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. 

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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.

“Goodbye Mr. Jones”: The End of the Dow as an American Index

Is the concept of national corporations and financial indices outdated? Perhaps! Charles Hensley's perspective about tax inversion challenges us to think about 'national' status, incentives, and the constraints of 20th C thinking. This is taken from The Intercollegiate Finance Journal (IFJ) is an undergraduate student-run journal about how current finance, economics, business and technology issues affect students' lives.  Please consider supporting the IFJ to ensure that our youth's voices are heard and heeded. 
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Pfizer, America’s largest pharmaceutical company and a member of the Dow Jones Index, made a bid to acquire its British competitor AstraZeneca this past May. The acquisition would have allowed Pfizer to perform a tax inversion by moving its headquarters from the United States, which has the highest corporate tax rate of any rich nation, to Great Britain, which has one of the lowest.

American and British lawmakers alike were up in arms over the deal, which AstraZeneca eventually rejected. American lawmakers denounced the potential loss of corporate tax revenue and of Pfizer as an American company – even though none of its assets held in America would invert. It would simply have been unpatriotic. The Dow has long been considered the showcase of American corporate power and the loss of one of its 30 members to the British would have been a huge blow to America’s corporate hegemony. The British similarly decried the potential loss of one of their most prestigious corporations to foreigners.

The corporations themselves do not take patriotic pride into consideration, however, and see tax inversion simply as a sound business plan.
Corporate Mythology

Decrying tax inversion as unpatriotic misses the point. The idea of an “American” corporation is increasingly becoming a myth.

Pfizer’s CEO, for example, is British. According to The Economist, Pfizer’s domestic density index, which measures a company’s domestic business compared to its international side, is 49 percent. AstraZeneca’s CEO is French and it has a domestic density rating of only 12 percent. Even Coca-Cola has less than half of its sales and staff in the United States, though, like Pfizer, a majority of its shareholders are American. America’s corporations are not really as “American” as we might like to think.

This is the case for much of the Dow and corporate America in general. Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical device makers, is currently in the process of inverting from Minnesota to Ireland; Burger King plans to send the King himself to Canada; and Chiquita – the only Banana company anyone has heard of – is moving to Ireland. This is all bad news for American corporate tax lawyers because, with their official headquarters overseas, companies will no longer be subject to American’s convoluted corporate tax code.

Officially, the US corporate tax rate is 35 percent, but it is so fraught with loopholes and tax breaks that companies rarely foot the whole bill. Moreover, corporations headquartered in the United States are supposed to pay taxes on revenue generated all over the world but are only required to pay taxes on the money that they actually bring home. Consequently, companies have stopped bringing foreign revenue home: U.S. corporations have around $2 trillion on foreign balance sheets.
 

The Trials of Tax Reform

Tax inversion is not unpatriotic, but it is nonetheless a problem. The United States loses more than half of total corporate tax income to loopholes. Inversions will only compound this problem and siphon off more tax income. Congress is moving to change the laws governing inversion, which currently allows inversions as long as stockholders who were not holders of the U.S. company hold at least 20 percent of the merged company. The Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014 introduced by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) aims to raise the level of ownership to 50 percent among other stipulations. Congressional Democrats claim that their legislation will keep $19.5 billion per year in the United States.

The Treasury Department has also stepped up regulation in the face of the spate of recent inversions. New regulations proposed by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would cut down on “spinversions,” which are a form of inversion where a company splits off one of its parts and turns it into a separate corporate entity backed by the original company and governed by the original company’s shareholders. Secretary Lew also aims to regulate “hopscotch,” which allows companies to access their foreign cash reserves without paying taxes. However, new regulations will not affect the Burger King deal or many others in their final stages of inversion.

Tax inversions are a symptom of a larger problem: America’s bloated corporate tax code. Substantive tax reform is one of the most politically poisonous issues to grapple with in Washington D.C. and corporate tax debates arouse great rancor from politicians and interest groups. In light of these hurdles, these new measures are stopgap at best. Tax inversions themselves do not need to be legislated away, if that is even possible in the face of an army of corporate tax lawyers. Instead, the corporate tax code needs to be streamlined and the tax rate lowered to be on par with that of other developed nations.

Economics is the study of incentives, so a good economist knows that to change the corporate system, you have to change corporate incentives.

Incremental regulation has failed in the past and will continue to fail as long as other nations have comparatively advantageous tax codes in the eyes of corporations. The idea of corporate patriotism is not enough to keep corporations in the United States. Politicians and regulators must accept this fact and work to alter the incentives so that corporate taxes for work done in the United States go to the United States.

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Charles Hensley is a junior at Brown University concentrating in Philosophy and Economics.  IFJ is a rapidly expanding student-run publication that seeks to educate the undergraduate community about topics in finance, economics, business and technology. The IFJ blends sophistication and accessibility to provide relevant, informative and entertaining financial content. We pride ourselves on having “an article for everyone”. Comprised of students from Brown, University of Chicago, Columbia, NYU and MIT and is expanding to other schools. Please support this organization to let our youth's voices be heard!  The IFJ can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Intangible Benefit of Networking

So honored to co-author a post in Switch and Shift with my friend Vala Afshar - What is the benefit of networking? It may surprise you

"We are both pretty passionate about networking.  Being insatiably curious, we love meeting new people from different backgrounds with different experiences, viewpoints, and stories.  Throughout our individual careers, we’ve seen how networking is a means of learning and growing, both personally and professionally."  Continue reading....

True Leadership is Social

Every once in a while, you are privileged to witness the embodiment of what has become a buzzword, Servant Leadership - someone who is innately wired as a servant leader – authentic, genuine and sincere.  I’m privileged to have met a few of these people in my career – in fact, five “someones” recently at a warm, welcoming, generous visit to Enterasys’s headquarters in Andover, MA.  Two of the five, Vala Afshar and Brad Martin, have just written a 2012 & 2013’s Must Read book, The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence.  To understand the power of this book, I need to tell you a story…of how I met them.

Last spring, I started noticing Vala’s insightful, kind, wise, and very human tweets.  I reached out and he invited me to visit him on my way up to Maine this past September.  I arrived and was greeted like a queen! To my incredible surprise, because Vala remembered our tweets about lobster, Brian Townsend, Director of Global Services and Ops, had prepared a feast of lobster tails with a risotto and an unimaginable dessert.  How did Vala remember that I loved lobster? Because that’s how Vala, and Brad, and the rest of the team, are wired (no pun intended) – to be social, to care, to make sure others matter.

