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Three Problems of Power — Problem Two: Silence and Blindness

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This blog is provided by Margaret Heffernan, author of the book, “Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together.”  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled “Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together” that aired on Tuesday, January 19th, 2021.  Last week, the blog featured Three Problems of Power – Problem One: Pleasing.  This week will look at problem two and next week will feature problem three.

 

Problem Two: Silence and Blindness

Richard was keen, intelligent, curious, well-read, and overflowing with good intentions. Ask him about his direct reports, he could provide a fulsome picture of each one, and he demonstrated real insight and nuance about their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and dreams. He didn’t show it much, but he respected and cared for the people who worked for him.

Because Richard was so brilliant, he could solve just about any gnarly problem. But doing so implied that he didn’t believe anyone else could. So one day I suggested that he attend his next meeting and promise to say nothing. He looked puzzled and not a little intimidated, but he promised. What happened?

At first, he said, when an issue arose, he noticed that everyone was waiting for him to solve it. But when he offered no solution, they all scrambled for a while and then proffered their own ideas. These were excellent. What had Richard learned?

“I found out,” he said, smiling, “that they expected me to have the answer.”

What else?

“That they had lots of their own answers. Some of them much better than mine.”

What else?

“That I don’t need to go to all the meetings,” he laughed. Long pause. “That it might be better if I didn’t go to all the meetings…”

Richard had discovered that brilliant though he was, his power stifled the intelligence of his own team. They wanted to please him — and that, they thought, meant agreeing with him. His silence, or absence, liberated them to think for themselves.

One of the biggest traps of power is that the way that others respond to it. Most believe they get ahead by pleasing or, at least, not openly disagreeing. That means they contribute less than they might. This silence suppresses concerns; it also suppresses good ideas.

That they have this effect on people is something many powerful people fail to understand. I remember one CEO, whom I admired greatly, gnashing his teeth with frustration because his people so rarely stepped forward with ideas or initiatives. How did he explain it? He thought they just must be lazy. He himself had no insight into how, quite unconsciously, hierarchy silenced them.

At New York University’s Stern School of Business, Elizabeth Morrison and Elizabeth Milliken researched the phenomenon they call organizational silence. They found that the chief reasons for it are fear (of conflict or disagreement) and futility (I could say something, but it won’t make any difference, so why bother?) This exerts a high cost. Where power induces silence, it leaves decision-makers are blind. Think VW emissions or Boeing safety concerns. It also means many missed opportunities, invisible at the top but frequently obvious further down the hierarchy.

The desire to please, a fear of conflict, and a pervasive sense that only the senior voices count: these beliefs aren’t entirely irrational, so they have to be addressed. In recent years, it’s been fashionable to talk about the need to create a culture of psychological safety, to ensure that people speak up. Safety is crucial. But it’s often impossible to achieve in an age of high unemployment, layoffs, downsizing, and automation. In that context, anyone carrying a high level of personal debt (a mortgage) is already unsafe, and it’s obtuse to belittle or ignore it. That makes it all the more important to find mechanisms where people can see for themselves that it’s safe to be open.

After the poor decision-making that led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, President Kennedy radically rethought how to develop real honesty and the widest range of options from his advisors. He asked multiple teams to tackle the same question with the same information. He used skip-level meetings so that the more junior diplomats and analysts could debate freely with their peers, something they’d never have done with their bosses present. This ensured that Kennedy had more perspectives and ideas to consider.

When Britain’s National Health Service was plagued with a number of scandals that derived from multiple, often minor, failures that most feared to articulate, nurse Helene Donnelly became an ambassador for cultural change at the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust. She isn’t a boss per se — that helps — but her role is to hear concerns that hospital staff have been unable to get addressed or that they are afraid to raise. She told me that the most important part of her job is to write up the story of how each problem really does get fixed. Positive action is what persuades people not to stay silent.

Why don’t bosses perceive the problem that power confers? Many tell me that they don’t feel themselves to be different. They are, they insist, just ordinary people doing tough jobs. The answer is naïve and inadequate. It’s foolish to imagine that how you see yourself is how others see you. And having power confers the responsibility to understand how it works. Like a weapon or a car, just having it requires insight, control, and finesse.

 

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Margaret Heffernan is the author of the best-selling UNCHARTED: How to Map the Future Together, nominated for a Financial Times Best Business Book award. She is a Professor of Practice at the University of Bath, Lead Faculty for the Forward Institute’s Responsible Leadership Programme and, through Merryck & Co., mentors CEOs and senior executives of major global organizations. She is the author of six books and her TED talks have been seen by over twelve million people.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

140 Top CEOs Say These are the Most Crucial Challenges for Future Leaders

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This blog is provided by Jacob Morgan and author of the book, “The Future Leader: 9 Skills and Mindsets to Succeed in the Next Decade.”  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled “The Future Leader: Skills and Mindsets to Succeed in the Next Decade” that aired on Tuesday, January 12th, 2021.

 

Leadership has always been challenging, but the future of work will bring fresh challenges to future leaders. Over the next decade, leaders will have to face obstacles and challenges not faced by current or past leaders. But what are those challenges?

As part of the research for my book, The Future Leader, I interviewed over 140 top CEOs from around the world and surveyed around 14,000 LinkedIn users. One of the questions I asked was about the challenges future leaders would face. From their varied and insightful responses, I broke the challenges down to two main areas: futurize and humanize.

Futurize

Future leaders can’t afford to lead their organizations by looking in the rearview mirror. They need to futurize, or bring their organizations into the future. But of course, it isn’t that simple. There are numerous challenges that fall into this category.

Short-Term Vs. Long-Term Thinking

Many leaders think quarter by quarter to please their shareholders and investors. We’ve been conditioned to think in the short term and expect fast results. Future leaders need to be focused on long-term success for both the organization and the people. This requires courage!

Adapting to Technology

New technology is coming incredibly quickly, and it often seems like once we’ve finally mastered something, it’s outdated and there’s a flashy new solution. Leaders need to pay attention to technology and be able to change their perspective to understand what new developments are most important and what else is coming down the pipeline. Technology is not just for IT professionals.

