Posts tagged ‘Knowledge Management’

September 5, 2012

Innovation Management


Some of the most innovative companies have sabbaticals as part of their employee development program, or empower employees to work on projects of their own, next to their daily tasks. Could it be that this makes happier co-workers, hence a better, more innovative company?

, former Head of Innovation at Sony Ericsson Mobile, explores in her article posted on Innovation Management,  the reasons why these benefit the way our brain works.

Can an organization be too customer oriented? What are the consequences of letting short term requirements of existing customers cannibalize the exploration of your own an agenda? How can a sense of meaning be reinstalled in disillusioned development organizations? Read Susanna’s latest blog post to find out.

Some time ago I had lunch with a friend. She and her husband had just returned from a short sabbatical. His passion is wine and wine making and when an opportunity to go and work at a winery appeared they grabbed it. When talking about the experience my friend admitted that she had done it mostly for his sake even though she had enjoyed some of it too. That led to us exchanging thoughts about our passions, our interests outside “the musts” with work and family and we were both unsure of what we would pursue. In addition, we both admitted some false comfort in using our spouses interests as an excuse to feel overly responsible for food and family instead of taking the time to find and develop a true hobby. We were both jealous of our spouses though, feeling that a part of us was dissatisfied.

Interestingly enough, I have found similar behavior at some of the companies I work with. Development departments claim to be customer driven and market orientated on one hand and on the other hand they’re frustrated about not creating enough innovation, using all available time to try to catch up an ever growing list of demands of product development and sales, aka customers, even testifying a sense of disillusion amongst co-workers. They say that they are stuck in not having enough resources, wanting to but not knowing how to act differently, knowing that the brainpower is there but is not reflected in the results.

Could it be, I wonder, that they, just as my friend and I also feel some comfort in this? After all, being a victim of circumstances is quite nice. Blame circumstances instead of taking accountability for ones behaviors and decisions. Is it not easier to put oneself into the hands of somebody else, a customer or a partner and let them decide what you should do instead of going into an uncertain and sometimes ambiguous process of exploring what it is that they as an organization or I as a person really want?

How do you know it’s the right ladder if you always have somebody else to decide which to climb?

Research shows that the amount of happiness co-workers experience at work is correlated to creativity and the capability to innovate – the happier the more creative and the better innovation. And as it turns out, one of the two factors (the other one being relationships) that heavily influences the happiness level is results: the feeling of making a difference, of creating meaning. Of going home knowing that a good day of work was done. Stephen Covey (author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) compares being successful (or rather having a career) to climbing a ladder, emphasizing the importance to climbing the right one in order to create meaningful results. So I ask: How do you know it’s the right ladder if you always have somebody else to decide which to climb? If all you do is try to satisfy existing customers and never explore your own ideas.

Short term it may be comforting to have someone else making the decisions for you, but experience tells me that you’re only prolonging the issue of figuring how to make meaning, hoping to avoid dealing with it by using the “somebody else” as a shield of false protection. The price is loosing the sense of meaning since the only thing you do is carry out someone else’s ideas, not your own. No meaning, no happiness. No happiness, no creativity nor innovation. As simple as that.

It is a big mistake to let customer requirements take over at the expense of an agenda of ones own.

You may think that I am pushing things a bit here, but I believe that we as human beings create our organizations, not squares in a Powerpoint presentation. If we are dissatisfied or have lost the sense of doing something meaningful then that will be the state of our organizations as well. I do not argue against customer orientation. But what I see is a deeply unbalanced situation. It is a big mistake to let customer requirements take over at the expense of an agenda of ones own. In many companies the development department is the heart of the innovation activities. It consists of highly skilled engineers with advanced thoughts on where to go in the future and great ideas supporting those thoughts. But if they never get to explore their own ideas at the expense of constantly doing incremental innovation for existing customers then they loose the sense of meaning.

So I say to all of you who want to increase the level of innovation: make sure to have an agenda of your own, a few development projects and activities independent of customer demands. It will add to the sense of creating meaning and allow you to feel complete ownership of an idea or a project. And let your employees and co-workers explore their talents in a way that completes managing daily life and short term issues.

As for myself, I decided to consciously set aside time this summer to pursue one of my interests, kicking it of by watching the documentary of el Bulli (“Cooking in action”). I have chopped, fried, cooked and baked, not because I had to, but only but because I wanted to. It felt great.

By Susanna Bill

About the author

Susanna is the former Head of Innovation at Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications. In 2009 she founded Sustenance AB and since then shares her time between advising corporate leaders in how to make innovation happen by strengthening the innovation capabilities of their organizations, and pursuing a PhD at the department of Design Sciences at Lund University, focusing on the social processes that are beneficial for the innovation capabilities of self organizing teams. Susanna is a sought after speaker and panelist and the moderator of Innovation in Mind conference.

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March 6, 2012

Leadership and curiosity: how curious are you?


Have you ever noticed how the best leaders also tend to be the most curious leaders? Great leaders simply aren’t satisfied with what they know. They possess an insatiable curiosity for discovery and learning – they are in constant pursuit of what they don’t know, and what lies ahead. Real leaders are not nearly as concerned with attainment (stasis) as they are with betterment (change). Since the dawn of time the world has been shaped by leaders who understand that curiosity is the gateway to the future. So my question is this –

How curious are you?

Among many other things, curiosity helps frame vision, advances learning, fuels passion, and drives innovation. Curiosity often inspires the courage to discuss the undiscussable, challenge current thinking, deviate from behaviors accepted as normal, and to do what others previously thought impossible. The best leaders understand that usual and customary are not necessarily synonymous with healthy and thriving. The real key to curiosity begins with an open mind – a recognition that those who think differently aren’t inferior, nor are they a threat. An open mind is a sign of confidence which allows leaders to recognize diversity of opinion leads to better thinking and better outcomes.

Here’s where I’m going to throw you a curve ball – while great leaders tend to spend most of their time being externally focused, I want you to turn your curiosity inward and become introspective for a few moments. It was Socrates who said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When was the last time you did some serious self-examination on how your curiosity, or the lack thereof, is impacting your ability to function as a leader? Be curious enough to answer the following four questions about yourself:

1. Are you making a difference?

Why should anyone be led by you? Great leaders answer this question with their actions on a daily basis. If you’re not making a difference, you’re not leading. If your actions are not directly contributing to the betterment of those you lead, then you need to become curious about how to make some very real and meaningful changes.

2. Are you growing?

If you’re not growing as a person and as a leader, then it’s very likely those under your charge are following your lead. I’ve often said it’s impossible for a leader who is not growing to lead a growing organization. Nobody is too busy to learn. In fact, you don’t have the time not to learn. Leaders who don’t value learning will quickly be replaced by those who do.

3. Is your curiosity starting conversations, or your lack thereof shutting them down?

If your ego is messaging you have all the answers, and that your way is the only way, then why would anyone ever be inspired to pursue change and innovation? A leader who doesn’t encourage others to challenge their thinking isn’t a leader – they’re a dictator. Dictators suppress individual thought and new ideas, while leaders encourage it at all costs.

4. Is your curiosity attracting talent, or your lack thereof chasing it away?

A leader’s ability to seek out and embrace new ideas will serve as a magnet for attracting the best talent. The best talent desires to be a part of a culture that encourages contribution rather than stifling it. If you’re the leader who looks around the organization and asks “why can’t we attract better talent?” it’s because you value a compliant workforce more than a talented workforce. Real leaders don’t care who is right, they care about what is right – never forget this.

Bottom line – don’t settle for what is, use your curiosity to think what if? and seek out what can be. Thoughts? I’m curious…