Talent and Innovation

Everyone says they want to innovate. Every company talks innovation. We’re now seeing innovation as a core value for many companies. But are they really innovating?

Innovation is about talent. In the absence of talent there can’t be innovation. The first step to innovation is recognizing the two types of talent required to be innovative.

The first type of talent required to innovate is visionary talent. This is the talent, skill, or competency to see things others cannot see, or are unwilling to accept. Visionary talent is often related to first-movers. Many of the products and services we use on a daily basis started first with a vision. A mobile phone, a smart watch, wireless headphones (or ear buds), technology in the cloud versus a mainframe. These inventions, or innovations, required visionary talent. How do you spot visionary talent? Individuals that possess an insatiable appetite for learning, dreaming, and pondering not what is, but what could be.

The second type of talent required for true innovation is technical talent. This is the talent that is required to bring the vision to life. Think of Steve Wozniak to Steve Jobs. Technical talent tied to visionary talent. Or Charlie Munger to Warren Buffett. Technical talent is what enables our ability to bring dreams into our daily reality.

In 1899, Charles Duell, then Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented, has already been invented.” While I personally don’t believe this to be true, let’s for a moment assume it is. If this were to be true, then arguably technical talent would be far more valuable than visionary talent. Why? Because the focus would be on incremental improvements of things that already exist. However, this raises a thought provoking question. What’s invention versus innovation.

In 1849, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci, invented the telephone. It wasn’t until 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the device. Fast forward to 1973 when the first phone call was made on a Motorola mobile phone. Was the mobile phone an invention or simply an improvement on something already invented? Remember, it was 50 years after the phone was invented that Duell said everything that could be invented already had been invented.

Regardless, visionary talent and technical talent combined are required to innovate. Combining the creator of dreams with the builder of those dreams allows us to improve our lives in meaningful ways.

What’s your talent pool like? Who are your visionaries and who are your techies? How often do you review your organization for these two types of talent? Your answers to these questions will be the proof point for whether you are building and living an innovation culture.

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12 Things Great Leaders Do Daily

McChrystal

By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group – at least that’s what Professor Google says.  My definition is a bit different.  Who wants to be commanded?  Sure there are times, situations, and circumstances when being in command is required.  Directing, ordering, and controlling are verbs that often come to mind when we think of leaders.

Just about anyone can be taught to do these things.  Just about anyone can dish orders, direct others, and attempt to control.  Many “leaders” regardless of training can do this for some period of time before being discovered as ineffective.  Great leaders however, take a different approach.  These leaders must do all the directing, ordering, and controlling as previously mentioned but it’s how they accomplish these things that set them apart.

Great leaders are great because they:

  1. Understand how to empathize
  2. Effectively communicate their vision
  3. Ask great questions, deep questions that provide insight
  4. Act in their own authentic way, not trying to be someone else
  5. Adopt a beginners attitude
  6. Surround themselves with people smarter than they are
  7. Spend time on self-reflection, how they operate and the result produced
  8. Network and connect with others to learn
  9. Ask for, and accept help when needed
  10. Lean on mentor(s) for coaching and perspective
  11. Roll up their sleeves, never asking others to do something they haven’t or wouldn’t do themselves
  12. Inspire others through their words, actions, and behaviors

So start today with some self-reflection.  What are you doing?  What do you spend most of your time on?  How do you interact with those around you?  What’s the reaction of others when you walk in a room, speak during a meeting, engage with others in a break-room?  Consider this list and strive to embrace each one in a genuine way and you’ll find your results improve in a timely manner.

Strive For Mastery, Not Perfection

obi-wan-kenobi

Recently I was having a conversation with a long-time mentor, coach, and friend.  I was sharing my thoughts on a new endeavor and happened to mention that I was “trying to perfect” the thing I was working on, before attempting to market it.  My mentor stopped me in my tracks and said, “Not perfect.  Don’t focus on perfect, you’ll never get there.  Focus on mastery.  You want to be a master.  No one is perfect, nor will anyone ever become perfect.  But you can become a master.”

While certainly a profound statement, it wasn’t the first time I had heard this.  In fact, I recently went back and re-read one of my favorite books by Seth Godin, Linchpin. For Seth fans, you’ll know that he strongly believes in creating remarkable experiences.  In Linchpin he talks about being an artist.  Making your work, art…and art by definition isn’t perfect.  Some of the most valued art in the world is not “perfect”, instead it was created by a master, and even loved for its flaws.

