I recently had the opportunity to lead a book club discussion on this fantastic guide to innovation, Change By Design by Tim Brown, CEO of renowned design firm IDEO and guru of the next wave of innovation… “design thinking” . Below are some key excerpts you can check out to see if you want to read the whole book – or just get by with these cliff notes!
What is design thinking?
“An approach to innovation that is powerful, effective, and broadly accessible, that can be integrated into all aspects of business and society, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and that therefore have an impact.”
Why do we need it?
“As the center of economic activity in the developing world shifts inexorably from industrial manufacturing to knowledge creation and service delivery, innovation has become nothing less that a survival strategy. It is moreover no longer limited to the introduction of new physical products but includes new sorts of processes, services, interactions, entertainment forms, and ways of communicating and collaborating.”
How does it work?
“The continuum of innovation is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. We can think of them as inspiration, the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation, the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas; and implementation, the path that leads from the project room to market.”
“The willing and even enthusiastic acceptance of competing constraints is the foundation of design thinking. The first stage of the design process is often about discovering which constraints are important and establishing a framework for evaluating them. Constraints can best be visualized as a series of overlapping criteria for successful ideas: feasibility (what is functionally possible within the foreseeable future); viability (what is likely to become part of a sustainable business model); and desirability (what makes sense to people and for people).”
“The classic starting point of any design project is the brief…a set of mental constraints that gives the project team a framework from which to begin, benchmarks by which they can measure progress, and a set of objectives to be realized: price point, available technology, market segment, and so on…The clarity, direction, and limits of a well-defined project are vital to sustaining a high level of creative energy.”
“The tools of the design thinker – getting out into the world to be inspired by people, using prototyping to learn with our hands, creating stories to share our ideas, joining forces with people from other disciplines – and ways of deepening what we know and widening the impact of what we do.”
Who excels at it?
“There is a popular saying around IDEO that ‘all of us are smarter than any of us’…To operate within an interdisciplinary environment, an individual needs to have strengths in two dimensions – the ‘T-shaped’ person…On the vertical axis, every member of the team needs to possess a depth of skill that allows him or her to make tangible contributions to the outcome….Design thinkers cross the ‘T’…people with the capacity and – just as important – the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. In the end, this ability is what distinguishes the merely multidisciplinary team from a truly interdisciplinary one…There is a collective ownership of ideas and everybody takes responsibility for them.”
What cultural environment is needed?
“To be creative, a place does not need to be crazy, kooky, and located in northern California. What is a prerequisite is an environment – social but also spatial – in which people know they can experiment, take risks, and explore the full range of their faculties.”
What are the benefits to the organization?
“There is an important lesson here about the challenges of shifting from a culture of hierarchy and efficiency to one of risk taking and exploration. Those who navigate this transition successfully are likely to become more deeply engaged, more highly motivated, and more wildly productive than they ever have before.”
[Two great examples of successful design projects – Bank of America (p. 119+) and Japan’s Cool Biz (p. 127+)
Potential Discussion Questions:
In December of 2002, my husband and I were on our way to Costa Rica to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. As often happens, he fell asleep shortly after take-off and I pulled out my airplane reading.
This time it was Patrick Lencioni’s newly published The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I was immediately captivated by this phenomenal book, because I totally believed in and agreed with the author’s model for how an effective leadership team should function.
I had already read so many books that stated if members of a team were not truly interdependent, then they were not a team; they were just a group of people. They also contended that this was even the case for high-level executive teams.
Prior to reading Lencioni’s book, I had always thought companies were paying these leaders too much money to not have them functioning at a higher level than that of a simple group of individuals. They should be expected to act like they care about the success of the whole organization, not just their own silo.
I now had a model to support this theory, in a very well-written story—what I call a page-turner whenever I introduce it to teams. I immediately began sharing this model with the teams that I consulted with, and they too saw the power in it.
Over the following years, as I shared Lencioni’s book and model with numerous teams, I was struck by one common theme from the participants in the session—the paradigm shift of who is your number one team. They had not realized how closely they had been focusing on their own team—that is, the one that reported to them—and the significant impact this had on their perspective of the needs of the business, the lack of attention they gave to the problems and opportunities of their teammates, and the power that could be unleashed if they truly began to look at the business synergistically as one team.
