The Ideapreneur

“Indeed, the single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places…”  –Peter Thiel ‘Zero to One’

If we are going to be able to build in capacity for more creative and innovative organizations, we will need people (at all levels of our organizations) who can not only bring new ideas and thinking to the table, but those who can get others to see the value in and ultimately adopt those ideas into change.

The work of the future will not only be founded in the capability to come up with new and novel ideas that challenge our assumptions and the status quo, but the ability to turn those ideas into action and eventual impact.

Turning creativity into innovation, turning innovation into acceptance, turning acceptance into adoption, and turning adoption into change, will be the work of the modern day ideapreneur.

The work of the ideapreneur is imagining a world that most us are yet unable to see, and then being able to get others to see how that world is a much better place than the one that already exists.  In ‘Zero to One’ Peter Thiel describes this as the difference between creating ‘horizontal progress’ and ‘vertical progress’. The difference between incremental change that builds across, and more disruptive change that builds upon and forward.

The work of the ideapreneur is not always founded in the making, but often in the connecting of ideas and thinking that already exists in very new and novel ways. Ideapreneurs are able to make connections that remix and reimagine our current world in very inventive and innovative ways.

From the classroom to the boardroom, we need to begin to create the environments where our creative and innovative ideapreneurs are unleashed, rather than restrained and restricted.  Vibrant environments and organizational cultures that begin to tap into and utilize the creative and innovative forces that often lie dormant in our people. Organizational environments and cultures where divergent thinking is not seen as a professional liability, but an opportunity to forge better ideas and solutions for a brighter future.

We live in a time in which we must learn to build up and support those creative and innovative ideapreneurs who are willing to challenge the current world for a much more creative and innovative one.

We have to reengage the mind as a grand playground, a place where new ideas continually come to play.


Designing Systems of Change

“Change in nature happens everywhere, all the time, in a self-organizing urge that comes from every cell and every organism, with no need for central command and control to give orders or pull the levers.”  -Frederic Laloux via Reinventing Organizations

If change is such a natural occurrence in life and within our ecosystems, then why is it not a natural and fluid part of our organizations? Why are we so poor at generating sustainable, let alone adaptable systems that infuse change as a natural occurrence within our institutions and organizations?

To believe that we have positive track record for initiating and sustaining change on an ongoing (even incremental) basis in our organizations, would be pulling the wool over our eyes in regard to how far we have progressed in our ability to initiate and maintain change processes and initiatives.

As Peter Senge conveys in The Dance of Change, ”Most change initiative fail. About two-thirds “grind” to a halt because of their failure to produce hoped-for results.” And this is not just a business issue that Senge is addressing, rather it covers the whole of the organizational landscape from education to healthcare. At some point, this is an issue we must attend to because the rate, intensity, and speed that change is now cycling through not only makes it significant, but necessary to organizational survival.

We can no longer approach adaptive and sustainable change in our organization’s believing that a good batting average (one-third) success rate will catapult our organizations effectively into the future. We are going to have to take a different approach to preparing our modern 21st century organizations and the people within to face the turbulence and chaos of change in a productive manner that supports ongoing, let alone incremental growth.

This will take a deep and reflective pause to examine our organizations and begin to determine if we are creating learning organizations that are both adaptive and sustainable. Organizations that can both ride and push through the tumultuous waves of change that we will continue to face as the rapidity of change converges at faster and faster rates.

We can begin this journey by building a deeper understanding of the command and control hierarchies that pervade most of our current organizations. Without this understanding, we will not be able to engage the collaborative and collective efforts or our organizations in a  holistic manner. A collaborative and collective effort that will be necessary to not only draw forth the creative and innovative ideas and thinking of the entire organization, but has the ability to build commitment and leadership capacity at all levels of the organization.

This requires leadership understanding that our organizations are not static, immovable structures, but fluid, living, growing and flourishing ecosystems. It is that type of lens that we place on our organizations that will better place us in a position to see change, not as a negative, but a positive process for continued growth and ability expansion. It will be that kind of organic fluidity that will push the organizational ecosystem to see change and growth as an ongoing and necessary part of not only survival, but remaining relevant in a world in flux.

