To Create Innovation, Avoid the Shiny Object Syndrome

To Create Innovation, Avoid the Shiny Object Syndrome

Technology is seductive. Take a look at the devices that we carry around in our pockets or attach to our bodies – phones, monitors, bands and watches – each collecting, distributing and analyzing data. Think about how many of these you have – and think about their purpose. We use them for efficiency and optimization – to get things done better, faster and more reliably. They provide us with something that is missing – flexibility or the chance to gain some insight about our behaviors and actions. As a New Year’s Resolution, a friend of mine purchased a FitBit and has been using it daily. He says it helps keep track of his activity. “I know how much exercise I get each day and each week. It monitors my heart rate and my sleep and reports back to me in a number of ways – from instant updates and reminders to email summaries and encouraging achievement badges. It gives me a focus on my health”, he explained. I loved the enthusiasm and excitement. When we caught up recently, I was interested to find out how the FitBit experiment was going. Had he reached his goals? Did the data help? Did the device deliver? To my surprise, he wasn’t even wearing the device. “Hey, what happened to your watch?”, I asked innocently. “Did you lose it?” “It’s not the watch, I lost”, he said. “It’s the motivation to track myself”. Sensing that there was something more going on here, I pressed further. When we met in early January he was excited about this idea and had spent a great deal of time setting...
Innovation – It’s Like Juggling Chainsaws

Innovation – It’s Like Juggling Chainsaws

Hands up who has an ideas platform. Hands up who has an innovation team or a lab. What about email? How many new business ideas would your receive in your email each week? Or month? What about informal and formal chats, hackathons or pitching competitions? There’s an abundance of ideas, right? Almost every leader I know has an “innovation backlog” – a collection of great ideas, opportunities and plans that never get implemented. Time is too short. Implementation takes too long. Or our focus on quarterly goals narrows our ability to accelerate and incubate new projects. There is always a reason – or excuse – to file an innovative idea away for later. But I firmly believe that leadership is about decision making and action. Applying lean startup principles to the business of being a leader will help us to a certain extent, but how do we go about exercising judgement? When we are inundated with information and ideas, judgement can be clouded. What we need is a way to find clarity. Prioritizing the Aha Moment One way of prioritizing your innovation backlog is to assess each idea  in terms of the “Aha moment”. By quickly scanning each of the ideas, you are looking for a moment of “realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension”. Those that don’t make that first cut can be ignored. Yes, ignored. Or better yet, deleted. As leaders we must actively trust our experience and capability. We can’t second guess our decisions each and every time. We need to back ourselves. In doing so, remember, you are not making this decision in isolation. You are...

Striking the Right Balance

President Obama recently sparked an interesting dialogue about empathy when he stated that he would nominate a Supreme Court justice “who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract theory. … It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives,” to replace the outgoing Justice David Souter.  In short, he wants someone with judicial empathy.  This has caused outrage from some and applause from others.  Regardless how you feel about this issue, it is interesting to see so much attention being paid to empathy within the context of the Supreme Court. Personally, I am a definite believer that empathy has a place in leadership and business in general.  That said, it must be properly balanced with power in order for long-lasting, sustainability to be achieved.  Karl Long wrote a wonderful piece discussing this balance.  Leaders must find a way to appeal to those that they lead and simultaneously command the respect of these individuals.  Some people respect a leader who demonstrates care and concern for them.  Others respect a powerful authority that leads based on a command and control approach.  I have written about a related topic in the past in a piece entitled “Democratic Dictatorship“.  In this piece I made the point that a leader is ultimately responsible to the organization’s best interests, not those of any particular individual.  However, to be clear, this does not imply that a leader cannot show empathy toward individuals within the organization.  On the contrary, it is often in the organization’s best interests to keep the people who work there satisfied.  In fact, loyalty expert Fred Reichheld, has...

