Three Box Solution for Sustainable Innovation
"Before you can create, you must forget," writes Vijay Govindarajan (VG), one of the world's leading experts on strategy and innovation in his latest book "The Three Box Solution - A Strategy For Leading Innovation." Why does VG say this and what can we learn from him?
Three Box Innovation
VG grew up in India where he learned from Hindu philosophy about the continuous cycle of creation-preservation-destruction in life that is without beginning or end. In his over 30 years of working with leaders of companies, and researching and teaching at Harvard and Tuck, he noticed that successful innovation leaders are conscious of this cycle and disciplined about managing it. He calls it Three-Box leadership and translates this ageless cycle into business practices as follows, starting with preservation:
• Manage the present core business at peak efficiency and profitability;
• Escape the traps of the past by identifying and divesting businesses and abandoning practices, ideas and attitudes that have lost relevance in changed environment;
• Generate breakthrough ideas and convert them into new products and businesses.
Fascination with Discovery
Who am I truly? Will I ever find out? Or is self-discovery an endless road?
I have been intrigued by these questions for as long as I can remember. Looking back over the years, I have noticed how each new insight has evolved not only my inner, but also my external world. New glimpses have shaped my interests, my friends, my livelihood, and where I live, to name a few examples. I started on my path as someone who was deeply interested in school and music. Through twists and turns, I went on to become a partner in a consulting company. From there, I almost became a monk, and then a facilitator for the evolution of culture in companies. Last year, I co-founded a non-profit organization: The Growth Leaders Network (GLN), a community of leaders who are committed to inner growth and selfless service.
A Judging & Getting Mindset
Learning more over the years, I noticed that self-discoveries often came accompanied by self-judgment. I would critique my old insights and identities as soon as I had found new ones. Not only would I let my previous insights and identities go out of fashion - I would make them wrong. For instance, when I discovered meditation and almost became a monk, I started judging my old self for its fascination with money and prestige. When I began working on culture change in companies, I started critiquing my inner monk for its seclusion and desire for a solitary life. And when I co-founded GLN, I started to put down the part of me who likes to work with companies one-to-one, for 'playing small.'
The judging self-talk kept droning on in the back of my mind: Am I there yet? How am I doing?" The answers always seemed to be the same: Not quite there yet," Almost there," or You're failing." As I started to observe this sort of self-talk in myself and clients quite often, I decided it was time to address it. I started off by giving it a name and called it a "Judgment & Getting Mindset."
A Growth Leadership Mindset
Looking at this self-talk differently with colleagues and clients, I had an aha" moment. I realized that we love the process of learning. The journey of constantly growing into who we really are is fascinating in itself. We are like trees who grow taller every year, getting new vistas and growing new branches. In the process, we start taking care of a wider and wider ecosystem. The more we grow on the inside, the more we are able to serve others. And the more we serve, the more we grow inside. This is a never-ending journey of growing, serving and growing.
My uncle Gerrit, the owner of one of the largest greenhouses in the Netherlands, taught a lesson pointing to a possible meta-orientation for our growth journeys. He was diagnosed with cancer when he was 63 years old, and was told that he didn't have more than six months to live. I had many conversations with him the months before he died. At first, he shared how much he resented having to let go of all he had built in his life - his beautiful family, his gorgeous home, and also his good looks. He shared how much pain he felt - physical pain - as the cancer was eating up his body.
Then something shifted. Gerrit started talking about the love he felt for his family and how he sensed that this love was eternal and that it would not stop after he passed. A few weeks before his death, he told me: "If life has been this much of an adventure, how much greater of an adventure will death be?" I learned from Gerrit, and from looking inside of myself that life can be seen as an endless discovery of who we truly are - infinite love. The more we discover this quality of love inside of us, the more we start loving ourselves and extending that love to others.
