How to see the world “as it really is, without perceptual filters that manipulate motivation, decisions, and behavior”
Throughout human history, the greatest leaders have been both smart and wise. According to Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou, business leaders tend to see reality through filters that, “for ease of identification,” are in either the red zone or the blue zone. “To actually see the world as it is, not as we are used to seeing it, we first need to become aware of and then set aside our perceptual filters.” That is very, very difficult. As I read the discussion of the two zones throughout the narrative, they remind me of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in which shadows dancing on a wall are perceived by those in the cave to be realities rather than distorted fragmentations of them.
Kaipa and Radjou identify and discuss six capabilities that twenty-first century business leaders can use to cultivate wise leadership. The challenge is to evolve from a smart leader (in a blue or red zone) to a wise leader (in what I guess could be called a “green” zone in which the best of blue and of red are combined. Those who complete this process have discovered their noble purpose, acted authentically and appropriately, learned when to lead and when to let others lead, make decisions with discernment, know when (as the Gambler does) “”when to hold `em and when to fold `em,” and cultivates enlightened self-interest.
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Kaipa and Navi Radjou `s coverage:
o Red Zone and Blue Zone: Defining Characteristics and Limitations (Page 6-9 and 118-119)
o The Six Leadership Capabilities (14-16)
o The Path of Wise Leadership (18-20 and 24-27)
o The Wise Leader’s Perspective, and, A Mindful Mind-Set (36-37 and 50-52)
o How Wise Leaders Act (71-77)
o Bridging the Integrity Gap (77-81)
o How Wise Leaders Demonstrate Role Clarity, and, Role Clarity and Becoming a Wise Leader (95-101)
o The Neurobiology and Psychology of Making Decisions (115-124)
o Wise Leaders Display Flexible Fortitude (145-149)
o Smart Leaders and Self-Interest, and, Wise Leaders Are Driven to Help Others (158-164)
o Cultivating Leadership Wisdom Across Social Systems (183-203)
o Wise Leadership in a Complex World (203-205)
Readers will also find what these “Self-Assessments” reveal to be of incalculable value:
o “From Smart to Wise Leadership” (20-24)
o “Finding Your North Star” (46-47)
o “Red Zone” (comparison contrast with blue on 6, 58)
o “Blue Zone (58-59)
o Determining the purpose and meaning of your initiatives (173-175)
Kaipa and Radjou identify several wise leaders in the contemporary business world, including Warren Buffett, Narayana Murphy, Ratan Tata, and Oprah Winfrey, who what “found ways to apply practical wisdom in their businesses and made their companies highly successful.” However, with all due respect to them and other celebrated men and women, Kaipa and Radjou are convinced, as am I, that in almost any organization (whatever its size and nature may be), there are leaders and high-potential prospects for leadership who can also master the six capabilities during a rigorous process of personal growth as well as professional development.
In my view, this book poses two separate but related, indeed interdependent challenges: To become a wise leader and, meanwhile, do everything possible to help others to do so, “to find their authentic selves, creating a [community] of wise leadership to help unleash collective wisdom for the greater good.” I congratulate Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou on a brilliant achievement. Bravo!
Cutting edge thinking and practical advice on how to follow a path less traveled to breakthrough creativity
After introducing eight “powerful, surprisingly simple” steps to creativity, Keith Sawyer observes, “Exceptional creators often zig zag through all eight steps, in varying order, every day. That’s part of the secret. because the steps work together to generate successful creativity. Each step feeds the other seven.” I presume to add, each step can also activate the other seven. Long ago, thanks to a Dudley Crafts Watson Scholarship Fund for public school students in Chicago, I was able to take classes at the Art Institute while in grades 5-12. Guest artists and art historians favored different creative approaches and suggested different steps in the process but all agreed that it is seldom (if ever) linear, and, as Sawyer affirms, is proactive rather than reactive.
Paradoxically, insights cannot be forced but seem to appear most frequently within an environment that will welcome them and nourish them. Matisse was once asked of he painted all the time. “Oh no, but when my muse visits me, I better have a brush in my hand.” I think it was Baudelaire who, when asked “How to write a poem?”, replied this way after a lengthy pause to reflect. “Draw a birdcage and leave the door open. Then you must wait. Perhaps for hours and even days. Then, if you’re blessed, a bird will fly in. Erase the cage.”
