Archive for will to share
In many large corporations, there’s a painful and frequently repeated scenario of invention theft that we treat in several ways in the book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. The invention theft I’m thinking of today is not from foreign spies or evil competitors. It is internal theft, wherein a powerful employee or team within a corporation takes credit for another individual’s or team’s innovation. Sometimes the theft is so blatant that a powerful person files a patent in his or her own name, leaving off the name of the real inventor. Sometimes the real inventors are told to drop the project completely and hand over the keys of the new vehicle they have created so that someone else can ride it across the finish line and take all the glory.
When this happened to a truly brilliant man in a large company where I was providing some guidance in the past, I warned him that his kind of behavior was deadly for the future of their company. When people lose trust for their company and fear that their innovations will be stolen, they clam up, shut down their innovation engines, and save their best thinking for someone else, such as their own business one day or a future employer. When people don’t get any credit for what they do, they quit doing. If a company tolerates or even rewards internal invention theft and doesn’t zealously seek to reward true inventors, real inventors move toward secrecy or inactivity and the light of innovation goes dark. This is the fast and easy way to bring your company to your own version of the Dark Ages.
Yes, time travel is easy. You can go back in time by decades or centuries when you crush innovation by allowing it to be stolen from within. Going backwards is surprisingly fast. Once you feel the pain of your mistake, clawing your way back to the modern world might take a little longer than your think. Actual, most companies shrouded in the mists of the Dark Ages never realize what they’ve been doing wrong because they are out of touch with the voice of the innovators within. They can spend a lot on consultants solving the wrong problems and talking to the wrong people and never rebuild the trust they have shattered. When it comes to long-term corporate innovation success, trust between employees and the company is everything.
The Summer 2010 issue of American Educator (a publication of the American Federation of Teachers) ably illustrates one of the lessons we teach in Conquering Innovation Fatigue: metrics to drive performance can have unintended consequences that may actually hurt rather than help. Indeed, unintended consequences are a major theme of our book, as we explore the problems arising from metrics, corporate and government policies, corporate innovation initiatives, laws, taxation policies, and other factors, all of which can contribute to innovation fatigue.
In terms of education and the danger of improper metrics, Linda Perlstein’s article, “Unintended Consequences; High Stakes Can Result in Low Standards,” examines a highly celebrated school in Annapolis, Maryland that received media attention and praise for seemingly miraculous success in education. The new principal arrived in 2000 to find Tyler Heights Elementary School in a dismal state with only 17% of its students getting satisfactory scores on the state test. She began redirecting efforts in the school to address this problem. Eventually her laser-focus efforts paid off, delivering the stunning success of 90% of third-graders performing well on the Maryland State Assessment, when only 35% of third-graders did so two years before. Several newspapers recognized the amazing turn-around and people at the school celebrated the success. But was it real success?
To achieve good performance on the Maryland State Assessment, education for the children was largely focused on how to do well on the test. Students learned how to write BCR’s (“Brief Constructed Response”) to deal with expected questions about poems and plays, and practiced writing these short answers for many hours, without actually studying poems or plays. “What gets tested is what gets taught,” the principal told the teachers, even if that meant leaving behind the material that was supposed to be taught according to state standards. Bins of equipment for studying science were largely unused.
Tyler Heights’ third-graders got only the most cursory introduction to economics and Native Americans, and much of the curriculum was skipped altogether. The students were geographically ignorant. . . . The third-graders had heard Africa mentioned a lot but were not sure if it was a city, country, or state. (They never suggested “continent.”) At the end of the year, the children in Johnson’s class were asked to name all the states they could. Cyrus knew the most: three. He couldn’t name any countries, though, and when asked about cities, he thrust his finger in the air triumphantly. “Howard County!”
The state standards required a broad curriculum, but the metrics for assessing that were based on one particular test and all the incentives were for helping students pass that test. In spite of the praise for the miracle at Tyler Heights, had the children really been helped?
