Celebrating the Life of David Allen Hills
At the fall 2007 meeting of the Association for Managers of Innovation (AMI) in Alexandria, Virginia the membership celebrated the life of David Allen Hills. He passed away on March 22, 2007. Dave was a scholar, a compassionate listener, and a friend to all who sought him out.
He served as a consultant to CCL for more than 20 years. In that capacity, he was part of the creativity team contributing wonderful insights into our thinking about creative leadership and he did so in a unique format.
What you can view is a slide show we put together for the AMI membership that captures Dave’s unique contributions to the community. He taught us to laugh at ourselves and in this way he allowed us to be aware that our actions did not always coincide with what we espoused as truth about the creative leadership process. His cartoons (a mirror) allowed us to pause and consider the implications of our words and our actions.
We miss you Dave Hills. You were an original in so many ways.
Memorial contributions can be made to:
The Dr. David Hills and Dr. Barbara Behrens Hills Scholarship Fund
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A Fresh Voice for AMI
The AMI has provided a forum and a voice for those in the innovation community for over 27 years.
But what happens when "the voice" brings new ideas?
It's predictable. The group’s indicator of energy level hit max at the October 2007 Alexandria meeting when a new member (a banker whose business card title reads "inventor") introduced some new and disruptive ideas to the membership. and he would not let us ignore them or their implications. There was no escape for the members.
Many of us have been reading or hearing about the use of Virtual Reality (VR), and even our children or younger staff have probably made us aware of this trend, but the language used and the images generated did not allow us to communicate openly. For many there was rejection (we saw the downside first). Others were curious and a smaller but lively group was shaking their heads in agreement.
Historically, in March 2001, the AMI heard from an evolutionary biologist who founded a start-up company called ViOS in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and perhaps the AMI's first introduction to this topic known as VR. The title of Dr. Julian Lombardi presentation was "Virtual World," and he offered free patented software and licenses to firms. He was also selling space on billboards in his VR space – a city.
The October 5, 2006 issue of The Christian Science Monitor listed 60 schools and universities having set up shop inside Second Life. "There are so many communities within Second Life where my students can learn more about what they couldn't in the real world," reports Sarah Robbins, an English Instructor at Ball State. "Second Life gives us the capability to really have a classroom experience with the students," says Charles Nesson who is teaching the first class at Harvard using the Second Life website. The website allows teachers and students to build avatars (animated graphic characters) of themselves which attend classes – and interact with one another – inside a virtual classroom. To bridge the generational divide, Prof. Nesson, a law school professor, is teaching the class with his daughter, Rebecca, a recent Harvard law school graduate.
"It's still a pioneering space. We’re still trying to figure out how to use it best," states John Lester, community and education manager at Linden Lab, the company that owns and operates Second Life, now in its third year.
In May 2007 Sodexho decided to skip the phone-screening process for potential job candidates. Instead, the Gaithersburg food and facilities management company took to the computer-based virtual world, where job-seekers were invited to create avatars of themselves to be interviewed online by avatars of Sodexho recruiters. While it's not a replacement of any part of the recruiting process, the team says it views ventures into innovative places like Second Life as an enhancement to their process. By the end of 2011, 80% of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a "second life", but not necessarily in Second Life, according to the Gartner Group.
How will this technology impact human interaction as we know it - or as we want it to be?
Why do all the VR games using avatars seem to be about destruction? The role-playing game World of Warcraft, in which players work together to accomplish missions, defeat enemies, and become even more powerful has millions of players worldwide. Why not peace games (not just war games) where the subtleties of negotiation and the give and take of diplomacy are explored (and learned)?
But you have to hand it to our resilient group of innovators. A sub-group of the membership want to give it a try. A "virtual meeting" is planned for January – avatars and all.
It is my prediction that one of the positive unintended consequences will be a prototype meeting we have been talking about for years – a cross generational meeting to better understand language and experience differences across the generational divide. Some of our members will be forced to go to their children and/ or younger professionals in the work setting and ask "How can I do this avatar thing?" Then they will listen, and then they will learn.
What are the social implications?
Technology has been a factor of isolation, now technology will aid reconnection.
