Learning Innovation From Bees

There is something you should understand about ideas.  It isn’t always the highest quality ideas that advance. Sadly, in many organizations and groups, WHO an idea comes from matters most; but, it shouldn’t. In this regard we could learn something from nature, in particular from bees.

Bees have a healthy innovation culture

Each morning, scout bees venture off in search of nectar, water, and better nesting grounds. This pursuit is necessary to sustain life for the entire colony. When a bee discovers a stash of nectar, water, or a great nesting site, it returns to the hive and performs a waggle dance.

In this dance the energy exuded signals to the surrounding bees the value of the treasure found. More waggle means a better stash. This is a fully inclusive process. No scout bees returning to the nest are discriminated against because they don’t carry a certain title, possess a certain number of years experience or have a direct relationship with the queen.

Every Organization Has Buried Treasure

Bees appear to work alone but are always working in a larger distributed team for a common purpose to keep the hive alive and thriving. Whether you lead an organization or simply work with or for one, act more like a bee and less like a raccoon and your hive may soon thrive, too. Imagine the treasures organizations could free from their employees’ imaginations if those employees were as engaged as waggle dancing bees.

Recipe #40: Dance Like a Bee

Have a discussion with your team to brainstorm how you can work together more like bees and less like raccoons. Discuss how your organization handles shiny objects and how you can establish the equivalent of an innovation waggle dance.

About The Author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Chapter 8: Bees & Raccoons especially pertains to this blog post. His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded marketing strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help. Gregory serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor, Oikocredit International and as an advisor for Seattle University’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

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The Care and Feeding of Ideas

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on September 1, 2016. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me via phone, email or social media.]

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

Everything begins as an idea, this talk, this Club, even The Rainier Club. They ALL started as ideas. But, ideas are not exclusive to any club. EVERYBODY gets ideas.

Some ideas will move forward and make an impact in people’s lives. Nine of us recently convened on an electric boat on Lake Union to celebrate Mr. Riddle’s 70th birthday. That too, started as an idea. The idea happened and I think it made a very positive impact for all involved.

While some ideas actually happen, other ideas remain trapped in our imaginations or become stalled, never to make an impact in the real world. I was curious about this. I had my own experiences, but I wanted to hear from others.  While doing research for my first book, The Experience Design Blueprint, I asked people in all types of organizations why they thought ideas failed to gain traction.

Idea Mortal Enemy #1 – Lack of Clarity

The number one reason I heard for why ideas don’t move forward was “lack of clarity.” People simply didn’t know how to get started or what the next step was. What people really need is a clear path forward and a starting point – even a small step in the right direction. But, we have a poverty of language when discussing the movement of ideas. One of the things we need to understand about ideas is that – as they move from concept to completion – the people involved operate in three distinct psychological zones. Two of these zones we have some familiarity with, the third zone – not so much. The first psychological zone is the idea zone.

Idea Zone

This is the zone we are in when we generate ideas. The idea zone is home to sticky notes, pictures, envelopes and napkins, the whiteboard, and every other place we capture our ideas large or small, good or bad. We are all familiar with the idea zone.

Execution Zone

The other zone that we are familiar with is the execution zone. Here is where the calendar lives, and deadlines and our to-do lists. This is the mental zone for all items related to the discipline of execution. When you are reviewing the Olympic Club program schedule or other upcoming appointments, you are in the execution zone.

I’m going to pause here to take a quick poll? Who here considers themselves more of an idea person? Raise your hand. And who here considers themselves to be more of the execution police – that person that is mindful of the details, even holding others accountable? Yes, it’s the same result I see over and over; I usually find about a 50/50 mix when I take that poll.

Advancing Ideas IS the Challenge

The challenge is in going from the idea zone to the execution zone. Specifically, how do you advance an idea, especially when multiple people are involved? I’ve asked this question 100’s of times and I rarely receive good answers. This is a key area where the poverty of language is harmful to ideas.