In the next few posts, we’re going to be talking about accountability. This is a subject best viewed through three separate lenses: personal responsibility, the role of the leader, and the team’s collective accountability. This post, and the ones that follow, will provide some best practices for positively impacting all three.
Are you as good as your word? Can others trust you to live up to the commitments that you make? What does exceptional personal accountability look like to you? Do you think that everyone sees it the same way? Many team leaders have complaints about a lack of accountability on the team, or a problem with people on the team not taking responsibility, but when asked to describe what this looks like when it’s done well, they find it very hard to do. It’s much easier, therefore, to ask people to remember a time when they saw an outstanding example of someone taking accountability or being answerable for their actions. I ask each person to describe the situation, what the person did, and why this was a good example of accountability. This can be a very powerful experience for a team, especially when each member is able to see the similarities and the differences in expectations about the individual meanings of accountability.
There is a wonderful book entitled QBQ: The Question Behind the Question, by organizational development specialist John Miller. It is a short, pithy, easy read, but it tackles the tough topic of personal accountability with exceptional clarity and an orientation toward action. It’s almost like giving each member of the group permission–and a guide–to turn their attitudes around, and make positive change happen in their lives.
Miller’s book shows people how to regain a sense of control over their actions and reactions to the world and people around them. It instructs readers not to see themselves as victims who blame others for their circumstances, but instead to take ownership and action by asking the simple yet serious question, “What can I do to improve this situation?” This is what Miller calls “the correct question” versus “the incorrect questions,” such as, “Why does this keep happening to me?” or “Why don’t people just do their jobs?”
Miller provides several easy tips for turning any incorrect question into a correct one. Incorrect questions begin with the words why , when , or who , while correct questions begin with what or how . Incorrect questions contain the words them, they, we, or you, while correct questions simply contain the word I . Incorrect questions dwell on the current situation; correct questions focus on action. Thus any one of us, when faced with difficult circumstances or demanding people, can choose to change our response from incorrect (“Who dropped the ball on this?”) to correct (“What solutions can I provide?”). The beauty of changing our questions—and thus, our mind-set—is that we’re able to turn laser like focus on our actions and ourselves. We can then use this information to impact the way in which we view and react to the events and circumstances of our lives. We all know, but always forget, that we can.t change other people; we can truly only change ourselves. We can choose to tap into our inherent creativity and turn our energies toward finding solutions that address these issues and problems; and that is the first step toward reclaiming control over our current situation. As Miller says in QBQ : “Personal accountability does NOT begin with you. It begins with me…Personal accountability is about each of us holding ourselves accountable for our thinking and behaviors and the results they produce.”
In our next post, we’ll talk more about accountability, and how managers and leaders can demonstrate and reinforce it. We’ll take a look at what managers can do to be true role models for excellence in accountability. Starting with one on one situations, we’ll move on to the discussing the leader’s role in driving accountability for the whole team.
In the meantime, let’s talk! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.
The Grammy-award winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra wows crowds around the world with virtuoso performances of Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, and Mozart. Garnering prestigious awards (a Grammy in 2001) and accolades (Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year” in 1998), the New York based orchestra fills the world’s finest concert halls with adoring audiences and the some of the sweetest sounds on earth.
Astonishingly, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has no conductor! Its 28 members alternate roles and share responsibilities. From guiding rehearsals to interpreting selections, leadership of the group rotates among its musicians.
Thinking about the unusual structure of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra sparked ideas in my mind about the nature of leading teams.
1) Being a leader doesn’t mean that we always have to pick the tune, set the pace, and assign the parts.
In a conductor-less organization, in which leadership and authority are dispersed throughout, creativity abounds. Each member has the freedom to contribute his or her unique talents for the benefit of all. On the contrary, the combined creativity of an organization is blocked when a single leader hoards authority.
2) In the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, no one has a back to the crowd.
Absent of the human barrier, the audience is invited into the midst of the orchestra and can share a more intimate connection with its music. Conversely, an organization with power concentrated too heavily at the top can easily lose sight of its customers. Generally, the most senior leaders have the least frontline interaction with customers. If we, as leaders, don’t make room for the instincts and input of people throughout our teams, then we’ll gradually blind ourselves to the needs of the clients we’re trying to serve.
