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status quo

Thinking Wrong: How Might We Rethink the Agency Model?

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Thinking Wrong: How Might We Rethink the Agency Model?


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Think Wrong in Action.

Kari Hernandez is the President + Co-founder of INK Communications Co. in Austin, Texas. Kari became a Certified Wrong Thinker at a recent Think Wrong Master Class. Thanks Kari for sharing this early story of how you’re using Think Wrong at INK Communications Co.!

This article was originally posted on the INK Communications Co. Blog July 12, 2018

 

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We hosted a two-day retreat in Austin for the whole staff last month. For some new folks, it was their first chance to meet colleagues from other offices in person. For others, it was the chance to be with their everyday companions with a different agenda, or how about no agenda for a change? For me, it was an opportunity to test out our new Think Wrong chops with our whole team and see collectively what we could dream up for the future of PR and INK.

Our mission is good work with good people makes for a good life. It’s a balancing act and sometimes in our fast-paced agency world of client service and media relations, that good life side can take a hit. We all felt that coming out of a very busy Q1 and Q2. We talked about it a lot as a group over the last few months – how we were and were not living our mission – and a lot of our woes and challenges came back to the same thing: not enough time in the day.

We were recently certified in Think Wrong, the radical problem-solving system that helps you imagine, create, and operate what’s next. During that training, when the group would break, our team would rush to their computers and pound away for as long as they would let us while the other students would chat, step outside, or have a snack. This prompted us to ponder the reason why PR, more than any other creative service, is so “always on.” The obvious answer is that it’s because of media cycles – the news is always on, therefore, so are we. But then what is driving this for our digital, design, and content teams?

We put the traditional agency model to the test on the first day of our retreat. The challenge of the day was, “How might we rethink time and space, in a way that allows us to live our mission, so that we might do more thoughtful and meaningful work that inspires ourselves and others?” We wanted to look at agency life with an open mind, unrestricted from how it is now and has been, outside of structure and rules.

We used a drill called Moonshot, inspired of course by Kennedy’s original moonshot as well as Google X. (In this TED talk from 2016, Astro Teller talks about Google X’s moonshot strategy and the amazing things that can happen when you reward failure.) In this exercise, teams are challenged to think of the most astounding thing they might do together that would have an impact beyond our walls and lives, based on the challenge.

Our teams took on the status quo of agency life.

The first idea? Eliminate timesheets!

That might not be astounding or impact millions of people (or would it?) but it gets at a bigger opportunity: changing we way we value our work. We thought through the absurdity that every hour of work is worth the same amount of money. We asked how we might instead set a budget through the potential value of the impact we’re making for a client. Or the value of the team of specialists needed to attack a particular campaign strategy.

Other teams looked beyond the billable hour at how we form our teams. Two groups rethought our semi-permanent team structure and argued for the benefits of a more dynamic ecosystem of talent where people move more fluidly between clients and projects and even between specializations. We definitely see the value at INK of breaking down silos – between offices, communications specializations, and accounts to share value and experience and form truly integrated programs and cooperative teams. (Our one big happy family “1BHF” approach.) But this is taking that much further and we’re interested to look at how we can continue to meld our skillsets and make them available to our clients more dynamically.

Another interesting concept that bubbled up was eliminating the stigma of stress, anxiety, and depression in our industry. If change is a constant in life, and certainly our industry, and anxiety is a natural brain reaction to change and uncertainty (damn lizard brain), then how we all deal with that is a skill we should teach, and a normal part of being human. It’s certainly not something to hide or feel alone about. We all feel it in some way. We’ll definitely be thinking through this more within our culture at INK and looking for opportunities and resources to help all of us navigate change, and the stress and anxiety it brings, more peacefully.

Overall, we knew an hour-long drill or a day-long discussion wasn’t going to map out the future of the agency. But it was a great way of setting up some themes that we can continue to explore and discuss in our effort to make INK – and hopefully, other agencies out there – a place where you can do good work with good people, and at the same time, live a great life.

What do you think? How might we, as an industry, rethink the agency model to allow for more thoughtful work and eliminate the “always on” mentality in areas where it no longer serves a purpose?

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How might we learn to solve next, when we really don’t want to?

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How might we learn to solve next, when we really don’t want to?

Even in our own small business we use automation, algorithms, AI, SaaS packages and Amaze-on Web Services to do many tasks that were previously done by us mere mortals. As astounding as this new technology is, none of it would have been created without human creativity, curiosity, innovation, imagination, and passion.

