Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi on leadership:

“The fundamental role of a leader is to look for ways to shape the decades ahead, not just react to the present, and to help others accept the discomfort of disruptions to the status quo.”

Source: My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future

II.

Gaurav Bhatnagar and Mark Minukas on fear:

“Fear is neither good nor bad. It is merely an emotion you feel when you get an outcome that is different from what you expect. The story we create about fear matters more that the fear itself. We control those stories and can craft either a negative one of doom and gloom or see fear as a cue for growth. When we are able to do the latter, fear becomes a path that leads to a better future.”

Source: Unfear: Transform Your Organization to Create Breakthrough Performance and Employee Well-Being

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Look for these ideas every Thursday on the Leading Blog. Find more ideas on the LeadingThoughts index.

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Eat, Sleep, Innovate

Eat Sleep Innovate

THE potential for innovation exists within our organizations. The problem is the culture doesn’t support it. Our organizational cultures tend to prioritize today over tomorrow. How do you make innovation as natural as eating and sleeping? Just something you do; part of your organizational culture?

The authors of Eat, Sleep, Innovate—Scott Anthony, Paul Cobban, Natalie Painchaud, and Andy Parker—contend that the solution “requires focusing people’s daily habits through a series of interventions, and then ensuring that the new habits stick and scale.”

We have to change the culture. And that doesn’t begin by copying the relics of highly innovative companies. We must deal with the source of the problem so that innovation and the manifestations of it arise organically from the culture of the organization.

Their definition of innovation is “something different that creates value.” That’s distinct from invention. A light bulb is just a light bulb until it creates value. “Until you have turned a spark of creativity into revenues, profits, or improved performance, in our eyes, you have not innovated.”

What does the organizational culture need to support?

Curiosity. Innovators ask, “What if?” “Is there a better way?”
Customer Obsession. Innovators understand and are engaged with the potential customer.
Collaboration. Innovation occurs when different ideas and perspectives collide.
Adeptness in Ambiguity. Innovators focus on assumptions over answers.
Empowerment. An idea or invention is not an innovation until you do something with it—create value.

What holds us back is fear and inertia that often the outcome of our successes. This inertia becomes the shadow strategy that is ingrained in our culture. It undermines anything we might say or attempt to do otherwise. “The shadow strategy quietly tugs and budges a company down a path of perpetuation, even if circumstances demand something drastically different.” And that kills innovation.

The antidote to all of this is to break old habits and form new ones—and in effect, change the culture. To this end, a team at Innosight began collecting examples of interventions that promoted better innovation habits. They gave this collection the acronym: BEAN or:

Behavior Enablers: Direct ways to encourage and enable behavior change
Artifacts: Physical or digital objects to reinforce behavior change
Nudges: Indirect was to encourage and enable behavior change

In Eat, Sleep, Innovate, they list 101 BEANs and cover, in detail, over 20 to help you design BEANs specific to your organization. There are six key ingredients to a successful BEAN:

Simplicity: Make it easy to adopt and remember. “Want to exercise more? Leave your running shoes by your bed before you go to sleep.”
Practicality: Connect it to existing routines. “The fewer things you have to change, the better.”
Reinforcement: Create physical and digital reminders. Create “visual cues—fun cubes that people can play with on tables and checklists on the wall—that serve as reminders” of your program.
Organizational Consistency: Ensure it links to objectives, processes, systems, and values. “Effective BEANs don’t encourage people to do one thing if the company rewards them for something else or punishes them for that behavior.”
Uniqueness: Create something fun and social and support it with stories and legends. “Sharing stories helps spread the idea.”
Trackability: Build it in a way that it can be adjusted, measured, and scaled. Capture data that allows you to track and improve the program.

BEANs encourage behaviors that build culture. Build a culture in your organization where innovation is the natural result. A place where people can bring their best to the assets of the organization and create something new that has value and impact. BEANs help to “shrink the challenge” into “micro shifts of change.”

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How to Find Your Edge

Edge

WE’VE HEARD that hard work is the secret to success. But all too often we see that hard work is not enough. What then?

We need an edge.

Laura Huang explains just how to gain that advantage in her insightful and encouraging book, Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage. “Certain people seem to be endowed with a unique advantage in which they can execute faster and better and get the things they need, because they are positioned in such a way that others help them move forward. You can create your own edge and open doors—wide-open doors—for yourself.”

Having an edge makes hard work go further. Those that have an edge, Enrich, Delight, and Guide to make their Effort go further.

We must put in the work, but “when you create an edge, you create tailwinds that help you capitalize on your hard work more effectively.” We all face biases, prejudice, and harmful (to us) perceptions and attributions. But these can be the key to overcoming the adversity and roadblocks we face. “for most of you,” she writes, “it will be about positioning yourselves as an antidote to stereotypes, which will allow you to guide the perceptions of others, delight others, and ultimately will result in others seeing the unique value you can provide.”

Enrich

Huang begins with Enrich because it is the foundation of our edge. To do this, we begin by finding our “basic goods.” Those basic things that make you, you. “Creating an edge starts with pinpointing your basic goods and defining your circle of competence, and operating inside that perimeter.” It’s how you enrich.

Your history and your story are part of your basic goods. Don’t underestimate where you’ve been planted—grow there.

Our constraints provide us with a unique way to enrich when we own them—when we use them to see differently. “Don’t let the constraints that others create prevent you from identifying the problem for you, and hence the solution for you.”

Delight

Getting the door to enrich is made possible by our ability to Delight. Delight opens the door, so we can enrich. It’s how we deliver our value.

What is delight? It is the unexpected. “When we delight, we violate perceptions, but in a benign way. Delight unsettles and challenges beliefs about your context, grabbing the attention of gatekeepers and making way for you to show how you enrich.”

There is value in planning to delight, but it is important that you stay flexible and be looking for opportunities to delight. “Authentically delighting in situ requires you to be constantly fine-tuning, as well as constantly attuned to how you can shape situations to present the opportunity for your talents and core competencies to become apparent.”

Delighting requires you to have an opinion or point of view—being authentic while having the audacity, or the stomach, you might say, to take a bold, surprising stance.

We all have the capacity to enrich. But when you are able to also delight, that is where the real magic happens. That is how you allow them to let you in, and how you build your edge.

(As an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, Huang offers a great section on the advice she gives the students and entrepreneurs she coaches on the high-concept pitch, the two-sentence pitch, and the extended pitch. She states that “no pitch should be longer than one minute—after that, you should be in full conversation mode.”)

Guide

Once in, we Guide how others perceive our work and our worth. “It is inevitable that we will be affected by how other people view us and how they perceive us when we are merely trying to ‘be ourselves.’” We should keep in mind too that other’s perceptions of us are to a large extent about them.

Huang says we should look for patterns in our life—what rhymes. “Don’t go for absolutes go for directionality.” This is very helpful. Rather than adopt labels, we should identify directions for three reasons:

Going for directionality, rather than absolutes, helps you manage the impressions of others and guide their perceptions. You can be more fluid and adaptive.

If you go for general directionality, you’ll be more likely to avoid striving for goals that don’t leverage your strengths and that make it harder for you to create advantages. Self-awareness, in and of itself, is an elusive goal. We never really know ourselves, the best we can do is to find general directionality.

And finally, going for directionality allows you to simply move toward something that feels right, while already finding ways to cultivate an edge.

Self-awareness is knowing what we put out there and how it will be perceived by others. “Guiding entails being purposeful in helping others frame the attribution that they make about us.”

Don’t let them make assumptions. Give them the data points so that they can draw the trend line that you want them to see. Tell them, rather than allowing them to guess, about your future potential.

By providing directionality, you determine what is meaningful for them to know.

Effort

Effort works with the edge you are creating to inform you of the things you should be putting your effort into—things that you can enrich, delight, and guide. It’s in this combination that your effort then works harder for you. “Effort reinforces your edge.”

The optimal conditions for creating an edge are those in which bitterness and regret do not restrain you; they embolden you. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. Acknowledge and accept this, and you have already begun to create your edge. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, and that life is not fair. But you put in hard work plus, regardless. Don’t let success define you, but don’t let failure define you either. Play the long game, not the short one.

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