Few are comparable with Matisse and Baudelaire in terms of creative genius but Sawyer insists that almost anyone can think, indeed live much more creativity. No one will ever complete each of the eight steps. The process of continuous improvement in each of the separate but interdependent domains is best viewed as a process, not as a destination. It is worth noting that Picasso struggled throughout his adult life to regain a childlike perception of reality. He was 91 when he died.
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Sawyer’s coverage:
o Mistakes We Should All Avoid (Pages 10-12)
o Find the [Right] Question, (26-36)
o Practice Deliberately (53-61)
o Use Fresh Eyes (78-88)
o Find the Right Box (116-125)
o Ideate (132-141)
o Force Fuse, and, Make Analogies (157- 167)
o Know What You’re Looking For, and, Edit, Revise, and Improve (179-185 and 189-191)
o Draw It, Build It, and Reflect on It (201-205, 207-209, and 211-213)
Before concluding his lively as well as eloquent narrative, Keith Sawyer observes, “Creativity is not a moment in time; it’s a way of life. Live the creative life. Don’t worry about having ideas; when you follow the eight steps, the ideas will come to you. And the more ideas you have, the more likely you are to come upon one that’s brilliant. So brilliant, it will look, to everyone else, like it cam in a flash. With a leap of insight. By magic. You’ll know better.”
I hope this book helps you to generate a blizzard of ideas, and, that at least a few of them are brilliant. In that event, don’t worry about protecting them. Keep Howard Aiken’s observation in mind: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
How to strengthen engagement, empowerment, and execution, then leverage them for a decisive competitive advantage
In recent years, we have observed a tsunami of books, articles, and events that focus on employee engagement. Much of the content they provide and they discuss is based on research by highly reputable firms. In Flat Army, Dan Pontefract cites an article in the Gallup Business Journal that characterizes an engaged employee as someone who will “work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.”
In my review of The Enemy of Engagement, I suggest that what sets this book apart from other recently published books on the problems of employee engagement and how to solve them is Mark Royal and Tom Agnew’s focus on employees who were once actively and productively engaged and have either become passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged and, in some instances, perhaps even hostile and toxic. During exit interviews of highly-valued employees before they depart to work elsewhere, they express frustration with working conditions (especially those who supervise them) that prevent them from personal growth and/or professional development.
Dan Pontefract shares my high regard for The Enemy of Engagement, quoting this passage:
“Though frameworks for understanding engagement vary, the concept is commonly understood to capture levels of commitment and discretionary effort exhibited by employees. Engaged employees can be expected to display high levels of attachment to an organization and a strong desire to remain a part of it. Consequently, engaged employees are more likely to be willing to go above and beyond the formal requirements of the job, contribute organizational citizenship behaviors, pour extra effort into their work, and deliver superior performance.” Well-said.
As explained in detail Chapter Three, the “flat army” to which the title of Pontefract’s book refers to a shared philosophy. It is a combination of Connected Leader Attributes or CLA (e.g. 15 behaviors) and the Participative Leader Framework or PLF (e.g. four characteristics and two key actions) with the Collaborative Leader Action Model or CLAM (e.g. 6-step process to connect, consider, communicate, create, confirm, and congratulate). If I understand Pontefract’s nomenclature, the word “army” could also be “community” or “tribe” as in Seth Godin’s concept. Those who comprise this “army” are “at war” with whatever and whomever threaten positive and productive engagement at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Here’s Pontefract’s definition of engagement: The state in which there is reciprocal trust between the employee and leadership to do what’s right however, whenever, wherever and with whomever.”
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Pontefract’s coverage:
o The Organization vs. Life Itself (Pages 18-20)
o The Connected leader Chasm, and Fakling into the Chasm (50-54)
o The Connected Leader Attributes (61-61)
o The Participative Leader Framework (63-69)
o The Collaborative Leader Action Model (69-70)
o Trusting (74-77) and Empathizing (79-82)
o Cooperating (101-105)
o Measuring (116-119)
o The Untutored Eye (132-134)
o Putting It All Together (145-152)
o Hierarchy Is Not Anarchy (158-160)
o When to CLAM and When Not to CLAM (178-181)
o Does Organizational Learning Matter? (190-192)
o Formal Learning, and, Informal Learning (196-303)
o Collaboration Technologies (215-221)
o Context (227-233)
Note: Pontefract draws a brilliant analogy between context and an MRI. He observes, “Context gives meaning; it shines on your leadership style and your leadership interactions.”
o Flat Army Philosophy (263-266)
Note: In essence, “Flat Army in its simplest form refers to the point at which all employees act as a unified corporate organism through the use of clear and succinct goals…It is no longer a culture of ‘command and control,’ but rather one of ‘engage and empoeer’ com bin ed with effective execution.”
