56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail
Innovation is in these days. The word is on the lips of every CEO, CFO, CIO, and anyone else with a three-letter acronym after their name.
As a result, many organizations are launching all kinds of "innovation initiatives" -- hoping to stir the creative soup. This is commendable. But it is also, all too often, a disappointing experience.
Innovation initiatives sound good, but usually don't live up to expectations. The reasons are many. What follows are 56 of the most common -- organizational obstacles we've observed that get in the way of a company truly raising the bar for innovation.
See which ones are familiar to YOU. Then, sit down with your Senior Team... CEO... innovation committee, or best friend and jump start the process of going beyond these obstacles.
56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail
1. "Innovation" framed as an initiative, not the normal way of doing business
2. Absence of a clear definition of what "innovation" really means
3. Innovation not linked to company's existing vision or strategy
4. No sense of urgency
5. Workforce is suffering from "initiative fatigue"
6. CEO does not fully embrace the effort
7. No compelling vision or reason to innovate
8. Senior Team not aligned
9. Key players don't have the time to focus on innovation
10.Innovation champions are not empowered
11. Decision making processes are non-existent or fuzzy
12. Lack of trust
13. Risk averse culture
14. Overemphasis on cost cutting or incremental improvement
15. Workforce ruled by past assumptions and old mental models
16. No process in place for funding new projects
17. Not enough pilot programs in motion
18. Senior Team not walking the talk
19. No company-wide process for managing ideas
20. Too many turf wars. Too many silos.
21. Analysis paralysis
22. Reluctance to cannibalize existing products and services
23. NIH (not invented here) syndrome
24. Funky channels of communication
25. No intrinsic motivation to innovate
26. Unclear gates for evaluating progress
27. Mind numbing bureaucracy
28. Unclear idea pitching processes
29. Lack of clearly defined innovation metrics
30. No accountability for results
31. No way to celebrate quick wins
32. Poorly facilitated meetings
33. No training to unleash individual or team creativity
34. Voo doo evaluation of ideas
35. Inadequate sharing of best practices
36. Lack of teamwork and collaboration
37. Unclear strategy for sustaining the effort
38. Innovation Teams meet too infrequently
39. Middle managers not on board
40. Ineffective roll out of the effort to the workforce
41. Lack of tools and techniques to help people generate new ideas
42. Innovation initiative perceived as another "flavor of the month"
43. Individuals don't understand how to be a part of the effort
44. Diverse inputs or conflicting opinions not honored
45. Imbalance of left-brain and right brain thinking
46. Low morale
47. Over-reliance on technology
48. Failure to secure sustained funding
49. Unrealistic time frames
50. Failure to consider issues associated with scaling up
51. Inability to attract talent to risky new ventures
52. Failure to consider commercialization issues
53. No rewards or recognition program in place
54. No processes in place to get fast feedback
55. Inadequate sense of what your customers really want or need
56. Company hiring process screens out potential innovatorsThat Big Beautiful Idea of Yours
What big, beautiful idea of yours needs just the right touch of collaboration, support, and immersion to see the light of day? Your next step? And when will you take it?March 22, 2014
Secrets of the Best TED Speakers
Want to perk up your public presentations? Take a look at Carmine Gallo's new book TALK LIKE TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds. Gallo studied more than 500 TED presentations and has distilled what he learned into bite-sized insights for the rest of us. Here are a few highlights:
1. Start with personal stories.
2. Be passionate about how your idea will change the world and inspire lives.
3. Use humor (but sparingly).
4. Feature visuals on your slides, not data.
5. Use body language to focus the audience on you and accentuate the most important parts of your talk.
6. Be yourself. Be authentic!
7. Practice! Practice! Practice!
The World Is Made of Stories
What You Can Learn, in the Next Five Minutes, from a Ping Pong Ball
Big thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions' Director of Training, for this insightful post on an important topic.
I have a handyman friend, Paul Duffy, who is a real-life MacGyver and possesses an uncanny ability to improvise an inexpensive and elegant solution for just about any electrical, plumbing, or construction problem that exists.
