Random finds (2016, week 26) — On what it takes to innovate, team design, and building lasting trust and cooperation

Mark Storm
12 min readJul 3, 2016


Valletta City Gate, Valletta, Malta, 2009–2015, RPBW Ph : Michel Denancé © RPBW — Renzo Piano Building Workshop Architects

Every Friday, I run through my tweets to select a few observations and insights that have kept me thinking over the last week.

What it takes to innovate

“We need to design operating systems for companies that create a space for innovation,” said Alexander Osterwalder, ‘inventor’ of the Business Model Canvas and principle author of Business Model Generation and, more recently, Value Proposition Design, in a keynote at IMD’s Orchestrating Winning Performance program.

According to him, managing the present and designing the future are very different functions and companies need both; they have to learn to become ambidextrous. Required business plans and linear processes are blockers of innovation. He suggests the appointment of a Chief Entrepreneur in charge of innovation that is on a par with the CEO, a person with true entrepreneurial skills, and who knows how to apply ‘ IDEO style’ (design) thinking to determine the desirability, feasibility and viability of prototypes.

“Business models expire like yoghurts in a fridge.” — Alexander Osterwalder

Paul Hobcraft, on the other hand, sees an important role for human resource groups. In a recent post, The role Human Resources can play in Innovation and its needed Design, he writes “the management of human resource (HRM) needs to be replaced with the management of human creativity and ingenuity.” Hobcraft believes this is the triggering point to innovation and delivering longer-term sustaining success.

“I believe within our human resource groups they must provide the people solution to building innovation capacity, they should contribute to providing lasting design impact and central engagement role in building innovation into the core fabric of the organisation. They become central to helping deliver, distinctive, radical, even game-changing innovation and that needs clear, distinct capabilities, capacities and competencies to be design into and innovation management system.”

But for HR to become essential in delivering a new cutting edge to innovation, they they need to step up and define a new mandate for innovation. “If innovation is ever going to achieve a core place within organisations it has to be deliberately designed in for skill definitions, leadership development and knowledge and experiences gained. HR needs to cultivate, mobilise and capitalise the future design of innovation and then deliver this as part of the top team within organisations,” Hobcraft writes.

“I believe HR can determine where the true innovation premium lies — in the people.” — Paul Hobcraft

In What It Takes to Innovate Within Large Corporations, Simone Ahuja, co-author of Jugaad Innovation, and founder of Blood Orange, a marketing and strategy consultancy, writes about the rise of, what she calls, the ‘corporate hacker’ — an industrious intrapreneur working at the edges of organizations to solve persistent problems that customers care about. “Partly a byproduct of user-centered approaches and do-it-yourself ingenuity,” she explains, “this emerging wave of intrapreneurship is due to a rising generation of managers who have been empowered by accessible technology and mobilized by social media.”

Balanda Atis, who Abuja introduces as a perfect example of the ‘corporate hacker.’ More on Atis in The L’Oréal Chemist Who’s Changing The Face Of Makeup on how a simple side project to develop a richer line of foundation has given rise to a company-wide campaign to break color barriers (FastCompany, 2015).

According to Abuja, companies need these practical hacktivists to dream up new ways to meet the needs of consumers and to outpace competitors in an era when competitive advantage is often fleeting. Yet, not all intrapreneurial hacktivitsts get the support they need. Many leave to commercialize their ideas on their own. “Corporate hackers are resilient — they don’t give up. They are social — they draw others to their cause. And they are frugal — they leverage existing resources and use lean approaches to scale their ideas. Companies that want to engage these innovators, and enable these behaviors in others, should offer incentives to keep them engaged and set them up as role models for the rest of the organization.”

Thinking — a new mental model for building teams

Despite the popularity of design thinking, we fail to design our thinking, says Mark Bonchek, founder and CEO (Chief Epiphany Officer) of Shift Thinking. To design our thinking, we have to become adept at working with mental models and managing thinking styles. This requires both learning and unlearning, he writes in Design How Your Team Thinks.

Every day, we sit in meetings in which someone presents a problem or opportunity. The response is always a version of “What are we going to do about it?” When’s the last time someone said, “How are we going to think about it?”

The design of thinking is not only about how we think as individuals and what happens inside our heads, it is also relevant for how we build teams. Normally, we select for skills, and assign tasks and responsibilities, but what if use an alternative mental model instead? What if we think about a team as a portfolio of thinking styles? Just as you construct an investment portfolio differently for different investment objectives, you want construct your thinking portfolio.

In an earlier article on Harvard Business Review, What Kind of Thinker Are You?, Benchek and Elisa Steele, the CEO and president of Jive, have outlined a simple process for identifying people’s ‘thinking style.’

