Ready, Set, Innovate

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that many of my tweets last week focused on innovation and creativity. I am passionate about inspiring creativity and innovation among the practitioners in our organization, and I believe that fostering this type of environment keeps our community engaged and excited.

In fact, the winner of MIT’s 2013 Richard Beckham Memorial Prize, given to pioneers in the organizational development field, was an essay titled “Creating Employee Networks That Deliver Open Innovation”. The essay contends that executives and leaders should utilize their organizations’ innovation brokers, idea scouts, and idea connectors to improve the organization and convert “external knowledge into innovative outcomes.”

Given all of the recent conversation about innovation, creativity and employee engagement, it was perfect timing that we held our third Innovation Day over the weekend. Innovation Day is an opportunity for our consultants to come together as an organization to develop our skills and create innovative solutions for our clients and organization. Here are some of my take aways from holding these events.

  • Innovation can’t be planned, but it can be enabled – You can plan time dedicated to innovation, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. Innovation is not a switch we turn and off. It is not inaccessible during our normal day to day and then suddenly available to us the moment we say so. That’s why these events aren’t about all of us sitting in a room together brainstorming. Instead, they are about enabling innovation. Enabling by providing people the skills to think about their work or themselves differently. Enabling by providing time devoted to doing and learning things you never seem to have time for. Enabling by bringing new people together to talk about their experiences and learn from each other. Sure, we could sit in a room all day to “innovate,” but without a foundation, without experience, what could we hope to come away with?
  • Great things happen when you come face to face – There are many wonderful collaborative tools out there, some like Connections, we use to broadcast our training courses to our employees across the country. However, if you have the opportunity to come together in person, take it. In a world where we are so often talking to each other from behind computer screens or working from different locations from our coworkers, the chance to come together, meet new people, reconnect with old ones, share stories, and build relationships is priceless.  Saturday was a great day for me to hear first-hand our client experiences and hear from our consultants what is working and what is not and to be energized by the enthusiasm around personal and professional development.
  • Innovative ideas are spurred through challenge and discomfort – It is through challenging ourselves, experiencing difficulties and failures that we grow. The same is true of innovation. If the world was perfect, there would be no need to innovate. Often we look at challenges as frustrating or demotivating, but really, they are an opportunity to create something better. It is ok to make mistakes. It is ok to not be satisfied. This is what inspires us. Those questions you find yourself asking over and over, “Why can’t it be this way?” or “Why didn’t it work?” – those are the questions that drive us to find answers and do more.

I would encourage you all not just to make time to innovate, but to make time to learn, collaborate with your colleagues, and challenge yourself and your colleagues and clients. It is through action that innovation happens.

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Guest Post: Collaboration

The mobility of employees wouldn’t be possible without collaborative tools allowing those employees to connect with coworkers anywhere, anytime. This of course means that collaboration has been a hot topic these days – organizations are promoting it, executives are fostering it, and individuals are utilizing tools to collaborate both professionally and personally.

For example, IBM has been focused on effective collaboration for many years now, even before the advent of Facebook and LinkedIn (if you can imagine).  It started with a “profile” for every employee, complete with a picture, contact information, skills, interests, and recent assignments. From there, it grew to include sharing files, favorite bookmarks, blogs, wikis, and activity management.  Each person’s entries are linked back to that person, so you can follow or keep current on what any of your colleagues are working on.

Tools like this have allowed our organization to become interconnected – perhaps even smarter, by leveraging experts in each field to create a better solution. There are many tools out there that organizations can use to foster a collaborative environment among their employees. But providing the tool is only the first step, you also have to create the environment and for that I’d like to share a few suggestions for enhancing and promoting collaboration in your organization and your network:

1.  Build trust.  Collaboration is built on relationships, and relationships are built on trust.  Get to know someone new or take an acquaintance to coffee. Don’t skip out on relationship building just because that relationship may be virtual.

2. Reach out to others for additional perspective.  You might be surprised about the talents and interests of some of your colleagues.  Learn what people are passionate about and engage their skills in those areas. Ask for advice – people have so many hidden talents. Those talents, the ones that you wouldn’t know about from their day to day work, in addition to their job skills, may prove to be very helpful to something you are working on.

3. Offer to help.  If someone is working on something that interests you, ask to help or be involved.  Most people would welcome the help, and you can build trust and generate more ideas. When the time comes and you need assistance, that person will be much more likely to help you.

So while collaborative tools have launched a mobile workforce, they are truly only one small part of the big collaboration picture. Just as office dynamics hinge on the quality of relationships of the individuals within it, collaborative networks and their results are also dependent on the trust and cooperation of its members. So get out there and get connected!

This post was written by: Martha Gibson, IBM Senior Managing Consultant

Leading in a Mobile World – Insights from the TweetChat

Last week, I hosted a TweetChat on the topic of leading in a mobile world, which focused on the impact of mobile technology on the workforce. The chat was joined by Tom Suder, President of Mobilegov and Industry Chair of the ACT/IAC Advanced Mobility Working Group, Gadi Ben Yehuda, Social Media Director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, Adam Jelic, Leader of IBM Public Sector Workforce Transformation Solutions, and Strategy and Innovation Consultant, Ken Stockman, among others.

Of course, no conversation about mobile technology and the workforce is complete without discussing the changes to the definition of the workplace. As this infographic puts it, “Mobile technology has broken down the office walls.” Indeed, it has enabled workers to work from home, from Starbucks, from their client’s office, and where have you, but has this move been for the better?

In many ways, government has been leading the move to telework. Agencies have had telework and flexible schedule policies for years. While the full impact of these policies is still to be seen, there are some benefits we can see already. “I think that [mobile government] has [the] biggest potential to increase capability and reduce costs,” wrote Tom Suder. Ken Stockman elaborated adding that the combination of mobile technology and mashups has enhanced the usefulness of big data. There certainly are opportunities for increased cost savings and “Collective Intelligence,” but how has this “wall-less” office affected our employees?

A recent Harvard Business Review blog stated that, in fact, remote workers tend to be more engaged than those working in the office. Those of us in the tweetchat tossed around this theory, especially whether or not proximity breeds complacency, and I am sure others could debate this at length as well. But I think Adam Jelic put it best in writing, “Strictly mobile or strictly office breeds complacency. Creativity comes from working where you need to.”

We, as leaders, should remember that the workforce is made up of individuals who all have different work styles and needs. And to get the most from our employees, we should focus on providing ample opportunities for success – whether that is from mobile technology, crowd sourcing, or even good, old fashion face to face meetings. Ultimately, mobile technology, and all the benefits it brings with it, is a tool we must learn to leverage in a way that is meaningful to our organizations.

A final note: This opportunity to reduce costs while increasing efficiencies and collaboration does not come free of charge, and we would be remiss to deny the security challenges facing a mobile workforce – but more on that to come.

Guest Post: Gen Y in the Workplace… According to Gen Y

Everything is bound to change over time.  Looking back through history, the workplace has been continuously evolving, forcing each generation to adapt.  We hear stories from our parents and grandparents and get a glimpse of how things have evolved:  Work environment, technology, communication, wages, and career growth.  All of these factors have influenced every generation differently, Generation Y, included.

In many ways, we Gen Y’ers are different than the previous generations.  We grew up with cell phones, texting, personal computers, IPods, GPS, and so many other inventions that past generations thought to be impossible.  Basic technology has become second nature for Generation Y; it is everywhere.  Typing and computer skills have become the equivalent of being able to read or add and subtract.  No longer are young, Generation Y parents giving their children a rattle to play with.  Instead, they hand them an Ipad so they can watch cartoons at any given moment.

As Generation Y’ers, we have so many resources at hand.  Search engines and websites like Google and Yahoo open up a world of information to us that we can utilize on our own.  Since we grew up learning this technology and these resources, they have become natural skills, often giving us a leg up on the competition.

And with the recent economic conditions, many of us have found ourselves competing for jobs with previous generations.  My senior year of college, I found myself studying for finals in the James Madison University library next to a man about twenty years my senior.  After talking for a few minutes, he explained that he lost his job in the recent recession and decided to go back to school.  As I went back to studying, I watched him struggle with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet on his laptop, and it occurred to me; he did not grow up learning this technology like I had.  I began showing him a few tricks in excel, and it was interesting to see how someone from a previous generation attempted to learn the application.  It was completely different from the way I learned and grasped information.  This was a perfect example that still stands out in my mind of how our workplace has evolved and how our generation can be leveraged to teach older generations technological skills.

Still there are many aspects of the marketplace we can learn from past generations, making it vital to keep communication open and frequent.  And perhaps this is the biggest workplace change of this generation: collaborative learning – that’s not just top down, but bottom up as well.

Written by: Mike O’Shaughnessy, Senior Consultant at IBM