To repeat, it is imperative to have leadership at all levels in all areas of the given enterprise. More specifically, Dan Pontefract suggests, those leaders must be transformational and transactional, collaborative and considerate, daring and decisive, inclusive and insistent, playful and formal, harmonious, and humble, encouraging and results-driven. In a word, Flat.
“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker
Those who have read any of Seth Kahan’s previous books (notably Getting Change Right) already know that he has an insatiable curiosity to understand what works in business, what doesn’t, and why so that he can then share what he has learned with as many people as possible. He is a world-class pragmatist and that is obvious in his latest book in which he explains “how leaders leverage inflection points to drive success.” The former chairman and CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, was probably the first person to popularize the term in his book, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company (1996), although it was by then familiar to students of differential calculus. During a presentation at an Intel annual meeting in 1998, Grove explains what he means by strategic inflection points.
“They represent, in my description of it, what happens to a business when a major change takes place in its competitive environment. A major change due to introduction of new technologies. A major change due to the introduction of a different regulatory environment. The major change can be simply a change in the customers’ values, a change in what customers prefer. Almost always it hits the corporation in such a way that those of us in senior management are among the last ones to notice. I’m paraphrasing the words you used in some of your talk, Peter. But what is common to all of them and what is key is that they require a fundamental change in business strategy, and that’s almost a definition of a Strategic Inflection Point. A Strategic Inflection Point is that which causes you to make a fundamental change in business strategy. Nothing less is sufficient.’
I think Getting Innovation Right is Kahan’s most valuable and thus will become his most influential book…thus far. The information, insights, and counsel he provides in it are relevant to almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Moreover, his pragmatic approach to core issues ensures that most of his focus is on what to do and how to do it. For example, consider his brilliant use of reader-friendly devices that include illustrative Figures (23 of them) and data composite Tables (four of them) as well as “Expert Input” contributions in each chapter by real executives in real situations and a “Success Rules” recap at the conclusion of Chapters 1-7.
Kahan realizes that many (if not most) effirts to crerate a workplace environment within which innovation thrives either fail ort fall far short of original expectations. Why? Reasons vary, of course, but Kahan suggests three likely causes: operational pressures, stress of continuous improvement, and changing dynamics within the given industry and/or competitive marketplace. What he offers is a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective system that — with appropriate modifications, of course — by which business leaders can leverage the inflection points to expand the given customer base. When explaining HOW, Kahan focuses on five factors: (1) Current customer satisfaction, (2) Their desire for whatever is offered, (3) The current reputation of its provider, (4) A value proposition that is both (key descriptives) deliverable and sustainable, and (5) Effective outreach.
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Kahan’s ‘s coverage.
o Four Targets for Innovation Strategy (Pages 7-14)
o Using Inflection Points to Achieve Success (22-31)
o The Three Forces That Jeopardize Innovation (37-44)
o The Three Areas of Focus for Intelligence (66-71)
o Figure 3.1: The Ten Stages of the Customer Journey (78-79)
o Four Techniques for Shifting Perspective (98-106)
o The Four Forces of Disruption (110-114)
o Value Assessments (140-144)
o The Innovation Profit Cycle, The Facets of Value, and The Three Types of Added Value (151-158)
o Creating New Value (175-181)
o The Four Thresholds of Engagement (185-198)
o Build Presence Through Value Pulses (210-217)
Also, these resources:
Appendix A: Sample Business Intelligence Contract (219-222)
Appendix B: High-Level Outline of a Typical Business Plan (223-224)
Appendix C: Simplified Business Plan Financial Model (225-226)
Seth Kahan certainly achieves his ultimate objective: To introduce and explain seven key activities that will help prepare leaders in almost any organization to leverage inflection points to drive its success. By way of review, the activities are (1) pursue inflection points, (2) build innovation capacity, (3) collect intelligence, (4) shift perspective from status quo to what can and should be better, (5) exploit opportunities generated by disruption, (6) create value for all stakeholders, and (7) drive innovation uptake.
