Linda Hill, Collective Genius and Innovation

 “Everybody has slice of genius”

-Linda Hill

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Linda Hill is a professor of management at Harvard Business School. Linda while doing research on leadership came to conclusion that research on leadership was not same as research on innovation. While a visionary leader can bring about change desired change in organisation, innovation is a collective effort. Innovation is brought about by group of people not by a solo leader.

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This new generation does not want to follow. As one of the leaders said, “If I said, I’m the visionary, you follow me, they won’t follow me.” They don’t want to follow you to the future; they want to co-create the future with you. The idea of collective genius is just to capture the imagination of a lot of young people, because they want to be able to co-create, [and] not be a follower, in the traditional sense.”

-Linda Hill

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Linda studied various organisations like Pixar (Steve Jobs), IBM, HCL (Vineet Nayar) and came to conclusion that innovation is collective effort of creative group of individuals.

“And there are three things that we’ve known for a long time about innovation. Most innovation is the result of collaborative work, of diverse individuals with different points of view and different expertise.

The second thing is that most innovation is the result of discoveries from learning. You don’t plan your way to an innovation, you act your way. Almost all innovations [have] lots of missteps, false starts, mistakes.

And then the final thing we know is that most innovations are not completely new: using the combination of old ideas, [or] a reconfiguration of some old ideas, to solve a new problem or address a new opportunity.”

-Linda Hill

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Amination films made by Pixar were due to efforts of group of creative individuals, it would not have been possible if it was top driven organisation headed by Steve Jobs. Creativity of Steve Jobs is not as effective as creativity of group of individuals.

In HCL its CEO encouraged employees to come up with creative ideas to make HCL profitable, one such philosophy was “Employees First, Customers Second”.

 

Innovation, Urban Experiment and Desert Farm

“Urban explorers are the only people who, between us, know it all. We move between each network. We know where they link up – often, it’s us who made the link. The authorities, the police, town hall, they don’t know a hundredth, a thousandth, of what’s down there.”

-Lazar Kunstmann, spokesman UX

Sometimes innovation comes from unexpected group of people like slum dwellers, inner city gangs etc. Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Philips have written book about such groups- Misfit Economy. Two such examples are Urban eXperiment – UX and Desert Farm.

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In 1981 an informal group of people, calling themselves UX, stole plans of the many underground passageways and tunnels in Paris. The informal group consists of artists, hackers, architects, IT specialists, historians etc. This group uses underground passages as their base and from there carry out various activities.

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One such activity was repairing of Pantheon clock in Paris. The clock was not working for quite some time and French government was not interested/lacked fund to get the clock repaired. UX decided to repair the clock. They managed to get inside Pantheon building, studied the condition of clock and started repairing it (group had watch makers in addition to architects and historians). They managed to get the clock repaired and clock chimed for first time after many years. The security guards and police were unable to detect activities for this group.

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The group also runs a cinema with bar and restaurant, stages classical plays etc. in underground passages. All group members are professionals who do their legitimate job in day ex. doctors, professors, engineers etc. and in night come together and do activities which fall in grey area. Structure of group is very informal and this informality leads to innovative ideas.

Second idea may not sound innovative to Indians, but in US it was innovative.

“I don’t think this product is for the average joe. It’s more for the well-aware, health-conscious community.”

-Walid Abdul Wahab

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An Arab student in US Walid Abdul Wahab was familiar with benefits of camel’s milk and decided sell camel’s milk in US. Problem was selling of camel’s milk was unheard of in US. Walid tied up with unusual group of people for supply of camel’s milk. The Amish Farmers too had no experience of milking camels, but they decided to try it, they brought camels, formed a cooperative and decided to sell fresh camel’s milk. So collaboration of Arab and Amish Farmers resulted in formation of Desert Farm which sells camel’s milk in US. Camel’s milk is believed to be beneficial to autistic children, so majority of their customers are parents of autistic children.

