Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year's Resolutions!

Since the new year is just around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to re-post last year's blog about New Year's Resolutions.  Hope you find it useful, and that you enjoy a happy and healthy new year!

Duke's Dorie Clark has some good advice in her HBR blog post regarding goal setting strategies. Clark first cites some interesting research on the ineffectiveness of to-do lists:

Indeed, one indication of this is the pervasive use of to-do lists, which attempt to keep a handle on one’s responsibilities and are, according to one LinkedIn study, used by 63% of professionals. That would be great if we reliably accomplished what we set out to do. But the startup iDoneThis analyzed their users’ data and discovered that 41% of the to-do list tasks users inputted were never accomplished — little wonder in a world where the average professional has 150 tasks to be done at any given time, according to research by psychologist Ray Baumeister and John Tierney.

Clark then argues that individuals should make the same type of shift in planning and goal setting that corporations should make. She makes the point that corporations need to move away from annual strategic planning rituals toward a shorter planning cycle that allows for nimble adaptation to changing competitive circumstances. Similarly, Clark advocates moving away from the New Year's Resolutions technique toward a strategy of setting goals and revisiting them several times during the year. Moreover, she argues for limiting the number of objectives that you establish at any given point in time. Focus on the bigger goals rather than the lengthy to-do list. Surely, you do have some routine tasks that you must accomplish. However, Clark argues that we need to separate the mundane tasks from the bigger goals. If not, we will always keep pushing aside the big meaningful task and focusing instead on trying to cross of the minor items on the to-do list... so that we can at least feel some sense of progress on a daunting task list. Clark summarizes her argument as follows:

The point of goals, of course, isn’t to successfully complete tasks we blindly set ourselves to years ago. Nor is it to maximize our accomplishment of small bore trivialities. Instead, what counts is our ability to master the right kind of big goals — the ones that can change your life, like positioning yourself for a promotion to the C-suite or writing a book or launching an entrepreneurial venture. You can only accomplish those kinds of goals when you’re willing to question assumptions regularly and re-evaluate as necessary, and when you give up the temporary dopamine hit of crossing easy tasks off your to-do list, in favor of making a dent in the handful of major projects that really matter.

Of course, many of us do love to make New Year's Resolutions, and then we joke about our inability to keep those commitments.  Here's Jimmy Kimmel's funny take on abandoning your resolutions just a few days into the new year. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Self-Reflection, Blind Spots, and Your Team

I recently read a terrific blog post by Peter Friedes, retired CEO of Hewitt Associates. He writes about the importance of self-reflection for leaders. He begins by noting that, "We humans tend to evaluate others through the lens of our own best traits."  In other words, if someone has strengths similar to our own, we tend to evaluate them very positively.   On the other hand, he notes that, "Less flexible managers undervalue traits they are not personally good at."   That's one reason we end up hiring people who are fery similar to us.  

Friedes argues that we should take a slightly different approach.  We should engage in self-reflection, identify our strengths AND weaknesses, and evaluate others accordingly.   We should not undervalue the skills and capabilities that we lack.  Instead, we should look for people who excel where we do not.   A good team has people with complementary skills and abilities.  Moreover, we should then try to learn from the people around us, so that we can enhance our own capabilities.   

Friedes argues that self-reflection can help us think about whether we are undervaluing people whose strengths differ from our own. Given that the end of year is approaching, it seems a good time to consider his advice and look in the mirror a bit. Of course, the best leaders engage in self-reflection on a routine basis, not just at the end of the year. Consider Harry Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter International.  For years, he has advocated for the value of 15 minutes of self-reflection on a daily basis.  At the end of each day, Kraemer thinks about his priorities and his values. Kellogg Insight explains a bit about his nightly routine: 

Of course, after priorities have been defined, it is important for action to follow. To prevent a gulf between word and deed, Kraemer writes out his self-reflection each night, creating a record of what he has done and what he says he will do. He also checks continuously with family, friends, and close colleagues to ensure he is holding himself accountable and “not living in some fantasy land.”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Closed-minded Experts

