Friends & Colleagues,
SCOJ #99. 99 weeks in Detroit. This week it’s a lot about innovation, leadership and organizations.
This week I spent some time thinking about what “innovative thinking” looks like. As a matter of course, I like to ask two questions when I’m working on a tough question or big project. 1). What if we did this a new way? Or what if we did this backwards? 2). What are we missing? What haven’t we considered?
In particular, I’m focused on what is “innovative” on its own. Rather, the key is how to provide or add value. Being innovative, i.e. the idea alone, is not enough. The point is measureable, actual value. The ideal mix is thorough, articulate and well-timed questions that produce responses that the organization can use to make productive and profitable enhancements. What are the questions you ask to ensure you are on the right track?
Here is Julian Hebron’s take on all things mortgage tech, Fintech and what’s next. His “The Basis Point” blog features marketing insight and some of what the other players are doing in our industry. Keep an eye on it.
Challenge question: Core hours. Has your organization considered core days or core hours? Is it working? Core hours give employees freedom of both mind and schedule. Interesting concept.
Fake news, know what I mean?
One of the most interesting aspects to modern pop culture is how something catches on and “goes viral” or becomes a common phrase. Readers of Saturday Cup of Joe know that one of these that bothers me is also one of the most deeply engrained — the Rust Belt. More recently, President Trump has officially coined another: fake news.
The funny thing about fake news is that even Trump’s opponents have started using it. The gravity of the phrase escalated recently when it was revealed that political strategy firm, Cambridge Analytica, used Facebook data to influence the perception of many voters — Brits and Americans alike.
In a recent article, it was noted that the Cambridge Analytica’s website stated: “Cambridge Analytica’s work on the Trump campaign is a clear example of how data-driven marketing techniques can change behavior in target populations. Applied to the commercial sector, these techniques can strategically engage your key audiences, improving conversion rates and boosting sales.”
The bottom line isn’t Facebook’s data policy. It’s the fact that “[b]ehaviorism may have demonstrated that, up to a point, we can condition people to believe and do all kinds of crazy things.”
To go deeper on an academic perspective, check out MIT’s Expert Series on fake news.
Big picture: One recent author wanted to ask questions about America’s perceived lack of trust in certain institutions and inherent trust in certain companies. Looking back to pre-WWII England, Tim O’Reilly asks, “Why has America not seen the pervasive lack of trust in government, the media, and other institutions that made a social media attack possible? Why did so many of our political and business elites seek advantage by enabling and encouraging that lack of trust?”
Understanding these questions of perception are key to positioning a company for the future. For instance, many Americans share O’Reilly’s sentiment when he asks, “Why is it that we trust companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook more than we trust our own government?”
With an eye to the future, I ask if trust is the “currency of a civilization,” why not a currency built on trust?
Companies are becoming more human. Well, not human like artificial intelligence, human like empathetic and sympathetic. Companies can no longer just be about the “bottom line” because employees and customers alike are demanding companies that get it.
Prior to this shift, the pursuit of narrow (corporate) goals has contributed to several negative feedback effects:
· Disengagement in the workplace, with only 33% of US employees feeling engaged
· A mistrust of business, reported by 42% of Americans
· Inequality between winners and losers, and the political and economic repercussions of that, as the top 1% of the population in the US takes home more than 20% of the income
According to research, companies use different language that reflects the intention of the organization. Often this can be explained by the industry. Unsurprisingly, businesses that do not serve individuals have less orientation toward language indicating “integrity” and “cooperation.”
Eight steps to a strategic agenda that moves toward humanity:
1. Define your purpose, the higher social goal
2. Adopt metrics that measure the well-being overall
3. Emphasize the future
4. Invest in technology
5. (Re)educate employees and citizens to help them deal with change
6. Rethink and reshape the future of work
7. Support entrepreneurial ecosystems
8. Communicate a new narrative to inspire confidence in a shared future
Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Becoming a human company is a long journey.
Valuable Lessons: Is there anything more valuable than friendship? I found out this week that my high school is closing its doors after this school year. It was an odd feeling to think that the school would no longer exist. But, in the end, I spent the week thinking not about the school but about the lifelong friends I still have thanks to the experience. I have been incredibly lucky to have a tight-knit group of friends that have remained close to this day. There are a few of us that began pre-K together, graduated high school together and are still visiting each other to this day. Maintaining these friendships has been one of the proudest and most meaningful accomplishments of my life.
Last week, I wrote about self-awareness and that group of friends has not only grounded me but supported me through the ups and downs. I was inspired this week when Meredith, my wife, sent me an article about a group of friends who have been playing a version of tag for 20 years. We’ve all had inside jokes for 20 years, but tag? Check it out.
Productivity: What is your take on routine? Do you have one? I think about this a lot. As a night owl, I’m constantly guilty about not using my mornings more effectively, and yet I often do some of my most productive writing and catchup late at night. This week I spent some time with one of my closest friends. We were college “suitemates” and fraternity brothers (don’t judge!). Now that we’re both dads (!), he remains someone who always inspires me and provides insight into how I’m feeling or thinking about a variety of issues. He told me something this week that I think is incredibly important: Sometimes there are things you need to indulge that make you more effective, more of you who are. Steph Curry’s swagger makes him a better player. If you wanna wear bow ties, wear bow ties. It will make you more you.
I couldn’t agree more. The idea is to be comfortable with who you are, indulge all the parts of you that make you unique and, so the theory goes, you’ll be more effective.
Often this where the Instagram gurus or podcast hosts stop. But the key is to take the next step — what you do with that comfort and confidence. My advice? Take the biggest risk your personality will allow.
Tim O’Reilly put it this way, “Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off with you having tried.”
Yes, the first step is to own your identity and approach. But quickly thereafter, we have to channel that freedom into action. Action is where the value is. This week — take action.
Culture: It’s funny how often we hear about corporate culture, yet it’s still underrated as a key performance indicator of your organization’s success. If you’ve been a leader long enough, you know that team, organization, or company culture is critical to innovation and success.
For instance, “When leaders are unwilling or unable to talk about tough issues, co-founders fight, high performers quit, equally talented people get fired unfairly, projects fall apart or miss deadlines, cultures turn toxic, morale suffers, people leave and companies implode. The price of not addressing conflict is simply too high.”
Laura Gates goes on to say, “build vital, authentic conversations into your company’s culture at regular intervals to eliminate built-up tension systematically.” My take is that this is true of relationships as much as of company culture. Candid, honest conversations will not only improve morale but give colleagues a place to spend their day that actually recognizes their humanity. Being authentic means being more human. Fear, anxiety and stress cannot be completely banished from your company or your day especially if you are attempting to do anything remotely innovative.
Gates, an executive coach, goes on to say “my reality is not the reality.” The point being that it’s never as crazy or personal as we think. Perspective is the whole ballgame.
Quirky Content: 4 book recommendations from 4 adventurers. Also, check out outsideonline.com for some interesting content and photos.
Today’s Thought: One important observation that continues to pop up is when everyone else is going to get on board with a new view of value. What started with Moneyball and Freakonomics is finally expanding to our companies and specifically our thinking about our teams. In a recent Medium article, the question of how leaders can humanize work reminded me of how narrow our view of value can be. The article argues for an expansive view of value. Employees who feel free and open to express themselves to their leader will also do better work for clients. If that means an extra mental health day or flexible hours, here and there, it is actually more valuable to the company long term. Many companies are short sighted and insecure. As a result, this is not the view or the culture. This week I was reminded to lean into the humanity of our workplace. I hope you will to.
Quote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates
Bonus Content: Nature vs technology. Here’s a video of trained eagles that take down drones.