Innovation

I ended last week immersed in an intensive two-day extended conversation with about 65 really smart workplace designers, real estate executives, facility management professionals, architects, consultants, and HR/leadership experts.

I was a participant, a presenter, and a co-designer of the first innovation workshop that brought together the Workplace Evolutionaries (WE) and the Real Estate and Advisory Leadership (REAL) communities within IFMA (the International Facilities Management Association). The workshop was hosted by Nike at its Tiger Woods Conference Center in Beaverton, Oregon.

There is no simple way to summarize the many presentations, conversations, and working sessions that engaged and excited all of us. [click to continue…]

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Telescope_to_RightHow many times have you completed a strategic planning exercise, or a visioning effort, with high energy, high hopes, and exuberant optimism that the effort will finally – finally! – produce meaningful change, only to see everything evaporate in the face of organizational resistance and/or apathy?

Achieving lasting and meaningful change in large organizations often feels impossible. It’s like Sisyphus rolling that boulder up the mountain, only to see it cascading back down to the valley, and having to start pushing it uphill all over again – and again, and again.

If that’s your experience, considering organizing a Future Search Conference. It’s one of the best ways I know for getting that boulder to stay at the top of the mountain.

The approach was invented/developed by Marvin Weisbord and several colleagues in the early 1990’s. It is documented, with plenty of tips and techniques along with several very compelling case examples, in Future Search: Getting the Whole System in the Room for Vision, Commitment, and Action, by Weisbord and Sandra Janoff. [click to continue…]

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As someone who thinks a lot about the future (and in particular about the future of work), I often remind my clients that in fact the future doesn’t actually exist. We all imagine what the future will be like, or what we want it to be like. But of course we can live only in the present – in the moment. That’s the very nature of existence.

But that reality is what makes life so exciting. We, all of us together, create the future every moment of every day. The actions we take, and the choices we make, add up to what tomorrow will be.

Yet in a world where so many things seem so uncertain, it often seems futile to make any effort at all to predict the future. The future is not only hazy and difficult to anticipate, it can feel chaotic, uncertain, and downright mysterious. How often have you just thrown up your hands in frustration and refused to spend any time at all thinking about tomorrow? [click to continue…]

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What? WaLet's do something wrong handwritten designit a minute! Is that a typo? Am I encouraging you to do good things badly?

No, it’s not a typo. And I am definitely not calling for making mistakes on purpose.

Let me explain. I’ve just returned from the annual Winter Conference of the National Speakers Association, of which I am a proud member.

I spent the last three days with about 300 other professional speakers in Austin, Texas. The entire conference was devoted to learning, growth, innovation, reinvention, and change (and we managed to Keep Austin Weird – that wasn’t hard for us to accomplish). Special kudos to conference c0-chairs Gary Rifkin, CSP, Cavett Award, and Christie Ward, CSP. It was an incredible program. [click to continue…]

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Happy new year's puppy.

It’s that time of year; all of us are focusing on the future and defining new goals for the new year. If you are like me you want to use the start of the year as a platform for raising your sights and becoming more successful, more likable, healthier, and better looking (might as well include that while we’re at it).

But if you are like most people, a month from now you will probably be discouraged, depressed, and angry at how you’ve failed once again to achieve those lofty goals. Committing to and then not achieving New Year’s resolutions has become a rather unpleasant annual ritual.

Well, I have one overarching resolution this year (which I fully intend to accomplish):  it is not to make resolutions I won’t achieve. This year I’m focusing on being realistic; for me, getting half a loaf (or even a single slice of bread) is a whole lot better than going for the whole thing and ending up with nothing. [click to continue…]

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Goldfish jumping out of bowlThe best definition I’ve ever heard of effective leadership goes like this:

“A good leader doesn’t make people do what he (or she) wants; a good leader makes others want what (s)he wants.”

In other words, leadership is about engaging people’s hearts even more than their minds. If your staff shares your vision of what’s possible, understands why what’s possible is desirable, and shares your desire to make that vision come alive, they’ll do what they need to do to make it happen.

That all sounds good. However, in my experience that’s only the beginning. [click to continue…]

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Labor Day signLabor Day in the United States honors the American labor movement and the contributions to our economic and social well-being made by millions of American workers. It has also become a marker of the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Most of us are now moving past vacations and casual work hours to a more serious and focused time at work.

I want to use this occasion to reflect on how work itself has changed, and in particular to call for a new kind of leadership that values collaboration, diversity, and mutual respect 365 days a year, not just on one national holiday.

As I have noted many times in the past, the Gallup organization reports that only about 30% of workers in the United States today are positively engaged ( State of the American Workplace) . The low or negative engagement of the other 70% is costing U.S. companies more than half a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity (and the numbers are even worse outside the United States).

Engagement is somewhat similar to job satisfaction and motivation, but it is a more intense state of mind. People who are engaged with their work and their employer typically work harder, are more productive, and feel more accomplished than those who are neutral or actively disengaged.

I am convinced that the “Command-and-Control” mindset of most senior executives, which remains prevalent in most organizations, is the primary reason we have such low levels of employee engagement and such high levels of employee turnover.

