Friday, April 6, 2012

March Madness and Innovative Leadership

Every week, we publish an exciting summary of the best articles, videos, events, and posts that relate to innovative management. This week, check out these 9 articles that inspire better management. Enjoy! 

The Ideas Behind a Prank 

As may or may not have been clear from reading the internet today: it’s April Fool’s Day. At TED, it came a bit early: At TED2012 Charlie Todd staged a beautifully colorful prank. An actor (Eugene Cordero) played a speaker who had a technical difficulty with his talk, and then another, and then another, and… then it got weird. Then it got wonderfully fun. (Watch the video above.)

Todd was the perfect person to pull that off: He’s the creator of Improv Everywhere, “a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” They’re the group responsible for the annual No-Pants Subway Ride, as well as staging a scene from Ghostbusters in thew New York Public Library, putting guerrilla dancers in the windows of a massive retail building, freezing time for five minutes in Grand Central Station, and many, many more. (Also watch: A musical staged at the GEL Conference.)

In the course of all of that, he’s done a lot of thinking about what a prank is, and why we do them.

Don’t Dismiss Your Gen X Talent 

The Labor Department recently reported that the number of Americans quitting their jobs has begun to rise.

One particular demographic poised to jump is Generation X. At just 46 million in the U.S., Gen X is small compared to the 78 million Boomers and 70 million Millennials, but they wield a disproportionate amount of influence. Born between 1965 and 1978, they are the bench strength for leadership, the skill bearers and knowledge experts corporations will rely on to gain competitive advantage in the coming decades. Approaching or already in their prime of their careers, they are ready and willing to lead.

Yet their career progress has been threatened by leapfrogging Millennials and blocked by Boomers, who are postponing retirement to bulk up recession-ravaged 401(k)s.

A recent survey from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) shows that 37% have "one foot out the door" and are looking to leave their current employers within the next three years.

Ideas Change Culture or Culture Changes Ideas 

Innovate on Purpose
There is both an opportunity and a challenge embedded in that statement.

First, let's describe why the statement is true. If you have interesting, radical, truly different ideas, then you either have a culture that embraces ideas and innovation, or your innovation team has been isolated from the decision making and priorities of the rest of your business. Arthur C Clarke, the scientist and science fiction writer, had three laws about predicting the future. They are:

  1. When a distinguished scientist predicts that something is possible, he or she is probably right. When they predict something is impossible, they are probably wrong. 
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. 
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. 

It is the third law that is most interesting to us in this discussion. Any new idea, suitably radical, is indistinguishable from magic and therefore likely to be laughed at or ignored. Most corporate cultures don't deal with "magic" very well.

What Does March Madness Tell us About Leadership Promotions? 

Great Leadership 
We all know that the odds heavily favor those highly-talented teams, but there are typically a few major upsets each year—including this year where two #2 seeds (Duke and Missouri) fell to #15 seeds for only the sixth time in 20 years.

But does this phenomenon occur in the business world? You bet your college mascot it does. Every day companies are making decisions about which individuals to promote on a system similar to the NCAA seeding process: the odds are heavily weighted to those individuals deemed to be the most talented with talent typically being defined as possessing the best technical skills. If performance on the job is the equivalent to moving to the next round in the NCAA tournament, you expect to see the top individual contributors to win. However, as with March Madness, some lower seeds actually do better.

In last year’s Finding the First Rung study, we asked frontline leaders how they got their job. We took a look at how frontline leader assessment participants answered this question. It probably isn’t surprising that a significant chunk of managers said that they were promoted because of their “technical expertise.” What may be surprising—like Duke losing to Lehigh—is that those managers promoted because of their technical expertise were more likely to have development needs than all other promotion reasons in 6 of the 9 Manager Ready competencies (see table). Some competencies—like Guiding Interactions—were not even close.

If you were armed with this information prior filling out your promotion brackets—would you continue to automatically promote the technical experts?

Channeling Sports: A Conversation with ESPN Founder Bill Rasmussen 

When Bill Rasmussen launched ESPN on September 7, 1979, he gave the world its first 24-hour television network and changed the way people viewed both television and sports. His innovations include the creation of "Sports Center," wall-to-wall coverage of NCAA regular-season and March Madness college basketball, and coverage of the College World Series baseball tournament. Rasmussen, who wrote a book titled, Sports Junkies Rejoice! The Birth of ESPN, talked with Knowledge@Wharton about the challenges of founding a 24/7 sports network in the face of nearly universal skepticism, what entrepreneurs need to succeed and why he doesn't ever plan to retire. Watch the full video.