“Today’s leaders need to either decide to embrace new platforms and technology or be prepared to be left behind.” John Legere, Former CEO, T-Mobile

Keeping Up With the Pace of Change

The world is changing incredibly fast, and future leaders will be challenged to keep up. They need to embrace change, stay agile, and be open to new ideas. Whether we look at climate change, globalization, technology, demographics, cyber security, geopolitical issues, competition, or any of the other numerous trends shaping our lives and organizations, it’s clear that change happens quickly and happens all the time. We will experience more change in the coming decade than we have experienced in the past hundreds of years.

“The pace of change is faster and while you don’t have to know everything, you do have to know how to get it. The commitment to being a lifelong learner, I think the premium on that is much higher now for our leaders.” William Rogers, CEO, SunTrust Banks

Moving Away from the Status Quo

Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will still work in the future. Leaders need to be confident and bold to take risks that move away from the status quo just because that’s how things have always been done. Leaders must move away from the mentality of “follow me to greener pastures because I’ve done it and I’ve been there,” to “follow me into uncertainty, I don’t know the path but I have a vision of what we can create and together we will make it happen!”

Humanize

We tend to put a lot of emphasis on technology, but a company can work without technology; it can’t work without people. The challenges of humanizing involve balancing humans with technology and ensuring your people are prepared to succeed in the future. We can’t forget that business still fundamentally operates and exists because of people. What we are seeing now with COVID-19 is a very clear example of that.

Leading Diverse Teams

Not everyone in the world looks and thinks the same, and your organization should reflect that. Diverse teams bring in new perspectives. Future leaders need to put together teams of people with different backgrounds, genders, races, sexual orientations, and belief systems to work together towards a common goal.

Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

People are an organization’s biggest asset, but many companies face the challenge of finding and keeping great employees. Instead of job candidates trying to convince organizations they are the best choice, now leaders and organizations must convince potential employees they are a great place to work.

“We’re moving from an era of lifetime employment to lifetime employee ability where if your people don’t feel that they learn and progress and they’re up to speed in their areas of expertise, they will leave you because they will become themselves obsolete.” – André Calantzopoulos, CEO, Philip Morris International

Reskilling and Upskilling Employees

How we work and the tools we have are changing rapidly, and many employees find themselves not having the right skills to do their jobs or thrive in the future. Leaders face the challenge of knowing how best to upskill employees and give them what they need for future success.

Doing Good

People want to be part of organizations that care about more than just making money. But in many cases, the leaders and shareholders are conditioned to think more about profits than doing good in the world. Future leaders need to make sure their work is improving the world and then share that message with others.

Making the Organization Human

With automation and a focus on efficiency, many organizations fall into the trap of focusing on results instead of people. Each individual matters, and future leaders need to understand their employees as people, not just cogs in the machine.

“A leader of the future will have to be astute enough to balance automation with the human touch. They have to decide what types of tasks to automate so that they can spend more time on high-value activities. But also decide which businesses will continue to benefit from human judgment.” – Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson, of Biocon

These challenges are widespread and require serious effort. Based on the survey I did with LinkedIn looking at 14,000 employees around the world, most leaders and organizations aren’t ready to face these challenges. The good news is that we still have time, but we need to start now to develop future-ready skills and mindsets.

 

You can purchase Jacob’s newest book here.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

 Jacob Morgan is a four time bestselling author, keynote speaker, and futurist who explores leadership, employee experience, and the future of work. He is the founder of FutureofWorkUniversity.com, an online education and training platform that helps future proof individuals and organizations by teaching them the skills they need to succeed in the future of work. Jacob also hosts the Future of Work podcast, a weekly show where he speaks with senior executives, business leaders, and bestselling authors about how the world of work is changing.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

 

Leading Sustainability: Look to the Future, Make Bold Choices and Don’t Go It Alone

This blog is provided by Trista Bridges and Donald Eubank, co-founders of Read-the-Air and authors of a new book, “Leading Sustainability: The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) Changed Everything.”  It is a companion to their interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leading Sustainability: The Path to Sustainable Business and SDGs that aired on Tuesday, January 5th, 2021.  This article shares practical steps from their book to advance your business efforts to put sustainability at the core of your strategy.

 

The business world is at a fundamental crossroads. The age of the stakeholder is rapidly superseding that of the shareholder. More than just a buzzword, the idea of the stakeholder recognizes that companies have always existed as an inseparable part of the communities and business networks in which they operate, however vast and physically distant.

Contrary to what the shareholder model often implied, good business decisions have never really been driven purely by profit motives. It is becoming increasingly obvious that what is good for society—and thus, by definition, for the environment—is good for business.  This new embrace of responsibility does not preclude the design of efficient, lucrative business models. In fact, when done properly, precisely the opposite is true: socially responsible and sustainable business decision-making opens up brand new, exciting, profitable—and, in all its meanings, sustainable—revenue streams.

Today’s reckoning is not purely an altruistic choice made by businesses; new demands from various civil society organizations and the consensus-driven initiatives of the United Nations have been shepherding along the changes required to make business operations sustainable for years. With the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the implementation of the Paris Agreement, these constituencies have outlined new expectations for not only how governments function, but also how businesses must function in a sustainable society.

The SDGs—more than 50 years in the making—provide a comprehensive framework for understanding all aspects of social, political, and business actions. They are powerful statements of human ambition for a fair, just and sustainable society. Many in the business and investing world today are calling them “A gift”, as the SDGs can provide us with a broader definition of sustainability and a framework to quickly and effectively guide businesses’ efforts to align their operations with the meaningful goals that society desires.

The successful businesses of tomorrow will be the ones that fully embrace sustainability today.

Almost two years ago, we set out to find and catalogue the practical steps that companies today must take to create the new sustainable business models they will need to survive in the year 2030. We interviewed more than 100 business leaders, investors, policy makers, NPOs, researchers and other changemakers, and researched a broad range of companies from across the world, of varying sizes and across multiple industries, that were taking practical steps to improve business practices and become more sustainable. Here’s some of the main takeaways that were collected for our new book “Leading Sustainably—The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs Changed Everything.”

