What is the Root of Knowledge?

Jonaton Pie ~ Stakkholtsgja Canyon, Iceland

I've been thinking a lot about what makes people want to create, invent, innovate, learn.  So many of my colleagues and friends are innately curious and I know that, for me, learning is an addiction.  So, appropriately, I was reading one of my favorite philosophers/theologians and found this:

“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of knowledge. Doubt comes in the wake of knowledge as a state of vacillation between two contrary or contradictory views; ... the business of doubt is one of auditing the mind’s accounts about reality ... “

— Abraham Heschel, "Man is Not Alone," pg 11

We certainly learn through doubting - we gain knowledge and insight by doubting, questioning, and even doubting our doubts.  But at the root of it all, what gets us to doubt in the first place, is our ability to wonder, to ponder, to think.  

How much more would we learn if we could wonder as we did when we were 4 or 5 or 8 years old? What can we try to truly wonder about this week? I'm curious!

Look for What's Working!

May - when spring really starts for many of us in the 'north'.  So, just a short blog - more of a request.  

This week, instead of looking at what's not working all the time, try 2 times, just 2, to find what's working, why it's working and how you can make that happen more.  Try this at work, at home, wherever you want - but please, try it - just twice, that's not asking a lot....

Find what’s working & why! #BrightSpots

Let me know how it goes! Feel free to share!

Pre-Natals vs. Post-Mortems

So often, when a project or product doesn't go well or fails, organizations do "post-mortems" - they go over what went wrong, why, sometimes rushing to blame people first instead of looking at processes.  

What if we started doing pre-natals instead of post-mortems? What if our cross-functional teams, at various steps in project or product development, examined why, what and how they were doing, what was working and why, what wasn't and why, and discussed all the things that could go wrong from that point on and why they could go wrong and how they could mitigate or eliminate those risks?  Then they could prioritize all that based on probability and possibility, make sure they are on top of those and do this regularly throughout development.

This isn't a fail-safe, but chances are a lot of problems could be caught, corrected and learned from before they happen and the more you do pre-natals, the better you'd get! 

Worth a shot isn't it? 

3 Key Questions #LifebyDesign

There's tons of questions we can ask ourselves to assess our lives, careers, goals, etc.  Studies have been done and courses taught on scientifically proven methods to do this assessment.  For me, questions should get us to think, to dig deeper and to look at possibilities - not to lead to quick, "do this and you'll be happy" answers.  So here are the 3 questions I ask to start a Life by Design.

What do you like/love to do and are good/great at doing?

Make a list! These can be hobbies, skills, work, stuff you like learning or doing, anything - don't restrict yourself, take a holistic approach of you - personal, professional, academic, etc. And, if you want, try prioritizing them.  You want to do a lot of these things in your life.

What DON’T you like/love to do and are good/great at doing?

Make another list.  Same guidelines as above -  hobbies, skills, work, learning, etc. and try to prioritize them.  The goal is to minimize these - maybe you can even eliminate doing some of them, but we all have to do things we don't like so at least do less of them.

What do you want to learn, explore, discover, experience in the next 2, 3 or 5 years?

A few years ago, one of my students asked me to help her lay out her 10 year plan.  I told her to write it down, put it in a drawer and then we'd talk about the next 2-5 years. Our world is changing too fast to plan what we will or want to do 10 years out, but we can plan, to a degree, who we want to be, what we will stand for, and what we won't stand for. 

Think about the next 2-3 years, maybe 5. What do you want to learn, explore, discover, and/or experience? Learn how to code, make bookshelves, do graphic design, become a product manager for 3D-printed products, understand the Patagonian ecosystem, discover biomedical uses of Antarctic sea anemones, para-sail?  Here's mine ->

Start thinking about the steps you can take to start! What does it entail? Who do you know who can help or inform you? What 1 or 2 small things can you do tomorrow to start? Go for it!

How to Interpret Truth From Facts

When is a fact true? This is a major question we’re asking given the pre/post-election. Sometimes, the answer isn’t a simple yes it’s true or no it’s not true. Sometimes the caveat “it depends…” provides critical insight into the context, constraints, veracity and therefore, applicability of the fact.

Let’s take 2 seemingly contradictory facts we’ve heard this past year:

  • Violent crime is up
  • Violent crime is down

According to the FBI and other studies, overall violent crime in the USA is at historic lows over the past 30, 10 and 5 years.  Yet, when you examine the data in the same studies, it becomes clear both statements above are true:

  • There is a 5.5% rise is violent crime from 2015 to 2016 with half of that coming from LA and Chicago and yet, the overall rate is still at the “bottom of the nation’s 30-year downward trend.”
  • Chicago accounts for almost half the increase in murders from 2015 to 2016 with decreasing murder rates in Baltimore and Washington D.C. and New York as one of safest big cities.

Bottom line? Both facts are true.  What you do with those facts depends on the questions you ask about those facts. What you ask with the subsequent iteration of answers and questions, is critical for making wise informed decisions.  So try asking:

  • What is the timeframe?
  • Are there outliers?
  • What did/didn’t these facts (and underlying data) take into account (what’s missing)?
  • What do these facts assume?
  • How long will these facts be true?
  • Who did the study and who paid for it?
  • What other questions arise from this fact?
  • What would it mean if this wasn't true? Who would benefit or be harmed?
  • etc.....

The ability to interpret truth from facts is a critical skill for success - in business and in life.  So starting today, or okay, tomorrow, ask questions when you're presented with facts - sales, recruiting, efficiency, inventory, market trends, anything - just start and see what you learn!

 

How to spend $200+ Billion for a Train Wreck

Once upon a time, a paragon of American innovation lost its way.  It embodied Einstein’s definition of insanity, spending over $200B for a train wreck… and they’re doing it again. The story starts in the last century and my part about 28 years ago.

In the early 90’s at AT&T, I was on a ‘special project’ with some friends to design the next generation core domestic network.  We were from Bell Labs and had “grown up” with the Internet (Arpanet, initially).  We were young and idealistic so our designed was based on the TCP/IP protocol.  This let us move anything over the network – email, faxes, images, movies, songs, phone calls, photos, anything – in real time.  We knew that with enough bandwidth, routers, redundancy and diversity, someday we’d watch or listen to concerts and movies live.   This way, we only needed 1 network (with tons of security & safeguards obviously) to handle everything.  The days of a voice-only network built on big expensive switches was over.  We presented our design to the powers that were. Answer? Nope! They thought it was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard.  [About 13 years later, a friend asked me if I still had the designs because they were looking to build that network.]

The 90’s were a battle between the network/telecom providers (AT&T, MCI, etc.) and the PC/Software maker end points (Microsoft) deciding where to put the ‘smarts’.  Microsoft et. al., felt they owned the smarts and just needed commodity dumb pipes to connect them together.  The networks knew if they didn’t have any ‘smarts’, they didn’t have any differentiable value from each other.  The smart ends would win the battle, forever commoditizing the networks. I saw this and worked on this firsthand.  It wasn’t pretty.  It led to a lot of spending with little success:

  • 1999: AT&T pays $44B to buy the cable company TCI, creating AT&T Broadband.
  • 2002: AT&T sells AT&T Broadband to Comcast for $47.5B after having invested about $58B more for a total of $102B in AT&T Broadband.
  • 2015: AT&T buys DirecTV for $49B.
  • 2016: AT&T offers to buy Time Warner (not the cable, the content) for $85B (and I don’t think this is a bargain price).

The networks lost the smart-dumb battle.  So, if it hadn’t worked before, why now? Is “Media” that different from smart-ends? Really? Maybe this is what they’re thinking:

  • AT&T is losing wireless customers with decreasing revenue/customer; 
  • DirecTV is losing customers because of cord-cutting;
  • Content drives revenue (yup, heard that 20 years ago); it uses lots of bits and time;
  • “New” Media companies are becoming networks– Facebook, Amazon, and Google (take special notice of Google – if I were AT&T, I’d worry about them non-stop).

