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Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

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An idea. Has any concept in the history of man ever been more powerful? We often find that powerful things are also simple in complexity, and yet the word idea can be defined in very different ways.

1. any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity.

6. a groundless supposition; fantasy.

8. Music. a theme, phrase, or figure.

The struggling American economy has created new life scenarios many of us would have believed unimaginable. I attended a job search focus group in my town last week, succumbing and swallowing a foolish pride I have about being able to get gigs without resorting to things “losers have to do.” Stupid me. When I talked to many of the people (50+) at the group, most of them had 10+ years experience in their field. My first thought was – it would only take a good idea that would call upon the talents of all these people to restore their ability to make income. My second thought was, what a jackass I am. Such focus groups should have been something I did while employed, expanding my network, not just for jobs and work opportunities, but the ability to share ideas with other, experienced people, who are being forced to churn their brain butter as well.

When I took the Clifton Strengthfinder 2.0 test, I discovered Ideation, or the capacity to form ideas, was one of my strengths. This sounded like a valuable thing to me. But in my efforts searching for work, in my case in information technology, I realized something scary: nobody who would recruit me to do what I do – either elicit business requirements and establish requirements processes, or develop websites or software – cares if I can ideate or not. They just want me to document the processes and make them more efficient, or use .NET and WCF and program in VB.NET or C# to get their project to completion. They don’t necessarily care if, along the way during my routine tasks, I come up with ideas that might contribute to their cause.

It’s counter thinking, isn’t it? To say, let’s focus on creating ideas vs. getting the things done we know will make us money, feels difficult. And yet, that’s where a lot of us have been forced. A client of mine called me yesterday with new ideas on iPhone apps, something he hasn’t ever mentioned to me in 2 years. I’m coming up with new ways to find gigs, both in IT and in music. Innovation, which I’ll define as effectuated ideas, becomes more apparantly required during hard times. After all, some people are being let go because their jobs aren’t necessary anymore due to the birth of an idea years ago to automate the thing they did manually. What will give them new opportunity? An idea which harnesses their skillset.

In writing and researching this idea I had to write a blog on ideas, I came across software to track ideas. What a great idea!

I’m in love with making ideas. I’m in love with talking about ideas. I get so excited at the thought of even being a small part of something new. I like talking about and thinking about ideas I’m not even a part of or which have no avenue by which I can contribute. Kids and young people, new college graduates, are valuable sources of ideas because their minds are doing nothing more than churning ideas born from new experiences. But is their capacity greater for the task? I don’t think so. I just think as we get older we are more drawn to focus on the task at hand and what brings the bacon home now.

My ideas come when the piece of paper is blank and white. My musical ideas come after my fingers hit a grand piano’s keys, or the staff has no notes hanging from it. My ideas come when a group/company I’m working for is struggling to make progress and morale is down, or I see an opportunity to excite and inspire someone. Last Saturday I performed at a temple for a cabaret night. A lawyer came and wanted to do Coldplay’s “Fix You.” I knew how the song went and my bass player friend and I collaborated. But this guy came in and just wanted to sing it. He had his guitar with him. With the grand piano,the “idea starter,” I was able to provide a background to the song, something he referred to as “a wonderful arrangement Cliff made” before we played. So this was an instance where my ability to create ideas, enhanced by the context, provided benefit and made progess. Unfortunately, I don’t have that video, but here’s one where the drummer’s 17-yr-old kid played with us.

It felt good to give that experience to a young guy who wants to study music.

An idea – any idea, this idea, the idea of ideas – is what everyone should be focused on right now. It is the one and maybe only thing that will turn this whole nasty time into a distant nightmare. We have to try things, be brave, be willing to fail. You might not like what Obama is doing in office, but you can’t say he’s not trying to effectuate ideas. I’d rather be moving in some direction than none, and this country can recover from bad ideas.

Are you sitting there now remembering a time when your life was more “creativity-based” or “idea-filled” than it is now? Was it a happier time?

Think.

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The average salary for a project manager is $96,000. The average salary for a senior application developer is $85,000. If a person is hired to do both jobs, does that person get a salary of $171,000? No. It’s a cost-cutting tactic, and in this market it’s easy to find a person willing to do anything or say they can do anything to get that job slot. We are asking our work force to be jacks of all trades, and master of none. As a result of our cutting, we really cut the “it” – the essential ingredient – out of IT.

Real-world Job Titles
• Applications Systems Analyst/Programmer
• Programmer Analyst Consultant
• Database Application Developer

Look at the job titles I’ve listed. Although the first two scream “multiple-hats,” you’re probably thinking “Database Application Developer” is a straightforward title, so you’ll be perplexed to learn that when I asked some colleagues to read the description of the job that accompanied it, when faced with three choices, “Project Manager”, “Systems Analyst”, and the actual title, most chose “Project Manager.”

So to save cost, we’ve begun to place more responsibility on a single person. If you give me three things to do, like develop computer code, analyze and define requirements, and maybe even help manage the expectations of a client, I may do all of those things pretty well. But if you let me come to work, spend an hour of my 8 learning, and then focusing on doing one thing, the breadth and depth of what I’m able to accomplish will increase dramatically. Back in the day of the Internet boom, I was typically encouraged by my boss to learn and read. In fact, that’s how I got into IT in the first place. The VP of the company I was working for walked up to me with a manual and said, “learn this.” But all I’ve heard for the past 5 years is “get it done.” And worse, only one opinion has started to matter when designing solutions, usually one based on position or title, and that title, unfortunately, isn’t often “customer.”

We’ve taken our eyes off the ball and fixated it closely on the dollar. Many of us probably believe the dollar is the ball. Who can blame us? Everyone is busy convincing each other that monetary shortage is the issue. But let me invite you back into the batter’s box, get your mind off the scoreboard, and retrain your eye to that hanging curveball:

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.” – Steve Jobs

The average salary for a junior programmer, fresh out of college, is $53,000. These are young, energetic people who ideally have the latest information and a lot of confidence, perhaps too much. Do we want these people to stop learning when they leave campus? The two sentences above contain two key concepts: cost-cutting and innovation. Which do we want our freshest, brightest minds to encounter? Do we simply want them to “get it done” for $53,000?

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard

Innovation happens when a situation exists such that all ideas are welcome, but funneled and filtered through a guided alignment with business objectives. If you’ve got 20 developers focused on one idea and one goal constantly, innovation is dead. If those same developers get a half hour each morning to explore their solution domain – read articles, work through examples, explore new techniques – you end up with a team of well-informed people that can approach a problem collectively with greater breadth, with genuine excitement and positive attitude, and readiness to find a solution. But if they and their managers spend their morning trying to fill multiple roles, that energy is stifled. The result is a cost to the business. If you ask a programmer to be an analyst, you’re likely getting half the programmer and half the analyst. You’re also getting someone less likely to proactively contribute to the mission, and less likely to achieve a sense of ownership toward the company. I’ve seen so many developers become team leads or managers with nothing more than a modest increase or a title change. They soon learn the price of such cost-cutting. Well guess what?

“The cure for the United States is not cost-cutting. The cure for the United States is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.” – Cliff Adams (with a lot of help from Steve Jobs)

Copyright (C) 2009 Adams Enterprises, LLC

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