“Most teams need every kind of thinking style at one point or another. […] In the beginning of the project, Explorers and Planners are helpful to set the strategy and structure the work effort. Then Connectors and Energizers take the lead to create the vision, access resources, and enroll the stakeholders. As strategy and planning give way to execution and operations, those with a more micro orientation take the lead. Experts and Optimizers work together to work out the details and find the efficiencies. Meanwhile, Producers execute the plan and cross things off the list, while Coaches keep everyone engaged and performing at their best.”

But in today’s marketplace, the smartest companies aren’t those that necessarily out-produce the competition. Instead, it’s the organizations that outthink them.

This shift from doing to thinking makes team leaders responsible for setting the context, rather than the content of people’s thinking. Furthermore, the leader is responsible for creating the right mix of thinking styles, and choosing which one comes to the fore at a particular point in time. “Put too much focus on big picture thinking and the details won’t get done. Give too much emphasis on action and process thinking, and you will lose the vision or drop out trust and connection,” Bonchek writes.

He concludes by saying that, in this time of rapid change, it isn’t enough to do new things. We have to think in new ways. We have to design new mental models. But before we can do that, we need to become aware of our current ones. We need to understand how we think, and start conducting our teams not as a portfolio of skills, but as a portfolio of diverse and complementary thinkers.

For further reading on mental models, two of many articles by Farnam Street’s Shane Parrish:

On building lasting trust and cooperation

W. Edwards Deming was an American management thinker and the inventor of the famous ‘red bead experiment.’ In this test, participants play the part of factory workers who are attempting to fit red beads into 50 indentations on a paddle. The catch is that they are plunging their paddles into a box filled with both red and blue beads. They soon realize their performance depends entirely on random factors, well outside of their control. The red bead experiment tries to show us that we often get a false read on workers because we judge them too narrowly. Deming believed that we can improve worker performance only when we improve the entire system they work within. He also believed that managers wrongly apply incentive pay plans, forced rankings, and all sorts of carrots and sticks to create the illusion of control without solving root performance problems.

“Many management thinkers have built upon Deming’s philosophy, yet his core message seems lost to time,” says Joshua Macht, a Group Publisher at Harvard Business Review, in The Management Thinker We Should Never Have Forgotten. “He [Deming] cogently argues that businesses destroy more value than they create when they focus on short-term results, traditional incentives, and performance rankings. His main point is that leaders must build deep trust among workers and managers, which emanates from a strong purpose and shared values.”

Deming’s message seems more important than ever, yet few businesses heed his message today. Why?

By Laura Schneider for Harvard Business Review.

For Deming, the trust between manager and worker is the bedrock upon which a healthy managerial relationship will be built. His thesis is worth recalling now, perhaps more than ever, because it’s precisely this trust that has eroded so precipitously since the 90s.

“It may be cliché to say that technology is changing our businesses today at a rapid pace,” Macht writes, “but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. And with this change comes a world of uncertainty and anxiety where predictable performance for any business seems more and more like Deming’s red bead experiment: random. The results can be devastating to a business. The worker no longer trusts that they won’t be a replaced by a machine. The investor no longer trusts that they will get a return on capital. The manager no longer trusts that they will have employment for life after more than a bad quarter or two.”

With so much of our trust eroding, management is left with little else to hold on to, and so they grasp the false hope of blunt instruments like forced rankings and quarterly forecasting — no matter how illusory it all may be. Yet, newer generations look for ‘purposeful work,’ and companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple seem to understand this need. They educate their employees differently, collaborate differently across silos and divisions, and incentivize people in different ways. “Moreover, these companies almost appear to be for the common good, and the management appears to instinctively follow Deming’s philosophy. But what’s even more striking is that efficiency and performance naturally improves inside of these companies without the standard methods that more established firms pursue,” Macht writes. “Sadly, there’s often also a fall from grace that typically happens as these corporations become ‘normalized’ and a more traditional battle for resources sets in.”

As a humanist, W. Edwards Deming saw the individual as internally motivated to do good, meaningful work.

An explanation for why these rare examples of ‘Deming in action’ aren’t proliferating could maybe be found in the forces of good and evil that are continuously at play within our organizations. Artfully shaping and molding these forces in a way that best suits these organizations, may be the single most important responsibility of its leaders.

“All of this implies a more-progressive approach to leadership. And yet we all too easily succumb to our Taylor-like impulses that assume the worst about workers. […] But in a world where the stakes appear to be getting higher by the minute, building lasting trust and cooperation across companies and communities — binding together people and long-calcified silos — may be the only way for the corporation to survive.”

