Analytics, Strategy, and Agriculture

Category: Building The Expo

Topics related to my book, Building The Expo

Creating something great

It’s often the case in life that in order to create something great, you must do it multiple times before that something great begins to emerge. Even if you have a knack for it, raw talent is no match for that same talent polished and refined over time. There’s something magical about what happens when you’ve done something enough times, that it becomes second nature to the point you don’t have to think about it. Keyboarding is probably the talent I’m most in awe of, as it was something I learned in High School and have leveraged it so much since then that it’s as closer skill to me than writing (which I do much much less of, unfortunately). Up until high school though, I didn’t know the first thing about not looking at the keyboard and certainly didn’t have the practice to type as fast and flawlessly as I do now. It’s easy to take talents you’ve acquired and honed for granted, whether it’s handling rush hour traffic in Seattle or making the perfect cup of coffee.

Too often in the workplace, we lost track of the things we do well that we’ve learned to do over time. Whether it’s how to handle yourself in a stressful meeting, or knowing just the right thing to say to your boss, these are all skills that are honed and refined over many years of work experience. I’m honored to be a consultant, in that I have to maneuver through very different situations quite often, so it becomes obvious what skills people do or don’t have from company to company, and what skills I need to work on myself. It’s taught me a lot about the things that people often consider second nature, but had no practice or experience doing prior to entering the working world.

Too often though, it’s expected that if you’re going to do something that it has to be done flawlessly the first time. Whether it’s taking a gamble on a new technology, or getting funding to launch a new project, innovation in it’s truest form requires a high level of efficiency up front. One has to work at a place like Google these days, to find a culture that believes in true trial and error, and is willing to go from one project to the next in the name of moving the ball forward for society. Though I think any company built on a try-anything-free-for-all culture is bound to eat itself alive (especially publicly traded ones) due to the need for people to build homesteads in a company then set up the turrents and guns to kick off turf wars and political battles, there is a need to try and fail.

Having some level of experimentation in your job means you’ve accepted that it’ll take time to do something new, and make it great, and you’re willing to put in the time if someone else can spare the resources. Even if it’s you in a corner doing it yourself, given enough time you’ll get better at what it is you want to excel at. The concept or idea may be flawed, but the skills you’ll take along the way can always be used elsewhere – no matter how abstract or specific those skills may seem at the time.

Trying anything new, until you hone it into greatness is something most people are sadly giving up in exchange for the easy and one-click way at greatness. Someone had to build that one-click though, by becoming great at it first. Though there isn’t much new ground to cover on this earth, pioneering is far from dead – you just have to rethink the topography you’re looking to map. And remember, if you’re the first one to do it then that makes you the best at it. Even if someone catches up to you (which someone always will) being the first can only happen once, and is often credited regardless of how many people come afterwards. Even if something has been done millions of times though, it can always be done better because true greatness is impossible to achieve but should always be pursued.

So go out, and work to create something great.

What Makes an Innovator?

Part of the work I’ve been doing this year is gathering up the last several conversations I’ve had over the course of doing several mobile strategy engagements at various Fortune 500 companies around the US. It’s been on the forefront of companies’ agendas as emerging technology that’ll transform the way business is done, so it’s not uncommon for the forward looking people at a company to be involved in the conversations I have while I’m there.

Typically the person put in charge of mobile is someone that’s been there a while, though it’s also been brand new employees who are just getting up to speed. Regardless, the people that typically champion mobile are A) an executive that knows it’s important and has a deep understanding of the IT culture who has also gained some level of tenure and favor with the CIO to move this initiative forward and B) someone that reports to that individual who has the passion & drive to learn it inside and out, then help promote it throughout the enterprise.

Both individuals typically know it’ll be difficult to maneuver through the foray of enterprise politics, approvals, and individuals and has to be someone that knows mobile inside and out on day 1 who also has the ability to build relationships and help with the user adoption from the get go. There isn’t a “ramp” time on the knowledge, because confidence has to be built for others to follow the direction vs feeling like they’re just as much of an expert and decide down a different path entirely.

I’m brought in as a consultant, because I can do both of those things, and helps augment the staff at the company assigned to make it happen. However, whether I’m there or not, it’s not easy seeding a new technology along with all the best practices and governance elements that come with it to make sure it’s rolled out efficiently and responsibly. People often have their own perspectives on how things should go, there’s conflicting budget request, it’s never a good budget cycle to do this, and technology typically gets adopted slowly. These are just some of the barriers that an organization will face, when trying to push a new technology out into the business.

Yet, over time, the technology does become seeded and eventually does get adopted. It’ll happen at some companies faster than others, but it’ll happen because in the back of everyone’s mind, change has to occur for the business to stay competitive. Consultants like myself help speed up things, because we’ve done it numerous times elsewhere and much like installing carpet – you could learn to do it yourself, but it’s not cost feasible if you’re only going to install carpet once every 5-10 years vs. someone that does it day in and day out.

Those people I met though, that champion the technology, are true innovators. Innovation is difficult, it’s painful, and it’s not fun to shake things up and help people believe that they are in worse shape if they don’t listen to you. Each of these people are innovators in their own right, because they know the current climate and understand what it takes to make change happen along with knowing what needs to change and the benefits therein. More importantly though, they have the gusto and motivation to push that change forward regardless of the obstacles. Too often, the term “innovator” is given to people that invent new ways of doing things or help shape / design a new type of product or service. Though that may be a type of innovator, they will leave at the end of the day and who’s left in the company is now tasked with the other kind of innovation – getting these brainstorms and blueprints implemented and adapted. This requires years of relationship building, execution and trust, selfless service, and a red hot passion for helping their company be better. Innovation means in its simplest form “A new method, idea, product, etc.” and represents newness. It varies from invention though, in that this is translating an idea or invention into a good service or product that creates value for which someone will pay money.

An innovation doesn’t have to create something from scratch, but rather take what’s been created and find a way to apply it. The conception of the idea is the fun part, but it’s the implementation of that idea that’s so tricky. Inventors are all over the place, everywhere you look, and one doesn’t have to go far to see someone that has a patent or credited with inventing something new. To see the innovators though, is trickier, because they’re lodged deep inside organizations or governments or corporations taking those inspirational ideas and creations, and finding a way to apply it to their environment. More importantly, they’re spending the time and effort to grease the wheels and make sure there’s a compatible and acceptable environment for that invention to thrive.

A number of people have written books the last several years on innovation, and the words “disruptive innovation” are mentioned 4.2 million times on Google. Yet, we’re in a worldwide recession with serious issues in every area of our lives, from childhood obesity to guns in schools in the forefront of our minds. There’s no lack of thinking around disruptive innovation, and no shortage of best practices and formulas for being a more innovative you.

I believe the real disconnect though, because the theories and the problems, is the doers in the middle that connect the dots and take a small amount of thinking and do something with it. It’s not easy to be a doer, it’s not easy to connect dots (especially when it’s just a side job). There’s so many things that can get in the way, yet the unsung heroes in every enterprise get up and make it happen each and every day. The real question is, how does one reduce the drag & complexity towards making innovation something the corporations can stomach, support, and streamline?

That’s for the next blog – What supports the Innovator?

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