Archive for the 'Organizational Development' Category

You’ve got diamonds in the rough, you just have to look for them

Sorry for the long hiatus from my blog life.

Wow, that’s an understatement, at almost 10 months with no writing or sharing.  I hope to be more attentive to this blog in the near future. It’s been too long.

Since I have been fascinated with the idea of the odd man out in corporate culture since I started working there over 15 years ago, I started crafting a story/presentation on the value of “Outliers & Misfits” within a corporate setting.

If you’re to summarize the message in three lines it would be this:

  • If you’re a CEO, manager, or leader, learn how to appreciate the value that these outliers can bring to your company or organization. Learn how to engage or entertain alternative perspectives.
  • Understand that their misfit energy & ideas should be channeled according to your business goals, and learn how to do so.
  • If you’re an outlier or misfit, then learn how to communicate clearly so that your ideas align with organization goals. And don’t forget to find a champion.



Reflections Week 1: Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations

6 constraints to innovation - image from Leading Strategic Innovation Course

6 constraints to innovation – image from Leading Strategic Innovation Course

Yes, I’m taking another MOOC. This time it’s Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations taught by Prof. David Owens via Coursera & Vanderbilt University. Owens is the author of the book Creative People Must Be Stopped and he’s worked as an engineer and project developer at IDEO.

Because of work and time constraints I’m not taking the studio project track for this course (requires group participation in a project). I do think that I would probably gain much more in doing so, but considering the limited amount of time I have in the next two months, I’m opting out of the course project (sad about it).

My first impressions of the course

I’m having a difficult time feeling engaged with the course community because the forums are overwhelming. Imagine a attending lecture hall inside a football stadium, that’s what it feels like in there. And I don’t have a cheese hat or giant foam hand to wave around. It’s probably best to join a study group, but Yogita (former #edcmooc or Elearing & Digital Cultures student) has started a G+ Forum and I’m hoping that more discussion will take place there.  Despite the lack of engagement in the course community, I’m still enjoying the lectures a great deal. Professor David Owens and his supporting staff or crew have done a fairly good job making the lectures more visually engaging.  He’s interjected himself in the lecture videos and sometimes interacts with the slides using props or himself.  Even if you’re not interested in participating in the course activities or following through with the entire course, I highly recommend checking out the lectures. I plan to use Owen’s arguments when framing proposals for innovation within my own group at work.

David Owens Participates in the Visual Presentations of his Lectures

David Owens Participates in the Visual Presentations of his Lectures

Course Content So Far

This week Owens has provided an introduction to how the course is structured around overcoming six constraints to innovation as he has them outlined in his book:

  • Individual
  • Group
  • Organizational
  • Industry/Market
  • Society
  • Technology

Seems like he’s maintaining that one of the keys to successfully implementing innovation is not just to overcome these constraints but to pinpoint the sweet spots where these constraints overlap and cherry pick the ones that will have the greatest impact. It’s these constraints that you should focus on overcoming to solve the problem of making the innovation or idea viable in your current situation.

I’ll admit when I first started taking this class, I was skeptical about how the book frames innovation around a negative: “Creative People Must Be Stopped.” Even after reading the course introduction I asked myself why are we structuring how we innovate around constraints or why “we can’t innovate.” Now it makes a little more sense to me, as Owens is taking not just the “glass half full” view, he’s looking at the constraints as a possible puzzle to solve instead of an impossibility that restrains you.  I like that way of thinking.

Discussion about Overrated Innovation Companies

In week 1 we were asked to participate in the discussion and point out leading companies who are overrated innovation-wise. If I were to continue with Owen’s line of thinking around overcoming innovation constraints, it seems that any company can be innovative or appear so simply by overcoming the constraints to making their products or services viable:

  • Nike promoted their products and overcame public accusations over unfair labor practices by courting & using the Olympic Idols of our day to promote their products. Though the fall from Olympus has been a long drop for a few of these idols lately.
  • As Owen’s Pointed out in his lectures. The inventor of the walking sausage grill in Germany overcame the problem of having good foot-traffic accessible space by making his food vending carts more than just mobile. They  made them ‘ambulatory.’
  • And finally Apple overcame a number of constraints as noted in my forum post lost in a sea of posts:

Sorry about the size. You can click on it to read at a reasonable size.

