out how to shoehorn more people in. Wow! Probably due to me being part of it.

On another Wharton Global Consulting Practicum note, I have two projects that finally got it together to decide to close two weeks after the deadline. Why do people do this? Months of discussion with a well known drop dead date and now…can we wake the dead?

Luckily we are very, very clever so have managed this: the dead have risen! Two additional nice projects. I actually am quite happy about this…in spite of the effort raising the dead requires. To my unending happiness, I have the two best people in the universe that help me get all this together.

Well, if the truth be told, it only works because of them. I am the grit in the gears that they are constantly trying to clean up. I hear it takes a lot of cleaning.

Colleen and SaraRose.

If you’re wondering why this is as crazy as I make it sound, it’s because it is. I have projects starting in Benin and Rwanda (but you already knew this, Guatemala and Ecuador, United Arab Emirates, and Chile. You might notice they are not even remotely close to each other.

Not to mention the things I am working on for Geneva Global. Did I mention that I have agreed to become an official part of them? Seems that have enjoyed what we’ve done together over the last few years. I have a number of things going with them in Africa and another couple in the works.

And then there are my local clients and a few new EOS prospects.

Somehow I manage to get it all done. Clearly this is due to having a collection of exceptional people who keep me in line and manage to actually do much of the work I pull together. A few days ago I had the great good fortune to hear Lars Bjork, CEO of QlikView, chat about being a CEO. He talked a bit about what has made him so successful and at one point said, “I hire people better than me and get out of their way.” Yup.

By the way, we had a bit of private chat, traded cards, and are going to get together to discussion a possible opportunity. You might remember this is one of the rules in that book Kay Keenan and I wrote a few years ago. Conversation on Networking. Go places, talk to people, and figure out what the connection is…then go for it.

No wonder I am always a bit crazed.

I also noticed an article in the same newspaper I mentioned above, Philadelphia Inquirer if you must know, “Nutter’s order also strikes ‘prisoner’ from the city code”. It describes an amazing thing. Mayor Nutter has changed the city code to describe those released from prison as “returning citizen” rather than “ex-prisoner” or “ex-offender”. Or other terms such as criminal, crook, convict, and so forth.

Quite amazing. It is among the best examples of how language does matter that I can recall. Think about the implications. Think about the reception you get as a returning citizen rather than as an ex-prisoner. Words are powerful and shape our thinking. We can’t help it. We respond at a viceral level to the implications of a word as much as to the meaning.

Something to think about before you next open your mouth.

 

Election Day

By happenstance, today is Election Day in the United States. Rather than write my usual 400 or 500 words I decided to keep this short…to ensure you have time to get out and vote.

One of the responsibilities of leadership is displaying the behavior of a leader. Displaying behavior that leads to involved, engaged people.

And ensuring that everyone gets the message. believes it, and participates.

It never ceases to irriate many of us how many decline to participate in the political process. They don’t vote. And yet, they are quite comfortable complaining about the result of elections, complaining about those who are elected, complaining about what elected politicians do.

If you don’t participate…you don’t get to complain. You are a big part of the problem.

It’s exactly like your company. If you do things that cause your people to drop out, to become disengaged, to decide they might as well keep their ideas to themselves…things don’t work as well as they could. Even worse, it leads to lots of complaining or even worse, active obstructionism. After all, what is “passive aggressive” but “active obstruction”?

Be fully engaged. Vote. Make sure each and every one of your people is fully engaged. Encourage them to vote. And even more importantly for your business, encourage them to be engaged each and every day in helping build the best possible company. An inclusive company where every employee, customer, supplier feels they are heard…and their ideas have value.

When all are totally engaged and participating, anything can be accomplished.

Don’t Do It!

There is lots going on for most people. For people in positions of leadership, there are even more things trying to grab your attention. It seems as though every time you turn around, something else demands attention. Worst of all, many of these things popping up seem important, at least at the moment you first see them.

For many it is difficult to differentiate between what they should be doing and what it seems like they should be doing, what is really important and what merely seems important. All too often this leads to random careening around from this to that while ignoring that which really should be done, that which truly is at the core of your business.

Too much time is spent on the inconsequential while the important is not addressed.

The problem arises because you really haven’t thought through what it is that drives your business. Sure, you pay lip service to knowing, but have you taken your leadership team into a room and spent the time it takes in open and honest discussion to figure out the Core Focus of your business? It’s not easy.

