Monday, November 24, 2014

Using Leadership Development to Unlock your Team’s Potential

By Jonathan Wygant,

Most people are clear about the importance of investing in their personal and family’s financial future, but few understand how vital it is to invest in their own personal development. Doing so is not only valuable on a personal level, but can be the catalyst to your entire organization’s growth and success.

Since continuous learning will lead to continued growth, personal, professional, and leadership development needs to be the focus of everyone within your organization. Top thought leaders and experts agree that for a business to succeed learning should never stop, especially with regard to personal leadership development. Team members who are smart, motivated and purposeful with their careers and lives nourish their mind, body and spirit. This individual nourishment results in benefits to the entire team. An organization that doesn't offer leadership development for its people will soon see their top achievers leaving. But whether or not your organization has programs in place, everyone must start with themselves.

How do you further your own personal leadership development? Successful organizations offer opportunities in the form of workshops, seminars and webinars. Learn about what your organization is offering and ask yourself what you need to do to expand your leadership abilities. Whether your organization offers assistance or not, you can start by performing a self-assessment. Ask yourself:

• Where am I successful and where are there opportunities for improvement?
• Where do my personal and professional relationships reflect a need for course correction?
• Am I an intentional architect of my own career, brand, and personal development?
• What would my boss, my peers, or my spouse advise me to examine and improve upon?

When conducting your self-assessment, it is important to be open-minded. As you chart your own leadership development path, try not to be defensive as that will distract you from focusing on the most important thing you're striving to improve.

Of course, you shouldn’t look only at your deficits. Look at your strengths and develop those areas of expertise. Marcus Buckingham, the leading authority and best-selling author on employee productivity, leadership, and management, calls this the “strengths revolution.” Buckingham says dwelling on our strengths is the key to finding the most effective route to personal achievement. For leaders, maximizing their team members’ strengths can be the missing link to efficiency, competence, and high performance. Get focused on your strengths by soliciting your boss and trusted peers and ask for feedback regarding strengths you should further develop. Understanding your strengths will give you a roadmap for further development helping you target more specific workshops, coaching and lectures to build upon the strengths you already possess. Some workshop opportunities are available to the general public while other workshops and coaching may be offered by your organization.

During the process of self-assessment— as you craft your leadership development strategy—being aware of your innermost feelings will offer insight into areas of particular leverage toward improvement. Jack Canfield, best known for his Chicken Soup for the Soul® series and business best-seller, The Success Principles, emphasizes taking 100% responsibility for your life and creating a career and life that matches your dreams. While it is not uncommon to blame others for our own lack of success, Canfield encourages us to take full responsibility for all the realities of our lives. He offers strategies to increase confidence, tackle daily challenges, and build passion and purpose.

Finding purpose leads to wonderful results. According to Richard Leider, author of The Power of Purpose, "We all want to find our purpose—that thing that makes us feel like our life matters." Once you're aligned with your deeper purpose, a vast amount of energy becomes available to you as you identify meaningful goals and become more empowered to move toward them.

Now that you’ve spent some time dwelling on your own personal development, how do you use this to inspire and motivate the people who report to you? A good proven advantage is to harness emotional intelligence (EQ) to gain the commitment from your group by ensuring that each member feels they are acting in alignment with their purpose. Studies on EQ explain that understanding people and why they behave in certain ways is key to motivating them.

Dr. J.P. Pawliw-Fry, a thought leader on emotional intelligence, leadership, performance, and change, further explains, "The ability to intelligently manage our emotions, and the emotions of others (EQ), counts for twice as much as IQ and technical skills combined.”

A leader with emotional intelligence asks their team deepening questions in a Socratic fashion and listens carefully to the subtleties of their responses. When a leader learns about people’s ideas, discovers where they are engaged, and supports their processes, they can harness individual passion and purpose to the organization’s benefit.

