Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category

Optimism in a time of Economic Gloom

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

I read an itneresting article in the Associated Press about the economic doldrums affecting the United States. There is a lot of cause for pessimism. Employment is sky high with almost 20% of real unemployment/ underemployment, people are not shopping and families are struggling. What I found really interesting was this quote:

To some economists, the United States is starting to look eerily like Japan. The Japanese economy fell into a recession in the early `90s. It has never fully returned to health, largely because of policy mistakes. The government raised taxes after declaring victory over the downturn prematurely. And U.S. economists, including current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, criticized the Japanese central bank, the Bank of Japan, for being too passive to turn the economy around.

Economists are trained to look at numbers. When I was an economics major at the University of Illinois I spent a lot of time analyzing graphs and charts. That is probably why I ended up switching over to become a theater major at New York University! I agree that sound policies do have a positive impact on the economy. However, the economists miss one difference between the North American economy and the Japanese. In both Canada and the U.S. economic success is based on innovation. It is innovation that is the key element of growth. The Japanese are very good at process improvement such as Kaizan and creating well built products (i.e. Honda). What they lack, however, is the diversity and entrepreneurial spirit that has built North America into the world’s leading economy for over 75 years. Advances in software, the internet, biomedical technology and telecom have mainly come from North America. The succes of its economy is people having new ideas and then have the freedom to implement them.

What is hurting the U.S. more than anything is regulation that stops entrepreneurship. You see it in Europe where it is very hard to start a business because of all the regulations and bureaucracy that a person has to go through to start one. Yes, many of those regulations are necessary but many are not. If we want to kickstart the economy, the best way is to streamline regulations and bureaucracy and invest in small businesses and new ideas.

Americans and Canadian have always been creative problem solvers and it is for this reason that I believe that the economic gloom we are facing is temporary and I am optimistic that our creativity will ultimately create an economic turnaround.

Models of Appreciative Inquiry and Problem Solving

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Appreciative Inquiry is a wonderful organizational development model developed by David Cooperrider at Case Western University that is very applicable to what is happening in today’s economy. When dealing with problem solving and change, many times how we ask the question and what vision we create has a direct impact on how we solve the problem. For instance, instead of asking ‘what are our problems?’ or ‘what are we weak at?’, we can instead ask ‘what are our are strengths and how can we make them stronger?’. In Appreciative Inquiry there are four phases:
1.DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
2.DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
3.DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
4.DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design

It is a strong addition to what I originally wrote in Flexible Thinker For our economic woes, if we look at phase 1 and ask ourselves what are our processes that work well. For instance, we are good at entrepreneurship and creativity. There is a reason companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple. Blackberry and Intel were founded in North America. Because we are free and are measured not by our lineage but by our accomplishments.

In process 2, we can dream of ways to make it easier to be create. These include less and more streamlined regulations to allow businesses to start. Investment in small business to help people have the capital to make their visions a reality.

In Phase 3 we can start to brainstorm ways to implement that vision. It could be discarding unnecessary paperwork and out-of-date process or finding ways to directly invest in various businesses and ideas.

Finally in Phase 4, we build SMART plans (Specific, Measurable, Actions, Realistic, Timeframe) to make those plans a reality.

By looking positively at what is the best of us, no matter your political persuasion, you build on the strengths we have. In other words, by focusing on the positive we achieve positive results.

Retention in the Age of Unemployment

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

With unemployment in Canada at 7.6% and in the U.S. at 9.8%, there does not seem to be a real need for organizations to worry about retention. After all, for every person leaving a job there are 10 people waiting to fill it. Also, people are staying where they are because they fear being unemployed. Also, in bad times, many business leaders have more important things on their mind than retaining staff. Their largest retention issue is with customers.

The reason that retention is still a major issues comes down to one word – competitiveness. The reality of today is that people are being asked to work harder for less money just to keep afloat. There still is a shortage of people – qualified people who can work faster and smarter.

There was a story I head a while ago about a chicken plant. The plant went on strike and the union was broken in the process as people crossed the line. People there were working for slightly more than minimum wage and being treated rather poorly. The result was that, in order to get revenge on the plant, they were spitting in the chickens on the assembly line and letting the customers know about it.

This brings me to my central point. A business is only as good as the people who deliver the product and services to the customers. Organizations that search out entrepreneurial, creative people and allow them to solve problems will thrive. Attraction and retention of these people will determine an organization’s ultimate success or failure and provide them with a sustainable competitive advantage. This is where human resources becomes a funciton of the business (and in fact an integral part of it) as opposed to a spectator.

Leadership, Vision and Landing on the Moon

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy had a vision that the United States could land a man on the moon within 10 years. It was only 60 years before that that the Wright brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk. Yet, Kennedy had this vision that we could push our creativity and limits and within a short timeframe achieve what everybody else thought was impossible. That vision rallied people and resources and ignited the imagination and creativity not just of an entire country but of the world. The interesting thing is that it was the competition from the U.S.’s enemy at the time, the Soviet Union, that spurred that vision.

