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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.

 

 

Bathtub Management Model

Have you ever wondered how much engagement you should have in your team’s projects as a leader and supervisor. This short video on the Bathtub Management Model gives you a new perspective on how hands on you should be with your teams.

Twitter from a User’s Viewpoint

Twitter just went public. Some may be mystified by how it will make a profit. Others may remain skeptical. I and I suspect many other content contributors just want it to keep on doing what it does for us.

How I use Twitter (the short version) :

1. As an outlet to express myself
2. To connect with others I identify with
3. To explore topics I care about
    A. Get information about these topics from other fans or people in my communities (knitting & instructional design)
    B. Engage in conversations with these audiences & subcultures
    C. Find out what others are thinking saying about my interests using hash tag searches
4. Getting the word out about topics and news I care about to the communities or individuals who follow me
5. Finding others who can relate to my own (perceived or not) weirdness.

image

How do you use Twitter?

I’m attracted to Twitter because it was one of the first social networking sites where I really could reach out to an extended community. Also it met my needs and did not prove to be as annoying and invasive as FaceBook. You can get in and out quickly and it satisfies my need to connect or engage online. Plus I can be selective or inclusive about whom I follow as I wish.

5 Things I’ve learned or been reminded of this month

Hopefully I’ll have time to elucidate more later.
Continue reading ‘5 Things I’ve learned or been reminded of this month’

Week 3 Reflection: Stepping Outside of the Group Culture for a Moment

Being to married to process can prevent use from looking to new solutions or be married to the old ways of doing things

Being to married to process can prevent use from looking to new solutions or be married to the old ways of doing things

In this week’s lectures and materials we tackled the group obstacles to innovation as well as the often misused innovation tool: Brainstorming. In speaking of the group we’re referring to the immediate work-group or direct organization that one works in whether it’s a division, subgroup, project group, etc. Within the group Owen’s identifies 4 major constraints:

  • Emotion
  • Culture
  • Environment
  • Process

Emotion

  • These constraints include relationships that prevent trust, free sharing and productivity in the group.  Sometimes even loyalty can cloud our judgement about people’s actual skills or capabilities.
  • Also the emotion of fear (of rejection) can prevent us from willingly volunteering new ideas. If we’re afraid that we may be ridiculed or even ignored, we will stop sharing. Fear of being blamed for mistakes acts as an innovation killer.
  • Emotional and relationship conflict can cause team dysfunction. Lack of trust can destroy group dynamics.

Culture

Culture includes how the group both perceives and behaves. Culture defines what the group values. Here’s a really simple parable of how events in the past effect a group’s view of change. This view may prevent a group from finding new solutions. For example, let’s say Group X tried a new implementation Method Y to produce  Product Z under the leadership of a new manager who had good intentions. Unfortunately, the group was not properly trained or prepared in the implementation method, and there was an old guard who was quite married to their way of doing things and the decided to openly resist using the new methodology. Consequently Product Z failed miserably.

Upper management decided to blame not only the new manager and those who advocated for Method Y. From this time forward, in order to avoid conflict or shame, employees in this group avoided suggesting new ways of doing things unless they were blessed directly by upper management. This group consequently became married to ‘their tried and trusted ways’ of doing this.  This account may be slightly exaggerated but I’d be willing to bet many people working in business have seen a similar scenario some time in their career.

Cultural constraints can be the hardest to overcome when suggesting innovation or change because there’s some real hearts and minds stuff behind people’s investment and even pride in how they do things. Also, as in the example above, fear of the consequences of making mistakes within a group’s culture can be a negative constraint.

Environment

This constraint is quite simple to explain if you don’t have the right environment and tools, you may have a difficult time collaborating. Even having a document management system or an online collaboration system or tool that meets the group’s needs is important. Also, if there is no comfortable physical space to meet and work together the group will have a difficult time being productive as a group.

Process

Owen’s in his lectures this week spent a great deal of time explaining this constraint and how to overcome it.  Owens notes that groups can sometimes be so married to their process and focus on achieve efficiency in this process that they get stuck on a track. The problem with this again, is it makes the group less likely to adopt new ways of doing things when rapid change is needed.  This puts the group at risk of experiencing a process that may cause a bottleneck in their ability to change and be innovative.

