Good and bad is rarely as black and white as movies depict. Simple distinctions make for easy storytelling, but miss the sloppymessines of humanity. Strengths and weakness are rarely opposites – it’s not one or the other, but one with the other.
I recall reading a sci-fi book as a teenager where humans had crated enormous self-contained and mobile cities – rolling fortresses. For protection and law and order, the computers controlling the cities had been programmed to expel undesirables. Convicted criminals were expelled first, then those with criminal tendencies, then those who might be commit crimes under the right circumstances (say, stealing bread to feed their starving children), then… Soon the cities were empty of all people.
Life is mostly grey, rarely black and white, and insisting on clear divisions carries consequences. The other day, Max Mckeown (@maxmckeown) noted this on twitter, saying: Removing troublemakers may also squeeze out idea creators… There is a lot in that simple sentence. The line between troublemaker and creator is blurry at best. Under the right circumstances creators are often considered troublemakers – they ask questions (sometimes very inconvenient questions), reject the status quo, suggest other solutions, ignore politics and power base, have little regard for tradition and legacy, etc. They can be a real thorn in the sides of those who like things just so and it would be easy to expel the useful with the counterproductive.
It’s a brilliant and important reminder that us humans don’t all fit into neat shinyhappy boxes and our strengths can come at a cost. In his book Dangerous Ideas, Alf Rehn (@alfrehn) noted that many companies say they want creativity and innovation, but they really don’t. Sure, they want the benefits of designing the next hit product, but they aren’t prepared to deal with the idiosyncrasies of creative people. It’s as though “creativity” is viewed as a skill that can be produced on demand and then put away when not needed rather than a completely different perspective and thinking process.
I suspect that often, leaders are excited about bringing really creative, innovative, daring, visionary people on board. Early on, they produce some really great ideas so we ignore their quirks, but after a while their eccentricities and unwillingness to be confined to the neat and tidy “employee” box stops being cute and starts to hurt their careers. So the leaders who were so excited about having creative, idea generators on board are soon expelling them. Or the creative folks get tired of rigid walls and move on. Either way, the company is left more dogmatic, less creative, less innovative, with fewer and fewer ideas. They now offer more of the same with nothing to distinguish them from the competition.
Remember the timeless advice: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Let’s dispel a myth right here and now: innovation is not a product of big budgets and information age technology.
In my experience, innovation comes from only one thing: Asking different questions to find different solutions.
And, innovation is almost always driven by scarcity. Some say, Necessity is the mother of invention. Others shorten that to Necessity is a mother. We get creative – we have to innovate – when solving problems using severely limited resources (time, money, manpower) or against constraints (rules, regulations, laws). These limitations force us to ask different questions. Questions such as: How can we get the result we need using our very limited budget? Rather then purchasing new software, how can we get better use out of what we have? How can we build social media presence without increasing the marketing budget? How can we get a good intern two weeks before the semester ends?
But, asking different questions, challenging the way we always do it, seeking solutions that our outside of the proven/accepted/traditional/approved routes is not the path to popularity. Different questions create solutions which create different results. The challenge is, us humans usually want the different (better) results using the same questions and same solutions. So we try to “innovate” by doing more of the same things and just throwing more resources at it.
That’s a major reason why small startups tend to be more innovative than large and established companies. They have to solve problems differently. They have no choice. And they aren’t locked into legacy. They are ok with different.
Again: innovation comes from asking different questions to find different solutions.
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You can stop reading right there. But I love music and it’s Friday and I wanted to share a quick music video highlighting of innovation driven be a lack of resources.
The first is from Van Canto, the world’s first (only?) a capella metal band. They do use a drummer but create all guitar and bass sounds solely with voice – very creative, innovative, and unique. (Clearly they were asking very different questions about what would make a great metal band.)
To make the video for the song Rebellion, the band posted a short clip on YouTube and asked their fans to: Listen to Rebellion loud, dress as Scottish People and film yourself headbanging and freaking around. You don’t have to sing, just have fun. If you can recruit some friends joining you – Great! The more, the better.
No budget, no problem. They did far better without. The result is fun, creative, built relationships with the fans, and cost almost nothing to make. Much different than all the big budget videos that ask the same questions and get the same answers as every other big budget video (yawn!). [Bonus HR question: how could you create an onboarding video just as cool, fun, and inexpensive?]
