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Don’t think about innovation like a CEO

leadership & innovation

Short-term thinking by business leaders is the enemy of innovation and competitiveness.

American business leaders have a perception problem about how innovative we really are. Harsher critics might call it denial.

Recently, Forbes ran an eye-opening article on American competitiveness that is must-reading for every CEO and front line marketer in business today. It is a detailed assessment of a Harvard Business Review study that explores the causes behind lagging growth in business and job creation in the U.S. over the past decade.

Two findings from the study point to startling disconnects between business leaders’ perceptions and reality. While businesses are not competing globally:

  • Leaders rate management as both strong and improving
  • Leaders rate innovation and entrepreneurship as strong and improving

What do leaders think are the reasons we don’t compete or innovate as we should?

The most common problems business leaders cite are government regulatory policies, tax and fiscal policies and an inadequate talent pool. These are all factors, but the researchers identify a root cause leaders will not like hearing: short-term thinking by leadership.

You are what you measure

The study tracks how corporate governance began to change in the 1980s. In response to globalization, managers adopted a mindset focused on stock price and short-term growth and profitability. Over time, innovation came to be about achieving greater efficiencies and cost reductions more than creating value to customers.

At the same time, business schools reinforced this mindset. By defining profitability in terms of ratios to be measured across industries, they trained a generation of MBAs to measure short-term performance as the gauge for success.

As a result, business leaders define innovation as incremental process improvements rather than breakthrough product ideas. That is how they can determine they are strong innovators when their companies are not competitive.

Think like an innovator

To revive innovation in business, leaders have to change the way they think. Beyond resetting priorities to more long-term objectives, they need to start using the other side of their brain.

Singular focus on productivity and profitability metrics give a limited perspective of your business. Creative inspiration does not fall out of a spreadsheet or accounting ledger. 3M learned this the hard way. In the last decade, it applied Six Sigma principles for manufacturing to the innovation process, and severely stifled new product development.

Analysis has its place, but innovative ideas come from the side of the brain where you explore, experiment and imagine.

For many, this is a new approach to problem solving.

leadership & innovative thinking

Research by psychologists Joy Paul Guildford and E. Paul Torrance has identified two primary thought processes we use for solving problems: convergent and divergent thinking.

In business, we are most familiar with convergent thinking which is analytical and logical. It is characterized by arriving at the one right solution. Accountants and business analysts excel at this kind of thinking.

The other, divergent thinking is flexible, intuitive and based on associations. It is characterized by arriving at multiple, unique solutions. Artists and inventors excel at divergent thinking. This is where we get innovative ideas.

Research shows remarkably few people engage in divergent thinking. This has to change starting with the C-suite.

Leaders have to lead

This shortsighted focus is nothing short of a leadership crisis. As the proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

To bring about a revival of business growth and competitiveness, leaders must make a dramatic shift away from the short-term vision that has dominated the past 20 years. Awareness of the problem is the first step. But leaders must lead change.

The starting point is a renewed vision for serving customers, workers and shareholders. That means putting the wellbeing of the business ahead of their short-term rewards. Leaders must challenge the status quo of compensation that drives their behavior.

The Forbes article provides a stark account of this situation:

In his book, Fixing the Game, Roger Martin notes that between 1960 and 1980, CEO compensation per dollar of net income earned for the 365 biggest publicly traded American companies fell by 33 percent. CEOs earned more for their shareholders for steadily less compensation. By contrast, in the decade from 1980 to 1990, CEO compensation per dollar of net earnings produced doubled. From 1990 to 2000 it quadrupled.

With incentives based on short term value and stock price, executives earned more while shareholders earned less and companies innovated less. Leaders have to turn this around. They have to start thinking – and leading differently.

We need from them a new vision of success and innovation, and how to achieve it.

Without it, the people – workers, shareholders and society at large – as well as the economy will perish.

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How social media helped restore my sanity in adversity

January 3, 2013 6 comments
social media restored my mind

Social media was a great outlet for me once I got my thought life turned around.

One of the most valuable lessons I relearned this past year is this: adversity is inevitable, but misery is a choice.

This is the story of how I recovered from adversity with a renewed mindset and the help of social media.

I entered last year with a formidable laundry list of personal and professional setbacks, which provided many reasons to be miserable. If anybody had earned the right to be despondent, bitter, anxious and depressed it was me. The ledger read like an excerpt from the book of Job:

Job loss. Over the previous six years, I got caught in corporate downsizing crosshairs four separate times.

Job search rejections. I ran through a steady stream of interview gauntlets, reaching the final round only to get passed over each time.

Relationship train wreck. Self-explanatory, but awful timing.

Financial depletion. After going through my savings, I was forced to tap into my retirement account to keep the lights on. Twenty years of saving wiped away in 24 months.

Health crash. The cumulative effects of stress combined with a concussion and a knee injury took its toll on my body. I had gone from earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and being in the best physical condition of my adult life, to being unable to walk across the room. And no health insurance.

What thoughts can do

There was a battle taking place in my mind. Mulling over my circumstances led to a series of self-defeating thoughts:

Why should I lose my job while other less talented and less accomplished people hold on to theirs?

Where are all those I have helped to advance in their career? Why can’t one of them open an opportunity for me when I really need it?