The Core Focus, that which is truly the heart of what you do and drives all else. By extension, it also elimates much. Something either is or isn’t part of your Core Focus, what you should be doing.

To the extent that you get clarity about this, it makes it so much easier to ignore all those things popping up around you. You gain focus, concentration, and the ability to be a successful leader. A leader guiding your organization directly at those things that build success while driving past the glittery things trying to attract you attention, trying to distract you from the important things.

In today’s world, built on glorifying attention deficit disorder and instant response to the detriment of reasoned thought and focused attention, the task of staying on target is even more difficult than it used to be. You need to be ever more vigilant at ensuring you, and your entire organization, are crystal clear about always working on the most important issues first while letting the rest flow by untouched.

You can only do so much. You only have so much time, energy, and resources. Give yourself and your people a break. Always remember that knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.

 

 

 

VUCA…

…the military acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. VUCA, it describes the conditions that just about every organization is facing these days.

Who out there is not confronting disruptive ideas, products, technologies that seemingly pop up out of nowhere to rapidly change the environment you operate in. Those that are frozen in place, that haven’t prepared for the unknown, that have built an organization rigid in its thinking and blindered in its outlook…get killed. Or at least severly wounded and so become easy pickings for more flexible competitors.

Think about what Blackberry, who once owned the mobile phone market, is going through.

Why? They got complacent about the superiority of their technology and their huge market share and forgot to keep a sharp eye out for those launching disruptive technologies. Think Apple.

Flexibility, resilence, and a comfort with rapid and continuous change are the weapons to fight VUCA. You need to be ever vigilant for it is so easy to go from leader to auction fare.

The military knows that plans can be excellent…until you meet the enemy. For some reason your enemies never wants to follow your plans for them.

As soon as you vanguish an enemy, you need to be particular careful. In the glow of victory you can easily start down the path to complacency. And yet, as soon as one enemy is overcome, others begin to surface. It’s a never ending struggle to stay on top of changing conditions, to be prepared for the unknown waiting for you just around the next corner. VUCA really is out to get you.

Fight back. Continuously.

Pay attention always. Build the capacity for quick action. Encourage a culture of questioning everything and continuously thinking about how to make things better. Reward those who are never satisfied. Be adaptable.

Be the first to notice and take advantage when the black swans appear.

An interesting thing happened to me Sunday morning. Brain Freeze. Regular readers might have notice that instead of its usual Tuesday morning arrival, you received something Sunday morning. Something quite a bit different than my usual musing on things leadership and such. By my mistake…yes, I take full responsibility for my lapse…you received my random musings and travelogue that goes out erratically to those who like to keep up with what I’m doing. I hear that often there’s a interesting idea or two mixed in amongst the other stuff. Usually a few subtle bits of humor that often are not too obscure for readers to actually understand. My therapy, as I think of it. But I do apologize to those who wondered what had dropped in on them.

When I sat down to write this, I realized my mistake. First off, I read it to see what I had subjected you to. After reading, I figured I owed you an apology…see above. Then upon further thought, it occurred to me that there actually are three things deserving of your contemplation that fall out of my mistake.

First off, I made a mistake. It happens to everyone. Unfortunately so many are unwilling to admit to their mistakes so apportion blame everywhere but where it belongs. Instead of taking responsibility and fixing the mistake rapidly…they let it fester and add to its negative effects. As I thought about this it occurred to me that often the measure of true leadership is being willing to take full responsibility, full accountability for what occurrs on your watch.  Even if it really wasn’t your fault.

Second, I noticed that I did something I never do in this endeaver. I put in a bit of a plug for one of my activities: EOS Implementer. A subtle plug, but still a plug. I won’t repeat it here but hope you noticed the three highlighted words and their explanations. If not, go back and find them. Vision, Traction, Healthy. Read the definitions. Think about them and then think about your organization. Does your organization fully meet the definitions? If not, you have work to do.

Third, I ended with a bit of information about the young people who will be entering your organizations in the years to come. Forget the humorous inserts about my mental condition and think about the implications of digital dementia for your organization. Every one of you is going to face this in the years to come and will have to adjust your organization to accomodate it. The time to begin this journey is now. It is already upon you and is only going to grow. The successful will not only adjust and accommodate but figure out how to take advantage of the shifts in thinking, the shifts in ways of working, the shifts in interests and desires.

May all your mistakes be as mine, an opportunity to find the gems hiding behind the first blush of angst and embarrassment.

