Innovaision, LLC Participates in Important Summit

On July 22, Dick Dillon, CEO of Innovaision, LLC participated in the Boston University School of Public Health/Conrad N. Hilton Foundation workshop on social media, web & mobile interventions for college drinking in Boston, MA. The invitation only event brought together researchers and thought leaders from Harvard, Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Washington, as well as several additional centers of higher education and creative entrepreneurs. The proceedings of the conference will be available at a later date. The group collaborated as a whole, and through small group processes, to consider and project ideas for using social media and mobile tools to create an impact on the problem of college-age drinking.

10 Things I Learned from MY Dad

I’ll add my entry to the many lists of this type that you’re likely to read on this Father’s Day, 2014. Actually, the title should probably be “11 Things I Learned…” because one of the most important lessons was the understanding that you can learn as much by paying attention what NOT to do as you can be imitating the good things. My father, like me, was not the perfect Dad. So, there are some items on here that Dad taught me by demonstrating them in his own life, and a few that he slyly sneaked in there by behaving less than perfectly. Either way, I’m grateful for Dad, and I miss him.

  1. It’s more important to tell your kids what you hope to see them accomplish, than what you don’t want them to do.
  2. Sometimes you should apologize, it doesn’t undermine your credibility as a parent – it enhances it!
  3. Spending time with your kids is important, and paying attention to them when you’re with them is even more important.
  4. You can fix almost anything temporarily with duct tape and WD-40.
  5. Taking risks insures you will never look back with regret.
  6. Your child needs to know that you are his/her biggest fan.
  7. Sooner or later, you have to let your children make mistakes. Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.
  8. Hard work is not a bad thing.
  9. It is impossible to say “I love you” too often.
  10. Being “Dad” is the most important job you will ever have.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the Dads out there, and thank you to my sweet daughters for giving me the opportunity to be your Dad!

Eating Our Own Dog Food

I’ve been pondering a recent article positing that a major problem with government is that politicians are so far removed from the people they govern, that it is nearly impossible for them to make smart decisions. This was more-or-less the stance taken by Clive Thompson in his Wired article – see it here  - entitled “If Politicians Had to Debug Laws Like Software, They’d Fix the Bugs.” Thompson makes the case (for those of us who haven’t been paying attention) that the people who make policy aren’t very motivated to respond in ways that would be helpful to the average American, because they are NOT average Americans. Citing many of the benefits of a position in national politics, he notes that in general, our elected officials have more health benefits (including doctors on the work site), higher incomes (wages of $174,000 per year for the job, compared with the national average of teachers for example, which is around $59,000), better retirement plans (probably double the private sector benefits), etc. than the ones who elected them. So, where does the dog food concept come in?

Thompson cites the historical derivation of the term “eating your own dogfood” as arising in the ‘80s among code developers at Microsoft, who forced themselves to use their own “still in development” software as a way to not only understand the end user experience, but also as an incentive to fix things that weren’t working as quickly and efficiently as possible. He reports that funding for TSA activities was cut as part of the sequester, until elected officials had to head home for the holidays. When they encountered the delays and long lines the average traveler endures, the funding was restored so quickly that “part of the bill was handwritten…”!

I imagine that many of us believe that if the average Congressperson had to live for a few weeks on welfare payments or food stamps, or get medical care in a publicly funded, understaffed clinic (don’t get me wrong, many of these are VERY good at what they do), or send their kids to schools that lack sufficient personnel, supplies, and hot meals, things might change, and perhaps in a hurry. The same could be said for a lot of top-level business executives – Undercover Boss puts CEOs on the assembly line, grilling burgers or dumping trashcans, but how many bosses ever really do that? I remember reading once that it was considered inappropriate in some eastern cultures, for the CEO of a company to make more than seven times the salary of their lowest-paid worker.  That interesting convention has probably gone by the wayside, however.

Not naive, I sincerely doubt that many politicians will ever try to live the socio-economic life of the common person, nor will too many CEOs be seen hosing down the equipment at the end of the day (unless the cameras are rolling). But we can all ask ourselves how we might stay in touch a little better, practice a little more compassion, and work to keep our thinking more realistic in our own daily lives, in the hopes that small improvements will lead to big changes.

There are a lot of other terms we employ that express similar sentiments – “A rising tide lifts all boats”, “Walk a mile in my shoes”, and so forth. I like “Make them eat their own dog food”!

See another take on this idea in the Big Think Article The Arrogance of a Well Fed Society

How (and how not) to Manage Successful Growth Initiatives in Your Organization

According to the Harvard Business Review, few companies are growing at a rate that will ensure long-term survival. Innovation and enterprising new ventures seem to hold out promise to address this dilemma, but all too often, CEOs and Senior Management are mired in the (admittedly important) business of managing earnings and do not do enough of the right things to foster success with the new initiatives.

In their article 6 Ways to Sink a Growth Initiative in the July/August (2013) edition of HBR, authors Donald Laurie and J. Bruce Harreld identify some of the more common problems today’s companies face in mounting a sustainable growth strategy, and offer suggestions and solutions. At Innovaision, we help organizations adopt effective and efficient strategic habits. Sharing good ideas like these is one way we can help you.

Lack of effective oversight is first on the list. As noted, C-level execs are often engaged primarily in overseeing revenue and profit, and do not provide the oversight, occasional guidance, and resources start-up teams need. Establishing the groundwork for a project and then neglecting it often leaves the management team out of the loop on progress, and as teams develop a body of project—related knowledge that outstrips the senior level staff’s comprehension, adding to the problem. Spending meaningful time with the development team, as well as with potential customers, insuring regular oversight meetings and progress reviews, and taking joint responsibility—including taking on some work assignments of their own—can help greatly.

Knowing that the need for growth and expansion can be very critical, it is surprising how many organizations will delegate the project management to relative newcomers, or staff who have experience in a particular area that might be a target for expansion. The best and most seasoned staff are kept in the positions they currently occupy for safety and security reasons. A better choice is to put the most experienced general managers in charge of new projects. These individuals have the organizational knowledge and internal networks needed to insure a new project has the broadest support possible. They are also more likely to be able to see an initiative through from start to finish. These veterans are also more likely to handle project crises well and successfully.

Similarly, staff who are assigned to work on a project are often chosen more on the basis of their availability rather than their skills and experience. Fearful of disrupting the existing channels, the more effective staff stay put while underutilized employees are entrusted with the organization’s future growth. These people are not always the company’s brightest stars (they are often underutilized for good reasons). A better approach is to focus on the tasks that need to be done to make the initiative successful, and match these up with the capabilities of all staff to find the right core team. Also, don’t staff up prematurely, the team composition should be considered fluid, with additional resources added as proof of concept begins to be realized.

Measuring performance of new projects can be confounded if the measuring tools and metrics are those used to manage more mature lines of business. Rather than using traditional benchmarks like revenue, earnings, etc., a startup project might be better evaluated by looking at customer interactions, market testing, and how the team is meeting the milestones of their execution plan.

Likewise, it is important to recognize the difference in funding needs between a startup venture and your established business lines. Most mature businesses have a budget cycle that has been tested and proven useful over many years, but forcing a new project to adhere to an existing funding model can easily spell doom. The ability to set aside irrevocable, long—term funding for new initiatives (assuming milestones are met) is crucial to successful growth. These days, any organization that cannot set aside a reasonable proportion of their budget for R&D activities is staring at a loaded gun.

Finally, although it is nearly mythological (reference the “Skunk Works” originally developed at Lockheed and popularized by management guru Tom Peters), the idea that new projects should somehow be walled off, or even hidden from, the rest of the organization’s operations, the authors of the HBR article beg to differ. A well—established organization possesses a variety of assets and supportive services that can potentiate the success of startup projects. Legal advice, marketing specialists, accounting assistance, and administrative support functions, if they do not have to be provided from scratch, can help new projects become successful, and successful faster than if they had to develop these supports independently of the parent. The C-level staff can insure that new initiatives seek collaborative help that plays into the core resources of the business and that the management of those core resources is well—disposed to make this help available.

Governance and oversight of new ventures is challenging, but the engaged and informed CEO and Senior Management staff can play a vital role in making sure that these ventures, and the overall organization, succeeds.

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