An artist I know loves to show me a blank canvas and describe, in detail, the painting. To her, it’s so clear. Where I see only a blank canvas, she sees an entire landscape full of vibrant colors.
An entrepreneur I know once took his family on a tour of a remote piece of property. He shared his vision for where buildings would go and all the customers who would be mingling in various parts of the land. The family couldn’t imagine it, but he saw it all vividly. And, today, it looks exactly like that. It’s a thriving business.
An author friend of mine creates characters in her mind. Month after month, she dreams about them, talks with them, listens to them. They become so real to her that, when she finally starts writing, it’s as if she is merely recording what happens instead of inventing it.
“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” –Vincent van Gogh
On a recent vacation, my wife was relaxing on a deck with a view of a mountain. As she often does, she was bringing people into her mind and praying for them one by one. Mesmerized by the beautiful scene in front of her, she decided to take a quick picture with her phone.
When we returned home, she was looking at her pictures and shared this one with a few close friends. Immediately, the responses started coming back. There’s something in the clouds!
“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” –Chuck Palahniuk
What makes businesses vulnerable to disruptive change?
There are 2 main messages in my book.
First, that while we think the world is changing rapidly, in fact, we continue to rely on a platform that arose from the invention of 3 general purpose technologies in the 1870’s: the internal combustion engine, the light bulb, and the telephone. Even with the computer and the Internet, we have spent decades boxing in this amazing new technology to fit our paradigm need for a faster, smaller, cheaper phone. So, while we think we are in the midst of rapid change, the western world is in fact obsessed with ensuring we stick with the old world and reward refinements of tired mature ways of doing things. When real change comes, will business leaders be prepared? I don’t think so.
One of the reasons why we won’t respond well when real change comes is that while ideas are abundant, small start-up ventures lack the resources – people, money, physical assets — to launch these ideas. They also lack the credibility, networks, access to customers, suppliers, government officials, etc. This limits their ability to move these ideas forward, no matter how great they may be. At the same time, existing companies are flush with people, money, networks, customers, and, most important, credibility and brand value. But what they lack is an entrepreneurial mindset. To move forward, companies need to resist the rhetoric of finding and sticking to a narrow form of sustainable competitive advantage, and instead adopt a model of strategic entrepreneurship that promotes transformational growth and longevity.
The fundamental impact of disruptive change is that our organizations are not built to manage change very well. Through principles such as sustainable competitive advantage, we tend to use fixed mindsets that build a sort of impenetrable armor around the firm’s processes and procedures, instead of being flexible and adaptable. When disruptive technologies or business models present an alternative, firms resist. Indeed, even customers often resist, as we remain stuck in our paradigms formed as noted above. However, in time, customers adapt because they do not have the level of sunk investment in the old ways that companies often do. Time and again, rigid non-entrepreneurial firms fall by the wayside.
There are many very extreme examples of this phenomenon. Think of Kodak, which is a firm that actually pioneered digital photography, but in the end was unable to adapt to this powerful disruptive technology.
“Progress is a nice word we like to use. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.” –Robert Kennedy
How can large organizations embrace a spirit of entrepreneurship?
I emphasize the importance of adopting three points:
Recognize that opportunities are developed at all levels of the organization.
Build a culture that embraces and supports entrepreneurship.
Consciously develop support for entrepreneurial initiatives through effectual processes or bricolage.
The key is leadership, not only in words, but in action. It is imperative that the CEO endorse an entrepreneurial culture by example – championing new ideas. In fact, a failure or two is good because it demonstrates that even the CEO recognizes that not every entrepreneurial idea is destined for success, and it is important to manage your investment and ensure that no one new venture will take down the ship.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” –Peter Drucker
What are the elements of a good corporate culture?
There are many theories on this question, and I included quite a few in my book. In the end, the key elements are:
Provide open opportunities for opportunity development – these include group time (because we know that mixing people with diverse expertise and background can lead to innovative solutions), plus unstructured open thinking time (such as 3M’s famous “tinkering” time).
Adopt a learning culture – growth mindsets are essential, pursuing what could be as opposed to why this won’t work.
Accept failure, and the importance of learning from failure.
Adopt bricolage (known outcomes, with unknown ways of getting there), or effectuation (building on invention, experiment, and science) as frameworks for pursuing each entrepreneurial initiative (purposefully).
“The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” –Peter Senge
How do leaders encourage creativity at all levels of the organization?
The first thing I would say is that leaders must recognize that organizations need time to change. This is not an overnight process and will require considerable and repetitive actions and wins to change. And failure is a key component – an organization can move far closer to being creative and adopting entrepreneurial thinking by showing that a person with a great idea that failed in implementation is celebrated as thinking outside the box, rather than penalized for failing.
Researchers have studied the importance of story-telling in organizations, and how a lasting culture can be built around well-known, maybe even legendary, stories that come from the history of the organization. The dimensions of story-telling I describe in my book include equality (versus inequality), security (versus insecurity), and control (versus lack of control). Through story-telling of actual events that happened in the organization’s history, employees are able to gauge whether the organization will endorse or shun creativity at all levels.
“Successful innovators are..not risk-focused; they are opportunity focused.” –Peter Drucker
I’m a passionate believer in diverse teams. Throughout my life and career, I have seen the benefits from multiple perspectives examining a problem together. If everyone thinks exactly the same way, with the same background, you end up with a narrow solution. A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.
“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” –J.F.K.
In your book, you argue that diversity, as a goal, is not good enough. Would you elaborate on this?
I applaud any effort to hire a more diverse workforce. But if that’s all you do, you set everyone up for failure. “Different” perspectives, values, and strategies for getting work done easily lead to misunderstanding, frustration, and gridlock. Diversity needs to be managed with a culturally intelligent strategy for how to effectively use the diverse perspectives to drive innovation and improve employee engagement.
