Quest for the elusive Innovation Framework

Premise:

I have read countless blog posts, wrote a few myself, watched videos, did innovation courses, read books on innovation, all in the quest to learn what makes innovation happen and if there is a way to institutionalize innovation. While there are people who claim that they can do so, I have come to the decision that it is an elusive quest, one that we may never be able to complete.

Innovation and Parenting:

As is usual, when I was taking a walk post lunch today, I was thinking about innovation and if there is a way to institutionalize it. I then realised that the process of innovation is very similar to parenting.

As parents, we want our children to do well in life and turn out to be good citizens. We try to create the right environment for our children to grow in, take care of them, ensure that they develop the right habits, send them to good schools so they learn well, coach them, get them to sports events, music classes, etc. We do this in the hope that they can find their passions and build their lives around these passions.

As leaders, we do very similar things to foster innovation. We try and create the right environment, help build the right practices, employ the right frameworks, bring in external experts to help our teams. We send our teams to conferences, to workshops and creative retreats, all in the hope that they learn something and can come up with interesting breakthroughs.

However, just like parents we can’t guarantee that every one of our children will turn out to be good citizens and a successful professional, we as leaders can’t guarantee that any of this will result in a successful product.

We have seen siblings grow up in the same home, with the same parents, under the same conditions, yet turn out to be very different from each other. So can two different products being developed by the same team under the same conditions, using the same processes and frameworks can have different results when it comes to success.

There are times when we have children growing in tough conditions go on to become really great men. There are times when we can see that products that were developed in not so great conditions for innovation go on to become extremely successful.

In Conclusion:

Realising this, I believe that just like we as parents can’t fully control the destiny of our children but only control what we can (teach them good habits, give them a good loving, caring environment, teach them well, allow them to make their own mistakes and learn) and hope that they go out in the world and do well; as leaders responsible for innovation should do the same (help our teams build good habits, allow them to make their mistakes & learn from them, give them a good loving, caring environment, let them learn well, etc) and hope that they come up with interesting and successful products.

There is no institutionalizing of innovation. So, instead of spending our time to find this ever elusive framework, it is better for us to behave like parents and allow our teams to innovate, in their very own pace and using a framework, the one that works for them. And see magic happening.

PS: This post is in part inspired by a book that I have read by Prashun Dutta (https://in.sagepub.com/en-in/sas/systems-thinking-for-effective-managers/book259327).

Seeds of success

Premise:

After the hustle bustle and the celebrations of the new year, we are now entering the time of the year, which is fraught with opportunities and dangers in equal measures. This is the time to celebrate the past year, the peaks we scaled and give a pat on our backs for all that hard work. I am sure every team does that. This is also the time to reflect at the valley’s we encountered in the past year and think about the reasons we ended up in there. And think about what did we do get ourselves out of that situation. And analyse what worked and what didn’t. And why? This is the time to do reflections and learn from our past actions – both that led us on the path to success and that which made us dig a hole for ourselves.

Analyse why we succeeded:

The first set of analysis needs to be about our successes. We can use the following framework that can help us analyse our successes:

  • What did we do that produced the best results? Why did we decide to take that action? When we took that decision, did we expect this kind of result? Why?
  • How much of the success was due to our planning and execution of the plan? How much was it due to course corrections made while executing the plan?
  • How much was it luck? If we got lucky, what did we do to get lucky? What would have happened if we didn’t get lucky? Would we have still had a good year?
  • What can we learn from these successes? How can they help us plan the upcoming year?

Analyse why we failed:

The next set of analysis needs to be about our failures. We can use the following questions that can help us analyse our failures:

  • What did we do that produced the biggest failures? Why did we decide to do these activities? What were the assumptions behind the decision? Which one of them were flawed? Why did we make this assumption?
  • How much of the failure was due to poor planning or execution of the plan? Where did we go wrong? Why? How can we ensure we don’t make the same mistakes again?
  • How much of it was luck? IF we were unlucky, is there something that we could have done differently to avoid this?
  • What have we learnt from these failures? How can these lessons help us plan the upcoming year?

Plan the year ahead:

Based on the learning from the analysis of failure and success and the goals that we need to achieve in the upcoming year, we need to work with the team to come up with a plan that builds on the strengths, compensates for the weaknesses and has the potential to succeed. The one thing that would help us really well, going forward is to document the assumptions that we are making while creating the plan. This will help us course correct as soon as we see that our assumptions no longer hold true.

