Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Leadership and the Innovation Crisis


Guest post from Alf Rehn:
Some say we live in the golden age of innovation, an age ruled by transformation and revolution. They point to shiny startups and the seemingly unstoppable progress of technology, and proclaim that our age is on track to solve all problems and cure all ills. I say they are sorely mistaken.
Instead, I would argue that we live in the age of innovation crisis. What crisis, you may ask? A crisis of imagination, a crisis of ambition, a crisis of vision. A crisis where there has never been more talk about innovation – there’s no end to the books, blogs, LinkedIn-groups and Instagram-feeds dedicated to the same – yet we still struggle to solve some of the basic problems in society. We’ve never spent more on innovation, yet as many CEOs are starting to notice, the returns are diminishing, and the trend is down, not up.
This is an age where you can buy a pair of “smart” socks that can communicate with your phone and let you know how many times they’ve been washed, but where despite having an abundance of food we still have hunger, even in advanced societies. An age where a great deal of money pours to a limited set of people in a limited area of the world, for the solving of very limited problems, whilst many who reside outside of Palo Alto or other anointed “innovation hubs” see their livelihood eroding and their environments getting poisoned. An age with lots of talk of innovation, lots of resources for it, better conditions for it than ever – but also an age of shallow innovation and a lack of innovation leadership. This is an age where we, as a global society, spend a minimum of $3,000,000,000,000 (that’s three trillion dollars, and it is a very, very lowball estimate) on innovation every year, and where at the same time around 750,000 children will die of diarrhea – just this year.
This doesn’t mean innovation is dead. Far from it. We still create things, we still solve problems, we still design the most amazing technologies. The problem, however, is that much of this is a random walk down solution lane. That is, when it isn’t a case of solving trivial problems simply because that’s where the money is at. You see, the issue really isn’t that contemporary innovation doesn’t produce things. It does. It creates many products, many services, new processes, and a plethora of apps. Some of these even make money. What it doesn’t do is to direct and focus the potential power of innovation – with all the money and the knowledge and the skills and the technology at our disposal – to where it can do the most good.
Succinctly put, innovation has a leadership problem. There is innovation, but far too much of this is done without any deep, meaningful purpose. Instead, it goes where the money is, where the easy solutions are, following the path of least resistance. A true innovation leader would protest this, demand that innovation should have impact and purpose and a meaning beyond dollars and cents, but as we have a lack of such leaders, innovation focuses on shallow show-offs. Without true innovation leadership, we risk that the exponential technologies that could be harnessed to solve some of the most complex wicked problems of our age – an aging society, looming environmental disasters, ossified social structures, the coming water crisis, and so on – are instead focused on improving cheap entertainment and incremental improvements in food delivery system.
What our age needs, then, are new innovation leaders. For these, skills such as innovation management and design thinking will not be special but assumed by default, just as we today assume people can handle email and Excel. Besides such basics, tomorrow’s innovation leaders will need to build strong, inclusive innovation cultures – replete with psychological safety and a capacity to reflect on the most challenging, contrarian ideas. For them, emphasizing diversity in innovative organizations will be a given, and they will leverage this to crank up innovation ambition and foster deep discussions about the purpose of the same. They will realize that some innovations can be done quickly, and they will be comfortable experimenting, but in addition they will understand that some innovations can take years, even decades, to come to fruition and have the courage to engage with them despite this.
The next challenge for today’s leaders is to develop this kind of innovation leadership. We have the resources, and we have the problems. Do we also have the courage, the grit, and the fortitude to truly allow innovation to be all that it can be? Time will tell, but the organizations that are prepared to take up the challenge of innovation ambition and true innovation leadership will be the ones that define the decades to come. Will yours be one of them?
Alf Rehn, author of Innovation for the Fatigued:  How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity, is recognized as a global thought-leader in the field of innovation and creativity.  Rehn is Professor of Innovation, Design, and Management at the University of Southern Denmark, sits on numerous boards of directors, is a bestselling author, and serves as a strategic advisor for hot new startups to Fortune 500 companies. For more information, please visit https://www.koganpage.com/product/innovation-for-the-fatigued-9780749484088.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Leader’s Guide to Creating an Enduring Brand


Guest post by Lindsay Pedersen:

Show me a valuable business, and I’ll show you a leader who has had to make hard choices. They’ve had to look at 100 good ideas and take 99 of them off the table in favor of the excellent one.

