The Uncomfortable Catalyst of Innovation: Getting comfortable with failure in a world focused on removing failure.


In a world of Lean Six Sigma, TQM, and other error and failure removal and reduction systems we need to understand a new perspective: Failure is okay. Understanding that failure is a part of innovation is critical. Many of the systems we use every day around the globe in some of the most important organizations require removing failure, but the key is understanding at what point this should take place. When we review performance in any organization, there are stages of the life of business products, services, and processes we need to be aware of. The first stage is Creation & Innovation. The second stage is Growth and Maturation. The third stage is Retirement and Reincarnation. While these are individual stages as I see them, they are not mutually exclusive. They work together, and often work in cycle. Very few systems today work in a purely linear fashion. Therefore we see the Retirement and Reincarnation stage being driven by the Creation & Innovation stage, or we see the cycling back through the stages. You notice that at no time is there a stagnant period of simple maintenance; there is constant motion. Maintenance in today’s market is equal to death for most products and services. So what do each of these look like?

Creation & Innovation

In this stage, we see the birth of ideas and hopefully the beginning of an innovation, or something that is not only creative but useful. The important component of this particular phase that is only recently being picked up by even some of the largest and ostensibly most important organizations out there, is the concept of failure. During this phase we need to be comfortable with failure, and actually encourage it. Of course, this does not mean just any failure, this means successful failure. Failure that provides lessons and helps us achieve the next big success. If we make mistakes and learn nothing, this is truly failure. Which means we need to create an environment that encourages failure, measures for it, rewards it, and provides room for improvement from it.

Growth and Maturation

During this phase, the focus is on taking the product, process, or service from the beginning idea to a thriving money maker. It means also continuing to grow and evolve, while being able to provide it at an even more efficient and effective pace and quality. During this phase is where the focus on removing errors and mistakes comes in. However, part of the key is that we have an established thing that we are focusing on improving through error and mistake reduction.

Retirement and Reincarnation

At some point we need to be aware of the need to revitalize and reincarnate what we are doing. Is the product or service still necessary? Is it still viable? Is it still competitive? Does the process still work, or do we need something new? These are questions that keep us moving forward and help determine whether it is time to retire a particular product or service, or if we can revitalize and reincarnate it as something new. Again, during this time we see a need for the creativity and innovation from the first phase, which is where we actually begin to cycle back to the beginning and start over.

While this process seems simplistic, it really seems to me that this is the way business today can best be summed up. Most important throughout the phases is understanding that sometimes we need failure and sometimes we need to reduce failure. Take a look at your own organization, and please leave your comments and thoughts below!

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12 Ways to Maximize Collisions of Perspective | Leadership Freak


12 Ways to Maximize Collisions of Perspective | Leadership Freak.

I am a firm believer in the fact that conflict can be healthy and does not have to be negative, but the key is to be able to disagree in a healthy manner.  As always, the Leadership Freak hits it dead on!  Don’t run from conflict, but embrace it with clear boundaries and rules and it can become one of the greatest business tools you have at your disposal!  I think we often forget that many inventions and innovations happened when someone was told that they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, or wouldn’t, or it would never work.  Conflict, though not always comfortable, is often the catalyst for great things!

Human Performance Systems Thinking: This is NOT just a Buzz Word!


For anyone that knows me, I am a nut about understanding the way that organizations and people work, especially as it relates to increasing and maintaining performance.  Unfortunately many organizations of all sizes fail to see the many systemic components of this and how they work together, or they only have a cursory awareness without the clear connections and methods of helping them work together.

Whether you are a Fortune 100 company, or just started a month ago there are certain areas that need clear focus from the onset.  It is really easy to let certain things fall to the wayside, especially when you are focusing on trying to get your business off the ground and become self-sufficient.  I would like to share a few things that I believe that all businesses, work groups, teams, and divisions should think about as systemic components of your Human Performance program.

