Innovation Networks

An interview with John Kotter, Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School, Rotman Magazine, Fall 2015

The big challenge for today’s leaders is accept the fact that a certain amount of hierarchy is necessary, and to design a separate system – a network – for innovation right alongside it.

innovation networks

I call this a ‘dual operating system’, and it doesn’t force you to choose bureaucracy over innovation. It enables you to operate part of your organization like a startup – with all of the agility that entails – while at the same time running an efficient, reliable hierarchical system that excels in what you already do well. I am convinced that every company you can name that has been highly successful has gone through a stage where it operated with a dual operating system.

The network is not an easy thing to develop or hold onto, unless you know what it is and why it’s so important. Change isn’t easy; we all know that, and the core issue is that people don’t want to reorganize – they usually think the current approach is fine. What you have to do is develop a network with a strong sense of urgency, with its focus maintained on a Big Opportunity.

When it works right, there is an inseparable partnership between the hierarchy and the network. The two systems work as one, with a constant flow of information and activity between them, and significant numbers of people are waking up each morning with a compelling desire to do something that day to move the organization forward towards the big strategic opportunity. With aligned energy among enough people across the network, you have a targeted, passionate force that is unlike anything found outside of wildly successful entrepreneurial firms.

Harnessing Disagreement, from Mihnea Moldoveneau

Mind meldThis post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been adapted from an interview with Mihnew Moldovenau, published in the Spring 2015 issue of Rotman, the Magazine of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.

Decisions do not occur in the vacuum of one’s mind, but in the caldron of relationships. It is a process fraught with political and interpersonal conflict and tension, but which relies on collaboration and cooperation in spite of the emotional landscape on which it unfolds.

No single mind can behold the right solution at a glance, nor can any single mind even behold all the promising solutions.

As a result, disagreement needs to be harnessed rather than camouflaged in order to uncover all of the sources of value that each contributor brings to the table. The final requirement for solving complex problems in collaborative settings is a set of tools that turn disagreement into generative tension.

Mihnea Moldoveneau, Peter Pauly, Rotman School of Management, Rotman Magazine, Spring 2015

Conflict = Thinking, from Margaret Heffernan

At Converge, we think a lot about how networks and organizations can learn to generate productive tension, rather than shut down in the face of disagreement. When teams and groups master the ability to harness creative abrasion, the result is smarter strategies, better decisions, stronger relationships, and higher morale. In short, greater positive impact.

As Margaret Heffernan explains in this TED Global talk, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates how the best partners aren’t echo chambers — and how great research teams, relationships, and businesses allow people to deeply disagree.

Margaret HeffernanSo what does that kind of constructive conflict require? Well, first of all, it requires that we find people who are very different from ourselves. That means we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves, and it means we have to seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different ways of thinking and different experience, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy.

And the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think, really, that that’s a kind of love. Because you simply won’t commit that kind of energy and time if you don’t really care. And it also means that we have to be prepared to change our minds.

So it’s one thing to do that in a one-to-one relationship. But it strikes me that the biggest problems we face, many of the biggest disasters that we’ve experienced, mostly haven’t come from individuals, they’ve come from organizations, some of them bigger than countries, many of them capable of affecting hundreds, thousands, even millions of lives.

So how do organizations think? Well, for the most part, they don’t. And that isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s really because they can’t. And they can’t because the people inside of them are too afraid of conflict.

In surveys of European and American executives, fully 85 percent of them acknowledged that they had issues or concerns at work that they were afraid to raise. Afraid of the conflict that that would provoke, afraid to get embroiled in arguments that they did not know how to manage, and felt that they were bound to lose. Continue reading

Why Strategy Execution Unravels, from Sull, Homkes & Still

We think a lot about the relationship between strategy and execution at Converge, reflecting often on the famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for lunch”. Execution is about culture and leadership. Poorly executed strategies are not just a shame – they waste precious human and financial resources, are tough on morale, and undercut long-term performance. This think piece from a recent article in Harvard Business Review talks about large companies – the authors surveyed 7600 managers in 262 companies across 30 industries – but the lessons are also valid in the social and public spheres, and in smaller organizations. I found this article to be the most useful thing I’ve ever read on the topic.

Taming-strategy-400x379A recent survey of more than 400 global leaders found that executional excellence was the number one challenge, heading a list of some 80 issues, including innovation, geopolitical instability, and top-line growth. Two-thirds to three-quarters of organizations struggle with execution. And it’s no wonder: Research reveals that several common beliefs about implementing strategy are just plain wrong. Here are five of the most pernicious myths:

Execution equals alignment

Whereas companies have effective processes for cascading goals downward in the organization, their systems for managing horizontal performance commitments lack teeth. When asked to identify the single greatest challenge to executing company strategy, 30% cite failure to coordinate across units. Managers also say they are three times more likely to miss performance commitments because of insufficient support from other units than because of their own teams’ failure to deliver. More than half of managers want more structure in the processes to coordinate activities across units – twice the number who want more structure in the management by objectives system. Processes to align activities with strategy up and down the hierarchy are generally sound. The real problem is coordination: People in other units can’t be counted on.

Execution means sticking to the plan

After investing enormous amounts of time and energy formulating a plan and its associated budget, executives view deviations as a lack of discipline that undercuts execution. Unfortunately, no strategy survives contact with reality. Managers and employees at every level need to adapt to facts on the ground, surmount unexpected obstacles, and take advantage of Continue reading

Quantum Problems, from Alpheus Bingham

Wicked Problems - colored gasAt Converge, we conceive of a quantum problem as a collection of wicked problems. Climate change is a mash up of all sorts of wicked problems, social environmental, even neurological. Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, explores these dynamics brilliantly.

We’re big fans of Rotman Magazine around here, and were very impressed by a recent interview with Dr. Alpheus Bingham, the founder of InnoCentive, about the power of open innovation in addressing wicked problems, challenges the military dubbed VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. Here’s what we learned.

“InnoCentive has embraced an approach called Challenge Driven Innovation. Please explain how it works.

Most of the problems we work on are ‘wicked problems’. Challenge Driven Innovation (CDI) essentially recognizes that big, complex problems are really collections of lots of little problems. Once a problem is broken down, each smaller problem gets written up as a semi-autonomous, stand alone challenge. At this point, each problem is ‘portable’ a module, and as solutions to the various modules are found, you assemble them as part of the solution to your bigger problem.

Talk a little bit about the importance of diversity of thought for solving wicked problems.

People start out with different assumptions so they ‘hop onto’ the rocky problem solving surface a different locations. Some of them might land near a ‘peak’, others in a ‘deep valley’, but they all begin navigating around the area they jumped in at. If you look at the results of that collective effort, each ‘hopper’ is actually mapping a different region of the landscape. We’ve done this 2000+ times, and we have found that by injecting diversity into the equation, we get to solutions that are not at all in line with the way things have been done before. Continue reading

How To Create Purposeful Organizations, from Frederic Laloux

This post is a part of our series of Book Summaries, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books. The following has been modified from Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, 2014. This book helped to inspire and inform the self-management structure of Converge.

Download our full 12-page summary of Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations here.

71RiX7p05oL“Can we create organizations free of the pathologies that show up all too often in the workplace? Free of politics, bureaucracy, and infighting; free of stress and burnout; free of resignation, resentment and apathy, free of the posturing at the top and the drudgery at the bottom? Can we create soulful workplaces – schools, hospitals, businesses and nonprofits – where we can shed our mask and where our talents can blossom and our callings can be honored?

At both the top and bottom, organizations are more often than not playfields for unfulfilling pursuits of our egos, inhospitable to the deeper yearnings of our souls. They regularly separate the professional from the personal, and historically offices have been places where people must show up wearing a mask, expected to behave in certain pre-determined, acceptable ways.

Unsurprisingly, a recent poll of 32,000 workers in the corporate sector across 29 countries found that only about a third of people are engaged in their work (35%) while many more are “detached” or actively “disengaged” (43%). The remaining 22% feel “unsupported.”