That means they’ve also become proficient in prioritizing. Ruthless prioritization serves you—the CEO, the general manager, the team owner, the person on the hook for the P&L of your business. It buoys you from paralyzing overwhelm to empowerment.

Then you are truly leading your team, and your employees return in kind, with their own understanding, demonstration, and embodiment of the business.
Easy to grok. But how do you do this?

Everything you decide to do in and for your business—all those hard choices and prioritizing—either reinforces or erodes your brand. So you need to pay attention to it. Brand should be the North Star to guide you. Your brand—the thing you want to stand for in the mind of your customer—is the best way to filter your decision-making. From day-to-day decisions (Should I attend this conference? Should I reevaluate this idea?) to monumental ones (Should I partner with this company? Should I quadruple my spending on this promising investment?), brand shines so brightly that it makes visible the right decision without you needing to spend precious time and cognitive energy weighing choices.

Because brand is the lynchpin for a business with pricing power, loyalty, employee meaning, and enduring value creation, you making decisions that reinforce your brand meaning enables your business not only to survive but to thrive.

You still might not think brand is your area of expertise. In the past, you may have felt tempted to delegate brand to marketing or even to an outside agency. But to do so is to miss brand’s power. It’s to mistake brand for a single-pronged marketing angle, when it is really the North Star of your business. If you are delegating the brand strategy, then I’d suggest that it is not a brand strategy. It might be a neat marketing campaign, but if it doesn’t force hard choices across departments and over time, it’s not a brand strategy.

And here’s the thing: You, the leader, must be the one to choose the focus of the business. You, the leader, need to be the one to select a single brand promise for your customers.

In shining that light on one thing, you inherently cast all other things in shadow. You deselect bad but also good ideas so that there can be single-minded focus on one excellent idea. That focus is the very thing that makes brand strategy powerful.

For a brand to create value for a business, customers, and employees, it needs to be genuine and bracingly clear. That is the only way it will empower the leader and employees to make tough choices that amplify the brand. Value-creating brands are ones that force tough choices.

The truth is, it can be difficult, sometimes scary, to choose a focus, to make tough choices to choose a brand North Star. It takes courage and conviction to develop and follow one. Yet you cannot delegate courage and conviction.

Think of a brand that you love. What are the tough choices that this business makes to inspire that love? In order to offer what you appreciate from them, what can they not offer? 
In order to appeal to you, who might they not resonate with, and therefore not have a relationship with? Now, think how much leadership courage and conviction it takes to make those tough choices. How does a leader cultivate that courage and conviction? By creating a brand with intention, infusing the brand throughout the business, and modeling the importance of the brand.

When I hear a leader talking about the importance of brand, I am also watching to see whether this leader really means it. Has this person said no to something attractive in service of the brand? Behind closed doors, does the leader look to the brand as a guide in the same way the leader does publicly?

When employees see you owning brand, using brand to filter and to make trade-offs, demonstrating that you feel it in your bones, the employees will too. Employees need to see you believing in and modeling the brand when it’s easy but especially when it is hard—or there is zero percent chance that the employees will stick their necks out to follow that guiding star.

It matters to employees if you’re giving them air cover or not. Because that’s a leader’s ultimate job, to do that hard, strategic heavy-lifting—the heaviest lifting one might ever do. It takes moxie to create a brand strategy. The reward is pricing power, loyalty, and enduring pride among employees. The reward is a brand—and a business—that creates value and endures.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lindsay Pedersen is the author of Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She is a brand strategist and leadership coach who views brand as a blend of science, intuition, behavioral economics, and ancient storytelling. She developed the Ironclad Method™ while building brands with companies such as Starbucks, Clorox, Zulily, T-Mobile, IMDb, and burgeoning startups. Lindsay lives in Seattle with her husband and two children. Keep in touch with Lindsay through her website: www.ironcladbrandstrategy.com


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Why Purpose, Mission, Vision and Values Really Do Matter


Guest post from Chris Griffiths:

Being able to define your purpose, mission, vision and values allows you to plan for your company’s future success. The Purpose/Mission/Vision/Values concept can apply to just about anybody in any business. Whether you’re an established company, an enthusiastic start-up or a remote worker, use this strategy to help define who you are and where you want to be. Although this way of thinking and working aids companies and their growth, it is highly underestimated. However, when these concepts are expressed clearly and concisely and relayed to the company, your business will be more focused on its future goals.

