Is that really a “best” practice?

I’ve been talking a lot with clients lately about knowledge sharing and collaboration. This is a broad umbrella that includes content management, collaboration environments, reconfigured physical spaces, reconfigured cloud spaces, expert designations, profiles, and other tools to help build knowledge communities and great content. I love the work and the conversations of which I get to be a part as a result – it feels like it is having an immediate impact on the culture, the results, and the successes of some very large companies, which is fun for me.

A consistent debate that comes up in every instance is around “best practice”.  The debate rages around what defines a best practice, how do we acknowledge it, who vets and approves it, etc. I recently pointed out to a client that part of the problem is that “best” is binary.  There can only be one. And in most of life, there are many ways that something can be great and work well.  What’s worse is that things change fast – best today may be terrible tomorrow. So who maintains what is identified as ‘best’?

In some organizations we’ve switched to using “successful practices” – an inventory of things that have proven to work in certain situations as certain times. In others, we’ve moved to a star rating, where it makes total sense for more than one type of practice or collateral or content to have the highest star rating. We still have to debate the process for assigning and maintaining the ratings, but it seems to create a much more productive and useful  conversation.

In my mind, best is too definitive for most complex environments, and it makes little sense in my mind to spend time debating how ‘best’ will be assigned and maintained. Moving away from a binary descriptor can help shape the discussion and create positive change.  Give it a try!

If it isn’t uncomfortable, it probably isn’t “Disruptive”

Seems everyone is talking about disruption (in a positive way) these days.  Just this past week, I’ve seen executives waxing poetic over how their company is ‘disruptive’, because they demonstrate the characteristics described in an HBR article on disruption in their industry. Hmmm…. I thought…. if it is described in an HBR article, it probably isn’t incredibly radical, right?  I mean, it is understood well enough that HBR is writing about it.

It makes me think of all the people who say they want ‘innovation’ in their culture, but what they really want is the output of successful innovation. They don’t really want to do the hard work of believing in and then cleaning up after the failed innovations that are an inevitable part of creativity.  Innovation takes a willingness to fail, it takes accepting sunk costs as possible losses in the service of potential future success. It requires investment without a guarantee of return, and taking a long view on profits. It means not having an efficient process with predictable results. See my post on September 16 for a link to an article from the NYT on just that thought, and another on September 19 for a link to an Information Week article on a similar vein.

Likewise, when people say to me “what we need around here is disruptive change!” or “I want to be a disruptive force around here!”, I always ask a few questions.  First, I ask “what does it feel like to be disrupted?”.  Second, “what does it feel like to be disruptive?”. And third, “what does it feel like to be in a disruptive environment?”.  Those three questions tend to make people pull up short, stumble over their answers, and the results are usually timid and incremental instead of bold and slightly crazy.  I’m sorry, but timid and incremental don’t equal disruptive to me.

We need to stop throwing bold words around and trying to make them fit into timid visions. You know what?  It is OK to want to do things incrementally. Maybe you aren’t at a point where risking your career is a worthy undertaking. Maybe your organization needs to play it safe for good reasons. Embrace it and make the most of it.

If you truly want disruptive change than be willing to accept that it is uncomfortable. It doesn’t always feel good. It isn’t always exciting.  Sometimes it is scary, and hard, and forces you to reevaluate things you hold dear. The return you get for accepting the lows is that the returns can be amazing. You can find yourself moved to new heights in your industry, or moved into new industries. You can go on a great adventure, if you are willing so risk an adventure gone very wrong.  If you can honestly say that you are OK with that, then be a disruptive force of change in your company.  Push your company to be disruptive in your industry. Just please don’t abuse the language by implying that incremental changes are disruptive in nature, and that innovation can somehow be managed into a neat and tidy process with predictable results.

I always tell clients, “if you already know what the answer is, don’t pay me to tell you.  If you can predict what innovation will produce, it probably isn’t innovative.” And now I’m also telling them, “if it isn’t uncomfortable, it probably isn’t disruptive.”


The St. Louis Org Development Community

For the second year in a row, I’m attending a program put on by the St. Louis Organizational Development Network.  What a great group of people who are passionate about organizational development!  Today’s focus is on the tie between OD and strategy, which is an interest of mine as well.  They did a great breakout led by Paradigm Consulting on how to apply some techniques of engaged strategy development to clarify the ODN mission, vision, and strategy for the members.  Great way to use the time, keep the energy up, and inspire membership commitment and understanding.

ODN Mission Vision Strategy


Intelligently Marketing Business Intelligence

It seems like everyone is talking about BI or Big Data these days. It is a topic that cycles under different monikers, but it always promises the nirvana of users being able to access and visualize data “free of IT constraints” (read…. you don’t have to submit a work request into a queue for a developer to create for you).

