From the monthly archives: April 2013

Analogies in innovation

Small and medium-sized enterprises, in much of the global world have an active part in driving technological innovation and economic development.

It is understandable that its importance has been hidden by the shadow of large multinational companies, pointed out if we think that the news and opinion exchanges that matter almost always fall in matters that relate to companies such as Samsung, Apple or IBM.

If we want to imagine such large companies as large trees in a dense forest, we will find around, small and medium-sized enterprises (plants) that the feed and make it possible to majestic visibility of companies such as Apple.

In the forest small and medium-sized plants keep alive large trees!

These ecosystems are a good analogy with open innovation regarding the participation of each company in the process of a product or service innovations.

SMEs need to embrace open innovation primarily for reasons related to the market, such as meeting the needs of their customers (often large companies) or remain in competition with their competitors.

To survive in an environment of unequal size, SMEs face great challenges that are translated into organizational and cultural issues, in particular those that are resulting from the need to cope with the significant increase of contacts with the outside world.

So, when and how should be done the knowledge transfer across borders?

If the knowledge is explicit, the problem may not be too big but if knowledge is tacit, it becomes more difficult to express, transfer and absorb. Sharing tacit knowledge requires a long term to strengthen relations of trust necessary for the support of any failures that occur during the sharing.

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Effective sharing of tacit knowledge also requires shared practices and in these times the actors must strive to be able to deal with challenges of performance.

We can analyze open innovation under various perspectives, but all of them are based on the combination of knowledge transfer and/or technology and absorption of this knowledge.

Perhaps open innovation has started its way with more visibility through big companies able to realize the need to move out of its borders, but now small and medium-sized companies need to realize that they have two directions where they can focus their attention.

On the one hand, SMEs must be attentive to the activity of large companies and seek to know where their action and innovative potential can fit.

On the other hand, they can be entrepreneurs receiver of smaller size and thus they must combine efforts to meet their domestic needs, whether for exclusive use or to satisfy the needs of large companies for which alone were not enabled.

The notion (knowledge and meaning) or consciousness of the environments where they are inserted, brings to SME’s an advantage in the refining of products and services to be made available to consumers and users, adding a value not visible to larger companies.

This happens by virtue of its proximity to consumers, proximity that enable them to have a transparent absorption of cultural values and of needs of the ecosystems where they are inserted.

It seems that there is, increasingly, the need to establish partnerships in various stages of the development process of new products/services, not only by the issue of knowledge/expertise, but also due to costs and risk management.

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A different way to solve problems

Almost always, when we have a problem, consult Google or the manual of the tool that we are using. However there are problems for which there is no manual or repairing experience with records on the internet and at such times, if we want to see the issues resolved, we must appeal to our creativity.

There are times when the ideas that intersect with each other in our minds and that, as a result of collisions and combinations, give rise to new ideas that are candidates to solutions of our problems. This flurry of ideas raises a party, music and color to our lives.

People who are living this “party” of creativity are in constant conflict of ideas that provides them with new opportunities for experimentation and broadening their scope of knowledge.

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So if we want to be creative and participate in this party we will start with some dance steps:

Let’s forget the principle that only others have an opinion and that only others are creative. We will launch our ideas and make them as valid by exposing them to the debate.

We will provide an environment of trust so that there is a game of ideas with fun and participated.

We will shut down our internal censorship and we are going to produce in quantity, without being constantly saying “no good”, “not worth” or “is not a good idea”.

Let’s make these ideas tangible by building prototypes and let’s think with all our senses. Our prototypes are validation instruments of our assumptions and of learning.

We will live with the rules because they are constraints that leverage creativity. Let’s break them or exceed the limits if the solutions are beyond the boundaries imposed by the environment.

Let’s play the roles of all involved or are participating in our idea as a way to realize deeply what their needs are and to know how we can solve their problems.

We will diverge to have as much as possible of variables in the game and we will converge to fit the best solution in the problem set.

If we carry these guidelines for an organization the result can be a nice surprise.

This is, when organizations seek to develop a climate of creativity they are also seeking to develop reliable environments and risk acceptance.

We know that trust and risk are closely linked with the fear and so we are facing two situations that may be antagonistic:

On the one hand, the fewer risks are assumed by us, the less chance we have to fail, and therefore we feel less afraid to invest in the development of an idea. However, an idea that involves little or no risk is a copy or has lack of originality, because the notion of risk is linked to the unknown, to the discovery and originality.

On the other hand when there is a climate of trust, the sense of responsibility is fused with the feeling of recognition and reward. This feeling can be a trigger to creativity flows or divergent thinking.

Whatever the origin of the new ideas that emerge in an organization, its destiny is to transform itself in innovation, be it for products services or processes.

To start a journey of innovation promoters of ideas should feel comfortable with the existing trust level. If not  they don’t produce enough energy to walk. The course requires passion and a strong belief in individual and organizational capabilities.

One of the most fun and fruitful steps of developing ideas is the experimentation, step that allows us to test our concept, or check if our imagination fits in a desired reality.