Experts can be quite closed-minded at times. They exhibit overconfidence and a bias toward the status quo. Victor Ottati and his colleagues have documented evidence of what they call the “Earned Dogmatism Effect.” The scholars argue that social norms about novices versus experts play a key role in how people perceive new ideas.   Here's how they explain this effect: 

“Consider, for example, a seminar pertaining to cancer. Within this situation, some individuals may occupy the role of “novice” (e.g., a layperson) whereas others may occupy the role of “expert” (e.g., a cancer researcher). Because novices possess limited knowledge, social norms dictate that they should listen and learn in an open-minded fashion. The expert possess extensive knowledge, and therefore is entitled to adopt a more dogmatic or forceful orientation. Dogmatic statements are more likely to be tolerated when the “expert” speaks than when a “novice” speaks. Novices possess limited knowledge, and as such, are expected to adopt a more humble and open-minded orientation.”

The researchers conducted a series of experiments to explore this effect.  In their studies, they demonstrate that even simply the self-perception of expertise can lead to closed-minded behavior.  In  one experiment they provided people false feedback on a simple test, leading some individuals to believe that they had a great deal of expertise, while others felt that they were not knowledgeable at all relative to most others in the study.   The individuals who were made to feel as though they were experts exhibited closed-mindedness in a subsequent aspect of the study.   That effect is pretty incredible, given that the individuals were not ACTUALLY experts.  The feedback that they received was MADE UP!  

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Demise of Movie Theaters?

2017 = Projection
Many analysts have focused on the potential demise of traditional cable television service, given the pace of cord cutting and the rapid rise of direct-to-consumer services such as Netflix and Hulu.   Perhaps more attention should be focused on the fate of movie theaters in this new entertainment era.  The chart above shows that movie ticket sales  in the United States have been declining over time, having peaked back in 2002. However, revenue has risen from $5.31 billion in 1995 to $11.05 billion in 2017.   Movie theaters have driven revenue by raising average ticket prices.  

Average ticket prices have more than doubled in the past 12 years, outpacing inflation.   The average inflation rate equaled 2.18% during this period.  Movie ticket prices have risen by 3.31% per year.  Of course, movie theaters have driven additional revenue through the sale of concessions and the addition of meal and drink service in theaters.  However, one has to wonder how long movie theaters can make up for lost box office ticket sales by increasing prices.   Moreover, this new story from Bloomberg Businessweek suggests that Disney may gain leverage over theaters as a result of the Fox deal, and it may use that clout to extract more revenue from theaters.  According to Businessweek,

Usually a film’s box-office revenue is split evenly between exhibitors and the studio. But Disney previously has gotten theaters to hand over a larger share—sometimes more than 60 percent—on its biggest, most popular films, such as the Star Wars series. Now it could try the same tactic with Fox’s Avatar, which has four sequels in the works. “While the future of movie exhibition looks increasingly dim, a Disney-Fox merger will elevate its level of pain,” says Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG LLC.

The notion that Disney could take a larger share of the box office revenue seems quite plausible.  Movie theaters would suffer additional pain unless Disney/Fox can reinvigorate movie production and get more hits into theaters.  Still, it seems unlikely that new hits will reverse the long term trend taking place since the early 2000s.  

Friday, December 22, 2017

Asking Engineers the Right Questions

In our extensive study of the Columbia space shuttle accident, Amy Edmondson, Richard Bohmer, and I examined the culture and leadership at NASA. Specifically, we analyzed the forces that made it difficult for engineers such as Rodney Rocha to speak up regarding their safety concerns, and we looked at how leaders did not ask probing questions to elicit dissenting views. 

When I teach the case to engineers and other technical experts, I often hear them say that management needs to understand how to ask engineers the right questions, and how to interpret their results. They argue that engineers were not going to scream, "There is a safety-of-flight risk!" unless they had conclusive evidence. The engineers' lack of complete certainty might lead to them to give answers that that are interpreted incorrectly by management. Organizational leaders might be looking for a definitive statement expressing alarm and grave concern, but they won't get it if there is scientific uncertainty. 

