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Alicia Blain

Entries tagged with “21st Century”.


I came across this great blog written by a Gen Yer called Derek Singleton titled “How Manufacturing can Attract Young Talent Again“.  He is an ERP Analyst for a company called Software Advice and he covers the manufacturing software market.  In the blog he ponders why he never thought to choose a career in manufacturing.  He realizes that there are many reasons why young professionals like himself would never think of it either.  Things like not having popular role models in manufacturing. Can you think of even one person in manufacturing that you’ve heard of?   For that matter, when was the last time we heard a positive story about manufacturing?  All we hear about are plant closings and how the factories are being moved overseas.

Derek goes on to explain why it’s important to pursue manufacturing careers and his points are well taken.  What I liked best is that Derek had some suggestions to making  manufacturing cool again to attract Gen Yers.  Take gamification for instance.  Did you know that there are 3D games that show new hires (aka Gen Yers) how to operate oil refinery equipment? Or that there’s a game called Plantville which is similar to Farmville designed to teach manufacturing processes and technologies to new hires?  Companies like Invensys and Siemens have been investing their money in the gamification of manufacturing.  How cool is that?

Derek also had a great idea about having manufacturing summer camps!  Isn’t that great?  What about restoring shop classes back in high school?  The point is that you can’t expect young people to get excited about a career in an industry they have no exposure to or is not perceived in a good light.

It’s by attracting young talent that manufacturing can get a facelift and perhaps become cool again.  Derek’s blog reminded me of several blogs I’ve written this past year on a similar vein. Last year, I wrote about Kristine Harper who followed her father’s footsteps and choose a career in mainframes.  Yes, that’s right – mainframes.  She started an IBM Share user group called “zNextGen There are over 700 engineers, all of them Millennials, that are “looking to improve mainframe technology skills and find places to use them.” 

The manufacturing sector needs a Kristine Harper to jumpstart change, make it cool again and get Gen Yers excited about being a part of the change.  The Armed Forces is another example.  I’ve blogged several times about how different groups within the Armed Forces are using gamification to attract Gen Yers.

But first, Gen Yers have to know the industry exists in the first place.  They have to be exposed to it, hear about it, learn about it, see role models in manufacturing that are making a difference, that are making change.

What do you think?  Do you like Derek’s ideas on making manufacturing cool?  Do you think it will atract Gen Yers? What ideas do you have to make it cool? Or do you think it’s too late? I hope not.  Because if there’s an industry that needs the creativity, fresh blood and curiosity of Gen Yers, it’s manufacturing.  Here’s to making “Shop” cool again…

 

Last week, I had the rare treat of being around NINE 20-somethings for 7 whole days. As many of you know by now, I love watching Gen Yers.In fact, I learned to figure them out by creating a living, breathing lab years ago as I started hiring them. They frustrated me so much that I knew that I either had to figure them out or put in for early retirement. I chose the first option. Putting Gen Yers under the microscrope changed so many things in my life but most especially it changed the way I saw them and the way I led them.

Last week, I had a chance to observe nine of them in a personal setting instead of a professional one. Although I’ve been able to do this in the past, I didn’t have the opportunity to do it for long periods of time like I did last week. Seven glorious days!

So let me give you the quick backstory. My fiance’s mother, June, turned 90 in June. Isn’t it cute that June’s name is her birth month? Anyway, I digress. June’s daughter decided to host a family reunion in August so the entire family could make it. It’s a pretty big family so you can imagine how difficult it was to get busy schedules to align.

What was so amazing is that June’s daughter and her husband PAID for the entire reunion!! And I mean everything from renting the house next door, to stocking refrigerators full of food, to paying for dinners, a suite at a Padres game, tickets to the local outdoor symphony featuring the Beatles and Rolling Stones, to a beautiful sunset birthday dinner at a golf course. It was a magical week full of wonderful memories and all made possible by the generosity of June’s daughter & husband. I know the karma gods will reward them generously for their beautiful and selfless gesture and we are all indebted to them for everything they did.

