Find an engine for change

Wonderful insight on change, creativity and collaboration from composer Philip Glass from last Sunday's New York Times Magazine:

When I talk to young composers, I tell them, I know that you're all worried about finding your voice. Actually you're going to find your voice. By the time you're 30, you'll find it.

But that's not the problem. The problem is getting rid of it. You have to find an engine for change.

And that's what collaborative work does. Whatever we do together will make us different.

Jackson Pollock painting or chessboard?

Most institutions -- be they governments, corporations, education or health care systems -- try to run things as if they were playing chess, each move orderly, sequenced. But today’s word is complex, more like a Jackson Pollock painting than a chessboard.

So Independent Diplomat Carne Ross suggested at last week’s BIF8 innovation conference.

In a complex system it’s almost impossible for top-down leaders to create order, hard as they may try. Order emerges in complex systems from the bottom up, said Carne.

As a corporate rebel this metaphor is quite powerful to me.

  • How can we foster more participatory environments for people to create the change needed to succeed in an increasingly complex world?
  • Is it just a matter of more of us stepping up and leading, regardless of title?  Of not waiting for people with official titles to confer approval?
  • Do we find ourselves as rebels still playing chess, following long-held "ways of working" rather than collaborating and activating colleagues in new ways?
  • Do we find ourselves painting by numbers when what's really needed, and may be so much more rewarding, is paint freely and without worrying about convention like Jackson Pollock?

Change is a-comin. Are we brave enough to let go of status and certainty and create new participatory ways to work, to innovate, to prosper?

Painting by numbers always bored me as a child. I knew what the painting was going to look like, which was so uninspiring. The act of full-in creating without knowing exactly how it might turn out is risky, but these days following the usual paths isn't going to solve the issues at hand.

What other questions does this metaphor raise for you? 

The war on drugs and other disasters

Gary Askin, new to the Rebels at Work community, is doing some innovative policing work, particularly around The War on Drugs, which he says does not exist.

"Here is a five minute presentation I did for Ignite on dispelling the notion that police were ever in the "War on Drugs." Initially some fellow officers were quite concerned but are now buying in."

Kudos to another positive rebel working to change the world. You can learn more about Gary on his site InnovativeCops, or connect with him @garyaskin.

CEO Nancy Schlichting: find the disruptive people

"Find the disruptive people in your organization. They have the ideas that will drive change," said Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, a $4 billion healthcare organization with 23,000 employees. Speaking at the BIF8 innovation conference last week in Providence, RI, Nancy shared what has helped her transform an ailing health care system and create innovations in health care such as a new  $360 million health and wellness facility that feels more like a luxury hotel than a hospital.

Transforming healthcare is all about leadership, she said. Her leadership approach focuses on creating an "incredible" environment for every person to reach their full potential.  How she has created such an  environment:

  • Making a large organization feel small.  When the board approached her about being CEO of the health care system she was reluctant to take it because she likes being involved with people and creating working environments that are positive, personal and open-minded. The board assured her that being CEO of a health care would not preclude how she like to lead.
  • Saying yes to unusual ideas, like an employee who wanted to be able to creating fun drawings  on the disposable gowns worn by the kidney dialysis staff. "This woman creates this amazing designs on her own time on the weekends. On Monday mornings the staff can't wait to see what she has that week for them."
  • Helping people who are disruptors. These, she says, are the people with the ideas that can help you change and transform. One example she shared: a surgeon who wanted to put health kiosks in churches in the Detroit community.  Doing so has been a hugely successful way to help people learn about health and wellness.
  • Hiring people in with non-traditional backgrounds to help you see things in new and different ways. "This is essential," Nancy stressed. One example: she hired Gerard van Grinsven, a long time Ritz Carlton executive to be CEO of the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, even though Bernard had no health care experience. His "otherness" has been a significant reason the new hospital has been so successful in its ambitious goals. (Here's a link to a video of Gerard sharing his story about going from high-end hotels to opening a hospital.
  • Bringing together different thinkers. Creative ideas happen at the intersections, said Nancy. Bringing different thinkers together across silos creates better ideas faster.

Hearing her talk I was reminding of the wonderful poem by Kaylin Haught, "God Says Yes To Me."  Imagine if CEOs said yes, yes, yes to more of their employees, especially the disruptive corporate rebels?

Not only would organizations be able to innovate and change more quickly, a wonderful sense of joy would permeate the workplace -- even in high-stress environments in struggling urban areas, like the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

 

Here's a video of Nancy's talk:

Rebels at Work Make their own Categories!!

I've been in a thinking mood lately.....Well, I'm always in a thinking mood but lately I've been thinking about "thinking" a lot. During my first career in the Intelligence Community I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how analysts could satisfy the policymaker's desire for insight. Now that I'm in the consulting profession, I find that clients want the very same thing: Give me a way of thinking about the problem that is new to me and that I will find useful, i.e. a perspective that will open up new options for me on how I should act, make decisions, respond. I would say to some analysts: "We need more insight here!"

And they would rightfully challenge me: "Well what do you mean by insight?"

