Monthly Archives: August 2010

Book review – Speed Thinking – How to Thrive in a time-poor world

How long do you need to take to solve challenging and strategic problems?  Two minutes? Two hours? Two weeks? In his book “Speed Thinking – How to Thrive in a time-poor World”, Dr Ken Hudson believes that senior managers often produce outstanding work when placed under significant time pressure. I agree. I know this works.

I am a big fan of Ken Hudson and Speed Thinking. I have used, and continue to use, his techniques with great success. Indeed, in many of the workshops that I run, I can get a room of senior executives to learn some new tools, apply the tools to a specific problem, build the solution, and present the framework, all in half a day! And I maintain that had they had 4 weeks the outcome may only have been 5% better – perhaps a little more polished – but the core material would have been much the same.

Speed Thinking is a concept that has been significantly made real by Dr Ken Hudson. Ken has just released his latest book aimed at anyone who is looking for a new way to solve everyone’s biggest dilemma – how to do more and more with less and less.

In this book Ken outlines the nine forces that are rapidly accelerating the pace of change today, and then proceeds to detail the basic mechanics of Speed Thinking, which has as its basis the process of creating nine possibilities in two minutes. While this might seem easy, Ken provides a set of tools he calls Speed Links – a unique visual mechanism that makes it easy to capture initial thoughts and then transform these into more powerful concepts as well as connecting those thoughts and concepts into an almost endless array of possibilities.

One of the biggest challenges for all of is the ability to take a problem, decompose it into discrete components, develop a strategy to address those components, and articulate an execution plan. Often this cycle in a corporate takes months – months of “socialisation”, months of haggling, and months where all participants feel they need to put in their two-cents worth. The techniques developed by Ken Hudson cuts through this process, significantly shortening the time period for idea development and build out from months to minutes.

I was a skeptic too. But I am not now. It works. Try it for yourself.

Speed Thinking – How to Thrive in a Time-Poor World is published by Allen & Unwin. http://www.thespeedthinkingzone.com/

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Bosses should definitely NOT kill ideas

Bob Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, posted a blog on Harvard Business Review entitled: If you are the Boss, start killing more ideas.

His point is that in order for some ideas to flourish and become disruptive, many others need to be killed, and we are not good at doing that

I don’t have a problem with the concept of killing ideas, but I do have a problem with any “Boss” killing any idea.

I posted the following on the blog:

I don’t think any boss should ever kill any idea. The challenge is to have a filtering process that is set up properly to filter all of the ideas, and sort them appropriately. And it should be both the “crowd” that does the sorting, as well as a cross-functional team. In the work that I doing in Innovation at Cisco, we have both – and the ideas that percolate up through either the crowd or the cross functional team are the ones that are considered for progression, with the others being potentially incremental, not disruptive innovation.

I have a problem with any one individual “killing” anything. If an idea is floated, and an individual, especially of a “higher rank”, tries to squash it, I push back enormously. Killing of ideas by an individual on qualitative bases is a recipe for innovation destruction. With proper filtering by the crowd and a cross-functional team, the discussion becomes focused on those ideas that really have potential, and the only reason they are “killed” is that further research demonstrates that they are not viable – and this becomes obvious to all.

And certainly, ideas should never be killed by anyone because they have a higher “rank” than the idea originator – the thought of that makes me exceptionally anxious

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Employees have the best ideas

The classic IBM CEO study of 2006 says it all – the best ideas come from employees, customers and partners. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reinforces this hypothesis.

To quote
Most great ideas for enhancing corporate growth and profits aren’t discovered in the lab late at night, or in the isolation of the executive suite. They come from the people who daily fight the company’s battles, who serve the customers, explore new markets and fend off the competition.

In other words, the employees.

It goes on to list seven characteristics that are essential to the success of Innovation communities:

CREATE THE SPACE TO INNOVATE. Line managers and employees occupied with operational issues normally don’t have the time to sit around and discuss ideas that lead to cross-organizational innovation. Innovation communities create a space in which employees from across the organization can exchange ideas.

GET A BROAD VARIETY OF VIEWPOINTS. It’s essential to involve people from different functions, locations and ranks, not only for their unique perspectives, but also to ensure buy-in throughout the company afterward. Innovation communities focus on creating enthusiasm as well as new products.

CREATE A CONVERSATION BETWEEN SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND PARTICIPANTS. By definition, innovation communities can’t work in isolation: To create sustainable cross-organizational innovation, it’s important that ideas flow to senior managers. If they don’t, innovations will tend to have limited, local effects that don’t benefit the organization as a whole.

PARTICIPANTS SHOULD BE PULLED TO JOIN, NOT PUSHED. Members need to be enthusiastic about participating. Employees can’t be forced to reveal their thoughts or be imaginative.

TAPPING UNUSED TALENT AND ENERGY KEEPS PRODUCT-DEVELOPMENT COSTS LOW. One reason these forums are economical is because they tap into unused energy. An innovation community sends a message that senior management is listening and that employees will benefit from participating. In many cases, potential contributors are just waiting to be asked.

