Posts Tagged ‘Basics’

I want to submit that attitude may currently be the main barrier to innovation. Plenty of inside or outside innovation might be unleashed by a simple “Yes!” that would allow an initiative to proceed.

Did you ever enthusiastically approach your superior(s) with what you thought was a brilliant solution to a major problem the organization was experiencing? Were you flatly turned down even when you already had an action plan that could have made it happen if only s/he had said ‘yes’? Why are people not saying ‘yes’ more often? A few years back, I got a vivid illustration of the likely reason which I would like to share.

I had just moved to the South East from New England. I found Southerners to be extremely friendly, but I soon discovered that occasionally I had a very hard time understanding some of their heavy local accent (and some of them had trouble understanding me). One day I was working in my new office after hours. The lady who was cleaning my office came in, introduced herself, and started chatting with me. At some point I could tell by the tone of her voice that she asked a question and was expecting an answer from me, but I could not understand what she was saying. This was something that had never happened to me before: even if occasionally I would not understand an isolated word, I could always get the gist of the sentence. This time, I had no idea of what she had just asked me! We went through a couple of rounds at my polite request to please repeat the question, only to realize that she was just replicating the sounds, only louder each time. I finally understood that there was no point in continuing the exercise. I quickly reasoned: “the answer to this question might be quite elaborate, but I assume any answer could be summarized by: ‘yes’ or “no”, a ‘maybe’ might work…” Faced with the need to take a clear cut decision, I reasoned further: “if I say ‘yes’ I will likely need to do something as a result, and I am not sure what that is. Let’s try instead…” I turned to her and gave full attention to her last attempt at shouting the question at me, then firmly replied: “NO!” I was not sure how appropriate my answer was for her question, but what came next was astonishing: she looked me in the eye and replied “Agh, OK then!” then turned around, and off she went. While I had just deflected an uncomfortable situation, I was left baffled, still wondering to this day what her question was!!!

The episode itself became, however, very illuminating later when it dawned on me that a similar scenario was likely responsible to the many “NOs” that I had received myself throughout the years when presenting my higher-ups with a challenging idea or one that was simply very novel. Their gut response (and easiest) answer was “No!” Maybe I had not been able to convey my ideas well enough, or they were unable to understand the value of my proposals; in any case, the immediate negative answer insured that they did not have to do a follow-up, eliminating any potential commitment. There is always risk related to supporting or even allowing a new initiative to proceed. The risk is very easily eliminated by simply quashing it at first sight, and the cost of turning down such initiatives is usually very hard to identify, while a high-profile failure is hard to miss.

Many corporations punish the failures that are inevitably related to risk taking, but how many out there actually keep track of what could have been? At performance review time, is anybody keeping track of how many potential innovations have been annihilated by any specific manager/leader?

Obama recently demonstrated the mass appeal and the ultimate power of the operative word “YES” (we can). It will be interesting to see if the “yes” and “can do” attitude will spread to also penetrate and inspire the corporate world. I believe it would be the single most important step toward unleashing the innovation US desperately needs…

Addendum: See an independent video illustrating this barrier to innovation that was posted meanwhile on YouTube….

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While browsing the AP 2008 image collection, I was struck by two parallel tales of overindulgence in free lunches that reduced normally majestic creatures to a pitiful state from which they desperately needed to be bailed out… 

Notice the similarity? Any lesson in here?

In this Jan. 11, 2008 file photo, eagles await transfer to a warm U.S. Fish and Wildlife warehouse after being rescued from the cold in Kodiak, Alaska. They were among 50 eagles which dove into the back of an uncovered dump truck full of fish guts and became too wet to fly away. (Image and caption courtesy of AP)

In this Jan. 11, 2008 file photo, eagles await transfer to a warm U.S. Fish and Wildlife warehouse after being rescued from the cold in Kodiak, Alaska. They were among 50 eagles which dove into the back of an uncovered dump truck full of fish guts and became too wet to fly away. (Image and caption courtesy of AP)


In this Dec. 4, 2008 file photo, auto executives, from left, General Motors Chief Executive Officer Richard Wagoner, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, and Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Robert Nardelli testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, before a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the auto industry bailout. (Image and caption courtesy of AP)

The lure of the free lunch brought about the downfall of the free loaders in both examples.

The eagles, seemingly forgetting they were supposed to obtain nourishment through making good use of their mighty arsenal of hunting capabilities, overindulged on scraps. However, in their defense, they probably were mindlessly opportunistic and could not foresee the consequences.

On the other hand, what was the excuse of the US auto industry’s titans? The CEOs were supposed to be aces at their game! Maybe it was the overconfidence and reliance on the status quo that had raised them to such heights: for so long had they relied on the known and tried old routines that they just thought it could go on forever? There were plenty of people who told them otherwise (e.g., see the 2006 MSNBC series ).

Nevertheless, the US Auto industry decision makers determined it was easier to just lobby Congress and continue to sell gas guzzlers, the equivalents of the automotive dinosaurs, rather than to innovate. Their strategy eventually led to a dead-end, and the huge downfall was going to bring along many others.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If someone gets it for free, someone else – in this case, all of us – will have to pay for it. The US Auto Industry will have to “innovate or die”. The cataclysm should not be a wasted opportunity, just as the disappearance of dinosaurs created the evolutionary break needed by the mammals to colonize the earth.

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It’s that time of the year.

Standing at the threshold, ready to step into the New Year: looking back, gazing forward…  Already considering what would we like to conclude about the year 2009 one year from now, when standing in the same position. The best chance of success will come from deciding now what we would like to see then. A great resolution would be making more room for innovation in our lives, workplace, and the world.  A good start would be working on ourselves, the New Year could be a year dedicated to “innovate thyself!”

A good start is to break some of our old routines; they say that simply finding a new route for the daily commute or using a different hand to soap yourself under the shower could work wonders…  Many intriguing options are within our reach: make an effort to meet new people and listen to their diverse interests, it might be enough to trigger the desire to learn something new, read a different genre, travel to places not visited before, take up a new hobby or cause. Any of these actions would help us look at our old problems from a fresh perspective, thus providing a good chance for innovative solutions, or even eliminating the problem altogether.

My own experiences with previously forcing myself to do any of the above have been all worth the trouble. One of the major problems I used to have, given the constant demands of work, family, and the ever intrusive e-mail and phone, was a perpetual lack of “quiet time” which I need for creative thinking. Unknowingly to me, I solved this problem by adding yet one more – new – thing to my already busy schedule. At a professional conference I met someone who passionately spoke about his hobby, rowing, something I had always wanted to try, but thought I would never have the time to learn or be good enough at. The following year I decided I was to actualize my long standing curiosity for it. Ten years later, I am still rowing. I have discovered that, in addition to its obvious health benefits, solo rowing was for me the best setting for the quiet time I needed for thinking (see my personal blog: Sports-inspired). The natural water surroundings have been conducive to finding creative solutions for both my professional and personal problems, and unsurprisingly, engendered the specific thoughts about harnessing the power constructive interference.

Apparently old dogs can learn new tricks and be better for it.

Have An Innovative New Year!

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Defining innovation

Everybody talks about innovation these days, but do various people mean/see the same thing?

While a general definition might be easier to agree upon, when it comes to specifics, various producers and users of innovation could have quite different views. Thus while working together or when seeking to satisfy someone else’s need for innovation, it might be smart to begin by asking the simple, yet essential question: what qualifies a specific product or process as innovative for you?

Let’s take medical advances, an area that can have such a tremendous impact on our lives. Life sciences and medical practice make advances every day, but would a scientist, a medical product developer, and a patient use the same criteria when assessing something as a medical innovation? My own experience of being any and all of the above indicates “no”. For instance, a new way of approaching a medical problem means innovation to a scientist, producing the new version of the currently available treatment is considered innovative by a pharmaceutical developer, but the patient will likely expect a type of treatment not previously available or at least one with some termendous advantages in terms of risk/benefits ratio or possibly ease of use. What does life science/medical innovation mean to you?

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