Thursday, February 19, 2009


Part 2: “How to persuade your boss that innovation is a good thing?”

Part 2: “How to persuade your boss that innovation is a good thing?”

The last week of January I posted a commentary, telling our readers that I had been asked to substitute for a speaker on the subject of “how to persuade your boss that innovation is a good thing.” I decided to have the audience members answer the question for themselves, since this requires close knowledge of their own culture. Many thanks to the readers who contributed questions and their experiences that helped me structure the event.

My first question to the group was “When have you had a great success persuading your organization to change ANYTHING? What did you do?” The answers varied widely, from installing e-mail (a while ago!) to changing inventory management methods to replacing conventional advertising with product placement to outsourcing software development, and the methods ranged from the expected (calculated return on investment, benchmarking) to the somewhat surprising (asked customers! Took board members to visit customers! used social/peer pressure)

I then repeated the question in the negative: “When have you had a colossal failure to persuade your organization to change something? What was it and what did you do?” Not surprising, on reflection, was that the 2 lists were almost the same, but the efforts were directed at different people. The key element that all our comment-contributing readers emphasized was the need for a good match between the “target” and the technique.

There was very positive response to the two worksheets that I gave the group to organize their thinking. The first was a table with simple columns: People (in your group, in other groups, in the hierarchy), the history with that person (successes and failures, on what issues, using what methods). The participants then picked 2 people, and filled out the second worksheet, which was a simple set of questions:
1. What is important to this person?
2. What do you need to have this person DO?
Will doing the action(s) in step 2 help this person achieve the goals in step 1?
A. If YES, how will you explain it to him/her?
4. B. If NO, what should you change? (The target person—find one with different goals? The action that you are asking for?)
If YES, put your action plan here:

There were 2 predominant reactions around the room, as the participants filled out the worksheet for their own particular situations.
1. Even though it took about 6 minutes to finish one worksheet, they learned something from the process, and they were astonished (retrospectively) that in the past they had just started talking to people without stopping to think through how to structure the “campaign.”
2. The most frequent source of failure was question 3; that is, the requested action would benefit the requestor, but NOT the person being asked to do the action. On reflection, this was considered a primary cause of failure
3. A significant minority said that they had never considered option 4B; that is, they always kept looking for new arguments for their target, and never looked for new targets/supporters in the organization.

This was a great example of the TRIZ concept of the use of resources that are already in the problem to solve the problem. We used the knowledge in our community (thanks to everybody who made comments!) and the knowledge in the workshop, and their knowledge of their own organizations, to learn new ways to solve the problem of persuasion. Thanks to all of you for the experiment.

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