Can Innovation Be Taught With a Children’s Story?

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Creativity, Features, Leadership On the Edge | No Comments

New PictureHow Stella Saved the Farm: A Tale about Making Innovation Happen is a delightful foray into the challenge of innovation in organizations.  From two of business’s prominent thought leaders, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, this short read tells a compelling story, a la Orwell’s Animal Farm, about a once successful farm that needs to reinvent itself in the face of intense competitive threats. Sounds like an everyman’s story these days, doesn’t it?

The authors touch on the common and key challenges that any new product or service effort faces in an organization. Resistance to new ideas, territorial behavior, departmental feelings of superiority, premature judgments, and so on. In a very simple way, they manage to paint a vivid picture of a treacherous innovation landscape using dry humor to keep the story light and fast paced.  It’s refreshing to see a pair of serious academics present their research and experience in a genre akin to a children’s story.

At the end of the book the authors provide a useful set of questions that help you draw broader and deeper conclusions about your own innovation efforts and challenges.  And then they offer their important lessons.  These lessons are based on the authors’ deep research and experience and lead-in nicely to their in-depth leadership book, The Other Side of Innovation:  Solving the Executive Challenge.

Proactive leaders will resonate with the context and subtext of How Stella Saved the Farm. Reading between the lines, you’ll gain a greater appreciation as to why a pragmatic, disciplined focus on execution and getting things done is at the core of successful innovation.  The book shows that by managing the micro-politics and diverse relationships within an organization can be the difference between “betting the farm” and “saving the farm.” As the authors say, “in any great innovation story, the idea is only the beginning.”

Don’t expect this book to solve all your innovation problems. Think about it as an innovation story that everyone in your organization can understand and follow. You don’t need an MBA, nor would you even need to have majored in business to understand the challenges and situation that Windsor Farm faces. Use it exactly as what it is — a metaphor for helping people in your organization understand the challenges of innovation and to understand the different perspectives that exist in a changing environment.

What are you Seeing?

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Features, Managerial Competence, Political Competence | No Comments

lensPerhaps the most powerful sense we have in business is our ability to see.  By observing our products in action, our customer’s habits, and our supply chain and vender’s facilities we get a huge breadth and depth of information.  Arguably, seeing how your business works provides you with the most control over how you interpret the information you are presented with.

Yet how many of us spend the majority of our days holed up in our offices, sitting in meetings, and waiting around in conference rooms? Even when were active we’re probably running to catch the right train or hurrying to get home by a certain time.

You can always monitor interactions and relationships from your office in part, but how can you expand your view of business opportunities?  Can you really make good decisions when you rarely see your customers shop for and experience your product or service?  Can you generate “out-of-the-box” growth opportunities when most of your time is spent “inside your box?”

Is your world view unnecessarily limited because you are not seeing the world?  It is so easy for us — from entrepreneurs to corporate executives to professional service people — to fall into this routine. And it can be stifling your organization.

Designers and other creatives understand this more than anyone. Indeed, the very best creative people “see everything” and are constantly looking at everything. They know that through their eyes will come their next big idea or inspiration.   They have a sense that the more they see and the broader they see, the more they can inspiration they can tap into for future projects.

Managers, executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals need to adopt this mindset to be effective and innovative in today’s environment. You need to see more. You need to look wider.  And you need to look deeper. Your sense of sight will transform you, your organization, and, perhaps, your industry. If you remain planted in your Aeron chair (itself a product created by several very talented leaders who used their observations to create an innovative seat for the modern worker) you will never be able to grow, learn, or change.

This week do yourself and your organization a favor. Step out of the office.  Go someplace you haven’t been. Go see your customers or products in action. Go observe something new and really consider it. Keep those observations in the front or back of your mind. Do it the following week and see how it changes the way you lead.

Picture cred: Andrestand

Are You Acting Like the Victim of Your Customers?

By | Features, Managerial Competence, Political Competence | No Comments

victimYour organization’s growth will be built on a combination of attracting new customers and growing business with your existing customer base.

If you have large, corporate customers sometimes that can feel daunting. Their huge size, relative to yours, may keep you feeling vulnerable. Culturally, the big fellas do things differently. They often have highly structured rigid processes, stringent quality control requirements, and policies that seem to control what you can and cannot do. These large customers often change the way you do business. Sometimes they change the way you like to do business.

It’s common for you or your salespeople to feel overwhelmed by your largest customers. Though they make your financials look good, their value can easily get lost when day-to-day demands and inevitable problems arise from the delivery of your products or services.

As a leader you have to choose the frame with which you talk about your largest customers.  To what extent do you frame your firm as the beneficiary of your largest customers?  And to what extent do you frame your firm as the “victim” of the corporate behemoth?  The answer could be the difference between a long-term and growing business relationship and the need to search for a new source of revenue.

