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One thing I’m great at is scope creep!
In 2005 I convinced the boss to let me organise a one-day Innovation Expo with employee ideas exhibited alongside a number of guest speakers (David Vaskevitch, CTO of Microsoft was our keynote, Rod Vawdrey, CEO of Fujitsu who launched the Fujitsu Innovation Benchmark, Futurist Richard Watkins, and several others.)
In 2007, I decided we needed a tsunami to create change…not simply a springtide!
So…the one day provocation swelled to a one week Festival of Innovation and Thought Leaders from 25-29 June 07.
But even before that, on 21 April, World Creativity Day which coincides with Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday, we kicked off a 12 week Creativity Bootcamp inspired by Dan Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind” after I saw him speak at the World Creativity Forum in Flanders, and followed by a 6 week Ideas Farm campaign in partnership with the Allan Ryan, Managed Innovation, and Pierre D’Huy, a French Innovation consultant.
The 2007 speaker line-up included Dr Jane McGonigal, thought leader extraordinaire in Alternate Reality Games, Michael Schrage, of MIT e-Media labs and author of Serious Play, Chris Shipley, Executive Producer of Demo, Daniel Erasmus, scenario thinker and founder of Digital Thinking Network, Roger Dennis, tech lead at European innovation insight firm Innovaro, Craig Rispin, a Technology Futurist, Gary Hayes, Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production and like a digital cat with 9 lives, Des Walsh, one of Australia’s leading Social Media thought leaders and all-round nice guy, Frank Arrigo, Aussie Blogger and change agent at Microsoft, Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, a facilitator and innovator in the field of Appreciative Inquiry, the late Derek Binney, Chief Knowledge and Technology Officer of CSC Australia on the Greening of Technology, and many more.
So, from one-day expo to 15 weeks of organisational focus on doing things differently. Some 2500 employees and leaders (about 2/3 of our Sydney-based workforce) attended at least 3 events during the festival week, a further 780 downloaded speaker videos and podcasts from our intranet.
360 created art works – all of which were exhibited in the lobby of our corporate HQ by a professional curator, and 196 business growth ideas were harvested in the post-festival ideas campaign, with 8 of them being pitched to a panel for investment. The winning idea was deployed and commercialised 6 months later.
And THAT, dear friends, is how you quickly create an organisational impact and tipping point.
Today, I spoke to a large team at work about Innovation. I had only 10 minutes. They are smart, long-term IT folks (developers and programmers) with many years of service and have seen their fair share of corporate programmes come and go. While they don’t work at the sexiest end of the technology spectrum, their passion to continuously improve code as they maintain and enhance the core applications they maintain, is unquestionable.
In the tougher economic climate we have been experiencing since the sub-prime mortgage crisis started contaminating the world, I have seen the number of innovation ideas diminish in direct proportion to the availability of fat in the system to absorb and fund a bit of experimentation,
and more importantly, the PERCEPTION that there is no point to try and innovate because we are in cost-focus mode. How fragile and shallow our innovation culture still is….after 5 years, and how frighteningly powerful perception and leadership signals are if cost focus is not balanced with what else remains important while we keep an eye on the bottom line.
I was quite conscious as I entered that meeting that a rah-rah-rah pep talk about how hunky-dory and jolly great innovation was and please can we see more of it, would be simply stupid.
So, instead, I set about to create and provoke a conversation.
It was a dicey strategy because I don’t know this team well and in the past I have found them quite passive and uncommunicative. And, in addition to their team leaders and direct managers, their IT Director was also present and I wasn’t sure how comfortable they’d be to speak out in a large group.
But, the gamble paid off. A few courageously started speaking out about how they feel when their innovation efforts and ideas go unheeded, what they saw as obstacles (much were perceptions, but as they say in advertising, PERCEPTION IS REALITY), and a few of the usual examples ( like Google gives people 20% of their time to work on innovation and where is ours), and so on. (We are not an advertising company like Google, we operate in a conservative and highly-regulated industry where we look after other people’s money )
But here is the celebration!
These questions were openly asked, passionately yet constructively, and leaders were challenged, work practices questioned, policies picked on and with equal openness and courage, the leaders engaged in the conversation, clarified positions without defensiveness but with fact and reality, took on board feedback, and helped explore a third way where all both leaders and employees can collaborate more effectively to find answers.
It was a beautiful thing to behold. A few years ago, I don’t believe we could have had those confrontational debates and robust conversations and ended with everyone feeling really good about it and staying well after business hours on a Friday night to carry on talking!
So often, people just want to be acknowledged for how they are feeling, they dont expect leaders to be able to solve all of the world’s issues and problems. Listening and paying attention and not ignoring suggestions and ideas is really not hard and it makes all the difference between how engaged and disengaged employees regard their leaders.
Thats all I wanted to share today. Along with this great Slideshare presentation above full of practical advice!
The title of this post was the doing of my geeky daughter aged 13 who helped me quickly knock together a banner!
Now, they say the first thing a group of geeks do when they get together is deny that they are geeks! So, let me not keep you waiting. I am NOT a geek!
Catalyst for Magic has been my business title since I joined AMP on 2 April 2000. I chose it because my real title is this long, boring, corporate-sounding sentence that puts people, myself included, to sleep.
Catalyst for Magic is much more fun, a fabulous conversation starter and the perfect summary of what I do…which is to help unleash the magic we find from employing human beings, as opposed to machines, to transform our organisation and our business.
The important bit is that my work is not that of magician…the creativity, passion and “magic” is in everyone already, but with the help of a bit of pixie dust and a few wands, like listening and acting on ideas, using collaboration and creative thinking tools, providing access to information and resources, rewarding and recognising both success and learning from failures, and most of all believing in people and giving them opportunities to shine, we move mountains, like the one in my photo!
This is my 3rd blog…I used to write a personal one called MsMaverick but then I launched the whole Enterprise 2.0 thing for my company in July last year and to get the momentum going, I focussed every available blogging hour of the day on that! So, now that that “baby” is crawling and nearly walking, I have a bit of space to return to the world-wide blogosphere.
This is going to be a blog about leading a culture of innovation in a large, established financial services institution (159 years old), and what I learn along the way, how I stumble, and how I can draw insights and support from those of you who share a similar interest and passion.
I look forward to the conversation.