Our takeaways

  • Look to the future of your business—to achieve the best tomorrow, prepare today for the worst.
  • Make changes to your strategies based on the big picture, not on the small problems (unless they are warning you about dangers arising in the big picture).
  • The past created the world we live in today—its environmental crises and social unrest—but it also has been building the platform and the thinking that’s needed to move past these crises. That is, the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and a business world more focused on becoming sustainable for the long run.
  • The business case is already there—the whole business environment is pushing for more sustainable models, from consumers to investors, employees to competitors. Catch up, keep the pace, set the speed or get pushed out of the way.  And watch out, because a whole new generation of “mission-driven” companies have a head start already, having established themselves as fully aligned with society from the get-go. They are laser-focused on bringing fully sustainable innovations and business models to sectors that have struggled to do so on their own, and they are achieving remarkable societal and financial impact.
  • Don’t get confused by the Alphabet soup of methodologies for measuring and managing impact—choose what looks best for you, try them out, see if they fit, and whether do or don’t, adjust, retry, expand, until you figure out what works for your company. Get started today.
  • Capital managers, and even retail investors, believe that sustainability is the way forward, and they are going to talk to you about it. If you are aligned with them, they will provide you capital at a reasonable rate—if not, you will pay more or even be left empty-handed.
  • Be systematic. Understand the steps that you as a business have to proceed through to achieve a sustainable business model. Apply smart managerial and leadership strategies to move through these steps. Make bold decisions. Engage the whole organization. Communicate your directives and the reasons. Build an “A team”. Pursue a multi-stakeholder approach. Be flexible, make assessments and adjust. Work with your customers. Consider outside acquisitions. And leverage the SDGs.
  • You can’t do this alone. Bring your industry along for success and to ensure a fair playing field. Reach out to your industry associations, but also look to new partners, whether from civil society, international organizations, or cross industry. If a few key industries do this right—health and wellness, insurance, fashion, real estate, and tourism—we’ll all be in a better, more sustainable, place.

Before we close, two points bear repeating: For success leverage the SDGs— recognize their power to help and guide the organization and your teams; and be systematic to align your business planning and operations with sustainability principles.

Plus, remember this final, key piece to getting it done: You must bridge the knowledge gap—provide your teams with as many opportunities as possible to learn what they need to know to make sustainability-driven business decisions.

 

See more details about the important lessons from companies—in a range of industries—on how to achieve sustainability in our new book “Leading Sustainably”, available now from Routledge and Amazon.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Authors

Trista Bridges is a strategy and marketing expert with extensive experience across various geographies and sectors including consumer products, financial services, technology, and healthcare.

Donald Eubank is an experienced manager who has worked across the IT, finance, and media industries in Asia.

They advise businesses on sustainability and are co-founders of Read the Air, a coalition of strategy and operations professionals, and co-authors of “Leading Sustainably—The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs Changed Everything” (Routledge).

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Leading During a Crisis: Explosion in Beirut, The Aline Kamakain Story

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Maureen Metcalf, ILI’s CEO and Founder is a Fellow with the International Leadership Association (ILA). In this role, ILA recommends 12-16 interviews for her radio show focusing on innovating leadership. The show focuses on balancing academic excellence in leadership with personal stories of high impact leaders and thought leaders and authors talking about their latest books and frameworks.

The following blog accompanies an interview with Aline Kamakian. This interview, specifically Aline’s Story, was very moving and inspiring. We encourage you to learn more about Aline by listening to her interview titled Thriving During Crisis: A Successful Middle Eastern Businesswoman that aired Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020. If you feel moved to donate during the holidays to a person and organization in Lebanon impacted by the recent explosions, please consider supporting Aline and her efforts to re-open Mayrig to provide jobs for 85 staff.

This is Aline Kamakian’s Story.

As someone who has a master’s degree in business, I recognize that we can learn things in school, from books and lectures, but there are things that only life teaches us.  Being a Lebanese of Armenian origin, I grew up with my grandparents embedded in the stories about my ancestors. Their stories about the resilience and ability to adapt and the respect and gratefulness to the country that accepted them conveyed the values I learned.

On 4 Aug 2020, Beirut was hit by a huge blast.

According to BBC reporting, “The blast that devastated large parts of Beirut in August was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, experts say. The Sheffield University, UK, the team says a best estimate for the yield is 500 tons of TNT equivalent, with a reasonable upper limit of 1.1 kilotons. This puts it at around one-twentieth of the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945… The explosion was the result of the accidental detonation of approximately 2,750 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate. The blast led to some 190 deaths, as well as more than 6,000 injuries.

My restaurant, our offices, my house and my car were all blown to pieces in just a second. The terrace outside of our meeting room looked out over the port just 300 meters further. We were having a management meeting. I don’t know how I survived, standing on the terrace, looking at the fire and fireworks in the port. The next thing I remember was standing over my financial controller and giving him CPR. I don’t know how I knew what to do, reflexes from when I was a girl scout? The blast had injured 25 employees, of which five were left with a permanent handicap. It destroyed most of the restaurant furniture and equipment. The building was still standing, but windows, doors, winter gardens were all shattered.

First, I needed to make sure all my employees were safe and had a roof over their heads. I had never felt a victim, but there was no way I could get back on my feet without external help. So, I decided to open a fundraising page to help us. One week after the blast, we started cooking over 1,000 meals per day in our central kitchen to be distributed among those who lost their homes. We prioritized, first comes the team, holding on to our values, generating income, moving on, and moving fast.

On the 4th of September, just one month after the blast, the restaurant opened its garden and kitchen again. While we were still working hard to repair and rebuild the inside of the restaurant. The first evening that the restaurant was again partly operational, the whole team had dinner on the Mayrig terrace.

Here is the reporting about the restaurant:

 

When 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate tore through Beirut, only a highway separated the city’s port where the explosives were stored from 282 Pasteur Street. This is where Mayrig, the famed Armenian restaurant known as much for its delectable sour cherry kebab as preserving Armenian culture in one of the diaspora’s strongholds, has stood since 2003.

