If these words come to your mind when you think about brainstorming and innovation, you’ll want to pay close attention.
Because it’s about not getting along, about disruption, about disagreement, and about contrasting perspectives. That’s what makes innovation happen.
In The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict, Jeff DeGraff and Staney DeGraff introduce a framework to explain how different kinds of leaders can create constructive conflict in an organization. Staney DeGraff is the CEO of Innovatrium Institute for Innovation. And Jeff DeGraff is known as the Dean of Innovation, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a friend of mine for many years. I recently spoke to Jeff about his latest book.
“Disharmony is crucial to innovation.” –Jeff DeGraff
Many people think that conflict and in-fighting must be solved before you can innovate, but you teach that it’s a healthy part of the process. Why is discord a good thing?
Innovation is simply a form of useful novelty. It’s the opposite of standardization. Positive tension is required to generate the energy required to create unique ideas. Apathy is the death of innovation, not conflict. So, to make innovation happen, you need to have divergent worldviews – points of departure. This creates new connections and forces ideas to morph into ever more potent forms. Take a good look at the most creative civilizations throughout history, and you will find they sit at the crossroads where a variety of people, and their ideas, meet both geographically and culturally: Athens, Hangzhou, Vienna, or New York. The same is true for teams and partners: Anthony and Stanton, Lennon and McCartney, or Shaq and Kobe. Every strength brings a weakness, and we need the “other” to push us forward and to overcome our own shortcomings. The key is to keep these conflicts constructive and focused on ideas, not personalities.
“Innovation is about constructive conflict-positive tension.” –Jeff DeGraff
If you want to get ready for the future, you need new leadership literacies. That’s what noted futurist Bob Johansen teaches those who aspire to lead well into the future. If you’re a rising star and want to prepare for what’s ahead, this book outlines future trends and skills you need in the decades to come.
Share a few current trends that will disrupt everything in the next ten years.
I distinguish between trends (patterns of change you can extrapolate with confidence) and disruptions (breaks in the patterns of change). The next ten years will be a VUCA World—Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous—and it will get worse over the next decade. On the other hand, it will be possible to succeed, make the world a better place, and even thrive in the VUCA World. These new literacies will allow you to thrive, not just survive.
We think we are connected today, but the next 10 years will be a period of explosive connectivity and asymmetric upheaval. In this future world of dramatically amplified digital connectivity, anything that can be distributed will be distributed.
“Leaders will perform best at the edge of their competence.”-Bob Johansen
You say that, “Leadership will be much less centralized and more distributed,” which seems to be happening today and accelerating more tomorrow. How will this impact us? How will organizational structures change in the future?
Shape-shifting organizations have no center, and they can’t be controlled. Hierarchies will come and go as they are needed. Hierarchies will become less common since they are more rigid.
Anything that can be distributed will be distributed.
“Leadership will be much less centralized and more distributed in the future.”-Bob Johansen
Design thinking is one way to reframe problems, ideate solutions, and iterate toward better answers. It helps solve wicked problems. Those are the type that are especially insidious and difficult.
In a new book by Jeanne Liedtka, Daisy Azer, and Randy Salzman, Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector, the authors take on the challenge of applying design thinking to the social sector. The principles apply to all organizations and may help you reach a breakthrough in your organization. I recently spoke with Randy Salzman about their research. Randy is a journalist and former communications professor. His work has been published in over one hundred magazines, journals, and newspapers, from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to Mother Jones, Bicycling, and Style.