Today, I ran across a good quote (in Fast Company) from Google's long-time Chairman and CEO, Eric Schmidt, regarding this issue. Scmidt explains how you have to ask multiple questions, in different ways, to make sure you are getting the whole picture when working with technical experts: 

They are taught to think logically. If you ask engineers a precise question, they will give you a precisely truthful answer. That also tends to mean that they’ll only answer the question that you asked them. If you don’t ask them exactly the right question, sometimes they’ll evade you — not because they’re lying but because they’re being so scrupulously truthful.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How to Simplify Your Message & Persuade Others

Matt Eventoff has written a good concise article for Fast Company about how to put construct and deliver a simple and persuasive message.  He offers four suggestions:

1.   Know the audience.   How do they think?  What are their backgrounds?  What types of analysis do they find compelling?  What type of questions are they likely to ask?  What do they care about the most?  What are their goals and objectives?  You want to build a message to which they will be highly receptive.  Don't focus on the way you think; focus on how they think.   One key thing to consider - you may have people with very different backgrounds, interests, and perspectives in your audience. You won't be able to appeal equally to all parties.  You have to decide who your target audience is and tailor your message to them. 

2.   What is the ONE THING you want them to take away from your presentation?   You might have a lot of say, but it's not likely that they will remember it all.  What do you want them to recall moving forward?  Don't just consider what that one thing is... focus also on why that one thing really matters to them and to the organization.  Ask yourself:  Why should they care about this one thing?

3.  Give context and use examples.   You have to tell a story.  You can't just offer them a list of bullet points.  Paint a vivid picture for your audience.  Embed your points in a story about how and why you have a solution to an important problem facing the organization, or a plan to capitalize on a critical opportunity.  Think about the important elements of a story as you construct your message.  Who are the key characters?  What is the setting and the basic plot?  Where is the conflict or tension in your story?  How does the tension become resolved in the end?

4.  Watch your language.  Naturally, you want to avoid jargon and overly technical wording.  Moreover, you should be careful about nonverbal cues as well.  People watch your body language when you speak and present.  In particular, they watch your nonverbal cues as you answer their questions. Are you showing them that you are listening and trying to understand their concerns?  Are you demonstrating that you care about what others think? 

Monday, December 18, 2017

How Expertise Can Become a Liability

Andras Tilcsik and Juan Almandoz published an interesting article in the Rotman Business School's management magazine this year titled, "When Expertise Becomes a Liability."  They studied over 1,300 banks during the 1996-2012 time period.  124 of those banks failed (slightly less than 10%).  In conditions of decision uncertainty, having more domain experts on the board of the bank meant a higher probability of failure.  They argue that having some domain experts is important and essential,  but there can be too much of a good thing.  Having a few people with expertise in other domains can be quite beneficial.  

Why the liability of expertise?  They argue that a high proportion of domain experts on a board leads to three problems.  First, domain experts can be very entrenched in their views, and they may be unwilling to look at issues in new ways as the environment changes.   Second, domain experts may exhibit high degrees of overconfidence in terms of their ability to make projections and forecasts.  Finally, a high proportion of domain experts might be associated with a lack of constructive conflict and debate within the board.  Why?  Non-experts may be unwilling to challenge conventional wisdom, ask tough questions, or offer dissenting views if they are greatly outnumbered by domain experts on the board.  

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Disney-Fox Deal: Scale is NOT the Most Important Rationale

This week, Disney acquired a significant portion of the 21st Century Fox business for $52.4 billion. What is the rationale for the deal? Fortune's Andrew Nusca took a crack at explaining why this deal makes sense. He begins by arguing that, "scale matters."

The traditional entertainment industry is consolidating (see: Comcast-owned NBCUniversal; Verizon-owned AOL and Yahoo; the pending AT&T-Time Warner deal) as new entrants from Silicon Valley and beyond—Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook—enter the fray. Size is an important leverage point to control pricing and distribution. 

Hmmm... I'm not so sure that scale should be the primary rationale for this deal. Does Netflix have the type of scale that some of these other firms have? Has that stopped them from disrupting the industry and generating strong growth and profits? To me, scale seems to be a far too simplistic explanation for this deal. Scale alone will not solve the problem of customers defecting from ESPN and depriving Disney of substantial cable fee revenue streams.  

