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Does America Have Talent?

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Earlier this week I watched Landau Murphy on America’s Got Talent win $1 million dollars and the chance to headline a Las Vegas show. Who is Landau Murphy?  Well, up until a few months ago he worked at a car wash – a nobody. Now, he’s a star and everyone knows his name. What was the process of transformation? Well, nothing really. Landau Murphy is the same person today as he was when he was working at the car wash. How did he get from “nobody” to “everyone knows your name”? Simple, opportunity and visibility.

Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., won’t be washing cars again — unless they’re his own.  The soulful vocalist who once supported himself by washing cars at an auto dealership sang his way to victory on Wednesday on “America’s Got Talent.”  “Thank you so much for just believing in me,” he said upon hearing his name announced at the end of the NBC talent competition.  “It’s been a long, hard journey,” he went on, barely holding back his tears as the audience roared, “ever since I was a kid. And it’s finally paying off”.  Murphy, a native of Logan, W.Va., wins $1 million and a Las Vegas headlining contract.

Read more:

Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. has talent. What the TV show did for Landau was to provide a venue to display his talent – nothing more. How do we know he has talent?  Because he demonstrated it. To whom? To the millions of viewers of America’s Got Talent who were convinced to the point that they made an overt act to vote for him. And, to take a small leap, those people who voted are potentially those people who would pay to come and see his show in Las Vegas. 

Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr.  has talent because he demonstrated it in public and it was judged to be the (best) talent (of all the contestants) by those who were consumers of entertainment who are likely to pay to see a Las Vegas show where he would be the headliner.  Do we need any more proof than this that he has talent.  There’s nothing like a public demonstration to make your case.

America’s Got Talent – Corporate Edition

Any company that is anybody has these things called “Ideation Events”.  It may not be called exactly this where you work but whatever it’s called, these events signal a few changes that differentiate the current age from the traditional hierarchical “command and control” workplace environment of only a few decades ago.

  1. Executive’s realize that they are in a highly competitive global marketplace
  2. Corporations do not fail for lack of “things” – they fail for lack of ideas, judgement on those ideas,  and the ability to execute on chosen ideas.  In short, comapnies in a highly competitive global environments fail, or fail to keep a leadership position based on the speed of innovation.  (Who will catch Apple in the tablet or smart phone market?  And how will they do it?)
  3. Executive’s realize they need to mine the talent in organizations at a deep level
  4. Organizations are flatter – everyone talks to everyone
  5. Corporate internal collaboration spaces made possibly by Technology is an enabler of idea generation

This is what a launch of a corporate innovation event looks like (company details removed)

In 2007, a single ideation event netted us $35M. In 2008, the top ideas collected in another ideation event led to free cash improvement of between $64M to $128M per annum, ongoing. In 2009, our CEO used these achievements as part of our <> Celebrations. His challenge led to the development of new ideas that guided the development of our strategy.

If you would like to take part in our new ideation event, you can bring yourself up to date on the trend here in two short articles: < web site URL >

What should be noted here is simply the value of these events in financial terms.  These events produce measurable results.  And to the extent that they do produce measurable financial benefit corporations will continue to invest in these events.

A somewhat fluffy paper on how to measure the value of innovation events can be found at the end of this posting.

Reactions to Innovation events speaks volumes

What is fascinating is employees reaction to innovation events.  In some sense, one can learn a lot about a company by the statistics generated by these events.  What percent of the workforce contributed ideas?  In a global corporation, from what country did the most ideas come from?  What percent of the employees even went to the collaboration site to take a look?  What percent made comments on ideas posted or refined the idea?  What are the dimensions of participation by country, division, business unit, organization, team, and on down to the individual by job classification.

The ideas are the key outcome of an innovation event.  But what comes along –  free for the ride –  is a huge insight into the “innovation health” of the corporation.  You can peg some typical reactions to these events.