Over 17 years, AT&T spent about $236B (BILLION) dollars to get in, out and back in to the cable and content business.   Having lived through some of this and trying to show why it wouldn’t work financially, strategically, innovatively, and a bunch of other ‘ly’s, here are at least 6 lessons I learned:

  1. If you can’t figure out how to add value to your own stuff, buying other stuff to bolt on, without understanding markets and customers, doesn’t work;
  2. Culture matters, first and only; Making acquisitions outside your traditional space is hard, it’s virtually impossible if your cultures are radically different;
  3. If you’re losing customers, DON’T buy a company in the same situation!!!
  4. If you keep repeating solutions that don’t work STOP! Either figure out something different or figure out how to be a profitable commodity… it works for Coke!
  5. Check the C-suite egos at the door; hanging out on the set of Game of Thrones isn’t worth billions to shareholders.
  6. In my next life I want to come back as a company AT&T buys.

 

What's Not There?

What a lovely home, probably somewhere out in the country.  From the crops on left, this must be a farm. From the swing set, they probably have kids (or grandkids).  The house seems to be fairly modern (look at the windows) and well maintained.  The horses look healthy.

What’s the story about this house and family?  Are they ‘weekend’ farmers who commute to jobs during the week?  Does one of them, or both, work from home? Are they full-time farmers, with the land being the main source of income?  Hard to know.

But what’s missing? Look at the photo; what’s missing?

See any cars or trucks?  Maybe the people are not at home – they’re at the store or work or a kid’s soccer game. Look closer.  Do you see any power lines going to the house? Hum… Maybe the power lines are buried.  That could be, but given the size of this house and probable acreage, I kind of doubt it. 

This is an Amish house in Lancaster County, PA.  

What if we look at what’s missing instead of just what’s there?

What if we ask why something we’d normally expect to be there isn’t?

What are we assuming is in the picture because it usually is?

What if folks are just fine with not having what’s missing?

What if they didn’t know they could even have what’s missing?

What will we discover if we start looking at what’s Not There? 

Are You Obsolete?

Do you say, "Can you tape that show for me" when you'll be out missing a TV show or "Will you roll up the window?" when you're in the car?  When your friend keeps repeating himself over and over do you tell him he "sounds like a broken record"?  How often do you "hang up" the phone, "dial" a number or "ring" someone up? Think about it - 25% of the USA population doesn't know what it means to dial a phone let alone hang one up! Many of our idioms and phrases are tied to outdated technology and behaviors, and while some are still widely used (e.g., Stereotype, Pipe Dream (ha!)), the younger generation has no clue what they mean.  They are obsolete, meaningless. 

I wonder - if some of our language is becoming obsolete, are we as well? We can rue the loss of life as we knew it or we embrace the future.  Every generation has dealt with this, but today is different.  Today, we live longer. Our children (and some of us) have multiple careers, tweet, snap, text, google without hesitation while we 'flip through the channels."  It's a choice. We can choose to become outdated or to be relevant.  What will you choose?

Also published on Medium ~ Finding Blue Lobsters

When Disruption Meets Laughter & Fun

I was so honored to be a guest on DisrupTV with my good friend Vala Afshar of Salesforce and Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research.  As to be expected, we had a great time talking blue lobsters, innovation, virtues, strategy and women in tech.  Take a look!

                   

Rush to Discover, Don't Rush to Solve!

http://www.jeshujohn.com/

Oh wow! A problem.... let's go solve it! It's our first reaction, right? It's human.  We see a problem and our instinct is to start fixing it, solving it.

What if, instead of rushing to solve it, we rushed to discover as much as we could about the problem - like, why is it a problem, why is that a problem, why, why, why?  What are people doing when this is a problem? Is it only a problem when they are doing that? Where is it a problem? Only there? When is it a problem? Only then? What is the weather when it's a problem? What mood were they in when it was a problem? See? You learn so much when you Rush to Discover first.  You learn what really matters and why.  And guess what? Then you can work with the people who have this problem together - to create solution(s) that will really make a difference - that will work when, how, where it's a problem.

Rush to Discover. Don’t rush to Solve!

So, next time you see a problem, stop, discover and learn.... 

Can You Be Data-Discerning, Not Data-Driven?

Everyone says we must be data-driven.  I have trouble with that phrase, as discussed before.   Too often, we're making decisions based on the data presented...as is.  We're not asking the hard questions behind the data.