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The prejudices that hinder curiosity

Yesterday in a small exercise on Design Thinking I realized that most of the participants felt a hard time understanding the meaning of empathy and simultaneously devoted little enthusiasm to curiosity about the problems of others.

It seemed that to be curious to understand deeply the needs \and problems of people was to be indiscreet or rude.

On the contrary have an empathic curiosity means that there is a knowledge gap that we need to fill. We feel the curiosity when we feel a gap between what we know and what we don’t know, and this leads us back to learning.

Curiosity is our main ally to understand the complexity that involves many challenges we face today, whether it’s the relations between people or their sensitivity in the face of adversity.

 “I am a true believer that being a good person is much more important than being a good musician, and that in order to have the success I seek in music, both are required…I’m a sensitive person, but I always perceived that sensitivity simply as good listening in musical situations. I’m sensitive to people’s feelings and moods, and I believe that it generally makes me someone that my friends feel they can come to.”

In fact it seems a complex world when dealing with relations with people in a changing environment, but there are ways to decode this complexity and present it as being simple.

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One of the outputs, that we have when we are faced with complex situations, as for example, to analyze the real needs of people (customers) is looking to fit what we have available in the complaint or request of the people in question.

It is not however a desirable output because many of us do not know enough about the needs of the people, to change our products or services, or the way we interact with them.

Without realizing that, we drag people to a complex network of processes that hamper a good service when we propose services or products wrong by wrong motives.

We need to listen carefully and amplifying curiosity we must find out what are the needs of the people, understand what are, the unmet needs, the non-articulated and unveil the hidden needs.

Empathic curiosity is underpinned by the core skills of empathic listening and maintaining a curious attitude.”

When we talked with someone, we hear or read news, often we find that a lot of people has unmet needs, but these are just the visible part of the iceberg.

Underneath the water line there are many other needs that people still could not express or have not yet been identified because they have not yet been confronted with environments that require more of themselves.

When we are able to combine curiosity and empathy we are facilitating the identification and definition of problems.

Deny the existence of problems is to escape their resolution or reject the challenges which we are placed. Do not dig deeper to understand deeply the people is to follow the direction of laziness and propose the mediocrity as a solution.

Dig deeper also means understanding the context where people are, to understand the values and cultural norms or criteria for satisfaction.

This cultural empathy, which equates in traditional environment of each one of us, incorporates a significant weight, in addressing the needs or problems that we want to identify.

So learning plays a key role, and begins with the ability to learn to develop the work collaboratively.

After all, having empathic attitudes is not as easy as talking. In addition to requiring a conscious learning of what is empathy, requires knowledge of the environment where the attitude is manifested and the existing connections.

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Tacit knowledge and trust

The experience accumulated throughout our life is often a lever for significant jumps in solving problems whether they be personal challenges or in an organization.

This is an experience that cannot be ignored or whether to discard without consciously realizing their greater or lesser relevance in solving problems.

There are times to learn and there are times to unlearn.

Possibly for years, cyclically, we learn and we forget, however there are two types of experiences that we should reconcile and use in our day to day:

An experience based on experimentation that provides fun and learning and an accumulated experience that is translated into tacit knowledge.

Be able to learn quickly in a changing world and share knowledge in order to create new knowledge and new things or experience new emotions, can be a personal goal perfectly feasible if the desire and the will that exists within us are large.

When we are aware of the importance of our experiences we make the moments we live more rich and seem to have no end and this makes the emotions experienced are crucial to later recall these experiences.

Eventually, we’ll not remind all the details of situations experienced but easily will remember what we feel.

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Emotional memories are powerful and serve to guide and inform us as we navigate the present and prepare for the future. If you’ve ever had a drink or taste of something spoiled, you know that emotional memory protects you from doing that again.”

We know that not all instances of tacit knowledge are emotional memories but a lot of information, tacitly stored in us, is linked to our decision-making and to the way we connect diverse knowledge tips on diverse issues of substance and context.

The decision moments are moments of surgical precision and are times when we need to shake up the creativity to make decisions. It is an action that must be developed with the participation of specialized knowledge in the field concerned, but that calls for the collaboration of other people.

The management of that information, which we make over many clashes with data containers, can facilitate the creation of new knowledge.

Moreover, if we are able to manage how people share and apply this information, we can provide interesting creative leaps. This is because the tacit knowledge that every individual possesses and which is unique, once unlocked, can be a great creative contribution in an organization.

“We know more than what we can say” – Michael Polanyi

In fact, many decisions to be taken, need support or approval of the people with whom we live or work, because it is these people who are experts in a given subject, and not us, although we can have some tendency to be T-shaped.

The more specialized knowledge is tacit and often the exchange of this knowledge leads to creativity, and that is why we need an understanding of the background of the participants in these exchanges, something that only we can acquire through sharing.

The same is true in relation to the trust that we have with the people who collaborate with us. To build trust, we need an understanding of the background of our interlocutors, and in order to be able to share ideas or co-create, we will need to know the intentions and the observable behavior of the people involved in sharing.

