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Culture of Innovation Fail

GasLanterns.png

(Or, Why People Build New Homes with Fake Gas Lanterns by the Front Door)


If, as the leader of a multi-billion dollar corporation, the director of modest non-profit, the president of a university—or whatever your position—you are responsible for building a culture of innovation you’re probably frustrated with the results.

My home state gives you a pretty good hint why.

Maine is a place nostalgic in nature, evoking lighthouses, Andrew Wyeth paintings, sailboats, colonial architecture, and lobster dinners on the beach at sunset. It all fits comfortably and appealingly into our collective consciousness.

“Maine, the way life should be” is our official state slogan.

Most homes in Maine (with the exception of double-wide trailers, worthy of a later blog post) are old or built to look old. I live in a large, old house built in 1863. So, “What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. Nothing. Except that it costs a fortune to heat with oil, the rooms are relatively small, and maintenance is high. In 1863, they were building houses using 1863 technology and aesthetics. Building has come a long way in 153 years.

Or has it?

I was recently in Carrabassett Valley, Maine, home to the Sugarloaf ski area, and noticed a relatively new “ski” house. It wasn’t built in the traditional ski house vernacular. Instead, it was built to resemble a colonial home from the 1800’s. Complete with fake gas lanterns, non-moveable shutters, and ornamental columns by the front door.

So, what’s going on here—and in innovation resistant organizations? Why do people keep putting fake gas lanterns on your front doors?

Well, it’s biological and cultural. A specific idea of “home” gets hard-wired into our brains at an early age. Images of cozy cottages with white picket fences universally represent comfort, safety and stability. Over time, we connect those images to those feelings through synaptic connections that forge enduring neural pathways. A superhighway is built connecting what we experience and feel to what we believe. The result? We build 2016 houses on a 1863 blueprint. Anything that varies from the norm is actively discouraged or outright rejected.

What’s true for our homes is true for our organizations. We think that we’re making rational, well-reasoned decisions when we are following pre-determined pathways in our brains. We're building on old plans. We do this even when making big decisions with big financial ramifications, such as building a new office or plant, inventing and funding a new business, or adopting potentially life altering policies (think how hard it is for us to move at scale from our oil dependency to renewable energy—even when confronted with overwhelming evidence of the impact climate change on our planet).

The gravity of the status quo seems inescapable. Culture change is tough. It means overcoming the way our brains and cultures conspire against innovations that threaten the way things are.

But breaking the grips of our orthodoxies is not impossible. When our friends and collaborators Linda Yates and Paul Holland decided to build a new home in Portola Valley, they didn’t hesitate to let go of conventions about what a house is or is not. They were boldly set out to build the greenest home in America.

“We've always been passionate about environmental causes,” says Holland. “We wanted to take our family out of the oil-based economy, so there are no oil-based products associated with the house: there is no natural gas, no plastic, no PVC. Everything is powered by renewable energy sources, either solar or ground-source heat exchange.”

Take a peek at this    recent Style magazine article    featuring the Yates-Holland home. No fake gas lanterns there.

Take a peek at this recent Style magazine article featuring the Yates-Holland home. No fake gas lanterns there.

If you really want to lead a culture of innovation, give your people the permission, language, frameworks, tools, and training they’ll need to conquer the current orthodoxies, beliefs, and assumptions responsible for the status quo—and to do work that matters.


www.tahmahlah.com

www.tahmahlah.com

In the spirit of Think Wrong’s Move Fast Practice, Yates and Holland are not proprietary about their home. They’ve created this website to share what they have learned and the resources required to build greener more sustainable homes.


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Cricket+Facebook=Security

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Cricket+Facebook=Security

Have you ever wondered “How long would it take for security to show up if you were to pull into Facebook’s corporate headquarters in Menlo Park with a Cricket Trailer, unhitch it, push it into a parking spot, start popping the roof, and wind down the steadies?”

Well, we have an answer.

It’s a little less than two minutes.

But to give the security guy credit he was on a bike, someone had to see us on CCTV, wonder what the bloody hell we were up to, communicate it to him, and then he had to find us. Two minutes in that context is a pretty rapid response. Kudos to Facebook security!

Once we explained to him that we were there to see Tim Campos the CIO, and yes we were planning on meeting him in the parking lot—in the Cricket, that had transformed into a mobile-blitzing-lab-come-conference-center he was mightily impressed, and as the Cricket is now a giant dry erase board Greg wrote “Approved by FB security” on the front and we were good to go (that apparently is all it takes!).

We then had to convince Tim’s executive assistant that we were not going to kidnap one of the most influential CIO’s in the world, we're pretty sure he was only 22% joking about that.  Upon inspection, he agreed that our conference room was far superior to any on their campus* and he went inside to return with Tim.

*He may not have said that, but it was pretty obvious what he was thinking!

Greg had used his illustrative talents to draw, amongst many things, a picture of Tim on the side of the Cricket along with his quote: 

“Technology matters, but talent matters more”. 

Some people, like John Bielenberg for instance ;), might have thought such a thing creepy, weird and slightly stalker-esq… conversely we thought it mildly sidesplitting and with John being in Maine at the time, what was he going to do about it?

Mercifully, Tim’s team saw the hilarity, and he himself was impressed that he’d said such wise words.

Tim Campos and the Cricket Trailer

To the meeting itself, is there a better environment in which to describe a Blitz than a hacked Cricket, that was born from a Blitz, out in a parking lot, sipping delightfully chilled REBBL tonic (born from another Blitz), from the onboard refrigerator? Let’s examine:

  • Be Bold: We think showing up in a Cricket adorned with the CIO’s face on the side is pretty bold.
  • Get Out: Well yeah—not only did we get out, but we gave the Facebook team the opportunity to get out of their environment too, to be receptive and invite serendipity.
  • Let Go: This was most definitely not the same old same old meeting!
  • Make Stuff: We were sitting in a space that was living testament to making, and the Facebook team engaged having fun with the physical space, playing with the writable surfaces and the Cricket itself.
  • Bet Small: The worse thing that could have happened is thinking it was a little weird and having the meeting in a conference room instead.
  • Move Fast: The Cricket was still a Cricket until a week before, and we had no way of moving it. Plus, it is a conference room that can go about 70mph—that’s a pretty fast conference room.

There was serendipity of doing all this at Facebook whose culture fosters the traits of blitzing and the Think Wrong Practices themselves, and we're thankful the team was more than willing to return serve with us, how’d the meeting turn out? 

You’ll just have to wait and see.

P.S. If we did it again, we would put beer in the cooler!

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