For many who read this book, it may well be a “surprising truth” that innovation succeeds “not by breaking free from constraints of the past but instead by harnessing the past in powerful new ways.” I am among those who agree with the prophet Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun; also with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who asserted that everything changes…but nothing changes. I also agree with Hargadon’s emphasis on the importance of an innovation strategy that seeks to take full advantage of what can be learned from the past in order to create the future. His core concept is “technology brokering” which he introduces and then rigorously examines in Part I; next, in Part II, he describes the “networked perspective” of innovation, explaining how this strategy influences the innovative process within organizations, regardless of their size and nature; finally, in Part III, Hargadon provides specific and practical examples of how various organizations have designed and then implemented technology brokering strategies. Throughout the narrative, Hargadon explores in depth with rigor and eloquence his core premise: “that breakthrough innovation comes by recombining the people, ideas, and objects of past technologies.”
In this context, I am reminded of what Carla O’Dell asserts in If We Only Knew What We Know when discussing what she calls “beds of knowledge” which are “hidden resources of intelligence that exist in almost every organization, relatively untapped and unmined.” She suggests all manner of effective strategies to “tap into “this hidden asset, capturing it, organizing it, transferring it, and using it to create customer value, operational excellence, and product innovation — all the while increasing profits and effectiveness.” Almost all organizations claim that their “most valuable assets walk out the door at the end of each business day.” That is correct. Almost all intellectual “capital” is stored between two ears and much (too much) of it is, for whatever reasons, inaccessible to others except in “small change….there is no conclusion to managing knowledge and transferring best practices. It is a race without a finishing line.”
I think this is precisely what Hargadon has in mind when insisting that the future is already here, that the “raw materials for the next breakthrough technology may [also] be already here [but probably] without assembly instructions,” that decision-makers must find their “discomfort zones” rather than remain hostage to what Jim O’Toole calls “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom,” and that they should build a “bridge” to their own strengths but also to their weaknesses because, as they perform, so will their organization. I agree with Hargadon that innovation must unfold at the ground level, “in the minds and hearts of the engineers and entrepreneurs who are doing the work.” Also, that — meanwhile — they and their associates must be guided and informed, not only by their own organization’s “beds of knowledge” but also by external sources of information concerning prior successes and failures of the innovation process elsewhere. In the final analysis, there is good news and bad news. First the bad news: “New ideas are built from the pieces of old ones, and nobody works alone.” Now the good news: “New ideas are built from the pieces of old ones, and nobody works alone.”
I don’t know any advice any better than this. This, of course, is one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People – #4 to be precise.
And if you think about “think win-win,” it reinforces a lot of “advice and counsel” from books we read nearly every day. For example, today I presented my synopsis of the terrific book, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. These quotes jumped out at me, and reminded me of Covey’s “think win-win” counsel:
Success in any field, but especially in business, is about working with people, not against them.
I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful.
A network functions precisely because there’s recognition of mutual need… first you have to stop keeping score.
Or, consider the concept of “generalized reciprocity” from the modern classic, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam. In it, he writes about the appeal of generalized reciprocity: “I’ll do this for you without expecting anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do something for me down the road.”
I think we need to trumpet this concept loudly and clearly in these tense days. There seems to be such fierce competition with others; so many people who are so quick to find fault, to even question the motives of others. It is as though there are people out there rooting for the failure of others.
And we forget that any one failure spells trouble for others – maybe for all.
I was recently re-reading part of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. (One of those, “I really encourage you to read this book” books). Here are a couple of quotes from near the end of the book:
Our own society opted long ago to become interlocked with the rest of the world…
In the Netherlands, we have another expression, ‘You have to be able to get along with your enemy, because he may be the person operating the neighboring pump in your polder.’
In one sense, there is no such thing as an enemy, but only fellow planet users. If your economy is weak, my economy is threatened. If your city is polluted, my clean air is at risk. “If the dikes and pumps fail, we’ll all drown together.’’ (Diamond).
Let’s put it another way: to think and act “win-lose” is really to think and act “lose-lose.” We really are in this together, and “win-win” may be the only path to “win” at all.
