Tag Archives: Knowledge Management

Building Your Innovation Culture

Change the gameIn my recent article Innovation: Ninety percent of the Game Is Half Mental, I spoke about some personal skills and attributes we want to have in our individual employees.  I included such items as Provocative Inquiry, Creative Problem Solving, Agility, Resilience and Intellectual Curiosity.

We can cultivate these both by training our team members, and by seeking to hire more people who are naturally “wired” this way.   (If you are interested, email me and I can send a list of potential interview questions to help you assess these traits in candidates).

However, building an innovation culture also requires creating an environment that is supportive of change and prudent risk taking.   It has to do with what we as leaders must create.

In her book “Kill the Company”, Lisa Bodell suggests a list of organizational behaviors that promote a healthy spirit of innovation and change.  For my money, this is a pretty good set of behaviors to focus on.


Organizations that keep an eye trained firmly on the future will have a distinct advantage over those that are only concerned with the daily shuffle. This means not only paying attention to the big trends that everyone else is watching but also the smaller shifts others might overlook. It’s organizations that have the desire to be proactive and stay ahead of the curve that will find new solutions and be able to drive growth from products and services that we haven’t even begun to imagine.


The organizations that will be the leaders of tomorrow will have cultures in which challenging the accepted way of doing things is not only permitted, but encouraged. This approach goes beyond internal procedures and expectations. It also means challenging accepted assumptions within your industry, geography, and expertise. Leaders of tomorrow don’t follow best practices, they create them.


Risk is essential to innovation, but there are ways to be smart about risk and there are ways to be stupid about it. Smart risk takers are well-informed and aware of all the upsides and downsides. It takes practice and a strategy, but taking risks is something every employee and company must do. From my vantage point, innovation is about enabling your people to see things through fresh eyes (or from different perspectives) in the hope that they will consider new and interesting solutions that they would under normal circumstances.   It can be a bottom-up organic thing.  It is not forced from above, or commanded.   Innovation leaders needs to see themselves more as holding a watering can where they engage in cultivating seeds of ideas in their people.  As with plants, how they grow up is unpredictable, and related to their care and feeding.   We need to create the ground and MAKE IT POSSIBLE for the ideas to germinate and flourish.   It is the ultimate in unleashing human power and imagination.


Organizations that make the most of their employees’ wide range of expertise and perspectives will certainly lead in the future. Fostering a culture of openness and sharing will help build trust, which is essential for innovation. Employees who collaborate can achieve far more than those who operate in the mindset of every man for himself.


Learning is not just an activity, it’s an attitude. An organization full of knowledge seekers is bound to be one that is able to base decisions on the best information. Experimentation should be encouraged, and leaders need to make it clear that they are comfortable with some level of failure. Failure is an opportunity for reflection and a chance to improve.

Yes, I know . . . yet another list of things that make sense but are hard to do in practice.    Well that’s the point, isn’t it?  If this list makes sense, you need to practice them.  Your grandmother could tell you that practice makes . . .. perfect!

The best way to practice these is for you as a manager, supervisor or executive to actively live them in your daily life.  If you want your organization to about continuous learning, YOU need to read, attend conferences and to try new things.  You can actively share your new learning points with colleagues, share articles, bring in guest speakers, and talk about what’s new in the world.  If you want them to be collaborators, YOU need to have strong collaborative relationships with your fellow department heads.   Your people need to see you working together, talking, having lunch and meeting to explore issue of common interest.   If you want them to take prudent risks, you need to be seen as the consummate risk taker.    And if things go wrong, you need to take stock of what happened, and talk with your team about how to do it better next time.  If you want them to challenge the status quo, you need to be ready to break some of your own rules.  Think of yourself as the CAP on the performance your team will provide.  By your actions, you can choose how high (or low) you wish to set the bar.

Is innovation and change the best area on which you should focus?   I think a strong case can be made in the affirmative.

I have spoken to colleagues of mine at Toyota who argue to me that they believe that TPS (Toyota’s internal innovation process) is the one universal methodology that can drive success throughout their organization from production operations through the back office.  They spend a lot of time both teaching it and practicing it throughout their operations.

So what are you waiting for? Start culture building.  Get out in front.  Practice makes perfect.


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The Art of Consensus Building

Getting people to agree on anything is a challenge.

In crisis, you can rely on “management by fiat” (just decide on a course of action yourself and issue the command).  But, a little heavy-handedness goes a long way, and when you are not in crisis, people are prone to resent an overly autocratic style.  So, you are left needing to be good at reaching consensus if you want to move your agenda forward.  But, why is it so hard?

Let’s start by considering why people disagree, and the strategies that may help in each situation.