A bit more …

Over the course of three years, French reporter and filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand travelled across 65 countries, speaking to over 2,000 people from across the globe in a quest to understand the world in which we live, and the nature of humanity. In his genesis of the film, Bertrand discusses his feeling that despite humanity’s progression, “we are still living in a two tier world, undermined by inequalities, ravaged by wars. We are still incapable of living together.”

The real power of Human lies not in the words of those interviewed, but in their bare honesty; the visible joy and pain displayed on each person’s face as they share their story with us. As Bertrand says: “There is a proverb that says the eyes are the mirror of the soul. I believe it to be so. For there is nothing more compelling than someone looking you in the eye and bearing their soul. Every new encounter is a step forward and every story is unique.”

Read on Misfit Press: http://www.misfitpress.co/blog/human-documentary-bertrand.

Watch on Documentary Storm: http://documentarystorm.com/human.

“The fundamental problem with return-on-investment thinking is that it reduces the value of an experience to some sort of quantifiable, short-term outcome,” says Moses Pava, an ethicist and a dean of the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University.

“Undergraduate business schools have a pretty strong case to make for their value — if by value people mean an average starting salary right after graduation. Now, Pava says, a lot of liberal arts schools are trying to make that same case, saying they too provide a high return on investment. ‘But the bad news for the liberal arts people,’ Pava argued, ‘is that once they’ve entered that conversation with [business schools] and started comparing themselves to us, they’ve lost the game, because they’re using our metaphor and they’re using our way of framing the question and they’ve kind of lost their soul.’”

Read on The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/return-on-investment/489233/?utm_source=atltw.

“As more and more things become quantifiable, from workouts to Netflix binges to the number of dollars per visitor a museum exhibition costs, […] it’s critical for students to realize that not everything can be reduced to a data point. ‘Many of the deepest experiences in life can’t be numerically measured,’ [the cultural critic Leon] Wieseltier said. ‘What the humanities teach, what literature and art and music and philosophy and history teach, is that the correct description and analysis of human life is not a scientific affair.’”

Or as Faust put it, in a quote frequently attributed to Albert Einstein, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Read on The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/06/learning-to-be-human/489659/?utm_source=atltw.

“Life would be more straightforward if we knew what we need to find out; if we were told at birth, exactly what we need to know to be happy. But in a complex world, it’s impossible to know what might be useful in the future. It’s important, therefore, to spread your cognitive bets. Curious people take risks, try things out, allow themselves to get productively distracted. They know that something they learn by chance today may well come in useful tomorrow, or spark a new way of thinking about an entirely different problem. The more unpredictable the environment, the more important a seemingly unnecessary breadth and depth of knowledge becomes. Humans have always had to deal with complexity; felling a woolly mammoth is not simple. But now that we live in larger, more varied, faster-changing societies than ever before, curiosity is more important — and more rewarding — than it has ever been.” — Ian Leslie in Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It

“They may have been disproved by science or dismissed as ridiculous, but some foolish beliefs endure. In theory they should wither away — but it’s not that simple,” writes Steven Poole, the author of, amongst others, You Aren’t What You Eat and, his latest, Rethink, in Why bad ideas refuse to die.

“In January 2016, the rapper BoB took to Twitter to tell his fans that the Earth is really flat. ‘A lot of people are turned off by the phrase flat earth,’ he acknowledged, ‘but there’s no way u can see all the evidence and not know … grow up.’ At length the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson joined in the conversation, offering friendly corrections to BoB’s zany proofs of non-globism, and finishing with a sarcastic compliment: ‘Being five centuries regressed in your reasoning doesn’t mean we all can’t still like your music.’

A fantasy map of a flat earth (photograph: Antar Dayal/Getty Images/Illustration Works).

“The marketplace of ideas, indeed, often confers authority through mere repetition — in science as well as in political campaigning. You probably know, for example, that the human tongue has regional sensitivities: sweetness is sensed on the tip, saltiness and sourness on the sides, and bitter at the back. At some point you’ve seen a scientific tongue map showing this — they appear in cookery books as well as medical textbooks. It’s one of those nice, slightly surprising findings of science that no one questions. And it’s rubbish.”

Read on The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jun/28/why-bad-ideas-refuse-die?CMP=share_btn_tw.

“To me, part of what liminal thinking is about is the art of questioning those things that are unquestionable or that you haven’t questioned in the past and actually forcing yourself or imposing on yourself as a discipline, the rigor of questioning those things that you rarely question because therein lie the opportunities for the most profound change.” — Dave Gray in Questioning the unquestionable

“Answers are boring — it’s the questions that are exciting.” — John Hagel

“Making a good building is an important civic gesture. It makes you believe in a better world.” — Renzo Piano



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought