by Hamed Saber
Obama’s Seven Lessons for Radical Innovators:
See the discussion of the first three lessons here. To review, they are:
1. Have a self-organization design.
2. Seek elasticity of resilience.
3. Minimize strategy.
The discussion regards the innovative nature of Obama’s campaign organization – how it was able to create a community that pushed innovation to the edges.
4. Maximize purpose. Change the game? That’s 20th century thinking at its finest – and narrowest. The 21st century is about changing the world. What does “yes we can” really mean? Obama’s goal wasn’t simply to win an election, garner votes, or run a great campaign. It was larger and more urgent: to change the world.
Bigness of purpose is what separates 20th century and 21st century organizations: yesterday, we built huge corporations to do tiny, incremental things – tomorrow, we must build small organizations that can do tremendously massive things.
And to do that, you must strive to change the world radically for the better – and always believe that yes, you can. You must maximize, stretch, and utterly explode your sense of purpose.
Not every organization needs to follow this model. These sorts of transformational organizations, with their decentralized approaches, work best in areas where simple stick/carrot approaches are not needed. If people are going to change the world, they will be motivated without needed other sorts of reinforcement.
Small companies and entrepreneurial organizations may be best suited for this approach. The feeling of working on something big, creating something that never existed before to fight problems that face the whole world can inspire tremendous innovations. Obama was not the first to use this. He was just able to use new tools in an innovative fashion to create something novel, just as many successful entrepreneurs do.
5. Broaden unity. What do marketers traditionally do? Segment and target, slice and dice. We’ve become great at dividing markets into tinier and tinier bits. But we’re terrible at unifying them. Yet Obama succeeded not through division, but through unification: we are, he contended, “not a collection of Red States and Blue States — We are the United States of America”.
Obama intuitively understands a larger truth of next-generation economics. Unified markets are what a world driven to collapse by hyperconsumption is desperately going to need. We’re going to need not a hundred different kinds of razors – and their spiralling costs of complexity and waste – but a single razor that everybody, from the slums of Rio to the lofts of Tribeca, is overjoyed to use.
Transformational leadership is all about asking people to become part of something greater than themselves, part of a community with a greater purpose than just survival. Again, not every sort of company or leader needs this but for certain industries it can be very potent. And it can attract a large number of innovators because they are usually drawn to exactly these sorts of problems. Much in the way writers have to write, innovators have to innovate. Creative talent is very important for a decentralized organization.
6. Thicken power. The power many corporations wield is thin power: the power to instill fear and inculcate greed. True power is what Obama has learned wield: the power to inspire, lead, and engender belief. You can beat people into subjugation – but you can never command their loyalty, creativity, or passion. Thick power is true power: it’s radically more durable, less costly, and more intense.
Many companies are based on transactional leadership, where fear or other base emotions are instilled in workers and used to control their behavior. Whether a follower gets rewarded or punished is usually dependent on successfully following a process. Not failing becomes more important than possibly succeeding. Stasis is often better than making a wrong decision.
Generally in transactional leadership, the process is always correct. If there is failure, it is the employee’s fault not the process. So either the employee must be properly trained or fired. Assigning blame is paramount. Not really a good place for innovation.
Transformational power is not based on performance as much as trust. Followers are trusted to do their work, not threatened to do so. If something or someone fails, the assumption is not that a trusted individual did not do their job. It is that something must have prevented them from doing what they wanted to do. Finding a way to remove the obstacle is more important than assigning blame.
Again, this sort of leadership is not for every organization but it results in the follower/worker driven to complete the task for internal reasons rather than because of external threats or promises. This can be very powerful motivation if attained. It is what will keep employees at all levels working long and hard hours. something painpunishment forms of leadership often fail to maintain.
It will foster innovation at all levels and will in fact reward someone who finds a way around the obstacle.
7. Remember that there is nothing more asymmetrical than an ideal. Obama ended his last speech before the election by saying: “let’s go change the world.” Why are those words important? Because the world needs changing. A world riven by economic meltdown, religious conflict, resource scarcity, and intractable poverty and violence – such a world demands fresh ideals. We must mold and shape a better world – or we will surely all suffer together. As Obama said: “we rise or fall … as one people.”
In such a world, forget about a short-lived, often meaningless “competitive advantage”. It’s a concept built for the 20th century. In the 21st century, there is nothing more asymmetrical – more disruptive, more revolutionary, or more innovative — than the world-changing power of an ideal.
This is the rallying cry of the entrepreneur. They are often their own transformational leader, able to make themselves give up everything for the ideal. Good ones are able to inculcate this in others, especially people with capital, to begin what can eventually become a huge corporation.
Few of these large corporations, however, seek the transformative leadership of the entrepreneur, favoring more transactional. Thus the entrepreneur often leaves to do it all over again. and the organization begins to lose its innovative spirit.
For the entrepreneur, it is the transformation of nothing into something, not the process, that creates the power. Most of these 7 lessons are very useful and important for entrepreneurial organizations.
But new technologies can now help many organizations maintain this transformative spirit as they get quite large. Obama’s campaign demonstrates that this is possible. We just need to begin recognizing the appropriate places to utilize such organizations.
Because we are going to need a lot of them in the coming years.
2 thoughts on “The last four lessons from HarvardBusiness.org”
I must be missing something. In the previous post, “changing the game” was wrong. In this post, “changing the game” is right. I would understand changing the plan, but changine the game?
The previous post did not say changing the game was wrong. It said changing the game was too small a goal. They suggest changing the world.
This approach is about pushing control out to the edges, allowing innovation to flow through the organization rather than only up a silo.
This is about transformational leadership, such as Obama or Alan Mulally demonstrate rather than transactional.