So, the nine 20-somethings were mostly June’s grandchildren and a couple of their friends. I got to talk to them, observe them, understand what was important to them and just immerse myself in their world. In doing so, I realized that today’s 20-somethings are just like we were at their age – but with a 21st Century twist. I also realized just how much I had forgotten what it was like to be 20-something. Here are the 3 things that stood out:

1. They love having fun. Whether it was playing bananagrams in the dining room table or making signs to take to the Padres game or rocking out to the Beatles & the Rolling Stones at the Pops concert, 20-somethings live their life to the fullest. Seeing their zest for life and the dreams they had for the future, reminded me that I was exactly like them at their age – I had just forgotten.

Here’s the  twist:  At the same time they were playing bananagrams, some of them were playing scrabble on their smartphones with either someone else at the reunion or a friend online.  Before going to the Rolling Stones concert, they went to iTunes to listen to some Stones hits so they would recognize them at the concert.  Remember, the Beatles & Stones aren’t bands they listen to but yet they were totally cool about getting to know them & going to a concert that showcased their songs.  At 20-something, I know I wouldn’t even dream of going with my parents to a supper club to hear Frank Sinatra.  How about you?

2.  They love to Party.   While the boring Boomers would scramble to bed exhausted at 9:00 or 10:00, their evening was just beginning.  They would either congregate in one of the houses or they’d go to a local bar.  Sometimes, I’d hear them getting back at 3 0r 4 in the morning.  It reminded me of how I’d do the same thing in my twenties. But again, going to bed at 10PM makes you forget the days when 10PM meant you were getting ready to go out and party the night away.

Here’s the twist: Unlike their parent’s generation, I found that 20-somethings today are more aware of the hazards of drinking and driving. Instead of putting their lives and those of others at risk, these 20-somethings chose to let someone else do the driving instead. I find that 20-somethings today take cabs after a night of partying rather than get behind a wheel.  For a group that’s considered to be immature and irresponsible, that’s a pretty responsible thing to do and it’s smart too. How many times did you call a cab after a night of partying?

 Through all of their partying, these 20-somethings are connected at all times to their smartphones/cellphones.  They are either letting their friends know where they are, or finding a place to go eat afterwards or taking a picture to put on their facebook page, the technology is always with them and utilized all the time. Boomers will never know what that feels like.  We had to find our way to a payphone and prayed that it worked if we wanted to make a call.

3.  They love their families.  One of my fondest memories of this reunion will be how well all the generations – Veterans, Boomers, Xers, Gen Yers and iGen (yes, there were even children under the age of 11) got along.  There was love and respect even when understanding a certain way of thinking was difficult.  After all, what someone in their 90s thinks is important is very different than what a 20-something thinks it is. I loved how everyone laughed and interacted with one another and the genuine interest the 20-somethings had in the stories told by the older generations.  I thought back to the family reunions I attended in my twenties and how despite our differences, I respected and loved my family.  I still remember the wonderful family stories that were told that I still remember today.   I had just forgotten where I first heard them.

Here’s the twist:  20-somethings today really like to hang out with their parents.  They didn’t congregate in a group removed from the older folks, they got right into the conversation and the action.  In  my twenties, I distinctly remember how the younger group would separate themselves from the older folks and hang out separately.  Not so today.  Here’s an even bigger shocker – these 20-somethings didn’t even mind if their parents hung out with them at the bar or late into the night.  That NEVER happened when I was in my twenties.  Parents were simply not allowed into our space.  Not so with this crop of 20-somethings.  They include everyone… at least to a certain point.

It seems like every day I read or hear someone highlighting how different or strange these 20-somethings are.  After spending seven fun-filled days with nine of them, I can tell you they are more like us than we give them credit for.  It’s just very hard to think back to the days we were their age.  Also, they have their own unique twist that makes them unfamiliar – but not different.  From the generation that lived the  sex, drugs & rock n’ roll mantra, imagine how frightening we must have been for our very proper and “square” parents?

