The Business Efficiency of Integrity

A 2-fer! One of my favorite companies & sites! Menasha, 165+ years old, is growing, profitable, solving customers' real problems and having an impact.  Key? Integrity - it truly pays dividends. Read on.  

"While much has been written about the relationship between integrity, trust and profitability in the last few years, there are companies who have lived this for over 100 years, like a 165 year old, billion dollar plus, 6 generation family business in Wisconsin, Menasha Corp.  Last year, in a discussion on the paradox of integrity, trust and vulnerability with John Hagel, Saul Kaplan, Mike Waite, President of Menasha Packaging Corp. (MPC) and myself, shared how integrity is key to Menasha’s success."  Read on..

100 Must Follow On Twitter 2014

Wow! I can't believe I'm on the same list as John Hagel and so many other famous, wise people!! Thank you, Vala Afshar, for this honor of being on your Huffington Post list of 100 Must Follows... but moreso thank you for your friendship!  

 

You've GOT to be Kidding!

Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." Fiction pales in light of the Patreaus fiasco. I am simply astounded at Patraeus' grievously poor judgment and lack of virtue.  The relationships and timing of all these events vis-a-vis the yet-to-be-revealed real truth about the Benghazi tragedy call so much into question - about our national security, decisions made about/in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.  If you ever doubted how fast trust can be lost, doubt no more.  We have a legacy of distrust.

It seems like our government is out of control, out of touch...living on a different planet with a different set of mores and morals.  Are these the groaning sounds of a system at the precipice?  I keep hearing the creaking of metal in the process of failure before it crashes...failure and fatigue.  Can you name a significant government agency or department that has not been embroiled in a scandal in the past few years? And many of theses are ones entrusted with the safeguarding of our country.

Two of my sages, John Hagel and Steve Denning, have been warning us for years about the frailty and impending implosion of our institutions and institutional practices.  We have not heeded their warnings and on November 6th, we yet again preserved the status quo.  Why? Because...

  • Those are the types that run for nomination of their parties?  Why?
  • Those that are willing to tell the truth and call it like it is don't make it far enough to get nominated?  Why?
  • We citizens really don't want to hear bad news and see reality? We want our officials to make "it all better"?  Why?
  • We don't really want to sacrifice what's needed to buttress up the foundations of this country? Why?
  • The rewards of doing so are too far in the future? We no longer have a common vision of what America stands for to instill common sacrifice? Why?

I don't know the answer, only some of the questions to ask. But I do know this, Churchill was right when he said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”  America highlights the paradox of democracy and freedom.  And yet, despite all of America's issues, people still flock to our shores for survival, people still want to start their businesses here and we are still the beacon for freedom.  Yes, I can handle the paradox of being both horrified at the betrayal of trust and corruption of our government and proud to be an American and be free.

So, this Thanksgiving, while some of us sit at tables bursting with abundance, some in dark homes filled with sand, water and ruin, some in shelters, some by hospital beds, some in barracks in Afghanistan, give thanks for the gifts of trusting relationships and freedom.  Give thanks....and give those whose lives, well being, livelihoods are entrusted to you the same gifts...of trust, integrity, and freedom...from your spouse to the janitor in the plant.  Give thanks.

Red, Right, Returning...

Red, Right, Returning – when returning from the sea, make sure the red buoys are on the starboard (right) side to stay in the channel.  This phrase was drilled into my head as a kid when I learned to sail, leaving the secure confines of our harbor for the big wild sea.

Every business, organization, entrepreneur, C-suiter, yes, humans need ballast - guiding principles, missions and core values to help navigate the big wild sea.  

Herein lies a fundamental paradox: the importance of getting outside one’s comfort zone, exploring, discovering, lens-shifting and living at the edge based on a foundation of values providing guidance and ballast – like the bell buoy at the harbor entrance.

What’s your Red, Right, Returning?

