Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Collaborate for Better Results

I work as a consultant. It is difficult for me to find just the right adjective to pinpoint what type of consultant, as in a management consultant, or a business consultant, or an IT consultant. I am okay with that. In fact, I think the ambiguity of it all is a great barometer for finding the type of client that I want to work with. If the person I am talking to does not have the mental patience or the listening skills for me to fill the blank, it is just as well in my book because I don’t get on well with people whose whole world has to fit rigidly and neatly in little mental categories and boxes.

Last night I was filling out the bio portion for a conference presentation. I put “innovation consultant” because that is what I am most interested in right now, and that is what I think is needed most right now as all types of businesses figure ways to align to the New Normal of our economy.

I was in New York a few months ago. At the place I stayed, The Pod Hotel, I made all of the reservations by email. No talking to anyone, no repeating all my info a few times, no waiting as the checking of dates etc happened on their end. I sent in a room request, my dates, my non-smoking preference, my ETA, and in a few hours, I was welcomed as a soon-to-be guest. As a former boutique hotel owner, I was wowed because I could imagine the freedom that this email reservation system created for the hotel and their employees not having to be slave to the phone, yet still not missing business. This was a small innovation, inexpensive, yet radical in its disruption to hotel reservations system as we know them.

Consultants get a bad rap. I am sure some of it is justified. But, some of it is hubris and short-sightedness. Some people are DIY at heart, even if their DIY effort yield a lesser result. They cannot cede control. This is a type of hubris that is hurtful to self and to system.

There are some excellent reasons to work with a consultant especially if you are considering change and innovation as a competitive necessity. Consultants are detached from the politics and emotional baggage of your system. They can see through the “if we make that change, Susan will have her feelings hurt.” Building systems in deference to people who won’t or can’t adapt is not only bad business, I think it is irresponsible and unethical, placing all the rest of the stakeholders’ needs and desires and aspirations as a lesser priority.

Consultants are not comforted by the status quo and complacency in your system. They are not deriving their sense of identity and security from maintaining the same protocol as some of the internal people are.

What consultants can do is help the pathways for communication and service delivery develop strongly and effectively and for the human element to adapt to support and enhance those pathways. Consultants cans see things that everyone else cannot see because it has been part of the backdrop for so long. These things can be negative things like the first impression an area makes on the senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing..) and positive things like the stories that are in the midst of what you do and the heroism with which you do it. Consultants can push the limits of discussion that go on in all areas of your endeavor because their questioning is free from power politics and not harnessed by social mitigation. This can have many expansive effects including more elevated and focused dialogues, new insights, less delusional escapism, less guarding of the status quo.

Consultants can also have more expertise in a specified domain like innovation or knowledge-sharing or systems which you might need but does not reside in the talent within your system.

Consultants can make great ad hoc members to your strategic thinking teams. I love working with leaders and managers to influence and enhance their thinking because through them, the whole system can be stimulated. If the leader and the manager are not open to expanding, the best consultant in the world cannot create desire where fear has taken root.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where Do Ideas Come From?

This is an interesting question to think about. Obviously ideas can come from a lot of places. But, I think there are some conducive actions and mindsets that we can cultivate in ourselves and in our habits such that we can become more likely to have ideas come.

First and foremost, it helps to be open to less control in your beliefs.  If you think you have it all figured out and you have your life situated just so - efficient and safe, why do you even need a good idea because you have it all figured out.  Instead I think you have to loosen your control and dependence on the status quo and be open to new ways of thinking, doing, and being. You have to be interested in the future and interested in having a voice in designing it. You have to be willing to question assumptions and to honor different paths and solutions to life's challenges.  You have to be willing to ask the non-obvious question, the deep question, the difficult question because it is from those rich, searching questions that full, authentic answers comes. Asking the right question is key.

Second, you have to learn to see. You have to stop encountering the world on automatic pilot and consciously disrupt your automatic thoughts, habits, and reactions.  When I am feeling stale and stagnant, about to be subsumed by status quo and mediocrity, I intentionally turn the subtleties of my day upside down.  I use my non-dominant hand to brush my teeth. I stop drinking coffee and fix herbal tea as my morning drink, which I don't like doing but because it is a conscious and willful act on my part I am in touch with the purposefulness of the disruption.  I drive into town via a different, inefficient route through parts of the city that I never cruise. I listen to my kids' CDs on the way instead of NPR.  All of the above happens in the first hour of being awake and the effect is that I tell my brain to wake up and start scanning for information because the routine is not happening today.  I proceed with intentional disruption for the rest of the day, continuing for a week or so.  And, I pay attention to the different thoughts that I have, and I record them all day long, not manipulating them at this point, just recording them knowing that they can fit somewhere.