Located in Beirut’s lively Gemmayzeh neighborhood in a building from when Lebanon was under Ottoman rule, the restaurant was destroyed.

It joined the rest of the city that stood in ruins, where over 170 people have died, thousands more injured, and an estimated 300,000 left homeless. The decimation the blast caused came on top of a Beirut that was already in political and economic crisis. The Lebanese pound was tumbling to shocking lows that have caused widespread poverty. Electricity and food shortages are the norms.

But the destruction of Mayrig stung beyond a crumbling building: around 85 families, whose livelihoods depended on the restaurant, were suddenly left jobless and homeless. Not a single staff member escaped unscathed, and some are still in critical condition.

And then there’s the other, more existential loss: the idea that an institution fighting to preserve and progress Armenian culinary heritage, which has always teetered on the brink of either being forgotten, denied, or erased, could disappear forever.

“Mayrig” means “mother” in Armenian. For the last 17 years, this woman-owned culinary institution has brought centuries-old recipes from inside the homes of the Armenian community in Lebanon to a restaurant enjoyed by both local and international patrons and built on those traditions to create new dishes. Staffed by the same Armenian mothers who have always led the preservation and passing down of food culture to future generations through their labor and knowledge, “Mayrig” was founded by Aline Kamakian.

Being at “Mayrig,” she said, is being alive.

Her grandparents, Armenian Genocide survivors, found refuge in Lebanon, becoming part of the Lebanese-Armenian diaspora, which now numbers over 150,000 and has contributed significantly to the social, political, and cultural life of the city while keeping Western Armenian heritage alive. Bourj Hammoud, one of the first places refugees settled, became the historic center of the Lebanese-Armenian community. The area was heavily impacted by the explosion.

Aline’s early Story

I was five years old when the war broke out in Lebanon. I have seen my father as an entrepreneur struggling to raise his family and keep us safe during the war. This taught us to be creative and find means under pressure and create solutions to the absence of necessary provisions such as electricity and water and fundamental civil human rights. For example, to open my restaurant in 2003, I had to build my water reservoirs, bring a generator to produce electricity, ensure the team’s transportation and basic needs, and find other locations during the war.

Preparation for Management During Crisis

In the war in 2006, we took three days to find a safe spot up in a mountain resort. This move made it possible to guarantee the continuity of the restaurant and the employees’ income. We had to build our reserve in fuel; bring walkie-talkies because there was no phone; secure a safe location for employees to sleep, and secure kitchen equipment from the kitchens of friends and family. We created a restaurant in 1-weeks’ time. The most important tools were: sharing information, make the team part of the decision making, delegate responsibilities. In these circumstances, it is about operating a restaurant and the security of the team. Almost half of them were living in dangerous areas. The team managed to work and did so without days off, without hours to rest to cover for the others. We agreed that we would see how to cover extra hours or vacation after we passed this crisis. We learned to adapt to respond to this disruption quickly. It turned out to be a right decision because it generated enough income to secure the salaries, and it offered the chance for the employees to continue working.

Every two years, we have a minor to big crisis that asks for our adaptation. In 2019 the revolution started after three years of financial difficulties and corruption scandals. The challenges were different and led to significant hardship.

  • The internal security was terrible; roads were blocked, breaking and burning buildings and public property.
  • The banking sector turned into an unpredictable mess. Lebanon was known for its strong banking sector and was the saving place for all the Lebanese diaspora. And suddenly, the banks stopped giving out money. There was a limitation on cash withdrawals and transfers. The impact was dramatic since Lebanon is mainly an importing country. Its own industries ae very limited and the country has very little raw materials.
  • Inflation towered: Lebanon rates now 3rd worldwide after Venezuela with an inflation rate of 365%. The challenge is that it is not just inflation but also inflation that the government doesn’t recognize. There is an official rate, a rate from the banks, and a black-market rate.
  • Covid-19 led to lockdowns in many countries; in Lebanon rules were not applied evenly over the whole territory as some political parties allowed their followers to disregard the rules. COVID spread fast in autumn, and governmental regulations are often contradictory from one week to the next, unequally applied and harmed first of all the whole Food and Beverage sector.
  • With a government that is corrupt, and incapable comes the explosion of 4 August. The government resigned, but since it hadn’t formed a new government yet, the old government continued in the same corrupt, incapable way.

How to lead in such a context?

University lectures didn’t teach us to navigate this type of crisis. I didn’t learn a to-do list.

In the restaurant business, never compromise on the quality. The challenges were to keep the quality. We couldn’t look at saving money during this catastrophic crisis. We were committed to living our values during the crisis.

  • We needed to keep the employees safe and secure cash. I created a pop-up project in Saudi Arabia and took part of my staff there for three months.
  • We were committed to maintaining food quality. The aim is to find the best product at the best price, not the cheapest product. We needed to keep the team quality-oriented, encourage sharing resources, information, and pay attention to finding the best ingredients.
  • I communicated very openly, explained the companies’ situation, and explained the difficulties of living in Saudi Arabia. We went as one team and worked together to maintain the team as in Lebanon, there was no income.

My goal was to jump on opportunities that would allow me to take care of my family and my team! I didn’t have all the info, but the circumstances required me to keep going. I knew I needed to be transparent, genuine, honest, and always make values-based decisions. In this case, I was focused on my team’s safety, health, and economic well-being.

Again I did the same thing: first comes the team, holding on to your values, generating income, moving on and moving fast.

 

Aline Kamakian acted in the best interest of her team during the most challenging experience of her life. She truly exemplifies someone who is living her values! She supports the families of the employees who are unable to work and who continue to require significant medical treatment. During our call, she deeply inspired me as a leader and person who acted as her best self during this crisis. We often look to movies for superheroes. I believe Aline is a real-life superhero. Her actions inspire and invite all of us to act with courage, integrity, and selflessness. To support her campaign, please consider donating to the Mayrig Family Go Fund Me campaign.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Aline Kamakain began her career as an insurance broker at the age of 18 to put herself through college. She graduated with a double major in Masters in Finance and Marketing, Aline’s skills as an insurance broker allowed her to build one of Lebanon’s top 9 Brokerage Firms. All through her successes, Aline never forgot her love for food but most importantly she never forgot her Armenian roots. In June 2003, she opened “Mayrig” an avant guardiste traditional Armenian restaurant to introduce to all those who appreciate homely, healthy and tasty food, the forgotten flavors of Ancient Armenia. Aline was also voted Women Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 in the Brilliant Lebanese Awards. She is a board member of the Lebanese Franchise Association as well as a board member of the Lebanese League of Woman in Business and a successful candidate of the 2014 Vital Voices Fellowship Program.