Brad and Vala don’t preach about why businesses must be social – they live it, everyday.  Theirs is a real, living, breathing, continuous narrative about how a mid-market company refocused their culture to delight their customers by respecting and trusting their employees to focus on providing meaningful outcomes for their customers.  They detail the why, how, when, and what in transforming the culture and flattening the organization.  Vala and Brad share the culture’s benefits to their top line, bottom line and most importantly, human line.  If you’ve read Steve Denning’s book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, you’d think he was writing about Enterasys – and he was!

When you read this book, as you should, don’t start making excuses as to why it doesn’t “really” apply to.  You’d be lying to yourself and closing the door to creating an excellent company.  The pursuit of social business excellence applies to any company making any thing that touches any one in any form, not just technology companies. The fundamental building block of Enterasys’ success is not technology – they make that loud and clear – it’s people.  Technology can make being a social business easier, but it can’t make it happen.  People do.

Please read The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence.  Think about how you can adapt some of these ideas for your own organization.  It may seem scary – you may lose the perception of the control you never really had; you may realize you’ve made some bad hires and constrained some great ones; your customers may see behind the curtain.  Yet, overcome the fears, because the rewards are so great, on so many levels.

 

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Igniting the Invisible Tribe

I’m privileged to have one of the very first, hot off the press, copies of Josh Allan Dkystra’s new book, Igniting the Invisible Tribe. It is about a new way of business and work for the 21st Century.  It’s a fabulous, must read book on how the world of ‘work’ can, and should, evolve and what we can do, with practical real questions to answer, to make that happen.  4 things are particularly remarkable to me in the book:

  1. The book itself – the physical book
  2. Unusual and powerful analogies
  3. New Rules
  4. Tools

The Book.  Josh’s new book is one of the reasons I think e-books are great, but will not replace the real thing.  The “architecture” of the book drives its message home by its design, flow, breaks, artwork, phrasing, spacing, footnoting style, even the texture of the cover.  It’s not a typical business book and I found myself not only enjoying the “what” of the book but the overall experience of reading the physical book itself.  This greatly enhances the book’s message and importance – it makes the need for changing how and why we work in the 21st Century more palpable and real.

Analogies: I love analogies so perhaps I’m a bit more critical of the usual mundane analogies that get used to portray the need for change in the 21st Century.  Josh’s analogies capture the essence of the shift that is underway and needs to be increased in speed and depth:

  • Revolution as a complete cycle – e.g., a trip around the sun.  If you think of it in these terms, it’s a natural progression of cycles, creating and breaking traditions and evolving beyond the status quo – it’s a revolution that is also a revolution – and if we stop, and don’t complete the revolution, we are indeed stuck in the status quo.
  • Mosaics – the need for the pieces to make the whole, the different ways you see it from up close to farther away – the various perspectives you get when you look at it from different angles and depths highlighting the fact we see it from our own individual and collective perspectives make a mosaic a perfect symbol.  We need every piece of the mosaic to make it whole and complete – no piece, regardless of size, shape, color, pattern is less significant or needed.  This is especially important, and frankly poignant, in Rule 3 (see below).

Rules:  Josh has 5 rules for the new world of business,

  • Rule 1: Start with Why – rarely do we question why we do things (makes me think of us as sheep – just following the shepherd blindly).  Why do we work? To make money – why? To buy the things we need and want.  Fundamentally, we should be working because it “is valuable to us and valuable to society.”  If we feel our work is valuable, it will energize us and fill us up instead of sucking the life out of us.  Stop and think – would the world miss your company if it weren’t around?
  • Rule 2: Build a Mosaic – we have spent the last century breaking things down into micro-level parts – like atoms, neutrons, etc.  This isn’t bad as long as you can still see the whole – but we haven’t.  The reason for many of our ‘wicked problems’ today is that we’ve focused on the micro instead of the macro – we’ve lost sight of the big picture.  The pieces have owners but who owns the whole?  The new economy’s value is in the mosaic – in seeing how the pieces connect and interact.  It’s in the blending of the science of deconstruction (or destruction?) with the art of recombination – what I call innovation.  It’s an AND, not a false dichotomy of either/or.
  • Rule 3: Dignify the Detail Doers: Respect and Dignity pretty much sum up how we should treat people no matter what.  Let’s face it, we may be friendly to janitors but do we really view them as equals? As ‘as good as’ us? What about people who are very different from us? They are ‘interesting’ – but, nah, not ‘as good as’ us.  Each person is a potential collaborator and a human being – maybe it’s time we started to view him or her accordingly.
  • Rule 4: Make like a Shark and Swim – this rule really hit me.  We are all in businesses where the market or customer segments we serve are changing all the time.  So how is it that we haven’t thought to change how we are structured to align ourselves with these markets and customers? Amazing when you stop and think about it, isn’t it?  Josh uses the example of a book – we don’t re-read a page, we read the next one and next one.  But for some reason, we’ve kept on the same page in business.  The fact is, humans resist change so organizations do too.  And because of that, they not only resist, they aren’t organized to absorb and adapt to change.  Guess what? The Gen-Y & Z’ers expect change – it’s all they’ve ever known.  We better get with it or they’ll never share their talent with us.  Life and work and business are an eternal experiment – we have our hypotheses, we test them, learn, apply and iterate, if we are successful.  Otherwise we die.  That’s the theme of the Lean Startup movement as well.  So see, the Scientific Method still applies.
  • Rule 5: Be Connected, Human and Meaningful – as a Network-o-Phile, I love this rule.  We need to connect to others inside and outside our organizations – at all levels – with our partners, suppliers, customers, their customers etc.  And we need to be human – not super-human, not artificial, but genuine and authentic.  Bill Taylor challenged us to be more human in his BIF8 talk this past September.  And finally, work has to have meaning – it must benefit someone in some way at some point instead of merely be a means of making money - even if you are ‘just’ the janitor.  Josh’s discussion of giving our discretionary time to our organization reminded me of Dan Pink’s “non-commissioned work” BIF7 talk – that for 2 physicists led to a Nobel Prize.

