Here is an article written by Michael Schrage and published in Harvard Business Review. To read the complete article, check out all the other resources, sign in or sign up for HBR email alerts, and obtain discount information, please click here.
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Working “out of your comfort zone” is the euphemism; the organizational reality is “working through pain.” Innovation hurts.
Every organization I’ve observed that’s serious about being innovative is filled with people in genuine pain — not just stress or anxiety or deadline pressure, and certainly not discomfort. Pain. This can be the physical strain of consecutive all-nighters to test every meaningful configuration of a website before it goes live, to the emotional pain of subordinating your vision of the innovation to the vicissitudes of customer taste. Ideally, innovators go through pain so their customers and clients won’t have to
The International Association for the Study of Pain Management defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience…” That fairly captures a dominant innovation sensation at world-class innovators. The innovation cultures of Google, Samsung or Steve Jobs’ Apple or Andy Grove’s Intel, for example, make painfully clear that successful innovators have high thresholds for pain. Unpleasant sensory and emotional experiences abound. Yes, there’s also fun and exhilaration. But innovation leadership is less about clichés celebrating creativity, compelling visions or getting the best out of people than successfully helping innovators beat what hurts. Overcoming resistance is not the same as pushing through pain.
That shouldn’t surprise. Confronting pain is integral to most other elite endeavors. World-class athletes and dancers explicitly train for pain even beyond the point of injury. Special Forces operators such as the Navy SEALs are expected to “Embrace the Suck.” Arguably one of the great flaws of formal business and technical education is that inculcating disciplined self-awareness around pain management is neither part of the culture nor the curriculum. But elite innovators, not unlike their athletic counterparts, understand and accept that they will likely hurt themselves and/or their colleagues on the path to innovation excellence. As Joseph Schumpeter of “creative destruction” fame notably observed, “successful innovation requires an act of will, not of intellect.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and the forthcoming HBR Single Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? To check out his other blog posts, please click here.
Here is an article written by Dave Johnson for CBS MoneyWatch, the CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the website’s newsletters, please click here
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(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY If you’re like most folks, you have some sort of “to-do” list at work. And since you’re not an anarchist, you probably assign each task some sort of priority and tackle the workload in order. “Getting Things Done” guru David Allen — someone who it’s fair to say is a master of to-do lists — says that approach sets you up for failure.
At the very least, it’s not the most efficient way to work. According to Allen in the GTD Times, a typical to-do list doesn’t account for the way priorities can shift rapidly through the work day. They also don’t consider human factors, like what time of day you are most productive and the fact that no matter how many “red bangs” you put next to a work item, you probably won’t tackle it at 5 p.m. on a Friday.
Says Allen, “On a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis, there is no algorithm or formula that will last very long or is really worth trying to nail down in some written or coded system.”
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Dave Johnson, who worked for Microsoft from February 2004 to April 2012, has written three dozen books, including the best-selling How to Do Everything with Your Digital Camera, and covered technology for a long list of magazines that include PC World and Wired.
We lived in Beaumont, TX for one year. It was the early 1970s, I was fresh out of college, getting my feet wet in the work world. I was a youth minister, but really preparing for my preaching years. Every week, (sometimes more than once a week), I would drive to a small bookstore. These days, we would call it an “independent bookstore.” It was a Christian bookstore – i.e., books that dealt with faith, and church, and preaching… The woman who owned the bookstore knew her books, and kept up with the new releases. I mean, she knew what was in these books, what they dealt with… I got to know this woman. She was “middle-aged,” and smart. I was young, hungry to learn. She was not a “clerk,” she was a teacher. When I resigned, and readied to leave Beaumont, she was one of the first I told.
I loved that bookstore – and her wise counsel.
I could tell other such stories. I am a serious Nero Wolfe fan. I have every volume of the Rex-Stout-written volumes, and re-read the entire corpus every few years. In Snyder Plaza in University Park, there used to be a Mystery Bookstore. The woman who owned it (at least, I assume she owned it), tried to tell me that the newer Nero Wolfe mysteries, written by Robert Goldlborough with the approval of the Rex Stout estate, were worthy of my time. I did not warm up to them, though I appreciated her recommendations.
But now… as much as I love the customer reviews on Amazon (our blogging colleague Bob Morris has written many, many of them), they do not quite mean as much as those conversations with that Beaumont bookstore owner meant to me.