Photo by rashid khreiss on Unsplash

 

What’s “The Arena” Performance 101?

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This week’s interview features Brian Ferguson, Founder and CEO of Arena Labs.  This  blog was previously published on the Arena Labs blog.  It is a companion to Brian’s interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled High Performance Medicine: Healthcare and Innovation that aired on Tuesday, December 8th, 2020.

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

–THEODORE ROOSEVELT, CITIZENSHIP IN A REPUBLIC, 1910

 

If you want to be in the Arena, you don’t get there by way of drifting through life.

The Arena is a place of action, and yet it is consciousness that defines its nature: to have an Arena in the first place, you need to have intently decided: This. This is the thing I will show up for. The thing that puts my most cherished values into action. The thing around which I will design my life so that I will not only show up well but show up better and better each time.

The Arena is the space for that thing, for the body doing that thing. It’s a context for risk. People act differently in different contexts. Think of yourself in different spaces. What are the contexts in which you are raucous, loud? What are the contexts in which you are reserved, quiet? What are the contexts in which you have swagger? (Ok silly question, you always have swagger.) When it comes to developing excellence, context is an interesting thing. What happens in one context has everything to do with how far you can go in another, some of which is predictable, and a lot of which as unexpected as it is tied to the very best of our unique human nature.

The Arena is there so that you can ask, and test: how far can we go?

The rules of the Arena are established so you can accept and fully take the risk with and for others­–the only way to tap human potential­–and play all-out while holding the sanctity of safety.

Performance is the knowledge deployed in the Arena. As Kristen Holmes describes, “performance is the science of human thriving.” It has three key aspects:

  1. The identification of the internal and environmental conditions that catalyze individuals and teams to play at their best.
  2. The understanding of the physiology of stress and fear and anxiety, and of our interdependence with others.
  3. The disposition to apply this science in one’s own body and lifeworld so to catalyze growth.

Performance knowledge springs from across sectors concerned with bodies and the care for human life. In recent years, a revolution in this knowledge has been driven by research and applied science in athletics, the military, and the performing arts.

At the end of the day, performance is a mindset: the humility of the expert learner. It is the trust in a collective’s ability to perform at its very best by nature of its diversity. It is deep curiosity about human nature, rigor in applying findings. It is a love of humans and what we might be able to do when we are working from the very best of our nature. And it is the wisdom to know that what you can control and what you can’t, with a big appetite for full ownership of what you truly can—a lot of it an inside job.

The Arena is the place for performance, for which we’ve relentlessly trained and practiced.

The place in which we activate, and then see what happens.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Alexa Miller is a visual artist, writer, and facilitator by training, she has worked with thought leaders engaged in human-centered paradigm shifts in healthcare for the last two decades. Most known for her arts-based teaching with doctors and study of the role of observation in the diagnostic process, Alexa is an original co-creator of Harvard Medical School’s “Training the Eye: Improving the Art of Physical Diagnosis,” and contributed to the touchstone 2008 Harvard study that measured the impact of visual arts interventions on medical learners. She currently teaches a course on medical uncertainty at Brandeis University and studies high performance mindset through her work at Arena Labs.

Photo credit: Joel Harper

Navigating Change

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This blog is provided by United States Navy Rear Admiral Deborah Haven, Retired.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leading Through Change: A Military Perspective that aired on Tuesday, December 1st, 2020.

 

Here are my observations and takeaways from my experience navigating change in a wide variety of global logistics organizations supporting the US Military and our allies. Much of my experience has been leading change which ranged from crisis response establishing and maintaining a logistics hub to support the Haiti citizens from their devastating earthquake to contingency operations mobilizing Naval Reservists in support of expeditionary logistics missions in Iraq and Kuwait to operating system upgrade implementing a SAP system which replaced a legacy system.   These experiences shaped my approach to leading change in a dynamic environment and provide the foundation for the following article.

How a leader handles change will determine the team’s future.  A leader’s attitude toward change will be a key to success. I learned early on that I could spend energy resisting change, or I could embrace the change to keep moving forward.   A leader must look at change in a positive and realistic light. The leader needs to be the steady rudder to keep everyone on course.  This will require the leader to keep their “resiliency tank” full at all times to stay tough during the challenges ahead.  Figure out how to keep your “resiliency tank” full, whether it is meditating, exercising, or playing chess.  Your strength will be needed so a resiliency routine will have to be a priority.  Encourage your team members to establish a resiliency routine too.

The leader’s job is to clearly articulate the WHY …and repeat the message …over and over.  This gives time for the team to catch up.  In most cases, the leader has had time to absorb the new information before the idea is introduced to the entire team. When the change is introduced to the team, the team needs time to grasp and embrace the new idea. The leader is going 100 miles an hour down the highway with the new idea and team is just getting to the highway on ramp.  As the leader, you may need to slowdown so your team can speed up.  I did not say stop. Once the team absorbs the idea, understands the mission, and is empowered to execute, it will accelerate and exceed expectations. One key point is knowing that not everyone engages the change in the same manner.  Some individuals struggle with the new idea and may feel threaten by what they see taking place.  The employee’s role may change.  He or she may go from expert to novice in the new arrangement.  Resulting in an unsettling emotional reaction.  And will usually get better over time for most individuals. This is something to be aware of during the process. A leader needs to watch out for those struggling and engage through listening and understanding the challenges the workforce is undergoing.  Sometimes an empathetic ear from the leader can be the tonic to pull the team member through the rough waters of change.  Also, some individuals just take longer to adjust to the new environment, but others soar to the future state.