Idea Buzz Kill

A board member once shared with me what she would tell other board members that approached her with an idea. She would say to them, “That is a perfectly good idea. Why don’t you come back to me when you have a fully executable plan?” What she didn’t realize at the time was that she was in the execution zone and the people approaching her with new ideas were in the idea zone. She was effectively shutting people down without realizing it. She was dismissing ideas outright, not on the merits of the ideas, but because of how and when those ideas were shared. They needed to have a different conversation. And, that leads us to the third psychological zone, the zone we are mostly blind to, the conversation zone.

The Conversation Zone – Seeing The Big Picture

The conversation zone is the place where we have authentic dialogue. In this mental state, alone or with others, we flesh out ideas enough to gain further understanding of the idea and why it matters. In this zone, we gain the perspectives of others that might sharpen and improve our ideas. In the conversation zone we get on the same page and build a simple plan that all can agree to. When we are in this zone we are trying to “see” the big picture. After creating the big picture we may realize the idea isn’t worth pursuing after all and that’s okay.

If you skip the conversation zone – by jumping directly to the execution zone you’re likely to burn precious time and resources. And, you’ll like hear these questions.

  • What are we doing again?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What’s the next step?

Overcoming Stuck a.k.a. Wandering in the Swamp

The conversation zone provides the clear path forward and addresses that #1 reason ideas don’t move forward – lack of clarity. Each of us moves in and out of the three psychological zones; so do those around us. That makes it especially challenging when working in groups. People are often in different zones but we don’t recognize it. There are no indicator lights or flags. Having a mental model for the three psychological zones is helpful. But establishing guiding principles for each zone adds to the care and feeding of ideas.

Guiding Principles for the Idea Zone:

  • When you have an idea put it in the playground (that’s the  name for the space where you capture ideas)
  • Ideas can come from anywhere and at times inconvenient
  • Ideas are not judged in the playground

Guiding Principles for the Conversation Zone:

  • If you want to advance an idea, create a big picture
  • An idea not implemented makes no impact
  • Any idea can be broken down into big chunky steps along a implementation path
  • Every idea should have a payoff

Guiding Principles for the Execution Zone:

  • A task unclaimed is a task undone
  • Inspiration has expiration, so it’s best to get started early
  • Once you get started, it is easier to keep going
  • Show visible progress to motivate yourself and others on the team

Recognizing the three psychological zones and referring to guiding principles for each zone can create smoother, more transparent behavior and more positive outcomes. It can also eliminate the drama and ill feelings that plague individual members within groups. Overcoming the poverty of language and normalizing productive behavior around ideas is a pathway to higher performance – as an individual and especially as a team.

One of the CEO’s I interviewed for my book wished that I had shared these guiding principles with him earlier. He recalled a time when he shut down an employee on a conference call when that employee suggested an idea. Rather than shutting him down, he later realized he should have said, “Sounds like a good idea. Put that in the playground and we’ll discuss it later.” Most ideas do arrive at inconvenient times. You know this firsthand.

Talking About the Movement of Ideas is Empowering

A client, a CEO of a software company, was frustrated because none of his employees shared ideas, although they interacted frequently. One of the first things we did when we began working together was to create a visible playground where ideas could live. Once we did that ideas flowed to it freely. The company entered new partnerships and created mobile and cloud versions of its software. Each of those ideas initially started as an idea written on sticky note and placed in the playground.

In Summary

rocket-monument-for-care-of-ideas-blog-post-delightability

Ideas are like food. They are better to be shared with others than left to deteriorate in isolation. Imagine if more ideas received the care and feeding they needed in order to move forward. Imagine that happened all across this city and in every city. Imagine people getting involved to nudge ideas forward; ideas that could make a big impact.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, everything begins with an idea. Perhaps your next idea is right around the corner. Whenever it arrives and whether it is large or small, and whether you are working alone or with a team, I wish you much clarity and clear path forward. I hope your next idea fully takes flight – liftoff.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book, L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, is a light-hearted and deadly serious book containing a couple of hundred ideas that if implemented would create a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help. Gregory also serves on the board of Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor, Oikocredit International and the advisory board for Seattle University’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

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Clouds or Weeds: Where Should Strategy Live?

