Recent Posts at Collaborative Innovation

The sponsors of the Collaborative Innovation site, Dassault Systèmes, held their Customer 3D Experience Forum in Orlando Florida recently and this year’s event offered a fantastic array of tools and solutions for the way in which 3D modeling can be used to prototype product and service experiences as well as the design and manufacture of those offerings. I was originally going to be spending some time at the event but another storm coming up the Eastern seaboard of the USA put a decided crimp in those plans and I decided to observe the activities from afar—ah, the wonders of modern technology. Needless-to-say, while it would have been better to be onsite, I managed to see some patterns and key ideas across the various presentations. Here are a couple of my posts in response:

The View from Afar – 3DS in FL viewed from NJ

Due to another unfortunate weather systemmaking a guest appearance on the East Coast of the USA this week I was unable to successfully get into and out of Orlando forDassault Systèmes3D Experience Forum. Which is a shame because it looks like the range of innovations shared that are using 3D visualization to drive their successful implementation would have been great to witness first-hand.

Already this morning Tesla has been sharing the “Oooo”-worthy falcon-wing doors of its newModel X cross over vehicle and how they neatly fit into the family garage, tested before production through the wonders of 3D visulaization. This continues Tesla’s run on transforming the auto industry by identifying and meeting a broad range of needs as well as producing beautiful vehicles, too. [See full post here.]

And here is another post from the same event…

Height. Light. And Movement – Improving the Retail Experience Virtually

Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away…My apologies; the recent purchase of Lucas Film by Disney has given me Star Wars nostalgia. I remember a time when stop motion photography and the destruction of meticulously crafted models were considered the pinnacle of movie special effects. It was also a time when I was working my may through university in retail. As I said, “many years ago”.

One of my fondest memories of working in retail was the folklore that was passed on from the store manager to the upcoming employees. The measures of performance were shared, such: Days of Supply, Turns, Stock to Sales Ratio, Sell Through Percentage and Gross Margin Return on Investment. Alongside these metrics we were also the recipients of instruction regarding sales and marketing addressing: Point of Sale Displays, End-caps, and Placement. But the phrase that stuck with me most in reference to merchandise presentation effectiveness was that it had to have, “height, light and movement”. [See full post here.]

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Book Review: Relentless Innovation by Jeffrey Phillips

For an organization to survive and thrive it is not enough to want more innovation, you must have the will to do the work to make the practice of innovation commonplace. Jeffrey Phillips tackles this subject head on in, Relentless Innovation. He offers a path for organizations to make innovation an everyday occurrence in which the whole system of the enterprise is aligned around the discipline of creation.

One of the frustrations for me, as someone passionately interested in fostering innovation in organizations, is the recognition that unless it is addressed holistically over time innovation is driven from most areas of the enterprise. Innovation means change; and change, like all new elements requires accommodations on the part of organizations which are all too often entirely focused on their efficiency and the immediacy of their effectiveness. This leaves little room for innovation to take hold, let alone flourish.

This requires a fundamental rethinking of the way innovation is introduced and addressed over time. In Relentless Innovation, Phillips notes that, “If larger firms…don’t relearn innovation and reintroduce it to their business models, they’ll have little competitive advantage left.” He sees that few firms (if any) can afford to rest on their laurels as the pace of innovation continues unabated. To combat that innovation must become a consistent capability, developed, refined, and supported over time.

In this book Phillips lays out the clearly defined roles and responsibility that executives, middle managers and front line employees have for specific outcomes, ensuring that innovation is everyone’s job. The end result: focused and systemic innovation that becomes business as usual. The reason for that is that sustained innovation is not driven by any one part of the organization or any one role. The myth of the brilliant CEO is exactly that ― sustained innovation is a cultural issue, not an issue of leadership. This is something I emphasize with my clients frequently and consistently.

Perhaps the more revealing insight at the heart of this book is the concept of the impediment of BAU (Business As Usual) to innovation success. When the organization seeks to protect BAU there is no room to innovate and BAU becomes the order of the day. It makes an organization timelessly unchanging and profoundly uncreative in which the people “have a stake in sustaining a common, consistent operating model to achieve results repeatedly.” Phillips rightly points out that the ever-increasing focus on efficiency is in direct competition with innovation; the risk associated with and necessary for innovation is driven from the hyper-efficient organization.

