Will technology always outpace us? – What we can do to keep up

We measure ‘progress’ by the speed of technological progress: The more inventions and the faster our technology evolves the more progress or society makes, right?
But we also feel like drowning in the flood of ever-more technology pouring over us.
This is not about surrender but of awareness and taking control again.

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We measure ‘progress’ by the speed of technological progress: The more inventions and the faster our technology evolves the more progress or society makes, right?
But we also feel like drowning in the flood of ever-more technology pouring over us.

This is not about surrender but of awareness and taking control again.

In my linked article on LinkedIn, I researched some background in a quest to find meaning – and a way out:  How Virtual Distance beats the ‘Culture Lag’ of Technology

Please share your thoughts and experiences too – thanks.

How intrapreneurs find executive sponsors

Finding a sponsor can be frustrating!

Have you ever had a great idea and went to your manager for support but found they were just not interested in it?  Did nothing come out of it in the end, and you were disappointed?  Perhaps, you just turned to the wrong sponsor for your project, a common mistake of intrapreneurs. Here are some thoughts on whom to turn for with ideas to make them happen within an organization.

Looking for a sponsor?
Looking for a sponsor?

Intrapreneurs are ‘executive champions’ that connect people with specific ideas (‘technical champions’) to ‘business champions’ who can provide the resources to make this idea happen; typically an executive sponsor providing funding and political support.  More on intrapreneurship at The Rise of the Intrapreneur and the intrapreneurial role of the executive champion at How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3).

Managers and leaders innovate differently

Let’s look at the ‘business champion’ or executive sponsor.  It is crucial to understand the motivation of executive sponsors for a simple reason: only if your idea or proposition fits their agenda are they be willing to listen to you and getting actively involved.   Consider that they take on risk too in supporting as poor results also reflect on them.  You need to know whom to turn to for what kind of idea to find adequate support.

For an intrapreneur, it is critical to understand the nature of the executive position.  More specifically if you approach a manager or leader to find support for an innovative idea.

Managers and leaders look at innovation differently, hence both groups innovate very differently and for different reasons.  It translates directly into their understanding of what ‘innovation’ is, its risks and rewards, and consequently their willingness to listen to you.  Turing to the wrong executive easily gets your idea rejected and you may not even know why.

Let’s take a look how the views of managers and leaders differ and how this molds their understanding of innovation and what kind of change.  On a side note organizations need both, managers and leaders.  Each role serves a different yet necessary purpose in the organization; see “Leadership vs. Management? What is wrong with middle management?

Managers focus on predictability

Managers are charged with running the daily business smoothly.  They manage a well-oiled ‘machine’ of people, tools and processes to deliver a certain output, a product or service, reliably and at a fixed cost ceiling.

The paramount goal for managers is business continuity – it is the daily bread and butter of the organization and what pays your employee salary today.  Running a fast-food restaurant is a good example, the expectation here is predictability: to deliver food to the customer at a specific quality level with as little variability as possible at a defined cost and within a certain time.  A competent manager delivers this predictability reliably over and over again.

With operational targets clearly defined, the appetite for improvements focuses on speeding up the process or cut cost here and there without compromising quality.  Favorable changes to the status quo are small, gradual tweaks.  This is the world of optimization and continuous improvement.

Little risk, little gain

Managers need to keep the risk small to fail or to jeopardize the production process with its predictable output.  The low risk of disruption comes at a price though as it limits also returns.

Here innovations are primarily of non-disruptive nature, they are incremental or evolutionary.  This approach is process driven.  It lends itself to automation as it aims to make the process repeatable, reliable, predictable.  No senior executive needs to be closely involved in operations to keep this ‘machine’ running; it comes down to the floor manager executing.

This is also the environment of a conventional development project, the ‘next version’ of something and ‘getting it right the first time.’

With an incremental change in focus, managers tend to look for ideas in their own organization, think ‘suggestion box’.  It means following a clearly defined and detailed process with development stage-gates or other review mechanisms that filter ideas typically the criteria of cost, time, quality and, more recently, variations thereof such as customer satisfaction and being ‘green’ and sustainable.

Managers are interested in learning about ‘best practices’ from outside the organization but are often enough reluctant to adopt and implement them if they appear to be risky and disruptive.

Leading in uncertainty

Leaders face a different challenge. They ask: what needs to be done to prepare the organization for success several years down the road with much uncertainty ahead? – Well knowing that the answer may disrupt the established organization.

It is this uncertainty that opens up the so-called ‘fuzzy front-end’ (FFE) to develop entirely new products or services: It is too early to know exact specifications of a solution at this time, the future markets and technologies are yet unknown.  Leaders focus is on getting a deep understanding of the problems that customers face to develop the technology and capability to address and monetize them.