It is easy to fall into the trap of framing your firm as the victim of your largest customers. You use phrases like, “they made us do it this way.”  Or, “they took advantage of us with that deduction.” Or, “their inflexibility is killing us.” These are the kind of comments that begin to frame your client relationship with a “victim’s” perspective.

In an odd way, playing the victim is seductive. Your people in the trenches are usually happy to commiserate about the tribulations they go through to sell and service the big customers. You’ll almost always find an audience eager to listen to your complaints (“at least the boss isn’t complaining about me!”).

If you haven’t been judicious about your use of the victim frame, this may become the de facto attitude that your team adopts. Once that takes hold, an unproductive spiral can begin. Slowly…or not so slowly…the victim attitude seeps its way into your relationships with your customers. Over time, customer relationships can become contentious, your responsiveness erodes, and pretty soon your staff acts as if they are somehow entitled to your customer’s business.

It’s only a matter of time before a competitor comes in and takes the business from you.
Your positive leadership actions can nip the destructive victim cycle in the bud. You need to constantly act as if you are the beneficiary of your customers.

You must encourage and use proactive language.  Employ comments like, “they’ve (your client) helped us grow to where we are today.” And “their requirements may actually help us improve our processes and help us attract other large customers.”

You get the idea.

This doesn’t mean that you put a moratorium on complaints.  Sometimes complaining can release tension, especially if everyone can share a (temporary) source of frustration. But it does mean that when those complaints surface, help your team deal with demanding and persnickety clients. Keep reminding them of the value that these large customers bring to your organization. You want your staff to nurture and deepen customer relationships, not whine about them constantly.

You want a virtuous cycle to take hold. One where you can reap the benefits of improved  customer relations and increased sales. As you look around at your organization’s network of customer relationships, ask yourself: “When I talk with my sales and service teams, am I framing our organization as a victim of our customers or as a beneficiary of our customers?”  Your answer may provide the key to your future growth and your success as a leader.

Why Infographics are an Important Leadership Tool

By | Features, Managerial Competence, Political Competence, Social Media | One Comment

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You can’t look at a magazine, a newspaper, a Web site, or a TV channel without coming across infographics. USA Today is acknowledged as a pioneer of the widespread use of infographics – in the lower left-hand corner of each of their sections. Today, infographics have become an art form, of sorts. They’re also becoming a valuable tool for leaders.

To put infographics in context, think about the road/highway metaphors we routinely use to communicate our goals and describe our progress. We develop strategy “road maps.” We hope to “drive results.” We try our hardest to avoid “blind spots.” And we either “step on the gas” or “put the brakes” on our projects.

But the most useful tool on the road, road signs, have not been part of a leader’s vocabulary—but that may be changing. Infographics may well become the leader’s road signs en route to success.

Infographics can help you quickly get your point across with visuals. It’s an engaging medium of communication and helps focus large, abstract, and complicated ideas and concepts.

Here are four reasons why infographics are efficient, helpful, and quick tools to help you engage and communicate with not only those you employ, but also clients.

1. Learning styles are different – words and numbers alone do not reach everyone

Some people like reading dense pages of text. They like details and don’t mind thumbing through binders of notes and numbers. But most don’t have the time for concentrated study. An increasing majority prefer to scan infographics because they communicate an idea with speed.

Infographics help you communicate with a wide audience that doesn’t have the time to root through long texts. Better yet, infographics are an important tool for reaching out to visual learners.

2. You need to simplify your key points to engage

With social media, mobile devices, and online distractions it’s harder than ever to engage people with your ideas. Even your own people.

A good infographic captures attention because it’s easily digestible, arresting, and informative. Like a great road sign, a great infographic can instantly communicate a point. By grabbing your colleague’s attention it can buy you enough time to discuss your idea further.

3. Great infographics have a depth of information behind them…and force you to think deeply

Just because an infographic usually only contains a few words, inhabits a small space, and doesn’t illustrate a lot of data, it doesn’t mean that it is intellectually light. On the contrary, a good infographic often tells a rich, deep story that’s been painstakingly distilled into a compelling image, words, and numbers.

Infographics, though appearing simple, often require more thought and work to compose than a long memo, plan, or report. Condensing, isolating, and conveying key data points in an attractive, concise way is an intellectual and creative challenge.

But there’s a big payoff. You are forced to simplify your story and your peers will understand your idea with minimal effort. Sounds like a win-win, right?

4. The best info-graphics tell stories

Your initiative, indeed, any organizational effort, is a story. A story that needs to be told and retold. A great infographic tells a story with clarity and precision. It is not simply a smattering of images, words, and numbers that look good when you add some design elements. A great info-graphic is a highly integrated collection of content that tells an important narrative. Done well, it can be an effective storytelling tool highlighting progress, change, development, and thought.

Conclusion

As you plan your next initiative consider creating an infographic to build awareness and a wide degree of support. Infographics may take extra effort to create, but they will take little effort to be understood by many people. By creating infographics you are creating road signs for your team and organization that will drive people toward common goals and projects.