When I was at Bell Labs, we used to ask, "How much did you pay for that data?"  You can get data to say whatever you wanted depending on how it is presented and calculated, on what you show and what you don't.  

Before you start making decisions on the data in front of you, ask why it is the way it is, what's driving those numbers, what was the context, the constraints, the demographics, the sample size, the timeframe and frequency, etc. 

For instance, a company says it promotes more of its people than its competitors,  but perhaps it's 50yrs older? Perhaps its twice as large so the overall numbers are bigger? Perhaps it hasn't  in the past 5 yrs but given the number it had the previous 30, the overall number is still big.  Perhaps, perhaps - if you don't ask, you won't know and you could make decisions that are yes, based on the data in front of you, but not on the story behind that data. 

"Be Data-Discerning, Not Data-Driven"

I propose we start being data-discerning, not data-driven.... you may be surprised at what new insights you discover! 

The High Art of Designing Scaffolding

By Ian Gonsher (republished with permission)

Vasari tells us, that in preparing to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a debate arose between Bramante and Michelangelo about how to design the scaffolding necessary to proceed with the project:

The pope ordered Bramante to build the scaffolding in order to paint it [the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel]; Bramante did so by piercing the ceiling and hanging everything from ropes; upon seeing this, Michelangelo asked Bramante how, once the painting had been completed, he would be able to fill the holes; and Bramante replied, ‘We’ll worry about that later’, and added that there was no other way to do it. Michelangelo then realized that either Bramante knew little about it or he was not much of a friend, and he went to the pope and told him that this scaffolding was unsatisfactory and that Bramante had not understood how to build it; in Bramante’s presence, the pope replied that he should build one in his own way. And so Michelangelo ordered scaffolding built on poles which did not touch the wall, the method for fitting out vaults he later taught to Bramante and others, and with which many fine works were executed.[1]

A modern variation of a similar design used in the recent restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.[2]

Often, the most difficult part of any creative process is just getting started; preparing for the tasks at hand by putting the necessary structures in place that will bring the project to fruition. But scaffolding of this kind not only gives structure to the process; it demands a consideration of the tools, knowledge, and resources that are necessary for crafting novel and uncommon things.

Scaffolding can take many different forms, but in the narrowest sense, it is a tool. Woodworkers, for example and by comparison, will often design jigs to position a part in relation to a tool in order to augment the function of that tool. Like the scaffolding that Vasari describes, which was designed to bring the body of the artist into close physical proximity with the work, a jig allows the craftsperson to adapt his/her tools to act on a given material in a precise, repeatable fashion. When designing an effective jig, consideration must be given to the path through which the bit or blade will pass, and how the piece is fixed, but it must also do so in a safe manner. The design of a jig can sometimes be as interesting as the design of the piece itself.

We can further extend our definition of scaffolding to include the skills and knowledge necessary for operating the tools that advance the project, as well as to the critical engagement that is fundamental to the creative process in general. In this way, scaffolding is a form of learning. It gives structure to what we know and how we know it. Every new project comes with a new set of questions, a new set of constraints, that require new skills, and new approaches for creative problem solving.

The words we use inform the ideas in play, and those ideas give form to what is produced. Developing new language is sometimes necessary for scaffolding our understanding and communicating those insights to others. Neologisms and provisional project titles, for example, create space where new ideas can emerge.

We live in an age of abundant knowledge, where so many resources are a mouse click away. This too is a kind of scaffolding; an augmented intelligence. What are the books, tutorials, and courses necessary for mastering the appropriate skills (or at least becoming familiar enough with them to satisfy the task at hand)? Who are the mentors, experts, and partners that can help us navigate challenges as they arise? What do we need to know to make what we want to make? These are all ways we scaffold our understanding of projects.

This kind of scaffolding is nested within another, even more extensive kind of scaffolding; that of the institutions in which we operate and with which we participate. The structures of institutions dictate how we relate to one another, how we collaborate, how resources are allocated, and the kinds of spaces available for projects. Every institution structures these relationships differently, each with its own affordances and constraints, each with its own culture and values. We tend to gravitate towards institutions with which we have an affinity, and whose culture and values we are sympathetic to. But sometimes we should question these assumptions and eschew the formulas they produce. We should attempt to expand the territory of possibility and the creative dialectic in play. Like Michelangelo in Vasari’s telling, sometimes we recognize that it is necessary to dismantle inadequate scaffolding in order to design a better one, one that is more appropriate to the project at hand.

