Welcome the "we generations"
Thursday August 16, 2012
By Bill Van Eron
Chief Innovation Strategist at Headwaters Marketing
I saw a recent research report that illustrated the "me" generation was alive and well with 20-somethings (Millennials) -- by a large percent -- defining who they are by the kind of car they drive.
I couldn't resist poking fun at a Boomer-aged peer who drove up in a new Porsche. You see, I remember that same strong association being made to Boomers and then Gen X'er's as the "me generation." Many of us "Boomers" tend to easily credit younger generations for challenging the status quo and their early buy-in to social media as a path to really enable change, transparency and social responsibility to shift from passive corporate rhetorical support to a real requirement.
That will only increase. And, of course, we want our youth to be successful.
OK, by now you are likely asking what does all of this have to do with innovation?
Think about it.
Innovation is a "culture of collaboration." It is realized when "we" surpasses "I." Even when a visionary like Steven Jobs was evangelizing change, he focused on how special the "we" can be. The word "culture" is as important as collaboration, as we often identify culture brands - think Harley - as the strongest out there.
While creativity itself is often inspired by change, challenge, unique insights and needs, the topic now is what is it that stops us from truly collaborating across generations, ethnicities, geographies, professions, religious and political beliefs?
Don't dwell on it. Instead, "flip" that for a clearer view of its importance and imagine the power of all that happening as if already in place. I will put forth that optimal collaboration happens as we embrace our common purposes. As "we generations," I believe nothing can stop us.
Marketers, media and research firms often classify us as demographics and focus on how different we are. Sometimes they contribute to a focus on that difference rather than what we all support. Many of us are guilty of a "what's-in-it-for-me" approach to life and work that inhibits the realization of "what's in it for we." I am not talking socialism -- I am talking productive innovation. I see this "we" change evident when I look at how many in Colorado care about charities, the rise in social entrepreneurs, and increased pressure on companies to stand for something. That is great and timely. "We" are making great things happen.
In start-up organizations, resistance to a collaborative culture manifests itself in any of the following ways:
1. A boss and management that prefers to run on intuition alone. That can be great for the "tuned-in" few, but for many on the team it means their input and market insight are rarely considered.
2. Teams become risk-averse and just do whatever will not rock the boat.
3. Customers lose interest in you, just as you have lost interest in them.
4. Companies, universities and communities defend their ways versus embracing their customers' real needs.
5. Innovation dies without any ceremony.
6. Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary never visit because you're boring.
Seriously, open it up. Make sharing ideas an every-week event. Invite a stranger with experience into your organization to add some "farm-fresh objectivity." Add the ability to help an idea along to how you evaluate all employees. No one advertises in their resume how many ideas they stopped, so create a culture that appreciates enabling ideas.
Instead of hearing an idea and feeling the need to go one better, invest first to help make that idea even stronger. Then move to another and another. This "we" thing will take off and energize your company -- large or small.
What's your "we" quotient? GE ranks their upper managers on how many new ideas they initiate and enable. I know plenty of really creative people, but only a few who can separate their ego to actively listen and invest in another person's idea. And then the next and the next with the skill to look at things from a wide array of perspectives.
As an example in practice, we do some of this at the volunteer advisor group called SAGE that helps start-ups coming from CSU and into the Innosphere to become viable. I am talking about 100 seasoned, successful, management-level advisors energized about helping a totally unproven start-up after it presents to the team.
It rarely ever becomes about me, but instead about we. That can happen in any department, organization or community. Expect "we" on "Wii" game systems very soon as your intellect, creativity, passions and hopes get the workout they deserve.