How to release the game-changing potential of your team | Xquadrant

How to release the game-changing potential of your team

“I want more innovative thinking from my organisation.” We hear this all the time from C-Suite leaders. Well, what if there were actually game-changing ideas that you simply weren’t hearing?

When a missed perspective results in missed opportunities

I was coaching the exec team of a high-growth tech firm, and had some in-depth discussions with the two co-founders, Raoul and Michael.

Raoul was an entrepreneurial, strategic and charismatic leader who had taken the CEO role, whereas Michael was a quieter, more reserved individual.

I noted that Michael was barely heard in the management meetings, drowned out by Raoul’s force of personality.

But when I dug into the company history, all the breakthroughs had come from Michael - and the lion’s share of dead-end strategies and projects had come from Raoul!

Raoul is a great leader, but those times when he didn’t listen to Michael’s holistic, long-range thinking were the times when he took the company down the wrong path, wasting time, resources and market share in the process.

I’ll tell you what I found as I coached Michael, but first let’s back-up a little…

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The untapped potential of the Explorer perspective

Time and time again, we see that the vantage point of long-range thinking and disruptive innovation fails to make itself heard in teams.

Through our coaching and consulting work with leaders and teams, we’ve observed that we all see the world through five “lenses”. These are filters that govern how we see the world, and how we lead as a result. We tend to use one primary lens (our default way of seeing the world), but can deploy all of the lenses to a greater or lesser degree depending on the situation.

Working with teams at all levels, we’ve seen that in the day-to-day world of short-term task achievement, the innovation perspective of the Explorer lens is often misunderstood and untapped.

We’ll get into why this is, but first: here’s a quick pen-sketch of the Explorer. Take a minute to see whether this is your primary lens, a secondary lens that you value and can use when necessary, or a lens that is rather uncomfortable for you and used only occasionally.

Leadership Lens:

The Explorer

Explorer lens is the perspective of INNOVATION, the FUTURE, and overall ALIGNMENT with core purpose and values. The Explorer lens encourages us to ask:

  • Where is this all headed?
  • Are we actually asking the right question?

Sweet Spots: Out-of-the-box Thinking

  • The Explorer lens is a long-range lens. It focuses on the future, detecting opportunities and threats that to everyone else still seem a blur. This makes the Explorer a champion of disruptive innovation, breakthrough ideas and long-term positioning - and an ‘early warning system’ for the team.
  • Whilst other types are happy to innovate to achieve short- or mid-term goals, explorers are more likely to be more radical in their thinking and look to find the game-changing moves.
  • Explorers love working with ideas and concepts: they love out-of-the-box thinking that no-one has done before, and are more motivated by solving the conceptual future challenge in their head than the nitty-gritty implementation details.
  • Often people of enormous integrity, with strongly held values, they can be very allergic to hype and spin - and they strive to make sure the organisation is adhering to its stated values and purpose rather than capitulating to short-term financial pressure.

Blind Spots: Clarity of Communication

  • Perhaps the biggest frustration of an Explorer is that “no-one gets my ideas”. They struggle with communicating their innovations to others. Because their thinking is several steps ahead of the rest of the team, they need to spend more time helping people understand the thought process that led them to their conclusions.
  • They also can have idealistic perfectionist tendencies and often don’t share early-stage ideas but rather wait until their ideas are almost perfect. This means that when they DO share, they have a ‘cold’ audience who have a lot of catching-up to do. When Explorers learn to share “early musings” they receive important feedback about how best to communicate their ideas in ways that other people can understand.
  • Relentlessly future-oriented, the Explorer has a clear vision of what’s possible and reality, of course, never quite matches up. This can lead the Explorer to forget to celebrate what HAS been accomplished — leading to frustration and resentment in the team.
  • Finally, timing can occasionally prove a challenge. “Objects in the Explorer lens can be further away than they appear”! Sometimes the Explorer has the right idea, but it might not be time to implement it quite yet.

Summary

Often a game-changing viewpoint that doesn’t get properly heard, the Explorer lens is the primary perspective of under 10% of the population… although in some industries we can see much higher representation.

(One Artificial Intelligence firm I worked with - pushing the bounds of the possible - had almost a 30% Explorer representation!)

  • ACTIVATE THEM BY: Paying attention to their ideas, and asking clarifying questions when the relevance or importance of what they’re saying is not immediately clear. Mine for the gold - it is definitely there, and could be game-changing!
  • BEWARE OF: Perfectionist tendencies (meaning their best ideas may never be spoken because they’re not quite 100% defined), and unclear communication.

How to access the innovation perspective of the Explorer

As an Explorer, Michael had incredible ideas, but he wasn’t expressing them in a way that would cut through the discussion and “land” with the rest of the team. One classic symptom: he had an incredible technical/product roadmap in his head - but as it wasn’t quite perfect yet he hadn’t shared it with anyone!

  • Stop trying to ask operational types to disrupt things. Many companies seem to want everyone to become innovators, which is a recipe for frustration. Pragmatists can and should focus on sustaining, incremental improvements.
  • Instead, identify the Explorers in your organisation. They’re typically under 10% of the population. Many of them are “hidden Explorers”, actually operating with a less-preferred lens due to the immediate demands of their ‘day job’. Only once you find them can you then activate their game-changing potential.
  • Make a time to hear their perspective. The typical management meeting or weekly team gathering tends to be too short-term focused to have the long-range, out-of-the-box perspective of Explorers. Mixing long-range ideas and short-term tactics rarely works.
  • Draw out their insights. Formally ask them to come back to the team with a 3-5 year perspective. Give them some time to gather their thoughts and perhaps put them in writing, rather than asking them on the spot. Ask clarifying questions to draw out what they’re really saying and why, until the ‘gold’ emerges.

Activate an Explorer

Who is the creative conceptual architect in your midst? Who’s the deep, abstract thinker with a long-range perspective? This might be your Explorer.

Remember, a single insight from an Explorer can change everything… but only if they manage to communicate effectively. To activate them, take the time and create the space to fully draw out the ideas they have.

ACTION POINT: What’s the specific action you can take to activate an Explorer in your world today?

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Richard Medcalf
 

Richard Medcalf is Founder & CEO of Xquadrant. Having held senior positions in both the professional services and tech sectors, he's committed himself to improving the quality of leadership and organisational performance around the world. The way to his heart is through curry.

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