Entries in culture (3)


Google, working groups and the nature of work

What happens when a company at the forefront of the digital economy -- one that is known globally for fostering new ways to unleash employee creativity to drive growth -- decides to apply it's expertise in data collection and analysis to improve the performance of its teams? Google undertook this effort, and the short answer is that for a long time, nothing much happened because the data yielded few patterns...and the ones that did emerge were often contradictory.

Ultimately, despite the apparently contradictory data, Google’s intense data collection and number crunching  led it to a conclusion that good managers have intuitively known for a long time: the best teams find ways to listen to each other and read the reactions, moods and feelings of other members.

The team at Google responsible for the ‘‘employee performance optimization’’ research believes the effort was valuable even though its conclusions echo those previously articulated by earlier managers. They argue that it has created a method for talking about our insecurities, fears and aspirations in more constructive ways, and that it also has given us the tools to quickly teach lessons that once took managers decades to absorb.

Just having data that proves to people that these things are worth paying attention to sometimes is the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention." -- Julia Rozovsky, Google

We encourage you to read through the interesting, more complete story in this New York Times feature, What Google Learned From Its Quest To Build The Perfect Team. You can also check out Google's own "curated collection" of tools and lessons learned from its study of the workplace here.

-- Clara Shen


Social innovation traps

A recent piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review identifies eight so-called innovation traps that prevent an organization's best intentions of developing cutting edge solutions to social challenges from being fully realized. We found it interesting that while some of the traps are related to execution and implementation, others are more conceptual, meaning that culture is the barrier that forestalls change.

The SSIR lists the eight traps as the following:

  1. Underestimating what it takes: Funders miscalculate how long innovation takes and the scale of investment required to create real transformation, not realizing innovation is rarely a quick, short-term investment;
  2. Misaligned incentives: Despite a company's desire for innovation, staff are discouraged from taking the sorts of risk necessary for fear of failure;
  3. Coming to consensus: Another risk aversion trap whereby the need for consensus often leads to funding for only the clearest, safest, or lowest-common-denominator ideas, leaving truly radical projects untried;
  4. Who's responsible for innovation: Setting up teams of innovators is a double-edged sword as members with other duties may find new idea formulation difficult, while establishing dedicated innovators could lead to a balkanization of staff;
  5. Just around the curve: Not knowing the difference between a wrong turn and a dead end, which could lead to funding going to unproductive efforts rather than a project which should be nurtured;
  6. Everything is innovative: Funders need to define their goals based on characteristics such as how transformational, original, unconventional, or disruptive an idea may be and be ruthless in their assessment of whether something is truly innovative;
  7. We fund innovation, so we must be innovative: Traditional funding methods can be used to fund innovation, while more forward-thinking avenues like crowd funding can be employed to fund conventional activities. However it's done, funders have to determine if they're looking for innovation in the field or in their processes; and
  8. Innovation is the holy grail: Discovering an innovation doesn't end the search for solutions to complex issues, while the process looks beyond the breakthroughs themselves to new insights, and networks of problem solvers that develop new technologies or strategies unforeseen by the organization.

Understanding the pitfalls facing social innovators in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors should help foster better trials and greater progress.  What do you think?


Hendrick's: targeting consumers by culture instead of demographics

Hendrick's Gin recently held a theatrical and whimsical pop-up event at Cyclorama, a historic building in downtown Boston, inviting hundreds of Bostonians to experience, taste, and observe weird, delightful things. Hendrick's Emporium of the Unusual was designed with quirky consumers, or hipsters, in mind. As a recent profile in Fast Company observes,

The brand has made itself an expert on hipster culture, observing it with an almost anthropological fascination."

This targeting has been effective, with operating profits rising 10.6% last year, stemming from a reputation built on "word of mouth and careful nurturing of the brand." Senior brand manager Kirsten Walpert says the brand focuses on psychographic qualities related to attitudes and lifestyles instead of demographics, and most of their consumers are young city dwellers in their twenties and thirties. Through targeting key events and partner organizations that align with the brand's ethos, Hendrick's Gin is paving a unique path for itself.

Image source: Fast Company