To combat BAU and strike a balance between efficiency and innovation Phillips highlights the value of some tried and true business elements, such as clear vision and a focused strategy. He combines those with what he refers to as a “project” versus a “capability” mindset where the outcomes are targeted and defined by resource development over time. His approach makes innovation a process that is repeatable, sustainable and improvable over time rather than a discrete series of one-off events. Relentless Innovation sees that innovation is to be planned for, accounted for and executed with a clear goal of capturing, reusing and developing knowledge over time.

In that quest for reuse of knowledge Phillips highlights the need for accountability for innovation. Everyone in an organization must be specific about their innovation goals. Executives must link innovation to key strategies, and they must develop measures and metrics to hold innovators—and themselves—accountable. Middle managers must be measured on the performance of their teams in meeting those goals and measures and their team members must be held to account for their contributions to the state of innovation in the enterprise. Without an holistic approach that engages the all aspects of the organization innovation won’t be a fundamental part of the operations it will continue to be an afterthought.

Above all Relentless Innovation asks the reader to strive to seek a balance between the everyday demands of efficiency and the future focused demands of innovation. There is no magic formula for innovation but in his book Phillips offers a very good mirror so we can see where we are deficient in our own practices and how we might choose to become smarter in our innovation efforts. As with all change, adopting this approach is highly likely to be hard, but what valued discipline isn’t?

I highly recommend you read Relentless Innovation. Your organization will be better for it.

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Great post on the power of Priming at FastCompany

Here at Primed Associates we are always looking for others’ takes on the concept of priming. This week we share a great post from the FastCompany site by Martin Lindstrom, who has a new book out, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy

Here is Lindstrom’s opening about the power of priming in order to increase the likelihood of a desired outcome…

Have you ever been primed? I mean has anyone ever deliberately influenced your subconscious mind and altered your perception of reality without your knowing it? Whole Foods Market, and others, are doing it to you right now.

Derren Brown, a British illusionist famous for his mind-reading act, set out to prove just how susceptible we are to the many thousands of signals we’re exposed to each day. Read more here.

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Interview at Inmagic: Lessons learned from Steve Jobs

3 qualities of innovative companies: Lessons learned from Steve Jobs

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by the good people who run the podcast for Inmagic (Janelle Kozyra, the host, & Hannah Messenger, the producer).  We had an interesting discussion about the differences of innovation between B2C and B2B enterprises. Which eventually led to Steve Jobs, as all things had that week…

When Steve Jobs resigned as Apple’s CEO last week, it seemed he was taking with him everything that makes Apple the innovative powerhouse that it is today. Or did he? Apple is arguably the #1 poster child for innovation. But was it all a result of Steve Jobs’ genius, or rather the culture of innovation he’s developed over time?

Head over to listen to the full podcast (about 30 mins) and see a full transcript.

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Motivated to innovate: How an organization’s culture can cultivate or crush

While motivation is essentially a self-generated state, the organizational culture of a group or individual dedicated to the pursuit of innovation greatly influences their performance. That culture both dominates and mediates, and if it is not positively addressed, competing motivations and needs can come into play. As has been mentioned previously more than once in the Think Primed Blog, innovation requires the introduction of change into inherently stable systems. Because of this, an organizational culture plays a large role in fostering and sustaining motivation.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

–       John Muir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

 

To meet those competing needs, an organization must address powerful personal motivators. One of the best models highlighting what’s at stake during this kind of effort is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

So much of organization life takes place at the bottom of this pyramid; the equivalent of “keeping the lights on and the water running.” Which is a great model for an Industrial Age company intent on making an endless succession of the same widgets in a production line. Not many of those companies thriving today, are there?

A step up from physiological needs are the types of organizations that pitch benefits packages addressing the safety and security concerns of their members and, to a certain extent, some esteem needs. Organizations with strong and stable cultures often reinforce the needs associated with love and belonging, yet they have all the fun and dysfunction of families. They’re mostly built for comfort rather than speed, required to respond to changing and dynamic market forces.

The most dynamic and innovative companies seek to work at the highest levels of this model, to get the best from people every day.

 

Price of admission

It’s not enough for an organization culture to provide the equivalent of shelter in a storm, especially not if that same organization wants its members to invest themselves in the success of the enterprise. Prior to the Great Unpleasantness (aka the Great Recession), companies were scrambling to create environments that attracted the best and the brightest. Though many companies today remain focused on that, the majority merely pays it lip service or don’t pursue that practice at all.