The problem with unintended consequences from metrics such as tests is hardly unique to Tyler Heights. Daniel Koretz, also writing in the same issue of American Educator (see page 3 of the PDF file on unintended consequences), explains that in education and other fields, score inflation is a common and well known but widely overlooked problem. In the social sciences, a phenomenon that leads to score inflation is known as Campbell’s Law. While widely applied to education, it was developed while looking at business. Donald Campbell, a prominent social scientist, examined the role of corporate incentives on the performance of employees. His research led to this general formulation: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” (Donald T. Campbell, “Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change,” in Social Research and Public Policies: The Dartmouth/OECD Conference, ed. Gene M. Lyons, Hanover, NH: Public Affairs Center, Dartmouth College, 1975, p. 35. See also Can New York Clean Up the Testing Mess? by Sol Stern.)
Campbell’s Law is at work when schools game tests to get better scores, at the expense of education. It is at work when cardiologists choose not to operate on patients who might need surgery rather than risk hurting their own published statistics on mortality rates among their patients (Koretz refers to a 2005 story from the New York Times reporting the shocking results of a survey of cardiologists). It is at work when a company tries to boost innovation with metrics or incentives that result in game playing, while leaving the real problems from culture, systems, and vision unaddressed.
In our experience, metrics and incentives can play a valuable role in driving innovation, but only when the corporation has a culture that genuinely encourages innovation, when there is a shared vision of innovation and success, and when sound systems are in place to advance innovation. Without those, you can not only waste a lot of resources in attempting to drive innovation with metrics and incentives, you can actually make a weak culture become pathological and lethal, sometimes exacerbating fatigue factors like the Not Invented Here syndrome, theft of credit for innovation, and breaking the will to share. Adding incentives linked to metrics without the right culture and systems can be sort of like throwing raw meat into a school of sharks or piranhas. You can generate a lot of activity, a lot of exciting thrashing and splashing, but in the end there will just be a lot of blood in the water and fewer thinkers and producers in your school.
As always, innovation success requires that you carefully monitor for harmful unintended consequences from the policies, programs, and incentives you have in place. Innovation metrics, incentives of all kinds, and employee performance evaluation systems and other tools associated with metrics can backfire. Unless you are tuned to the voice of the innovator and understand the impact of unintended consequences, you can be like the company we treat in Chapter 8 of our book that felt like it was a rock star of innovation while they were actually squelching it. Don’t let the unintended consequences of well-intended policies and metrics crush your innovation success.
Death panels have been a hot topic for speculation from some folks worried about health care reform, but in the world of innovation, genuine death panels have long been in place in corporations. Innovation death panels, disguised as intellectual property review committees or IP review boards, have been sending great inventions and great business concepts to an early death for decades. Further, the ways these panels operate can kill innovation at a broader level by discouraging inventors, keeping them out of the loop, and ensuring that whatever is left of their drive is unlikely to bear fruit.
Rationing has to be a reality when it comes to IP because only a small fraction of potentially valuable concepts justify the expense of filing a patent. But failure to pursue a patent need not be an innovation killing event. It can, in fact, be a valuable opportunity. When operated properly, the IP review board can provide a tremendous opportunity to educate, motivate, guide, and inspire corporate inventors, even when the current invention they have brought forward is not right for patenting.
One key is treating the inventors with respect and giving them a chance to be heard, as well as a chance to hear and learn from the review board. Many inventions are not properly understood before a decision is made, and inventors facing that can become cynical. Many inventors in corporations also don’t fully grasp how decisions are made and what the review board is looking for. Use the review process as a way to help the inventor understand the process and the criteria for decision making. ideally, you have a written strategy statement that provides guidelines and specifies where innovation is needed, helping the inventors know what to invent. You can also use the review board experience to recognize the contributions of inventors, treat them with respect, and help them feel motivated and connected, even if their first few tries don’t go anywhere.
The culture engendered by your IP review board or committee can be a matter of life or death for innovation in your company. Don’t let it become a death panel. Watch the process through the eyes of the inventors–listen to the voice of the innovator–and make sure you have a healthy and wholesome system that strengthens innovation, not decapitates it.
In Conquering Innovation Fatigue, we discuss the importance of understanding innovation from the perspective of innovators, and make recommendations for managing and motivating prospective innovators in the corporation, including suggestions for running IP review boards and guidelines on building trust, aligning innovation efforts with corporate needs, and creating cultures of innovation. Sections on corporate innovation are written for both employees seeking to develop innovations and for leaders seeking to encourage it. You must understand and conquer or work around the many innovation fatigue factors that impede innovation in so many corporations.
