Innovation: Finding The 3rd Alternative

There are two quotes on innovation that I came across recently that I liked and wanted to share:


The first by David Ben-Gurion:

If an expert says it can’t be done, get another expert. 


The second by Shimon Peres:

When you have two alternatives, the first thing you have to do is to look for the third that you didn’t think about, that doesn’t exist.

Both of these smart thinkers understood that solutions and innovation means breaking previous paradigms and thinking outside the box.

They got it absolutely right! 😉

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

If You Give A Moose A Muffin

So one of my colleagues told me an interesting saying:

If you give a moose a muffin, they will never go away. 


What a funny image and thing to say. 


But I get the idea that if you keep giving freebies and treats to people, they will just keep coming back for more. 


Everyone needs to be taught self-sufficiency to the extent possible. 


These days where everyone is some sort of specialists and “subject matter expert,” there are very few people who are really self-sufficient and can survive on their own. 


Instead, we have a society of people that are mutually dependent (codependent)–and most would starve or freeze to death if they didn’t have someone else supplying the “muffins.”


This all reminds me of a funny story when I was a kid, where a crazy lady friend of my parents came over to their house when my parents were sitting shiva (in mourning after the loss of one of my grandparents).  


This crazy lady actually laid down on their living room couch so the other people coming to pay their respects couldn’t, and then she wouldn’t leave–hint after hint, she just laid there sprawled on their couch. 


Finally, my dad got up from his mourning, fed her some food, and actually gave her some money–literally to leave–which she finally did and not to be mean, but really as a relief to everyone. 


In this case, my dad gave the moose a muffin to go away and it worked, thank G-d. 


But as is with moose’s, I am pretty sure she came back another day for more muffins. 😉


(Source Photo: here with attribution to OpenClipart-Vectors)

So It Really Is A Popularity Contest

So It Really Is A Popularity Contest

Good, Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal finally said it…”likability matters more than ever at work.”

Yes, you also need to know your subject matter and be able to perform like a pro, but just that alone is not enough.

If your a card or a jerk, no one wants to know you.

The old Jewish thinking about being a mensch, first and foremost, still holds true.

“Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others, and have mistakes forgiven.”

Employees also track employees likability on social networks and recruit those who can well represent them and make transformative changes.

What contributes to likability:

1. Be Authentic – an ounce of sincerity is worth more than a boatload of of b.s. — people see right through it.

2. Use Positive Cues – eye contact, smiling naturally, and a warm, varying, and enthusiastic tone make you approachable and believable.

3. Show interest in others – selfishness, narcissism, and I, I, I will get you no friends; show genuine interest in the other person–be cognizant of what’s in it for them–give a damn!

4. Listen – 2 ears, 1 mouth; close the mouth and listen to the other person–don’t just hear them, understand them, empathize, feel something!

5. Find common ground – look for shared interests or commonalities; we can all relate to others with whom we can identify.

Short and sweet, treat others as you would want to be treated (Golden Rule) and it doesn’t pay to be a ass! 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Genius Consultants–Yes or No?

Genius Consultants--Yes or No?

A lot of people think that the McKinsey’s of this world are the business geniuses.

You hire McKinsey, Bain, or The Boston Consulting Group when you need to address big organizational problems–frequently those that involve broad reorganizations, massive cutbacks, reformulation of strategy, and culture makeovers.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek in a book review of The Firm, the notion is that these consulting big boys come in to “teach you how to do whatever you do better than you do it–and certainly better than your competition does it.”

The question is can consultants really do it better than those who do it everyday, or perhaps an objective 3rd party is exactly what is needed to break broken paradigms and set things straight.

These global consultants are usually generalists–who specialize in “rational thinking and blunt talk.”

It’s like going to an organizational shrink to have someone listen to your crazy sh*t and tell it back to you the way it out to be–and then guide you with some behavioral interventions (i.e. the recommendations).

What’s interesting also is that these consulting firms hire the “A” kids right out of school–so they are inexperienced, but bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready with their idealistic thinking to tell you how things ought to be done–the question is do they have enough fundamentals under their belts and genuine solid thinking in a real setting to make sense to your business.

Probably the best thing is that these graduates can think out of the box and for an organization that needs to make a leap forward, these newbies can cut through the clutter and give your organizational a fresh start.

One of the problems pointed out is that with these consultant companies, it’s heads they win and tails you lose–if their ideas pan out, it’s to their credit–and if it doesn’t, well you implemented poorly.

Basically consultants are not magicians, but they do listen to your organizations tales of woes, put the pieces together, and tell you what you told them…many times, it’s basically validation of what people already know–but now it’s coming from “the experts”–so it must be true.

Another problem of course is whether their recommendations become more shelfware, collecting dust, or whether the organization can actually make the difficult choices and changes…or perhaps, there is another consulting firm that assists with that? 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

When The Solution Is Worse Than The Problem

When The Solution Is Worse Than The Problem

Not to be crude, but we had some clogged plumbing over the weekend.

We tried everything to get it working again–plunger, snake, and even some septic tank treatment.

Nothing seemed to work, so at one point, my wife looked up on the Internet what to do, and it said to unwind a hanger and try that.

Well this turned out to be a huge mistake and I must’ve gotten too close to the chemical fumes–my eyes were burning.

I ended up in the ER with my eyes being flushed for close to 2 hours.

Afterwards, being very supportive and sitting with me in the hospital with my eyeballs hooked to suction cups and saline solution, my wife says to me, “This is a case when the solution (i.e. the results of our trying to fix the plumbing ourselves) is worse then the problem (the clog).”

I thought to myself boy was she right, and while it is good to be self-sufficient and try to fix and improve things ourselves, it is also good to know when to leave it to the experts.

