An introvert’s guide to innovation and collaboration workshops

You are maybe awash with extrovert Ted talk types in your innovation and collaboration teams but every group needs an introvert to get it done.

Every group of people from a nursery to an old age home will have a division of introverts and extroverts. You can walk into a pre-school and see a range of children either swinging from the wall fittings or quietly sitting reading a book. At some point these kids point themselves at jobs which more or less suit their personalities and off they go.

Historically, you can line up the expected jobs with the personalities of the children and make a good guess of what they might like doing. The same type of people bunch around the same kind of job and therein is created a circle of reinforcement. A fascinating by-product of the digital age is that the types of job and the types of personality for those jobs is changing and the front-line for this fight is in collaboration and innovation.

An extrovert’s world

In most organisations, the lead of ‘innovation’ or the lead facilitator tends to always be an extrovert with an innate extroversion and imagination.  The core concepts of trying new things or being imaginative are naturally suited to people for whom these things come easily. The thing I hate most in the whole world of workshop delivery is the process where people are asked to come up with loads of ideas, put them on post-its and then make an arbitrary ranking of said ideas.  There is a major presumption on this that everyone can easily come up with those ideas, at speed, with other people there, with a facilitator driving speed….. This is fundamentally not for everyone.

There is also the frequent discussion that you have with clients who say a variant of ‘let’s get Jill from operations, she’ll ‘be great at this’.’ This is usually code for “Jill is pretty outspoken and likes to talk a lot’. Aggregated, you get a group of people who typically have a good conversation but you always question whether they are the most representative of the organisation.

This translates even to the concept of bringing in ‘diverse thinkers’ from outside the organisation. It is always the intent to get ‘an artist’ or a ‘musician’ (not noted introverts) and it is rare that the suggestion is made to bring in ‘an accountant’ for some new thinking. There is an implicit bias towards the extrovert type.

How you set-up your teams always tends to include people in this mould for which their experience in ‘having good ideas’ or being ‘creative’ trumps experience or expertise in grinding out results or delivering outcomes. There are typically few completer finishers in these areas and even fewer with the aspiration to get involved.

An Introvert’s world

However, putting introverts in charge of collaboration and innovation is probably exactly what you need. At the stage most companies are at, it’s about building out a new model for working with new methods and approaches. This means that the structures, the PMO and the operating model are at least as important as pretty graphics, a lovely design centre and ‘hipster ideas circles’.  It is easy to hide behind Agile and Design Thinking say as an application of a ‘method’ where the principles and the approach alone are seemingly enough to make a difference. They are not.


For your innovation and collaboration teams please consider;

1)   Picking deliberately the most introverted competent person you find and unleash them on the ‘special ideas’ people. The imagination lot will probably hate it but they need them. Ideas however great, uncontrolled and unrealised are not very helpful. The idea is not reward enough itself. (much as this pains me to say)

2)   Pick your workshop groups and attendees like a jury– make sure you have a real cross section and plan accordingly. The defence lawyer (introverts) should probably be allowed a few vetoes. When you have picked the teams, make sure the assignments you set, match the people best. A session on ‘blue sky thinking’ is almost never a good idea and categorically not for everyone. Time for personal reflection, some specificity and time to investigate things properly might actually be better.

3)   Think end to end– improving the innovation journey from idea to execution is exactly where companies need to invest. This brings together the ideas people with the design people, with the data people, and the engineering people and the dev people.  These are all people who at their own personal job crossroads went their separate ways and have now been thrust together. You can make your own judgement but there is a spectrum of personality there which might not be always best served by focussing on the Shoreditch latte brigade.

4)   Be boring– the fun bit isn’t always the most important bit, having some rigour in how set up the function, how you design, plan and run events and even how you select people for the team is well served by thinking of the boring bits. Having a solid PMO and resource and finance management approach might not set the heather on fire, but it might make the difference between a flash-in-the-pan and a sustainable solution which works.

The beauty of collaboration and the explicit goal of innovation is to do new things you haven’t done before. The power of diversity is not in a range of extroverts outdoing each other with crazy new things, it is in harnessing the value of everyone – especially the introverts.

Tony Stark’s guide to innovation; the disappointment of Ironman and why he should sell the project and start mining Bitcoin.

Ironman is a rather well know series of films about a guy (Tony Stark) with a metal suit which flies, has advanced AI and he lives his life like a corporate James Bond. It’s also a cautionary tale about the perils  which follow innovation and about missing opportunities.

If you’ve come from LinkedIn – see below for the extra content

The Ironman suit wasn’t the innovation

The suit looks cool but is essentially some hardware built on the foundation of the real innovation – Tony’s Ark reactor; an almost unlimited, clean and free power source. Its inception came from one of the best drivers for innovation there is – necessity and scarcity. Tony was A) going to die unless he created something and, B) was being forced at gunpoint to build something with bits of spare metal and sticky tape with the only help being one single helper with no relevant skills.

And with his invention came a wave of disruption (quite literally)

What he produced was a device capable of producing enough power to both run himself and a shiny red suit with rocket boosters. His invention was enough to stimulate incredible development by his competitors (enemies) through equivalent products and variations on weapons required to meet the new challenge. Following a period of maturity, his commoditised product spawned a range of suits in a flotilla? Squadron? operated by the US Government.

And then the iteration phase (Ironman suit 6s)

Sadly, improvements to the original Ironman suit have broadly followed a pattern of incremental improvements to the look and feel (shinier with gold bits), the User Interface (the AI robot guy he talks to) and to the self-driving function

With the arrival of a hugely effective competitor (aliens), he is now reliant on a number of partners. These include a guy who is 100 years old with no obvious extra skills (Captain America) and a guy who is really good with a bow and arrow (Hawkeye).

