If you work for a perfect organization, stop reading. This article’s not for you.
Still reading? Well, you're in good company. My friend Samantha Bailey confessed to me that her company, too, has a few flaws.
Samantha knows UX (“user experience”). I met her years ago when we both worked at Thomson Reuters, where she was hired to build a UX team. Now she is Director of UX at Merrill Corporation, a leading financial paper company.
Last New Year’s Eve, Samantha contacted me. She asked if Phase 5 could help Merrill with a project she was working on. “Of course,” I answered. “What’s your deadline?” She replied, somewhat sheepishly, “Four weeks.”
We delivered the project and had enough fun doing it that I proposed we give a talk about the experience. Fast forward to last month and that’s exactly what we did. Our speech at the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) Conference in Atlanta was titled “Real Life Innovation: Find Money, Co-opt Naysayers, and Bring Good Ideas into Imperfect Organizations.”
How to deal with imperfect conditions without losing our minds? In the speech, Samantha suggests a philosophy of “Pragmatic Idealism,” which she told our (standing room only!) audience to implement from three angles:
1. ASSESS YOUR LANDSCAPE
We fancy ourselves change-makers, but before we can change anything, we must first assess our environment and the people who share it.
Samantha recommends adopting what she calls a “learner’s mind.” This means asking good questions (What is our company’s mission? How does it make money? How are decision-makers evaluated and compensated? How and when does the money flow?) to maintain a fresh perspective.
We should also identify the players who get things done in our organization. Samantha divides these people into three groups:
- Allies: Helpful people likely to support our ideas.
- Stakeholders: Decision makers and influencers, not yet on our side.
- Skeptics: Cynical and prone to reject your ideas, they represent what we’re up against.
2. LAY THE GROUNDWORK
“Chance,” said Louis Pasteur, “favors the prepared mind.”
He should know. His lucky encounter with microbes in the 19th Century revolutionized multiple industries.
Translated for business professionals like you and me: put in the legwork now. Above all, this means networking. Share your ideas whenever you can, especially with opinion leaders in your organization. Their feedback will help you respond to the naysayers.
3. LEVERAGE NATURAL BUSINESS CYCLES
Forced down times are natural parts of every business life cycle. They are also a great time to experiment with new ideas or methods.
Samantha used one such period to implement a new business approach. She had long been interested in contextual inquiry – Karen Holtzblatt’s method for gathering field data to understand how technology impacts workers. During one down time, Samantha convinced her company to pay for her and her UX team to be certified in contextual inquiry, which she later implemented to terrific effect.
That’s the gist of it. If you want more, you can download a detailed summary of our PDMA presentation, with slides .