With all due respect to the wealth of information, insights, and counsel provided in this book, however, it remains for each reader to determine (a) which of the material is most relevant to the given enterprise and then (b) make a full and shared commitment with colleagues to formulate, implement, and continuously improve a results-driven, high-impact action plan. When embarked on that journey, I hope that will keep Drucker’s observation in mind: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
How to avoid or overcome “the incumbent’s curse” to achieve market dominance
By nature, books about innovation should contribute something new and/or something better to our understanding of what innovation is and isn’t as well as how to develop a mindset and skills that will enable us to (yes) contribute something new and/or something better. Gerard Tellis makes such a contribution as he explains how to build and then sustain a culture for market dominance. As Vijay Govindarajan suggests in the Foreword, “I like the central argument in this book: success breeds complacency, lethargy, or arrogance – in short, a culture that embraces the status quo instead of the future abhors risk and protects current successful products.”
This is what Tellis characterizes as “the incumbent’s curse”: Becoming successful hampers continued innovation and hinders continued leadership. He identifies three defining traits: “First, incumbents fear cannibalizing their current successful products…Second, incumbents are risk averse…Third, incumbents focus too much on the present” and probably the past. Hence a paradox: To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith, whatever got an organization to its current success (however defined) will not only be able to sustain that success; worse yet, it will almost certainly eliminate that success in weeks and months (probably not years) to come.
Simply stated, “unrelenting innovation” is constant effort to make something new and/or make something better.” Odd are that, more often than not, innovation will not be the result. The process “fails” only when it does not continue. Every so-called “failure” is in fact a precious learning opportunity. I agree with Tellis that a culture within which innovation thrives must have defining characteristics that include the three he identifies: a willingness to “cannibalize” incumbent products and/or services, embracing risk, and a focus on the future. Organizations that aspire to establish and nourish such a culture must (a) provide appropriate incentives (i.e. strong for successful innovation but weak penalties for anything less), (b) establish internal competitive markets, and (c) empower innovation “champions” who not only create but also develop (with others) whatever is new or better.
These are among the dozens of passages I found to be of greatest interest and value, also listed to suggest the range of subjects covered during the course of the book’s narrative:
o Why Incumbents Fail to Innovate Unrelentingly (Pages 3-17)
o Understanding Technological Evolution (33-37)
o The Reflection, Hot-Stove, and The Expectation Effects (63-69)
o Availability Bias (114-121)
o Incentives for Enterprise (143-155)
o Four Characteristics of Markets (181-192)
o Four Characteristics of “Champions” (208-210)
o Steps in Empowering Champions (235-236)
o Micro Theories (238-250)
o Macro Theories (250-260)
With rare exception, the best business books are driven by research and that is certainly true of this one. Check out the list of major studies Tellis co0nsulted on Pages 17-19, the additional details in Chapter 8, his Notes (263-288), and his Bibliography (289-306. Exemplar innovation cultures include IBM, Samsung, P&G, and General Motors. However different they may be in most respects, all of them demonstrate highly developed communication, cooperation, and most important of all, collaboration. This book is also a major collaborative effort, as Tellis gratefully acknowledges on Page 307.
No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope of material that Gerald Tellis provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how to build and then nourish a culture for market dominance, an achievement that would be of substantial benefit to his readers’ professional development as well as to the success of their organization.
Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out as well as Josh Lerner’s The Architecture of Innovation: The Economics of Creative Organizations as well as Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere co-authored by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble with Indra K. Nooyi and The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge co-authored by Govindarajan and Trimble; also, Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation and two co-authored by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman: The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm and The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization.
As principal of Chris Grivas Consulting, a global consultancy headquartered in Seattle, Chris Grivas focuses on increasing the creative capacity of individuals, teams, and organizations. An organizational and leadership development professional, he customizes approaches to development for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. As an executive coach, Chris helps his clients identify issues and strategies to optimize their performance in immediate situations and over the long term. Chris helps teams come together, solve problems, and position themselves for future success. On an organizational level, he consults with leaders on how to intentionally design their organizational culture to produce the results and behaviors they desire.
Chris has designed and delivered courses in creative process for corporate, academic, and non-profit settings, as well as facilitated strategic vision and strategic planning sessions, new product development, process improvement, team building and executive coaching for numerous organizations worldwide. He has taught and lectured at the University of Washington, Northwestern University, New York University’s Stern School of Business, and presented at numerous industry conferences.
Gerard Puccio, Ph.D., Department Chair and Professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State; a unique academic department that offers the world’s only master of science degree in creativity. Gerard has written more than 40 articles, chapters and books. One book, co-authored with his colleagues Mary Murdock and Marie Mance, is titled Creative Leadership: Skills that Drive Change. In recognition of his outstanding work as a scholar, Gerard received the State University of New York Chancellor’s Recognition Award for Research Excellence and the President’s Medal for Scholarship and Creativity. He is the co-author with Chris of The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results, published by Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012).
