Being Awesome, Innovation

Status Quo Dies Hard: With a Vengeance

Cool guys don't look at explosions, or validated hypotheses from minimum viable prototypes.
Cool guys don’t look at explosions, or validated hypotheses from minimum viable prototypes.

The clock ticks down… 00:07, 00:06, our hero grabs the secret briefcase and kicks the evil mastermind sprawling to the floor. 00:04, 00:03. “Seems like you forgot to study the map with the escape routes!” the villain cackles. Our hero runs towards the walls of the mountain-top base and looks hundreds of feet down the cliffs to the ground. “I don’t need to study” he says while looking back at the villain. 00:01 “I’ve got the cliff notes.” 00:00 He leaps over the wall, his tuxedo transforming into a paraglider as he is silhouetted by the massive explosion behind him.

Whew! What a cliffhanger! (See what I did there?) Action adventure stories can leave us with a rush of excitement and adrenaline, whether they are movies or books. This past week I was able to attend a local meet-up of writers. The topic of the day was action adventure heroes and plot structure. It was an excellent discussion but my mind kept coming back to innovation.

For example, in action adventure stories, there are good guys and there are bad guys. It is a clean division of Team Yay and Team Boo. The hero, solidly in the Team Yay category, doesn’t wan’t to understand the bad guys. He wants to defeat and eliminate them. The story usually takes place in a unique location that the hero is not one-hundred percent comfortable; it is not his home turf.

At this point, a light went off in my head. Take those points about the hero in action adventure stories and portray it as someone against innovation. There are clear distinctions between what they support (this is Team Yay because it isn’t risky) and what they don’t support (this stuff is Team Boo because it scares me). Our anti-innovation “hero” wants to defeat and eliminate the risky items on Team Boo. And in fact, this usually occurs when data or trends are suggesting that change is happening around them, making the market hostile to this person.

So many parallels. And then this brain-bolt struck.

In an action adventure story the protagonist doesn’t grow as a person over the course of the movie/novel. There is no realization that a different solution may work. Rambo never wants to talk it out. James Bond never invites a woman over to just watch Netflix. Indiana Jones never seeks therapy to overcome his fear of snakes. (I think its connected to early childhood trauma from taking his dog’s name as his own)

Action heroes are a metaphor for the fight against change. They are a protector of reader’s/watcher’s mental status quo.

“Life is too short to fight the forces of change. Life is too short to hate what you do all day.Life is too short to make mediocre stuff.” Seth Godin, Tribes

So just remember that to some, we innovators are seen as the bad guys. We challenge their worldview, we smash the status quo, we trod down paths that don’t exist yet. Our task is to take out-of-the-box ideas and pitch them in-the-box. And sure, these action heroes may be laggards when it comes to adoption, but think of all the learning that is to be had by observing and developing empathy for their point of view!

Challenge

  • Identify someone that has been the action adventure hero to your innovation.
  • Gain empathy for their views by observing what they say and do.
  • Talk to them one-on-one and discover their thoughts and feelings around your innovation.
  • Use those four points of empathy (think, say, feel, do) to look at your innovation a new way.
  • BONUS: Get them to champion your innovation!
Being Awesome, Innovation, Team

How many C’s are there in “Innovation”?

Being part of a good innovative team is a dream. It is mutually rewarding, there are no stepped on toes or bruised egos, and everyone helps elevate each other’s ideas and projects to that “OMG wait until the world sees what were doing!” level. However, not all teams are created the same, and some are clearly created just to put sand in your sunscreen. I’ve identified four attributes that can help your innovation team reach new heights and upgrade into a traction-churning prototype machine!

Change

Making change sounds intuitive when working in innovation, but “change” is not just a product your team produces. Your team must embody change in order to stay relevant, effective, and productive. An innovative team that is set in their ways is like a brand new car in neutral; flashy and shiny now but ultimately going nowhere.

Change exists in your team procedures. There is no set template for innovation and what works today may not work tomorrow. Since variables and climates shift constantly, each problem you set out to solve needs to be evaluated for appropriate procedures for you and your team. Surveys and A/B testing of prototypes may have helped you understand your wireframes, but will those procedures help you learn about functionality?

Change exists in your team skills. Previously, we’ve talked about being T-shaped. If you are T-shaped, then your horizontal skills are where the change is going to be most noticeable. Those are the skills that possibly overlap with teammates, but are needed to fill in production gaps. Similarly, based on your proposed solutions that you need to prototype, you and your team may need to stretch beyond your skill sets into unknown territory. Sure, there are vendors out there that are experts in what you need to accomplish but they cost money. If you’re in the prototyping stage, you will need to weigh whether you can learn enough to create a testable prototype or if you need to spend the money. Either way, you should start learning about what you need, even if you chose to outsource work with a vendor. It makes communication easier if you have a basic understanding.

Candor

This can often be the hardest one for a team to develop because we want to encourage everyone. Yet not every idea, prototype, or hypothesis is a world-changing gem. Sometimes they’re just bland blobs of meh. That’s ok. You can still praise effort without agreeing with an idea. Try to level up the mediocre hypotheses and raise up your teammates. However, and I can not stress this enough, DO NOT LET THEM MOVE FORWARD WITH A STANDARD IDEA. You are doing them a disservice by not forcing them to make the idea better. You are passively undermining your whole innovation team. Likewise, you should prepare yourself for the time when your team will say your idea is “average” or worse. Candor is a two-way street. I am lucky that my team has saved me from shipping mediocre ideas. The best way you can show true respect for each other, is to demand each other’s best effort everyday.

“Life is way too short to make mediocre stuff. And almost everything that is “standard” now is viewed as mediocre.” – Seth Godin, Tribes

Credit

Innovation is lantern and unfiltered it can burn as bright as the sun. Nothing diminishes that light more than personal plans to receive recognition. In an innovative team, a team full of T-shaped dynamos, there is no room for ego and personal glory. When someone wins, it is because of the team. Just like a apple tree can not point to one rain storm as the reason it grew, your ideas are the product of the fertile soil in your brain and the collective brainstorms of your team in the past, event he unrelated ones. It is a bit cliche to say “There is no I in team” and it is quite futile because there are plenty of joke responses that defuse the power of the statement. However a team that is concerned about getting credit for individual contributions, wont contribute to the global good.

One great way to defuse this is to constantly recognize others for their contributions to your individual and team’s work. If people are constantly feeling appreciated for their efforts, then they won’t feel the need to find more recognition. It’s one of those “Do unto others” things. Plus, it’s just plain nice to do! Especially since you are working on an innovative team. Some projects you will lead and pilot. Others will find you following and pushing the project to gain momentum. And yet other projects will find you on the sidelines, cheering and consulting when you can. Team first, in every role.

Chupacabras

The Chupacabra of Innovation!
The Chupacabra of Innovation!

You need to allow the odd, the unique, the unbelievable, and the silly to integrate with your team. Hopefully your team of innovators is a group of positive deviants; bristling with energy to make a good change in the world. Chances are that the team has some ideas that are “out there”. They must be allowed to exist. Maybe an idea can be so wild that you won’t do it, but talking about it can spur the conversation down avenues you would have never considered before. One of our favorite brainstorming questions is “What would our industry NEVER do?”. We dance on the undiscovered edges of the maps, the parts where the dragons are supposed to live. We need to be the explorers of the fringe, the cultivators of the odd thoughts. That’s how we disrupt the market’s standard flow.

Challenge

  • When was the last time someone on your team said “This is how we always do it”?
  • What’s the most minimal way you can start to incorporate kaizen into your procedures?
  • A great way to start getting candor flowing is to be the first target. Put an idea out there and push your team to tear it apart. Have them find ways that it will fail. 
  • How can you incorporate a team-only view of recognition?
  • At your next brainstorming, challenge the team to come up with the worst ideas or the silliest ideas.