I keep thinking about innovation. We all have to.
“The first step to winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” That was Barack Obama in his State of the Union address last January, when he hit the theme repeatedly, using the word innovation or innovate 11 times. And on this issue, at least, Republicans seem in sync with Obama. Listen to Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Mitch Daniels and the word innovation pops up again and again. Everyone wants innovation and agrees that it is the key to America’s future.
Innovation is as American as apple pie. It seems to accord with so many elements of our national character — ingenuity, freedom, flexibility, the willingness to question conventional wisdom and defy authority. But politicians are pinning their hopes on innovation for more urgent reasons. America’s future growth will have to come from new industries that create new products and processes. Older industries are under tremendous pressure. Technological change is making factories and offices far more efficient. The rise of low-wage manufacturing in China and low-wage services in India is moving jobs overseas. The only durable strength we have — the only one that can withstand these gale winds — is innovation.
Even more troubling, there are growing signs that the U.S. no longer has the commanding lead it once did in this area.
On his special about innovation on CNN, he interviews some genuine innovation heavy hitters, including Steven Johnson, the author of Where Good Ideas Come From (I presented my synopsis of this terrific book a few months ago at the First Friday Book Synopsis. You can purchase my synopsis, with handout + audio, at our companion web site, 15mintuebusinessbooks.com).
He repeats what many others are saying — what, seemingly, everyone is saying. For example, here is one recent article: U.S. Is Falling Behind in the Business of ‘Green’. From this article:
A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that while the clean technology sector was booming in Europe, Asia and Latin America, its competitive position was “at risk” in the United States because of “uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives.”
And, as I think about all this innovation, I realize something else. A lot of innovation is putting a lot of people out of work. It goes back to the problem of “Automation” that Robert Reich wrote about. In Aftershock, he wrote:
The problem was not simply the loss of good jobs to workers in foreign nations but also automation… Remember bank tellers? Telephone operators? The fleets of airline workers behind counters who issued tickets? Service station attendants? These and millions of other jobs weren’t lost to globalization; they were lost to automation. American has lost at least as many jobs to automated technology as it has to trade.
Here is a summary of this aspect of the problem, quoted in Points this morning in the Dallas Morning News:
“If you’re doing something that can be written down in a programmatic, algorithmic manner, you’re gong to be substituted for quickly.” (Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, offering a dire job-market forecast for U.S. manufacturing workers).
So… we need innovation. We need to do new things. We need to do old things better, faster, more effectively. We need innovation in products, innovation in systems, innovation in every arena.
But, we also need some really innovative thinking in this area: “where will the new jobs come from?”
Anyway, I keep thinking about innovation.
Our mattresses were made
of corn shucks
and soft gray Spanish moss
that hung from the trees….
From the swamps
we got soup turtles
and baby alligators
And from the woods
we got raccoon,
rabbit and possum.
• Mahalia Jackson, Movin’ On Up
Richard Wright, the bard of the Great Migration, defected to the receiving station of Chicago, via Memphis, in December, 1927, to feel as he put it, “the warmth of other suns.”
I’ve been thinking about Big books vs. small books.
I’m not talking about the size of the book — although, a big book is usually bigger — i.e., more pages. But not always: consider Big Think Strategy: How to leverage bold ideas and leave small thinking behind by Bernd H. Schmitt. This is a big book with fewer than 200 pages.
I’m talking about the ideas, the sweep of the book. And I am a big fan of big books. Books that tie things together over a long haul. Books that point me to connections that are important, connections that I have not thought of. Recently, at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. This is a big book, with a massive sweep. Other titles come to mind: Collapse by Jared Diamond; The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright.
Well, here’s my new “current favorite big book” — The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson is a Pultizer Prize winner (in 1994: the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer in journalism) from her reporting days with the New York Times, and in this massive sweep of a book she tells the epic story of the Great Migration, the years from 1915 to 1970, when over six million African Americans left the American South for the North and West. It is a terrific read, overflowing with insight into people, this country, prejudices, hopes, dreams… I would like to suggest that you add it to your “serious non-fiction book” stack. You will not be disappointed.
