Someone = Us!

When you see a need or issue, what do you do? Most of us shake our heads and say, “Someone should take care of that.”  Well, someone = us!

Perhaps one of the reasons someone ≠ us is that the perceived risk of ‘doing’ diminishes our courage.  Perhaps innovators and entrepreneurs aren’t more risk-o-philic, they just define risk differently – not following one’s passion and purpose is a greater risk than financial or reputational security.  Perhaps this is a basis for Rebellious Optimism.

As some of you know, I’m so enthusiastic and hopeful about our future because of the people I’m serendipitously meeting, of all ages, shapes, sizes, creeds, and colors.  Let me highlight 3 companies, separated by 162 years:

NBA Math Hoops: What do you do when you’re 19, in college, and have a burning passion to help underprivileged kids learn math using their passion for sports?  You create a scalable solution! Meet Khalil Fuller.   The NBA has given him a free license agreement, Hasbro’s committed $100,000 to make the game, and Echoing Green named him as a finalist for their prestigious fellowship.   A national pilot with a majority of free/reduced-lunch students shows significant improvement in 51% of the math scores and improvement in attitudes about math – for both boys and girls.  Khalil is preparing for a 2012 Fall launch.

Lesson:  Get out, meet some Gen-Zs and Millennials.  We can all learn from their transformative innovations.

Thogus:  You’ve just spent big bucks getting ISO certification for half your revenue stream, the Big-3 Auto guys; but you’re tired of being their “bank”.  So you fire them!  Now what? 3rd Generation Matt Hlavin decided to create a 61yr old startup. He reinvented the entire business model and the company is growing exponentially.  What was a ‘job shop’ is now a high-tech and biomedical design and engineering company with rapid prototyping/additive manufacturing up to full-scale injection molding capabilities.  Matt is using design to balance the experience of age with the freedom of youth, from their gym to the plant floor to employees themselves.

Lesson: A key to success is the 21st Century is embracing, leveraging and balancing paradox. 

Menasha Packaging: Meet the163-year-old family-owned company who’s leadership team reinvented their business model and re-invigorated their culture 7 years ago, putting their careers on the line.  What drove this level of risk? Stewardship & Optimism. They view themselves as stewards of their customers, their employees and families, their economic and social community impact, and the family legacy.  They have Rebellious Optimism that they can and will succeed.  Menasha’s ongoing success, even in the recession, is testimony for “doing what is right”.  They are well known for bringing some of the most innovative, effective solutions to market.  They are hiring talent and growing.  And, as I post this, we are in the sunny Wisconsin woods, continually innovating the future.

Lesson: Don’t use a company and management’s age as artificial constraints for innovation.

What examples do you have of Rebellious Optimism? Please share and think about telling your story at Rebels At Work!!! 

Paradoxical Oxymorons of the 21st Century

Does it seem like the 21st Century is the century of oxymorons and paradoxes? Sure does to me and I love these words because they challenge our thinking, our beliefs, our feelings and the status quo.

Look at a few of the ones we use: Job Security, Jobless Recovery, Criminal Justice, Great Depression, Graphic Language, Organized Chaos, Budget Deficit (and many government related ones for the “realistic cynics”). Saul Kaplan tweeted one of my favorites “Being an innovator is both a blessing (always finding a better way) & a curse (job is never done)”.

It’s the denotation, not connotation that makes these phrases oxymorons. We use them unwittingly – not really thinking about the inherent paradox, and implications, in our every day language. We have become inured to the real meaning. But does this translate to how we approach innovation or strategy? Rarely! When looking at innovation opportunities, oxymorons and paradoxes are used as barriers: how can we really put a process & discipline to innovation? How can we support open innovation and retain our intellectual property? What we miss is that inherent is an oxymoron or paradox lays the opportunity to innovate! It’s the AND, the BOTH, not the Either/Or.

One of my very dear friends is my archetype for oxymoron and paradox. Matt is the 3rdgeneration running his family’s business, Thogus. He has created amazing new business models, new approaches to existing and new markets, fired customers that didn’t fit the new paradigm, sees the world as it could and should be and is making that real. He doesn’t hesitate to try, experiment, prototype, iterate unceasingly. He embodies invention and innovation in how he manages the business, including how he defines management itself (see Chapter 11 of Radical Management by Steve Denning). Result? Matt has doubled the business and dramatically improved the culture since he took over from his mother 2 years ago. Pretty radical huh? And he is. And every morning, Matt has the same breakfast, gets to the office the same time, drives the same way – lots of ‘same’ in his life. Matt is a paradox – he is extremely innovative and creative AND very tied to, dependent upon, daily habits and patterns. It’s hard to argue with either of these traits and its successes.

What are the oxymorons and paradoxes in your business? Your organization? You? How can you embrace them, find the opportunities within them, celebrate them, make more of them? Please share your thoughts and comments here or email me if you want, but let’s start collecting some of the great oxymorons of the 21st Century!!!