For example, just last week he correctly diagnosed a stopped kitchen drain as being the fault of a cheaply-made plastic vent not operating properly. After providing him with a pin, I watched him tweak the device with the pin and his trusty pocket knife so it did what it was supposed to do. No roto-rooting, no run to the hardware store, and no plumbing-related costs.
Paul says he learned this skill from his mother back in Ireland -- a woman who could solve any household problem with whatever was at hand.
MacGyver, as you might recall, was a very popular American TV hero back in the late '80's and early '90's -- a "troubleshooter" who displayed an amazing ability, usually in life and death situations, to simulate just about any complex device with everyday materials needed within a matter of minutes.
Household cleansers could be turned into explosives or made into poisons. Engines could be fixed with flip-flops, coins, and bubble gum -- that kind of thing.
Both the real-life Mr. Duffy and the fictional Mr. MacGyver demonstrate an important innovation skill -- overcoming the human propensity to be hypnotized by current reality -- a thinking box called functional fixity -- whereby it is difficult to imagine any object operating outside of its already-known function.
Functional fixity is a kind of near-sightedness of the mind -- a psychological phenomenon that demonstrates how the more familiar we are with an object or tool, the more we see that object or tool's uses as fixed.
A hammer stays a hammer and a blender stays a blender. They never become an emergency can opener or doorstop.
In the business world, this type of psychological straightjacket shows up as an inability to imagine new uses for the products and services we've created or new applications for the tools and processes we use every day.
Unchecked, it leads to statements like "that's the way this works" or "that's the way we do things around here."
It also enthrones the "expert" or the "experienced ones" as the arbiters of what is possible and what is not possible, which, for an organization, is the road to total paralysis and it's eventual mummification.
This kind of self-hypnosis or "spell" can and must be broken if new ideas are to be generated and developed.
In the brainstorm sessions I facilitate, I break this spell by asking participants to perform a simple exercise. I give them the task of coming up with as many possible uses of a ping-pong ball as they can imagine in three minutes.
With nothing on the line, and no identification with the object at hand, it becomes easy for people to generate alternative uses -- necklaces, tiny boats, toys, packing material, mobiles, Christmas tree decorations, Kermit the Frog's eyes, etc.
Then, I ask people to come up with alternative uses for their own company's products, services, or processes.
What people notice is that it's harder to generate multiple alternative uses for something they are very familiar with. In other words, they are bound by functional fixity.
Having done the ping pong ball exercise just minutes before, however, people become much more able to expand their thinking horizons and see everyday objects in a new light.
Maybe data collected via a particular manufacturing process can be used somewhere else in the organization. Maybe a core competency in molding plastic can be used in another line of business. Maybe there are new markets for a flagship product.
Once freed from functional fixity, our creativity expands. We have more choices and more freedom to move.
My invitation to you?
For the next seven days, notice the functional fixity in yourself as you go about your daily routines. Then look for alternative uses of the objects all around you. See how many new ways you can use common household items -- elastic bands... forks... or your favorite hat.
Then consider your company's poorest-selling product or service and ask: "How else could this product or service be used? What non-obvious need might it fulfill?"
Or look at your own skills and ask: "How can I use these skills to help others in new ways?"
The answer will probably be right under your nose. You just have to un-hypnotize yourself to see it.March 20, 2014
Every Innovator Has a Story. What's Yours? And When Will You Tell It?
Click full screen for maximum impact
My GoFundMe campaign
Idea Champions March 19, 2014
A Cool Online Creative Thinking Tool
Got a challenge? Need a big idea, insight, or breakthrough? Try Idea Champions' online creative thinking tool, The Idea Lottery. Absolutely free. You'll need a question to brainstorm and about 10 minutes.March 16, 2014
How to Spark Wisdom in the Workplace
Dear Heart of Innovation Readers:
If you have received any value from this blog and would be interested in supporting my next, big project -- now launched as a GoFundMe campaign -- click here for a 3-minute video of me describing it and a written description of what the whole thing is all about -- a venture which includes the writing, publication, and promotion of a new book, Wisdom at Work, along with the launching of WISDOM CIRCLES in organizations around the world.
