Polyball is apparently Zurich’s blow-out party of the year. It’s hosted by the country’s top school of science and technology, ETH, the university where Einstein got his start (and rarely attended class). While this lovely irony reflects the city’s, uh, party scene, the students at ETH assured me it’s quite an experience.
Confucius, when asked about leadership, likened people to grass and the ruler to wind: whichever way the wind blows so will bend the grass.
The anger that fuels my mission today surges from a speech I heard a year ago, in Las Vegas, in a packed conference hall. The keynote speaker opened with the line: “I have come to believe that large organizations cannot innovate. They produce ‘innovation antibodies’ that attack new ideas.”
You have an idea that will generate new profits for your company and make you even more of a hero. You can already feel the pats on your back and the industry keynote speech you will deliver, humbly explaining how you did it.
The world seems to have suddenly discovered a nirvana of agile prototyping. Some call it lean or lean start-up, some use human-centered design or design thinking, and you may even hear reference to agile or scrum. Whatever the name, the core message is the same: stop trying to build an idea (a business plan, product, marketing message) to perfection. Instead, conduct small experiments with your stakeholders to learn and improve.
This week, we convened innovation heads from places like Chubb Insurance, Estee Lauder and Macmillan and mixed them with a world-renowned innovation expert (Professor George Day from Wharton) and one of the leaders of GE’s Crotonville leadership training center (Bob Cancalosi). Over four hours, they teased apart our shared challenge: how to unlock innovativeness, entrepreneurship, and growth trapped inside organizations.
Picture this scenario. A bomb has exploded. You’ve been working for the last two weeks in a remote part of Mongolia. Your boss promised this short-term assignment would prove your commitment and accelerate your career. But now, unsure of what happened or which coworkers were injured or how many hundreds of miles you will need to move them to get to a safe hospital, you’re not so sure you still want this job.
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, “Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” Entrepreneurs seek out problems then design innovative, profitable solutions.
It may sound boring, operational, and tactical, but your distribution plan is perhaps your greatest opportunity to magnify the potential of your business. If strategy is the answer to who, what, and how, we spend too much time debating our “who” and “what,” and we give the “how” insufficient credit.