Good Morning from Paris, I loved writing that - felt like Hemingway or George Plimpton or something :)
I write this on my way back to Cincinnati after a little over a week of travel to South Korea and Vietnam. As I sit enjoying a fantastic Espresso & Croissant as only the French can do -- my biggest learning from the week is related to the Dicken's quote from Tale of Two Cities.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
Best of Times mindset = a focus on the future. Last night I had an informal cooking class - my daughter had arranged - at the home of a Vietnam Veterinarian and Government Food Safety Expert. As youth they were shipped out of Hanoi during the war to Russia for their safety. I asked how they viewed the wars their country had fought with France, Japan and the USA (the topic was timely as their famous General's funeral was that day. I was surprised by their response. They quoted what President Bill Clinton said when he visited just around the corner from their home "We can't change the past. But we can change the future."
This mindset of not dwelling on the past was something I found over and over again. There is a faith that tomorrow will be better. The innovation mindset is focused on what's next - not simply "aren't I great because of what I've done in the past"
Best of Times Mindset = confront reality. In South Korea - I spent a couple days in deep immersion - visiting national history museum, historic sites, talking with youth in the street, etc.. What I learned was that it would probably be very difficult to do Innovation Engineering in South Korea. In particular - public debating of ideas, even just saying "what if" ideas in public, and failure of any kind was just not in the culture. I was advised by some to modify my approach. In the end I didn't change what I knew was right - but I did confront the reality of the situation. I explained - "I respect your culture. However, you have asked me here to help you innovate. In order to accomplish this - there are some things we are going to have to do differently. This will be uncomfortable - but it will work."
By having the honest conversation - and explaining "why" the session ended up being a big success. Quotes at the end included - "I feel reborn," "thank you for showing us what is possible for us," "I have never experienced anything like this - but I must say I Like it a lot,"
The innovation mindset confronts reality. It has honest conversations about death threats, very important opportunities and long term constancy of purpose.
Best of Times Mindset = a concern for every employee. The Managing Director of the South Korean company asked me to accelerate the development of a Korean language version of IE Labs.com. He explained, "I need all of my people innovating not just my marketing people. If it's in Korean I can involve everyone." Coming from a world where we have to "fight" to get companies to embrace innovation across the organization it was a refreshing change to have the leader - after just a couple days seeing the system - commit to complete engagement.
The innovation mindset is not simply something you "rent" when you need to deal with the decline of a product. Rather, it's a mindset of engagement of every employee, every day - thinking smarter and more creatively.
Best of Times Mindset = the idealism of youth. In South Korea and Vietnam I had the opportunity to spend extended time with youth. In both countries - I was in awe of their thinking, their energy, their global understanding, their passion for making a difference. I must admit - many times I was taken back to my youth. A time when we all believed we would be different than our parents - that we would take care of one another, the planet and we would work together - as opposed to fight one another. On the streets of Seoul and Hanoi I found that spirit still lives. Within them - and within me.
The innovation mindset has the optimism of youth - it's a state of mind. It's a believing that everything you do and don't do can have an impact on the world.
I fully understand that there are many people who would prefer to
• Not Focus on the Future - just focus on today's short term issue.
• Not Confront Reality - just stay quiet and you can't get in trouble.
• Not have a concern for every employee - just focus on the "key" people the others are replaceable.
• Not embrace the idealism of youth - just stay a cranky old man because then I am protected from getting disappointed again.
Thanks to all who made the trip so very memorable. Special thanks to my Daughter Tori for organizing an incredible 48 hours in Hanoi that totally blew my mind. You really are "living the dream" --- keep at it!
To learn more about her adventures read Tori's blog at http://www.torihall.com/news.html
Rock & Roll
p.s. Next up - Finland, UK, Ireland and Hong Kong - our efforts to "change the world" continues forward.