To maintain your ever fleeting competitive advantage (Check out Rita Gunther McGrath’s point of view on competitive advantage) in a hyper-disruptive-amazon-fueled world you’ll want to focus on the people who can imagine how you might use those tools in clever, practical, and original ways to deliver effective satisfaction to the jobs to be done for existing and new customers.

But, we humans have a bug in our operating systems—we’re evolutionarily coded to have an emotional bias towards the status quo, because good enough was good enough when the choice was eating the bland thing you knew rather than being poisoned by a delicious looking berry, or when acting counter-culturally resulted in being thrown into a volcano or being ostracized from your village only to be eaten by a saber toothed tiger. And let’s be honest, that still happens in the workplace.

So how do you manage the opposing forces of knowing how to change and not wanting to with each other to produce the killer solutions that leverage these just-a-click-away assets to power your organization’s future state?

On one hand we know humans are ingenious. On the other hand we know that we are hard-wired to keep doing what’s been done before and is good enough (for both rational and irrational reasons, but with no real ability to discern the difference).

To achieve the results, we’ve been charged with achieving and create a cognitive advantage for our organization, we have to consciously, deliberately, and systematically solve problems by learning to trick our brains, and creating a cultural context where it’s OK to do so—especially in larger or established organizations where the immediate risk of starvation is less. (Scott Kirsner has a provocative take on the difference between Intrapreneurs and Entrepreneurs that’s worth a read).

Both sides of that equation are tricky without a defined language, frameworks, and tools that are culturally inclusive—exclusive change is going to be a losing battle (just ask the Sneetches).

We created the Think Wrong problem-solving-system to provide just such a common language, frameworks, and tools. We like to describe it as design thinking’s punky little brother mashed up with the scientific method, and topped up with a dollop of behavioral science to help your people create and propel solutions beyond the status quo.

We’ve also learned that, to overcome those pesky heuristic and cultural biases, you need to adopt a scalable, habit-forming, learning-system that gets people excited, provides the pokes and coaching they need to keep putting what they’ve learned into action—and ultimately to be confident and fluent enough in the system to teach and coach others how to use it too.

Click here to learn more about how you can achieve scalable learning and inclusive problem-solving to address your organization’s gnarliest problems.

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Hey Chief Innovation Officer. You’re Fired.


(And Two Simple Ways to Stop That From Happening)


Trying to innovate within your organization is one of the most courageous or foolhardy jobs you can choose to take on, because between you and the needed change are a hundred named and self-appointed Chief Don’t F*&k It Up Officers who’ve made it their mission in life to keep everything running just the way it is.

Get it wrong—you’re fired.

You're charged with delivering Goldilocks Innovation—change that isn't so big that it causes disruption and distraction to the revenue producing machine, but not so small that nobody notices. You need to find the enigmatic innovation sweet spot that's just right.

Get it wrong—you’re fired.

You're expected to demonstrate measurable ROI for the unknown, in an environment where certainty is valued more than great questions. And where not knowing is seen as weakness rather than an exciting opportunity to discover.

Get it wrong—you’re fired.

You gather motivated outlaws who want you to lead them on the bold path of change to the land of “how things could be.” But metrics, policy, personnel, business-as-usual, best practice, embedded culture, and CDFIUO roadblocks stymie you at every turn. Over time your merry band of intrapreneurs gets worn down and depressed. Now all of your effort is spent lifting the moral of some of your organization’s top talent—for fear of otherwise losing them.

Get it wrong—you’re fired.

“Think Wrong holds a mirror up to leaders and demands that they do the hard work with their internal entrepreneurs to overcome the orthodoxies, antibodies, and inertia that kill new ideas or, at best, starve them of oxygen.”
Linda Yates, CEO and Founder at mach49, Henry Crown Fellow with the Aspen Institute

Make sure you and your team don’t get fired.

Use the following Think Wrong Frameworks to identify a bold path from which you can deliver high impact change—and to create meaningful context to defend your efforts from forces that might otherwise destroy them.

The Deflection Point Framework

The well-trodden path of the status quo is known, understood, and predictable. But if we stay on this predictable path nothing changes. So nothing changes. The impact you seek requires that you depart from this predictable path and chart a bold new path—one that delivers a shift from “How Things Are” to “How Things Might Be.”

Start by drawing this simple diagram.

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1. Draw a horizontal line. This line represents your Predictable Path. Below it, identify the current projects, policies, practices and structures that represent how and what your organization does today— and will continue to do if nothing changes.


2. Draw a line at 45° from the Predictable Path. This line represents your Bold Path. Above it, identify the initiatives that your organization is engaged in that represent a departure from the status quo. The further up this line and to the right, the greater the departure from the way things are. Also add what you might want to change from “Current State” if you could—be bold about your aspirational “To Be” State.

3. Plot what and who might complicate or resist your departure from the status quo in the space between the lines—conspiring to pull you back onto the Predictable Path.

Engage your colleagues in envisioning the changes that need to be made, what might get in your way, and what still needs to be done and done better—by inviting them to draw this picture with you.

The Uncertain/Unknown Framework

All projects are not the same—that goes without saying. So, not all projects should operate under the same set of practices and rules.

Start by drawing the 3x3 grid above. Then map the projects you plotted on the Deflection Point Framework onto the 3x3. Be honest about where they live. Depending on your organization the distribution will vary.
 


For well-established organizations many projects will be in the top right where both the challenge and solution are certain and known. These projects are often focused on improvements in efficiency, optimization, or technology. The Think Right Practices of ROI, metrics, analytics, and best practices make a real difference here.

For less well-established organizations—and organizations that are trying to shake things up—many projects will focus on disruption and change. Those are likely to fall in the uncertain and unknown territory.

You’ve now identified the projects where Think Right Practices are the go-to tool set, and those where you should Think Wrong. Use the Uncertain/Unknown Framework to set new ground rules—and expectations—about which practices will be applied to which projects.

Overtime, your portfolio of change (read: innovation) projects will move up and to the right as you become more certain of the real problem you are solving, the needs you are meeting, and which solutions truly work best.


To check out some fantastic tools for managing your innovation portfolio reach out to the fine folks at www.valize.co. And follow Valize founder and Think Wrong co-conspirator Rita Gunther McGrath on twitter @rgmcgrath.


To learn more about thinking wrong order a copy of Think Wrong: How to Conquer the Status Quo and Do Work That Matters and check out our website.


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Culture of Innovation Fail

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(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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I Have a Green Watch

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This post is courtesy of Solve Next co-founder, Mike Burn 

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?―Dr. Seuss

“Your glasses are too funky, your shirts are too loud and your watch is too green. If you want to succeed here you should try ‘mirroring’ the executives, you’ll be a VP in a year."

This sage, enlightening, and simultaneously horrific statement was given to me once as well-meaning career advice. My advisor even got more specific, suggesting I go to Brooks Brothers and spend $300 at the sale rack. The most tragic aspect of this advice? It was absolutely spot on.

Obviously I didn’t go off and do it; it sounded more like part of a sick and twisted sociological experiment than career advice.

But what is so threatening about a green watch?

I am genuinely amazed by the number of people who comment on my watch—it’s started many a conversation. The comments fall into three categories:

• observational - “You have a green watch.” • contemptuous - “You have a green watch?” • aspirational - “You can have a green watch!”

I’m not raising the stereotyping associated with this watchism to a level of hateful prejudice here—but it does seem to be an effective technique for identifying close mindedness. Stereotyping and closed mindedness being symptoms of groupthink, and its associated desire for conformity. The next stage of this cycle is self-censorship, with the peer pressure asserted against deviant watch-wearing behavior bringing about the switch to a more consensus-driven timepiece. A tried-and-true, gold, with a brown leather strap edition perhaps?

Once the pattern of morality, peer pressure and group belief in what is right and appropriate is in place, the status quo and uniformity get continually reinforced. The guards are in place to prevent both outside and internal dissent.

The drift towards homogeneity starts. The watch, the blue shirt, the pleated khakis and the shiny slip-on shoes with brass ended tassels, then the Brooks Brothers sales rack, and the mirroring, and the promotion, the title, the success. And once you’ve made it, don’t rock the boat, don’t speak out, don’t stand up, just go along to get along, we all agree, we’re all on the same page, we know how to do this, everything is just fine as it is—and don’t let the crazy dude with the green watch in.

Of course, this is not just about watches—this is about ideas and thinking wrong. And incidentally...the green watch at the top of this post belongs to another Solve Next collaborator, Marty Butler. Coincidence?

Solve Next is on the lookout for places where green watches are challenging the status quo. Green watch = thinking wrong. Check it out here.

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