Can there really be an Effective Organization by John Persico

Warren Bennis once said that a leader does the right things while a manager does things right. One could extend this to mean that you must have both efficiency and effectiveness in an organization. The real question is whether or not it is possible for an organization to be both efficient and effective. Before we can answer this question we must define just what an effective organization is. Some possibilities include:

  • Profitable
  • Meets or exceeds customer expectations
  • Fulfills its mission statement
  • Creates stakeholder value
  • Rising stock prices
  • Wins quality awards
  • Has satisfied employees and managers
  • Has been around for many years

Most executives would be more than happy to have an organization that satisfies even a few of these criteria, never mind all of them. With the exception of the last criteria, there are many organizations that can satisfy most of these criteria but they will probably not be around for fifty years (the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company).


Managers can focus on achieving these outcomes and they will be focusing on the wrong things. Let’s take the example of the Titanic sinking. Review the above set of criteria. Would any of them have predicted its striking an iceberg and rapidly sinking? For another example, look at any number of corporate bankruptcies from the W.T. Grant Company in the mid-seventies to GM in 2009 and you will find that these criteria would not have predicted their failure and bankruptcy. Granted few bankrupt companies have met all of these criteria, but even if they had, they would be looking in the wrong direction and ultimately they would have failed. The same assertion can be made for those companies that are currently on the corporate “most successful” lists today. Most of them will succumb to the same problems that spelled the death of their predecessors.

Link to the full article


Are creative people less likely to become leaders?

Excerpt from the recent article “A Bias against ‘Quirky’? Why Creative People Can Lose Out on Leadership Positions” in Knowldge@Wharton.

“Creativity is good — and more critical than ever in business. So why do so many once-creative companies get bogged down over time, with continuous innovation the exception and not the norm? Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller and colleagues from Cornell University and the Indian School of Business have gained critical insight into why.

In a paper titled, “Recognizing Creative Leadership: Can Creative Idea Expression Negatively Relate to Perceptions of Leadership Potential?” to be published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Mueller and co-authors Jack A. Goncalo of Cornell and Dishan Kamdar of ISB undertook three studies to examine how creative people were viewed by colleagues. The troubling finding: Those individuals who expressed more creative ideas were viewed as having less, not more, leadership potential. The exception, they found, was when people were specifically told to focus on charismatic leaders. In that case, creative types fared better. But the bottom line is that, in most cases, being creative seems to put people at a disadvantage for climbing the corporate ladder. “It is not easy to select creative leaders,” says Mueller. ‘It takes more time and effort to recognize a creative leader than we might have previously thought.'”

If this study is correct, could this be the reason why innovation in many companies has yet to reach to secior executive levels. Or has the study missed important points. What is your opinion and have you ever met a truly creative senior executive? Would Apple’s Steve Jobs from the viewpoint of the studybe the exception rather than the norm?

Have your say here?


Reclaiming the Co-creation Process from the Public Sector by Frode Lundsten

Reclaiming the Co-creation Process from the Public Sector

Public sector innovation is a necessity, if we are to reduce public spending and address changing demographics. The public sector is lagging behind the private sector in transforming ideas into innovation, which made me question whether we are pursuing the wrong approach. This is not to say that I am questioning the abilities of people working in the public sector, but merely provoking a dialogue with the reader. You are all invited to join in!

News headlines are often based on statements made by politicians about the need for public sector innovation if we are to reduce public spending, improve public services and/or transform our welfare societies to address changing demographics. The same media also publish articles and reports highlighting that the public sector is lagging behind the private sector in terms of transforming ideas into innovations. This apparent divide in the mindset towards innovation between the public and the private sectors raises the question of whether we are pursuing the wrong path. Are we right to assume that a sector subject to the influence of politicians and thus popular opinion, can foster a culture that is truly innovative?

I do not question the abilities of the people working in the public sector; I want only to spark debate among the readers of InnovationManagement about what we might expect if the current innovation context remains unchanged, or what could or should be expected were the innovation context to change.

Innovation leadership lacks vision and clear objectives

I attended a recent conference on user-driven innovation in the public sector; a cross-border initiative of the Nordic countries. The conference agenda revolved around showcasing of success stories from Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

One takeaway from the conference was that in spite of presenting a success story, the innovation objective of the project was still unclear based on the presentations formulated to meet some political objective. How can creative, enthusiastic people – read public sector employees – sustain their enthusiasm and creativity levels if the innovation objective is primarily serving a political aim? Let me be more specific.

