Monthly letter

A monthly collection of thoughts and reflections about the themes of innovation, humanistic management, idea-centric business processes, multiculturalism in business, and many others near and dear to his heart.

Mentors as ruler and compass

Careers have become progressively less linear. Gone are the days when young graduates would join the workforce and could envisage themselves at a certain level thirty years later, normally within the same organization, having overcome all hurdles along the way, been promoted a few times, missed on a couple of opportunities, and so on.

We are living through a sort of Renaissance, moving away from the arts and crafts of the Middle Ages, and experiencing an explosion of creativity brought about by new technologies, social advancement, inclusion, and diversity.

One element, however, is common to both paths, either the linear or the meandering one. We all have people who influence us, who leave a mark, who inspire us. Some of the early ones tend to be, if we are lucky, our own parents or older relatives, a motivational teacher, a real role model (not the one busy with taking selfies to promote products…), or even a good friend. Later in life, we find in some colleagues and leaders a more objective source of inspiration.

Those inspirational people are a lasting fountain of guidance in our careers. Nevertheless, most of us will only realize how important they are years later. When you go back to certain situations and try to understand some amazing outcomes, when you analyze failures and recognize the support given by the very same inspirational individuals, that is precisely when you realize how important they were.

If I were to go back in my professional journey and had the opportunity to add one element that would have made my path a bit smoother, that would have been the identification of those inspirational people who challenged, motivated, and guided me. At the time, it was hard to see their role beyond the jobs they performed. Now, looking back, I can see who my real mentors were.

Hindsight is 20/20, but how lucky was I that many of them were of different cultural backgrounds, women and men, very diverse in more than one way, authentic, some with a humanistic vision, others very pragmatic, mentors that were also learners, etc.…

I was asked by a student the other day what would be a piece of advice I would give someone at the beginning of their career that you did not normally find in conventional books, I would say – Identify who your sources of inspiration are, and make the relationship with them, with their ideas, their role-playing, both a ruler and a compass. A ruler that helps you measure up to the challenges you give yourself; a compass to always guide you to your own True North.

The lion’s tail and the cat’s mouth

“To be or not to be. That is the question” … The Shakespearean dilemma comes across as relevant as ever, every time I hear the drama of fresh graduates deciding where to proceed in their careers in innovation. “Shall I take the safe route, try to join a big corporation with a big budget, and drown in the deep oceans of process?” or “Shall I take the big leap to entrepreneurship, and take my creative ideas with me, running the risk of failing miserably as many do?”. Like in the famous The Clash song of the ’80s, “Should I stay, or should I go?” …, there is no simple answer, there is no silver bullet.

For the baby boomers, the answer was easy. The big multinationals offered that comfortable prospect of a demanding, yet somehow safe career path. International moves, promotional opportunities, and a series of more tangible benefits, over and above the good salary packages made it a no-brainer. As a result, some of the best talents found their way into the labs and offices of big businesses. The progressive frustration over budget cuts, financial realism, structural constraints, and many other barriers was easily replaced by the nice bonuses, the big office, and the glamour of the business card.

Enter the 90’s and we began to notice the first signs of deeply ingrained dissatisfaction with a system that brutalized people, suppressed their creative juices, promoted mediocrity, and was averse to diversity and inclusion while being cynically unsustainable. The big companies, noticing the big tsunami coming, began to create their own containing dams, to preserve their talent and prevent them from going to the sprawling territory of startups. They created this fallacy of fallacies, open innovation, they set up incubators, accelerators, etc.…, yet many of the brightest talents began their new life as entrepreneurs.

Desperate to retain their talent (yes, the pool was and still is very deep), they coined a new term: Intrapreneurship! It was now possible to stay in big business and exercise one’s entrepreneurial spirit as if you were in a startup.

The rest is history. We have seen the new ecosystems of innovation cropping up everywhere, generating new products, services, benefits, redefining business models, challenging the status quo. We have seen the big companies using their financial prowess to acquire small businesses and bringing those creative juices into their own structures, sometimes offering them a bigger channel, a bigger reach, often though, killing them as a competition prevention move.

So, what do I answer to that fresh graduate who does not want to go to academia and who wants to be in business? Is it better to be the mouth of a cat or the tail of a lion? As always, there is no silver bullet.

My main advice is not to be motivated by money. If you decide to be the tail of a lion and your only motivation is money, you will soon find yourself to be a chameleon, incorporating the grey colors of the office furniture and becoming just a number corresponding to a badge. If your decision is to be the cat’s mouth, remember that you will most likely not get rich soon, and the frequency of failures can be daunting.

My second piece of advice is: Be an “MP”! Be motivated by Meaning and Purpose. If your purpose and the meaning you wish to give to your life passes through the big company or through the conversion of your great idea into a business proposition, it does not matter. Whichever way you go, if you have a clear purpose and that adds meaning to your existence, that is what matters. I have met many amazingly creative lion’s tails and many frustrated cat’s mouths. The environment alone does not define who you are. It may define what you do, but who you are, depends largely on your purpose and what your meaning is.

Finally, you are more likely to be happy by knowing who you are than by defining what you do.

The future will probably be made of innovators who have moved across in both directions and the benefits will be mutual and lasting.

Global mobility and Innovation

For many decades global mobility has been promoted as one of the key factors of success in careers, as business expanded its boundaries and became fundamentally borderless. For those of us working in innovation, it became a regular mantra to seek and find inspiration in distant lands and unknown cultures.

When confronted with a pandemic that has already killed so many people worldwide, it goes without saying that a reluctance to be mobile, particularly globally mobile has become the norm.