These latter companies are minding their reserves and hoarding their resources. This is practice won’t yield significant results at all.

The price of admission to those seeking to create innovation-capable cultures is the same as it has always been: collaborative cultures where people feel safe to share their ideas, where they feel like they can find a “home,” where they are recognized for their contribution, and were they feel they can be their best selves. Charlie Gilkey, author of the Productive Flourishing blog, recently noted that it took him several quarters to come up with his list for a post titled “What I Believe.” The end result is something that reflects what most of us are looking for in our lives. Work is where people spend most of their waking hours, so organization better figure out how to create the conditions for a culture that supports those beliefs he mentions.

One such example of the fulfilling organization, a company dedicated to the principals of loose/tight leadership (small set rules, tightly managed), is the online video powerhouse Hulu. Recently Fast Company magazine ran a great profile online of Hulu’s organization culture, which showed how power is distributed to the lowest organization level possible for effective decision-making and execution. Engagement is driven by the establishment of a small set of performance-based rules that are tightly enforced, while most aspects of organization life are left to the individual or group to design, organize, implement, and process. The net result is an organization that makes people want to deliver their best effort.

We all want to belong

This kind of democratically-biased culture creates a cohesion that is rare in many larger organizations. Usually when start-ups cross the growth chasm (as distinct from the adoption chasm defined in Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm), the transition in revenues or size (over $10 million and over 150 people, respectively) means their flexibility collapses under command-and-control patterns and poorly defined and managed performance expectations. That hasn’t happened at Hulu. They are large, growing larger, and thriving by deferring to their community members.

Organizations that fail to cross the growth chasm come up hard against the reality of being inhospitable. They cease to grow and flourish, because they don’t make room for the strength that others may provide by applying their own unique and divergent talents. The start-up company that fails to grow is usually completely tied to one person’s hierarchy of needs: the founder. The founder is usually on a never-ending treadmill of addressing their most elemental needs for safety.

In Hulu’s case, ownership of issues, problem-solving, and performance management is baked into the culture of this company. Everyone has an opportunity to accept responsibility and accountability for outcomes. Rather than struggling with lines of authority, each person is supported in discovering how they may best contribute collaboratively to the overarching corporate success. This cohesive sense of belonging serves as a path for higher levels of self-actualization, each of which offers material benefit in attaining organization strategy.

 

To be held in high esteem

The path through successive levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy is not necessarily straight, but the value to the company of performing at each successive level is nearly always positive. Provided that each level offers some opportunity for consolidation of the needs met, and that the striving continues upward, value generation will be significant. Given a place to call “home” and the recognition that they do have a place to contribute, many employees capitalize by fostering esteem among their peers.

That focus informs value by playing to the individual’s strengths so that they may be successful and have increasing impact over time. The respect of peers for contributions, whether directly from innovation or as a result of building on an existing practice or procedure, by turn fosters self-respect. This leads to a positive environmental feedback loop—each success creates the opportunity for greater successes over time.

A better you/me/us through self-actualization

At the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy is the concept of self-actualization. The term originated in a work by Kurt Goldstein called The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man (commence head-spinning now). While Goldstein used the term to describe a state all humans strove to achieve, Maslow used the term self-actualization to describe a desire, not a driving force, that could lead to the realization of one’s capabilities. For Maslow, self-actualization did not determine one’s life; rather, it gave the individual a motivation to achieve personal ambitions and fulfillment.

Taken as a level of development to meet specific personal needs, self-actualization is completely in alignment with effective innovation. Those people who are operating to become more self-actualized are more likely to embrace reality and facts rather than deny truth. This leads to more rational understanding of the root causes of circumstances and a drive towards focusing on problems outside themselves.

When it comes to an understanding of the human-centricity required for effective innovation — the notion that an innovation must have a specific utility in mind — those who firmly address their need to self-actualize accept their own human nature with all its shortcomings, and similarly accept the nature of others with a general lack prejudice. This breeds resilience and a spontaneity that are great innovation traits.

Those organizations that can play to this desire for self-actualization, that recognize the need to become our better selves, will reap the benefits. Command- and control-driven organizations will, by their nature, drive performance from the level of meeting physiological needs of safety and property. Those organizations that treat their members with respect, recognizing their talents and contributions, will enable their members with the freedom to be their best, and in so doing, will make better organizations because of it.

