Not everyone can formulate what Steve Jobs characterizes as “insanely great” ideas but most people can generate good ideas, those worthy of careful consideration. For various reasons, many (most?) of these ideas are rejected…especially if they seem to threaten what James O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead offer a method in this book by which to “save” a good idea from “getting shot down” and the method proposed is itself a good idea in that it is sensible, practical, and one almost anyone can follow. However, as presumably Kotter and Whitehead agree, it is first necessary to develop a mindset that embraces several principles:
• Those who oppose an idea should have the opportunity to explain their objections.
• Their participation in the discussion should be welcomed, and treated with respect.
• Before responding to an objection, reassure them that you understand it. Then offer a response that is direct, relevant, crystal clear, and sensible.
• Over time, win opponents’ minds with logic and evidence and their hearts with respect.
• Maintain frequent and cordial contact with opponents whom you respect; meanwhile, keep an eye on the few attackers who are potentially disruptive.
Note: Those you respect probably view them the same way you do. Retain an “open door” policy but keep in mind the African aphorism: “trust but verify.” Also, that reasonable people can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
Kotter and Whitehead organize their material within two parts. “The Centerville Story” is a business narrative during which a “brave few” defend an idea in a crowd of 75, in a room for several hours.
Note: Kotter co-authored an earlier book, Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions, with Peter Mueller in which eight principles of decision-making under duress are effectively dramatized, in this instance by penguins in a specific setting.
There is also a specific setting in the first part of Buy-In but Kotter and Whitehead acknowledge, “we have found that the attacks shown in the story can be seen anywhere: with back-and-forth emails across continents; then people at lunch or in a classroom; a paper sent to a thousand employees; a series of two or twenty-two meetings; or dueling memos.” They are remarkably effective raconteurs.
In the second part of this book, “The Method,” Kotter and Whitehead become analytical, “showing explicitly what was happening in the story,” They identify four common attack strategies (i.e. fear mongering, delay, confusion, and ridicule of character assassination) and explain their method for avoiding or overcoming the strategies. They also identify and discuss 24 “questions and concerns” that most frequently come into play when ideas or proposals come under attack.
Although Kotter and Whitehead seem to have covered rather thoroughly the “what” of buy-in, their greatest achievement consists of the nature and extent of how brilliantly they explain the “how.” In the Appendix, they review “The Eight Steps to Successful, Large-Scale Change” (Pages 182-184) and I presume to suggest that this material not be read until after re-reading (at least once, preferably twice) what John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead have to say about The Method and the “Twenty-Four Attacks and the Twenty-Four Responses.” Most change initiatives fail and the reasons vary. However, none can succeed without (a) wide and deep buy-in among those in the given enterprise and (b) a shared sense of urgency to achieve the given changes.
Where to begin? Read this book and Kotter’s previous book, A Sense of Urgency.
What’s wrong with getting better? The libraries, archives, and museums are packed with early bloomers and one-trick ponies who said everything they had to say in their first novel, who could only compose one good tune, whose canvases kept repeating the same dogged theme. My respect has always gone to those who are in it for the long haul. (People) abandon their gift through a failure of perspiration.Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
Aim for better! Get better at what you do — and then, keep getting better. It is the never-ending challenge.
What are the most important invisible assets that make up the world of intellectual property (IP)? In this book, Mark Blaxill and Ralph Eckardt include these: trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights, and patents for invention. In the first four chapters of their book, they establish the foundations for thinking about IP: how invisible investments drive economic growth, how intellectual property drives business profits, how to unleash “the company of ideas,” and how to turn complexity into a competitive advantage. Then in the next three chapters, they shift their attention to corporate strategy: why innovation without protection is philanthropy, how to realize the benefits of open innovation, and how to win by design. In the final three chapters, they “zoom out to see how IP is changing the face of economic competition between countries, and [they also] zoom in to see that IP assets are becoming tradable commodities, and that an entirely new asset class is beginning to emerge. More specifically, they explain why “IP nations” are the future of global competition, why the emerging market of IP is “a capital idea,” and how to formulate a strategy and game plan that will achieve an invisible competitive advantage.
The material provided in Section II, “Competitive Strategy for a Company of Ideas” (Chapters 5-7), is of special interest to me. Having explained in Part I why IP strategies require the development of relational advantages in a complex competitive environment, Blaxill and Eckhardt then shift their attention to how strategies of control, collaboration, and simplification “echo the three attributes of a basic network [i.e. nodes, links, and clusters] and comprise a cycle: one where opportunity leads to success, success confronts its limits, and limits create new opportunities.” In Chapter 5, the authors provide a mini-case study of Gillette razors and blades (Pages 127-135), noting that the best intellectual property managers such as those at Gillette “are very protective of their methods for managing the IP process.”