The article goes to discuss the importance of franchises. Nusca cites the acquistion of franchises such as X-Men, Avatar, Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and The Simpsons.   Ok, now we are talking.  Disney CEO Bob Iger has had a great deal of success acquiring characters and franchises (Pixar, Marvel, Lucas Films), and then leveraging those franchises using the broad array of businesses in the Disney portfolio.  

Nusca also cites technology. He writes, "Disney’s acquisition of Fox’s interest in Hulu gives it majority interest in streaming-media player Hulu. It also allows Disney to apply streaming technology from BAMTech, an earlier acquisition, to Fox assets."   We have all been reading about the struggles in Disney's television business, particularly at ESPN.   They have been discussing several experiments with streaming services, and they have removed content from Netflix and will be moving it to their own streaming service in the near future.  In the end, Disney has to solve this problem with regard to cord cutting and streaming.  Perhaps the Fox deal will help them do that.  The scale achieved through the deal isn't the solution though... success will come if they find a new way to distribute content to consumers in a world of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and rampant cord cutting, skinny bundles, etc.   That's the strategic challenge that will shape Disney's future and ultimately affect the outcome of this bold acquisition.  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"Hurry Sickness"

I recently came across an interesting blog post by Cheryl Bachelder, formerly CEO of Popeye's Restaurants. She executed a remarkable turnaround of the restaurant chain during her tenure there. Bachelder is a strong advocate for servant leadership. In this blog post, she describes the symptoms of what she calls "hurry sickness" - arguing that always being in a hurry actually damages the organization you are trying to lead. Here's an excerpt. 

Full disclosure: I suffer from what psychologists’ call “hurry sickness.” I didn’t know it had a name until recently, but nonetheless, I’ve always known that I suffer from it. I jam-pack my days. I overschedule. I say “yes” way too often. The benefits of my disease include getting a lot done, being admired by others who do less, and feeling an almost constant adrenaline rush. It is exciting to be in a hurry!  But there are serious downsides to this disease. One is that you live in a constant state of anxious worry about dropping one of the plates you are spinning. Another is that you will likely have stress-related ailments, some harmless and some life-threatening (eventually).

But here is something you may not have thought about as much.  You can’t serve the people or the organization well, and always be in a hurry.

Here is a short list of the problems for Dare to Serve leaders who hurry:

Your thinking suffers. You are responsible for calling out the daring destination for your team or organization. They are counting on you. It needs to be thoughtfully developed and soundly assessed – before you risk their lives on your plan. Great thinking does not happen in a hurry. It needs rest, quiet, and breathing room to develop.

Your people suffer. You are called to serve the people well. But you cannot serve them well without spending time with them. Unhurried time. Time to know their strengths, values, experiences, and concerns. When your calendar is overcrowded, you almost always will choose an obligation over a commitment to your people. Not a good idea.

Your results suffer. When you try to do too much, you get less done well. You are human – and you simply can’t get it all done to perfection. Your team needs you to lead them to a win – to top performance. You’re not going to get them there without focus on a few, vital things.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Creative Problem Solving: Overcoming Fixation 
Fixation characterizes many people's problem-solving efforts. We become stuck on a particular solution or solution set, and we fail to consider a wider range of alternatives. A new study by Jackson Lu, Modupe Akinola, and Malia Mason examines whether switching tasks can help overcome the fixation problem, and thereby enhance creative problem-solving efforts. The scholars began their work by reviewing the literature:

An emerging body of research demonstrates that creative performance on both divergent and convergent thinking tasks can be improved if the effects of fixation are mitigated by setting a task aside, such as through breaks, distractions, or interruptions (Jett & George, 2003). Breaks are purported to free individuals from their fixated mindset by ‘‘reducing the ‘recency’ value of inappropriate strategies” (Ochse, 1990, p. 198). For example, brief breaks during brainstorming sessions can increase the number and variety of ideas generated (Kohn & Smith, 2011; Paulus & Brown, 2003). Sim- ilarly, performance on convergent thinking tasks (e.g., the RAT) improves as the break time between attempts is increased because cognitive fixation ‘‘wears off” over time (Smith & Blankenship, 1991).

The scholars then developed a set of experiments to examine the impact of "task switching" - i.e. setting aside a particular task to perform some other work. They found that, "Participants who continually alternated back and forth between two creativity tasks outperformed both participants who switched between the tasks at their discretion and participants who attempted one task for the first half of the allotted time before switching to the other task for the second half." 

Note that the study does not justify rampant multi-tasking on the part of employees. Creative problem-solving still involves a willingness to focus on a particular problem intensely for a period of time. However, the ability to step away from time to time can be very effective. Note, though, that the task switching worked best when it wasn't left to the discretion of the research subjects. That's an interesting finding. It means that team leaders may want to take responsibility for thinking carefully about to either schedule some task switching into creative work, or intervening when they feel appropriate to give people a break from their focus on a particular problem.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hierarchy is Not Necessarily Evil

The conventional wisdom is clear: hierarchical organizational structures stifle innovation.  Is that actually true?  Bret Sanner and J. Stuart Bunderson have written a brief article for Sloan Management Review titled, "The Truth about Hierarchy."  They summarize the main conclusion as follows: 

Specifically, we found that hierarchies help teams generate, identify, and select new ideas by performing three critical functions (and then getting out of the way): bounding solutions, converging ideas, and structuring processes.
  • Bounding solutions:  Constraints actually can be conducive to innovation.  Hierarchies can help establish boundaries and constraints that will be helpful as people generate possible solutions to a problem.
  • Convergence of ideas:  Hierarchies can help teams winnow the ideas down after an extensive brainstorming process.  They can help teams by establishing evaluation and selection criteria, for instance.  Alternatively, they might step in to help a team come with up techniques for narrowing down a list of alternative solutions.  
  • Structuring processes:  Hierarchical structures can help establish ground rules for participation and engagement in a problem-solving process.   Hierarchy also helps insure that people have well-defined roles.   Role clarity can be very important in a group, particularly when its tackling complex problems.  
The authors did not cite the recent research of Stanford's Melissa Valentine, but that would have buttressed their arguments.   Valentine explained her research in a recent podcast with Bob Sutton (Friction podcast).   Valentine argues that some structuring processes and mechanisms can help teams be more effective.  She describes her research in chaotic health care situations such as emergency room care.  It's a great interview.  Check it out! 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Do Materialistic CEOs Take More Risk?

Professors Robert Bushman, Robert Davidson, Aiyesha Dey, and Abbie Smith have written a fascinating paper titled, “Bank CEO Materialism: Risk Controls, Culture and Tail Risk.” They actually measured how materialistic bank CEOs were, and they examined the impact that the CEO's personal value system might have on the risk culture of the banks that they led. 

Their sample included 284 firms and 445 CEOs during the 1992-2013 time period.   They examined personal ownership of luxury goods as a proxy for the "materialistic" nature of a bank CEO.    They labeled CEOs as materialistic if they owned an automobile that cost more than $75K, a boat longer than 25 feet, or a home worth more than twice the median price of homes near their company's headquarters.  They also ran their analysis using higher cut-offs for each of these luxury goods (for example, they raised the purchase price of cars to $110,000).   Then, the researchers also examined the banks' risk management cultures.  They did so by collecting data on the risk management index of each bank.  This index draws on data from reports that the banks file with the Federal Reserve each year, and it strives to evaluate the "strength and independence of the risk management function" at each institution.  

What did they find?  The scholars report, "Using an index reflecting the strength of risk management functions (RMI), we find that RMI is significantly lower for banks with materialistic CEOs, and that RMI significantly decreases after a materialistic CEO succeeds a non-materialistic one and increases after a non-materialistic CEO replaces a materialistic CEO."  