  • For businesses and organizations, it’s your mission and purpose – the reason the organization exists, the way you benefit your customers, employees and stakeholders, the way you create powerful outcomes that others can’t;
  • For entrepreneurs, C-suiters and humans, it’s your personal values you won’t compromise, your integrity, character, the impact on those that work for and with you and the impact on those around you – family, friends, acquaintances.

The photo is of the Pemaquid Point Gong Buoy #2 at the entrance to the Johns River and Pemaquid Harbor.  It is my favorite bell buoy gifting a sound that gives me comfort, rest and peace.  A sound I return to over and over – after a long day of excitement, stress, hectivity, whatever (yes, I have it on my iPhone).  

As you approach the end of summer, before the fall arrives, what is your Red, Right, Returning? What is your ballast? Defining, refining, communicating that is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s not something that ‘can wait til later.’  It’s something that is critical to your organization and business, to your customers, your employees, your stakeholders and yourself.  Please spend some time to reflect, rediscover and then launch out to sea, knowing that buoy is always there.

Summer’s Trump Cards

We use the term "trump" a lot (hum...gambling influence on our culture?).  So I thought I'd posit a few trump cards of my own for the summer - here they are:

Meaning & Purpose Trump Money & Profit: While we see this in the younger generation, isn’t it really true for all of us, even if we don’t admit or realize it? Hey, ½ (or more) of our lives are ‘at work’ – so we should enjoy it, relish it, be passionate about it.  It should be a means AND an end, not just a means to an end….

Challenge:  Increase the meaning and purpose of those who work with and for you before the end of August.

Paradoxical Thinking Trumps Critical Thinking:  While I was raised to think paradoxically (more eastern than western), for most of us, it’s formidable – we’re been trained in logic & linear progression.  But life, work and innovation are about AND/BOTH, not EITHER/OR – that’s a false choice.  Look at the edges.

Challenge:  Discover a paradox, perhaps at the fringe, to help you and your team innovate before the end of August.

Culture Trumps Strategy: The best made plans are worthless if they’re not aligned with the culture. Sometimes the strategy can help transform the culture (for good or bad), but if the culture doesn’t support it, it won’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I think CEOs need to be CCS’s – Chief Culture Stewards.

Challenge:  Start to check the health of your culture – really, be brutally honest -before the end of August.

Strategy Trumps Structure:  In most crises, the first thing the organization does is restructure; ok, problem solved. How can you restructure without knowing where you’re going and how best to achieve it? Yet I fight this all the time with most clients.  Remember – Form follows Substance. Structure is a trailing indicator, not the cure.

Challenge:  If you have a good strategic direction, check to see if you’re organizationally aligned to make it happen before the end of August. (if you don’t, email me!)

Structure Trumps Processes: In helping clients formalize SOPs, we’ve realized that structure can stand in the way.  Understanding how process improvement in one area affects another can help you negatively affect other process in other areas.  It’s the 2nd, 3rd order effects, the ‘unintended’ consequences that can get you.

Challenge:  Identify a few key processes and see their ripple effects throughout your systems before the end of August.

Please share your efforts on these challenges so we can learn from & help each other!! 

The Paradoxical Gift of Paradox

This is just a quick post on something that hit me yesterday.  In preparing for a strategic planning session this week, I realized that no matter how many of these I do, there is always a paradoxical feeling of being nervous about doing an excellent job for my client and being confident (hopefully not arrogance) in being great at what I do.  After all, the stakes are pretty high: people’s livelihoods, families, safe working environments, taxes paid to schools, police, etc. and the rest of a business ecosystem to say the least. 

It’s that paradoxical feeling that keeps me on my toes, asking dumb questions, challenging the status quo and trying to draw out the client’s wisdom and courage to grow.   This week, the client’s leader is the epitome of paradox!  He is one of the most innovative, creative, ‘out-there’ thinkers I’ve ever met and one of the most dependent on routine and habit.  That paradox is the reason they have more than doubled growth in 3 years - paradoxically in an industry that is shrinking! 