Wilkerson follows the journey of three Southern blacks, each representing a different decade of the Great Migration as well as a different destination. It’s a shrewd storytelling device, because it allows her to highlight two issues often overlooked: first, that the exodus was a continuous phenomenon spanning six decades of American life; second, that it consisted of not one, but rather three geographical streams, the patterns determined by the train routes available to those bold enough to leave.
People from Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi boarded the Illinois Central to Midwestern cities like Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit; those from Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia rode the Seaboard Air Line up the East Coast to Washington, Philadelphia and New York; those in Louisiana and Texas took the Union Pacific to Los Angeles, Oakland and other parts of the West Coast. Wilkerson is superb at minding the bends and detours along the way. She notes, for example, that some migrants, unfamiliar with the conductor’s Northern accent, would mistakenly get off at the cry of “Penn Station, Newark,” the stop just before Penn Station, New York. Many decided to stay put, she adds, giving Newark “a good portion of its black population.”
Here is just one paragraph – such a great excerpt:
The actions of the people in this book were both universal and distinctly American. Their migration was a response to an economic and social structure not of their making. They did what humans have done for centuries when life became untenable – what the pilgrims did under the tyranny of British rule, what the Scotch-Irish did in Oklahoma when the land turned to dust, what the Irish did when there was nothing to eat, what the European Jews did during the spread of Nazism, what the landless in Russia, Italy, China and elsewhere did when something better across the ocean called to them. What binds their stories together was the back-against-the-wall, reluctant yet hopeful search for something better, any place but where they were. They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done.
Wilkerson spent fourteen years researching this book (you can tell!), and interviewed over 1000 people. The poignant moments in this book are too numerous to mention. The description of the photograph of her own mother taken in the New World will leave a lump in your throat at the sheer symbolism of this new world “passport.” This is the kind of reading that I wish I had more time to do.
I hope you have your stack of serious, sweeping, big book books to read. They are rich indeed. Add this one to your stack – you will not be disappointed.
Even the staid British publication The Economist recently claimed, “Innovation is now recognized as the single most important ingredient in any modern economy.”
(Tom Kelley: The Ten Faces of Innovation)
For the SMU Cox School of Business – Business Leadership Center, I recently presented my new session on innovation: Adaptation, Exaptation, Innovation: Processes and Environments That Invite Successful Innovation.
I quote from many books that discuss creativity and innovation, including books by Tom Kelley, Steven Johnson, Gary Hamel, Twyla Tharp, Bernd Schmitt, and Roger Martin, among others. As I developed the material, I stole/borrowed/compiled/wrote eight assumptions about our current situation, and asked 8 questions… Here are the assumptions and questions:
• 8 Assumptions:
1) What worked yesterday will not work as well tomorrow
2) Someone is trying – now! — to leave you in the dust
3) Everyone; every product; every process…can get better
4) Creativity, as a habit, can be developed
5) Innovation, as a practice, can be achieved
6) It takes time, training, effort to be creative, and to be innovative
7) It is far better (it works best) to be innovative “together”
8) Innovation is a habit/a discipline/a routine – in other words, it needs constant attention and focus… always
• 8 Questions for the Innovator:
1) What are we doing now that could be done better tomorrow? (hint – practically everything)
2) What could we learn from a totally unexpected source/field/discipline?
• how could we take some “field trips” – how could we open our eyes a little wider?
3) What could we learn from the best within our industry?
4) What could we learn from the worst in our industry (what should we never do?)
5) Where are our bottlenecks – how are we killing good ideas?
6) Where are our records – that is, where are we recording all of our possible good ideas? (Where are we losing our good ideas?)
7) Where do people experience hassles, of any kind, in their interactions with us? How can we get rid of these hassles?
8) And – what could go wrong? (Beware of the problem of unintended consequences. – Consider the parable of the “free refill”).
The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight. There is nothing yet to research. For me, these moments are not pretty. I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head: “You need an idea.”
You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however miniscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
I was just revisiting my handout from the book Where Good Ideas Come From. Steven Johnson argues that a lot goes into the discovery of those really good ideas. To get to “good idea, “ you have to: go with the “flow;” you have to have, and then jettison, a bunch of bad ideas; you have to learn to rely on hunches much more than those fast/sudden/amazing eureka moments (which, really, is not the secret sauce behind most good ideas); you have to come to realize that good hunches are slow in coming – -they are “slow hunches.”
