Redesigning the organizations middle for a new innovation shape.

managers-choice

Let’s admit it; our middle management needs a radical makeover, a new fitness regime to make us far more ‘innovation fit’.

Most organizations do need to change their middle management structures as they are far from that necessary ‘fitness for 21st century purpose’ in a constantly changing, challenging, more open innovating world.

The general argument goes and I relate to this, that the middle manager is so pressured to focus on the delivery of short-term results that all their efforts are centered far more on delivering ‘just’ an effective organization.

An organization that focuses on driving out any excess or leeway, reduce the variations, constantly dampening down potential risk and uncertainty. Today much of this being ‘efficient and effective’ is in direct conflict with what innovation requires. A space for ‘cutting’ some slack, seeking differences, exploring what variances can provide, encouraging a certain risk and uncertainty to allow for fresh thinking to emerge that leads to better things within the organization.

Yet the middle managers obsession with constantly chasing efficiencies alone, there is little ‘slack’ for innovation and new learning. Their measurement is often based on this efficiency and effectiveness emphasis and not on generating innovation.

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Risk: Understanding Your Scope of Reach from Your Grasp.

Mans reach and grasp.We were not born as risk-takers but we can develop it through our own growing self-actualization, creativity, a pursuit for growth and enjoying that feeling of being stretched.

Well some of us do, but sadly most tend to become risk-avoiding because of the environment they are in or been associated with for long periods, where avoidance rubs off, it seeps into the soul.

Many enjoy being simply ‘passive’, avoiding anything that smacks of being ‘proactive’; it is safer to be ‘reactive’. Innovation and heaven can equally wait.

Putting it simply most people and organizations are just afraid to take risks and this fear takes over and drives their choices. Innovation is certainly something that suffers from this fear of risk. Organizations miss critical opportunities, individuals fail to speak out and argue for a given change or innovative idea. We can simply stop growing, to want to become something more, we take the easy option, we avoid risk.

Reducing innovation to the lowest common denominator.

How often have you felt all the risk-mitigation has been taken out of the innovation concept you have been working upon, for it to emerge as a pale reflection of the original idea? Often I can hear.

We need to be reminded that innovation is the act (risk taking) of introducing something new (creativity) that adds potential value. By reducing the risk we often do not produce something better, just simply an alternative to what is already out there. Minimise the risk, strive for certainty, avoid the awkward questions, just keep the head down and toe the line.

Our organizations talk about the need for risk but don’t walk the risk path.

If you dont tryThe understanding of risk will always have associated with some fear, discomfort and resistance and that can be an uncomfortable place to go. The whole ‘act’ of letting go is never easy. It is the ability to manage risk that reduces its fear. It is through experimentation we gain our best learning, we actually are forward learning as we are accelerating our knowledge.

Surely the more we attempt something different, proving or disproving it makes for exciting work, we become motivated, curious and wanting more, providing there is the encouraging environment to experiment and explore.

As I have suggested before “shaping ideas, taking risks, allowing experimentation, providing tolerance (of failure or debate), exploring the unknowns, all should be an integral part of innovation”.

Innovation is risk-taking so let’s embrace it, not just for the sake of taking risks where you can become addicted to the thrill but in constantly seeing the positive payoff within the risk, it needs being appropriate and set against the ‘given’ situation and the learning in potential loss but recognizing the potential in gain.

The search is for meaningful contributions

NegativityThere is so much negativity swirling around our organizations, a real detachment that is raising alarm bells. Today’s workers are “neither empowered nor inspired to navigate the challenges faced by twenty-first-century organizations” according to a recent Deloitte report and commented upon here by Steve Denning . As Steve observes in this article, as a result, creative, passionate workers simply don’t want to work in organizations with “clearly defined roles, organizational silos, and predictability”.

We are also in real need of better “inner working lives” and we need to look for ways to allow our people to become engaged, feeling part of something that allows for being more creative and passionate. An environment offering somewhere that is seen as more productive, looking to build for future contribution and finding ways to be more collegial, working in teams on these experiments and explorations to learn and advance the innovation thinking. It allows us to grow from within.

We need to find ways for higher levels of risk-tolerance. We push the ordinary back into the extraordinary and all of us what to be associated with those sort of moments, those events that give meaning, purpose and pride into what we do. We need to allow risk in, so risk can come and live with you.

Our leaders need to lead and guide.

Learn and LeadWhen one hears that the leadership is in disagreement it tends to stop organizations from being adventurous until that issue or sticking point is resolved.

