By Gaylin Jee

“The last time you had an original idea, what did you do with it?” Adam Grant

Originals QuoteWe’re still using yesterday’s models and hoping they will solve tomorrow’s challenges. That’s not impossible, but it will become increasingly unrewarding. The impending World Economic Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution will radically shift life as we know it. Technology will be at the core of most work, whatever form work will take. Digital transformation will make way for digital sustainability, and innovation hubs and heroes will only take you part of the way. End states and narrow, short-term profits are yesterday’s goals.

Yet some see and create worlds of opportunity amidst this rapid ‘chaos’. We assume these people are innately creative, natural-born natural leaders, or that people who have a larger purpose and impact in the world are ‘rare’. We ask what’s in their DNA so that we can identify with them, or we ask where we can find them, and how we can work with them to release our strategic visions and intent. We also ask “can we grow and develop them?”

Let’s ventilate this topic with fresh thinking. We are coming to learn that great creators aren’t necessarily ones with the most outlandish ideas, or the deepest expertise, but also those activating the broadest perspectives, acting at the right time, with the right people around them.

We have a picture of more radical risk-takers and innovators, called game changers, from 2015 research. And we understand more about the composition of the team that drives game changing outputs. Now we also know, thanks to Adam Grant’s work ‘Originals’, that not all originality requires extreme risk taking. “I want to persuade you”, he says, “that originals are actually far more ordinary than we realise.” Grant defines originals as people who take the road less traveled, championing novel ideas that go against the grain but ultimately make things better.

Why should this be significant? Because all of us can learn to be Originals.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest many entrepreneurs are just ‘ordinary’, with the same fears and the same doubts as all of us. The best entrepreneurs, says Linda Rottenberg, are not risk maximisers. They take the risk out of risk taking.  They don’t like risk any more than the rest of us. They take calculated and measured risks, balancing their portfolios. Rottenberg is CEO of Endeavour, and has spent decades training many of the worlds great entrepreneurs. She is known as “la chica loca” (the crazy girl) for insisting that entrepreneurs existed not just in Silicon Valley but also in emerging markets around the world. Even when extreme risks are taken in one area, it seems they are balanced with caution in another.

Those who champion originality, rather than conformity, move us forward. And they are not so different from most us of us, says Grant. They appear bold and confident on the outside, but inside, they are also afraid of risk and avoid it. Originals start by questioning default positions, and then take calculated risks. All of us can learn to be Originals. As Sheryl Sandberg notes in her Forward to the book:

“… any one of us can champion ideas that improve the world around us.”

Crossing the Chasm: From Innovation Hub or Hero To Innovation as Usual – How do we get it right? was the focus session delivered at the recent 2017 Talent Talks Africa Conference.

By Gaylin Jee

We tend to grab onto the past and use it to design the future. It’s a profound failure of imagination. So say Stephen Gill and David Grebow. They add that the future is no longer about looking for continuity with the past and choosing shinier versions of existing technologies and trends.

This reminds me of Eddie Obeng’s work on the World After Midnight. We are still using yesterday’s models and hoping they will solve tomorrow’s challenges. That’s not impossible, but it will become increasingly unrewarding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Sometimes there needs to be a disruptive idea that lights up the crystal ball and makes us look at the future in a new way.”

You can read the full article by Gill and Grebow on the Association for Talent Development website here, but in essence they speak to a fundamental shift in training and learning, from managing hands, to managing minds. The future of learning for them is about managing minds. EQ will be important. Companies will be enabling learning, but not necessarily directing it.

I agree. Employees are catching on to the benefit of learning how to learn. Push is slowly giving over to pull, where some of us realise that we can draw down what we need from the eco-system that sits around us. That eco-system could offer the tools and tech to find out what we want to know, to communicate, to work together, to make sense of what we can do and how we do it.  Smart organisations help to set up those eco-systems. Their employees can experiment a little with what they find around them, and they’re encouraged to do that. After all, big and small ideas and innovations fall out of this type of enabled serendipity.

And so the shift extends, from managing hands, to managing minds, to perhaps a connecting of minds (which happens beyond the boundaries of the traditional organisation). A little more control and direction is relinquished, and a little more agency adopted on the part of employees.

We are fortunate to live in the times we do, with all this technological advancement. We can access learning and connection everywhere. That is just as well, for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is fast approaching. And the survival of the fittest in this revolution will not be those most responsive to change, but rather those who are one step ahead of it.