I think that if we start from a place of acceptance and commonality, the differences among us aren’t so stark. They add flavor to the rich fabric of our personal and professional lives.  And we are all the more blessed because of it.

To all the 20-somethings out there – You ROCK!!

According to Alan Webber, co-founder of Business Week, it is.  After spending the last month traveling & speaking extensively & talking to a lot of leaders from IT & other disciplines, I agree with Alan Webber. Why?  Well,  Alan has a formula that gets to the heart of why people change & it’s so applicable in today’s workplace. Here’s the formula:

                                              C (SQ) > R (C)

And here’s what it means.  According to Alan, change (C) happens only when the cost of the status quo (SQ) is GREATER than the risk (R) of change (C).

Brilliant, isn’t it and so simple.  But very powerful & indicative of what is happening across organizations today.  I’ve said many times in my blog that leaders today are like renaissance leaders who have been given a challenge and an opportunity to pave the way for change in the 21st Century.  As much as we don’t like change & many times resist it, we know deep down inside that the practices & principles we were taught & that we’ve used so well in our long corporate careers are no longer effective.  They are not helping us meet the challenges that we face today whether it is the fast pace of technology,  the fact that we work in a global market or that we have a young workforce that’s not like ones we’re used to.

The irony is that even though we know that what we’re used to or said differently -the status quo – is not working the fear of change, of the unknown, is so high that we choose to hold on to the past instead of venturing forth & trying something new. I know exactly what it feels like to be in that situation.  As I started hiring Millennials years ago, I wanted desperately to hold on to the way I had led in the past.  It was comfortable, it had always worked & it fit me like a glove.  Why did I have to change?  I resisted it for a long time confident in the fact that those pesky Millennials would finally adapt to the workplace like the rest of us had.

It took me a lot of trial & error to discover that while I was holding on to those leadership principles of the past, the world had changed dramatically over those years.  What I didn’t realize was how those changes became imbedded in our Millennial  children from a very young age & the end result was that those changes fundamentally altered the way the Millennials & every generation that comes after them see the world, their workplace & their bosses.  It was painful for me to realize that how I led in the past (i.e., the status quo) was not serving me any longer.  But after fighting it, I discovered that holding on to the past, to the status quo, was going to be costlier for me in the long run than the risk of making a change.  I came up with my C.A.R.E. System for Leadership as a result of all the trial & errors I had gone through.  Ironically enough, one of the components of the A in C.A.R.E. which stands for Adapt is a technique to let go of the status quo. 

So I had to take a leap.  Changing how I did things & how I led & managed was extremely uncomfortable at first but I kept going & I kept pushing myself & challenging my leadership comfort zone.  The results were transformational not only for my team but especially for me as a leader. I embraced the change & stopped fighting to keep the status quo – I had to let go of the status quo

As I’ve traveled both nationally & internationally this past month, I’ve seen leaders at different stages of acceptance of the math formula above.  The ones that are infusing innovation & change within their teams are the ones, like me, who were uncomfortable changing their styles but did it anyway.  The ones that are still holding on to the status quo are filled with conversations that start with “Yea, but…” They are convinced that the corporate structure will force Millennials to adapt to it.  My question to that has always been “Why”.  It’s not like the corporate structure is so wonderful or evolutionary that it couldn’t stand a radical makeover, right?  There’s a lot of good that can happen within the corporate walls if instead of adapting to it, we adapted it to something better.

The only question is, as a leader, on which side of the math formula are you?  On the change side or the yea but side?

In our current school systems it does but according to James Paul McGee, an expert in games and education, it doesn’t need to be.  There was a great article in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine written by reporter Sara Corbett titled “Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom”. It showcased a school in NYC called Quest to Learn where digital games are front and center in educating sixth and seventh graders.  The school is the brainchild of a Generation Xer called Katie Salen and a group of game and curriculum designers that are looking at innovative ways to teach children.  According to the article, the school is ” one of a handful of  ’demonstration sites’  for innovative technology-based instructional methods and is part of a larger effort on the city’s part to create and experiment with new models for schools”.