I have also noticed that the technique that makes teams more successful in new unknown areas is to create an open dialogue about the challenges and work through them collaboratively with the stakeholders. Easily said, not always so easy to do but rewarding in the end.  Continual communication about the compelling need for the change is a must do and must be repeated often.

Some best practices when dealing with change:

  • Set trust as the foundation for all relationships.
  • Identify the key stakeholders and communicate the compelling reason for the change …the WHY.
  • Uncover the blind spots as quick as possible through listening and learning.
  • Create collaborative teams to develop solutions for the blind spots identified.
  • Build coalitions that do not exist and shore up ones that need to be reinforced.
  • Stay strong throughout by listening and understanding the barriers or challenges anchoring others.
  • Be agile. Do not get defensive when new information is received, and adjustments must be made.
  • Establish a routine and regular check-in, set goals, and follow up on progress using accountability metrics.

Have a bias for action…keep moving forward.

The takeaway here is that during a significant period of change is when the leader really earns his or her money.  They need to be authentically enthusiastic and fully engaged to ensure the team members are making the transition.  This can be exhausting work but extremely rewarding.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

United States Navy Rear Admiral Deborah Haven, Retired, has been a successful leader in a wide variety of global logistics organizations, both civilian and military for over 30 years.  She is particularly skilled at introducing change in large organizations.  She has a keen ability to understand the landscape, identify barriers and develop an actionable plan to improve organizational effectiveness.  Deborah is a graduate of the Naval War College, holds an MBA from the LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and a BS from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an executive coach, independent consultant, and a member of the board of directors for the Flag and General Officer Network.

Capitalism Needs a Rethink – Evolving Toward a Stronger and More Equitable Future?

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This blog is provided by Ty Montague, co-founder & CEO of co:collective, a creative and strategic transformation partner for purpose-led businesses.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled StoryDoers: Leaders and Organizations with Clearly Defined Higher Purposes that aired on Tuesday, November 17th, 2020.

 

It is fair to say we live in a world described as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). In James Stoller’s recent book, he indicates, “One way to define the “action of our time” is to ensure high performance under pressure in a VUCA world. People do not have to adapt to VUCA, though as W. Edwards Deming cautioned, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory. VUCA rewards excellence and is harsh on mediocrity.” As we consider excellence in corporate performance, we must rethink how we define the corporation’s foundational role. Many corporate titans call for just this change to how we think about the corporation’s role in the national and global ecosystem.

To inform this conversation, let’s start with some history. On September 13th, 1970, Milton Friedman published what would become known as the Friedman Doctrine — a seminal essay on a corporation’s purpose.  The full essay is worth a read; the central thesis can be boiled down to a few sentences:

“Some businessmen (sic) believe that they are defending free enterprise when they disclaim that business is not concerned “merely” with profit but also with promoting desirable “social” ends; that business has a “social conscience” and takes its responsibilities seriously for providing employment eliminating discrimination, avoiding pollution and whatever else might be the catchwords of the contemporary reformers. They are — or would be if they or anyone else took them seriously– preaching pure unadulterated socialism. Businessmen who talk this way are the unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades”.

In my view, the world is a worse place today because of it. Why? Well, to say that Freidman’s Doctrine made an impression on the business world would be an understatement.  It was a frying pan to the head of the day’s conventional capitalist philosophy — let’s call it humanist capitalism — which held that enlightened business leaders needed to consider the needs of a broader set of stakeholders, not just shareholders.  This form of capitalism essentially created the bountiful economic environment in America between the end of WWII and 1970 and created the middle class.  Thwak!  With a single essay, Milton Friedman killed humanist capitalism as dead as a doornail. That thwak resounded broadly — it echoed through the hallways of America’s elite business schools and whanged around inside the boardrooms of our largest corporations. Looking around at the world today, many of the most challenging problems we face in America are a direct result of Friedman’s idea — let’s call it predatory capitalism.

Over the next several decades, many corporate leaders, following Friedman’s directive that the sole purpose of a corporation is to maximize profits for its shareholders, hacked away at internal costs by paying the lowest possible wages, providing less training, less PTO, less maternity leave and less healthcare protection. They fought unions. They held the minimum wage at sub-poverty levels. Simultaneously they found ways to artificially lower the cost of their products by externalizing as much cost as possible, for example, by dumping the by-products of their manufacturing processes into the public common (our air and our water) and then refusing to take any financial or legal responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

The truly predatory behavior happened at the regulatory level where corporations began to relentlessly lobby to lower the corporate tax rate (resulting in, for instance, public schools today that can’t afford critical supplies) and to continuously weaken environmental protections (resulting in, for example, the existential threat of our time, climate change).  But the real damage occurred when they succeeded in changing the laws around political contributions to maximize their ability to press their giant fingers on the scale of democracy and tip the entire system permanently in their favor. This effort culminated recently in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Citizens United,  which formalizes corporations’ recognition as people.  As full “citizens,” with all of the rights (but few of the responsibilities) that come with citizenship, companies can now contribute unlimited amounts of money to political contests, which, under the decision, is defined as corporate “free speech.” So, their voice in the political process is now exponentially louder than yours or mine.

So when we look around today at the ominous condition of America today — an unprecedented and growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, a devastated middle class, record rates of depression and drug abuse, an environment teetering on the edge of systemic collapse as evidenced by the rapid extinction of species, out of control wildfires, hurricanes and flooding events at record levels, et al,– in many respects, we have Milton Friedman to thank.

Now let’s shift to the optimistic view! And by the way, I’m also a capitalist. I believe that capitalism can solve these problems, and I think we already see some positive signs.  But we have to quickly evolve away from this extreme, predatory form of capitalism that enriches a handful of us to absurd levels.

We urgently need to re-discover the form of capitalism that created the most remarkable economic expansion the world has ever seen. The structure where all corporations, as well as all citizens, pay their fair share of taxes.  The capitalist system where corporations are corporations, not citizens, and don’t have an infinitely amplified voice in our political process. The structure of capitalism, where skill, creativity, and ambition are rewarded by upward mobility but not by savagely standing on our neighbors and fellow citizens’ necks. The structure of capitalism that values cultural and social diversity, where we remember that America was founded to be a melting pot and that this diversity makes us more resilient, not less.  The structure of capitalism incentivizes both short and long-term thinking about our planetary life support system — the natural environment. And let’s one-up the capitalism of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ’60s and pay attention to social justice, equity and inclusion while we’re at it.

Nice dream?

Maybe. But over the past ten years, we started to see some green shoots in this space. More and more companies are waking up because they have a broader responsibility than only enriching their shareholders directly.  We see innovations like the B Corp, and its stricter cousin, the “Benefit Corporation.”  We see the Conscious Capitalism movement take hold. We see powerful capitalists like Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, taking up the cause — in his closely followed ‘annual letter to CEO’s’ in 2018, he stated that Blackrock (the world’s largest investment fund manager) would no longer invest in companies that are unable to articulate a higher social or environmental purpose. The Business Roundtable, comprised of the CEO’s of 200 of the largest corporations in the world, recently published an open letter proclaiming the exact opposite of the Friedman Doctrine, that the purpose of a corporation must not be solely to create profit for shareholders, but must also be to create value for a wide variety of stakeholders., These capitalist chieftains are not saying this exclusively to salve their souls. After all, they are capitalists, and they are saying this because they sense something new happening. A new generation of consumers won’t do business with companies that operate in the antiquated, predatory, Friedmanesque model.  “Woke” millennial consumers aren’t accepting it. Their POV on predatory capitalist enterprises of today?  “Change or die.  We’ll take either.”

So, the writing is on the wall. Capitalism and capitalists must evolve once again (as we always have and always should!).  If you run a company today, rather than resist this, my request is to get on the right side of history.  Get to work defining your higher purpose.  And then put it to work driving positive innovation and permanent change in your company, your community, and in the world. Your children and their children will thank you (by buying your products, for starters).

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Authors

Ty Montague co-founder & CEO of co:collective, a creative and strategic transformation partner for purpose-led businesses. Co: works with leadership teams to define their higher purpose and to bring that purpose to life through innovation in the customer experience. They call this process StoryDoing.  Ty published a book about StoryDoing in 2013 called True Story, and since that time the co: team has been fortunate to work with some of the most inspiring and progressive organizations and leaders, including Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, IBM, MetLife, Microsoft, the ACLU, Infiniti, Capital One, and Under Armour. He previously served as Co-President & Chief Creative Officer of J Walter Thompson North America and Creative Director of Wieden and Kennedy New York.

Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute, is a renowned executive advisor, coach, consultant, author and speaker.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Nimbly Moving Through the Next Inflection Point

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This blog is provided by Lisa Gable, CEO of FARE, Food Allergy Research Education.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Managing Inflection Points that aired on August 11th, 2020.

 

Having worked through many times of significant global change, most notably the dot.com bust and 9/11, I quickly learned the importance of being agile in my professional and personal life. I had to “zig and zag” while maintaining a positive outward face in business, while building a home environment based on readiness and resilience.

For those of us who are not experiencing our first inflection point (aka the Covid-19 crisis), we have the advantage of a lifetime of managing and surviving stressful situations.  By your early 50s, there is a higher likelihood that you will have suffered a few life altering events and have managed through booms, busts, and heartbreaks.

I’ve seen probably more than my fair share of inflection points in history, including with my time at the Reagan Defense Department during the final days of the Cold War. And, when I joined FARE back in 2018, I inadvertently created an inflection point for the organization.  My remit was to restructure the organization and drive philanthropic and industry investment to help fund new therapies and diagnostics.

If Covid-19 is the first time you are confronting an inflection point, don’t worry – there is time to more fully develop very specific resilience and coping skills. In the meantime, here is some advice for budding and senior managers during this crisis and others that will inevitably follow:

  • Offer mentorship and coaching and consider what you can do to help alleviate the unique stressors of Covid-19.
  • Work to balance the needs of business against people’s fears. Be human and approachable. Share your own story in a manner that is comfortable for you so that you can take part in open dialogue.
  • Encourage co-workers not to hide their challenges, but to share them. Challenges may that remain tucked away can negatively impact the ability of peers to meet their goals, including thriving personally through the inflection point. Awareness of a unique situation become points of information for creating systems and tools.
  • Foster a culture of collaboration which transparently recognizes barriers and encourages teammates to work together to build a path forward which works for the team.
  • Realize that everyone will hit a mental wall at some point – even you. Even the strongest employee will eventually become overwhelmed. Be prepared for the moment and provide a safe environment for the individual to take a mental health break for a few hours, the afternoon, or a day.
  • Take your vacation and encourage others to schedule theirs, also. Burn out is real and renewal is required to meet the uncertainty that is still to come.

The point about inflection points is – you just don’t know when they will arise. They just happen. To everyone. So, to be prepared means you are a better prepared manager, colleague, friend, and parent.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Lisa Gable is CEO of FARE, Food Allergy Research Education, the largest private funder of food allergy research advocating on behalf of the 32 million Americans living with potentially life-threatening food allergies. Lisa passion, expertise, and fearless workstyle have propelled her to achieve the titles of CEO, US Ambassador, UN Delegate, Chairman of the Board, and advisor to Presidents, Governors, and CEOs of Fortune 500 and CPG Companies worldwide.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

How to be Innovative – Ask Inciting Questions

This guest blog was written as a companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview with Tamara Kleinberg, founder of LaunchStreet on August 1, Translate Success Today To Success Tomorrow Using Innovation. In the interview and the blog, Tamara explores the art and science of innovation – how to create a culture and mindset of innovation.

How to be innovative is found in the questions not the answers. But we have to pick our questions wisely. If we ask the same questions in the same way and even of the same people, it’s no surprise that we get the same answers. And those answers are the usually the incremental ones. Or, maybe it’s slightly better but not enough to make an impact.

If you want more breakthrough thinking, you’ve got to change from usual questions to inciting questions.