We all have one question hammering away at the front of our skulls whenever we’re faced with something new or different. You’re asking yourself the question right now as you decide whether to continue reading or not. It’s a simple and straight-forward question that HR often misses: What’s In It For Me?
Phrased that way, it sounds crass and selfish, yet we are all seeking to figure out how we will benefit. We want to know what pleasure we’ll gain or what pain we’ll avoid. We want to know What’s In It For Me?
Sales and Marketing 101 tells us to focus on the benefits, not the product or service. The customer can plainly see the product, so we need to help them understand all that they will gain. They know the tangibles, so what are the intangibles?
A car’s just a box with wheels, good for hauling people and stuff from point A to B. Yet car ads focus on the unmeasurable intangibles of cool, intelligent, adventurous, unique, practical, sporty, sexy, thrilling, rugged, safe, ecogreen, patriotic, etc. etc. A house is nothing more than some walls and a roof, but we know that. Real estate ads show happy, safe, secure kids, and proud responsible parents; they show lifestyle, status, and image; and the American Dream (with a capital “D”).
There is not a single human alive who wants to diet. Yet, at any given time there are millions and millions of people dieting, buying diet books, watching diet shows, reading diet blogs, spending money on diet plans. Why? Because of what we think it will get us; because of what’s in it for us. My absolute all-time favorite diet book title is: 6 Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends. I know nothing about the book but love the title because it’s so eye catching. There are a lot of reasons to diet, but forget dieting for health, physical performance, longevity, or fighting disease because this book knows its audience and its audience loooooves the ideas of being skinnier than their friends. The title immediately lets them know What’s In It For Me.
This is where HR can learn big from sales and marketing. HR tends to announce new programs and services by talking about the program and service. It seems reasonable, but even the most hack salesperson knows you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. HR forgets to sell at all. We think just putting it out in the world is enough. We don’t mention the benefits, we don’t help people understand why they should care, we don’t show them What’s In It For Me?. And then we’re surprised when the response is a collective yawn from the organization. We’re shocked that people aren’t using it – that they keep using the products or systems they are familiar with rather than the new ones they’d have to learn. We’re appalled that people don’t appreciate all our hard work and efforts on their behalf. We wail, They just don’t understand! [sob!]
The best products and services in the world are irrelevant and worthless if people don’t know about them or use them. I wonder how much adoption rates will jump when we learn human psychology from sales and marketing and answer one simple question for our customers.
What’s In It For Me?
Chances are we’ve all heard the quote from Albert Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Except some days I’m less convinced it’s insanity and more just a part of human nature.
When we separate ourselves from the outcome, when we don’t see the part we play, when we don’t ask questions (What could I do different?) we see no reason to do anything different. So we don’t. After all, it’s someone else’s problem.
Recently, my son participated in his second martial arts tournament. The officials called his sparring division to line up with two divisions before them. He went and sat with his group and patiently waited. And waited. Finally, his group was called up to begin. He sat on the edge of the ring as participants were called out two at a time to spar.
More waiting. Several kids had sparred two or three times but he still hadn’t been called up. As it looked like his group was wrapping up and he still hadn’t been called I went and asked one of the judges. They said he had sparred, I said he hadn’t. They showed me the card used to track participants. I reiterated he had not sparred yet. It turned out another kid with a similar sounding first name had mistakenly gone in my son’s place.
Uh, oh. This caused all kinds of problems with the tournament bracket. At first the officials thought everyone was going to have to spar again. Then they called my son and another out into the ring where they waited (and waited). Then the officials shooed them off and called out two other kids. And then… and then… Much huddled discussion from the officials. This was at least a 40 minute process with a group of 6 and 7 year olds waiting very, very patiently.
Then after all the havoc and confusion caused by a simple mistake, the officials did nothing to change the behavior that contributed to the mistake. In a gymnasium with the background noise of six event rings running simultaneously (some of them using music for their events), with a group of 1st and 2nd graders wearing protective gear over their ears, the officials continued to call participants out using only their first names. Even with obvious hesitation, even with adults asking for the last name, the officials (all very well-meaning people) never stopped to consider how using both first and last names would prevent confusion caused by using only first names. So they persisted in the insanity of SomeoneElse’sProblem.
I suspect the officials mentally dismissed it as a problem caused by kids not paying attention. So they never considered what they could do to minimize the chances of it happening again.