“The kind of trust involved in knowledge work is not a static entity either present or absent. Nor is trust unlikely to emerge spontaneously and, so, we need to learn how to create trust between actors with very different goals and values (Hardy, Phillips and Lawrence, 1998:65). Consequently, trust is a performed achievement of a concerted and highly heterogeneous effort with actors, artifacts and other externalised knowledge representations.”

When experiences are shared there are a series of connections that are identified and become the starting point for new ideas.

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Seeing leadership in both directions

Almost always a leader differs from a manager by the use of his assumptions.

For a leader to question his assumptions is seeking to do the right things while for the manager assumptions are the basis for an incrementally seek to do things right, that is, following the standards and policies of the organizations to which they belong.

An assumption is something taken for granted and when is assumed represents a way not to have deviations, but do not necessarily indicate that we are on the right track.

Question and turn our assumptions on new possibilities are a path of exploration, creativity and innovation and this should be the mindset of a leader in innovation.

Of the many obstacles to innovation, those who are most dangerous are the assumptions taken as absolute truths because in addition to being a bad habit, are a blocker of open minds and are often insidious and invisible or consciously hidden.

Inhibit the future assumptions while pure potential. The future is built with our creativity.

Creativity involves a three-step process: identify assumptions that you make which prevent you from seeing all the alternatives; deny these constraining assumptions; explore the consequences of the denials.”

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Often we have witnessed the efforts of managers looking to improve a part of organization thinking that way they will be creating a better organization, but this can create imbalances. The Organization has to be seen as a whole, that is, we must include the connections between the parties.

Assume that improve the performance of the parties separately and necessarily improves the performance of the whole, is false. On the contrary, in the absence of a desirable balance between the parties can destroy an organization. For example, try to put a Toyota engine in a Rolls Royce! This action requires a design and requires creativity.

Even when the assumptions seem to be great ideas to apply it is important to question them!

So Great Ideas aren’t just “solutions”. Indeed, many of the Greatest Ideas are problems.” – Umair Haque

The assumptions on innovation are a problem and as such must be identified. It can have several names like mentality, blind spots or sacred cows but in fact are a set of assumptions and hidden rules that govern the behavior of managers and that often lead to the use of benchmarking or other revenue saved for situations problem, to the detriment of creativity and innovation.

If a word can be enough to influence our thinking so deeply, imagine what a few good years to work on a particular business can do.

Are years of assumptions hidden consciously, but others are submerged unconsciously and difficult to identify, either by others or by themselves.

When consciously used but in a hidden way the assumptions are a clear demonstration of lack of collaboration and inability to lead.

Each of us has developed views or beliefs about leaders and leadership, but it is rare that we explore, articulate or discuss these expectations with our bosses, colleagues or direct reports. These hidden assumptions affect our working relationships and become drivers of our personal choices about leadership.”

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This post is a review of an earlier published here

Developing habits to lead the change

I don’t know what most people think when they see children playing, but I see, often, children imitating adults using miniature objects that represent the reality of those adults.

Those are prototypes and serve to tell beautiful stories of a future that still looks promising and where creativity has a stomping ground.

They do not give them the same use that their parents and maybe that’s why almost always have more fun than the parents. They tell stories, they add functions and solve problems that although amzing are often symbols of dramatic situations.

On these occasions, children use communication processes not very structured and yet they communicate with each other effectively and understand deeply the needs of roles that their toys represent.

For us adults, prototypes are usually seen with useful, to test (assess) our chances of solution but it can also be used to realize better what are in fact the real needs of the users that we observe.

You can also develop prototypes or create situations specifically designed to gain empathy, without testing a solution at all (or even having a solution in mind). This is sometimes called “active empathy” because you are not an outside observer, you are creating conditions to bring out new information. In the same way a solution prototype helps you gain understanding about your concept, an empathy prototype helps you gain understanding about the design space and people’s mindsets about certain issues.”

An empathy prototype does release a story full of non-articulated or hidden needs that allow us to deepen the existing problems in specific contexts which we are addressing.

Understanding the choices that people make and the behaviors that compromise them we can identify the needs of those people and create effective solutions for them.

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“Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner – Webster

The empathy prototypes of are often used with greater use when we want to develop a particular area in the project we are developing.

However, using a prototype to develop empathy with our future “customers” requires some experience and to create some work habits:

1 – To develop curiosity about strange people to the world with which we usually identify and where we live.

2 – To challenge prejudices and discover similarities where apparently there are only differences and opposites.

3 – To put in the shoes of the other and go through a similar path to what he would have to go.

4 – To listen carefully and always be receptive.

5 – To pay attention to collective action and social change.

6-  To develop an ambitious imagination.

“We can cultivate empathy throughout our lives, says Roman Krznaric—and use it as a radical force for social transformation.

To do this we must also count with the organizations that need new skills and a new mindset that embrace integrative thinking, empathy, optimism, experimentation and collaboration.

Empathy is a high-performance fuel that leads us to the realization of projects with shared purpose and passion with those who interact with the organization.

And to finish:

“Here’s my new prototype rule of thumb: your prototype has to be better (better build quality, faster interface, better lighting, whatever) than the finished product is going to be. That’s what people expect anyway–they see your prototype and take off 20% for reality.” – Seth Godin

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