The Performance Paradox on IdeaConnection

March 16, 2011  

The second half of my interview with Vern Burkhardt from IdeaConnection was recently posted. Here are the first few paragraphs of this much longer interview.

“We can conclude that creativity is about being present, just as pit crews changing the tires on a Formula 1 car need to be present.” Stephen Shapiro

Vern Burkhardt (VB): While living in England for four years you worked with a Formula One race team. Would your Personality Poker playing card tool be useful in selecting the pit crew and drivers? (Vern’s note: see last week’s article for a detailed discussion about Personality Poker)

Stephen Shapiro: I’m not sure it would be useful in picking the pit crew members or the drivers, but I did learn a lot about how teams collaborate while watching Formula 1 pit crews.

There are some simple principles that pit crews use. One is each person is playing to their strong suit. Everybody understands completely what they must do. The person changing the lug nut on the front right tire does it better than anyone else. If I’m one of the two removing the rear left tire, we will do that better than anyone else.

The second principle is to make sure all positions are covered. If the person who is supposed to be fueling a car – back when they fueled a car in Formula 1 races – decided not to show up, you’ve got a serious problem that will cause the race to be lost.

The same thing applies to all organizations. They will have problems if they’re not “playing with a full deck” – that is, they don’t have all of the different positions or thinking styles addressed.

Another analogy to the card game we didn’t talk about last week is dealing out the work. It means we want to use a divide and conquer strategy. Everybody doesn’t do everything. They know how and when to pitch in.

Finally, from time to time we want to shuffle the deck to create some tension without having to have groupthink all the time.

The pit crew was a good model for creating high-performing innovation teams.

VB: The people who are the pit crew have to be present; they have to be focused on exactly what they are doing. Their brains can’t be wandering or thinking about anything else. Would that be fair to say?

Stephen Shapiro: That’s fair to say.

You bring to mind an interesting phenomenon that I call ‘the performance paradox.’ A study done by one of the pit crews found that when people did not focus on the stop-watch – on how fast they were working – but instead focused on being present, they actually completed the tasks faster even though the pit crew members thought they were going slower. They were encouraged to think about being ‘smooth’ if they were changing the tires or doing the other tasks.

We see the same thing happening inside organizations and, in particular, in the creativity space. When we tell people to be creative, and measure them on their creativity, the result often is less creativity. The process of focusing on the extrinsic measure of creativity paradoxically has the impact of worsening or lessening the level of creativity inside the organization. We can conclude that creativity is about being present, just as pit crews changing the tires on a Formula 1 car need to be present.

VB: Was it a difficult decision in 2001 to leave your job at Accenture, where you led that company’s Global Process Excellence Practice, to become a writer, speaker and consultant?

Stephen Shapiro: It was somewhat of an easy decision.

The launch of my first book, 24/7 Innovation, was on October 10, 2001 and my last day with Accenture was October 11, 2001. I had been speaking to audiences on behalf of Accenture for 8 years, and I felt it was time to try something different by promoting the book while still doing speaking engagements.

I quickly learned an important point about innovation when I launched my own business. There’s a difference between being a great speaker and having a great speaking business. I believe I was and still am a great speaker, but in the beginning I had no work. Just because I had a book published didn’t mean people were going to bang down my door so I had to be creative about how to find work.

For a lot of organizations you need to be creative about the way you market and sell because those are as important to the growth of the business as having a good product. Peter Drucker once said, “since the purpose of business is to generate customers, only two functions do this: marketing and innovation. All other business functions are expenses.”

I learned very quickly that he was right and marketing is king. The best product that no one knows about is not going to sell. Having said that, the ability to develop new products, services, and business models is also important and I don’t want to downplay their part in the success of a business.

VB: What do you do to psyche yourself up before you speak to a large audience?

Read the rest of this interview on the IdeaConnection website

Leave a Reply