Friday, September 18, 2015

What to do today to overcome change fatigue

I’ve been taking a really hard look at the uncertainty and overwhelm we face.

Right now, the cost, time and stress of people and performance related issues is higher than I have ever seen it since I began working as a mentor for business owners and leaders 25 years ago.

Some business leaders are worrying about the threat of recession, others political inaction. Some leaders are losing sleep through fear of being disrupted in some way. Many leaders are worrying about all three.

Astute leaders are having conversations and making decisions about something else entirely. I'm naming it the Darth Vader in the way of increased and sustainable momentum - change fatigue.

Vast numbers of people are suffering from this dis-ease. Failure to address it will kill your business.

Find out what you can to do today here.

Be remarkable.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Your #1 Innovation Threat: Your Brain

Your #1 Innovation Threat: Your BrainObviously we all use our brains, but one things leaders do especially well with their brains is pattern matching. We’re great at seeing, recognising and acting on patterns in the world – and that gives us valuable insights, judgement, and wisdom.

A lot of what we call intuition comes from pattern matching – even if it’s subconscious. For example, you get a routine e-mail from one of your team members about a task she’s working on. It looks like a fairly simple e-mail, just reporting on an interaction with another team member. But you know she’s upset. There’s nothing obvious in the e-mail, but subconsciously you spot something there that’s different from her normal e-mails – in other words, something that doesn’t match her usual pattern.

Or you’re making a presentation to a group, and you stop for questions. You look around the room, and even before somebody raises their hand, you know they’re going to ask a question. You call on them, and they are amazed – because perhaps they didn’t even decide themselves to ask the question! But you spotted something in their posture, or a microexpression on their face, or a tiny change that crossed your subconscious mind and registered as a pattern.

Pattern matching is great because it fast-tracks our decision making. If we drive a different car for the first time, we get the hang of it quickly because most of the features are exactly the same. If we eat at a new restaurant, we broadly recognise most of the items on the menu, even if we’ve never seen exactly those items before. When we recruit somebody new into the team, we have a pretty good idea what they need to know in their induction program.

Pattern matching is a double-edged sword.

Although pattern matching is very useful, it can also get us into trouble, especially in a world that’s changing fast. Some of the patterns that used to serve us can sometimes hold us back – and perhaps even harm us.

Here’s a quick puzzle:

Maria’s father has five daughters: 1. Chacha 2. Cheche 3. Chichi 4. Chocho, and … What is the fifth daughter’s name?

The answer is … (drum roll, please) … Maria. If you said Chuchu, as many people do, that’s because you fell into the pattern matching trap.

Here are three more puzzles (answers at the end of this article):

Puzzle 1: A cricket bat and ball together cost $11. The bat costs $10 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Puzzle 2: If five men can paint five walls in five minutes, how long does it take for 10 men to paint 10 walls?

Puzzle 3: A fish weighs 500g plus half its weight. How much does it weigh?

Here’s a real-world example.

When I mentor leaders and presenters who are using webinars for the first time, I often find that the more experience you have as a presenter, the more difficult it is to run your first webinar! That’s because the webinar environment is so different, and some of the patterns you have learned don’t work. For example:

  • You don’t have those subconscious cues that somebody is about to ask a question.
  • You don’t get friendly smiles and nods from the audience when you make a point.
  • You can’t tell whether your attempts at humour are working or not, because you can’t hear people laughing (or not!)
  • You don’t know whether people are paying attention or not, because you can’t judge from their eyes or posture.

Ironically, less experienced presenters often do better, because they have never learned these patterns. So they just get on with it, and do just fine. But experienced presenters sometimes feel unnerved by it.

So pattern matching is a double-edged sword. It can be powerful and it can be dangerous.

How did you do with those puzzles?

Here are the answers to the three puzzles I posed earlier:

  1. A cricket bat and ball together cost $11. The bat costs $10 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

    The obvious answer is $1, and that’s what your pattern-matching brain might say because it sees the $11 and $10 and jumps to a shortcut. But that’s wrong. If you do the maths, the ball is actually 50 cents and the bat is $10.50.

  2. If five men can paint five walls in five minutes, how long does it take for 10 men to paint 10 walls?

    Again, if you just used a pattern-matching shortcut, you might say 10 minutes. That’s the obvious pattern, right (5-5-5 should match 10-10-10)? But the correct answer is 5 minutes. If five men can paint 5 walls in 5 minutes, it takes 5 minutes for a man to paint a wall. So if there are 10 men and 10 walls, it still takes 5 minutes. If there are 1,000 men and 1,000 walls, it still takes 5 minutes.

  3. A fish weighs 500g plus half its weight. How much does it weigh?

    Again, if you used a pattern-matching shortcut, you might take the 500g and add half of that – which is 250g – to come up with the answer 750g. But again that’s not right. The correct answer is 1kg, and this time I’ll let you figure out why!

Beware the pattern matching trap!

As leaders, it’s tempting to take shortcuts based on patterns we have seen in the past. This is often useful, but it’s sometimes risky. If you want to be more innovative, more flexible, and future-proof your career, your team, and your organisation, be careful not to get caught in the pattern matching trap.

Want to know more about innovation?

There's more in the Innovation chapter of my book "There's An I in Team". This chapter looks at how you can foster innovation in your team and make it part of your regular work.

If you’re interested in tapping into the power and potential of the people in your team, this book is for you.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

15 Instant Innovation Questions to Future-Proof Your Business

Instant Innovation Questions to Future-Proof Your BusinessIn the past, when most organisations could rely on a few innovations a year, innovation was considered to be only the role of a Research & Development department. Now, when your organisation is more complex, employees have more ideas, and the external environment is changing so fast, innovation is everybody’s responsibility. If you’re running your own business, of course this has always been the case!

Sometimes innovation is forced on you because of outside factors – like digital music destroying the CD industry, Uber tackling the taxi industry, and even review sites like TripAdvisor changing every hospitality business. But why wait until somebody else changes your business? It’s far better to be proactive and look for ways to change it yourself.

You could just sit around and wait for magic moments of insight, but that could take a long time! A better approach is to “seed” ideas by asking provocative questions.

Involve your team.

Don’t just do this yourself, either – involve everybody in your team. In fact, this is where your team members shine, because they look at things in different ways. They come from different backgrounds, have different skills, are different ages, follow different trends, tolerate (or don’t tolerate) different things, and so on. They often see things others can’t see and make connections others don’t make.

Here are fifteen questions you can ask to spark innovation in your business.

Work more closely with customers

Your customers and clients are your best marketing experts, because they already know why customers buy from you! What’s more, they now have more influence than ever before, so it just makes sense to involve them more in your business. For example:

  1. What if they trusted us more? If you’re in an industry with a poor reputation, how can you build trust?
  2. How can we remove intermediaries? Can you reach customers directly, even if it means risking relationships with your traditional “middle men”?
  3. How can we connect customers to each other? Don’t only think of customers connecting with you; also give them ways to connect with each other – by hosting online forums, discussion groups, and support networks.
  4. What if we could help customers sell on our behalf? Your best customers and clients want to promote you to their network. What are you doing to help them? Do you pay a referral fee, send thank-you gifts for referrals, or run customer events and ask them to bring a friend?
  5. What if we could help our competition sell more? sells books at retail prices, but also promotes independent book shops selling the same book for a lower price. Some customers will choose the cheaper option, but it’s still better for to have them as a potential customer.

Learn from other organisations

You might be able to tap into things other people are doing – even outside your industry. For example:

  1. What are other industries doing? When Belinda Yabsley created the first Mercedes-Benz Airport Express in Australia, she turned to the hotel industry, not the car industry, for inspiration. How can you tap into other industries?
  2. What is the rest of the world doing? You might be doing the best you can, but what can you learn from the best in the world? Keep in mind that “world” means anybody outside your current scope of operations. For example, if you work in local government, the “world” can be as near as your neighbouring local council or as far as South America.
  3. What are trendy start-up companies and entrepreneurs doing? Start-up companies don’t have the baggage of experienced organisations, and are more likely to take risks by trying new things. What are they doing that you can adopt?

Observe consumer behaviour

Finally, watch what consumers in general (not just your own customers and clients) are doing. The best ideas might come from completely unexpected places, and they won’t necessarily need a huge investment of time and money. For example:

  1. What are the young people doing nowadays? What are the latest trends, memes, and “hot” things from popular culture? They might seem superficial and shallow, but can they spark ideas?
  2. What trends can we leverage? Russia’s Alfa-Bank rewards customers who exercise by giving them a higher interest rate on their deposits. Can you tap into trends and fashions – even outside your industry?
  3. What old ideas could we use again? Edward de Bono once suggested that a fruitful way to find new ideas was to trawl through lapsed patents, looking for ideas that failed because they were before their time. Your older team members in particular might be able to share discarded ideas from decades ago that could be useful now.
  4. What’s personal that could be professional? Smartphones and tablets were personal devices before they became work devices; Facebook is for personal use but can be used to make professional connections; business class air travel grew out of a need to provide something more affordable than first class luxury travel. What is happening in personal lives that you could use in your organisation?
  5. What’s so funny? In the 1990s, Japanese inventor Kenji Kawakami coined the term “Chindogu” to describe things that are “not exactly useful, but somehow not altogether useless”. Although it was done for fun, some of these “unuseless inventions” turned out to be useful products – such as the selfie stick.
  6. What if this was more social? How can you tap into the power of social networks for ideas, leads, referrals, feedback, and support?
  7. What if this was more local? Do your systems unnecessarily involve “head office” or other parts of the hierarchy? As a result, are they too broad, too generic, too convoluted, or missing out on local knowledge?

What will you do differently?

If you ask just one question a week – for example, at your weekly staff meeting, or just privately for yourself – you’ll be way ahead of most businesses. More importantly, you’ll be creating an innovation mindset in yourself and your team – and that will help to future-proof your business.

Want to know more about innovation?

There's more in the Innovation chapter of my book "There's An I in Team". This chapter looks at how you can foster innovation in your team and make it part of your regular work.

If you’re interested in tapping into the power and potential of the people in your team, this book is for you.