Bowling in the Era of Affinity

Interestingly, I was able to attend the World Innovation Forum organized by HSM in June – what a great event!  Everyone should attend one of these enlightening and thought provoking events at least once. What I enjoy the most is how these events really make you think about what you believe and where you stand on key issues – particularly innovation, which has always been the heart and soul of our history (so easy to reflect on this 4th of July weekend).

One of my favorite discussions is why bowling represents bad business.  Seth Godin – exceptional under any one’s speaking standards – always has an interesting observation about something we take for granted.  The one that struck me is why bowling – yes, 10 pins and a heavy ball-is not the answer and in many cases the plague.  He asked, “what kind of game puts a cap on success?”  You can bowl a 300 game and NEVER do better.  That’s it.  300.  How is that going to drive innovation?  And, if you think about it, they still rent those smelly, multi-colored shoes from my youth.  (Could be the same shoes!)

We actually do cap success in business.  For example, it didn’t take me long to realize that when my sales team hit their quota that they would answer the phone but they were really on sales vacation until the next quarter.  I had to shift my sales incentive program introducing sales kickers based on other milestone core to my growth plan. 

How do you cap success?  Defining the number of hours worked in a day?  Defining number of widgets  to be produced?  It really is counter-intuitive.  Yes.  I know, we must set goals and targets.  But how do we manage to those goals and what latitude do we provide to be creative in achieving those goals? Do you train people how to do something or teach them  how to achieve an objective?

Seth went on. Conceptually, artisans are as the real source of innovation.  Artists don’t have to think out of the box because many of them never got in it – in many cases they deny the box exists!  Is the need to maintain consistency and order driving the artistic thinking from the process?  When do employees really get to be creative?  Ask yourself, who are your artisans and what might they create for you?

Michael Porter also struck a nerve.  He described how we strive so hard to function like robots.  We send our kids to school to learn to comply and behave.   This is all fine… assuming we have the right formula – and he maintains, as evidenced by our handling of healthcare, that we do not have the formula there nor do we master the formula for education.

He made a passionate plea that the real lever for change is not technical or scientific but rather innovation of management techniques.  How we lead, train and structure.  How we adapt, share and evolve.  Think about it, our current management methods were invented 100 years ago to support the industrial revolution. Getting humans to behave like robots was just part of that process to increase productivity and get reliable results.  But, as the world evolves out of this industrial revolution era, the onus is on us to re-invent the management process and leverage innovation.

He went on to describe that today competitiveness defined by productivity.  There is a serious threat to the US right now with China is improving their productivity faster than we are.  Unless we can justify our high standard of living, we will be squeezed.  Other emerging economies are a threat, too.  China is playing a win/lose game.  And, how are we doing?  In America, we do not have a strategy.  No one is thinking about US competitiveness or planning an approach to compete in the global market.  We keep layering costs, making it harder to win in a competitive landscape, and we’re not re-investing in science and technology.  In fact, we’re barely improving education.  Innovation may be the only way out if we can learn to leverage it and provide incentives proper incentives to get new ideas into the general market place.

The perfect example of what Godin and Porter described is the MinuteClinic and what they achieved.  Michael Howe described the difficulties and rewards of challenging status quo.  The concept of MinuteClinic started with two parents fed up with the emergency care system and their children. 

Howe outlined how he struggled with looking at healthcare through the lens of retail. What an idea!  I never thought about how clearly and differently our generations view healthcare.  He broke it all down like this:

  • The Greatest Generation – tell me what to do.
  • Baby Boomers – tell me my alternatives (I’ll still do what I’m told).
  • Gen X – educate me.  I want to be self-sufficient
  • Gen Y – connect me.  Don’t make me wait, don’t make me talk to people.  Just connect me to what I need to know.

By understating the buyer, MinuteClinic could really respond to their needs – in a way that made sense to them, which kept them coming back. Oh, and the healthcare “system” challenged their approach, too.  They got better results than even they anticipated using not only interesting approaches but new management technique. Amazingly, their ability to meet the standard of care exceeded all expectations.  To this day, I know of moms that are still talking about what an incredible innovation MinuteClinic is and how they really respond to their needs.  Home run.

So, the bottom line is we’re entering a new era.  I’ll call it the Affinity era.  The era where we can find, join or create affinity groups of like-minded folks.  The question will remain, as our management methods lag, will our ability to find like-minded people helps us advance our ideas?  Give us the courage we need?  Help us be more open to change?  Will it help us evolve and compete in the global economy more quickly leveraging innovation as a competitive advantage?  I hope so.

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