Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Fumbling the Creative Handoff

Source: statetechmagazine.com

What happens when someone runs with a creative idea initiated and formulated by someone else? What pitfalls arise when there is a transition from idea generator to idea executor? These are the questions examined by scholars Justin Berg and Alisa Yu in a fascinating new study. They studied the movie industry, examining approximately 5,700 films released over the past century. The scholars identified the person who generated, elaborated, and executed the idea. They evaluated Rotten Tomatoes scores as a measure of the creativity of the movies. What did Berg and Yu discover?  Stanford Leadership Insights summarized their findings:

Films in which there was a “late handoff” — that is, a director received a screenplay written by someone else to make into a movie — tended to be less creative than films in which the same person drove the entire process or drove the process from screenwriting on (an “early handoff”). “The notion of handoffs has been studied very thoroughly in medicine, but not in the context of creative projects,” Berg says. Yet handoffs are quite common in creative work. Engineers often build based on others’ designs; many marketers execute others’ ideas for campaigns; employees are increasingly asked to implement ideas that were crowdsourced from customers. “With creative projects, it’s clear how much handoffs should matter, as you need to be deeply committed, you need to go the extra mile to get this new thing born into the world.”

Berg explained by many filmmakers "fumble" these creative handoffs, particularly if they occur late in the game. “If you’re working on something creative, you can certainly receive the project as a handoff, but it shouldn’t be too late in the process.  Make sure you’re not handing over a mature idea for someone to implement, as you cut off the opportunity for them to develop psychological ownership and a coherent vision, which are key ingredients for turning creative ideas into creative final products.”   Does that mean you should avoid handoffs altogether?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes, you need a different set of skills to bring an idea to fruition.  However, you should get that implementor involved earlier in the process, so that they are part of the idea elaboration process.   They need to understand the concept clearly and become part of shaping and enhancing it.   As they come to "own" the idea, they are more likely to help shepherd it to completion successfully.  

Friday, November 19, 2021

Facilitating Complex Problem Solving in a Crisis

Source: Sioux Land News

Recently, I moderated a lively discussion in which a group of executives compared and contrasted the problem solving and communication of two flight crews:  Air France 447, which crashed in 2009 and killed everyone on board, and United 232, which crash landed in 1989.   The latter flight tragically led to many deaths as well.  However, the crew did a remarkable job of bringing the plane to the ground, saving 184 lives.   Many experts credit Captain Al Haynes for his steady hand leading the crew as it landed the plane after a catastrophic engine failure.   

What did Captain Haynes and his crew do so effectively as compared to the Air France team?  Most experts point to the way that the crew members communicated with one another.   Haynes notes that they utilized their crew resource management training highly successfully.  What were the hallmarks of Haynes' leadership during this crisis?

  1. He made it psychologically safe for everyone to contribute to the discussion.  No one, including Haynes himself, was afraid to say, "I don't know" and to seek help from others.
  2. Haynes and his crew members "thought out loud" as they engaged in problem solving.  In so doing, they all developed a strong shared situational awareness.  They got on the same page quickly. 
  3. Haynes and his crew repeatedly sought to confirm their understanding of each other's statements and conclusions.  They played back what they heard and asked if that was accurately understood.  They asked questions to clarify.  
  4. Haynes insured that people understood their roles and responsibilities clearly.  In flight emergencies in the past, confusion can occur when everyone is focused on the crisis and no one is "flying the plane."  To some extent, that occurred on the Air France flight.   On the United flight, Haynes insured that someone was focused on continuing to fly the plane, while others tried to diagnose the problem and find a way to land the plane.  
  5. Haynes didn't assume he had all the answers.  He was modest, and he recognized and acknowledged his own limits.  In so doing, he marshalled the collective intellect of the team.  

Monday, November 08, 2021

The Sunk Cost Trap and Opportunity Costs: How Competitors Can Attack You

Source: standoutbooks.com

Imagine that your firm's leaders have made a substantial investment over a 15-year period in a particular strategy.  They are investing roughly $20 million in operating costs per year in that strategy, and they have made considerable capital investments as well.  The strategy is not working.  It has not yielded the desired results.  However, key leaders are incredibly committed to the plan.  They are mired in the sunk cost trap, throwing good money after bad, in part because they do not want to admit their grave error publicly.  Leadership has been able to survive this flawed strategy because other aspects of the business have generated enough profit to cover for this sunk cost trap.  With profits generally strong for many years, leaders have not had to acknowledge their mistake or pay a price for their error.  What's the problem though?  Well, there are considerable opportunity costs associated with the sunk cost problem.  The damage to an organization is not just the good money thrown after bad; it's the OPPORTUNITY COST of the flawed strategy.  What other opportunities are we not able to pursue because we are allocating scarce resources in this manner?

Now put yourself in the shoes of a key competitor for a moment. How could they take advantage of this situation?  Well, they could pursue a costly strategy that requires hefty investment, but is likely to draw away many customers from their rival.    The company stuck in the sunk cost trap might not be able to respond effectively.  They don't have the resources to respond, because they are still throwing good money after bad on a losing strategy.   The opportunity costs become a huge liability at that point.   The lesson: If you are looking to gain an edge over a rival, check to see if they are throwing good money after bad, and see if you can put them in a tough spot by making an investment in a strategy that they are not able to match due to scarce resources.  

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Searching for Leaders with Social Skills: Does Supply Meet Demand?

Source: NPR

Raffaella Sadun, Joseph Fuller, Stephen Hansen, and Tejas Ramdas have conducted a comprehensive study regarding executive searches and the skills sought after by companies when hiring to the C-suite. The scholars examined more than 4,600 searches for top executives between 2000 and 2017.  The study stretched across many industries and countries.   HBS Working Knowledge published a summary of the researchers' findings:

“The demand for social skills is increasing in every category of the economy,” says Sadun, the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School. "But] it’s not about schmoozing.”

Instead, headhunters and corporate recruiters want candidates with soft skills who can:
  • actively listen to others;
  • empathize genuinely with others’ experiences;
  • persuade people to work toward a common goal;
  • and communicate clearly—or, as Sadun puts it, “touch the chords of listeners.”
Top executives who demonstrate this kind of interpersonal prowess are more likely to be in high demand, particularly at large, multinational, and information-intensive organizations, the research suggests. Those companies see social skills in the C-suite as more important than more traditional operational and administrative abilities, such as monitoring the allocation of financial resources.

The scholars pose a fascinating question after summarizing their conclusions.  They ask whether the supply of executives with these social skills is meeting the demand.  I would ask a related and very important question: Are companies investing sufficiently and effectively enough in the types of leadership development activities that can help foster and enhance these skills in their top leaders?  In far too many companies, I see top executives funding and supporting programs to develop these skills in young high-potential employees or in middle managers, yet they are not taking the time to invest in further development at the top levels of the organization.  Perhaps, more attention should be paid to building the social skills of the C-Suite on an ongoing basis.