Looking at it this way, we can see each stage of our development, not in a judging light, but instead as another step on the road of self-discovery. In being a good student, I learned how to devote myself to a topic that I love deeply. Pursuing money and fame, I learned how empty those seemingly promising goals made me feel. Solving complex strategy problems, I learned about the creativity that is unleashed when I give myself fully to something and partner deeply with others. Almost becoming a monk, I discovered that love is always here - that it is our essence and is ready to be unveiled - it only requires our attention. Coaching executives, I learned that to truly serve them, I have to get out of the way and drop my agenda, allowing what's best to emerge from within the coachee. Now, starting the Growth Leaders Network, I am learning how the care that we are is infinitely energizing, and helps transform obstacles into opportunities to further extend this care.
Noticing the inspiration that comes from looking deeply into who we are, I became curious about what would change, if we collectively as leaders were to pay more attention to this journey of self-discovery, and commit to help those in our organizations, teams and families with theirs. I called it taking a Growth Leadership mindset - one where we approach every moment as an opportunity for presence, learning, contribution and excellence.
Staying present helps us to become deeply aware of what is true in the moment. By taking a learning perspective, we see each situation as a step towards greater appreciation for who we are. When we help others, we learn about ourselves; as we get to know ourselves better, we become increasingly inspired to help others. By working towards excellence, we create opportunities to use more of our talents. With a Growth Leadership mindset, "how are you growing?" becomes as common as "how are you doing?".
The Net Results of a Getting Mindset
The more consistently we practice a Growth Leadership mindset, the more we may notice that our default mindset seems to be more about keeping our reputations, jobs and money than about inner growth and the selfless serving of others. We seem to worry a lot about results and outcomes, at the expense of greater inner development and outer service.
It's as if we believe we are too busy to learn and serve - we believe that we have to keep striving to get somewhere, instead of taking the time to grow ourselves and help others. But what if we could have all of the above?
Many of us are starting to sense the unsatisfactory results of living a getting there myself first" mindset. What we seem to be getting with our self-absorption is burn-out -an unprecedented number of people is depressed, and employee engagement is low (it's about 30% in the US according to Gallup). And we live in a time of economic disparity, social unrest, and ecological disasters.
A Great Generation?
Ask yourself, do you believe our generation will leave the planet a better place than we found it? And do you aspire to contribute to that?
Here is a story Mikhail Gorbachev shares about this in his Manifesto for the Earth," inspired by the Japanese Teacher Deisaku Ikeda:
"Let us assume that each day the water lilies on a pond double the amount of surface they cover. If the whole surface is covered on the thirtieth day, this must mean that on the twenty-ninth day half of it will still be visible. Someone looking at the pond on the twenty-ninth day might conclude that since half the surface is free of water lilies there is no cause for panic. But in fact only one day remains before the whole pond is overgrown! Today's world with its demographic problems and excessive exploitation of natural resources and fossil fuels is now living through its twenty-ninth day, and it might find that on the thirtieth day it has no more resources to call on."
Which day do you believe that we are living? Is it the first day? The tenth? Or are we in the final days of an era? Many people I speak to believe we are living on the 29th day. This can be seen as a cause for panic, or as an opportunity for transformation. It all depends on our perspective, or the consciousness with which we approach our current challenges.
Seen from Getting-consciousness, things are not looking too good. If we are in fact living on the 29th day, this would mean that many of us may be at risk of losing what we have been striving for - income, security and prestige. The foundations of our house are crumbling.
With a Growth Leadership mindset, we can ask: Who am I really? And how can I harness the deepest truth I know about myself and use it to help the world today?" The more we ask ourselves who we truly are, the more we may realize we don't need much. We are unconditional love. We are already complete. With that realization comes the freedom to give more of ourselves, as we realize that we have nothing real to lose.
What if we become a Great Generation that brings a new consciousness to the world that transforms our so-called problems into opportunities for inner growth and selfless service? What if, with ever greater wisdom and compassion, we transform our income disparity into opportunity for all? What if we transform our companies into places of self-realization and selfless contribution? What if we transform our prisons into schools? What if we transform refugee problems into opportunities to build one global village?
This may seem far-fetched. And yet, I believe that if we give ourselves permission to grow more into who we are every day, we will tap into reservoirs of care in ourselves that are currently hidden behind distractions of self-gratification and fear of losing what we have.