All the time while I am making the insignifica of my life conscious, I am open and sensory aware to see and experience everything in a new way.  In my interactions with people, I don't react to what is said or done. Instead I play scenarios in my head that take in the bigger picture.  If someone says something snarky or superficial in a meeting, I rewind their tape in my head and try to get in touch with what their whole day and whole life must be like. What do they value? What limits have they created for themselves and those around them that causes their behavior? What fears have caused them to stay in the safe land of superficiality where everything is nice, or the tightly controlled regimen of efficient detailed plans that keep life's divine spontenaity at bay? I try to figure the right questions to ask and to imagine as many answers as possible, not deciding on a right one, but exercising my creative imaginative brain muscle, developing my sense of empathy and compassion. I think with my heart in this moment, keeping my head out of the picture because it wants to defend and judge.

Another way to nurture the possibility of an idea is to hang around people and places that like and value ideas and learning.  This is easy to do these days thanks to blogs, Twitter, video chat, and a regular stream of email with lots of people.  What do you think?  I ask lots of people this about lots of topics all day long.  Here is what I think, what am I missing, what can you add to help build a bigger idea, what might I have discounted or overlooked

Having an idea that has possibility to me is about building, one perspective and bit of wisdom upon another, thinking about each component part at a time and intentionally guarding against automatic, routine, expected, easy answers that are habitual. To me, the easy, obvious defensive answers are laziness taken root in the mind. Those aren't ideas, those are habits. Weeds. 

One place to hang out with ideas is Ideablob where micropreneurs have an ideafest, telling the world about their ideas in hopes to find production partners.  Another fun place to hang is Quixoting, a blog devoted to thinking out loud in public about stuff.

Why not?

We forget to take time in our busy lives to question the everyday, and it is in the questioning of the everyday that the next new thing that makes the everyday better, easier, more meaningful lives.  We just need to take the time and effort to prepare ourselves for ideas to come everyday.

Chat: Google Talk: jamiereverb Skype: jamiereverb
My wiki:  http://jamiefeildbaker.wikispaces.com/

Able to Judge and Adjust

In his blog post today Seth Godin poses The Question that is among the most vital few questions for sustainability planning. Godin asks this:

How would you manage or market differently if you knew that you had to hit the brakes, and hard? Slowing one thing and speeding up something else.

Godin takes a look at a few of the industries where we are seeing first hand that they are not asking and answering this question. Like newspapers:

Prediction: there will be no significant newspapers printed on newsprint in the US by 2012. So, you've got two and a half years before the newspaper industry is going to be doing something else with the news and the ads, or not be there at all. Does that change what you do today if you work in this business?

Newspapers are so busy defending the status quo of their business and its model that they have lost sight of the right question? They don't like the future so they are working hard, pretending that it does not exist, or that they have effective control over it. They are not nimble. They are not wise. They are not courageous.

The American auto industry: same status quo defenders.

The American music industry: same status quo defenders.

The American education industry: same status quo defenders.

Innovation is needed desparately in all of these areas and more in order to sustain their ability to continue to deliver their goods and services to a interested customer base.

Can you anticipate the future, see what its major challenges and opportunities are?

Can you accept that the future is controlled and dictated by the desires of the customer and the protocol of the marketplace, not by the desires of your organization and its people?

Can you stop what is old school and determine and implement what is needed for 21st century relevance?

If not, so sorry. Someone else who is already doing all of these things will scoop up your customers. This will happen in plain sight while you are busy writing a press release that spouts your greatness of yesterday and your dedication to past prevalence.

Like Seth Godin suggests, it is about braking and accelerating down a different path that is relevant to the customers' future needs, wants, desires and the cultures current means of communication and connection.

Be sure that you are asking and acting toward the right question and the right vision of the future in order to be sustainable, relevant, and around.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Defending Against Creative Destruction

In this article published at the Huffington Post, Christensen makes the point that managers must defend the perimeters of their business, especially the low end. The really hard part of disruption is when the disrupting competitor can come in the market at the price point of free. It is hard to compete with free. Free allows one to dominate a niche without threat of new entrants. See what Google does and Craig's List.

This article is worth the read and pondering time.

(Lovin' that Diigo helps me annotate my reading.)


Clayton M. Christensen: The Past and Future of General Motors

creative destruction. Manage the low end to defend against disruption. Innovate constantly and quickly.

  • How did GM, Chrysler, and Ford get in this mess? It is the result of a competitive attack called disruption, which began in the auto industry in the 1960s. When an entrant competitor attacks the low end of any market, the rational reaction of the incumbent firms is to abandon rather than defend it -- because the low end is the least profitable of their possible investments. Rather, the pursuit of profits causes the incumbent leaders to move up-market, towards bigger, better and more profitable products
    • and when they can enter the market with "free" like Craig's list, you are really in trouble. comment by jamiereverb
  • Lest the journalists who assembled the newspaper in which you're reading this believe they are immune from this phenomenon, their newspaper's advertising revenues are being disrupted by Google and Craigslist -- and on-line news is disrupting its readership numbers. Disruption is how Canon attacked Xerox; how Wal-Mart and Target bested the department stores; how Southwest drove so many major airlines into bankruptcy; how Sony defeated RCA, and how Apple crippled Sony.
    • and how charters and virtual learning will upend schooling comment by jamiereverb
  • Disruption is the causal mechanism behind the "creative destruction" that Schumpeter saw so pervasively at work in capitalist economies.
    • It's when growth stops because you're being disrupted that managing becomes really, really hard, and as a result most disrupted companies simply disappear.
      • Detroit with the Ghost of Christmas Future

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        Monday, April 6, 2009

        Recession Wisdom from Tom Peters

        I have been reading, watching, and following Tom Peters since the mid-80s. He has consistently delivered a perspective on business and management that is not watered down or sugar-coated and works from the articulated assumption that every person and every company should do their absolute best, attain their fullest potential, and THEN SOME! He is one of the few writers that I allow to scream at me from the page, like the tough and expectant love that spews from a drill sergeant. Why? He wants me to be better and do better.

        Here is Tom Peters' recent list of how to survive the recession. We are 17 months in and its is highly likely, we have a ways to go as we re-align our economy to 21century needs and processes. I like this list because it is expansive and one can find many things to focus on and work on which keeps one's minds from focusing on worry and anxiety and catastrophizing. Pick two per week. Really think about them, mull them over and see how they shake out for your situation in your life and in your work. Then, act! That's what I am going to do - find a way to make the rough spots a source of strength and conditioning that will separate me and my organization and the value that I offer from the herd, in good times and bad.

        Thanks Tom!

        From Tom's Blog

        I am constantly asked for "strategies/'secrets' for surviving the recession." I try to appear wise and informed—and parade original, sophisticated thoughts. But if you want to know what's going through my head, read the list below:

        You work longer.
        You work harder.
        You may well work for less; and, if so, you adapt to the untoward circumstances with a smile—even if it kills you inside.
        You volunteer to do more.
        You always bring a good attitude to work.
        You fake it if your good attitude flags.
        You literally practice your "game face" in the mirror in the morning, and in the loo mid-morning.
        You shrug off shit that flows downhill in your direction—buy a shovel or a "pre-worn" raincoat on eBay.
        You get there earlier.
        You leave later.
        You forget about "the good old days"—nostalgia is for wimps.
        You buck yourself up with the thought that "this too shall pass"—but then remind yourself that it might not pass anytime soon, so you re-dedicate yourself to making the absolute best of what you have now.
        You eschew all forms of personal excess.
        You simplify.
        You sweat the details as you never have before.
        You sweat the details as you never have before.
        You sweat the details as you never have before.
        You raise to the sky the standards of excellence by which you evaluate your own performance.
        You thank others by the truckload if good things happen—and take the heat yourself if bad things happen.
        You behave kindly, but you don't sugarcoat or hide the truth—humans are startlingly resilient.
        You treat small successes as if they were Superbowl victories—and celebrate and commend accordingly.
        You shrug off the losses (ignoring what's going on inside your tummy), and get back on the horse and try again.
        You avoid negative people to the extent you can—pollution kills.
        You eventually read the gloom-sprayers the riot act.
        You learn new tricks of your trade.
        You network like a demon.
        You help others with their issues.
        You give new meaning to the word "thoughtful."
        You redouble, re-triple your efforts to "walk in your customer's shoes." (Especially if the shoes smell.)
        You mind your manners—and accept others' lack of manners in the face of their strains.
        You are kind to all mankind.
        You leave the blame game at the office door.
        You become a paragon of accountability.
        And then you pray.