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December 2008

Welcome to the holiday edition of the Practical Innovator Newsletter!

While the global financial crisis continues unabated, things have settled down a bit -- at least politically -- here in the the U.S. Of course, there is still no doubt that you are going to need every ounce of creativity to help your team and your organization through these troublesome times. Check below for some creative ideas to reward your employees and take care of yourself.

Best wishes for a happy holiday and for a wonderful, very creative new year! And may this crisis help us all refocus on what's really important! As my colleague Jim Warren writes: "We create our future by discerning possibilities and looking forward while taking hindsight into account -- so keep a look out for what matters most."

in this issue
  • Peace and Joy in the New Year
  • Innovation Summit - 2008
  • A creative gift for yourself
  • Creative gifts to give your team
  • Measuring Innovation

  • Innovation Summit - 2008

    On October 30, a group of leaders interested in promoting more innovation in their organizations met in Cologne, Germany. The discussions that took place at the second annual Innovation Summit, sponsored by innovation-europe, were most insightful.

    Using the framework of the four building blocks of innovation (leadership, culture, processes and metrics) and the results from a mini-version of the Leadership Versatility Index, the participants grappled with several issues:

    1. What leadership style is most conducive to innovation and how do you develop it?

    2. How do you link leadership to innovation? What role does the industry play? Or the environment? How much influence do leaders really have over the innovation levels of their teams?

    While there were no definitive answers to these questions, we all left with a much better appreciation of the challenges of leading for innovation and with some new techniques for developing the required leadership skills.

    The 2009 Innovation Summit is now being planned. We expect to focus on the third Building Block of an Innovative Organization -- Metrics (Culture and Leadership being the first two). See the article below for more information on Measuring Innovation!

    A creative gift for yourself

    There is perhaps no greater gift that you can give yourself than rediscovering your creativity and then sharing it with the world.

    To give this gift to yourself, try not to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Instead, plan to spend time reflecting on your own creative talents and defining the first step you can take to start this exploration. Maybe it's spending time in museums, or taking up an art class that you failed at miserably years ago, or perhaps it's just honoring the talents that you have and being brave enough to use them!

    The journey towards reaching your creative potential is not always a simple one. And it can last a lifetime. Yet it is one well worth taking. Finding your creative talent and making creative contributions to the world are, according to Carl Jung, acts of "high courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual."

    Beyond affirming your sense of self, your creativity also helps build resilience and flexibility, both very important in these times of stress.

    With all these benefits, why not include taking a small step on this journey as one of your 2009 new year's resolutions?

    Creative gifts to give your team

    A gift for your team that takes only your time is simply showing them your appreciation (collectively and individually) for all their hard work and for their support during these tough times. Celebrations for small wins and lots of encouragement and appreciation are particularly important in times of stress!

    According to team expert Jon Katzenbach: "What motivates [and keeps] employees is how they feel about the work itself. Bosses need to remind employees of their value to the company and keep them in the loop on news -- even it it's dreary. Don't underestimate the importance of small gestures, such as taking the team out to lunch. Ease office angst, and you'll help employees focus on doing their current jobs instead of finding new ones."

    Thanks to Kathi Albertini from Management Growth Institute for passing along another tip for motivating and keeping employees through tough times: a "Stay Interview."

    By conducting a Stay Interview, which can be short and informal, you let valued employees know you recognize their importance. The questions you ask and responses and comments from the employee give you ideas for how to keep and grow that employee in the future. Losing key employees is expensive, not only in terms of the normal costs of employee turnover. Think about the consequences of lost business or lost procedures or lost information?

    Isn't it worth an investment of your time as team leader to let your associates know how much you appreciate them and all that they do?

    Measuring Innovation

    A recent survey by Boston Consulting Group (www.bcg.com) found that most executives continue to rate innovation as high on their list of strategic priorities. They are, however, increasingly concerned about the return on their investments. In fact, less than half of the respondents were satisfied with the payback on their innovation investment. And that number has been falling steadily over the past several years.

    BCG attributes these results to a failure to measure innovation. "It's no coincidence that some of the most innovative companies also have some of the most rigorous measurement systems in place."

    Why are innovation metrics (such as number of ideas in the innovation pipeline, percentage of ideas funded, innovation spending as a percentage of sales, customer satisfaction ratings) so important? There are at least three reasons:

    1. You get the kind of information you need to make better resource allocation decisions and to take advantage of opportunities.
    2. Defining innovation metrics and aligning them with individual performance metrics provide clarity around expected employee behaviors.
    3. Such metrics facilitate communication with investors and other stakeholders.

    Because of the importance of measuring innovation, this topic is the focus of research that colleagues and I are conducting and will be the topic of the 2009 Innovation Summit.

    Peace and Joy in the New Year
    angel of peace-2

    Recently I heard renowned journalist Bob Woodward speak on the lessons of the Bush presidency. The lessons he listed were based on his conversations with President Bush and others. They are so similar to those that leaders of innovative organizations need to heed, that I thought you might want to hear them.

    1. To deal with complex issues, leaders need a cohesive team that will sit together and honestly explore and debate tough questions.

    2. Leaders need to understand what's going on. While they must delegate, good leaders cannot outsource knowledge of the challenge at hand. Woodward called this, "Mind on, but hands off!"

    3. Leaders need a way of resolving contradictory data. Issues and differences of opinion must be addressed. Leaders must be engaged and feel comfortable dealing with controversy.

    4. Leaders must develop 1-1 relationships with their direct reports, asking them what they think. Then they must bring them all together to resolve their differences. Leaders cannot put a desire for harmony above the need to resolve conflict and test out ideas.

    5. Finally, leaders must find a way to tell the truth, even if the truth is not what their listeners want to hear. The leader needs to trust the maturity of those listeners in wanting and needing to know the truth.

    George W. Bush is said to have called himself "the decider." As a decider, he didn't need to listen. According to a Boston Globe article, "That's the way things were run at Wall Street institutions like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. But in modern management, there's no future for that model. Leaders have to turn their organization into a decision-making engine where all decisions aren't made at the top."

    According to the article, U.S. CEOs often reflect the style of the President. "The approaches of past presidents often have served as templates for occupants of the nation's corner offices."

    Fortune magazine described President-elect Barack Obama's campaign as an "impressive enterprise:" "consistent yet innovative, disciplined yet nimble, and strung together with one overriding rule: No jerks allowed. With egos expected to be checked at the door." The article went on to say that Obama "likes to hear from a range of experts before reaching a decision." Aides describe his preference for aggressive questioning and openness. He himself is quoted as saying, "I believe in a strong feedback loop."

    If the Globe article noted above is correct, then we will start seeing more openness in CEOs, more inclination to question, learn and listen.

    For readers familiar with the leadership style that promotes innovation, this shift will also be very good news!


    If you know exactly where you're going, what's the point of going there?

    --- Pablo Picasso

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