Think differently – do differently #FutureWork

By Gaylin Jee

think-differently-do-differentlyI have taken to including a short Think Differently session in my workshops with clients. It consists of riddles and brainteasers designed to engage, amuse and challenge. There are small prizes for those who can solve the riddles and teasers, and more prizes for those who are creative with their answers. Some come away bristling with satisfaction, others are annoyed. They are all entertained and stretched. And that’s the point of the session – to leave for a moment our groomed intention to find and offer a right answer, and instead to follow our own curiosity and find a different answer, our own answer. I want to inject an appetite for that, because it’s going to become more essential that we can think, and do, differently.

Think differently, see things differently, get to a place where you can actually do things differently, and you’re more likely to end up in the Blue Ocean.

“Creating blue oceans builds brands. So powerful is blue ocean strategy, in fact, that a blue ocean strategic move can create brand equity that lasts for decades.” – W. Chan Kim, Professor of Strategy and Management at INSEAD and Co-director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.

Here is a summary of Blue Ocean Strategy if you are not familiar with the thinking, Blue Ocean Strategy: Creating your own market, and an early Harvard Business Review write-up about it: Blue Ocean Strategy.

But here is the challenge. We’re not set up to think differently, and it is risky to do so. People who think and do differently can get hurt in organisations. In one large FS organisation it was simply understood that no items got a ‘red’ on the traffic light reporting system for a large project. That meant failing. And then everyone else could see you/your team/your unit were failing. The reporting didn’t reflect real progress, and surface real risks that could be mitigated for, it was about ensuring that you were not seen to be failing. How would sticking your neck out in this environment work, when time and budgets are the prize winners?

Take a look at the Millennial Disruption Index, a US study, but insights worth heeding globally: banks – your future customers would rather visit the dentist than listen to what you have to say. 73% would be more excited about a new offering in financial services from Google, Amazon, Apple, PayPal or Square than from their own nationwide bank. Nearly half the respondents in this study are counting on tech start-ups to overhaul the way banks work. They believe innovation will come from outside the industry. Given some of my own banking experiences, from the inside and as customer, I have to agree.

Establishing satellite innovation labs, or hubs, or hobnobbing with fintech start-ups seems like a very small piece of the puzzle you need to think differently about. I’d be inclined to shine the lens a little more on the motherships, the large institutions lumbering on with unwritten but carefully obeyed rules about status reports. I’d have a very frank conversation about “the way things get done around here”. That statement is another way of describing the real organisation values. On the end of that statement you could put “To Succeed”, or even “To Survive”.

The right-answer approach, and right-first-time, has been the bedrock of the ideally operationally efficient and nimble organisations we have been ruling over for years. This one-right-answer, time-and-budgets approach, often seeded in what worked in the past, seems to be a chain tightening around the necks of corporates who continue to mildly heed the imperative of establishing environments at work where it is safe to look for and experiment with different answers that might work. Or might not.

Our organisations are set up for traditional high potentials who are typically good at strategy and implementation, and understanding of incremental innovation or what we call polishing. We lay out ladders for these traditional leaders to climb, if they prove they have the right answers and the top-down, sealed-up script to implement them.

But how the world is changing – it is networked, participatory, choice-laden and unpredictable. Here today, disrupted tomorrow. How refreshing. Think Uber, AirBnB and all the other over-used examples. We need a wider range of roles, and appetites, to refresh our future.

Peter Druckers’ words seemed so outlandish at first, but feel perhaps less so now:

“Every organisation must prepare for the abandonment of everything it does”.  

Playing in a nimble and efficient space may be risker, it seems, than actually sticking your neck out. Because over time you will be out-disrupted. But what courage it takes to think and do differently in the environments we create and reinforce at work.

Grow and support appetites for thinking and doing differently. Get your head around new roles, like Game Changers, Play Makers and Polishers. If not for your organisation, then at least for your longer-term self.

 

What is your remarkable? Are you selling it?

In 1991, Douglas Edwards became Google’s first brand manager. The company was barely a year old and Edwards was employee number 59. For his interview, Google co-founder Sergey Brin turned up wearing a T-shirt, gym shorts and in-line skates. He asked Edwards to answer his famous challenge.    After five minutes to think, I want you to explain something complicated to me that I do not already know.   If the candidate wasn’t the right fit, at least it could be an hour of insight gained, airing, absorbing and debating new opinions. Edwards passed the challenge. He was invited for sushi with the team after the interview.