With the aid of the ‘Why We Exist’ Canvas, you’ll be able to assess business problems standing in the way of achieving your goals and map out the steps in order to reach them.


1.    Purpose: What is your reason for being?
If you were to ask your colleagues what the purpose of the company was, how many would answer correctly? If the answer is only a few, then they wouldn’t be alone. Did you know that people are more likely to thrive when their work has a clear purpose and meaning? Define the purpose of the company and share it with your team. With a purpose clearly defined, workers will be uplifted, resulting in an increase in their output. Once your purpose is defined, be sure to put it into action. Make it believable and ensure each individual in the company is committed to it. Give it a go and see how the process boosts productivity, loyalty and performance throughout the company.

Action: Use your Canvas to note down why you choose to exist as a company, beyond the financial gain. What are your strengths as a team/company? What is your thing that attracts the attention of others?

2.  Mission: What’s your core mission statement?
Although a business strategy is likely to change over time, the company’s mission will not. If you’re unfamiliar with mission statements, they define the business and its primary objectives. For example, a company mission may be to boost productivity for individuals and teams worldwide. Be bold and courageous with your goals and mission statement. After all, if your goal doesn’t scare you then it’s not big enough. Defining a clear mission statement allows you to be transparent with the team. Your team will know what to expect from you and what you expect from them. Champion a grand mission, rather than bland statements. Once defined, check your mission statement by asking yourself these essential four questions:

     What do we do?
     How do we do it?
     Whom do we do it for?
     What value are we bringing to others?

Action: Write an ambitious yet achievable position in your market or in your customers’ lives that recognizes your Purpose. Ensure your statement is concise and never underestimate the importance of your company’s mission.

3. Vision: Where is the future taking you?
We all have a vision for our goals. ‘Where do we want to be in three, five or ten years’ time?’, is the key question to ask yourself when thinking about the company vision. Your vision is also a powerful influencing factor for employee retention and engagement. When considering your vision and how it could impact your team, think about how you can make it sustainable and scalable. Analyze areas such as how to carry your business in the future and establish timeframes for when you’d like to reach certain milestones. An important point to remember is not to define a statement purely for the sake of it. Define your vision in order to live it.

Action: What’s the difference you’re aiming to make in your customers’ lives or society at large? Define it on your Canvas.

4. Values: What do you stand for?
Company values are closely linked with its mission. They represent choices connected with your mission and are the core DNA of your business. Think of values as your identity and what you stand for. Strong values lead to action and become a guiding force as your company grows. Your company values have the ability to influence others and welcome potential customers. Take some time to understand the real priorities of your business; you’ll then be able to determine the best direction for the company. Identifying and understanding your values is challenging, yet vital. By pinpointing your company values, you’ll be more aware of these factors when making future decisions.

Action: Now use your Canvas to define the principles and values that will accelerate your progress and success.

Inspire the people around you with your purpose, mission, vision and values to help cement business goals and take the company to the next level.

Chris Griffiths, author of The Creative Thinking Handbook:  Your Step-By-Step Guide To Problem Solving In Business, is founder and CEO of OpenGenius. Griffiths has helped thousands of people worldwide drive business growth using highly practical innovation processes, including teams and individuals from Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies, the United Nations, governments, the European Commission and Nobel Laureates. He is a pioneer in combining creative thinking strategies with technology to enhance productivity and is behind the iMindMap and DropTask apps, now utilized by over two million people worldwide.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Transform Your Team With This Innovative Approach


Guest post from Eric Coryell:

Accountability.  Good employees are accountable.  Good leaders hold their employees accountable.  Good organizations have accountable cultures. But what does it really mean to be accountable?  And what happens when someone isn’t accountable?  How leaders deal with non-accountable behavior goes a long way to defining the culture of an organization.