They have a cartel (the Avengers) on planet saving technology which they both protect feverishly and limit its use in the wider world. (it’s the Apple iRonman)


How successful therefore has Tony Starks killer innovation been? It’s essentially boiled down to the Ironman suit and a building which looks nice and lights up. In the 10 years since the invention of Ironman, he has a better version of Ironman, but no new major products. He has fallen into an old corporate quick sand of creating something unique and truly differentiating but then falling back on old glories in improving what exists and not thinking about the future and the next big thing.

Kodak essentially invented cheap photographic film (and then digital cameras got them), Blockbuster ran the rental video world before Netflix.  Microsoft went through a kicking before getting back to partial world dominance. Look today at Tesla (tonnes of debt, Solarcity anyone?, huge targets set and slow to ramp up), Netflix (not making any money, competitors gearing up for a serious fight (Disney). Everyone loves these companies but they need to achieve world domination or they will fail.

1000 posts have praised Elon Musk for planning a $45b pay day when Tesla is worth $650b but in order to do that, Tesla would have to worth more than the current top 10 car companies put together.

 Saving the world, time to leave it to others.

If you take Tony Stark out of the Ironman movies, do you actually lose anything?

Let’s go back to Tony’s main innovation; his Ark Reactor. My suggestion to him, sell-off the Ironman business and sell the AI and power source for the suits. He’ll make a tonne of cash, allow people more suited to saving the planet to take over and he can focus on taking the next step. He already looks like he can’t be bothered with most of it and he never gets on with the real patriotic types.Tony Stark - innovation

He’s committed to Ironman because of nostalgia and because of the control. He is Bill Gates in the early 2000’s clinging on to Microsoft as the world was beginning to overtake him. Like Bill though, Tony is a visionary and great innovator, he just needs something new to solve.

Change the context

The biggest disruption comes when a product changes the context for what we do and how we live our lives. The iPhone was revolutionary because it changed what we do when we were not at a computer. The train was even more revolutionary because it changed our regard for distance.

Tony Stark’s innovation is to allow the possibility of not seeing energy as a cost or an impediment. You always  look at energy/electricity as a cost (both financial and social) which means the objective is consistently to look at how to reduce consumption or find smarter/more efficient ways to produce it. If however energy was a free and unlimited source, what would it allow and what products could he be thinking about building to take advantage of it.

Rather than Ironman he could have started with Bitcoin mining (because it’s so hot right now), with an astounding processing capacity he could be smashing the competition both in the mining and in the blockchain bit.

The energy production industry would cease to exist in its current form almost overnight and after a few years of massive change to the grid and the network. ‘Tony’s MyHome Ark Reactor’ TM could take every home off the grid.

Stark Industries Maglev Hyperloop trans-sonic commuter trains? Ironman brand 3D printer and DIY at home aluminium micro-smelter?

Ironman 4

I am looking forward to the next Ironman sequel showing the creation of a As A Service model for Ironman Tech. The launch of an energy joint venture between Stark Industries and Thor and the creation of a new cryptocurrency (Ironcoin) to fund Bruce Banner fledgling nano-robot pharma start-up.

Tony Stark will have been ousted to lead R&D leaving Pepper Potts to continue to run the company to astounding success.

So what?

Crazy but real

Yes crazy, but there is a basis of fact in the above. There are times where countries are producing more electricity that they need (most days now in Scotland when it’s windy – so most days). Even in coal country Queensland with solar, at some times the spot rate for electricity is under 0 therefore which technically means someone is being paid to consume it. Tesla is pushing batteries to allow people to go off grid. There is a working demo of the hyperloop.

The lesson from the Ironman

  • That innovation is only as good as what it changes and what it allows you to do – in creating something amazing, what it disrupts and what that allows you do is the real transformation
  • The change to your perception is important. By changing the dynamic of how you think about constraints and how you review possibilities, you can try to identify real ideas
  • Keep adding fuel – the points you get for great innovation today lose their value in time, you have to take an innovation and improve it but you have to keep adding things which are new

How to do this

It depends on how you want to define innovation and how you set the context.

1)      It’s about doing something new for you – you find other companies, other academics, other tools which do things and you think about how you can apply that to you.

In a workshop context, you want to discuss things outside in e.g.  ask a question like if Space X ran our finance department, what would they do (interestingly, they are all about vertical integration and cost management). Or everything as a service ……

2)      It’s about doing something new (full stop) – you think about what’s never been done, you ask why, and you think about ‘perhaps if’.

In a workshop context, you select an example of something that’s never been done and work through how it might work. The emphasis is on steering clear of reasons why you can’t. e.g. suggest that you run your internal operations as a ‘gig economy’ or give everyone in the whole company an average salary with only performance bonuses changing.

3)      It’s about changing what something means – distance means time, cost means limit, waiting equals bad. Flip that on its head and work backwards.

In a workshop context, you do some prep to identify big blockers that you have and then you design something which ignores them e.g. if teleporting existed, how would we run our performance management process or as the above didn’t have the cost of electricity, how would be manage sales.

4) It’s about the problem, not the solution – the identification of the real problem takes the time (see design thinking, human centric design etc.). You ignore the solution assuming a few people can crack it and spend the time working out whether it’s the symptom or the disease. We are inefficient because we don’t know what we are doing, because we don’t care enough to ask, because we don’t like our bosses, because they don’t let us take breaks even though we have a pool table and PlayStation which we only play when we aren’t getting paid (solution, everyone gets paid 25% extra during their breaks)

In a workshop context, start anywhere and dig until you get what you are looking for, do this with anyone customers/staff/suppliers. Take the time in advance or set it up in the session, take the time to get to a eureka moment.

