I was eating lunch yesterday at the local Bob Evans. You can always depend on consistency at the Bob’s. A good brand with a decent 45 minute or less breakfast lunch dinner menu to meet most of your average diner appetite; in other words for six to eight dollars you are content.
I sat up at the breakfast bar and ordered an autumn salad glittered with apples…cheese…pecans etc. The guy next to me was twenty years my senior…and you guessed it…he was sucking down a full meal…the whole cornucopia…mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing, beans, etc. We started to shoot the breeze and did the usually small talk. After a few minutes it didn’t take long to figure out we had a right brain and a left brain in our presence. Albeit…he was a frank man…with a calm demeanor, dressed like your Dad’s accountant and talked with kind eyes. If someone were to glance our way they may have assumed that these two men would have had little in common and not much to talk about. So why mention this…what does this have to do with THINK? Well read on…
Joe and I started talking about our line of work…we shared more than met the eye. We both owned a businesses in our lifetime. We both sacrificed much for others…and although we were in completely different industries we had nearly identical stories. I won’t bore you with details on our fascinating lives 🙂 …but I will share with you one jewel Joe and I both carried under our caps. Innovation. Ok Tim…you lost me.
Both Joe and I ran completely different business’ he in the financial arena…I in digital design. Both of us hired people smarter than ourselves…and embraced ideas greater than our initial endeavourers could have even dreamed of at our starts. We learned many a lesson…some good some ridiculously awful…all of them worthwhile. Heaven and hell are places where a lot of business owners and C level executives ride in and out of while conducting a livelihood of decisions and strategies. But what Joe and I both could say with conviction and honesty was that we both ran our businesses with the highest level of integrity…great thought and combined intellect with employees, vendors, and clients alike. After our short story experience at the Bob’s had come to an end…we both stood up…paid our eight dollars….shook hands and parted back into our thinking lives.
The subject at hand is Thinking and Innovation. These two words can make or break an organization. Throw in the thought of the inability to change and now you won’t be able to sleep at night. You’ll note that I have this fascination with innovation. In many of the autobiographies from great leaders and great businesses of our time many of them share in the grasping of innovation…at the very least their abilities as strategists usually are a fundamental element of their success.
Which brings me to an interview I read on the Behance Network (BN) featuring an innovative thinker Andrew Zolli of Z + Partners; Zolli helps major companies, institutions, and governments respond to complex change. He is also the Curator of Pop!Tech, the cutting edge conference and social innovation network. Zolli studies the global trends at the intersection of technology and sustainability, and applies that learning to help shape a better future.
Zolli is a thinker an innovation expert. I pulled a few excerpts from the interview (BN highlighted here in italics) and added a few thoughts of my own (TC).
BN: Zolli admits he cannot keep track of his organizational system in his head, so he relies on a number of methods for managing his tasks. He explains, “I keep a ‘cloud of info.’ I keep one-two years’ worth of email. I use Copernic (desktop tool), which enables me to search a large breadth of info. A big part of keeping organized is that I interact with a data cloud, then I make sure that the cloud is entirely on the Web, making it accessible to me and other people at any given time. I give up privacy. I’ve learned that no problem that I might find embarrassing is unusual. If you’re willing to let people access your life and the cloud, then they’ll find what they need. I’ve open-sourced my life. My calendar, email, contacts are all shared with the organization. I’m highly transparent. You can see what I’m doing as a partner.”
TC: Shared information across the company leads to innovation. Zolli strips out any and all insecurity and allows thoughts and ideas to be shared with his fellow thinkers. Wow. Now here is an organization that is an open book. Allowing ideas to generate and flow freely with no beginning or end. Selfishly holding back information to enhance ones career or build an individual need eventually leads to lackluster strategies, failure and an unwillingness to grow and truly innovate an organization.
BN: To get the best results within a collaborate environment, Zolli has identified an indispensable new role: not of the idea-generator, but of the translator. “The way to get exceptional results is to have a team with a cognitive portfolio. People have different cognitive capabilities (some are planners, some people are explorers, some people learn by looking, some by hearing, etc.). We are trying to create routine breakthroughs and want our teams to solve problems with different cognitive capabilities. This requires mastering translation. People are passionate, and when pushed, they have a bias toward their natural cognitive way of thinking. A translation person is always required in any sort of collaborative effort.”
TC: Collaboration leads to innovation. Zolli recognizes that change is good and a part of the process; the ability to be flexible with your thinking and then act on it. More often than not I see companies unwilling to leave their comfort zones. Being unwilling to work within a collaborative environment and unwilling to listen to findings…or worst ignoring findings that effect your results. Why put a team together if you don’t want to hear what they discover. Why ask for insights or strategy if you choose to ignore the results. Fear of the unknown stifles thinkers and innovation…and eventually kills more than great ideas…it usually puts companies out of business.
BN: Of course, any team whose business is idea generation must maintain the ability to let go, alongside a focus on making their ideas happen. As Zolli states, “It’s a truism that ideas are cheap. The biggest and most important aspect of working is to trust in you and your colleagues to have new ideas. It’s critical that you have an ability to let go of ideas. My first job was in a creative firm. The best lesson I learned: you can kill any idea as long as you trust that more are coming. The trick is to move from an openness to new ideas to creating accountable management structures where people execute on those ideas and are responsible for seeing them through.”
TC: Failure to execute kills innovation. Sounds simple but this is the number one problem I have seen in more companies than I’d like to admit. If you don’t buy the lottery ticket you can’t win the lottery. This is the over thinker syndrome. Talk, talk, meet, meet, talk again, meet to meet, work at working…on and on and on. Great ideas drown in a sea of the inability to act on them. Whether it is fear, ignorance, pride or a power play…no one wins. Idea generation doesn’t have a leg to stand on without the ability to execute.
BN: “Expertise is overrated. Some of the world’s most successful people (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson) don’t have college degrees. They didn’t get professional training. They had many ‘experts’ telling them why what they were doing wasn’t possible. Paul Polak stubbornly refused to accept the dominating wisdom of the age. Expertise isn’t a source for innovation because it’s conventional. Accepting that you will look foolish on the way to learning things is important.”
TC: Ego kills innovation. Many people have heard me say…I don’t care if the UPS driver has an idea he can contribute to this task…if it’s good we need to hear it! Destructive and destructive heroes and leaders or followers that have more to protect then great innovation need not apply. Whether the thinking is tried and true, non-conventional strategies, best practices, or a totally new approach…you best wrap your arms around the possibilities. Put away your linear thinking and fears and trust innovation and those bringing you new ways of thinking. Free yourself of your pride, the way things use to be…remove your ego.
If you truly want to open your arms to new ways of thinking and new innovations…open your mind…open your creativity…listen…observe…ask questions…make mistakes…build on them and move on them… provide forward thinking and thought leadership throughout the entire organization.
Think. Think innovation.
Credit and special thanks to Behance Network and Andrew Zolli.