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Here’s to the Passionate Creatives

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Apple ad, “Think Different”, 1997

Why did Apple’s ad resonate so well with you? After all, how much time do we spend disagreeing. Admit how happy it can make you when your manager praises you for executing well on an assignment. I know I feel it. No “think different”. More like “think excellence”.

But that Apple ad. It was damn good, wasn’t it? Seemed to reach inside us to something else beside the praise we get for doing an assigned job well. It was celebrating some thing in each of us.

John Hagel recently wrote A Labor Day Manifesto for a New World. The post is a call to action for work that better fits our human nature. Our desire for creating better ways to address problems, in ways that fit our personality, interests and skills. To reach our full potential. We’re not all doing this though.

Hagel terms people whose personalities and drive are based on making situations better than what currently exists as “passionate creatives”. There have always been these types, but recent changes in the global economy and shifting market dynamics (e.g. digital technology rewriting one industry after another) are increasing their importance.

Passionate creatives exist within organizations, and as independent entrepreneurs. For those inside firms, Hagel notes:

They experience deep frustration today with the institutional barriers that have been put in their way as they seek to more effectively achieve their full potential.  They want and need platforms that can help them connect with others and drive performance to new levels.

For many of us, even if we wouldn’t label ourselves “passionate creatives”, the point about frustration resonates. How often have you had an idea, but can’t attention for it, nor resources, nor figure out who else to work with? I’ve had jobs like that in the past. You know some things are not working well, and you can see how to improve the product/delivery/business model. But you can’t make headway on iterating through new possibilities.

Hagel’s manifesto is a great read. I want to hit on two points I take away from it:

  • What is the role of “passionate creativity” in daily work?
  • The gathering of passionate creatives at the edges and the accelerating rate of change in markets

The Role of Passionate Creativity in Work

Very few of us get to live a life of unfettered passionate creativity. The realities of the mundane trump the thrill of the new. And that’s not a fault of the system. If all we did was work on new stuff, there’d be no stability and no scalability. More like mass economic anarchy.

But that’s too heavy handed a look at it. We can be quite productive and help our companies, and careers, while working on tasks that hit our passionate creative sweet spot. A good question to ask is, how much of this passionate creativity infuses our work days?

Work imbued with passionate creativity

Take a look at those two Venn Diagrams. They’re saying different things. The left one says that we all have to execute on tasks assigned by others, or assigned by ourselves for the role we fill. In some of that work, we’ll have the opportunity to reach deeper, to deliver creativity on an activity that animates us. But the primary focus is executing on the plans and processes already in place.

The right one indicates a job which is dominated by passionate creativity. Hagel’s call-to-action is more aligned here. We work primarily on things which stimulate and energize us regularly. But there is a twist to this notion. It doesn’t mean spending one’s time on only starry-eyed big picture thinking, producing little of tangible value for your organization. It includes work by those “who are searching for new and creative ways to do the most ‘routine’ tasks.”

Which model of work are we likely to see arise in the next decade or two? Both. Neither. Yes.

Hagel’s manifesto is not so much a clear-eyed plan for rearranging organizations. Rather, it’s a wake-up call to the corporate world that the nature of work and what employees seek is changing. As he says:

Why will more and more people evolve into passionate creatives? Because we live in a world that is shifting inexorably from an obsession with efficiency to an obsession with learning.  We have come to call this the Big Shift.

In that statement, I draw some conclusions that relate which model above will emerge. First, note that the Big Shift is a shift in “obsessions”. From efficiency to learning. That’s a shift in attention, and in resources. It’s a shift in the dynamics of the supply side of the equation.

What hasn’t shifted is the demand side of the equation. Consumers worldwide still depend on the massive efficiencies that Tayloresque methodologies have brought to our economy.

So there’s the quandary: if we’re all working on things that inflame our passionate creativity, who is minding the massive scalability store?

My sense is that the Venn Diagram on the left is closer to what we’ll see. Enlightened companies will follow the examples set by Google and 3M, encouraging employees to pursue initiatives outside their regular routines. This does a couple things:

  • It provides an outlet for growing passionate creativity on a wider basis
  • Some of those initiatives will turn into full-fledged projects

The second point then lets employees live a life in the right-side Venn Diagram.

