INNOVATING IN CHOPPY WATER
I like to swim. I know you don’t care about that, but give me a minute to explain. One of the things I like the most about long distance open water competitive swimming is the silent communication among swimmers. You create a silent partnership with somebody that swims at the same pace and you swim along his side. Actually, you get to know him a little. This partnership helps you to maintain the rhythm and gives you a feeling of safety knowing you are not alone in the endless sea. You also follow the feet of the person in front of you so that you don’t need to check the direction every few seconds and you just need to trust the swimmers around you. You should not even worry about strong currents and the ups and downs of the sea as long as you are surrounded by your new friends. There is trust. Contrary to what a lot of people think, it is a peaceful experience. However, the lead swimmer is having a very different experience. The lead swimmer goes fast disrupting the water, breaking the waves. This swimmer is looking up every few seconds at the buoys to stay within the course and very importantly, allow the rest of the swimmers to follow so they can have a peaceful swim.
Being that lead swimmer is not very different from leading teams that drive disruptive innovation. You need to go fast and disrupt. I am not talking only about the disruption the innovation causes in the market but also how the teams behave and perform. It is a choppy experience and they need to be very comfortable with that.
Adapting to a culture where messy meetings, making decisions without tons of data- a combination of experience and educated guesses- are few of the key elements we need to excel at.
Yes, having things like defined roles and responsibilities, clear objectives and guidance is still very important but where organizations fail is when they don’t adapt to the uncertainty and when they are unable to embrace a different way of working. Having strong passionate leadership that drives conviction and a team that trusts each other (like the pack swimmers) is a must to win in the more entrepreneurial organization. This team must be comfortable with the ups and downs of the markets and projects. They need to be comfortable in choppy water. It would be so easy and calm if everybody in the working team does what the others are expecting. But that is not real leadership. Being able to continue to “swim” in the adversity is what makes the difference between the winning team and the guy who ended up swimming in the wrong direction. A team doesn’t want to be that one guy who spent too much time practicing right side breathing without realizing the waves were coming from both sides or the one who went into panic and ended up hugging the buoy J . So, as we build our disruptive innovation teams lets makes sure we not only have good innovator minds and processes but also that we have the trust, the agility and the boldness needed to excel when things become really messy, because they will !