Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chapter 8: Still Hunting and Gathering

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"Nothing works by itself, just to please you.  You’ve got to make the damn thing work!"
T Edison
Chapter 8
Still Hunting and Gathering


Previous chapters:
Chapter 1: The End
Chapter 2: Ideas Lost
Chapter 3: Who Killed the Sparq?
Chapter 4: Mother of Invention
Chapter 5: If You Don't Mind I'll Have Your Watch Please
Chapter 6: I Wouldn't Have Started from Here
Chapter 7: Weeding Out the Weaklings

‘So honestly,’ I say quizzically, ‘how do you know what has been happening to me?’

‘Easy,’ he replies. ‘You violated New World Rules2 several times. Also ignored the First Instruction for Innovation,’ he pauses briefly in reflection, ‘and especially the Third Law of Change3 over and over.’ He adds absentmindedly, ‘the Fifth Law of Change – once…’ His voice trails off as if he’s thinking about something other than what he’s saying. And then he seems to switch energetically back into our conversation. ‘To me this means that you will stay in the pretty predictable but unpleasant “old world” pattern,’ he finishes forcefully.

‘Laws? Third Law of Change?’ I repeat, trying to make some sense of what he is saying. ‘What Laws? Innovation has Instructions? Now who’s the oxymoron?’ I say, confused but amused at my wit.

‘Sure,’ he replies coolly, ‘Just like in physics. Our new world has distinct rules you need to follow if you want to survive and thrive in it rather than become a victim. Innovation has Instructions and Change has real Laws. Transformation has Slogans. For example, “People create change – People constrain change.” That’s the Third Law of Change. “If it’s not hurting it’s not working,” is a popular Transformation slogan.’ He quickly adds, ‘The slogans, unlike the Instructions of Innovation or Law of Change, aren’t scientifically based.’

I don’t get it and it’s obvious in the expression on my face.

Franck’s hands are animated. From the way they are oscillating to and fro you can tell that he is trying hard to find a simple way to explain a complex idea to ‘old thicko’ here. And then he starts to speak animatedly. ‘Have you noticed how your own ideas are brilliant and other people’s are not quite so?’

I smile at the thought.

‘Did you ever go to a meeting with your new idea, show it off only to have everyone beat it with a stick? In fact, the only person who sides with you says something like, “I think this has some merit. In fact I had a similar idea myself only yesterday”…?’

I nod. I recognise the scenario. It’s happened to me a lot.

‘Quite simply,’ he explains patiently, ‘human beings aren’t really designed for too much change. Well, they sort of are and sort of aren’t. If you surprise them with something new, all that fight or flight stuff kicks in,4 their logic circuits get turned off. Do you know why?’

Sure I know about fight or flight but what does that have to do with thinking logically? I ponder a second and reply, ‘I guess in times of danger, thinking is too slow. You need to act on instinct.’

‘Precisely!’ he replies. ‘And that is why when someone says something which surprises you in a meeting you often can’t come up with the right response immediately. Your logic circuits are switched off by the question. The “surprise question” also triggers your emotions, usually fear, and pumps you full of adrenaline which is why, in the meeting, your palms start to sweat and your stomach fills with hyperactive butterflies. Hours later, perhaps in the evening, it suddenly comes to you with a jolt. “What I should have said to him was…” It only comes to you once the adrenaline has drained away and the immediate emotion subsided.’

‘So?’ I challenge, shrugging my shoulders and shaking my head rapidly from side to side.

Franck ignores my question and just asks another. ‘Did you ever try to get a logical response from someone in an emotional state?’

I think only briefly about the short conversation I’d had with my other half before I’d been banished to the garden centre. ‘It doesn’t work.’

‘Correct,’ he agrees, clipping the word and adding an upward inflexion. ‘If you are surprised, your logic switches off, your emotions switch on and you take your stance emotionally. And can you beat an emotional stance with logic?’

I wince as I remember the conversation I’d had with my other half earlier in the day. I’d tried to logically argue my way through, only making matters worse. The word ‘No’ escapes squeakily from my lips.

‘And you therefore meet incoming logical ideas with solid emotional resistance. You then justify your rejection of these logical ideas with smokescreen arguments to hide the fact that there is no logical reason for the rejection.’

I nod, trying to follow his argument.

‘On the other hand, when you have an idea, well that’s your “baby”. You literally fall in love with your own ideas. Often you’ll fight tooth and nail to make it happen. Well that’s the Third Law of Change. People create change – People constrain change.

‘Oh!’ I exclaim, at a loss at what else to say. Then my natural scepticism kicks in. ‘That can’t be right, or we’d never accept anyone else’s ideas. Why, only last week I presented an idea for improving ideas collection to my team and after discussion one of them agreed it was a brilliant idea and that they would like to work with me on it.’

Franck pauses briefly, a wicked smile playing on his lips. ‘What exactly was the offer? Was it, “That’s a brilliant idea. I’ve never heard anything like it before. I want to work on it”? Or was it “This is a brilliant idea. It reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I want to work on it”?’

‘The second one,’ I reply tentatively.

Franck’s guffaw is loud and annoying. ‘Or in other words “The idea you have just told me looks a lot like my own idea. I would be happy to use your resources to work on my own idea”?’

I feel crushed. I’d never thought about it that way. It’s not my idea they’re supporting after all – it’s their own. I’m starting to feel emotional about this conversation but Franck gives me no time to boil.

‘Now think about it, your CEO announced the “innovation focus”. That’s a bit like jumping out from behind a bush and shouting YAH! at a caveman. What sort of response would that get?’

I shrug my shoulders. ‘I guess they’d either run away or throw a spear at you.’

Franck laughs out loud, his head bobbing about rapidly. ‘But what was worse was that the message was even more frightening than YAH! because it was from the boss. And the boss was not even telling you HOW to make it OK. An instruction from someone more powerful in the organisation than you asking you to do something you imagine is impossible and then not giving guidance is just like someone much bigger and stronger than you,’ he rises out of his chair to tower over me like a bird of prey with wings outstretched, ‘instructing you to, “Be spontaneous.”’ He pauses, then for effect, screams the word, ‘Now!’

I’m nodding silently and rhythmically as I get the message.

‘So having frightened them and got them into a real emotionally resistant state, he then tells them to “take risks”!’

‘What’s wrong,’ I challenge, ‘with asking people to take risks?’

Franck repeats what I’ve said as if completely astounded by my question, ‘”What’s wrong with asking people to take risks?” Your CEO says “Take risks” – but what the colleagues hear is totally different. Remember all their logic circuits have been turned off by the YAH! and are still off. As the words “Take risks” leave the mouth of the CEO, who up till now has fired people for missing targets and making mistakes, the words are miraculously transformed so instead of “Take risks” what they actually hear is, “This business is in such real trouble that I, your CEO, don’t know what to do, so all our jobs are on the line. I want you to throw yourself upon your sword. Wipe out years of getting your colleagues to respect and trust you and instead do some stupid rash things. Oh yes, and be sure to fail often!” They know that failing is not a smart thing to do and also if the organisation is in such trouble, when the time comes to chop heads the first to go will be the losers who took risks and failed! You must understand – we live in an increasingly risk-averse world, a world of firewalls, health & safety, “lessons learned”, class-action lawsuits. To take risks is almost seen as immoral. So you took risks, now you’ve been fired. Go back home and tell your other half and your hungry children what you did!’

My mouth has gone completely dry and my face feels hot. Described that way it’s the most stupid speech possible. It’s not surprising we received the reception we got. I don’t have the courage to tell Franck that I wrote the speech. I blurt out, ‘But you’ve got to take risks if you want to innovate.’ I am repeating what our consultants have told me.

‘No!’ barks Franck, adding more gently, ‘Actually you don’t. In innovation the last thing you want to do is to take risks. It’s so difficult to succeed, that what you need to do is to avoid taking risks. That’s why it’s fashionable to start the process with customer insights. That way you can be sure that they, someone, will want your innovation.’

I remember my thoughts earlier today when my computer crashed, but that was just an emotional response to techno-failure – but this, this was innovation, this was different. ‘No risks?’ I say with incredulity. I’ve read tons of books on innovation and taking risks is one thing that they are very keen on. ‘But surely…’ I recite the phrase, ‘Speculate to accumulate?’

‘A good slogan can prevent analysis for fifty years,’ Franck ripostes sharply. ‘I mean it. No, no risks!’ he repeats adding, ‘And the goal isn’t to be more creative.’ He smiles as he drops another bombshell on my confidence.

I’m unconvinced. As I start to question him he notices the time on the clock on the wall and leaps up exclaiming, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m really late.’

He fishes in his jacket pocket for something, something small which he fails to find. ‘I thought I had a calling card. Never mind, QUBE me and we can continue our conversation.’

‘Cube you?’ I ask, completely confused.

‘Yes,’ he says, ‘QUBE me… look on the internet. I know I can meet you at 1:15 on Tuesday for about 40 minutes.’

‘What? Where? I have to be out of the country Tuesday.’

‘No problem, that’s why I said “QUBE me” around lunch-time if you are taking a break. And,’ he adds mysteriously, ‘remember, for your innovations to succeed, you will have to discover who or what is killing the sparks.’ With that he shakes my hand firmly and is gone.

This is taken from the manuscript of Prof Eddie Obeng's new book Who Killed the Sparq? We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

2 From New Rules for the New World^
3 From All Change!^
4 From The Complete Leader^


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a life long supporter of innovation, I really wish that I had read these chapters...before I left the corporate world.

Having sponsored many new ideas (most of which were sabotaged too death by corporate insiders), I look forward to trying some of the ideas in the chapters to see if I can't start and keep some innovations going in the near future.

The ideas are powerful stuff indeed!

8:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Chapter 8 Eddie describes exactly what is happening to me in a new role with a new boss trying to drive change. My reports all are in "flight" mode and I cannot get anyone to calm down and examine the innovation. I'm looking forward to seeing how to move forward knowing now that my team's reaction is entirely natural and not irrational as I had thought. Everyone should be reading The Sparq. It is for all organisations not just business. Real insights -love it!

9:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to share this with colleagues in my organisation at we go through all of the things described in the scenario, but I am concerned that it will cause paranoia as they will think it has been written about us specifically!

I like the challenge to the thinking that change has to be risky.

It has given me some real food for thought and now I need to go an learn more about how to really make the change a success.

Thank you for enlightening me!

12:50 pm  

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