Fostering Innovation: Tales from Paradigm Purgatory

organizational transformation

Post authored by Brian Scott, Chief Information Officer

Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, Lean Startup, Lean Thinking, Extreme, Big Bang, V-Shaped, Design Thinking, Six Sigma, DevOps, Getting Things Done… the list of terms could go and on. Do I need to continue?

Name a month and I can point to the introduction of yet another new methodology for approaching innovation, driving productivity, or—quite frankly—whatever end result you’re interested in achieving. It’s an industry unto itself.

Take a handful of ingredients from predecessors, add a little spice and maybe some icing, and then write a book about some new methodology that will absolutely transform your organization.

In the events industry, demands for transformation and innovation are escalating. To make this transformation goal even more daunting, event organizers must serve the needs of a diverse group of stakeholders: attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, in addition to those at all levels of their own organization. Yet, each group defines transformation success differently.


Beware of Shiny Innovation Objects

After you’ve been leading a technology or operations group for several years—if you’ve been a good steward of your responsibility and studied new material to broaden your knowledge—you’ll surely discover that it’s a full-time job just keeping up with the latest “hot topics” in business improvement methodologies.

If you’ve tried adopting one or more of these methods, you’ve also realized that changing people’s work habits, mindsets, and thinking processes is often your biggest challenge. Just about the time you’re rounding first base and eyeing second, a new batter with a shiny new methodology has already cracked a worm burner through a gap that knocks your feet out from under you.

Before you know it, you may find yourself in one of two camps: you’re either switching methodologies so often that you’re in danger of losing all respect from your staff or ignoring modern trends to the point that you’re labeled “out of touch.”

While technology is changing faster than our human brains can grasp, the way we’re advised to lead teams is changing just as quickly. Both change battlefields matter in today’s business environment.


Accelerating Your Own Innovation Journey

Looking back over the many projects I’ve led or been involved with, when transformation is the end goal and new methods are proposed, transformation team members often choose one of two paths:

  1. They embrace the current methodology even more.
    Some choose to dig a trench and double down on their current methodology. They figure they’ve invested quite a bit already. For some, it’s a matter of personal honor.
  2. They pivot to align with the methodology whims of leadership.
    This group is more inclined to stay out of the fray and follow orders from on high. They’re less interested in the methods driving change. “Just tell me what you want me to do, boss, and I’ll do it.”

Neither path tends to deliver meaningful wins for the change agents or the organization.

Decisiveness as an Innovation Success Driver

Some time ago,  I read about a CEO who believed in making decisions based on approximately 60 seconds of information. He believed the most important thing he could do was to make the decision and have faith that his team could execute skillfully.

While this practice might stray into the extreme zone of business sense, it’s rooted in the value of rapid-fire assessment, gut hunches, and decisiveness. And the magic safety net? This leader could always make a mid-course correction later, as new information emerges. I tend to tip in favor of that kind of leader, though I’ll admit I need a bit more than a single minute of information to arrive at a decision.

I’d like to share two tips that have helped me better address the never-ending stream of business process methodologies pitched to our teams:

  1. Listen to Every Pitch
    If you’ve surrounded yourself with a strong team of trusted advisers, have faith that there’s likely some new revelation within that pitch that might help you advance faster.
  2. Be Open to Weaving Different Elements Together
    I approach every book touting new processes knowing beforehand that I may only take part of the ideology and fit it into our current processes. The fact that we don’t follow Agile at 100 percent of the letter of the law isn’t wrong. It’s okay that we’ve only incorporated parts of Lean Startup. What’s better, it’s not only okay… it’s the smart thing to do.

innovationFor me, I liken this methodology weaving process to that of a master chef. Through years of testing and perfecting, I can now quickly identify the best part of nearly every methodology spice to create unique meals that will delight our clients.

As we engage with hundreds of clients each year, I’m fascinated by the similarities and differences from one to the next. With that said, there are three over-arching objectives that unite us all: Talent acquisition and development, profitability, and happy customers.

There will always be battles to balance the chaos of change, but that’s no different than what every day brings in today’s technology-centric business environment. Swimming through the chaos by refining each stroke is a key part of staying afloat, much less being successful in moving forward.

So be brave. Be courageous. Do your homework. Read more books. Take the best that resonates with you and share it with your staff. Encourage your teams to do the same. Discuss the wins and the losses. Celebrate each advancement and be sure to acknowledge those who helped build a bridge to the next breakthrough idea.

Who knows? One day, you might create an event transformation recipe so special that you’ll be the one writing the bestseller we’re all reading next.

Adapted from an article published in CIOReview. ©2017

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