Passionate Creatives at the Edges

Another point Hagel makes is that passionate creatives tend to occupy spaces that are “edges”:

Passionate creatives are everywhere among us, but they are not evenly distributed. They tend to gather on the edges where unmet needs intersect with unexploited capabilities.  Edges are fertile seedbeds for innovation.

Reading this, I was struck by how well this fits with the observation that Gary Hamel made. The pace of change in markets is faster now than it ever has been in history. What this means is that Hagel’s edges – unmet needs intersect with unexploited capabilities – will be more frequently found.

Companies need to get better in pivoting to meet changes in their markets. And this keeps CEOs up at night. IBM surveyed global CEOs in 2008, asking them about their view of changes in their markets. The results are eye-opening:

Collectively, CEOs set their organization’s ability to manage change 22 percentage points lower than their expectations for the level of change they will have to manage — a ‘change gap’ that is widening.

A wide ‘change gap’ there, isn’t it? If Hamel identifies the problem companies face, Hagel identifies the types of workers who will make a difference in addressing the problem. The passionate creatives.

The edges are places of opportunity and uncertainty. It’s hard to know what the demand dynamics are, and existing infrastructure and processes don’t address the changing market needs. New alternatives are emerging, it’s time for fresh approaches by existing firms.

Companies are best-served by allowing employees who are attracted to these changes to pursue innovative ways to address them. Why? They get energy. They get an experimenter’s mentality. They get a happier workforce. Let employees exercise some form of self-organization to accomplish this.

The alternative may be incumbent staffers who have fallen into routines, or have reason to protect the status quo. This does not help companies address rising levels of volatility. Free the passionate creatives!

Passionate Creativity Will Fall on a Spectrum

My sense is that work will evolve, over years and decades, to allow people to shift attention to work that energizes them more fully. It will happen on a spectrum, with daily jobs that fall between those two Venn Diagrams above. Society cannot get away from the requirements of predictability, efficiency and scalability. We’re all going to have elements of our jobs that are routine.

I think Hagel’s post is right on though. It will be a slow change where companies integrate the existing passionate creatives more effectively, and develop the passionate creativity in all employees. Companies doing it well will need to celebrated and publicized repeatedly for the value to be understood more widely in the market.Over time, we’ll see the change.

Note what G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón wrote in this recent Business Week article. Passionate creatives like to “follow the challenges”:

Stop and think about the last truly great person who left your organization. First think about what made that employee great. We bet you name such characteristics as action-oriented, driven, passionate, fun, and genuine.

Now think about where that worker went. Chances are, to a position with a perceived promise of putting his or her talents to better use—moving into a role with greater challenges and opportunities to learn and make a difference. It wasn’t about money.

It will happen. Here’s to the passionate creatives.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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Gary Hamel on Enterprise 2.0 and the Post-Establishment Age

Gary Hamel photoLast week at the first-ever Spigit Customer Summit, I had a chance to listen to Gary Hamel live. He delivered the keynote for the event, “Inventing Management 2.0.” If you’re a reader of Gary’s blog or his books, you know he’s a big proponent of empowering employees and changing management paradigms. See his 25 Stretch Goals for Management in the Harvard Business Review from last February for a great overview of his thinking.

In his speech last week, he did not disappoint. In fact, he provided a distinct rationale and call to action for companies to embrace the Enterprise 2.0 movement.

Driving the Autobahn in a Model T

In his presentation, there were two distinct graphs that really drove home the point that it’s time for new ways of managing companies. I’ve put them together below:

Gary Hamel - Why Innovation in Mgt Is Needed

On the left, a conceptual chart outlines something many of us instinctively feel. The pace of change in our world is increasing. As Gary Hamel noted, year-to-year volatility in company earnings have been increasing exponentially the last 40 years. Those changes are manifestations of what we all experience. I thought he put it well when he said:

What a company did in the past is now less predictive of its future.