Mastery is an ongoing journey while perfection suggests you’ve arrived, you’ve made it, you’re done.  What lies after perfection?  What’s left to learn?  What’s left to develop? What’s left to explore?  What’s left to invent?  The world is a timeless collection of things and events that simply prove perfection isn’t possible.  Instead, the world is changing, evolving, reinventing every day, minute, and second.

So with that, I will begin reframe my perspective to focus on mastery rather than perfection.  By accepting mastery as my goal versus perfection, it empowers me to accept life’s fact that there’s always something new to learn and invent.  Will you join me on the journey to mastery?

Leader or Executive – Which Are You?

Washington

The dictionary defines an executive as someone who has administrative, or supervisory authority within an organization.  A leader is defined as simply one who leads.

I’ve been blessed throughout my career to have encountered some of the best leaders in the business world. Many of these leaders took a personal interest in me and my development. The coached me. Guided me. Taught me.  They invested in me. These same leaders who I once worked for have become mentors later in my career.  They are the same people I turn to for coaching and advice today who taught me years ago. They stood by my side then and they’re still with me today.

From them I learned the importance of kindness, and the power of paying it forward in the business world. And just how do you pay it forward in the business world?  By leading. Just as I had someone take an interest in developing me, I too have taken people under my wing to teach them.  Leadership is about giving not taking. Taking is easy.  Giving is tough.

Leaders inspire. They provide vision. They create excitement. Leaders instill trust. They stand firm in the face of adversity. They provide strength and confidence. Leaders create an environment where learning takes center stage.  They have a beginners attitude.  I’ve worked for plenty of executives who believe they know everything, yet I’ve never worked for a leader who behaved that way.  Leaders know that to continue leading they must continue to learn. When the learning stops, so does the leading.

The good news is that it’s a choice.  It’s a conscious choice to lead.  It takes time, courage, discipline, a sense of humor, and perhaps most importantly leadership takes commitment.  Commitment to keep learning, to keep teaching, to keep giving.  I’ll take a leader any day of the week over an executive.

How Happy Are Your Employees?  Find Out in 3 Easy Steps.

  

Turnover. Theft. Sick time.  These are just a few ways poor morale manifests itself in the workplace.  Data shows that most employees leave a boss not a job.  Data also shows that stealing office supplies is actually less costly to the company that stolen time. Water cooler talk, extra long lunches, and lengthy hallway conversations are examples of stolen company time.  There’s a difference between hallway conversations that foster collaboration versus those that fuel the rumor mill.  But how do you, or can you – the boss – tell the difference?

Some companies spend thousands of dollars to survey and test for employee morale.  From an informal Survey Monkey to much more formal nationally recognized surveys, companies try to measure the engagement level of their employees on an ongoing basis.  What’s important to note is that these are only tools.  Best case they are a snapshot in time.  Worst case they are the result of highly skeptical employees providing the responses they think “big brother” is expecting.  Truth be told – and a truth many companies don’t want to acknowledge – is that most employees are highly suspicious of these “confidential surveys”.  I’ve worked in more than half a dozen firms where these survey’s were used and employee sentiment is generally the same everywhere.  This means that the results produced by these surveys are potentially flawed.  It also suggests to employees that it’s easier for management to send a survey rather than engaging them directly.  

If you really want to know what’s happening in your business be courageous and try doing these 3 things:

  1. Skip Level Meetings.  These are meetings where the boss meets with employees one ot two levels down in the reporting structure.  These meetings are meant to be informal.  The goal is to establish trust and to work to let the employee know how much the leader cares about them and their team’s morale.  
  2. Town Hall Lunch & Learns.  Keep groups small, no larger than 20 employees.  The speaking executive or manager should present a short “State of the Union.”  At the end of the presentation turn it over to the employees for questions.  If there are no questions the executive should work to engage the audience by asking for their opinions and why they feel the way they do.
  3. Management by Walking Around.  Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the first leader to practice this tactic.  It provides the leader with direct insight into the day-to-day workings of a business.  It also allows the leader to be seen as engaged and “in the fight” alongside their employees.

Whether you decide to try one, or all three, the key is to be authentic.  Employees know when you’re running through the motions.  They can spot inauthentic leaders a mile a way.  If you really don’t care, nor are willing to take action to address concerns you may hear, you’re better off not doing any of these things.  Of course if that’s the case you already know just how unhappy your employees already are. Remember they’re only modeling what they see from their leaders.  Care deeply, act deliberately.