Friday, January 30, 2015

“Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way”

The original source of that quote is up for debate. Some claim Thomas Paine, patriot of the American Revolution, used these words in his pamphlet Common Sense, which crystallized the rebellious demand for America’s independence from Great Britain. Others attribute those words to General George Patton, famous WWII Army commander whose character and outward expression was known by all and feared by many. Still, others associate the famous saying most closely with Lee Iacocca, as his outward expression of the determination to pull the downtrodden Chrysler Corporation out of trouble with K-Cars and Minivans.

Whoever the source or association, if you use those famous words you’re in good company. All three men used the saying to inspire change. From a ripple, they created tsunamis.

The Innovation Ripple that Creates a Tsunami
Do you want to create a ripple in 2015? Are you ready to lead your company into the future? Then read on!

Innovation is about change. Leading change. Promoting change. Leading the parade, not watching it. Okay I get it. I’m all in. Innovation is the buzz, but how do I do it? Do I need a product to innovate? Is there an App for that? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘Innovation’ is “The process of translating an idea into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.”

Does that mean the following initiatives count as Innovation?
  • Improving customer service with a dedicated CS Rep?
  • Improving cycle time with a kaizen event?
  • Improving lead conversion with a new sales qualifying process?
  • Improving quote response time by value stream mapping the process and eliminating waste?
Yes, yes, yes and yes! Innovation is all those things and more. The challenge most leaders face is how to get started and determining which Innovation to launch first. We often hear, “We have lots of ideas, but we don’t know which one to dedicate our time and resources to right now.”

This is where “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the way” comes in. It’s a new year. The slate is clean. The best companies are launching new innovations right now. Your competitors are innovating. Are you? If not, what’s getting in your way? Making decisions can be downright scary. What if you make the wrong call? "I'd better be careful not to screw things up," you tell yourself. "Don't push the envelope. Just play it safe."

As we make decisions — ranging from big moves in business to smaller, personal choices — we often put the weight of the world on our shoulders. The nagging impulse to avoid mistakes, get it right, and not lose ground can paralyze our ability to try new things. Accordingly, many people and companies remain stuck in the quicksand of the status quo.

Start the Innovation Ripple
To crack through this barrier, try a fresh approach for 2015. Rather than viewing a decision to try something new as a written-in-stone, life-or-death noose, reframe it as an experiment. Put on your lab coat, and picture yourself in a research lab. You have an idea. Think about how you can you give it a try without risking the company. Do you want to build a prototype to show customers?

Breakthrough innovations like space flights to Mars come from a series of experiments, not a single idea perfected. In fact, most innovations are the result of a series of experiments, collaborations, which encounter setbacks, mistakes, and roadblocks. The act of progress, therefore, is a process of discovery, trial-and-error, not a single lightning bolt of inspiration.

From Ripple to Tsunami
Many of us have fresh ideas for change, but we get stuck in analysis-paralysis. We either fully embrace the new idea and risk everything, or don't pursue it at all. What happens most of the time? More Excel spreadsheets, analysis and paralysis! Then, nothing happens.

Forgo the all-or-nothing trap in favor of small wins. Break the idea down into one or more experiments, where you can test your innovation without betting it all. Figure out how to take the easy first step. Don’t expect a game-changer the first time out. Did you hit a homerun your first time at bat? Did you get a hole-in-one your first time swinging the club? Unless you are one in a billion, probably not. For the rest of us, when the first step works, celebrate the win, and share it around your company. It isn’t for the praise, but it will inspire others to take small steps, share their ideas for change, innovate, and try something new. It will give them the nudge to take the first step.

What happens next? A base hit leads to another. And another. The fear of change fades. The team gains confidence. What was once a boring, predictable place to work, now turns into a hotbed of creativity and innovation.

Let the Tsunami Begin!
Take the first step in growing and strengthening your company. Test your ideas and discover how new innovations can set your business apart from competitors by joining MMTC for the upcoming Leadership Best Practice Series Event on Wednesday, February 11 from 7:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Hear a panel discussion led by John Wortman, of Detroit Radiant Products Company, and Paul Ahern, of Cypress Integration Solutions, who have applied Innovation processes to make their company and profits better. To learn more or to register for this FREE event, click HERE.


  1. This blog really motivates you to look for and embrace change in your business. Well done!

  2. 2015 is the start of the "New MMTC." If you're a go-getter, a forward-thinker, a can't stand the status-quo-er, then you can't miss the Feb 11 event. Join like-minded colleagues to discuss how Innovation can start the ripple and magnify it into a wave and a tsunami!