This article was first published on Talent Talks Africa.

By Gaylin Jee

Even a giant can streamline, increase speed and encourage innovation. 

General Electric (GE) has done this through making lean startup part of the mindset and the culture at the organisation, using a programme called FastWorks.

Leader of GE Culture and co-founder of GE FastWorks, Janice Sempe:

“We had a culture of being addicted to being right, … we had a culture of perfection. We didn’t know how to partner with our customers and see their problems from their perspective.” “We had to train our leaders to lead in a different way. We had to get them to ask questions in place of provide answers.”

Often our focus is on activity, or getting things done. If we shift the focus from customer requirements confusion to customer validation, to building a minimum viable product and then pivoting, to learning as we go along, we get better product to market more quickly. In place of having thinly spread teams, GE builds dedicated teams. These teams are fast, and focused. Using FastWorks, GE has successfully introduced lean startup principles in a non-tech environment, and in a highly regulated industry.

Based on the lean startup methodology principles of Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup methodology, FastWorks is essentially a set of tools and practices designed to build better products for customers, more quickly. There are 100s of FastWorks programmes across GE. FastWorks decreases the cycle time for product development. GE uses it to get closer to customers, to encourage innovation, increase speed to market, improve chances of success, and, generally, to make it easier to get things done.

Sempe shares the challenges and tangible successes that GE has driven through creating a culture of experimentation in the podcast interview How An Enterprise Makes Lean Startup Part of The Mindset And Culture. These kinds of successes she notes are about a lot more than training. You have to think more broadly about your organisations ability, in terms of its behaviours and cultures, to support the application of a lean startup approach. This is more than giving permission to fail, it is asking the questions: What new skills are needed and can be developed? Will new behaviours required be rewarded? How will our performance management system support this? What are the new expectations we have of employees?

At GE, 5 new belief statements were introduced. They wanted to think about failure in a different way, and to reframe barriers, giving permission for people to accept and adopt new ways of thinking and acting. Not meeting an outcome is a great way of getting to a better solution. You learn as you go along. The bold GE statements are:

  1. Customers determine our success
  2. Stay lean to go fast
  3. Learn and adapt to win
  4. Empower and inspire each other
  5. Deliver results in an uncertain world.

The GE performance management system has also been reworked, from a linear process of setting and measuring goals at the start and end of each year, to an on-going process that encourages asking the right questions. It allows for adaption. Employees are expected to experiment and pivot based on what they are learning from their customers.

It would be naïve to think that an organisational change like this is easy. Sempe says they are learning as they go, and she admits that it is hard. There has been considerable commitment to the programme. In the first year of implementation, Ries trained around 1000 GE executives on Lean Startup. There are also numerous coaches in the organization. But the results are tangible. Sempe offers two proof points in her interview:

  1. A new product (an engine) getting to market 2 years ahead of competitors with significant cost savings to the company, positioned very well with customers as a result, by using FastWorks principles;
  2. An efficient low cost energy solution for their power and water business, development costs were reduced by 60% by using the principles of FastWorks.

Define your company's mindset orentation

The Singularity Hub describe FastWorks as part of the company’s Mindset Orientation, or MO, one of 8 principles for leaders to make the most of the exponential age. It is worth reading the article to find out what the other 7 are.

What is your organization’s mindset orientation? What commitment is there to learning and adapting faster than the change that’s happening around you?

 

By Gaylin Jee

exponential-organisationsfuture-business-innovationIf your resources are scarce and come at a premium, you can aim to control as many stages of production as possible. You can do this through vertical integration. Vertical integration is when businesses at different stages of production merge to control more than one stage of the supply chain. Think about iron miners and steel factories, a farm and a grocery store, and a large supermarket with it’s own brands. In the last example, ownership of manufacturing, distribution and retail provide opportunities to offer products at competitive prices. There are distinct benefits associated with being able to control access to inputs, and to control the cost, quality and delivery times of those inputs.

But times are changing. According to Techcrunch, the pace of technological advancement is rendering vertically integrated organisations practically obsolete.

Whereas historically firms have vertically integrated in order to control access to scarce physical resources, modern firms are internally and externally disaggregated, participating in a variety of alliances and joint ventures and outsourcing even those activities normally regarded as core. – McKinsey and Co.

Small teams can realize the feats of what was previously the preserve of larger giants, more quickly, and effectively. They bring agility and leaness. And a fundamental shift is what Techcrunch describe as an orientation towards plenty, in pace of dearth. The governing principle of scarcity is being challenged by an abundance mindset. At 33 Emeralds we’ve been talking about an abundance mindset for some time on a personal level, and working with individuals to re-orientate from being ‘hassled by change and disruption’, and, ‘not very good with tech’ to understanding that with all this change comes opportunity like we’ve never seen or experienced it before. Getting our heads around a glass over-flowing (rather than a half empty), is a necessary choice you make for your own future.

From an organization perspective, exponential organisations are set up to leverage abundance. Their low organizational demands are inversely proportional to huge business potential. They design for rapid and effortless growth. AirBnB, for example, leverages an abundance of real estate. Watch this 7-minute clip on Exponential Organisations by Salim Ismail if you’re curious about the exponential organization.

Exponential organisations, says Ismail, are designed for the digital business economy. And they’re the ones most likely to survive longer term.

By Gaylin Jee

deep-workI have discovered something new I like called absorb state, described by Gregory Ciotti as one of 7 ways to boost your creativity. Absorb state refers to a period of consuming information only, not creating or delivering any output. The concept is also referred to as ‘batching’. It replaces what Linda Stone calls ‘continuous partial attention’, where you give in to the temptations of multitasking on other aspects of your work.

‘Having a clear rule that forbids any distraction during focused work was freeing’ reported Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for focussed success in a distracted world. He experimented with hard focus for a day where you have to focus at least 30 minutes on every single task you do. All work is chunked into blocks of at least 30 minutes. So if you check emails, you have to spend at least 30 minutes on emails and other small diversions.

 

Batching is hard, concluded Newport from his experiment. It turns out you really need to plan ahead to ensure you have all the material and information needed for some focused blocks of work. You cannot leave one task to spin off an email requesting information, or to set up a meeting. Because you need to stay focused on your task for 30 minutes at least. But if you did ‘defocus’, you’d then need to spend the remainder of the 30 minutes doing more of what you’d jumped ship to do.

But on the flipside, he experienced more time in a flow state that he can remember experiencing in recent times. And the quality of his work improved. Added to that was increased efficiency around small task completion.

‘Deep work provides the sense of true fulfilment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy.’

Given these insights, and the appeal of spending quality time in absorb state, I think I’ll give it a try.

By Gaylin Jee

disrupt-yourself

The best way to predict the future is to create it. – Peter Drucker.

Looking at what the future holds should be like looking at we want to create. As Vala Afshar notes, companies do not disrupt, people do.

One drives innovation and disruption in the organisation through driving personal disruption. And according to Whitney Johnson, a leading thinker on driving corporate innovation through personal disruption, the S curve developed in the early 60’s beautifully architects a map for personal disruption. To reach mastery, we must find ways to course along that S-curve journey.

“At first when we try something new the progress is slow, but as we hit the steep part of the curve, the fun begins…. With learning, progress doesn’t follow a straight line.”

Johnson’s 7 variables to reach mastery along the S curve resonate powerfully. Here they are:

  1. Take the right risks: starting something new is risky. Position yourself to play where no one else is playing (Read more on Blue Ocean Strategy if you are not familiar with the thinking).
  2. Play to your distinctive strengths: disruptors look for unmet needs, and match those with their strengths. (Take a look at the GC Index with it’s key 5 roles for Game Changing outputs. This Index measures proclivity, or how we like to contribute in role and at work, is strengths-based, and develops influence and impact).
  3. Embrace constant constraints: see things differently. ‘Constraints aren’t a check on our freedom, but rather a valuable tool of creation.’ (Read Why Breakout Growth Requires Us To Break Good Habits by A Beautiful Constraint)
  4. Battle entitlement: ‘entitlement will stifle innovation at all levels’, says Johnson. If you believe the world owes you, your S curve journey will be slow and even stunted. Give more than you take. No one really likes people who feel they are entitled to things.
  5. Step back to grow: be adaptable and curious. Sometimes that means recalibrating your metrics, and moving what feels like sideways, back or down. To disrupt you may need to redefine success.
  6. Give failure its due: get on your own S curve. Expect to fail. It is not a referendum on you. Learn. Make original mistakes. To disrupt you must walk into the unknown, and that is risky. Winners quit all the time, they quit the right stuff at the right time. – Seth Godin
  7. Be discovery driven: you can’t see the top of the curve from the bottom. Explore. Be curious. Search yet-to-be-defined places.