06 November 2009

Sometimes the greatest problem interfering with innovation is the negative mindset of the individuals who are involved in the discussion. This video, which I found on You-Tube, is not only funny, but portrays a sad fact concerning how great ideas can be lost in an organization when the focus is placed on the negative aspects of an idea.

Dr. DeBono’s “Six Thinking Hats” for brainstorming are a great approach for innovating, and of these six none is more important than the yellow one – representing Positivism.

Yes, all ideas, especially in their infancy, will have drawbacks and flaws. The differentiator between organizations which excel as innovators is how they work to smooth the flaws and mature the ideas

My personal recommendation, when engaging in the ideation process and the development of an idea, especially when using idea management software, is that a core requirement of collaborating require that for every flawed aspect of an idea that is pointed out, a positive one is too. The positive one can address a separate aspect of the idea, or perhaps propose a way of mitigating the identified flaw. This helps keep the balance equal or in favor of the positive aspects, but also opens the opportunity to constructively address the flaws.

The key to innovating is keeping the benefits of the idea always at the front of the discussion. The flaws are discussed in order to help identify positive ways to mitigate them. However, rest assured that if only the flaws are discussed the idea will crash faster than a blimp in a hurricane!

Posted on Friday, November 06, 2009 by George R.

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01 November 2009

In most modern countries, as much as we complain about our leaders, we can trust that the system works. In the US, we the citizens, can trust that most of the laws and regulations are designed to give us a level of protection from corporate and government predators. (Yes it’s not perfect, but I’ll illustrate just how well we collectively trust our industries, government and leaders – even though we refuse to acknowledge it.)

Take for example NHTSA. It regulates vehicle safety in the US. Because of their requirements, we can trust that any vehicle we buy has been tested and validated to meet the most stringent safety standards. We know that if a manufacturer fails to meet these standards, the system will place incredible pressure on them in the way of lawsuits and hearing on Capitol Hill.

When is the last time you bought a car and had to think… “gee, I wonder if the airbag in here actually works?” You trust the safety systems, and that is a direct result of the overall system put in place by NHTSA.

When a system is not trust worthy, when citizens can’t trust their leaders you can quickly see indicators. Most indicators are verbal. Call it marketing spin. When actions fail, most failed leaders and systems try to mask their failures by trying to cover our eyes. In most dictatorships, masked democracies, or even companies with leaders that can’t be trusted, there is great emphasis on marketing. In fact, as the old communist rule goes… tell a lie 1000 times and it becomes the truth.

The following example would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the likely result of many deaths due to failed airbags. I pulled this out of Iranian auto manufacturing company ICKO

  • “Samand Soren is a new family saloon created by Iran Khodro Industrial Group in 2007. The car enjoys latest automotive technologies which provide high levels of comfort, passive and active safety, and driving pleasure. Soren is equipped with a standard airbag to protect the driver against injuries resulted from severe collisions. The system has been tested in a reputable laboratory and its proper function has been approved.” - reference
If you read through it, they are trying to convince the weary Iranian buyer that the airbag has been tested by a reputable laboratory. (In my opinion, Iranians distrust airbags, laboratories, and the entire regulatory system in their country).

The other example comes from the very recent Sukhoi Superjet crash. Reading through the text you see statements that smell of distrust… and with good reason.

  • The agency also cited an unidentified spokesman for the Russian Transportation Ministry saying a preflight check had turned up nothing suspicious, a standard assurance offered by Russian transportation authorities after mishaps. “The plane was absolutely flight worthy,” the spokesman said. 
There is a reason why Russian jetliners are not sold outside of countries like Iran, Cuba, and parts of Africa. They can’t be trusted.

Managers and leaders are resourceful. They will spin the facts to their advantage when trust has been broken. When you spot some twisting or bending of facts, it is very likely the leader or organization is trying to hide its trustworthiness. When an organization or leader ‘begs you to trust them’ it probably means you shouldn’t. 

.. and this brings me to my initial statement... Trust is the pillar anchoring the success of any person, manager, organization, or government. Trust is the cornerstone of performance.

If you have examples of broken trust feel free to share them.

