Leadership

Robert Safian Urged Audience to Focus on ‘Missions’ in Business

By Jamie Wilson

To wrap up the 2018 VM Summit, Robert Safian, founder of Flux Group and former editor-in-chief of Fast Company engaged the audience through four lessons and seven questions. His aim was to showcase the kind of tactics that define the modern company. These lessons and questions that Safian went through explored office and organization culture and the need for businesses to focus on “missions.” 

Keynote Speaker Robert SafianHis first lesson, speed matters, showcased the importance of building a culture of change within an organization. This was followed by an emphasis on youth. He said that Facebook represents what generational shifts can do. In fact, technology is moving so fast it’s creating “micro-generations” which define them. 

“Digital natives do signal a completely different way with interacting with the world,” he said. 

He then elaborated on the importance of human contact. “We all need each other. Human contact is what drives creativity. The answers to these challenges is human contact,” he said. “Creativity and innovation happens in the gaps between silos.”

Safian then used Microsoft to illustrate his lesson of having a learning culture in business. He showed how Satya Nadella, the current CEO of Microsoft turned the company from a know-it-all into a learn-it-all culture. He went on to explain that in this time of rapid change, having and defining a mission is important—mission beats marketing. 

“I’m obsessed with the idea of mission in business. It started with me looking at a particular data insight stating that workers at companies are less engaged with their work than they have been in the past. At those places where engagement is higher performance is higher.” 

Audience listening to Motivating Business Speaker Robert SafianSafian then posed seven questions to the audience:

  • Is this Day 1?
  • Am I continually learning?
  • Is what I’m doing relevant to the next generation?
  • What do we know for certain?
  • What can we control?
  • What do you stand for?
  • Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable

All of these questions sought to get the audience thinking critically about their position in the workplace and further expanding the concept of focusing on the “mission” within a business in this age of fast-moving change. 

“This is just the way the world is. You can lean into it and have fun with it,” he concluded.

 

Robert Safian motivates business audiences around the world as a premiere keynote speaker and interviewer/moderator.

How We Do It: Creating a Culture of Innovation

from Deborah Perry Piscione‘s popular book The People Equation: Why Innovation Is People, Not Products

One of the key differences between being a manager and being a leader is the focus from what you do in business to how you get things done. How do you enable employees who have good ideas to build upon them in a safe environment and make them great, free from the burden of bureaucracy? How do you start from a place of trust and measure results, not just in increments of time, but also by creative pursuits, productivity, and overall outcome?

Corporate culture, by definition, is the set of operating principles that people within the organization adopt, whether it is consistent with their value systems or not. People within the organization become indoctrinated into that culture, inevitably learn how best to function within it. Oddly enough, this assimilation makes them resistant to change, usually because of a lack of trust or fear whenever something new or different is introduced. By human nature, people are more comfortable falling back into old habits. Therefore, creating cultural change is just plain difficult, often so problematic that it can be accomplished only in the context of another, larger disruption to the organization.

But there is hope. A simple discipline can radically change your culture to a more open, creative, impassioned environment. It starts with Yes, and…..”

Humans are predisposed to respond negatively to new ideas, as it causes a heightened level of neurological and physiological reaction. This is heightened further when people putting forward those ideas are vulnerable and can be damaged by rejection. The emotion of denial — which often leads to “no” — can feel harsh to someone who has willingly just put an idea on the table. The function of the cerebrum is shifted quickly from “hope” to “anger”, blocking out rational problem solving and creativity.
At this point, compromise can often be perceived as watering down a vigorous idea. Responses of “No” or “Yes, but…..” are most often used: “No, we can’t pursue this idea,” or “Yes, but we can’t do this right now. Maybe in the next quarter.”

Cultures of How avoid the dampening of spirits and the atrophying of our innovation muscles by instead responding with “Yes and…..”. In the language of “Yes and…..” when you are greeted with a new idea, you respond in the affirmative and then try to redirect or build on the idea in a way that makes it more productive for everyone involved, especially the organization. This does two things:

  • It helps integrate the idea into your own thinking. The notion of Yes and….. is a useful device to force you to consider fully how you can make use of the idea. It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of eventual rejection…it simply suspends any rejection until all ideas have been played out and the initial premise has been more fully developed into something better and more useful.
  • It encourages the suggestor to come up with a further, richer, more deeply held idea that can enable further progress.