As some of you know, I love paradoxes.  They make us think, explore, reflect, discover, search, question. Innovation is found in new combinations of existing ‘stuff’.  Paradox is crucial to making that happen – it leads us to revisit and question assumptions, to combine things in ways we didn’t or couldn’t have imagined, to take the best of both and discard the worst.  Paradox makes us ask Why and Why Not repeatedly. Paradox puts us out there at the edge (per John Hagel), where new things are happening, even if it’s not always ‘safe’.

So this week, as a few of us will be intensely embracing paradoxes, why don’t you too?  Look for just one area in your business, organization, environment that seems counterintuitive, that is an oxymoron and question why, and why not.  Please share what you discover.

Colliding Towards Innovation

My previous post on serendipity and randomness has caused a #RCUS (Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects via Saul Kaplan)!  Many of you have commented, shared personal experiences of Random “happy accidents” and cited “serendipity” research.  Thank you!

Let’s look at the 2nd letter – C: Collisions.  It originated in the early 15th Century as the Middle Frenchcollision from the same period of Latin collisionen, “a dashing together”. The definitions imply a variety of outcomes: 1) the act or process of colliding; a crash or conflict; 2) Physics: a brief dynamic event consisting of the close approach of two or more particles, such as atoms, resulting in an abrupt change of momentum or exchange of energy [emphasis mine].  While the first definition is rather violent, and innovation can arise from major clashes and conflicts, the 2nd definition is closer to type of Collision in #RCUS.

Think about the people you have met, collided into (virtually or literally), and the relationships and results – personal and professional.  Here are but a very few, examples:

  • A friend of mine deliberately collided with a very cute guy on the NYC subway (not Random) and 25 yrs. later, they are still married with a kid going to college.
  • Last year, I was on a flight, buried in my reading, as was the guy next to me.  For some serendipitous reason, we started chatting and now he’s a great client making a remarkable positive impact on his people.
  • Through 3 different collisions, I collided with the creator of My Little PonyÒ.  Sid Good is a terrific guy, fellow alum, makes me laugh a lot and together we’re working on some interesting ways to transform our region (and he’s going to BIF7!).

What do these have in common? In each of these, the collision caused a big change of momentum, an exchange of energy to say the least.  Something ‘new’ came from each of these: relationships, kids, ways to work, corporate cultures, products, and ways to collaborate.  The sum of the parts is indeed greater than the parts. The Collision formed new ‘stuff’ – intangible and tangible.  It’s not just about running into someone and having a nice chat; it’s about running into someone that creates enough energy to create more energy and more collisions.  That’s what is so exciting and energizing.  When you meet someone and create something together, isn’t that just amazing? It’s almost hard to express how profound it can be. This has, blessedly, been the story of my life at many levels, so I’m a little enthusiastic.  The power of the collisions’ outcomes can create solutions to wicked problems, can change ghettos into urban neighborhoods, can transform a stagnant corporation into a living company, can create vaccines for horrid diseases, and can change just one life.

So, my usual question – what collisions have been transformative for you? How did they happen? What new ‘thing’ came from them? Where will your next collision come from? Please continue to share your Randoms and Collisions in the comments, on twitter, or to me!  #RCUS on!

Serendipitous Innovation

As I’ve been getting ready for my ‘sabbatical’ and BIF-7, the role of serendipity has been top of mind.  Serendipity is a hot topic, especially its role in innovation. One of the best reads isJohn Hagel & John Seely Brown’s book, The Power of Pull.

Serendipity is loosely defined as a “happy accident”.  Horace Walpole created the word in a letter to Horace Mann on January 28, 1754 stating, “This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.”  The word is based on a Persian fairy tale from the 14th century titled The Three Princes of Serendip “whose heroes were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” [1] Serendip is the old name for Ceylon now known as Sri Lanka.  It stems from the Arabic Sarandib originating from the Sanskrit Simhaladvipa that translates to “Dwelling Place of Lions Island” (source: Wikipedia).  Even the origin of the word is serendipitous!

