Build Staff’s Innovation Skills

We know that innovation is important to our companies and to our economy. How to maximize the opportunity is the challenge. I’ve shared several insights in this blog, and the presentations and webinars that I deliver on how companies can increase staff’s commitment to use their creative energies and be innovative.

Recently, Mike Nolan, Vice Chair of Innovation Solutions for KPMG, noted four effective steps business leaders can use:

  • Champion diversity of thought. Diverse teams are more likely to conceive if creative ideas than teams with similar backgrounds, skills and outlooks. For instance, many companies seeking to improve on their algorithms, sponsor a contest to people – and allow outsiders to join in. Many times, I’ve noticed, that the winners are people who are not part of the sponsoring company and often have different professional backgrounds!
  • Shift the mindset. Thinking creatively doesn’t come naturally to some, so you need to use different techniques to spur them. One of the most successful ways is to incorporate into your culture activities and norms that encourage it, such as “innovation circles” that meet regularly and creating a “stock market of ideas”.
  • Invest your own time. As with everything important in a company, the CEO and other leaders must serve as role-models for two reasons. First, as Nolan notes, leaders can’t tackle innovation on their own. A KPMG US CEO survey found 85% of chief executives don’t believe they have enough time to strategize about responding to disruption with innovation. So clearly they need to encourage others to be active. Second, cultures start at the top. Indeed, one of the most important roles of a chief executive is be a role model and set the tone for the values, activities and norms that should define the company. That’s true for ethics and innovation.
  • Incentivize and reward people meaningfully. To get your employees to commit to thinking creatively and channeling the energies into innovative activities, you need to reinforce such behavior. That means rewarding them for taking the risky, extra behaviors that might lead to the innovation. Unfortunately, as another study reported, most people feel their companies only reward them when their efforts succeeded. Such behavior is counterproductive when it comes to building staff’s motivation and skills for innovation.

Finally, consider offering special events to demonstrate your company’s commitment to innovation. We often hear of technology companies who sponsor hackathons. However, this commitment can be offered virtually anywhere. Ned Johnson, former Chairman of Fidelity Investments created Fidelity Labs almost 20 years ago to focus on innovation. New CEO Abigail Johnson is also “very focused on innovation.” The lab periodically runs hackathons in which employees from around the world assemble for two days to develop new ideas, build prototypes and pitch them to their colleagues and executives.

What steps are you taking to build your staff’s innovation skills? Share with us.

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Work-life Integration

As technology enabled people to communicate and/or engage on work projects outside the office, people started focused on the challenges of work-life balance. Many people came up with ideas, such as time-blocking which allowed people to ensure that there was sacred time at home or on vacation when their time with family and personal projects would not be violated. Some companies created policies to protect the balance.

As technology and the economy progressed, people began working virtually, taking on more than one job/gig and realizing that time blocking isn’t enough. They created work-life integration – the process of creating lifestyles that allow you to choose how to allocate time for work, and personal activities either in isolation or in combination as long as it maximizes your ability to be productive and have a fulfilling life.

As Robert Preziosi, a professor of leadership and human resources, notes in an article called The Work-Life Harried-Go-Round, integration blurs the line between work life and personal life in a way that optimizes performance in both areas. “It’s about finding the right ebb and flow of work responsibilities and personal accountabilities.” You mix together work and life to manage consciously what is most important at that time.

Employers who foster such a culture have learned that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It starts with fitting the person to the job, since the person makes the decision of what and how to do it at his/her discretion. Setting arbitrary benchmarks for workers, such as leaving work by 5 Pm or not answering emails at certain times, generally will not meet the integrators’ needs. The key is to enable integrators to use as many flexible tools, such as mobile devices, teleconferencing, collaborative tools, flextime, etc. so they can meet their work and personal demands as needed.

How are you handling work-life integration? Is your company facilitating the process?  What experiences and insights will help others?  Share with us!

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The Human Side of Automation

In the short run, the automation of physical and knowledge work advances, many jobs will be redefined to permit and encourage human creativity and innovation. Are we up to the challenge?

Watching IBM’s Watson, Rethink Robotics’ Baxter, Google’s driverless car, automated check-in kiosks and automated passport control processes at airports, and aircrafts’ autopilots guiding the majority of the flight, and you realize the potential of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to perform tasks once reserved for thinking humans.  In a McKinsey study, the authors recognized that our focus, in the short run shouldn’t be on occupations but on specific activities that are replaceable.  For instance, they estimate that activities consuming more than 20% of a CEO’s working time can be automated using current technologies. These include analyzing reports and date to inform operational decisions, preparing staff assignments and reviewing status reports. As technologies improve, the percentage will grow.

Thus, as we progress, we should increase our focus on core human experience – creativity and sensing emotions – which are more difficult to automate. They estimate that only 4% of work across the US economy requires creativity at a median human level of performance; the comparable number is 29% when it comes to sensing emotion.  While these estimates reflect on the impoverished nature of our work lives, they also suggest the potential to generate a greater amount of meaningful work, as people reduce their level of routine and repetitive tasks.

One example that is beginning to take place: financial advisors might spend less time analyzing the data underlying clients’ financial situations and spend more time understanding their future needs and develop and explain creative options. Similarly, interior designers could spend less time taking measurements, developing illustrations, ordering materials, etc., and spend more time developing innovative design concepts based on clients’ desires.