This economy keeps getting worse. How can I possibly hold on until it turns around?

I can’t believe how unfair it is to have to use up my retirement savings to make ends meet. How will I ever make up for that loss?

I should be in my peak earning years right now, instead of struggling to find work.

Maybe I’m too old to be a desirable candidate.

All those years I paid into health insurance and never needed to use it. Now when I do need it, I don’t have it.

This is destructive self-talk. It’s natural for the rational brain to get highjacked by emotions. That is how we are hardwired. But focusing on the problem only enlarges it. The key to winning the battle for your mind, and rising above your circumstances, is to shift the focus to your desired outcome.

That is the daily battle, the principle I had to relearn during my time in the valley. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) It’s a very practical summation of what I experienced. The word “renewing” suggests an ongoing process, not a one-time event. With regular thoughts focused on what I could do and where I wanted to be, I began moving toward it.

Social media therapy

social media therapyHere is where social media comes into the story.

I refocused my thinking on three things I could do: network, learn and write. I decided to create a high profile digital footprint.

I already had a good profile on LinkedIn, but I wanted to make it ridiculously awesome. I studied and took webinars on how to optimize my presence and expand my network. I grew my connections from 400 to more than 5,000 in eight months. I optimized my profile to where I show up in search results 50-70 times a day, and my profile is viewed an average of five times a day.

I did the same on Twitter. Starting from ground zero, I built a solid following and a consistent content sharing plan. In eight months I made many great connections with marketers all over the world that I can interact and network with.

Then I put my writing and publishing experience to work by launching this blog. Initially my plan was for it to be a platform to show what I know to recruiters and hiring managers. However, through social sharing and search optimization my audience grew to include other bloggers and marketers. I began to think more like a publisher than a job seeker.

Blogging and social networking quickly became a passion. Social media became my therapy for personal development in a number of ways:

  • It gave me a sense of purpose. Each day of creating and curating content for the Web gave me an opportunity grow my network and engage with others.
  • It gave me motivation for learning. Every activity around researching, writing and discovering social platforms ignited my passion to learn more.
  • It gave me a path to develop my skills. The discipline of publishing a new blog post every week forced me to develop my writing skills and adapt them for online readers.

You could say social media helped restore my sanity. But it couldn’t happen until I took the focus off of what I didn’t have and put it on what I could do to improve my circumstances. My most important development goal for this year is to master my thought life.

How about you?

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Don’t give them what they want, give them BETTER wants

February 28, 2012 27 comments
the key to persuasive content marketing is appealing to powerful emotions.

To write content that persuades, appeal to the most powerful emotions.

Well-schooled marketing and sales professionals have learned the primary buying motivators read like the Seven Deadly Sins:

  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • Wrath
  • Sloth
  • Envy
  • Greed

For copywriters the granddaddy of them all is GREED.

Denny Hatch has opined that marketers are in the business of creating wants. Building on this, economist Herbert Stein observed, “People don’t want their wants satisfied – they want BETTER wants.”

This condition goes all the way back to the genesis of humanity. Consider the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (I paraphrase):

They were living in Paradise. They wanted for nothing – leisure, peace of mind, abundance, direct communion with God. Enter the first salesman in the form of a serpent …

Salesman to Eve: “Try the fruit of this tree. It is delicious.” (product feature)

Eve: “I really shouldn’t. It’s supposed to be bad for me.” (objection)

Salesman: “Not this fruit. It will give you knowledge. Eat it and you will be as smart as God.” (overcoming objection with a benefit statement)

Salesman: “… You can try it now and pay later.” (the close)

Cynics argue that modern commerce is the continuation of the devil’s work in Eden. We persuade prospects they should want more, better wants. We prey on their greed, fear, guilt, anger, pride and lust to tempt them to buy. We manipulate their basic human emotions.

Related: Turn the wisdom of the crowd into raving social proof

Emotional triggers to persuasion

While emotions can be powerful drivers of buying behavior, such criticisms overlook the element of individual freewill and the choice of saying “no” to emotions. In the past decade we have learned much more about how our brain processes stimuli through the study of emotional intelligence.

We now understand that, evolved though we are, our brains are still hardwired to first perceive from the emotional center that triggers the fight or flight response. This links to the instincts that enabled us to survive as a species. Seth Godin calls it our lizard brain. That part that makes us contradict our rational thinking by acting in irrational ways.

3 types of motivation

But wait, there is more to consider before plugging emotional appeals into our selling and content strategy. And that is the relationship between emotions and motivations.

Related: The 100 greatest motivators proven to get a response

Psychologists know that emotions are the high-octane fuel that drives the motivations behind behavior. Studies have boiled it down to three basic types of motivation.

  • Approach motivation is positive desire that draws you to something good, either an object or an outcome. “I want to learn a new language.”
  • Avoid motivation is triggered by a desire to get away from something uncomfortable or low value. “I want to screen my calls from the bill collector.”
  • Attack motivation is extreme negative desire to devalue or destroy something. “I want to end world hunger.”

Thinking about the interaction between emotions and motivation helps us to better understand our customers and prospects. It helps to clarify our selling approach and content to make sure it aligns with our product and brand promise.

SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. What are some of the emotional drivers you are using in your content strategy?

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