The Odd Couple – Getting Designers and Consultants to get along

One’s boring old fashioned, clean and tidy and wears a nice suit, the other’s messy, shaggy haired and goes to burning man. How will they ever get along? Simple answer; it’s the business model and the culture.

Throughout the years, each of the consulting firms has had a stereotype. I’ll show some tact and not describe them specifically but there was a particular clone army who used to arrive at careers’ fairs en masse; everyone in chinos and well ironed semi-casual shirts. They were very open about looking for a certain type of person to join their team and typically, you could pick the likely candidates without anyone opening their mouths. There was another company where the wearing of shoes other than black would be considered a disciplinary matter.

To varying extents, all the consulting companies up until the past few years pursued a similar approach. I knew a number of people who left my own organisation with commentary thereafter that ‘they were an _____ person anyway’. However, with the world of consulting changing so has the approach to hiring and acquisition.

Buying design

The aforementioned chino brigade like the others have bought a design agency and are integrating that into their business.  Everyone else has done something similar but the legacy company won’t suddenly change overnight. Strangely given what consultants do for a living, not everyone is managing the change perfectly. So if you are designer at a consulting firm, here’s a quick lesson in transformation with a view towards what might happen. Here are example 4 integration models. (there are many, many more)

Option 1) The Trojan horse – you set up a new team in the middle of the business with a new name or new job titles. It’s ostensibly part of the same structure and is integrated into the P&L. All the operations work the same and the design people are treated like every other consultant. A slow gradual change of bringing in the skills, starting to get projects and building the team. The team starts to grow and subsume other bits of the business until eventually, it’s no longer the small bit rather the main bit. The change to the business is to blend the skills and capabilities towards the design elements and you transform the business from within.

Problem; is getting through the first couple of years. The designers don’t want to be like everyone else and the performance management is difficult to compare oranges and apples. The culture is a big shock for the new people so they retreat into their own team a little. The rest of the team resents them for ‘getting special treatment’ and some of the designers leave. The experiment is considered a failure and the team is rolled into an existing team.

Option 2) The Mercenary force – you recognise that the skills and culture is so different to the existing business that you keep them separate. Different office, different structure and management. You integrate the services into the business with a service catalogue where you buy in resource from the ‘mercs’. You spend weeks trying to work out how to price it and end up with a compromise. The value is seen in the delivery, the people and the brand is protected and the services can be integrated into the business. The symbiotic relationship works for everyone and everyone is happy.

Problem: is the project managers in the main business who see that they get less margin from using the mercenaries rather than their own people. They see the credit for the good work go elsewhere so they start to try and resource the projects from their own teams. They’ve seen it done before so they repurpose people to do something similar. However, they don’t do as well so the quality drops. The new business gets less money and looks to sell things themselves and even competing with the main business. Either way, someone loses out in some revenue and after a power struggle, eventually moves are made to take it in-house.

Option 3) The club mascot – the business builds something shiny which looks great and has a small team. A huge force of marketing is put into the endeavour both external and internal. The new people feel special and existing staff aspire to join the special team. (needs to have an especially cool name).

Problem; is that it’s likely to be a cost centre and for it’s nice for a while whilst you invest lots in the venture. Eventually thoough someone asks what the business is getting as value and chances are that it slowly loses traction, funding and eventually people. You then go back to square 1.

Option 4)  The melting pot – you create nothing new and hire people into existing teams. The new people align with existing structures, process and performance management. The skills become embedded skills as with anything else and slowly the whole business starts to acquire the ability through training and engagement. The functions delivered are morphed to represent the new way of working.

Problem is; getting any people to join the team and stay with the team when they are likely to go through a tough time before their real value starts to be visible and rewarded. The whole business take a while to adapt to the new way of working and the pain of transition tends to lose some people.

So what

As with anything, Culture is the magic bullet for dealing with transformation so everybody needs to start there.

For the boring, old fashioned consultants. There needs to be a realisation the investment is a medium term plan and unless you change the whole business then ultimately, it won’t work. You maybe don’t share a flat with your new designer friend immediately but you have trips to their house and start to adapt your own for when they move in. You also have to realise that these skills are going to be absolutely core for your own future learning.

For the trendy new designers, you have to realise that it won’t be great as soon as you move in. It can be a long process to get used to something different and even longer before you are recognised for the value. In the long run though, you’ll get the real benefit so don’t jump ship immediately when you realise there’s no in-house barista made Turmeric Lattes.

I see a lot of commentary from designers extolling how corporates are ‘finally seeing the value of design’ and it’s true but you have to appreciate how becoming the mainstream changes the dynamic of what you have to do. You can look to your consultant colleagues and realise that whilst you’ve been talking about ‘service design’ for about 3 years, they’ve been building customer centric operating models for 10 years. The value of the two together is greater than the sum of its parts.

How to design a 1 day workshop in 10 minutes and 10 reasons why you shouldn’t.

If you work in collaboration or event design or facilitation or anything similar, you will probably recognise the following scenario; a client or a colleague arrives at your desk/office/bean bag and says ‘I need a workshop, here is the agenda, can you please deliver it’.

This is not a scenario which is repeated in many other places. You tend to ask help from SMEs based on the presumption that they are the experts. Accordingly, I don’t arrive at the dev managers start-up meeting and say ‘I’ve designed the sprint myself, can you just run it’. However, everyone has been to events and workshops so everything thinks they can do it. Everyone has also eaten a cake but they don’t tell Gordon Ramsay how to bake one.

So, if you are going to do it anyway, here is your 10 minute design guide.