When it comes to innovation we do need to look to our management to manage option proliferation, resolve criteria disagreements, overcome stalled decisions, clarify rejections or discounting new ideas before they are ‘fully’ formed

Those leaders assigned to lead innovation need to become more engaged, stop the limited participation and take the time innovation does require. Head nodding or ‘just’ talking innovation just does not cut it!

Commitment does matter, enormously, up and down the organization.

We need to recognize allowing risk is becoming the basis for a commitment to change
Wanting innovation requires the need to encourage the management of risk. Today we are in markets with slower growth, higher volatility and potential for disruption. Risk needs to be proactive not reactive.

Equally the sentiment that we cannot disrupt our core needs some shifting in thinking as others are busy working on ways to do that to you at this very minute. Risk comes from not knowing.

We need to manage the ‘certainty of return’ by making the knowledge that comes from incremental steps of experiment to validate an idea into a new innovation needs this consistently improving the business case. That comes from steady ‘readiness-based decisions that prototypes or pilots put into the hands of the consumer or customer to explore around, will advance our knowledge, each time of the potential value and ‘seen’ worth of this concept over the existing ones in the market place.

Shifting our thinking can be gradual in learning

Take a riskThe effectiveness of risk assessments, capturing more and more external market data and attempting group prioritization certainly helps but in volatile markets this is not enough.

We need to develop those risk-mitigation steps to constantly increase confidence; we need to look more internally or with our partners at our capabilities to measure the controllable factors and events to keep innovation on track and we need to seek out individual stakeholder discussions to manage their unique concerns. This is far more a shift to execution than relying on market attractiveness conditions alone.

Thinking risk in those different and manageable ways to move forward and grow

We need to mitigate uncertainty by constantly reiterating known and unknown risks through these constant engagements in experimentation, prototyping, piloting concepts through. This needs to be in a more dynamic ‘management of the portfolio’ concept, from concept to commercialization process.

A place where risk-mitigation needs to be in-built all the way, to build knowledge as it ‘reveals’ itself. In innovation, mostly completely new to the world it is never apparent, you have to ‘tease ‘ it out on its value and contribution. Everything simply cannot be available when you often just don’t know, you take small steps often to feel your way and build that knowledge up.

We need to understand our reach and ability to grasp

Reaching and graspingThe ability to push on and find out, to stretch, to understand our reach and our grasp, does need some risk taking but in thoughtful, measured steps. Good innovation needs measured risk-taking and let’s learn the ways to allow our innovating to happen and get our passion and engagement back, flowing through the veins of our organizations.

We need a mantra of ‘build-test-feedback-revise’ iterations performing constant steps and learning to gather information to reduce uncertainty. One that is far more agile, vibrant, dynamic, flexible that applies a more leaner, faster and more adaptive and risk-based approach. The risk-contingency is about constant steps and learning to gather information to reduce uncertainty.

We need to move forward with a degree of certainty but also perhaps a little fear.

How about this as an idea to explore?

Shifting perspectivesHow about approving some pilot projects and providing resources to have unfettered six-month periods with no rules and no reviews but at the end of this agreed period ‘something’ has to be seen and tested by a customer.Then you embed the learning and further scale

It encourages risk but in clear time frames and with a definitive result that advances knowledge and takes you closer to its future value.

You look and encourage new perspectives. Is this that risky or is it perhaps allowing risk to be managed in new ways of learning?

We do need to rethink the management of risk for innovation.

New business growth is very different from business as usual but in all honesty, is there that much business as usual still around? We do need to loosen up our thinking on risk when it comes to innovation, otherwise our growth will remain limited, stuck in the fear of the unknowns?

So what is holding innovation back? A new GE report

GE Global Innovation Barometer 2014I always look forward to the GE Global Barometer and the 2014 report is no exception, actually it really has moved the needle on what is presently holding innovation back. The Barometer has explored the actions or constraints that senior business executives are worrying over in their pursuit of innovation.

The fieldwork was undertaken in April and May, 2014 and covered 3,200 phone interviews to people directly involved in the innovation strategy or process. It covered 26 countries and was conducted by Edelman Berland on GE’s behalf.

The supporting website provides the GE view of how this report reflects and provides an overview, an interactive, resources and key point headings sections to explore.

I  personally think GE have actually been a little too low-key on this report and frankly far too conservative on the potential takeaways in reading their ‘take’ in the overview. It has significant implications for our organizations to grapple with but each is certainly not alone, it is a collective need to move innovation forward or you place much at risk if you don’t find solutions to the issues raised in this report.

This year the Barometer broke out of its past and steamed ahead.