Here are a few of the awards he has received thus far: International Business Award Best Human Resources Executive of the Year, 2008. World Human Resources Development Award for Human Resources Leadership, 2009.
His formal education: Chicago Management Institute, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, 2005; PhD, Measurement, Evaluation & Statistical Analysis; Education; University of Chicago, 1995; MA, History of Chinese Religions, University of Chicago, 1990; BA, Psychology, Honors College, Arizona State University, Phi Beta Kappa, Moeur Award (for 4.0 GPA), 1986.
Also: Global Senior Advisor, Asia-Pacific CEO Association; Worldwide Director, Performance Measurement, Accenture; Public Speaker (in English and Chinese) recently in Beijing, Cairo, Changchun, Kuala Lumpur, London, Mumbai, Nanjing, Nice & Singapore.
Q: What was your inspiration/motivation for writing this book, Lasting Contribution?
Nothing frustrates me more than wasted potential. I see many well-intentioned people in the world who are trying to do good work, but because they don’t understand economics, game theory, or statistics, they are not as effective as they could be. Since not everybody has the time or inclination to study all of these fields, I took an idea from the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi who said, “The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap.” My goal was to bring the insights from various fields of study to more people so they could be more effective in their well-intentioned pursuits.
Q: Given the thinking in your book, if you could solve just one of the world’s problems, what would it be?
Energy. Besides addressing global warming, clean and cheap energy would allow you to desalinate and move water, which would go a long way toward solving problems with food and population.
Q: You have expertise in China, hermeneutics, education, and statistics. How does all of this fit together?
My knowledge of China is focused on language, culture, and philosophy, which inevitably lead to Confucius. He asked: How do you make the world a better place? By making people better, and you do that through education. That’s two topics. The other two are variations on the theme of, “How do you know?” One is qualitative and the other quantitative, but we live not in a multi- or poly-verse, but rather a universe. This means that the qualitative and quantitative approaches must converge. If they don’t, then you haven’t done enough work.
To put all of this differently, if I were interested in making money—good old capital—then I’d invest, which would involve a qualitative assessment of the management team and a quantitative assessment of the fundamentals. I’m interested in human capital, so I conduct qualitative and quantitative assessments of how to improve it.
Q: What is your lasting contribution?
Confucius said that to leave a legacy, you should have kids (I have a son) or write, but Socrates said that to leave a legacy you should have kids, write, or (what does this tell you about the difference between China and the West?) do something that has an enduring impact on the world. According to Accenture’s Chief Learning Officer, my contribution has been “to fundamentally change the equation for how companies think about investing in their people.” I proved that the return on investment in training is very high. Gary Becker, Nobel laureate and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner said, “In terms of human capital, [Tad’s work] is exactly what American businesses most need to be doing.”
Q: How did you do that?
I analyzed 261,000 employee records of per-person margin (how much people brought in minus how much we paid them), controlled for experience, inflation, and business cycles, to show that for every dollar Accenture spent on training, it received $4.53 in return, which is a return on investment (ROI) of 353 percent.
There are several features of this work that I think are worth pointing out:
Since the analysis focused not on soft data (Did you enjoy your hospital stay?), but on hard data (Did you survive your hospital stay?) and since it used rigorous statistical techniques (multiple regression that accounted for various confounds), the results had a high degree of credibility, so high that the work won half a dozen awards and was turned into the book Return on Learning: Training for High Performance at Accenture.
The approach forces people to focus not on training activities—hours of training delivered, percentage of workforce trained, and so on—but on results, a focus that forces you to speak the language of the organization’s leaders—the language of results.
The analysis took into consideration all of the training that everybody experienced as well as all of the costs associated with the training, including opportunity costs. One point is that this makes for a conservative estimate of ROI. But the more important point is that the analysis looked at the big picture of how all of the courses interacted with each other to add value, thus avoiding the common mistake of trying to explain how a particular course increased a particular skill, which has a particular ROI. The analysis showed that, because individual courses interact with each other, the whole effect of training is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Daniel J. Isenberg for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, subscribe to HBR at a deep discount, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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In the weeks since the Entrepreneurial Revolution article appeared in HBR [click here], government leaders, business executives, entrepreneurs, NGO directors, heads of institutes, university professors, and foundations have been asking me to help them instigate a revolution. Here is my advice to all of you on how to get started in just six months.
[Isenberg offers seven specific recommendations. Here are the first three.]
• Revolutions start local. Start the revolution in one locale and spread it from there. Every ecosystem has its own idiosyncrasies, and skepticism is prevalent, so start with quick wins that make sense in that specific location. And make quick correctable mistakes. Once you get on the right track in one locale, you can spread the revolution quickly. You don’t have years to wait for measurable results before scaling up, just know you are on the right track.
• Revolutions need participants. The “shot heard round the world” will be a town-meeting-style, entrepreneurship stakeholder workshop to create excitement and commitment, and to learn. Convene representatives of banks, churches, universities, public schools, unions, cooperatives, entrepreneurs, the municipal and federal government, trade and industry associations, economic development organizations, some “foreign” Diaspora resources, and the media. Meet with them individually to prepare them, and learn about the assets and liabilities of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem.
• Engage the Private Sector from the Start. Government cannot build ecosystems alone. Only the private sector has the motivation and perspective to develop self-sustaining, profit-driven markets. Foe this reason, government must involve the private sector early and let it keep or acquire a significant stake in the ecosystem’s success.
The most important deliverable in these first six months is to engage, excite, and empower the entrepreneurship stakeholders, demonstrate commitment, and show your constituents that you mean business. This will set the stage for the next phase of new policies and programs to help hardwire the change into the fabric of the society.
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Daniel J. Isenberg is a Professor of Management Practice at Babson College
A former president, then CEO and chairman of the Tom Peters Company, Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Professor of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. Along with coauthor Barry Posner they have written over a dozen books, including the bestselling and award-winning The Leadership Challenge, now in its fourth edition with over 1.5 millions copies sold, and A Leader’s Legacy. To date nearly 3 million leaders have used their assessment instrument, The Leadership Practices Inventory. They began their joint research over twenty-five years ago, and continue it with surveys, written case studies, and in-depth interviews to obtain evidence of how leaders energize others to produce exceptional results.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: During the decades in which you and Barry have worked together, what have been the most significant changes in how effective leadership has been defined? Why?
Kouzes: The first change is that there’s no change in what people expect of leaders. In 1982 people wanted leaders who were honest, forward-looking, competent and inspiring. In 2007 we found these same four qualities are at the top of the list worldwide.
Second, in spite of the Internet boom and the pervasiveness of virtual connections, relationship skills have proven to be the most critical variable in leadership effectiveness. Third, while the content of leadership has not changed much, the context sure has. The most important shift is to a global economy. With outsourcing, the explosion of the Indian and Chinese economies, and the connectedness of people around the globe, aspiring leaders have to learn to work with people from a variety of countries and cultures.
The other major contributor to contextual change is technology. The Internet has dramatically altered the “ownership” of information. Power is shifting from the organization to the individual.
Morris: Given your response to the previous question, what have been some of the most significant consequences of those changes?
Kouzes: The two most significant changes in context—the global economy and technological connectivity—have resulted in a curious dichotomy. While we are more connected, we are also more distant. That distance is both physical and emotional.
The physical distance is obvious, but the emotional distance is more subtle. It’s just human nature to trust people more like ourselves, so when leaders and constituents are culturally different, the emotional connection is not as strong. Cultural diversity brings with it different perspectives on the same issue. Exemplary global leaders must be more broad-minded, open to others, and keenly interested in others.
Morris: One of the key points that you have always stressed is that leadership must be developed at all levels and in all areas of an enterprise. In your opinion, how can that best be accomplished?
Kouzes: The most important and influential leader role models in our lives are family members. For college students and young professionals, next on the list are teachers and coaches followed by community leaders. Only after we’ve been working for a while do business leaders become significant leader role models, and those leader role models are much more likely to be an immediate manager than the CEO. All this underscores how important it is that we understand that leadership is everyone’s business, not just the domain of those at the top of the pyramid.
All work organizations should offer leadership development programs to prospective leaders on the frontline before they are selected to be supervisors. Schools need to make it part of the curriculum. But it’s not just about formal programs. We learn a whole lot from observation, so leaders at all levels must model the appropriate behavior.
Morris: Now please focus on The Leadership Challenge. How does the fourth edition differ from those that preceded it?
Kouzes: The primary difference in the fourth edition is a direct result of the globalization of the economy. Barry and I include many more cases from outside the United States. Today there is nearly universal acceptance of the notion that the world really is “flat” as Thomas Friedman so aptly describes it. The newest edition of The Leadership Challenge reflects this shift.
Morris: For those who have not as yet the book, what are the nature and the extent of the “challenge” to which the title refers?
Kouzes: In essence, it’s “how to get extraordinary things done in organizations.” In fact, when we released the first two editions of The Leadership Challenge that was the book’s subtitle.
From the very beginning every single one of the cases we’ve collected involved change from the status quo. What’s significant about this finding is that we didn’t specifically ask people to tell us about how they dealt with a leadership challenge. Rather, we asked them to tell about their personal best leadership experiences. And when they were writing and talking about their personal bests, challenge was integral part of doing their best.
Morris: Why is credibility “the foundation of leadership”?
Kouzes: Because people will not willingly follow someone in whom they do not believe. For the past twenty-five years we’ve asked over seventy-five thousand people worldwide to select the leader characteristics that “you most look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction you would willingly follow.”
What is most striking and most evident is that only four qualities have continuously received over sixty percent of the votes: honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. Three of these four key characteristics—honest, competent, and inspiring—are synonymous with what communications experts refer to as “source credibility.” Serendipitously, what we discovered in asking people about admired leaders was that what they most want is a person in whom they can believe. Simply put, credibility is the foundation of leadership.
Morris: For those who aspire to lead others, how can they establish such a foundation? And, what can an organization do to support those efforts?
Kouzes: To help answer that question, we asked people “What is credibility behaviorally? How do you know it when you see it?” The common phrases people use to describe behavioral credibility include “Their actions are consistent with their words” and “They put their money where their mouth is.” A judgment of “credible” is handed down when words and deeds are consonant.
This realization leads to a straightforward prescription for leaders and for organizations on how to establish credibility: DWYSYWD. That is, Do What You Say You Will Do. First, leaders and organizations must clarify their values and beliefs. Second, they must put what they say into practice—back up their words by devoting time, attention, energy and resources to the core values they espouse.
Morris: Change initiatives inevitably encounter resistance, often the result of what James O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” What advice do you have with regard to overcoming such resistance?
Kouzes: The more dramatic the change, the stronger the resistance is likely to be. Even when the evidence for change is overwhelming, it doesn’t come quickly or easily. Exemplary leaders meet resistance with persistence. They don’t give up, they don’t quit, and they don’t submit. One need only look to those leaders in history who have fostered positive yet radical change—Mahatma Gandhi, for example—to realize that it takes courage to lead a life of significance. The willingness to suffer and sacrifice for the greater good is a requirement for overcoming the nay-sayers, skeptics, cynics, and others who resist positive change.
Second, people embrace change only when they can see how it benefits them. The best leaders know what motivates their constituents. They understand their constituents’ hopes, dreams, and aspirations. They are able to paint an image of the future in a way that people will say, “I can see myself in that picture.”
Morris: Much has been said and written about “empowerment” in the workplace. Your own thoughts?
Kouzes: Long before empowerment was written into the popular vocabulary, exemplary leaders understood how important it was for their constituents to feel strong, capable, and efficacious. Constituents who feel weak, incompetent, and insignificant are consistent underperformers. They want to flee the organization, and they’re ripe for disenchantment, even revolution.
Feeling powerful—literally feeling “able”—comes from a deep sense of being in control of one’s own life. When people feel able—have both the skill and the will—to determine their own destinies, then they persist in their efforts to achieve. Any leadership practice that increases another’s sense of self-determination, self-confidence, and personal effectiveness makes that person more powerful and greatly enhances the possibility of success.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.