Tag Archives: leadership

4 Factors to Stop Leaders Flirting With Innovation

24 Feb

Flirting image

FutureBook recently asked me to write an article about how to create a culture of disruptive innovation in a fragmenting industry.  In it I outline four crucial factors that leaders must confront if they genuinely want to see innovation breaking out across their organisations.

What other ideas would you add?

Fifty Shades of Innovation


VIDEO: What happened when Sony and Telefonica drank Innovation Juice…

4 May

1 minute overview of a 48-hour innovation leadership programme: http://bit.ly/ILU5FY

Innovation Culture’s 101 Question

8 Dec

One of the most powerful questions that I often ask emerging leaders is:  What is the culture that you need to inherit five years from now? The next question is: So what can you do now to start shaping it?

As a recent Booz & Company survey showed, cultural factors are the biggest inhibitors to successful and sustainable innovation.  And because the incumbent executives are often the authors of the current culture it can be hard for them to make meaningful changes to it.

Emerging leaders, on the other hand, are hungry, ambitious, fired-up initiators who are much more comfortable with change than their superiors.

Leadership teams that truly value innovation as a source of strategic advantage need to swallow hard and allow emerging talent to challenge ways of working that will inhibit tomorrow’s sources of value creation.

So what is the culture that your organization needs to inherit in five years, and what can you do now to shape it?

When Punks Coach Business Innovation

14 Nov

“Your strategy is cr*p.”

That’s the verdict of an unknown but savvy 18-year old punk singer who is coaching a team of Sony’s hottest leaders.

Sitting in a dark and obscure music venue near London, England, it’s not what the team wanted to hear, especially as they are 24 hours away from having to present a live TV show about their coach’s band.

It’s one of many awkward silences, crunch points and reorientations that leadership teams encountered from Sony and Telefonica O2 on a radical innovation leadership programme that we designed and ran for both companies.

Leading in the Age of Disruption plunges leaders into a 48-hour innovation learning experience at the crossroads of the music, entertainment, social media and technology industries.   The programme is built upon best-practice from the fields of innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, organisational development and leadership.


Delegates simultaneously loved and hated the experience.  Thankfully most came out saying it was the best leadership development programme they’d ever been on.  Phew.

So I’m excited that this week we’re formally launching Leading in the Age of Disruption as an official DPA leadership development programme.  For organisations that are serious about building a culture of sustainable innovation, we think we’ve developed something well worth a look.

For more information download the launch press release and tell me what you think.

What Everyone In Your Team Needs…But Will Never Tell You

14 Oct

Research shows that there are three crucial things that a parent must do to build self-esteem in their children:

1. Maintain eye contact during conversation

2. Give appropriate physical contact

3. Spend regular, quality 1-1 time with an emphasis on listening

Together these communicate to a child that he or she is valued.

Feeling valued is a deep human need that people inevitably bring into the workplace. When leaders fail to acknowledge it, levels of engagement and performance suffer.

So how do you demonstrate to your team that you value them?

Everyone is different but most people are motivated by an authentic encounter with an authority figure who gives them focused attention.

How could you do more of this in your relationships – both inside and outside of work?

C-Suite Show-and-Tell

4 Oct

Visualising your strategy could unlock wide-ranging benefits, both personally and corporately.

If you ever get to visit Dan Cobb’s Detroit office, look behind you.  Odds are you’ll get offered a seat alongside his desk and end up missing something that I believe should have pride of place inside every organisation.

Cobb is CEO of DBA Worldwide, a 17-Emmy award winning advertising and marketing agency that is headquartered in Detroit and  produced some of the most imaginative thinking I’ve seen in recent years.

When we met we were trading ideas about a piece of innovation consultancy that I was working on with Sony at the time.  As our meeting ended, I turned to leave the office and was stopped in my tracks.

Hanging on his wall, Cobb has a semi-prophetic picture of his life:  it shows his family playing in a park, a city skyline of clients past, present and (hopefully) future, it shows the silhouette of a theme park that he dreams of building one day.  It’s got plenty more but you get the picture (boom boom).  Running along the bottom are the ancient biblical words, “‘I Wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions,’ Proverbs 8:12”.  We’ll come back to that on another post…

First things first

Cobb has deliberately set his vision, values and dreams in front of him in a way that he can’t avoid.  Every day.  The picture is both a motivator and a challenge that that helps guide his strategic decision-making.