During the current financial crisis many countries experienced massive layoffs and spiralling unemployment rates. This made it political suicide publicly to pursue, sponsor and implement innovations (e.g. new processes) aimed at reducing public sector employment. Contrast this with the fact that the same countries are experiencing dramatic shifts in their demographics, and within the next decade at most, this will radically reduce the size of the total workforce threatening the public fiscal budget and tax revenues. This gloomy situation requires political attention today, if the transition period as people leave the job market, is to be smooth and gradual from a society perspective.

From a societal perspective only the addressing long-term challenges makes sense as an innovation objective, whereas the cyclical hiccups are likely to be resolved through market forces as the global economy picks up. The shift in demographics is a perfect platform for a visionary politician to launch a programme of reform for the public sector; however, if budget allocations are based upon popular opinion, which changes as the news media changes focus, the cyclical issues are likely to receive proportionally larger funding than the latter, which will be difficult to promote political momentum.

Innovation management within a culture of ‘no mistakes allowed’

One hallmark of most Danish public sector institutions is the commitment to a culture of no mistakes allowed, nulfejlskultur in Danish, which essentially wipes out the incentives for civil servants to experiment. During a conference held in 2008, this culture is seen as one of the four barriers to public sector innovation in a conference, the other three being knowledge management and dissemination, lack of cross-sector collaboration, and lack of competencies.

Readers of InnovationManagement will know that innovation involves experimentation and making mistakes. The trick is demonstrate rapid learning from these mistakes. If a ‘no mistakes allowed’ culture predominates, then there can be no experimentation without putting one’s career at risk. And if knowledge management and dissemination or lack thereof is a barrier to innovation within the sector, how can mistakes be turned into learning, and then value?

When ideas management begins to resemble budgeting

The writer has participated in an innovation management process in a public sector institution, aimed originally at collecting and qualifying ideas from all parts of the organisation, but which developed into a study on how to instil trust and create transparency about the organization of a new ideas management process designed to reduce the internal politics governing departments that perceived ideas management as being similar to the annual budgeting process. The root cause of this lies usually in the way that most public institutions are organised into ministries, departments and institutions, each responsible for only a small part of the puzzle, but publicly liable for the finished puzzle. The second barrier identified above, of lack of cross sector collaboration.

If the ideas management process lacks transparency and trust, it can hardly be expected that the innovation management process will be embraced and used? Most companies have mechanisms for proposing new ideas and seeing their progression to maturity; however this does not apply to most of the public sector. Studies show that people are motivated by intrinsic factors, such as seeing one’s ideas taken up and developed. If the innovation management process is fragmented and lacks transparency, then it cannot be expected that ideas will flow within the sector: they are more likely to be buried or spun off as a private sector company.

For example, was talking to the CEO of a UK-based consultancy firm which assists public healthcare administrators collect and patent ideas conceived on healthcare premises. The biggest problem for this company is the lack of incentive for healthcare personnel to present their ideas to the administration rather than developing them externally – and selling them back to the healthcare system.

Taking control of the user-driven innovation process

In Denmark, and most Nordic countries, public sector innovation is frequently based on user-driven innovation projects. The object often is the beneficiary of the public services, e.g. the elderly. If the four barriers to public sector innovation are so strong and so difficult to break down in the near term, could a reversal of the user-driven innovation project be the solution? Should we be trying to apply anthropological methodologies to understanding how the sector works, and presenting our insights as the basis for public sector innovation? Should we be trying to take charge of the co-creation process, but from a civic perspective? Tell me what you think!

By Frode Lundsten, Contributing Editor, Denmark

Method to the madness: dissecting a U.S. patent by Adrienne B. Naumann

Method to the madness: dissecting a U.S. patent

Through the years many entrepreneurs and other business people have requested patent protection through my office. However, many of them have never actually seen a United States patent or patent application, much less understood the requirements of its parts. This article will review the application and why each section is important. Unless otherwise noted, the corresponding sections of the application and patent are identical.

The Background describes the invention’s industry and problems in this industry that the inventor intends to solve. It should also describe previous inventions and why they did not solve these problems. The Background concludes with a short discussion of why the pending invention of the application overcomes these problems. The Summary of the Invention describes the invention in an abbreviated matter without reference numerals or references to drawings or figures. It should also designate the goals of the invention and describe features that the applicant considers the most innovative components. The Abstract describes the innovative features of the invention in two to three sentences.