So what would it take to reinvent organizations, to devise a new model of “Tier 2 Organizations” that makes work productive, fulfilling and meaningful?

Continue reading

The 3 Core Capabilities of System Leaders, from Senge, Hamilton & Kania

Winter_2015_GP

This post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been adapted from the writings of Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton and John Kania, The Dawn of System Leadership, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2015. 

“The good leader is he whom the people revere. The great leader is he of whom the people say, “We did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

We face a host of systemic challenges beyond the reach of existing institutions and their hierarchical authority structures. Problems like climate change, destruction of ecosystems, growing scarcity of water, youth unemployment, and embedded poverty and inequity require unprecedented collaboration among different organizations, sectors, and even countries.

The deep changes necessary to accelerate progress against society’s most intractable problems require a unique type of leader – the system leader, a person who catalyzes collective leadership.

Systems leaders develop the ability to see reality through the eyes of people very different from themselves, encouraging others to be more open as well. They re-contextualize organizational self-interest, as people discover that their and their organization’s success depends on creating well-being within the larger systems of which they are a part.

Transforming systems is ultimately about transforming relationships among people who shape those systems. Therefore, effectively systems leaders work to build relationships based on deep listening, allowing networks of trust and collaboration to flourish.

There are three core capabilities that system leaders develop in order to foster collective leadership.

  1. See the larger system In any complex setting, people typically focus their attention on the parts of the system most visible from their own vantage point. This usually results in arguments about who has the right perspective on the problem. Getting the right people in the room and helping them see the larger system is essential to building a shared understanding of complex problems. This understanding enables collaborating organizations to jointly develop solutions not evident to any of them individually and to work together for the health of the whole system rather than just pursue symptomatic fixes to individual pieces.
  1. Foster reflection and generative conversations – Continue reading

6 Ways to Make Groups Smarter, from Sunstein & Hastie

This post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been adapted from the writings of Cass Sunstein & Reid Hastie, Making Dumb Groups Smarter, Harvard Business Review, December 2014. 

The Problem

Groups often fail to live up to their potential as decision-making bodies. Instead of aggregating the knowledge and wisdom of their members, they end up making bigger errors than individuals would.

Why It Happens

Group members take informational signals from what others say, even when the information is wrong or misleading. Reputational pressures can cause them to silence themselves or change their views in order to fit in. As a result, groups often amplify errors, stampede towards bad decisions, foment polarization and extremism, and ignore information that isn’t widely held.

The Solution

Leaders can structure group deliberations to make them more likely to succeed. Continue reading

The 5 Common Characteristics of Successful Community Change Efforts, from The Aspen Institute

Fresno pic copyThis post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been modified from The Aspen Institute’s publication “Voices from the Field III: Lessons and Challenges from Two Decades of Community Change Efforts”, available here for free download. 

The accomplishments of place-based community change efforts over the past two decades have been mixed – most can show improvements in the well-being of individual residents who participated in programs in their target neighborhoods, some produced physical change through housing production and rehabilitation, some reduced crime, and a few also sparked commercial development. Most can demonstrate increased neighborhood capacity in the form of stronger leadership, networks, or organizations, or in improved connections between the neighborhood and external entities in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. A few can point to accomplishments in policy and systems reform.

However, while these are important outcomes, most of the interventions have not produced the degree of community transformation envisioned by their designers, Continue reading

The Best Of: Rotman, Fall ’14 – The Search for Effective Innovation

rotman fall 2014We know you probably don’t have time to read through full magazines, so we read them for you. This month we summarize the best of: Rotman Management Magazine, Fall 2014, with a focus on effective innovation.

Rotman has long been one of our favorite publications, with many thought-provoking articles and interviews on design thinking, psychology, consulting, behavioral economics and neuroscience. You can subscribe here – we guarantee your thinking will be sharpened as a result.

The Innovator’s Challenge, Dilip Soman

In the US alone, estimates suggest that as many as 75% of all new product launches fail. The latest research shows that efforts to solve social problems have focused too narrowly on developing solutions and not sufficiently enough on developing a rich understanding of the process that individuals use to adopt solutions. Real consumers are Continue reading