1)     Pick some clear messages about what you need to get out of the session – get the most important person to give them

2)     Give people things to think about – case studies, examples, articles, quotes, videos etc. Pick some customers or employees to tell some meaningful stories to surprise

3)     Let everyone whine about the problems (then politely tell that it’s in the past, gone, forgotten, yesterday, today is about the future……pause for effect

4)     Set a new context and play a game – build, paint, draw, act. Pick some obvious metaphors which demonstrate the theme – customer, working together, value, cost savings whatever

5)     Pick the main areas you want to talk about – have a nice chat to discuss what’s important, have some ideas and then a group chat to discuss

6)     Have another go – more pointed, specific, objective driven, have another group chat

7)     Decide what to do with what you have discussed – plan, initiatives (start to work on output if you have time

8)     Group photo and everyone agrees to commit to do something


Have a go at this in 10 minutes and see how you do.

Then please throw it in the bin and go back to the start (ideally by asking someone who knows how to do it if they are available). Here is why

1)     Facilitation is an art as well as a science – if you have been in a workshop with a good facilitator, you will know the difference in how the flow and rhythm of the event works. They ask the right questions, know when to push and know when to let things run. People who do this all the time are better than you because they have experience but mostly because they put in a huge effort in preparation. They might say ‘this is probably a daft question’, if they do, you can bet they have a pre-prepared laser targeted gem ready to go.

2)     You have to go slow before you can go fast – you will think that it’s wasting time to talk about different things, or to go in circles for a while. You do so because you can’t get straight to the heart of the value without taking people through a journey. It’s then much quicker at the end than at the start.

3)     Creativity needs to be applied correctly – anyone can name film titles and suggest that the event is themed with pictures of Disney characters or the all time classic ‘a mountain’. This misses a huge trick if you don’t spend the time connecting a theme with the program or the organisation etc. Likewise, during the session, you have to recognise that people create and imagine in different ways and you can’t force a one size fits all e.g. everyone have 50 ideas on these post it notes……..

4)     Every hour of an event needs a day of preparation – you have to respect the time being taken out of the business and the potential for the event. Unless you can sacrifice some people to (at a rough scale) commit 1 day per hour of session in the preparation, then you are missing an opportunity.

5)     Managing people is on a logarithmic scale – a 100 person workshop is 1000 times harder than a 10 person one. It’s like managing babies 1 is hard, 2 is harder, 3 is nightmarish. The logistical challenge alone going from 10 to 50 people is a huge difference. Please don’t start with a 20 person event, announce that 53 are coming and wonder why the design team are in tears

6)     You don’t know how long things take – if you have an agenda with ‘process redesign session’ which has been allocated 20 minutes, you are going to struggle. You have to recognise that rushing to an answer isn’t worth it if it’s a bad answer. Take direction on how long things take.

7)     Pretty pictures and graphics are lipstick on a pig unless they mean something – people engage really well with visuals/graphics but it’s like anything else shiny, it needs the substance beneath. Rubbish beautifully scribed on a board with hand drawn pictures is still rubbish.

8)     Unless you are extremely clear about what you are trying to achieve then you won’t get there – you need to apply some critical thinking to event design as with anything else. You usually get a view of ‘what’ you want to achieve fairly quickly – a strategy paper, an aligned plan etc. That’s not how you build a great workshop, you need to peel back layers of ‘why’ or the whole thing crumbles at the first challenge. The preparation needs to make sure you answer these questions in advance.

 9)     You need to know the psychology about who is coming and know how to handle them – fundamentally, a workshop is about people, if it wasn’t then you wouldn’t need it in the first place. You could get some strategy consultants in a room, throw them some expensive peanuts once a week and read whatever they give you. So, you need to take the time to understand who is coming, what the dynamic of the group is and work through how to manage them individually. 

10)  You need to think differently – some independence of thought and some disruption in how you would normally run things is of huge value. A different perspective adds immensely to the process and will generate questions that you’ve likely not thought of.

There’s a whole lot more to the above and I’ve missed a pile out but hopefully you can appreciate my message namely; respect the value of a workshop and consider the possibilities. Running a bad workshop is easy. Running a good one takes time, thought and imagination. If your organisation has skills and support available, you’d be mad not to use them.

Leadership in 2017: The end of corporate leadership and the Machiavelli matrix.

The changing dynamics of how and where we work, are changing what people need in a leader.  Leaders used to inspire, inform and create an atmosphere. Do they do so now, and do you even need them to?

At some point as you go through your career, you have to make a decision about what type of a worker and what type of a leader you are going to be. The learning process is to understand more about people and different cultures, and to work out how you get the best out of those people. There are a million books and random motivational messages to support you in the process but that is all nonsense unless you can apply what they say.

As Machiavelli said you can choose to be ‘loved’, collaborative and engaging or ‘feared’ directive and imposing. Everyone ends up on that spectrum but if you are at the extreme, you won’t be effective or happy. I.e. everyone takes advantage of you or everyone hates you. (see any leadership textbook anywhere for 500 pages on variants of this).

This has not generally changed but the context around it has. To summarise the change; consider a view of distance to people. Not just emotional but physical. You can be close to your team sat in the trenches under fire from the enemy (insane client requests and visiting leadership) or you can be sat behind the lines sending instructions from headquarters.

Machiavelli matrix

Line yourself up against the model being honest about who you are and what you enjoy the most.

Me, I love being in trenches close to the people and applying the iron fist in the velvet glove approach. It’s all smiles and laughs until a line is breached and then it is fire and brimstone (not for long, then it’s back to the laughs). I’ve trained myself over the years to adapt my approach and my mindset to be good at doing that and I’m pretty happy with where I am.

Big, massive however…….

