Innovation and Success

May 10, 2012

Listening and meeting John Kao, dubbed ‘Mr Creativity’ and a ‘serial innovator’ by The Economist; and attending a perception-shifting session delivered by motivation and achievement expert, Heidi Grant Halvorson were just two of the highlights of the last 24 hours at ASTD 2012.

John KaoJohn Kao provided a heavy dose of music theory, complemented by exploration of why humans innovate.  Through the metaphor of Kao’s love of music, punctuated with a fewbars of jazz, he guided us through the lessons of the greats – Michael Jordon’s failures,Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker’s cultivation of bebop after a crushing rejection, and Bill Evan’s elegant simple authenticity – as evidence of how we can start innovating.  Interestingly, the approach the ‘Innovation Sherpa’ uses to deliver a talk is almost a form of bebop inspired improvisation in itself.  The ”root note” of Kao’s talk was that we are all hard wired for success at innovating something.  The trouble lies in the fact that, often, we don’t know what innovation means.

This was echoed by Heidi Grant Halvorson, who proved that people are surprisingly wrong when it comes to identifying the true causes of their own successes and failures.  For Heidi Grant Halvorsonexample, people often attribute their successes and failures to innate ability; so you either win the DNA lottery and end up with lots of intelligence, creativity, or willpower – and are therefore successful – or you don’t, and you fail.

From her work as Professor of Psychology at Lehigh University, Halvorson showed through conducting many research tests, how this assumption is wrong in two ways.

She stated that first, “ability simply doesn’t work that way. No matter what you begin with, what you end up with has everything to do with experience, learning and effort.  But when we think of our abilities as fixed and innate, we give up on ourselves when we encounter difficulty, and resign ourselves to failure.

Secondly, no matter how much ability you have, successfully reaching a goal has everything to do with the actions you take (or don’t take) along the way. Effort, choice, help-seeking, mind set, motivation, confidence, planning, monitoring of progress, and strategies are the real keys to achievement.

Specifically with strategy, these can be broken into two categories, strategies of goal setting and strategies of goal pursuit.  In other words, there are things you need to do to get off on the right foot, and then there are things you need to do to fully execute your vision”.

The statistics Halvorson presented were extremely compelling, with individuals, teams and groups performing consistently better and succeeding (especially in challenging times) when the second strategy was used.

Halvorson is a contributor for Harvard Business Review, the BBC Business Daily, as well as other leading publications and has recently co-edited The Psychology of Goals.


Jim Collins@ASTD

May 8, 2012

Jim Collins opened the second day at the ASTD to a theatre packed audience talking about his new book – Great by Choice, Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite them All.

He spoke about the ten years of research conducted on companies for the book and how he and co-author, Morten T. Hansen dubbed organisations that thrived despite uncertainty and chaos, 10xers; and why when matched with identical companies with identical challenges, the 10Xers came out on top.

Jim CollinsCollins’ study showed that trying to lead in a fast world with fast decisions and fast actions is a good way to end up in disaster.   What the 10xers would do, would be to keep a very close eye on the storm and begin preparing for it. Rather than react instantly the 10exers would instead watch the web of events unfold before making very deliberate, rigorous decisions.

As with Good to Great, he advocates that the single most important leadership skill is the ability to pick the right people, with the right skill for the right job at the right time.

Collins also examined the role of luck, the part (if any) that it played and also how great leaders were able to get an ROI from bad luck.

Moving to Leadership Skills he stated that the X Factor for a great leader when aligned with the hierarchy of capabilities, was humility.

To increase success in business, Collins ended the session with Ten To-Do’s:

  1. Commit to building a pocket of greatness.
  2. Get the right people on the key seats.
  3. Double your questions to statement ratio.
  4. Confront the brutal facts – not opinions.
  5. Find your personal Hedgehog and focus on it; (Hedgehog = passion and drive).
  6. Be disciplined with your Hedgehog principle.
  7. Get a high return on your next luck event and decide who is your best luck.
  8. Have a Stop Doing List as well as a To Do List
  9. Creative pockets of quietude in order to ‘think’.
  10. Set personal visions aligned to lifetime core values that you can pass on to others.

