This is an old story (2009) I read many years ago but it is still valid and I keep using it very frequently to explain leadership and how cultural change works. It is a video by Derek Sivers, there it goes:
My main conclusions are:
- Leadership means being ready to stand alone and look ridiculous to many.
- You must be easy to follow: easy message, clear ideas, be public.
- You are not a leader until you get your first followers: treat them as equals because new followers will follow previous followers, not you.
Keep that is mind because one day:
- You will get momentum.
- Following you will not be risky anymore.
- Change will happen (learn more here).
The video finishes with the most important idea of all: if you find a crazy person doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in! Following others who deserve it is another way of leading, maybe the most important.
Many blogs shared this video before, here you have some:
One frequent question when working with Lean is “are we going too fast/too slow”? Changing is always uncomfortable and it is normal to question yourself if things are going as they are supposed to be. Well, speed matters in Lean but, as usual, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer here. Each situation is different and needs different approaches, so what to do? Let’s see the problem from its 2 sides:
- The risks if change goes too slow: people feel that problems are not solved, people feel their work is not bearing fruit, higher probability of rumors, higher probability of “I told you it wouldn’t work” and other similar sentences. In summary, Lean loses momentum and looks like “the improvement initiative of the month”
- The risks if change goes too fast: people feel that things are changed with too little analysis, risk looks is higher, there is a higher feeling on improvisation, the valuable ideas of those who don’t speak up easily (introverts, new employees…) may be lost. In summary, Lean looks like something imposed from top management.
Yes, practicing Lean might be complicated. My proposal is to move “as fast as possible”. Start slowly to make sure a) everybody is on board and b) the first “projects” are a success. Then increase speed incrementally. When everybody has been exposed to the cultural part of Lean (we all know people will be respected, lay-offs will be the last option, speaking up is safe…), it is better to go a little bit too fast than a little bit too slow because speed will help create quicker PDCA cycles and learning happens (obviously) also quicker. Change will be evident and everybody will feel it. Always get people’s feedback: the sweet spot is where people feel challenged without being scared.
Lean is like riding a bike: moving either too slow or too fast will make you hit the ground. Start slowly and increase risk and speed as you gain experience.
I’ve worked in many Lean and Operational Excellence initiatives and know that people is key. I know you know this too. It does not matter how well you apply Lean principles, they are useless if people are not on board. I call this “the F1 car without a pilot” syndrome. Your work will most likely finish like this:
Summary: You have to pay attention to people. Good news is that people tend to show their dislike and frustration; bad news is that they typically don’t do it verbally. How could you know? Observe how they behave. In many cases people don’t like change because they fear its consequences: “will I lose my job?”, “will I lose power?”, “will everybody know all the things I do wrong?” and many others. Most animals (including human beings) do one of these 3 things if they are scared:
- they hide
- they freeze up
- they attack
It is not very difficult to find out that something is going on if you pay attention. Any of these signs will tell you that you must take action:
- Hiding signs: people not showing up at meetings, people saying they don’t have problems, managers not showing their metrics when asked, nobody has improvement ideas
- Freezing up signs: people staying in silence at meetings, nobody wants to own actions, actions are not done on time, are done partially or not done at all
- Attacking signs: people saying “we tried that before” or “it won’t work here”, people blaming each other, direct attacks to the improvement initiative.
What to do? Keep calm and work to create confidence.
- DON’T put in place your favorite solution at any cost
- DON’T cut and paste the solution that worked somewhere else
- DON’T ask for ideas if you are not ready to listen carefully
- DON’T exclude people you don’t like or who don’t think like you
- DON’T use any type of passive-aggressive tactic (“well, if you are not interested in improving your work….”, “if this is the way you like working”, “nobody is apparently ready for modern management…”
- DON’T start the meeting if you are nervous, angry or unprepared
- Ask supervisors / managers to explain why this project is important and how it will impact the company / department. If supervisors / managers can’t explain this, don’t go on.
- Ask supervisors / managers to thank the team for the hard work (at the end of the project)
- Ask supervisors / managers to guarantee a risk-free environment. Explain what will happen if the project is a success (e.g. what will happen with the people you no longer need if the process is optimized)
- Ask supervisors / managers to participate in the team’s work: 80% listening, 20% talking.
- Let the team ask any question to anybody or challenge anything.
