A good friend of mine and fellow CEO, Glen Lubbert, recently asked me the question about how to get his whole organization thriving, growing, and more innovative. We were hiking St. Joseph’s hill on what turned out to be an adventuresome hail-filled day in Los Gatos, and talking about growth strategies for his firm, Mojo Interactive.
Glen said that he felt his team were holding back, leaving a part of themselves on the sideline instead of on the field. This is not an unusual sentiment to hear from creative leaders like Glen. I know from so many conversations I have with leaders of big global brands, mid-size fortune 100 firms, and the entreprenurial start-ups, that this is a central concern for most of them. And by saying this, Glen wasn’t complaining but actually showing an optimism that he knows there is MORE there, and he knows his job as a leader is to encourage it to come out.
The fundamental question was: How do we really enable this amazing talent we have on our teams to innovate on our behalf?
And I asked him a rather simple question back: how do you enable it today? Is it “hoped for” as it is for most firms, or do you have any process or system in place to encourage and incubate it?
Not unsurprisingly, shortly thereafter…Glen set about to create a process for his firm and this last week, the process took place. The rules (or guides as he calls them) and process were transparent and simple: http://www.thethinkingbench.com/2010/06/03/inspiration-collaboration-for-mojo-innovation-day/
The actual session happened last week. While I didn’t get a chance to go in-person, I got a debrief via email:
“Everyone self-organized into teams…they worked on killer ideas. We had 5 presentations including the leadership team’s project. All the staff projects focused on consumers and creating more opportunities to bring invite more patients to the program, whereas the leadership team focused on products and services to serve the paying clients and help them convert leads. I thought the difference in approaches was notable and showed a potential disconnect from the top to the bottom (air sandwich?)
They all had great ideas, many of which we had on our development parking lot (since we’ve asked their opinion before), but they fleshed out those ideas. The comments between groups about what would work and what wouldn’t work were excellent, such as: that’s a great idea but I think it’s too early vs. other projects.
A couple people also had trouble disengaging from work at first. I had to be a little forceful to say no work for 24 hours. After, I had one comment that they didn’t want to leave their task list, but after they got started, they really liked thinking about a different problem.
I kept my opinions to myself and just asked questions. The ideas were what they were, with no evaluation from me, just each other. I’m feeling good about the team co-owning these ideas move into our next phase of strategic planning next month.”
Glen is doing 3 things right that can help make his whole firm grow revenues and compete better … Ultimately, the things necessary to win markets. I think it’s a great existence proof that this is doable.
- Courage to ask. Glen is doing the thing all of us leaders can do — he is asking the question of “what should we be, what should we do to win”. He could just rely on his own ideas or that of his executive team. But his people talk to customers, go to tradeshows, pay attention and have ideas. (next time, I want to see Glen ask his customers to join in…) And, why NOT get his people engaged in figuring out what is next? He has the courage to ask, to learn, to inquire, to discover. That place of openness allows him to tap into what James Surowiecki calls the Wisdom of Crowds, and I think asking the question shows his organization that it’s okay to not know. It shows a belief that “the future is not invented by already knowing. The future is invented in the learning system.”
- Creating Ownership. Which is better for an organization: the Best (theoretical) Idea or Best Result? I know, it’s a stupid theoretical question but most of what we often do in “strategy” is aimed to solve for best idea. The predominant strategic models in use today (examples: Porter (5 forces), Christensen (Innovator’s Dilemma), or Chan (Blue Ocean)] all focus on whether our big “what” of our strategy is right. And while I use those tools and many others to do strategy creation, what I ALSO know is true value creation happens when we cross a finish line, when we ship a product, when we serve a particular market. It’s in the “ing” of strategizing rather than the strategy itself. By having his own organization think and develop ideas, then it’s not Glen telling someone to do such and such. It’s a bunch of talented, smart, creative people co-creating what needs to happen in such a way that they will make it actually happen. It shows a belief that our culture and performance system is not us/them but “we”.
- Which, creates responsibility. People take responsibility when they co-design something and think together. Execution is stuff they know how to do. It’s what Steve Jobs was eluding to this last week at all Things D when he said that at Apple (whole video here http://d8.allthingsd.com/?mod=D8180jobs), his core team spends hours thrashing out stuff together. He’s not just doing a meeting; he’s THINKING with his people so that when they all go off to do stuff, they have shaped the big picture and can own responsibility for the whole rather than just the part. By doing this innovation day at Mojo, Glen is saying: “It’s not just your part to do your job, because your part is part and parcel of the bigger whole of success….come help build that.”
I believe that what Glen did probably took some serious work — some organizing, some thinking — but at the same time, wasn’t it also ridiculously simple? This stuff of having a company be more innovative isn’t complex. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s not complex. It is intentional.
And i hope you are inspired by the story as I am. We can all turn our firm into this kind of innovation machine, and our people will become Imaginauts also.