When should we start to attack, or worry about being attacked?
Monday, 18 July 2011
What’s more important; hard-nosed or soft-hearted?
Last night in the UK ten million people watched the final of The Apprentice. The winner, Tom Pellereau wins £250,000 investment in a new business he will co-own with UK business guru Lord Sugar. Pellereau, a self-styled inventor and scribbler of ideas seemed an affable chap. He laughed at everyone’s jokes and in one episode, shock horror, he actually said to the eventual runner up that he ‘liked working for her’. The fact he hadn’t worked out how to comb his hair or shave was kind of endearing. He wasn't that good at anything really, his business plan was awful, he was described as an under-dog, even a nodding dog, but as a partner in innovation for Lord Sugar (read Donald Trump in the US) he was a clear and worthy winner.
Pellereau was lined up against the most brilliantly cast bunch of alpha humans you can imagine. With relish they told us each week how they’d cheerfully chew the heads off babies to win, that they were one in a million, representatives of an uber race destined to win. In their desperate desire and increasingly pathetic attempts to win they proved themselves total losers.
There’s a clear parallel with the world of innovation where we need to be hard-nosed, we need to challenge projects that are going nowhere and we need to engage with colleagues who leave us under-whelmed. Ouch – this stuff really hurts. Innovation is a tough game, we need a thick skin. But in large organisations super clever, super ambitious, super ego people crash and burn. Pellereau is a good choice as winner of The Apprentice because he showed us his soft underbelly and while he did so he laughed a lot. I think he’s the kind of guy you’d want to work with, he’d make you feel great. You could give feedback to him, I think you could co-create a better product without fear of his ego getting in the way.
Innovation is such an exciting management science, it’s the ultimate blend of hard-nosed, commercial judgement and mastery of basic human qualities; listening, appreciating, enthusing and many more. I haven’t met many people who have this cocktail of skills in equal measure, but I have met teams who do. Sticking up for our strengths and fessing up to our weaknesses is the fundamental principle behind succeeding at innovation.
Posted by Innovation at Work at 07:26
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Monday, 4 July 2011
Peter Williams, CEO of Jack Wills reminds me why creativity really does love constraints
I was delighted to meet Peter Williams, Founder and CEO last week in his Acton HQ. He started the business at the ripe old age of 23 and now 10 years later is one of the UK’s most successful retailers. But isn’t retail ‘detail’? Something you need to put years of graft into learning your trade? How does a 23 year old with no retail, clothing or fashion experience create what is on the cusp of becoming a global retail phenomena?
I think the clue is in the story Peter tells of Jack Wills’ start up. It goes something like this: Not having enough cash for a long lease, high profile launch he rents a traditional shop in quirky, charming and posh English town of Salcombe, Devon. Not having enough cash he can’t use traditional research techniques to map out hot selling clothing lines so he learns how to use the new digital media (remember we’re in 1999) to generate ideas putting queries out like ‘my boyfriend says white jeans are cool, should I get buy him a pair’? Not having enough cash he can hardly pay himself and works every job in the store himself.
At the time ‘not having enough cash’ must have felt very tough but as with so many entrepreneurs the constraints Peter unwittingly worked within have shaped the business today. Stylish ‘country town’ stores, a cutting edge digital offer and confident in-house marketing are hallmarks of the business today.
New businesses like new products have a seemingly endless series of options but focus is what entrepreneurs and innovators need. The fewer options we have the more time we have to get things right. The more we have to do ourselves the more we develop our judgment muscle, our confidence and ultimately innovation leadership. Have you got too much money, too much time? What would happen if you created tough, eye watering constraints? Maybe things might just move faster and with more passion?
Posted by Innovation at Work at 00:35