My challenge to myself in the next few weeks is to look at the constraints within both my own workplace and my life and try to pinpoint which constraints I want to focus on overcoming. I also want to work on my ability to frame and sell my ideas using arguments that work with the different audiences I face. I’m also hoping to do more reflection on how I’ve adapted and sometimes even thrived working in corporate culture in addition to some avenues for participating and influencing this culture even as a wee little cubicle person.

I’ll admit this freely here: I like change at work and problems to solve. I’ve never been one for finding that ‘secure’ job where you mindlessly go with the flow, and part of me believes that the world is changing so fast that that formerly pervasive sort of job mentality may be going the way of the dinosaur. However, this may not be the view of many people tied into the traditional view of work and I have to temper this as well as explain how opportunities for innovation and change can benefit and their end value out-weigh the perceived or real fear and chaos that change brings to some.

At one point this too was a good design. Image from the Morguefile

Digital Artefact: The Future of Learning #edcmooc

I think I’ll have more time to reflect and comment on my artefact and the experience of making it in a few days, but for now here it is.

Frontpage of digital artefact for #edcmooc

Digital Artefact for my “Elearning & Digital Cultures” class


#dl09- Leveraging for learning

Presentation Description

Key take aways:

1. We don’t leverage data we collect to improve learner experience in the now

2. Amazon uses 3 things to personalize user experience: user created content (reviews); analytics/data; collaborative filtering

3. Personalization can be scaled see white mindmap.*

* I think we should keep the following chart in mind when we are developing solutions in Drupal.

Fighting Management Preconceptions about Social Learning

I just found this wonderful preso on Social Learning. I kept on slapping thigh laughing as I read… “Oh yeah, that’s a good one!” For me the highlights were:

Yes, Play is OK - you need it to grow innovative, collaborative and fast-adapting employees.

“Control is an illusion” – Okay… this is where I slip into incredulous teenager mode: Duh! You can control what people are learning and sharing about as easily as you can keep water in a sieve.  The presenters note that “80% of learning happens outside” of formal learning systems in their control. This is “Informal Learning” in action. The faster leadership realizes that building a company culture where learning is valued, the quicker they will start fostering a truly effective organization. Also, it’s very important to build the expectation that employees are really responsible for learning (their job and how to enhance their work).

People already share bad information - no kidding. Everyone has experienced the grapevine effect in a workplace. Human beings honestly seek knowledge about the goings on, some need it to function and work effectively without fear. They will even speculate on management’s behavior when they have no information, which is why transparency is less dangerous than keeping your lipped buttoned.

I also really liked the fact that they provided some solutions for measuring ROI (Return on Investment).(CRUD: I actually wrote this section but it got lost in the blog ether when I was trying to save my post)  I think it’s possible to tie a company’s increased success to social learning initiatives through anecdotal stories.  Also, connecting increased levels of innovation could also be possible. Think James Burke’s Connections (the show from the early eighties). Much of the show argued that the worlds most famous and influential innovations such as the combustion engine would not have happened if people did not make connections with each other.  I think if you analyzed the history or development of a particular innovation at your company you can actually trace the connections that were needed to make the innovation happen. You may be able to identify whether or not these connections would have happened with the social networking  efforts in place.

Some excellent points were made, but I suspect that no amount of brilliant arguments will convince the hardcore curmudgeons that insist that Social Learning/Networking is bad and evil. My only question… Can I work for the folks who made this presentation?

About blogging and thinking and acting like a blogger

Here’s a good point from the Portals and KM blog (commentary on articles featured in the post):

blogs are popular because they provide useful content, often not found elsewhere and written in an accessible style. Blogs cannot sound like PR.

This is a good observation, and it makes sense. No one thought it was cool when their parents tried to speak to them in their slang. It seemed stilted and poorly executed. I think that that’s the biggest failure of some corporate blogging endeavors when they start blogging they ‘try too hard.’ They allow the tones of their blogs to degenerate into a sort of weatherman speak. I just recently had a conversation with a former co-worker about being too forward in one’s corporate blog or even in one’s personal blog. I’ll be the first to admit that there really is a personal value to ‘not sharing every thing about oneself.’ It’s just healthy for most people to maintain at least a modicum of privacy. However, the charm and beauty of blogging lies in the fact that there is some level of transparency into the author’s personality.

