While our new innovation system is taking root

A letter I wrote to the folks that inspired and collaborated on some of the best work of my life:

To the folks that inspired and collaborated on some of the best work of my life:

I hope you will feel as proud as I do about what we produced and will nurture its future potential. We resisted the temptation to rush things, and steadily built up momentum as each chance for progress arose organically. 

We boldly faced up to hard decisions, overcame frustration and angst, and finished ahead of expectations. The result is a completely home-grown system to sustain our inherited responsibilities and unlock innovation capacity within the constraints of our authority. It is a remarkable achievement and yet so many more accomplishments are waiting in the use of it.

(Note: Search for “Innovation System Plan” on our Google Drive to see what we produced.)

Alas, I must root you on to glory from afar. The time has come to shift my focus to a different agency, so I wanted to share some parting thoughts. I hope you will keep them in mind during this period of transition.

  • Stay OPEN - Watch for opportunities to be more optimistic, productive, expansive, and inclusive, despite current boundaries. Ask “How might we make openness possible in this situation?” and then decide if the effort is worth it. Openness is a virtuous cycle; finding even small chances to be open now will increase openness later.
  • Speak up for your NEEDS - When people are trying to be helpful, yet are not helpful and possibly making work harder, try to guide them so that they can see the actual need, and assure them that it is safe to stop doing the things they think are helpful but aren’t. The more that teammates - and especially the leaders - focus on how to meet real needs, the more productive the team will become. Likewise, the more that your work is rigorously and understandably prioritized, the more it aligns strategically.
  • Know WHO you are delivering to - Having nothing to show for it is not the worst way to end a day of work; it’s having no one to show it to. This is avoidable by resolving to stop doing work that doesn’t unblock someone, including yourself, or that doesn't result in meeting a customer. The fight against busy work is a choice to be responsible for meeting needs and not to be “in charge of” a list of things or tasks.
  • The power of AND - Plans that fulfill two success criteria at once build momentum faster than plans that start by deciding to give up on a success factor. Choosing from two or more plans that meet all success criteria is a worthwhile use of your decision-making powers.
  • Get to WE - It’s disconcerting when a premise for a decision is something like “It seems to me this is just…”, and yet it doesn’t seem that way to everybody else. There is a big difference between a strongly held personal belief and common truth. Instead of choosing one person’s beliefs as the basis for group decisions, search for a shared factual basis first. Then layer in interpretations and beliefs.
  • Help each other hold to your PRINCIPLES - It is human nature to hold on to the familiar during times of change and transition, so the choice of what to hold onto matters. Familiar roles, routines, patterns, mistakes, ways of doing things, and power dynamics are friction on the path to improvement. Shared principles are forward-looking and fuel for acceleration. Each decision is a chance to progress on one or more principles. Which way a decision goes depends on protesting moves away from these principles and cheering moves toward them.

Purpose: Align our actions with our purpose as a portfolio.

Connectedness: Give everyone a role to play and relationships to build.

Clarity: Protect prioritized work. Acknowledge realistic organizational limits. Document and share learnings, discoveries, outputs.

Empowerment: Create roles that are individually empowering. Internalize new practices, approaches, vocabulary, awareness and workflow.

Stability: Build on what we know and what we have already built. Explicitly revise plans instead of starting over or repeating flaws.

Time effectiveness: Value people's time with regard to outcomes and priorities. Dedicate time and space to finishing the highest priority work.

(Note: Search for “Innovation System Plan” on our Google Drive to see the plan that embodies these principles)

The next phase of this transition will be like taking the Innovation System for a test drive and I'm wishing you a great ride.

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