Having lofty ambitions is good. After all, by striving to achieve the impossible we may actually do it. And, the rewards can be many. But, if we only have lofty ambitions and pay no heed to the myriad actions required along the way to achieving them then we’ll likely never reach our destination. Many organizations (and individuals) fall into this head-in-the-clouds trap.

Being More Grounded

You’ve heard it, maybe even said it, “You’ve got to be more grounded. Get your head out of the clouds.” People who say such things are mindful of the implementation details. They are the “execution police” among us. Whereas some minds are filled with lofty ambitions, others are consumed with getting things done. The details they fret over may appear to some to be too grounded, or “weed-level.” But completing weed-level projects is necessary for a functional organization. Whether it’s invoicing the newest customer or making payroll, updating the website, or producing and distributing the latest company news or developing a block of code, weed-level projects guided by a coherent strategy propel an organization toward its destination.

Guided by Coherent Strategy

The caveat in that last statement is “guided by a coherent strategy.” If weed level projects become the strategy unto themselves then the organization is headed for trouble. When strategy gets hijacked by a propensity toward getting things done, minutiae can begin to consume all available resources. When this happens, there is no longer capacity in the organization for healthy discourse. Nobody would ever hang a banner on the wall expressing the norm of “Guided by Minutiae” but many have felt this way in organizations large and small. This spells trouble for employee engagement and an otherwise would-be innovation culture.

Beware of Action Junkies

At the extreme, “action junkies” place demands on the organization that might be counter to the strategy already in play. The time horizon for gratification shrinks. Instead of thinking long term strategy and the benefits thereof, short-termism takes over. This can happen at all levels of the organization, shifting the focus and further demanding the attention of others. Suddenly people are pulled into “surprises” while others may be shed like an unwanted winter coat. You’ve heard this play out in organizations before; perhaps you’ve even uttered the words, “We just need….” When short term tactics become the basis of your strategy, your organization begins to drift. Persistent strategic drift will cripple an organization, no matter its size or tenure. See related articles: Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball and also Focus Focus or Hocus Pocus.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu said this well, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 2500 years later we still are dealing with the same human foibles on the battlefield, in board rooms, and in every room.

The False Choice

In the title of this article I presented you with a false choice, namely, where should strategy live, in the clouds or in the weeds? Actually, you need strategy in both places. Your strategy needs to produce strategic imperatives that communicate the overarching aims of the organization. You also need a strategy to continuously ensure that the execution level details remain hitched to strategic aims. This passes the relevance test. You should be able to walk down the strategy from the clouds to the weeds and vice versa from the weeds up to the clouds. If you cannot do this without massive tension among those involved in the discussion then more work (and conversation) is warranted. Two scenarios are likely at this point.

Scenario 1: Mapping but Questions Remain

You’ve heard of such practices and maybe have some firsthand experience mapping individual goals to department goals and objectives that in turn map to the organization’s strategic imperatives. That is great.  You’ve started but related challenges to resolve include:

  • Is your innovation culture able to detect changes in customer mood, needs, and desires?
  • What about the changes in technology, communications, and other factor outside your organization that are certain to change?
  • Does your organization embrace ideas that may come at times inconvenient? Does it matter where those news idea comes from?
  • What about responsiveness to competitive changes or budding alliances in the business landscape?
  • And, how will you keep score of your progress or lack thereof?

Scenario 2: Conversation Needed

You’ve not performed strategy mapping in any form. In that case, definitely more conversation is warranted. For that, I recommend you assemble a team, carve out quality time (and place), and begin a regular dialogue beginning with the questions raised in scenario 1) , but more generally how can your organization remain relevant in a constantly changing environment? One model to leverage is the Promise Delivery System, the subject of Chapter 8 in, The Experience Design Blueprint.

