Governments cannot promote innovation. . .

That’s what I said.  Government’s cannot promote innovation

Yesterday, I was playing with John Hagel’s list of three features that distinguish fringe/flaky activities from edge, innovative activities and I suddenly realized: governnments cannot promote innovation.

This is why.

3 differences between fringe/flakey and edge/innovative enterprises

John Hagel, famed for his work on the motor cycle industry in China, points out:

#1 Edge activities are scalable

There is a way to bring the critical stakeholders and a  critical mass of people together to make a difference.

#2  Edge activities are ‘life works’

The change brought by edge activities are so compelling that we are willing to back them with everything we have.

#3  Edge activities change the status quo

Edge activities don’t exist as a complement, extension or protest to mainstream activities.  They intend to take over the mainstream.

When we develop a new industry, we curtail, or even displace, other industries.  People are put out of work.  How can a government sponsor that?

QED.  Governments cannot sponsor innovation.

How can governments support innovation?

It seems to me that govenments’ job is to promote social conditions that promote innovation.

#1  Look at employee rights in failing or contracting industries.  I don’t mean employee privileges, I mean rights.  How do their rights stack up with the rights of other stakeholders (who are also losing out).  Bring those into balance in a fair, transparent, agree and comprehensible matrix.

#2  Make it easier for employees to move from one industry to another.  How easy is it to retrain mid-career?  How often does this happen?  How do individuals go about it?  With what success?  What structural changes would make it easier?

#3  What other structural issues make it hard on employees exiting collapsing industries?  How do we treat people who are not in employment?  How does the tax law and the banking law make life difficulty for people who are reinvesting in new industries?

What I learned from Hagel’s points on edge industries

That’s what I learned from thinking through Hagel’s three points about edge industries.  Government has got to make it easier for more edge industries to  succeed.

And that means Governments must make it less painful for old industries to shrink and eventually fade away.

It also follows that a good governments, in this day and age, should be boasting that this is an economy, and society, in which old industries are given and neat, tidy, respectful burial.  And that we are proud of our ability to move on.  Because moving on just got profitable .  .  . for everyone.

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Searching questions about management in the 21st century

So you want to be a manager?

Harvard Professor, Gary Hamel asks “What problem was management invented to solve?”

How to do things with perfect replicability, at ever-increasing scale and steadily increasing efficiency.

“What is the problem that needs solving now?”

How do you build organizations that merit the gifts of creativity and passion and initiative?”

Are we on the verge of a post-managerial society?

Many organizational designers have been asking: will we have managers of the future?  Here are some of the central dilemma.

Talent

What is the role of talent?  Is it something to be bought and profited from?  Or is what emerges from the configuration of the organization?  Are we talented because we are talented together?

What is the key concept in organizational design?

Understanding how to create organizational value by installing the right feedback loops

What is the nature of change in this century?

Purposefully and creatively experimental

How do we manage risk and not knowing the outcome of our creative experiments?

Set clear boundaries about risk.  Engender insights that minimize risk.

Gary Hamel also asks:

“How have you been trained as a business innovator? What investment has the company made in teaching you how to innovate?”

What will global organizations look like?

The Internet is making it possible to amplify and aggregate human capabilities in ways never before possible.

Lose weight by weighing less: bad taunt, good science!

Lose weight by weighing less

So said The Atlantic in a side-swipe at Gary Hamel, the management professor.  They meant to damn him  They meant to say he was being tautological – or in plain language – saying black is black.  Unknowingly, they were being profound!  What they don’t realize is that management theory has moved on.  Like modern psychology, it has expanded its horizons.  The mathematical models we use have changed and to say we lose weight by weighing less is sound modelling.

Cause-and-effect was our first question

One hundred years ago, we were captivated by questions of cause-and-effect.  What causes overweight, we might ask. And we came up with models that said the more food went in the more fat on our body.    Food is is food.   Fat is fat.  They are different and one causes the other.

And so it went on.  We said intelligence led to success in later life.  We said that eating well led to intelligence.  On and on.

Actually few of these factors are independent of each other.  Fat is transformed from food.  And intelligence is a make-believable variable that exists only because it is associated with success.

Now we ask how a phenomenon changes over time

That said, we aren’t that interested in these models any more or the general question of what causes what.

These days we are more interested in recursive models.  Lose weight by weighing less is exactly what interests me.  Today I might way 60 kg.  Tomorrow I may weigh 59.9 kg or 60.1 kg.  What is the natural fluctuation in my weight and what leads to the weight getting greater (or less) and then reversing direction.

We know weight is caused by what goes in and what goes out.  And both of those are dependent on each other.  I will eat more more I have skipped meals and I will exercise less when I’ve had too much or too little to eat.    We are interested in all the relevant factors change in time and how they interact with each other in a highly fluctuating yet essentially self-correcting and stable system.

What doesn’t change may well be sick

Illness comes from lack of fluctuation. We should worry about utterly static weight and a completely constant appetite.

How do we shift systems?

Anyone who has tried to shift their typical weight, for vanity or to please their doctor, knows that it is quite hard to do.  There seems to be homeostatic levels which remain fairly constant given any set of circumstances.  Complexity theorists know that systems are self-replicating.  They also know the “shape” of the system matters.    We expect a system to fluctuate a lot but like our weight, in a general range.  When we get no fluctuation, or when our weight rockets or plummets, then we are ill!

Shifting entire systems requires a different form of thinking.  More on that another day.

For now, yes – we can lose weight by weighing less.  It is a weak system of change to look at the scales each day.  But it will work.  Just weigh less every day and you will lose weight.  Perfect mathematical model. Perfect science.

Sorry The Atlantic.  Misguided taunt.  Another one of these areas where the world has changed a lot in the last five years.  Now we do recursive models not cause-and-effect models.