  1. Leadership needs to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and ensure they get the development and guidance they need to support the business and their people.  This may seem a bit of a no-brainer,  but it is a critical component of your Human Performance system.  The leaders and senior leaders are the drivers and examples (or should be) and need to focus on developing and growing as much as or more than many others.  This serves the purpose of not only increasing capability and knowledge, but I believe also helps foster humbleness by reinforcing the fact that senior leaders do not know all the answers.  How many conversations and relationships would be, or are, different because of someone showing a bit of humility?
  2. Training is not always the answer…only for new skills or refreshes on old skills.  When someone is not performing, often the first go-to is to train them again, because the assumption is that they must not know how to do whatever it is.  Ask some questions first, such as: “Did they know how to do it before?” “What has changed for them personally and/or professionally?” “Are they engaged by the task/work/project/etc.?”  Answers to these questions can assist in directing toward either a training event or other solution, which leads to some of the other points.
  3. Determine what you can and should hire for, and what you really need to and want to train for when someone joins your team.  This changes the entire system drastically in many cases.  If I hire with expectations for certain knowledge, skills, and abilities then that reduces the amount and depth of training necessary to provide.  This also changes the potential of getting production faster and with potentially more varied perspectives.
  4. Re-evaluate roles and positions regularly to determine if what they were still fits for today and tomorrow.  Some of us get bored being stuck in the same thing all the time, and want the opportunity to grow and move in to other areas.  Re-evaluation of roles and responsibilities regularly, while including those currently in the role, can go a long way to engaging employees.  Additionally, it is important to ensuring your organization is best prepared not just for where you are, but where you want to go.
  5. Ensure performance management is built in to the day-to-day, nor reserved for mid-year and end-of-year.  It has been said a million times, but it deserves reiterating.  Performance management as a practice is one of the most hated things for most managers, but the reality is if the culture of the organization and team includes coaching people for success as they take on new jobs, tasks, responsibilities, etc. and then continues providing direction and feedback after, the process goes much more smoothly.  This changes the discussions and can increase engagement and feelings of trust and rapport with leaders.
  6. Create the culture that you would be excited to be a part of, lead it, and reinforce it.  Again, this is not new, but you are the one others look at.  The way you act, or the way you don’t influences others.  The way you communicate, or don’t, influences others.  The trust and transparency you have, or don’t, influences others.  Never lose sight of the impact you really have.
  7. Management and Leadership are a job, not an afterthought.  I really can’t stress this enough.  Managers need to lead, and the activities that a manager should be doing are very different than what individual contributors should be.  This should be evaluated regularly and people who are really stronger as individual contributors should be given the opportunity to do those types of jobs at no penalty.  Additionally, managers need to be able to put the overwhelming majority of their focus on building a strong and stable team, growing them, removing barriers, and getting things done.  If you are not doing these activities at least 85% of the time, you are NOT a manager.  You simply have a title.

Your Human Performance System is critical, and very real.  It is also very complex, and understanding and working with it can be difficult.  But that does not lessen the importance or necessity of working on it constantly. It is dynamic and needs constant focus, and many times adjustments and change.  Are you focusing in these areas?  How?  What else would you add to this list?  I’d love to hear your comments!

Engaged with Gamification!


Many years ago I started to explore the concept of gamification, which is essentially the use of games and game theory to accomplish some other task.  Originally, the research and information I found talked about Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) that provided research on leadership, innovation, and communication skills and gave some indication that there was potential for leadership development and assessment using these methods.  To me, this was an amazing and wonderful prospect!  However, I never quite got the traction behind any initiatives to use these methods (insert sad face here).

Well, not long ago I was contacted by the CEO of an awesome new company called OfficeVibe.  And guess what…they focus on workplace gamification!  Not in the “let’s-get-together-and-hack-and-slash-goblins-and-build-guilds” kind of games, but rather with an ingenious engagement tool that brings multiple activities in one place worth points, and that encourage each of us to be better personally and professionally.  It runs similar to platforms such as Yammer that connect users via business email addresses, or even using their extant Yammer account.  I think it’s brilliant, and wanted to share it with everyone I can, so please check them out at www.officevibe.com.

Now, to make this even better, today I received a fantastic newsletter with a wonderful infographic about employee engagement from OfficeVibe that I also wanted to share.  Enjoy, and please stop by and check them out!  This is an amazing tool to meet many needs that many of us have today related to the engagement issues we all know we have and that the infographic beautifully illustrates!

10 Shocking Stats About Employee EngagementInfographic crafted with love by Officevibe, the corporate team building and employee engagement platform.

The Open Office Debate: I Love To Hate It!


I have noticed a considerable amount of chatter recently related to open work spaces (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), and the debate about whether they really help or hinder productivity and creativity.  Personally, I can’t stand open work spaces…all the time.  And here is where I think the debate is missing the mark: It may not be the best at all times, or for all things.

To explain this a little more clearly, I refer to another ongoing debate.  This second debate is about the “10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert” rule.  This is another one that has some staunch supporters on both sides including the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Goleman (see here, here, here, and here).  In this debate, however, there is a poignant point presented: it’s not just about the number of hours, it’s about the quality of the time spent.  In other words, if you practice the same wrong thing for 10,000 hours, you will potentially be very good at doing the wrong thing, but still not at expert level of doing what you need to be doing.

Using this same logic, let’s look at the open office.  Is the open office the right setup at all times, for all work, or for all people?  I would like to believe that most of us would emphatically say no. I like the open workspace at times when I need to work with others off and on, say when I am working with SMEs to design and develop materials for learning programs, or discussing ideas for restructuring roles or teams.  However, when I need to concentrate and write material, reports, or other mentally intensive and focused work, the open work environment is completely distracting.

Now, I’m sure I will receive some backlash from this, but I want to use other examples from the high-tech industry as well.  At my current organization, we have many engineers and designers/developers working on networking infrastructure and coding.  They use an Agile methodology for much of what they do, as well as using DevOps methodology.  Both of these require a considerable amount of collaboration at times.  However, I still see plenty of these roles who retreat to their cubicles with the lights turned down low, headphones on, and in some cases even a shade of some sort over the top of their cube to create their own environment.  The reason is simply creation of an environment where we can concentrate.

We work best in small bursts of concentration of a minimum of about 45 minutes to a maximum of about 90 minutes.  After that, our mind tends to begin losing concentration and focus.  This means that while it may not be necessary to stay closed off to everyone all the time, there are times where we need a private, quiet space to escape to.  Working from home or a coffee shop often provides this type of environment, because while it is open, we do not know most people and therefore feel isolated and able to concentrate with the ability to look away from our computer or other work for a few minutes as necessary.  At work, this concept breaks down because we generally know most of the people around us, which creates a more social environment that can contribute to a drop in productivity and creativity at times.  So, as stated in the beginning the debate misses this mark.  Open work environments may not be the worst thing in the world, but they are not always the best.  The quality is what counts, and as always that depends on other circumstances and means different things at different times.

When you have time, lead your team.


In the not-so-distant past, I had the opportunity to experience a situation unfolding where a manager has taken on the role of “working manager” to a detrimental point, exacerbated by a number of facts.  First, they are in a first-time management position with direct reports, which started as one and grew to 6 in a very short period of about two-and-a-half to three years.  To make matters worse, their role has increasingly taken on more individual contributor responsibilities, while the responsibilities of the team members reporting to them have Man facing problems and stressbecome increasingly varied and complex.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Organizations today are increasingly attempting to “do more with less” which is not a new concept, but we see organizations taking it to frightening extremes at times.  While to some degree this is a fact of business, we need to ensure that we are also being mindful of the conflicting measurements and expectations we place on leaders in the organization.  How much time do you and/or your managers spend focusing on your own projects and tasks?  How much time do you or they dedicate to actually managing and leading?  Are your tasks and managing and leading your people considered different, and what is more critical?  These are important questions.

Too often we forget that the functions of leading and managing are complex, and require focus and time.  This is even more salient when leaders work with diverse workgroups across national and international boundaries, and across multiple areas of expertise.  The basics of learning to delegate are important, but there is certainly more.  Leaders in complex leadership situations need to the opportunity to say no, they cannot take on another task, another project, another product, another whatever without fear of reprisal.  It is senior leadership’s responsibility to create and encourage this environment, and everyone’s responsibility to help support it.  Further, it is the responsibility of leadership throughout the organization to make sure that the right people are not only in the right place, but also that they receive the right support at the right time.  This means for themselves and other leaders.

We need the time, the training, and the support to be the best that we can, and that means each and every one of us, consistently.  There is no silver bullet, but an important component is awareness.  The awareness of senior leaders and mid-level leaders to recognize when they or others are taking on too much, or trying to be the hero, or trying to continue getting the accolades of being the “doer” versus being the leader.  While there are many other areas for potential focus, this one thing makes a huge difference in engagement, creating a trusting environment, building relationships, and increasing potential and performance for everyone.

 

Attention to Cognitive Load and Memory in the Workplace Could See Greater Attention to Detail in Work and Greater Job Satisfaction


“Every day I go home, I am simply mentally exhausted!”

“I get a headache by the end of the day, and come back the next day to do it again.”

“There just seem to be too many balls in the air at one time…something is going to have to drop.”

These statements are probably nothing new to most people who go to work at many workplaces around the globe.  The sheer amount of information being thrown at people today is atrocious.  Of course, it can be a positive thing when you think about how much more access that people have to information than they did even 10 – 15 years ago.  But what does this really do to us in the workplace?  How can our minds handle this information?  What are workplaces doing to mitigate some of the losses, and improve the successes?

In most cases unfortunately the answer is probably not much.  One of the fastest growing professions in the world right now is Industrial/Organizational Psychology (Cherry, 2011), and for very good reason.  As I have discussed before, companies work in the sense of “I need it yesterday” which is not always conducive to success and progress.  A better way to look at it may be, “Taking a little extra time to do things correctly today, could save a lot of time doing and fixing things later.”  So what do I mean by doing things correctly?

One of the first things that I believe is tremendously important is to refer to the findings by psychologist George Miller.  In a study published in the 1967 Psychology Review, Miller introduced the “Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.”  The premise behind this study is that the human mind can only discern between, or remember, seven different things with a variance of two more or two less (depending on type of stimulus).  However, more importantly Miller discussed the concept of “chunking”.  Chunking is when you group information together to remember it easier.  This could be grouping together by meaning, or by association, but nonetheless chunks.  A book out of the University of Missouri (Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., & Chen, Z.) gives some great background and examples of this, as do most Psych 101 textbooks.   Take, for example: 19-98-19-99-20-00-20-01-20-02.  If you were to attempt to remember each of these chunks of data individually, you would have 10 individual chunks (19, 98, etc.).  Most people would find remembering that many chunks difficult.  For most of us though, our brain recognizes 1998-1999-2000-2001-2002, which would reduce down our number of chunks to only 5, and would allow us to remember these much easier.

This is a basic concept of psychology, and yet seems to be lost in the business world.  This seems especially true when it comes to developing training, creating communications, and otherwise disseminating other information and communications.  While an expectation may be that adults in the workplace can discover their own ways of chunking, a true commitment to the employees and the organization itself would say that it would benefit all involved to help this process along.  Imagine for just a moment the reduction in wasteful communications or other information delivery!  By reducing the amount of information (cognitive load) you increase the amount of information that can be stored in the working memory and thus the amount that can be more easily encoded to long-term memory.

Another concept that I believe is important, and that appears to have been hit upon by some organizations out there, is the idea of a physical and mental break.  This has some very serious implications in the workplace.  An article published by Dr. Rick Nauert on PsychCentral discusses research that shows “that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.” (Nauert, 2011)  Essentially the research that Dr. Nauert refers to and discusses explains that you loose your attention to the task that you are working on because your mind becomes habituated to it in the same way that you stop noticing that you are wearing socks and shoes after a while.  Your body simply becomes accustomed to it, and so stops focusing on it.  The same thing is true when working on tasks at work.  Getting up from a task, or in some way diverting attention (at an appropriate time of course!) to something else for short periods can actually help you stay focused for longer.  By allowing for, and encouraging, breaks in work tasks organizations could see higher levels of quality in work, as well as happier, more satisfied, more productive workers with a lower burnout rate.

Hopefully as organizations around the world begin to see the need for change in the “this is the way we do things” mentality, I/O Psychologists (and those of us who are aspiring and working towards that goal) will be called in to action to identify, explain, and assist in correcting these types of issues, and to creating the best environment for workers and work.

 

References

Cherry, K. (2011, February 21). Kendra’s Psychology Blog. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from About.com: http://psychology.about.com/b/2011/02/21/industrial-organizational-psychology-ranks-as-one-of-the-fastest-growing-careers.htm


Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., & Chen, Z. (in press).  The legend of the magical number seven.  In S. Della Sala (Ed.), Tall tales about the brain:  Things we think we know about the mind, but ain’t so.  Oxford University Press

Rick Nauert, P. (2011, February 9). Taking Breaks Found to Improve Attention. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from PsychCentral: http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/02/09/taking-breaks-found-to-improve-attention/23329.html

 

Other suggested reading:

Article by Nicholas Carr (http://www.edge.org/q2011/q11_3.html#carrn) (scroll down to read) on Cognitive Load