Evolutionary bottleneck: The tens of thousands of Northern Elephant Seals today share genetic material from just a few ancestors

Evolutionary bottleneck: The tens of thousands of Northern Elephant Seals today share genetic material from just a few ancestors. We can experience innovation bottlenecks if we don’t branch out and look at new ways of doing things.

But to overcome process constraints Owens recommends a few remedies that make a great deal of sense.

First is to use a process, but a simple one that can be adaptable to the group. Owens suggests a Seven phase process that has different levels of engagement from the group as a group and as independent workers. In phase 1 the problem is identified and in phase 2 as many ideas to solve the problem are identified. There’s emphasis here in finding or listing as many ideas as possible.  As you travel down the path, this list naturally will be will be whittled down. But here’s the great part: The group doesn’t have to be involved as a whole in every step of the process.  Those committee meetings that caused projects to inch through the calendar like a limestone parade float – those are forbidden if any true innovation is to happen.

Owens' 7 Step Process for Innovation - details available in "Creative People Must be Stopped."

Owens’ 7 Step Process for Innovation – details available in “Creative People Must be Stopped.”

The second suggestion I walked away with was that it is important to analyze the problem or issue that requires innovation and determine if radical innovation is needed. If so, it’s important to assign the right kinds of people to the innovation team. But how do you do this? One answer: assign the right people on your team of innovators.

Owens explains that there are two types of Innovators (Team R & Team A). Their qualities can be described as follows:

Characteristics of both "R" & "A" innovators

Characteristics of both “R” & “A” innovators

The “R-type” innovator can be characterized as the person who often sees radical or even unconventional solutions, They are people who are good at laying a number of seemingly unrelated ideas or solutions down. They might also question how things are done.  Which can be frustrating to co-workers who don’t want to challenge the status quo.

The “A-type” innovator can be end-product focused. I worked with someone who was like this in a past worklife. He was highly detail-oriented and would manage the process every step of the way, making sure that each step had a milestone and the group would do want ever it could to accomplish it. I would use him has a springboard to find the possible execution problems in a project because of his broad analytical thinking and his meticulousness. However, not everyone saw his detail-orientation as I saw it and sometimes thought of him as being contrary to their process flow.

Initially I thought I was an “R” but then I realized after working at my last group I became the “A” person, always looking for a defined process, measurements, ways to determine or measure our success… because they didn’t seem to follow any process or even understand that one was necessary.   I wanted to have an end product to shoot for. This group was still struggling to define the product they wanted and would often rely on their upper leadership to set the tone.  This was fine when leadership had a clear picture and was well-informed about what they wanted. When it comes down to it, I’m probably a hybrid of the two types.

Owens teaches us that as innovation leaders we should be able to tell when to use the “A’s” and the “R’s” in a project timeline. As he illustrated in the diagram below, both the A’s & R’s have their place in a project and should be leveraged by the leader to work in harmony with each other. Now that’s something worth learning.

RsandAs

 

I forgot to add some resources I found earlier that related to this week’s topics:

Article from Fast Company: “Five Ways Process is Killing your Productivity”

How Collaboration can Kill Creativity:

What are the disadvantages of Project Management:

One word from the author of this post = “Obsession”

Week 2 Reflections: No One is Born “A Creative”

3Monkeys

It’s the 2nd week of Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations and the focus this week has been on individual constraints to innovation. According to Owen’s there are three main individual constraints to innovation: perception, intellection, and expression.

I’ve taken a cue from the last course I took (#edcmooc) and I’m making an attempt to define what I’ve learned this week visually (see the image above). But what I’ve really taken away from this week’s content are the following three bits:

Lesson 1: “There is no such thing as a creative personality.”

In other words, creative people aren’t born, they’re made or developed by their learning and experience. Numerous studies have shown that children are naturally open to experience and creative. But arguably our education system and life experience shapes or constrains this ability to be creative. We are taught the proper way to solve problems or how to keep our ideas and thoughts in check.

What Owens does argue is that there are personality traits conducive to creativity, and these are:

  • Agreeableness
  • Extroversion
  • Conscientiousness
  • Openness
Personality traits conducive to creativity

If neurosis is so bad for creativity – how does this explain Woody Allen?

