Innovation Through Division

Inno­va­tion through divi­sion cre­ates pro­duc­tive ten­sion in your team that allows cre­ativ­ity to spring to life. But in order to do this, you have to know a few things.

All Tal­ent isn’t the Same

You have inno­va­tors and adapters on your team that both do dif­fer­ent things. The inno­va­tors try to find a dif­fer­ent solu­tion, while adapters try to find one that’s better.

Usu­ally, the inno­va­tor will cre­ate a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prod­uct, while the adapter makes small improve­ments on the exist­ing prod­uct. But the inno­va­tor does this with more trial and error. Also, there’s no guar­an­tee she’ll come up with some­thing new.

What this means

Adapters are bet­ter at pulling us to the pre­de­ter­mined fin­ish line.

Inno­va­tors are bet­ter at ignor­ing speed and focus­ing on qual­ity instead.

Why it works

In adver­tis­ing, you have an account exec­u­tive, who’s usu­ally an adapter. She’s more con­cerned with get­ting things done and pre­serv­ing the client rela­tion­ship. But the cre­ative staff that works for her client is made up of inno­va­tors. Those inno­va­tors are look­ing past best prac­tices, and often aren’t try­ing to please the client, but rather try­ing to please the client’s customers.

Did you catch that? The account exec­u­tive is try­ing to serve the client, which makes the client feel heard and cre­ates the ambas­sado­r­ial rela­tion­ship. The cre­atives are inter­ested in mak­ing the client’s cus­tomers under­stand them. And this ten­sion cre­ates bril­liant results.

How it Looks

If you want to know what it looks like when a client has full con­trol over their cre­ative, just watch the low-cost com­mer­cials on TV. Notice the num­ber of times the own­ers’ fam­ily mem­bers are in the spot. Or how the mes­sage is spread across qual­ity, ser­vice and price, with­out really dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing. Or how the brand talks about them­selves more than they talk about their cus­tomers. This is what it looks like when every­one in the agency is try­ing to please the client.

To get great results, you want strat­egy that’s based in research, that helps drive the cre­atives to under­stand that one thing a cus­tomer needs to hear—that one thing that’ll get them to buy. And then they tell that story, and don’t ever talk about price.

How to use it

So now, in your busi­ness, prod­uct devel­op­ment could be led by inno­va­tors who are inter­ested in defin­ing the prob­lem really well. Those def­i­n­i­tions then inform your prac­ti­cal inno­va­tors (engi­neers, writ­ers and design­ers) who will then exe­cute a solu­tion with the cus­tomer in mind.

Adapters become the project man­agers, the HR folks, admin­is­tra­tors and oth­er­wise peo­ple who are a lit­tle bet­ter, faster, stronger, etc. These are the peo­ple who make the inno­va­tion work in society.


So when you’re plan­ning how you’ll oper­ate, and how you’ll staff, put some time into think­ing about what you’re ask­ing peo­ple to do. Are you ask­ing them to inno­vate or to adapt? And if you’re hav­ing prob­lem with staff plan­ning or writ­ing the job descrip­tion, look me up, and I’ll lend you a hand.

Adaptive Company Goals: Negotiating Dreams with Reality

Think of orga­ni­za­tional goal set­ting as ask­ing the mar­ket for a raise. Some of us are happy with a cost-of-living raise. Oth­ers imag­ine what things would be like if all your wildest dreams come true. But we’re too-often stuck in the mode of try­ing to mar­gin­ally improve things. Another 5% increase in prof­its and we’ll be okay.

I’m here to tell you how to use dreams to define goals and processes that will pull you forward.

Dream­ing Makes you Unfocused”

Seri­ous busi­ness peo­ple can’t slow down enough to do any real imag­in­gin. We have to con­stantly be in motion. We need to act today to get what we need. There are emergencies—fires to put out. It would be height of irre­spon­si­bil­ity to stop and think about the future, even if some­thing inside of us tells us that think­ing ahead is pre­cisely the rem­edy for all of my day-to-day involve­ment in things.

So it isn’t dream­ing that makes com­pa­nies unfo­cused, but it’s the fail­ure to turn those dreams into action­able steps.