Good question!! I could describe to them the outcomes insight should produce (see above.) but I needed to describe the process by which one generated insight--that was harder. I finally concluded that all analysis involves early on the "slotting" of information into categories. Most of the time analysts are sorting information into predetermined categories. In other words, prevailing or conventional wisdom. Insight therefore is coming up with new ways of categorizing information that others find useful. That last part's a little tricky because it's still subjective, but until we decide on the absolute meaning of life and understand completely the laws of the universe, pretty much all knowledge will remain subjective. As in subject to further review and modification. (Indeed, I'm tempted to think humans are destined to live in a universe without explanation, but that's a completely different blog post.)

There are two ways I know of to categorize differently.

  • Slotting information into different categories than everyone else. You're still using the same categories, but you can make the argument that X event actually means the government of Y is getting stronger, not weaker, for example.

or, and I think this is the highest or hardest form of "insight":

  • Developing an entirely new set of categories. What we think of as a paradigm shift is also a Category Reset.

Individuals often become rebels at work as a result of doing one of the above...or both. They can process information differently and they can also invent whole new modes of categorization.  The latter usually implies a significant change in how an organization does business. The trick of course is to persuade the rest of the organization that this new way of categorization--this unconventional thinking--will in fact  not only be useful but better.

On my other blog, recoveringfed.com, I wrote earlier this week about the 10 habits of non-conventional thinkers. Check that out if you want a little more on the habits that can lead to new ways of categorization.

Rebellious Optimism: Someone = Us

This guest post from our friend and rebel thinker Deb Mills-Scofield, as part of her Rebellious Optimism series.

When you see a need or issue, what do you do? Most of us shake our heads and say, “Someone should take care of that.”  Well, someone = us!

Perhaps one of the reasons someone ≠ us is that the perceived risk of ‘doing’ diminishes our courage.  Perhaps innovators and entrepreneurs aren’t more risk-o-philic, they just define risk differently – not following one’s passion and purpose is a greater risk than financial or reputational security.  Perhaps this is a basis for Rebellious Optimism.

As some of you know, I’m so enthusiastic and hopeful about our future because of the people I’m serendipitously meeting, of all ages, shapes, sizes, creeds, and colors.  Let me highlight 3 companies, separated by 162 years:

NBA Math Hoops: What do you do when you’re 19, in college, and have a burning passion to help underprivileged kids learn math using their passion for sports?  You create a scalable solution! Meet Khalil Fuller.   The NBA has given him a free license agreement, Hasbro’s committed $100,000 to make the game, and Echoing Green named him as a finalist for their prestigious fellowship.   A national pilot with a majority of free/reduced-lunch students shows significant improvement in 51% of the math scores and improvement in attitudes about math – for both boys and girls.  Khalil is preparing for a 2012 Fall launch.

Lesson:  Get out, meet some Gen-Zs and Millennials.  We can all learn from their transformative innovations.

Thogus:  You’ve just spent big bucks getting ISO certification for half your revenue stream, the Big-3 Auto guys; but you’re tired of being their “bank”.  So you fire them!  Now what? 3rd Generation Matt Hlavin decided to create a 61yr old start up. He reinvented the entire business model and the company is growing exponentially.  What was a ‘job shop’ is now a high-tech and biomedical design and engineering company with rapid prototyping/additive manufacturing up to full-scale injection molding capabilities.  Matt is using design to balance the experience of age with the freedom of youth, from their gym to the plant floor to employees themselves.

Lesson: A key to success is the 21st Century is embracing, leveraging and balancing paradox.

Menasha Packaging:  Meet the163-year-old family-owned company who’s leadership team reinvented their business model and re-invigorated their culture 7 years ago, putting their careers on the line.  What drove this level of risk? Stewardship & Optimism. They view themselves as stewards of their customers, their employees and families, their economic and social community impact, and the family legacy.  They have Rebellious Optimism that they can and will succeed.  Menasha’s ongoing success, even in the recession, is testimony for “doing what is right”.  They are well known for bringing some of the most innovative, effective solutions to market.  They are hiring talent and growing.  And, as I post this, we are in the sunny Wisconsin woods, continually innovating the future.

Lesson: Don’t use a company and management’s age as artificial constraints for innovation.

Autodesk CEO on innovation: speak up, have a point of view

Good advice for corporate rebels from Autodesk CEO Carl Bass. When asked by Adam Byrant, the New York Times "Corner Office" columnist, what he does to foster teamwork and innovation Carl Bass said he focuses on three things:

  1. Find people with different world views who are willing to challenge you.
  2. Create an environment where they can do that.
  3. Go out of your way to tell people that you want to hear their opinions.

In the recent interview, Bass said:

It's not uncommon in meetings for me to say, when I know something is very controversial and important, "For the next 20 minutes, I want to hear from everybody."  At the heart of it people have to take on and hold a point of view...I think one of the main roles for a leader is to get as many opinions as possible on the table.

I also appreciated Bass' views on the need for leaders to set clear visions.

As CEO you're the one who's driving the bus. And if you're erratic while you're driving, everyone gets pretty nauseous. It's really important to be as clear as you possibly  can be and not just wake up one day and say we're going this way and the next day we're going that way.