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Indians are familiar with milk cooperative and camel’s milk. But in US this unusual combination of Arab buying milk from Amish farmers and selling it to parents of autistic children was certainly innovative.

Public Choice Theory, Indira Gandhi and JNU

 Some time back a group of youth belonging to a group called Ram Sene decided to attack women who went to pubs or celebrated Valentine’s Day. Some women were attacked at a pub in Mangalore.

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Later women retaliated by sending pink panties to Ram Sene office. Over period of time both Ram Sene and Pink Panty Sene disappeared from public memory.

India has lot of such Senes (Hindi word is Sena, but I prefer Kannada version- Sene), most of them are promoted by political parties. I will talk about two such senes- Vanar Sene and Secular Sene

Long time ago, in her teens Indira Gandhi formed Vanar Sene, it was a group of children under leadership of Indira, whose job was to shout anti British slogans within compound of her grandfather’s palatial house in Allahabad. Later Vanar Sene decided to something adventurous, they decided to shout slogans in front of a British official’s office in Allahabad.  This time Indira was accompanied by her mother Kamala. By afternoon, Kamala could not bear heat, she fainted. A group of youth helped her and carried her home. One of them was youth called Feroze Gandhi. Thus Vanar Sene gave India two great leaders- Indira Gandhi and Feroze Gandhi.

Daughter of India's NAtive Leader Indira Nehru

Later after India got independence, Indira’s father Jawaharlal Nehru become prime minister of India. Meanwhile Feroze had married Indira.  Though both Nehru and Feroze belonged to same party, Feroze behaved more like opposition leader than party member. He exposed scams of industrialist R K Dalmia and Haridas Mundhara. This was great embarrassment for Nehru. Nehru had carefully crafted image of himself as secular democrat and world-class diplomat. His image was further damaged when he dismissed communist government of EMS Namboodripad, lost war with China, resulting in India losing huge territory to China and his attempts to make his daughter his successor.

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Nehru and later his daughter Indira loved to project themselves as intellectuals. Indira formed a university called JNU to promote thoughts of Nehru, all those who were ready to work on this project were called as leftist intellectuals, and those opposing them were called rightist and fundamentalists. JNU gave birth to Secular Sene. It was a certifying body to decide who was secular who was not.

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Indira gave charge of creating Secular Sene to her sycophant Romesh Thapar. Romesh’s sister Romilla also called Chuski (she has habit of giving advice over sip (chuski) of tea) became in charge of history department of JNU. Secular Sene under Chuski rewrote history of India. Secular Sene writes history in terms of rightists and leftist. Those supporting Nehru are leftists and those opposing rightist. Leftist build nation and rightist destroy nation.

Later some more members joined Secular Sene prominent among them was journalist Kuldip Nayyar (popularly called Bhola), so Chuski and Bhola became think tank of Secular Sene.

But reality is there is nothing like rightist or leftists, political leaders freely move from one party to another. Corruption, nepotism, casteism is independent of ideology.

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Noble prize winning economist James  Buchanan came with concept of “Public Choice Theory”. Public choice theory argues that economic self-interest is the driving force of politics. So whether it is leftist Nehru or communist Namboodripad or rightist Modi or anarchist Mamta or Kejriwal all are interested in their own welfare and survival.

Zeigarnik Effect, Procrastination and Arabian Nights

Bluma Zeigarnik was a Lithuanian psychologist who once observed that waiters had better recollection of unpaid bills orders than orders for which bills were paid. Once the unpaid bills were paid their recollection about those orders went down.

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Bluma studied this phenomenon in more details and come up with what known as Zeigarnik effect.

Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

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This effect can be of help if someone is prone to procrastination. The idea is if you are procrastinating, just initiate task by taking first few steps, the Zeigarnik effect will remind you about the incomplete task and you will then take few more steps and so on till momentum builds up and task is complete. If you fail to take initial few steps, chances are you will simply forget about it and remember it only when deadline approaches or someone reminds you.

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Zeigarnik effect is also used by producers of TV serials, when they don’t show complete episode and remind you to watch it next week. The curiosity to know what will happen brings in the stickiness factor and TV serial is able to get loyal viewership.

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This effect was also used in case of Arabian nights. Prince Shahryar had a queen who was not faithful to him, so the sadistic prince decided to take revenge on all women in kingdom. He used to marry a woman daily and next day used to execute her. Finally to save women, daughter of Vizier called Scheherazade, decided to marry Shahryar. Night before execution she told prince a story, but by morning she could not complete it, since prince was curious to know the end of story, he decided to postpone execution by a day. Scheherazade used Zeigarnik effect daily and managed to postpone her execution 1001 times! It is said that after 1001 days the prince decided to spare her life.

Seth Godin, Procrastination and Annie Kenney

“Tell your lizard ( brain) to shut up”

-Seth Godin

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Seth Godin is an American author who has written a book What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn). On cover page is photograph of lady called Annie Kenney.

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Annie Kenney started working in cotton mill at the age of 10, she worked in that mill for many years. Due to lack of safety standards in factory, she lost one finger during accident. She was impressed by women suffragette movement and become part of it. She was a militant leader. When her turn came she did not hesitate to attack politicians. Because of efforts of leaders like her, women in Britain got right to vote.

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Seth Godin in his books always talks about getting rid of procrastination, challenging your limitations and come with innovative ideas.

Godin feels that due to procrastination, you are late in acting and thereby you eliminate options. There is no room for choice.

Watch - later, not yet, too late, Nah not yet.

One of the reasons for procrastination is what he calls as “Lizard Brain”. Part of primitive brain deals with fears, when faced with challenging situations it either asks us to fight or run away. In our work life this lizard brain prevents us from facing challenging situations by procrastinating. Procrastination is response of lizard brain to fear of doing something challenging. The response could be in form of naps, coffee breaks, and keep postponing things etc.

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The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.”

― Seth Godin

To get rid of lizard brain it is important to just start doing things and not to wait for ideal day, time or hour. While doing you can fail and learn. We refuse to change because we have fear of looking stupid. Fear stops change. We hesitate to start, hold back, do more research and wait for something better.

Lizard brain gives us excuses for not acting. In words of Godin- just ship your art (i.e. execute your unique ideas)

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During change there will be a dip i.e. things will go down before they go up again, it is during this dip that you need to keep your lizard brain under control and learn as much as possible when things are low. This learning will make you successful when things go up again.

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Like Annie Kenney when it is your turn to act, don’t pass the turn. Like her you should act.

By not acting we not only limit our capabilities, but short change those who depend on us or might benefit from us.

 

Bank Run, Depositors and Game Theory

Recently a Mumbai based cooperative bank was in news for lending huge amount of money to 2-3 industrialists who had closed their business and had disappeared with the money. What was left with bank was inventory worth few lakhs. There was panic among depositors who rushed to various branches of bank to withdraw their money.

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Now questions is should bank allow depositors to withdraw their money or ask them not to withdraw amount. Allowing depositors to withdrawing money will increase faith of depositors but high withdrawals may also create problem of insolvency.

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Game Theory offers interesting solution in case of Bank run. If all depositors do not withdraw amount and give bank enough time to tide over crisis, then payoff is highest, they can get their money with interest. But if all withdraw then due to insolvency each will end up getting lesser amount. But if one withdraws and other doesn’t, then one who withdraws gets more than one who does not withdraw.

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A bank run occurs when a large number of customers of a bank or another financial institution withdraw their deposits simultaneously due to concerns about the bank’s solvency. This has been happening for decades. Many depositors have lost their life time savings in bank run.

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Sometimes number of banks may face this problem due to national level financial crisis ex. Grexit.

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Coming back to our story in case of this Mumbai based cooperative bank, the Reserve Bank of India decided to intervene to avert the crisis and asked depositors to withdraw money in a staggered manner ex. not more than Rs.10000 in 6 months.