Whatever support you can provide is very much appreciated, Plus, you will be sent a copy of the book when it's published, if you want.March 15, 2014
38 Awesome Quotes on Change
1. "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." - Charles Darwin
2. "Change before you have to." - Jack Welch
3. "People don't resist change. They resist being changed!" -- Peter Senge
4. "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." - Leo Tolstoy
5. "The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking." - Albert Einstein
6. "Nothing endures but change." - Heraclitus
7. "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - Buckminster Fuller
8. "Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have." - Margaret Mead
9. "I put a dollar in one of those change machines. Nothing changed."- George Carlin
10. "The key to change... is to let go of fear." - Rosanne Cash
11. "When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can't make them change if they don't want to, just like when they do want to, you can't stop them." - Andy Warhol
12. "Be the change you want to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi
13. "Things do not change; we change." - Henry David Thoreau
14. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." - St. Francis of Assisi
15. "We change whether we like it or not." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
16. "When you're finished changing, you're finished." - Benjamin Franklin
17. "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." - Anatole France
18. "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." - Victor Frankl
19. "Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transience, we suffer." - Shunryu Suzuki
20. "If you want to make enemies, try to change something." - Woodrow Wilson
21. "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." - John Kenneth Galbraith
22. "Our only security is our ability to change." - John Lilly
23. "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou
24. "Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
25. "The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." - Alan Watts
26. "The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress." - Charles Kettering
27. "We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing." - R.D. Laing
28. "People change and forget to tell each other." - Lillian Hellman
29. "The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades." - John Kotter
30. "Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you've got." - Peter Drucker
31. "In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy."- J. Paul Getty
32. "Change your thoughts and you change your world." - Norman Vincent Peale
33. "Know what's weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change, but pretty soon...everything's different." - Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes
34. "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us." - Joseph Campbell
35. "It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad." - C. S. Lewis
36. "If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading." - Lao Tzu
37. "The changes we dread most may contain our salvation." - Barbara Kingsolver
38. "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." - Anon
Big thanks to Val Vadeboncouer for locating these quotes.
Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:00 PMMarch 10, 2014
Writing Speeches, Saying Nothing
Henry Miller wrote 10,000 pages before a single word of his was ever published. Richard Bach had to endure Jonathan Livingston Seagull being rejected 18 times before it went on to sell 60 million copies. Salman Rushdie, after the publication of his Satanic Verses, spent a lot of time wearing disguises so he wouldn't be executed by a pissed off Ayotallah Khomeini and an entire nation of Fatwa-obsessed Muslims.
Me? My writer's come-uppance came in the form of a 24-hour ATM at Laguardia Airport.
But first, the back story...
When I was pounding the streets of Denver, Colorado, as an aspiring free lance writer, I once wrote a feature article for the American Humane Magazine. The story was well-received and inspired the Executive Editor, Eric Brettschneider, to send me a glowing letter of acknowledgment.
I kept his glowing letter of acknowledgment along with a few others I received, but since I couldn't eat them, decided to move to New York City in an attempt to reignite my stalled writing career.
The first call I made upon arriving in the Big Apple was to my one and only local fan, Eric Brettschneider.
Eric was not in. In fact, Eric was never going to be in, explained the woman who answered his phone. Eric, she went on to say, was no longer with the American Humane Society. He had "moved on". Precisely where she wasn't at liberty to say, but she could give me a forwarding number, which she proceeded to do.
Eric, answering his own phone, remembered me fondly and explained that he was now the Executive Assistant to the Borough President of Queens, the Honorable Donald R. Manes.
"Shit," I thought to myself. "Another dead end."
Eric, however, saw it very differently.
"Our speech writer is leaving next month," he explained. "Why don't you take a shot at writing Donald's State of the Union address? The pay is good and it'll give me a chance to see if you've got the right stuff to be our next speechwriter."
Yes, indeed, the pay was good. And so was the feedback. The Honorable Donald R. Manes was pleased with my work and so were the good people of Queens, happy to know that their not-yet-indicted Borough President had an excellent grasp of all the major local issues.