Every tree sprouts from a seed. A seed that has all the information that is necessary information that it needs to grow into a healthy tree. All it needs is the right environment and some care for it to grow into a tree.

So it is with every team. The seed that will allow us to grow, which has all the necessary information is the past performance and learnings from the same. Once we have this, all we need is the right environment and some care to sprout into a successful year ahead.

Cultivating the Right environment:

Have the right environment that can aid the team to plan well, execute the plan and find its success is the responsibility of the leaders. We need to make the environment that is conducive for the team to execute the plan well.

  • We need to remove roadblocks (don’t allow bad behaviour in the team, shield them from the pressure from above, help them navigate organisational politics & bureaucracy, coach the team members based on their individual needs, etc) to the teams’ success.
  • We need to pave the way for their success by ensuring that everyone is constantly learning {from their actions, from others actions and some new skills}, are constantly being challenged {giving them the right level of stretch goals, finding projects that can allow them to strengthen a core skill that they need to develop, etc} and are constantly evolving their own leadership skills {personal or organisational, depending upon what they want to become}.

In conclusion:

Once we do our jobs as leaders and provide the right environment, the right plan, the chances that the team does well is really high.

We reap what we sow. This is the time for us to sow the seeds of success so we can reap success at the end of the year…

Here is wishing you all a great planning season and a rock star performance for 2018!

 

 

10 Lessons in Leadership from Amitabh Bachchan’s first movie – Saat Hindustani

Premise:

I have always been wanting to watch Amitabh Bachchan‘s first movie – Saat Hindustani (7 Indians). The story of the movie is how a band of 7 Soldiers wreak havoc in Portuguese occupied Goa and show to the Goans that they are also a part of India and that India had not forgotten their Goan siblings in their fight for freedom.

As I watched the film, I could not notice but see a few things that we can all learn from. I would like to share the same here:

The movie starts off with a large group of Indian satyagrahi’s (freedom fighters) trying to make their way into Goa but are cut off by the Goan army in every one of their attempts. So, the leader decides to send 6 people to carry out a mission and asks for volunteers.

He clearly lays out the argument as to why this is important. He then also clearly indicates that there is a good chance that the people who will volunteer may not come back alive at all. They are not only able to get through but also succeed in their mission.

Lesson 1: Small teams with purpose almost always will win against large teams.

Once he has his volunteers, he gets them onto a rigorous training regimen so they can learn to overpower anyone without having to kill them. As satyagrahis’s, they are supposed to be using non-violent means to fight for freedom. This initial training keeps them in good stead in all their missions.

Lesson 2: Training & team discipline is crucial.

Lesson 3: Clearly defined boundaries help teams execute better.

One very interesting thing that the leader does at the start of the mission is to say that there is will not be a single leader for the mission. Everyday, one of them will get to lead the mission and that everyone else needs to follow the leader and his/her instructions. What this does is it makes everyone feel empowered and understand the burden of leadership and decision-making under duress. This makes the team strong and everyone a leader.

Lesson 4: Everyone in the team is a potential leader and needs to be treated as such.

The six people who volunteer are all from different parts of the country, from different professions, practicing different religions and very different temperaments, strengths and weaknesses. Each one of their strengths comes to play at some point in time.

Lesson 5: Diversity matters.

The seventh Indian is a lady from Goa who meets the rest of the 6 satyagrahi’s once they enter Goa. She knows the topography of the region where they need to execute their missions. She knows the local language. She has the support of the locals, everywhere they go.

Lesson 6: Intimate knowledge of your battle field is critical.

If we don’t have it in our team, we need to bring in someone who has that knowledge. We can either hire them permanently or partner with someone.

The seven Indians are able to take the mighty Portuguese police by surprise through planning and being open to serendipitous opportunities that present themselves. They are able to hoist the Indian flags at 7 police stations manned by the Portuguese police.

Lesson 7: When taking on a big, entrenched player, being nimble and opportunistic works best.

Lesson 8: Symbolism works. This is the reason why national flags & badges still work. Create a symbol that stands for your cause.

At the start the diversity among the 7 Indians leads to stereotyping, chaos and conflict. However, then the team goes through trying times, they are able to come together and become one unit. There is one person in the team who takes initiative to release the tension every time there is a conflict.

Lesson 9: You need someone in the team who can deal with conflict and release tension, which is inevitable in a diverse team.