If you look at where things are going at corporates. The fundamental dynamics of people working together are changing which means that the role of leaders I think is changing too.

Change from experience to efficiency – most if not all corporates are moving towards some type of activity based working with the addition of collaborative spaces. In addition, there are multitude of articles and surveys showing the changing preference towards working from home.

The foundation for all of this is built around people becoming more efficient, better use of space, and more effective allocation of resource.  To me, this goes against a core principle that I have worked to, namely you want to enjoy yourself at work. It’s not a question of the time spent but a value judgement about what you can create in the team. I’ve got more value in the osmosis from being next to people than I ever would have getting my work done an hour earlier and going home. The 30 minute coffee discussions, the Wednesday afternoon cake competitions, the side conversations have all contributed to knowing people better,

I grew up in consulting where you would often work away from home; breakfast in the hotel, you would leave as a group in taxis to go to the office, you would leave as group and commonly all go for dinner. It was a 14 hr a day engagement with the same group of people. I probably worked for 7 of those hours but I learned more in the other 7.

The role of a leader in that context was to create an atmosphere over the whole day where everyone could contribute to more than just the work. Think about graduates in particular, if you only see them in the course of their work during the day, you miss the opportunity to see their richness of knowledge and way of thinking in other ways. I know more about the people I worked with 10 years ago than I do about the ones I did last year.

Ask yourself now in the workplace in 2017 why so many people have large noise cancelling headphones? How much time do your leaders spend engaging you outside of core working? This is a skill and an environment which is disappearing. I can completely understand the opposing argument but we haven’t replaced that old fashioned approach which an equivalent and so the skills are becoming redundant.

Information and insight – it is the same for the tools and methods which enable collaborative working. The potential is huge to improve engagement and alignment in co-production of documents or in the sharing of information.  However, the increase in volume in information does not always equate to equivalent quality and value. Look even at Linkedin and consider how much original content you see produced vs content shared. I know a huge range of people who I’ve never seen write a single thing themselves. Spend a week reading and liking only an article that was written by the poster and see how you behaviour changes.

Sharing a link to the Harvard Business Review with no comment or insight is not entirely valuable. Should I get any credit for knowing something because I’ve shared it. This is translated into corporates too. Leaders now with access to a huge range of material don’t have to produce anything or promote their own thought leadership. Even more than this, because everyone has access to all of the information, younger people no longer are turning to leaders to see what they think in the same way.

Consider, when was the last time you were asked by a junior person what you thought about something or when was the last time you shared something that you did yourself to a colleague?

Inspiration –   a role of a leader was always to inspire the people that worked for them. It was a ethos that anyone would be happy with what they were doing if they felt inspired by the leadership. There’s a great but possibly apocryphal story of someone asking a janitor in 1967 what their job was with the response being ‘I’m putting a man on the moon’. The role to inspire was essential to building that connection with the organisation.

Now with twitter and LinkedIn etc . you can connect with very important global leaders and experts. You can listen to Richard Branson’s thought of the day or assess Justin Trudeau’s utterings on foreign trade. A bit closer to home, you can see the CEO of your own companies account, what she thinks, is reading or is listening to. Younger people in particular therefore, don’t need the inspiration as much from the lower tiers of management because they think they’ve got what they need elsewhere. I don’t need to know what Keith Logan thinks about AI because I can read what Mark Zuckerberg thinks all, of, the, time.

Ask the junior people in your organisation who their business role model is. 10 years ago who would have been given a name in your organisation. Now, it’s likely to be a global CEO or a superstar TEDx er.

So then, the fundamentals for how we work have changed and we are perhaps becoming a industry of managers. So, have a think about your own organisation and look at your leaders. What is being valued and rewarded higher up and even more importantly, think about what’s important to you in a leader and think about the leader you want to be?

Be a disruption seagull; you don’t need to know where the fish are, you just have to follow the boat.

Some companies are making the disruption and some are benefiting from it. They aren’t mutually exclusive, so in a period where there is some big stuff happening, how do the little guys line up behind it?

Rather wonderfully, driverless electric cars are almost certain to be the way of travelling in what could be less than 20 years. This means my hoverboard should be ready shortly after. Have a look at this article from a former colleague Jack Basley.

Now, where Jack has really got me thinking is in positioning driverless cars in the context of public transport. The price point for Uber vs the cost of public transport is already not miles away from parity – per passenger trip in Sydney it costs around $15 for the government. Public transport relies on scale to be profitable so small, rural towns in particular could make real savings. They already are in some places (including this one in Canada Driverless just removes another constraint which makes it even more efficient.

However, this mostly benefits councils, Uber, the car companies etc. You perhaps need to go a level deeper to identify opportunities around the main disruption where ripples in the pool lead to all sorts of opportunities. The initial wave is easy is to see and to guess the value. The real opportunities are in the waves which follow and the changes they cause. You just have to look at the use cases and reimagine what might be possible. For example:

Travel is about point to point?? – most cafes and restaurants are based in urban areas or especially beside main roads where there is parking. If that is no longer a constraint then you can take detours to anywhere you like. You can normally assume people want to get places quickly but if you aren’t driving, you can be working, or having fun. So if the restaurant doesn’t have to be on the main street, it can anywhere you like.  So here is my business idea number 1; taking a leaf from Indian colleagues with their wonderful looking home cooked lunches; I would create a network of domestic lunch makers at which you could stop on your way to work to get. The disaggregation and democratisation of lunch. A sort of Uber eats run by your granny. The same Granny could also provide a cleaning service for the cars, she pushes one button and fleet of Googlemobiles arrive for a spruce-up.