There are many ways to solve a problem or ask a question. There are many ways to structure a project. It is for these reasons, and others, that in addition to thinking of scaffolding as something that occurs prior to the task at hand, we should also consider scaffolding as something that occurs throughout the creative process, and which might require edits and adaptations as that process moves forward. Otherwise, we might find ourselves in the awkward situation of filling holes in the ceiling.

[1] Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists. Trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Print.  The unpainted portion where the scaffolding met the wall is still visible just above the lunettes, although it is not easily seen from the floor below. It is also noteworthy that the recent restoration employed a system not dissimilar to the one employed by Michelangelo.

[2] Boswell, Victor. “Sistine Chapel”. Boswell, Victor. National Geographic. December 1989.

3 Simple Words to Revolutionize the World

2.5 weeks til the magic of BIF2015.  I am blessed with the gift of my network and can't wait to see my students and clients and friends and friends-to-be. Thank you Nicha Ratana-Apiromyakij & Saul Kaplan for this honor from TIME magazine. 

"How many people end business meetings with an “I love you” and a hug? Venture capitalist and former AT&T Labs scientist Deb Mills-Scofield does.  To Mills-Scofield, to do business is to negotiate diverse personalities to get things done — and she has the gift for it. “The broader, deeper, and more diverse your network, the bigger the impact you can make on the world,” she says." Read on...

5 Reasons these 3 Steps Will Get You Those Top 4 Results

The Wizard of Oz © Turner Entertainment Co.

We love lists. If we do these 3 things, everything will be alright: our customers will shower us with accolades, our employees will ooze engagement and innovation and we will be profitable beyond belief. 

It doesn't work that way.  The path is not linear. It's not a set of prescribed turns to get to your destination. It's circuitous, it's emergent, and it requires thought.  So stop with the lists and start with the thinking...

If you want to lead, think... if you want to manage, keep reading those lists.