As a leader faced with the challenge of inspiring your team to excel, ask yourself these key questions:

• How can I become more effective as a leader?
• How can I communicate difficult decisions with grace and strength?
• How do I increase the confidence and emotional intelligence of my star players?
• How do I develop my people to become our next leaders?
• What can I do at my next team meeting to improve morale, trust and performance?

Asking these questions will raise your EQ and put you in the mindset of service to your team—the foundation of true leadership. Although many leaders with high EQ are geared to take care of others, they often forget to take care of themselves. By first honoring yourself, your purpose, your gifts, and your health, you may then take care of others. You can't achieve limitless potential and be of service to others without being of healthy mind, body and spirit.

After taking a look at yourself, you can then look at the way you interact with other people. Focus on inspiring and serving your family, your team and your community. This is what enhances your emotional intelligence and allows you to climb to the higher rungs of leadership which is built upon serving others.

Remember, the way you think determines how you feel and what will become your reality. Visualize yourself succeeding and you will succeed. When you are in a healthy mental, physical, and emotional state, people will recognize that and be inspired by you. They will respect your wisdom and be honored to follow you and be motivated to perform at a higher level. The result will be a stronger team and company culture, as well as a robust bottom line that benefits all stakeholders.

Leadership development is a continual learning process. No matter your age, what you think you know, or what you have achieved, there will always be room for more growth, learning and achievement.

Jonathan Wygant is CEO and founder of BigSpeak, Inc. the largest business-oriented agency/consultancy in North America focused on serving the Fortune 1000 and multinational companies worldwide. BigSpeak addresses the needs of corporations, associations, non-profits and government agencies by providing inspirational speakers, thought leaders and subject matter experts. BigSpeak also facilitates strategic change initiatives and executive development programs through BigSpeak Consulting. To learn more about Jonathan Wygant or to book him for your next event, follow this link to Jonathan's bio page at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau.

Friday, November 21, 2014

America’s Prospects Are Promising Indeed

By Fareed Zakaria, featuring BigSpeak Speaker Peter Zeihan

Two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, a poll number that has not shifted much in three years. The midterm election results were just another reflection of this pervasive discontent. And yet, looking at the rest of the world, what’s striking is how well the United States is doing relative to other major economies. Japan is back in a recession and Germany has barely avoided slipping into one, which would have been its third since 2008. President Obama says the United States has produced more jobs in its recovery than the rest of the industrialized world put together.

Why is this? Many believe that the American economy has some inherent advantages over its major competitors — a more flexible structure, stronger entrepreneurial traditions and a more demographically vibrant society. Along comes a fascinating new book that says you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Peter Zeihan’s “The Accidental Superpower” begins with geography, pointing out that the United States is the world’s largest consumer market for a reason: its rivers. Transporting goods by water is 12 times cheaper than by land (which is why civilizations have always flourished around rivers). And the United States, Zeihan calculates, has more navigable waterways — 17,600 miles’ worth — than the rest of the world. By comparison, he notes, China and Germany each have about 2,000 miles. And all of the Arab world has 120 miles.

But that’s just the beginning. “The world’s greatest river network . . . directly overlies the world’s largest piece of arable land, the American Midwest.” Add to this deep-water ports, which are needed to get goods to and from the rest of the world. Many countries with long coastlines have very few natural harbors. Africa, for example, Zeihan says, has “only 10 locations with bays of sufficient protective capacity to justify port construction.” The U.S. contrast is, again, striking. Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay and the Chesapeake Bay are the world’s three largest natural harbors. The Chesapeake Bay alone “boasts longer stretches of prime port property than the entire continental coast of Asia from Vladivostok to Lahore,” Zeihan writes.

All of these factors have created the world’s largest consumer market, which in turn creates surplus private savings and a dynamic, unified economy that is remarkably self-sufficient. Imports made up just 17 percent of the U.S. economy in 2012, according to the World Bank, compared with Germany’s 46 percent and China’s 25 percent — and the U.S. number will fall as the United States imports less foreign oil.

