Last week it was hot (82 degrees) and rainy in the Southern Alps, so my family drove 110 kilometers south to eat lunch on the shore of Lake Como. Our meal was so fresh and artfully arranged, it could have made the cover of Gourmet magazine. The service also was impeccable, so I didn’t mind paying the bill — 154 euros — even though that was the most I’ve ever paid for lunch.
We have a photograph of our son at the same table 20 years earlier, a 3-year-old in a booster seat with the panorama of the Bellagio unfolding below. Same place, same fresh ingredients, same lavish service — but then, the tab for lunch was 30,000 liras, less than 20 euros.
When I moved to Europe in the late ’60s, the most popular guidebook was Europe on $5 a Day; $5 today is not enough to buy a beer in Berlin. Similarly, organizations were once proud to offer two weeks of annual training; today, five times that much is hardly sufficient.
Thinking with outdated currency keeps most CLOs from reaching their potential. Their organizations believe meaningful projects are supposed to take months to plan, quarters to implement and years to pay for themselves.
Every CLO has heard this self-fulfilling prophecy: “You have a great concept there, but we don’t have time to tackle it now.”
This belief is a vestige of industrial-age thinking. When work is manual, time away from work is value down the drain. And for the most part, hours equal value, and value equals hours.
However, knowledge work does not suffer from these same limitations. Brains can generate valuable ideas in milliseconds. One minute may lead to an innovation that changes the world.
As a result, value is no longer proportional to hours worked, so saying there is not enough time is a statement of priorities, not of scarce resources.
While the individual is the old unit of human production, continued emphasis on the individual instead of the group chokes off today’s opportunities with yesterday’s limitations.
Groups of people, not individuals, are the key to producing value in the knowledge era; yet, corporations hire individuals, performance reviews assess a single person and career paths are solo.
Whenever we catch ourselves thinking of individual workers, let’s take a moment to consider whether we should be thinking of teams instead, as conversation is the wellspring of innovation, and innovation results from the creative friction of people with differing perspectives.
They co-create the concepts that bring them into harmony with their environment. They reinforce one another. That’s “they,” not “he” and not “she.”
I recently orchestrated a series of one-day meetings to help organizations understand how networks evolve and how network effects change in the way business is done. We talked about Internet tools, collaborative culture and what has worked in pioneering organizations. That’s just education: My goal is to light fires.
Web 2.0 puts powerful network tools into the hands of the people who use them. The tools are by and large easy to understand and modify for one’s purposes. (If the going gets tough, ask anyone under the age of 25 for help.)
Web software enables people to experiment with new concepts in hours, not months. And in our sessions, we build blogs, wikis and communities as we talk about them.
In the past, organizations often sent a single individual to an outside meeting, believing that he or she would bring the message home to share. This rarely happens because the individual is the wrong unit of production for taking advantage of learning innovation.
Organizations that send teams are more likely to put things into practice. Colleagues reinforce one another; an individual is but a lone voice. A small team cannot only plant the seeds of innovation but also nurture them, so the optimal unit for an innovation-building session is a trio, not a single person.