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How Things Really Get Done

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Image: Bob RosnerOne of the most creative bits of problem solving I’ve ever heard of came during Hurrican Katrina. In the French Quarter, Addie Hall and Zackery Bowen found an unusual way to make sure that police officers regularly patrolled their house. Ms. Hall, 28, a bartender, flashed her breasts at the police vehicles that passed by, ensuring a regular flow of traffic (from the New York Times).

I’m a fan of New Orleans. And let’s face it, if you had gone through the hell of hurricane Katrina, would you be able to draw on years of experience at Mardi Gras to get the police attention you needed? Ms. Hall, like so many residents of the Big Easy, has the most creative problem solving skills I’ve ever seen.

Ms. Hall also reminds us that there are the ways that things are supposed to get done and the ways that they actually get done. I’m not suggesting that flashing is a career enhancing move for most of us. But there are times at work, and in life, where creativity and bold action are not only called for, they’re a requirement.

This reminds me of a story that I heard as a graduate business student. Our professor told us that he wanted to talk to people who actually implemented programs in corporations. So he arranged a meeting with no consultants, authors or other hangers on. He only allowed corporate doers in the room. He asked them to tell success stories and he marveled at how the techniques for getting things done in the real world had little resemblance to what was being taught in MBA programs.

For example, there was the change agent who tried to get his program implemented for years with no success. He’d long since given up. Then one day he was having lunch with his friend, the company speechwriter. The topic of his failed program came up. He told the sad story of defeat after defeat on the corporate battlefield. Cut to the CEO two weeks later announcing his latest initiative, the change agent’s program. One conversation with the speechwriter breathed more life into his program than years of banging his head against the corporate hierarchy.

For every rule of how things should get done in organizations there are often at least two exceptions. That’s why it’s so important to get to know the network of doers in your organization. They’re in there, but chances are that they’re operating beneath the radar. So you’re going to have to go looking for them. Once you get their confidence, they’ll have many stories that will both surprise you and teach you new ways to get from point A to point B within your organization.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]


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Why Do Ideas Have Such a Hard Time Surviving at Work?

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Image: Bob RosnerAn old UK study found that 81% of people had their best ideas outside of the office (but you’ll have to guess what percentage found them in the bathroom!).

Visit any business web site, read current business magazines or listen to business gurus and it’s all about the “ideas”. In fact, it sometimes feels like “new ideas” are the answer, no matter what the question.

This blog will spend time NOT exploring how to think outside the box. Rather, it will look into how we all got jammed into the box in the first place and why it’s bad for our organizations and really bad for us. And deadly for new ideas.

Okay, let’s give you some additional information on that UK study about where our best ideas are generated. Sony Ericsson conducted the study and found 81% had their best ideas outside of the office. Top places for idea generation? The car, in bed and socializing. At the bottom of the list was in the pub. And finally, as promised above, 6% of us have our best ideas in the toilet.

So why do we have to escape our desk to find our best ideas? I’ve got three reasons why. First is the ubiquitous cubicle. Sure a great idea can come to you while sitting in a cube, but is it because of the cube or in spite of the cube? The cubicle company’s literature emphasizes that cubes foster conversation, bring teams closer together and can be darn good looking. But the reality is that we need less noise and distraction, especially if we are going to wander in that fragile area called idea generation.

Another part of the problem is the tendency of organizations to promote the people who have never had an idea on their own into management positions. Sure it makes sense; people are put into management because they support the status quo. This reminds me of a line I once heard about Al Gore. “Al Gore is an older person’s idea of what a younger person should be.” And people who don’t have ideas have a really weird view of how people with ideas should be treated. Actually weird isn’t the best word to describe it. How about dangerous. Why? Because people who’ve never had a good idea like to pick at ideas, play devil’s advocate and attach timelines and budgets to them much too early.

Instead of giving the idea, and the idea generator, room to maneuver they often force the baby to survive outside of the nurturing cubicle where it was created much too early (okay, the words “nurturing cubicle” are totally oxymoronic and run counter to what I wrote about cubes above. But since this is called a blog, a certain amount of inconsistency comes with the turf.).

Finally the biggest idea killer is the “corporate immune” system. This idea was first described by my friend Gifford Pinchot, best selling author of the book “Intrapreneuring”. He talks about all the ways that organizations seek out and destroy anything that runs counter to the status quo. The challenge is that the corporate immune system is relentless in its ability to remove threats and ensure mediocrity.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how organizations kill ideas. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to tell you where I have my best ideas, because right now, I gotta go.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]


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