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A leaders role in clearing the path for innovation

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A leader’s job is multi-faceted. Not only is it about vision, strategy, directed investments, managing the social culture, execution, achieving results and all the rest it’s also about firing people who impede progress and stifle innovation in an organization.

I came across this in Businessweek… “Three Types of People to Fire Immediately”

Below is a quick summary. I’ve added a few comments at the end of this summary
( Read the full article here – )

We (your authors) teach our children to work hard and never, ever give up. We teach them to be grateful, to be full of wonder, to expect good things to happen, and to search for literal and figurative treasure on every beach, in every room, and in every person.

But some day, when the treasure hunt is over, we’ll also teach them to fire people. Why? After working with the most inventive people in the world for two decades, we’ve discovered the value of a certain item in the leadership toolbox: the pink slip.

These people—and we’re going to talk about three specific types in a minute—passive-aggressively block innovation from happening and will suck the energy out of any organization.

When confronted with any of the following three people—and you have found it impossible to change their ways, say goodbye.

1. The Victims
“Can you believe what they want us to do now? And of course we have no time to do it. I don’t get paid enough for this. The boss is clueless.”

Victims are people who see problems as occasions for persecution rather than challenges to overcome. We all play the role of victim occasionally, but for some, it has turned into a way of life. These people feel persecuted by humans, processes, and inanimate objects with equal ease

2. The Nonbelievers
“Why should we work so hard on this? Even if we come up with a good idea, the boss will probably kill it. If she doesn’t, the market will. I’ve seen this a hundred times before.”

We love the Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can or think you cannot, you are correct.” The difference between the winning team that makes industry-changing innovation happen and the losing one that comes up short is a lack of willpower. Said differently, the winners really believed they could do it, while the losers doubted it was possible.

3. The Know-It-Alls
The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. The leaders who have built these cultures, either through intuition or experience, know that in order to discover, they must eagerly seek out things they don’t understand and jump right into the deep end of the pool…

… And unfortunately, it is often this smartest, most-seasoned employee who eventually becomes expert in using his or her knowledge to explain why things are impossible rather than possible.

…This employee should be challenged, retrained, and compensated for failing forward. But if this person’s habits are too deeply ingrained to change, you must let him or her go. Otherwise, this individual will unwittingly keep your team from seeing opportunity right under your noses. The folks at Blockbuster didn’t see Netflix‘s (NFLX) ascendancy. The encyclopedia companies didn’t see Google (GOOG) coming. But the problem of expert blindness existed well before the Internet.

After these people are let go, consider these other folks that generally impede the progress of any organization

4. People who don’t understand the business

A while back, I was having a conversation with a woman at a Fortune 500 company. She asked me, “Does this company publish financial statements?” To not understand that the SEC requires a publicly traded company to publish financial statements on a quarterly basis shows a profound lack of understanding of why a company exists, what it does, why it does it, and to whom it’s accountable. Completely out of touch.

5. People who ask, “What does this company’s goals have to do with me?”

Similar to the above. Not understanding the goals of a company and how you fit is a sure sign of a disengaged employee. Look for a manager or director that has not linked individual performance goals and job descriptions to larger departmental, divisional, and/or corporate strategic programs or initiatives.

6. People who do (only) what you tell them to do

These are people waiting for orders. A good chance that these folks profoundly lack initiative or are novices (see reference below to the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition.)  Not good for innovative companies where ideas should be coming from everywhere.

7. People who can’t see opportunity if it hit them in the face

Check out this posting –

8. People who are competent – and fearful of leaving their comfort zone

Competent people want to remain competent and therefore they seldom take risks that would make them look incompetent. Perhaps, if you are not failing you are not trying enough new things, not taking risks, not leaving your comfort zone. If so, you are not on the track of innovation which necessarily includes the risk of failure – anathema to competent people.

9. “Artists”

This is a tough one.  Motivated by something that Steve Wozniak wrote in his book:  iWoz – Computer Geek to Cult Icon; How I invented the personal computer, co-founded Apple, and had fun doing it

Work alone.  You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you are working on your own.  Not on a committee.  Not on a team.

The image I have in my mind when I read this is the “heads down engineer” living in his own mind.  Woz got lucky with the first Apple computer.  But that was decades ago.  This sentiment “Not on a committee.  Not on a team” is really no longer viable for sustained success of the development of products and services in the 21’st century.  New products and services need markets with ready and willing buyers.  How often will the “Work alone.  Not on a committee. Not on a team” mentality find an intersection with a market of consumers and ideas refined by collaboration?  Even Thomas Edison (a business man (read) as well as inventor) said that he would not spend time inventing something no one would buy – that means knowing the market and social culture in the context of an innovation.  If an “artist engineer” wants to work alone then let him.  But this sort of person does not have a place in an organization focused on innovation and collaboration.  Did Woz have any role in Apple beyond the Apple II?  No.  The next product, the Mac was a team effort of a small number of people and Woz did not play a role. 

10.  ?

Read More

As regards number 6 and 8 above read Novice to Expert: the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition

Apropos number 1 above … On the general idea of “Victimhood” and advice for Victims read the following –


Written by frrl

March 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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