  1. Aggressive non-participation. There will be, of course, those who silently will not participate.  But I  would classify some of these folks that don’t participate as “aggressive non-participation”.  When asked to participate in an innovation event they aggressively resist and wonder why anyone would ask them to contribute.  Some of these folks will put up a fight to not participate.  It’s as if they want to “lay low” and not allow anyone to know how or what they think – really, about anything.  “Nose to the grindstone”.  (Read about “Daniel” at the end of this posting)
  2. Silence.  They simply ignore it.  And, if forced to participate, they will comply – but only for the sake of a compliance requirement – nothing more.  “I put an idea there; I satisfied the requirement.”
  3. Participation.  These folks give it a shot.
  4. Stars.  These are the folks that participate and become idea rain makers.  They may not have a refined idea but what they have engenders a lot of discussion and refinement by others.  These folks are the equivalent of launching an IPO and a lot of other people see the idea and invest their time in refining the idea because they judged it to have merit and they want to go along for the ride.  If this idea is selected for further elaboration or for seed funding then these folks want to be on the team.  Stars have habit of clustering.
  5. Crushed Dreams / Reality Check.  These are folks that think they are stars but are on a trajectory for a rude awakening.  They post ideas that are so bizarre or miss the mark that you wonder if your company would be better off if this individual was employed by the competition. 

America’s Got Talent

The television show America’s Got Talent and corporate innovation events have many things in common – especially at the extreme of Crushed Dreams and Stars.  Millions of viewers seem to get an unusual sense of enjoyment, or justice,  by watching the car wreck of performances where individuals think they have talent but do not.  The lack of talent seems to be obvious to everyone but the person or group performing.  America’s Got Talent provides them the necessary corrective traditionally delivered with bluntness by Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan, or any other judge that is willing to do the performer a favor by delivering the news where friends and family have been remiss.  There are corporate equivalents at innovation events but the punishment is delivered by silence since no one comments or improves their ideas.

And then of course, there are the stars that emerge on America’s Got Talent and in corporate innovation events.  Had it not been for America’s Got Talent it may the case that Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr would have never emerged the star that he is.  The same for corporate innovation events.  These events provide a venue for individuals to become corporate Stars – no matter where they are in the organization.  And again, nothing like a public demonstration to show what you’ve got  – and perhaps what you don’t have.

And them there are the more subtle similarities and differences.  In the workplace of corporate America, do employee’s want other people to fail?  Do some individual think that their failure (under performance)  is the result of someone else’s success – or, does each individual succeed or fail on their own merit?  Put differently, to be successful do you undermine someone else ( through politics)  or do you work harder on your own performance, skills, competencies, and capabilities?  On America’s Got Talent those acts that are eliminated put their efforts into working harder on their own performance – not undermining someone else.  In corporate America – not so much.  Politics is very much at play in some corporations.

I just wonder how common it is for the majority of people to delight in someone else’s success?  Who wouldn’t want Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr to win $1 million dollars and headline a Las Vegas show?  I remember seeing a video clip where former GE CEO Jack Welch was excited that some of the managers of GE divisions had become CEO’s of other corporations.  Why would this give Jack Welch such satisfaction? 

The Take

Corporate innovation events provide huge value.  Not only can they provide the ideas that can lead to measurable financial benefit but they also provide a great “sorting out”  of the workforce for those willing to take a deep dive into the statistics of participation.  Both are equally important.  The former, idea generation, can be leveraged near term to inform funding,  investment decisions, and refining the strategic plan.  The latter is perhaps more powerful as an objective assessment of the creative talent in the organization.  For some companies it will provide a sobering and disturbing  look at the current and  future capabilities of the workforce.  For others, with high participation and good ideas, it will validate that they have excellent recruitment, hiring, firing, and retention policies and are well positioned for the future.  In either case, knowing is better than not knowing.  And the knowing comes from doing a careful analysis of the statistics of participation.

Do American corporations have Talent to compete in the global marketplace?

So with all due respect to Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, and President Obama: Science, technology, engineering, and math are not the future.  Or, more precisely, they’re not enough.  Workers at every level will benefit from an education that emphasizes creative thinking, and teamwork…  Fast Company, “Irreplaceable Minds”


A bit fluffy, but some insights and formulas for measuring innovation –

An article from Fast Company on Creativity.  Note the  4 “challenges” that people who do routine support work have with innovation events.  This partly explains their lack of desire to participate or aggressively not participate by segments of the workforce.

Read about “Daniel”, an aggressive non-participator –

A culture of Innovation vs a culture of entitlement

10 years of washing cars – and now this…  “Your life will never be the same”


Written by frrl

September 19, 2011 at 4:08 am

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