Many people have argued that the United States’ energy revolution will give it great economic advantages. Zeihan agrees but emphasizes the degree to which this strength will insulate the United States from the rest of the world. For most of modern history, the vital sources of energy (in the Middle East) lay far away from the centers of economic production (in Western Europe and North America). But now, thanks to shale and tight oil, North America has much of the energy it needs at home. It has less need to police sea lanes in the Persian Gulf, a task that now mostly ensures the safe passage of oil from Saudi Arabia to China.

For Zeihan, oil was one big reason the United States needed to be involved with the world. As the world gets messier, he argues, there are fewer compelling reasons for the United States to pay with blood and treasure to stabilize it. In a sense, Zeihan sees some of the same international disorder that Bret Stephens does in his spirited new book, “America in Retreat.” But Zeihan would argue that its cause is not Obama’s weakness but the nation’s logical return to its traditional, pre-1945 strategy, to prosper far from the ills of the world.

I am not as sure as Stephens or Zeihan that the rest of the world is going to hell. And I’m not as sure as Zeihan that the United States’ advantages are chiefly structural. Looking at the past five years, again in comparative terms, American public policy actually comes out looking impressive. To combat the global economic crisis of 2008, Washington acted speedily and creatively in three ways: through aggressive monetary policy, aggressive fiscal policy, and aggressive reform and recapitalization of the banking sector. Every other rich country did less and has seen a more troubled return to normalcy.

Since the response to the financial crisis, Washington has been paralyzed and polarized. But this is not the entirety of American politics. Beyond the Beltway, mayors and governors are reaching across party lines, partnering with the private sector, and making reforms and investments for growth. When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the country in the 1830s, he was struck by the bottom-up vitality of its
towns and villages. This genius of the United States is still alive, whatever most Americans think.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Get Back On The Horse: Recovering After a Bad Decision

By Laura Stack,

No matter where you stand in the company hierarchy, no matter how well you’ve done your due diligence, and no matter how careful you are before committing yourself to a
course of action, sometimes you’re going to crash and burn. Bad decisions are inevitable, and they’re rarely obvious except in retrospect. I’ve taken speaking engagements that, looking back, I shouldn’t have agreed to accept. It was a bad decision, and I wish I hadn’t done it. But I learned a lot through the process.

Sure, you can minimize the occurrence and impact of mistakes, but short of hiding in your office and refusing to make any decisions at all, you’ll never be able to avoid them. Your leaders expect you to make decisions, often in the face of calculated risk—and there’s always, always an error rate. You make the best decision you can at the time with the information available to you.

Instead of worrying about that error rate, keep reminding yourself that your bad decisions aren’t likely to kill your career or ruin the company. When Western Union turned down a certain Mr. Bell’s telephone in the 1880s because they considered it an electrical toy, that was a terrible decision—but Western Union still exists. When Yahoo! executives brushed off a funding request from Sergey Brin and Larry Page, leading to the independent founding of the ridiculously profitable, that was another terrible decision…but Yahoo! is still alive and well.

Sometimes decisions go bad when something fails through no fault of your own. Recently, a friend of a friend sold a screenplay to a production company that was gung-ho about the project…until the founder unexpectedly passed away. Now the movie won’t be made. In some circumstances, it may simply be that of the thousands of possible decisions you can make on a particular issue, only a few can ever turn out to be good ones. Even so, if you learn from your failures, you’ll know—as Edison noted after over a thousand failed attempts to perfect the light bulb—what doesn’t work.


When a bad decision becomes obvious, you have two basic choices: either you can give up, in which case everyone involved loses, or you can get back on the horse and try again. The recovery process can be painful, especially when your bad decision has affected others people’s lives—and the higher you’ve climbed the workplace ladder, the more people you’ll hurt. So here’s what you do when things go wrong:

1. Accept responsibility. Forget the blame game. Mature professionals not only accept personal responsibility when things go wrong because they screwed up, they do so willingly, even eagerly. Even when you’re a team lead and you feel your people have let you down, the responsibility remains yours; they’re your team, after all. Closely examine what went wrong, deal with it, and learn from the experience.

