Volume 2, Issue 6 – August 2001
Welcome to IWL’s monthly e-newsletter, designed to inform and inspire you about the progress of our global leadership community and commitments.
1) Alumni Profile
2) Coach’s Column
A contextual tool in leading change by Jennifer Hibbits
3) A Note from Rayona
Well it’s my favorite time of year…summer and softball season! I’m still nursing a bruise on my left elbow that came from a “bad hop” that inadvertently nailed me before I could put out the runner sliding into second base. Guess this aging thing makes the bumps and bruises last longer 🙂
This month I wanted to share some awakenings that I have had during my recent consulting activity with some alumni. Let me know if you find them useful and how you are doing in your practicing Leading by Context™.
While working with Aida Sabo and the global diversity group, launching their extremely innovative “Diversity Made Real” initiative, I have been exposed to some wonderful work done by Joel Barker, the renowned futurist, on connecting the dots between diversity and innovation that builds wealth. Below is a story that Joel shared that reminds me of our “great idea” exercise in WLC. It validates the concept of “mutualism” which says that coming up with a solution that benefits everyone can produce amazing innovations that are not possible within the limits of binary thinking. “The Bear and the Helicopter”
There is a simple story that was sent to me by Elaine Camper. It dealt with a problem that Pacific Power & Light had with ice on transmission lines. The problem was that when ice storms swept through and coated the lines with heavy ice, it had to be removed or risk line breakage. Removing it was tedious and dangerous.
So PP&L put together some brainstorming teams to solve the problem. These teams, for the first time, were not homogeneous (the linemen) but heterogeneous. So not only were the warriors (the linemen) there, but accountants, administrators, secretaries and supervisors. Even people from the mailroom were invited.
This is a good example of diversity because of both job differentiation and level in the company. During their discussions, they took breaks. And at one of the breaks, the facilitator heard two linemen talking. One was recounting a recent experience:
“Why, just last week, I was coming down from a pole, and, when I hit the ground, I was looking eye to eye with one of the biggest, meanest black bears I’ve ever seen.” He went on to tell how he escaped.
When the team returned, the facilitator used that story to stimulate some break-the-box discussion. Someone suggested training bears to climb the poles and knock off the ice. Someone else suggested putting honey pots on the top of the poles drawing the bears naturally to the top where their weight would wiggle the wires and break the ice.
Then they talked about how to get those honey pots on the top of the poles and someone jokingly suggested helicopters. Laughter followed again, but something else also happened.
A secretary spoke up: “I was a nurse’s aide in Vietnam. I saw many injured soldiers arrive at the field hospital by helicopter. The down wash from the helicopter blades was amazing. I wonder if we just flew the helicopter over the power lines at a low altitude, would the down-wash from those blades be sufficient to shake the lines and knock the ice off?”
Silence. Then insight. It could work. And when tested it does work. No longer do linemen climb the poles to do this dangerous work.
Look at why this solution was discovered: a lineman talked about a bear; an administrator talked about a honeypot; another lineman came up with the helicopters delivering the honeypots. And a secretary who had been in Vietnam saw the solution.
Would they have come up with that solution if only linemen had been present? Or only secretaries? I think not. It is the stirring of the diverse experiences that generates solutions like that. No amount of brainstorming by a homogeneous group would have found that solution that quickly. And they may never have found it. It is mutualism, the teaming of differences, at work again.
Some obvious take-aways from this story to me are:
• The more diverse the group, the more non-linear the solution might be.
• Get people into communication…don’t try to problem solve up in your head.
• Listen generously to all ideas and expect innovation to occur.
• Include people who you don’t think could add value (mine the gold in what they say).
• Maintain a context of “anything is possible.”
As you move forward in your commitment to be a more innovative and empowering leader please continue to look at ways to develop yourself and your organization in partnership with the IWL community. Whether you are attending our programs or connecting with other alumni to brainstorm, you will find that this community is more generous than you can imagine…and together we will change the world.