And now, a few “fulfillment center” workers, and lines of code getting me my Kindle App versions of books, have replaced how many countless book-loving bookstore owners across the country?
Call this a snapshot of the modern economy, and one of the reasons why many jobs are disappearing, and others are “less” than they used to be. In recent weeks, we have learned that “temp workers” are rising rapidly in the overall percentage of jobs. Here’s the current national look, from this article:
Workers at temporary-help service agencies accounted for about one-third of U.S. job gains in June.
And, read this from Andrew Sullivan: Temps Are Here to Stay. It has links to more. Here’s a key paragraph.:
In the early 1980s, employment in the “temporary help services” industry—which covers both temp workers and employees of the firms that supply them—stood in the several hundreds of thousands. Now it’s 2.5 million, a seven-fold increase in less than four decades. By 2020, the BLS foresees more than 440,000 new jobs in the sector. In the meantime, the temp craze has expanded from air-conditioned offices to warehouses and construction sites.
And, I recently posted about Farhad Manjoo’s rather alarming look at the ascendancy of Amazon and its threat on all retail. And I am part of the reason – blame me. It so happens that I like this development. Over the weekend, I ordered: numerous household items, ink for my printer, a book or two for my Kindle App, and did so while never leaving my iPad or my easy chair. In other words, I am helping put people out of a job. I called my take on Manjoo’s article: Amazon’s Secret – Make it Easy; Make it Fast; Make it Insanely Convenient. And that is what Amazon has become for me – easy, fast, convenient. (Oh, and money-saving).
But, here is the thing. In our quest for convenience and speed, and in the successful efforts of so many companies’ innovative techniques in giving us “what we want” (Amazon is clearly #1 in this regard), the outcome is this: it takes fewer and fewer people to provide us what we want. (And, if you have not read, Amazon has invested in some robot company that will replace even more fulfillment center workers).
And, so… temp workers are on the rise; automation is on the rise; retail is threatened. And so I ask again, as I have numerous times on this blog, where will the jobs be?
Robert S. Becker PhD founded Becker Multimedia, simulations and serious games — to enhance job competencies and performance. He advises clients on learning strategy, leads the implementation of instructional technology and produces engaging interactive multimedia content. He also helps propagate organizational mission and vision by applying his expertise in employer branding, customer experience management and internal marketing communications. With regard to involvement with professional associations, he is Education Chair for the Chicago Great Lakes Chapter of the Explorers Club. Also, he holds board positions with Chicago chapters of ASTD and ISPI. He also leads the Serious Games SIGs for IGDA and GDDA.
In another area of professional involvement, Bob is now at work on an online curriculum of continuing medical education (CME) accredited by a prominent school of medicine in Massachusetts, designing blended learning for a logistics company serving the railroad and trucking industries, designing web-based interactive marketing for a German manufacturer, and designing inaugural mobile learning for a widely dispersed retail company. Past engagements have spanned diverse industries from utilities to banking. He earned his BA and MA at New York University and his PhD from the University of Reading in England. Before founding his company, he was a professor of English and funded research scholar. He lives and works in Oak Park, Illinois.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Which person has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? Please explain.
Becker: The Child is father of the Man. My children have had the greatest influence on my personal growth. After my years of questing they helped me realize that I am not the most interesting per- son on the planet. They changed my dream world into a life of devotion.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?
Becker: If professional development evokes gifts in addition to competencies, stature in addition to rank, wisdom and goodness in addition to power, then Sir Rupert Hart-Davis has had the greatest impact on my professional development. He was my friend and mentor.
Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?
Becker: That would be my denial of academic tenure. It coincided the inception of instructional technology, self-paced training, personal computing and online information. I was already fascinated with instructional systems design, so I jumped through this shiny new looking glass.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished thus far in the business world?
Becker: My formal education is both a handicap and a blessing. A handicap because the study of literature and history looks back, whereas business relentlessly scans the horizon. A blessing because my scholarship provided core discipline and resilience, which are much needed in business.
Morris: What do you now know about the business world that you wish you knew when you first went to work full-time?
Becker: I admire the intellect and skills of business people. However their ethics can be patchy. I try to treat myself, my colleagues and clients as professionals, but many business people are unprofessional by choice as well as training. I’m frequently reminded.