The GE Barometer report for 2014 does seem to have broadened out its assessment on innovation, in my opinion, into a more comprehensive one around three aspects: 1) What are today’s drivers and barriers, 2) what are the trends, practices, myths and realities and 3) the country and public policy issues to tackle for supporting innovation.

There are two reports, one is a summary that can stand alone to quickly grasp the issues but does not really do the real justice that the full report provides in 68-odd slides. I’d recommend you explore both.

So what do I  have as my takeaways from this GE Barometer 2014?

I have summarized thirteen points that make some more than helpful insight into what is holding innovation back. In some ways by not cracking some of these it will kill off some businesses and this increased anxiety and fear I sense runs through many presently engaged in innovation, it is these that ‘reveals’ these tension points within this report. Take a read and see if you agree?

These are my thoughts summarized in these thirteen points gathered from the report:

1. Inequality, caused increasingly by technological innovation, will have a growing impact and fears on the ability to innovate, if innovation within countries or regions is not recognized as a real wealth creator or destroyer and its enablers are not effectively put into place and leveraged. The ability to resolve this or not, will have significant impacts on the lives and country positions within the global race for innovating competitiveness.

2. It is interesting to see a fairly equal view on the challenges being presented by a technological shift is either a revolution (52% think so) or an evolution (42%) and it does seem a number of emerging countries are rising to the challenge. Whereas the established ones might be less caught up in this, seeing this as part and parcel of radical changes going on. I think there seems an underlying complacency in some, a determination in others to shift the dynamics of how their country is seen and invested in.

3. The effect of this multifaceted change going on where greater collaboration convergence of technologies, the place of Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) seems to be leaving many of our organizations ill-prepared to embrace these.

4. External collaboration is a confirmed reality, the world over and it seems most organizations have passed through the downsides and see open collaborations as “risks worth taking” to innovate successfully today.

5. Big Data seems to be dominating many people’s minds today. 94% accept the reality of Big Data as something here to stay but the fears; constraints and impact, are far from worked through. Naturally you would understand this as Big Data is very emerging in its redefined concept but you gain a really clear sense of significant resistance to focus on this and how organizations are (totally) lacking in their abilities to capitalize on this. Some are actually “dreading the challenges and impact” it will have.

6. The Internet of Things (IoT) is seen to likely have a positive impact on jobs but 44% of those surveyed surprisingly had not heard of the “Industrial Internet” notion when asked. As this is a ‘GE-speak’ view of the more popular IoT it might not be a surprise as I can’t believe these level would not have heard or thought about IoT surely? There are clear ‘lead and laggards’ in different industries, with many indicating they are “not quite prepared” or “not at all prepared” for what this means on their business. (OMG!)

7. There is a review of how the global game of innovation is being played out with the balance required to localise the needs. ‘Glocal’ still resounds for many but I think this catch phrase might be not reflecting the true inability to tap into specific market needs and from this, local innovation might be significantly constrained. Like to understand this more to see if I might be right here, I think so.

8. The focal point of GE’s press release was entitled “Disruption Ready” yet there seems a huge anxiety here. The difficulties of changing mind sets, behaviours and processes is potentially going to “kill the business” is suggested, unless the ability to quickly adapt and implement emerging technologies is not undertaken. I think this needs a greater all-encompassing reflection as disruption itself is getting a lot of ‘airing’ at the moment. In this report 72% state they will protect their core business profitability and believe (mistakenly in my opinion) successful innovation (62% of responders) will come from planned innovation. Perhaps but not in the present way we structure innovation.

9. There is a strong continued worry over (a lack of) internal agility was acknowledged but the citing of “internal inertia” is seen as a critical challenge that can equally “kill their business” rings some real alarm bells for me.

10. Speed-to-market is split right down the middle. 50% believe getting to market as quickly as possible is key, 50% argue “not to rush” and take the time to perfect their innovation (another mistake in my opinion)

11. 60% of all interviewed still deem it difficult to define an effective business model and yet another seen challenge that is “killing the ability to innovate”. The scaling of innovation is equally seen as a concern and part of this real underlying Business Model issue. With all the progress on BM’s you would think organizations would be working this defining and experimenting with different BM’s well through? The understanding, concepts and frameworks are out there but the board room seems to be blind to embracing this. It will change that is for sure.

