Innovation is significantly shaping our world. It’s the number 1 topic I’m asked about. Whether it’s at the HP offices, at customer or partner events, or when I speak at conferences, people want to know how they can tap into their own inner innovator, and spark innovation at their company.
When you picture an effective leader, what comes to mind?
A deep understanding of their industry, self-awareness, decision-making skills, integrity, transparency, and being empathetic are some of the things that come to my mind. Leaders with a high degree of emotional intelligence earn the trust of and inspire their team to reach their full potential.
I recently completed the Kokoda Track with a group of my oldest and best friends. For those of you who don’t know, the Track is a historical trail in Papua New Guinea. When I was preparing for my trip to Kokoda, I knew that I was in for a long journey full of challenges. An eight-day trek on difficult terrain was bound to test me. It was also bound to teach me important lessons that I could take back to everyday life. So, without further ado, here are the most important lessons I learned while powering through the Kokoda Track:
1. Be prepared.
As I previously talked about, I committed to preparing for this trip. I knew it was going to test me physically and mentally, and I wanted to give myself the best possible tools and training to get me through it successfully. I hiked long miles on weekends and did hours of research on the best gear to take and what to expect on the Track. By doing this, I made sure that I was well-prepared for the different obstacles that I might face. Training ahead of time was key to my success on the Track and researching what I was in for made sure I didn’t underestimate the difficult roads ahead.
This is a lesson easily applicable to business and entrepreneurship. When you’re vying for success, prepare for success. This isn’t always the same as making detailed plans ahead of time, plans always change, but being prepared is also key to being able to adapt to unexpected changes or roadblocks to achieve your objective. When walking into an important meeting or launching a new start-up, make sure that you’ve put in the work to be successful.
2. Choose your team well.
I was very lucky to be surrounded by some of my oldest and closest friends on this trek, so when any one of us was struggling, we knew we could turn to each other for support and motivation. To have that support is an essential part of success in any aspect of life, so when times get tough, make sure you’re doing it with the right team.
People often say that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Are you surrounding yourself with the right people? Whether it’s in business or your personal life, you want to make sure that you have a support system that is empowering.
3. Don’t be afraid of hard times.
It’s natural to want to avoid difficult times, but it’s in those moments that you experience the most growth. Embrace those moments and use them to build a stronger, better team. Throughout the trek, each of us went through struggles and doubts, but as the trek went on, we became closer because we were able to rely on one another.
Hard times can always teach you something. When you’re going through something rough, take a moment to think about what you’re learning. How can you apply this to future situations? How can this make you a better version of yourself? Embrace that learning and use it to improve.
Though our journey was extremely physically challenging, it was also very mentally challenging. It was crucial to spend time getting centered before setting off on each day’s trek. Achieving and maintaining that level of balance was a constant battle, and it’s important to pace yourself.
Do you take time each day to check in with yourself? Would you consider yourself in balance? If not, try starting your morning with a brief morning meditation or just find some quiet time during the day to center yourself. There a number of resources that can help you with this, like Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier. A strong, healthy mindset is important to taking on any new challenge.
5. Celebrate success.
When we walked through the end of the Kokoda arches, it was very emotional. We looked back on what we’d accomplished and truly took a moment to reflect on what we’d just been through. It was a huge achievement that we’d managed together, and we congratulated each other on our success. Then, we got beers.
Don’t be afraid to celebrate your successes, big or small. Every day is full of challenges, and with the right mindset you can crush them all. So be sure to treat yourself and your team when you reach new milestones, and then get excited for the next one!
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you handle it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
In Part 1 I outlined a way to make sure:
- You have a reliable way to archive all your email so you never have to worry about deleting an email again.
- You have a way to unclutter your inbox.
- You have a way to process your inbox.
- You have a way to track everything you delegate and everything you are ‘waiting for’ via a Pending folder.
In this post I want to outline how to manage and track all of your next actions so you never have to worry about dropping the ball again.
As mentioned previously, efficiently processing your inbox involves doing one of four things with each email:
- Read and delete. No action needed.
- Do. If I think it will take me less than 2 mins to respond to an email, I will do it then and there and then delete.
- Delegate. Forward and ask someone to do something based on the email, and then delete. As per my previous post on this topic, remember to copy yourself when you delegate over email so you have a list of everything you’re waiting on someone for in your Pending folder!
- Queue up for next action needed. These are the emails I need to spend more time on, and that I haven’t been able to delete, delegate or do within the 2 mins rule.
The focus of this post is on that last point, how to queue up things for next action needed.