2. Apologize and explain. Don’t make excuses; that’s just one way of shifting responsibility to someone or something else. Admit your mistake. Tell the people involved what went wrong, and genuinely apologize if warranted. Explain that you’re moving forward with what you’ve learned and plan to make it up to them. Be a class act, not a cringing excuse-maker, and people will definitely take notice…even if they have to be mad at you for a while first.

3. Take your lessons to heart. Once you’ve cleared away the rubble, be very careful in your next steps, and remember what went wrong in the past. This is especially important when faced with a similar situation. Next time, try something that seems more likely to work. It may also fail; but if it does, you now have two things you know don’t work in that situation. Ultimately, even a huge mistake can be a teaching moment; and though you might not see it now, it could end up being the greatest thing that ever happened to you. I know people who’ve made career-ending mistakes who are happier now than ever before.

4. Keep going. As jazz legend Miles Davis once said, if you hit a sour note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad. Make the best of a bad situation, and turn your decision into a minor mistake in the context of the whole. Take what you’ve learned and channel it into doing better, so the next note and the next are excellent; and before long, people will forget the sour one.

5. Focus on the now. Until we invent a working WABAC Machine, there’s no way we can go back and change the past. So move on. Don’t forget about your mistake or the resulting lessons, but don’t dwell on them either. You made an error; so what? Even if you lose your job or damage your career, all you can do is move on. Put your experience to work by being the best you can be within your field.

With Great Risk Comes Great Reward

The only people who make no bad decisions are those who make no decisions at all. They pay you to make decisions, and making decisions sometimes means taking risks. In such a case, all you can do is give the matter enough thought to minimize your risks, and move forward carefully with your eyes wide open. If you don’t take risks, you can’t get the rewards that come when those risks pan out.

If you want a risk-free life, too bad. There’s no such thing. So like a baby gooney bird, keep spreading your wings and trying to fly. If you fall down, just get up, dust yourself off, and get ready for your next attempt. Eventually, you’ll soar.

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, has consulted with Fortune 500 corporations for nearly 20 years in the field of personal productivity. She helps leaders create high-performance cultures in their teams and organizations and achieve maximum results in minimum time. She is the president of a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in highess organizations. To learn more about Laura Stack or to book him for your next event, follow this link to Laura's bio page at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau.

Monday, November 17, 2014

New BRICS Bank a Building Block of Alternative World Order

By Parag Khanna,

The past several years have been rocky for the BRICS economies -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Brazil's growth forecast was slashed considerably as the commodities super-cycle slowed, Russia's political misadventures dragged down its reserves, India's currency took a major beating as its debt levels climbed above the market's appetite, and South Africa has been wracked by corruption and labor unrest. Only China has defied expectations of an imminent bursting of the bubble and maintained strong growth. No wonder then that Jim O'Neill, the former Goldman Sachs executive who coined the term "BRICS," remarked last year that if he were to do it all over again, the acronym wouldn't have been one at all, but rather just "C" for China.

The BRICS summits held annually since 2009 have similarly been mostly style without substance -- until now. Much as Brazil surprised the world by not having any stadiums collapse during the World Cup, it also managed to pull off the first BRICS summit that has moved from rhetoric to action.


The "New Development Bank" announced in Fortaleza this week marks the launch of a collective lending platform steered exclusively by the BRICS countries. With an authorized capital of $100 billion, it could lend up to $34 billion per year. The strong focus on infrastructure is logical: two-thirds of the world's nations are physically crumbling post-colonial constructions -- not least India itself -- badly in need of a long-term boost in infrastructure investment. National budgets cover at most $1 trillion of the estimated annual $3 trillion required in infrastructure spending just to keep up present levels of GDP growth.

