A little while back I had lunch with one of the most switched on business leaders I have met in recent times. The man in question has had a long and distinguished career and yet has managed to stay below the radar – he is far less famous than he ought to be.
In early 2015 I was approached by a number of Rotary International’s key leaders to form part of a strategic planning committee tasked with mapping out Rotary’s future. As an organization that is well over a century old, Rotary’s 1.2 million members have had a phenomenal impact on the globe (including the near-eradication of Polio). However, the organization has languished in recent years as it has struggled to clearly define what a 21st century service movement should look like.
As part of a recent gathering of this strategic planning committee, we reviewed a simple but brilliant TED talk by business strategist Knut Hannes.
What struck me most about Haanaes’s message was the simple way he described some of the common dynamics that can cause an organization to fail. In short, he said that every leader and organization committed to maintaining growth and vitality must strike a balance between two things:
Innovation is often thought of in terms of creation and invention – coming up with new ideas and new solutions. However, working with clients in recent months I have discovered that often the most powerful forms of innovation are more subtle. Rather than focusing on development and discovery, the best innovations focus on incremental improvement – getting better at doing the basics and addressing the factors that negatively impact on the people we are looking to serve and impress. Factors often referred to as friction.
We often assume that innovation and strategy ought to be the domain of those with experience and expertise. The novice, the newbie or the inexperienced is often told, even if indirectly, to learn ‘how things are done around here’ and only to make suggestions once they’ve earned the right to have an opinion.
But what if we’ve got it all wrong? What if the most valuable source of strategic innovation and creativity is actually the person with almost no experience?
As we begin a new financial year, many of us will naturally turn our attention to what the coming 12 months hold. Strategic plans will be crafted, budgets will be finalized and personnel allocations will be considered.
However, perhaps there is one activity we are too quick to rush over or perhaps fail to even consider at this critical time. Before you get too caught up in what needs to be done and how you should move forward, how clear are you on what your intention for the coming year is?
It appears we have never had so many experts roaming the planet than in our modern age. As I trawl through the LinkedIn profiles of my contacts, everyone it seems is a ‘specialist’, ‘sought-after authority’ or ‘expert’ at something – some even manage to specialize in pretty much everything!
Naturally, this is part of the necessary game of personal branding – one which I myself feel compelled to play to an ever-increasing extent (my own LinkedIn bio copy is evidence enough of this).
And yet I was recently reflecting on the notion of mastery. Not mastery in the more modern marketing form but in the traditional ‘master and apprentice’ sense. What are the tell-tale sign that someone has been around the block enough times and derived enough experience and skill to truly be a master at something.
In the mid-1800s, vast tracts of land in central Australia were granted to immigrants who had, in many cases, just arrived from Europe. These farmers and pastoralists found themselves with a challenge – they were now in control of expanses of land that were, in some cases, almost as large as the countries they had just come from.
When German political economist Max Weber first devised the bureaucratic theory of management in the late 19th century, his intention was to combat the nepotism and unproductiveness rife in the family-run businesses of the day. Weber believed that efficient organizations needed to ‘have a strict hierarchy or authority, clear rules and regulations, standardized procedures and meticulous record keeping.’ Ironically, the very organizational approach that set out to drive efficiency has, over time, resulted in the opposite outcome.