There are many companies out there working on it – and they are hitting YouTube to take their message to the people. But their videos are almost uniformly boring and unappealing visually. For companies promoting their ability to make data accessible and fun to play with, their product videos almost uniformly boring, using the same old buzzwords (drill down! powerful! dashboards! executive dashboards! key metrics! filters! woo-hoo!) and displaying pretty old-fashioned looking bar charts, spreadsheets, and maybe a few speedometers for ‘fancy’ stuff.

Here’s an example in the video below. Birst might be a great product – I have no idea. But I could replace their product name with just about anything and the talk track still works. Plus, it is delivered in the standard monotone perfection of a carefully crafted script being read with well honed and carefully rehearsed inflections. When are companies going to figure out that social media isn’t just cheap TV or radio – it is an opportunity to bring a product to life, to show real people doing real things, and to provide authenticity in the experience of watching a campaign. Even BI can be compelling, but it takes an intelligent marketing strategy to make it come to life.


Innovation is Executive Porn – Coverlet Meshing

Here’s a great article from “Coverlet Meshing” about “innovation” in business today.  Check it out for (his? her?) thoughts on how innovation has become a buzzword and how it is used with wild abandon.  It is written under a pseudonym by a ‘senior IT executive at a large bank’, so there’s the added bonus of puzzling out who actually wrote it!

What will people think?

It was confirmed earlier this month that Voyager I has left our solar system – the first humna powered craft to do so. It takes a while to confirm in part because the tiny spacecraft is so far away from home, it takes a long time for it to communicate back – what we are hearing from it now actually happened a while ago.

It was launched in the 1970s and has been transmitting amazing images back to us ever since. As I read about its on board technology, which includes 8 track tapes and less memory than the lowest of low grade cell phones, it got me wondering about what people will think of my fancy IPhone, high def DVD players, and flat screen TV in 30 or 40 years.  Will it be as quaint as what is on board Voyager?  Will it still be reliably transmitting anything at all?  Who knows.  But in its day, Voyager was ahead of its time, outfitted with the latest and greatest, and few could have forecasted that it could be out-tech-geeked what we would carry in our pockets today.

Taking over channels

The New York Times was hacked today, reportedly by a group called the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), who has claimed responsibility for a number of highly visible hacks lately. They claim to be using their methods as a way of getting the word out about their cause.  Basically, they take over the domain name of a well known publication like the Times and post their own messages to the site. In this case, they survived about 3 minutes before security kicked in and their messages were blocked. But they took the site down with them – has been struggling for the last 24 hours to recover.

In old movies the evil antagonist sometimes intercepts the TV news report to say whatever he has to say – captivating the attention of the town, city, nation, or world (depending on his stage and the movie plot).  The idea is much the same here – take over the most obvious channel to the public you can find and use it for your own messaging.  It is the most complete form of interruption you can create in today’s society for news and information about the world around you.

When we look at the channels of communication that create and reflect culture in an organization, executives often get very excited about using them to push out a message. I’d suggest that can be as inappropriate as taking over a media distribution website to push your own agenda on people who otherwise wouldn’t see your message. If you want to ride a channel, get into the conversation instead of shutting it down. Learn to navigate through the discussions that are being had. Be a part of something instead of demanding that everyone pay attention to you for a moment in time.

I’m not making a political statement about SEA – just using the site hacking practice as an analogy for what I sometimes see happening in companies as they try to make one message stand out amongst a sea of information that is directed at the people who make up the organization. Before you take over, stop and ask yourself ‘is this the best way to use this channel? Is it the best way to connect with these people?’

Innovation requires space for thinking – are you willing to give that?

I wrote a post earlier this summer about innovation and creativity, pointing out that many companies say they want it, but what they really want are the outputs.  They aren’t necessarily willing to embrace the messiness that comes with it.  Today in the New York Times there was a great opinion piece about creativity and how we systematically eradicate it from the workplace and from the skills of our workers while saying we ‘really’ want it.  Managing innovation really means managing the space around it – providing breathing room for life to happen. Are you willing to provide that in your company?

My favorite quote from the article:

“Creativity requires giving self-directed original thinkers space for the missteps and dead ends that are often prerequisites for groundbreaking work”.

Check out the full opinion piece here.

The Innovation of Loneliness

Check out this great animation by Shimi Cohen about the influence digital social networks are having on how we connect, how we have conversations, and how we over-manage presence.  I thought it was a facinating point that “social” gives the opportunity to select, to craft, to manage how we sound, how we look, and what we say (of course, for many that is a learning process, but we are getting better and better at it in the digital-social world). Real life requires us to be vunerable to the silly moment, the stupid comment, and for those with whom we have a relationship to be forgiving and kind, right to our faces. Real relationships must endure hardship, they must have trust that miscommunication can be overcome, and that reality will not disintegrate the relationship.

Many thanks to my colleague Sean McKenna for bringing this to my attention!