It is my belief that technology, which many believe has separated us from the larger community, will bring us back to this basic human need of community. Driven by this need is increasingly sophisticated networking technology. In a world influenced by the Internet these forces are reshaping the social landscape.
Whenever thousands of people are social networked inside a firm and/or around the world, we have a "spot market" for human capital.
To use a phrase, the future of social networking is "not our father's network."
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Tell me a Story: the Fuzzy Front End of Innovation
Positive Turbulence is a paradox. It asks organizations to invite energizing, disparate, invigorating, unpredictable forces in the form of new and dissimilar information into their awareness in order to utilize and integrate its chaotic energy to stimulate new thinking linked to problem solving and strategic innovation.
The AMI (Association for Managers of Innovation) is an affinity group for organizational practitioners of the innovation process and a source of positive turbulence for the membership. The membership identified a major problem in the innovation process known as the fuzzy front end — the sorting of the multitude of new ideas for products and processes into those most likely to transit successfully through the stages along the process of innovation implementation into the market place. The early identification of potentially successful ideas reduces time and costs and can lead to the redirection of appropriate resources to these early-identified and high potential winners.
The AMI membership asked the conveinnor (yours truly) to determine organizations that handle the early identification of potentially successful ideas well and then invite their representatives to address the AMI membership about their processes and what they believe they do that matters that makes a difference, in this process. To be direct, what organizational activities matter when translating novel ideas into viable alternative solutions?
Of course, the one company known for doing this well has been 3M. Their culture for innovation was instituted at the time of the founding of the company and W. L. McKnight (Chairman, 1948) called it his 1st Principle — Freedom in the Work Place.
"As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage people to exercise their initiative. Those people, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way."
McKnight's principle translated into the 15% Rule one where all researchers are allowed to put aside 15% of their time to work on problems they find important, intrinsically motivating, and in need of an solution. This freedom is not over and above the traditional research week (in other words not 115% of their time) but the work week is 100% less 15% personally directed time where researchers are encouraged to explore new thinking, network with other 3M researchers, and experiment in the lab with half baked ideas. All this takes place outside the parameters of the research agenda set by the laboratory director and is believed to be consistent with the creativity needed to achieve the stretch goals set by the company which are that at least 30% of sales revenue each year come from products four years old or less.
Stretch goals of this caliber require a full pipeline of new and useful ideas. The existence of a full pipeline suggests as a research and development process with some sound translation mechanisms for moving these high quality ideas from the fuzzy front end, through the pipeline and into the market place quickly and efficiently. The translation of these new ideas seems to be the first sieve that makes this particular system successful.
A More Generic Approach to Innovation from Positive Turbulence.
The verb used consistently by the AMI membership to describe this pipeline process attached to a full fuzzy front end was to translate, the process of translation. And in keeping with the principles of positive turbulence, I decided to bring in a world-class translator to address the membership on the principles of translation. I was given the name of Yvonne Seng, a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Yvonne had worked with an AMI member from the International YMCA. Seng is a cultural historian specializing in civilizations in Islamic history in the Middle East and Turkey. She spent more than 10 years translating Near Eastern languages having learned old Arabic from the time of the early Ottoman Empire. She had taught Near East studies at Princeton, Georgetown and American University. I had found someone who knew about translating but also someone who was probably the furthest removed from new product research and development pipelines than anyone I could find. Yvonne Seng was the perfect source for positive turbulence.
Within the first half of her presentation Seng declared that a good translation is one that is always accompanied by a "good story". She provided us with some examples from her own work translating historical documents from the early days of the Ottoman Empire. As she continued, I began to note the knowing shaking of heads of our membership in agreement with her statement. The AMI members in fact knew this truism from their own experience but had not thought of it as a consistent requisite tool in the management of the fuzzy front end of innovation until having that possibility confirmed by a community outsider.
Find a story to accompany or encapsulate the new idea and in so doing the idea takes on meaning beyond the initial blanch of the words. Meaning making requires context and a story provides that context along with some memory markers for decision makers who impact the process stages of the innovation process. The idea becomes singled out from all the rest. The story offers some life to the idea from the fuzzy front end and in turn enhances the probability that a place exists for this new idea in the organizations innovation process.
