Monday, January 30, 2017

The Serious Business of Sandboxes
Constructing places where employees can collaborate, improvise, and watch one another work can spur creativity.

by  David Clarke

Remember the concept of the Innovation Sandbox we discussed at Kellogg. This is a further refinement of it.

The best place for your business to enact his advice — to create and “make tomorrow” — is in a sandbox. Think about it. Sandboxes are venues that bring together all kinds of kids in an open but finite space that encourages exploration and interaction with little threat of harm. 
I’m not suggesting that CEOs build wooden frames in the corner office and fill them with sand. Rather, the idea of a sandbox provides an apt metaphor for the type of collaboration and interaction that should take place in the open, communal office spaces, virtual meetings, management retreats, and other places where we work now. When you create successful conceptual sandboxes in the workplace, you can eliminate organizational silos, allowing your workers to better understand what their colleagues do and more fully grasp what your business is trying to achieve. 

Four features every sandbox needsAs any parent knows, not everyone in a sandbox collaborates in a nice or productive manner. The benefits of group play can quickly be undermined if the chemistry isn’t right. To make the most of the experience, every sandbox needs four key features. 

Connectors. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, describes connectors as individuals who know a lot of people from different professional, social, cultural, political, and economic backgrounds and have a habit of introducing them to one another. “Their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality,” he writes.In business, I think of connectors as having additional attributes. They are people who have a broad appreciation for diverse talent and an ability to work horizontally across teams 
Framing. (In MDG, we used Decision Criteria to set the context) Real-world sandboxes need well-defined frames — otherwise the sand leaks out. In the business context, sandbox designers have to construct a virtual and conceptual frame by setting the proper context to solve for your business issue 

Space. The biggest value sandboxes hold for organizations is that they enable employees throughout the workforce to see, feel, and operate in a collaborative state. When companies replace meetings and phone calls with an environment in which employees can actually participate in how their colleagues work, employees broaden their understanding and acceptance of different individuals’ skills 
Speed. (this is different than we teach in MDG) According to PwC’s January 2016 U.S. CEO Survey, 78 percent of U.S. CEOs are somewhat or extremely concerned about the rapid pace of technological change. Although it’s true that tech waits for no one, part of their fear is rooted in simple corporate inefficiency. Too many organizations still operate under the handoff method, where different parts of the workforce are pulled into projects at different times. The beauty of the sandbox approach is that it provides a holistic vision of the product road map, allowing organizations to move at the speed of tech.
The MDG Innovation Sandbox 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Seven steps to better brainstorming
By Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne

Most attempts at brainstorming are doomed. To generate better ideas—and boost the odds that your organization will act on them—start by asking better questions

Some real important insight

1. Know your organization’s decision-making criteria (The Decision Criteria deployed in MDG)
One reason good ideas hatched in corporate brainstorming sessions often go nowhere is that they are beyond the scope of what the organization would ever be willing to consider.
2. Ask the right questionsDecades of academic research shows that traditional, loosely structured brainstorming techniques (“Go for quantity—the greater the number of ideas, the greater the likelihood of winners!”) are inferior to approaches that provide more structure.The best way we’ve found to provide it is to use questions as the platform for idea generation. 
3. Choose the right peopleThe rule here is simple: pick people who can answer the questions you’re asking. As obvious as this sounds, it’s not what happens in many traditional brainstorming sessions, where participants are often chosen with less regard for their specific knowledge than for their prominence on the org chart. 
4. Divide and conquerTo ensure fruitful discussions like the one the catalog retailer generated, don’t have your participants hold one continuous, rambling discussion among the entire group for several hours. Instead, have them conduct multiple, discrete, highly focused idea generation sessions among subgroups of three to five people—no fewer, no more 
5. On your mark, get set, go!After your participants arrive, but before the division into subgroups, orient them so that your expectations about what they will—and won’t—accomplish are clear. 
6. Wrap it upBy day’s end, a typical subgroup has produced perhaps 15 interesting ideas for further exploration. You’ve been running multiple subgroups simultaneously, so your 20-person team has collectively generated up to 60 ideas. What now? 
One thing not to do is have the full group choose the best ideas from the pile, as is common in traditional brainstorming. In our experience, your attendees won’t always have an executive-level understanding of the criteria and considerations that must go into prioritizing ideas for actual investment. The experience of picking winners can also be demotivating, particularly if the real decision makers overrule the group’s favorite choices later. 
Instead, have each subgroup privately narrow its own list of ideas to a top few and then share all the leading ideas with the full group to motivate and inspire participants 
7. Follow up quickly (Remember our rule—decisions must be made within 5 working days or you lose them—growth is about momentum)Decisions and other follow-up activities should be quick and thorough

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What It Takes to Stay Ahead of the Competition
Matt Palmquist

Bottom Line: For companies, sustaining a consistently high level of performance requires unique capabilities that may differ sharply from the strategies they used to succeed in the first place.