The generally accepted definition of being accountable is that “you do what you say you are going to do.”  Yet everyone will inevitably fail on this accord.  Does that mean they are not accountable?  I think it is when someone does not “do what they said they would do” that accountability is determined.  Someone who is non-accountable will tend to make excuses, point fingers, deny, deflect or refuse to change.  Accountable people will take responsibility for not delivering on the desired results and start doing something different until the desired results are achieved.

Wouldn’t life be great if everyone exhibited accountable behavior 100% of the time?  As great as that idea sounds it is not realistic and leaders must decide what to do when one of their reports is not acting accountably.  This action is generally known as holding someone accountable.  To effectively hold someone accountable the leaders sets the foundation by setting clear expectations, contracting, incentivizing, and putting feedback mechanisms in place.  If the employee does not deliver on the desired results and then doesn’t act accountably the leader has to step in and coach, reassess, train, or even (re)set consequences.  Continued non-accountable behavior can lead to disciplinary actions and even termination.

But who really has the accountability during this process?  Who is the one doing something different until the desired results are achieved?  The leader!  The whole notion of holding someone accountable is really a myth.  When a leader says they are holding someone accountable what they are really saying that they are taking the accountability away from the individual.  They are now the ones that are doing something different until the desired results are achieved.  And if they don’t achieve the desired results their leader is going to do the same thing to them.  This is called leader-led accountability and is the norm in most organizations.

There are two significant problems with this approach to managing accountability.  One is that not everyone is good at taking the accountability from their employees (formerly known as “holding them accountable”).  Some leaders are afraid of alienating their employees so they shy away from it or they convince themselves they can’t do that until they are perfectly accountable themselves.  The second problem is that it creates very upward looking organizations.  Employees are constantly looking up to their boss as they are the ones whose expectations they have to meet and they are the ones who will take their accountability away if they don’t meet them.

But there is another way a leader can manage accountability and that is by setting up their team to be accountable.  On accountable teams when someone fails to meet expectations and aren’t doing something different to get those results, the team members step in.  To many this sounds Pollyanna but more than likely you have been on accountable team at some point in your life.  Take a moment and think of the best team you have ever been a part of.  It might be your family, a high school sports team, volunteer organization, or a work team.  As you think about that team, I am confident it had the basics of all functional teams: (1) clear purpose, (2) some way of measuring whether you were achieving that purpose, (3) competent people, and (4) capable process.  But if it was a really good team than it probably had one more thing and that was a willingness and ability to deal with any issues that were getting in the way of the team achieving its purpose.  This meant when there were team members not upholding their end of the deal the other team members took the accountability and addressed the issue(s).

What made this all possible and what separates that team from most teams you have been on are two things.  First there was a real and meaningful shared fate on the team.  In other words, what happened to one, happened to all.  You either won together or you lost together.  This provided the motivation for the team members to take on the accountability issue.  The second thing your best team had was a real and meaningful level of trust amongst the team members.  This made it possible to deal with those real issues without damaging the team.

For today I want to focus on how to do the first step and that is to build a meaningful shared fate on the team.  Good coaches know how to do this (e.g. when someone is late for practice, everybody runs) as does the military – think boot camp.  In my experience I have come to realize that few business leaders do.  They typically look at their employees as having separate accountabilities (“John is accountable for sales, Mary is accountable for operations, etc.”) and then wonder why they aren’t functioning as a team.  Building a shared fate starts with the leader thinking of their team as a group of individuals who are responsible for achieving the team’s purpose and achieving the team’s metrics.  When the leader starts thinking in those term’s they start engaging in the behaviors necessary to build a shared fate on the team.  You can help build a shared fate by putting everyone’s desk in the same office, by making it hard to get on the team, by going through a difficult situation together, by sharing a common passion for the outcome, or even by creating a common enemy.  However, you choose to do it, leaders and coaches who want their team to become accountable must first focus on creating a real and meaningful shared fate for the team.  As that happens the accountability burden starts to become less for the leader.


ERIC CORYELL dedicates his time to helping organizations engage their employees through strategic alignment, leadership development, and the creation of functional and accountable teams. Eric’s new book is Revolutionize Teamwork, a quick read packed with valuable information that shows you how to create and lead accountable teams built on shared trust. Using the principles Eric outlines in this book leads to teams that are better able to make decisions and are motivated by group success.