 

Digital Dementia

Steve’s World has been more crazy than usual. For some reason everything is happening at once…a prime example of “be careful what you wish for.” Among other things, a fellow from Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates, was passing through and was desperate to meet with me. His assistant and I must have had 50 emails trying to coordinate.

They had a bit of mistake about geography…Birchrunville is not even remotely close to Altoona (I leave you to check this out). Then they had airline schedule issues and I had other things scheduled on the day he needed to meet. Then the day changed. Meanwhile I was moving people back and forth like mad to accomodate him.

Finally, we managed to get it set. At his hotel in New York when he arrived to hang out overnight before a morning flight the next day.

So off I go, take a whole day when…since it was last minute…I was unable to arrange a single other meeting, and meet for a couple of hours. I am happy to share that it was worth the time. Yup, finalized a project, got a quite nice invitation for my next visit, and just might wind up leveraging it to a few other things.

Once again it goes to show, showing up is half the battle.

Wharton Global Consulting Practicum projects are starting up so that’s part of my insanity. You might remember that I run Africa and South America in my spare time. And a bit of other parts of the world that I get dragged to. Getting the teams set, the project faculty set, the teaching assistants set. Way too many details for me so it’s lucky we have the two most amazing ladies to get it all together. I have no idea how Colleen O’Neill and SaraRose Christodoulou do it.

And they have to deal with me while pulling it all together. Clearly they are destined for a genius award.

And if this isn’t bad enough, I have a couple of EOS days to facilitate. You remember EOS…the most amazing system for getting your company humming:

Vision – Everyone in the company knows where we’re going and exactly how we’re going to get there

Traction – Everyone is disciplined and accountable for making progress towards achieving the vision

Healthy – the leadership team is open, honest, cohesive and functional

EOS sessions are full days with the leadership team where nothing intrudes. Everyone is cut off from the world to intensely focus on working on the business to get it running perfectly…or, at least as perfectly as humanly possible.

Makes it a bit hard to keep up with anything else I should be doing. I tend to deal with these days as I do with 16 hour flights…what the heck, the world will survive while I’m out of touch.

And then there are my travels. Off to Tennessee this week for a number of meetings including a nice lunch with a big prospective client. Spending a couple of days with a fellow board member scheming away of how to drive a company forward. Seeing my friend in Nashville who is a Big Deal in the music business and is taking me to the Bluebird Cafe to see some of her friends play. (if you haven’t ever been to the Bluebird, drop everything and get a ticket to Nashville right now)

Then a day or two back in Birchrunville before I’m off to Whidbey Island. And it’s suburb, Seattle. While I write this I am doing the most important thing for getting prepared for this trip: drinking Celestial Seasonings Morning Thunder tea which Holly always has laying around.

Yup, off to see Chocolate Flower Farm, wander around the wilds of Whidbey, and Holly telle me I am going to be going to a Holloween Party. Apparently she has a horse costume waiting that needs a second pair of legs. Guess which end I will be.

Somehow in the midst of all this I hope to keep everything else together.

Before I forget…about the title way up there at the top…I read something about Digital Dementia in The Mail. It seems that research shows that teenagers are suffering an amazing deterioration in cognitive abilities commonly seen in those with head injuries or psychiatric illness. Research is tracking this to hours and hours of digital technology use which leads to a loss of ability to remember.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I have suffered from this for years but just chalk it up to the fact that my brain is overloaded and needs to delete something for every new thing it wants to add.)

It seems that between 10 and 19 your brain is still developing. Extended use of digital devices hurts the development of the right side of the brain which is the side that controls concentration, or, as I call it Attention, and memory span. The estimate is that in 15% of such kids this will lead to early onset demetia.

If they weren’t too old to have grown up chained to digital devices this would explain the current Congress although I suppose the percentage of those in Congress suffering dementia is way higher than 15%. Our future as a country…millions of people acting like the people in Congress. Now that’s a terrifying thought.

Recently I oversaw a Wharton Global Consulting Practicum MBA team working on a consulting project for a large international client. The client was one of the toughest people we ever had as a client. He pushed and pushed the team, questioning everything. The client continually asked for justification, evidence, and clear explanation of the thinking behind team ideas and recommendations.

The client often offered differing ideas or meanings for things, pushing the team to defend their own ideas and conclusions. In the midst of this he occasionally offered faint praise for their efforts.

