Exercising courage

Webster’s simple definition of courage is “the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous.” Dig deeper and you’ll see:

  • Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
  • Firmness of mind and will in the face of danger…
  • …determination to achieve one’s ends

Seth Mattison, being the millennial he is, believes courage is a muscle. It’s not that we don’t have any courage; it’s just that we haven’t exercised it in a while. Seth is going to be talking about the future of work, the power of relationships and innovation at this year’s IABC World Conference.

Innovation requires courage

Courage is an important part of innovation. Innovation represents change and we’ve gotten pretty good at doing things the way we have been. So, to innovate means we have to change how we do things, use a new tool, work with different people. It is “difficult or dangerous.” Heck, it might even incur fear.

But, as J. Stewart Black says in It Starts with One, it’s easier to continue doing the wrong thing really, really well. At least until someone paints us a very clear picture of how we can do the right thing really, really well. Even then, it takes courage to make the leap.

We’ve watched some of our clients jump onto the innovation bandwagon in the past year. They add it to their vision statements, incorporate it into their objectives and make it part of the business plan. But, what does it really mean to be innovative?

Webster defines innovative as “introducing or using new ideas or methods” and “having new ideas about how something can be done.” Innovation also is about changing mindsets, attitudes and culture. You need this to happen to make it stick. Sometimes, that takes a long time.

If courage is a muscle, is authenticity a tendon?

Seth is going to talk about authenticity in his keynote too. I think authenticity serves as a support and connecting mechanism the way tendons serve the muscles. It supports in that authenticity makes courage stronger, more feasible. It connects because authenticity opens the door for others to believe, to listen, to accept.

People can tell when you aren’t being authentic. Courage taken without authenticity won’t get you far and might even put you at greater risk; it’s danger multiplied. Taken with authenticity, however, courage can shift mindsets, move organizations, make a difference.

See what Seth has already told us about authenticity.

Using the courage muscle

Perhaps Seth will help us understand how to exercise our courage muscle to be more innovative. For each of us it might mean something different:

  • Doing public speaking
  • Getting involved in a project with people you don’t know
  • Starting a new job
  • Learning a new software
  • Writing a blog post (I think my inner monologue just slipped out)

Regardless, I’m on the courage bandwagon. It would seem to be the best mode of transportation to true innovation.

Register today and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a registration for the 2017 World Conference! It takes some courage to put that on your calendar so early, but someone has to do it.

Where do great ideas come from?

Years ago, a client asked me to help them generate more patents through improved communication with employees. For that organization, patents were an important part of business success. The more patents, the more new products they could sell and the more intellectual property they could license.

But for each idea worth patenting, an organization must generate tens of thousands of ideas. So, the first step is to just turn on the flow of ideas. Which, begs the question, where do ideas come from?

Seth Mattison is a young disruptor. He pushes executive thinking on everything from organizational structure to communication channels to dress code to what an “office” should be like. This “voice of the millennials” talks about the fact that ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. Seth brings his enthusiastic and positive perspective to the keynote stage at the 2016 IABC World Conference in June.

Seth’s view is that our work structure used to depend on all the great ideas coming down from the top. But, business has become complex and those top leaders can’t be singularly responsible for all the great ideas anymore.

Were top leaders every really the singular source of great ideas?

I don’t think so. The story I use here is a past client in the building products industry. One of their many products was pipe insulation. One day, one of their truck drivers happened to observe a plumber measuring a pipe and then measuring the insulation in order to cut it to the correct length. The driver returned to the office and shared with someone else his idea of printing the units of measurement right on the insulation itself, thus saving the plumber time. It was a hit!

Now, I believe this story is more than 20 years old. Great ideas have been embedded in our organizations at every level, in every function, in every location, forever. That’s not new. What is new is what we do about it.

Technology enables greater sharing, learning, brainstorming, collaboration, etc., especially across boundaries such as time and geography. Incubating new business ideas until they are ready to launch is a corporate trend. Evolving an organizational culture that enables  transparency and freedom to innovate is celebrated.

Fast forward to April 2016. I have another client in an industry with a lot of employees working remotely. Cost containment, productivity, safety and innovation are the hallmarks of the industry. They lean heavily on technology for basic business processes (e.g., widget documentation) and industry practices (e.g., maintenance and safety). And yet, they do not leverage technology to enable idea generation or sharing.

  • Got a great idea to streamline a process?
  • Got a cool approach to reduce costs?
  • Got a safety near-miss example others could learn from?

“We don’t communicate well with each other,” one employee told me this week. Like so many of our other clients, this one too is paying for a big pile of technology they aren’t using. They’ve got all the collaboration tools they could hope for at their fingertips. But, they turned it all off. No innovation happening here.

I wonder what their millennial employees are thinking? Are they thinking, “only the top dogs have the good ideas and I’ve got to pay my dues”? Or, are they thinking another company is looking pretty good right now? I bet Seth could shed insight. Let’s ask him in June. Register today!

Make every day count

Last week Eloquor lost one of its team members. By my measure she was young. She was an amazing writer. More importantly, she was an amazing strategic thinker. She was one of only a very few people I’ve worked with in my more than three decades to whom I felt comfortable handing things off knowing it would get done right.

It was sudden.

So, for the second time in just over three years I am reminded how important it is to make every day count. Whether in your work, your family, your play, every day is another opportunity to make a difference, build a memory, or grow.

  • Take time to hang out with your kids and let them know how proud you are of them
  • Tell the people you respect at work that you appreciate them
  • Volunteer for something you believe in; give your time and expertise
  • Go for a hike with your dog
  • Invest in the recharge – even if you have to fund yourself – by immersing yourself in a rejuvenating professional experience

Some of you are rolling your eyes at me for that last one, but I’ve been self-funded for IABC since the late 90s. The reason I’ve been to IABC’s World Conference so many times is because it recharges me, reloads my courage and enthusiasm, my energy for growth.

World conference is about learning, expanding, growing, mentoring, supporting, giving and relationship building. It’s what I need right now, this week. Pity I’ll have to wait a few weeks for my big recharge.

More about giving

Giving time and expertise is much harder than writing a check. Sometimes it doesn’t work out; like the time I helped a child welfare not-for-profit overhaul their website and a staff member took credit for my work. Other times it’s awesome like my role on the Patient and Family Advisory Council for St. Anthony’s Hospital, the facility that saved my husband’s life. My work on IABC’s Program Advisory Committee also has been highly rewarding.

IABC will explore individual and corporate giving behavior and strategies at this year’s Foundation event (Tuesday, 7 June) with an amazing panel of givers and giving experts. It will be eye-opening I’m sure.

Making it count

In case you make it to New Orleans, I have several suggestions for how to make it count:

  • Skip one session period to have coffee or tea with a long-time acquaintance or a newly met colleague; talk about cool ideas
  • Send at least one note back to those with whom you work about something amazing and exciting you’ve learned
  • Go to dine-around; listen and share
  • Absorb a little bit of New Orleans culture (walking some of the Quarter will get you there)
  • Seek out a mentor, or mentor an up-and-coming communicator
  • Communicate with your family back home

I’d like to dedicate this post to Lesley Welch, mom, wife, communicator and strategist. She’ll be well-remembered.