What a great tool for leaders who continually face the challenge of being dragged to and fro amidst ever-more disruptive and volatile markets.  Admittedly, Cobb’s picture is largely a personal vision, some of which he has the freedom to accomplish in his own company.  But every organisation could easily create its own ‘vision visualisation’ that is rooted in the value that it exists to create, the stakeholders that it exists to serve, and the difference that it exists to make in the world.

Pass the fluff

If you’re thinking that this sounds like the fluffy indulgence that you might only expect to find in a creative advertising agency, I’d say think again.

The harsh truth is that most employees don’t really know what their organisation does.  That makes the job of connecting people with strategy and values a tough challenge.  Given that around 80% of employees confess to not being fully engaged in their work, companies need every ounce of help that they can muster.

Here’s an idea: What if, when customers, employees, suppliers and partners walked into your corporate reception, they were greeted with a huge Cobbism: a picture of who you are, why you matter and what your aspirations are?  And what if everyone had the freedom to continually challenge you around whether today’s reality was living up to that big picture – but also the responsibility to come up with ideas that help pull tomorrow into today?

Telefonica tiptoed towards something like this recently:  the company had undertaken some major refurbishments in its European HQ and to cover the mess behind a huge, demolished wall, the company produced a giant picture of how their products and services touch every part of daily life inside a fictional town.  It was beautifully done and very compelling, but sadly removed once the work was complete.

Back in Detroit, and Cobb’s business has more than doubled during the economic downturn despite being located in one of the nation’s worst hit locations.  I think that picture probably has a lot to answer for.  Anyone need an artist’s contact details?


The Joy of Screwing Up

30 Sep

Removing fear from failure is one of the fastest ways to accelerate innovation

We all love shortcuts.  Probably the most frequent short-cut question I get asked right now is: “How can we fast-track a culture of innovation in this place?”

That’s a post for another day; but one of the follow up questions I’ll often pose back is, “What’s it like to fail here?”

It’s a great ‘treasure map’ question as it unearths important cultural gems and gives a good indication of the attitude towards innovation at a senior level.

Failure to fail well is one of the biggest blockers to creativity and innovation.

Without failure, you can’t expect much that is truly new to emerge.  In organisations for whom innovation is a genuine strategic priority, idea failure rates of up to 70% are seen as acceptable.  (What’s acceptable inside your organisation?  It’s a great question to ask at the next CEO breakfast.)

As we all know, in most organisations failure is anathema.  You just don’t do it.  If it happens it is ignored, ‘repositioned’ or quietly tucked away in a cupboard on the 17th floor.

But things get very interesting when you have a CEO who genuinely loves failure.  A CEO who cracks up when someone screws up. A CEO who looks for opportunities to boast about failures.

That’s real life inside the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM), one of the world’s most innovative music industry schools.

Beautiful Screw-Ups

At the ACM, people talk about “beautiful screw-ups”.  People who screw-up become the butt of jokes (some of which last for years).  Their failures spread like wildfire around the Academy.  (Sounds horrific doesn’t it?).

But where the ACM differs from other organisations is that people actually enjoy the process, even encourage the process.  They all know that it’s done in jest and that serious lessons have been learned and applied for the future.

How do I know all this? I’ve been the butt of some of their jokes.  OK, a lot of their jokes.  We’ve been partnering with them for a couple of years on an insane innovation leadership experience that we run for brands who really want to push the innovation needle.  (It’s not for the faint-hearted; just ask the leaders from Sony and Telefonica O2 who have braved it so far).

ACM reeks of failure but it doesn’t smell bad, because people don’t see it as a bad thing.  If people know that they aren’t going to get fired for failing they are much more likely to take risks around what they are passionate about.  And if your workforce is fully engaged with strategy, that passion ultimately gets focused on increasing competitive advantage in both incremental and disruptive ways.

Companies that are serious about innovation have to lighten up about failure.  Sure, learning must come from mistakes and parameters have to be in place (a 70% failure rate won’t be appropriate for everyone, and failure through incompetence is not what we are talking about here).

But if you need a shortcut to bigger, bolder ideas for the sake of competitive advantage, decide to start seeing a funnier side to screw-ups.

Enjoy this?  Then try this free ebook: Innovation Playlist: 11 innovation lessons from the video game and music industries


%d bloggers like this: