The Unusuals Innovate

As we near major #RCUS-making at BIF7, let’s move onward to U! You and U!  We’ve discussed Random Collisions, so its time to talk about Unusual.  (I do tend to think ‘differently’ - in paradoxesoxymorons so bear with me.) Unusual created the image of a slinky in my mind: what we know greatly depends on whom we know which greatly depends on what we know which greatly depends on whom we know…iteratively in a potentially closed, yet expanding slinky spiral circle.

Therein lies the challenge! How do we expand our circle beyond the usual? How do we create intersecting circles? How do we even step out on the edge of the circle? Well, it’s not that different from how we put ourselves in situations to have Random Collisions.  Etymology first.  The word unusual is ‘not’ (un) in front of the word usual which comes from the late 13th Century Old French usuel, from the Latin usualis meaning ordinary and usus meaning custom. Not a big surprise; no big revelations.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t help thinking of Capt. Renault ‘s (Claude Rains) classic line in Casablanca, “Round up the usual suspects.” (By the way, Casablanca is one of the most quoted movies of all time!)

When we think of unusual people, we think people who are a bit different, perhaps a tad bizarre, perhaps distinguished, eccentric – different from you and me.  We usually don’t expect to meet these types of people in our everyday lives and routines, but perhaps we could!  Since I live in Oberlin, Ohio – home of the eponymous college - it’s pretty easy to meet unusual people in my ‘routine’.  But I’d posit that meeting unusuals is not just an issue of physically colliding with them, but a mindset of looking at the unusual, atypical, unique aspects of people we already know, as well as new ones we meet.  Porter Gale, in a terrific post, talks about the impact of her serendipitous encounters in seat 4C.

In the past year, at least for me, it seems the velocity of serendipitous #RCUS’s is increasing.  You know when you’re looking to get a new car you start seeing that car all over but you didn’t before?  I wonder if we start becoming attuned to look for the unusual the more unusuals we meet!  In hindsight, as I look back at the many unusuals I’ve met over the past 18 months, the collisions don’t seem as much random as somehow ordained, even destined. There is a great word in Yiddish – Bashert (באַשערט) – destined, fated, meant to be. That defines most of my #RCUS’s over the past year or so.   And these #RCUS’s, while starting out on a professional plane quickly becomes multi-dimensional – adding depth and impact.  They have led to amazing clients, colleagues, collaborators, co-conspirators, co-creators and chums.

So, in this upcoming week, can you step to the edge of your circle to meet some unusual people? To discover something unusual in the usual people you meet?  Take Good’s 30-day challenge with me and let’s share meeting unusuals this week!

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 .

Don't use Best Practices, Just Practice!

One of the central tenets of 20th century business was "best practices." Let’s dissect this veritable oxymoron:

  • Best: highest quality, standing (at a point in time, place and context)
  • Practice: a habit or custom (noun) or to do repeatedly to acquire proficiency

Admittedly, and importantly, there are things to learn from others successes and failures. But one of the big mistakes companies make isadopting “best practices” instead of adapting them (to their own culture).

Companies will succeed in the 21st century by out [best] practicing their competition to exceed their customers’ and employees’ needs - by turning practice into a verb instead of a noun.

Those who develop a core competency in experimenting, prototyping, learning, applying, iterating – from success AND failure, will be the ones who provide the most meaningful, valuable offerings to customers and employees.

That’s what I call practicing! And that’s not an oxymoron.

What can you start being the best at practicing tomorrow?

Innovation's 2 New Letters: HR

We’re all finally recognizing that management and innovation are social activities – people activities. So it has struck me as rather odd that HR is hardly mentioned in the conversation. Why?

Perhaps it’s because corporate management and HR have a 20th century mindset towards HR. What we need is a 21st century mentality, especially given the increasingly social aspect of “work” and the talents of our Gen-X/Y/Z colleagues.

So go figure when a 160+-year-old company in a very 20th-C industry uses HR in a very 21st-C way. Well, that’s Menasha Packaging – yup, packaging – old, boring, brown box stuff. Actually no, really cool, innovative and sustainable retail packaging.

How did this happen? The GM of Menasha’s biggest complex, Mike Riegsecker, simply didn’t know better. He didn’t know that using his HR director, Sharon Swatscheno, was unusual or radical.

Given Sharon’s talents and knowledge of the organization, it simply made sense to have her facilitate the innovation sessions and manage the process. Why not? This also made it easier to include innovation metrics and tactics into his team’s personal performance plans.

In all honesty, much of the success isn’t the title/role of HR. It’s Sharon – see, people once again! Sharon didn’t view her role as tactical, but strategic, and so did Mike. Because of Sharon’s knowledge of the organization, she was able to create highly effective cross functional/disciplinary teams as well as provide the necessary training and tools.

Her role helped people overcome their fears of innovation – looking stupid, making mistakes, failing, peer pressure, losing control, etc.

What can you do to use your HR people more strategically? What can you try?