Recently I spoke to a group of engineers, scientists and managers about the challenges of innovation fatigue within corporate R&D. I condensed that presentation down to just 14 minutes and have made it available using Pixetell.com, a nice system for recording a presentation.A short URL for the presentation is http://tinyurl.com/jlpres1.
Engineers and scientists are often puzzled by the decision-making processes in corporations, and sometimes get frustrated over the apparent blindness of others to see the potential of an invention or new product or process. Others, however, may see the opportunity through the “Lens of Risk” and find compelling reasons to be concerned. Understanding those other perspectives is one of the topics of this presentation.
Those managing R&D also need to understand the personal aspects of innovation and appreciate the tenuous “will to share” that keeps employees tied to the objectives of the corporation. When the will to share is broken, innovation can dry up quickly and silently, in spite of large budgets and enthusiastic efforts.
Is your innovation organization running on empty? Crushed, lacking creative juices? Time to add some fizz again with principles from the book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. As part of the series on Magic and Innovation, today I’m using a simple effect to illustrate what can be achieved with an innovation organization.
Available on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JVr017KZBw.
In our newly released book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, July 2009), we offer guidance for innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and policy makers. Today I’d like to speak to leaders of teams or organizations where innovation matters but seems to be less effective than it should be. Innovation fatigue can set into an innovation community for a wide variety of reasons we discuss in the book. When that happens, the solution is not necessarily to punt and discard your team. The first step should be to look within and identify the fatigue factors that may have left your would-be innovators feeling disconnected and empty. Has there been a breach of trust that needs to be rebuilt? Are there barriers that keep your innovation community out of the loop and disconnected from the needs of the market place? (If so, see our chapter on the Horn of Innovation!) Are there steps you need to take to recharge your innovation group with the energy and innovation fizz they used to have?
My short video clip below uses an analogy with aluminum cans to help illustrate the problem and recommended approach. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I hope it makes a point. OK, it’s a bit lame and amateurish – just trying to make a point in a round-about way. No trick photography is used.
The world of many two-year-olds and far too many business leaders seems to be dominated by one word: “MINE.” Like the seagulls in the old Disney movie, Finding Nemo, everything within reach is a potential casualty for the chanters of “MINE, MINE, MINE.” Their business model seems to work: kids get what they want much of the time, the birds get fed, and business leaders get their way. But none of these creatures are who we should look to for real leadership and innovation.
Innovation and real success in business requires attention to one’s ecosystem, the network of partners and other players that participate in your business. If you neglect these relationships or abuse them, you can destroy the willingness of these partners to help you succeed or to share valuable knowledge and ideas that can be essential to innovation. Selfishness and business narcissism are ultimately self-defeating. Healthy business requires a healthy ecosystems with partners who trust you and are motivated to help you succeed. Squeezing every last penny out of your partners and suppliers doesn’t do that.
The automotive industry in the U.S provides a painful example of self-defeating selfishness. Here’s an insight from commentator Roger Wiegand in his recent article, “Gimme a Job“:
Another largely unreported statistic says that for every auto job lost, six more auto supplier company jobs vanish as well. We all know what a major role the auto industry plays in the economy. For most consumers a house is the largest asset and cars are next in line.
The amount of jobs lost within the big three is just the tip of the iceberg. Suppliers are filing bankruptcy right and left. The bigger question then becomes: How can the remnants of suppliers produce parts to build all those cars? Suppliers are not earning any money. The Big Three has crushed them with their own problems.
Both GM and Ford have had to buy back spun-off parts companies just to ensure mandatory parts delivery to build their cars. They have either helped them with millions-billions in fresh cash, or in fact bought back their parts suppliers outright. Even the premium, top drawer parts suppliers are filing bankruptcy.
The Big Three has historically treated their suppliers like economic enemies. The Asian manufacturers take the view their suppliers are their partners and work out problems together to ensure quality and that everybody makes a profit. If your suppliers fail you fail with them. The Big Three has never seen the light on this get-along notion.