What about your work is important, valuable and innovative?

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

“So what is my first goal”, I said to the HR Director.  “The amount of work on my desk is expanding exponentially and I’ve only been here a few hours.  I must find an avatar, explore the communication system, and map my skills set.”

What are your priorities?  I know you will say get settled, but all employers say that, and they don’t mean it.  What do you want done by when?”

Kick the habit of looking to managers for goals

“Well, Goal One” Peter said, “is to kick the habit of looking to managers for goals.  We are not here to set goals. We provide an arena or framework for you to work, alone if you like and with other people if you wish.  We are a huge company and you can work with whomever you choose and with whomever chooses to work with you.”

Acknowledge your own judgment

“That’s stressful at first because it feels as if you have no boundaries.  And to feel oriented, we all need boundaries.”

“But you do have boundaries.  You’ve made choices all your life.  You’ve attended to some things and ignored others.  In your judg                    ment, some things are important and command your attention.”

“We will ask you to do a third task.  We will leaving your avatar to the end of the month.  In addition to exploring the communication system and thinking about your skill set, you have a third task, which is this.

What it important, valuable and innovative about your current project?

“Write down what you are working on now.  And then tell me

  • Why this project is important to you
  • Why you think is is valuable
  • Why you think it is innovative.

Why do you feel vital and alive when you are working on this project and why do you believe it adds vitality and quality to the way we live?”

“Let me give you an example.

Today, a young post-graduate in Sydney, Marsha Gittens,  published a post in Brazen Careerist on what she wants from work– her career must-haves.  She wants money, good leadership, perks, etc.  We all want the same things but right now the financial benefits of the corporate world are uppermost in her mind because she is making the change from being a student, with all that entails, to being a member of the corporate world, and all that entails.

But financial rewards are not her project.  The move from the student world to the corporate world is her project and we are all better off if we acknowledge that openly.  She will spend the next year or two finding out where she fits into the corporate world and she wants to know how roles are structured, what these roles involve, and how important they are to other people.  At the end of the year she will have done well if she has gained this knowledge that she does not have now.  Much of this knowledge can only be gained from the inside.  From being in a company. From working on a team.  From doing a job and getting her hands dirty.

“So she will not move as a spectator.  She moves as a player and she is looking for assignments that will give her the combination of overall understanding and hands-on experience consistent with her skills.

“You sought membership of Xoozya for reasons you told us when we recruited you, and for reasons you’ll have kept to yourself.  Whatever has been put on the table, at this juncture in your life, there is something you want to achieve and you believe that we are the tool for you to achieve it.  There are resources you expect to find here and that you will look for.

The young Australian post-graduate wants to find her toe hole in the corporate world.  To do that she needs to understand the corporate world.”

“You are mid-career and you want . .  . what?  Describe what you came here to achieve.  What are you working on and why did you believe that we have the resources you need.”

“What we suggest you do is write down your current project and answer those three questions.

  • What about the project is important to you?
  • Why do you believe it is valuable?
  • What about the project is truly innovative?  Why is it so important to be doing this work now and what about it is so special that it cannot be ignored?

Then we’ll talk again.  How about this time next Friday?”

And if you are enjoying this series, please do feel free to join in!

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And PS, if you are new to this blog, Xoozya is an utterly fictitious organization. This series began on the spur of the moment as I started to explored the principles of games design and Ned Lawrence of Church of Ned mentioned how much time people put into designing their avatars, or online identities. Xoozya is an attempt to imagine what an organization would look, sound and feel like if it were run along lines recommended by contemporary management theorists.

And PPS Ned is an online writing coach and is available for hire.

Innovation funnels: learning from marketing

Daisy Over Glass

 

Image by ccmerino via Flickr

You don’t have to be right all the time. . .

As a youngster, I joined an HR department as resident psychologist & systems manager.  In my first week there, the entire department was summoned by the CEO who had been away at long course at Harvard.  We got a royal bollocking, which as I was new, I could listen to quite dispassionately!

Apart from specifics, such as not controlling the headcount (“We’ve grown like Topsy!”), he had a lot to say about efficiency of delivery.  First, he has unimpressed by the absence of Plan B (flying off to give a presentation the same day rather than the night before).  Second, he wanted to hear an end to whinging.  “You don’t have to be right all the time. You only have to be right 60% of the time and you are winning.”

Contradictory?  Perhaps not.

I think of it like this.  Just as marketers have a sales funnel, an organization needs to an innovation funnel.

  • We think up ideas.
  • A certain proportion are worth following through.
  • Of those, only a proportion work (going on to the next one is Plan B).

Toby Moores of Sleepy Dog, budgets and resources 200 ideas in stage , to finish with 1 winning idea in stage 3.  He is a fascinating speaker and is crystal clear about the recruitment, training and management techniques used at Sleepy Dog to generate ideas at a rate of 200:1.

I have never heard Toby say how many ideas Sleepy Dog abandons after they have sunk a lot of money in them.  Would it shock you to know that flourishing companies expect 40% of ideas to flop?  Who wrote on that today?  Sorry I had to shut my computer down and lost the link.  I think you cited GE.  Anyway, it was not just my CEO of my formative years.

Gary Hamel published this little questionnaire on the state of innovation management in your company.

So what is your innovation policy?  This is ours at Rooi.

1.  Keep blogging.  Write down the good ideas so we can find them again.

2.  Keep reading blogs and conventional sources.

3.  Take part in online communities. The best ideas seem to come from where we least expect it.

4.  Start shaping up goals such as “how long does it take to get an online community humming?”

5.  Take lots of breaks.  Good ideas slow down when we are tired.

What are you yours?

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