Not a surprising finding

Leading firms set themselves apart by achieving a high level of performance and meeting or exceeding consumers’ expectations relative to the competition. It’s usually an arduous, years-long process. But sustaining that level of performance is a completely different challenge — one that few companies can overcome in the modern business landscape…. 
…After controlling for firm size, competitive intensity of a given industry, and level of uncertainty faced — in the form of rapid technological developments or changing market conditions — the authors found that four particular capabilities emerged as integral to sustaining high-quality performance: 
Improvement. This capability was defined as a firm’s ability to make incremental product or service upgrades, or to reduce production costs.
Innovation. Defined as how strong a company was at developing new products and entering new markets.
Sensing of weak signals. Defined as how well a company can focus on potential banana peels in order to improve overall performance, including analyzing mistakes, actively searching out production anomalies, and being aware of potential problems in the surrounding business environment.
Responsiveness. Defined as a business’s ability to solve problems that crop up unexpectedly and to use specialized expertise to counter those complications.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

How small shifts in leadership can transform your team dynamic
By Caroline Web

Simple tweaks in communication and role-modeling based on the latest behavioral research can nudge employees into top form and create a more productive environment for everyone


I usually do not post articles of this type but I think it is really important to think about the “soft side” of leadership based on new and exciting research on the brain. I strongly urge you to go to this article and the others highlighted in it to get you thinking  in this mode.

The two-system brain
….research on human behavior, we know what it takes for the average person’s brain to perform at its best, cognitively and emotionally—even under the pressures of the modern workplace. These new insights suggest that simple tweaks in leaders’ communication and behavior can potentially create a much more productive atmosphere for any team…
…the brain’s activity is split across two complementary systems—one deliberate and controlled, the other automatic and instinctive. The deliberate system is responsible for sophisticated, conscious functions such as reasoning, self-control, and forward thinking. It can only do one thing at a time and tires remarkably quickly. The brain’s automatic system lightens this load by automating most of what we do from day to day, but as the brain’s deliberate system becomes more exhausted, the automatic system increasingly takes the reins, leaving us prone to make misleading generalizations and knee-jerk responses.
That’s why multitasking is such a problem. We think we can parallel process, but each tiny switch from one conscious task to another—from email to reading to speaking on a conference call, for example—wastes a little of the deliberate system’s time and mental energy. And those switches cost us dearly. Research shows that people are less creative, more stressed, and make two to four times as many mistakes when they deal with interruptions and distractions. 
Another way that the deliberate system’s limitations play out in the workplace is that decision-making quality drops the longer people go without a break. Classic cognitive biases like group-think and confirmation bias take firmer hold, and we’re more prone to sloppy thinking in general. In one study, where hospital leaders were trying to encourage the use of hand sanitizer, they found that compliance rates fell when people worked long hours without a break… 

The discover-defend axis
…..The problem is, our brain is constantly looking for threats to fend off or rewards worth pursuing. When we’re more focused on threats than rewards, we’re in defensive mode. Our brain diverts some of its scarce mental energy into launching a ‘fight’, ‘flight,’ or ‘freeze’ response, and as those instinctive responses unfold—looking more like ‘snap, sulk, or skulk’ in the workplace—brain scans show less activity in the parts of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. To put it another way: some of our more emotionally sophisticated neural machinery has gone offline.
This matters, because it takes surprisingly little to put someone’s brain into defensive mode—anything threatening a person’s self-worth, even the smallest social slight. This can create vicious circles in the workplace when, for example, people feel daunted from the start, triggering an instinctive defensive reaction that makes it harder for them to solve the problem at hand. 
But then there’s discovery mode, where people’s brains are focused on the potential rewards in a situation—for instance, a feeling of belonging or social recognition, or the thrill of learning new things. If leaders can foster a rewarding environment even amid the most difficult situations, it’s likely that they can dampen that primal feeling of being under threat just enough to nudge people out of defensive mode and back into top form

The social self
Whenever you have a very new group of people joining an existing team, you’ve got to pay real attention to motivation,” ……The reason for this lies deep in our highly social brains. Of all threats, social slights are especially high on the list of things against which our brains seek to defend us. This social sensitivity probably helped keep us safe when tribal belonging determined whether we’d survive the dangers of the prehistoric savanna—but in the workplace, it means leaders have to meet three main types of deep social needs if they want their colleagues to thrive:
  • Inclusion: “Do I belong?” In Charles’s case, existing staff may be worried that they’re going to be excluded from the exciting new work. The newbies, meanwhile, will be wondering whether they truly fit in.
  • Respect: “Do people recognize the value I bring?” Everyone on the team wants to feel that their efforts are useful and appreciated.
  • Fairness: “Am I being treated just like everyone else—or do I at least understand the reason that things are the way they are?”
If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” people’s brains can quickly go into defensive mode—which, as we learned earlier, is a sure recipe for dysfunctional behavior.