Business Week in 2004 ran an article that nicely demonstrated the acceleration of change. It included these points:

  • The number of Fortune 300 CEOs with six years’ tenure in that role has decreased from 57 percent in 1980 to 38 percent in 2001.
  • In 1991, the number of new household, health, beauty, food, and beverage products totaled 15,400. In 2001, that number had more than doubled to a record 32,025.
  • From 1972 to 1987, the U.S. government deleted 50 industries from its standard industrial classification. From 1987 to 1997, it deleted 500. At the same time, the government added or redefined 200 industries from 1972 to 1987, and almost 1,000 from 1987 to 1997.
  • In 1978, about 10,000 firms were failing annually, and this number had been stable since 1950. By 1986, 60,000 firms were failing annually, and by 1998 that number had risen to roughly 73,000.
  • From 1950 to 2000, variability in S&P 500 stock prices increased more than tenfold. Through the decades of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, days on which the market fluctuated by three percent or more were rare — it happened less than twice a year. For the past two years it happened almost twice a month.

On the right, the chart provides the major innovations in company management over the past 150 years. Current management systems reflect philosophies that were developed in an earlier era of greater stability. A quick primer on the different management ideas (note – cannot find information on McCollum):

Taylor: Frederick Winslow Taylor advocated: “It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.”

Sloan: Former GM CEO Alfred P. Sloan revolutionized the management of corporations through numbers: “Sloan oversaw the use of rigorous financial and statistical tools to profitably manage GM’s far-flung empire.”

McGregor: MIT professor Douglas McGregor developed Theory X and Theory Y: “In Theory X, management assumes employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can. In Theory Y, management assumes employees may be ambitious and self-motivated and exercise self-control.”

Deming: W. Edwards Deming was a professor and statistician credited with revolutionizing post-war Japan’s manufacturing: “Dr. W. Edwards Deming taught that by adopting appropriate principles of management, organizations can increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs (by reducing waste, rework, staff attrition and litigation while increasing customer loyalty). The key is to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing as a system, not as bits and pieces.”

The point Gary Hamel drives home is that our business and economic environment has irrevocably shifted toward higher volatility and accelerated change. The sundering of companies from healthy industry positions to crisis mode in relatively short order demonstrates the need for updating management philosophies.

Need for Better Adaptability in the Post-Establishment Age

My own term for this is the “post-establishment age”.  In prior decades, change was slower, and companies could count on inherent advantages that helped them maintain their established positions. As Gary Hamel noted, protections came in the form of regulatory frameworks, monopolies (e.g distribution), capital access and other ways.

These protections continue to erode in our modern, WTO-governed society. The web and digitalization of content and processes are making it easier than ever for new ideas to be tested. Consumers have access to more information than ever. Social media ensures more people know about new companies and products more rapidly then ever.

Old protections are falling, while change and industry disruption is accelerating. What can modern companies do to manage in this new environment?

Gary Hamel prescribes two strategies for companies in the post-establishment age:

  • Increased organizational adaptability
  • Pushing innovation and decision-making out to employees

Adaptability is a critical strategy. It means that companies pivot as they learn new information about their markets, competitors and changes in customer behaviors. As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article noted, companies can try more ideas faster and less expensively than ever:

Technology is transforming innovation at its core, allowing companies to test new ideas at speeds—and prices—that were unimaginable even a decade ago. They can stick features on Web sites and tell within hours how customers respond. They can see results from in-store promotions, or efforts to boost process productivity, almost as quickly.

Gary Hamel then notes that senior executives continue to have a monopoly on strategy. This essentially makes companies dependent on a handful of executives’ ability to adapt to change.

Yet employees are probably the earliest to know when something is changing. They also are faced with situations where they must come up with solutions. It is in this environment where companies will find their sources of adaptation. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, 25 Stretch Goals for Management, Gary Hamel included these two goals:

12. Share the work of setting direction. To engender commitment, the responsibility for goal setting must be distributed through a process where share of voice is a function of insight, not power.

17. Expand the scope of employee autonomy. Management systems must be redesigned to facilitate grassroots initiatives and local experimentation.

In the post-establishment age, these strategies are what distinguish leaders from those that will go through another disruption.

This Is Enterprise 2.0 Evolved

The cornerstones of Enterprise 2.0 include greater information visibility, tapping the emergent knowledge of employees and increased collaboration. Those are the foundational elements. Use them to create a company of higher adaptability and distributed innovation and decision-making.

As Gary Hamel concluded in his keynote:

“You can’t build a company that’s fit for the future unless it’s one that’s fit for human beings.”

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