Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ambidextrous Innovation:

How Can Leaders’ Best Explore and Exploit both Disruptive and Incremental Approaches to Innovation?

Guest post from Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant:

Most of us love to watch a race. We like to observe the highs and lows of others as they experience a hard-fought competition. It’s exciting to tap into the innate competitive drive.

Indeed survival today seems to depend upon our ability to literally get ahead as fast as possible. With the market realities of the current economy, it appears that new players need to continually break through the ranks in order to survive. These players test more established racers with breakthrough innovations.

The success of the sharing economy, where small nimble players such as Uber and Airbnb have been able to overtake larger more established players, has revealed how easy it has become to challenge the established leaders.

Yet such a rapid and competitive approach to innovation may not be sustainable over the long term.

Breakthrough or be left behind

As addictive as the adrenaline of this ‘innovation race’ might be, players are constantly coming and going, and few survive. Fourteen of the world’s 15 most valuable technology brands have disappeared since 1995 (Apple being the exception) through failing to keep up with emerging technologies.

Even the apparent leaders in the race seem to suffer from ‘premium position captivity’, and often cannot maintain the leading position for long. Every time a disruptive new innovation comes through, the bar is raised.

There will also always need to be those who can move forward more carefully with incremental innovations that ensure careful sustainable improvement when the latest fads have passed.  

The message seems to be fast at all costs: that you must be proactive and anticipate future trends to generate better, faster solutions, or risk being relegated to the back of the pack, or even eliminated. But this message needs to be tempered with the knowledge that systems that support (not hinder) need to be in place to keep your wheels on the track.

Leaders need to be careful they are not too easily seduced by the need for speed, but that they are simultaneously able to build solid systems and structures to support change over the long run.

The ‘innovation race’ needs to be understood as both a long-term marathon, as well as a short-term sprint. There will be times each approach is needed, and the leader needs be trained and ready for both, as well as ensuring the organization is prepared for both.

Becoming ambidextrous

In order to be successful, leaders now need to be ambidextrous and balance these competing and contradictory approaches to innovation.

So how can you successfully navigate the innovation race? By including both sides of the following paradoxes you will be able to remain flexible and resilient. Effectively balancing these should enable you to keep one eye on what is happening in the here and now, along with keeping another on the road ahead.

·     Freedom + Control: Allow people the freedom to explore radical breakthrough ideas, whilst providing them the guidance needed for steady and incremental change.

·    Openness + Focus: Openness and diversity are essential for the ignition of breakthrough ideas, while people also need the opportunity to focus on what is needed for incremental innovation.

·    Engagement + Individualism: Allow opportunities for individuals to come together a s a group and brainstorm, while respecting the individual time needed to work ideas through to applications.

·    Flexibility + Stability: Provide flexibility for people to explore different solution options and breakthrough ideas, but also provide a solid system for practical implementation.

Successfully navigating these innovation paradoxes should enable you to create a sustainable innovation culture – no matter what the challenges ahead!

Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant are the authors of The Innovation Race: How to Change a Culture to Change the Game. As the Directors of Tirian International Consultancy they help to create innovation cultures for a range of international organisations (from Fortune 500 companies through to NFPs). The Grants are top-ranking keynote speakers and business facilitators, and Gaia is an HD researcher and guest lecturer at Sydney University Business School.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Values Alignment for First Responders and More

Guest post from S. Chris Edmonds:

I am thankful for many things--only one of which is our first responders. Law enforcement and fire personnel lay their lives on the line every day. Their jobs are immensely stressful and demanding, and 99% of them serve with grace, skill and speed.

Skill alone doesn’t make a firefighter or law enforcement officer effective. The culture of their department has a huge influence on them.  If it tolerates unsafe or disrespectful behavior, it is very likely the first responder will carry that with them. They may withhold information or have a lack of respect for one another. They may be publicly critical or dismiss the accomplishments of others. They may lack confidence in the commands of their superiors. These behaviors create distrust, which is potentially disastrous.