How often does that happen in business? How often do we assume that we aren’t the problem so we keep doing exactly what we’re doing exactly how we’re doing it? How often do we get frustrated by different people creating the same problems over and over?
How often do we consider how a small tweak would reduce the chances of others getting it wrong? How often do we design and test our processes to make it as easy as possible for others (customers, users, etc.) to get it right? How often do we intentionally design communication to minimize the chance of misunderstanding or misinterpretation? How often do we have someone unfamiliar with the work review or even pilot it to see what questions they might have?
How often do we look to get rid of the insanity simply by focusing on the user experience? How often to we consider how we can minimize problems?
Even when they are SomeoneElse’sProblems.
Today, I’m guest blogging over at Melissa Fairman’s HR Remix site. A quick taste:
Us humans place a lot of weight on our heroes. We need them to inspire us to be better, to set an example, to show us the way, to push back the edges of what we thought was possible.
Who are your HR heroes?
Brian Tracy has said that if you don’t love what you’re doing enough to strive to be in the top 20%, you’re probably in the wrong field. What’s it mean to be in the top 20% of HR? Who do you consider in the top 20% of HR? Who do you look up to as a role model or example of who and how you want to be? Who is setting the pace for you?
Follow the link to see the rest: HR hero.
There is a gap. It’s a frustrating space. The space between what HR is today and what it could-be-should-be-must-be. But what is it, where is it, what might it be? That’s for you to decide. It’s always for you to decide. But you never need to decide alone.
May 20 and 21, Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen are hosting/facilitating/inciting The Frontier Project aimed at “Reimagining the Role of Human Resources”. From their site:
Wanted: Innovators, creators, culture hackers, workplace revolutionaries and leaders who can no longer stand idly by as talent is squandered. We can no longer wield our 20th century approaches in attacking 21st century challenges. The stakes are too high. The reinvention of Human Resources can wait no longer. We’re seeking people of courage and vision to join us on a quest of inquiry, discovery and creation. Where will this journey take us?
There are only two possible responses to reading that paragraph:
1. You instantly knew it was for you and you’ve stopped reading this and gone to their site to sign up (or you’ve already signed up and are thinking, “I’ll see you there, Broc.”)
2. You know it’s not for you, you’re really happy with the status quo and thinking about personally being involved in redefining, reinventing, rediscovering HR is a little scary sounding. And a little vague. And it’s probably against policy. And you only attend events to get recertification credits. And you have too much work to do, paperwork to push, filing to get done.
Some may be thinking, “No, I’m in a third category. This sounds cool, I just want to give it a year or so to see if it really takes off.” No, you’re in the second category. What you’re looking for is an annual conference with words like “strategic” and “table” and “innovation” where you get to show off your HR merit badges and let people know how edgy you are. All while you play safe and keep to the party line of the industry approved and acceptably “extreme” area of the status quo.
Here’s my fully transparent disclosure: I have no affiliation with this event, I’m not a sponsor, I’m not a facilitator, I’m not compensated in any way to promote it, and no one has asked me to write about it. What I am is really stinkin’ excited. Too excited to keep it to myself. Jason and Joe always do a phenomenal job and I jumped at the chance to attend. I don’t know what’s going to happen or even what to anticipate, but I am confident that it will be amazing and I need to be there (and you do too). I’m expecting to be a part of a bunch of really smart, creative, passionate people looking for (and finding) ways of playing bigger and doing better. In fact, I’m so excited about attending that I’m going even though it wasn’t in my department’s budget so it’s 100% on my own dime.
I would not miss this. I will not miss this. I will fully be a part of it. And I want you to be a part of it too. If you’re on the fence about it, here’s your push: GO!
Ground zero of the FutureNow of HR. No other place to be.
See you there!
Intended more as firestarter for discussion than an answer book what thinks you? is a compilation of my 65 most HR focused blog posts. It captures the humor, drama, pathos, and cognitive dissonance of my hopes, dreams, and fears about where HR is and where it could be. (Ok, clearly there is a reason I’m in HR and not marketing.)
Why buy a book of something that’s already freely available on my blog?
- Doug Shaw did the cover art and Joe Gerstandt contributed the forward. That combination right there makes it worth getting even if you never read the other stuff.
- You’re in HR and want a quick reference (Actually, don’t get it for that. I’m pretty sure I edited all the facts out, leaving only questions and personal opinions).