This practice was in plain sight at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, California, where a group of robotics hobbyists gathered to build robots on the weekend.  This all-volunteer group met on Saturdays and included a variety of interesting people: a former NASA scientist, a pioneering senior computer engineer, a precocious software engineer who was an entrepreneur in his teens, and a retired Lockheed-Martin satellite guidance systems engineer, among many others.  The team was trying to solve the problem that robots, without a good guidance system, don’t know where they are. The retired Lockheed engineer had an idea for how to solve this problem.  Satellites solve a similar problem by looking at patterns of stars. He reasoned that in the same way, the robot could look at lights on the ceiling and thereby figure out its location.

After a couple of weeks of effort, the Lockheed engineer came back with a light sensor mounted on a piece of wood.  Another engineer looked at the handiwork, saw the flaws, and used “Yes, and …..”  to suggest ideas to immediately improve the design. So instead of being rejected or limited, the engineer was inspired.  He  quickly came up with a system based on off-the-shelf cameras. A few weeks later the robotic navigation system could provide centimeter-accurate feedback based on ceiling lights.

The beauty of “Yes, and…”  is that it discards judgement, focusing only on boundless expansion of ideas…don’t worry, the judgements will come later. A set of next steps should be planned out to enable the idea to move as far forward as it genuinely has legs to do so.

Innovating is a vulnerable activity because it intrinsically deals with uncertainties. Human biology is built label uncertainties as threats, engaging our “fight or flight” response. Heck, if you knew what the outcome would be, it wouldn’t be innovation. So permitting people to fail is critically important. Providing allowing for failure, you build the psychological safety it takes to free the mind to imagine and be creative.

“For an idea that does not at first seem insane, there is no hope.” — Albert Einstein

Innovation always requires exploring new and unproven territory. By its very definition, innovation implies driving into a space beyond which all previous innovators have gone. If a person is innovative, they are always trying for something that has never been done — or trying something that others have attempted but failed. Frequently, the initial attempt of an idea is flawed. Yet in the act of trying, one might stimulate others to have ideas that are sometimes slightly better than the last.

These ideas may give rise to still other, better ideas, and so on. It is only through the vigorous pursuit of many flawed ideas that a good idea is found. In addition, if the idea is truly innovative and truly reaches for areas that are uncharted, how do we know for certain if it will work or not? This is where risk-taking skills, the collaborative nature of “Yes, and…..” and the primary focus on how things get done drive innovative ideas into remarkable improvements…and sometimes something truly game-changing.

The alternative, which is all too common today, is to limit new ideas from all corners of an organization and instead pay premium prices for great innovative ideas from outside the company.

 

Deborah Perry Piscione is an entrepreneur, innovation author and keynote speaker. Her latest book, The People Equation, explores the human side of making innovation happen.

Is There Any Priority Higher Than Leadership?

In a conversation I had recently with a prospective coaching client, they explained that they were not yet ready to move forward because “of other priorities”. 

Are there any priorities higher than effective and inspiring leadership?

The way I see things, every problem we are suffering from in the world is a leadership problem. And every triumph and success we are achieving in the world is a triumph for excellent leadership. The bigger the challenges, the larger the dreams, and the greater the scale of influence—then the greater the importance of outstanding leadership.

Therefore, are there any priorities higher than becoming a better, more successful and more inspiring leader?

Robert Safian Delivers Fascinating Speech to Business Leaders

By Kim Mikus, originally posted on the Daily Herald

Speed matters, as does a willingness to embrace new tactics and change in the workplace in order to grow as a company, award-winning national journalist Robert Safian told more than 500 business leaders Friday.

Safian has interviewed the most innovative CEOs in the country and shared what he has learned from stories he has written about them for Fast Company, Fortune, Time and other magazines. He was the keynote speaker at the annual Big Event breakfast at Marriott Lincolnshire held by Lake County Partners, celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Safian told participants the speed of change in a company is important. “Building a cadence of change” is key, he said, pointing to companies that have succeeded in this area, including Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. “These companies are completely and continually redefining who they are. It’s not just an online seller of books or a place for college kids to meet each other,” he said. ” These companies are pushing themselves and they’re pushing each other in that process to continue to be more ambitious.”

Safian recently started The Flux Group, a media, insights and strategic advisory firm, after overseeing Fast Company’s print, digital and live-events content for the past decade.

Keynote Speaker Robert Safian

Safian said innovation is key and people in the workplace must work together to make changes happen. “Innovation often happens in the gap between silos,” he said. “We have to break down silos between the different parts of our business to be able to unlock those things” and find creativity and survive, he said.

Speaking of survival, Safian pointed to the father of evolution himself, “Charles Darwin noted that it’s not the strongest of the species that survives. It’s not the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one that’s most adaptable to change.”

Participants at the event said they were inspired by the speakers. “The key note was wonderful. One thing I picked up is that you have to be adaptable,” said Cheri Richardson of Gorter Family Foundation.