Treating suppliers as economic enemies – treating any partner as an economic enemy, including one’s own employees – is a short-sighted approach that can reap economic benefits for a time while casting a magic spell of doom over one’s future.
The blinders imposed by greed and selfishness makes sufferers of these ailments miss the rich opportunities that can be created by win/win attitudes and a generous heart. Further, it makes would-be leaders far less likely to actually lead and influence others, and more likely to create enemies and opposition.
Scientific data supports an important conclusion that is counter-intuitive to the practitioners or greed: generosity and kindness create success. Those who refrain from the mantra of “MINE, MINE” and think of the well-being of others are not only more likely to have economic success, but also to gain credibility and success as leaders. This is borne out by significant bodies of data, as discussed by Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, in his recent speech, “Why Giving Matters.” I consider this a must-read article.
Brooks discusses the surprising results born out by extensive data showing that the act of giving, whether it be charitable donations, volunteering time, or even giving blood, leads to increased economic success. Part of the reason is that this more selfless approach makes a person happier, and happier people do better in work, in managing relationships, and in many aspects of productivity. People who give also gain respect and credibility from others, which enhances their ability to lead and inspire. I would add that people who are willing to help others and be kind are more likely to not ignore the needs of partners, more likely to not alienate them by being oppressive and greedy, and more likely to stimulate cooperation and the sharing of ideas.
If you care about innovation and business success, look to yourself first. Do you care about others? Understand and respect their needs? Do you give to charity? Do you inspire trust and respect through your integrity and character? If not, your iron-clad contracts and Draconian negotiating skills will be like cursed relics from a bad mummy movie that only drag you down to a dusty doom.
As I began writing this post, my wife was in a car a thousand miles away with a brand new smart phone. I received a call on someone else’s phone informing me that my wife’s smart phone had quit working completely after following the instructions she received from tech support to fix the GPS system in her phone. The GPS had quit working that morning after tech support had her do another set of procedures to fix another problem. Now she had no GPS and also couldn’t make or receive calls. The problem would later be resolved. I’m still not sure how much of it was due to network trouble (the black hole effect I describe below), hardware trouble, user error, and questionable tech support, but after almost 3 weeks of experience, I can say two things about the Palm Pre: 1) It is a terrific and beautiful phone with many innovations, and 2) Palm is doomed. Doomed, I fear, unless they make some changes in their business model and better consider the harmful long-term impact that some short-sighted decisions may have. The exciting work of the innovators within Palm may be destroyed, in the long run, by Innovation Fatigue Factor #5, “Flaws in Decision Making and Vision”(the subject of Chapter 9 in Conquering Innovation Fatigue).
The problem, in a nutshell, is that Palm and Sprint (the only network for the Pre) apparently have decided to focus on getting the limited production of Palm Pres into the hands of as many users as possible, rather than letting tech support staff have them. The quality of customer service is being deliberately sacrificed to grab more market share and get more buzz among consumers, but this may backfire and create negative buzz due to some compounding factors. Some users may be happy with what they can figure out on their own and never need tech support, but I think many Palm Pre users are likely to need support. I say this because users are not given the Palm Pre manual and the manual in PDF form is not provided on the Palm Pre, cannot be downloaded from the Palm Pre, and even if loaded onto the Palm Pre, cannot be read by its PDFView application without crashing the phone. It’s a painful irony that makes aggressive users rely more than they should on tech support, and yet tech support is in the dark. When you call 888-211-4727 for support, you will be speaking with someone who has never used the phone, perhaps never even seen one. You can usually get to a human in under three or four minutes, which is wonderful, but simple questions can take far too long to be answered, if an answer ever comes. If uncorrected, this will drive consumers away from this phone and toward the many alternatives that can do many of the same things.
Here’s an experience that illustrates the problem of using inexperienced tech support instead of people familiar with the phone. I had a problem with a disappearing icon. There are five icons across the bottom of the screen for a newly installed phone: one for dialing, one for contacts, one for email, one for the calendar, and one that brings up a directory of apps and services. On day two of using my phone, the email and calendar icons disappeared. I’m still not sure how. There were suddenly just 3 icons, not five. I was able to still find email by navigating through the apps, but wanted the convenience of rapid access to email that the icon provided. So how does one get it back? Nothing in the skimpy guide given to new users addressed the issue. So I called tech support.