How can companies and businesses continue to find those blends of perspective that the global nomads used to bring to the table? What can replace the major impact that eye-to-eye exposure to a new culture brings?

The usual answer is that with remote connection technology we will be able not only to replace the need for direct contact but also reduce expenses in the process.

The fact of the matter is that virtual meeting technologies have significantly evolved, bringing up new experiences we could hardly dream of only a few years ago. Furthermore, with the continuous development of 3D technologies, we are on the verge of even more fascinating solutions.

However, it has also become quite obvious that when it comes to ideation, to innovation sessions where our human interactions go a long way in making it possible for us to “seek to understand before being understood” ( Steven Covey), the direct contact, the impromptu conversations, the informal lunches, even the walk on the park cannot be simply replaced.

As we move towards a gradual relaxation of our norms of confinement, let us not forget the importance of motivation, mutual support, appreciation of each other’s ideas, all in the context of planning innovation meetings that will allow ideas to be ideas and will avoid the pattern of most meetings that become the “PDO” type (the Painful Discovery of the Obvious).

We need to re-think our global mobility, by bringing it closer to principles of humanistic management, in order for innovation to be not only the driver of growth but also a key vector of sustainability.

Foresight in times of confinement

Insights come as a result of different events, behaviors, or attitudes. A masterful work by Gary Klein demonstrated that there are fundamentally five ways to generate insights: Connection, Coincidence, Curiosity, Contradiction, and Creative desperation. Insights are the Holy Grail of business, the source of many a decision made about the future, quite often disguised as a fact-based extrapolation of the present, coated with a glossy amount of hope and optimism.

Insight, hindsight, and foresight normally walk hand in hand. The analogy to driving a vehicle, with the dashboard, the rear mirror, and the windscreen each playing an important role, is quite relevant.

Insights, however, do not point towards innovation. Autopsy doctors are very good at telling us why the patients died but they are not capable to resurrect them.

When in the middle of a crisis, whether of economic, political, or sanitary nature, the whole transition from insights to imagining or visualizing the future gets affected and blurred by the inability to see the future with clarity.

That is precisely why foresight is so critical. There are huge challenges in bringing insights to life and estimating what future success might look like. Using the same tools for insight generation, businesses ought to focus on the power of ideas and enrich them so that the future can be better visualized.

Creative desperation in times of crisis is indeed a major driver and should be harnessed to deliver solutions to problems sometimes we don’t even know we have or will have.

In a recent workshop with a client, we used the power of enriched ideas, even under the shroud of desperation, to deliver creative foresight and solutions.

Back to the Future 

Between the prophets of doom and the proverbial Pollyannas sit most of us, not so desperate that we cannot catch a glimpse of light, and not so optimistic as not to see that turning things around is not necessarily an easy task.

Innovation is not an exception. Often touted as the great stock price driver, with its bag full of promises for the future, and more often than not, paradoxically the first company activity to be cut in times of crisis.

What we are now confronted with though is not just your usual run of the mill crisis, with economists drawing complex curves to predict the end of the slump and the forthcoming recovery. Whether the recovery is going to be V-shaped, a hockey stick or any other format, statisticians and glorified fortune tellers are suffering from computer-tired eyes trying to guess what the so-called new normal will look like.

The main issue is that this pandemic has brought to our attention that the “normal” was not so normal after all. Humanity needs to re-think many of their strategic choices, lifestyles, political systems, while re-visiting essential and long forgotten human values.

More than ever, we are now faced with the opportunity to not go back to normal, but rather go forward to a new normal. In the broad field of management and for innovation in particular, this means a number of new ways to uncover new opportunities.

Some non-exhaustive examples are: – Focus on human values leading up to defining and incorporating humanistic management; – Fostering and nurturing ideas that will keep leaders and their teams oriented towards results while maintaining well-being; – New measures of success which go beyond numbers; – A challenge to growth as the sole ideology; – A deep connection with the agendas of sustainability, environmental preservation, public health, and climate change.

Our forebears in times of crises throughout the centuries were not so equipped with all forms of intelligence, artificial or otherwise, to make predictions. They resorted to extrapolations from their present, then combined with fate, superstition or the perception of divine intervention in order to anticipate the future.

We have an opportunity to change for the better, to manage better, to organise ourselves better, so that we can have a quantum leap towards economic success grounded on essential human values.

Business and organizations at large can do that by harnessing ideas that will not only transition them to a new era, but rather will transform them into new entities. Innovation will continue to be a driving force. However, it will have to be more grounded on human values, with the power of ideas at the forefront and the connection with the very future of the planet.

If you wish to know more about how to capture, generate, enrich and select ideas to feed any chosen innovation process, please click below.

Ideas or Processes vs. Ideas and Processes 

One of the oldest wars being fought in Corporate conference rooms and annual meetings is the war between Processes and Ideas. Successful companies tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency, cost controls, and other measurable parameters, which indeed are very critical for their survival and further growth. However, much of the praise being showered on the processes necessary to make all of those happen is done to the detriment of the mother of all successes: the idea. As most companies hire a lot more engineers and accountants than philosophers or sociologists, it is only normal that good processes take a front seat in the theatre of expectations for their business. However, today more than ever, there is a need to call an armistice, to find at least an opportunity for a truce that gives everyone the chance to see that without combining the power of ideas with the lubrication of good process, success itself will be ephemeral.  Capturing ideas, enriching them, looking for intriguing ideas rather than just feasible ones is a major exercise in preparing to be both successful and meaningful as a business.

If you wish to know more about how to capture, generate, enrich and select ideas to feed any chosen innovation process, please click below.