Monday, October 31, 2011

Is Your Innovation Working?

By Virgil Carter

Does your organization have the ability to innovate?  Does it have the ability to deliver new and redesigned goods and services to your members and customers?   Or do you do what you’ve always done, the way you’ve always done it? 

Recent research by Booz & Company, reported by Anna Pettersson and August Viak in Strategy+Business, reveals an “unexpected and unheralded source of potential productivity:  midlevel managers!”  According to the article, organizations can raise their innovation productivity by recognizing and activating “the unique impact of leaders in the middle of the organization’s hierarchy”.

While the research was specifically focused on innovation in pharmaceutical companies, the findings have application to a wide range of organizations, including non-profit organizations.  Among key findings were three key elements:

1. Clearly differentiated roles for senior, middle, and project managers.  By formally defining the responsibilities of each level, organizations can take full advantage of the different contributions that people at each of these three levels (senior, middle, and project managers) can offer.  And it can avoid the often inherent duplication and redundancy that may take place.

2. A focus on the pivotal roles across the middle.  Managers in midlevel roles typically oversee groups of sufficient scale to develop expertise, create connections and opportunities for innovation, and marshal resources to support good ideas and to deliver results. Midlevel managers are well equipped to select and increase opportunities and can also guide promising ideas through the organization to make sure that they aren’t knocked out too easily in a process based on abstract criteria.

3. The development of critical skills within the middle-management group. To lead effectively, middle managers must have personal credibility. However, this is not enough.  Effective leaders differentiate themselves in several key ways. For example, they define a compelling vision or destination for their team’s work products.  Strong leaders must also connect beyond boundaries and establish critical networking interactions that are at the heart of innovation. Finally, midlevel manager must also utilize “multiple lenses” for problem solving, “applying insights gained from throughout the organization.

Use these elements to assess and build the needed training and support for the leadership capabilities of your middle management staff.  Your organization’s innovation will be the beneficiary.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Want to Think Like an Innovator?

by Virgil Carter

Want to be an effective innovator?  How do innovators think? Harvard Business Review reported on an interview on the subject by contributing Editor Bronwyn Fryer.  Fryer conducted a question-and-answer session with Professors Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of Insead to explore how the "Innovators' DNA works”.

Dyer and Gregersen conducted a six-year study surveying 3,000 creative executives and conducting an additional 500 individual interviews. The study found five "discovery skills" that distinguish the executives.
  • Associating:  a cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas
  • Questioning:  an ability to ask "what if", "why", and "why not" questions that challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture
  • Closely observe details:  particularly the details of people's behavior.
  • Experiment:  trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds
  • Ability to experiment:  always trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds
  • Networking:  connecting with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn
“Overall, associating is the key skill because new ideas aren't created without connecting problems or ideas in ways that they haven't been connected before”, according to Dyer.

Dyer commented that one might summarize all of the skills they’ve noted in one word: "inquisitiveness." “I spent 20 years studying great global leaders, and that was the big common denominator. It's the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children”, he commented.

Dyer asked the executives in their study to tell them about how they came up with a strategic or innovative idea. That one was easy for the creative executives, but surprisingly difficult for the more traditional ones. Interestingly, all the innovative entrepreneurs also talked about being triggered, or having what one might call "eureka" moments. In describing how they came up with a product or business idea, they would use phrases like "I saw someone doing this, or I overheard someone say that, and that's when it hit me."

In conclusion, Dyer added, “We also believe that the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged. We were stuck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hope for Daydreamers!

by Virgil Carter

Are you one of those many people who mind seems to wander from time to time?  Do you have stray thoughts?  Do you daydream?  Well take hope!  In a New York Times article, author John Tierney writes that researchers have been analyzing these behaviors, and they’ve found daydreaming to be remarkably common¬ and often quite useful. “A wandering mind can protect you from immediate perils and keep you on course toward long-term goals”, he writes. Tierney notes that sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive, but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps you solve problems.

Mind wandering, as psychologists define it, is a subcategory of daydreaming, which is the broad term for all stray thoughts and fantasies, including those moments you deliberately set aside to imagine yourself winning the lottery or accepting the Nobel. But when you’re trying to accomplish one thing and lapse into “task-unrelated thoughts,” that’s mind wandering.

During waking hours, people’s minds seem to wander about 30 percent of the time, according to estimates by psychologists who have interrupted people throughout the day to ask what they’re thinking. If you’re driving down a straight, empty highway, your mind might be wandering three-quarters of the time, according to two of the leading researchers, Jonathan Schooler and Jonathan Smallwood of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“People assume mind wandering is a bad thing, but if we couldn’t do it during a boring task, life would be horrible,” Dr. Smallwood says. “Imagine if you couldn’t escape mentally from a traffic jam.”

Where exactly does the mind go during those moments? By observing people at rest during brain scans, neuroscientists have identified a “default network” that is active when people’s minds are especially free to wander. When people do take up a task, the brain’s executive network lights up to issue commands, and the default network is often suppressed.

To encourage the creative process, researchers say, it may help if you go jogging, take a walk, do some knitting or just sit around doodling, because relatively undemanding tasks seem to free your mind to wander productively. But you also want to be able to catch yourself at the Eureka moment.

“For creativity you need your mind to wander,” Dr. Schooler says, “but you also need to be able to notice that you’re mind wandering and catch the idea when you have it. If Archimedes had come up with a solution in the bathtub but didn’t notice he’d had the idea, what good would it have done him?”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Going Global by Going Local

By Virgil Carter

Many non-profit organizations are looking for growth by developing strategies aimed at emerging-market nations.  And for good reason. Consider the fact that “in 15 years’ time, 57 percent of the nearly one billion households with earnings greater than $20,000 a year will live in the developing world.  Emerging markets will represent an even larger share of the growth in product categories, such as automobiles, that are highly mature in developed economies”, according to a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly. Seven emerging economies—China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and Indonesia—are expected to contribute about 45 percent of global GDP growth in the coming decade. Authors Yuval Atsmon, Ari Kertesz and Ireena Vittal write that there are significant growth opportunities for organizations that develop the right strategy to tap into these markets.  What’s the right strategy?

According to the authors, as developing economies become increasingly diverse and competitive, global organizations will need strategic approaches to understand the variance within countries and to concentrate resources on the most promising submarkets.  The authors suggest a concept they call “city clusters”, a collection of relatively homogenous, fast-growing cities.  They quickly point out those countries such as China, India and Brazil different significantly in their development and markets, making a one-size-fits-all strategy ineffective.   Of course, most leading corporations have learned to address different markets in Europe and the United States. But in the emerging world, there is a compelling case for learning the ropes much faster than most companies feel comfortable doing.

The appropriate strategic approach will depend on the characteristics of a national market (including its stage of urbanization), as well as a company’s size, position, and aspirations in it. What’s clear, according to the authors, is that traditional country strategies and other aggregated approaches will miss the mark because they can’t account for the variability and rapid change in these markets. As the battle for the emerging-market shifts into higher gear, organizations that think about growth opportunities at a more granular level have a better chance of winning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Notice of Joan's Passing

Joan Cassedy was our beloved colleague and friend.  No one could know Joan and not be caught up in her great heart.  Her laugh was infectious, her compassion sincere, and her caring presence was a soothing balm to all who had the good fortune to know her.  She will be missed so very, very much. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joan’s large family and even larger community of friends.  Your tragedy is ours.  Please pray for Joan, her family, friends and her colleagues here.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

How To Get Fired in 10 Easy Steps

by Virgil R. Carter
Last month we wrote about interviews and “Seven Questions That Can Kill Careers”.  This month, let’s look at how you can lose your job in ten easy steps.  We’re indebted to Kelly Eggers’ recent article from the Wall Street Journal, “Ten Things That Can Get You Fired”.

Of course, poor performance or antagonistic relationships are always causes for being fired.  But there are more subtle ways.  For example:
  • Sick every Monday:  According to Eggers’ article, frequently calling in sick on Monday is a good way to get your pink slip.  Same goes for Fridays.
  • Be disgusting:  When one’s appearance and hygiene aren’t the best, this is a wonderfully effective way to collect unemployment checks.  If this applies, your only option is to find a one-person office!
  • Have it your way:  Unless you are the Top Boss, it doesn’t pay to appear to be single-minded and critical of other’s ideas and work.
  • Be Anonymous:  This is the opposite of having it your own way.  Keeping your head down and being invisible is a good way to not be remembered when it’s time to count heads and reduce staff.
  • Criticize your boss with association members:  This is my favorite.  Members love gossip.  Revealing your opinion of your boss as stupid, incompetent and a cheat to your non-profit members is like talking through an amplified microphone.  It’s career suicide, even if you’re right!
What are the other ways to stand in the unemployment line?  According to Eggers they are:  6) Lie on your employment application; 7) Be ungrateful; 8) Spend time with the organization’s complainers, non-performers and gossips; 9) Never take responsibility when things go wrong; and 10) Take credit for other people’s work. 

If you’re looking for extra time for yourself this summer, give a couple of these a try!

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