Wow!  Can you believe they used innovation and experimentation in the same sentence as education?  Crazy, huh?  But very encouraging.  For years as I’ve spoken in front of teachers and educators, I have talked about digital games and how educational they can be for children.  Everyone has this incorrect notion that video games are all bad and violent.  Yes, there are some games that are like that but many others that are very educational.   I’ve actually read a lot of  James Paul McGee’s book on the topic but more importantly, I’ve seen it myself.

Although I think that the younger Millennials have taken more to digital games than their older counterparts who are already working,  video games are part of the  Millennial experience.  I’ve said many times that Millennials don’t see failure as a bad thing.  This comes directly from playing video games.  Failure in a video game just means you have to work harder to get to the next level and learn from your mistakes.  Isn’t that a much healthier way of looking at failure than seeing it as a disaster?  As anyone who has become successful at something will tell you, they learned most when they failed at something than when they excelled in it.  How can you innovate if you are afraid to fail?

Yet, most of our educational system is based on the fact that failing is not good.  Then people wonder why kids drop out of school. It’s rewarding to see that a school and it’s teachers are embracing experimentation as a way to break away from 20th Century methods that are frayed at the seams and in direct conflict with living in the 21st Century.   Although it’s too soon to tell what the results of their innovative approach is,  in my book, they’ve already won because they saw a problem and took action.  These teachers were frustrated with what they saw in the educational system today and took a chance to change it.   Experimenting with new concepts and techniques is the only way that educators will forge ahead and bring much needed change to education.

The Millennials in my team showed me that failure was not a disaster.  I had forgotten that. Because in a corporate setting, very much like an educational one, failure is often not an option.  It is not seen as a chance to get better at something or to innovate but rather as something to avoid.  You don’t get a merit increase or yearly bonus if you fail, do you?

But sometimes you need to fail to find innovative solutions to things.  If leaders don’t create an environment where it’s okay to fail, their teams will shy away from trying new things.  Failure is at the very heart of experimentation and we need to find ways to get comfortable with it.  One way to do that is to create an Idea Incubator in your team.  The concept is simple:  give people time to hash out an idea and see what happens.  There aren’t many rules associated with the incubator – the more free flowing and unencumbered, the better. 

What we found when we allowed the Idea Incubator to flourish is that when people are allowed to come up with an idea or a concept and can experiment with it, a lot of good comes out of it.  The idea itself may not lead to anything concrete such as a new product or service but most times, it will lead to a better way of doing something or another idea that does have potential.  The key is to see the process as a way of getting better at something not as failing at something when it doesn’t pan out.   That is a critical component for innovation to thrive in a team.  It’s also critical for success in the 21st Century.

So what about you?  Is failure a disaster or just a way to get better at something?

I’m on a kick lately combining technology terms with leadership concepts. It started when I blogged about patch anagement a couple of weeks ago. Don’t ask me what is behind the merging of the two.  I guess  it’s because I love both topics and am always reading stuff on each of them and extrapolating to the other. Take today for example. I was reading some articles on Windows 7 and I thought it was a great correlation to what many of us are facing leading in today’s workplace. 

We have become so comfortable with the leadership practices we’ve used over the years that it’s become sort of our Windows XP version – old reliable. There have probably been instances where we entertained the idea of making a change here or there but like Vista, it scared us and made us go back to old reliable. It’s like a comfortable sweater that we just put on without thinking.  That’s understandable.  We all like the familiar and feel at ease there. 

But what happens is that the workplace begins to show signs of change in a variety of areas. At first, you don’t even recognize the subtle changes and old reliable pulls you through.  But then slowly many things come together and if you’re lucky, you realize that the workplace of today is nothing like the one where you learned and perfected those leadership qualities. You venture to think that there might actually be something better than old reliable.  Awareness is the first step that will take you down the path of entertaining the idea of upgrading your old operating system of leadership.