A few weeks after joining, Brin suggested:

“Why don’t we take the marketing budget and use it to inoculate Chechen refugees against cholera. It will help our brand awareness, and we’ll get more new people to use Google.”

At the time Edwards thought this to be a bold and revolutionary approach (a little crazy perhaps?) to growing market share. But as he explains in this excerpt from his book I’m feeling lucky – the confessions of Google employee number 59, a little while later he agreed that saving lives was probably a better use of budget than running ads, which just annoyed people to no effect.

 

The idea of ads annoying people to no effect is one Seth Godin speaks widely to. The end of the TV-Industrial Complex has not resulted in the end of Television Thinking. Television thinking is trying to reach everyone by any means any time with your message. It was based on the principle of interruption, interrupt your audience and grab their attention, bombard them with a message.

The alternative to this thinking is permission marketing, defined as the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want them. And to get this right we must create and sell things that are remarkable, not only because the other options are boring but because they will be unsuccessful, no matter what anyone tells you.

Seth Godin issues an energetic plea for originality, passion, guts and daring.What is your remarkable-

‘Today, the one sure way to fail is to be boring (or annoying)…make a difference at your company by helping create products and services that are worth marketing in the first place…’

I agree.

Edwards says he quit the advertising agencies he worked for before Google because he didn’t like the idea that he might have to sell something he didn’t believe in. At Google there was a headlong rush to reshape the world in a generation, accompanied by impatience with those not quick enough to grasp the obvious truth of Google’s vision.

Remarkable.

What’s your remarkable? Are you selling it?

Are you ready for a game-changing future?

Our desire to attract and recruit Game Changers is increasing.

That’s because they can use the chaos of rapid change and advancement to fuel organisation competitiveness and success. Game Changers drive innovation. We need innovation to survive. But recruiting Game Changers is just one of the steps to a future-fit organisation and not necessarily the first. Few organisations are ready for the Game Changers they seek, or have within their midst.

Game Changer

Game Changers are people who accelerate evolution at every level. They have this ingenious ability to see round corners and to spot hidden or less than obvious opportunity. Their openness to new ideas and willingness to take risks combined with a high drive to initiate change means they can upend organisations, industries and markets. And they do, because they are typically obsessive about turning their ideas into reality. However it is actually quite common for Game Changers to leave large organisations. Why is this?

To understand more about Game Changers, business insight and talent consultancy eg.1 carried out research and produced this report “The DNA of a Game Changer.” Their work sheds a lot of light on a much-needed group of talent with the potential to change landscapes for those around them. Game Changers are described as needing space and latitude to be creative and to demonstrate their value to the business. Their obsessive imagination and relentless focus on making their ideas real is what we seek yet it also means they can come across as demanding, uncompromising and impatient. They can alienate others and appear disruptive. Frustration can drive Game Changers to seek fulfilment away from the structures that limit them – slow moving, hierarchical and risk-averse organisations.

If we want Game Changers and the successes they drive in our organisations, we need to ensure they are championed by an individual who is senior or has influence within the organisation. We also need to get comfortable with allowing them the freedom they crave to make decisions as well as give them permission to take some risk (and fail). How many of us do this already on a day-to-day basis?

And it doesn’t stop there. Even solo Game Changers or innovation heroes will not produce the competitive edge we need for what lies ahead. We need to think about the collection of individuals who, together, can accelerate evolution at every level. These are not collections of Game Changers, or Game Changers and their minions. There are other roles that help to secure game changing results. The four additional roles identified in the eg.1 work for truly game-changing teams are Play Makers, Strategists, Polishers and Implementers.

Nathan Ott (CEO of eg.1) and Dr John Mervyn-Smith (Chief Psychologist of eg.1), in collaboration with Dr Adrian Furnham (University College London) have designed a way to identify these role players. It is called the GC Index and it is a completely online tool that assesses real and potential contribution of individuals to a company, role or project. It challenges traditional methods – in place of measuring personality type, skills or leadership qualities, it focuses on output. That’s a welcome distinction. The eg.1 work turns a corner in the way we approach the future.

Are you ready to change the game?

For more information about the GC Index and how it can be used in your organisation, drop us a mail. We are accredited to administer the tool and to deliver personalised feedback.

 

 

Are you in good shape? #futureskills #futurethinking

We are gradually phasing into a digital world, one that is starting to look and feel very different. And yet in our organisations, we still focus so much on what we have been used to in the past. We look for and build more traditional leadership and management skills.  Our HIPO’s (high potentials) are typically good at strategy and implementation. And we reward them for climbing a ladder to larger budgets and bigger teams. But will these HIPOs prepare us adequately for what’s ahead?

IMG_2651

 

‘We can no longer predict the future with any accuracy, but we can build ourselves to flourish there.’

 

 

Do you still think you can predict and control what happens tomorrow? Is your strategy to hang on to what you have, to keep doing what you do better than anyone else, to avoid out-disruption through your excellence, tweaking bits at the sides with a new product or service?  That is not likely to be enough.

What never seemed possible is now reality. New technologies, ways of living, consuming, working and interacting emerge all the time. We need people in our organisations who think and see things differently, who drive new frontiers, who believe in their ideas and pursue them, who take risks. What we offer (like the corporate ladder) may no longer be attractive for the people we need most, if it ever was.

Embracing and leveraging a future that looks little like today is held somewhere in the way you think. Vast and constant change presents a steady flow of new opportunity. Our mindset and the way we view the world, and the skills we build to thrive within it, are critical enablers to unlock that. But they are so often overlooked as we debate the differences between management and leadership, fight over technical expertise, and insist on ways of working that simply do not yield the outputs we need.

How about shaping a future that changes the game? How about refreshing the lens on the people you need, how you attract them, and the ways of working that make this all possible?

It is likely that the outputs and skills we need most will be in short supply tomorrow, exactly because many people and organisations are just ‘hanging on’, being buttressed by change and disruption.

Your appetite to explore and develop the skills you’ll need for tomorrow will become a competitive lever for you. Proactively and positively crafting your own future using new technologies will become essential.

At 33 Emeralds we challenge you to think about how you are going to fare in a world that is uncertain and unpredictable. We have worked with many individuals in organisations, as well as game changers who have left corporate life to shape their own craft. We believe in a business case, offer simple insight, and assess appetite for risk and change. We form intelligent strategy and define approach to fit current realities, allowing you to experiment, build your own savvy, and execute on whatever it is you have lined up.

Are you in good shape for tomorrow?

It is our belief that focusing on predicting the future will leave us short. Instead, we should aim to build ourselves for it. And then approach it with glee.

If there is nothing that excites you about your future, perhaps you should give us a call.

All change please

It is the human interface with new technologies that will mostly likely drive the best personal and business value propositions into the future. Yet both companies and individuals can miss the people behind the tools and the mindset of change for adoption of new tools. I sometimes wonder if one of the barriers to digital transformation lies in a thinking trap we’ve fallen into. It’s about change and the rhetoric around it.

climate-chalkboard_310x206I once attended a Social Anthropology lecture that covered “The myth of the unchanging past’. My much-admired, clever and somewhat quirky lecturer presented it so eruditely, and it’s been with me all the way since I was a student. But it’s taken a while for what was presented to fully sink in.

The myth speaks to the fact that we tend to assume the past never changed, and it was rather idyllic for that. We see the past as rose tinted, constant and in sharp juxtaposition to today, where there seems to be constant change clutter and chaos. Our worldview of change is as an imposter, arriving one night and settling in, needing management and containment. That’s why we have separate ‘change management projects and budgets’, run by change specialists. We don’t see change as part of who we are, and what we drive.

If you think about it, not even two days have ever been the same. Change has always been with us. Yes, the rate of change has increased. But aren’t we the ones with our feet on the pedals, accelerating the pace of change through our preferences, choices, actions and inventions?

If we have come to view change as an outsider to be managed, how does that shape our orientation to both the present and the future?

Drew Hanson interviewed Rita J King in an article for Forbes in 2012: Imagination: what you need to thrive in the future economy. Rita had this to say:

In the Imagination Age, we can collectively imagine and create the future we want to inhabit … The shape of the future is reliant on the ability to think ahead. In the Imagination Age, we are attempting to create the future we can imagine.

If we want truly novel things to happen in our organizations, we need to learn to let go of the thought that we can always foresee and plan what that newness is going to look like.’

Is that a bit of a departure from what is expected of our leaders now?

Change is all about us, it is us, and it always has been. The mindset we need for future imaginations doesn’t manage change the imposter (the thinking trap). It accepts it, lets it out and plays with it – not always an easy thing to get right in an organisation. But there are some skills that we can develop that would be useful for that. I’m interested to hear what you think those are.

Superman is dead, and other thoughts on leadership

What do these words describe?   Sense-making, visioning, inventing, relating.

It’s the MIT Sloan 4 Capabilities Leadership Framework.

How many leadership development programmes have a mainframe like this, how many leaders in organisations are developing these critical – some might say ethereal –  components of leadership?  I can think of a few leadership pointers that are less complex to assess, and easier to enhance than say ‘sense-making’ or ‘visioning’.

The truth is, it takes a deep, long, and often hard look at yourself, driven by yourself, to be great at things like relating and sense-making and visioning.  And this doesn’t happen in isolation.

Organisations, or collectives, that have these sorts of capabilities are no doubt better at creating wonderful experiences and products.  They are tapped in, tuned in.  Leaders create and curate the conditions where people who are wondrous at these things are also valued and supported, at more levels than just the top.  It’s not an easy job, producing remarkable things.  Command and control is not so far behind us.  According to Peter Senge, leaders will probably excel in about two of these areas.

How much are our comfort levels are at play when we face developing these leadership skills?  How does this impact the way they percolate through our organisations?

The results of a study by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) are great for pushing thinking boxes.  They speak of skills like ‘cognitive load management’, ‘design mindset’ and ‘new media literacy’ in addition to sense-making and social intelligence, which could be said to map to the MIT framework.  And they say everyone will need them.  Take a look at their skills of the future list here, and their forces shaping the world (which is partly how they arrived at this list of skills).  In 5 minutes, give yourself a score out of 10 for each skill.  How do you measure up?

This is one view, there are many.  I like this study because in place of predicting what jobs are needed, they looked at what skills we will need.  These skills will be in short supply in 2020, says the IFTF.  And we should all be thinking about our value proposition in the future workplace, and about crafting one that we will enjoy.

Perhaps we could plot an assimilation of these skills on the innovation curve.  Early adopters will drive their own value into the future.  They’ll be testing and refining, creating futures. It strikes me as a case of the disrupted and the disrupters.  But that’s a whole other blog.  What you’ll notice is that these skills will start to apply in just about every avenue of your life.

The future is not far away.   Is it already here?   Perhaps the future is starting today.

So here are the questions, the exciting ones.   What does the future require of leadership? What seeds are we planting for the leadership we’ll provide and need in the future?

There is no longer a lone ranger, one hero.  Superman is dead.  That’s ok.

Supermann blaue flamme

The Social Leader

In Why Being Social Makes You a Better Leader, Geil Browning talks about a new era of leadership where relationships and social connectivity matter more than ever before for powerful leadership.
Agree?
She says a social, relational approach is going to take you places, and that’s characterised by:
  • intuitive thinking
  • care for how decisions affect people
  • orientation toward relationships and a desire to get things done through people
  • a collaborative, team focused approach
  • an ability to connect ideas and work to people.

The last 3 points are most interesting.  We have powerful new tools at our disposal.   Ideas, people and social technologies are all growing up together, creating something that’s different from before.  That’s powerful.  A leadership revolution is drilling its way up through the core of ‘the way things used to happen around here’.

I like these words from Jane McConnell (@netjmc):
‘Certain social capabilities disrupt the way organisations work, challenging hierarchical management.  HR no longer controls the definition of expertise: experts emerge in discussions in internal social networks.  Communication no longer completely controls the message, the target and the timing: employees share information and make announcements spontaneously in blogs and discussion groups.’
The bird at the top of the perch is no longer necessarily the leader.
Social leaders can be anywhere.
This blog was first published in Aug 2013