ASTD 2012 International Conference, Denver, Colorado

May 8, 2012

Excited to be at the ASTD 2012 International Conference and Expo in Denver wearing my hat as ASTDI Board Member for International Relations and representing BluePrint’s goal to always be aware of new industry blueprints.

The conference opened in Denver on Sunday, 6 and despite what we hear about job ASTD 2012 International Conference and Expo in Denver unemployment in the States there’s a buzz and optimism in the corridors here. The conference alone has an increase of 22% attendance with visitor numbers expected to be between 8000-10000, Quite a difference from our last attendance in 2010 when numbers were only around 3500.

This year there are 290 educational sessions highlighted listed under one of the eight content tracks of;

  • Career Development
  • Designing and Facilitating Learning
  • Global Human Resource Development
  • Human Capital
  • Leadership Development
  • Learning Technologies
  • Measurement, Evaluation, ROI
  • Trends

ASTD 2012 International ConferenceSessions I attended on the first day included ‘Building E-Learning that People Will Want to Use’ which focused on how to separate good programs from junk.

Learned how the World Bank used Virtual Learning for effective global collaboration, and how Brazil’s market leader in environmental solutions, Essencis, used social learning to engage and empower their younger generations of employees.

Last but not least was a session on ‘New Blended Learning Model in Action’. All very stimulating.

Why are women still paid less than their male counterparts for equal success at the same job?

March 11, 2011

Does the glass ceiling still exist for women in management?

Do you believe you are underneath a glass ceiling, looking up and wishing you could break through?

This is an area that seems to have contradictory evidence both supporting and denying that such a ceiling still exists. A news report published back in 2003 stated that women were beginning to gain equal pay. But another survey that was performed only last month (February 2011) indicated that a full 73% of female managers still believed in the glass ceiling.

In truth, the idea of a glass ceiling may or may not be true depending on certain circumstances:

  • The specific company a woman works in
  • The sector of business a woman works in
  • The colleagues and bosses she is surrounded by
  • And perhaps even the thoughts and beliefs of the female manager herself

Cataylst’s March 2011 research confirms the lack of progress with only 14.4% of executive officers of Fortune 500 companies are women, and an even more dismal 2.2% are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

It may seem bleak in the progress of business equality, but there are signs that businesses are now recognising the importance and need for their executive teams to be comprised of or even lead by women.

The concept of the glass ceiling seems to be very much in the news at the moment. It will be interesting to see if any other surveys are published on the topic in the near future.

Does marriage impede your chances of becoming a manager?

Apparently they could do if you are a woman. According to figures released towards the end of 2010, it seems that almost three quarters of male managers were married at the time they were surveyed. In contrast, just under sixty per cent of women were married if they were in a manager’s job.

This is an interesting statistic, revealing that there is perhaps a bigger gap between male managers who are married and female managers who are married. A similar picture was revealed when it came to whether or not there were children in the family.

But is this to do with the actual workplace being less amenable to female managers? Or is it perhaps due to the fact that it is more often down to the woman to look after the children?

Either way it provides some interesting food for thought – both for female managers and for those who wish to ascend the ladder.

Tip one – Focus on dividing your work and home life

For anyone to be a successful manager it is vital that they can divide their work and home life effectively. This is particularly true for women though, where they may have kids to think about as well.

It may help to get a diary or chart so that you can block out your time each day. Block out your working hours and then add in the specific tasks around it that form part of your home life.

Think about how to delegate better – particularly at work, but also at home – so you can enjoy a more balanced life on the whole.

Tip two – Learn how to cope in a male orientated workplace

Some jobs and sectors have done more to introduce more female managers than others. If you are one of the first in your workplace, don’t be surprised if you meet with some hostility or even just a cool reception.

Learn how you can interact with different people in different ways. Men act and react differently to situations than women do – it’s in all our genetics and DNA. Finding out how to cope with men as well as women could mean you are able to handle the job more successfully and manage your team better as well. See our Women as Manager and Women as Leader programs.

Tip three – Learn how to de-stress – what works for you?

We all need to de-stress. But female managers may come up against more stressors than men do in certain situations.

Find ways to de-stress that really appeal to you. Take advantage of some downtime each and every day that is just for YOU. What would you do to feel better and more relaxed each day?

