Jeff DeGraff is known as the Dean of Innovation. He’s a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and he has worked with some of the biggest global corporations ranging from Apple to GE to Coca-Cola.
I have personally called Jeff to help brainstorm issues and help jumpstart creativity. One of the many things I learned from Jeff was that innovation does not happen in the solitude of a eureka moment. It happens more often in teams.
So, what happens when a team gets stuck? I asked the Dean of Innovation to share his thoughts on why teams get stuck and what to do about it.
“Innovation is created as a result of constructive conflict.” -Jeff DeGraff
Organizations and teams alike get stuck for a wide variety of reasons, but there are three that are most common: 1). They have chosen the wrong people to lead the way 2). They spend too long in the planning cycle, and 3). They miss the key handoffs and get out of sequence.
Let’s take a look at how to resolve these issues:
1.They have chosen the wrong people to lead the way.
Innovation project teams are like baseball teams. You need lots of different players to play different positions at different times. Start by tinkering with your lineup. Move folks around. Trade for better players and don’t be afraid to cut some players. Innovation teams are often led by command and control project leaders who have spent their careers eliminating variation; not creating it. Make the tough decision to move them along. Watch the movie Moneyball a few times, and you will get the point.
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
If you want to be mediocre, this is not the book for you. But, if you’re daring, put the power of disruptive innovation to work on your own career.
Whitney recently shared with me some of the highlights from her book and research:
7 Variables to Mastery
7 Variables to Mastery
1: Take the right risks
2: Play to your distinctive strengths
3: Embrace constraints
4: Battle entitlement
5: Step back to grow
6: Give failure its due
7: Be discovery driven
You’ve identified 7 variables to move from gaining competence, confidence, and finally, mastery. Is there one that most people struggle with?
One of the hardest is entitlement, the belief that ‘I exist therefore I am entitled’. Sadly, I see it in myself all the time. It comes in many guises, like cultural entitlement. We all need to feel that we belong. A sense of belonging gives us the confidence we need to try something new. But as we begin to see the fruits of taking the right kinds of risks and playing to our strengths, it’s easy to start believing ‘this is the way things should and will always be’. The nanosecond we start believing this, we stop learning. So that right when you are feeling the most competent, and have the confidence to try something new, you begin to stagnate, potentially even backsliding. If you want to enjoy the hypergrowth of disruption, of moving forward not back, battle entitlement.
It’s easy to identify your distinctive strengths, after the fact, because they are what make you a fish out of water. It’s figuring out your strengths in the first place. So here’s a clue: What compliment do you habitually dismiss? You’ve heard it so many times that you are bored. Or you wonder why they are complimenting you because it is as natural as breathing. Malcolm Forbes said, “People tend to undervalue what they are, and overvalue what they aren’t.” Take note of that compliment. It’s likely a strength. Then find ways to apply or use that strength where others are not.
“A distinctive strength is something that you do well that others within your sphere don’t.” -Whitney Johnson
Like Jayne Juvan, a partner at a law firm in Cleveland. As a third year associate, she started blogging. There was some political flak. Law firms tend to be conservative. The partners didn’t see the opportunity. But she didn’t back off. Good thing. When the economy came crashing down in 2007, she sidestepped layoffs because she’d landed clients on social media. She also had a compelling case to make when she was up for partner. Learning the law was her pay-to-play skill, social media her distinctive strength.
“Beware the undertow of the status quo.” -Whitney Johnson