What can we say for certain about the future? Only that it will be stranger than anything we can dream of. Here’s an analogy to help understand why.
Archive for the ‘Innovation Zone’ Category
One more heliostrophe completed. What have I learned this time around the sun? That we like to take all the credit for it when life is good, but what defines us best are the decisions we make in the face of adversity.
I’ll be heading off to a leadership conference in a few weeks and it got me to thinking about the true common quality of leadership. I once asked the great management guru Peter Drucker to tell me what he felt was common among all leaders, his response was, ” They all have followers.” His point being that every leaders is unique in his or her own right.
But I have another take on this.
I recall during the hayday of the dotcom boom being at a dinner party were I met someone who was talking up the fact that he was having great success as a day trader in the stock market. He went on and on about how easy it was to make a killing by studying trends and making fast accurate decisions about the market. A few weeks later the dotcom bubble imploded and the market did a free-fall off the vertical side of Half-dome. I wondered how my dinner partner was doing now?
It’s a simple fact of life that we love to take credit for the successes in our lives. We’ve worked hard, done the right things, invested in what we believe and as a result we should take pride in ourselves and the decisions that got us here. I’m guilty and won’t argue that for a minute.
But is it truly our successes that define us, our character, our values, and our beliefs? When life is going our way, when a business is growing, when records are being broken, when relationships thrive, making the right decision is easy. In these times of momentum life lets us get away with many mistakes while we are swept along by the moment. Flying in fair skies we can all be excellent pilots, but fair skies do do teach us much.
When I look at those people I admire most, true leaders, the ones who I see as the bravest and the strongest among us, it is not their success that attracts me but their ability to do the right thing when the skies darken and the storm moves in. The decisions we make when it seems as though the deck is stacked against you, when your business is faltering, when relationships are dying; now that’s what ultimately tells us and the world what we are made of.
We don’t want to accept adversity as an ally, none of us welcome it, or seek it out, and yet it is our greatest teacher and mentor. It is in the face of adversity that we truly learn the lessons that allow us to make decisions worthy of leadership and worth passing on to our children.
Something to think about during your next trip around the sun.
Answer: You NEVER give up, but occasionally you need to re-evaluate if where you’re going is still where you want to be.
I spent the last few days in Chicago where I flew just to watch the Paul McCartney concert at Wrigley field on Sunday night (and then again on Monday night! hey neither Sir Paul nor I are getting any younger!) with my daughter Mia. At 69 McCartney has defied all the odds. His ability to rock the house was unlike any other concert I’ve been to.
It got me to wondering, as I connected the dots between this incredible concert and something nearly as profound that I’d experienced a few months ago.
I was giving a keynote about the power of never giving up as an entrepreneur to a relatively young audience – now days “relatively young” defines the vast majority of my audiences : ) At the end of the keynote one of these young guns asked me what must have been one of the toughest questions I’d ever had to address from the podium.
“So you talk about perseverance and tenacity but when ‘do’ you give up?” he asked. The answer I gave got me a standing ovation, which took me completely by surprise.
Last night that same answer struck me again.
“You never give up!” – at least not on those things that define who you are, your passion, your beliefs, your values, your faith. Call these what you will but they are the bedrock of who you are and the only real genuine part of you than you can take any measure of deserved pride in.
But not giving up does not mean that you don’t walk away from things. Often life throws curves at us, people, circumstances, events that we simply have no control over. We look at these challenges and cringe, especially those of us to whom giving up is an apparent admittance of failure.
You could say McCartney gave up on the Beatles and you can be pissed at him for doing so. How could he give up on one of the greatest bands of all time?
He didn’t. McCartney walked away as did John, George and Ringo. But he did not give up on his music, he did not give up on his passion, and he certainly did not give up on his love for performing. His values were genuine.
McCartney didn’t think out of the box he created a new box to play in each time he had to move on. As my very astute son once said to me, “Dad if you can’t get out of the box do you just decorate it nicely?” Isn’t that what most of us settle for, nicley decorated boxes that we can’t stand to be in?
Is it a stretch to try and tie this to the greater challenge we all face of making similar decisions about giving up when we are faced with tough circumstances? I don’t believe so. If we hold true to our values and principles then there is never such as thing as giving up, there are only detours, storms that temporarily toss and tussle our compass.
But staying on course means that you have to know what these values are and you have to live them. You need to find boxes that are worthy of who you are.
So what are the core values that define your life, which you can not negotiate on or relinquish to circumstances, events and the whim (or failings) of others? What are the principles you hold most dear?
The answer to that question in family, business, and every other aspect of our lives is a simple one, and I’ll make it very vivid for you by using the same example I used when that fledgling entrepreneur asked his question about when it’s time to give up.
Imagine yourself at deaths doorstep (sorry for the morbid tone but it’s necessary to make the point). You have minutes left to live and you have to answer a simple question, “what do you regret not having done with your life?”
Few of us will have a clean sheet of paper when making that list, but some will have much shorter lists than others. My suggestion to you is that you write out that list now and study it hard. These are the things you cannot give up on. These are the things that define you and your core values. These are the things that make your life worth living and make you a worthy man or woman. Take that list and staple it to your forehead so that you can see it in the mirror every day.
So what’s your list? What can you not give up on? It’s a much simpler and shorter list than you may imagine.
As for the rest, the stuff that didn’t make the list, just walk away, as hard as it may be, as sad as it may make you, just walk away.
Do that in business and in life and giving up is never an option.