What kind of organization are you building? A safe place? Or a place to become your best self? If you’re interested in more innovation, it had best be the latter.

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Innovation at Scale: A foundation for growth means minding the store while shooting the moon

It’s not that we are confused about the necessity for innovation. Most organizations, their leaders and members alike, recognize the need to innovate in order to stay relevant to their customers and to continue growing. Confusion arises when organizations don’t recognize that the systems and processes that serve their current needs are not particularly suitable for creating, introducing, and supporting the new innovations coming to life. Like an ill-fitting suit, an unchanged organization attempting to dress itself in innovation will just look…wrong, and will probably feel uncomfortable, too.

Try and fail, but don’t fail to try.

–       Stephen Kaggwa

 

It’s necessary to keep the doors open and the lights on. To foster an innovation-capable culture does not mean that you have to abandon all the stable processes and actions that enable you to produce products and services as profitably as possible. What is required is the adoption of a mindset that is additive, risk-aware, resilient, and which enables the exploration of the new while tending to the old.

Keeping an eye on the things that fund innovation

The basic drivers that support an enterprise are its ability to produce a set of products or services for which a customer, or group of customers, is willing to pay enough to cover their production while providing some margin for profitability. Those seeking to increase their rate of innovation within their organization must pay attention to the things that are at the heart of why the organization exists.

In the early 1970s, the newly elected president and CEO of Kimberly-Clark, Darwin E. Smith, saw that the company couldn’t survive in the long-term as a paper manufacturer. Procter & Gamble, the large consumer products company, was beginning to challenge Kimberly-Clark in the marketplace, and if there was no direct response, they would likely be overwhelmed. Smith decided that to compete properly in consumer product markets, Kimberly-Clark had to prune its coated-paper business. Within one year of taking control of the company, Smith initiated changes that included the sale or closure of six paper mills and the sale of more than 300,000 acres of prime land. This was unheard of in the company’s history.

Smith recognized that he had a make-or-break situation on his hands. If he and his leadership team didn’t find a way to compete (and win) against Proctor & Gamble, then Kimberly-Clark would be lost. With more than $250 million in reserve, primarily from the land sale, Smith began the process of transforming the paper manufacturer into a consumer products powerhouse specializing in paper products. An aggressive research campaign was launched by hiring specialists away from competitors. Smith also increased the company’s advertising budget substantially, and plans were made for the construction of additional production facilities.

 

Marketing was central to Smith’s strategy for growth, as Kimberly-Clark emphasized its commitment to consumer products. He realized that the transformation of the company required not only research and development efforts but also new manufacturing facilities, human resource capabilities, and sales and marketing prowess. Only by selling the old business was Kimberly-Clark able to create the foundation for something new.

Similar stories of transformation could be told about Nokia, the mobile technology giant which still sells more handsets than any other manufacturer in the world. It began its life as a paper mill, rubber mill, and a cable works. There’s also that other innovation powerhouse, 3M, which began life as a mining and metals company. Each company had to fund a transition to something new, without which they would not exist today.

How did they make the transition?

Each company had leaders who had a vision of where they needed to go next. They effectively shared and spread that vision so that others would believe in it and commit to it. Each company also took steps to tend to their baseline business so that they could effectively fund the transition to the new business models and product lines that would ensure their future prosperity. And they invested those funds and energies as wisely as possible.

Focusing on the future

The key traits of the organization that can transform itself, creating innovation from its core businesses, are deceptively simple. They understand the need to keep customers pleased, engaged, and actively purchasing existing services. Without that effort, the resources required to fund a transition to a new set of products or services, or a whole new business model, would rapidly dwindle or even become absent. The effective stewardship of available resources also means that organization leaders understand how to foster and promote the risk-accepting practices and resilience across the people in the enterprise, so they can deliver the needed present business results and strive for the business results demanded by change.

The people unable to commit to transformational change are like barbed wire (protectionist or defensive specialists) or drag chutes (slowing down the rate of progress until it collapses in on itself) in an organization. Those companies that do manage wholesale shifts, essentially placing innovation at their core, are composed of people who are steadfast and true, the mainstays and anchors that provide stability and endurance in the face of challenging conditions. Their focus on the possibility of a brighter future is a beacon to all.