It’s been said, “Variety is the spice of life,” but for many managers the spiciness of diversity causes heartburn. Leading a team would be much easier if one size fit all. However, the reality for managers involves cleverly tailoring roles, reward structures, and recognition. In doing so, leaders have to balance unique treatment of dissimilar personalities with a uniform application of fairness.
Diversity in the workplace goes much deeper than race, gender, job title, or even daily responsibilities. Leaders have to discover how team members think, what drives them, where their strengths shine, and so on. Leaders light the way by making this kind of inquiry a priority, and by creating the tools and processes that allow people to see one another in a new light.
Here’s a practical application to illuminate diversity on your team and reap benefits from it.
At the close of a week, gather your team together. Give each person ten minutes to make two lists:
List #1 - Three work activities from the past week that felt draining or tedious.
List #2 - Three job activities from the past week that felt enjoyable and invigorating.
Do not discuss the lists as a group; simply collect them after the ten minutes are over. Repeat the exercise each week for a month.
At the month’s close, convene a team meeting. During the meeting, assign each person to share one recurring activity they enjoy and do well. Also, have them talk about one regular activity they dislike and find draining.
This simple exercise will bring awareness of the various strengths and weaknesses on your team. Over the course of the meeting you may want to reshuffle a few tasks or open avenues for team members to volunteer their strengths in new ways.
When archers draw a bow, they’re far more accurate when they zero in on the bull’s-eye than when they broadly aim to hit the target.
The same applies in golf. When players concentrate on landing the ball at a specific spot near the pin, their shots are more precise than when they target the green in general.
What’s true for archery and golf translates to strategic planning as well. The sharper your focus is, then the smaller your margin for error will be when you execute. Put simply, “Aim small; miss small.”
What can you do practically to shrink the scope of your goals so that you’re laser focused?
If everything is important…then nothing is. Identify the three strategic priorities for you team. Don’t get bogged down on specific verbiage, but make sure everyone agrees with and can articulate your strategic priorities.
Knowing what not to do can be just as important as knowing where you’re going. What distractions will tempt you to veer from your strategic priorities? Dialog about them, and list them. Instill in your team that these activities are taboo.
Decide upon metrics. What is unmeasured goes undone. Set your criteria for success. Don’t feel constrained by numbers—qualitative goals have every bit as much merit as quantitative ones. However, make sure your metrics are simple and concrete.
Track performance together. Evaluating results as a team provides instant accountability—no one wants to look bad in front of peers. Also, talking through results helps you to decipher problems or opportunities buried beneath the facts and figures.
Everyone has the ability to be creative—if you broaden your concept of what creativity means, and if you know how to tap into it. My experience with hundreds of groups leads me to be able to say, with confidence, that at their core, great teams are comprised of creative, committed individuals who are using their best efforts to reach a common goal.
In fact, teams that solve problems and tackle challenges together have a special bond that’s not often found in other groups. And they don’t see these challenges as drudgery or something outside the scope of their work; they view it as the excitement and fun of being a part of a team.
Think of the members of the team of which you are currently a member or a leader. Would creative and committed be the words you would use to describe each one of them?
Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
Did you know that one of the reasons the population of fireflies appears to be diminishing is because of ambient light or “light pollution”? There are too many distractions. All these other bright lights keep fireflies from performing at their best. How similar and true for the people on our own teams, if we don’t have a common vision of success to focus our time, attention, and resources.
Scarcity of resources—both human and financial—demands that we focus our efforts. If you’re scheduling an annual planning meeting in the coming weeks, you’re probably aware that the value of strategic planning is not only deciding what you will do, but also deciding what you will not do. When done well, strategic focusing can be one of the most exciting and effective team development tools available to a leader.
There is a well-known saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” I have found that the most effective teams are exceptionally clear on two things—where they are going and how they must work together to get there. In taking hundreds of teams through the strategic focusing process, I have found this metaphor to resonate with people:
The road we are on is our mission . If this organization ceased to exist, what would the world lose?
Mile markers are the key milestones . How will we measure our progress against the vision and course-correct if needed?
Next post...the top 5 ways my approach to strategic planning has changed over the last 10 years.