Despite a torrent of books promising to unlock the secrets of innovation, large organizations seem as incapable as ever of unleashing the creative energy of their people.
from Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini
It hasn’t worked.
I think individuals have a better track record at change for the better than organizations — though not a perfect record.
But, for organizations, it hasn’t worked.
Sensitivity training for leaders has not worked. (This was an initiative a few decades ago. In Humanocracy, we learn that the training, which was widespread and cost a LOT of money, did not produce lasting change for the better).
Implicit bias training has not worked.
So many other initiatives, so many attempts at “re-engineering” organizations and reorganizing organizations, and change initiatives, and rolling out other new initiatives, have not gone well.
So much has not worked.
I am no expert on why.
I have read many books recommending programs, suggesting approaches. But, the evidence for success is not encouraging.
Bringing about needed change for the better is, probably, the hardest thing to try to do within an organization.
The challenge is daunting indeed.
(We flew in from Charleston late last night, and I am in “catchup” mode after vacation).
One of the many places we toured was the site of the restoration of the Hunley, the first submarine in history that successfully took down an enemy ship. It is quite a vessel. A crew of men, turning in unison from a seated, cramped position. An explosive torpedo loaded at the end of a spar. On February 17, 1864, led by Lieutenant George W. Dixon, they successfully embedded the explosive in the hull of the USS Housatonic, and she sank in a matter of minutes. The Hunley also went down (theories abound; the exact reason is unknown), and Dixon and his crew of seven volunteers perished.
So, later in the evening, after our tour, I pulled out my iPad to read about the history of submarines. Here is a submarine timeline: WORLD SUBMARINE HISTORY TIMELINE. And here is the key quote for those of us who think about the difficulty of leading change (I’ve bolded the key line):
Indiana shoemaker LODNER D. PHILLIPS built at least two submarines. The first collapsed at a depth of twenty feet. The second achieved hand- cranked underwater speeds of four knots and depths to 100 feet; Phillips offered to sell it to the U. S. Navy. The response: “No authority is known to this Bureau to purchase a submarine boat . . . the boats used by the Navy go on not under the water.”
During the Civil War, Phillips again offered his services to the U. S. Navy, again, without success.
There it is in a nutshell: “No authority is known to this Bureau to purchase a submarine boat . . . the boats used by the Navy go on not under the water.”
“This is how we do things around here; we don’t want any of your newfangled ideas; what we’ve always done has worked just fine” — “our boats go on not under the water.”
We also saw a World War II U-boat watch tower on a barrier island. It turns out that the U-Boats sank quite a few ships off of our coast, more than our government revealed at the time. And the defense against the U-Boats led to some substantial innovative breakthroughs.
The lesson is clear. What are you resisting? Why are you resisting it? Be careful, your commitment to the “way we’ve always done things” just might cause you to lose your entire ship…
Let’s take a hopeful break.
“Because we’ve never seen it before, exponential change makes even less sense. “
I am immersed in the book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamindis and Steven Kotler. It is a surprise to me that I am. My nature is to be somewhat negative, a borderline pessimist. The authors tell me this is not entirely my fault. We evolved this way. Our brains require attentiveness to danger, and so we see danger before, and more often, than anything else. We are not attuned to see the possibilities. We are attuned to see the dangers. Before, fear kept us alive — fear is what we look for, what we (think we) need.
But, the future may just be brighter than we had realized – better than we think. Part of the reason is the pace of discovery. And even though it appears that innovation has “slowed down” dramatically, the reality is that it has slowed down only “recently.” But, over the longer haul of the last few centuries, the pace has been breathtaking, leaving us panting to keep up.
In Abundance, the authors quote Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants:
Waterwheels were not becoming cheaper every year (five hundred years ago). A hammer was not easier to use from one decade to the next. Iron was not increasing in strength. The yield of corn seed varied by the season’s climate, instead of improving each year. Every 12 months, you could not upgrade your oxen’s yoke to anything much better than what you already had. (that last line is my favorite line – R.M.).
But now, my modern marvel, my iPhone, is practically a dinosaur. My wife’s is newer, better, cooler than mine, and my son’s is newer, cooler, better, and “stronger/faster” than hers. (My next new one is coming soon. It’s my turn again on our family plan – I can’t wait).
Today, I learn about a book, and I order the sample pages immediately on my Kindle App for my iPad. (Just now, I interrupted my writing of this blog post, clicked over to Amazon, and ordered the sample pages of What Technology Wants. When I open my iPad in just a few minutes, they will be there).
