How many times have we heard this: “It’s a good idea but…” – the dreaded killer phrase? We all know them in every language. Someone is trying to diverge and another person cuts in right on top of him/her. The ideation session you are in is now severely impeded, maybe even stopped in its tracks – people raise up their guards and pull back from offering any novel ideas knowing they will get shot down. Obviously, divergence is critical to successful ideation but being skilled at convergence is also important and critical – we just must not mix them together. The ability to defer judgment is a fundamental skill.
We teach three different skills in the Simplexity System: 1) active divergence, 2) active convergence and 3) deferral of judgment. All three are critical skills to run the process. When it’s time to converge, we do it together. First, the team members don’t judge or vote. Rather they discuss and clarify to understand the ideas and then choose the best ones together. Often, a stream of exciting new ideas comes up during this initial convergence – they percolate up because the group has made a conscious effort to clarify what they are discussing.
The tool we use to ensure these three skills are utilized is called “telescoping”. So often, teamwork is dysfunctional because you have people mixing divergence/convergence at all steps of the process. They don’t realize it and they get bogged down and very unhappy. Telescoping is not the same as voting – we try to never use the “v’ word when it’s time to converge. Taking a large number of good ideas and picking the few great ones requires skill.
When someone picks an idea as being important to him/her, we need to listen why it’s important. Often others feel the same way but can’t express their thoughts as clearly or succinctly. If you have ever encountered an ideation session or even a team meeting where an idea that gets the most votes gets the go ahead, you will know what we mean. Telescoping is a clarifying converging tool – taking a big list of ideas and whittling them down to a manageable number or critical few. The tool helps us further understand each other’s views while together we shape a good idea into something really special, an idea we all can rally around and get excited about.
We would never, ever drive a car with the brakes on but we do it all the time when judging something new and different.
How many of you have been in a situation where people say, our biggest problem here is communication. What does that mean? Does it mean the phones don’t work? Does it mean we don’t speak each other’s language? People in other departments don’t care what people are doing? Senior management does not pass down clear information? People send unclear email messages – we don’t know the goals? We don’t trust each other? That’s because words like ‘communication’ are fuzzy and vague – they mean too many things to too many people.
If the words are fuzzy, the thinking is fuzzy. Here’s another classic example: somebody says the “our problem is that we need a clear business model”. Sounds great, furthermore, “we read it in the Harvard Business Review”. Does it mean: “We don’t have any idea where we’re going strategically – we don’t know what direction to go in.” or “We don’t know where we should put our money and key people, where to invest them”. These last two statements are much more specific and easier to understand than, we need a new business model. The use of simple language with basic sentence structure results in clearly defined statements anyone can easily understand. The trouble we have as adults is that we think using big words and acronyms make us look smarter, when in fact, kids are way more creative for they talk and write simply.
The next time you’re in this situation and the sixth grader just walked in – would they understand what the words say?
Research shows that effective organizations display two characteristics simultaneously: efficiency and adaptability. The efficient organization follows well-structured, stable routines to deliver its products or services in large quantities with high quality at low cost. In a stable world, efficient organizations may be successful. But in a changing world, organizations also need adaptability. While efficiency implies mastering routines, adaptability means mastering the process of deliberately changing routines.
Adaptability is a proactive process: it allows the organization to deliberately and continually change and create. It entails deliberate discontent — discovering new needs to be met and problems to be solved, finding new things to be done, and adopting new technologies and methods before the competition. Adaptability is disruptive. It requires looking outside the organization for new opportunities, problems, trends, technologies and methods that may dramatically improve or change routines or introduce completely new products and services. Adaptable organizations anticipate customer problems and develop timely solutions. They deliberately and continually change how they do things to improve quality, raise quantities, reduce costs and stay ahead of competitors.
Organizations that build concrete strategies allowing them to confidently and capably shift the balance between adaptability and efficiency will be well positioned to adapt and prosper in volatile economic times, such as today’s environment. And while the results of emphasizing adaptability may take longer to appear than the results of an emphasis on efficiency, the long-term success of the strategy can be found by looking at Japan; While decision-making in many organizations in North America is driven by the next quarter’s results, Japanese organizations tend to favor long-term planning and reporting.
We live and work in an era of rapidly accelerating change with frequent upheavals and interruptions.
Just two weeks ago, Sears Canada, a 100-year old venerable nationwide retail chain, announced it was closing all of its’ remaining stores putting 20,000+ people out of work. Everywhere we look, traditional structures are abruptly being reshaped or falling down. Many organizations that prospered during more stable times — times that rewarded routinized efficiency — now find themselves poorly adapted to today’s new economic and social realities. Moreover, once successful companies are finding that their sure-hit formulas no longer work. Long revered icons of organizational excellence have been humbled, and even bailed out of bankruptcy and imminent demise by government intervention.
Individuals, families and entire communities are finding the world shifting beneath their feet as traditional markets, industries, societal structures and sources of employment disappear. Such change is occurring under the impact of new information technologies and automation, global competition, lack of regulation of financial institutions, uncertainty about the long-term effects of climate change, transitioning to new energy sources, and a restructuring of the world economy. It is not surprising that organizations whose main virtues during previous times were predictability and reliability should find it difficult to adapt to this increasingly dynamic environment. Their employees, too, are struggling to deal with these changing times as the vast scale of change has resulted in an unprecedented need for information processing and problem solving skills. But within the scope of the challenge lies a great opportunity for the future prosperity of organizations everywhere.