Disruptive transformation

What we talk about here is, for example, a completely new product line, a major (adjacent) product line extension or a new (transformative) business model entirely.  Think how Apple’s iTunes Store started selling digital media and apps has changed the way we use technology and whose devices we use (hint, hint) – this gamble worked out for Apple and was based on a deep understanding what customers are willing to pay for.

With nebulous solutions in far sight, a tightly governed development process with stage-gates makes little sense because this development model is designed for incremental change and tuned for refinement.  It stifles the creative and broad view necessary to create something completely new in an unpredictable and yet undefined scenario of the FFE where much imagination, creativity, and flexibility is needed.

Creative with discipline

However, flexibility and creativity do not thrive only in the absence of discipline or some sense of order.  The early-stage research or design process does not need to be chaotic – it’s quite the opposite.  A company like IDEO, for example, operates successfully in this space and is famous for their disciplined process and methodology in producing creative and tangible prototypes over and over again.

Note, we are not talking about final products ready to go on the self in your neighborhood store tomorrow.  Check out this case study on how IDEO works in more detail: What does it take to keep innovating? (part 1 of 3)

This transitional step narrows down the broad funnel of uncertainty to develop a range of concepts towards increasingly detailed specifications of the final product.  The development of the final product itself is better left to the established development organization – back to the managers to cross the t’s and dot the i’s, if you will.

Active sponsorship needed

With disruption and revolutionary change comes high risk.  The outcome is unpredictable and the reward uncertain, failure is likely.  Yet, if the gamble works out the rewards can be enormous and the key players ‘rainmaker’.

When exploring which direction to go, the serial intrapreneur’s approach is trying many things.  Expect to fail most of the time.  See what ‘sticks’ and explore this option more.

Rather than rigid procedural guardrails, intrapreneurs need to secure top executive sponsorship for their continued active support, political weight and funding.  Thus, for a unique and exploratory venture what you look for is a leader, not a manager.  There is no staged process to follow really, only success determines what was right or wrong.

Maxwell Wessel’s blog for HBR on “How to Innovate with an Executive Sponsor” has some good practical tips for especially if your project takes the company down the disruptive, transformative route.

What kind of sponsor to you need?

Distinguishing the professional motives of managers and leaders comes down to the question of ‘Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?

In general, leaders act more as strategic innovators and game-changers assuming the role of a Sponsor or an Architect while managers take more renovation-associate roles such as a Coach or an Orchestrator.  Follow the above link for a more detailed description of these roles and when to chose which role.

Which direction to take?
Which direction to take?

What is my idea again?

Start by taking a hard look at your idea first to find out which category it falls into.  Then decide what kind of sponsor, a manager or a leader, is best suited to approach and is, therefore, most likely to listen and catch interest.

Even better if you can already identify the role associated with the nature of your project (Coach, Orchestrator, etc.) which helps you framing and pitching the idea or a specific project to the appropriate executive sponsor in your organization.

Mastering the connected economy – key findings of IBM’s 2012 CEO study

In IBM’s 2012 CEO Study, top leaders identified openness and collaboration as the critical areas to master change in the coming years – how do leadership and employees prepare for the new challenges?

About the CEO study

IBM conducts a ‘CEO Study’ every other year, interviewing more than 1,700 CEOs and public sector leaders from around the world on their views.  The top leaders identified openness and collaboration as the critical areas to address and master our ‘connected economy’ over the coming years.

Two years ago, the focus of the 2010 study was on managing the increasing complexity raising the question: Complexity is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders ready for ‘glocal’?

What’s new in 2012?

This year’s CEO Study looks into the future of 2015 to 2017.  The focus shifts to leveraging the softer factors, namely people and innovation, to navigate and connect in an increasingly technology-driven world that reshapes the workplace and the marketplace.  The CEOs agree that change is the only constant.  There is no ‘normal’ anymore – say good-bye to a stable status quo and expect unpredictability!

Let’s look at some key findings:

IBM 2012 CEO Study

Pivotal technology

Technology is the enabler for relationships and collaboration in the new age.  What has changed is how people interact with others as well as with and within organizations.  Technology now ranks number one of all external factors that influence organizations – surpassing people skills and market factors, which reflects a dramatic shift over the past years.  This makes technology the driver and single most important differentiator for successful organizations as 75% of CEOs agree – and a field that organizations cannot afford to fall behind in.

Outperforming organizations prepare for the convergence we see in the “digital, social and mobile spheres – connecting customers, employees, and partners in new ways to organizations and to each other.”  Thus, the driving forces for success in organizations remain with innovation and people to master and leverage technology.

Future leadership traits

What does this mean for leaders?  What are the traits looked for in leaders to master the challenge?

Organizations look for leaders that inspire.  Leaders who are obsessed with understanding their customer as a persona and what drives their individual behavior.  Leaders who work as a team across the C-level suite to align and combine the organization’s assets and strengths.