“The more diverse the team, the less likely participants will offer their input and perspectives.” –David Livermore
You say that diversity by itself does not ensure innovation, but it does when combined with high CQ. What is CQ? What’s the link between innovation and diversity?
CQ, or cultural intelligence, is the capability to work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. It’s measured using a CQ Assessment, which predicts how effectively one will work in situations characterized by cultural diversity.
Our research finds that diverse teams comprised of individuals with low CQ underperform homogenous teams with low CQ. However, diverse teams comprised of individuals with high CQ outperform homogenous teams on several measurements including innovation.
Therefore, CQ becomes the moderating link between diversity and innovation. With higher levels of cultural intelligence, team members can effectively retain and use the differences among them that enhance creativity while minimizing the differences that create interference.
“Distraction is one of the biggest roadblocks to innovation.” –David Livermore
What’s diversity fatigue and how do companies prevent it?
Diversity fatigue is how I refer to the growing weariness felt by many staff when they hear they have to go through diversity training. Even individuals from underrepresented groups often place little hope or interest in diversity initiatives in the workplace. Research recently cited in the Harvard Business Review found that diversity programs did little to convince ethnic minorities that companies would treat them any more fairly than companies without the programs.
“The culturally intelligent are aware of how cultural differences influence the way team members approach a task.” –David Livermore
There are a variety of factors that contribute to diversity fatigue, several of which I explore more fully at the beginning of Driven by Difference. But the key to addressing this is for companies to take a more strategic approach to diversity. They need to address diversity the way they address other business opportunities and challenges—assess the situation, create a strategy, and form metrics for measuring accountability. If profits are slipping, companies don’t plan a “Profits Slipping Awareness Day” and then hope the awareness translates into better returns. It’s all hands on deck with everyone accountable. And then managers and teams need to be equipped with the skills to effectively use their differences to drive innovation.
“Smart, empowered teams are the best way to come up with successful products.” –David Livermore
In one chapter, you talk about focus and how the more personalities and cultures you have working together, the easier it is to lose focus. What’s the best way to experience the benefits of diverse thinking while also keeping focus?
It comes from clearly defining the goal (a key to retaining focus) while asking your diverse colleagues how they understand the goal. The goal may seem straightforward, such as reducing costs or improving efficiencies. However, the assumptions about how to most effectively reduce cost may be strongly influenced by one’s cultural values and assumptions. Focus comes from not quickly moving beyond the seemingly basic task of clarifying expectations and instead, using a diversity of expectations to more successfully achieve more innovative outcomes.
“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” –Malcolm Forbes
That night, as I enjoyed a memorable dinner with the unique, powerful sound of an African choir ringing in my ears, I reflected on this proverb. Its wisdom struck me in a new way at a deep level. So many major corporate initiatives are stymied because one person wants to act alone. The motivation to act alone may be rooted in the idea of a hero, or it may be simply because someone wants to demonstrate personal accountability.
Still, going farther requires collaboration.
“The best sales-driven companies have developed the habit of conscious collaboration.” –Tim Sanders
Dealstorming: The Secret Weapon That Can Solve Your Toughest Sales Challenges is a monumental book not only for sales leaders but also for all corporate leaders. Whether saving, reclaiming, or winning new business, the techniques Tim shares are proven and actionable. Every organization wants to improve its results, and this is the best blueprint for achieving higher growth that I’ve seen in years.
But, beyond the dealstorm, the techniques in this book teach collaborative practices. The relationships built in this process do not stop with the sale, but continue, fostering a sense of purpose well beyond the deal.
I’m convinced that the techniques in Dealstorming will help you close more business, build better relationships, and increase your organization’s creativity.
“Innovating is not a way of doing things; it’s a mode of thinking.” –Tim Sanders
Many people think that the sales process is impossible to define and one where you just go with your gut. In your new book, Dealstorming: The Secret Weapon That Can Solve Your Toughest Sales Challenges, you reveal that the sales process is just the opposite: a structured, repeatable process any team can use to win the large, complex sale. What experience and research led you to this conclusion?
Over my 30+ year sales career, I’ve noticed that despite the sharpest of perspectives, without a process you get a mess. The Funnel Activity Management System has been in place for decades, where managers focus on key metrics like cold calls or closing ratios in order to produce a predictable level of sales. Or so one might think.
Throughout that process, the rep used his or her gut feeling to determine which product to pitch, how hard to close and when to move on. But today, that system is necessary, but no longer sufficient for landing high quality sales.
Around the turn of the 21st century, I began to develop the sales collaboration process I call Dealstorming. At Yahoo, while leading the ValueLab and then serving as Chief Solutions Officer, I had the opportunity to participate in 40+ strategic selling situations, where theories were tested and then measured in dollars and cents. Over the last decade, I’ve refined this process through my consultancy, where we’ve participated in 60+ dealstorms at a variety of business-to-business companies. The range of experiences has helped me create a scalable process where managers could leverage a few successful Dealstorms to train the Account Executive on how to run their own.
In writing this book, I have interviewed 200+ sales leaders to understand how they’ve approached problem solving at the deal level, and what works in today’s global-social-mobile world. Collectively, all of these experiences have produced a way of innovating at the deal level that will work for small businesses and enterprises alike. Sometimes the ‘storms will be terrific trios and in other cases, an alliance of many.
Copyright Tim Sanders. Used by Permission
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There’s no telling where your next idea will come from. One of the many reasons I love to share quotes is that they often inspire us or cause us to think differently. Here are some quotes about innovation for the next time you need a spark.
“Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.” –Tom Freston