Posted on Sunday, November 01, 2009 by George R.

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I could write an entire book about this topic, because trust is the cornerstone of performance. Toyota’s House of Lean has foundations and pillars supporting a roof that houses one thing - the most important thing in the organization – its PEOPLE… its TEAM. This blog post will likely my longest in a while, but after growing many gray hairs (not from stress, but from experience), I have the wisdom to say that without trust NOTHING works well, but with trust organizations can bounce back from the brink of disaster. Case in point, Toyota handled the recent triple-witching (economic crisis, brake issues, and the tsunami) like it somehow had always planned for a doomsday scenario. This was possible only because its team could trust its leaders and its leaders could trust its team.  (I ask anyone who can name a non-Japanese company that could weather a triple witching like this without a major government intervention to please post it in the comments section.)

Trust is something earned, not given. This is true for management, systems, organizations, and even individuals. Trust is built on doing the right thing, consistently. When trust is broken, performance is affected. The effect can be subtle or long lasting, and can even have life and death implications. Organizations struggle when their leaders cannot be trusted, and unless CEOs resign or are replaced, they normally head to bankruptcy. In similar situations, governments are forced to take up arms against disgruntled citizens that have lost all trust and confidence in their leaders. In this scenario, the lack of a ‘board’ that can ask for a leaders resignation, citizens are forced to take matters in their own hands.

Leaders must layout systems with fair and consistent rules and procedures. They must not play favorites, and they must reward and/or recognize those who consistently work hard and show passion for the common organization. For example, Toyota’s idea management system (their continuous improvement and innovation initiatives) consistently guarantees that its team members’ ideas will be heard and acted upon and the TMs will be recognized. This overall approach yields tens of thousands of actionable ideas, and further more guarantees that team members will not ‘sit’ on any good ideas. Toyota employees trust the system!

What happens when trust is broken? Let me illustrate this with a baseball analogy. Players want to win, and they know they must do it as a team. However, they also want to have fun. This means they want to hit the ball and they want to be the ones making the outs. They too want some recognition… and in baseball, as in all of sports, that recognition comes from the fans.

A manager or coach needs to properly manage a team, with multiple characters, egos, and skills to ensure the team can win. He must trust his players to do the right thing to the best of their abilities, but more importantly he must acknowledge their good plays, and give them his support and tools to help them improve their areas of weakness. Managers must treat ALL their team equally, and reward them equally (these are all things inherent in the Toyota Production System)

A coach needs to be trusted by his players.  There are times when a coach may need a player to hit a SACRIFICE fly or bunt, to help runners score. A skilled player may also be asked to play a position he doesn’t particularly like (i.e.: left field) where the odds of being in the ‘action’ at any given time are greatly reduced.

Just like asking workers to work overtime, or on weekends, this requires the workers to trust that the decision is the best for the team. A manager who calls in his workers on Saturday because he needs them to cover for him while he goes golfing risks losing their trust... and that of his peers.  But in reality it only takes a manager to ‘cross’ or lose the trust of one team member in order to see the ripple effects on the team’s ability to perform.

So what happens in baseball when players lose trust in their coach? When a skilled player is sent to the outfield, or a good hitter is made to bat last? In most cases, if the team is winning, they will continue to trust the coach. But what happens when that same player watches his teammates make error after error in the infield while he's tucked away in the outfield? What happens when the player who is batting last hits better than those at the start of the lineup? What happens when the team continues to lose? What happens when he isn’t given equal opportunity to listen to the fans cheer at his actions (recognition)? The answer is simple. The player will do what is best for him. Just like an employee looking for work elsewhere and recognition elsewhere, a player will swing for the fences when asked to bunt the ball. He will try to make the low percentage heroic play from the outfield (i.e. throwing the ball home hoping to get a runner out, and thus allowing other base runners to advance). Chaos can ensue when members of a team start putting themselves ahead of the team effort, and that is usually the result of managers and coaches putting their interests ahead of the team’s interest. Teams lose trust in their leaders when they fail to show trust and respect in their teams. This is the key to Toyota’s success!

Posted on Sunday, November 01, 2009 by George R.

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