However, even this idea is based around a fairly standard view of transport so I maybe need to think a little differently. The mindset is to see travel as the means to an end rather than the means itself, therefore everything is a factor of time or distance. If you change the mindset, you start to see the opportunity. Here are three such ideas.

Future of Parking – is generally considered to be an economic and environmental disaster in that the efficiency of parking spaces is typically very low, it paves over space which could be better used to generate utility (happiness or money) and it’s not good for run-off of nasty chemicals and even the reflection of heat. There is also a huge use of space alongside roads where cars are not moving for the vast majority of time and accordindly serve no purpose. Where then are the opportunities to reformat, repurpose and rethink parking when you don’t need the space? Urban gardens, markets, micro-distribution centres or hubs for commerce An investment now in parking might be brilliant move.

Future of Education – Sydney in particular is renowned for a huge migration of children every day going off to schools all over the city. With driverless cars, you would unleash all sorts of potential for mischief making. Why not then build the first lesson of the day into the commute. Facial recognition knows what children are where, whether they are looking and you can deliver a lecture, homework, verbal exams whilst they are on the move. A bespoke language learning course would do just the trick, AI bots to have conversations, immersion in the language, connection internationally with kids overseas. You could have the whole population of Australian children speaking Mandarin without ever having a teacher know a word.

Future of healthcare –  a typical Doctor’s surgery and pharmacies require a range of stock to support the different Doctors with different specialities. There is a company in Mexico; Cemex who revolutionised cement delivery by putting geotagging on their trucks and then sending them out into cities with no specific orders to fulfil; when the orders came in, the trucks would be directed to the need. Why not apply the same principle to Doctors, ignore a base location and send them around in a driverless car going where they are required. A much more efficient use of resources. A series of pharmacy vehicles does something similar roaming around the city waiting for the orders to come in.

The driverless car industry will be a $1trillion business over the next 50 years. Not everyone is going to be able to get much from the big disruption bit; the first half of the money is going to go the tech companies, the next chunk to the car companies, the next chunk to insurance companies and government etc. But even being left with a wee tiny bit at the end, it’s still a lot of money. The objective today is to start to imagine the future and take the first steps towards the potential opportunities. There is nothing above which can’t be done today in some format, the real money is just over the horizon.

There’s plenty of fish to go round if you go looking.

The Icelandic Football team’s guide to Digital Transformation

Yesterday, the Iceland football team qualified for the World Cup in Russia ahead of Croatia, Turkey and the Ukraine and in doing so became the smallest ever country to achieve that feat. Iceland has 330,000 people, almost non-existent football league, a very small number of recognisable players, weather that could be considered ‘not ideal’ and an economic legacy of near Armageddon. They have continued on from the European championships where they not only qualified but managed to beat England 2-1 (TV rights for English football $18b AUD). 10 years previously they were ranked 120th in the world and their best ever result was a 1-1 draw with Turkey.

In summary; they have very little money, huge restrictions in their talent pool, conditions which don’t provide a natural advantage for success, no legacy of success and they exist in an area of huge competition. They have nonetheless, achieved a transformation so remarkable as to be quite unbelievable. If the situation sounds similar to many corporates, that’s because it is.

So what would the Icelanders recommend

1) Have a plan and stick to it – on the field Iceland have a style of play which is entirely based around what their players can do, they play on the counter attack and don’t try to take on the bigger teams at their own game. They are rigorous in training, coaching and managing players to fit to that system. In a recent game against Turkey (a 3-0 win), they had the ball for only 25% of the time but still managed to score three goals. Their game plan is based around every single player knowing the job they have been given to do and executing it well.

Off the field it is the same, they designed the transformation of the game which required players, coaches, the leadership and even the fans to buy into an approach and a design and every decision was taken to support that. For example, they had a long term coach who built a succession plan to the current coach which started 5 years ago. They resisted the temptation to change the structure or the resources after a few bad results. Their 10 year plan was to create a new system to support the the game overall, invest at all levels, pick the style and the approach for playing and build everything around that.

How often do we change around structure to fit to a new direction and how often does your company build a strategy or transformation plan?

2) Change needs to be everywhere – the problem was not viewed as simply as the Icelandic national football team being bad. The approach was not to spend lots of money on the team itself rather, to see the challenge as football in Iceland as a whole. Much of the investment has been on coaching young children, providing facilities and a system to support everyone. Women’s football, youth teams, children’s teams are not treated as anything different.

For example, young children in the system are able to go and train with a professional club and anyone is allowed to apply to be a coach. Accordingly, Iceland has the highest number of coaches per capita of anywhere. The investment and the engagement is spread across the whole organisation.

How often do we in organisations think about how to transform the whole business? The view is that scale of the challenge is so big that it needs to split into boxes, new teams are created or devolved from other parts. The strategy process and the planning sits with the higher levels and the steps to get there are communicated down rather than built up. The England Manager is on a salary of $5m AUD, but that’s not where they should necessarily be putting the money.

3) Change the dynamic of your constraints – one of the biggest challenges for Iceland is that the winter is cold and extremely dark and at other times, they have huge amounts of rain and low average temperatures. Manly Beach in the Spring it is not, and their beach volleyball team is extremely ropey. As a Scotsman, I can appreciate the astonishing natural advantage Australia has for playing sports outside but you have to imagine Sydney with the weather of Glasgow. It would be a different place and would need a different response.

Iceland though have changed the dynamic completely. The have built a series of huge, heated indoor halls with full football pitches rather than small practice ones. They have made access to these easy, cheap and have put investment into ensuring the experience of going to these halls is as good as it can be. There is actually an incentive to go to training when the weather is bad.

To add to this, they have taken a very small player base relative to other countries so they’ve applied a real ‘hothousing’ approach to manage and nurture talent. They have a learning pathway for development built off the range of coaches and the successful ones are managed into programs overseas. One of their players recently sold for $70m AUD (Glyfi Sigurdson).