If their department's culture tolerates disrespectful or dangerous behaviors, it is likely that the players in that culture will embrace those behaviors. They will not share information. They will not support each other. They criticize others' decisions publicly. They discount others' efforts and accomplishments. They may hesitate to act upon the commands of superiors--all of this could have potentially disastrous results.

Whether in the fire department, retail store, office, restaurant or police station you will only get a purposeful, positive, productive culture by design, not default.

Doing this well takes daily attention to clear intentions. Creating clear performance expectations and understood citizenship expectations, with consistent accountability for both, will bring significant benefits such as:

*Employee engagement up by 40%
*Customer service increased by 40%
*Profit and results jumped by 35%

All within 18 months.

These results occur at organizations that institute an
organizational constitution (which includes your team’s servant purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals).

It is not common for law enforcement or fire protection organizations to get involved in this process. Even thought defining the constitution is the simple part of the journey, it does take a lot of effort and time to do right.

Once you have established your organizational constitution, the rubber meets the road when it is time to model and coach the desired behaviors and hold people accountable.
I have enjoyed working with firefighters since the 1980's when two served on the board of my YMCA. Getting to know them helped me see how very demanding their jobs are, and how dedicated they are to serving.

A member of the Bend, Oregon, USA, Fire & Rescue squad shared how his team is working toward a high performing, values-aligned work environment.  Their specific values include:


In formalizing these values and behaviors, Bend Firefighters know that they are responsible for more than just applying skills to their jobs. They are expected to treat others with compassion and respect. They are to conduct themselves with humility and integrity. They are to show resilience and optimism even in the tough moments.

The Bend Fire Department praises aligned behavior and redirects misaligned behavior so that they can make progress every day. Moreover, aligned behavior like this just might help keep them a little safer, too.

How precisely does your organization define citizenship? What type of constitution do you have? It is the key to an effective culture.

S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here

Thursday, January 5, 2017

6 Essential Characteristics for Leading Simplification

Guest post from Lisa Bodell:

As leaders, we’re responsible for setting the tone of our organization through policy and strategy, as well as our behavior. I believe that leaders have an obligation to work efficiently and effectively so that others do the same, creating a virtuous cycle of simplicity. I also believe that when simplification is an operating principle, it can guide leaders both in big, risky decisions and in daily priorities.

Companies that achieve the Golden Rule of Simplicity — “I will value others’ time as I expect them to value mine” — can harness a distinctly competitive edge in an era of complexity. Through a decade of innovation-training work with global leaders (and in researching my new book, Why Simple Wins), I’ve identified the unique mindset possessed by leaders who succeed in simplification. Comprising that mindset are the following six leadership characteristics.

Characteristic #1: Courage
When Dave Lewis became CEO at European grocery store giant Tesco in 2014, the company was struggling. Consumer behavior had changed: people were shopping more frequently and for fewer items at smaller stores like Lidl and Aldi.

Lewis recognized that shopping at Tesco had become a chore. Customers shopping for a single product—ketchup, for example—were faced with dozens of brands, flavors, and types. (Tesco had 28 different ketchups—Aldi only one.) To help Tesco identify which products to eliminate, Lewis hired Boston Consulting Group. He gave them a mandate: cut the variety of products by 30% (from 90,000 items to 65,000). Lewis anticipated blowback from customers (“You’re going to discontinue my brand of coffee?”) and from suppliers, which would likely charge more for the remaining brands they delivered to Tesco’s shelves.

It took courage for Lewis to stay true to his mission, but he did. A year later, the company’s first Christmas season beat financial expectations.

Characteristic #2: Minimalism
To drive simplicity, leaders must understand the value of paring things back. They need to envision how a simpler company will be more efficient, productive, and profitable. They need to embrace the wisdom of minimalism.

It’s easy to demand more, more, more, but what could it mean for your business if you sacrificed a third of your product offerings? We rarely see the harm in adding new functionality to a website, a new option to a service plan, or a new series of internal meetings. But those sorts of additions do have a cost, even if it’s not readily apparent on a balance sheet.

Characteristic #3: Results Orientation
Smart leaders know that successful simplification isn’t just about making do with less, or making people do more with less. It’s about enabling employees to do more of the work they’re excited to complete (not just more work). Leaders with a simplicity mindset view simplicity as a means for making the organization and its people more effective.