Half of the CEOs expect social channels to be a primary way to engage customers.  No wonder that outperforming organizations are those who have the ability to translate data effectively into insights and insights into action, or so 84% of the study responders believe.

These organizations manage change better.  They are open to venture into other industries or explore even more disruptive innovation by creating entirely new industries and business models.  Strong analytical capabilities to uncover patterns are only one side of the coin, where the other is creative and connected minds that can answer questions no one thought to ask in the first place.

Innovation dilemma

But what if your organization is not the out-performer?  What does it take your organization to get there?

It is no secret that large companies tend to lose their innovative momentum; see Starting an ERG as a strategic innovation engine!  (part 3 of 3).  To compensate the lack of creativity within, they buy start-ups, for example, or focus on hiring only the best and brightest (a.k.a. ‘war on talent’) to fuel their future idea and product pipelines.

What happens in reality, however, is that hiring managers like to look at the ‘odd-ball’ applicant, the out-of-the-box thinker they acclaim to look for, but then play it safe when it comes to decision time and go with a ‘lower risk’ candidate instead.

This leads to the next dilemma: Job applicants noticed the trend and adapted.  There is new truth to the survival of the fittest:  When you look at applicants for management positions, you may notice that their resumes and interview responses became increasingly similar over the past years.  They present themselves homogenous and ‘smooth’ with as little personal ‘edges’ as possible that may stick out and cause controversy.  The common theme you hear is the mistakes the candidates would not make – rather than articulating what they would do in their new role.

Risk-avoidance wins over leadership taking charge.  This mindset works its way down the hierarchy and across the organization.  You can notice it in narrow job descriptions, many detailed rules, and processes full of ‘red tape’.  It does not surprise that innovation perishes in large organizations and management turns to buy fresh ideas from the outside in one way or another.

Innovation from within

Innovation means taking risks; yet we tend to hire ‘safe’ and complacent managers and leaders that don’t rock the boat too much.  What we get in the end is a somewhat harmonized workforce that lacks diversity of thought ‑ despite possibly matching more visible and publicly promotable diversity criteria (see also How to create innovation culture with diversity!).

Reinventing innovation from within an organization is not always easy.  It requires top management commitment to build a strong internal framework and foster intrapreneurship throughout the workforce.  It takes establishing a reliable, predictable, and continuous innovation process with room to experiment and learning from failure.  For a simple reason, all this is necessary to succeed: you cannot leave your workforce behind if you seek creative ideas that lead to the next discovery and breakthrough.  – Read more on How to become the strategic innovation leader?  (part 2 of 3).

Employees of the Future

Ever-new technological advances shifted change to the unpredictable: pervasive smart-devices, mobility, virtual social networks and the ‘big data’ flood this combination generates, new business models they enable, and so on.  Organizations cannot even anticipate anymore what skills their workforce will need in only three or so years from now.

Consequently, rather than looking for specific skills (which is the starting point for the “war on talent”) they look for flexibility in employees to create and respond to disruptive innovations and change to new businesses and business models.  The most valued future employees must be comfortable with change and ambiguity, able to adapt and even reinvent themselves while leveraging their personal networks for professional success.  This is why human capital is seen most important (by 71% of CEOs) to make connections that fuel creativity and innovation for sustained economic value and growth.

The 2012 ‘Pulse of the Profession’ study by Project Management Institute (PMI) comes to similar results from a project management perspective: It notes that organizations seek to become more agile by placing more importance on change management and project risk management as well as on talent management to grow and conquer new markets.

Lead with openness and values

It requires more than inspiration to tap into employees effectively and on a deeper level than what their job description outlines.  Setting tight rules proves counterproductive, since the surrounding ambiguity makes it impossible to foresee and regulate all possible cases.

Quite the opposite is needed:  opening up and establishing a framework of values that guide employees in their response and dealing with unforeseen situations and customer interactions.  This value framework provides a bed for ideas to flow freely but also to connect with employees and let them to bring their whole self to work ‑ including their social networks.

Yet, in an increasingly connected world, innovation cannot come from inside of the organization alone.  Out-performers take risks by accepting and inviting innovative sparks from outside their own organization in ‘win-win’ partnerships that amplify innovation for growth.  Within, they communicate a clear purpose and mission with ethics and values that resonate with and guide their staff while fostering a collaborative environment.

Innovation Partnerships and Alliances

Many have tried to make it to the top alone but only few organizations truly understood how to integrate and control their entire value chain in sustainable ways.  As a lesson to learn from, Apple stands as an example for a company that was close to losing everything but learned from its mistakes.  Apple famously re-invented itself to become to most validated company worldwide (read more how Apples did it in Innovate to Implement!)

Success requires a broad organizational open-mindedness and flexibility to think and act disruptive were needed.  The CEOs see the future in innovation partnerships and close alliances where organizations share their data and collaborate on a deeper level than before without holding tight control.

– Are you ready to taking the leap to open up?