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.
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.
Do you change the participants? Does the methodology change when you have a constraint like a participant time crunch? Is the methodology always applied the same way for all types of problems?
As a facilitator, you take what you are given but often if you’ve got a chance to bulk up the team at the beginning, you might try to get a mix of styles. However, don’t forget, these styles are preferences not skills and a very good facilitator is someone who will take what’s there and move the group through the process. By involving people early in doing the profile to build their understanding, they get the idea that we’re supposed to be moving around the wheel, no matter whether we’re this or we’re that. Furthermore, we are going to work together to make it work knowing these are “states” not “traits” and you make it happen. If you only have a small amount of time you might find out that your team is heavy in one style versus another so you might, if you only have four hours, spend an hour on the part they they prefer to do like implementation and spend three hours on part they least prefer so you can you can make things happen your own way. By engaging the team, they will help you make it work because they understand the process.
The method does not change regardless of the problem. But you might have to “flex” the process depending on the particulars of a problem. The process remains absolutely the same, but how you make it work, how you flex it depends on the situation you’re in. You invent new tools if you have to but the process itself and all the phases remain the same. Always trust the process so the process is going to work for you. This is exactly what we teach and focus on in our Professional Innovation Advisor (PIA) program.
First of all there are two big things – one – it is fun – people love to find out something about themselves and find out that their way of solving problems is just as good as anybody else’s way. Nobody’s a genius when it comes to creativity and we all need each other.
Second, it helps to quickly introduce this crazy thing called a process. Most people in the world are not at all process oriented they are content oriented. They are all over on the implementation side so the idea that you could use a process to help you navigate your way through a complex thing like developing a new product or solving a problem makes it easy. That’s a brand new idea for most people. They are most used to thinking it’s a bolt from the blue or whatever and so now they understand there is a process – it gives you the navigator carte blanche to lead them through the process so if they’re jumping from here to there and everywhere it’s perfect for you to say are we jumping from “one-to-eight” here or “one-to-seven”. Knowing where we are in the process, using visual tools in each step, allows people to buy-in and stay the course. This becomes a language of innovation – they can ask each other “wait a second now are we optimizing” or “I thought we were still fact-finding”. “We can talk about that and we have one of our colleagues who is a great facilitator.” The idea is just because you are, let’s say, a quadrant 2 (conceptualizer), doesn’t mean that you can’t do quadrant 4 (implementer) work and vice versa – these are temporary states and they can move fluidly. We have a good colleague who gets his participants to all chant “states not traits, states not traits, states not traits” knowing that people will flow through, stay patient, buy-in to each step because they know there is a process to go through.
Would any automobile company try to build a new car without an assembly line? Just dump the parts on the factory floor and say “go to it” to the workers? Of course not. We all know that the assembly line is a necessary part of building a car that actually works.
When you think of it, the assembly line is simply a process, one that people follow to synchronize their efforts with others. Unfortunately, many organizations try to do too many things without a process.
For example, they hold meetings. Meetings are scheduled so people can use their knowledge to accomplish pretty complicated things, including:
• solve problems,
• make decisions,
• create policy,
• manage projects,
• plan strategy, and
• innovate products and procedures.
But these meetings are held without a process. Members are unable to synchronize their thinking! Such meetings end up messy and frustrating, often without results. The individual members are trying hard, but all are thinking differently at the same time, getting in each other’s way. Here are the different thoughts people might be experiencing simultaneously:
• “What a waste of time. I could fix this in a minute.”
• “I’m not sure what we are doing. My boss told me to sit in at the last minute.”
• “We need to drill down to the root cause, no matter how long it takes.”
• “I am not budging until we define what problem we are trying to solve.”
• “We need to evaluate our options and pick the best.”
• “There are a ton of problems more important than this one.”
• “Glad I went to that creativity seminar last week .The wilder my ideas, the better!”
• “I am going to play devil’s advocate on everything I hear.”
• “I wonder how we are going to pay for all of this.”
• “I know exactly what steps to take right after the meeting.”
No wonder we have a mess. Everyone is all over the map. There is no process to follow. How could we possibly expect to achieve innovative results in meetings without synchronizing our thinking?
This week’s Minsight: How might we use a consistent thinking process to synchronize everyone’s inputs and efficiently tackle a problem? The better we follow the process, the better the result.