 

 

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

–       Mary Anne Radmacher

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Intangible Innovation – lessons to be learned from concrete design in a service-hungry world

What are you doing to capture feedback on your innovations that have no tangible manifestation?
How do you determine the value and impact of those experiences that are designed (or not) for your customers when they purchase your services? How do you know that they have had an optimal experience? Satisfaction surveys only go so far. There are other ways to capture the level of service design and experience innovation success.

 

As far as I can see there is little inherent in the design process that protects design thinkers from these same failures if we choose to tackle abstract, intangible questions such as services, systems and networks. Instead we might imagine how to apply the same rigor and discipline to the design process that has emerged from hundreds of years of practice in the tangible world.

 

We might concentrate on how to make the process of the design of the intangible as transparent and open to observation as the design of the tangible. We might develop prototyping environments that allow us to learn through failure without catastrophic implications. We might accept that we need better mechanisms for criticism and feedback so that we begin to establish a body of knowledge about what works, and what does not, in the design of these things that don’t go ‘thud’ when we drop them.

–       Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (http://designthinking.ideo.com/)

 

In a post on a similar theme recently, Seth Godin  extolled the virtues of having the designers of services “sign” their work. The rigor and discipline being applied to product development and its attendant innovation should be applied everywhere.

 

Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault. Sadly, the complaints rarely make it as far as the overpaid (or possibly overworked) executive who made the bad design decision in the first place. It’s the architecture of service that makes the phone ring and that makes customers leave.

A catchphrase employed by a client also comes to mind. He is fond of saying, “You touch it, you own it.” In that sense all innovation should be owned. In that light if the original need is not being appropriately addressed, or the problem being adequately resolved, the recipient of the service (or new business process, etc.) can go to the design source to provide feedback and insight into what was missed. The journey to a richly rewarding innovated experience is paved with the feedback of customers and users. Neglect them at your peril.

The keys to learning lessons from physical product design are to make the intangible concrete; designers and innovators should:

  • Own the design. All designers must take responsibility for their work. The decisions made should be documented and reference-able, regardless of the point of origin. No hiding.
  • Experience the design. All designers should experience their own design. They should prototype it, move through it and live with it. And they should be the first to experience it, “live.”
  • Create a feedback loop in and around the design. Make it perpetual and make responses to that feedback a part of the ongoing evaluation process, too.

No innovator is omniscient. If experience design is not tied to results accountability for performance is an afterthought but less fleeting than the negativity associated with a bad experience.

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An idea stuck in your enterprise isn’t innovation—it’s useless

A good idea stuck in your enterprise is just a clever notion adding little value. As Shakespeare might have put it, it is “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” No matter how inventive it may seem, if it’s not directly addressing a specific need, and generating remarkable value, it is useless. The world doesn’t need more uselessness.

What good ideas need is social mobility. They need to be transferable, presentable, and accessible. Good ideas need to be backed up with subject-matter expertise. They need to directly address the questions that surround the ecosystem of an idea as it becomes an innovation. Good ideas need to be able to be clear about their gaps and deficiencies so that those people who might provide assistance can readily identify where and how they can provide effective support. Good ideas also need to be clear and cogent, so they can be better positioned by advocates across the organization; positioning the idea to those with the power and the networks to extend the impact of the innovation as it meets users’ needs.

Good ideas live and thrive when the people supporting them know how to navigate organizations: these people are flexible and resilient enough to build a collaborative coalition of partners, regardless of their own egos, who will help carry the idea forward as it grows into a true innovation and finds a useful place in the world. Most enterprises don’t know if they have these people because most don’t know that they need them. In the meantime, the output of the best and brightest might be shelved or trapped in a presentation on someone’s hard drive, never to see the light of day or have a chance of testing themselves in the only arena that matters, the marketplace.