It is not an understatement to say that this is a new kind of bank for a new world order. For the first time in history, infrastructure spending consistently exceeds military expenditure. Cities and buildings, roads and railways, pipelines and ports, bridges and tunnels, telecom towers and Internet cables, and all manner of other assets command up to $2 trillion per year in global spending, slightly more than the $1.7 trillion spent on defense -- but the gap is growing. Infrastructure finance is as much or more a tool of geopolitics today as military alliances.


The New Development Bank was therefore not just born out of resentment over the World Bank and IMF's main donors stubbornly clinging to their over-weighted voting shares. It also reflects a difference in philosophy over the need to prioritize physical infrastructure over other priorities (such as education, healthcare, women's rights, etc.) towards which the World Bank has been drawn in recent decades. From a holistic point of view, all such investments are crucial for equitable national prosperity and wellbeing, but nothing creates jobs and literally drives 'state-building' like infrastructure.

The aftermath of the financial crisis proved how fiscal stimulus, particularly spending on gross fixed capital formation (a large component of infrastructure), yields far more substantial benefits for GDP growth than monetary stimulus alone. The U.S. has done mostly the latter, while China has done both.

BRICS pressure has undeniably shifted international focus in this direction. At last year's G-20 summit in Russia, a Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) was announced to stimulate greater financial resources for job-creating and productivity-boosting investments, as well as a Project Preparation Fund (PPF) to help countries structure projects to be more attractive to capital markets. But whereas the G20 is fine as a peer review (and peer pressure) mechanism, it isn't a delivery arm.


The BRICS' New Development Bank can therefore make good on the G20's lofty goals, but it should also serve as a bridge to channel the global liquidity and savings glut of around $75 trillion (held by pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, family offices, etc.) into essential infrastructure projects by partnering with the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and other financial and non-financial institutions that can make otherwise high-risk investments more attractive through insurance arrangements, inflation hedges, and other tools. In search of decent yield in a post-QE world, the global investment community will likely get on board with the BRICS bank's projects so long as these steps are taken to deliver decent returns.

The goal of generating immediate, robust, and long-term infrastructure investment is an undeniably worthy one -- so important in fact that it should not hinge on the BRICS alone to get it done. Indeed, one cannot ignore the discord that exists within the BRICS membership that could undermine the New Development Bank's mission in the years ahead. It is hardly a secret that even deciding who would host the bank was one of several issues that almost scotched the announcement entirely.

At the 11th hour, it was agreed that China and India would establish the bank in the first year -- likely based in Shanghai with an Indian director -- following with rotating directors from Russia, Brazil and South Africa.

It's also worth remembering that China also just set up its own Asian Infrastructure Bank that effectively rivals the Japan-dominated and Manila-based Asian Development (ADB) -- and didn't invite India to join. China is clearly spreading its lending across multiple platforms, and knows all too well that infrastructure finance is not just a tool for the BRICS to use collectively, but also internally.

Parag Khanna is a leading global strategist, best-selling author and next-generation voice on the future of global affairs. He is currently a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, the country's most innovative think tank, where he directs the Roundtable on the Future of the World Economy and advises the US National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030 program. He is also co-director of the Hybrid Reality Institute, a global research and advisory firm providing insight into the implications of emerging technologies. To learn more about Parag Khanna or to book him for your next event, follow this link to Tom's bio page at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leading Legacy Teams

By Tom Flick,

I have heard the word “team” used hundreds if not thousands of times since leaving the NFL in 1988 and entering the corporate world. CEOs, presidents, managers, and front-line employees have all spoken the word “team” without ever really knowing how a true team behaves or what it can accomplish. I also know that you don’t leave building a team to chance, because people can form some sort of team without you. Being intentional in everything you do is critical to forming a winning team.

I have come to understand that there are essentially four types of teams. There are teams in name only, good teams, great teams, and then there are legacy teams. When I ask audiences how many have been on a great team, a number of people will raise their hands. I find that those who raised their hands evaluate a great team based on tangible criteria, such as winning a championship or having the leading scorer. But legacy teams are much more than that.

I’ve learned about legacy teams from great coaches I’ve been fortunate to play for during my 22 years of playing competitive sports. I have taught these legacy team concepts to clients and many have embraced the legacy team model and adopted it into their culture with great success. Sites of the legendary Ritz- Carlton Resorts have embraced it. Marriott has embraced it. Shell Oil and US Navy have embraced it, and others are beginning to realize that being a team is more than just working under the banner of your company name.

There are seven prerequisites that make up a legacy team.

1. On legacy teams, lifetime friendships are formed. After years pass and the team disbands, one day you could end up eating at a restaurant and see a former teammate across the room—and because of the lifetime friendship that was formed from being legacy teammates, you have deep mutual respect and love for that person.

I was recently at the Orlando International Airport and spotted a former college teammate of mine whom I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. We were across the concourse from each other, and after making eye contact; we made a beeline toward each other and embraced. He happens to be six feet, five inches tall, weighs 270 pounds, and is black. I’m six feet, three inches tall, weigh 175 pounds, and am white, but all that doesn’t matter. We were legacy teammates at the University of Washington and have a deep mutual respect and enduring love for one another.

2. On a legacy team there is a shared joy of the inner circle, which means it’s selective, restrictive, limited to team members only. You’ll have a hard time explaining your legacy team experience to your spouse, your neighbor, or your friend outside of work. People often say to me,“That sounds pretty exclusive,”and my response is,“Exactly!”That’s exactly what it’s supposed to be – exclusive!

3. On a legacy team there is accountability, personal responsibility, and reliability for the work that needs to be done. Legacy teams desire never to let their teammates down. It is abhorrent to do so. Thus you will never see a legacy team where your most talented members aren’t your hardest workers.

4. There is a good pride that is alive on a legacy team because teammates understand that the sum is always greater than any individual part. The opposite, of course, is bad pride. Bad pride is false pride and breeds a sense of entitlement—where rules don’t apply to me. Team members with bad pride don’t work hard—they save themselves. Bad pride creates people who are invested when it helps them, and yet you’ll find they are the ones who criticize quickly and make excuses often. All that matters is what they get out of it. Bad pride is ugly for everyone, and it kills the team.

5. There is a quiet confidence on a legacy team. Great coaches understand this concept and so the first thing they always teach their teams are the concept of quiet confidence, meaning, “We know we’re good but we will show it well; we will walk with class and humility.”

6. The last two characteristics of a legacy team are the lynchpins. Legacy teams are built around the committed. A legacy team allows only the committed on their team. No selective participants allowed. Selective participants are those who form subgroups and cliques and have their own niche. The committed understand that we are all in this canoe together, all rowing in the same direction, with all we have to give. Legacy team members are all-in, going all-out.

7. Lastly, all roles are honored as equal. If you’re a sales executive who is out front and receives the bigger paycheck, remember that those people who work in the office, who answer the phones, who do the fulfillment work, who are marketing the business, are equally important. NFL quarterbacks get their name in the paper every game because they throw touchdowns and lead their team. But the offensive linemen, who scrap and fight it out in the trenches to protect the quarterback, are rarely ever mentioned in the paper, yet they’re equally important.

Obviously, this is a broad-brush picture of what a legacy team is all about. Becoming one is, to say the least, extremely hard work. There is a tremendous amount of “me” that needs to be given up for the “we” of the team. Yet those organizations and teams that commit to becoming a legacy team are rewarded tenfold in deeper relationships, greater mission performance, and bottom-line results.

Following his successes as an NFL quarterback, Rose Bowl Champion, and Pac-10 Conference "Player of the Year" Tom Flick now applies his winning ways as a dynamic and highly sought-after speaker and leadership expert, delivering over 3,000 presentations to a "who's-who" list of clients that includes Microsoft, Starbucks, Hallmark, Boeing, American Express, NASA, Ritz-Carlton Hotels and the Pentagon. To learn more about Tom Flick or to book him for your next event, follow this link to Tom's bio page at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Strategic Conversations: How Toyota Solves Big Problems

By Lisa Kay Solomon,

How often do you find yourself in a meeting when someone says “we need to think differently here?” We are living in a world of rapid change and surprises. “We’ve got to become more innovative” is the popular leadership response to handling uncertainty and change. But it’s not often followed up with concrete examples of what “being innovative” actually looks like.

As a result, you often see a lot of talking in circles, references to “strategy,” and a lot of “we should…” until everyone goes back to business as usual. Rather than search listlessly for something bright and shiny to inspire change, it might be more effective to fertilize the ground for new ideas in a structured way. But how? Through the use of “strategic conversations” – problem-solving sessions specifically focused on tackling a messy-open ended challenge. No outside consultant or “chief innovation officer” needed.

Strategic conversations are not just a typical meeting with a fancy name, they are intentionally designed for exploration and discovery of new possibilities, not just updates on existing projects. They allow us to step outside of our normal headspace to rattle our creative ideas lose by combining different ideas and perspectives. And, most importantly, they never follow the traditional meeting format and often focus on full attendee participation.

Strategic conversations help take those open sky brainstorming meetings and help get some results. Companies such as Intuit, Toyota Financial Services, and Pixar and use this method for figuring out the hard stuff. Below are a few examples to draw on for designing strategic conversations for your team.

1. Act like your competition.

When baby food maker Plum Organics CEO Neil Grimmer brought his board together to explore options for growth in early 2011, Grimmer surprised them with a very different type of discussion. He staged a “Baby Food Fight” where he asked each of the board members to assume the role of a competitive CEO and spend one hour devising a competitive plan to put Plum Organics out of business. They then proposed Plum’s response.

After one hour of independent researching and plotting, the temporary “CEOs” presented their pitches on how they’d defeat Plum, revealing new perspectives on the company’s weaknesses and possible opportunities. After synthesizing the new insights and ideas gathered, the company had an meaningful growth plan. Within a year of adopting the new direction, a much more prepared leadership team was ready to entertain and ultimately accept an acquisition offer from Campbell’s Soup Company.
2. Make a clear distinction between the present state and future options.

When it comes to our long-term benefit, we’re often better served to take a deep breath and force ourselves to separate the here and now from a longer view of success. Where do we want to be three years from now? Even one year from now? Can everyone on the team describe a concrete picture of what success looks like? And do we have the understanding of what it might take to get from here to there?

A few years ago, in response to the volatile economy and changes in customer car buying behavior, Toyota Financial Services convened their top 60 leaders to examine new business models. In a highly designed two-day off-site gathering, they used the business model canvas, a framework popularized through a global bestselling book Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pignuer, to determine which potential options to pursue.

Although they were focused on leaving the meeting with plans for the future, the execs intentionally spent the entire first day discussing the current business model to make sure everyone had a shared view of their existing model and priorities. This way, they would have a common language to make bold new choices that would stick across different departments and geographies.

On the second day, they used the same business model framework to start a new conversation to focus on future possibilities. The exact tactic isn’t important, but what does matter is using the same framework for both present and future. This allows attendees to easily draw a line on how to get from A to B. “A lot of good ideas get tossed around during off-sites, but you’re not always sure they’ll get picked up later,” says CFO Chris Ballinger. “This time, we made the ideas concrete before we left and knew how were going to take them forward. We had no shortage of volunteers who wanted to work on them in some way.”
3. Turn the meeting into a game or simulation.

