Last night was a big evening for the Boston Celtics fans. The NBA team rallied and won in overtime, taking a two games to none lead in their current playoff series with the Washington Wizards. As I was watching the game I realized one trait about the players that relates to innovation - fearless.
While I obviously can't speak to the mindset of every player, it is amazing to me that so many of them are willing to have the ball in their hands during the most pressure filled moments. And, while most of the attention goes to the superstars (Jordan, Bird, LeBron, etc.) last night featured a play that defines what is needed in companies.
With only one minute and thirty eight seconds remaining in the game the Celtics were down by three points when Terry Rozier launched a three point shot to try and tie the game. Here are some stats to consider:
1. This is only his second season
2. He just turned 23
3. There were over 18,000+ screaming fans at the game and millions watching on TV
4. More experienced players were on the court
5. There are 10 players on the team who have higher salaries that he does
6. He had played limited minutes all season and in this series
But off the shot went. Poof. In it goes and tie game. The Celtics would go on to win in overtime.
What I take away from this is that he has NO FEAR. He was BOLD and was willing to take a RISK. More importantly his coach has created a CULTURE that encourages him to take such shots and Terry knows that the coach and his teammates will SUPPORT him - even if he misses.
What about your company, team, or organization? Would everyone be willing to shoot from 26 feet with the game on the line and everyone watching, or would they pass up the shot? Have leaders provided the needed environment for people to succeed and take risks, or are people working from a place of fear?
Want to test this out? If you have a big meeting or presentation coming up take one of the most junior people and ask them to deliver it. Are you scared? Is he or she scared? Terry Rozier wasn't scared - he had no reason to be. Hmmmm.
If your company is like most organizations the biggest rewards and recognition often go to the most successful employees. The top sales rep. The person who led the biggest project. The team that did something great. But what about the people that failed, especially those that took a risk?
I am convinced that the reason that companies struggle so much with innovation and creative thinking is that people are scared to fail. And, if people are scared to fail, they won't take big risks. If they won't take big risks, then the odds of bold ideas coming forth are greatly reduced.
So what can your company do? Starting today you need to PUBLICLY recognize failure and REWARD people for taking risks. While this may run counter to every assumption about employee motivation, it will provide tremendous benefits to your company. People will see that it is SAFE to take risks and that they will be recognized for simply TRYING something instead of the outcome.
Try it and see what happens. Too risky? Are you afraid the effort will backfire or fail? Hmmm.
Today something amazing and significant happened. In just under four years Tesla now has a market value higher than Ford and is gaining on General Motors. How can a company that sold only 25,000 cars last quarter (Tesla) be worth more than one that sold 617,000 (Ford)? The answer is BOLD.
Tesla is proving that people believe in the BOLD vision and goals that Elon Musk, the company's Founder, has outlined for the future. Think about this. Investors have poured millions of dollars into a BOLD idea over a proven commodity. Ford's stock price dropped and Tesla's rose. How can this be?
Who is the Tesla in your industry? Or the Uber? Or the Airbnb? Or the Google? Or the Amazon? Being BOLD is no longer optional. Are you, your company, or your team bold? Hmmmm.
Years ago there was a program called "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader" in which contestants tried to answer more '5th grade' questions correctly than a 10 year-old. There should be a new show named "Do you have better ideas than a 5th grader?"
In case you missed it, last week renowned entrepreneur, Elon Musk, received the following tweet from a 5th grade student, Bria Loveday. Bria, for a school project, tweeted via her dad's Twitter account, "“I have noticed that you do not advertise, but many people make homemade commercials for Tesla and some of them are very good, they look professional and they are entertaining. So, I think that you should run a competition on who can make the best homemade Tesla commercial and the winners will get their commercial aired. The cool part is that you still won’t be taking the time and money to advertise for yourself."
The response from Musk? “Thank you for the lovely letter. That sounds like a great idea. We’ll do it!”
This story is remarkable on so many levels. Direct communication/dialogue between the CEO of a major company and a 'consumer,' the speed at which a decision was made, a culture of actually wanting to listen to the ideas of others, and, most importantly, someone - a 5th grade girl - having the courage to publicly share the idea.
I wanted to share this story because The Innovation Company believes that an innovative culture is one where EVERYONE feels SAFE to share ANY idea with ANY person at ANY time. Seems like that is the case here!
The National Anthem seems to have become a lightning rod these days for controversy so I am asking anyone reading this post to please push aside any political views to the side for the moment. The goal of this post is to simply focus on the word brave and how it relates to innovation and creativity.
It is perplexing to me that so many companies have created cultures where simply sharing an idea is something that is considered risky or that requires someone to be brave. While this may seem odd it is, unfortunately, true. We have millions of employees literally scared to share anything that may be considered unusual or different out of fear of being laughed at, being told their idea is dumb, or having to listen to all of the negativity that accompanies new suggestions.
The question I have for you is what would your company anthem be? Would it be "company of the free (to share ideas) and home of the brave (to take bold action)" or, perhaps, something such as "organization of constrained and home of the scared?"
Free and brave sounds so much better.
I have come to the conclusion, based on research and evidence, that the biggest inhibitor to innovation is FEAR. Fear of being laughed at. Fear of being seen as different. And, as we progress in our careers, fear of being fired. Ironically, it is the fear of being fired that may end up costing you your job in the long run. Here's why.