And that’s just the small corner of my world.
Every day, if we can avoid the polarizing political fights that we see and hear every day, there is some new breakthrough to read about. We really do feel like the breakthroughs are coming – against Alzheimer’s; some kind of clean energy solution; so many more. (No, I’m not as confident that the Dallas Cowboys will return to their glory years anytime soon. There are some areas where the deck may simply be stacked against that “better future”).
The Extreme Future will indeed be good, wonderful (i.e., filling us with wonder). Our need is to become just a little less fearful, and a whole lot more fearless. “Fearlessness is like a muscle: the more we use it, the stronger it becomes.” (Abundance).
“For most of history, if your dad was a baker, you were a baker,” wrote Kevin Kelly. But today – well, today, the average young adult has a job that he cannot even make his grandmother understand, much less is he working in the same job as his dad or grandfather or great-grandfather… In fact, today, it is as likely to be the “she” who can not explain to grandparents what her job entails. It is simply too far outside of their context.
On some days, I speak to retired people, many of them in their late 80’s, and up. I asked a recent group how many of them had a Facebook page. Not one! Then I asked how many of them had ever looked at a computer screen or a smaller screen at anyone’s Facebook page. Again, not one. I told that to a man who is still learning to live with the new technology, and he described how his 7 year old picks it up faster than he does.
Yes, they do. And with the new tools of today the new breakthroughs will come at an increasingly fast pace.
Just consider (again, from the book, Abundance):
Twenty years ago, most well-off US citizens owned a camera, a video camera, a CD player, a stereo, a video game console, a cell phone, a watch, an alarm clock, a set of encyclopedias, a world atlas, a Thomas Guide, and a whole bunch of other assets that easily add up to more than $10,000. All of which come standard on today’s smart phones, or are available at the app store for less than a cup of coffee.
If the Bible tells us, “where there is no vision, people perish,” then the inverse is also true: “where there is vision, the people flourish.”
Tomorrow could turn out to be just a whole lot of fun.
By the way, Dr. Peter Diamandis, one of the authors of Abundance, is the Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation.
Here is a problem – a big problem – in the high-tech, digital world we all function in. E-mail, and other forms of digital communication, have trumped conversation.
And that is a mistake.
So, recently, I ran across this phrase, which is attributed to Peter Block. (I heard it from Mark Israelson, who works for the city of Plano, TX). Here is the phrase:
“Connection before content.”
Notice the wording: not “connection instead of content,” but “connection before content.” It is okay to send your message forth in an e-mail blast. It is okay to make a request, deliver a message, ask a question through e-mail. But it is not okay to think that that is as effective as a good old-fashioned “conversation.”
John Wooden, in Wooden on Leadership, wrote: “Don’t hastily replace the old fashioned with the new fangled.” We do live an era of constant, perpetual, and ever-so-shorter-lived change. But maybe there are a few practices that should not be jettisoned in this hyper-connected world. And one of those is actual face-to-face conversation.
Connection before content. This is what makes content more readily received, and then acted on.
Quite some time ago, I saw the movie Temple Grandin, and wrote this blog post. It still pops up on our “most-viewed” list: Ten Lessons about Business and Personal Success from Temple Grandin (the person, and the movie). Temple Grandin is not capable (literally, with her autism, not capable) of the kind of leisurely “get to know one another” conversations that help precede content delivery. But she learned to do at least the minimum amount of connecting. Here’s the paragraph about this from my earlier blog post:
Success requires “suck-up” skills. (phrase borrowed from Carville and Begala). Because of her autism, Temple Grandin did not understand the value of sucking up, and it did not come naturally to her. Apparently (this is assumed more than stated or demonstrated in the movie), her mother and aunt had drilled into her the value of simple, polite manners. (“My name is Temple Grandin. Pleased to meet you.” And then, right away, she would launch into her real question or message). And though she sounded impersonal in her use of such everyday politeness, she made herself do it. What a testament to the need to develop what we now call networking skills.
So, the next time you get ready to send that e-mail, ask yourself, “have I connected with this person?” before you hit the send button.
Connection before content.
(Personal note – call this a bit of a rambling reflection on the close of 2011. This is just me, kind of thinking out loud).
I went to a couple of movies this week. That should not be a big deal to note – but, you see, I haven’t been to many movies for quite a while. But, I am also no longer the target audience for movies (boy, does that make me feel old…). I liked the movies – they were ok, gripping even. But, they were old/new/old; sequels (to sequels to sequels). One of them, the new Sherlock Holmes, is a sequel to countless sequels that came before. (A little over 30 years ago, I went to an all-night marathon of old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies).