A few years ago, Jeff Spencer, then executive director of strategy for Merck Canada, created a long-term strategy for a culture of simplicity. A survey of the company’s employees in many different levels and functions had revealed that people felt hampered by too many meetings, e-mails, and, most of all, by systems over which they had little control.

These issues caused people to focus inwardly, rather than on the company’s customers and competitors, so Spencer looked for ways to engage employees in simplifying their own work rather than focusing on “the system.” Traditionally, the organization had lacked a clear, efficient system by which field-based representatives could provide feedback to the marketing department, but a few months into the effort, the organization had its first breakthrough.

Teams collaborated to create an e-mail-based, fast-response system by which representatives could provide marketing with customer feedback and other observations. These were compiled, reviewed by marketing, and acted upon. Since these insights sprang directly from customer feedback, marketing was able to develop responses that more closely addressed customers’ specific needs.

For the first time, employees were directly contributing to a broader simplicity culture. And they were becoming conscious of the many subtle yet insidious ways that each employee can layer on additional complexity.

Characteristic #4: Focus
Leaders with a simplicity mindset refuse to get bogged down by distractions. They also don’t let the doubters get in the way of their plans. While simplicity benefits for the company as a whole, it often challenges certain individuals and groups whose authority is rooted in inefficient and overly complex rules, processes, and systems.

Focus is especially crucial for leaders of young companies, since these organizations tend to take on layers of complication as they grow. Leaders must have the fortitude and determination to stick to simplicity—and they must constantly remind employees’ that their work lives will improve if things are streamlined.

Characteristic #5: Personal Engagement
A few years ago, my firm took on a client in the publishing industry. He was a decent guy, had a senior role in the HR department, and wanted our help building new innovation skills and improving the team’s morale. Yet there was a problem: while he talked a good game, my client wasn’t walking the walk. He was all too eager to tell me how other departments around the company were demanding reports that had no real value. But he wouldn’t acknowledge that he was also assigning busywork to his own people.

If you’re a leader hoping to instill an ethos of simplification, you need to exemplify, empower, and reinforce the behaviors associated with simplification. If you’re not prepared to simplify your own work environment, you have no right to impose it on those who work for you.

Characteristic #6: Decisiveness
As Steve Jobs’ right-hand man and Apple’s chief design officer, Jony Ive is credited with some of Apple’s most iconic creations, including the iPod, iPad, and Apple Watch. In order to get the people working for him to set aside distractions, Jobs would ask deputies like Ive a simple question: “How many times did you say no today?”

Jobs was empowering Ive and his colleagues to take control. Jobs didn’t want Ive coming to him for sign-offs on every marginally significant decision. He didn’t want Ive to be scared to take action. Rather, Jobs was giving Ive authority, and he expected him to use it. If Ive was saying “no” each day, it meant that he was making decisions on his own volition.

Leaders who are driving simplification must lay aside the need to seek consensus. Complicated organizations tend to be overloaded with people who claim they can’t get things done because some other department hasn’t signed off or another team hasn’t sent them the specs. Leaders operating in a simplicity mindset short-circuit those complaints. They make decisions quickly and cleanly, and they inspire those around them to do the same.

All six of these leadership qualities can be cultivated with a strong commitment and vision for simplification. When leaders embrace this mindset, we affirm that how we invest our time matters as much as how we invest our money. We’re also affirming the Golden Rule of Simplicity, which shifts our focus away from low-value work and toward what our clients or customers need.

Originating at the top, simplification requires a leadership quality that’s often in short supply: courage. It requires a leap of faith, the belief that freeing people to do higher-level thinking will pay back dividends. And it requires a mindset—the will, foresight, and fortitude to push simplicity through. Do you as a leader have this mindset? If not, why?


Lisa Bodell is a global keynote speaker, and the founder and CEO of futurethink, an innovation-training firm. She is the author of the best-selling book “Kill the Company,” which was voted Best Business Book by USA Book News and Booz & Co. Her new book, Why Simple Wins, is available everywhere. Explore her secret sauce for innovation at