Think about your job. How much of it can eventually be replaced by smart machines? What could you that would be more meaningful – to you, the organization and the customers – with that extra time?  If you come to the same conclusion that you can increasingly be freed up for more creative and meaningful activities, maybe it’s time to focus on “humanizing” the workplace!

What are your experiences now?  What do you think the future can bring with it? How do you plan to get “from here to there”?  Share with us.

Drive the Longevity Economy

Today, 60 million Americans are 60+ years old; every day for the next 14 years, 10,000 people turn 65. By 2030, 20% of our country will be 65 years of age or older. In 1935, when Social Security was introduced, life expectancy was 61.7; current average life span is mid-80s; the fastest growing segment is people 100+. Then, 17 workers were supporting each beneficiary; by 2035, the ratio drops to 2:1.

As we live longer, stay healthier and have greater financial resources than prior generations, we have the opportunity to create a longevity economy in which new products and services can be developed, marketing and consumed to meet the growing needs of adults living to 100+. Indeed, probably half of the products and services used by this audience in 2050 haven’t even been developed.

As Paul Irving notes in The Upside of Aging, we can take advantage of the opportunities by understanding the trends and being creative. Indeed, it’s heartening to know that older adults outnumber millennials as entrepreneurs (e.g., Kauffman Foundation) and that several organizations are focused on helping people of all ages develop the new products.

To stimulate your thoughts, here are some categories to consider:

  • Technology
    • Robots to help around the house, with travel and provide company
    • Exoskeletal equipment and driverless cars to provide greater mobility
    • Smart clothing to adjust to temperatures
  • Healthcare
    • Telemedicine for diagnosis and treatment
    • Micro-sensors to boost eyesight, hearing and neurosensory functioning
    • Human Biomarkers using genomics
  • Antiaging, human enhancement
    • Nutraceuticals to fight aging and increase energy
    • Cosmeceuticals to keep skin and hair youthful longer
    • Brain enhancement supplements and hormones
  • Financial services
    • Longevity insurance
    • Robo-advisors for wealth preservation
  • Lifestyle Support
    • Lifelong learning alternatives
    • Specialty services for travel, entertainment
  • Housing Alternatives
    • Progressive living improvements
    • Ergonomic home supports
  • Work Improvements
    • Virtual work-settings, flexible schedules
    • Age-friendly work-ergonomics

So, find your innovative passions and either become an entrepreneur or an investor, and help create the future!

As Automation Accelerates….

Automation using Artificial Intelligence is increasingly being adopted in the workplace. Studies all noted that its increase will wipe out many of today’s jobs, especially those in the middle. Moreover, they are going to change the way everyone works – from blue collar worker to the CEO suite – as they replace some of the activities that these people do which are either routine or can be done faster and/or more accurately by algorithms.  As a teacher and executive coach, I raise this issue early in my engagements, so that the college students – whose careers depend on proper forecasting – and corporate leaders – whose careers and companies depend on it, increase scenario planning.

Look around and you’ll see it happening daily. Bank tellers were replaced by ATMs and now online banking and mobile payments.  Retailers, like Target and Walmart are changing their business models so they can operate smaller stores (Target is prototyping one as much as 15% of the original size.). A reporter for the PBS Newshour visited Eatsa, a healthy fast-food retailer in San Francisco, and noticed that there were 15-20 customers, no cashiers to take the orders, and just one visible employee. Amazon bought Kiva, a robotics company and now has 30,000 robots in its fulfillment warehouses. Foxconn, a manufacturer that assembles Apple iPhones and other electronics, replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots.

McKinsey recently reported that 59% of manufacturing work could be automated in the next decade, including 90% of what welder and cutters do. In South Korea, heavy industry robotics are now being used in the medical industry, helping nurses move patients, assisting doctors with surgeries, and helping physical therapists with walking rehabilitation.  In Silicon Valley, there are lots of experiments in automation: robots at Lowe’s home improvement store that check inventory; “robot butlers” in hotels, driverless taxis.  Software is eating white-collar jobs, too – including bookkeepers, shipbuilders, doctors, lawyers, and pilots – are increasingly automating production, research, communication, analysis and other functions.

As the current job market changes, it’s not all bad news for those who want meaningful work. With early planning, today’s workers and those of tomorrow can take on more of the creative, thinking and planning activities, and let the machines complement them to produce the final product. The challenge is for us to take charge through proper forecasting. We need to forecast the jobs/activities that will disappear and identify what will be needed; we need to build training programs now to train them for the future jobs. We need to restructure our organizations in terms of skills needed, space used, communication methods, and collaboration systems. In general, we’ve been slow to act, which creates the great dislocation that’s impacted our economy.  For instance, as truck driving becomes automated, many of the 3.5 million drivers will lose their jobs. When are we going to start planning to meet the needs of current drivers and those who thought that was a future career path?

Think about it and then share with us: how has automation affected your current job and your future career? What are you doing about it? If you’re a leader, engage in future forecasting:  how will these trends change your business… and what are you going to do about it? Industries change and die. Virtually all the 19th century carriage and buggy-whip manufacturers are out of business.  Don’t let it happen to you!

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