How long has it been since you looked at your leadership style and practice?  When was the last time you checked to see how effectively you were leading your team? All of your team not just your direct reports?   When was the last time you asked for feedback from your team and peers not on how your team was doing but on how you were doing as a leader?  When was the last time you experimented with a new leadership technique or idea?  Did you fall back on old reliable instead?

In the months (and years) to come, as operating systems across corporate America are upgraded to Windows 7, we will all be excited about uising its new features and capabilities and we will forget the nightmare of Vista.  We will probably wonder why we clung to XP, our old reliable like we did. 

Can we do the same around our operating system of leadership?  Can we get a trial version to test out new features and capabilities that will make us better leaders in the 21st Century?  I know we can.  A lot is riding on our ability to do it.

It’s time to sunset our XP version of leadership and upgrade to the 21st Century edition.  How ’bout it?  Will you join me in piloting this exciting new edition?

For a long time, corporate America has cherished its subject matter experts or SMEs as they are known. It takes a lot of experience, hard work and a deep expertise in a particular subject area to become known as an SME and it’s not a title given lightly.  For the most part, however, SMEs are individual people called upon to share their knowledge as needed by their team or their boss. This makes sense as Baby Boomers and Xers have approached work from an individual contributor standpoint.  They have made it a point to develop expertise in their subject areas on their own.  Even as part of a team, SMEs still stand out from the others based on the specific knowledge they know.

As I tried to make sense of Millennials and observed them in their natural work habitat,  it occurred to me that the notion of  an SME as we understood it today may not hold in the future. As most of us know by now, Millennials have grown up in rapidly changing times.  They were also highly connected,  both technologically,  having access to any type of information at their fingertips and collaboratively working on projects with their peers.  They quickly learned at a very young age, that with information changing so quickly, it would always be better to work in groups and tackle a project rather than do so individually.  They became very comfortable and adept at breaking down projects and assigning portions of the projects to members of the group.  Each person would be responsible for their piece but the group would come together to address the specific outcomes the project required.

Now this wasn’t something that they learned in school or from their parents.  Working collaboratively is something Millennials do naturally.  I often think it’s because they grew up having to tackle so many activities that working together with fellow Millennials was the only way they could juggle it all. Even when they were at home, they were still collaborating online and sharing their knowledge with their friends.  They became what I call Collaborative Groups.  As they came together to determine the solution to a problem or a project,  the group as a whole had the expertise more than the individuals.  Although each person had the information he or she was assigned to obtain,  the solution to the problem was determined as a group.

The Millennials bring that way of thinking to the workplace.  They work things out collectively not individually.  Even when you think you are assigning a Millennial a project, you can bet they are asking other Millennials or teamates for input and assistance. It’s important that you not jump to the conclusion that Millennials can’t think or do things on their own.  They can but they prefer not to.  They are wired to understand that in today’s world one person can no longer have a deep expertise in something . It is much more efficient to get the participation of others. This way you are sharing ideas and different perspectives with people  from within your team or preferably, outside the team.

Millennials learned early that diversity of ideas breeds innovation and makes the ultimate solution richer.  You can’t do this as an SME but you can if you are part of a Collaborative Group.

In the future don’t be surprised if SMEs are replaced by Collaborative Groups.  I’ve seen them in action and they are very effective.

I was reading a Dale Carnegie Blog that gave 4 tips for staying flexible during periods of unpredicatability.  The blog started out by highlighting the need for people to be stretchable and expandable during these times of unparalleled change.

It occurred to me that those are great words of advice for leaders to apply in directing their 21st Century teams and businesses. In my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership, the A in C.A.R.E. stands for Adapt.  I show leaders and managers how to apply techniques to make it easier for them to adopt an adaptive mindset in how they lead.  The challenges we are facing today in business are many and are unprecedented.  While it is true that change is the only constant,  the degree and amount of change vary.  I think everyone would agree that challenges are coming to us from many different angles and at a fast pace.

If we are to be truly stretchable and adaptable, we need to flex our leaderhip muscle in ways we’ve never tried.  This is hard to do because we have to fight our inertia and wrestle with our comfort zone.  How do you fight the status quo?   What I found beneficial was to do something everyday that made me uncomfortable.  I’m a big fan of doing things in baby steps simply because sometimes the big picture overwhelms you and causes you to do nothing .  That defeats the purpose so baby steps ensure that you gain confidence along the way.

The reason to tackle things that make you uncomfortable is obvious.  Once you tackle them, you find they are not as bad as you thought.    They are not as big and hairy as you imagined.  By dealing with your discomfort you get energized and that gives you the  inspiration to try something else.  Before you know it, you are training your mind to think differently,  to “adapt” itself to another way of seeing and doing things. 

I will caution you that you need to be consistent and stay at it for a period of time.  Like any habit, your leadership comfort zone wants you to stop trying techniques that aren’t in your handy toolbox.  It’s lazy and doesn’t want to be challenged to try new things. That’s precisely why you need to keep trying and stretching.  If you don’t, you will surely fall behind and the speed of change will outpace you. 

For me,  my discomfort with leading the Millennials was something I needed to tackle.  If not, I was either not going to hire any of them or I was going to fire them all.  Not good choices.  For months, I battled the urge to stop and to go back to the way I led my teams in the past.  But everyday, I would just try one little thing to keep me moving forward and get me closer to understanding them.  That was the key.  Those little things slowly changed my way of thinking and turned into a really big thing.  It let me see that understanding the Millennials was just the start.  There was a lot more to gain if I kept at it.

Overcoming that one discomfort started me on a path to change my leadership thinking.  Instead of  holding on to what was not working, I stretched myself and I adapted.   I learned that if you don’t move forward and expand your leadership toolbox you will fall behind.  The fast pace of change we are dealing with will surely guarantee it.

So what are you doing to stretch and adapt your leadership skills in today’s unprecedented times?

I bet you do.  Most compensation and reward models in corporations are traditional in nature and focus on providing  external and monetary rewards – merit increases or bonuses.  Over time,  many companies have realized that small tokens of appreciation are also important so they have extended the external rewards to such things as gift cards or “a night on the town” or IPods.  

What if I told you that your youngest employees are not as motivated by financial rewards as previous generations?  I know it’s hard to imagine since that has been the traditional way employees have been rewarded for decades.  Remember that Millennials have not been raised or experienced a very traditional way of life as defined by Baby Boomers or even Xers to a less extent.  So it shouldn’t surprise us that in the workplace they are not going to gravitate to the traditional rewards we’ve all been comfortable with for so long.

You know what they value as recognition of work well done?  Among the few that I’ve witnessed, the ability to collaborate with others either in or outside their team is high on the list.  Millennials value learning and making contributions to the team as early as possible.  This is the generation that sees learning as a lifelong experience that certainly does not end or slow down in the workplace.  Quite the opposite.  That is how they will ensure they can move across teams and industries in their careers.

Because we are so used to rewarding excellence with financial resources we are not always aware of the physical signs that tell us that perhaps another format would be preferable.  Years ago I was excited to reward a Millennial for the excellent work he had done on a project.   I was even proud of the fact that I was not rewarding  him with money but rather with the latest IPOD.  I was convinced he was going to love the gesture.

When I thanked him for his hard work and presented the IPOD, he smiled and thanked me for the recognition.  Now this was a person that I had come to know and I knew him to be expressive with feelings. So I was expecting him to give me a fist pump or high five or thumbs up or some physical expression of happiness. No. Just a smile and a “hey, thanks”. 

The old, traditional me would have been a little disappointed with his reaction but would not have said anything or given it another thought.  Instead, the new, more enlightened me knew something was wrong.  So I asked him point blank why he wasn’t jumping up and down.   The great thing about Millennials is they will tell you and by the way, they appreciate your asking.  He told me that the IPOD was great but he already had one!  Duh!

What he really wanted, though, was to work with his peer in another team on a new project.  All he was asking was to be given the flexibility in his schedule, as his work permitted, to work with his coworker to learn and contribute where he could.   After clearing it with my peer in the other team, I gave him the good news that in recognition for his hard work, he could collaborate as needed with that team.  Not only did I get an unexpected hug but I saw a young man whose face lit up with happiness.

No monetary reward, no IPOD, no new fangled this or that.  Just motivation through collaboration.  Do you think he learned and contributed to the project?  You bet.  Do you think our team got value and recognition out of that act of collaboration?  Absolutely.

By observing and understanding the nuances that make Millennials unfamiliar to us, I was able to break with the old fashioned ways of rewarding and accept and utilize new, unfamiliar methods that are meaningful to them.

Let go of the old, bring in the new…

I follow Bob Sutton on Twitter (@work_matters).  He is a Stanford University professor, author and expert on such topics as management, innovation, leadership, etc.  His recent article in Psychology Today called “How Great Bosses Think About it and Do it” caught my attention.  He and another Stanford colleague teach an executive program on innovation and over time, they have come up with 21 ideas of how great bosses lead innovation.  It’s a great read and I encourage all leaders to read it if they have a chance.

One of their 21 ideas hit a nerve because I remember how I struggled with it as I began to lead Millennials almost 8 years ago.  It’s the concept of failure vs. inaction. In the article the author suggests that we reward success and “intelligent” failure and penalize inaction.  As a Baby Boomer, failure has always been a dirty word.  We were always striving to win. Yet, if we let go of that constant need to win and acknowledge that sometimes failure has a lot to teach us and makes us better,  we open up the possibility for innovation to take place.

That is why I love observing Millennials.  To them failure is not the end of the world.  It merely is a way to get better at something.  I believe they are that way because of all the interactive games they have played.  To get to the next level of a video game and advance your skills, you fail and have to keep playing until you perfect your game enough to earn the right to get to the next level. 

They apply that concept at work.  Instead of beating themselves up for making a mistake, they want to know why they made it and how to get better so as not to make it again.  That is probably a good example of “intelligent failure”.  They don’t fail and make a mistake for lack of trying or disinterest but they don’t dwell on it either.  They look for solutions or approaches to prevent them from making the same mistake again and they move on. That increases creativity and that helps spark innovation. Why?  Because looking for solutions generates a lot of  great ideas while focusing on the failure does the opposite.

Now, if you don’t try something for fear of failure that is inaction and it surely is an innovation killer.  Nothing is gained by inaction, by staying in your comfort zone. As leaders we need to remember that as we face uncomfortable challenges in the 21st Century workplace.  Trying something new and possibly failing to reach your target is infinitely better than not doing anything at all and not moving forward.  By staying where you are you are really falling behind.

So what about you?  Would you penalize failure or inaction in your team?

Recently I was giving a speech on Millennials to an HR group and when it came time for questions, one of the participants commented that based on what I had presented, she felt that  the Individual Contributor concept was on its last legs.  Individual Contributors are people in organizations who are not part of a team or who work in a team but who have to show results as an individual apart from the team contribution.   I completely agreed with her assessment:  the individual contributor was on its last legs. 

From what I can tell by having closely observed Millennials in a work setting, they rarely work alone.  They are natural collaborators always seeking input, involvement, feedback and knowledge from their peers.  They don’t do it because they feel it’s required; they do it because they work best that way.

In many companies the idea of the Individual Contributor is still part of the merit or bonus compensation model.  As I began to see just how collaborative the Millennials in my team were, I had to find ways to break down that collaboration in order to fit the individual contributor portion of the merit and bonus measure.  It was very difficult to do and created overhead that was just not necessary.

Over the next few years,  as Millennials increase in numbers in the workplace, the collaborative contributions made by teams will either override or outweigh that of the individual.  That’s a good thing because bringing different perspectives together to look at a problem or a challenge increases the spark of innovation that can lead to great ideas.  We need that spark in corporate America, don’t you think?