Is it better to turn a large organisation around from the inside, as an employer, or from the outside, as a consultant? For once, the answer might not be in the middle.
This week, I had a wonderful chat with one of the people who has helped shape my thinking about cultural innovation with his optimism and energy, Michael Edson of the Smithsonian. Amongst others, we spoke about the difference between his role as a change agent within a large institution and mine as an outsider trying to turn things around. Which of the two has more potential for significant change?
There’s a lot to say for the insider changing the course of an institution. We just have to consider the work of Nina Simon at the SCMAH or David Fleming at Museum Liverpool. In other sectors as well there are countless individuals changing the course of history (and their organisation) from the inside, just consider Jack Welch or Katharine Graham. Examples of non-C-level change makers are harder to find, mostly because they’re usually not the ones in the spotlights. Every one of us, however, probably knows some people who managed to change the course of their own cultural freighter. I certainly do. Read the rest of this entry »
After an inspirational session with the innovators network heritage (INE) yesterday, in which we discussed past successes and future plans for cultural world domination, I thought it would be nice to forget the debates about open linked data and digital sustainability for a while, and look back at the core of our job: innovation.
Below is a list of some of the core points that are good to be reminded of every now and then related to innovation. What is it, where does it come from and what can it bring us? Some of the points are apparently obvious, others less so and might be project or organisation specific. I’d love to hear your take on innovation in the comments.
Innovation is the process from idea to delivery. As a friend once told me, ideas are as abundant as successfully finished projects are rare.
Innovation starts with observation. As Geoff Mulgan writes, “Innovators generally have a wide peripheral vision, and they are good at spotting how apparently unrelated methods and ideas can be used togethers.” This means a good innovator is usually a generalist, has an eye for detail and great curiosity about how things work.
Innovation is often obvious. Don’t discard ideas because they seem too simple, they might never have been tried before. Or as the late Peter Drucker said, “The greatest praise an innovation can receive is for people to day, ‘This is obvious! Why didn’t I think of it? It’s so simple!’”
Innovation can happen anywhere in your organisation. Probably, your biggest win isn’t to be found in the social media department, but it doesn’t hurt to let them look (together with communications, collections, programming, sales, etc.).
A business model is part of every innovation. If an innovation isn’t meant to add some real value to the visitor’s experience, collection management, the budget or something else, it’s just a crazy idea getting too much attention.
It’s better to disrupt the market, than your audience. As every Facebook lay-out update shows, change always upsets people. Make sure you upset the right people, or as Clayton M. Christensen writes, “[Innovators] should try to disrupt their competitors, never their customers.”
Innovation can be high-risk or low-risk, but there’s always a risk. Risk-free innovation is like money-free poker: if you can’t lose you can’t win. No pain, no gain.
Returns are relative to the risk taken. High-risk innovation (expensive R&D departments, all-out bets) tends to yield higher potential returns than low-risk innovation (allowing staff to use 4 hours per week to try to do stuff differently).
Management and innovation are mutually exclusive. The problem with government innovation schemes, at least in the Netherlands? They usually ask for a planning and tangible outcomes. However, although innovation has tangible outcomes, it can never be sure what they will be at the outset, or innovation would be called project management. Also, you don’t want a manager to be too innovative, and an innovator to spent too much energy managing stuff.
Motivation is the key to innovation, for it focuses expertise and creative thinking. As Teresa M. Amabile writes, “People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction and challenge of the work itself-and not by external pressures.”
Innovation thrives on differences between people. There’s a compelling TED talk by Geoffrey West on how in bigger cities, there’s a lot more of everything. One of these things is innovation: more different people means more chance encounters, random interactions, inspiration, innovation.
Of course, this is just the 101. All quotes are from the The Innovator’s Cookbook, a series of essays and interviews curated by “good ideas guru” Steven Johnson. It’s a book worth reading, as it goes into things as ‘crazy’ as the set up of a building and its influence on innovation. All this, certainly, will be dealt with in future classes, either here or elsewhere on the Internet. For now, I’m ready to take questions…;-)
There are two ways to look at a potential new hire: you can look at what she has done already, or at what she is still going to do in her life. Simply put, you can hire for their past, or hire for your future.
Certainly, there are positions where a long and prosperous career is an advantage. President of the board, for instance. For others, a decent degree might be useful, such as brain surgeon or passenger plane pilot.
Most of the time, however, a curriculum with ten straight years of working experience in a relevant field preceded by five straight years of relevant higher education only means your potential new hire is extremely good at avoiding change and being predictable.
That is hardly the kind of skill and attitude the 21st century asks for, even in a conservative sector such as culture. Then why, I wonder (because this is a rant), do I see so many unconventionally talented and young people around me struggling to find a position in the cultural sector in the Netherlands? It is not as if we are not in a desperate need for change…
When I came back to the Netherlands after spending some years abroad in the spring of 2009, my curriculum was a hotchpotch of freelance jobs, voluntary work, extracurricular courses and one-year appointments. I’ve heard it being called a mess. My CEO at the Museum of National History thought differently, and did so with many of my colleagues. Young and ambitious people who compensated a lack of experience with a double amount of enthusiasm and ideas. It’s the best team I’ve ever worked with, and we regularly pulled tricks considered impossible by all the highly trained, highly experienced people in other institutions. Read the rest of this entry »
Ten years ago Jim Collins published a book that would change the way many organisations would do business: Good to Great. You’ve heard about it, maybe you even read it. The book gives a recipe for sustainable success, businesswise, based on a number of companies that outperformed their competitors over a long period of time. Jim Collins told millions how to be Great, as opposed to simply Good.
Unfortunately, the years since 2001 brought trouble: The web 2.0 revolution, financial crises and the never-diminishing effect of Moore’s Law. The world changed, and not all of Jim Collins’s great companies managed to stay on top of things.
This week I spent some time with Anders Sorman-Nilsson, an expert on the disruptive nature of change for business. In a recent video on his blog, he explains how the years since 2001 have made some of the great companies become obsolete, or even go bust.
It very much seems that although you were brilliant the entire 20th century, it can be a matter of months in the 21st to have your organisation disappear into oblivion. What made you great in yesteryear might make you obsolete today.
And I don’t think this is limited to the moneymakers of the world. Museums, theatres and even social causes can become obsolete just as easily if they’re not designed to deal with the menacing effects of Moore’s Law and the like.
I realise that after my last, maybe unsettling post, I’ve been rather quiet on my blog. I haven’t given up on sharing stuff. I was merely soaking up inspiration and information at TEDGlobal, a conference I think you should attend. Here’s the first of a number of posts inspired by some of the great speakers at that event.
Tim Harford, the undercover economist, advocates a radical change in the way we look at change, leadership, management, etc. His brilliant TED talk embedded below is a nice taster for his ideas, but I definitely recommend reading his book Adapt, or: Why success always starts with failure.
Failure and the need to embrace the opportunity of failing to be able to get ahead is a popular topic at the moment. Certainly, everybody agrees we learn from our mistakes. However, few openly acknowledge they’re ‘just trying something’ in order to get ahead. In any uncertain field (such as building a museum for the 21st century) however, Tim Harford eloquently argues this is the way forward. As he writes “Failure (…) seems to go hand in hand with rapid progress.” Read the rest of this entry »