You have to build, and take advantage of, an environment that nurtures good ideas:
This is a book about the space of innovation. Some environments squelch new ideas; some environments seem to breed them effortlessly.
Good ideas come from many places:
Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and occasionally, contracts) over time.
A good idea is a network… an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm.
Good ideas come from people – notice that that is “people” (plural!):
The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.
And, remember, that creativity, and then innovation, are the result of good ideas. Johnson’s decision to talk about good ideas was significant:
I have deliberately chosen the broadest possible phrasing – good ideas – to suggest the cross-disciplinary vantage point I am trying to occupy.
So…pretend that you have a group of people who have nurtured the idea generation skill that is needed. You come together to work on generating new, good, usable ideas.
What do you do?
You have some brainstorming sessions. And then, you have the chance of sparking/catching those good ideas. You are looking for that someone in that crowd that can help you come up with just the right next new idea:
This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.
So, what do you in this brainstorming session? You brainstorm. But, we all know, brainstorming done poorly does not work.
Here is some genuinely important “how to brainstorm well” counsel from The Art of Innovation (Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm) by Tom Kelley.
• Seven Secrets for Better Brainstorming…
1) Sharpen the focus.
2) Playful Rules. (e.g. – at IDEO: Go for quantity. Encourage wild ideas. Be visual).
1. Number your ideas. (it creates quantity – it makes it easier to refer to specific ideas…)
2. Build and Jump.
3. The Space Remembers.
4. Stretch your mental muscles.
5. Get physical. (including: big blocks; competitors products; use the body itself!)
• Six ways to kill a brainstormer…
The boss gets to speak first (the boss gets to speak!)
Everybody gets a turn.
Experts only please.
Do it off-site.
No silly stuff.
Write down everything.
And, like with every other skill that you develop, you’ll have to do it a bunch — practice brainstorming, that is. Remember the tried and true adage: “perfect practice makes perfect.”
Let me help you plan your reading for 2011.
The issue is… Leadership Development.
Look at those words. Think about them. They say a lot. Mainly they say this – leaders have to be developed, and leaders have to focus on, and work on, continual development. This does not happen by accident. Some leaders may be “born,” but most leaders are “developed.”
And one practice of ever-developing leaders is that they read. They read books for the purpose of personal development.
I thought about all of this after a great conversation over breakfast with my blogging colleague, Bob Morris. We talked about a lot. We share a love of reading, we share a deep appreciation of good authors and good books, so we are probably a little “biased” in our view of leadership development. But I think the evidence is on our side – leadership development does not happen by accident, and reading good books is a critical and time-tested path to leadership development.
So – assume that you are leader, and that you want to work on leadership development. What should you read? I’ve got a suggested list. If Bob, or my First Friday Book Synopsis colleague Karl Krayer were to suggest a list, it would be a different list. These are mostly books that I have read. It is my list of “areas of focus.” Some of these books are not new. But they are all worth reading, and if you want to get serious about leadership development, I think this is a pretty good list to start with.
Of course, there are other areas of focus that need/deserve/beg for attention — and other truly deserving book titles. This list is only a beginning…
So – here it is – my suggested reading list for leadership development. It includes seven areas of focus, with a total of eleven books. That is one book a month for 2011 (giving you either July or December “off”). Whether you choose these titles or not; whether you choose these areas of focus, or not; this I recommend: follow a leadership development plan. It is worth the investment of time!
|As you focus on:||A good book to read is:|
|The Right Values||True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (J-B Warren Bennis Series) by Bill George and Peter Sims|
|The Right Strategy||The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm by Verne Harnish
|Effective Leadership||(note: this was a tough “focus” for which to choose the “best” book(s). I absolutely would include this Kouzes and Posner book: it is practical, and extraordinarily valuable).
Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today by Susan Scott
|Effective Communication||Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
|Functional, Effective Teamwork
|The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni|
|Cultivating Creativity and Innovation||The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
|Successful Execution||Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan|
I hope you succeed at your attempts at leadership development in 2011.
Note: this is not my first attempt to suggest a reading list. Earlier, I posted this: Build Your Own Strategic Reading Plan — or, How Should You Pick Which Business Book(s) to Read? It has other suggestions, for other areas of focus.
