Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Do You Believe?

Last October I wrote about watching Simon Sinek's TEDx Talk, and I've finally gotten around to reading his book, Start With Why. I also just finished reading Clarence Jone's book, Beyond the Dream, which chronicles the events and setting of Martin Luther King Jr's I Have a Dream speech. As I read both books I found a lot of overlap in the themes of the two books, both focused on dreams, beliefs, values and culture for individuals, communities, organizations and countries. We've used these themes to inform discussion in our firm related to living our Vision and realizing the potential of our Ideas-Based practice, but they hold true, and can benefit, any organization.

In Start With Why, Simon Sinek talks a lot about the importance of organizational trust, the perspective of companies as a culture, and the realization that the culture results from a strong sense of shared beliefs and values. While these are not radically new concepts, they are a reassuring reminder to keep these issues at the forefront in organizational actions. Two points stood out for me: the relationship between trust and risk-taking, and the importance of beliefs in growing/adding people to an organization. The following quote from Sinek's book makes the first point clear.

"If there is no trust, then no one would take risks. No risks would mean no exploration, no experimentation and no advancement of society as a whole."

Deep trust is a critical condition for an ideas-based practice and, as Simon goes on to point out, to leaders of organizations. He states that leaders must provide a safety net of trust, both practical and emotional, to enable the desired broad ranging, creative thought and idea generation to occur.

On the second point of organizational growth and recruiting, Simon states that the most important characteristic is finding people who believe in what the firm believes. This assumes that the firm, the whole firm, understands what it believes and the reason why it believes as it does. He notes that the search is for people who are "good fits" with the "right attitude", not just those with the skills that are needed. He underscores this with a quote from Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, "You don't hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills." While this concept doesn't quite fit architectural and engineering skills, what does carry over, is how attitude and beliefs influence what is done with one's skills. Taking it one step further, Simon says:

"Great companies don't hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not."

Leaders must consciously give motivated people something to believe in, something to work toward that is ultimately bigger and of broader importance than their individual job.

Like I did in a previous post, whenever I'm off thinking about these topics I always come back to Bill Caudill and his TIB's or writings called This I Believe. The following TIB, written by Bill Caudill on January 17, 1977, was called Values -- Values and Goals.

Goals could lead us to a very exciting future -- provided, of course, we are motivated and dedicated to carry them out.


So what are values? Webster lists seven or eight meanings. I like "relative worth", but that's still too vague. Let me try to tie "value" to goals.



CRS has always had certain values. These are spelled out in detail in the document called Ten General Goals passed by the Board in 1974. Values do change throughout the years, but very slowly. Goals are more changeable depending upon current problems within and outside CRS.

You can judge a firm by what it values. Same with a person.

To reiterate the three points made by Bill Caudill, a goal must motivate, must cost something and must serve someone. He links together motivation, inspiration, investment and service or purpose to provide Simon Sinek's 'why'.

For any organization, this is a reminder to think daily about the vision being pursued, to think deeply about why the organization is doing what it's doing, and to reconfirm the beliefs that drive all decisions.

What do you believe?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Associational Thinking

A recent post and article in Forbes, by Clayton Christensen and colleagues, presented results of research on innovative companies. Their focus was development of a method to rank and evaluate publicly traded companies with a measure called The Innovation Premium. But to me, the really important ideas that come from their new book, The Innovator's DNA, and the article, are the five skills of disruptive innovators quoted below.

Questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities;
Observing helps innovators detect small details—in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies—that suggest new ways of doing things
Networking permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds;
Experimenting prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas;
Associational thinking—drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields—is triggered by questioning, observing, networking and experimenting and is the catalyst for creative ideas.

I guess that professionals in architecture and engineering firms might very well think this article is mainly a consideration for corporate businesses, but because we are trained as creative professionals, we think that innovation is really our normal game. However that may be an arguable point. The five skills of disruptive innovators, along with the "3P's" of people, processes and philosophies, frame their understanding of the DNA of innovative organizations and provide a structure for all to assess their real innovation potential. It is a good message to understand.

Further on in the article, they ask the question "what does the average company need to achieve in these areas to spark an innovation premium?" They then lay out an answer for architectural and engineering firms to consider.

Fundamental change within senior managers (some mastery of the five discovery skills); changes in how their innovation project teams work (processes that support innovation); and changes in philosophies that foster the belief that innovation really is everyone’s job. Rare is the leader who fully grasps how to embed the 3Ps deeply enough into a company’s culture to create a powerful, positive innovation premium.

The takeaway for me in this innovation story is the importance of associational thinking. Let's take this research from the business world and related industries, and transfer it to architectural and engineering practices as the design industry deepens the growth of innovation and new ideas for the built environment.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blog Post Wordle

I recently created this wordle of a blog I posted Dec. 16, 2010 titled “Research Opportunities are Everywhere.” I thought it was an interesting graphical representation of the theme and tone of the post.