The model and method you use isn’t as important as you establishing a regular dialogue on strategy and execution. Once you do, you’ll more naturally know whether the weed-level project du jour is “on-strategy” or a defection thereof.

A Strategy That Lives

When enough people in the organization are executing on a coherent and communicated strategy, employee engagement will soar, an innovation culture will coalesce, and the organization’s well being will improve no matter how you’ve collectively defined that. Then you can revisit the original question about where strategy should live. Instead of answering “in the clouds” or “in the weeds” you can confidently state “our strategy lives in both places and in between. We are able to shape and shift our strategy as needed. Our strategy is alive and well. Our many stewards of strategy are on the watch and at the ready.”

about the author

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. He founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations. image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

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Small Business Leaders Struggle with the 3-Legged Stool: How to Overcome

Like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, you likely have a long list of things that get shoved off to the back burner waiting for another day or week when there is more time. The trouble is, more time never actually arrives, right?

Today is no different from yesterday and tomorrow will look much the same. You only have 24 hours in a day. When it comes to time, there is no aristocracy of wealth. Genius or laziness is not rewarded or punished with any more time.

The 3-Legged Stool

3-legged-stool of operations - promoting value - delivering value - balanced personal life - Delightability LLC.

Every small business owner struggles with maintaining balance among these areas:

  • Maintaining a smooth operation – invoicing customers, paying expenses, having good procedures in place to prevent business breakdown and wasting resources
  • Delivering value – providing to customers whatever your business does as its core offering, i.e., products, services, and support
  • Promoting value – performing the sales, marketing, and business development functions to ensure 1) prospects know your business exists; 2) customers understand your value and provide you with validation; and 3) employees, partners, and customers stay engaged.

Stop Letting Your Personal Life Suffer

The person sitting atop a well-balanced 3-legged stool has the opportunity for a personal life. Chances are you’re not very good at all three legs of the stool. In a large company you have the benefit of departments to focus on activities related to the different legs of the stool. That probably isn’t the case in your small business where you have to spread your time, talent, and attention across sales, marketing, account payable, human resources, product development, etc. Even if you are good in all areas, you’ll struggle with the limited time available. When the legs of the stool get out of balance or become all-consuming then you and your personal life get sacrificed or worse, topple to the ground. Business performance then also suffers. We’ve all been there.

Five Things to Overcome the Struggle

  1. Recognize the need to slow down: sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. It is true when hiking up a steep trail and it’s also true in business. As a now deceased friend has taught me, “Make time to linger.” R.I.P. Donald Marsh.
  2. Revisit your operation: perhaps you need new operating mechanisms that could prevent snags in the business operation that if left unresolved will end up consuming resources. As a start, begin to identify where your time gets wasted. If you don’t know, begin monitoring your own time over the next week or month. Identifying the workarounds could be a place to fix first. If you have employees, they’ll know these rough spots.
  3. Stay on course: your energy spread in too many directions can fatigue you and crush personal and business performance. Be deliberate on your destination and script the critical moves needed to get there. Read the Destination Postcards article for an exercise that can bring discipline to charting a course and then staying true to that course.
  4. Confront reality: mind the uncomfortable gap you have between your current performance and expected performance. Focus on key areas and find acceptable discomfort for what you’ll not work on in the near term.  You cannot do it all, so find some peace in accepting that. See Business Performance Continuums exercise.
  5. Force multiply through others: recognize that you cannot do it alone. It is difficult to involve somebody else in your projects and business, especially if you already feel overworked. But, chances are you’ve wasted more time agonizing over how to start a project that another person would have completed by now. There is plenty of talent available to help you in whatever your endeavor is. More talent on the team can come in many forms: full-time or part-time, employee or alliance with a service provider. At Delightability we are a service provider for our clients’ communications needs, providing both strategic and creative services. Whether a small campaign test or a large brand pivot with accompanying business case, every one of our client engagements involved busy business leaders. It’s true for you, too. But, remember what our clients have now come to realize, namely, you don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.

about the author

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations.
image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

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Stuck in Low Gear? Time to Shift.