1. They do not see the situation in the same way We all look at any situation though our own lens.  Our perspectives are influenced by our different accumulated life experiences or are based on our organizational department (members of engineering, finance, IT, operations and sales – just as examples – all have a point of view based on the issues they face daily).   All of these views are “right”.  It helps to appreciate that they are so, based on different sets of data or assumptions.   The hard part is that the data and assumptions used by others are often hidden from our view.

Strategy:              Engage the broad group in a joint effort to collect data, define the problem, and research relevant facts.  (When we are all working from the same data set, it is much easier to find areas of agreement)  Many techniques are available to build a common platform of understanding.  Some include:  mind mapping, value stream mapping, doing joint research (on-line and by interviewing system participants) and sharing the data as you go.   Also, I like the idea presented by Steve Tobak in How to Build and Drive Consensus.  He says it is important that you use a formal process, and that all the participants understand what it is before you begin.  It should be one that is transparent and open, leading to a GROUP problem definition and action plan.   The process should include phases like: collecting information (group learning to inform everyone), defining the problem, developing alternative solutions, establishing criteria for evaluating them, evaluating the alternatives, and developing the execution plan.

2. They disagree on philosophical grounds.  Sometimes, people just disagree with an idea on principle.  Some people vote Republican, others Democrat.  Some believe in a woman’s right to choose, while others see abortion as murder.  Disagreements on principle generally run deep, and are very difficult to surmount.  Compromise is often impossible because all parties feel they cannot give up their core values and beliefs (just consider the stalemates that have been defining Federal policy making process lately in the United States).

Strategy:              Consider changing your agenda in favor of another where there is more common ground.  Or, wait for a crisis to occur, and use it as the common ground you need to gain consensus.

3. They are pursuing a different agenda.  Sometimes, while your idea or initiative has merit, other people have different agendas they feel are more important to them at this particular time.  These agendas may be driven by their boss, the company incentive system, your last performance appraisal, or promises you or your team have previously made.

Strategy:              Escalate this matter higher up in the organization to align priorities and goals. If your plan is truly for the good of the organization or the team, and you have sound, credible and compelling arguments in your favor, management will listen — especially if your plan is in alignment with their ultimate needs.

3. Interpersonal or emotional drivers.  Too often, our attitudes are colored by the way we feel about others, whether we like them, if we see them as a personal rival, how we judge their motivations, if we trust them, if we respect them and their abilities, and various other dimensions of company politics.

Strategy:              Form a guiding alliance of like-minded people before you begin, who share a common view and can form a core group with enough influence to press an idea even in the face of some resistance.  Accept the idea that gaining 100% buy-in may not be feasible, or may take more time and energy than you have.   Be willing to build enough momentum led by even a small group of passionate prophets to advance your idea.   In another helpful piece by Michael Wilkinson called Building Consensus The Art of Getting to YES,  he argues that you need to be willing to do some amount of one-on-one interfacing to help uncover the reasons for someone’s resistance, and seek to resolve them if you can.   (This article has several other helpful suggestions for managing disagreements as well.)

(Another interesting resource for those in the public sector is Consensus, Power and the Art of Getting Things Done by Otis White. White has several posts on related topics including forging a guiding coalition, the art of persuasion, and others.)

Also for those of you in the public sector, I would recommend the following YouTube video by Jeff Risley called Building Consensus: Overcoming Us vs. Them.  (It is 32 min long, and addresses the need to seek and exploit common value systems.)

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Filed under Innovation, Leading, Managing Teams, Systems Thinking

Not Just Data, Visualization

Look at the image at the left.  What does it make you think?  More importantly, what does it make you FEEL?   What product or service do you think it is selling?  If you answered slideware (pretty pics for your PPT’s)  you’d be right.

The Xavier Leadership Center has a number of experts in the field of communications skills.  When I talk to them. . .  Laurie Brown, Rocco Dal Vera, Karen Holtkamp, and Dr. Tom Clark, for example, they continually share that the key to reaching the human mind is through the use of graphics, imagery and stories.   These are the things that connect with us, and aid in our communications effectiveness.

Another problem for many of us is that in the digital age, we have more data than ever before, but assembling it and presenting it in ways that aid understanding is an art form that, for most of us, needs cultivation.

We also think that such visualization skills are central to unleashing innovation.  Before we can effectively engage in effective group problem solving – it helps to get everyone to understand and appreciate the problem (or situation) clearly at the outset.  Communicating to get everyone on the same page really helps.

Here are a few of these visualization pioneers I have been watching and reading about lately, and I thought many of our readers would benefit from the references.  (There are several links for you to follow when you get time – if you want to delve more deeply). Continue reading


Filed under Innovation, Leading, Managing Teams, Systems Thinking