Notice that these distractions don't define us - they are borrowed beliefs and thoughts we picked up from previous generations, all the way back to the Neanderthals who were fighting for their survival. Today most of us in the developed world still seem to be fighting - no longer for our physical survival but now for the emotional survival of our ego - our reputation and our self-importance.
What if we gave ourselves permission to let go of these borrowed beliefs and discover our true selves a little more every day? And what if we served from that renewed sense of self wholeheartedly? Then what would happen with our lives and our world? What if we all started to live more from that essence that Gerrit was speaking about - the essence of unconditional love and discovery?
What if we approached every moment, starting with this one, as an opportunity to grow and contribute?
Every moment we stand at the beginning of a great journey ahead. Dare we walk a path that is ours? Great discoveries are ahead. We may find that we emerge as a Great Generation quite easily, simply by growing out of our getting-based identities.
As grow, we may find inspiration in these words from an Indian sage:
Leadership as Gym - How Microsoft's CMO & a Yoga Entrepreneur See Growth
"Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." - Chris Capossela, Chief Marketing Officer, Microsoft
"Why don't you do another 20 pull-ups?" my trainer asked this morning as I was on my way out. "Oh no," I thought. Then I decided to do it any way. Leadership and learning seem to work that way. There is a constant tension between wanting to be comfortable, wanting to walk away from challenge, and knowing in our gut we must do it anyway, to be true to ourselves, as many of us enjoy tapping into deeper sources of strength and wisdom.
Some time around the tenth pull-up, I started to see the exercise equipment around me with new eyes. I used to look at the machines as obstacles to overcome - 10 of those, 20 of these, and 5 minutes of that. Now I glimpsed that each machine is also an invitation to get to know more deeply what we are really made of - strength, calm, vision, enthusiasm and peace are words that are coming up this morning.
I'm interviewing leaders who inspire for articles on innovation I am co-writing with Vijay Govindarajan, the Tuck professor, for Harvard Business Review online. In the process, we are learning about finding strength through challenge in different ways. Said Chris Capossela, Chief Marketing Officer of Microsoft, "I learned to speak up in senior leader meetings and not always be the nice guy, after a woman told me she didn't trust me as I seemed to encourage and agree to everything. That was a key learning moment for me - and I am still learning this lesson, especially when interacting with my peers, who are all really smart people...then I sometimes doubt myself...am I worthy of being here?" For Chris, speaking his truth without hesitation feels sometimes like lifting heavy weights.
One of his leadership principles is: "Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." It helps him be kind with himself when he feels internal turbulence, and it encourages him to do the challenging thing any way, even when it feels difficult. It also helps him be more compassionate with others, seeing that everyone is facing challenges in their own way.
For each of us, there is something that feels like lifting heavy weights. What are your heavy weights? What would happen if you picked them up, today? And, how could you make that less stressful - maybe by being a bit kinder with yourself?
Developing a new online learning community, alongside our in-person facilitation and coaching business is my current challenge. At first, I was very excited, like I felt when I first signed up for the gym in January this year. Then I learned that online learning entails a whole new skillset and challenges, for example, how do you invite people to learn together that don't meet in person and don't know the teachers? The comfort-seeking-me tries to ignore these challenges staying busy with the in-person business. The one that goes to the gym is keen to face these challenges head-on, and learn from them, no matter what. Who can I learn from today, I ask? How can I make our online experience as powerful, or even more powerful than the in-person experience for participants? And, most interesting to me, what new inner reservoirs of strength and wisdom do I discover as I engage in our challenges? How can I grow from this?
I have noticed that asking myself these 'Growth' questions gives me strength and inspiration to keep going. And I have seen this is true for others, as well as for teams and organizations. When there is an atmosphere of learning, we call it a 'Growth Culture,' where every moment, every interaction and every change is seen as an opportunity for learning, contribution and excellence, tremendous energy and creativity permeates organizations, teams and individuals.
Funny, what happens, when we commit ourselves to these Growth questions. Not only do we get energized from them, we also receive inspiration from the outside. Said Leah Zaccaria, founder of hauteyoga and shefayoga in Seattle yesterday in an interview: "Complete failure only exists if you quit or give up on your purpose. You may have small failures along the way that help you learn and grow, but complete failure can't happen unless you entirely walk away." I pondered that for a while as I was noticing some "It's not going to work" doubts in my head.
Thank you, Leah and Chris, for helping me find the courage to face today's challenge with kindness.
Growth Atmosphere: the Great Adventure of Leadership
When you walk into any room, you can sense the atmosphere. The atmosphere in natural forest woods can inspire. The atmosphere in Manhattan varies by city block. Fifth Avenue can be stimulating, Broadway moving, Central Park welcoming, the Village vibrant and fun.
I remember the atmosphere in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. I remember fear and also unity. I remember the atmosphere at my sister's wedding - the air full of joy and celebration. Walking into the offices of a Berkeley-based start-up, I sense industriousness and experimentation. Walking into the building of a Fortune 50 company, I feel the value placed on focus and excellent execution. The earth's atmosphere is life giving. It is in constant interaction with all life forms. People, animals, trees and plants breathe air in and out, exchanging and transforming particles from one form to another. The atmosphere in organizations works pretty much the same. At its root, it is life giving. Each team member adds to the atmosphere in ways that make it easier or harder to breathe. Like nature, any organization that stops growing dies in time. Atmosphere is like 'terroir': the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma. A Growth Atmosphere is a high quality terroir which enables continuous learning and excellence. Organizational growth takes many forms - financial, geographical, technological - and these different types of growth fuel each other. For instance, when organizations grow financially, there are opportunities for more people to grow personally. And growth is personal. Steve Jobs is reported to have said, "Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it." Seeing 20 year-olds effectively run large Internet start-ups in Silicon Valley is an example of tapping into unlimited human potential and energy. When asked whether they believe they can succeed, they respond, "That is the wrong question. Ask instead whether we choose to do it, and if we do, we will find a way."
Even when organizations do not grow financially for a period of time or experience set-backs, the team can continue to grow intellectually and emotionally and stay inspired. Working with an R&D leader of a pharmaceutical company who was asked to lay off a third of his organization, he shared that while this was a very challenging time for him, he also learned to connect to an innate strength within himself he forgot he had. He found new confidence about the future, greater comfort in facing the uncomfortable, and more optimism about the emerging paths his team members would find. Effective leaders face crisis and setback with a growth attitude, seeing them as opportunities to learn. Research shows that the great masters in any discipline actually seek out challenges, embrace seemingly negative feedback, and regularly practice going outside their comfort zone. Working with many leadership teams over the years, I became curious about how atmosphere is created and sustained in organizations. What gives a team its energy and brings it to life? How do leaders influence atmosphere? What keeps teams together in moments of division and challenge? What fuels the fire to bring change and innovation?
Most of all, I became interested in how to support the creation of a Growth Atmosphere within leaders and their organizations and teams.
What I discovered was that creating a Growth Atmosphere is a journey of immense dedication and devotion - of continuous integration and evolution. It is the Great Adventure of realizing what is possible when beliefs about limitation are no longer believed. As most of us do not yet experience this sense of ease and balance - that anything is possible -, our work is a journey discovering what inside of us is blocking our inherent creativity and inspiration. Along this journey of self-discovery, we increasingly see how we all connect, each contributing our unique gifts to humanity.
Our journey is about life. We discover what is true about each of us individually and together. Our journey is endless as our discoveries are endless. We ourselves are endless possibilities to discover.
All is true and complete already. There is nothing we need to do to arrive at greatness. When we work from the sense of completeness, we do what is called forth naturally and for the benefit of all. We realize that we are each unique instruments of humanity. The conventional mind believes we are instruments to create results. We actually contribute most by realizing the true nature of the instruments we are, rather than by anything we do.
Greatness is an attitude. We rest in it, realizing all is well, even if it does not seem like it in any given moment. What does not seem well is what is not yet seen from a true perspective.
There is endless discovery. Life is always new and at the same time constant.
There is creativity and energy. There is limitless enthusiasm for life itself.
There is acceptance and harmony with what is. And there is a constant striving to perfect the instrument to better serve, uplift and inspire others.
There is confidence. Life is trustworthy, constantly.
Greatness is being one with everything. We are complete. We are all of life.