Monday, April 23, 2012

Innovative Management Inspired by Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

Tom Peters: Best of the Cool Friends Tom Kelley 

Tom Peters
One of Tom's favorite topics is innovation, and you'd have a hard time finding a more expert person on the subject than Tom Kelley, General Manager of IDEO. His business is innovation, and we spoke to him twice, following publication of his first and second books. By reading his two interviews (links below) at, you get a very good overview of an innovative organization, and perhaps some tips on making your own organization more so.

Best quote: "So part of the message of my book and the message from people like Tom [Peters] is that it's okay to act differently."

If you would like to learn more, we also have an interview with Tom Kelley's brother David Kelley, CEO of IDEO, who describes some of the history of that very cool innovation factory.

How to Make Learning Addictive 

The Talent Code 
Here’s a video-game term that might apply: replay value. It refers to how much a user wants to play a game over and over. You know the feeling — the irresistible itch to repeat a game just one more time, and just one more time after that (Angry Birds, anybody?).

Though the motivation feels internal, in fact replay value doesn’t come from the user; it comes from the design of the game itself. Games that provide lots of roles, lots of paths, lots of possible outcomes have high replay value — people love to play them, and get addicted. Games with few roles, few paths, few outcomes have low replay value; people play them once and then quit.

If you look at the practice routines of high performers, you’ll find they have high replay value. They are designed in such a way that you naturally want to do them again, and again, and again. For example:

  • Bubba Watson, who won Sunday’s Masters golf tournament with an “impossible” curving shot from the woods, learned to control the ball by hitting a small plastic ball in his yard when he was a small boy. The game young Bubba invented was to see if he could go around his house clockwise, then turn around and do it counterclockwise.
  • Earl Scruggs, the greatest banjo player who ever lived, practiced his sense of timing by playing with his brothers. The game went like this: the brothers would all start a song, then walk off in different directions, still playing. At the end of the song they’d come together to see if they’d stayed on time. Then do it again. And again.
  • Pretty much any skateboarding or snowboarding practice has a high replay value: think of how the sides of a half-pipe or ramp literally funnel the athlete into the next move. No wonder they learn so fast: the replay value in most gravity sports is off the charts. 

The larger pattern here is that practices with high replay value tend to be practices the learners design themselves. One of the reason the learners can’t help but repeat them over and over is that they have a sense of ownership and investment — they’re not robots executing someone else’s drill; they’re players immersed in their own fun, addictive game.

Managing a Virtual Team 

Teams that are geographically-dispersed, or virtual, have now been used and studied for more than three decades — yet we all still wrestle with how to get them right. Managers frequently ask for best practices for managing their global teams, and recently we've noticed some common themes. Here are the three questions that keep coming up again and again, and what the research tells us about how to address them:

  1. When and how often do we need to meet face-to-face (FTF)? 
  2. What is the best technology solution for my team? 
  3. How do I coordinate work among dispersed members?

Leadership Encourages Hope 

Bret L. Simmons
The process of leadership flourishes when people assume responsibility for the choice to pursue substantive changes that enhance a shared purpose. This process is potent when its participants have hope – the belief that one knows how to perform and is willing to direct and sustain consistent effort to accomplish goals that matter. Hope requires three steps from leadership:

  1. Help identifying meaningful goals that really matter 
  2. Help understanding what it takes to achieve those goals 
  3. Encouragement to assume responsibility for investing effort 

How Leaders Can Build a Change-Friendly Culture
Great Leadership
Organizations today are caught in a leadership perfect storm. The forces of internet transparency, rapid technology and young generations demanding empowerment are challenging organizations of all sizes across every industry to sail differently. Yes change is a constant … but it has bigger waves and smaller waves. Currently, we are about 25 years into a 50-year cycle of massive transformation. At the end of this cycle, every part of our society will be unrecognizable. *History tells us this is the 8th mass transformational era since the dawn of writing. This particular stage is unprecedented in its global scale and speed. No industry or economic power is immune.

In such an era, existing power structures crumble like the levees in New Orleans. What flows forth are new, transparent, and ways of thinking and leading in a global society. Leaders who can harness people together in shared power, collaboration, and transparency will help their organizations avoid extinction.

Research Roundup: The 'Dark Side' of Teams; the Risks of Social Comparisons; and the Transfer of Entrepreneurial Skills 

Does working in teams make people less receptive to outside input? How can social comparisons undermine trust in working relationships? How do the training and technical knowledge entrepreneurs take from previous employers impact the success of their new ventures? Wharton professor Jennifer Mueller and lecturer Julia Minson, and professors Maurice Schweitzer and Evan Rawley, respectively, examine these issues, and what they mean for business, in recent research papers. When Failure isn’t Free

Strategy + Business 

Chris Trimble, coauthor of Reverse Innovation: Create Far from Home, Win Everywhere, introduces an excerpt from Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, by Tim Harford, which offers a troubling perspective on the outlook for innovation. Companies often develop crisp stories about how they have nurtured a “culture of innovation.” They say that all their employees can be innovators, and even take some initiative to move their ideas forward. Not only that, they claim, but failures are tolerated, if not celebrated. Failure is, after all, an integral part of the innovation game.

Is there a payoff from top-team diversity? 

There are many reasons companies with more diverse executive teams should outperform their peers: fielding a team of top executives with varied cultural backgrounds and life experiences can broaden a company’s strategic perspective, for example. And relentless competition for the best people should reward organizations that cast their nets beyond traditional talent pools for leadership. To understand whether reality is consistent with theory, we looked at the executive board composition,1 returns on equity (ROE), and margins on earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of 180 publicly traded companies in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States over the period from 2008 to 2010. To score a company’s diversity, we focused on two groups that can be measured objectively from company data: women and foreign nationals on senior teams (the latter being a proxy for cultural diversity).