The lesson here for corporates is to not to try and be something that you aren’t. I’ve had this conversation with a number of corporates; ‘we need to be customer centric’, our ‘customer experience needs to be best in class’, ‘we have to be agile’, ‘we have to get best use from our data’.

The trouble is, everyone says the same thing and everyone is trying to do the same thing. It therefore becomes a factor of investment or commitment. What would be the Iceland Football team answer?

Kindergarten Con(sultant) – developing corporate creativity

The world economic forum have published a fantastic article about how 98% of children are ‘creative geniuses’ when they are in kindergarten but that this skill is reduced dramatically as they go through the formal schooling system where at age 25, only 3% remain ‘creative;. This is even before they join a consultancy company and spend their first year on a PMO engagement and I doubt the trend improves for directors updating weekly pipeline reports to astounding levels of pointless detail.

What the article also says is that the skills required for jobs as early as 2020 has ‘creativity’ in the number three spot after complex problem solving and critical thinking. The big loser in the list from 2015 to 2020 being ‘quality control’ which disappears completely. Now, there is loads of investment in education going on to try and build those skills better in children – see children in Finland starting school only when they are 6 or in New Zealand where tests show that kids who learn to read at 7 have better coFuture skills.pngmprehension skills aged 11 than the ones who learn aged 5 so children will be fine.

So Please will someone think of (someone other) than the children!

My concern is not for the future generation of workers but the current ones like me aged 37 who are still going to be around in 25 years time. I worry that I’m a coal miner in the 80s or a horse manure extraction specialist just before Henry Ford. We need to be looking at ways to teach us old dogs new creative tricks or we’re destined to be overrun by Burning Man visiting, co working, boat shoe wearing, hipsters called Rafi.

Before my skills are completely redundant though, let’s do some consulting on this issue. Starting with identifying the problem

1) SEE WHAT YOU HAVE – The results above for children are based on the application of ‘Torrance Tests of Creative thinking’ for kindergarten students – read this : We should run the tests for corporates to judge where the pool of talent sit against a creativity score. This score will at least give a baseline for a Corporate Creativity Score CCS(TM, Patent Pending- Keith Logan). What you want to do is to get a sense of how people approach creativity and having ideas, because once you know that you’ll be able to have the evidence to do something about it. (which is required is any corporate to gain any meaningful support).

The simple test given to children is to take a simple paperclip and ask them what you can do with it. The score is then based on;

Fluency. The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.

Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses

Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses.

Elaboration. The amount of detail in the responses.

Take a practical example of how this is applied day to day with design thinking. As part the ideation phase, we commonly ask adults for a large volume of ideas and then wonder why not everyone is good at it.

2) CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT FOR CREATIVITY – there has been a huge amount of money invested in Innovation centres and corporate co-working spaces but they commonly fit into a few categories;

1) a beautiful shiny, technology space run by militant ‘ innovation types’ the whole room humming with the raw processing power of the live demo equipment no one uses more than once a week and kept immaculately clean in case clients come in

2) A trendy spot with a funky name ‘the junction’, ‘the jungle’, ‘the ideas jetpack jamboree juice bar’ always with a ping-pong table than is only used once a week on a Friday when people book it or

3) A repurposed couple of walls with white board material usually stained from the ERP project plan that was written on it 3 months ago and no-one bothered to rub it off.

What you need is a ‘Corporate Kindergarten’ where the activities are constantly moving around and where people can invest time that they choose in the things that interest them. They can be engaged entirely in what they are doing both individually and with others. After a while, anyone with children will testify that these spaces are rarely tidy and organised. So why not create a space with games, puzzles, music, water, plants, toys where there is no objective to be met, you have to leave your phone outside and the environment is constantly changing. You create an adult ‘creche; where you are essentially dropped off by your manager to spend some time? Children learn by playing and we shouldn’t be any different, if you’ve ever had a good idea in the shower it’s because the brain helps itself when it’s focussed on something else.

3) INSERT THE MADNESS (AND SOME STRUCTURE)- To be avoided is the ‘invasion of the Creatives’; the UX/UI, creative teams almost always move themselves into the place in the room which looks the most collaborative, visual or visible. If you have high-desks and comfy seats, they will soon be overrun with people in t-shirts with large noise cancelling headphones and no-one else gets a look in. You want to care about the whole group not just the people who already are creative and imaginative. What if all the training budget went on people who already knew the subject? Accordingly, you do need some process behind using the space. Time by team, by project, nominations for individuals, rules about phones, work, clearing up etc. Rather like a kindergarten, it might seem messy after a while but the start of everyday is neat and tidy (and different). There is also a rough plan to what the children do, it’s not a complete free for all whether it’s ‘animals week’ or ‘naptime’.

There does need to be some ‘madness’ added to the mix. People have the have the psychology safety to be creative which means you have more fun and have more ideas in a pub than you do in a library . Furthermore, if you want to create an atmosphere where anything can be imagined, you have to create something wild enough to set the range. If you see your CEO playing twister with the leadership team, you give everyone permission to be braver, wilder or ultimately more creative.

There is a point for most of us where the desire to play, be creative and to have fun is eroded by process and structure. If there is a change in what’s important in work towards creativity, Emotional Intelligence and problem solving then perhaps we all have to go back to Kindergarten and start again.


Judge Dredd: Judge, Jury and Execution of leading practice Agile

In a future world with increased urbanisation, huge disruption due to climate change, a series of ‘judges’ double as police, jury, judge and executioner to make immediate decisions on crimes and conduct immediate remediation up to and not limited to instant execution with a range of exotic weaponry. They are supported by an huge AI engine with all information on each individual delivered through a Google glass type device which supports the ultimate decision. An ethereal Siri type voice provides the information direct to Judge Dredd who then makes the decision.