How many times do we foolishly try to do something where “we are out of our league,” and actually can end up doing more harm then good.

In this case, I could have seriously damaged my eyes–permanently–and am so grateful to G-d that everything turned out okay.

Knowing our limits and accurately assessing risks can help us to know when to proceed ourselves and when to ask for some expert assistance.

It’s good do things for yourself and to try your best, but also value and know when to leverage other people’s strengths.

With my eyes irritated and burning and being flushed out for what seemed like an eternity, I had some serious time to ponder what can happen when things go wrong.

Years ago, I learned to “Hope (and pray) for the best, but prepare for the worst,” and I want to continue to work and improve on both these. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Leadership Lessons In a Pie

There is an interesting exercise that examines and trains leaders on strengths and weaknesses.

In the exercise, there are 8 primary skills written on the floor in a pie shape taped off into slices.

People are instructed to step into the slice where they think they are the strongest.

For example, some stepped into slices labeled visionaries, others into change catalysts, team building, or communication, and so on.

Then the group of people from each slice takes a turn and explains to everyone else how to become good at that particular skill, where they are the experts.

Then the exercise is reversed and the participants are asked to find and step into the slice that is the most challenging for them.

In this second part, the group of people in each slice then explain to the rest of the participants what makes that skill in their slice so challenging for them.

This is a thought-provoking and helpful leadership exercise that gives people an opportunity to examine and discuss their strengths and weakness and learn from each other.

While I wouldn’t say that they all slices had the same number of people–they didn’t, some had more and some less–each slice did some people to represent that skill.

Some thoughts on this pie exercise:

– By having to choose only one key strength (i.e. only one slice to stand in), it is humbling to realize all the other skills where you aren’t as strong, but seeing other people in spread across those slices too–let’s you know that it is possible.

– Also, by having to identify your most challenging leadership skill, the one where you need to focus the most attention on, it is comforting to see other people in the same slice–you are not alone.

– Seeing and hearing about the multiple leadership areas for people–both strengths and weaknesses–points to the importance of diversity of people and skills in the workplace–everyone can do something, but no one can do everything perfect.

– It is healthy to take a self-accounting of your strengths and weaknesses and learn where you can help others and where you can learn from others–thus, teamwork in leadership is just as critical as what is expected in the proverbial “rank and file.”

– Leadership skills are generally not something that you are born mastering–although some are labeled “born leaders” (or maybe “born with a silver spoon in their mouth” in more appropriate)–the vast majority of people learn and grow their leadership skills over a lifetime–and that is a good thing, so stick with it! 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Bringing The Marriage Back Into Our Jobs

Federal Times (11 Sept 2011) reported on a human capital study done by the Partnership for Public Service (PPS) and Deloitte that found that “after the three-year [employment] mark, employee’ satisfaction scores plummets” from 77.2 the first year to 66.2 after the third year.

Tim McManus, the VP for PPS underscored the significance of employee dissatisfaction on productivity and retention, when he stated that “it’s more than just the end of the honeymoon period; your marriage is on the rocks.”

For sometime now, we have been hearing about the high frequency of job changing for Gen Xers and Yers; this week, I actually heard of someone who had changed jobs literally 50 times before the age of 30!

Certainly, I would imagine that living in a high-tech, fast-paced culture that we do now, contributes to the number and rate of job changes, where people are looking for lots of responsibility and recognition in short order or they simply move on. There is a notion that life is too short to waste it in an unproductive or unfulfilling job.

Further, the poor economy, where layoffs have become commonplace has likewise contributed to an employment culture where employers and employees no longer feel beholden to each other, and each is looking out for their own best interests rather than their mutual success.

Unfortunately, what is getting lost in this employment picture is the notion of career. To employers, a person has become a human capital asset–kept on-board only as long as they remain more of an asset than a liability. And correspondingly, to many employees a “job is just a job” now-a-days–it is a temporary phenomena for X hours a weeks for “as long as it lasts,” rather than a long-term place for personal and professional growth.

In a class this week, I had the privilege of hearing a terrific career development officer discuss the lifecycle of a job, as follows:

1) Steep Learning Curve — We all go through it…can anyway say, “how do you use the copy machine?”

2) Strong Expertise — This is the point where we are really excelling…we have become subject matter experts and are valued for that expertise.

3) Losing Your Edge — At a certain point, people start to lose interest, performance, or get out of sync with their boss or the organization.

4) Hitting Rock Bottom — If there is no course correction, employees who have “lost their edge” go on to become restless and dissatisfied and risk a precipitous decline.

Picture step 4 as a potential big SPLAT.

Most people start off their careers “bright eyes and bushy tailed,” but at some point, if they are not well-managed, they become discouraged, disillusioned, demoralized and so on.

Obviously, this hurts the organization and the employee–both suffer when the two are out of sync. However, employees may change jobs at any stage in the lifecycle of a job, but the later stages become more painful for boss and employee.

So as leaders, are there things we can do to keep job satisfaction scores high or does the very notion of a lifecycle of a job mean that eventually “all good things must come to an end”?

I think we certainly can do things to make for a longer and more fulfilling job life cycle–training and career opportunities, ethical management, good communication, recognition and rewards, mentoring and coaching, work-life balance, treating people fairly, and more.

At the same time, even in ideal situations, people, organizations, and markets change, and we must change with them. It is important to recognize, when things have changed inside ourselves and our organizations, and when it’s time to make a change outside in the job market. This is healthy when it’s done for the right reasons and when it results in new opportunities to learn, grow, and contribute.

Every situation brings new challenges and opportunities and we need to meet those head-on striving for job satisfaction, working through times of dissatisfaction, and recognizing life cycles are normal and natural–we are all human.

Good luck!