The “Brief Description of the Drawings” describes, in single sentences, illustrations of physical features of the invention and the view thereof as depicted in a corresponding drawing (i.e., Figure) appended to the application text. The Detailed Description, or perhaps Detailed Description of Preferred Embodiments and Best Mode or similar titles, is the most comprehensive portion of the application or patent. For example, this section includes key mathematical formulas as well as reference numerals. The structures corresponding to reference numerals in the text are explained in detail and correspond to each appropriate drawing with an overall figure number(s) from the Brief Description of the Drawings.

The Claims comprise long sentences that designate the innovation of the invention. For example, if there are three innovative features, then the claims should address all of them (with exceptions). The shorter and more general the patent scrivener drafts these sentences, the broader the protection that your invention will receive. The term “Specification” designates the total of: title of invention; background summary; description of the drawings; detailed description; claims and abstract. Other information is included in the specification, depending upon the nature and funding of the invention.

An illustration from my own practice for an adjustable exercise device made of piping, connectors, basketball hoops and speed bags is helpful: U.S. Patent No. US 6,976,945 B1(Lim) at [hereinafter referred to as ‘Lim,’ the inventor]. This entire exercise device can be quickly disassembled and carried in a bag. The Background describes previous exercise devices and their drawbacks. It also explains why the Lim exercise device is a significant improvement over previous devices for convalescing individuals with muscle strengthening requirements. The Summary specifies the muscles that are strengthened by and most benefit from use of the new exercise device, as well as the goals of the device that improve it over prior devices.

The Summary also specifies what is designated as the ‘preferred embodiment.’ This embodiment is the prototype or variety of the invention that is most superior to prior existing devices. For Lim, the preferred model contains a central speed bag with rigid a disc and this speed bag are positioned between two additional speed bags. However, other embodiments are also described in the event that one was found to be patentable but not others.

Eight Communication Traps That Foil Innovation by Georgia Everse

110-georgia-everse.jpgMost leaders are interested in growing their businesses through innovation, but it’s risky business: most innovation efforts fail. After years of helping to make innovation happen as chief communications officer at Steelcase and as a consultant, I have a point of view that I’m willing to bet on. Innovative ideas, initiatives, products, culture transformations, you name it, have little chance to succeed if they aren’t enabled by smart communications. This includes communication within the core team, broadly in your organization, and with key stakeholders outside the organization, including your distribution channel partners, suppliers, journalists, investors and of course, existing and potential customers.

Here are eight traps to avoid as you innovate.

  1. Don’t break ground in the wrong direction. If your organization hasn’t explicitly communicated your core reason for being, you’ll need to start here. Overall performance is compromised when your people don’t understand the deeper meaning behind why they come to work everyday. Innovation takes time and costs money so projects that aren’t clearly linked to your “why” are especially vulnerable to fail. Your innovation teams need this level of clarity to guide their efforts and thinking and your leaders need it to inform decision-making related to innovation and how it contributes to your future growth.

  • Don’t lose sight of the horizon. The complexity and uncertainty of forging new ground makes it easy to get lost. Make thinking visible to help teams stay on track and reinforce their goals. Post project charters and preliminary objectives, display important research findings that keep user insights front and center, leave every version of your prototyping efforts in view so that the iterations can be better evaluated. This type of digital and analog “information persistence” may appear chaotic, but it increases your chances for successful innovation. A designated project space displaying these results at key milestones in the process will augment the creativity and decision-making power of your team and will serve as a crash course for stakeholders who need to be brought up to speed.

    mediascape.jpgMedia:scape project room photograph courtesy of Steelcase Inc.