Logically, if you are open-minded to multiple ways of seeing a problem you’ll come up with a number of different ways to solve it. If you’re agreeable and able to connect effectively with others, you’re better able to explain your solutions to them.   Neurotic behaviors and thinking on the other hand can negatively affect one’s ability to be creative here’s an example of how neurotic thinking can prevent creativity and innovative problem solving.

“I can’t share that solution or express that that in front of others, they’ll think I’m a.)wrong, b.)stupid and I’ll just embarrass myself.” 

In order to be a truly effective at innovation, you need to be able to share your ideas freely without fear of being judged.  Perhaps that’s ultimately what makes Woody Allen one of the most creative storytellers of our time. He’s portrayed himself as the lovable neurotic, but he has never flinched at attempting to portray this neurosis in stories that examine the human condition from different perspectives.

Lesson 2: It’s important to always approach the problem from multiple perspectives.

In reading through Chapter 2 of “Creative People Must be Stopped, I ran across the story of a playwright who purchased different “odd magazines” for hobbies or topics foreign to her. Her purpose was to “see” things from that particular magazine audience’s views and therefore reinterpret what might be seen in her own vision portrayed in her plays.  Of course, your savvy marketing professional would simply call this focusing on your target markets, but there’s something so simply empowering about this approach to seeing other’s views of the same situation or problem you’re attempting to solve.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re analyzing a problem:

  • How would someone who is completely polar opposite to me see this problem? How would they describe it?
  • Why might they not see it as a problem?
  • What solutions may they came up with?

Lesson 3: It’s not how cool your idea is, it’s how you sell it to your audience.

Inarticulate but might be right

Sometimes, and I admit I’m guilty of this as well, when you come up with what you think is a ‘great idea’ its logic seems to inherently obvious to you and therefore everyone else should see it that way. However, other’s way of viewing things may NOT be aligned with your own.  I feel that this is one of my greatest Individual Constraints to innovation. I’m not always adept and explaining or selling my solutions to others.  In actuality, I am really the Asian guy in the image above from Kathy Sierra’s blog post from years back. I often have hunches or feelings about when things are right or wrong, but I’m not always able to explain them to other people around me. This is where exercises and questions from my previous lesson would come in handy. Or…

Developing a ‘common language’ might be helpful.

Reminds me of that meeting game "B.S. Bingo."

Reminds me of that meeting game “B.S. Bingo.”

I had to laugh when Owens made a dig at using ‘buzzwords.’ As he noted, they may make you feel important, but they’re not a great way of gaining common understanding of both the problem and your proposed solution.  At one of my former jobs, a former colleague of mine and I played a game called B.S. Bingo in meetings that seemed like more verbal exposition than development or planning (or action).  Though arguably, these same buzzwords are the common language used by people in the corporate world to talk with each other. I do agree with Owens that when they’re bandied about to elevate your business klout or savvy they’re simply about posturing. However, I should consider that if this is the ‘speak’ that’s being used by people who are using this language, I should develop translations of my ideas in this language.

I’ve decided to create a template for writing out my ideas to better articulate them. It’s pretty simple. I would take the idea as I see it and then translate it into at least three or four different perspectives including the intended audience or end user, my peers, my boss, and my boss’s boss. This may take a little more discipline than I’m used to.

MyIdeaTranslationTool

Image of worksheet

Click the link above to view/download the worksheet

Creativity Exercise: Circle Opportunities

David Owens has his students come up with as many uses for a paperclip

David Owens has his students come up with as many uses for a paperclip

I saw this somewhere, maybe it was part of a TED talk where people are given paper with a lot of circles on it and then are asked to draw as many pictures as they can incorporating or using these circles.

The Paper Clip exercise shared by Prof. Owens in this week’s lectures (from Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations) inspired me to create my own worksheet for this activity. I’ll share it with you here.  For those of you who are not taking the class. Owens asked us to take a paper clip and a piece of paper and list as many uses as you can think of for a paperclip. Strangely, I haven’t kept paper clips in the house forever so I could NOT find one, but I made due with my imagination.

Print a few of these pages for yourself and go ahead and give yourself about 5 minutes to complete the exercise.  Go ahead if you’d like and comment on your results or observations.

  • How many recognizable options did you create?
  • What did you notice about the flow of your ideas? What do you think limited you?
  • How is this similar and different to Owen’s paperclilp exercise?

Click the link below to open the worksheet.

Circles

 

Circles


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