So many books…so little time!
Here are three ways we can help with your leadership development efforts:
#1: You can bring me, or my colleague Karl Krayer, into your organization to present synopses of these, and many other books. These synopses provide the key content, and facilitated discussion of the implications. Contact me at .
#2: You can purchase our 15 minute version of these synopses, with audio + handout, from our companion web site at 15minutebusinessbooks.com. (Most of these were presented live at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Be sure to read the faqs).
#3: Our blogging colleague Bob Morris is an accomplished business consultant, and can help your organization tackle these (and other) issues in an extended way. Contact Bob directly at .
Update: My blogging colleague Bob Morris, added some worthy volumes to this list. Check out his expanded list by clicking here.
Here’s his expanded list:
The Right Values
True North by Bill George and Peter Sims
The Executive’s Compass by James O’Toole
The Highest Goal by Michael Ray
The Heart Aroused by David Whyte
The Right Strategy
The Opposable Mind by Roger L. Martin
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Unstoppable by Chris Zook
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy by Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson
Fierce Leadership by Susan Scott
Encouraging the Heart by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
Maestro by Roger Nierenberg
True North by Bill George and Peter Sims
Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Influence by Robert Cialdini
The Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Functional & Effective Teamwork
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman
Collaboration by Morten Hansen
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Cultivating Creativity and Innovation
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
Freedom, Inc. by Brian M. Carney and Isaac Getz
The Idea of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation by Thomas Kelley
Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton
Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki
The Other Side of Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble
Open Innovation and Open Business Models by Henry Chesbrough
Plus two additional categories:
Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice co-edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana
The Talent Masters by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan
The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development co-edited by Ellen Van Velsor, Cynthia D. McCauley, and Marian N. Ruderman
Extraordinary Leadership co-edited by Kerry Bunker, Douglas T. Hall, and Kathy E. Kram
Employee Engagement & Talent Management
A Sense of Urgency and Buy-In by John Kotter
The Art of Engagement by Jim Haudan
Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees by Lee J. Colan
Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen
So, what do we do when the wisdom sounds so right, so obvious – but may be wrong?
I am a big fan of Jason Fried. I have presented a synopsis of his book (co-authored with David Heinemeier Hansson), Rework. I have blogged about his ideas, quoting him, reflecting on his ideas a number of times. And I like his writing style, and think he is right.
Except… what if he is wrong?
Here are excerpts from his latest (special for CNN – read it here):
The modern office has become an interruption factory. You can’t get work done at work anymore.
When people walk into the office, they trade their work day in for a series of work moments. It’s like the front door is a “time Cuisinart” — shredding it all into little bits.
When you’re in the office you’re lucky to have 30 minutes to yourself. Usually you get in, there’s a meeting, then there’s a call, then someone calls you over to their desk, or your manager comes over to see what you’re doing. These interruptions chunk your day into smaller and smaller bits. Fifteen minutes here, 30 minutes there, another 15 minutes before lunch, then an afternoon meeting, etc. When are you supposed to get work done if you don’t have any time to work?
People — especially creative people — need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get things done. Fifteen minutes isn’t enough. Thirty minutes isn’t enough. Even an hour isn’t enough.
If I had read this a month ago, I would have said something like: “Amen! ~ Preach it, brother!,” or words to that effect. But, now, I’m not so sure. Because I have just read Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. And that book is filled with story after story about the creative/innovative energy that is created by folks interacting constantly. It praises the conference table, and the design of buildings that are intended to enable/encourage constant, “accidental” and “on-purpose” interaction. “Interruption,” if you will.. Consider this quote from Johnson’s book:
The ground zero of innovation was not the microscope. It was the conference table… The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.
So – who is right? Jason Fried or Steven Johnson?
Maybe both… but, maybe, if we follow Fried too closely, we might lose out. Having just finished Johnson’s book, I suspect that Fried’s counsel would have some anti-innovation unintended consequences. At least, that’s what I think this week.
So – what about all of those interruptions. Some of them are good, and feed the idea factory. Others? Well, maybe we just need to put up a sign that says “I’m in the alone zone – check with me later” an hour or two a day at work. (“Alone zone” is one of Fried’s phrases, by the way).