Where have all the smarty-pants gone?
Sometimes it takes an expert to point out the obvious.
Scott Allen
Long the domain of subject-matter experts, invention has offered so much squandered promise. While invention is the end result of a spark of creativity, it’s innovation that takes that invention and brings it to the world in a way that generates value. Having the idea is a big deal, sure, but like parenting, it is not over and done with the moment a child is born. What follows are years of hard work. The inventor, long lauded as a mythic figure, is only valuable when they can get their idea into the hands of someone who can use it. Unless there is a way for an invention to be successfully tested and used to address a compelling need, its intrinsic value is negligible.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the folklore surrounding invention is that of the ivory tower syndrome— the notion that for greatest effect, an individual or a group of experts from a specific field of study should be closeted away to work in glorious isolation, only to be released upon the delivery of an earth-shaking innovation, is ludicrous. Why on earth we would think that an absence of collaboration would produce an optimal result is beyond me. Perhaps it is because some consider that collaboration denotes invention by committee? And we all know what they say about committees, especially when it comes to the value of their output. Consider the character Sir Humphrey Appleby, from the British TV show “Yes, Minister,” when asked what can be done about a particular situation.

…to that end, I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.

In short, committees are where ideas (good or bad) go to die.

An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less, until eventually he knows everything about nothing.
Edwin Meese III

The challenge for subject-matter experts is how they can best “wire” themselves into the organization in which they exist. For a technology expert, connecting them to financing and accounting experts may help them see how they might afford prototyping at an earlier development stage, so that they might avoid late stage problems. A service-development expert might benefit from a connection to a marketing expert in order to understand how a client segment or market demographic is evolving over time, thereby increasing the chances of delivering on-target service innovation. The bottom line is that a subject-matter expert needs to supplement the depth of their experience through both access to other adjacent subject-matter expertise, and the generalists required to identify, and advocate for, those people who can best support of the designed solution.

Knowing where to turn is the next major hurdle in getting an idea through a company and out the door.

My kingdom for a broker!
A good friend is a connection to life—a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.
Lois Wyse

Knowing where to turn for support and guidance is often an issue of great frustration for those who conceive of potential innovations. Often organizational life, with its politics and brinkmanship, offers little comfort for someone who knows they have a great idea in their hands but no clear path to get that idea through the organization and out the door for the best test of its value: customers. Instead, ideas lie abandoned after what may have been grueling and punishing campaigns for their novelty to be seen and heard. The person with the idea is left shell-shocked at the very least, and angry and hurt at best.

Why is it that good ideas die in organizations?

Quite often the good idea is never connected by its originator to the person or people with the resources to breathe life into it, or to those who might be able to assist in its genesis. The reasons are many, but a primary one is that inventors are often marginalized. Their behavior and passion for their subjects sometimes makes them seem out of touch with the rest of the organizational life and purpose around them. This results in isolation and their ideas being discounted.

To survive, ideas must be connected to the whole network of available resources across the enterprise. Rather than seeking to navigate the functional silos that exist in most organizations, valid structures designed to improve reliability and reduce waste in the systematic production of similar products and services, inventors seeking to turn their creations into innovations need different access. They can be better helped by being wired into the social network of the organization. The social network is the structure that supports the way cross-organization value is truly created. What they need are people to connect them to that social structure. Those people are brokers.

Communication–the human connection–is the key to personal and career success.
Paul J. Meyer

A broker in organizational life is someone who understands where the best people are to provide assistance and support, and who is willing to connect people across the organization. They often act as agents on behalf of people’s ideas. Some brokers end up in senior roles in organizations because of their willingness to help others. Many of them find their way into what are considered ancillary or supporting functions within organizations. Human resources, customer support, and marketing are some functional areas that are often home to brokers. The key attributes that make someone an effective broker are seen in the breadth of their organizational “connectedness” and their willingness to make new connections in assistance of others’ passions.

For most brokers in organizations, their motivators and drivers come in creating a robust web of relationships around themselves. They seek to validate their own credibility by building effective relationships between and among others across the enterprise. In seeking to link people who may provide assistance to each other or create value with each other, they see the fruits of their efforts creating a stronger organization.

But a smart idea connected to the correct additional resources may only get you so far. Another key trait is missing that would aid in freeing the idea and helping it become a reality. That role is filled by the advocate.

Salesperson? I’d be happy with a sales monkey
The weapon of the advocate is the sword of the soldier, not the dagger of the assassin.
Alexander Cockburn

Salespeople have a bad rap. When you think of a salesperson, what’s the first image that comes to mind? If it’s a polyester-clad, used-car salesman with a Cheshire Cat grin and an oily comb-over in your mind’s eye, I’m truly sorry. Let’s be perfectly clear: without effective salespeople, organizations die. No sales, no income, no business. Good night. Which doesn’t mean that all salespeople are good and right and useful, either. In fact, the general experience with salespeople out in the world tends to color our perspective on the whole pool. Yet salespeople provide an invaluable service, and not just between our enterprises and our customers. A critical team member in bringing our ideas to market faster is the salesperson, but in an organization, there is often little (save reputation) to accrue or squander. There is no actual transactional sale. Rather than terming them salespeople, let’s consider them advocates.