Tools: Josh concludes the book by providing 6 tools to help us create the new world of ‘work’.  Again, a few of them were significant for me:

  • Architects & Builders: instead of leaders and followers, which imply hierarchy, power, authority and subservience, what if we called people architects (designers, ‘big thinkers’ etc.) and builders (makers, doers)?  We need both – equally – and using this language starts making the inherent need for human and customer-centered design front and center.  It applies to virtual and physical, it lifts both up to their true value without diminishing their roles.  I love this!  The change in language is so very powerful, symbolic and visual
  • G-d is in the Details:  A parody on the Devil is in the Details to stress the positive side of details – we need people who worry about details, they matter.  Even little ones can make a huge difference in an organization’s culture and environment – just think of what you are saying when you have to put a code into the copy machine? When you have parking spaces reserved for the C-suite?  And imagine if you had people who worried about making it easier for you to do your job? Amazing, huh?  One of the huge ‘ahas’ for me in this tool is the natural vs. ‘forced’ shift to focus on leading indicators instead of trailing indicators.
  • The Pyramid vs. The Bridge:  This image was visceral for me.  The pyramid is a great work – created by a dictator (Pharaoh) and executed by slaves.  Talk about command-and-control!  It’s pretty much up and down.  A bridge on the other hand provides more flexibility in terms of design – there are many ways to design and build a bridge.  It spans different locations, cultures, organizations, encourages Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (RCUS), and relies on all parts contributing to the integrity of the bridge.  It’s a place to bring people, ideas, solutions together, collaboratively.
  • Drawing Better Lines: All the lines we’ve drawn have been linear, predictable and clear.  No more.  We’ve measured outputs – like revenue and profit, not outcomes – like “customer WOW”.  Josh points out that our organization’s budgets reflect our organization’s values and morals (just like our calendars and checkbooks reflect our personal values).  We need to draw the lines so they encourage value creation – at individual and organizational levels.  This is far far from trivial.
  • Fewer Armies, More Orchestras: Josh proposes a new type of organizational structure that can quickly adapt to and leverage change, led by a conductor, just like one for an orchestra, who conducts the Builders and the Architects.  Imagine the music that could be made!  Have you noticed, when you’re at a concert, you’re usually not (or shouldn’t be) doing anything else but listening, and if you enjoy that music, you’re enthralled with and in it? What if your organization could make that same kind of ‘music’ for your customers? What if they were enthralled – Wowed – with and in it? Big difference huh?

Well, I didn’t mean to go on quite so long in this book review, but I couldn’t help myself.  This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time – on many levels.  It’s a simple and profound read – one that should hopefully encourage you to look at your own organization and see how you can make “work not suck.”  Think you can? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Sustaining Collaboration - Part II: The Journey Continues

In Part I of how Menasha Packaging started a culture of collaboration back in the early 1990’s, Jeff discussed the need forcollaboration on the plant floor and how the training and cultural process developed, including the first year of formal training.  We know continue with the 2nd year.

Jeff: The second year focused on applying basic manufacturing principles to each person’s workstation.  Workflow systems and processes were changed.  Additionally, machine-centered teams from the first year became cross-functional, focused at a higher level.  The teams initiated this themselves, without being asked to do so.  Each team had to provide quarterly reports to the Steering Committee on their progress.

The Steering Committee members rotated annually, with the exception of the GM and Union President.  People actually started asking to be on the committee, some because of a passion for collaboration and some to derail the process.  Both types were included and after a while, the naysayers saw the benefits of the approach and helped bring other naysayers along! In fact, one person who refused to participate in the first year was eagerly involved by the 3rd year, even engaging those who were still skeptical and challenging to become part of the process.

DMS: Was there a significant aspect of this process that had the biggest impact?

Jeff: I can’t stress how important creating personal relationships were to changing the culture. When a project was completed, the Steering Committee took the team out to dinner.  After each training session, everyone went out to celebrate, eat and socialize.  Getting to know each other as individuals instead of “management” or “labor” increased trust, which increased collaboration.  In fact, for the first time, management was invited to personal employee celebrations, like birthday parties!  What surprised employees the most was that management actually showed up, that management cared enough about them to come to their party.  This made a huge positive difference. 

DMS: So, it’s 15-20 years later, how has the culture evolved since then? For instance, it seems that using HR in a unique way, as Jerry and you did, is still part of the culture.

Jeff: Today, team involvement and collaboration are simply the way things are done.  It is less formal than in the 1990’s because it has become integral to the culture.  Lean teams are everywhere.  Lean has even played a significant part in creating our innovation mindset.  Collaboration had become the norm; it was no longer unique, which is what we hoped would happen.  Today’s culture is terrific, everyone is on the same page and the union-management relationship is very strong.

DMS: So, as you look back, why did you do it this way?

Jeff:  Well, when Jerry had asked me to help, we knew teamwork was a core value for MPC.  It was obvious to us that collaboration was the best way to work – for culture and performance.  At the core, both management and the union leadership had the same value system.  We knew what we wanted life to be like at the plant, to empower employees, to let their voices be heard.  So, we created a path to get there.  We also knew that patience was going to be a critical virtue.  The employees would think this was a fad.  We had to prove this was real, it was for the long-term and we weren’t trying to break the unions.  Jerry and the union president’s commitment were paramount.  And, as I said before, developing personal relationships was vital.  The dinners, celebrations, recognitions, parties, even just hanging out together proved our credibility and authenticity.  It took time, but it changed, and we’ve been able to sustain it.

Sustaining Collaboration for Decades

Menasha Packaging Corp. (MPC) transformed its culture from a staid, old-line traditional industrial one into a 21st Century innovation and collaboration one.  To some this may seem a dramatic change, but if you know anything about MPC, it all stems from its core values, sustained over 163 years and 7 generations.

I recently chatted with Jeff Krepline, Executive Director of Retail Integration Institute and National Sales at MPC.  Jeff shared a fascinating story of how, starting in 1993, MPC had recognized and embraced collaboration as significant to success.  While this may be an ‘old’ story (it’s almost 20 years old), it demonstrates the importance of sticking to your values and mission, through thick and thin.  The continuity and stability of MPC’s core values is a bulwark against market, industry and global cycles.

DMS: Jeff, why did the Neenah, WI complex’s management to ask you in to help?

Jeff:  The culture was good, but there was an ‘us v them’ tone in the complex, a union versus management mentality; nothing that would warrant a strike, but still not very collaborative.  The lack of collaboration meant less teamwork that stifled growth.  Neenah had just had some arbitration cases that caused division even within the union.   Neenah’s General Manager (GM), Jerry Hessel, knew that team-based manufacturing improved performance, so he felt he had to do something.  Jerry asked to help him.  I had recentlygraduated from college was new to MPC in corporate HR.   I proposed a 3-year training plan to improve the culture, starting with the basics: getting people on the floor to share ideas with people in the office.

We created a steering committee that made all the decisions on training for this initiative. The steering committee consisted of the GM and 2 floor management leaders (e.g., area manager, shift leader) and the union president along with 1 union officers and someone from the floor.  At the time, this was a very new concept.  The team met monthly and always went through the actual training that employees would go through.  Union leadership couldn’t say they didn’t know what was going on.  Despite the fact that management had training requirements in the union contract, one of the first employee groups refused to participate claiming the training wasn’t in the union handbook and the time of day for training conflicted with handbook rules.  To say the first year was a struggle and tense with the rank and file is an understatement.  Many employees hadn’t been in a classroom since high school and needed basic training in Business 101.