I agree with Blaxill and Eckhardt that, for companies that invest heavily in innovation, “the effective management of the modern-day version of Edison’s original innovation factory has become one of the few management tasks that can actually contribute to competitive advantage.” They also briefly but insightfully discuss the portfolio of IP formats that includes trade secrets, trademarks and brands, design patents, and utility patents. With regard to the core principle of collaboration, Blaxill and Eckhardt devote Chapter 6 to explaining the its three main benefits: (1) delivering complex solutions to the market more expeditiously and more efficiently, (2) getting to market with complementary patents in strategic alliance (i.e. partnership) with dozens of patent-hold companies (e.g. in a patent pool), and (3) energizing and tapping external innovation (i.e. forces outside the company) that presents a multiple of solutions for each of the given problem(s). They cite the example of Linux that shows “how mass collaborations have emerged as a powerful and viable new form of open innovation even if they are often misrepresented as a form of utopian socialism in action.”
Near the conclusion of Section II (Page 224), this passage caught my eye: “Although open-source models like Linux are themselves a form of disruption technology, disruptive technologists often go the opposite direction of openness. Instead, they frequently reject componentization as they introduce new, and highly integral, designs. Most notably, they often reject convertibility over time (or backward compatibility), a feature that makes them highly threatening to entrenched businesses with large installed bases of users (and related service businesses), since they can throw entire categories of business out of the market.” The stakes in market competition are indeed high, thus increasing both the value of relevant intellectual property and the need to protect it as well as leverage it strategically.
This book is by no means an “easy read.” In fact, I had to re-read it with even greater care before beginning to organize my thoughts about what to say in this review. I think the information, insights, and advice provided by Mark Blaxill and Ralph Eckhardt will be invaluable to decision-makers who are either planning to or who have only recently begun to take their strategy to the next level using intellectual property. Many of those who have read the first nine chapters may ask, “Now what?”
They will be pleased to find in the last chapter that that Mark Blaxill and Ralph Eckhardt respond directly to that question. After briefly and clearly reviewing the “what” of leveraging intellectual property, they devote most of their attention to explaining the “how.” For example, they suggest seven items for an action agenda that will avoid unintentional philanthropy (Pages 296-298); soon thereafter, they suggest that decision-makers consider seven action ideas to avoid “overplaying their hands and getting trapped in games of mutually assured destruction” (Pages 300-302); and then decision-makers are thinking about how a company can compete by using simplification strategies, they suggest another set of seven actions (Pages 304-306). Once again as throughout the narrative that precedes this material, the content is rock-solid, the core concepts are developed in depth, and the advice is eminently practical.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Andrew O’Connell for the Harvard Business Review blog. 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.
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If you’re a caring and empathic guy, but you’ve noticed that you’re a lot more likely to come home from work with a headache than a promotion, chances are you’ve been banging into a glass ceiling — the same glass ceiling that stops women from rising to the C suite.
A team led by Mark C. Frame of Middle Tennessee State University finds that the higher you go on the corporate ladder, the more you’re among people who put a lot of stock in assertiveness and independence — what psychologists call “agentic” qualities — rather than on such things as caring about others’ feelings.
Get near the top, and people are all about action. Tasks. Results. That, according to Frame and his colleagues, lends “support to the idea that success and upward mobility in corporate environments may require more task-focused behaviors” and fewer behaviors displaying what are known as “communal” qualities.
The findings, based on attitudes data from more than 14,000 people, apply to both men and women. Thus, “it could be that the glass ceiling has more to do with communal versus agentic behaviors than it does with gender,” the researchers say.
In other words, the glass ceiling may be about how you roll, not what sex you are. It may block anyone who places great importance on selflessness or concern for others. Kinda scary, when you think about it.
If you’re a sensitive guy, you’ve probably sensed the presence of this barrier all along. You might even have heard once or twice that you’re “too nice to get promoted.” Yet you know you’d be a better boss than those task-oriented managers, many of whom have zero people skills.
Is there a way to break through? Frame has been looking at this question in the context of female employees, because women tend to be more communal oriented. So far, he hasn’t found a definitive answer. But he has some thoughts, and they apply to communal-oriented men as well.
“The answer likely has something to do with learning how to play roles within the organization,” he says. “I suspect that the key to being a communal-oriented manager is to be able to bring out your agentic styles when needed.”
If it’s stressful to play up the task-oriented side of your personality while submerging the caring side, you can look beyond the workplace for relief: “Having a social or familial network in which to express communal styles outside of work may be helpful for men who wish to succeed by being more agentic but maintain their inner communal qualities,” Frame says.
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Andrew O’Connell is an editor with the Harvard Business Review Group.