Enquire about our Understanding and Managing Stress Program.

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How to become an accountable leader

March 1, 2011

Great leaders accept responsibility for delivering the results that matter to them and their organisation. They do not hide behind excuses, scapegoats or indecision. Rather, they harness the multitude of resources they have at their disposal to turn desires into realities.

Bruna Martinuzzi has offered the following tips on how you can become a successful accountable leader.

1. Taking time to reflect on how your actions are viewed by all stakeholders: your direct reports, your peers, your clients. Go through a formal 360 Leadership Assessment process or simply get hold of a leadership assessment form and use it to reflect on how others in your team would rate you on each dimension.

2. At the end of each day, take the time to go over your day.
Think about the significant activities in your day. Are you proud of the way you conducted yourself? Could you improve?  This will inspire you to plan your next day around your highest purpose. Getting into this habit of introspection will pay dividends in the long run.

3. Decide to hold yourself accountable for developing other leaders. By mentoring a protégé to enhance their personal and professional growth, you strengthen your own leadership skills and reinforce your determination to be self-accountable as you become the model.

4. When something goes wrong, look inwardly for solutions. It is especially in difficult times that our self-accountability is challenged. Ensure you are well equipped to deal with challenges and controversy.

5. When a mistake is made, do you ask: “Whose fault is it?” or do you say: “What can we learn from this?” It is important to move away from the blame game and take ownership of issues.

6. Think about promises you make to new hires during the interviewing courtship period. In our zeal to want to attract the brightest and most talented, we can easily over promise. Keep a record of your interview notes and what you promised to candidates. If subsequent events make it impossible to keep the promises, at least you can address them with the individual. This is better than forgetting about them altogether.

7. What about promises you made to yourself? Write out your personal and professional goals with clear targets. Read them once a week. Use these to spur you into action.

8. Think about what you are avoiding doing. Is there anything that you are avoiding doing that needs to be done? For example, are you putting off a difficult conversation? Are you delaying any important decisions? Are you delegating away responsibilities that should stay in your court?

Self-accountability, then, is staying true to ourselves despite difficult circumstances. It’s doing the right thing even when we are tempted to bend a few rules for expediency’s sake.


E-Learning offers improved options

February 24, 2011

E-learning is increasing in popularity, and for good reason. It is a great way to provide an ongoing training mechanism that is available at a time that suits the learner. Most importantly it produces great results by decreasing costs and improving performance.

Despite the increase of popularity many still don’t understand the full value of e-learning. have provided the following factors as to why e-learning is a great new way to learn.

  • Real-time access. Elearning eliminates allows courses to be accessed anytime, anywhere.  This can also happen without Internet access.
  • Freedom to fail.  Let’s face it, real learning requires some failure.  But no one likes to fail in a classroom full of other people.  Elearning lets you fail without fear.  This encourages exploration and testing of ideas.  With the right feedback you create a great learning environment.  Worst case, you can always start over.  Something you can’t always do in class.
  • Improved retention.  The combination of multimedia and instructional design can produce a very rich learning experience that is repeatable.  Throw in some good practice activities with feedback and you have a learning environment that’s going to help your learners retain the course content which will produce results.
  • Personalised learning. Let’s think about cars, they all do the same thing yet we all have personal opinions about what we want to drive.  The same goes for learning.  Learners want control.  Elearning allows you to offer control to the learners in a way that classroom learning doesn’t.

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Implementing organisational change – a difficult task made simpler

February 17, 2011

Implementing organisational change is a difficult and critical task. It is becoming even more important for managers to posses the skills to lead during times of change as there is an accelerated rate of change in most organisations today.

Whatever the reason behind the change, most people within organisations seem to resist change even if they agree it is needed. Often, employees may not be resistant to change, but rather, the process or transition that change requires. It is therefore important for managers to understand employee’s natural negative feelings about change and how to best manage these to ensure a smooth transition period for all.

Here are five steps to help you manage change and transitions in your organisation.

1. Assess and address employees concerns
Many organisations claim to put their employees first, however the reality is, most don’t. Take the time to live up to this claim when employees are concerned. Listen to their fears and communicate strategies that will be implemented to keep the impact to a minimum.