Understanding the Leadership Contract

It doesn’t matter whether you are a chief executive or a newly hired intern, it is up to each and every one of us to tap into our drive, our ambition, and our creativity to transform our work and the business of business. We do this by taking on the responsibility for both actions and results. We do this by reaching out to members of our village – drawing them in, sharing a vision and encouraging them to build on, and take ownership in, the opportunities for transformation. But in amongst all this, we must also understand the nature of the implied leadership contract. I was reminded of this by Wally Bock’s excellent post, Don’t Just Tell Me. Show Me. In this post, Wally writes of a colleague who challenged him early in his career – rather than offering praise, she said “don’t just tell me, show me”. As Wally explains, praise is powerful and financial incentives can be very effective: But if that’s all you use with team members, you risk moving out of the realm of social covenants and into the realm of economic contracts. And this is one of the most important aspects of leadership. Just because you may not “know” every person that works in your business unit or across your enterprise, this doesn’t mean that those people don’t have a sense of who you are. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have some sense of relationship with you. After all, if you have been following my advice and working on your communication skills, you will have built a great deal of rapport with and...

We Are Only What We Do…

A recent series of articles from Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper featured Isadore Sharp’s new book, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy. One thing that struck me when reading this was an expression that too many leaders don’t internalize nor demonstrate as often as they should: “We are only what we do, not what we say we are.” Of course, there are many variations of this mantra: “Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk” or “Actions speak louder than words.” But when reading this piece, it hit me. These are not just words on a page or ancient words of wisdom that don’t have any real place in our modern day worlds. We all must read expressions like this and, as leaders, live them to their fullest intentions. Merely giving lip service to employees, partners, superiors, etc. does not make for an authentic leader. Too many leaders, along with their communications staff, spend too much time thinking about how to say whatever it is they need to say. And, for sure, I commend those with the gift of gab for whom communicating clearly and with well-chosen words comes easy. I’ve surely written about the tremendously valuable ability to communicate clearly on my blog over the past year and think it is, without a doubt, one of the most critical skills anyone in business [and it really isn’t nor should be limited at all to people working in the business world] can possess. However, as important as such communications are, the benefits from them can be completely eroded when the actions don’t support the words. How...

Seventh Annual American Business Awards(SM)

The Stevie Awards has named nine executives who will chair specialized final-judging committees for its Seventh Annual American Business Awards. I am proud to say that I have been selected as the chairwoman for the Management category. The American Business Awards (www.stevieawards.com/aba) are open to all organizations operating within the U.S.A. – public and private, for-profit and non-profit, large and small. Entries will be accepted through April 30 in dozens of categories from Executive of the Year, Company of the Year, and Best New Product or Service to Best Web Site and Best Annual Report. The nine committees are based on the categories that will be judged. The appointments are as follows: Company Categories: Ted C. Mesa, founder, president and CEO, Pointandship Software, Inc., Walnut Creek, CA Corporate Communications & Public Relations – Richard Ramlall, Senior VP for Strategic External Affairs, Programming, and International Marketing, RCN Corporation, Herndon, VA Customer Service – Troy Carrothers, Senior VP-Credit, Kohl’s Department Stores, Menomonee Falls, WI Human Resources – Rosemary Haefner, VP-Human Resources, CareerBuilder.com, Chicago, IL Information Technology – Anyck Turgeon, Chief of Market Strategy and Security, Crossroads Systems, Austin, TX Management – Nina Simosko, Senior VP of the Global Ecosystem & Partner Group, SAP Americas, Palo Alto, CA Marketing – Mimi San Pedro, VP-Global Marketing, Acxiom Corporation, Little Rock, AR Product Development – Glen Tindal, Chief Technology Officer, Intelliden, Colorado Springs, CO Sales – Sanford Brown, Chief Sales Officer, Heartland Payment Systems, Princeton, NJ Finalists in The 2009 American Business Awards will be determined in preliminary judging to be conducted in April and May by volunteer professionals nationwide. Final judging, led by...