After being escalated through three levels of tech support over the course of an hour, I still hadn’t found anybody who could answer that question, so I gave up when, mercifully, the signal dropped. The top-level person didn’t call back. The next day, when I had to call again for another issue, and while talking to a rep, I asked this new guy if he knew the answer to the icon puzzle. He put me on hold for about 60 seconds, and then came back with the simple solution: press any icon in the apps window for several seconds until it glows, then drag it into the row of icons at the bottom of the screen and it will stick. I was delighted. “Wow, that’s great. Do you mind if I ask why you were able to help so quickly when three levels of tech support yesterday all searching for the answer couldn’t help?” “Oh,” he said, “there’s another guy over here who owns a Palm Pre. So I asked him and he was able to show me.” Ah, someone with experience – someone with a phone!
Because the person I reached knew someone with experience, he was able to reach out to his local value network and get the knowledge I needed, and he could do it in 60 seconds, compared with a fruitless hour of my time and Sprint’s when talking to people without experience. My wife and I have been contacting tech support a lot– far too much, but usually out of necessity–and nearly everyone I’ve talked with didn’t know much about the phone at all. Thank goodness one person had access to someone who had one.
By going for short-term market share by getting more sets into the hands of the public instead of into the hands of your own support staff, Palm is taking a huge risk and incurring costs that may well outweigh the benefits of the accelerate distribution to the public.
We have emphasized the importance of strengthening “the will to share” as a key to having a culture of innovation in an organization. Breaking the will to share is one of the most dangerous innovation fatigue factors that we discuss in our book.
Google, typically a hotbed of innovation, continues to show that they understand the importance of keeping individual innovators engaged, connected to the company, and personally motivated to share their best. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Google is taking new steps to further keep the best ideas of their employees within Google, reducing the risk of them leaving and taking their best ideas elsewhere. These steps include new access to top management, increasing the chances that good ideas will be seen at the top. “Innovation reviews” are part of this program. These are formal meetings where concepts from employees are presented by Google executives to the the CEO, the founders, and other top leaders.
Google has also given some of its engineers increased power to launch major projects of their own choosing, and is taking other steps to keep inventors motivated and to have increased chances of realizing value from great ideas. This is all sound business policy when one realizes how important the “will to share” is. I expect that they will have increased success by keeping that will to share healthy and vital by paying attention to innovators at the individual level and making sure that they have a chance to make a difference. Few things are more frustrating than sensing that your great ideas never get seen or heard, and have no chance of changing the future.
One of the nine major “Innovation Fatigue Factors” that we emphasize in the book is what we call “Breaking the Will to Share.” This describes the tenuous bonds of loyalty and trust that motivate innovators in an organization to bring forth their best ideas and breathe life into their work for the good of the organization. When trust is breached, the will to share can be lost, and even though the employee goes through the motions and appears to be working hard, real innovation can be stifled. Breaking the will to share is a silent innovation killer. We diagnose it and offer a variety of solutions while stressing the importance of staying in touch with your innovation community and listening to the “Voice of the Innovator.” Without that, you can talk innovation all day long with little hope of real progress.
Innovation involves the minds – and often the hearts – of real people. They need to be respected, included, involved, and listened to. This is essential if you wish to build a healthy culture of innovation, an ecosystem where innovation can thrive and prosper for the good of all involved.
Here is one way of summarizing some of the many factors that are involved in the will to share. A form of this image is included in Chapter 6 of the book.
A leader at one of the world’s most famous companies told us that breaking the will to share was the biggest barrier to innovation he had seen in his years moving up the ranks in R&D. It’s one that you cannot overlook if you want to have innovation success in your company or other institution. We think the chapter dealing with this issue, and the related insights to the personal aspects of innovation, will help you avoid this serious innovation killer and move closer to innovation success.
Remember, innovation is all about human beings. It begins in the mind of an innovator, and then involves many others along the way. Ultimately, humans need to adopt it and change the way they do things because of it. Forgetting the humans in the complex equation of innovation, especially those at the beginning of the process, can result in a lot of innovation hype but little innovation success.