I recently visited an amusement park with my family. In an otherwise clean and orderly park, I noticed a number of cobwebs clinging to signs or railings. It got me to thinking… who’s minding the cobwebs? It’s probably not on the list of responsibilities for the cleaning crew as it’s not sweeping, mopping, cleaning bathrooms, wiping down tables, etc. Cobwebs probably don’t rank high on the priorities for the maintenance department when they have painting, repairs, green spaces, and other tasks to address on a daily and weekly basis.
When I was in graduate school in Educational Administration (I was on the track to become a principal or headmaster of a school), I remember hearing about a study where they watched to see who would pick up a piece of trash in a school hallway. They found that generally only two people would. Want to guess who? I’ll tell you: the school janitor and the principal. In other words, it was the person who had specific responsibility for that type of behavior and the person who had responsibility for the entire operation. Everyone one else- teachers, administrative staff, and cafeteria workers walked right on by.
There are two points here: When everyone is responsible for a task, really no one is… kind of like the community fridge in the office. No doubt it looks worse than your fridge at home does. Everyone has communal responsibility for it, but no one takes ownership of it. Secondly, if it’s not spelled out as a priority, no one takes it seriously as a responsibility. I’d like to see the organization where everyone is tasked with removing cobwebs and picking up trash they see on the floor. My guess is that as they train their eyes to see what others walk past, they’ll start to notice other areas- like business processes or customer service or communications- that need improvement too.
Since my visit to the amusement park I’ve started noticing cobwebs other places. Maybe I’ve even started looking for them. I’ve knocked them down in my garage and from railings and under my deck and from places where people might not even notice. But I’ve gotten to the place where I don’t want to see cobwebs, and I want them out of my life. Even in obscure places.
You see cobwebs represent what’s been overlooked, a lack of attention to detail. Cobwebs symbolize those areas, usually corners of our lives that we’ve gotten comfortable with, that we don’t give a critical eye to. If you look up cobwebs in the dictionary, you’ll also find that there are any number of negative associations: flimsy, insubstantial, a network of plot or intrigue, confusion, indistinctness, lack of order. I don’t know about you, but none of these do I want in my life.
It could be that cobwebs in your organization are the program whose time is past or the way of thinking that is not in tune with a connected and engaged community. It could be that employee who no longer produces but is still there occupying an office or a cubicle. The cobwebs could be the inability to take a risk on an unproven idea. The cobwebs could be a stifling bureaucracy or ineffective communications. It could be an organizational culture that causes its employees to merely clock in and clock out rather than giving their best efforts and ideas.
So, I ask again… who’s minding the cobwebs? In your life? In your organization?
Well, it’s the final week of the NFL regular season, and playoffs are just around the corner (Go Packers!). College football bowls are going into high gear as well (Go Wake Forest!).
Just recently I read an article on the “Top 10 Play Innovations” in the NFL so I thought it would be a good time to explore what innovation lessons are held there for us.
First, let’s talk about what they didn’t do in pro football. It may be obvious, but teams didn’t diversify into baseball or basketball or any other sport. They also didn’t expand their footprint by using the sidelines, stands, or concession areas for certain plays. Coaches didn’t suddenly start playing 12 or 13 players at a time to gain the upper hand. Teams also didn’t elect to use an object other than a football like keys, a shoe, or a pineapple (Sorry, Southwest Airlines!) on their possessions.
So, what did coaches and teams do to create competitive advantages while staying within the confines of the rules of the game? Just how did they create innovation in what might be perceived to be limiting circumstances?
This is not a lesson on football (I wouldn’t be the right one to give it), and I’m not going to go into great detail about schemes, formations, and defenses. Here are, however, a few themes I noticed that have lessons in innovation for all of us:
Placement- Most innovation in offensive or defensive schemes starts with the placement of the players. Use of more running backs, more wide receivers, or an extra defensive back created options and changed the game. Words like “pressure” and “neutralize” are used to describe the effects of these inventive formations. Does your organization have people assigned to the right positions? Do you need to shift areas of responsibility? Would putting more emphasis on a given facet of your “game” create a competitive advantage?
Motion- The movement of players at the onset of a play also was a means of bringing innovation to football. Words like “mismatches” and “uncertainty” are key. Do your employees, members, prospects, customers, and/or competitors always know your next move with communications, marketing, public relations, branding, etc.? Are they certain of your tactics at conferences and trade shows with exhibits, sponsorships, advertising, etc.? Do your constituents already have you classified, pegged, nailed? What can you do to create a mismatch, to make them have to respond accordingly and not think of your organization in the same way? What can you do to develop new efficiencies (wins) and at the same time make it more exciting for your “fans”?
Time Management- At times innovation in football has focused on the management of the clock. Terms like the “no-huddle offense” and “2-minute offense” have become universally known. Looking at the clock and play calling differently has led to long-term success for some franchises. How does your organizations approach project management and deadlines? Are you effective at the division of responsibilities? We’re all dealing with tasks that need to be done that need to be finished by a certain date or time. Does your organization procrastinate until you’re woefully behind and then try to scramble in the last two minutes of the game? How can you create an organizational culture that addresses the need for purposeful time management from start to successful completion?
Intent- Teams have found success when they took a step back and stopped doing what the rest of the pack was doing. They embraced a different approach. These teams stopped settling for what was tried-and-true; and, instead, they innovated. They stopped going with limited opportunities with defined results and forged a new paradigm. In short, they took a risk, a gamble. They could have looked like idiots if their new methods failed. Instead, they developed options for running backs, trick plays, short passes, deep passes, and schemes for linebackers to get sacks. And, these franchises came up big! What are the ways you see that you could approach problems and issues differently? What large opportunities await but haven’t been addressed because the organization is too focused on the tasks at hand? Where has dynamic leadership simply become adequate management? How do you take time to reflect and plan strategically, to truly innovate in your field?
What are the innovation lessons you see in football or from another sport? How are these being applied in your organization? What more can be done to take these examples from the field to the office?