- Let the team try their solutions, no matter how wrong they might seem
- Let the team decide implementation dates
- Make team members commit in public to the action plan
- Let the team present their solutions to their colleagues and supervision
- Let the team decide how to measure success
- Let the team decide how to follow up progress (but there must be a follow up process)
- Let the team decide what to do if things fail
- Celebrate success / celebrate learning
Don’t forget the people aspects of Lean unless you want your project to finish pretty much like this:
Our brain works in a way that helps us understand the world quickly. We are good at finding patterns, applying proved solutions and learning from experience. Our brain and the way it thinks is an evolutionary advantage that has made us progress. However, sometimes the way it functions is a problem. Innovation is one of those moments. Let’s see an example:
In this picture we find two very different tasks from our brain’s point of view:
- The left column shows a task our brain LOVES doing: finding a pattern in mispelled words. Past experience and known solutions work great here, piece of cake for our brain.
- The right column shows a task our brain HATES: reading the word’s color instead of reading the written word. Past experience does not work here; even worse, past experience is a wrong solution. Our brain has to do things differently, which is tiring and frustrating. Unfortunately, innovation work must be disruptive and, therefore, looks pretty much like this type of task.
Our brain likes “doing the same things the way we have always done them”. This is called psychological inertia. Innovation needs disruptive thinking, which does not get along well with psychological inertia. This mental inertia prevents us from seeing unconventional solutions and is a great obstacle for breakthrough results. It is a wall between business as usual and innovation.
Experts define 3 main types of mental presumptions:
- Functional fixedness: Tendency to perceive an object as having a specific function, leading to inability to imagine new possibilities (e.g. a brick is used for building houses, but it can’t be used as a flower pot)
- Structural fixedness: Tendency to view objects as a whole. It makes difficult to imagine how the product could be reorganized differently (e.g. a regular bike vs. a folding bike)
- Relational fixedness: Tendency to view relationships and dependencies of a product or situation as static and permanent. One overlooks the possibilities of changing these dependencies to create new configurations (e.g. a rain umbrella used as a beach umbrella)
Combined with “Ideal Final Result” techniques (learn more here), innovation work benefits incredibly if we actively try to overcome the psychological inertia of our development team. The typical process is:
- Discuss the innovation challenge with the team.
- As a team, list the assumptions about the product of service that the team is analyzing (e.g. bricks are for building houses, cars need a park place…). This will create consciousness about our presumptions and prejudices.
- Challenge assumptions: think how can I eliminate the barriers, contradictions and limitations. Choose a “HCI” (how can I) or “WI” (what if) question and think how to eliminate the problem (e.g. how can I use bricks if building a house is not an option? How can I eliminate the need of a park place?)
This mental exercise can be very powerful. It opens our mind making obvious our assumptions and prejudices, and prepares our brain for the fight against standard solutions. Maybe, who knows, you will never look at your product / service in the same way.
Picture from: www.psychologyconcepts.com
Innovation is more important than you think, even if you are a well-established Fortune 500 company. According to Eric Ries (The Lean Startup) “creating an innovation factory, a group of people who create disruptive innovation on a continuous basis, is probably the only sustainable path to long-term growth”.
Clayton Christensen (The innovator’s dilemma) has described 2 types of innovation:
- Sustaining innovation: incremental improvement to existing products and serving existing customers.
- Disruptive innovation: breakthrough new products.
Yes, only disruptive innovation generates new sources of growth. Bad news is that many big companies are great at sustaining innovation but poor performers at disruptive innovation. That’s why 60% of the companies fail jumping into the next generation and disappear after the first technology revolution (learn more here).
Innovation needs a) a management process and b) the correct environment. The innovation management process must focus on learning and is very different from general management techniques, which focus on execution (i. e. doing things on time and on budget). Facilitating and cultivating a learning environment is the responsibility of senior management (learn more here)
If both things are present (correct management processes and a great environment) more ideas are tested, learning cycles are shorter and the probability of innovation increases exponentially. Using Scott Cook’s words, we convert politicians into entrepreneurs:
When you have only one test, you don’t have entrepreneurs, you have politicians, because you have to sell. Out of a hundred good ideas, you have to sell your idea. So you build up a society of politicians and salespeople. When you have five hundred tests you are running, then everybody’s ideas can run. And then you create entrepreneurs who run and learn and can retest and relearn as opposed to a society of politicians.
Scott Cook, Intuit chairman, via The Lean Startup
The Lean recipe for success:
- 10% tools and tecniques
- 30% people
- 60% enjoy hard work
Keep it in mind!