War-gaming, role-playing, and scavenger hunts can also effectively amp up the heat when you need to make some big choices. Early in 2010, Kaaren Hanson, VP of Design Innovation at Intuit, designed a team-based scavenger hunt with Intuit’s top 15 executives to help them explore the future of mobile opportunities. The executives were still tied to their old-school Blackberries (sacred devices at the time) and had trouble visualizing the opportunity with more modern smartphones. After taking away each of their old devices, Hanson gave out new iPhones and Android devices to each of the teams, along with a list of different activities they had to accomplish before returning back to their base.

This orchestrated “Amazing Race” challenge included diverse tasks such as checking in on Foursquare, finding something using a new GPS app, translating a clue given in a foreign language, and scanning a label to see where it came from. Although there was a prize for the winning team, the real goal was to get the executives to experience firsthand the depth of power and possibility of the new smartphone devices. So when it came time to consider new business opportunities, mobile was no longer some far-off trend — it was happening here and now. Within the next six months, Intuit’s CEO Brad Smith was making bold statements about Intuit’s commitment to invest in mobile and cloud-based services.

To be sure, designing strategic conversations requires a lot of preparation and intention. Even if you’re not ready for a full-fledged immersive environment, your starter fuel for innovation could be as small as inviting new people to your next offsite, starting an important meeting with a personal story, intentionally framing questions in a new or provocative way, or by simply banning the usual materials like PowerPoint.

If you want to build a culture of innovation, creativity, and possibility, you have to start with how you design your most important meetings. Make them fun, participatory, and most importantly, human.

An innovation strategist and leadership coach, Lisa Kay Solomon helps leaders develop the ability to build more expansive and creative futures through design-led tools, skills and behaviors. She also teaches innovation and strategic foresight in the ground-breaking MBA in Design Strategy program at the California College of the Arts and Lead by Design Fellows Program.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

One Astronaut's Wish for the Holidays

By Ron Garan 

When we look at the Earth from space we are faced with a sobering contradiction. On the one hand, we see the indescribable beauty of the planet we have been given. On the other hand, we know that millions of people on it do not have access to clean water, go to bed hungry at night, and die from preventable and curable diseases.

It is truly moving to look at the Earth from space. And when we do, we look down from our "orbital perspective" and realize that we are all riding through the universe together on this spaceship we call Earth, that we are all interconnected, that we are all in this together, that we are all family.

We have the resources and technology to overcome almost all of the challenges we face. For thousands of years people believed that it was impossible to fly to the moon -- because it had never been done before. Human ingenuity and determination proved that it was possible.

Today many people believe that it is impossible to solve most of the problems of the world including poverty. But our accomplishment of sending humans to the moon and returning them safely should caution us to doubt our beliefs about what is and isn't possible. Eradicating poverty is possible. We are only limited by the size of our imagination and our will to act.

The good news is there are over 20 million organizations around the world working to improve life on our planet. The bad news is these organization are not engaged in a unified, coordinated effort. There is a great deal of duplicated work, lost efficiency, and a reduction in the positive impact that these organizations could otherwise make.

We need an effective mechanism for people and organizations to collaborate in order to solve the challenges facing our world.

Inspired by the collaboration that made the International Space Station possible, we have formed The Collaboration Project to create a mechanism to affect real change. This project is joining with groups ranging from Random Hacks of Kindness to USAID to build a collaborative platform and bring together organizations that are working on problems around the globe. The ultimate goal is to end that sobering contradiction that we see when we look at the Earth from orbit, and make our planet a place that is not only beautiful from above, but a place where life is beautiful for all.

Seeing our planet from space puts humanity's common challenges into perspective. Ron Garan is a retired NASA astronaut who has traveled 71,075,867 miles in 2,842 orbits of our planet during more than 178 days in space and 27 hours and 3 minutes of EVA during four spacewalks. Ron is also a highly decorated fighter pilot, test pilot, explorer, entrepreneur and humanitarian who believes that appropriately designed and targeted social enterprise can solve many of the problems facing our world. To learn more about Ron Garan or to book him for your next event, follow this link to Ron's bio page at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau.