Archive for September, 2010

Innovate Through Connected Adjacencies

September 27th, 2010

images-14Don’t go to war with current models and systems.  Too many are in love with them and you will lose.  Create the future through connected adjacencies.

Why are innovators so quick to go to the mattresses?  Like a scene right out of The Godfather innovators are wired to assume a war footing.  Innovators start from a premise that intransigent models and systems are the enemy and the only way to win is to gear up for an inevitable fight.  Status quo is the enemy in an innovator’s cold war and must be vanquished.  Innovators prepare for war by steeling themselves, building large armamentariums, and recruiting passionate soldiers to join their fight.  War cries may get people’s attention but taking to the warpath, as a theory for change, doesn’t work.  There are too many people in love with current models and systems. Going to war might feel good but in the end you will lose.

Existing business models and systems have evolved over a long period of time.  It’s true most were built for an industrial era that is long gone.  It’s also true we need to design, prototype, and test new models and systems if we are going to solve the big social challenges of our time including health care, education, energy, and entrepreneurship.  However going to war with the current systems will not work.  Too many people are vested in them. Anything threatening status quo is too scary to contemplate for most. Read more

Blessing of BIF-6

September 18th, 2010

4995258735_4809ba51f3_mThe opportunity to host BIF’s annual Collaborative Innovation Summit is an incredible blessing.  The inspiration I take away every year overwhelms me.  BIF-6 was no exception it delivered.  While the summit is going on I love to watch the reaction unfold, feel electricity from the cacophonous breaks between sessions, observe connections being made, and collaborations hatched. But during the summit I am so absorbed in the flow of hosting that it isn’t until the solitude of the ensuing hours and days that the full wave of blessing hits me.  If I close my eyes I can still see cognitive surplus sublimating into action potential.  It’s palpable and it’s magic.

Each summit takes its own form.  Trusting the audience is imperative.  By not trying to anticipate or prescribe themes, that only the unique group of participants and random collisions of the moment can define, the canvas unfurls in unpredictable and delicious ways.  It’s up to each of us to discern the patterns most relevant to us.  Pattern discovery is a joyful process and integral to the magic. The cauldron of BIF-6 contained 30 plus remarkable storytelling catalysts to get our reaction started.  300 unusual suspects, innovation junkies each with a well-developed questing disposition, took it from there. BIF-6 was a target-rich environment to mine for personally relevant patterns and meaning. Read more

Confessions of an Accidental Bureaucrat

September 14th, 2010

download-2My inaugural Harvard Business Review column gets personal.

I successfully avoided government throughout the first 20 years of my private sector career. But in 2003, after a career first in industry and then as a road-warrior strategy consultant, I found myself as an accidental bureaucrat in the public sector.

I never saw it coming. After a weak attempt at retirement, my wife wasn’t in the market for a strategy consultant to advise on household operations. What I hoped would be a year at home to sort out options quickly became a not so subtle nudge out the door to find my next gig.

I naively raised my hand to the newly elected Governor of Rhode Island and the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) and asked how I could help. The next thing I knew I was at the RIEDC, first as the agency’s lead for strategy and development, and then as a member of the Governor’s Cabinet and Executive Director of the agency. I had become an accidental bureaucrat.

Continue reading the HBR column here:

Stories Can Change the World

September 8th, 2010

download-1“Facts are facts, but stories are who we are, how we learn, and what it all means.”  My friend Alan Webber, Co-founder of Fast Company and author of Rules of Thumb, has it exactly right.  Storytelling is the most important tool for any innovator.  It is the best way to create emotional connections to your ideas and innovations.  Sharing stories is the way to create a network of passionate supporters that can help spread ideas and make them a reality.  We remember stories.  We relate to stories and they compel us to action.

Storytelling is a core value at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF).  We believe that advancing our mission to enable system change in health care, education, energy, and entrepreneurship is critically dependant on our ability to create, package, and share stories from our work.  Everything we do is about storytelling and our Innovation Story Studio is one of BIF’s most important capabilities.  By openly sharing stories about the process and output of BIF’s work we are strengthening our community of innovators and becoming more purposeful with every new story.

It is no surprise that BIF’s upcoming annual Collaborative Innovation Summit, BIF-6 on September 15-16, is all about storytelling.  I will never forget meeting with my friend and mentor Richard Saul Wurman (RSW) to get his advice prior to our first summit six years ago.  As an innovation junkie it doesn’t get any better than having RSW as a mentor. He founded TED for heaven’s sake.  I went to the meeting prepared with an approach that I had worked on for weeks.  As an MBA, of course I had a matrix, with speakers organized by theme.  RSW heard me out and could only shake his head saying, Saul you have a lot to learn about how to create an emotional connection with an audience.  He patiently told me to throw away the matrix.  He said it was as simple as inviting people to a dinner party.  Ask speakers that you want to have dinner with to share a personal story that you are selfishly interested in and invite others to listen in.  RSW has been a storyteller at every summit we have hosted and I can’t wait for his story at BIF-6. Read more

Future of Work

September 6th, 2010

images-13It seems fitting on Labor Day to reflect on the future of work.  Today’s concept of work, employment, and jobs are an outgrowth of an industrial era that is long gone.  The industrial era is not coming back and it is time to rethink the basic concept of work.  Despite what politicians say most of the jobs lost in the current downturn aren’t coming back.  Work takes on new meaning in the 21st century and it is time to change our conversation.  The real wake-up call of this downturn is the enormous skill’s gap between the requirements of a 21st century economy and the skills and experience of the current workforce.  Waving our hands and political rhetoric will not close the gap.  Our education and workforce development systems must be transformed. Now.  The nature of work and the way we think about jobs must change dramatically.  Labor Day seems like a good day to start.

Here are 20 random thoughts on the future of work.  Add yours. Read more

Interstitial Innovation Magic

September 1st, 2010

images-111Magic happens in the interstitial space between silos, disciplines, organizations, and sectors.  The word interstitial comes from the Latin “interstitium” which was derived from “inter” meaning “between” and “sistere” meaning “to stand” therefore to stand between.  Optimum learning, innovation, problem solving, and value creation happens when we stand between.

To fully realize the potential of the 21st century we must get more comfortable and better at standing between.  The imperative is to go from interdisciplinary to trans-disciplinary.  Only by celebrating the interstitial space between us will we invent new disciplines and system approaches to enable transformation in our important social systems including education, health care, energy, and entrepreneurship.

And yet we spend most of our time in silos.  It is comfortable there.  We know the language spoken.  We know what is expected and our roles.  We know the people who inhabit our silos.  There are clear rules dictating our behavior within silos and even clearer rules if we dare to dip our toes into the interstitial space outside of well-marked boundaries.  Incentives, performance reviews, and job ladders all reinforce insularity.  While technology screams permeability, organization infrastructure and operating norms lean against it.  Standing in between anything is often considered a career-limiting move. Read more