Too many leaders still see their job as directing the activities of their subordinates, not as drawing out (and benefiting from) the incredible diversity of skills, experiences, and ideas that those people have to offer.

Think about this for a moment: when you were in college did your professor ever tell you where to read the homework assignment or what time to write the term paper? No, of course not. There were classes you could choose to attend, and there was an exam, but other than that, you were treated as a responsible adult fully capable of making your own choices about where, when, and how to study.

Some of us misused that freedom and blew off some of our classes or even entire courses. But most of us learned how to make the choices that gave us both a good time and a good education.

Then what happens when newly-hired recruits walk into a corporation? They’re told in so many words, “Be in that seat at 8:30 AM and stay there until 5:30 PM – and in the meantime, be creative.”

The industrial model of organization that we all know and grew up with (and most of us are still living in) was based on “Command and Control.” During the industrial revolution managers were understandably excited about the newly-invented steam engine and all kinds of other machines, which were very precise and efficient instruments that did the same things over and over and over again, and did them very well. The Industrial Age was all about mass production.

The parts of those machines had to fit together exactly and operate reliably; and we designed bureaucratic organizations to do the same thing. The underlying assumption was that the best way to get work done was to divide it up into small, controllable tasks, separate those tasks, and train the workers to be specialists – to be very good at doing one thing over and over again. The job of the manager then was to coordinate all of those separate tasks – and to make sure people did what they were told to do.

That model may have been very appropriate for the industrial economy, and it is still important for some businesses. We do not want the head of a nuclear power plant or an automobile assembly line saying, “Just keep the place operating 24×7, and figure out for yourself how to do it.”

But Command and Control is the wrong way to manage creative talent and generate innovation.. We need a new kind of 21st-century leadership that blends the capabilities that every single individual brings to the workplace every single day.

Team CollaborationThe economy in 2015 is based on mass collaboration, not mass production (thanks to author Rod Collins for that insight). We need leaders who know how to engage well-educated, independent knowledge workers, and to turn our individual intelligences into a collective intelligence.

Let’s honor labor this year, and every year, by offering people opportunities to express themselves, and to apply their experiences and insights to the big challenges of our time. In my humble opinion, that’s by far the best way to engage them, and to produce value in an economy driven by knowledge and innovation.


Contact me for a free one-hour consultation about how you can design and lead corporate conversations that engage your staff, leverage their innate talents, and generate mass collaboration.


 

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Once Upon A Time

Last week I raised the question (and answered it) “Why are there so many bad meetings?” This week I focus more on the positive:  what good meetings feel like, and how some organizations are working to not only enhance meeting experiences but also to make meetings more effective and meaningful.

Recently a friend told me about how one clothing company has developed a culture of storytelling that dramatically affects the way its meetings work.

According to Mary, a director of workplace strategy at that company, its meetings are filled with storytelling, and the presentations are heavily image-based, with a minimum of words on the individual slides. So instead of boring bullet points and slides filled to overflowing with data, the presentations feel more like personal stories, with heroes and villains, crises and victories, and lots of emotional content. Presenters seek to influence and inspire through images, stories, and feelings rather than through “hard data.” [click to continue…]

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Cornell_logo2-1s7ocw0I’ve just returned from a Cornell University class reunion that reminded me of several very important principles that have guided most of my work and my life since I was an undergraduate there fifty years ago.

Today I want to share one of many important insights that emerged out of three days of lectures, conversations, meals, and other on-campus experiences that are better left unmentioned. I have a deep and renewed appreciation that I am who I am today because of my seven years as a Cornell undergraduate and graduate student.

Cornell University is an unusual – and remarkably diverse – institution.

Cornell was founded in 1865 (shortly after the end of the Civil War) when Ezra Cornell created the campus by donating his farmland on the hills above Ithaca, New York, and bringing to life his vision of “an institution where any person could find instruction in any study.” [click to continue…]

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Future Exit Sign 000018627375XSmallWe have just celebrated Memorial Day weekend in the United States. It has been an opportunity to reflect on our good fortune as a country, but more importantly to give thanks for the millions of servicemen and servicewomen who sacrificed their lives to protect us in way too many wars.

But this time of pausing and reflecting also got me thinking about how the working environments where most of us spend most of our waking hours have changed over the past twenty years – and will change even more going forward.

Those of us of a certain age can remember when our families sat down in front of the big box in our living rooms that brought us the 6 o’clock evening news. We shared that experience with our neighbors near and far; most of the country absorbed that information at the same time, and from one or the other of the three major networks that brought us all the television news and entertainment.

And most of us had one telephone somewhere in the front hall or living room; but we only used it for short, functional conversations with our neighbors and nearby relatives (calls were billed by the minute, after all). Once a year we might call a distant grandparent for a short “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Holidays” message; long distance calls were prohibitively expensive and the sound was often tinny and full of static.

In short, we didn’t have much choice in how we got our information or stayed in touch with out-of-town family and friends. Our world was relatively limited.

And the way we worked was very similar. [click to continue…]

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