Taking advantage of economic uncertainty and turbulence requires a mindset eager to embrace change and innovation and determination to benefit from it. By making a deliberate choice to incorporate an innovation process into everyday work at all levels and across all disciplines, organizations can achieve sustained competitive advantage, positive people outcomes and an inevitable change to a more innovative culture. The right thinking skills and attitudes are fundamental to drive the innovation process so we never get complacent.
This is the first of six articles that looks at “How Might we drive economic prosperity in turbulent times”. It comes from an original article written in 2013 and I still see the relevance now. I look forward to any comments and suggestions on How Might We build on people’s thoughts behind this critical issue.
Implementing as part of your job or routine is very different from implementing something that is new and unusual. Many of the implementers in the world are implementing routine things. Many of those people are doing implementation jobs and so they go off and do them and they get a good pat on the back for doing them. That’s totally different from implementing something new. It’s way more awkward to implement something new so you’ve got build skills of implementing something new which is very different from implementing something routine.
What too often happens is that good implementers say, “we know how to implement we’re just going to wing it”. So they go in and they wing this new idea and run into all kinds of unforeseen challenges. They often haven’t considered the other person, the person who’s going to take the risk. If you go into your boss and you’re going to ask him to a give you the money or help you do it on something brand new and he doesn’t know any thing about it, you just made this person really worried. You have to do a very good job of knowing what you are going to tell this person to alleviate the major concerns. The other one is that many people make other plans to implement and they just get busy with other stuff and it gets left on the shelf. We go back to implementing what we like to do versus implementing the very hard stuff – a totally different thing that requires creativity.
We talk about a “wheel within a wheel”. When you’re talking about new ideas if you look at that implementer quadrant, you put a Simplexity wheel in there and it becomes, how might we be very creative on winning acceptance and getting things done? Here is where the creativity is needed – you can’t just walk in and go do it. People are not used to doing that. They’re used to “winging it” and too often don’t see the merits of a careful action plan. “Yeah, we can do that – we do that all the time.” Well they don’t – they think they do – they don’t implement new things.
One area we see most often is leadership. The leader as a facilitator makes things easy for people, he knows the process, leads them through. A good leader is going to make sure the action plan happens when many people might be looking at their watches and want to go. In all sessions, it’s imperative to leave enough time for action planning. If you have a two-hour meeting, make sure you put in about a half an hour for action planning – don’t leave it for the last 10 minutes!
Another critical area is accountability – getting names down to make sure the people in the room are people who feel their necks are on the line, they have to get something done. Get the names up and involve these people. When the right people are involved get them to say okay, what might be done, how might we do this? Stay with the course going sideways, not going up and down. Another big problem with action planning is that it’s often the first time you get people to commit to something. This way you really learn what people are really thinking – “I’ve got to put something down but I really know my heart belongs to the other department that I’m in.” It’s so important to really test people’s practicality and really work on / are we working on / are you really committed to what you’re saying? Don’t put something down because you feel you should or you’re really not sure that it’s real what you’re committing to.
Get the calendar out – right in front of you. Everybody’s calendar comes out. OK, what is the next step – have we got that down? When are we going do it – get that down – everybody writes it out. Can everybody do it? Well, you can’t wait until everybody says yeah I could do it. The saying is – we don’t all have to be there. If we get nine out of ten or eight out of ten, let’s write it down and get moving. What happens next – when is the next one going to be? And those team meetings get nailed down right there, not left up in the air – they’re down and everybody knows that.
The more you can adhere to these two leadership and commitment principles, the better the final action will be. The leader has to be drive the bus – keep pushing and asking is it done, is it done? What can I do to get things going faster? Getting names down and all the little steps that need to be done further drives accountability. If you hit a roadblock, step in, do some fact-finding, use the process to unblock it – roadblock sessions are vital to keep moving some plans forward to implementation. They also get people involved and really excited. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your hard work result in the action plan getting done.
It all goes back to the definition of creativity – we are very firm on not having any definition of creativity. If you ask fifteen different people what animal do they think best illustrates creativity, you’re going to get 15 different answers. Playing this up further, someone likes peacocks because it has got a lot of color – someone else likes raccoons because they can solve problems. There are some people that say, well, there are people who can get things done quickly. We stay away from that. What we do is we try to educate people, that the creative process is everything and if you’re not going through the creative process, people have different skills in all of them.
Some people are really creative about implementing – it’s a tough job to implement. Some people are especially creative – think about the Apollo Thirteen crew. It took incredible creativity to solve the problem of getting back to earth with a damaged spacecraft. How about people who can really find ways to elicit new problems from people by asking questions? How about people who are all over the map and looking for new problems to solve? To them the name of the game is finding problems.
So we are very careful – we don’t distinguish between creativity and innovation – it’s a process. It’s a process that requires all four styles and we like to get people feeling good about whichever one they like best. An advertising agency one said, “It ain’t creative unless its sells.” and that’s one of the best things we’ve learned – you can have lots of ideas but that’s only part of the creative process. Another saying that we really like is, “Creativity is a implemented change.” That’s what creativity is. Unless you’ve done it, you haven’t done anything creative. The poet Keats said, “Nothing is real until it is experienced.” You can talk all you like, you can have all the ideas but it’s not real until you experience it. Like when you’re running a Simplexity session and you have people experiencing the whole process – now it’s real – now you feel it.