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Friday, July 18, 2008

I was offended

I’m not easily offended, so it’s a bit of a shock when someone actually offends me. Listen to this.

I was at a business event where I sat in stunned silence as a tablemate explained how, after living in Hawaii for 16 years, couldn’t find anyone smart enough to talk too outside of these types of business events. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to listen to how her life revolved around her Ivy League alumni groups (apparently no one else is worthy), and how her only chance of finding a husband was through those same groups.

Now I don’t care where anyone went to school or whether they’re a bit snooty about that, I just find that sad and ignorant. I’ve met far too many people in this world to know that where you went to school is meaningless. I’ve met absolutely brilliant people who attended no-name schools, and people who’ve attended the “best” schools who couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag. And some of the smartest people I’ve met never even went to college.

But the thing that really offended me was the comment, and the implication behind it, about not finding anyone smart enough in Hawaii worth talking too. I have met, and I continue to meet, many people who are not only intelligent, but completely fascinating and a joy to talk to. I think that all my friends are smarter than me, because I’m constantly learning things from them. One of the reasons for that is that everyone has different interests. I may not be interested in something in detail, but I’m almost always interested at a basic level and I love to learn new things. There’s nothing better than eating, drinking, and having conversation with fascinating people.

Another thing is that with the wide diversity of cultures and ethnicities here in Hawaii, I don’t see how it’s possible to not meet people worth talking to and getting to know. Having grown up in small, all-white, communities in New Jersey, I’m interested in “local’s” views of the world (“local” being a catch-all term meaning anyone who grew up in Hawaii). We have different perspectives because we have different upbringings and different world experiences. How can you not want to talk to people with different views from yours? And then there are all the people here who are from other countries. How can you not want to talk to people who grew up in another country, in another culture, to get their point of view on things?

I was offended, but I’m more saddened that there are still people in the world who keep their heads in the sand. I can’t wait to meet someone new and strike up a conversation. I hope you do the same.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Innovation: What it means for you

I’m reading a group of articles in Inc. magazine about innovation. Apparently there are a fair number of consulting companies that specialize in innovation. I’m not sure how that works. Hire somebody to be creative for you, or something, I guess. Nothing wrong with that. As I say, do what you’re good at and outsource the things you’re not good at. That applies to creativity and innovation too. But that’s not what I find interesting in the articles.

What struck me is one article in particular, about how these innovation companies keep their employees thinking creatively and innovatively. I work a lot in the area of process improvement, and I advocate creativity during process improvement activities. I also advocate taking care of your employees and fostering a work environment where employees want to be, not just someplace they go just to get a paycheck. It turns out that the same things that these innovation companies do to keep their employees thinking creatively and innovatively are the same things you should do to keep your employees engaged and creative in their everyday work and in process improvement activities.

I tell people that if your employees aren’t making mistakes, you’re doing something wrong. Because if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying anything new. If you’re not trying anything new, you’re doing the same old things. You can’t expect different results if you’re doing the same old things, and you certainly can’t grow, improve, and become more successful and profitable.

You won’t be able to do all the things that these innovation companies do for their employees, but you can do many of them. You can, and should, encourage your employees to try new things and allow them to make mistakes. One of the innovation companies even presents an award to the employee who made the biggest or best mistake, which means they give an award for failure. If you punish failure, no one will ever try anything new. If you reward it, people will try all sorts of grand new things. You don’t want people making the same mistakes over and over, of course. I’m talking about trying new things in the context of making improvements to processes, products, and service offerings. Try it, and reap the rewards.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Learning from the best

I went to business school (still going, actually, working on my MBA), have read many books on management and business, have years of management experience, and now I advise and consult with businesses. So I probably know a few things about management and business. I find, though, that I have new teachers now, and it’s the best learning experience I’ve had.

I’m finishing up my next book, and part of what I’m doing is interviewing business owners and executives for inclusion in the book. I’m not a professional interviewer. I don’t do any real research on the people I interview and I don’t have a list of prepared questions. I’m not a researcher, so I don’t have any prepared surveys or questionnaires. What I do is let the person know what the book is about, what topics I cover, then just ask them to describe how they’ve become successful and how they manage their business in relations to the Operations side of things.

The first thing I’ve learned is that these successful executives and entrepreneurs are very passionate about their business and how they’ve achieved their success. This is without ego, just passion for what they do and how they’ve achieved it. It’s very inspiring. And because they are so passionate, they have plenty to say. So instead of trying to think up questions, I just let them go in whatever direction they lead themselves, the areas that they find most important or are most proud of. I do pick up on particular things and ask them to expand on that or to tell me more about how they do that, but in general, they lead the conversation.

I find this method to be much more educational and eye-opening than if I tried to control and direct the questioning to particular topics that I’m more interested in or that fit in better with a particular section of the book. Asking pointed questions will get you pointed answers, but that might not reveal the real reasons for the success of the organization. The real reason for success comes from the passion and the leadership at the top.

The second thing I’ve learned is that these leaders have a very clear vision for the culture of the organization, and it reflects their personal beliefs. But the culture is fostered, not forced, and well-defined steps are taken to promote and develop the culture that allows the organization to succeed. Plans are made, guidance is given, but the people are given latitude and are encouraged to grow and develop within the cultural framework.

To learn more, you’ll have to read the book. I’ll be learning more as I continue to conduct these interviews. If you know of a successful organization that shows excellence in their Operations, please provide me a contact so I can talk to them and we can all learn from them.