leadership dot #2845: power of one

If you’re looking for something to watch during your time at home, I’d recommend McMillion$, the six-part documentary on HBO that outlines the McDonald’s Monopoly game fraud. They couldn’t have picked more colorful characters if they had cast them, but this is a true story with the real players who are cinematic gold.

Two takeaways from this series:

  • It was one person, working alone, who masterminded and carried out the entire scheme to steal the winning game pieces and sell them to others, netting himself a cool $24+ million in the process. If you played the game in the 1990s and thought you would “never” win, you were right because Jim Jacobson controlled all of the big winners within his network – for years.
  • It was one person, working alone, who tipped off the FBI and let to the end of the scheme as well as the arrest and conviction of many of its players. Had this person – whose identity is left a bit ambiguous in the show – not called the Bureau, the scam could still be going on today.

Whether for good or for ill, one person has the power to make an indelible, lasting impact on things far outside their own circle. Use your power wisely.

leadership dot #2833: it’s impossible

The next time you think something is “impossible”, remember this week.

When you hear yourself saying “there’s no way we could…”, remember this week.

If you think that massive disruption of a system is too big to be achieved, remember this week.

And if you’re gridlocked, thinking that major changes require months of planning, remember this week.

When the “why” is compelling enough, people, businesses and whole systems can turn upside down with virtually no notice. Remember that the next time you’re trying to initiate a change instead of reacting to one.

 

leadership dot #2772: paint

A friend once said that “paint was the coolest invention.” That thought always stuck with me because when you think about it, it really is an amazing tool. Paint has the ability to transform a space – and with relative ease and reasonable cost.

Paint is that elusive item that can create a big impact but requires little effort to implement. Think about what the equivalent of paint is for your organization. What can you do to realize results in the short term without a significant investment? Perhaps it is allowing employees a day to work from home. Maybe it is rearranging your reception area. Or maybe it’s making that call to a partner and finally agreeing to work together on a project. Or it could be literally painting a wall – in your home or office – to make a statement with color.

Another benefit of paint is that it’s not permanent. It can last a long time if you want it to, or you can repaint tomorrow. And so it goes with change. Try something. Experiment. Start. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always apply another coat and try again.

leadership dot #2666: assembly line

To set a 1910 context for the movie Seabiscuit, the film starts out by describing the newly-invented Model T. When Ford began producing the car, it required 13 hours to assemble. Within five years, a vehicle rolled out every 90 seconds. “The real invention wasn’t the car,” the movie narrator claimed, “It was the assembly line that built it.” The process of building a car was replicated by other businesses and let to the industrial era of automation.

There have been other inventions that became a linchpin for others to use in new ways: the touch screen ushered in kiosks, smartphones, and tablets. The chimney allowed for skyscrapers and multi-level buildings which resulted in urban centers. ATM machines created a culture of self-service in industries far beyond banking.

But all transformative changes don’t need to occur through technology. Think of smaller enhancements you can create that have a ripple effect throughout your organization or beyond. Your onboarding process becomes a model for others in your profession. A new way of pricing is replicated by others (think subscription services). A whistleblower documents a complaint and inspires others to have the courage to do the same – changing the trajectory of leadership in the organization. You take the time to document a process and it enables others to build on your learning and achieve results that would have initially seemed impossible.

We often focus on the end results and only with time can we come to appreciate the true impact of our work. Keep building your equivalent of the Model T, realizing that your assembly line could turn out to be the real gem.

 

leadership dot #2534: higher calling

Clif Bar believes so strongly in the value of going organic that they offered to share their expertise to help their largest competitor (Mars’ brand Kind Bars) transition to using more organic materials. In the New York Times, Clif challenged Kind to “make an investment in the future of the planet and our children’s children by going organic.” Clif offered to give away not just their knowledge about how to go organic but added in 10 tons of organic ingredients as an incentive. Talk about living your values!

Clif made this offer because they see their purpose as bigger than making energy bars. Their aim is higher than making any one product; their goal is to impact the food system and increase the use of organic throughout the country. As part of this effort, they are not only challenging Kind but also serve as the largest private funder of organic research in the country.

For Clif, the goal of organic is bigger than sales, and they have recognized that they need to inspire partners to work with them to achieve it. It reminded me of that old adage about the bricklayer not just laying bricks or even building a wall, but as someone who saw his job as helping to build a cathedral.

How high is your organization’s vision? Have you inspired people to work for a cause or are you mired down in making products? You may know the answer to that if you’re willing to share your knowledge with a competitor in order to achieve it.

leadership dot #2499: vision

If you need an example of the difference one person can make, look no further than the story of J. Irwin Miller. Mr. Miller was a businessman, philanthropist and lover of architecture and he dedicated his passion toward transforming his hometown of Columbus, Indiana. Through his vision and with support of his foundation, Columbus has become a “global mecca of architectural achievement.” The town of 45,000 has 7 national historic landmarks and over 90 buildings and works of public art by America’s most celebrated architects including I. M. Pei and Eero Saarinen.

Miller was a businessman who knew that his community needed to recruit and retain workers, and he believed that architecture helped make a town more desirable as a place to live. “I would like to see this community come to be the very best community of its size in the country,” he said. Backing up his words, the Cummins Foundation that he ran would pay the fees of the notable architects on its list for any community building project. Thus, over 60 buildings — the post office, churches, library, schools, shopping mall and more — came to be designed by some of the industry’s greats. In turn, Columbus has become a tourist destination, attracting thousands of visitors each year to tour the collection of modern architecture throughout the town.

It was said of Mr. Miller that “he could, and he did.” He led by example in striving for excellence and became a role model for others who saw his vision and invested in the community. Take a lesson from him and think big about the role you can play in your small world.

Learn more about Columbus here.

leadership dot #2358: change framework

Organizations often have a paradoxical challenge when trying to implement change: their aspirations are too small and their implementation plans are too big. Through work I’m doing with the Alia Innovation Cohort, I was introduced to a model that addresses both ends of the spectrum.

The Change Framework, developed by School Retool, starts with the identification of a big Aspiration – an inspiring, clear vision of why you are doing the work of change. Next, a short list of Behaviors are identified –if you achieved the aspiration what behaviors would you see. It is easy to have a lofty aspiration, but making it concrete by specifying what it would look like in action helps to design a few Big Ideas toward achieving the desired behaviors. Big Ideas are evidence-informed ideas that could be game-changers – if accomplished they would lead to the behaviors that would achieve the aspiration. Finally, implementation occurs through Hacks – small pilot projects or experiments to learn what achieves movement toward the Big Idea and what doesn’t.

Examples from School Retool help to illustrate the framework in action. The project adopted an aspiration to create “Deeper Learning”. Behaviors that illustrate Deeper Learning included seeing more students engaged in projects and an increase in student voice. Some of the Big Ideas include peer-to-peer learning programs, making learning relevant and making student work public. From there, you can imagine the hundreds of hacks that could move a school closer to achieving its Big Idea. For Alia’s work in reimagining the child welfare system, the aspiration is “Family connections are always preserved and strengthened” with behaviors of fewer children in out-of-home placements, increased community involvement and a shift in the mindset of staff.

If you are engaged in transformation efforts – and who isn’t these days – give the Change Framework a try. Articulating the model’s components in a concise manner will go a long way toward helping you actually achieve the change you desire. [More on hacks and levers of change tomorrow.]

For a copy of the framework, click here.