One of the core tenants of “Getting Things Done” is to group all your next actions by context. For example, there might be some things you can only do when you are at home. When you’re not at home you don’t need to see those next actions because there’s nothing you can do about them. However, when you are at home you do want to see them, because in that context (“I’m at home”) all of those next actions are fair game for follow-up. Grouping all your next actions by context helps you focus on only the things you can do in that moment, without distracting yourself with all the things you can’t do in that moment.
Everyone will have a different set of contexts they want to work across (see below for mine). The trick here is to define those contexts in a way that makes sense for you and are as simple as possible. It is also important to define them in such a way that each next action only goes into one context. This keeps the overhead of managing next actions by context to a minimum. Here are mine:
|Calls||Calls I need to make when I have the time and am with my phone (typically when I’m driving)|
|Work||Things I can only do when I’m physically at the office|
|Home||Things I can only do when I’m physically at home|
|Errands||Things I can only do when I’m out and about, typically near where I live|
|Laptop||Things I need to do when I’m at my laptop (or on my phone)|
|Read||Things I need to read|
|Agenda||Things I need to talk to someone about in person or at an upcoming meeting|
|Someday||Things not important to me now, but worth considering ‘someday’ when I have the time|
The way that I implement this for my email is by creating an email folder for each ‘context’ and then moving each ‘next action’ from my inbox to that folder.
Here are a few examples:
- A friend emails me and wants to catch up. I simply drag the email from my inbox into my Call folder.
- My wife emails me and asks if I can pick up paper towels. Into the Errands folder.
- My colleague emails me and requests I review a presentation. Into the Laptop folder.
- Someone sends me an interesting article on Vegemite. Into the Read folder it goes.
- My boss emails me and says he wants to talk about an upcoming site visit. Into the Agenda folder for when I meet with him next.
- Someone emails me to recommend walking the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea but I don’t have time to think about it now. Into the Someday folder. (More to come on that, later!)
Hopefully you get the idea.
Later, when I find myself out and about driving to the grocery store, I check my Errands folder and go buy paper towels.
When I meet with my boss I go to my Agendas folder to remind myself of all the things I need to speak with him about.
When I have a spare moment, I hit my Read folder for all the catch up reading I need to do, including how to make Vegemite at home.
Then, when I’m done with all my projects and have time to breathe, I check my Someday folder for new things to do.
Never drop the ball again.
Creating a Code
Now, the above works great when you are receiving emails and taking action on them, but what if you want to create and manage next actions for things not associated with an email you have received? For example, you think of something you need to do at home, or you think of something you want to read. How do you get those next actions into your email system? Here’s what I do.
Let’s take a ‘work’ next action as an example. If I want to remind myself to print a presentation the next time I’m in the office, I simply send myself an email with a Subject of “Print out presentation $w”. I have a rule that looks for emails from myself with a “$w” in the subject line, and which then automatically moves that email into my Work folder. Voila! Next time I’m in the office I check my Work folder and there’s my next action to print out the presentation.
To break this down further, for each context:
- Come up with a code you can put in the Subject for any next action you want to automatically move to the folder for that context.
- Create a rule for the context that will look for that code as part of the Subject and then do the move.
For the example above the rule would look like this:
See below for the codes I use for all the contexts mentioned above. All you need to do now is to create a rule for each code that is exactly the same as for the work example above, but with the corresponding code for each context.
With the above in place you can also handle the following scenarios:
- Someone sends you an email to ask you for something, and when you respond to say, “I’m on it!” you tag the subject with “$l” so your ‘next action’ is automatically put in your Laptop folder for follow-up. This saves you from having to respond AND manually moving the original email to Laptop yourself. Yes, it’s only a few extra steps, but over the course of a day or a week or a year it all adds up. And these posts are all about being an email ninja, not an email grasshopper. 🙂
Now, just two more things and we’re done, but these are very important to remember.
First, the ordering of your rules in your email system matters. It’s important that the first rule is the rule to move all received emails to your Received folder. This ensures you will continue to archive all received emails as explained in my first post. Then come the rules to manage context based next actions as explained above. Finally, the last rule should be the rule to manage Pending emails; those emails you copy yourself on when you want to track or monitor that something gets done. Ordering your rules in this way ensures they are applied in the right order so that the system works.
Second, you will need to update your Pending rule so that it doesn’t also move all these next action emails to your Pending folder. To do this, simply exclude all these emails from the rule as shown below.
That’s it! You now have a way to track next actions by context. Whenever you complete a next action you can simply delete it out of the context folder and move on to the next one!