- Books are cool – you have a preference for reading from paper.
- Read it anywhere without having to drag the entire internet along to access it (etherwebz are heavy and don’t fit on airplanes very well).
- You don’t have to wade through my other ramblings to get to the good HR stuff.
- Easy to share, give as gift, or just leave lying around so people can see how cool/smart/plugged in you are.
- It’s cheaper than a morning trip to the coffee house. Because the content is free on my blog I’ve priced it as low as CreateSpace (the publisher/printer) will allow. $5.49 for the paperback and $0.99 for the Kindle version. Bargain.
Here’s the description from Amazon:
In the crush of computerization, standardization, quantification, industrialization, information, and regulation, we often forget that it’s actual humans that create business results. Business gets done through, by, and for people. Period. The pages inside are a collection of posts from the blog fool (with a plan). I wrote them as an outlet to connect, explore, and play with ideas at the intersection of business and humans. This isn’t HR 101 or a how-to guide for new leaders, and you certainly won’t find any help within on demystifying employment laws and regulations. There are a lot of really great books offering legal, moral, ethical, and spiritual advice, but there’s none of that here. There may not even be any actual facts. What you will find are thoughts, questions, ideas, and more questions around this fool’s perspective of what HR is and what it could be.
You see, I’m foolish enough to firmly believe that Human Resources can: rehumanize work. … make a crucial difference in company performance. … be a strong corporate presence, not just a bystander. … be a source of strategic innovation. … change business. … lead.
What thinks you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the book. Hit me up in the comments, email me, or just post a review on Amazon.
I really enjoy speaking and facilitating and wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned over the years.
It’s always about the participants. Always. The worst, most boring, least engaging presenters make it about themselves. And no one cares. The best presenters think through every single aspect from the participants’ point of view.
They are participants, not an audience. This may be semantics, but in my mind participants are involved in understanding and applying the material to their own lives while an audience is passive and just along for the ride. Great presenters engage everyone in the room.
The participants don’t know what they don’t know. This was the single most freeing concept I ever learned about speaking. The participants don’t know what you intended to say so they don’t know when you skipped something. No point in getting hung up on your mistake. If it’s important, loop it back in appropriately. If not, let it go.
“Winging it” is for complete amateurs. There is a huuuuuuge difference between knowing your material so well you are able to adjust to audience needs on the fly and making it up as you go. Very, very few presenters are able to go off the cuff and those who are able to are tapping into years of experience and material. Some people complain that preparing makes it mechanical, but if your presentation is mechanical it means you haven’t prepared enough to truly own the material. Respect your participants (and yourself) enough to prepare.
PowerPoint is a great enhancement, but a lousy focal point. The best speakers I’ve seen have very, very little content on their slides. By only having the most important points, the slides are used to support the mood and tone and enhance and underscore the most crucial information. Anything more risks becoming a distraction and a crutch. Think of it like a tie – it needs to match the suit, it can stand out but should never be the focal point, and if you took off the tie the suit should still look great without it.
Technology breaks. I was at a conference recently and watched as a speaker went through three laptops, two connecting cables, and several staff and volunteers before he was able to get his slides on the screen. Fortunately, he wasn’t dependent on his slides and just rolled into the presentation while the staff and volunteers got his presentation to work. Once the projector was working, he smoothly transitioned to using it. Never rely on technology more sophisticated than flipchart and markers. Use the technology, but be ready and able to give a full presentation without it.
Everything has a purpose. Every-little-thing. Everything. Don’t do that activity, don’t tell that funny story, don’t show that slide unless it directly supports your presentation. If it doesn’t have a purpose don’t do it. Ever.
Introverts can be great presenters. Never confuse introversion with shyness. Some of the best presenters I know are introverts and they use it to their advantage because they are naturally good at staying on point, keeping the focus on the participants, and never talking just to hear themselves speak. Introversion doesn’t matter and it’s not an excuse. A good presenter is a good presenter.
Mistakes are the best teachers. We all screw up, forget stuff, get it out of sequence, and say just the wrong thing. I can say I’ve learned the most about presenting and made the biggest improvements to my presentations from my errors, not my successes.
Care. This one is simple. If you don’t care, neither will your participants.
Have fun. Relax and enjoy it. Once you get past the nervousness and adrenalin dump, presenting can be great fun. And your participants will reflect your energy. If you’re enjoying it, they will too.