The movie starts with the same 7 Indians having become disillusioned with the freedom struggle and in some cases, even harbouring anger against each other. Then the story of the past unfolds.

Lesson 10: Team culture can change for the worse anytime if not maintained.

Once we start seeing success, it is quite possible that the team culture can change dramatically. Addition of new people, old people leaving, some people getting promoted or moved to different positions, can all have a telling impact on the culture if care is not taken to continue to maintain the culture that we worked hard to build.

In Conclusion:

I can only say that when I decided to watch the movie, it was due to the fact that I adore the actor and I always wanted to see the first performance of an actor who will rule the Indian cinema for almost 5 decades. I could already see the spark and the potential in his performance and i loved it. These lessons in leadership was a gift that i had not anticipated.

You can watch the full movie here if you want:

In Diversity, We Trust

Premise:

There is a lot of talk about the importance of building diversity in our workforce and how it is to be considered as an investment in top talent, new ideas, and better connections.

Then there is a lot of talk about integrating millennials in our workforce and giving them a lot of exposure and opportunities to bring in their perspective to the business.

Both of these are great thoughts and in principle sound extremely sound ideas to implement. However, most organisations need to be careful about how they go about implementing these within their organisations.

The first question we need to ask ourselves is the following:

What do we mean by workforce diversity?

Is it diversity based on physical traits like gender, race, age?

Is it diversity based on educational qualification or experience?

Is it diversity based on any other attribute?

I believe that there are three kinds of diversity that we need to bring in our workforce to truly reap all the benefits of diversity.

Diversity of Physical Traits:

It is important to have diverse workforce based on their physical attributes. People of different ages, races, genders think differently and bring in their perspectives to play. This is also an easy way to build diversity in the workforce as it is easy to see the composition of our workforce and see where we lack and then go about filling the gap. This is also the most basic kind of diversity which brings in some amount of benefit but if we stop here, we are only scratching the surface when it comes to how much we can benefit from diversity.

Diversity of Thought:

While diverse people from different cultures, races and genders do bring in some amount of diversity of thought, we need to be constantly on the look out for group-think and ways to counter the same.

It is ok to have people who look very similar to each other but their approach to problem solving or challenging situations is very different. We need people who are good at big picture thinking,  people who can execute anything that they put their mind to and connectors who can connect and keep both the kind of people working together.

Diversity of Experience:

We need people who have different experiences. When I say, experiences, i don’t necessarily just mean work experiences. It could be varied experiences like for example someone who loves the outdoors and is passionate about sports, someone who loves reading books, someone who loves meeting new people, someone who loves adventure sports, someone who loves cooking, someone who loves watching movies, all working together in a team, someone who has travelled a lot, etc.

You get the drift. Each one of these experiences and passions teaches them different things and these experiences can come in play when you are need diverse ideas and thinking.

Chaos and Conflicts:

Having a truly diverse workforce means that there will be a lot of tension within the organisation. What this means is that we need two things to be put in place as quickly as possible:

We need to have managers who have high Emotional Intelligence and are able to deal with the conflicts and chaos as they arise, and arise they will. In addition to that they need to be able to able to create this tension, when needed to benefit from the diversity of thought.

We also need to build a culture where people expect these tensions. A part of doing that is to have a clearly defined mechanism to deal with this tension that builds up in the organisation.

If this mechanism to resolve the tension breaks down or we don’t have managers who can’t deal with the conflicts and tensions, all hell breaks loose in an organisation that has significant diversity. . It is important that everyone knows and understands this process clearly and buy-in to the process completely.

Maintaining Diversity:

As with everything else in life, things tend to continuously change. So, will your workforce with time and experience of working in your organisation. Typically, they will learn what works, what doesn’t; what kind of behaviour gets rewarded and what kind doesn’t. This will tend to push people to adopt the kind of behaviour that gets rewarded. This in turn will lead to the erosion of diversity, at all levels, thereby bringing in group think. As leaders it is our responsibility to be aware of this tendency and to be intentional about maintaining diversity at every level and dimension. We can do this by building a culture where it is not  only fine to have a differing opinion but encouraged to have these differences in certain phases

In Conclusion:

While a diverse workforce can be a great strength, it can also lead to situations which, if not managed well, can signal trouble. So, it is important to ensure that we know what we are getting into. It is important to not just bring in the diversity but also to maintain the diversity, at all levels.