Design thinking is a modern version of what was once common, a method of addressing and solving problems outside of normal professional siloes. After about 500 years of ever-greater specialization, society is recognizing that wicked problems lie between the professions, between those siloes, and that most “answers” require a grasp of human behavior and a willingness to deeply understand the entire problem, not just “my” professional aspect of it. Design thinking, often called human-centered design, asks us to explore deeply, empathize continually, ideate rapidly, prototype simply and iterate constantly in order to address the problems that bedevil us. Unlike, for example, LEAN and most analytical methods of addressing problems, design thinking seeks to hold problem-solvers in the question space, rather than rapidly jumping to an answer as most Type A personalities – who corporate leaders tend to be — do. Reframing the question, exploring it deeply—and especially building solid empathy with users and other stakeholders—allows design thinkers to find unarticulated needs and desires and build solutions—tapping into unintentionally hidden aspects of human behavior. In today’s “quantitative” planning world, design thinking seeks to return to “qualitative” understanding of both bigger, and littler, picture issues.
It is being used today all over the world in a variety of very different organizations. Would you give us a few examples?
While many know of the success of Intuit, 3M, Proctor and Gamble and other major corporations in producing new products and services via design thinking approaches, less is known about the problem-solving methodology’s work outside of product development, and in social sector and government organizations. Today, many U.S. government bureaucracies – from Health and Human Services, the VA, even the armed forces – are today seeking to understand the people they serve at a much deeper level than treating people as numbers using a quantitative statistical approach. Non-profits, hospitals, and educational institutions are also adapting their thinking towards design-thinking’s “possibility first, constraints later” approach to problem solving. For instance, The Kingwood Trust in the United Kingdom is using design thinking to sense and adapt to the needs of autistic adults who cannot use written or oral language to even express their likes or dislikes, and involving them in the design of their living spaces. The Community Transportation Association of America is using it to build local capacity to solve the work-transport needs of lower income employees. Monash University Hospital in Australia has completed a dozen design thinking projects and are presently engaged in solving the truly “wicked” problem of how medical providers can deliver and be compensated for wellness instead of for providing interventions. All these stories are in our book, Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector. But the stories are too many to fit into any book. We only touched on the New Zealand government’s culture-wide tipping to design thinking. Most governmental ministries in that Pacific nation have a design-thinking shop aimed at exploring deeply and empathizing continually with the stakeholders they serve.
We like to talk in terms of a shift from “Innovation I” to “Innovation II” and liken to this shift to the one that occurred in quality, post WWWII. In the same way that quality was originally the realm of specialists and then gradually (facilitated by TQM) spread to the point where, today, quality is everyone’s job up and down the organization, innovation is increasingly seen as belonging to those outside of research & development and senior executives. For organizations to adapt and thrive in today’s climate of political and economic uncertainty and challenge, we submit that all staffers, all employees, need the training and authority to innovate. It must become a core organizational capability. In this environment of broadened responsibility for finding new ways to create value for stakeholders, design thinking can do for innovation what TQM did for quality – help us to teach, scale and democratize it.
Certainly, possibilities for innovation are accelerating for a variety of technological reasons, from big data to computing capacities. There has been less attention to the human dimension, to the awareness that flawed human beings do not behave like the so-called “rational consumers” the quantitative planning world was based on. As the authors of Nudge put it, man is not “homo economous” but “homo sapiens,” and until thinkers began to understand that most of us act without thinking – rationally or otherwise – very little qualitative understanding of human behavior was considered by “garage” and other technological innovators. Now—in what some are calling the “Smart Machine Age”—there is an awareness that every idea and every concept needs accompaniment from a social technology which aids in its spread. We think of design thinking as a social technology for change. As more and more business, governments, organizations recognize that a qualitative understanding of their stakeholders is needed, design thinking opens up a new kind of conversation that creates space for innovation to birth and blossom.
Business leaders often focus on profits and metrics, living in spreadsheets and analytics. But what drives these results is people and relationships. So often it’s the resilient relationships, those that are forged in uncertain and difficult times that make the difference.
A strong business relationship will have a number of attributes that set that relationship apart from others. First, it must provide value to both parties, and it is “generative,” meaning the value together is more than any one person could create on their own: so that 1 + 1 = 3. Strong relationships also create multiple tracks of value that would be hard to replace if the relationship ended.