Have you ever dismissed something straightaway because you knew it to be false? Or, have you parroted something you heard because you were certain in its truth? Of course you have; we all have.

Whether it is fact or fiction if it reinforces our beliefs then we strengthen our views, digging our heels in further. And, if it doesn’t strengthen our views then we summarily dismiss it, like a filter protecting us from noxious air. Researchers refer to this phenomena as the “backfire effect.” It is even more pronounced when the new information challenges an especially emotional or long held belief. For a depth reading with examples on WMDs, Stem Cell Research, and Climate Change, see this document.

Reluctant to Change

No matter the issue, whether politics, environment, economic, or social justice and whether it is far away or something local, we are often stuck in low gear when it come to acceptance of new truths. And, it seems that we are reluctant to shift.

But, shift is what we must do. Recognize that change for change sake is not good. The logical fallacy of Appeal to Novelty (that which is NEW! is better) is as deeply flawed as its cousin, Appeal to Tradition (that’s the way we’ve always done it so it’s the best).

Progress Requires Change

Whether you are a champion of change or the status quo you must accept progress inherently requires change. But, how do you react when change is afoot? Jeffrey Moore documented well in his 1991 book, “Crossing the Chasm” that each of us self segments on an axis of risk aversion. It is a classic technology marketing read. Before him, Everett Rogers discussed the same concept in his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovation. This line of thinking is where we get the widely used terms, “early adopter,” “laggard,” etc. This is easy to think of in terms of technology adoption.

Impossipreneurs Face Multiple Barriers

But, technology isn’t the only hurdle we face as change agents, entrepreneurs, and as a society. As I outline in my latest book, L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, once an entrepreneur overcomes technology hurdles, they must still face head-on, the political, social, and culture opponents who oppose their success and who would rather see things stay exactly as they are. This is true whether the agent of the new, was Nikola Tesla, Helen Keller, Franklin Delano Roosevelt or is the entrepreneur of today, especially the social entrepreneur. Welcome to the term, impossipreneur.

Backfire Effect Near and Far

The backfire effect  is part and parcel to the opposition faced by the bringers of the new and those who dare surface the truth. If you have a tough time grasping this concept, envision trying to ensure voting rights and fair elections, an inherently nontechnical challenge rife with political opposition. Or, think of the social and cultural barriers you’ll face in introducing safe medical and burial practices to villages grappling with the Ebola virus. The backfire effect is alive and well, near and far.

Competing Narratives

Each of us has a visceral reaction to the headlines we scan and soundbites we hear. Some anger us and some make us feel sad. Fewer by design make us happy and still fewer cause us to think deeply. Consider your reaction to what you are hearing and seeing today. What narrative are you tuning into? Are you tuned into a narrative that desires to keep things as they are or one that seeks progress? See related post about the history of regimenting minds – Mind Hajacked: A Brief History of Propaganda.

Truth Doesn’t Care About Feelings

Consider at certain points in history, it was deemed that the sun revolved around the earth and that the world was flat. New ideas and models challenged those “truths” of the moment. Do you think you would have supported these novel ideas and gone against the tide of the times? The funny thing about the truth is that it doesn’t care about your beliefs or feelings. Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation applies to you even if you choose not to believe in it. Truth has a funny way of surfacing even as others attempt to suppress it.

Reaching Our Potential

Whether we champion the new or hold onto the status quo we should do so on merits of truth, not because it’s new, tradition, or fits our current views. Resist the soothing temptation of the backfire effect. Find solace in the truth and upgrade your thinking. Imagine the possibilities when, as a society, we are able to overcome the backfire effect. Think of the authentic dialogue and meaningful connections that would ensue. It’s at that time that we will free ourselves to live in to a higher potential. I hear the gears a whirring; perhaps it’s time we shift.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded communications strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor, Oikocredit International.

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