If you believe this is completely the opposite to everything you've ever been taught, it probably is. However, stick with it, perhaps in here is something you need to know.
I take my theme from cell biology, and the discovery of apoptosis, the process of cell death that we now know is critical to our understanding of cancer and the treatment of cancers in humans. But for 20 years laboratories around the world focused their research on cell growth, and research on cell death was ignored and not funded. It's easy to see why human beings might choose to study "life" rather than "death". But that was a mistake. A mistake repeated over and over and over by people as they make deliberative decisions about what to do.
So when we plan to be successful in our lives or in our business, the first order of business in hundreds of success guides is to "decide EXACTLY what your GOALS are". The most common way of explaining this is to set "SMART goals". Do a Google search and you'll find many examples. That's great if what you are doing something you've done before, or if you're doing something that's well established. If you are the CEO of a progressive company or the champion for an innovative idea, you are in great danger if that's your success formula.
Innovation is Critical
Recent surveys have suggested that more than 60% of all CEO's rate innovation as critical to the success of their company. But very few people have good knowledge about how to make innovation happen. There's a disconnect here. I've run an innovation group on Ryze for 4 years. Members who contribute usually have a theory they are pushing. They all think that they "know". Even in a specialist group most of the members are searching for answers. Searching is good, less certainty and even more searching would be even better. Which is exactly what's wrong with the SMART Goals approach.
I have my own theory about innovation, but people don't like it, and I won't explain it here. At a personal level I have liked Stephen Covey's approach to success. It's both practical and open to change. You might notice some of his thinking in the proposal below.
A Generalised Success Formula
Be your own leader, DO THINGS. Take responsibility for what is happening about you, and be proactive in how you approach your work. When you do things you learn: failures are going to occur, but they don't matter if the lesson they teach is captured. People who try to do something new become those who learn the fastest.
Discover and Remove Your OWN Blindness. This is the "big one" that points to the fallacy in all the books about positive thinking. Things are as they are, a real world exists. Your own understanding of that world is self made, your own waking dream that you call "reality". You "see" what you want to see, and you are "blind" to much of the world around you. There are two common ways that people recognise their own "blindness", when you accept the ideas of other people, and after you've hit a brick wall of some kind, and you have to evaluate why you failed. Learning from other people is a lot less painful.
Discover the Useful Common. The useful common, is the culture you've grown up in, and the friends around you, and your business associates, and the natural networks you've built in school, in clubs and in community activities. There are clubs and associations and support networks in every community. Today with the Internet the reach of the useful common is global. You can join groups who share your interests and concerns, but who don't necessarily share your culture and your biases. They may have access to knowledge and resources that you don't have access too. You take from the common, and you contribute to it.
Understand the Big Picture and the Best Ideas. The useful common, once you discover it, has much to teach you. That may be overwhelming at first. Generally, you can trust other people to help. You'll need to read a lot, and to listen to what other people are saying and doing. "Seek first to understand," says Stephen Covey.
Initiate Your Own Learning. All real education is self driven. You need to decide what you need to learn, and where best to find that knowledge. If your own knowledge is very basic, courses in schools and colleges might be useful. The more experienced and active you are in a particular field the more likely you'll find a Community of Practice, will provide you with the resources you need. Every COP has it's own agreed core discipline, and disputed edges where practice is an "art". Keep a private journal, or a private blog. Your creative ideas usually begin as vague notions, and only become powerful and real if you give them time and effort. Writing notes for yourself focuses the mind on these ideas and helps you to search for the related concepts that bring the concept clearly into focus in your mind.
Build Your Productive Capacity. None of us can be successful alone. You need to be part of a company, a cooperative, or a group that has a productive structure and function. This may be the company you work for, or the company you helped to create. At least you need a place to work, certain tools and materials, and people to work with. Just as importantly you need to build a user base or a customer base. Most innovations are tiny modifications of existing processes. This stepping stone method is tedious but relatively safe and secure. That's the way of almost all science and much of business.
Work in Collaboration with Others. There are many stories of people who worked and struggled for a long time before finding the right partner and success. With the Internet, you are not restricted to collaboration with local people. Collaborations usually start by working together informally and simply, by being helpful and sharing information. Networking naturally leads to collaboration, and the goal is to make it a win/win situation for you both (or for you all).
Do Good Work. It's easy to take the shortcut and turn a profit by externalising your real cost to the environment or the community. That's been a common business practice since business began. We are called upon to act with greater vision today. Economic growth has to be defined in a new way, or in the long run there will be death for many and little business for anyone. Getting bigger, has to be accompanied by getting smaller. If we are clever there is an incentive here to be more efficient and more profitable, while doing LESS. Certainly, much of the so called work people do would be better left undone. As a community we need to think more clearly about what is a real cost, and what is a useful product or service.
Those are my thoughts, today, 21 May, 2008.