At this point:
- You have a reliable way to archive all your email so you never have to worry about deleting an email again.
- You have a way to unclutter your inbox.
- You have a way to process your inbox.
- You have a way to track everything you delegate and everything you are ‘waiting for’ via a Pending folder.
- You have a way to track next actions by context.
Stay tuned for part 3 on how to use this system to manage projects and deliverables that require lots of ‘next actions’ to complete, with maybe a few additional advanced techniques to move you into black belt territory.
Technology is changing at lightning speed. When I was in college, a single computer took up an entire room. Yes, am dating myself a little here…. Now, we hold computing devices in the palms of our hands. In fact, we have more computing power in our pockets than all of NASA had when they put the first man on the moon in 1969.
We now live in a world increasingly surrounded by self-driving cars that may someday be self-flying cars, of pervasive artificial intelligence, and where India can put a spacecraft around Mars for less than what Hollywood spent making the movie Gravity.
Innovation is significantly shaping our world. And it’s the number #1 topic I’m most frequently asked about. Whether it’s at the HP offices, at speaking engagements, or when I attend conferences, people want to know how they can tap into their own inner innovator, and spark innovation at their offices. I wanted to share a few of those questions and the answers I give in hopes of sparking more innovation at your office.
Why is innovation important to a company and employees’ personal development?
Innovation is about adapting to change. It’s the difference between leading change and being led by it, so it is critical for any company that wants to do the disrupting and not be the disrupted.
Adapting is the difference between leading change and being led by it.
Innovation is equally important for personal development. Innovation at a company doesn’t happen magically; a company can only be truly innovative if they have employees who are innovative. Adopting an innovative mindset also makes life a lot more interesting and fun when you think of every problem that comes at you as an opportunity to learn and grow.
What makes someone an innovator?
Innovation is an attitude. As an innovator you need to believe you can change the world, that if you keep working on a problem you will eventually find a solution, and that anything is possible. Innovators have a passion to make things happen. They relentlessly take action.
How can I inspire my team to take action?
I tell my team: be curious. Observe, ask questions, have an open mind, and suspend judgement. Be bold. Be passionate about what you’re doing. Most importantly, have fun. I often say that boredom is not a corporate objective, and when you enjoy what you do, you will be better at it.
What are the most common misconceptions when it comes to innovation?
I’ve come across several misconceptions. The first is that it requires a large team and a lot of resources to change the world. While endless resources and a large team can make parts of innovation easier, it doesn’t take an army to do big things. Disruption can occur with small, special forces with drive and dedication. The willingness of smaller teams to be agile and adaptable can lead to success.
Another misconception is when you are starting something new, you need to know what you’re doing ahead of time. In reality, you just need to have the right mindset, and you’ll find your way. Trust in yourself, and learn along the way. Don’t get stuck at the starting line because things will inevitably change anyway. It’s better to get started, enjoy the journey and adapt to the changing world around you.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison
How do you deal with failure?
You shouldn’t just prepare for failure, you should welcome it and actively seek it out because failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. I truly believe you can’t have success without failure. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Sometimes it takes “failing” 10,000 times to find the right path forward. When you start something new, think of all the reasons that something won’t work. Then, order them by the highest risk of failure, and go about testing the riskiest assumptions first. If things aren’t meant to be, aim to fail fast.
How can employees practice an innovation mindset?
Start with small things. Have lunch every week with someone outside of your team. Talk to them about what they do and how they do it. Innovation is about leveraging diversity, and the more you know about more things, the better you will be able to innovate.
Write down your ideas. Sometimes the simple act of writing things down can bring your ideas to life. You never know when that list will come in handy.
Be mindful of the language you use. The words we use influence our thoughts and mindset. Get in the habit of reinforcing an innovative mindset through the words you use or the way you respond to questions. Instead of “why?”, ask “why not?” Instead of saying “no, but…”, say “yes, if…”.
Once you become comfortable with those, move on to larger mindset shifts.
Question your assumptions about everything. Many times, the “right” way to do things can be altered and improved, it just takes someone to question the underlying assumptions. Ask yourself, how can this be improved? How can we make it better?
Be persistent. Don’t give up when things get tough. Instead, keep your eye on the prize and work your way toward it one step at a time. Test, learn, iterate, move forward, rinse, and repeat. Through that process, make it a personal goal to learn one new thing every day.
Don’t play the blame game. If something goes wrong, look for solutions and learn from everyone’s mistakes. The past is already behind you, so you might as well leave it there. Simply stay in the “here and now” and do whatever you can to create the future you’re aiming for.