Thirteen Lessons of Innovation by Robert Safian

I got my first glimpse of Apple’s newest product as the sun was coming up. It was just after 7 a.m. on a Wednesday in January, two days after Apple executives, including CEO Tim Cook, began moving into Apple Park, the company’s new spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino. As I was escorted around the gleaming structure, it occurred to me that it embodied everything Apple’s products represent: a glimpse of the future, and yet also something familiar—not science fiction, but a tangible vision made real.

When I sat down with Cook a while later, in a conference room labeled simply ceo, he talked about how central “humanity” is to Apple’s products, how tech specs and silicon advancements only matter if they enable users to improve their lives.

Apple has long been an icon of innovation. In an age of rapid change, what’s remarkable has been the company’s staying power. This year, it returns to the No. 1 ranking on our annual Most Innovative Companies list. Apple is the only business to have passed our editors’ criteria to make the list every year since 2008. Which does not mean that the company hasn’t hit roadblocks along the way; in fact, Cook was quite candid that innovation rarely unfolds in a straight line. While many outfits aspire to emulate Apple’s system, it’s the company’s adaptability that truly sets it apart. Apple’s culture combines intense effort, high standards, and a willingness to forge new paths, even if those paths may threaten the company’s existing products…click to read the full article.

Keynote Speaker Rebecca Costa in black

Rebecca Costa joins Nextup

One of the keys to great leadership is making great decisions. In a world with increasing complexity, we need to understand how the mind works, why people stray towards bad decisions, and what skills and systems you can use to make great leadership choices in the future.

In fact, advanced tools, from big data, predictive analytics, genomics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other technologies have made it possible to pinpoint future results with mind-blowing accuracy—cracking the door to what Rebecca Costa calls predaptation: the ability to adapt before the fact.

Rebecca Costa experience is amazing…business executive, scientist, bestselling author, radio host.  She is a thought-leader who has that rare gift of making tough-to-tackle issues and make them fun and interesting to explore.

Learn more about keynote speaker Rebecca Costa at www.nextup-now.com/rebecca-costa.html

Lance Secretans' new book promotion

New Book by Lance Secretan

The Bellwether Effect:  Stop Following, Start Inspiring

Working with some of the most inspiring leaders in the world he has pondered why organizations adopt, invest in and continue to support ineffective business practices, often erroneously referred to as “best practices”, even though there is scant evidence that they work, and plenty of evidence that they don’t. Many leaders are so disconnected from the operating and administrative practices of their organizations that they are relying on what they are told by others for their sense of the organization’s pulse. This creates an echo chamber, an “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome, and what Lance Secretan refers to as the accompanying “dissonance”—a perception at the top that all is well, while the experience in the rest of the organization is that it isn’t.

In working closely with leaders Dr. Secretan has observed that before we can create the kind of workplaces that inspire everyone, we must first remove the business processes that are deeply uninspiring for them. The two are closely related—we just need to introduce them in the right order—remove antiquated and demoralizing business processes that are a barrier to inspiration first, so that we can then concentrate on building great organizations that inspire. Secretan writes that there are a number of embedded, old-fashioned, ineffective business practices and beliefs, which, collectively, present a formidable barrier to creating high-performance organizations. Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is also the noble art of removing things that add no value. Often, it is necessary to remove things in order to achieve things. Lance Secretan writes that we need to take away some redundant and hindering business practices so that we can add more modern approaches that inspire. Doing so could change everything.

In The Bellwether Effect, Dr. Secretan first proposes a theory that explains how and why leaders are attracted to, and seduced by, trendy ideas, and the process by which these ideas then become mainstream. He calls the originators of these trends, “bellwethers”, hence the book’s title. He then goes on to describe eight examples of counterproductive business practices, among them, fear-based management, motivation, separateness and silos, employee engagement surveys, performance appraisals, salary grades and pay scales, mission, vision, and values statements, and the use of war as a metaphor for business. In each case, Dr. Secretan proposes a novel and inspiring alternative that could lead to transformation and an inspiring culture.

Lance Secretan claims that we have lost our passion for corporate life—during his presentations to audiences, he often asks them this question: “What percentage of the population do you think would leave corporate life and pursue different interests if they had a completely free hand?” Like an auction, he starts at 50% and the audience will typically raise the offer until they settle at an estimate of something close to 80%. Why is this a tragedy?  Because apart from the human anguish and suffering it causes, we live in a capitalist society, one of whose main engines (besides the church and government) is commerce, and if we botch this critical source of livelihood and exchange, we risk losing everything.  So this is not an inconsequential issue—and it is time to reset our beliefs about what really matters in corporate life.