It will be that kind of perspective and lens that will allow leadership to see the limitations of many of our hierarchical command and control structures and processes that often impede growth and progress. To see that many of these fossilized processes are static in nature and actually work to thwart the fluidity of growth that occurs in living, active ecosystems.

Which means that if we are going to grow and nurture stronger learning organizations to lead us effectively into the 21st century, we are going to have to not only look at the leadership skill and mindsets we have in place, but how we are transforming training of our leaders to better prepare and deal with this Dance of Change in a much more fluid and organic manner.

We like to think of our organizations as living growing systems, but for the most part they remain siloed hierarchical structures that have become their own obstacle in their ability to grow as organic, adaptable, sustainable living ecosystems.

As Fritjof Capra shares in the Web of Life, “In nature there is no above or below, and there are no hierarchies. There are only networks nesting within other networks.”

As we move forward, we are going to have to look deeply at our organizations and the systems (or lack thereof) that we’ve enacted to move us forward as authentic learning organizations. While we may never truly embrace change, we will understand that it is a natural and fluid part of life and growth.

As well as building leadership capacity that creates environments and organizational cultures where creativity, innovation and change is a way of doing and being. Leaders who can push their people past the cynical and skeptical attitudes that we’ve garnered towards change.

As we step forward, do not look at this as “reform” work; rather see this as “transformational” work. Or what Peter Senge refers to as “profound change.” Moving change from an event to a fluid and ongoing process will be difficult and heady work. It will require mindshifts and rethinking mindsets and skill-sets, as well as new ways of thinking and doing. It will take creative and innovative thinking from all levels of the organization. It will take a village…

“Imagine what organizations would be like if we stopped designing them like soulless, clunky machines. What could organizations achieve, and what would work feel like, if we treated them like living beings, if we let them be fueled by the evolutionary power of life itself?”  -Frederic Laloux via Reinventing Organizations

Scalability And Organizational Impact

When leaders create an environment where experimentation, exploration, discovery, creativity and innovation is embraced and nurtured, we are opening the door to make the transition from small pockets to scalability and organizational impact.

Too often, especially in education, we don’t plant enough seeds. We fail to spread enough seeds across the organizational landscape to raise a hardy, let alone varied crop. Instead, we determine up front to plant only one seed.

So we plan and plan in preparation to plant this one big, giant seed, in the hopes that it will grow big enough to support the whole of the organization.

Once we plant that seed, we bring everyone together so that they know that the seed has planted. We require everyone to gather around that one seed, so that everyone can be supportive and pull their resources and efforts towards nurturing that seed to take root and grow.

And if that seed does not begin to take root and grow quickly enough, we push people to step up their efforts towards helping that seed grow. More water, more sun, more fertilizer, more nutrients, more, more, more…

Unfortunately, not much else happens during this time because everyone is focused on whether this one plant will grow and flourish. Their efforts are narrow and limited.

Whereas, if many varied seeds had been planted, there would have been a much better chance of one or many of those seeds taking root and growing. The organization would have been able to not only spread their efforts out, but gained in knowledge and learning from experimenting and seeing what seeds grew best, which seeds grew the strongest, and which seeds took hold the quickest.

As we move forward, we have to determine if we are vainly putting all our efforts into one seed and hoping it is enough for everyone, or are we spreading a variety of seeds to raise a crop that will nourish and grow the whole of the organization for the long term.

All organizations have pockets of creative and innovative excellence, the heavy lifting of leadership is bringing that excellence to scale.

The Nonlinear Path

The nonlinear path always exacts a toll, but pays back exponentially in discovery and learning.

We’ve been programmed as individuals and organizations to be linear, sequential, direct and undeviating. The quickest and easiest is the best has been entrenched in our DNA. Years and years of choosing the efficient over the effective has eroded our want or willingness to take the difficult and uncertain path. Too often we have lost our patience for the long term, as we choose the short term and the instant gratification that accompanies it.

