Some things never change.
October 7, 2008 I wrote an article about how our airport security measures are messed up. I contended back then that we needed to move from a reactive model to a proactive model. Instead of responding to terrorist threats after the fact, we need to predict what will happen next. In the article I discuss why we have to take off our shoes and can’t bring liquids on planes. It was not because we predicted the use of shoe bombs or liquid explosives. Instead these inconveniences are solely (pun intended – shoe reference) due to the acts of terrorists. They do something nasty, we respond. But we never predict what will happen to prevent an attack in the first place. In this article I also discuss how to predict the next innovation for your company.
Guess what. Some things never change.
On Christmas day 2009, 14 months later, there was the same reactive response. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane on its way into Detroit. He tried to light his crotch on fire. What do our crackpot security agents do? They react once again just as they have so many times before. Now you can’t keep anything on your lap for the last hour of certain flights.
In 2001, in my book, 24/7 Innovation: A Blueprint for Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Change, the pervasive theme was about “connecting the dots.” This term appeared dozens of times in the book. Sometimes I used the term “boxes” and “lines” instead. For example, in the prologue I wrote:
“I find it useful to think of a business as being, quite simply, a pattern of boxes and lines. Boxes can be tasks, people, departments, computers or units within a business. Lines are the inter-relationships and dependencies that connect these boxes together. It seems to me that too often businesses have focused on the boxes rather than the lines.”
The point being that businesses need to get better at connecting the dots within and across organizations. For your enjoyment, you can read the entire prologue of 24/7 Innovation here (pdf).
I received my first copy of the book, hot off the press, on September 12, 2001. Clearly given the events of the previous day, the receipt of my book was not the joyous occasion I had hoped it would be.
In the years following the book release, I searched for interesting examples of organizations who successfully and unsuccessfully connected the dots within their organization. Then one day, I found an excellent quote that I used frequently during my speeches.
“In looking back, I believe that… the inability to connect the dots was really structural. We couldn’t be dependent on chance that something might come together… [Since then] we have made some very important structural changes… That is an extremely important innovation.”
Any guesses as to who said that and about what situation? It was Dr. Condoleeza Rice, who at the time was Assistant to the President for National Security. She was talking about the failure of the intelligence agencies prior to the 2001 terrorist attacks. Eight years ago she too understood the need to connect the dots. And according to her statement which was made in front of the 9/11 committee in 2004, “structural changes” were made to improve the situation. You can read the full quote in a transcript of her testimony on the NYT website.
Some things never change.
Just last night, President Obama said that the Christmas Day attack was the result of a “failure to connect the dots.”
Anti-terrorist agents “had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot … but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots. This was not a failure to collect intelligence; it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.”
My questions to you is…
What things never change within YOUR organization? Are you predicting the next innovation or are you just waiting for your competitors to beat you to the punch? Are you connecting the dots within your organization, or are you still operating in silos?
If you found this article useful or interesting, please press the "Like" button and post a Facebook comment below.
The other day I saw this video of Tom Peters from 2007. He contends that “benchmarking is stupid.” It is a good video that is worth watching.
While watching this, I couldn’t help but reflect back to back to the year 2000, when I started penning my first book, “24/7 Innovation.” The first paragraph of the first chapter was:
I play golf — not well, but I play golf. My handicap is in double digits. For me to shoot par would be a dream. But for Tiger Woods, par would be a nightmare. I am reminded of this comparison when I see companies that are satisfied to focus on their understanding of “par,” otherwise known as best practice. It was once an admirable aim, but is not sufficient today. Your competitors are more like Tiger Woods than they are like me. Par won’t keep you alive in the current environment.
Smart businesses are learning to push farther. They know that best practice will not get them where they want to be. Not so long ago, it was possible for a company to set the industry standard or best practice, then sit back and watch weaker rivals try to catch up. But businesses are now in a greater state of flux than ever before in the history of commerce. Global competition has reached a stage where no sooner has one firm achieved excellence than so too have its imitative rivals. The only way a company can hope to stay ahead now is by being continuously entrepreneurial and innovative, by creating processes and capabilities that allow innovation to flourish and become a core strength. Only then is it possible to escape from the game of follow-the-leader, of shooting for par.
However, having said that, I am not against best practices altogether. I am just against them as your innovation strategy. In particular, best practices are not useful for defining your “differentiating” capabilities.
In my 2007 article on “Innovation Targeting,” I discuss why best practices are actually ideal for core (and sometimes support) capabilities. These are part of the business that are important to the customer but do not set you apart in the marketplace. You want these to run like a well-oiled machine. High quality, low cost. But differentiating capabilities must help you stand out in a crowded marketplace.
I discuss this concept in this 10 minute presentation (in Malaysia) where I use a very simple example.