12. The area that seems more ‘ripe’ for engaging and collaborating is between public sector and private industry on working through the needs for innovation and laying in the right policies and frameworks. The growing recognition that SME’s are leading the recovery charge, the encouraging of more start-ups and attracting into the country the multinational is tough to get into the right balance. The public sector ‘reaction and responses’ lag more than lead and taking too much time to bring into place the factors for promoting innovation but within this report are some great slides on issues that can frame some healthy discussions and allow all the sides within the country innovation debates to engage and work out the evolving frameworks. I liked this section to help in this.

13. Lastly I liked the self-evaluation of each respondents view of their own countries innovation improvement or not, around that countries innovation framework. The developed countries are in need of waking up and listening, it seems.

My summary from the report.

So a rich report with lots of issues that do, it seems, need to be unlocked, unblocked and further uncovered to allow innovation to deepen and take hold. There are so many warning signals that I feel cannot be left much longer to tackle.

When you see “fear, anxiety, dread, killing our business, inertia, not prepared, not heard of, and killing the ability to innovate” it might raise one or two alarm bells somewhere.

Perhaps the alarm bells should be going off within the boardrooms, they need to start paying closer attention here, clearly they are still reluctant to understand and embrace innovation, they are not getting the multiple messages as it has far too many ‘disruptive forces’ to deal with but avoiding addressing these is far, far worse.

I think GE and their Barometer 2014 has some really helpful clues in not only what is “holding innovation back” but more in pointing up to “what needs to change” to allow innovation to really move forward. Please take some time to read it.

I would finally like to congratulate GE for investing in this initiative, it helps serve their global business by knowing more of what is the present thinking across many of their customers and across broad industries and public bodies they work with and it is proving thought leadership. It also allows us all to understand the issues surrounding innovation

I certainly do look forward to where they take their GE Barometer 2015 on innovation as they have raised numerous issues that can be further followed up just from this 2014 report alone.

I wonder who is withering on the innovation vine?

Dying on the grape vine 1This week I tuned into the Pipeline virtual conference for product development practitioners and gained an encouraging feeling that innovation is progressing along nicely. Packed all within a day there was plenty of material ‘fodder’ to feed off of and learn from.

A really good conference but what quickly followed was a strong dose of that withering on the innovation vine.

I read two consulting surveys around innovation

I’ve been suddenly pulled out of my virtual bubble back into the harsh realities of where innovation really is. Just simply how innovation is struggling and that lies far more at the top of our organizations than below, those below who are simply trying to ‘get on with the job’ but with at least one hand (or even two) tied behind their backs.

I have been reading two sets of observations, one from Fahrenheit 212, the other from Innosight and my mood began to change. I’m suddenly back in reality where we have this huge gap between those ‘working’ innovation and those at the top simply not engaging with innovation or still failing to understand it or even failing to connect the dots.

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Many organizations are trapped in an innovation vortex also

Polar vortex and innovation vortex are both deep freezes

Polar vortex and innovation vortex are both deep freezes

America is presently  trapped in their “polar vortex”  We are reading reports telling us that temperature records were shattered across the United States on Tuesday as the polar vortex continued to take hold, with all 50 states experiencing freezing temperatures at some point in the day.

As I’m sure many experiencing this extreme weather that is giving us this polar vortex most have become aware of what is causing it. It is a circulating pattern of strong winds flowing around a low-pressure system, which normally sits over the Arctic during winter.It is not a single storm.

These winds tend to keep the bitter cold air locked in the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. However, when the vortex breaks down or splits into two, the vortex becomes distorted and dips much further, allowing this to spill farther southward than you would normally find it, sending this very cold air further south.

For many organizations they are also presently trapped in an innovation vortex.

Many organizations are facing their own spinning motion, their own vortex, where the innovation air is trapped. It is cold, frigid and simply going nowhere as it is “incrementally thin.” A lack of more radical innovation is freezing organizations, many deciding to put off their growth path to the future. This is different to the polar vortex as it is of our own organizational making. Yes the innovation vortex is an ongoing phenomenon of our own making, that until the leadership wishes to break this cycle, the organization will simply stay locked in this constant, swirling pattern. It is simply just holding itself in those ‘frozen, repeating’ safe conditions of extending existing shelf life of their products, services and business models, ignoring potential new opportunities.

How many organizations are presently keeping their innovation activity trapped in risk aversion mode, just simply sustaining the existence of the business, ignoring what happens when their business climate begins to break down, as it eventually will do. They recognize, often too late, they have become uncompetitive, had their market advantages eroded and have ended up lagging in rapidly changing markets, where once they were proud leaders through innovation? They are sacrificing their future by short-term expediency for narrow ends.

Both vortex conditions are life-threatening for our health.