What’s the difference? Well, usual questions are the questions you always ask. Yes, they sound smart, even right. But, most likely you’ve been asking the same questions for a while. Or, maybe it’s the same questions everyone in your category is asking. Or, maybe it’s the question that leads you down the same path to the obvious answer. Usual questions become almost a matter of habit at every brainstorm. Here’s the challenge. Yes, those are questions you want answered. But, given their customary nature, you’re not going to get to those innovative ideas you need. You know this because you see it over and over again. Unlike, inciting questions. To incite is to stir, to encourage to stimulate, to prompt.

Inciting questions take you down new paths to those provocative answers you were looking for.

I found that there are two ways to tackle inciting questions. One is to ask questions that shake up your assumptions. Questions like:

  • What would happen if we didn’t solve that challenge?
  • What would it look if we did the opposite of what we usually do?

Or, before we go into solution mode, let’s work backward.

  • What’s the problem that caused the problem?

It’s funny, that last one gets people all stirred up because we want to quickly move into solution mode and assume the first problem we identify is the one we should be solving. I think our clients will tell you that when we start digging in, we find that the first challenge we are solving is not always the right one if we want to get to lasting change and results.

So the second way to ask inciting questions is to challenge the big assumptions in your category.

It’s really challenging the assumptions about how things should be done in your world. Here are a few of my favorite examples from organizations you know and some I think you’ll be excited to get to know. Why do cars have to be either fuel efficient or sexy? Tesla – sustainable and sexy cars. Why do razors need to be on store shelves at the grocery store? Dollar Shave Club – subscription razor service. Who says you have to go to the grocery store for your food? Instacart – grocery delivery. Why do libraries have to be a warehouse of books? Anythink Libraries – the lowest funded library district in Colorado and the outdated come check a book model and turned them into a beacon of discovering their communities and is elevating the entire library world with their innovations.

What are the big hairy assumptions in your world? What would happen if you flip those assumptions on their head and turn them into inciting questions? By the way, if you want to know if your questions are just interesting vs. inciting look for the response from other people. If they look shocked or like you just committed heresy then you are asking the questions that are going to get you to those provocative answers. So, go ask some inciting questions that make people go… what?!!

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Growth Strategy Made Simple Through Innovation

Innovation This blog is written as a companion to an “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” interview between Maureen Metcalf and Urko Wood: Innovation: How to Make It a Predictable Business Process airing on June 7, 2016 and available for download on June 8.

Many leaders struggle with how to drive revenue growth. And yet we know, from study after study, that the key to successful growth is having a clear understanding of customers’ unmet needs. Even technology-driven companies, if they are going to be successful long-term, must understand and satisfy their customers’ needs. So a simple and reliable growth strategy is to discover your customers’ unmet needs and address them. Why, then, is this so hard? Why do so few companies do this successfully?

The number one reason why companies don’t successfully execute this simple growth strategy is because there is widespread confusion about what a customer need really is. Many people mistakenly believe that customers have “latent unarticulated needs, needs they cannot articulate.” This is simply false when we understand what a customer need really is.

Theodore Levitt said “People don’t want to buy a ¼ inch drill; they want a ¼ inch hole!” This quote reveals the difference between a need and a solution. The “drill” is just a solution, not a need. The solution could be a pick, a punch, a laser, or some yet-to-be-invented tool, but none of these are customer needs. True customer needs are functional, emotional, and/or social tasks that people want to accomplish and they are totally independent of solutions (how needs get met).  The task of “making a ¼ inch hole” is the true customer need. This thinking can be applied to any industry. For example,

  • P&G understands that “people don’t want to buy a mop; they want to clean the floor.” This enabled them to create Swiffer, a billion-dollar new product category.
  • Nike understands that “people don’t want to buy athletic shoes and apparel; they want to become better athletes, and feel like one.” This has enabled them to grow at greater than 10% even while sales are now over $30 billion.
  • And people don’t want to buy your products and services, or mine. They want to get something done, have an experience, and feel or be perceived a certain way. These are their true needs and all of them are totally independent from the solutions that address them.

One key reason why market research has fallen into disrepute in some circles is because researchers mistakenly asked customers what the best solution would be. This is like a doctor asking his patients what the treatment plan should be. Obviously, most people don’t have the expertise to generate solution ideas. That’s the supplier’s responsibility. But, delightfully, customers can tell us what they want to get done, what experience they want, and how they want to feel or be perceived. They also can tell us very where in the process of executing the task they struggle given their current solution. Discovering this information is the basis of your customer “diagnosis” which will provide you with a target to focus your creativity and solution expertise. It’s hard to hit a bull’s eye if you don’t have a clear view of the target.

Additionally, once the customers’ needs have been discovered, we can determine which are important and unsatisfied with statistical validity. A need that is both important and unsatisfied is unmet. The more important and less satisfied, the more unmet it is and the greater the opportunity for value creation. This is great news because it means leaders can create new offerings in a predictable and repeatable manner that will be both valued by customers and unique in the marketplace. How do we know it will be both valued and unique?

Because, if your solution addresses an important need, then we know that customers will value it. And if your solution addresses an unsatisfied need, then we know that your offering will be unique because no other competitor is satisfying it.

Most companies don’t lack creativity, they lack focus. They don’t lack ideas; they have plenty of ideas. What they lack is clarity about where the market is underserved. It’s hard to differentiate, create new value and grow if you don’t know where the market opportunities lie. Start by discovering what your customers are trying to get done, where they struggle, and why. These types of customer inputs provide rich targets that reveal where to focus and what to do to create new value and drive revenue growth, all before you spend a dime on development. This is revenue growth made predictable, repeatable, and simple.

To learn more, contact me at uw@revealgrowth.com or visit our website: www.revealgrowth.com.

About the Author

Urko Wood is founder and president of Reveal Growth Consultants, an innovation and growth strategy consulting firm that reveals ways to drive growth, guaranteed, and then helps clients do it. Some of his clients have included Battelle Memorial, Cintas, General Motors, Herman Miller, Ingersoll Rand, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and NetJets as well as smaller businesses and associations. In his free time, he enjoys friends, family, and good conversation over food.