Months passed. I did some brochure writing for Citibank (boring), wrote an article for New York Magazine (rejected), and ate a lot of beans (kidney).
And then, like an unexpected tax refund from the Great State of New York, the new Executive Assistant to the Borough President of Queens called.
"Good news!" he exclaimed. "Our speechwriter just quit. Come in tomorrow for an interview with Donald if you want the job."
"This," I thought to myself, "is going to be one very short job interview," knowing how pathetically apolitical I was.
Yes, I knew that each state had two senators and that jaywalking was illegal, but after that my knowledge of the inner workings of government had some major holes in it.
My job interview was, indeed, short. But not in the way I expected.
Here's how it went:
1. Eric escorted me to the well-appointed, corner office of the Borough President of Queens.
2. I knocked and the door opened, revealing several American flags and a nicely framed photo of Mario Cuomo.
3. Donald Manes spoke: "Eric tells me you have a good sense of humor. True?"
4. "Yes," I replied.
5. Donald Manes smiled, "Good! You're hired."
That was it -- my initiation into the halls of power. I was not grilled about the Federalist Papers, not asked about my position on gun control, not invited into a dialogue about New York City's budget. One question. That's all I was asked -- probably the only question I could have answered at the time: Did I have a sense of humor?
Thus began my two-year career as a political speechwriter.
While many soul-sucking experiences happened to me during that particularly surreal time in my life, none of them came close to the existential meltdown I had when I was asked, one average spring day in Queens, to write about the opening of a 24-hour ATM machine at Laguardia Airport.
I mean, really, what is there to say about that?
"Good people of Queens, I am proud and privileged to be standing here with you today, just three feet away from Laguardia Airport's first- ever Automated Teller Machine."
"Only in this great, great borough of ours, could such a groundbreaking, historical event take place."
"As the elected representative of more than 2,000,000 technologically savvy citizens of Queens, I am honored to be the first elected official to withdraw $25 from this state-of-the-art ATM."
OK. So a young Albert Einstein once worked in a patent office and an older Wallace Stevens worked as an insurance agent. Great. I got it. But... this... THIS... this speech writing for a man who, rolled up almost every speech I wrote and used it as a pointer while he spoke off the cuff?
Was it karma? Destiny? Was it God's wicked sense of humor? Had I taken a wrong turn on the Queens Expressway of Life? Was there something I was supposed to be learning beyond the fact that I could recite Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English?
Like the long gone speechwriter before me and the one before him and the one before him (or her) in a succession of 50 generations going all the way back to the first masters of hieroglyphics being asked to inscribe, on the inner chambers of the pyramid walls, how great the pharaohs were for reducing famines and plagues by 30%, the human drama I now found myself in was a seriously timeless one -- one that went way, way back.
The real question, though, wasn't how I got here. The real question had nothing to do with cause and effect. The real question was this: What story was I going to tell about the events that were taking place in my life? And what choices would I make in response to the story I was telling -- a story that would likely have been constructed very differently by someone else?
Did I need to hunker down and plumb the depths of the experience that was waiting for me in the Queens Borough President's office? Or did I, like the speechwriter before me and the ones before him, simply need to read the ATM on the wall and move on to higher ground?March 09, 2014
28 Awesome Quotes on Failure
Tried anything recently that didn't quite work out? Congratulations!
Bottom line, there is no innovation without "failure." If your perception of failure is something to avoid, you can kiss your efforts to create something wonderful goodbye. Failure comes with the territory.
If the word puts you in a foul mood, try another one -- like "experiment," for example.
1. "Do not fear mistakes. There are none." -- Miles Davis
2. "99 percent of success is built on failure." -- Charles Kettering
3. "I have not failed once. I've just found 10,000 ways that didn't work." -- Thomas Edison
4. "An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he's in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots." -- Charles Kettering
5. "Give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself." -- Robert Louis Stevenson
6. "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
-- Robert F. Kennedy
7. "Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it." -- Horace
8. "When we can begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to laugh at ourselves." -- Katherine Mansfield
9. "Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently."
-- Henry Ford
10. "No matter how well you perform, there's always somebody of intelligent opinion who thinks it's lousy." -- Sir Laurence Olivier
11. "If your life is free of failures, you're not taking enough risks."
-- H. Jackson Brown
12. "You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try." -- Beverly Sills
13. "I failed my way to success." -- Thomas Edison
14. "Act as if it were impossible to fail." -- Dorothea Brande
15. "Failure is success if we learn from it." -- Malcolm Forbes
16. "You can only be as good as you dare to be bad."
-- John Barrymore
17. "The season of failure is the best time for sowing the seeds of success." -- Paramahansa Yogananda
18. "Failure doesn't mean that you're a failure ... it just means you haven't succeeded yet." -- Robert Schuller
19. "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald
20. "Failure is nature's plan to prepare you for great responsibilities."
-- Napoleon Hill
21. "You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."-- Mary Pickford
22. "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense." -- Winston Churchill
23. "We are not retreating -- we are advancing in another direction."
-- Douglas MacArthur
24. "I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward." -- Thomas A. Edison
25. "Fall seven times, stand up eight." -- Japanese Proverb
26. "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." -- Confucius
27. "Stumbling is not falling." -- Portuguese Proverb
28. "The way to succeed is to double your failure rate."
-- Thomas Watson, Founder, IBM
Your Money or Your Life
For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the financial services company that left me an urgent voice mail message asking that I call them back immediately about my availability to lead their annual leadership retreat on a island off the coast of Florida.
All I can recall was how generic sounding their name was -- something like National Investment Services... or Consolidated Financial Brokers.... or The American Banking Alliance -- kind of like the corporate equivalent of John Doe.
Somehow, they had heard of me and, with their big company pow wow coming up, were looking for someone, with a track record, to help them "become more innovative."
Never having heard of them before, I googled their name and, 1.73 seconds later, found myself on their website, slickly designed, I imagined, by someone with a special fondness for iStock photos of earnest looking models impersonating business people -- models who must have just moved to L.A. to pursue acting careers, but found themselves, at 24 or 35, working part-time as waiters and jumping at the chance to pick up some easy money wearing a suit and a smile for a day.
Easy for me to say -- me being the proverbial pot calling the proverbial kettle black with my big ass mortgage, family to feed and young entrepreneur's dream of making it big so I'd actually have enough moolah, one day, to invest with a financial services firm. Not to mention all the time in the world to write my best-selling book.
My first meeting with the client was pleasant enough. They talked. I listened, choosing not to interrupt them every time they made their point with an acronym I probably should have known if I only I hadn't spent my formative years living as a hippie, poet and monk.
OK, so they weren't a solar energy company. So they weren't asking me to help them end AIDS. I got it. This was business. The money business. The big money business -- and I was in it, no matter how much Rilke and Rumi I read on the side. Money. This was about money. Money and the VP of something or other inviting me to meet with him and his team the following week on the 57th floor of a building on Wall Street. There would be a badge waiting for me at the security desk, he explained. All I needed to do was show my ID.
Thrilled? Was I thrilled? Not exactly. But this was a possible gig and I needed the bread, so I went.
The VP and his team on the 57th floor looked nothing like the iStock photos on their company's homepage, though they did have a real nice view of Manhattan and a large mahogany conference table.
Our conversation went well enough. I asked all the right questions. They gave all the right answers. They sprinkled the conversation with football metaphors. I nodded. They gave me their business cards. I gave them mine. But on the way home, I began to feel a creeping sense of dislocation and dread -- like I was auditioning for a movie I wasn't quite sure I wanted to be in -- a movie being produced by a very fat man, sitting poolside, cell phone and martini in hand.
So when they called me back for a third meeting, I was betwixt and between. Do I simply trust my instincts and tell them I'm not their man? Or do I let go of my all-too-obvious self-righteous judgments and focus on the possibility that I might actually be able to help them get to higher ground?
Eternally the optimist, I chose the latter and decided to meet with them a third time -- a meeting, sad to say, which only confirmed the fact that I didn't like them very much and didn't like myself for sitting in a room with them and enabling their collective hallucination of themselves as a service organization when all they really wanted to do was make more money. Lots more money.
More chit chat. More coffee. More "run it up the flagpole" platitudes that littered our conversation like hidden charges on a credit card bill.
This was the moment of truth.
My client-to-be, apparently satisfied with what was about to become his decision to engage my services, cut to the chase and asked me to quote him a fee.
The honorable thing to have done, at the time, would have sounded like "John, I wish you the best of luck at your offsite, but after deep consideration, I don't think I'm the best possible fit for your company's needs."
But since I hadn't yet mastered the art of speaking my truth I took the easy way out and doubled my fees, thinking that they would now be so ridiculously high it would be the client's decision to end the relationship, not mine.
"That sounds about right," the client exclaimed, extending his right hand to seal the deal.
Fast forward six weeks later.
It's 8:30 a.m. and I'm on stage, in the Oakwood Room, on a beautiful island off the coast of Florida. Looking out at the audience, I notice that four of the gathered troops are sleeping, heads on the table. Someone in the front row explains to me that last night had been a "late one" and they'd all stayed up, drinking, until 4:00 a.m.
I tap the mic and begin speaking, trusting that the sound of my amplified voice would be enough to wake the dead.
Two of them snap to attention. The other two don't, still lightly snoring.
I signal the people sitting next to their sleep-deprived peers to poke them, which they do, shooting glances at me as if I am a substitute algebra teacher.
This is, as far I could tell, not a leadership offsite at all, but a college fraternity weekend -- big men on campus with stock options, golf shirts and a very high opinion of themselves. The collective attention span in the room is somewhere between a tse tse fly and a lizard. Nothing I say lands. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Only one thing is clear -- I am the highly paid warm up act before another night of drinking -- a small typographic box they can check off next quarter to prove they have done "the innovation thing."
I may have missed the moment of truth back at my client's office six weeks ago, but I wasn't going to miss it today.
"Gentlemen and ladies," I announce. "It's obvious that some of you don't want to be here. It seems you'd rather be golfing, napping or checking your email. I have no problem with that. So... we're going to take a 20-minute break. Only return if you really want to be here. Otherwise, you'll just be dead weight, screwing it up for the rest of us. Kapish?"
Twenty minutes pass. Everyone returns. Every single one of them.
And while the rest of the day didn't exactly qualify as one of the great moments in the history of innovative leadership off sites, at least it wasn't a total loss. Some good stuff actually happened. People woke up. People shaped up. People stepped up. And I learned a valuable lesson that would serve me for the rest of my life: Follow my feeling, not the money trail.
March 05, 2014
This story excerpted from my forthcoming book: WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.
How a Big Idea Can Open Doors, Minds, and Exciting New Possibilities
How I ended up on the 50-yard line of Mile High Stadium two hours before the high-flying Denver Broncos were about to play the Oakland Raiders in the 1978 AFC Championship game -- one that would determine who would go to the Super Bowl -- was not a mystery to me, merely a testament to the power of a BIG IDEA.
Two months ago, while meditating in my low-rent Denver apartment, a fascinating thought welled up from deep within me or wherever fascinating thoughts originate from -- the first bubble, it seemed, of a perfectly chilled bottle of champagne I had no memory of having opened.
BIG. The idea was big. Very big. Goodyear Blimp over the Super Bowl big and all I had to do was make two phone calls to make it happen.
The first? To Denver Magazine, letting them know I had an exclusive interview scheduled (I didn't) with The Pony Express, the Broncos' super hot cheerleading squad. The second? To the Denver Broncos, letting them know that I was a writer with Denver Magazine (I wasn't) and ready to do a cover story on the Pony Express.
In my mind, this was a done deal. Like the sun coming up tomorrow. Or the dishes in my sink remaining there for at least another three days.
So I picked up the phone and called the editor of Denver Magazine. He loved the idea, committed on the spot, and gave me two timely bits of information: what my compensation would be and when the article was due. Then I called the Broncos' PR Director. He loved the idea too, and also gave me two bits of information: the phone number of the head cheerleader and the location of their next rehearsal.
I was in! I was on! Or whatever the right preposition was to express the championship delight I was feeling in this glorious moment of pure possibility.
My job? To watch 23 cheerleaders go through their shimmy, shake and grind routines once a week, then interview them, on the breaks, looking for clues beyond their extraordinary cleavage, to see if they had anything enlightening to say to the readers of Denver Magazine.
This went on for about a month until I knew all their names, all their moves, and all their career aspirations -- high-flying dreams of the future that somehow seemed to escalate with each passing day.
"Would you like to ride on the bus with us to the Raider game?" the head cheerleader asked me after the third rehearsal. "It should give you some new angles for the story."
Angles? Curves? It was all the same to me, watching, as I was, with great fascination, my now four-week old idea continuing to take shape on a national stage.
Sitting in the back of the bus on game day, marveling at the number of cordless hair dryers able to operate simultaneously at 60 miles per hour, I couldn't help but wonder how I was going to get past the security guards when we finally got to the stadium, me a man of no obvious credentials -- no press pass, no union card, not even a letter of introduction.
Before you could say, "I almost had a date with the fabulous, former Ms. Puerto Rico after the the third rehearsal", the bus comes to a full stop. The head cheerleader stands, tells us we've reached our destination, and provides the last few words of encouragement as we file out, moving like a great sea of bangles, beads and breasts to the final security checkpoint.
Two by two the cheerleaders are waived through. Two by two, I am getting closer and closer to the realization of my idea, heart pounding, palms sweating, feeling increasingly unofficial.
"Hey Stacey," I call to the cheerleader walking beside me, "give me your pom-poms."
She does. The line grows shorter and so does my breath, the crustiest of security guards trying his best to look right through me.
"Hey!" he barks to the last few cheerleaders, "Who's that guy?"
"Oh, him!" they chant in unison. "He's with us."
I smile, shake my pom-poms and keep on walking. I'm in!
The girls go their way and I go mine, which is where any self-respecting, 29-year-old sports enthusiast following the Broncos and his big idea for the past few weeks would go: mid-field -- the 50-yard line -- the smack dab center of the football universe and, as far as I could tell, the smack dab center of every other universe, as well.
Up some staircases, down some ramps, through some hallways, out a chain-linked gate and I am on the sunlit field.
No linebackers are pursuing me. No cornerbacks. No safeties. The field is wide open and so am I, moving as fast as I can, tape recorder tucked under my right arm, to the 50-yard line.
Off in the distance, I see a large man in a dark uniform making his way towards me. His uniform is not orange like the Broncos. It is not silver and black like the Raiders. It is blue. Dark blue. Policeman blue.
If there was ever going to be an ESPN highlight reel of my life, this moment would be in it, the large officer of the law fast approaching, the only visible obstacle between me and my heart's destination.
Seeing he was just about to speak, I extend my microphone in his direction and position it just a few inches from his face.
"Officer," I announce in the most resonant primetime news voice I can muster, "Can we get your prediction? Who do you think is going to win today?"
The policeman pauses, making sure he is talking directly into the microphone. "Are you kidding me?" he blurts. "The Broncos! Absolutely! 27-10!"
Cupping my ear, I look up to the mythical press box in the mythical distance and announce, "You heard it folks, live from Officer Willoughby at Mile High Stadium. Broncos, 27. Raiders, 10. Now back to you, Ed."
The officer continues on his way. I turn and jog the final few yards to the 50-yard line, TV technicians scurrying all around me. The air is brisk. The sky is blue. The big game is about to begin.
This story is dedicated to my son, Jesse, and my daughter, Mimi, both of whom are on the cusp of their own creative breakthroughs.
My next football-themed article will feature the Seattle Seahawks' victory over the Denver Broncos in this year's Superbowl and the "secret sauce" that contributed to their victory -- the impact of The Inner Game on Pete Carroll's out-of-the-box approach to coaching.March 01, 2014
Follow Your Feeling, Not the Money Trail
Sometimes, you just gotta follow your feeling, not the money trail. A new article of ours just published in the Huffington Post.