DMS: How did you structure the training, because this a rather radical approach?

Jeff:  I leveraged the concept of continuous improvement to structure training around specific work centers or machines instead of traditional cross-functional teams.  This made the training more natural, more like the actual work.  The teams were asked to reflect on the basics of how they worked and functioned, as well as on the direction of the company and the desired future they wanted to see.  Training was based on providing tools for ‘work’, like Lean (e.g., 5 Why’s). The teams reported to Union and Management leadership on what they felt and thought about their project, what they learned, the current state, the future desired state and finished by asking for approval to actually do the project.  We wanted the employees to have a safe environment to have their voices heard.

DMS: How did the 3-year plan evolve?

Jeff: The first year we focused on ‘low-hanging fruit’ – basic projects like tool cabinet organization, tool cleaning etc.  This empowered teams to improve their day-to-day life at work. We wanted to link business performance to the job on the floor.  We started with a very nice “Business Connection Dinner” between management and union leadership with their spouses early in the year.  Management reviewed the past year, discussed the upcoming year and personally thanked the spouses and significant others for the over-time their partners had given to the company and the difference it had made.   This helped them make the connection between business performance to the job on the floor to the sacrifices at home.  Employees and their spouses could ask questions about concerns and company direction.  To stress how much we cared about all employees, the invitations to dinner were addressed to them and their spouses and mailed to their homes. At dinner, recognition was given to top teams and Steering Committee members coming on/going off.  We also gave out prizes for various achievements.

To Be Continued...Part II:  Continuing the Journey 1994 - Today

Time trumps Money in Innovation

My mom always said you either have time or money but rarely both.   Silicon Valley advisor and Fast Company contributorAdrianOtt’s award-winning book, The 24-Hour Customer, gets right to this point. Time has become more important than money.  Time is finite, money isn’t (though it may seem like it a times).  When we make a decision about a product or service, we are really evaluating our time versus our cost, not just the price.  We evaluate where we have to go, what else we need to do and when we have to do it.  We may compromise what we want if it’s on our way to where we’re going – because it’s just easier.

For companies today, getting a share of customers’ time is harder than getting share of their wallet.  Adrian eloquently points out that since no one is making any more time, it’s value continues to greatly increase.  We are witnessing a major shift in customer buying behavior and needs: from the Time Value of Money to the Money Value of Time.  The companies that understand and capitalize on this shift will bring tremendous value to their customers, and in turn themselves.

Adrian’s knowledge of customers’ perception of time and its implication for buying behaviors is grounded in experience, observation, empirical studies and neuroscience.  Traditional companies tend to view products and services as the basis of competition and a task as a discrete event.  Innovative companies view customer activity as the basis of competition and a task in the context of all the tasks that customer has to do before, during and afterwards.  This is a significant competitive shift – from tangibles to intangibles –Time.  Remember, you are competing for customers’ “X” minutes of activity – what else could they do? who else could they hire, instead of you?  Adrian’s Time-ographics Framework is a great tool to assess how customers allocate their time and attention among a variety of products and services.

Throughout the book, Adrian provides tools, examples, and situations to help you understand your customers’ needs, constraints, and frustrations around Time.  She elaborates on the motivations and the role of habits, which are very hard to break, which drive customers’ time and attention and how to create solutions based on those.  Sometimes, the status quo, the path of least resistance while maybe not better, is faster.  Key to learning about your customers is their willingness to share their information with you.  Take for example Nike+.  The Nike+ service changed the customer relationship from transactional and periodic to an ongoing, integrated relationship with the runner creating an online running community that shares their health and run statistics.

In addition to sharing the factors that go into buying decisions based on customers’ value of time, Adrian provides experientially based wisdom on how companies can leverage these factors and build organizational wisdom and competency around them.   Since behaviors shift over time, over product or service use and with emerging technologies and markets, the model Adrian provides is dynamic, allowing companies to continually adapt to the emerging customer needs, and wants.

At the end, Adrian sums up the entire challenge of servicing 24-hour customers with one word: Trust.   In order to continue to help customers’ do the jobs they want done in a time-effective and efficient manner, customers need to trust that companies have their best interests, including privacy and security, in mind.  So many aspects of our 20th Century world are changing.  How customers decide what, where, and when to buy is one of the most significant in our market economy.   Adrian’s book helps you think about this new world in ways you haven’t considered.  If you have, the book provides tools and methods to create solutions that matter and competencies that can be sustained.

Connect-Inspire-Transform Well Lived

BIF’s motto is Connect-Inspire-Transform.  That’s exactly what happens at the magical BIF conferences.  We hearChristine Costello, Eli Stefanski, Katherine Hypolite, Chris Flanagan, Tori Drew incredible stories, have profound conversations, eat and drink (even al fresco!), and have Wi-Fi.  What more could we need?

Connect-Inspire-Transform is also what it takes to make the magic happen.  Oh, along with some collaboration and leadership, which define the smiling faces of BIF team: Tori Drew, Chris Flanagan, Katherine Hypolite, Eli Stefanski, Christine Costello, Jeff Drury, James Hamar, Sam Kowalczyk, and Saul Kaplan.  At BIF-7, these folks are so welcoming, smiling and make it all seem so simple.  And perhaps at some level it is simple, but it’s definitely not easy. 

The BIF team is authentic.  They truly live and breathe their mission – it’s not just a saying or a goal, it’s a way of life; it’s how they work.  There are many moments of more perspiration than inspiration, of last second changes.  BIF’s core values remain constant throughout.  That’s part of the paradox of innovation – the need for the stability of core values and beliefs to transform our world for the better.  Having been privileged to sit in for a brief moment of rest and nourishment with Olga’s fabulous tarts (and #innopies) before BIF-7, the passionate kaleidoscope of laughter, frustration, triple checking, sighs, and smiles was palpable, and powerful.

One example stands out.  BIF was live streaming.  My friend and client, Matt Hlavin of Thogus was at BIF (along with a bunch of “Clevelanders” who were nagged into going to BIF, gratefully).  During Angela Blanchard’s story, Matt’s right-hand, Lisa Lehman, watching it live in Avon Lake, OH, texted Matt that Angela didn’t have the ‘clicker’ in her hand seconds before Angela looked for the clicker!  Someone watching in real time, 650 miles Tori's "Magic" Shoesaway, was so engaged that she noticed such a detail!  And the next book for the Thogus leadership team’s “group” read is John Hagel’s Power of Pull along with Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation.  That is the power of BIF – connecting people all over the world and inspiring them so they transform their worlds, miles and time zones away.  Next year, when you’re at BIF, remember that – and thank one of those BIF team smiling faces.