Finally, the scholars report an increase in the number of materialistic CEOs over the years.  I find the study very interesting, both because of the findings and the great care that the scholars took to try to measure key variables.  We all might believe intuitively that value systems matter, but this study actually shows a relationship between a leader's values and the behavior of the organization that he or she leads.  Naturally, these scholars are not saying that buying a big house or a large boat is inherently bad.   However, they are suggesting that we should pay attention to actions and decisions that may reveal a leader's value system.   Their personal purchasing decisions are one piece of a larger picture, and we should pay attention to all the cues available to us.  In the end, it doesn't mean we should reject a leader who may display signs of being materialistic...but we should be a bit more vigilant about the impact that the leader may have on the organization's culture.  

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Fewer Experts, More Innovation?

Riitta Katila, Sruthi Thatchenkery, Michael Christensen, and Stefanos Zenios have conducted some fascinating new research about the role of experts during the innovation process.  They studied over 200 surgical instrument ventures.  The scholars examined the role that physicians played during the growth and development of these new ventures.  Here's what they concluded:

To be sure, entrepreneurs in highly specialized and technical industries need the knowledge that only users (doctors, lawyers, engineers, and the like) can provide. Doctors understand what other doctors will value in a new product; lawyers know what other lawyers need. But you can have too much of a good thing — including input from such experts. In fact, my colleagues and I have found that innovation thrives when expert users make up about 40% of an invention team. Any less and the company will lose sight of what its customers need; any more and the group will tend to converge on old ideas.

The researchers found that having a doctor serve as CEO of the new venture served as a key impediment to innovation.  Why is the presence of many experts a liability for these ventures?  Remember that experts provide important knowledge about the use of products, the problems with existing products, and the opportunities for improvement.  However, experts also are very entrenched in the existing ways of working.  They often cling to conventional wisdom and find it difficult to shake loose from certain long-held assumptions and beliefs.   Katila explains the particular liabilities that emerge when a doctor serves as CEO:

Why do firms led by doctors tend to lag behind in innovation? In part, we think it’s because expert users have spent lots of time getting comfortable with existing tools and methods. As a result, they’re invested in their field’s status quo and may have trouble seeing the value in a novel idea. We found that although expert users excelled at refining existing products, they couldn’t always recognize a potential breakthrough innovation when they saw one. As one physician CEO we interviewed for our study confessed, “If you show me a prototype, I can say, ‘Well, you could do this better.’ … I know very well how to help a company optimize its product … but I don’t know how to invent something that was never invented before.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

All-New Version of the Everest Leadership and Team Simulation!

I'm pleased to announce the release today of an all-new version of the Everest Leadership and Team Simulation.  This version (V3) provides an updated user experience, as well as all-new scenarios on the mountain.  Instructors can continue to use the original scenarios, or they can choose new situations and problems that students must address and solve.  For those not familiar with this simulation, it provides a highly engaging and interactive experience for students and executive education participants.  The simulation aims to teach important concepts about team dynamics, decision-making, and group learning.  I'm grateful to have collaborated once again with co-author Amy Edmondson and the incredible teams at Forio and Harvard Business Publishing.  I hope instructors will learn more about this new version and let us know if they have any questions!  The link above provides a description of the simulation as well as a preview of the experience.  

Apple's Jony Ive on Team Trust & Listening

Fast Company published some excerpts this week from Rick Tetzeli's interview of Apple design chief Jony Ive.   I especially loved Ive's comments on building trust within his design team, and how that helped them overcome the common problem of self-censorship.  Here's the excerpt:

In 30 years time, we’ll look back at, with such fondness, the way we worked, not necessarily what we did. I think the advantage is we have so much trust as a team that we don’t censor our ideas because we are nervous and scared that they will sound absurd . . . Very often it seems to be you listen to the biggest, loudest voice. A lot of this process is about listening, I think. What we’ve found is very often the very best ideas come from the quietest voice. And if you’re not listening, you’re going to miss that.