An advocate is one who believes in something and is willing to speak on its behalf. In the case of ideas stuck inside an organization, one of the few ways to gain support is for an advocate to take the message behind the idea to those people with the funds to support its further development and the power to promote it as an organization-owned initiative. Without an advocate, someone willing to address the perceived deficiencies of an idea in a way that doesn’t cripple its progress, an idea will continue to make little progress towards the marketplace.

The first duty of a wise advocate is to convince his opponents that he understands their arguments, and sympathizes with their just feelings.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The power of an advocate lies in their ability to draw others into the fold, to make them a part of a growing group of enthusiastic supporters if not raving fans. A true advocate knows how to present an idea in the best light possible. They understand that just as important as having a clear message to communicate is also knowing how to communicate that message in a manner tailored to fit the audience in front of them. They recognize that timing is critical and that sometimes receptivity also depends on tenacity, repetition, and resilience.

Where the subject matter expert may be the originator of an idea, it goes nowhere without the benefit and support of some “friends”: the broker who connects that idea to the social network in a manner that can unleash its potential, and the advocate capitalizes on that potential so that the idea can face the only tests that matter — the experiences of potential customers.

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What the US jobs picture says about the need for innovation here—and abroad

Periodically, we revisit the aftereffects of the “Great Unpleasantness” and how they are playing out in the global economy. One of the challenges in drawing conclusions based on macro-economic data is that it hides profound local consequences in the shifting of percentage points. In most first-world nations, the current game is watching the unemployment rate. A tick up a few tenths of a percentage point, and the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth commences. A few ticks down, and a corresponding sigh of relief—if not mild euphoria—in the media is exhibited. Unfortunately, the focus on this sole metric is of little value, as it provides little insight into deeper fundamental challenges at play.

The recent unrest in Egypt resulting in the reluctant relinquishing of power by the former-President-for-Life Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak is in large part due to rising unemployment and economic disenfranchisement among the educated youth. Strangely, the reported Egyptian unemployment rate of 9.4 percent was a near-perfect match for the USA’s at this time, yet there is no protest marching in Washington, D.C., or any other US city for that matter.

A possible reason for that difference is that in the US, there still exists a hope that job growth will come, that the current economic downturn will end, and that people still retain the freedom to reinvent themselves in order to better their present circumstances. This positivity may be the result of the wide range of people affected by unemployment stretching across demographics and therefore not finding commonality among local peers, or the usual buoyant “can-do” US attitude. The current long-term economic outlook would tend to contradict positivity.

It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.
Harry S. Truman

This is partly due to the depressing news presented to us by those we know and love struggling to come to terms with long-term unemployment, especially among the approximately 7 million people who have joined the 99 Club in the USA: people who have termed out of the available unemployment benefits. They represent slightly less than half of all unemployed…


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The unemployment figures don’t take into account a larger swathe of people. The current figure under-represents the chronically underemployed (those working multiple part-time jobs) or those who are contingent (both seasonal workers and contract workers to whom unemployment benefits are unavailable). While the reported unemployment figure of 9.4 percent converts to 14.5 million people, the true picture is closer to 26 million, when the 2.6 million people marginally attached to the workforce are added along with the number of persons employed part-time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers), which was at 8.9 million as recently as December 2010.

The hole we must innovate our way out of is a lot deeper than most people recognize. Except, perhaps, for the people at the bottom of it looking up. Where does this leave us?

Dig and ship versus design and build
We must start with the reality that corporations cannot guarantee anyone a lifetime job any more than corporations have a guarantee of immortality.
John Snow

Jobs have gone. It’s not that they have been left unfilled, simply awaiting an economic turnaround. The jobs have gone, never to return. Whether replaced by technology-created efficiencies or exported to lower-cost economies, old mainline manufacturing jobs and data processing jobs have disappeared. The auto industry in the US is probably most emblematic of the shift in the US economy. Take the rapid bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy induced reduction in the number of vehicle models in production. This reduction had a cascade of effects up and down each auto manufacturer’s supply chain, from design and raw materials sourcing through to delivery, sales, and distribution—the number of people required to bring products to market has been significantly reduced. Those jobs are not coming back.