To avoid being fired you are most likely doing two things, one of which is good and one that is, well, not so good. If you are not stealing, saying awful things, or being a rotten person you reduce your risk of being fired (maybe....and that is a whole different topic on ethics). If you are playing it safe, following the rules, and always concerned about your boss and managing up, you have a pretty good chance of eventually getting a pick slip. Why? Because in the long run your company doesn't need you. What your company really needs is someone who brings bold ideas, novel ways of solving problems, and unique perspectives on how to delight customers. These bring perceived risk - and I stress perceived - but also possible tremendous benefits. Who in their right mind would fire someone who constantly offers innovative solutions or radical ideas that clients want, and even better, begin to demand. If someone fires you for being too creative to offering too much value, they are doing you a favor. Need proof?
Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, JK Rowling, and Oprah are all people who have been fired. It seemed to work out pretty well for all of them.
I live in an area of New England where many families spend their time taking their children to museums, art exhibitions, and classical music performances. There is a constant hum of minivans taking students to various music lessons and the SAT is a topic of discussion before kindergarten has even made it to the daily routine. It is not surprising for some children to know who Brahms and Beethoven are and yet can't identify Brady and Belichick in a Patriots' team photo.
While most parents have already marked the days on the calendar for all of the big plays, performances, and recitals, during the upcoming school February vacation, I have learned some very disappointing news - no one I have spoken to has plans to attend the greatest cultural event that New England has to offer, the annual Bugs Bunny Festival at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
For eight days the theater shows nothing but Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes cartoons. It. Is. Awesome. And, I would argue, more educational and inspirational when it comes to developing innovative thinking than any other venue or medium has to offer in this area. Think about it. The creators of Bugs Bunny don't operate within confined boundaries or predetermined reality. Anvils drop out of the sky, Acme products arrive in all shapes and sizes (right on time and to the exact address I might add), and the only limits are those of one's imagination.
Therefore, if you are looking to create innovative thinking at work or at home with your children, give the Chopin a break and take time to watch some cartoons. Seriously. This may go against conventional thinking but, as Bugs Bunny once said, "I know this defies the laws of gravity, but I never studied law."
Let's kick off 2017 with two great lessons from Star Wars and film maker George Lucas. Did you know that Star Wars was REJECTED by United Artists, Universal, and Disney. Yes, each of these studios passed on the movie with many people telling George to "make something more conventional."
Bewteen the films, video games, books, merchandise and other items, over $30 billion dollars in revenue have been generated from the Star Wars franchise. Not bad for an idea that was greenlighted a long time ago in an office far, far away.
Are you asking people to make things that are "more conventional" or are you willing to take a risk on something new?
Last night the New England Patriots played the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. And, has been the case almost seventy five perecent of the time, the Patriots won the game. While it can be argued that the Patriots have implemented innovative strategies that have contributed to their success, there is one innovative idea that has had the most impact. This idea is simply Do Your Job.
Think about this for a moment. Imagine if everyone in your company, a school, the government - any place - simply did his or her job. You get hired to do a job so just do the freaking job. Do companies and leaders have a responsibility to create cultures and environments that enable people to do and be their best? Yes. Do leaders need to act in a way that allows people to feel respected and safe to participate? Absolutely.
I was watching the game and realized the Patriots have a 39 year old quarterback, their top offensive player is hurt, they have traded two top defenders this season, and there are rookies outplaying experienced veterans on the other team. While they have introduced some new approaches to their offensive and defensive schemes, it really comes down to one thing - everyone is doing their job.
So, ask yourself, has my company or team created an environment where people can be and do their best? Are people bought into leadership's vision? If the answer to each of one of questions is yes, maybe it is time to buy some mirrors.
Not the most feel good message of the day, but hopefully one that resonates!
One billion dollars! What if we did this....
1. Ads on school buses
Every morning I see waves of yellow racing up and down streets across the town in which I live. How about if the side of the bus had something like "our schools use iPads" or "we use Google Chromebooks." Did you know that there almost 500,000 school buses in America that travel a combined 5 billion miles a year? In fact, school buses are the LARGEST public transit system in the US. If each bus had an ad worth $1000 a year that is $500 million dollars. How about we ask Google to pay for ALL the ads and the school bus becomes The Google Bus. Then Apple gets ticked and a bidding war starts. Kaching.
2. Ads on postal trucks
Building off the school bus idea, this is an easy one, especially for an organization that LOST $5.5 billion dollars in 2014 (not to mention a lot of mail too....bada bing!) Let's do some math. The US Postal service has over 200,000 vehicles. If each one had an ad for only an average of $1200 a year ($100 a month) that would bring in almost $250 million dollars. Or, better yet, how about Amazon buys ALL the ads for every vehicle.
3. Sponsors for the TSA at airports...at least the shoes.
I am completely serious. If a state university athletic team can get paid by Nike to wear a certain type of sneaker, how about doing the same at the TSA. Again, we have a bidding war and the result is another $250 million dollars.
Before anyone 'yeah buts' these ideas consider that your tax dollars are going to projects like watching shrimp walk on treadmills and video games for parents to help educate them on food fights. Yes, those are actual projects that have been funded.
Personally, I think the three ideas above are just the start!