Today, sadly, marks the final landing of the space shuttle.  NASA will no longer be out beacon to the cosmos.  Instead NASA’s mission is to apologize and perform “outreach to the Muslim world“.  In a twisted perversion of Kennedy’s vision, we no longer should compete against others to better mankind and reach the stars but to subjugate our interests and apologize to others for a host of litanys that had nothing to do with us.  Where Kennedy once showed strong vision and leadership, with the killing of the space program and the ‘redefining’ of NASA President Obama shows lack of leadership and stifling of creativity and innovation into a set of strange apologies.  The irony is that with all of this ‘outreach’, America is more despised than ever in the Arab world.  Why?  Because we are no longer strong leaders with visions but reactive weaklings who ‘lead from behind’, which should more aptly be called following and passing the buck.

The lesson learned is that people respect leaders who have vision, tenacity and challenge those around them instead of trying to appease them.  It is a good lesson for all of us to learn, whether we are leading families, businesses or governments.  Strong leaders have vision and rallying people to those visions.  Weak leaders simply react to events and try to please everybody.  The irony is that instead of pleasing everybody, they please nobody!

Free Improvisation Exercises

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Due to popular demand, we now have a section that features FREE improvisation games that you can use with your training and course design. These exercises, along with some debrief points, are your to use. Just click here and check in periodically (perhaps mark as a ‘favorite’) for more games as we post them. Many of these are great for leadership debriefs (especially the 3 Up/Freeze Tag), change management, and innovation as well as team building. Enjoy!

Why MBAs Make the Worst Leaders

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Interesting interview from Henry Mintzberg. As many people know, i am a big fan of Prof. Mintzberg, the head of the business school at McGill University in Montreal and professor of business at Harvard. His point is very well taken. MBAs make rotten leaders. The reason is that they know how to say ‘no’ to everything, are by nature conformist thinkers and non-entrepreneurial. Most of all, though, as Mintzberg points out, they are so full of themselves that they cannot manage others.

Confidence without competence. Which to me is equivalent to arrogance.

MBA courses tend to attract people who aren’t necessarily sensitive to people issues. We have a lot of evidence that these are people more concerned with numbers, and getting themselves ahead, than dealing with people. There’s a wonderful quote which comes from an interview with Harvard professor John Kotter. He did a study of the Harvard MBA class of 1974, tracking their careers. A journalist asked him if the people he tracked were team players. He said no, they want to run the team, create the team and lead it to glory rather than be a member of someone else’s team. And that is the antithesis of team working, wanting to run the team.

The problem with most organizations, though, is that they have become lead by a social clique that doesn’t necessarily care about the people of the organization and think short sighted.  This is closely aligned with the book Freakonmics wonderful chapter about how the people who stole the cookies and candies most from the Good Sam box were the senior management.  It also reflects on the organization that it becomes a bullying organization where people are promoted by who they know and not by their accomplishments.

Listening to Mark Twain

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

I recently had a series of e-mails from a person whom I was considering going into a new business venture with and it reminded me of Mark Twain’s famous dictum that it is better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are stupid than open it up and prove them right.   The problem was that I asked for a written agreement and to put together a business plan before doing a lot of work on this project.  What I discovered was that this person was a control freak to umpteenth degree and really wanted to simply be a ‘big shot’ and have me do all of the work and then eventually shoulder all of the blame.  Although he had this idea for over two years, he had done nothing with it.  He did not even want to invest $10 to register a domain name.  There is nothing like being lazy as well stupidly cheap.

After asking him for a reasonable request (which would have also helped him), he wrote me a series of  long e-mail that was particularly scathing.  I guess he had time to write these e-mails but not register a domain name and was upset that I did register the domain.  The gist of his e-mail was ‘I will tell you what to write and you will write it!’.  The funny part was that I had to prove my ability to write to him, even though I have written countless articles and books and am all over the internet, while he does not have to prove himself (even though you will not even find a LinkedIn profile of him).

There are two points to this.  One, with technology and instaneous communication, it is a great idea to think about things before commiting them to paper.  You definitely cannot take back words and even more so with e-mail.  Sometimes it is better to simply let things go or give it a few days before you write things down.  Also, silence can be powerful.  Better to be silent sometimes and let people ‘think’ they know what you are up to, than to tip your hand and show them.

The second lesson is on leadership.  It is obvious that this person will never do anything.  He is all talk and if after 2 years of an idea he does not even both to register a domain name (cost $10), then he will never do anything.  Instead of trying to inspire and collaborate with people to get things done, he simply wants to bully them to do it is his way.  Obviously after two years of going nowhere, you would think he might figure out that his way isn’t workinng.  For that, however, he should take Ben Franklin’s quote to heart.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

The idea of innovation is not simply having an idea, but having the dedication and openess to execute it and adapt your strategy accordingly.