Once more, the positive turbulence process suggests that the answer may be found by looking around you and not just to the immediate known expert. Also, when looking into another field for the answer, you must work harder at applying the learning to your own setting. Just copying what others do from the same industry is most likely not to succeed since the new organization is not the same as the one the idea was taken from. Straight process copying does not easily work because organizational differences are too great.
Organizational leadership that fosters innovation creates a culture that values and seeks novelty. Organizations that look for these new forces for change while managing for innovation create novel and useful ideas and processes that solve the complex problems often associated with change. In this way creative leaders make meaning, set the tone for the culture of renewal along with the climate compatible for change. This reality has always been present but now that we operate in a global context and in a wired world change come faster and from more exotic sources than ever before and therefore the need for the novelty provided by the seeking of positive turbulence.
Perhaps this story will help you remember an important tool in improving the innovation process today — the ancient art of story telling.
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AMI (Association for Managers of Innovation) is a 27 year old affinity group for people who manage the innovation process in organizations founded by Stan Gryskiewicz and hosted by the Center for Creative Leadership.
In March 2006 Fr. Thomas Stella addressed the spring meeting of the AMI. As director of Hospice in Colorado Springs he was asked to talk about the process of dying from his unique perspective. The AMI members were then asked to make links from his presentation to the process of ending the product development life cycle.
Several months earlier, the AMI membership had identified the end stage of the product development cycle as one unsatisfactory link in the innovation process because of the impact on finite resource issues such as time, people, and money.
I decided to look to turn to the Positive Turbulence process as a source of new ideas and perspective since the innovation profession had not found satisfactory answers to this long-standing problem. We could not identify any particular industry that was skilled in this stage of the innovation process so we turned outward towards the periphery of our understanding. The identified source for PT was an expert in a related field where “letting go” is the primary focus and not just one step in a product development cycle.
As a result of a sixty-minute session listening to Fr. Stella tell about is experience of letting go in the death and dying process at hospice, the AMI membership generated 31 ideas that seemed to cluster into three themes when reviewed and sorted by the author. The three themes are: Letting Go, Preserving Brand Quality/Image, and Reframing the Process.
Reframe the Process
One example is a pharmaceutical company who actually celebrates the death of compounds that do not survive empirical scrutiny by burying them in small boxes with head stones having the compounds formula written on the stone.
Or more recently from a autobiographical book of the pending death of the 53 the year-old Chairman and CEO of KPMG Eugene O'Kelly entitled Chasing Daylight (2006).
"It's a blessing. It's a curse. It’s what you get for saying hello to people. At some point, a good-bye is coming, too."
Perhaps these ideas from the periphery and the process of positive turbulence will provide you with some insight into this important part of the product development process and "letting go." Let us know what you do.
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What the positive turbulence web log is all about.
Positive turbulence, a rich source for novelty and a medium for detecting the direction of change, is just outside the carapace of your awareness. We call it the periphery, the edge that demarks the end of your day-to-day awareness that you need to be effective and successful today.
Because of our daily demands, most of us have little time for this important diversion yet it is our belief that you avoid this opportunity to extend your awareness at your organization's peril.
Why? Because we believe the clues for the direction of future change and opportunities for related innovations can be found on the periphery of your thinking and on the periphery of your organization. The web log will be a source for elucidating this phenomena suggesting data points, not even trends unless we begin to see a pattern suggesting a direction for change, outside the readers daily awareness.
Out on the periphery leaders, managers, individuals, the organization (pick one) must move from an analytic framework to one of pattern recognition. The metric must be switched or you will not see the novel data points at the distance of your awareness. And if you do not see the leading edge indicators of change, you will not identify or recognize the pattern in time to lead the innovation being suggested by the change. You will be managed by change rather than influencing to your advantage the management of the change.
Come to this web site for new impulses and allow the novelty to interact with your own experiences and your understanding of the market place and assess if the novelty is a pattern with potential gravitas or just a one off case. For pattern recognition take low amplitude, low frequency, static filled signals from the periphery and give them the potential for meaning and usefulness for you and your organization.
Let us know if you find the novelty useful.
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