Pioneering new paths requires the endurance and resilience to overcome this mindset. The road to excellence is never easy, no matter how much we wish for it to be. And most often, it is neither direct nor linear. Which is why very few achieve it.

The nonlinear path requires stamina and durability, as you will run into naysayers, ridicule, uncertainty and unknowns around every corner. But just understand, no short term instant gratification can ever compare to the learning and possible breakthroughs that come from undertaking this journey.

So, the next time you come to the crossroad between easy and excellence, weigh the choice very carefully.  Remember, nothing worth earning ever comes without a cost.

Building Capacity That Transforms

“Courage is the capacity to confront what can be imagined.” -Leo Rosten

We have a tendency to think of our organizations systems as being an infinite proposition. We have this hidden assumption that they will grow and expand as needed and necessary. But most organizations and systems were not created to engender limitless possibilities; rather they are often restricted, predictable, and even finite. At some point, our organizations and systems reach an edge or limit. Which is usually where we come face to face with the unknown, the unexplored, or even the unexpected.

Where we determine the true change capacity of our organization or system.

And while any organization or system has the possibility for unlimited potential, they are also held to the level of their current capacity. Which is why ongoing learning will have to become a cornerstone of our modern organizations and systems. But not just ongoing learning alone, but proactive and preparatory learning that feeds and expands the internal and external capacity of the organization and system on an ongoing and continual basis.

In today’s world it is not enough to just build sustainability into our organizations and systems, we must create the learning and capacity that allows those same organizations and systems to adapt and transform as they come to that edge of the unknown, the unexplored and the unexpected.

Too often, it is this edge that defines and controls our organizations or systems, limiting both capacity and possibility.

Organizations and systems that are unwilling or unable to continually engage proactive learning are not only becoming less able to deal with the plethora of unanticipated unknowns that the turbulence of change continue to stir up, it shrinks ability of the organization and system to move into the future in a relevant and thriving manner. Often leading into irrelevance and eventual insignificance.

A point at which some level of disruption occurs within the organization or system on both an internal and external level, often leaving the organization or system a shell or carcass of its former self.

The organizations that thrive and flourish during these times of rapid and even chaotic change, face the limits of their capacity in a proactive manner, not only in their learning, but in their doing. They are prepared to face their unknowns with a creative and innovative stance. They find ways to evolve and transform the organization and system forward. They find new and novel ways to remain relevant.

Which can cause difficult and stressful, but necessary shifts to the current and often ingrained ways of thinking and doing.

It is not just about how we handle disruption, it is how we evolve, advance and transform in the face of disruption that will extend the capacity, capability and ongoing growth of our organizations and systems. And it will be that capacity building that will lead to the eventual and ongoing sustainability of our organizations and systems.

“Some things are so unexpected that no one is prepared for them.” -Leo Rosten

When Creativity And Innovation Disappears

There is a wide chasm that stands between being creative and innovative…and being able to lead and scale it.

Very few of us in education have not heard the declaration that rang out from Bronson and Merryman’s Newsweek article that we are facing a ‘Creativity Crisis’ on a national and international level, both in education and in society as a whole. They informed us that creativity had also been “identified as the number one leadership competency of the future.”  And yet, their article highlighted for us that since 1990 there has been a steady and serious decline in creativity, especially for children.

As mentioned in the Creative Leader Series, all around us we continue to hear the rallying cry for more creativity and more innovation – from the classroom to the boardroom.  

And yet…

We are struggling in how to answer that call, especially in education. The chasm is widening. A twenty-plus year decline in creativity and even innovation will not be overcome easily or quickly. However, this decline will continue unabated unless we begin to determine how to make strides to reverse this downward spiral.

Scaling creativity and innovation is going to be a monumental task.

To raise it from the abyss from which it has descended will require heavy lifting by all educators. It will necessitate determining what it looks like, what it sounds like, in our conversations, in our classrooms, in our professional development, in our leadership, and within our entire organization. Creativity and innovation is not something for a select few, it resides in each and every one of us at some level and tapping into the core of that thinking will be vital to moving education forward progressively in the future.