COLLATERAL BENEFITS CAN BE AS IMPORTANT AS THE INNOVATIONS THEMSELVES. Innovation communities promote learning on both a personal and organizational level by bringing people together to exchange ideas. The repeated discussions and problem-solving missions can give rise to valuable social networks that lead to further exchanges of ideas in the future.

MEASUREMENT IS KEY. Innovation communities are sustainable only if they can produce demonstrable value. Otherwise senior management loses interest.

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IBM’s Jam – a look on the inside

“Jam” is IBM’s term for a “massively parallel conference” online. IBM had developed its first in 2001 as a way to unite the organization. More and more employees were working at home or at client sites, rarely coming to IBM offices. The idea was that a Jam — a group of interlinked bulletin boards and related Web pages on IBM’s intranet, with systems for centrally managing everything and seeking substantive answers to important questions in three days or so — would give people a sense of participation and of being listened to, as well as generate valuable new ideas. From the beginning, the Jam process showed it could engage tens of thousands of people at a time. There were 52,000 posts in the 2001 Jam, addressing questions like “How do you work in an increasingly mobile organization?” and “How do we get IBM Consulting into the C-suite?” Subsequent Jams helped clarify IBM’s values and produced good ideas for improving IBM’s operations. A carefully designed system for reviewing huge numbers of posts enabled the company to initiate important courses of action.

This article explores this innovation effort, unique in size and unusual in the amount of management resources invested in it. The article is based on participant observation in the Jam itself, review of Jam Web pages and postings after its completion, online use of some of the emerging technologies and more than 20 interviews with Jam organizers, participants, idea sponsors, senior scientists, senior executives and others.

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The increasing importance of Innovation

Interesting article in the New York Times: “Innovate, Yes, But Make it Practical”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/business/15unboxed.html?_r=1&ref=business

Key messages include:

  • LinkedIn found that more than 700 people listed their current job title as “chief innovation officer” and that nearly 25,000 had the word “innovation” in their job title
  • Innovation Managers are now senior executives in major corporations. Indeed, many smart companies now have VP-level Open Innovation Managers
  • These senior leaders need unfettered access to all parts of the organisation to be effective
  • Internal venture funds are essential for successful execution of Innovation activities
  • Innovation is certainly possible in the services industries e.g. Banking and finance
  • Customer-centricity is paramount
  • Incubating ideas that deliver scale is powerful

Thoughts:

  • Does your organisation need a VP for Innovation?
  • Indeed, should you have a VP for Open Innovation?
  • How are you breaking down barriers to allow “unfettered access”?
  • Do you have sufficient focus on customer-centricity?
  • Have you set aside sufficient funds for “internal ventures”?

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Innovation, powered by Collaboration, is essential for future success!

There is an excellent report of how collaboration in the workforce powers innovation. I have been unable to track down the orginal article for positing here, but I am going to replay the blog where it is cited, because I find it so interesting and relevant. It comes from HR Magazine http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk.

By 2020 the workplace will be transformed by the sharing and development of ideas, according to a study of 3,500 employees, 100 HR managers and 100 IT managers across the UK, France, Germany, the US and Japan, conducted by the Future Foundation on behalf of Google.

“It will be an ideas and innovation economy rather than knowledge economy,” says Future Foundation account director Judith kleine Holthaus, revealing the study finds an 81% positive correlation between collaboration and innovation across all markets. In the UK employees who are given the opportunity to collaborate at work are nearly twice as likely to have contributed new ideas to their companies.

As collaboration and innovation accelerate, thanks to new enabling technologies, elements of the HR and IT functions will integrate and HR and IT roles will shift as they adjust to the ideas economy. HR will need to ensure employees are motivated to collaborate and innovate, with the study finding that 34% of HR personnel agree they will need to learn new skills to foster a sense of corporate community and a third of chief information officers believing they will take on more responsibility for innovation in the future. Some 44% of HR managers say HR will need to have a better understanding of technology in the future.

“The HR director and IT director will have to come together,” believes Carsten Sørensen, senior lecturer in information systems and innovation at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“They will have to manage issues such as how to balance IT infrastructure, which produces better functionality and productivity, with collaborative technologies and individualisation. It is inconceivable that the future will not be more forcibly brought about by insight, knowledge and information. Nothing can stop the process of collaboration but mess and contradiction will define the resulting relationships. Organisations are not good at paradoxes.”

In the world of HR this will translate through to the culture of the business, how to incentivise and reward ideas and innovation, where and how work is performed and policies and practices around social networking.

However, the research shows that businesses need to move more quickly to create an environment that encourages innovation. While nearly half of those surveyed believe new technologies will encourage innovation in the next five years and 42% think they will change current business models, one in five employees say there is no process in place for them to contribute ideas to their employer and that their employer does not encourage them to come up with new ideas. Only one in 10 think management will be the source of ideas in the business, with nearly a third thinking other employees will bring innovation.

“The need to innovate quickly is becoming more important to business,” says Robert Whiteside, Google head of enterprise UK, Ireland and Benelux. “But while people are used to collaborating through technology in their personal life, it is more challenging to enable them to do so in business.”

If businesses don’t change, though, they will face the consequences. “Any company that does not optimise innovation will be less likely to exist in five years,” kleine Holthaus warns.

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Filed under Collaboration, Innovation