Yes, it’s true that if you’re blogging within a corporate environment there should be some rules that you must abide by which may sound something like this. I have this sort of aversion to ‘letter of the law’ approach to enforcing rules:

Be nice, dude:

  • Never slander the company
  • Never directly attack an individual or a group

Use constructive confrontation (uh, what ever happened to that?)

If you are going to question something or express doubt* about company policy address the people who are responsible for that policy outside of the blog text. But this of course assumes that a true “Open Door” policy exists. Sorry, that’s the execs and management’s responsibility to waterfall this down via actions and attitude towards their staff. Note: if it’s clear that your company doesn’t have an open door policy and you want to keep your job, then it’s probably better that you don’t blog about work (or you find another job). Blog about crochet, gardening, building muscle cars, collecting ceramic dogs, poetry, or your love of Westerns.

Remember that blogging is about sharing what you love or are curious about

This should be self-explanatory. If it’s not then you just don’t get the point about blogging. Strangely enough, I love and enjoy various aspects of my job and am very curious and eager to learn and share about the cool things I find when learning about my work.

My hunch is that like anything else, art, life, general existence, if you’re really trying too hard, blogging or fostering a culture of transparency and openness that promotes connections and innovations in your company will probably fail. I have to stop and think, perhaps this type of environment and attitude (and therefore blogging) is not appropriate for all places. It’s really up to management to reflect on whether or they want to foster a corporate culture that values blogging and communicate effectively their policy on blogging.


I forgot to add one more guideline…

Ignore the Jerks and Trolls

The best thing to do with a bully is ignore him/her or work around them. Who wants to hang out with a bunch of looser-jerks anyway? No fun.

Some other interesting readings:

*I remembered that I did post something on expressing doubt in reaction to watching the film Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa. I guess one should perhaps ‘use this card’ sparingly or really when it counts. A good leader will probably be sensitive to the ‘good folks’ he or she hires when they are experiencing doubt.

Give your employees time and tools to grow

I think I may have written about this in the past, but the forward-moving companies usually give their employees actual time to think, learn and innovate. And this time isn’t just some imaginary time-allowance that gets built into the employees’ unpaid overtime, it’s actually built into their schedule. Don’t get me wrong – this time cannot impede upon their productivity, but SMART leaders and managers know that in order to be truly solutions oriented and innovative their workers need time and tools to develop and learn. Now for those learners who are not as self-directed… curriculum and more directed development plans may be necessary.

Some tools I’ve found really helpful in the past and present are:

Skillsoft Books 24×7

One of the best resources of online books ever. For the self-directed learner this is a virtual treasure trove. The have series for business, IT (Tech) professionals and more. You can learn just about everything from Ajax to Senger. Unfortunately you’re company or organization has to pay for the subscriptions. But even if you paid the $459.00 out of your own pocket it’s virtually being able to take almost any book out of Powells, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon when ever you want and you don’t have to waste any trees in the process. More… other people in your organization in all parts of the world or country and view and learn from the same book as well. Imagine the learning power. True, for those people who like to print out things and read them they are S.O.L, but to learn and grow more you sometimes need to make adjustments to your learning style.

At $25.00 a month for a subscription to a huge library of online tutorials complete with demonstration/simulations. You have to pay a larger premium subscription rate to have access to the development files for say a Flash course. But being cheap I usually create the development files myself, plus it gives me a great opportunity to reinforce what I learn by practicing. More, I tend to take an active approach to practicing what I learn after each tutorial segment by creating my own version of the lesson output using my own images and text. If I dont’ have time to create text I look for things that are in the public domain like (Project Gutenberg). Right now I’m using the Action Scripting 2.0 tutorials.


Photo from dieraecherin :

You’re not typing FAST enough! Look like you’re typing!

I no longer work for Corporate Amerika… I no longer hear Darth Vader’s Death March as I enter the bowels of purgatory through revolving doors. So you may ask, why do you still write about corporate culture? Well I could take the smarty-pants route and say:

  • I’m still recovering and experiencing PTSD from working on projects for months just to figure out that they were poorly conceived (probably by some twonk in a strategic role who just liked coming up with ideas instead of making products) and therefore being end of lifed before we actually got to do anything.
  • Or experiencing meetings with people higher up who yell and berate you for no reason what so ever rather than to put you in your place, when you were only asking for their help and support on a particularly touchy matter. You wouldn’t have asked for their support unless they hadn’t openly made a good show in a meeting of how they “were there to help us with such matters” in a project update meeting. Blame it on my naivete.
  • I’m still recovering from the impulse to fill out project management PERT analysis and MS Project time-sheets (Spreadsheet Monkeyism).

But I think if i still write about the Corporate Life every now and then it’s because I see something or read about a study or theory that just vindicates the hunch I had that Corporate Life in its perverse form is only a few steps from living in an asylum. Every now and then I run across and article or post that makes my heart warm up like my hands around a mug of hot chocolate with real marshmallows in it.

In his post Jim McGee asserts that in large organizations like the military (or corporations). Officers who are dumb and hard-working (say like Frank Burns from MASH) usually cause the most problems. I’d add to that if you get an A-hole boss (ala. Bob Sutton’s classification) running an organization of Frank Burns-like individuals them you have some serious problems.

Now who would you rather have as your boss? Frank Burns or Lou Grant?

frank2.jpg lougrant.jpg

It didn’t happen in my last job, but I have worked in jobs where management types walk by your cubicle and give you a look-over when you don’t appear to by doing something at your computer. “I’m thinking… damn-it!” I wanted to say. Maybe I needed to wear a dorky baseball cap with a flashing light bulb on top for these numb-nuts to get it. McGee in his post suggests the use of mind-maps for thinking and looking productive.

More, I agree that it’s much better to engineer smarter ways of doing things than just looking busy filling out things. Or just looking busy. I began my corporate life as an administrative assistant and I’m quite proud to admit this because I believe that good admin are the backbone of any truly high-functioning administration. I spent a great deal of time trying to use and apply the magic of macros to much of my work. Figuring out these things was what made my job quite fun.

McGee asks a very good question: “What barriers to innovation, if any, does a bias toward diligence create?” Looking “Busy” is an addiction that Weberian corporate culture has quite a difficult time overcoming. But I say, in order to stop being an alcoholic one must first admit that they are one.



More grand stuff:


Demise of Powerpoint and Boss Science

Great post on Presentation Zen on how Powerpoint should be considered completely obsolete.

An article on:
The psychopathology of the modern American corporate leader.

I love the photo supposedly representative of the psychopathic boss.dudeneedshelp.jpg

10 Innovation Rules and what they mean for learning

Smart Lemming just put a post up on the book Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution.

  1. In all great innovation ideas, the great idea is only Chapter 1.
  2. Sources of organizational memory are powerful.
  3. Large established companies can beat start-ups if they can succeed in leveraging their enormous assets and capabilities.
  4. Strategic experiments face critical unknowns.
  5. The NewCo organization must be built from scratch.
  6. Managing tensions is job one for senior management.
  7. NewCo needs its own planning process.
  8. Interest, influence, internal competition, and politics disrupt learning.
  9. Hold NewCo accountable for learning and not results.
  10. Companies can build a capacity for breakthrough growth through strategic innovations

I would like to read the background around these 10 strategic items in more detail. It’s a good thing I’m headed over to Powell’s today, maybe I can find the book. However, I marked the ones which I feel are directly tied to learning and Knowledge Management assumptions about a company.

  • # 2 – Sources of organizational memory are powerful. If we’re collecting this information (on initiatives, product development, etc.) as part of a searchable Knowledge Management System, then employees can tap into this memory and benefit from it.
  • # 3 – Large established companies can beat start-ups if they can succeed in leveraging their enormous assets and capabilities. This is where connections (cross-disciplinary) and discussions are key. The biggest problem that ‘gigantor’ companies face is that it’s quite difficult to find out who’s doing what, or what they did.
  • # 6 – Managing tensions is job one for senior management. Amen! So part of management training should include how to recognize and address these tensions positively and practically. Part of the hiring process for senior management should include screening questions that insure that these candidates possess the ability/talent/knowledge necessary to manage tensions rather than perpetuating “YES MEN” environments.
  • #7 – NewCo needs its own planning process. The old one may need to reevaluate their business process for planning to insure that it’s working to make innovative products happen.
  • # 8 – Interest, influence, internal competition, and politics disrupt learning. Similar note to #6. CEO’s and all Management need coaching/training on how to lessen the effect of these things.
  • #9 – Hold NewCo accountable for learning and not results. I’m assuming that this means that we not punish teams for innovation/efforts that fail. Again, as part of a Knowledge Management initiative, it’s important to keep full not of the failures and why (and also who was involved – so that any team who might pick up the ball where the last one left of can benefit from the lessons learned).


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