I recently read an article by Greg Satell, who introduces himself as an “Author, Speaker And Innovation Advisor.” The article, published by Digital Tonto, talks about the real and increasing need for communication when it comes to innovation. This is a wonderful article, and I’d encourage anyone who wishes to read the full thing, to access it here: http://www.digitaltonto.com/2017/innovation-needs-communication/.
However, while the article specifically speaks towards the need for more collaboration and communication when it comes to technical processes, I want to approach some of the main points and apply them to everyday small businesses.
The Nature of Work Has Changed: Let’s talk about the fundamental change in the nature of work over the past 40-50 years. Satell says this: “In an article in Harvard Business Review, Bain & Co. partner Michael Mankins estimates that while a typical executive in the 1970’s might have received 1,000 messages a year, that number has skyrocketed to more than 30,000 today. He points out that the increased level of communication means that we have little time for uninterrupted work.
Mankins sees this as a bad thing, but the truth is that the nature of work has changed.”
If the nature of work has fundamentally changed, why are we, in many cases measuring work by the same standards that our fathers did? Many of my business owners struggle with the changing definition of ‘work’. In fact, one client is consistently yelling at his son, a manager in the business, for ‘playing on his cell phone’. One day I asked the son to tell me what he was doing with the phone. It turns out that in the three hours immediately prior to our meeting, he had made 8 business related phone calls using the cell, answered 12 more, and sent out 5 emails and 7 texts, all business related. If we can understand how the nature of our jobs has changed and the shear amount of communication that is needed today, perhaps we can not only save ourselves some frustration, but perhaps increase our productivity by enabling it.
Working with other humans: Satell asserts that the chief task of humans today is increasingly to work with other humans to ‘design jobs for machines’. That may be the case for many manufacturing and tech firms, but for non-automated companies and service related businesses, I would like to change ‘design jobs for machines’ to ‘using machines as an interface.’ Then to continue with the assertion: “Increasingly, we live in a social economy with collaboration at its center. It is no longer just efficiency, but agility and interoperability that makes firms successful.”
On the subject of agility, I’ve had clients ask me: “What does that even mean?” Look, business is moving so fast today in many ways, that to be successful, we cannot stand by the old maxim: “This is how we’ve always done it! (and we’ve been successful in the past, so why change?)” Small businesses, especially those without a dedicated market share, HAVE to be willing and able to change approaches at the drop of a hat.
This brings into focus the word from above: “Interoperability”. Have you ever been frustrated dealing with a bureaucracy? Believe me, the people that work there are just as frustrated with every other department in that organization because ‘they only do things their way!’. We have to align our business departments behind one common vision and break down the barriers that exist between functions.
Working outside yourself: Finally, Satell says: “The problems we solve today are exponentially more difficult and complex than in the past and we need to collaborate across boundaries of not only time and space, but language, culture and skill set. That will take more than just ideas. The challenges ahead will require us to combine ideas and the people who have them.”
Many times, in a small business, we have limited resources, talent, skill, and time. This challenge is made even more daunting when the employers continue to hire people that are ‘just like them’ and then taught to ‘just do your job’, if they receive any training at all. There is simply no way you can tap into the full growth potential of your company if you are:
- Limiting employees in the ways they think about their jobs and tasks and
- Not reaching outside your company for other ideas, perspectives, skill sets and opinions. (Think consultant here – hint, hint.)
How long will it take YOU to be on the leading edge of growth and innovation for your company?