Learning How To WIN Again With Innovation!

A common theme over the past few months at companies is that they and their culture need to “Learn how to WIN again.”

The conversation goes something like this…

When asked if they have ever innovated they can point to when they last innovated in a disruptive LEAP fashion. They speak of the excitement, the joy, the days of great success when they had something that none of their competitors offered.

When I then ask “So you agree that LEAP innovations work – why not now?” The body language changes instantly from energy to despair. They become the “huddled masses.” The room goes silent. And that is when someone says a version of “I guess we’ve forgotten how to WIN. We just don’t believe we can anymore.”

I’ve observed this 5 times this year. The first time I was amazed that a senior leader would say such a thing. I’ve become used to the conversation but continue to be filled with overwhelming sadness.

I’ve grown to responding with encouragement…. “It’s just not right. This is a great company with great people. You can.. you could.. you should…”

I’ve learned to respect the depth of pain that executives feel. Over the past 15 years – as the internet has created the digital age – it has unleashed price/value transparency, new competition and cycles of change that cause never ending stress. The stress is very real. We’ve tracked the mindset of executives since the early 90’s and since the year 2000 we’ve seen a steady decline in optimism and courage to take action. The stress you feel is REAL folks. Your lack of confidence in your culture’s ability to win is VERY REAL.

The Antidote to Not Believing You Can Win

When I hear this challenge – my recommendation is NOT to change the culture, not to transform the leadership. These types of transformations will simply fall on deaf ears. Rather, my recommendation is to assemble a small team of “Explorers” to work together to drive a BIG WIN in 6 months!

By BIG WIN I mean an outrageously bigger idea discovered, developed and taken to market faster than anyone could ever imagine the company doing it.

Importantly, the small team do not operate as a “skunk works” outside of the organization. Rather, they work in parallel to the existing system and in collaboration with the existing culture.

They “infect” the existing culture with their energy and excitement. They do this by leveraging the wisdom of the existing culture through High Performance Collaboration Technology like our Collaboration Cafe (strategic focused requests, idea scan benchmarking technology, fear resolving private & public responses with 4 tiers of security, and stimulus to ignite fresh ideas).

They leverage Rapid Research using internal wisdom and customer feedback using High Performance Research systems (up to 400 tests in 4 days!), High Performance Project Management Technologies (working up to 6x faster) and High Performance Patent ROI technologies to leverage the world’s largest database of Invention Blueprints – and writing patents in about an hour.

Working in parallel honors the culture and the people within it while working in parallel with incredible speed. In contrast, the “Skunk Works” approach communicates in spoken or unspoken ways that the existing people are stupid and slow – and the Skunk Works team are smart and fast. WRONG ANSWER. Everyone can innovate on big ideas if they are ENABLED – with the education, systems, tools and confidence that they too can WIN.

To be successful the Senior Leader who serves as Management Coach for the Explorers needs to have extremely high standards. They need to set a Blue Card vision that is bold and VERY IMPORTANT. They need to be brutally honest with the team on what success looks like. They need to be helpful in problem solving ideas that can be saved and equally helpful in helping kill ideas that just can’t get the team to the BIG WIN it needs. This role is VERY hard – VERY hard. However, this “tough love” is critical if we are to breakthrough and achieve the level of Bold success that will cause people to believe they can win again!.

With Mega Success from the Explorer Team — a chain reaction is ignited – that is the ONLY WAY for a Culture to Learn How to WIN Again!

Walter Werner, who worked for my Dad years ago when Dr. Deming was working at Nashua Corporation described the Diffusion of Innovations – the diffusion of believing we can win in this way…

Explorers were the first to travel west from the 13 Original American Colonies.

The EXPLORERS hate civilization as it is. They will go over the hill to try anything to get away from all the constraints and false promises.

The PIONEERS also hate civilization for the same reasons. They are a tiny bit more conservative and want some assurance that the world really isn’t flat.

SETTLERS are different. They like civilization but they want more. Maybe it’s cheap land or economic opportunity. Settlers bring civilization but they do adapt to change in every generation.

STRAGGLERS will always be nice people they are just too darn slow.

RESISTORS just like New Hampshire granite never change. Resistors anchor society and prevent it from fling away with each new fad. They really do help keep a level head in the decision making process.

YOU CAN DO THIS. I’ve seen it happen at small, medium and mega sized companies over the past year. All it takes is a small group of Explorers – leaders, managers, front line staff – coming together to say… we’re not going to take it anymore… lets prove that we can WIN again… lets do cool Sh$#@ that matters!

Rock and Roll!


Doug Hall
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