Power in Innovation Networks

A few weeks ago, I was driving by an abandoned Ford plant in Lorain, OH.   The plant, a key regional employer closed in 2005.  What

struck me were the parking lots.  Some of them were fields!  You couldn’t even see any concrete.  Others were still in the process of re-fielding.  In 6 years, the force of nature was powerful enough to break through concrete and asphalt, not just in cracks made from wear and tear but also in solid concrete.  Do you know how much power and strength that takes?  So I thought I’d find out. Two of my ‘learnings’ really hit me:

  1. The Network: since plants need light and water (remember osmosis and photosynthesis?), all it takes is 1 plant sprouting up between a crack to ‘distribute’ the energy and nutrients of light and water throughout its underground root system causing others to grow and push through.
  2. The Chemistry: the cellulose, starch and lignin in the plant cells creates electrical charges when wet – like water (2H are +, 1O is -).  The water permeates these natural polymers creating a chemical bond (hydrogen bonding) that makes the cell contents and wall swell exponentially, which creates tremendous pressure - pressure strong enough to break through concrete and asphalt.

The Network.  Nature has an incredible under-on-over-ground network that I believe is indestructible – not that we can’t damage it a lot.  Man has a lot of hubris to think we are powerful enough to fully destroy what existed long before us.  We have a lot to learn from nature’s powerful networks. Networks increase strength, resilience, diversity, and adaptation, which facilitate growth and innovation.  We can use networks to create these same traits in society, in communities and even our companies: to solve wicked problems facing our world; to tell, share and create stories that transform; even to just have fun. We need to get over our hubris of our individual power and knowledge, just like our hubris with the planet, and realize its “The Network, Stupid”.   We – as companies, organizations, people - need to stop fearing the network (e.g., twitter, Facebook, etc.) and embracing it – it is a key to survival.

The Chemistry. Have you ever met someone and you just clicked? The same strength of physical chemical bonds between atoms happens between people.  These can’t be commanded or coerced, they happen (or don’t) naturally.  It’s the power of these bonds between people that create, sustain and grow networks.  That’s why networks, which are collaborative are great at innovation – whether in sustainability or other areas.  When atoms collide, they create energy and new structures.  When people collide, they create energy and new ideas, solutions.

So, look at the parking lot again.  What can you learn from the power of nature, from its underlying extending network and adaptive evolving chemistry?  How can this apply to your company, project, initiatives and people? You don’t have to start at some grand scale.  All it takes is one small stalk sticking up through a crack in the seemingly impermeable concrete (your culture?) to spread.

Realizing Innovation's Full Value

Many of us agree innovation = invention + commercialization.  Commercialization is usually defined aslaunching the ‘invention’ so you and your customers realize value.  But how many of us include how well we’ve extracted the innovation’s value in the market as part of our innovation process?  Probably, not many; it’s just not that easy.  Whirlpool, a long-time innovator, discovered that many of its innovations were not succeeding as planned in the marketplace.  Moises Noreña, Whirlpool’s Director of Global Innovation, was tasked with finding out why and fixing it.  He recently detailed how they went about it.

Moises created a team to focus on the go-to-market aspect of innovation.  They discovered innovations were handed off to traditional market category teams and included in existing product lines.  So, when the innovation didn’t seem to sell well, the usual excuses were given: the product was too expensive, it didn’t work as promised, and consumers need to be converted.  So, what was going on?  Apparently, the innovation & marketplace performance processes were separate and mutually exclusive so products were killed because non-traditional go-to-market options were not explored.  In addition, business leaders frequently confused experimentation with market research leading to unrealistic expectations.  Bottom line? The issues were cultural and process – self-reinforcing both positively and negatively.

A very thoughtful and comprehensive approach was taken to address how to really extract an innovation’s value in the marketplace.  I encourage you to read the details here. Whirlpool’s values were the foundation for all approaches: teamwork, respect, diversity and collaboration.  The approach included selecting the right pilot to test, in this case, a pilot right in Whirlpool’s core – laundry; challenging the status quo; integrating innovation and marketplace performance processes; and having the business ‘own’ and take the lead for the pilot.

The pilot was a success, resulting in the creation of a new process.  Many new insights and ideas were created that translated into actionable opportunities for development, sales and operations with significant revenue potential.  Perhaps more significant were the intangible benefits.  The team’s common pilot experience resulted in a common consumer language, aiding understanding of and empathy with consumers’ issues.  Result? The team started dreaming about other business opportunities with a sense of camaraderie and hope not seen in the standard S&O process.

How can you apply Whirlpool’s learnings to your company? What can you adapt and apply?  Provide your experiences, comments, suggestions in the comment, at Moises’s MiX story or email me.  Let’s leverage each other’s learnings!

Packaging Up Innovation & Radical Management

In May, I was honored to be part of Steve Denning's workshop on his Radical Management principles for redefining 21stCentury management.  Recognition that we need to find a new way to ‘manage' work is gaining ground. We tend to think of 21st Century ‘new management' companies as those in ‘cool' industries: Internet, tech, alternative energy, social media, etc. These companies shun command-and-control!  However, there are some "old" "boring" companies that are surprising 21stCentury.

So, think packaging. You know, those brown boxes that your amazon books come in? Those displays at the end of store aisles that get you to buy more snacks? It's a commodity business, ruled by big huge vertically integrated behemoths with entrenched hierarchies held sacred.  Kind of boring huh?  You bet...not!

In the middle of Wisconsin (not Silicon Valley) is a 163 yr. old, private family business that reinvented itself, pulled a few classic "Blue Oceans" and looks more like a 21st Century newbie than a 19th Century oldie: Menasha Packaging Corporation (MPC).   MPC views their transformation as a journey, not a destination.  Their success is due to their most important asset - people.  And it's not just words, its action based on their values.  MPC has organized itself not as a traditional hierarchy, but as a network to enable and foster their culture.

A small headquarters organization is focused on removing obstacles and leveraging synergies while maintaining a strong entrepreneurial culture in each business.  Instead of centralizing the usual functions and capabilities, MPC relies on standardization, when applicable, to drive efficiency without bureaucracy.  Additionally, if one business has expertise another business needs or could use, it's shared in a center of excellence construct across heterogeneous businesses within MPC instead of being duplicated.  This allows each business to use its resources more innovativelyeffectively and efficiently...a rather unique approach for an ‘old' company.

In one business, an employee created an engaging way to identify and monitor safety issues.  To her, this was just a normal thing to do - see a problem, create a solution.  Soon it spread through the plant and shifts, becoming named "Safety Snags".  Eventually, this became an internally branded initiative throughout MPC.

MPCs culture of customer co-creation is based on listening to customers, quickly creating prototypes set in realistic environments, getting feedback and iterating the experimentation/prototyping until its right. This is also done across MPC businesses to find the right solution.

My initial perception when I started working with MPC, of an old manufacturing company, was quickly changed, and continues to be.  It is not just the new, young, hip companies that are reinventing management and seeing the results.  So what does this say? That it is really possible to create and sustain innovation in established companies.  Perhaps, it starts by innovating management itself.

Creating Business Models in Real Time

In 2009,  I was privileged to co-create an awesome book, Business Model Generation, with Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.     Co-creating the book with Alex was an amazing experience, created some lasting friendships with other co-creators, and of course Alex.  After Angela Dunn's monthly twitter-chat, #ideachat, I decided to ask Alex what made him decide to do co-create this book:

Why did you decide to co-create Business Model Generation?

Several managers and consultants around the world were already using the content of my doctoral dissertation because I put it online. Yves, my former PhD supervisor, and I thought it would be great to involve these practitioners and their experience to evaluate our content and make the book more relevant. It would allow us to test each and every one of our ideas with practitioners immediately. Co-creation helped us assure we were on track in creating a useful book.

Of course we could only do this because we decided to self-publish at the expense of the comfort of the infrastructure of a publishing house.

How did you decide whom to invite?

I wrote a blogpost and anybody who paid our “entry fee” was able to join. Each member would become part of our so-called “Book Hub”, get access to content, be able to give feedback, and they would have their name in the book. The fee was first USD$24 and we raised it gradually to USD$243 to keep the community exclusive. We tested the limits.

How did you manage all the ideas and comments you received?

We posted our content continuously as so-called “book chunks”. These were raw and undersigned pieces of content. For each chunk we started a discussion thread and answered almost every comment personally. The comments helped us create better content. Sometimes we specifically asked people about their experience or about their opinion. For example, it took some iteration to get members of the Book Hub behind a title for the book.

What tools did you use to help with the project?

I customized a Ning.com platform – an online website to create communities. We had to do everything ourselves, since no publisher offered a platform to do this back then.

How did you decide which ideas to use?

We selected content and ideas based on the strength of the argument or the relevance of the experience. We already did research on business models for 10 years, so it was easy for us to weed out pure opinion. I believe every co-creation project needs an experienced core team that makes final content decisions.

Was most of the input valuable or was there a lot of “noise”?

Well, even when it was “noise”, it was usually a good indicator that our ideas were not clear enough or our arguments too weak. Very little content was useless. Of course some of the co-authors were more experienced than others and their comments were naturally more relevant. However, since we wanted to create an inclusive book we carefully listened to every single comment in order to sense what people were concerned about, what they wanted (or needed) to learn, and to learn how we could best convey our ideas.

What were the benefits of co-creating the book?

  • It forces you to make every idea you write about relevant. Feedback is immediate, which makes you vulnerable as an author in the short term, but the long-term benefits outweighs this: it forces you to do your best for every piece of content you submit to co-creators.
  • We could immediately test what would or would not work/resonate with our audience.
  • Co-authors brought in a lot of experience and good comments that guided us throughout the writing process.
  • The 470 co-authors became a powerful global sales force, because each and every one of them had their name in the book, contributed to it, and believed in the final outcome.
  • It helped us pre-finance the expensive design and production of the book, since we managed the whole publishing process from A-Z on our own with a core-team of 5 people.

What were the limitations or obstacles, if any?

 

Co-creation is much more work than writing somewhere in a hidden corner and then publishing your content. However, the benefits outweigh the costs.

It was hard, hard, hard, to set-up everything ourselves and do something totally new and different. We were running the project on a shoestring budget, but aimed at creating a global management bestseller.

Nobody believed this could work: Two no-name authors who wanted to create a visual management bestseller and get people to pay to help him or her write the book. People thought we were crazy. All of them probably thought we were totally naïve.

Now publishers are studying our project to learn how they can set-up co-creation platforms for authors who want to go down a similar path.

What did you learn from the experience?

You need to be naïve enough to do things differently. No big publishing house would have allowed us to co-create a fully designed, four color business book in landscape format – because it was contrary to the publishing industry logic. However, we thought of Business Model Generation as a product, not just a book – similar to Apple products.

Our goal was to create the same kind of “unboxing experience” you have when you buy Apple products. This obviously meant breaking with most of the rules of traditional business book publishing. That’s exactly why it became a bestseller. Yves and I created a book on business models that we would have loved to buy ourselves. Since nobody had done it, we did it ourselves.

Would you do it again? And if so, what would you do differently?

We made countless errors on the way, but they were not foreseeable, since we created something totally new. We needed to make the mistakes to learn and iterated.

However, our biggest mistake was not sticking to our plan A of using Fulfillment by Amazon to distribute the book. We wanted to save the margins and went for plan B, which was partnering with a Dutch direct mailing company. That was a painful experience that I really wouldn’t want to live through again. After switching back to Plan A we got back on track again. After a couple of months of proving the success of the book we sold the publishing rights to Wiley – a big publishing house – in order to get physical distribution as well. Now it’s Wiley’s best selling international book.

What advice would you give someone who was thinking of co-creating/co-reviewing?

Don’t look at it as a pure marketing stunt, because it’s trendy to do co-creation. Ask yourself how the process of co-creation can help you craft a better product. Also, be aware that it’s much, much more work to co-create.

Note: Last year, I was honored to co-review Steve Denning's book, Radical Management.  An interview with Steve will be coming shortly.

Why Is It So Hard to Execute?

Why is it so hard to Execute?

Ok, we all know that, compared to execution, creating the strategic plan is cake.  So why is executing so darn hard?  This a huge issue and given our economic situation, it's even more critical (remember the adage, I'd rather have a B plan with A execution than an A plan with B execution?)

So why is this so hard - well, not sure how wired our brains are for execution in the first place.  As humans, we tend to focus on the here and now - the present - the crisis du jour, what's in front of us, the day to day.  It's harder to focus on the longer-term that is a bit less ‘tangible' and more ‘abstract'.  Let's face it, how many of us keep New Year's resolutions?  Perhaps it's just how we are.  But, that's no excuse, is it!

In my experience at AT&T, a few startups I was involved in, and of course my terrific clients, lack of execution boils down to, yup, CULTURE! In looking back, there usually wasn't an Execution-Oriented Culture.  Why? There are lots of reasons but one I see a lot, as strange as this may sound, is a underlying lack of confidence that they can really execute - the rationale includes the lack of certain skills, lack of more information, lack of confidence the plan is right in the first place - second-guessing - mostly themselves vs. the outside world.  The "We don't have what it takes to make this happen" is usually based on no history or habit of execution.  Senior management doesn't have a good track record; there's no budget, money, resources (by the way, budget follows the strategy; now economic situations may change, and if so, then you need to revisit the strategies and tactics and change them for the changed world)

So how does this cultural ‘deficit' happen? The usual ways.  There isn't clear ownership for execution overall and pieces and parts - and I'd bet that there isn't a clear sense of accountability in lots of areas in the organization, so why should this be different? Also, let's face it, people's natural tendency is to resist change (lots of research in this area).  In order to overcome this, get people involved, get their buy in - by participating in the planning, by management communicating (over and over and over) the need for the strategic direction and showing employees how they can help and support the plan and what it means for them.

What happens if you don't execute? Well, you know the rest.  The point is, while execution is hard, it's not impossible, it's not insurmountable and in fact it can become a habit that creates collaboration, increases teamwork, and in fact, increases innovation (no, that's not an oxymoron).

What have you seen as the biggest obstacles to execution?

 

The Business Plan Fallacy

As I'm reviewing business plans from college grads I'm mentoring (as an alumnae mentor at Brown Univ ) and from Glengary , the VC firm I'm a partner in, this whole business plan process is getting to me.   So much of what I see in biz plans (and strategies) is, pardon the phrase, BS.  We all know none of us believe any of the numbers is the proformas, the market growth, etc., so why do we bother with all this stuff when we know it's a joke?  I don't know, but here's what I'd like to see in a biz plan for a change.

  1. The current, accurate, realtruthful view of the world - market(s) as it exists and will exist. If it doesn't yet, why, what are the real needs, current and potential competitors (in/out of your market space).  What have others tried and what has succeeded or failed and why. Tell me a TRUE story of the world you're going into - you can use spreadsheets, analysis, etc...you should give me #'s, but tell me how this world really works, not how you'd like it to work.
  2. Clearly state your assumptions and hypotheses (e.g., if we do x, then y will happen; we can make A with $X in T months, we will take C to market and the market will do S) - how will these impact the market you're going after or creating - and ideally, do it in a way that you can change the assumptions so they automatically change the outcome.
  3. Delineate your plan ‘management/mitigation' story - since we know you'll make mistakes in #2 above, what are you going to do when this happens?  This has 3 critical areas: 1) how flexible is your management - can you adapt and shift if necessary? 2) how flexible is your product or service? Can it adapt or is it a binary choice? 3) if things really don't happen as planned, are you done? Do you have other ways to go to market?
  4. People - you need the required resumes of course, but what matters more is their level of passion, commitment, heart/soul into the biz, attitude, abilities, history of executing, of doing, of making things happen.
  5. Money - how much do you need, what are you going to do with it, cash flow, P&L, balance sheets, margins, exits etc. - the usual stuff.  But, what are you doing while you're waiting for the money - are you still moving ahead? Are you able to straddle ramping up based upon funds? Investors want to see that you can still make progress while you're waiting for funding or if you don't get enough.

175 Years of Innovation Lessons

Suffice it to say I was honored my friend Chris Thoen would agree to talk about P&G’s Open Innovation history at the 3rd Open Innovation (OI) Summit at BW’s Center for Innovation & GrowthPractical Challenges of Global Open Innovation.  Chris has been interviewed, quoted, written about extensively as a leader in OI, and for good reason.

He opened with P&G’s 175yr old history OI.  Two brother-in-laws, William Procter (candle maker) and James Gamble (soap maker), using the same raw material, fats, were encouraged by their father-in-law to collaborate to get better ‘fat’ pricing! This was the start of P&G in 1837.  They grew the company with their own innovations and through (un-named at the time) open innovation with other technology makers and companies.  These partnerships were the foundation of P&G’s growth into 300 brands in over 180 countries, 24 billion dollar brands and most importantly, one of the most trusted names in the world.

About 10 years ago, CEO A. G. Lafley transformed P&G’s open innovation heritage into a key cultural component of the company –Connect+Develop (C+D).   This wasn’t just a way to come up with new products, but a fundamentally new way to do business.  Lafley challenged P&G to source at least 50% of their innovation from outside its hallowed R&D halls.

Chris clearly described OI as an ongoing journey requiring recognition and investment in top talent and external synergies.  When done well, OI is all about value creation for both partners, with both sets of interests in mind.  It’s about sharing your expertise and strategic needs of your brands, businesses, even corporately.  To do this, P&G has developed and put 70+ C+D leaders around the globe with 11 regional hubs (e.g., NA, LA, Europe, Israel, China, India, Japan), 100s of networks and academic partnerships.

Several products you may know are a result of OI: Swiffer, Tide, Mr. Clean eraser (1 of my faves).   Clorox’s Glad ForceFlexproduct is based on a P&G licensed technology.  Sometimes, you can even collaborate with your competitors! P&G’s technology and IP have created $3B in sales for their OI partners.

So what has P&G learned on this 10+ year journey?

  1. Drive from the Top:  Without Lafley’s challenge, commitment and leadership as CEO, it couldn’t have taken hold corporate-wide.
  2. Build an OI culture: You have to support and learn from failure, communicate openly (and often) to build trust, help your people understand the innovation process and consistently reward partnerships and results, not just patents.
  3. Focus the Hunt: Keep your eyes on the strategy at all times!  It’s what guides you; build internal relationships by sharing needs and goals; manage leadership’s expectations for reality, not for fantasy; create and communicate clear innovation selection and filtering criteria.
  4. Be Where the Action Is: get out of Cincinnati (or wherever)! You need to be where the innovation is happening and the markets exist – like developing markets, areas of VC activity, Social Media, SMEs, Academia/Universities and places with diverse expertise, cultures, ideas.
  5. Build Efficient and Effective Knowledge Management Systems: Track connections among your own people, capturing their knowledge and experience partnership nuances, deals so they are not repeated, saving time and money.  Include your partners, networks, and competitors while protecting your IP and create a way to visualize and analyze these intertwined relationships.
  6. Obey the Law of the Land: Take what you need, only what you need, and leave the rest.  Share what you’re not using because it may find a great application in another home
  7. Staff for Success: Hire and train a unique blend of Hunter-Gatherer.  This is not a typical person, but you may already have them – people who have expertise in a technology with business acumen with the ability to develop relationships, influence people, inside and outside your company.  Deliberately hire for this.  And, keep investing in R&D – doing OI doesn’t mean closing down your own R&D.
  8. Be the Partner You’re Looking For: The Golden Rule!  Celebrate your partners, look beyond the first deal with them, facilitate more connections for you and them, keep that Win:Win mindset front and center and be transparent because a second (third, fourth…) deal with the same partner takes about half the time while creating twice the value.  Remember, strong partners make you stronger as well.

Bottom line? P&G has created more value together with their OI partners than they ever could have alone.  It is a real ecosystem that creates value on a global scale to accomplish P&G’s mission: “…improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.”

Ok, so maybe you’re not P&G, but you can still start the journey.   What do you need? What do you have to offer? Who could you partner with? Just start small, doesn’t have to be huge, just a step.  Give it a try.

Innovation's Enemy? Success!

The saga of Congress, the White House and the budget is horrendous.  If they can’t agree on 1% of the budget for six months, can they really create a budget to cut the deficit and debt for a year?

Everyone took last year’s election as a mandate for one party over the other, but it really was a mandate for an economic revolution. Is the government capable of re-inventing itself? Of innovating?

We can look at other examples, like big companies. There has been a lot discussion of whether or not big companies can innovate. I've seen some do it, but not many. Does that answer the question? Kind of.

What is the biggest inhibitor to innovation? Success! So many of my clients have been both blessed--and cursed--with success, even in this recession, that it’s skewing their perspective of the future.

They are sitting on a lot of cash that they are hoarding...for lots of reasons (like fear of a double dip, etc.). But now is the time to really innovate - to disruptively innovate.

For most of them, the amount of money it would take to experiment, to prototype, to try some things is insignificant compared to what they have in the bank. This may be, for some, the least financially risky time to innovate - financially, not culturally. Culturally, the risk is huge!

They say to themselves, look at how we're doing despite the economy, we must be doing something right! And they were/are...but not for that long. For many their R&D and innovation pipelines are two or three years out max.

Let's look at some who didn't innovate. Remember Wang? DEC (Digital)? The original AT&T (bought out by the kids it spun off)? Hey, Smith Corona? Yahoo!? Blockbuster? In fact, ‘netflixed' is a now a verb! And Blockbuster even says they saw it coming but didn't really heed the warning signs.

Then there are those that were able to reinvent themselves. P&G, IBM, Ford, Apple. What was the difference? People. Management. New leadership (in the case of Apple, original leadership returning) brought in new insights, were not entrenched in the groupthink and were able to see and start the turn-around.

But this isn't easy nor is it typical.  I've had the privilege to work with a few companies that have been able to do this, but again, it's due to very special people. Check out one that still amazes me - Menasha Packaging .

Innovation - Not always "Just the Facts"

At Bell Labs we used to say, "How much did you pay for that data?"

Most market research projects - for strategic planning and innovation (my passions) or even incremental product development focus on getting the facts. Lets take a look at an example: One college in America, who I shall not name, states on their website that "Since 1920, more CollegeXgraduates have gone on to earn PhDs than have the graduates of any other American baccalaureate college."

This is true, it's a fact...so let's look at "WHY" (I love asking why!)

  • Because CollegeX is older than most of the institutions it's compared to for this data
  • Because CollegeX is bigger than most of the institutions it's compared to for this data
  • The data is taken from 1920 to 2010 - that's 90 years averaged
  • Over the past 20yrs, this is no longer true

Electric companies say that electric heat is 100% efficient compared to natural gas which is about 90% efficient. But in terms of generation and distribution, electricity is 33% efficient and generation and distribution of natural gas is about 98% efficient.

Electric vehicles don't generate pollution! Hum...what about the production of the electricity to charge a car? How does that (remember, most electricity is generated from burning coal and once it's out on the wires, it's only about 33% efficient) compare with a combustion engine?  Given today's electric grid (the one we've got), EVs aren't saving that much carbon.

Remember the Juan Williams saga with NPR and Fox and his statement about Muslims on a plane? And the recent firing of NPR's CEO? Lots of facts on all sides, most taken out of context. And we can just look at what's going on in the Mideast/North Africa to see how data are being used as facts in so many different contexts by different groups.

So why do I bring this up? Because while facts are important, humans have a tendency to pick the facts that support the hypothesis they want to confirm. The order in which facts are presented can strongly bias the interpreter. We don't tend to ask questions about what the facts don't say.

Facts can get in the way of innovation unless they are put in the right context - as a tool to look at things differently vs. taking them as the end-all-be-all. When presented with facts, try a few things to get a different perspective - ask....

  • If we reordered the facts, how would things look? (e.g., NPR)
  • What don't these facts address? (e.g., Electric heat)
  • What do these facts assume as truth? (e.g., CollegeX)
  • What follow-on questions result from these facts?
  • Why are these facts true?
  • How long will these facts be true for?
  • Who cares about these facts anyway?

So, check the facts, get some facts, but put them in perspective, be prudent...provide balance and ballast...because sometimes, the facts can hinder, not help innovation...

The Art of the Dumb Question

When I was a child, my parents always answered a question with an answer that led to another question. So early on, I learned to just keep asking questions.

It drove my teachers nuts (don’t get me started on education!) and drives my husband nuts (like that’s the only reason!).  Just to bug my husband further, I’ve taught our kids to do the same thing!  Despite this annoying habit, it’s served me pretty well in my career, learning a lot (much of which I can’t remember) along the way.

This leads me to propose that the transformation of the 20th century into the 21st be the Age of Answers to the Age of Questions.

While answers are important, it’s more important to know what questions to ask to get to the answers. The lack of questioning is part of what got us into the mess of the last three (or more) years. We learn by asking and using that knowledge to ask a different question.

Which is why I offer you the Art of the Dumb Question.

I’ve been told one of my “gifts” is the ability to ask very dumb questions! I’m honored, seriously, and owe my parents a debt of gratitude. Dumb questions are very important, especially for innovation.

Why? (no pun intended) Because dumb questions challenge the status quo.

  • Dumb questions test basic, tacit assumptions.
  • Dumb questions make us stop and think about fundamental truths.
  • Dumb questions get to the core.
  • Dumb questions can make the AND vs either/or possible.

Last week, I was with a client for their annual global businesses’ growth strategies to ask dumb questions. They are wise in recognizing that they are too close, too knowledgeable, too ingrained in their industries and environments to be able to step back and ask dumb questions. Even when I was starting my own carve-outs and businesses, I always asked someone to come alongside and ask me the dumb questions.

As your organization pursues the innovation journey, who do you have to ask you the dumb questions? Who is your Dumb Questioner (DQ)?  And, as you think about it, to who can you be a DQ? Who can you serve and help by asking dumb questions?  Don’t worry, it’s not hard to do, and it’s very rewarding!