Here is an excerpt from my interview of Chris and Gerard. To read the complete interview, please click here.
To read my review of The Innovative Team, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Innovative Team, a few general questions. First, years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Grivas: After completing
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Chinmy Bachelor’s degree in Humanities, I knew I wanted to go graduate school and was exploring different avenues. At the time I was working in a very repetitive high-tech operational job working mainly with folks whose academic careers concluded with high school diplomas. They worked weekends for the overtime pay. The work itself held no interest for them. One man said that he had worked so many weekends he barely knew his high-school aged son. This got me thinking about why people would choose this lifestyle and what would inspire them to find something more fulfilling. While talking it over with professors, friends, and family, someone finally said, “I think it’s about their creativity. If they would think creatively, they would see more possibilities and options than they do now.”
That was it. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to learn how to help people understand and use their creativity to improve their lives and their organizations. That led to a Master of Science in Creativity and Innovation from Buffalo State College and a career in organizational development.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Puccio: I would not be in the field of creativity studies if it were not for an experience I had in community college. I had transferred to Jamestown Community College in New York State principally to join the wrestling team. What I did not expect was that I would fall in love with the topics of creativity and leadership. I took my first formal course in creativity studies at JCC. This was a major turning point in my life. In this course I learned how to better utilize my creative thinking and as a result I became a better problem solver, a more confident person, and expanded my leadership potential. Ever since that early experience I have been dedicated to helping others transform themselves by tapping into their own creative potential.
Grivas: The program at Buffalo State introduced me to research concepts, a variety of theories about creativity, aspects of psychology, sociology, facilitation and educational frameworks and techniques, as well as introducing me to a wonderful community of people with the same mission – to improve people’s lives by enriching their creativity. Moving from that community into the larger world of organizational development, I was able to bring to organizations a fairly unique perspective on doing the work of OD.
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Grivas: This is a great quote that encapsulates much of the recent thinking on leadership and organizational change. When people own the change, it is exponentially more likely to succeed. It’s the leader’s job to know his or her people well, understand how they think, and then create the conditions for these particular individuals to excel. One of the goals of The Innovative Team was to provide an example of such a leader in story form so people can visualize how this idea can work in practice.
Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Puccio: Reflected in this quote is one of the main principles of our book. That is, how to understand your own creativity and how to leverage this awareness for personal and professional success. People often undermine their own creativity by looking around and comparing themselves to others. Making conclusions like, “I’m not Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, William Shakespeare, Meryl Streep, Georgia O’Keefe, etc. One of the main aims of our book is to democratize creativity, i.e., to help the reader recognize that there are many forms of creativity and that all of us can engage in the creative thinking process. All humans can think creatively, but we don’t necessarily think in the same way. This can be thought of as another kind of diversity, the kind of diversity that lies below the skin – a psychological diversity. Awareness of this helps people to better accept how they will create, and therefore reduce self-judgment, and will also develop appreciation for others who are different. The four styles of creativity that we discuss in the book are Clarifiers, Ideators, Developers and Implementers. All play an important role in the creativity process. The goal is to understand yourself and to learn how to play better with others.
Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?
Puccio: One of the subplots in our book is how the new manager engages in a creative leadership style that as a result taps into the latent potential of the work group. By creative leadership we mean a person who applies his or her imagination to guide a group towards a novel and meaningful goal – a breakthrough. The world has become more complex and as such a single individual working alone cannot solve these wicked problems. In light of this, much of the current literature and research on leadership clearly shows that leaders, when faced with complex problems, must be effective at drawing ideas out of others. I’ll give you an example. I run an experiment in my graduate courses and corporate training programs in which I put participants in three different teams. Each team selects a leader and then I assign leadership role to that leader. I tell the groups that are conducting an experiment to examine how leadership style influences decision-making. The leadership styles assigned are autocratic, democratic and creative. I define the behaviors associated with these three leadership styles and then I give the groups a case, fraught with ambiguity, and then a series of 15 multiple choice questions about the case. More than 90% of the time, the autocratic groups reach their conclusions the fastest but have most incorrect answers. The groups working under the creative leader, someone who guides the group, almost always takes the longest to reach their decisions, but almost always has the highest number of correct answers (and the democratic groups general fall in between these two extremes). I think this experiential exercise highlights the essence of your quote. It is this kind of leadership that is modeled in our book.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
To read my review of The Innovative Team, please click here.