Why Language Matters for Everything

How many languages do you speak? Only 7% of American college kids study a language.  Think this is a problem? It is a huge socio-economic-global-geopolitical-security one!  Amelia Friedman didn't set out to start a business learning languages from her peers - like Bengali, Thai, Tamil... but she has.  We need to communicate like never before - and language is how.  So be a part of the solution - try learning a language and give to Student Language Exchange to make sure our next generation does. 

~~~~~~~~~

em·pa·thy (n): the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Building empathy has been a priority among parents and educators for decades. Why? If the next generation of leaders cares for others in their community and across the world, they just might be able to make one another’s lives better.

More recently, empathy has become a priority for business leaders. In fact, entrepreneurs regularly use empathy maps when trying to understand their target customer. Empathy has become part of an entrepreneur’s tool belt, helping them rise above the competition.

There is debate about whether empathy is something that can be taught. I believe we can teach empathy by listening to and learning from people who are different from us. By asking questions. By meeting others on their level. By immersing ourselves in another culture.

In other words: We can build empathy by learning another language.

lan·guage (n): the system of communication used by a particular community or country

Language is so much more than a collection of words and rules for the order in which they should be spoken. It includes all aspects of communication: the way you should greet someone when they’re in mourning, the requirement that a gift need be refused three times before accepted, or the importance of covering one’s hair when in public— that is all a part of language.

A language is a doorway into another culture; it paves the road toward empathy.

ex·change (n): an act of giving one thing and receiving another in return

I didn’t originally found the Student Language Exchange with the intention of changing the world. The first courses we ran were a reflection of my curiosity and the curiosity of students around me. We just wanted to learn from one another’s experiences, so we ran semester-long courses where our peers could share their languages and cultures.

We came to understand dowry practices in Kenya, limitations of French language in Haiti and the aftereffects of English colonialism in Calcutta. We gifted one another the knowledge that we had gleaned in the first 20 years of our lives. And we learned to listen, ask questions, and empathize.

My formal coursework in language didn’t always allow me to really understand the people that spoke it, and the communities I could learn about at my university were limited, mostly to those of Europe.

At last count, there were 197,757 U.S. college students studying French and 64 studying Bengali. Globally, there are 193 million people who speak Bengali and only 75 million who speak French. In fact, Arne Duncan tells us that 95% of all language enrollments are in a Western language.

We tend to learn about cultures that are similar to our own. But this is holding us back. It keeps us from building empathy, from pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, and from building bridges between peoples.

Our world isn’t perfect. Tragedies, whether man-made as in the case of the Rohingya Crisis or natural in the case of the Nepal earthquakes, plague our global society. We can’t be perfect either, but we can strive to empathize with those affected and respectfully communicate with people in these regions. Through open communication—and through connecting our privilege with their opportunity—we can do our part to make the world a little bit better.

In our SLE courses, students learn to think differently; they learn about other languages and cultures so that they can better understand different people.

I may not have originally intended to build a social enterprise, but somewhere along the way we began to see the impact we were having on our students and the communities they touched.

Today, only 7% of American college students are studying a language. Few Americans—our next-generation leaders—take the time to learn about a new culture and to build the skills they need to communicate with its stakeholders. If we can push that needle a little further to the right, we can make an immense impact.

And as these students will tell you, we already well on our way. Will you join us?

 

Amelia Friedman founded the Student Language Exchange while a student at Brown University (’14). An active advocate of global engagement, she has written about language education for the Atlantic, USA Today, Forbes, and the Huffington Post. She is the product of a marriage between a Jew from Maryland and a Catholic from Montevideo, Uruguay that demonstrate the importance of empathy every day. Amelia is a current Halcyon fellow living in Washington, DC.

In full disclosure, I have been Amelia's mentor since her time at Brown and am on the board of SLE, with great pride and admiration for her work.

What's Missing?


When we are looking for patterns, trying to understand or discover customer needs, trying to learn something in general, we tend to look for what’s there.  We look for what we see, hear, touch, smell, taste – for what we observe.  This can take time and focus.  Sometimes we have to look at the negative space as well, the empty space around the ‘thing’ we are observing.   Negative space is used a lot in art and optical illusions.  For instance, look at this key, the logo for the American Institute for Architects in New York:

It looks like a key, right? But look at the cuts in the key’s blade – it’s the NYC skyline! If you took a quick look, you might not notice that it’s a skyline, let alone NYC’s.  So when we are looking, it’s important to look at the equivalent of the ‘negative space’ around the ‘thing’ we are observing.

But what if we ‘looked’ for what’s NOT there? What if we looked for what was missing?  This sounds strange – how can you look for something that’s not there?  Maybe we’re not actually ‘looking’ in the literal sense, but we are trying to see what is missing – what should/could/ought to be there but isn’t.  In Episode 7 of Serial*, one of the lawyers says, “That’s what we’re not seeing.”  Those few words stopped me in my tracks. 

What we are NOT seeing!  We are so used to looking and making sense of what’s there that we rarely stop and look at what’s NOT there… at what’s missing.   Ok, so you can’t see something that’s not there – but maybe you can!  Maybe you can ‘see’ what is normally, typically, usually there in a certain situation or circumstance.  Its absence should raise a flag.  If you question and examine, you’ll ask why something isn’t there, or isn’t there in a way it should be.  Ask Why.  Why didn’t this happen? Why wasn’t that there? Why wasn’t that used? Why wasn’t that tightened? Why wasn’t that next to this?

So the next time you’re observing to learn – to build a new product or service or feature, to understand a customer segment or need – ask yourself what’s missing.  Ask yourself what should be there that isn’t and ask why.  Who knows what you will discover!

 

*If you haven't listened to Serial yet, you must! Aside from the 'entertainment' value which is very high, the lessons on looking, observing, over-looking, ignoring, missing are applicable to so much of our lives - personally and professionally.

Have you figured out what’s missing in the picture of the robots at the top? Do you want to know? If yes, keep reading.  If no, STOP!

(Look at Robot Robbie's center graphic with the gears; there's only 1 red ‘canister’ on the right).

Coming: Dips, Rocks and Thunderstorm

Joseph Pistrui's post from his blog really resonated with me and I thought it would with you!  Jospeh is a friend, colleague and wise man. He diverse background and expertise gives him the credibilty to speak on our very dynamic world.  So read on and please ponder.  And thank you, Joseph, for letting me repost your words here!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A recent tweet by 7billCORPORATE (@7billcorp, part of @7billionideas) really nailed the truth about innovation and business. On 30 January 2015 via Twitter, a brilliant graphic was added to a post that contrasted the perception many people have about the path to progress and what it’s really like. Here ’tis:

Path to Progress

So many think that innovation happens quickly, smoothly, without roadblocks or bumps. And that may be true, for a few. If you are operating in a business environment in which there is a reasonably clear — and straight — line to who your future customers will be and what products and services you need to develop for them, first count your blessings and then get on the accelerator. Assuming you have the technology and know-how to make it happen, these are precisely the conditions when speed is critically important. Start. Go fast. Keep going. Don’t stop.

In these rare moments in the world of enterprise, getting to your destination as fast and efficiently as possible must be your paramount goal. The business world has countless tools for planning and eking out process improvements for such journeys, and you probably already know how to use them well.

In such cases, think of the time you may have watched with envy that shiny red Porsche Carrera speeding off down the highway with the driver pushing “pedal to the metal”. Recall the roar of all that horsepower as it reached top speed and peak performance, unchallenged by anything or anyone on the road.

Unfortunately, such an analogy isn’t the reality for most firms. “The future” for most businesses and organisations I encounter will be the kind of path that 7billCORPORATE displays. There will be dips, rocks, wobbly bridges over unknown chasms and deep water where you expected smooth pavement. Oh, and don’t forget the thunderstorms.

For most of those I meet, their future operating environment is uncertain, ambiguous and even (heaven forbid) unknowable. During their journey in time, many of the time-tested tools and techniques at their disposal will prove to be, well, not very helpful.

That does not mean that what’s needed is a new car and a new driver. Think now of that same Porsche, only this time keeping in mind its other performance capacities, such as cornering, shifting, braking and speed. This exceptionally well-engineered automobile is both ready for the high-speed straightaway as well as the curves, redirections and sudden changes of speed required to drive the rocky road to tomorrow.

Yet, if you lack the mindset to power up and power past unpredictable obstacles, you might as well be on skateboard with only one set of wheels. You’re not going to move far, fast or fearlessly. Which is why, as I work with companies large and small, I find that what’s most needed is a new leadership mindset, skillset and toolset. Too many leaders have great cars, but they lack versatility. The 21st century leader must be able to move fast when he or she knows the right direction, be cautious when the terrain is unknown or threatening, be willing to change directions when new and compelling information becomes available, and be able to stop quickly — even altogether — should the conditions for progress prove impossible.Porsche Carerra

Becoming more versatile (or ambidextrous) as a leader is no small task; but, in my experience, it is now an imperative for survival, and even more an imperative for growth. Our Nextsensing Project is about working with the mindset of any leader facing an uncertain future. No matter what kind of car he or she drives, moving into the future requires an understanding of the unique challenge at hand, the identification of the appropriate tools to use for the situation, and the building of confidence that only rough roads truly test the abilities of the vehicle — and the driver.


Porsche image from http://www.porsche-mania.com


Are You On a Salvage or Launch Mission?

 

Sunk Costs: money you spent that can’t be recovered… salvaged.  This month, I’ve been working with a few companies struggling to walking away from sunk costs. Despite how ‘obviously’ inane it may be, many companies keep throwing good money after bad.  They keep spending more money to try to salvage any use or benefit from what is sunk – down at the bottom of the sea.  In the Venture Capital world we call this financing risk – putting good money after bad on the hope that at some point, Einstein’s Law of Insanity* will be wrong and the salvage mission becomes a successful rescue mission.  Problem is this rarely happens.

So, guess what? Sunk costs are sunk. Move on. Get over it. Put your energy, time and resources into opportunities for growth, into potential launch missions.  Put good money after good money. Stop salvaging and start launching.

* Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.