  • Don’t make the process a mystery. Successful initiatives are supported by a well-defined process, which should become the foundation for successful internal communication. Although many aspects of innovation efforts need to be kept confidential and have sensitive timing issues, the process should not be a secret. Share it broadly in the organization and celebrate progress against it often. This helps people understand where you are in the journey and the connections between immediate and future decisions and their consequences to the project.
  • Don’t under-communicate. For it to be successfully implemented, your development project needs to be accepted into the operations side of the business. This hand-off is a time of high risk and often fails because general management, human resources, marketing, communications, and sales teams haven’t been informed along the way. There is no such thing as over-communication when it comes to preparing these important stakeholders for taking your innovation to market or integrating it into the corporate culture. Spend time to bring them into the discovery process, give them a deep understanding of the opportunities, and excite them with your approach and novel solutions.
  • Don’t let cynicism undermine the process. Taking your company into new territory of any kind never comes without some healthy skepticism from your positive team players and cynicism from your naysayers. Allow them to internalize and feel positive about change by bringing the future to life. Tell stories and create experiences that put them in the role of the customer, where they can touch and feel a prototype of the new product or service. Use skits, storyboards, and films to develop customer personas and scenarios. These approaches will help them see the potential in the project and better understand how the new solutions will meet and exceed customer needs.
  • Don’t let key insights hide in a binder. The best ideas are born out of a discovery process that unveils insights into the behavior patterns of people. These learnings result in a deeper understanding of needs and desires and the ability to create positive solutions. But they’re not just useful for your development team — they become your strongest communications tools and great fodder for marketing as well. Use them as the basis for storytelling that inspires and educates all the groups in the organization that are responsible for developing to-market strategies or interaction with customers no matter where they influence the customer experience. This deeper understanding will enable them to make stronger connections and to forge customer relationships that stick.
  • Don’t let jargon hide the truth. In most organizations different functional groups use their own languages. Recognize the power of words in getting the development team aligned and achieving the positive results you hope for. Your finance person calls it financial modeling, your design person calls it rapid prototyping, yet they are both undertaking a similar and necessary discipline of exploring opportunities as they work to fine tune a solution. Challenge your team to build a common language and to be explicit about using terminology that resonates with everyone in the organization.
  • If it’s off-brand, don’t do it. There should be a strong connection between your growth initiatives and your brand strategy. The two should inform and sustain each other. Be sure to consistently communicate the benefits and attributes of your brand with development teams to ensure they are embodied in the solutions they create. Develop a brand audit tool and use it early in your process. This will guide decision-making and only allow initiatives that meet certain brand criteria to be approved for further development. Any solution that isn’t credible and compelling for your brand will be a threat to its strength and unlikely to succeed in the market.
  • The Heart of Innovation: The 8 Levels of a Brainstorm Session by Mitch Ditkoff


    January 12, 2011
    The 8 Levels of a Brainstorm Session

    bright ideas.jpg

    Most people think brainstorming sessions are all about ideas — much in the same way Wall Street bankers think life is all about money.

    While ideas are certainly a big part of brainstorming, they are only a part.

    People who rush into a brainstorming session starving for new ideas will miss the boat (and the train, car, and unicycle) completely unless they tune into the some other important dynamics that are also at play:

    1. INVESTIGATION: If you want your brainstorming sessions to be effective, you’ll need to do some investigating before hand. Get curious. Ask questions. Dig deeper. The more you find out what the real issues are, the greater your chances of framing powerful questions to brainstorm and choosing the best techniques to use.

    2. IMMERSION: While good ideas can surface at any time, their chances radically increase the more that brainstorm participants are immersed. Translation? No coming and going during a session. No distractions. No interruptions. And don’t forget to put a “do not disturb” sign on the door.

    3. INTERACTION: Ideas come to people at all times of day and under all kinds of circumstances. But in a brainstorming session, it’s the quality of interaction that makes the difference — how people connect with each other, how they listen, and build on ideas. Your job, as facilitator, is to increase the quality of interaction.


    4. INSPIRATION: Creative output is often a function of mindset. Bored, disengaged people rarely originate good ideas. Inspired people do. This is one of your main tasks, as a brainstorm facilitator — to do everything in your power to keep participants inspired. The more you do, the less techniques you will need.

    5. IDEATION: Look around. Everything you see began as an idea in someone’s mind. Simply put, ideas are the seeds of innovation — the first shape a new possibility takes. As a facilitator of the creative process, your job is to foster the conditions that amplify the odds of new ideas being conceived, developed, and articulated.

    6. ILLUMINATION: Ideas are great. Ideas are cool. But they are also a dime a dozen unless they lead to an insight or aha. Until then, ideas are only two dimensional. But when the light goes on inside the minds of the people in your session, the ideas are activated and the odds radically increase of them manifesting.

    7. INTEGRATION: Well-run brainstorming sessions have a way of intoxicating people. Doors open. Energy soars. Possibilities emerge. But unless participants have a chance to make sense of what they’ve conceived, the ideas are less likely to manifest. Opening the doors of the imagination is a good thing, but so is closure.

    8. IMPLEMENTATION: Perhaps the biggest reason why most brainstorming sessions fail is what happens after — or, shall I say, what doesn’t happen after. Implementation is the name of the game. Before you let people go, clarify next steps, who’s doing what (and by when), and what outside support is needed

    Interesting post on the 8 levels of a brainstorm session. I have experienced these levels both in real-life workshops as well as in virtual sessions using MillionBrains. How are your experiences? Do the levels match?