Chris and Gerard cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:
Why and how the most valuable organizational learning occurs: through teams
Amy Edmondson characterizes “teaming” as “teamwork on the fly.” It could also be termed “informal collaboration on steroids.” Whatever, the fact remains that human beings have been exchanging information at least since the discovery of caves as shelters. Edmondson observes, “Though teaming refers to a dynamic activity rather than to a traditional, bounded group structure, many of its purposes and benefits are grounded in basic principles of teams and teamwork. Among the benefits of teams is their ability to integrate diverse expertise as needed to accomplish many important tasks.” In what Peter Senge characterizes as the “total learning organization,” everyone is both a teacher and a student, depending on the given information exchange. The extent to which teaming is spontaneous is determined by the extent to which it is allowed to be. Of course, the same is true of innovative thinking.
Edmonson explains how to achieve major strategic objectives, such as these discussed in the first chapter:
o Formulating a new way of thinking about new ways to team (viewed as a verb)
o Organizing to execute
o Learning to team and teaming to learn
o Establishing the process knowledge spectrum
o Formulating new ways of thinking about new ways to lead
Edmonson’s approach in each of the eight chapters is to identify, briefly, the “what” of some dimension or component of teaming and then devote most of her (and her reader’s) attention to “how” to make it happen. She also makes skillful use of two reader-friendly devices at the conclusion of each chapter: “Leadership Summary” and “Lessons and Actions.” They serve two separate but immensely important purposes: they highlight key points and essential execution issues, and, they facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review later.
I also appreciate the fact that Edmondson inserts several dozen Tables (e.g. 6.1: “Common Boundaries That Impede Teaming and Organizational Learning,” on Page 202) and Exhibits (e.g. 4.2: “The Benefits of Psychological Safety,” Page 126) that provide essential supplementary information. Moreover, she makes excellent use of checklists of key points or sequences of action steps, also inserted throughout her lively and eloquent narrative. The ones that caught my eye include:
o Obstacles to effective teaming (Pages 61-66)
o Steps for developing and reinforcing a learning frame (Pages 104-107)
o Developing a learning approach to failure (Pages 168-170)
o Using the process knowledge spectrum (Pages 229-234)
A brief commentary such as this can only begin to suggest the scope and depth of Edmondson’s rigorous and substantive examination of how organizations, learn, innovate, and compete in the knowledge economy. As I worked my way through the book, I was reminded of relevant passages in two other books I have read recently. First, from Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, co-authored with Brooke Manville. They offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.”
And now, a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not `[begin italics] Should [end italics] we make mistakes?’ but rather `[begin italics] Which [end italics] mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?’”
As Amy Edmondson, explains so convincingly, teaming can maximize the quality, impact, and value of both organizational judgment and purposeful mistakes. Bravo!
How to prepare for and then embrace the privilege of being of meaningful service to others
This volume endorses the principles of servant leadership with which Robert K. Greenleaf (1904–1990) is generally associated. Here is a brief excerpt from an essay first published in 1970: “The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
In TouchPoints, Douglas Conant and Mette Norgaard explain how and why great leadership is about servant leadership in human relationships, “about being present in the moment and feeling confident that you can deal with whatever happens in a way that is helpful to others.” Think about it. How many times, on average, during your waking hours do you interact with other people? Each interaction is a “TouchPoint,” one that offers an opportunity to make such contact mutually beneficial. ToughPoints can also involve sources of inspiration, knowledge, and cultural enrichment. To those who aspire to leadership, Conant and Norgaard offer an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that can help them to accelerate their development as leaders with a model that is most appropriate for them.
More specifically, they help their reader to prepare for TouchPoints, create situations in which they can occur, and then when they do, ensure that the shared experience has great value to everyone involved. The approach must be crystal clear, the intentions must be honorable, and the competencies must be applied with humility and gratitude as well as with confidence. As Conant and Norgaard observe when concluding their book, “The beauty of TouchPoints is that they are both approachable and aspirational: every moment is an opportunity to aim for mastery, while achieving mastery will remain an elusive target. That’s because mastery is not a destination – it’s a quest. It is a commitment to developing ever greater clarity and capabilities so that you may become ever more helpful for the moment.”
May your own journey continue from one meaningful TouchPoint to the next.