‎Now, it might seem like a leap but this is basically the perfect description of good Agile management (without the executions). Here’s why;

‎With the risk of being controversial, Agile is increasingly the de facto project delivery approach but it is commonly poorly delivered or is morphed into a hybrid which doesn’t help anyone. It all sounds so good to start with; flexible and quick delivery of outputs, visible and engaging, easy to see progress and all you need are two core principles;

‎ 1) that you don’t know exactly what you are going to get at the end and 2) You have to have the ability to make quick decisions of some importance.

‎This is where the cunning plan can fall down, the client needs some clarity of the outcome and some decisions are delayed to get the right group. It is very quick to end up with a series of small waterfalls against a big project plan. A simple test for your project is to count how many people are in the PMO or PM team and to have a quick look at your project plan. From a consultant’s perspective, you can be in the position where the length of a Sprint creates a hugely increased level of bureaucracy and actually restricts the ability to be flexible because you are constantly defending small changes or delays. Most of us never work harder than on Agile projects and you know what; it’s not always the consultants fault.

‎In the comic, Judge Dredd came about because of the slow speed of the decision making process in ‘Megacity One’ to deliver justice. Decisions were stacking up, cases were overwhelming the Steering Group (Megacity Courts) and nothing was getting done. So, they armed the Judges with authority to make decisions immediately, stuffed them full of information available and put in some checks to measure their performance. Judge Dredd even went around with a deputy who provided an ongoing psychology summary e.g. the voice of the customer embedded right there in the decision process.

‎It’s time then to apply some Judge Dredd to the corporate Agile process as part of the governance. Each member of an overall program steering group could be nominated as a Judge. Each are armed with a Judge’s visor (or an iPad would probably do) loaded with all the decisions, strategies, an overall Judge Yammer group and any project document. They are supported by a Deputy Judge who represents the customer (they too could get a cool uniform). Decisions are made in the moment and are recorded into the central store. You could even use the Judge Dredd story to explain the process for Agile and actually build it into the project lexicon. I’d love to go to a Sprint start-up, close-down when dramatic music herald the feared arrival of the ‘Judge’.

‎What’s even more important is to consider the impact of Agile on overall project delivery. The biggest change in IT project delivery in the past decade has been the reduction in the time from idea to execution. My first project as a grad was a 3 year ERP implementation (in fairness, it was meant to be 2 years) but a typical cycle now can be 16 or 20 weeks. Back then when things were more customised and bespoke, you still spent half the money on the change and business piece. Now you are talking about an even bigger change for people in a hugely reduced time period.

‎So you have to be quicker, more visible and more direct. Send for the Judge.


Design Thinking; an obituary in advance

Design-Thinking-01I am a management consultant of 15 years and in that time, there is only one immutable truth. That which says that everything can be structured, rolled up into a framework, split into a method, repurposed as training materials and then sold onto clients. You can’t sell an idea but you can sell the process to get the idea.

Each consulting epoch (2-3 years) has it’s own special flavour. Lean went from manufacturing through the sausage machine into desks at public sector offices and faded into standard operations. Agile started with software developers, scrums mutated into sprints and now gets applied everywhere and nowhere (especially in proposals). Design thinking is the current chef’s special and the signs are all there that it’s about to begin it’s process of becoming commoditised and therefore go gently into the good night.

Let’s examine the signs.

1) Training – I sat in a lecture from a well known consulting firm who were extremely proud that they were rolling out training to everyone in the whole organisation on design thinking; through a 1 hour online mandatory training course. Hmmmm

2) Use of the term Design Thinky – as in, we aren’t going to run design thinking but we are applying a Design Thinky approach

3) Certification – once real saturation point is reached, the only way forward is to propose a tiered system of accreditation to support multiple layers of training and expense; green belt, master user, 4th dan. It’s only a matter of time before we see a linked in profile extoling a person’s role as a 4th Level grandmaster Design Thinker – with proof of 400hrs of Design Thinking led work supported by 5 testimonies and a formal exam.

Here is what I find wrong with this. Design Thinking relies on some real skills which aren’t built by learning the process. You have to have people instincts which allow you to run interviews and assessment based on building rapport, applying psychology and to create real empathy. You can’t do this from a pro forma spreadsheet. You also have to have the imagination and insight which enables you to manage the creation of ideas. This requires facilitation skills which come from experience and again applies a lens of psychology into how you get the best out of people. To develop the ideas, you need the ability to prototype past the point of drawing some lines on a page or building a model with some sticks; there is dev ops, UX/UI right, process/op model, supply chain right behind which needs some specific skills. To run a linear process, you look at inputs and outputs/outcomes as points of certainty to progress. By definition, the approach should go back and forward, up and down to get the best out the people and the process.

Design thinking is not a new idea. The HBR published a article about it in 2008 and even that came 30 years after a book on visual thinking – idea-sketching, seeing, and imagining which formed the basis for the psychology behind the approach. Each element comes from having years of experience and range of people who can support and deliver the method. Ironically, if you have these people together then you wouldn’t need any process or model to get good outcomes, you would rely on the group genius and the skills to bring out the insight and the answer.

Should we not abandon teaching design thinking as a method and teach psychology, facilitation, customer centricity, dev ops, product design? Sounds a lot harder right?

I am therefore declaring Design Thinking dead just as I did that social media site when my Mum signed up; all the cool people would leave and find something new, no-one would use the full access to the facilities and surely there would be other better options. (Facebook I think they were called).