Fail­ure to Dream is a Lack of Discipline

We have a solution-minded cul­ture. This is the real prob­lem. We’re addicted to solv­ing prob­lems, so much so that we often for­get to under­stand the prob­lem. Rather than cre­at­ing mean­ing­ful action, this cre­ates cul­tures of activ­ity Here’s what it looks like:

  • Man­agers use research and data to defend aver­age deci­sions, when they could be mak­ing bold, strategy-based deci­sions, and then using data—well-understood data—to help shape our strategy.
  • Check­ing emails to find things to do, because we don’t have a mean­ing­ful, forward-moving activ­ity that will move us for­ward substantially.
  • A cul­ture that lacks belief in its abil­ity to take respon­si­bil­ity to move things for­ward in a belief that its efforts will cre­ate vic­to­ries for both indi­vid­u­als and the organization.

The Solu­tion: Dynamic Goal Setting

Goal set­ting doesn’t work when it doesn’t con­nect to actions. It needs to con­nect today’s efforts to larger goals. So when we set goals, we can set them pretty loftily. Don’t try to cri­tique your­self too much. Be naïve. Don’t worry; you won’t stay naive for long.

Then, push back. Do a finan­cial cal­cu­la­tion that tests those big, lofty goals. This takes you one of two places: You either adjust your long-term goals a lit­tle bit or you do the coura­geous thing: you ask your­self what’s get­ting in the way, so you can get to solutions.

For Exam­ple

For exam­ple, let’s say you’re a con­sul­tancy, and you want to make $1.5M over 3 years (your naive goal). But by today’s num­bers, your fore­cast is maybe $400k over that same amount of time, which isn’t even a third of the goal. You could deal with this in two ways: either adjust the 3-year num­ber to match today’s num­bers, with mar­ginal improve­ments, or explore the possibilities.

You might decide that the prob­lem is capac­ity; you don’t have enough time in the day to do all that work. All of a sud­den, you’re iden­ti­fy­ing the prob­lem. Now, you can find ways to increase capac­ity: do I hire con­trac­tors to cre­ate scal­a­bil­ity? How will I con­trol qual­ity? A train­ing pro­gram and coaching?

So when you’re mak­ing a strate­gic plan, bor­row from nego­ti­a­tion tech­niques: try to make a high ini­tial offer, just like when you’re buy­ing a car. Then chal­lenge that num­ber and help your­self get to a place where your dreams and real­ity can find com­mon ground in reality.

Take the Time to Plan Adaptively

This process takes time, but you can do it your­self by carv­ing out strat­egy time and using some think­ing and plan­ning tech­niques and dis­ci­plines that great lead­ers use. Mind maps, the SWOT analy­sis and employee inventory.

And if you’d like to accel­er­ate this process, I’d like to help. Con­tact me to find out if I can help you do this your­self, while help­ing you along the way.

Why Tasks are Bad for Leaders and Problem Solvers

Lead­ers are prob­lem solvers, among other things. But lots of lead­ers end up com­plet­ing tasks and putting out fires rather than actu­ally solv­ing problems.

How It Looks

Busi­nesses need lead­ers who can show them what the future looks like…people who can see prob­lems and under­stand why they’re prob­lems and exactly what they’re made of, down to the human elements.

Because the one who under­stands the prob­lem the best has a sig­nif­i­cant strate­gic advan­tage over the competition.

They have to under­stand how things work and why in order to know how to break from the rest of the indus­try and become more rel­e­vant to customers–to solve the real problem.

Now, the ques­tion becomes, in its sim­plest form, what adjust­ments do we make that will most sim­ply and directly solve that problem.

Doing this takes study and a lit­tle bit of well-placed research, which many lead­ers sim­ply don’t have. Because they’re loaded down with tasks and putting out super­fi­cial fires, instead of extin­guish­ing them at the source.

The Solu­tion: Del­e­gate Tasks and Focus on Prob­lem Find­ing and Solving

The main theme here is that lead­ers need to get out of the day-to-day. Lead­ers shouldn’t be over­bur­dened with tasks. Rather, they should be mas­ter del­e­gaters who can study a prob­lem until they under­stand it well, which is the fastest approach to a well-fitting solution.

How to Do It

There’s more to get­ting out of the day-to-day than just know­ing you need to del­e­gate. It’s sim­ple, but not easy. If you want to enjoy busi­ness again, stop get­ting over­whelmed, and let me help you ease into it in a way that’s excit­ing and deliv­ers short-term results as well as long-term. Con­tact me here.