The cycle of serendipity (or not) came to me while having coffee yesterday with Valdis Krebs: “what you know depends a lot on who you know which depends a lot on what you know which depends a lot on who you know”…iteratively.  If you stay within those confines, your network remains fairly constant and self-selected.  Your chances of learning something new, of encountering ‘happy accidents’ is reduced, perhaps not zero, but not high.  It’s when you venture outside of that circle that your network, and knowledge, starts to expand - you ‘know’ more people so you ‘learn’ more which leads to knowing more people and on and on.

As I reflect upon how I know what I know, almost all of that knowledge & network has been serendipitous - Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (#RCUS), to quote Saul Kaplan.   Let’s look at Random (and then examine the other words over the next few weeks before BIF-7).  The OED defines Random as “Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard.”  Originating in the 14th Century with an unclear origin, it meant impetuosity, sudden speed, violence.  In the mid 17th Century, it took on the meaning of haphazard, from the Old French randon (v. randir “run impetuously, fast”) from the Frankish rant “running” from the prehistoric German randa.  But here’s where I think it gets very interesting.  Originally, randa meant ‘edge’ – which lead the English rand, an obsolete term for ‘edge’ (now the South African currency).[2]

It is this last, or very very early, meaning of ‘edge’ that intrigues me.  Innovation, especially disruptive innovation, comes from the edges, from the fringes.  So, for the next week or so, just try to put yourself in Random situations – situations that are not planned, not directed and even perhaps at the edge of your usual business or personal world and see what happens.  If you’re willing, please share in the comments or here.

p.s. I am a bit enamored with the entomology of words – it shows the flow and evolution of language which means of people, of societies, of commerce (words moving from Sanskrit to Arabic, from German to French to English, etc.), of culture…of our own past and future.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serendipity

[2] http://www.word-origins.com/definition/random.html

Currency of 21st C? Connections!

Sitting behind me at BIF-6 last September was a nice, unassuming guy. We struck up a conversation. As a result, a wonderful friendship developed (which is easy to do at BIF).

This guy was Michael Lee Stallard. Three years ago, Michael wrote a very important book underscoring this very point, Fired Up or Burned Out. It was inspired from his own career experiences on Wall Street and Texas Instruments.

Michael’s point is that companies need to help their people achieve their potential if the company is to grow. The way to do this, while most call it ‘engagement,’ is by really truly connecting with your people and getting them to connect with each other. It’s not the formality of cross-functional meetings; it’s the depth of understanding and really connecting at a personal, even one-to-one level with your people.

Many companies go through various routines, some genuine, some perfunctory, to connect – town hall meetings, newsletters, videos, intranet discussion groups, picnics, etc. These are important ways to share information and help employees feel included.

But if there isn’t a real personal connection at some level, in some way, they can easily ring a bit hollow. This can be very threatening and confusing – it means making yourself vulnerable to those who work for you – but perhaps you really work for them!

In Michael’s book you learn how to start “connecting” with examples of how others have done it right, and wrong. He provides questions to ask yourself and others to get a feel for where you are and a roadmap for creating real genuine connections in your organization…ones that can make a big difference.

Interestingly, three years later, we are seeing this theme gaining traction and recognition. At the 2nd Annual Open InnovationSummit in Chicago, connections – relationships – trust was key to success.  At BIF-6, connections – relationships – trust was key to success (Saul Kaplan uses the term “connected adjacencies”).

Steve Denning’s new book, Radical Management, stresses the importance of connections – relationships – trust.  So does JohnHagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison in the Power of Pull.

In my professional life, it is the connections – relationships – trust that have gotten me to where I am (which is a good place) more than the achievements (patents, papers, etc.).  I had tremendous mentors at Bell Labs and AT&T, great clients who challenge me and wonderful colleagues who stretch and teach me.

This holds true in my personal life as well, with incredible parents, family and friends. The adage – it is all in who you know is really about how you know them as well. Read Michael’s book – it’s very worthwhile and worthy of your time. It can make a big difference for you personally and professionally…in fact, read it with your people!