I shopped some for Christmas. Nearly all of it on-line. I am pleased with the outcome. But I did my part to put the malls in jeopardy.
As I read, the malls are in some trouble. Not too many Christmases ago, here in Dallas, Northpark, Valley View, The Galleria, and PrestonWood (and Richardson Square) were all full-to-overflowing at Christmas time. Now, Northpark is definitely flourishing, but there is no PrestonWood or Richardson Square left, Valley View is at least half a ghost town and certainly on its last legs, (and I haven’t been to the Galleria – so no opinion on that one). And Sears? Well, I drove by a couple of their stores, and never saw enough cars in front to think “they’re having a good Christmas.” And, it turns out, I was right – they are closing 100 to 120 stores (or more?)…
And, as for Hollywood, the box office is down. And in terms of actual attendance (factoring out higher ticket prices), way! down! And Rock Music is “zombified.” Here’s the quote:
“2011 may well be remembered as the most numbing year for mainstream rock in music history,” declares New York Times critic Jon Caramanica. “Declaring a genre dead is the worst, least imaginative sort of proclamation, so let’s call it zombified.” (Read the article here).
Blackberry will try again soon to revitalize its brand, but plenty are doubtful. And the list could go on and on. (Where did all the cafeterias go?)
This could all be inevitable, and even good. Creative destruction; on-going economic innovation… The old must die, the new will come.
I suspect that this is true. The mall replaced the shopping center; the big box store replaced the mom and pop store; the virtual store, in many instances, is replacing the brick and mortar store. The new businesses will replace the old. The Shamrock Hotel in Houston gives way to the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine. The new is so much “better” that the old is replaced, and the new is bigger, better, newer, more high-tech, more innovative. Sometimes the old is simply leveled (Texas Stadium is gone, as is Reunion Arena, both replaced by far better, newer, bigger, “cooler” versions. And, by the way, in the case of Reunion Arena, we tore it down before it was even fully paid for. Amazing!)
This, of course, is not a post about rock music, or malls, or Hollywood, or where we shop, or where we work. It is a post about our era – about this time in our history.
Montgomery Ward invented the catalogue, and lasted 129 years. Sears made it 117 years before merging with Kmart in 2005, forming the current, now precarious, version. BlackBerry has been around about 11 years – MySpace was practically dead and buried after about seven years. The list is long, and growing longer.
I think this – we are in the midst of such an all-consuming, everywhere-permeating moment of “creative destruction.” We are in the throes of giving birth, even as we are in the throes of (more than a few) deaths. It is an uncertain time. The optimists among us tell us that when the dust settles, it will be better. And we will do just fine. I hope so. But it is unsettling as we go through it, don’t you think? And as far as that “when the dust settles” part – I suspect that the next new new change will come so quickly after the next new change that the dust may never quite get a chance to fully settle again.
We cannot build a new country with the old thinking.…
(from the Institute of Contemporary Development, a liberal think tank chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev, in a document that looked like a platform for the 2012 Russian presidential election)
So, let me make one thing clear. You come at us with whatever weapons that you have in your arsenal, but there is no weapon as powerful as that of an idea whose time has come.
(Fictional President Jackson Evans Addresses Congress on VP Nominee, Senator Laine Hanson — from the movie, The Contender)
This is about the change story that is the big daddy of all change stories. You want to talk about change? – Now this is change!
We all know the need for change. Any company, any organization, intent on doing things the way they’ve always done them is in a newly dangerous precarious position. The 21st century will not wait for these slow adapters. It is, truly, change or die.
But, change or die might not be enough of a phrase – it might be, change, die, and be reborn. Maybe it is destruct to a different (hopefully better) future.
The list of companies and organizations that failed to change fast enough is substantial, and continues to grow. Yahoo is in trouble. MySpace is basically history. Blockbuster Video is bankrupt, joining other relics of the past such as Montgomery Ward (which created the first mail order catalogue), and Circuit City, now no longer great (Circuit City was one of the “Good to Great” exemplars of Jim Collins, which is partly why he wrote How the Mighty Fall).
But these stories pale in significance to the biggest of the big disappearing. The Soviet Union disappeared in the blink of an eye. And though you can point to a lot of “catalysts,” (Americans, especially conservatives, want to give the credit to “Tear Down This Wall” Ronald Reagan), the real hero was Mikhail Gorbachev, and the people who were simply ready to say, and demand!, that the time had come.
