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.

So

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)

Sustainability?

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.

http://www.thecorporatefuturist.com

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.

Customer experience; the Japanese way: Hyper-specialisation and what Kanazawa’s tiny, tiny whisky bar might mean for the future.

The Japanese know you have to be authentic, you have to have knowledge if you want to look like you care and you have to respect the crowd.

People naturally want to be a little different, they want to feel special or be special. As the world is getting more connected it’s actually becoming more homogenous. Teenagers internationally are all taking selfies, using social media and shopping at Zara. Whether you are in Beijing or Brisbane, you are going to be doing a lot of the same thing.

At the same time, you might all be using Facebook in the same way but you can link with people with really specific interests and ideas. The old fashioned equivalent is the difference between a city like London and a city like Brisbane. In London, you can find from amongst the 9 million people, a Star Wars absinthe bar with enough people who like Star Wars and absinthe, to be able to fill it. In Brisbane, you are more likely to see a range of different people in the casino or in the RSL; every taste in blended into something which is more generic and more middle of the road.

As regards products, services and experiences for customers; the progression is towards wanting the Star Wars Absinthe bar experience even though you live in Brisbane.  How do you build your service and product catalogue to meet that demand?

To do that, we can look to the land of the rising sun for advice.

I was recently in Japan on holiday (and it’s great) and we visited a town on the west coast called Kanazawa. (Until recently a 4hr trip from Toyko before the launch of the new bullet train service.) The town was busy because of their huge annual Oktoberfest celebrations (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen organised Japanese conga lines to oompa music). In this town was a bar called Machrihanish https://tabelog.com/en/ishikawa/A1701/A170101/17000104/ . It is named after a very small town in Scotland with a lovely golf course but it is obscure for Scotland never mind a town in Japan.

Anyone who has been to Japan will notice the incredible range of small bars and restaurants with really specific themes, you’ll see tiny shops selling unusual things. Even if you haven’t been to Japan you’ll have seen their levels of super-fandom and you will also have seen how most crazes- Pokemon, cosplay, tamaguchi etc tend to start over there. It’s a remarkable place to look at customer experience.

But why……how do they approach things in Japan?

You have to be small and specific – with so many people in Japan, you have to differentiate yourself to stand out. People are actively looking for things which are unusual and special. People look for experiences which are away from the mass market whilst at the same time everyone buys commoditised products like iPhones etc. Japan has an amazing dichotomy whereby for some things, everybody is the same and for others, hugely different. The owner of the Machrihanish hadn’t named his bar the Scottish Bar or even the Edinburgh tavern. He went to the depths of something unusual and specific to create an experience.

The logic is, you have to go the whole way to create authenticity and therefore engage people in your product.

Consulting bit

The capability exists for us to use digital to enable the build of these specific products, services and experiences but to what extent do we do so. We also have the capability to understand what are the small and specific things that will interest our customers. As an example in an Australian context; why not produce an insurance product very specific to surfers – bundle up life, car, travel insurance into one experience product which pays out double for surfing related claims.  You have to support the product by showing authenticity by knowing what a surfer really needs from an insurance product. (see design thinking, empathy interviews, CX design). However, specific insights if they are applied generically aren’t that helpful. E.g. the product and the service need to be specific enough to take advantage. I can tell you right now that customers like transparency, simplicity, speed, personalisation and accuracy but that’s not enough for a customer experience strategy.

Knowledge and attention to detail – If you are going for small and specific you really have to look like you understand or you lose the authenticity and the credibility.  My bar in Kanazawa had real menus in it from the clubhouse at St Andrews, it had pictures of golf clubs in Scotland which were put in alphabetical order on the wall. I ordered a whisky and tried to explain it was from the most southern distillery in Scotland. The owner then explained in some detail how there were five further south and I had missed the Mull of Kintyre (a common mistake he said). He then explained how he was a member of St Andrews golf club (showed me his membership card) and described the relative difference between the types of seaweed on the west coast (no joke).

Consulting bit

If you look like you care about something, you have to understand it as it takes a differentiating factor into one of advantage. For the insurance company selling the surfing product, if it looks like a gimmick it will be treated as such. If you hired even one surf expert, he/she could manage the whole case load regardless of where the people are located. If it’s popular and you need more, then great.

The impact is on how you design your service (operating model to handle the traffic). The design in the fabric of your CRM is how to create better routing to your operations. A first line AI engine (with the surfing add-on dude?), 2nd line service to Brad from Bondi or even a sales discussion via Skype at the beach (surfing tinder). It’s an old tactic powered by new technology.

Crowd power – recognise the power of changing demand and waves of interest. The power of social media can generate hype in an incredibly short space of time with the capability in the background to build things quickly (consider the immediate and overwhelming supply of fidget spinners). When I was in Tokyo, I saw a huge line for a tiny food stall and then about an hour later I saw another one. The reason; both were selling Maine Lobster rolls which was the ‘big thing’. My guess would be that it’s no longer the case and everyone is eating ‘Haggis balls’ or something. The capacity for people to wait for something ‘hip’, the speed of change and the scale of demand was remarkable. Just as soon as it came though, it would be gone so if you were a lobster roll only specialist you would be stuffed. (pun intended)

Consulting bit

Any time lag in meeting the demand or any inflexibility in being able to scale would have represented a huge loss in potential revenue. The local McDonaldsshu wasn’t selling lobster rolls because it couldn’t get there quickly enough. They were nonetheless doing some good trade in their usual fare. What you need then is the ability to have that two-speed business where you can maintain your core but you give yourself the capacity to change to meet specific needs which might come quickly from nowhere.

Where I’ve seen Japan mentioned, it’s not usually in the terms of it being a leader in customer experience it’s usually about efficiency, manufacturing, knowledge, accuracy, product design and creation. However, it’s possibly because they think about the latter ones so that they can deliver the former.

Arigato gozaimasu

See more blogs from Keith Logan san @ www.thecorporatefuturist.com

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).