How Come There Are No New Ideas?

Week 2 in a three-part series about differentiation.
We don’t have time to innovate.Ideas and Listening
Everything’s already been tried.
We just aren’t a very innovative company.
Heard them all? Your team has. And the person who doesn’t hear, doesn’t recognize and doesn’t believe them is the employee that’s sure to be innovating. New ideas are everywhere. However, in some cultures, ideas must go into hiding for self preservation. Idea abuse is a real problem and can be recognized by the symptoms including cricket sounds when conference calls open up for questions, people hide their best ideas and people are used to hearing “no”.
Why is this?
What suggestion did your mail room employee just mention to his co-worker on the dock while taking in the daily barrage of Amazon boxes? What if their supervisor doesn’t listen? What if they do, but then their manager doesn’t? How can co-workers cut through the beauracracy quickly and prove ROI without being enabled?
The answer is that they can’t. Or if they can, they won’t.
Here’s the story.
An inspired and new employee has been mentioning new ideas to her boss for 3 years, one day a consultant came in and sold an idea to management. After a lengthy and expensive project, which failed, your new employee is livid. She even takes the time to analyze and report why the idea wouldn’t have provided value even if the project were successful. Yet her ideas go unnoticed, unrecognized by management and never realized by her coworkers.
This employee might muster up the courage to quit, or even look for a new position where their voice will be heard and valued. But maybe they won’t. Maybe they are the primary earner in their household and they can’t take a risk on a new job. In both of these cases this woman will keep quiet and do the minimum possible to complete her “duties as described”.
How can you break this cycle?
Some say new leaders are needed, some people think a feedback process might work. I usually go for something a bit more direct and impactful; transparency.
Your employees need love and care. People want to be heard, valued and rewarded. They want to be part of a team. Not just watching from the sidelines. So cut to the core, build systems of engagement that scale and stop silencing voices with process, approvals and hierarchy.
Next week: Culture as a measure for your ability to differentiate.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Week 1 in a three-part series about differentiation.
 shutterstock_369924926
In knowledge work, there are typically several unspoken things teammates are expected to contribute. One such tool is brainstorming. Although not many job descriptions really include this in the “required skills and experience”, hiring crews are always trying to understand a candidate’s ability to come up with new ideas. Critical thinking, questioning and trying things are essential skills in any teammate.

 

The second thing most people bring is a network of people who help think through or talk out ideas. Almost every teammate brings this too, along with former co-workers, industry connections and networks, not to mention friends and family.

 

These are the things that can’t be automated, can’t even be ‘manufactured’ per se. Talent takes pride in that kind of value. There is comfort knowing that a person’s skills can’t be replaced by a system, or automation.

 

So?
Your people are your differentiator.

 

Your people may have a passion about work that is so genuine, so pure, that they can’t help but talk about the next project. When they are out and about, their minds wander, usually to topics in which they have real interest. People can see your employees honing ideas and jotting them down everywhere. They take ideas and experiences and apply to them to their craft. Sharpening it and honing it with little oversight and minimal micro-management

 

Pioneering Change with Learning and Courage

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”

-John Maxwell

Thirty years ago the Challenger Space shuttle exploded as America watched in shock and horror. This tragedy was perhaps one of the biggest speed bumps in our humanity’s progress toward furthering space exploration.

The men and women who gave their lives that day were the brave pioneers that took the biggest risk for their team.  And how did we respond? By mourning, remembering and honoring them by continuing to fail well on our path toward space exploration.

The amount of planning, work, engineering and money that led up to the mission was massive. The amount of review work, post failure; also massive. These are all the costs of innovative change. The political leadership, development of NASA and funding of the space program; all of these things might seem impossible if they hadn’t been done yet. And they hadn’t. So how did we get here?

Human beings traveling to space was unthinkable.

Without starting there is no failure. Without failure we will never succeed in something that was once unthinkable.  Why?  Because failure offers us the best opportunity to learn and evolve.

So how did we get to that point? How does a group of people start exploring the unknown? How do we start taking the right path toward failure? And once we fail, how do we learn and adjust?

No matter what your goal is, having the right team is where you start. Once you’ve got the necessary people, just start. Talk about what you are going to try, and don’t forget to discuss the elephant in the room: how will you respond to failure?

Do everything you can to plan and account for failure in all you try. Because failure is eminent, including it in your planning means you get to decide how you react. Planning on putting in a business critical system? How flexible does it need to be to account for new situations? What happens when your system goes down? Does it completely destroy your ability to be productive?

Is there a better way? If so, you’ll probably learn it during your journey.