And yet, he did all this without rancor or person attack. He continually pushed back about the work without ever going after any of the team members.

At the end of the project, when he thought they hadn’t strongly enough presented their thinking, he challenged them to revise the final slides and make them stronger. Then he gave them the highest praise for their intelligence, the quality of the work, and the effort they put into the project.

He finished by telling them that in spite of their tearing the company’s current efforts to pieces and recommending major changes…he expected to implement much of their work since they had so clearly shown the need for change and offered excellent ideas for what this change should be.

A few months after the project concluded I had the opportunity to visit the client at his headquarters. The praise was effusive and, yes, the company is in the process of using the recommendations.

As I’ve thought about this, one thing continually jumps out at me. The client is a master at getting the best work possible from his people. No false praise just for showing up, no acceptance of average performance, no interest in half baked ideas or recommendations. He is only interested in driving people to be their best…always.

He’s not nasty, offers no personal attacks, doesn’t raise his voice. He is always polite and professional while tearing into people for offering efforts that aren’t their best. Most importantly, he varied his expectations depending on the skill and knowledge of each person.

When people perform at their best…then his praise comes forth. His praise has great power since people know he really means it…and offers it only when you really shine.

After the project was completed I asked the team how they felt. They were unanimous in first saying how tough it was, how much effort it took, how tired they were. Then with big smiles they told me that it was a fantastic experience…although sometimes painful as it went along, they learned a tremendous amount, and were proud of their accomplishments.

The client pushed, the team responded, and excellence resulted. No false praise, no ribbons just for finishing, no person attacks. Just calm, forceful, direct pressure to justify your thinking and be and do your best.

And they responded as everyone does…with superior performance.

We all hear that innovation is a key to long term success. Be innovative and all will be well. Unfortunately most of the conversation about innovation is lacking in a process to ensure ideas appear, are evaluated, and the best actually get tried out and implemented.

Recently I was part of an amazing innovation process in a global corporation. In a few short months, the process led to development and implementation of money saving and money making innovations by teams of executives with little or no innovation experience. While clearly there is more detail to the process than a short posting can transmit, here is a brief overview to give you something to think about.

First off, and most importantly, as with many things innovation starts with the person at the top being a believer and an evangelist. Believe it will work and useful and successful ideas will surface. Belief and support somehow activiates the creative thinking of everyone.

Second, forget the word innovation and start talking about Design Thinking. Design Thinking, the process of clearly and systematically thinking about issues, creating ideas, and developing successful new ways of addressing things. Note that we’re talking about a specific methodology for developing and evaluating ideas, not a random process of hoping some good ideas pop out mysteriously.

Third, here’s the simple three step Design Thinking Process:

  • Inspire: define the challenge, gather data, observer people everywhere…at all levels of experience and knowledge, watch for the outliers which often are the most important ideas, take it all and form insights.
  • Ideate: frame opportunities, brainstorm ideas, discuss it all, benchmark.
  • Implement: filter, prototype, perform mini experiments, get feedback, review and evaluate, validate.

Most importantly, be supportive and devote the time and resources necessary for your folks to be creative and be comfortable stepping outside the lines.

And then, keep it going…always. Build your future rather than be dragged along in the slipstream of others.

Build Design Thinking into everything you do and before you know it you’ll be leading the pack.

 

 

Many of the most disruptive events are unpredicted until they appear. Yet they change the world. Disruptive events can be hugely positive…iPhone, or hugely negative…HIV/AIDS. As you look back through history you see such events over and over. With hindsight the disruptive impact is crystal clear.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written an exceptional book explaining how such events explain just about everything about the world. But still, we, and especially the experts, are blind to them. Worse, we do things that increase our blindness and so our unreadiness to take advantage of such events. We become comfortable that our ideas, our research, our analysis, and our predictions based on these things will show us the best path forward, the best new product to release, the way the world will go.

We become complacent and confirmation bias sets in.

In The Black Swan, subtitled The Impact of the Highly Improbably, Taleb demolishes our complacency and offers thoughts on how to change your thinking. In the new edition he even offers some tools to exploit these Black Swan events.

Most importantly, whether you take advantage of his ideas or not, The Black Swan will change the way you think about planning for the future. It will help you do the thing that leads to tremendous success if done well or failure if ignored: notice improbable events quickly and realize the implications for you and your business.

You’ll never again listen to experts in quite the same way. You, and your organization, will be the better for it.

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