Re-engaging creativity and innovation will require some level of disruption across the entirety of the educational landscape.

It will require engaging new learnings and huge mindshifts in the processes, structures and approaches that we have previously applied to moving our educational institutions forward. It will require educators at all levels to deconstruct previous mindsets towards incorporating new learnings and skill-sets that will allow us to lead creativity and innovation forward at scale.

Otherwise, we will continue to watch the slow, steady decline and disappearance of creativity and innovation.

Unless we determine to do different, we will fail to scale it and we will fail to move it beyond the small pockets. It requires leaders who can prepare the path forward and begin to engage those leadership learnings and skill-sets that allow creativity and innovation to take root and flourish, at both an individual and an organizational level.

It will take both incremental and radical steps.

Both are necessary if we are going to ready our adults to prepare our children for this new change world. To prepare our children for a new type of professional readiness. But there is no recourse, this is work we have to do. Society is speaking out to us in both subtle and very loud ways. Too often we watch hundreds and hundreds of people apply for lower skilled jobs, while higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs remain unfilled. Skills are changing. Jobs are changing. And it necessitates looking at how we are preparing our children for these huge shifts and changes that are happening across our society.

Too often we are preparing our students for today, when we need to prepare them for tomorrow.

This will take some abrupt and difficult mindshifts, but shifts that we can and must make for the future of our children. However, be very clear, there is no silver bullets or quick cures, this is going to take some heavy lifting.

If we want our children to be more career ready – to be more creative, innovative and entrepreneurial – we must begin to determine what that looks like in our schools and in society.

The Power Of The Pivot

“In pivoting, you change one dimension of your idea. The idea is to discover new insights that you would not have seen if you had changed multiple dimensions at once.”  -Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer via The Innovator’s Method: Bringing the Lean Start-up into Your Organization

While learning basketball growing up, there were certain fundamental skills that were drilled into us through practice on an ongoing basis, how to shoot, how to dribble and how to pass. Skills that were vital to our proficiency and overall ability to play the game successfully. How effective and efficient we became with those skills often determined not only how well we played, but also the creative and inventive manner in which we approached the game.

Another one of those fundamental skills that we learned was how to pivot. How to keep one foot planted firmly, while moving the other foot in a variety of positions to provide a better perspective, a better position, and a better vantage point to pass, shoot or score. A pivot allowed you to change and broaden your options when pulling up your dribble had left you with a narrowed set of options.

A pivot was your ability to adjust in order to open yourself to other options and vantage points.

In The Innovator’s Method by Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyar, underscore the importance of being able to pivot. “You pivot when you still haven’t nailed the problem, solution, or business model so that you can try a new, more promising approach.” 

Instead of narrowing, the willingness to pivot allows us to broaden our perspectives, our opportunities, our insights, our ideas, and eventually the solutions to the problems that plague and hinder progress. It is this ability to pivot that not only engages and raises the creative and innovative capacity of our people, but allows for a more responsive and agile organization.

Too often, when organizations are struggling for new and better solutions, they find themselves narrowing down options and incorporating convergent thinking, before opening up their options and perspectives by engaging more divergent thinking into the process.

They tend to narrow down their responses before opening themselves up to a broader spectrum of thinking and ideas.

The pivot is neither science nor art, but a mixture of both. Especially, when determining when to pivot or when to persist, whether the pivot should be massive or incremental, or whether you are on the right path or if new perspectives and necessary and needed.

In the end, organizational agility is not only in being able to pivot, but knowing when and even how…

Or as Furr and Dyar share in The Innovator’s Method, ”The word helps you remember that you should accept change as a reality of dealing with uncertainty, but when you do change, keep one foot planted by using what you’ve learned rather than throwing it away.”

References and quotes from…

Furr, Nathan and Dyar, Jeff.  The Innovator’s Method: Bringing The Lean Startup Into Your Organization.  2014.  Boston.  Harvard Business Review Press