One example of this is from the entertainment world, where the band the Grateful Dead was famous for their long relationship with their very loyal fans (which continues today, long after the passing of their leader Jerry Garcia). In addition to music, the band created value in other key ways for the fans, such as supporting a community of fans (the “Dead Heads”) as well as creating an ‘outside the concert’ experience, and even income for some fans (by selling items at the shows).
Finally, a strong relationship contributes to key strategies or needs of each party. Relationships that do not create value this way may be categorized as superficial and easily ended. If you are ever not sure if the business relationship is really strong, that is the time to discuss it. Do not wait until you are surprised by a change.
“Strong relationships create multiple tracks of value that would be hard to replace if the relationship ended.” -Michael Papanek
“The Camino is the ideal training ground for leaders.”
That’s the line on the back liner of the book jacket that pulled me into a surprising story. How to practice leadership with “a pilgrim’s heart, a wayfarer’s grit, and a navigator’s gift for reaching the destination.”
Reading leadership consultant Victor Prince’s book, The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain, was a way to take that journey without actually walking that far. For the hours reading the book, I walked with Victor and took in the lessons and applications for leadership. Victor graciously talked with me about his journey. Before his leadership work, Victor Prince was previously the COO of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a strategy consultant with Bain & Company.
“It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” -Francis of Assisi
I do long distance hiking and biking trails as a hobby. I focus on trails that are long and have accommodations along the way and don’t require camping. The Camino meets both those criteria, and I finally got to it when I was able to take a month off during a sabbatical. The Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez film, The Way, also got me interested. I knew the trail had ancient roots, and many people got an epiphany when walking it, but I was more focused on it as just the next trail I would check off my list.
Leadership Lesson: tell your team about your goals and the reasons you are pursuing them.
You received a passport for your trip with 7 leadership lessons that struck you. As you made the journey, how did these impact you?
At first, I was focused on the main purpose of the pilgrim credential (pilgrim passport), which is to collect the stamps from hostels along the way to prove you walked the route. As a goal-driven over-achiever, I loved the daily sense of accomplishment I got with each nightly stamp. I only noticed the list of the 7 values pilgrims were asked to live by while on the Camino after a few days of walking. They captured the spirit I found in other pilgrims. They were simple things like, “Make others feel welcome,” and, “Think about those who will follow you.” They also struck me as exceptionally thoughtful values to follow even while off of the Camino. As I had alone-time walking, I reflected on how these values would have been helpful for me to live by in my past roles leading teams at work.
Copyright Victor Prince, Used by Permission
Would you share an example of how perspective can change on this journey?
One of the values is, “Welcome each day – its pleasures and challenges.” While walking an average of 15 miles per day for a month, a pilgrim on the Camino experiences many challenges as well as pleasures. I learned to put challenges into perspective. My most challenging day on the Camino came after a 24-mile day that resulted from a mistake in my planning. When I started the next morning, I was tired, sore and grumpy as I stared at a big hill I had to climb. It was a hot July day. I started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew with this whole walk. ‘What on earth am I doing walking across Spain?’ I asked myself. I slogged on and when I got about halfway up the hill, I saw a marker for a pilgrim who had died on that spot. That put my challenges into perspective. I realized that, while this was my worst day on the trail, this adventure was something I knew would be difficult but that I had chosen to do. That made me realize that a bad day doing something I love is still a good day. When I got to the top of the hill, I snapped this picture which changed my life. I used this picture to headline my blog about the Camino that went viral around the world and led to this book. The fallen pilgrim named on the marker never made it to see that view, but he inspired me and I dedicated this book to him. The leadership lesson I learned from this is to put bad days at work into perspective. A bad day at work is better than a good day without a job.
7 Values to Live By
1: Welcome each day, its pleasures and challenges
2: Make others feel welcome
4: Live in the moment
5: Feel the spirit of those who have come before you