And also when you have trust, it’s not a competition. We don’t have to deal with the bizarre game of all of the problems involved with a thrusty sort of ego. Our interest isn’t some leaf table with points. What we’re interested in as a team is, we’re genuinely, genuinely trying to figure out how we can make the very best product possible. And of course, there are many occasions where we don’t get there. But that’s our sincere hope.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Creating a Culture of Accountability

How can I hold people accountable without creating a culture of finger pointing, blame avoidance, and excuse making?   Leadership coach and consultant Peter Bregman argues that leaders must achieve clarity on five dimensions if they wish to build a culture of accountability in their organizations. 
  1. Expectations - make sure your people know the objectives and outcomes that you expect them to achieve by a particular date. 
  2. Capabilities - make sure the people have the skills and capabilities to achieve those goals, and if they don't, put in place a plan to develop their capabilities accordingly. 
  3. Measurement - inform people of the metrics that will be used to evaluate performance 
  4. Feedback - put in place a mechanism for providing feedback on a regular basis 
  5. Consequences - insure that everyone understands the consequences of failing to fulfill key obligations 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Think Like a Traveler

IDEO's Tom and Dave Kelley wrote a wonderful book together a few years ago titled, "Creative Confidence."   In the book, they offer tons of ideas on how to spark creativity in your organization, based mostly on their work developing design thinking as a process and set of tools for creating breakthrough innovations.  One of my favorite passages has to do with encouraging people to "think like a traveler."  Here is an excerpt:

Ever travel to a foreign city?  We've all heard that, "Travel broadens the mind."  But beneath this cliche lies a deep truth.  Things stand out becuase they're different, so we notice every detail, from street signs to mailboxes to how you pay at a restaurant.  We learn a lot when we travel not becuase we are any smarter on the road, but because we pay such close attention.  On a trip, we become our own version of Sherlock Holmes, intensely observing the environment around us.  We are continuously trying to figure out a world that is foreign and new. Too often, we go through day-to-day life on cruise control, oblivious to huge swaths of our surroundings.  To notice friction points - and therefore opportunities to do things better - it helps to see the world with fresh eyes.

Psychologists distinguish between two ways of perceiving the world around us and processing information - top down vs. bottom up processing.  In top down processing, we draw on our past experiences and "fill in the blanks" when we encounter a particular place or situation.   We don't have to notice every detail, because a few signs prove sufficient to let us know what we are seeing.  We walk into a library, and we know quickly based on a few visual cues that we are in a library.  We don't need to attend to all the details.   In bottom up processing, we start by perceiving all the little details, and we put the pieces of the puzzle together gradually.   In day-to-day life, as the Kelleys explain, we are on cruise control, using top down processing to capture the essence of a situation quickly and fill in the blanks to paint the picture in our mind.   When we travel, we engage in bottom up processing, because we can't rely on past experience to help us.   As such, we notice lots of little things.  Noticing the little opportunities for improvement and innovation can be crucial in the creative process.  Thus, thinking like a traveler is essential to creativity.  

Friday, December 01, 2017

Learning from the Young People in Your Organization

The youngest can teach the most experienced in an organization at times.  They have a fresh perspective, and they are often more up to date about new societal and technological trends.  Moreover, they may not fear challenging the conventional wisdom, as compared to some more experienced employees.   Organizations have formalized this notion, describing it as reverse mentorhship.  My earliest memory of such a practice comes from Welch's time as CEO of GE.  (video below). 

I had an interesting discussion today, though, with a group of executives about the notion of reverse mentorship.  One executive mentioned that it can be frustrating at times when young employees put forth new ideas on a frequent basis.  It's easy to push back and reject what feels like "pestering" or "badgering" by that individual.   As he said to me, you just want to say, "Look, I have more experienced than me.  Trust me.  There's a reason why we do it this way."  However, this executive noted that he has learned to restrain himself.   He tries hard to stay open to these new perspectives, and to withhold any frustration.   Why?  This young person has developed a solid track record.  The individual is getting the job done, with a strong likelihood of becoming a future leader in the organization.  That track record and potential has earned the executive's trust.  It translates into a willingness to listen, even if some of the ideas are off track.  If the person wasn't getting the job done, that would be another matter.   What a fascinating discussion about monitoring and controlling your own response to young people's ideas in your organization, as well as thinking about when you might be willing to tolerate a little more "badgering" and "pestering" by an inquisitive young mind.