Monday, May 28, 2007

Measurement of Innovation

I found a reference for developing innovation metrics that I find useful. It breaks down factors that one needs to be innovative and gives suggestions for measuring those factors. Specifically, how to measure the resources, capability and leadership factors that might collectively be predictors of innovation.

Is innovation easier to measure than quality? Typically we measure what quality is not, and we assume that in the absence of proof of low quality, we have quality. This is apparent in software's measurement of defects: rate, density, resolution time, severity: these are measures of non-quality. I'm sure you've worked at places where that assumption turns out to be false. Perhaps quality itself is not measurable. Or perhaps it is simply that we can't definitely state what quality is, but only what it is not.

Can we make the same claim for innovation? If we measured a failure to innovate, would a low rating indicate a good innovation environment? It hurts my head to think about that. But it shares with quality the property that it is easier to measure what is not innovative. Whether something is innovative is subjective; there is no quantitative measure for whether it is or not. The reference above measures some things that are pretty concrete, such as the number of innovative ideas that become successful products. And I definitely agree that if you do not have enough resources, the right capability and leadership (culture) for innovation, it won't happen. At it's core though, how you decide whether something is innovative or not will have a huge effect on that metric, so I don't think the benchmarks they provide in the paper are really useful. But what you can use this for is trending over time in your organization as long as you can find some consistent way to evaluate the "innovativeness" of an idea.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I had a new experience this week. One I hope not to repeat. The simple version of the story is that I needed $200 in cash, and ended up at one of those non-bank ATM machines. I asked for $200, it only dispensed $100, and I managed to pull another $20 out that was stuck in the output slot. This isn't what we've come to expect from these machines... at least not after we've used them hundreds of times. This was at Costco, and it happened right next to the person at the entrance door, so she knew I didn't make this up. It took about 30 minutes to figure out what to do, none of which resulted in me having the $200 I needed.

I was chatting and joking with the Costco employee most of the time. She said to me "you sure are patient", and that is the inspiration for this post. I asked her, what would be the upside of me getting impatient? If anything that would result in people less likely to help. Moreover, that would simply hurt me; nobody else will care. She understood; the surprising thing was that she expected something else. My behavior was not the norm.

So I thought about emotional intelligence, and looked up some old articles. It turns out that the behavior I demonstrated is just one of many emotional competencies which make up "Emotional Intelligence": self awareness, understanding emotional influence on objectives, staying cool under stress. I found this reference at the "Consortium for research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations". I'm not making this up. You'd think they'd call themselves the CREIO or something. In any case it lists a variety of competencies which is significantly larger than might be intuitive. It's worth taking a look at the list and then doing a self audit to decide where you might improve.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Speaking Up

Maybe I'm a consultant because I say things when I shouldn't. Frankly, that's what you want in a consultant - you pay them to tell you the truth. There are surely engagements where you get paid to tell someone something they want to hear - probably mostly as a subject matter expert in a legal proceeding (I'm sure I have offended a lot of experts now). But really, wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone just told you what they think and feel? Perhaps that is naive.... but it's what I think.

I'm not sure exactly why people confide in me; perhaps it is because people learn that if they ask me something I will tell them what I think. I won't be offensive or suicidal, but if it is relevant, I'll answer honestly. If it is different than the party line, I'll explain the party line and it's rationale, and I'll support it and commit to it, but I won't express a point of view as my own that isn't.

James Detert at Penn State writes in the May HBR that employee's failure to speak up is a result of their risk/reward perception. Perhaps this is obvious but it means that they have to believe that saying something might result in a positive change, and that they won't be harmed by it. You can reinforce their confidence by being a change agent on their behalf -- step out, take the arrows for them, and stir things up - make something happen, even if you burn some political capital along the way. If you are successful and you shield them from any consequences, they'll use you for their sounding board. As an employee in some organizations, you might get shot for doing this. But if the change is worth making, and it's good for the organization, how can you not do it? If your organization can't do the right thing, is it where you want to stay anyway?

The other thing Professor Detert writes is that organizations develop implicit untested assumptions. I have seen this as well and it is the leader's job to seek these out and be the "myth buster". I had a management coach, Alan Perey, who was particularly good at demonstrating how to do this. It kind of goes just like a behavioral interview - for each statement made by the person you are working with, you have to decide if it is fact/experience based or the output of a model or theory. In short, is it fact, or is it opinion? And ask additional clarifying questions to hone in on that: "What evidence do you have....".

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Leading the seriously talented

In high tech, we can hope that through corporate reputation, good fortune, persistence, and good choices, we get to have people on our team that are really smart. Ideally, smarter than we are. Consider the alternative: a team of people who are not as smart as their leader?

The challenge with really smart people is they do not really want to be led. I have seen this. According to an article in the March 2007 HBR, they want their leader to be smart enough to appreciate and understand their contribution, but not to outshine them. This I agree with. The article also says that they feel they are part of an external community that transcends the current organization. In my experience I have not seen this (this may be because I have spent my career with engineers). Many really smart people unfortunately focus on what they are good at and don't network enough or desire to get better at what they aren't good at. In fact the article talks about rewarding clever people with perks such as getting out of assignments categorized as "organizational rain": those things which clever people view as non-value add but are necessary to support the organization. I'll go out on a limb here and say that I think that is really bad for teamwork, and coddles rather than develops the superstar. The article goes on to say that the leader should minimize the rain; but that is obvious irrespective of the organization's talent.

I'll add that I've met a couple of basic types of clever people: those for whom recognition is a reward and gives them energy, and those who really don't care about recognition. I think the former is more prevalent but have no data to support the claim. Both types, when functioning well, want to do well. It's just a matter of whether you can add energy with recognition. Recognition doesn't have to be sappy or public, it's far more important that the leader knows what they've accomplished and lets them know it. For those for whom that doesn't work... you are on your own. You may have to ferret out those who pretend they don't want recognition -- a defense mechanism against being manipulated. Overall, in such environments, you'll do a lot more damage failing to recognize accomplishments than the other way around.