TEDx

Yesterday I had the pleasure of mental stimulation. The theme of the TEDx OC conference was relevance. Specifically how do you stay relevant in today’s world?

As the day progressed this theme blossomed for me. I took away a number of new ideas and perspectives. I learned things from people whom I expected to learn things from but also from unexpected places, which quite frankly is the best kind of serendipity.

Rick Warren was the host in the late afternoon. Rick Warren is the founder of Saddleback Church. Today, it is an evangelical congregation averaging 22,000 weekly attendees, a 120-acre campus, and has more than 300 community ministries. He is large in stature as well as personality, but as the host I wasn’t thinking of him in the same manner as a presenter – subtle way of saying I wasn’t expecting much.

It’s obvious in hindsight that Rick must know some things about growing and nurturing an organization. When he spoke of relevance it was startlingly relevant! I took away two really great points and I thought I’d share them here. The first point is relevant to both you as a person, as well as organizations. Rick’s quote:

“When the pace of change around you is faster than the pace of change inside you, you become irrelevant.”

The pace of change in the world is relentless and moving ever faster. In order to stay relevant you need to move at the same pace or better. If not, you fall behind. If you are a cyclist then you aren’t in the peloton anymore.

Obvious and simple right? But for me it’s highly relevant. My organization is changing and we are trying to do it as fast as possible. But at the same time we are trying to operate globally which adds coordination and slows decision making. How does an organization both move “at speed” and “as one” globally? This is a hard problem to solve. Social media, modern communications tools and other things may help but how to really accelerate?

One idea I loved was the point Rick made to “develop a lab mentality”. Never stop experimenting. Fail fast and move on. Now this is not new. I’ve heard from many, many innovators that innovation happens slowly, over time, via experimentation, openness and curiosity. The classic Thomas Edison story about the invention of the light bulb is how real innovation occurs.

Today, many companies (if not all) are trying to be more innovative. But how? There are many great examples in the wild. For example in advertising you are starting to see “labs” emerge as a new nomenclature. Olgivy and BBH have created labs and I’ll use BBH’s as an example. Here is their mission and vision:

Labs is BBH’s global innovation unit. We’re tasked with pioneering new outputs and approaches: exploring emerging platforms and behaviours on behalf of brands, and developing new agency models along the way. Our overall ambition is to find ways in which marketing innovation can be a powerful force for good (more effective, more engaging, more sustainable, more exciting).

The concept of adopting a lab mentality is in my view the only way for large organizations to become more innovative. Why?

  • A dedicated lab is necessary. The reason they need to be dedicated is that in an environment where the pace of change is so fast, it’s hard for people to adequately deal with the present, while at the same time imagining and developing the future.
  • The people and skills required to invent the future are different from “line” jobs in the organization.

The other key takeaway from Rick was his thoughts on grief. Yes, grief. Rick said something like this:

  1. Growth requires change. You cannot simply continue to do what you have always done. You are guaranteed to be irrelevant.
  2. Change causes loss. Change requires letting go of the past. It means ending old ways, old culture, old products, and even letting go of people who are no longer relevant to the organizations future. This causes a deep sense of loss.
  3. Loss causes pain. Letting go of the old and familiar in order the grab the new and different is hard. It is scary. It can be wrenching and painful and sad.
  4. Loss and pain cause grief. You must respect and honor grief. You must honor the past without perpetuating the past. Many people who you think are oppositional to change are just grieving. You must allow people to grieve and you must help them through the grieving period.

This gave me a whole new perspective on change and innovation. I know I am not wired for empathy. I struggle with grief. I never know what to say. I never know how to comfort someone who is grieving. I simply feel awkward and uncomfortable and alone. This means if I want to more effectively lead change I must also grow personally to able to honor someone’s grief. I love the use of the word “honor” – because I know I can do it. I can honor the grief someone feels when change is occurring.

So thanks Dr. Rick for giving me some needed perspective and adding to my serendipity at TEDx OC!

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