Paradox of Innovation and Status Quo

As much as I love change, innovation, #RCUS (Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects per Saul Kaplan) and challenging the Status Quo, I realized how much the comfort and haven of some Status Quo means to me as we got settled at our place in Maine.  The familiar faces in our little grocery store and post office, seeing long-time friends, the same lobster boats and buoys in the harbour provide a sense of calm, certainty, stability that, paradoxically, frees me to challenge, change, and innovate.

Yet there is still constant change.  In Maine, it's in the water.  Several years ago, an old lobsterman had the most elaborate buoys: stripe of red, stripe of white, stripe of red with something different painted in the stripe of white every year such as a buoy, a lobster, and after 9/11, the American Flag. Our kids got one of his buoys every year.   One year, there were about half the number of his buoys in the bay.  When we saw him at the Co-Op, he informed us his wife had died that winter and he just wasn't up to it.  He looked frail.  The next year, his boat wasn't in the harbour and there were no buoys.  He had died that winter.  There were new boats and buoys in the harbour.  Death and renewal.

What does this have to do with innovation, business, anything? I think a lot on (at least) two levels:

  1. While we have to embrace the increasing velocity of change and uncertainty for meaningful, effective innovation, change for change's sake is not the goal.   Sometimes the way it is now is really ok.  We need to discern the difference and continually re-evaluate.  Nothing stays totally the same forever.  While the islands, shoals, and hidden rocks are still there, their contours have changed, perhaps ever so slightly, due to the tides, the weather - due to just being there.
  2. We need to start looking for subtle changes and patterns that provide enormous opportunities.  Most non-locals here in Pemaquid probably don't even notice the changes in lobster boats and buoys - but they are significant indicators of shifts (and generations).  While boats and buoys are tangible, many times the patterns are in the intangibles, which is harder to perceive (and measure).

So, I leave you with two challenges as you go on your summer vacations, kids baseball and soccer games, walks down the halls at work, visits to plants, boarding planes, even daily commutes:

  1. Identify the constants in your life, your work, that are working well and that aren't. Do they need to be changed? Do they provide the stability that allows innovation or do they impede it?
  2. Look for subtle patterns and changes - especially in places you don't normally look and think about what opportunities can arise from these.

Please feel free to share your learnings with your fellow readers either through comments here or on twitter at @dscofield or email me

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?