ROI Alone Just Slows Your Descent

Picture of Bayham Old Abbey Ruins

Photo cour­tesy of Simon & His Cam­era on Flickr at

I was talk­ing to a smart mar­ket­ing guy who swore up and down that brand­ing is a waste of money; that mea­sur­ing ROI is bet­ter than brand­ing. He didn’t under­stand that brand­ing is lead­er­ship: look­ing ahead. And ROI is mea­sur­ing past performance.

It’s like say­ing cars are bet­ter than trucks, or alge­bra is bet­ter than geom­e­try or this.

Let me Illustrate.

So a guy gets mar­ried and pays a lot of atten­tion to his new bride, lis­ten­ing to her and find­ing out what she enjoys. He finds out she enjoys hik­ing, camp­ing and pic­nics. So he makes a plan to, for the rest of their mar­riage, do those same activ­i­ties and, to make sure she’s never dis­ap­pointed, mea­sure his effec­tive­ness. In other words, he com­mits to ROI.

Then, 5 years later, she wants to have a baby. But he’s mea­sur­ing ROI (because ROI is the no-nonsense approach to get­ting results). So instead of under­stand­ing her per­son­al­ity, becom­ing more rel­e­vant and grow­ing with her, he just dou­bles down on ROI.

No lis­ten­ing or insight required. And no lead­er­ship needed.

He spends the next two years study­ing the data. His notices sales num­bers are drop­ping: she’s less and less inter­ested in those ini­tial out­door activ­i­ties they did when they got mar­ried, so he increases his sales bud­get, tak­ing her to din­ner more often, so he can deliver his mes­sage with­out distraction.

Two years later, she leaves him.

ROI only lets you look back­ward. Impor­tant, but not suf­fi­cient. ROI, by itself, just slows your descent into irrelevance.

Generous Leaders Don’t “Make it Happen”

Lead­ers lose sleep over the pres­sure to force things to hap­pen. But what if you could could make more for­ward progress through gen­eros­ity: by NOT hav­ing ideas and NOT forc­ing things to hap­pen? This arti­cle will give you three prin­ci­ples that will make a big dif­fer­ence today.

But first, do you ever won­der why you always hear that lead­er­ship is a lot about gen­eros­ity and encour­age­ment? It’s because many good lead­ers aren’t try­ing to make things hap­pen. Instead, they’re find­ing ideas and energy and coor­di­nat­ing them to the larger goal. They’re using their time to be with peo­ple. And they’re allow­ing their peo­ple the sat­is­fac­tion and the glory that comes with success.

Here are three prin­ci­ples that help lead­ers to be gen­er­ous (and have more time in their day):

Prin­ci­ple 1: It doesn’t need to be your idea

As a leader, it’s not your job to be the smartest. It’s your job to help oth­ers do great things. This means fos­ter­ing rela­tion­ships and con­ver­sa­tions, cap­tur­ing their ideas and help­ing develop them. It means find­ing the energy hotspots in the orga­ni­za­tion and fan­ning the flame. It’s about find­ing ideas and energy in other people.

Prin­ci­ple 2: You don’t need to make it happen

Once you find those hotspots and turn energy and ideas into a clear goal, you help them find team­mates. Since your net­work is big­ger, you con­nect them with peo­ple who might also see value in their idea. Then you find peo­ple who can sup­port and man­age move­ment toward those goals using project man­age­ment skills and good peo­ple skills.

Prin­ci­ple 3: It doesn’t always have to work out

You’re putting teams together to try stuff. You’re ask­ing ques­tions about fea­si­bil­ity, risk and reward, all the while keep­ing things on-strategy. But it’s okay if peo­ple have ideas, and it makes it halfway and dies. You can’t always con­trol that, and it can be waste­ful (read: costly, both in dol­lars and indi­rectly, through man hours) to try. So encour­age peo­ple to boot­strap until the idea reaches prototype.

So get out of your own way, breathe eas­ier, work less and see more fruit: let oth­ers be smart and let ideas fail if they should. Find smart peo­ple, develop them and their ideas, and then con­nect them with peo­ple who can help them make it hap­pen. And then let me know if your job gets eas­ier and you start see­ing more suc­cess and energy in your teams.

Note: Ask me why you don’t need to actu­ally man­age any­one to use these prin­ci­ples effectively.