Polar VortexHypothermia happens when your body temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius.  Authorities say even those who survive hypothermia are likely to have lasting kidney, liver and pancreas problems. Organizations equally can suffer a type of hypothermia, where the creative juices get reduced down to dangerously low levels as the innovation activity remains frigid, locked in a repeating pattern of no real new “wealth generating value”. All the heat generation from innovating exciting new things has gone from the organization. Innovation has left the building, leaving it a cold and devoid place simply existing.

How do you know if you are suffering from hypothermia?  Officials say warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. Organizations suddenly get caught out by other organizations that have kept their innovation activity fully turned on. The management of the “incrementally trapped” goes into total panic mode, they knee jerk, send out conflicting demands and get into the habit of rash decisions.

Frostbite is damage that extreme cold does to your skin and underlying body tissues.  The National Weather Service says a wind chill of nearly minus 29 degrees Celsius will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes. For organizations by not keeping themselves warm with innovation beyond the thin blanket of incremental only, suddenly find they are totally caught out and get their ‘frostbite’ by a sudden deterioration of performance. They experience lost market share and require a heavy dose of necessary medicine to stand any chance of emerging out of this innovation vortex. Innovation that freezes can be very expensive to reverse and takes time to be resolved.

Frostbite often affects the extremities of the body – those areas farthest from the warmth of your core, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of the nose.  It can turn those body parts white and cause you to lose feeling in the areas. Organizations caught in their innovation vortex have lost all their feeling, all their pipeline and portfolio momentum, they “see red” before they regain that innovation feel.

The effects from being in an innovation vortex

The effects, the longer this innovation vortex remains, the harder it is to return to a different condition. A repeating pattern, that swirling set of conditions reinforced that it just keeps repeating itself leaves organizations highly vulnerable.

The big difference between the current polar vortex and the innovation vortex is the extreme weather of this polar vortex quickly returns to a more normal set of winter conditions. It is not a prolonged event but for innovation practice that ‘locks itself’ into a numbing incremental only approach, it is different. We forget how to innovate differently, we get totally locked into one certain pattern and when we are suddenly asked to change we simply don’t know how to respond, we have lost that innovating habit and until it returns over time we remain at the mercy of the conditions we have, within ourselves simply created.

We have numbed the essential parts for innovation to be successful.

This has simply numbed the essential parts of your organization body that is capable of generating new growth and wealth, you have become exposed as you are not properly dressed up when you need to be, you simply get caught out. And that could result to a frostbite, hypothermia and death. It often starts with tingling or stinging sensations, you sense them but try to ignore these. Frostbite happens when the face, fingers, and toes get affected, it is no different for an organization, and the numbing effect only becomes noticeable when you begin to ‘feel it’ and by this time your innovating muscles and other tissues have often become numb and deadened, paralysed and stupefied . They are unable to respond to new challenges brought on, not by extreme weather conditions but by extreme competitive ones and that is as chilling as it can get!

No, organizations should at this time of extreme cold weather reflect on their own potential for being caught out in a chilling innovation vortex of their own making. Warm innovation air can flow back, it comes when you release that creative energy, as the new front required to regain strong growth and better results. You bring the innovation climate back into greater balance across all types of innovation activity and the environment begins to change and improve, you ‘sense’ the promise in your future.

Client Engagements – Full of Whipped Cream and Lumpy Gravy

So why did I call this blog post “client engagement- full of whipped cream and lumpy gravy?” Often both are ‘heaped’ onto the poor (final) solution found underneath the client- consulting engagement process. Both are layered on to mask the truth that the ones responsible don’t really understand how to make this process really work.

Managing innovation suffers from this an awful lot. We do need to understand all the ingredients that make up innovation, often we just try to’ top’ them off, failing to understand everything that needs to become part of the final solution.

I’m sure many of you have witnessed or been involved in poor client- consulting engagements. Often the root cause of poor end results within this process stems from a poorly structured engagement briefing process – my lumpy gravy. This creates the effect of creating many problems in delivering back not the best advice or solution to the real problem, offering up the lashings of whipped cream to cover up the bland solution dish underneath.

The engagement process does still rankle for me as it causes many of the difficulties and tensions within the emotions that many projects seem to swing through –  trusted and distrusted — loved and despised — all in equal measure where many variations could be reduced with a little thinking and challenging.

Avoiding some of the pitfalls

So I thought I’d take a  look at some of the problems within the client – consulting engagement process that can mask what is really lying underneath.

