Archive for June, 2012

English: Title float for the Pixar Play Parade

English: Title float for the Pixar Play Parade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although not really focussed on alignment but on innovation, the following is so true, that I do want to share it. A friend of me send me this article, source unknown, which describes for me something which all of us should bare in mind. Have fun reading!

Ask most any owner or executive from the corner ma-and-pa newsstand to the Fortune 100 CEO if he or she is committed to creating an innovative product or customer experience and you will hear a resounding “yes!” from all.

Then why is it that there are only a handful of companies that consistently deliver results that even come close to those wacky, northern California filmmakers at Pixar?  Think about it.  In the past fifteen years, eleven blockbuster hits in a row grossing over $6.5 BILLION and costing less than $1.5 billion to make.

Are those not-so-innovative companies lying when it comes to commitment?  In order to answer that question, let’s examine the definition of commitment.  Commitment is defined as “being bound intellectually or emotionally to a course of action.”  When it comes to being innovative and creative, the problem is that most executives are only bound intellectually to a course of action.

Most companies go to great lengths to hire the most intellectually gifted employees.  Yes, these are the ones who have had a 4.0 GPA since pre-school; the ones who have always followed the rules to the exact letter; the ones who have never taken a semester off to travel to Africa, South America or China; the ones who have never missed one day of school.  What is lacking with most of these people is passion.  Most would never think of trying something wacky that would break the rules or consider failure as a valuable learning experience.  Now I am not suggesting that all super-bright job candidates and employees are boring, myopic, unimaginative people.  After all, Pixar co-founders Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith both have PhDs in computer science.  Yet just as important, or maybe even more important, was their independence, passion, and persistence to create the first computer-generated animated feature film.

Passion…that’s what it takes to create a culture of innovation.  All the vision, mission statements and value propositions in the world will not result in an ounce of creative energy without passionate inspired leadership. Fortunately, passion is contagious…it results in an epidemic of creative ideas! Author, E.M. Foster said, “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”

So how does Pixar promote passion in the workplace?  It all begins with their leadership.  The following are eight leadership beliefs that set the course for Pixar’s creative culture:

1.  Employees must be linked, not ranked.  Pixarians are linked together by complimentary skills, not ranked by level of importance.  Pixar co-founders Ed Catmull tells us, “When art and technology come together, magical things happen.”

2.  Creative ideas come from team collaborations, not top-down mandates.  Ed Catmull disagrees with many of his counterparts in Hollywood studios who insist that Pixar and Disney have all the “great idea people.”  It is not about great ideas… it is all about great teams.  Ed’s belief in his team is evident in his words: “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they’ll screw it up.  But if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they’ll make it work.” It is not about one great idea, it is about the thousands of little ideas that come from everyone on the team that go into the final product.

3.  Passionate leaders get their power from enabling others to do their work, not telling them how to do their work.

4.  Teaching soft skills such as collaboration and improvisation are as important as teaching the hard occupational skills.

5.  Innovation demands the ability to live with ambiguity.  When you don’t have all the information, intuitive decisions are necessary.

6.  Spending time trying to avoid failure often results in stagnation. As Pixar University dean Randy Nelson explained, “failure is that negative space around success.” Being able to quickly try, fail and try again.

7.  Innovative leaders create teams that are highly diversified.  Think beyond achieving a balance of gender and race…hire some “wacky” free-thinking creative folks!

8.  Passionate innovate leaders make work fun.  Disney and Pixar Animation Studios chief creative officer, John Lasseter reflected: “We worked really hard, but we also had so much fun, and it showed up in our work. We’d goof off, we’d laugh, we’d work together, and we’d look at and give feedback on each other’s stuff. And the creativity just sort of overflowed.”  Remember when you take yourself too seriously, life ceases to be fun.

Whether you are a CEO, vice president, frontline manager or team leader, these eight leadership traits will help awaken the passion that lies in all of us.   Remember the words of American dancer Martha Graham: “Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.” Awaken your passion for innovation and as John Lasseter stated, “let the creativity overflow.”

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When I started this blog more than a year ago, one of the answers I was looking for, was if and why Business/IT Alignment is so different from alignment between for example sales and operations or between business and HR. If it’s not, we could learn more from other domains. If it is, than the question is why. So far, I didn’t find a clear answer to this question. But, maybe I stumbled upon at least a possible answer to this question.

It started when I was thinking about the pros and cons of internal customer/supplier relationships. IT is often perceived as a “supplier”. And, as a result of this, the relationship between business and IT can be seen as a customer/supplier relationship. Question is, why IT is perceived as a supplier? I have read some articles of people discussing the issue of running IT as a business. Several views on this can be found, proponents and opponents. These discussions made me realize, that IT in fact is always seen (and organized) as a separate unit. A unit which is struggling to get and keep connected to the business, which in fact is called the alignment problem. It is not the organizational form, which is relevant, but the fact that it’s been considered a rather isolated unit within an enterprise. And, maybe that could be one of the main reasons behind the alignment problem. Trying to be seen as an integrated department of an enterprise, but in fact not acting as one.

In one blog was stated:  “There is no secret to running IT like a business. It simply means that the IT group must now do whatever is necessary to sell products and services on a competitive basis. While there are a few caveats to this statement, overall it is as simple as knowing your market, giving customers what they want, and doing it at a price that is competitive. This means that CIOs are going to have to think and operate more commercially, using menus of products and services that describe these services with pricing, delivery time, service levels and support options. This can be accomplished with a product and services catalog that provides information about what the individual technology offerings bring to a business unit. This catalog must be based upon direct feedback from internal customers (business units) and state what service levels are included in the offering, the fulfillment interval and support levels. Content in any specific catalog depends on the specific business requirements of a specific project. IT must also step out of the technical realm to develop and communicate performance metrics in business language.” .

Although it all sounds logical, question is, if this really helps in getting more aligned with the business. There is a lot of discussion on this topic of running IT as a business. Some nice statements from opponents are found on http://taosecurity.blogspot.nl/2011/01/it-as-business-train-wreck.html. Some quotes:

“Another unintended consequence of running IT as a business with internal customers, while less tangible, might be even more important: Defining IT’s role this way creates an arm’s-length relationship between IT and the rest of the business…”

“When IT acts as a separate, stand-alone business, the rest of the enterprise will treat it as a vendor. Other than in dysfunctional, highly political environments, business executives don’t trust vendors to the extent they trust each other…”

“When IT is integrated into the heart of the enterprise, its priorities aren’t defined by who has the budget to spend (by chargebacks). Rather, they’re defined by a company leadership team whose members have a shared purpose, who understand what the company must do to achieve that purpose, and who understand the role new technology will play…”

The discussion on how to manage IT clearly is open ended. From an alignment perspective it doesn’t help – to my opinion – to position IT as separate business, because of the negative consequences. Maybe, this is where IT differs from other departments within the enterprise. Although there is also tension between for example sales and operations, they are part of the same value chain. And HR and Finance are different from ‘business’-departments, but clearly fill in a supporting role which is not questioned.

Looking at IT, they are more or less stuck in the middle. They are often not perceived as part of the business, but IT doesn’t act as a supporting department either. So, maybe this is part of the trouble in alignment discussions. How to position IT, and how to interact with business partners?

This question is getting more and more relevant in today’s developments. IT already was struggling with their diminishing role due to the large role of outsourcing and offshoring. But, now there is the impact of consumerization and ‘bring your own device’-trends. In a recent article (source: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9226927/The_IT_paradox_A_diminished_role_in_technology_but_greater_clout_in_the_business_) is suggested that IT should become more of an adviser to the business and provide governance over externally procured technologies.

Anyhow, it’s time to rethink your position as IT department, and this will direct how you can and should cope with the long lasting alignment issue.