Atlantis set to music Click to see the video set to music
A letter to to my kids on the launch of the last space shuttle STS-135:
“…as I watch this fireball of my childhood’s fantasy burn a hole into the sky, what I realize is that the bar for our collective ambition is not set by what is reasonable and certain but by what is unreasonable and uncertain.”
I grew up in an era when people dared to dream impossible dreams. We set our sights on something well beyond our reach. We shot for the moon, and we reached it.
I was still four months shy of my third birthday when JFK gave his now famous, then brazen, speech to congress charging the US with the unimaginable task of putting a man on the moon and returning him home safely before the decade was out. I know that for you this is a few pages in your history book. But to me this was the future. It was a far off dream that represented the hopes, aspirations and fears of nation.
Thoughts about innovation on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech to congress committing the US to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.
(excerpted from The Innovation Zone)
The Apollo Generation
How old were you when the first man landed on the moon? If you can answer that question then you are part of the generation that is stuck in the last century of innovation. I’m part of that generation. I call us Apollos, named after the space program that put the first man on the moon. Like the footprints of astronauts that are still, and will be for millennia, etched on the lunar surface many of us are stuck in time. Sure we may have moved on in terms of keeping up with the latest technologies and we have all certainly learned new things, but that’s not what I’m referring to. We are stuck in terms of how we understand the mechanics of innovation.
What if I were to tell you that innovation is, in the words of John Lennon, “What happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” What if innovation was more about dealing with uncertainty than predictability? If you’re an Apollo, does this sit well with you? Probably not. It’s not the way we Apollos have been educated to think. After all the better you can predict the future the better you can tell what needs to be innovated. This is what Drucker meant by working in periods of prolonged predictability. But that only applies if you believe that the future is simply a continuation of the past and somehow the result of only the experiences that you have had to date. It’s not.
When I speak to executives or address large audiences I can instantly spot the Apollos. All I need to do is see the look at their faces when I talk about uncertainty. Apollos like to set an objective for a known problem. They are obsessively objective driven. They hate to invest without a firm and unequivocal objective in mind. No surprise there, it’s they way we learned to approach the biggest challenges of our age. We knew our enemies. In war it was clear who we were fighting against. You were either one of our allies or you were the enemy. In the cold war you were a communist or you were not. In the space race you either set foot on the moon or you didn’t. You were a flower child or you were “the man.” The world was black and white.
The “Now” Generation
The current generation could care less about the objective. Their joy and passion is in exploring with no definite end in mind. It’s why so many of them put so much time into social networking sites like FaceBook with no definite return. The joy for them is in the social journey, not the destination. It has to be; the world has become a continuous spectrum of gray with few stark contrasts. Terrorism is amorphous and insidious, with no single geographic border or national enemy. Economies are merging in vast global coalitions, sometimes explicitly as is the case with the European Community, in other cases implicitly as is the case with Asia and Latin America.
The Journey from Here
Understanding how innovation is changing and how to build it into our businesses, attitudes, schools and very culture requires rethinking much of what we’ve been taught and have experienced about invention and innovation. We need to look beyond the glitz to the tools, processes, and behaviors that create value through innovation. We need to build the skills of innovation into our children, our organizations and our leaders. Most importantly, we need figure out ways to sustain innovation in order to create enduring value rather than the periodic flash in the pan that has typified innovation to date.
The good news is we have no choice. You need not ponder the call to be more innovative as if it were being posed as a question. Kennedy’s call to action worked because we had no choice. We were willing to endure any pain and pay any price to put a man on the moon. Today’s global challenges are no less demanding, and far too complex to allow us the option of standing still.
We need a new set of rules for innovation – now.
Not that long ago I always carried a stack of business cards. No more. Just Google me. I don’t care how you spell Koulopoulos, you’ll find me. There is value in that but there is also a price to be paid for being so connected, for being everywhere, and it’s not clear exactly how steep that price will be. Welcome to the Social Economy, a boomtown with apparently limitless boundaries, opportunities and risks.
The Social Economy is more than just new technologies, such as Facebook and Twitter. It redefines things we’ve long taken for granted about how we interact with each other and how we create value. That’s as important to business as it is to each of us personally. Ultimately we are all going to have to adopt social behaviors and strategies that enable us to survive and thrive in this incredibly interconnected world .
Here are just five ways the social economy is redefining how we do business.
What do you get when you combine prolonged high rates of unemployment with the Cloud with an entirely new risk profile for entrepreneurship? Why “everynuership,” of course! Listen to my broadcast on Tag Radio to hear more
In one of my recent innovation classes, which I teach at Bentley University, I shared with my students some maps from the Worldmapper.org web site. Worldmapper.org contorts national boundaries and relative land mass to provides a startling visual of the way the world is changing based on myriad data sets, which incorporate views on everything from the volume of exports to the availability of clean water.
Innovation always takes us by surprise. When the first Motorola brick-sized cell phones were introduced in 1983 even the most ambitious projections were for 50 million phones in use in the year 2008. However, in 2008, more than 3.3 billion cell phones are in use around the globe. How could we consistently be so wrong about the future? Because what we try to predict is the trajectory of technology rather than the trajectory of…
I’ve been an Apple guy since the very first Mac Classic – in fact if I had every mac I’d ever owned I could open a museum! My whole company, Delphi, was mac based. We must have had hundreds in every conceivable configuration. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to share the stage with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who I interviewed for the BICSI event in Orlando a few weeks back. I had spoke with Woz months before the event to set things up and then had diner with him the night before our session.
See more photos of my interview with Woz here