Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Parenting Children and Innovations

The challenges, joys and dynamics of raising children provide an interesting metaphor for managing innovation.

A couple of months ago we received a letter from Carol Chase, the principal of our daughter’s school. The entire letter was devoted to some sound advice this principal had received from her mother about raising children. She gave it a fresh title: “Five Strategies for Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World,” but the wisdom in it was aged to perfection. Here are the five strategies:

1.     Say “No”: “When your child, whether four or fourteen, is demanding something more…your child needs you. Your child needs you to say “no.” Children of all ages need clearly defined boundaries, limits and expectations in order to develop self-reliance and personal responsibility.” Could a more pertinent principle be spoken for nascent innovations? Like children these innovation efforts to hear “no” so as to focus and concentrate their energies where development is needed. Without the “no’s,” innovations lose focus and discipline and can easily squander resources.

2.     Hold, Hug and Talk: “When your child is having a meltdown, your child needs you to give him or her a quiet space in which to calm down. Then it is essential to problem-solve with your child.  This is the beginning of teaching your child self-discipline.  It is best to start with a hold and a hug, and then begin the talk for problem-solving.” MOMs (or mentors of mavericks) are an often ignored but necessary role frequently missing in established companies seeking to innovate. Without a competent and present MOM (not to be confused with a sponsor, who is also necessary), innovations don’t receive the insulation from the “adult” (and performance metrics-oriented) world of the established revenue stream. MOMs and innovation midwives enable this “holding, hugging and talking” that allows for a set-based concurrent engineering” so effectively used by Toyota’s knowledge-based product development philosophy (see Michael N. Kennedy’s book, Product Development for the Lean Enterprise).

3.     Teach Money: “Living in a society that is consumer rich in material goods requires that children learn financial responsibility at an early age,” says Chase about raising children.  Hasn’t a similar point been  made about managing innovation by Clayton Christiansen when he admonishes us to be “patient for growth, but impatient for profit.”? (See his book, The Innovator’s Solution.) As a friend of mine recently said, reflecting on teaching his own kids about money: “When you have earned it, you treat it differently.”

4.     Teach Manners: “Your child needs you to teach social responsibility [which] begins by learning respectful communication, behavior, participation and contribution within the first community unit for a child—the family.”  In our 2003 five-company study of innovation practices, we found one of the major tasks in which “innovation midwives” or MOMs need to be diligent is in “honoring the core.”  If managers of established revenue streams feel in any way a competitive threat (for resources) coming from within the organization, they will consciouslyand often unconsciouslywork against the innovation.

5.     Live Your Values: “Your child needs you to teach core values. The clearer you are about your core values, the more solid the base for your child. This requires ongoing introspection on the part of the parent and an outgoing manifestation of living the values. Children are watching their parents always. They will do what they see parents do, not what parents say.”  If the established business is oriented to the purpose of serving the needs of its customers—even needs customers may not yet recognizethen it will not only talk the talk of innovation, but also will walk the walk.

Our innovation efforts not only need effective parenting, they also need effective parentsmavericks, project managers, technology gatekeepers, MOMs and “midwives.” Would we not be more successful at our innovation efforts if we took the time, effort, care and love children require of their parents?

This article by Lanny Vincent originally appeared in Innovating Perspectives in May 2004. For other issues of our newsletter, please go to www.innovationsthatwork.com or call (415) 387-1270.  

© 2013 Vincent & Associates, Ltd.