Help others build on their ideas. It’s not your job to tell others why their ideas are bad or won’t work. Help them grow their ideas and make them work as if they were your own.
The future hasn’t happened yet, you get to create it.
Lastly and most importantly, believe in yourself and what you’re doing. As a child, we all believe we could do anything or be anything. Sometimes as adults, we forget that. We listen to people tell us why we can’t do something or why something isn’t a good idea. Don’t listen to them. Recapture that child-like belief in yourself. The future hasn’t happened yet, you get to create it.
What are your tips for sparking an innovation mindset? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.
Over the next 15 years, we will experience more change than in all human history to date. The pace and magnitude at which change is occurring is staggering.
Did you know we now have more computing power in our pocket than all of NASA had in 1969 when they put the first man on the moon?
Or how about the fact that artificial intelligence spent 42 hours solving the 100-year-old mystery of how flatworms regenerate body parts?
With the accelerated pace of change comes the equally accelerated rate of innovation. I believe this accelerated innovation and the Megatrends driving it will have a sustained, transformative impact on the world in the years ahead — on businesses, societies, economies, cultures and our personal lives.
So how do we as engineers, marketers, designers, innovators, and executives stay ahead of that change and help chart our own course?
Ask yourself: Is your business Megatrends ready? Answer these five questions to find out.
1. What products could you develop to support megacity infrastructure, an aging population, or hyper global trade?
By 2030, there will be 8.5 billion people walking the earth, and 97% of that population growth will be in emerging economies. And as people move to cities, our cities will get larger, and we’ll have more of them, including megacities in places many of us have never heard of today.
It will change how we buy and consume products and services, propelling the sharing economy and convenience-based services. Businesses must design products that meet the needs of the megacity infrastructure, an aging population or hyper global trade.
Communicate clearly. Be a mentor. Lead by example. Learn from previous mistakes, Celebrate your team’s achievements. These are all frequently shared leadership tips. And while they’re all things leaders need to do to be successful, I believe there’s one overlooked, underrated quality – emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately recognize your own and others’ emotions, and it’s a key component of effective leadership. An emotionally-intelligent leader has the complete trust of his or her team, listens to their ideas, and always makes informed decisions. Today, I’m sharing why it’s an underrated skill and tips you can utilize as a leader:
It helps you build a successful and happy team.
Emotionally intelligent leaders have unique listening skills that allow them to understand more than just the words that are spoken. When you acknowledge emotions behind their words, your team members will feel that they are being heard. This can help you develop team members that are happier and more productive in their work, and more likely to stay in their positions.
Emotional intelligence has been measured as contributing 75-80% of the elements for success.
Emotionally-intelligent leaders are also empathetic. The ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes provides leaders the ability to give constructive feedback and develop their team members.
There’s no place for erratic emotions.
Good, self-aware leaders understand how their communication affects the team. If they respond effectively and use their self-awareness to make decisions, they increase trust with their team instead of acting off fleeting emotions. Think about it. Who are you more likely to work for? A leader who shouts at their team when they’re under stress, or a leader who stays in control and can assess the situation? Staying calm in a tense situation is a mark of an emotionally-intelligent, successful leader.
TalentSmart reports that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs.
You can create more meaningful relationships.
You can’t make significant connections with your team members (or people in your personal life) without effective verbal and non-verbal communication. In fact, lack of communication is often the basis for issues between people. When leaders effectively communicate the company’s vision and the team members’ part in that vision, it creates a productive and enjoyable workplace.
The bottom line? Developing your emotional intelligence is a sound strategy to furthering your leadership skills. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you are.”
The art of being a futurist is a necessary skill in today’s world. Thinking like a futurist shouldn’t be reserved for a select group of people, rather a basic skill set that anyone can learn. I believe in democratizing the skills of a futurist. The more people that can see down the path, the better off we’ll be. The ongoing problems the world is facing, like poverty and climate change, cannot be solved with short-term thinking. If we want to move forward and create the future we want, we must adopt long-term, futuristic thinking.
At HP, the CTO Office team and I work to define new market segments, products, and business models that will help shape HP’s future growth. We focus on industry-shifting trends like Internet of Things, 3D transformation, immersive experiences, AI, advanced robotics, and hypermobility, to determine HP’s long-term innovation and technology vision. See below for a few things I’ve learned along the way for learning how to read signals, see trends, test your assumptions, and become a futurist:
Stay up to date on trends. Socio-economic, demographic, and technological forces are impacting our future. At HP, we call these Megatrends. Megatrends allow us to directionally predict where the world is heading, and identify opportunities for HP and our customers.
Fueled by accelerating technology advancements, our rapidly changing world finds us more connected and reliant on digital technologies, altering how we live, work, and socialize with one another. It’s important to monitor both global, and technology trends to stay ahead of all this change, to innovate, adapt, reinvent and engineer experiences for a future that promises to look very different from today.
Personally, I stay on top of trends by reading the latest technology news, speaking with customers and industry pundits, paying attention to university and academic research areas, monitoring venture investing trends and start-up activity. I also draw from my personal experiences, media coverage, and public data sources.
Don’t forget, it’s important to keep an open mind when researching trends. Open yourself to considering all kinds of possible scenarios and interpretations.
Visualize. Once you identify emerging trends, the next step is powering up your imagination. Allow yourself to time-travel (at least in your mind for now) to a future date. Keeping in mind your research, imagine what the world might look like, what a daily routine would be in different parts of the world, what experiences our future-selves might encounter.
Now work back and think about how we arrived there. Ask questions about timing, what trends spearheaded those experiences, market conditions, business models and technologies. Now think about how your company, your team and you personally played a role in arriving at this future state.
For example, if you consider self-driving cars, it’s obvious that the technology will affect our future, but in what capacity? Think about these core questions: How will current markets and industries be impacted? What new opportunities will arise? What role will you or your company play in that future?
Looking at short and long-term time intervals, identify what technology advancements, business models and new solutions have the potential for the greatest impact.
As more people work to become futurists, it’s important to concentrate on the trends in a systematic, diligent way.
Put it through the business sniff test. Good business acumen is an important asset in the futurist’s tool kit. Having a strategy and methodology for testing your scenarios and hypotheses are critical.
At HP, we start with a pivotal choice point of deciding whether a new technology should be merely observed, is an incremental innovation—new feature or function, value-add to an existing product, or possible accessory—or a disruptive innovation, such as a new product or service.
Each idea then goes through a rigorous business lens to understand strategic intent—opportunity, purpose, value—business rationale and actionable outcomes.
Have boring conversations, too. It’s easy to fantasize how technology will improve our lives in the future, but it’s just as important to have tactile conversations as well. . While it’s not necessary to have a formal method for making predictions about the future, you should have a strategy. As more people work to become futurists, it’s important to concentrate on the trends in a systematic, diligent way. . Here are a few questions to spark your next “boring” conversation:
- What is your current strategy to predict the future?
- How well is that plan being executed?
- Where are place you can improve your results?
- What resources do you have available to try something different?
Adopt a growth mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, your qualities are carved in stone. If you lack a skill, you will continue to lack it. However, when you adopt a growth mindset, you can grow and change through persistence and experience. With a fixed mindset, you can be easily overwhelmed with the future’s uncertainty, but the future belongs to those who can adopt a growth mindset.
At HP, we believe a growth mindset and open innovation are a perfect match. Open innovation allows you to bring the outside in, and the inside out. The “outside in” aspect occurs when external ideas and innovation are brought into the company. On the other hand, “inside out” refers to ideas and technologies within your company that can be incorporated into others’ innovation processes.
We’re living open innovation with HP Tech Ventures. Powering the next generation of technology innovation, we’re partnering with the start-up community to share innovation “outside in” and “inside out”. Our teams focus on global, early stage investments in industry shifting trends—Hypermobility, Internet of All Things, 3D transformation, immersive experiences, advanced robotics, and artificial intelligence.
It’s for that exact community that we designed our first immersive computing platform: Sprout. It started in HP Labs, where we tried to imagine a better experience for makers. Sprout integrates five devices into one: a projector, keyboard, scanner, touch canvas, and a 3D camera.
Learn from failure. Don’t confuse failure with bad work. If your team is doing good work, innovating, and still failing, they’re still learning. It’s essential that leaders and organizations encourage and embrace failure. At HP, we say, “If you must fail, fail fast, and allow your employees to do the same.” When everyone knows they can fail, they can truly innovate.
In today’s world, we tend to feel like we don’t have control over the future, but that isn’t the case. With strategic, long-term thinking, action, and an open mind, we can improve lives, and create new businesses, markets, industries and experiences.
I’ll leave you with with one of my favorite quotes. “See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise, you will only see what you were expecting.” -Douglas Adams
A good futurist is always learning, and I’d love to hear your tips and thoughts about becoming a futurist in the comments section below.