One reason is that local economic factors are tied to global economies now more than ever. Chrysler’s part ownership by Fiat means that cars that would have originally been designed in-house are now shared as platforms across the entire Fiat/Chrysler network. Similarly, General Motors has availed itself of the cover of bankruptcy to increase its investment in global partnerships, perhaps best represented by the success of GM in China. This is represented by the Chinese-designed Buick Lacrosse in the Chinese auto market, where it’s considered a direct competitor to BMW and Mercedes Benz as a luxury vehicle. It’s also seen in the manufacturing joint venture SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile, which successfully sells minivans under the Wuling badge.

The offshore manufacturing of US brands is also symptomatic of a greater shift. Brands may reflect national origins, but their point of manufacture may be many thousands of miles from their “home.” The only jobs that seem to be staying put are those that cannot be moved: resource extraction (minerals, metals, and ores), domestic food production, and direct support services (such as trucking, healthcare, hospitality services). The US economy is sliding into a mode in which it provides raw materials to other resource-hungry nations, exporting low value-added ingredients for what will eventually become consumer goods that it will turn around and import. Either that or we’re becoming the Vanna Whites of the global economy.

It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.
Vanna White

Recapturing and fostering the spirit of design and build is a necessity if the massive unemployment is to be addressed in any full measure. Which is the whole point: this is a spirit not to be created, but reinvented and restored to the heart of the US economic engine.

Exporting hope
The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.
Oscar Wilde

One of the other factors influencing the US jobs situation is the very same “can-do” attitude that kept it ticking over for so long. The problem is that now, given the US’s wholesale exporting of its culture via consumer products, TV, film, and the Internet, that “can-do” attitude has been exported, too. Most recently this has been reflected in a book by Anand Giridharadas, India Calling. Based on his own search to discover his roots as a US-born child of both Northern and Southern Indian parents, Giridharadas recounts the way in which a brain drain of talent is gaining momentum, where Indians are returning to India as they see greater opportunities there than are available in the US. In essence, the US has begun exporting hope.

Previously, the United States was seen by the entrepreneurial as a promised land. For those with the ingenuity and the willingness to apply themselves, the sky was he limit. The best and the brightest came from around the world to attend its universities, and many stayed, helping to build some of the biggest and most high-performing companies in the world. In recent years, however, the desire of university graduates to stick around has diminished. Yale University professor and immigration researcher Vivek Wadhwa has discovered that many foreign-born workers in high-tech industries are returning home or contemplating such a return. The reasons for this are many, including better economic prospects or job opportunities. That the US, and other developed nations, have seen only recent anemic economic growth compared with developing nations like China or India is not lost on young entrepreneurs or individuals in the early stages of their careers.

The US is no longer seen as the only place to forge a future for oneself, because it has done such a phenomenal job of exporting its value system to the world. Not necessarily the values of consumerism and voyeurism, although they have been exported too, but primarily the values of hard work, self-reinvention, and yes, innovation. Which leads us to the US response.

Sputnik moments
Job security is gone. The driving force of a career must come from the individual.
Homa Bahrami

In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama noted that this is the time for another “Sputnik Moment” for the US, a time during which there must be sharp realization that complacency and half measures simply will not have the desired effect:

…The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America’s families have confronted for years. We cannot afford another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from last decade—what some call the “lost decade”—where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation…

… You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

The US economy, for so much of the last century the bulwark of the global economy, needs revitalization. In thousands of businesses large and small, the path to success lies in creating space for the millions of underemployed and unemployed, so that these disenfranchised can add their intellectual weight to the economic transformation that must take place. How can we grow, smartly, wisely, and in such a way that we don’t need to strip jobs out of our enterprise every time there is a hiccup in global trade? We must find a way to make innovation not an addition to our enterprises, but the engine at the heart of what makes us successful. We have done it before. Others have learnt from that success.

We must remember what we have forgotten and get busy.

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New from Primed Associates – Primed for Innovation Issue 1

Primed for Innovation Issue 1 - The Innovation Ecosystem

Primed for Innovation Issue 1:

Welcome to Primed for Innovation a primer on things to consider when you are interested in improving your organization’s approach to innovation. The following topics are offered as thought starters. [Read more…]
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