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Creating the Next Great ‘Thing’ …

Find it, understand it, support it, and help to make it good practice.

Robert Cialdini, the famous professor of psychology from Arizona State University and protagonist of the power of ethical persuasion, says that right now, somewhere, somehow, someone is creating the next great ‘thing’. He concludes that it is our job as educators to find it, understand it, support it, and help to make it good practice, more quickly than before!

One of the great ‘needs’ of all organizations, regardless of size, structure, location, and type is to understand their value delivery system and the people in it. Mostly there is the imperative to know who knows what, and how it is being used; ideally to the mutual satisfaction and benefit of all.

Let’s call this an insight-driven success model for organisations.

The actions? Find them. Reward them!

So how does this work?

Jeffery Pfeffer, the Stanford professor and noted ‘gossip’ of the business world, says in his 2015 book, Leadership BS, that workplaces are mostly horrible! Think about that! And link his statement to the partly true adage that what gets measured is what gets done. Most employees, however, know that they will be measured and rewarded according to the ‘vanity’ of the organization and its leaders. Meanwhile, to be successful in the delivery of outstanding solutions, they must also do a whole lot of other ‘stuff’, for which they may not be rewarded, repaid or even recognized, but it must just happen. So people in organisations are busy doing performance review work AND customer-outcomes work.

The actions?
Link customer outcomes work to performance review work!

What are we saying here?

Organisations can be messy, difficult and conflicted, even before the workday starts!

Let’s get back to an insight-driven success model. Requisite variety – holding many ideas and posting multiple theories and possibilities – can lead to many more potential solutions, and with it, divergent perspectives. At least says Karl Weick, the thinker whose premise is the power of small things. Weick concludes that ‘a headful of theories … increases requisite variety … [and] it takes a complicated sensing device to register a complicated set of events ….it takes richness to grasp richness’.

Importantly Weick is suggesting that reducing messy problems, complex contexts and churning environments to simple models and measures, results in inferior and potentially dangerous outcomes.  He might agree with the idea from Pfeffer that ‘simple’ means that you are not paying attention.

But how should people ‘think’ in their workplaces? It may be true that higher status individuals in organization engage in more complex thinking (Pfeffer, 2010).  However, one of the contradictions here says Daniel Goleman, the emotional intelligence guru, is that more powerful people tend to be more indifferent to the feelings and conditions of others, what we might call ‘distain’.

So when it comes to caring, perhaps higher status people in organizations – leaders – are more likely to engage in higher order thinking and comfortably addressing complexity, while being less compassionate and socially sensitive.  A controversial statement from Goleman notes that poorer people are ‘particularly attentive to other people and their needs’, likely because they depend on good relationships with others.  Putting the ‘poorer’ inference aside, and rather than assuming an exploitative mindset to this statement, the takeout for ‘service in organisations’ may be that some in their roles have higher needs in regard to relationships, and leaders may have less attachment and more ability to engage in higher order thinking.

The actions?
Enable and enact a context for creative thinking. We want many ideas, some people who care deeply for others and are in delivery roles, others who care deeply about the organization and have influence and power, and a mindset of more is more!

So what to do?

From Goleman, we know that the theory of social hierarchy detection suggests that the more an individual cares about someone, the more attention that individual will pay the recipient, and the more attention, the more caring is the result.  And Cialdini suggests that the level of interpersonal influence and the ability to learn about and leverage that influence in the team environment, enhances personal and organizational outcomes. IDEO, the amazing Palo Alto ideas factory, tracks, measures and rewards helpers’ networks. These networks highlight connections and at IDEO, show diverse and widespread interactions and interconnections, rather than the typically tight, small ties, hub-and-spoke maps of interactions. And to make matters more insular, the latter are usually clustered around one or two individuals.

The final insight?

Linking relational, influence-based approaches, with measures and incentives that recognise, reward and promote such helping and sharing, is likely to be a winning strategy and one that leads employees to feel like they are truly helping others and the organisation. And from this, we know that ideas are shared, molded, enhanced, evolved and at times become revolutions.

The actions?

People in your organisation, right now, are doing something great, creating something great, and truly wanting to contribute to making the place great!
Find them, link them, share them, highlight them, celebrate them, and leverage the insights!


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Tony is a Corporate Educator for QUT, teaching strategic thinking, strategy implementation, innovation and marketing. He has strong expertise in strategic thinking and business planning, innovation and creative processes, and leadership development. Tony’s research interests include employee loyalty, organisational climates, and corporate reputation.

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