In a remarkable essay in Foreign Policy, Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong (And why it matters today in a new age of revolution) by Leon Aron, we learn a great deal about why this happened. The article is absolutely worth reading in its entirety. Here are some key excerpts:
Every revolution is a surprise. Still, the latest Russian Revolution must be counted among the greatest of surprises. In the years leading up to 1991, virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it one-party dictatorship, the state-owned economy, and the Kremlin’s control over its domestic and Eastern European empires. Neither, with one exception, did Soviet dissidents nor, judging by their memoirs, future revolutionaries themselves. When Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party in March 1985, none of his contemporaries anticipated a revolutionary crisis. Although there were disagreements over the size and depth of the Soviet system’s problems, no one thought them to be life-threatening, at least not anytime soon…
Certainly, there were plenty of structural reasons — economic, political, social — why the Soviet Union should have collapsed as it did, yet they fail to explain fully how it happened when it happened. How, that is, between 1985 and 1989, in the absence of sharply worsening economic, political, demographic, and other structural conditions, did the state and its economic system suddenly begin to be seen as shameful, illegitimate, and intolerable by enough men and women to become doomed? (emphasis added).
The core of Gorbachev’s enterprise was undeniably idealistic: He wanted to build a more moral Soviet Union.
For though economic betterment was their banner, there is little doubt that Gorbachev and his supporters first set out to right moral, rather than economic, wrongs.Most of what they said publicly in the early days of perestroika now seems no more than an expression of their anguish over the spiritual decline and corrosive effects of the Stalinist past. It was the beginning of a desperate search for answers to the big questions with which every great revolution starts: What is a good, dignified life? What constitutes a just social and economic order? What is a decent and legitimate state? What should such a state’s relationship with civil society be?
One needs only to spend a few days in Moscow talking to the intelligentsia or, better yet, to take a quick look at the blogs on LiveJournal (Zhivoy Zhurnal), Russia’s most popular Internet platform, or at the sites of the top independent and opposition groups to see that the motto of the 1980s — “We cannot live like this any longer!” — is becoming an article of faith again. The moral imperative of freedom is reasserting itself, and not just among the limited circles of pro-democracy activists and intellectuals. This February, the Institute of Contemporary Development, a liberal think tank chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev, published what looked like a platform for the 2012 Russian presidential election:
In the past Russia needed liberty to live [better]; it must now have it in order to survive.… The challenge of our times is an overhaul of the system of values, the forging of new consciousness. We cannot build a new country with the old thinking.… The best investment [the state can make in man] is Liberty and the Rule of Law. And respect for man’s Dignity.
It was the same intellectual and moral quest for self-respect and pride that, beginning with a merciless moral scrutiny of the country’s past and present, within a few short years hollowed out the mighty Soviet state, deprived it of legitimacy, and turned it into a burned-out shell that crumbled in August 1991. The tale of this intellectual and moral journey is an absolutely central story of the 20th century’s last great revolution.
Here are some lessons for all business leaders and thinkers:
Lesson #1 – when it is time to change, really time, the change will come, whether you want it to, whether you are ready for it, or not.
Lesson #2 – it takes a leader to say, and act on, what the people themselves are thinking to help make it happen. Both of these are critical – the leader has to really, really listen to the heartbeat of the people he/she leads. And, the leader has to act on what he hears.
Lesson #3 – it takes a leader to base his/her leadership on the values he holds dear, and for those values, and the values of the vast majority of the people, to be the same, at the same time. Gorbachev was a moral man. The people were ready to act from this new moral core. The time had come.
Lesson #4 – And, it takes the right idea. Words like perestroika, glasnost, democratization… these are not empty words, or words that are simply reserved for and consigned to philosophy classes. They are the very foundation for change. “There is no weapon as powerful as that of an idea whose time has come.” Here is the key paragraph from the article:
“A new moral atmosphere is taking shape in the country,” Gorbachev told the Central Committee at the January 1987 meeting where he declared glasnost — openness — and democratization to be the foundation of his perestroika, or restructuring, of Soviet society. “A reappraisal of values and their creative rethinking is under way.” Later, recalling his feeling that “we couldn’t go on like that any longer, and we had to change life radically, break away from the past malpractices,” he called it his “moral position.”
This article provides a great overview of the most monumental of societal changes. I suspect that it gives us all a lot to ponder, whether we are hoping for change in our little corner of the world, or dream of the bigger changes we all need to pursue, embrace, and then help make happen.