Want to be Innovative? Stop hiring employees…

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others – African proverb

Ok I admit it, the title is misleading. It should read: “if you want to be innovative, stop hiring employees and start hiring partners.”

All those who manage a budget for a department or company, know that the employees are the most expensive line item in their budget. What’s not known is how effective and efficient is that most expensive line item. A recent Gallup poll reported employee engagement at an all-time low. Since 2009, employee engagement has hovered around 30%. In these competitive times where businesses are looking for 1-2% competitive advantage, 30% employee engagement is like having a sinkhole in the backyard. When customers interact with disengaged employees, no amount of strategy or sophistication will help sustain the business.

Employees as Partners

Steve Jobs turned around two dying companies from near bankruptcy to today’s most valued companies. His secret: believe in employees and engage them on a higher level. Even after his death, Apple still echoes his message: Continue reading

What is Innovation?

Creativity is about thinking new things. Innovation is about doing new things – Theodore Levitt.

Innovation is combining new and existing ideas to create something new that adds value to the marketplace. It could emerge as a new product or selling the existing products new ways.

Most people associate Innovation with Invention. While the two are related, you don’t have to invent something to be innovative. This association paralyzes many individuals and companies, who never set foot on the road to become innovative. People are often looking for that “aha moment”, the “genius idea”, or that “clever product” that will captivate the market. In the process, they ignore the importance of adding value to existing products and service. Take Toyota for example. Toyota is recognized among the top most innovative companies, but Toyota did not invent the car. Similarly, Netflix did not invent the DVD rental business, but changed the way we rent and watch movies. Starbucks did not invent the café, but revived the coffee industry. All of these companies changed their respective industries without inventing the core product.
Innovation and invention are two different things Continue reading

Creativity and Innovation: Jonah Lehrer on “moments of insight”

I greatly admire Jonah Lehrer for his empirical approach to exploring the subjects he write about, and binding copious scientific publications to prove his point. I must admit that I am biased to his writing style since I am a Neuroscience junky myself. I recently read his book Imagine: How Creativity Works, which explores how moments of insights happen, as he calls it “the eureka moments”, and we find solutions to our most daunting problems. This book was a big help to me in launching the Open Innovation Program at my company. Here’s a clip of Jonah Lehrer talking about his book Imagine:

Advancing Your Career: Traits of High Performance Employees

Individuality

“I am stuck in my career”
“My boss does not appreciate my work”
“Why did that person get the promotion and not me?”

Have you ever had these feelings? I did. And millions others feel that way every day. Psychologists consider it to be the leading factor of anxiety and stress at modern workplace.

I struggled with these emotions at different stages of my career, and found my answers the hard way. I wish someone had mentored me when I was struggling with these emotions. I wish I knew what I am about to share with you now. I made my journey from an assembly line employee to Vice President of an established company. The process took me about 15 years and taught me a lot of valuable life lessons. Even though this article is driven by a research study, it reflects my thoughts and learning from my own career journey. My intent is to help you figure out what you should be doing so that you are not at the mercy of your boss, but rather your boss is having to figure out ways to keep you engaged. Continue reading

How to start an Innovation Program

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt.

Innovation is on everyone’s mind today. A recent survey conducted by IBM, comprising of more than 1500 CEOs, ranked innovation as the top priority and a requirement for future growth. Organizations are realizing that to survive in today’s market and to attract information rich customers, they must innovate continuously. Companies like Apple and Google have set a new standard for innovation. Their approach to innovation has not only changed the Tech industry, but also the consumer expectation, which is forcing virtually every industry to change. We have also seen many giants like Blockbuster, Borders, United Airlines disappear as they failed to innovate and adapt to changing environment.

My quest started from similar need to determine what customers want and how to grow the company. I am blessed to live in Silicon Valley, and was able to tap into local resources to figure out what made companies like Apple, Google, SalesForce.com and Facebook so successful, but my challenge was how do I apply their principles to service industry where there is no physical product that you can hold, touch or see. I am in insurance industry and we sell a promise. How do you innovate a promise?

It’s often the employees—rather than outside consultants—who know a company’s products and processes best. According to management experts, many of the most innovative companies tend to solicit ideas from staff throughout the organization, not just the executive ranks (Wall Street Journal, 2011). Continue reading

Happiness, Zen and the Art of Success

Imagine a scene: A village in a third world country, a group of boys playing soccer in a dusty patch of ground. A small skinny boy, bare feet, bruised knees, covered in dust, is guarding the goals and looking at his team mates chasing the ball; and dreaming of success.

Pause for a minute and think of what this boy is dreaming.

Another scene: In the heart of Silicon Valley, a beautiful corner executive office with ceiling high windows and a nice view. The occupant is looking out the window, gauging at neighboring office buildings; and dreaming of success.

Pause for a minute and think of what this man is dreaming.

What do they have in common? What are they dreaming?

All human beings have an innate desire to be unique and admired by others. The drive to be successful is one of the many aspirations fueled by this desire. Continue reading

Leadership Nuggets

Some nuggets of wisdom I learned in my leadership quest, that shaped my life and helped me not only become a better leader but also a better person:

  • If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with team
  • Right people, in the right seat – Jim Collins
  • A leader’s success depends on the success of his or her followers
  • Do your best, not more, not less – Zen philosophy
  • Intrinsic motivation is the key to bringing the best out of everyone
  • Communication, particularly information sharing, is the basic building block of trust
  • Your presence sends a vibe, which either attracts or repels others
  • Focus on being helpful, than being right
  • Employee engagement factors: Autonomy, Complexity, and Gratification – Daniel Pink
  • Communication: Hint is hardest to decode and easiest to refuse. It is speaker’s responsiblity to speak clearly and unambiguously to communicate ideas
  • Listening: Encourage others to talk about themselves
  • You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to discover it himself – Galileo
  • Make suggestions and let others reach their own conclusions – Dale Carnegie
  • If you cannot explain it to your grandmother, you don’t really know it – Einstein

 

Top Leadership Qualities: Making of a Great Leader

Leadership is as old as human history, and people have taken great pride in documenting and telling stories of their great leaders. When we study the lives of some of these great leaders, from historical figures to modern-day executives, they all appear to have a charisma: an ability to influence people to do what may have been deemed impossible before their time. These leaders also share a core set of qualities, which made their followers believe in them and their vision. Regardless of the time and era, these qualities have stood strong, and experts believe that every leader must possess a core set of leadership qualities to become a great leader and have their followers follow willingly. Leadership comes in many forms; personal, political, business, religious, military, and other forms. The focus of this article is to explore the top leadership qualities found in great business leaders.

When it comes to business leadership, the distinction between a good manager and a good leader is often made. Good managers are often regarded as the organizers who can create a sense of stability and run the operations smoothly, while good leaders are considered visionaries who can change the organization for better and take it to the next level. All too often, employees emerge with the title of manager because they were technically proficient, not necessarily because they had leadership qualities. They are promoted to a managerial position for having managed themselves and their work very well; but to manage others they need people skills. They have people reporting to them, which means they have to wear two hats; one has “Manager” on it and the other “Leader”, and they need both hats to succeed. While the manager works on the tasks and the projects, the leader focuses on the people. The leader involves people in decisions, Continue reading