Morris: Of all the changes that have occurred in the business world since then, what do you consider to be most significant? Why?
Becker: Digitization of content. It vastly increases the speed and quality of work and enables even ordinary people to achieve a measure of greatness. Digitization unleashes a lot of stupidity too, but a rising tide lifts all boats so we must be patient.
Morris: You and your associates at Becker Multimedia have devised one of the most interesting websites I have yet encountered and I am also very impressed by the blog at which a wealth and diversity of superior content is provided. Please explain the process by which (a) the website was designed and then launched, (b) the specific objectives were set for the blog originally, and (c) the extent to which subsequent modifications have been made.
Becker: Beckermultimedia.com rose from the critical feedback of gifted colleagues in an AIGA Mastermind Group. They looked at my previous website and hated it. So I started over, writing and designing everything myself but with the goal of pleasing tough critics. It worked out pretty well. They gave me a passing grade.
The purpose of the Blended Learner blog has always been the same: to decode my professional attitudes and values. These both inspire and limit my work, often without me realizing it. I try to blog what I believe so that I can understand my work better.
Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a “blended learner”?
Becker: The Blended Learner blog is a kind of oracle. I write the way a Delphic priest would moan or rant in another era: focusing on what I know and believe, being brief, varied and spontaneous, trying to produce truthful insights. The thoughts I bring to the Blended Learner are quickly formed, but they take longer to write because I sweat the expression. Prime examples of Blended Learner style is my five recent posts, Zen and the Art of E-Learning Design followed by the Four Qualities of E-Learning (quality in the sense that Robert Pirsig uses the word). These essays surprised me as I wrote them and that may mean they are good.
Morris: You and I hold in high regard recently published books on business design, notably Roger Martin’s The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, Tim Brown’s Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Tom Lockwood’s Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value, and Roberto Verganti’s Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean.
Here’s my question: How do you explain the recent and increasingly substantial interest in such books and what they discuss?
Becker: Two words: Steve Jobs. Well, let me rephrase that. The design genius of Steve Jobs that is channeled by Apple. For 30 years Steve brought the ineluctable force of design to industry and commerce, and with great success. It’s rare and people want more of that.
Morris: Now I wish to ask several questions that follow no discernible order, I realize, but offer you an opportunity to tee off on some issues worthy of discussion. First, which 2-3 films do you think most effectively dramatize important business lessons?
Becker: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room has important lessons for our time, though we cannot seem to learn them. It shows how talent can be twisted and soiled as it becomes both less vigilant and more compliant and servile.
Morris: Of all the literary works (i.e. epic poems, plays, and novels) that you have read over the years, which 2-3 offer the most valuable insights concerning important business subjects, such as leadership?
Becker: George Moore’s novel The Brook Kerith is an imaginative biography of Jesus Christ. In documenting events up to the failed crucifixion and Christ’s “real life” afterward, Moore traced the phases of modern leadership development in rational, secular and humanist terms.
Morris: The business narrative has become very popular, especially since Spencer Johnson misplaced his cheese. In your opinion, why do so many authors such as Eliyahu Goldratt and Patrick Lencioni rely on storytelling basics (setting, characters, conflict, tension, plot developments, etc.) to share their insights about the business world?
Becker: Myth and metaphor have unrivaled powers to inform and influence people. Joseph Campbell, Mark Johnson and George Lakoff explain how they work. Great stories are carriers of myth and metaphor. We think we are reading for what or how, but we learn from why.
Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, which do you consider to be the most effective [begin italics] communicator [end italics]? Please explain your selection.
Becker: As a leader of empire, an inspiring orator and master of prose narrative, Winston Churchill may be the more effective communicator of all great leaders. I’m a little reluctant to name him because his colonial values are obnoxious, but that doesn’t enter into this question.
Morris: Given the proliferation of social networks, electronic devices, and other multimedia resources, do you think people are communicating more effectively, less effectively, or about the same today than or as they did (let’s say) 7-10 years ago? Please explain.
Becker: Younger people are communicating far more effectively than anybody did a decade ago. At its best their content is richer, more immediate, meaningful and active. Of course there’s a lot of noise or drivel in the ether, but that’s fairly easy to ignore.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Bob cordially invites you to check out the resources at this website: