Monday, 9 November 2009

Innovation, Passion, Sex, Leadership and Rock'n Roll

Peter Cook's recent book: "Sex, Leadership and Rock'n Roll" is a commentary on the importance of combining two key elements of leading innovation (of leading people to do new things and leading them to learn to do old things in a new way), of learning to connect with the stuff of passion (ie. sex and rock and roll) in order to innovate. Obviously business isn't rock'n roll, but there are compatible elements that usefully explain successful, innovating organisations.

Rock'n roll, like business is old and yet it is eternally new whenever a new practitioner comes along with some passion (and a willingness to mine the gold of sexual imagery, or at least romance) who can successfully manipulate a few variables and change the context. David Bowie managed it by taking William Burrough's consciously random cut'n paste manipulation of printed text and visual fashion imagery, with a willingness to adopt an ambiguous sexual persona. And the rest is history, and millions made.

Peter makes some key observations that leaders need to take on board, that discipline and creativity need each other, but that if you don't have ingredient "X" you won't get invited back to the next gig, that if you don't have the passion that lifts others and the ability to "play" in the moment, the passion that helps others to be great in turn, you cannot lead: you can only preside.

As Ken Olsen said: "Leaders do the right thing, managers do things right". And it takes passion to do the right thing because you are probably going to be seen as behaving unreasonably by people who have no sense of the importance of doing something different, now: before it is too late.

Q&A with Peter Cook: Sex, Leadership and Rock'n Roll:

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Innovation Processes are Useful, but Innovative People are Essential

There is an assumption in many organisations that focusing on innovation processes is a kind of industrialisation of innovation, that with the right processes, then you don’t need to worry about employing genuinely innovative people, anyone can and will be successful within a great process.

And it’s true, up to a point: especially when the focus is upon optimising existing products and services. But when the environment changes radically, then the issue of having the right people to innovate becomes important.

I have noticed that innovation consultancies tend to focus upon time-intensive innovation process consultation with a few useful techniques thrown in. This is because whilst they help to focus attention on developing a shared understanding of an agreed approach to turning an invention into an innovation, and on the need to understand customers’ needs, such consulting enables at least 5 additional benefits:

Consultancies can sell high-priced consulting time, acquire practice and gain another case study to use with new clients,
• The illusion of purposeful activity without having to question the customer’s existing strategic assumptions, political hierarchies, and investment rationales,
• Gives confidence to an employing customer with academic mindset that measures good intentions by the size of investment,
• Enables leadership to sponsor the solution to a problem that appears to be solveable, rather than forcing leadership to work on the real problem that they prefer not to discuss,
• Reinforces the myth of leadership knowing what it is doing.

Whilst I disagree with the attractive book-selling post-rationalist approach of Jim Collins in “Good To Great” (2001) and Tom Peters & Rob Waterman in “In Search of Excellence” in retrofitting plausible success models onto case studies which subsequently decayed a few months or years later in public, both hint at the importance of getting the right people involved in changing an organisation. As Collins puts it, leaders must understand: “the importance of getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus, and (only) then (figuring) out where to drive it.” More revealingly, on the same page, Collins observes that “a company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people”.

But what and who are the right people, how do I recognise them; and what do I do about myself?