2. Demonstrate strong leadership
The reality is that without strong leadership, positive change is unlikely to happen. Leaders and managers throughout the organisation need to show their commitment to the change and work hard to make it happen. This commitment will inspire and motivate everyone to take a role in implementing change.

3. Build trust in the leadership
Having the trust of employees in times of change is crucial as employees feel especially vulnerable. Those implementing the change need to display absolute integrity, reliability, openness, and fairness – always behaving in ethically and socially responsible ways. They need to communicate that they care about both the people and the organisation.

4. Clearly articulate the vision to all
Many organisations struggle in implementing change because people fail to grasp the vision and understand its implications. The key to the successful implementation of change is to communicating the reason behind the change and why it is necessary. Employees need to understand the purpose of the change and the outcome that is expected. Without you telling them they will not know.

5. Celebrate success
Celebration recognises accomplishment, motivates everyone involved, and sends a positive message. Don’t wait until the mission is accomplished and change has occurred; celebrate milestones and short-term wins on the way to the goal.

The six keys of success

February 15, 2011

It is possible to build any skill or capacity in the same systematic way we do a muscle: push past your comfort zone and then rest, says Tony Schwartz in the Harvard Business Review. If you have your heart set on improving your skill set in a certain area you can, you just need to practice – a lot!

Tony Schwartz has offered an additional six pointers to help you achieve excellence:

  1. Pursue what you love. Passion is an incredible motivator. It fuels focus, resilience, and perseverance.
  2. Do the hardest work first. We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. Most great performers have found it best to take on difficult work in the mornings, before they do anything else. That’s when most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.
  3. Practice intensely, without interruption for short periods of no longer than 90 minutes and then take a break. The evidence is equally strong that great performers practice no more than 4 ½ hours a day.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. The simpler and more precise the feedback, the more equipped you are to make adjustments. Too much feedback, too continuously can create cognitive overload, increase anxiety, and interfere with learning.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks. Relaxing after intense effort not only provides an opportunity to rejuvenate, but also to metabolise and embed learning. It’s also during rest that the right hemisphere becomes more dominant, which can lead to creative breakthroughs.
  6. Ritualise practice. Will and discipline are wildly overrated. The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to build rituals — specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.

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The collaborative organisation: how to make employee networks really work

February 10, 2011

Recent and topical research by the MIT Sloan Management Review found that the traditional methods for driving operational excellence in global organisations are not enough. The most effective organisations make smart use of employee networks to reduce costs, improve efficiency and spur innovation.

The research found that the key to delivering both operational excellence and innovation is having networks of informal collaboration. Innovative solutions often emerge unpredictably through informal and unplanned interactions between individuals who see problems from different perspectives.  These networks often help employees handle situations that don’t fit into pre-established processes and structures.

Business leaders and CIOs who learn to harness and balance both formal and informal structures are better equipped to create more efficient and innovative organisations. When working to capitalise on these networks, business leaders and CIOs need to let go of some traditional management methods and adopt collaborative management models.

The MIT Sloan Management Review offered the following advice for companies trying to build more collaborative and innovative organisations:

  • Executives should analyse employee contribution networks to discover how high-performing individuals and teams connect.
  • Networks should be designed to optimise the flow of good ideas across function, distance and technical specialty.
  • Network analysis can show where too much connectivity slows decision making.

Overcoming the 5 fears of change

February 8, 2011

To move forward you need to make some changes along the way, so fearing change won’t get you anywhere. Instead, choose to embrace change and positive progress will come your way.

CEO Online has included an article on their website that says “Change champions don’t QUIT and don’t SETTLE.” They have provided 5 tips to help you become a successful change champion.

1. Overcome the fear of the unknown

Tip: “Choose growth”

2. Eliminate the fear of failure

Tip: “Get a healthier understanding of how change works”

3. Fight the fear of commitment

Tip: “Focus on what needs to be changed and keep the rest”

4. Dismiss the fear of disapproval

Tip: “Take in the disapproval with a grain of salt and an ounce of discernment”

5.  Discard the fear of success

Tip: “Relish your success instead of settling for mediocrity”

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