Lumpy gravy 2Firstly we more than often than not, get the lumpy gravy served up from the client’s side. The client serves up the lumpy gravy as they want to cover up the problems and challenges they really have or  they even can’t describe it as they are not sure of the outcome they are looking for.

All they want to do, is to call in the consultant to get them to try and chew their way through the existing meal, hoping they can eventually sort out the issues, make it more palatable. They react and call for immediate help, rather than go back to the basics and think through the ‘connected’ issues. Let others sort that out and leave the consulting brief very open, cover it up with this lumpy gravy.

Whipped Cream on a spoonOn the other hand, the consultant layers it on with their whipped cream. Those that are delivering plenty of whipped cream to make for a finished presentation that often has little substance but lots of sugar.  Hopefully also a little addictive and fattening so that the clients is always appreciating the finished effect, delivered in that final flourish, yet not really understanding what makes up the dish and asking simply for more.

So why do we have an engagement process?

Actually it is to stop the covering up of poorly conceived and hastily developed and deficient executed solutions without clearly thinking these through.

Often good innovation is never delivered on the plate easily, it is hard work. Often good engagement results are lacking, as the depth of understanding of the complexities are often ignored. Often the trap is failing to have the right understanding, skills and application to be applied, leaving for just adequate end solutions offering mediocre and further erratic results. Sorry but that is it!

I believe through decent in-depth discussions pre-engagement we can achieve better results

Surprising this ‘decent’ pre-engagement often does not happen, and you can spend a fair amount of your time revising your proposal after certain discoveries. The problem today is that caused by the pressure of time, as most the issues always seem to have a certain ‘burning platform behind them. The pressure is to quickly find solutions that fix immediate problems without the necessary depth of discovery to resolve the underlying cause.

I would strongly argue clients should invest in a discovery phase before everyone gets deeply involved in project structures, costs or possible solutions. Sadly the majority of clients are not prepared to pay for this, often believing their rambling brief, many times just verbal and often in snatched, scrabbled conversations is good enough. To be totally honest they are not.

On the consulting side, if you probe too much, early on, it makes the client uncomfortable when that should actually be the effect, as it brings out and confirms the real issues in potentially a better proposal. At least it can get you closer to the real issues underneath.

Sometimes the client suddenly is unavailable, they do not return the calls but by then you have either lost out because you were not the mind reading expert they expected as they are too busy fire-fighting and little time for putting quality time into their thinking.

So let me offer some of my favourites where clients serve up ‘lumpy gravy’.

Lumpy gravy 1

  • Briefs that are so limited that you have to spend inordinate amounts of time painfully extracting the real underlying challenge or issues. Often you lose out because you were not the mind reading expert, as they were really waiting to read the different submissions to decide on what they needed to do as they did not have a clue and were on a ‘fishing’ expedition.
  • Another one is clients hand over such a short brief, pushed through to the procurement department and just let them go through the discussions and evaluations. The consultant can’t even talk to the eventual client.
  • Then you have procurement who does their job of looking for the most economical proposal, leaving the eventual client often forced to work with that provider of services irrespective, eventually complaining of “that consultant was no good”- surprise!
  • One other favourite is a reworked and passed around document, one that has been revised countless times by all internal stakeholders to make the end briefing result as exciting as flat warm beer – still just about enough strength but no character or uniqueness but it “wets the whistle” as we say.
  • Often you experience  the one where the brief arrives months after it should have, due to this internal dialogue process being interminable. The client has that sudden fear someone above them is beginning to ask questions about this. Equally the year-end is coming up and the client races to turn the investment commitment into actual and push the consultant to reply within forty-eight hours or something as ridiculous.
  • One more, is to take out the real issues; I mean who honestly wants to admit they have real issues?  Heaven forbid, that might be carer limiting if it gets out. Just offer a hint of excitement and flavour to the consultant and once they are ‘on the inside’ the client opens up, Caught often by surprise, the consultants scrabble to draw in additional resources, rapidly try to revise their solutions and get into renegotiation mode creating tensions and questioning for the broader stakeholders, making all go on the defensive. Not a good place to start any engagement process.

I can recall where one potential client deliberately ‘released’ a tender over a holiday weekend, opening the tender offer on Friday, late afternoon, with a cut off on the Monday – the holiday day. That way the number of submissions were significantly limited and his favoured one ready to be submitted, could be chosen by the committee, set up to review all tenders. That perhaps is a ‘lumpy gravy’ of another kind.

All these ‘lumpy gravy’ moments have real tension  within them, due to the lack of a well thought through brief.  Often so many with ‘vested’ interests enter the discussions all getting ‘stuck in’ to fix the lumpy gravy of a poorly conceived proposal. As they say “too many cooks spoil the broth” and the end result ends up with blander, watered down proposals. Conflicts and issues are put off until later.

Examples of adding more whipped innovation cream back to the client.

Whipped Cream with the cherry on top

  • If you want to make everyone purr with contentment just keep throwing in “best practices” and “benchmarking competitors” or “evaluating market leaders” as one part of the topping off
  • The other is laying out the ingredients of the innovation solution dish to make sure there is sufficient taste appeal such as “we provide a diagnostic” or “we believe in conducting in-depth interviews” usually triggers and ticks some of the taste boxes.
  • When consultants receive a short briefing call, asking for help, the consultant ‘grabs’ all his pre-cooked solutions off the shelf or from the deep freezer and turns these into instant solutions and uses these to offer up quick answers.
  • Then you get a number of consultants who have formulated their solutions before they even arrive at the clients for the kick off meeting and irrespective ‘drive’ solutions towards this but work very diligently to squeezing them into the solution box.
  • Or, after a brief period at the clients busily gathering data, conclusions are made and with the on-site consulting team locking themselves away for a few days producing their ‘all singing and all dancing’ Power Point deck of 200 slides, full of the ‘mind numbing’ structure and process descriptors, leading to their conclusions with those all listening simply ‘blanking out’.
  • How often does that growing sense of the consulting company, that was brought in, actually seems like they have gone beyond their own competence level and begin to ‘gain experience’ at the clients cost and famously ‘tap dance’. Whipped cream can cover much!
  • The last one here, is the client only real reason in calling in another consultant was to clear up another consultants mess. That puts a really different spin on things and suddenly reputations are far more at stake. The new whipped cream might briefly foam up and then go flat as the situation was simply not really a recoverable one.

So the consultant has to often be ready with lashings of whipped cream to mask the content underneath. Sometimes a little honestly, which often is in sparing doses, might be a better solution. I’d rather lose an engagement than work in highly constrained situations where no one is eventually happy.

Clients, I believe value candour, some humility from consultants and a high level of transparency than often consultants like to project:  fully confident, the authority and masking the solutions with the pretence of perfection. Whipped cream can only go so far.

Avoiding whipped cream and lumpy gravy.

It is a pity, especially where we are dealing with innovation as it is often a messy process and this should be a clear recognized on all sides. Solutions need to be unique as no two situations are the same. Solutions often ‘emerge’ through an open, sometimes highly experimental process that requires this collaborative approach, where client and consultant truly do work alongside each other, complimenting and contributing together. Here is where by really combining they can offer different insights for ‘emerging’ solutions that tackle unique distinctive challenge and learn from each other.

I like working through four principal steps in any engagement process. They all need working through really well – discovery, generation, conversion and finally, diffusion and acceptance. I adopted my approach from learning from others and provided a visual of this can be seen in a previous post.

Try to avoid the whipped cream and lumpy gravy within the client- consulting engagement process, it masks some fairly unhealthy outcomes if this is not managed well.

Innovation being served up with a growing angst, anxiety and Kiasu

Time, we are told, can be our best friend or equally our worst enemy. This week time showed its bad side to me, actually it might have been doing this for some weeks when I stop and think about it.

When you feel the pressures of time, you seem like you are “fighting the clock”, it just seems to heap more pressure on you and that need to break out, that spark of creativity, seems to have been buried under an avalanche of what keeps coming into you. The acceleration of what keeps landing on your desk, crying out to be read, answered or translated into something more.

Of course, most of us are that rational type and we tell ourselves most of this is self-imposed or is it? I think most of this is externally-imposed. I blame the advancement of our social tools and all the multitudes of opinions, thoughts, suggestions that are ‘spewing’ forth in streams and becoming so overwhelming you begin to go ‘stir’ crazy. I equally blame myself for getting so hooked.

Addressing the problem

This is not simply a time problem, it is deeper than this. It is actually tickling away at fear, it is giving a growing intense feeling of apprehension, anxiety and inner turmoil. I think I’ve been suffering this for some time. I’ve got FoMO thanks to all these social platforms I feel I need to connect into.

Each day is getting into a growing dangerous routine. I arrive into the office my early routine- check my emails, check twitter, check the blog, check facebook, it is eating into my time but I need it. Do I really? This is social anxiety with a big kicker. FoMo – that fear of missing out.

Then we have the staggering array of social networks constantly prompting us to check out our Klout status or your Kred score or the latest articles in our designated areas of interest. Then you go in search of the scoops of the day. You must feed the hungry beast, baying for your time.

Then the daily snippets, LinkedIn reminders, slideshare updates, headline notifications and then the drip of the dailies from paper.li capturing all the breaking stories you subscribed too, needed you felt for your work. Were they?

This is angst, an acute anxiety type, I am dreading where this is all going. So do we really need all these ‘social’ interactions, are they profitable investments or just simply satisfying events and quick fixes. No, we just want to all feel loved, special, in the loop and by giving something back into this, achieve a little respect. What are we really getting out of them? We reply, we contribute and we feel productive but are we, are we economically productive?

Now if this economic productivity is happening then great. That is defined as increasing the economic value or are social platforms just simply sucking the economic life out of us all?

It just dulls our creative process so we are getting more defocused aberrations

The reality is it is dulling our own creative processes. Is it spurring us to do more within our own work? Is it not undermining the precise kind of creative thinking for us to do our own creative work? It is blurring us, it is surely this constant ‘mass’ of contribution that chips away at making us less individually distinct, perhaps a new form of defocused aberration.  The higher the intensity of this social ‘interaction’ the more we get defocused, not actually more focused, I feel.

Then we come to Kiasu.

Anyone who has ever lived in Singapore will recognise this word. They even have a Mr. Kiasu. This really is a wonderful word for that fear of missing out. I think it applies to me more and more. I’ve caught the dreaded Kiasu fever.

Kiasu is a mental attitude, it is always looking for a sense of opportunity. This has its positive sides but it shows itself far more in its less attractive ones. It makes you feel if you don’t do something now it will be missed opportunity and where it adds a real pressure on you, is you have this fear that it will not be simply lost, it will go to someone else.

So  you experience with Kiasu a sense of lost opportunity and a growing disadvantage in relation to other people who are ‘working’ the social scene. This feeds compulsion that I equally have to do something now, it is my own sense of obligation kicking in as I owe it to myself and so I have to do it. This nicely links into a pressure to compete with others and I can’t lose out, can I?

Understanding Kiasu

Anna Wierzbicka wrote on Kiasu “Singapore English- a semantic and cultural perspective” that does an excellent job of describing much around Kiasu. Also David Chan Wah offered a essay some time back on “Kiasuism and the withering away of Singaporean creativity” with the wonderful maxim of “better grab first, later no more”.

In Singapore Kiasu manifests itself in queue jumping or barging in front of you with perhaps only a simply “sorry lah”, it also is seen on the roads when no one likes to give way when lanes are merging. Kiasu is deeply ingrained into Singapore ‘s psyche, it has its good and bad points.

Growing up with Kiasu and its pressures often makes for ambitious business people; you become ‘big’ on working towards number one. The problem is always double edged, winning is never totally sweet as it carries the dread of ceasing to win, to get ahead, to ‘grab’ the opportunity.

There is even a A to Z of Kiasu I came across sometime back, although I’m not sure of its source on the sometimes amusing side of Kiasu in Singapore. I think we should compile one for our growing social anxieties of that FoMO.

Kiasu Philosophy

We are all increasingly in an information maze

We of course, do need to devote time to reaching out, reading, responding, to gathering in and absorbing but we do need our own plans of what amount of time we should spend on this and its ultimate purpose.

We need to certainly find time, to make available time as others offering their thinking and experiences does help us relate and often make sense of our world. It does stimulate our creative process but it is the ‘act’ of filtering but this can’t be imposed by a simple click of a delete button, it has to be more than this.

The pressure today is externally- imposed but we need to regain the upper hand by making this flow of social interactions coming to us, like a social tsunami, by taking back control to make it far more self-imposed. My anxieties, my FoMO needs redirecting into greater economic worth. Recognizing the symptoms is a start.

We all I feel, need to be more selective, more discerning to make our own insights more personally creative and not becoming even more elusive, growing reliant just on our ‘feeds’ being beamed in daily to dull our creative brain, by simply adding to them. We need to ‘carve’ out our own time to allow our ‘creative juices’ to flow more, I forgot to get this jab shot recently, where is that creative needle?

Becoming more selective- is that my answer?

So I need to come to grips with all this. I’m not sure if all this inflow is helping as much as it should be, it is not generating what I think it should be, certainly from the time I seemingly put into it. I need to break into this with a different perspective, it is sucking up far to much of my time.

But as Mr Kiasu says in Singapore English “I’ve got to get my money’s worth lah!” I’ve got to “everything also I want” and “everything must grab”  with “everything also want extra” but with more of “everything also sure win“. Work that out!