Ideas. Cities. Social Innovation.

The Los Angeles Kings are the presumptive Stanley Cup winner (and may actually be the winner by the time you read this). I wrote about lessons we can all take from their success:

The Kings’ success in acquiring talent put them in a position to add the right pieces to flesh out a Stanley Cup contender. While in other industries you won’t have the benefit of trading talent (imagine if you could draft the best grads out of school!), but you can take to heart the lesson of timing – going above scope, or paying extra, to attract the right talent for the right initiative at the right time.

So if not from brainstorming, where do good ideas come from?

At Continuum, we use deliberative discourse—or what we fondly call “Argue. Discuss. Argue. Discuss.” Deliberative discourse was originally articulated in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. It refers to participative and collaborative (but not critique-free) communication. Multiple positions and views are expressed with a shared understanding that everyone is focused on a common goal. There is no hierarchy. It’s not debate because there are no opposing sides trying to “win.” Rather, it’s about working together to solve a problem and create new ideas. 

I sense a bit of a pejorative term, but otherwise the author makes a good point:

The real risk of all this is the same thing that happened in the banking industry – disproportionately high incomes driven by distortions that siphon talent away from productive industries to unproductive ones. There is real demand for top engineers and inventors to commercialize new ways to harness ocean water. Instead, that talent can be found gambling onfictitious investments or perfecting the trajectory of a freshly killed digital pig. Multiply that situation by thousands and you have:

    1. A country completely disconnected from real world problems faced by the rest of the world (like, no water)
    2. Entrepreneurs missing out on a chance to make money to solve those problems
    3. The US falling farther behind and deeper in debt as its biggest talent counts clicks from within a narrowing, darkening, digital consumer bunghole

By the way, I am not saying there is no room in the world for entertainment or leisure-oriented innovation, but I am saying if we want to continue getting those Lenovo’s from China, they’re not going to accept our Tweets or Oinks as payment.

Social media have only made that problem more acute. While blogging, Twitter and Facebook have brought new opportunities for conversation, knowledge gathering and relationship building, those opportunities may feel more daunting than dazzling to overloaded executives.

The solution is to stop looking at social media as another platform you have to learn—yet another responsibility—and start seeing it for what it can be instead: a personal toolbox for improving your practice of leadership.

My latest:

While a segment of people who follow the tournament are fans of college basketball itself (or of specific teams), for many, the tournament itself is the draw. As a product, it is well defined, and its facets well understood by the audience. Casual fans are surely familiar with the alliterative names for different rounds – Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four. The opportunity for people to latch on to teams (especially lower-seeded underdogs) creates greater viewer engagement, especially when many of the key players turn over on a year-to-year basis.

There is considerable buzz in the United States about whether a new “pay for success” model of financing social solutions currently being piloted across the Atlantic could work on American soil. It’s called a social impact bond (SIB), and the first—in fact, the only so far—was launched in September 2010 by an organization called Social Finance UK. SIBs are structured to get proven solutions to scale with no risk to public budgets—governments pay for the solutions only if they work. But despite this risk shifting, a SIB’s structure involves several actors—each charging a fee or return. As a result, this tool is a more expensive way to scale programs than if government simply contracted directly with a service provider. These additional costs will be worth it in many cases, but SIBs won’t be suited to every situation.

See? It’s possible to make a good profit and be a good employer too:

"Our employees are our number one asset, period," said Kevin Stickles, the company’s vice-president for human resources. "The first question you ask is: ‘Is this the best thing for the employee?’ That’s a totally different model."

Yet the company is profitable. Its prices are low. And it is lauded for exemplary customer service.

"When you think about employees first, the bottom line is better," Stickles argued. "We want our employees to extend the brand to our customers."

The point Billy raised regarding the fleeting value of experience is also important to consider. As the world becomes more and more aware of a trick or a skill, the value of that experience begins to decay. If word travels fast, the value of the skill diminishes quickly. Best practice becomes table stakes to stay-afloat, but not to get ahead. We see examples of this every day with Facebook application user acquisition techniques. Companies find a seam or arbitrage that creates a small window of opportunity in the market, but quickly others mimic the same technique and the advantage proves fleeting.

What you won’t find on the shelves, however, are the most important items in the store: the business principles by which it operates. Whole Foods Market, Inc. is the largest natural-foods grocer in the United States. It is also one of the business world’s most radical experiments in democratic capitalism. Plenty of companies talk the talk of empowerment, autonomy, and teamwork. This company has spent 16 years turning those (often empty) slogans into a powerful - and highly profitable - business model.

It’s a strategy that’s conquering new markets and clobbering the competition. Over the last few years, Whole Foods has been on a mission of rapid-fire growth. It opened its first store in 1980. As recently as 1991, it had barely a dozen stores in three states. Today it has the clout of a nationwide chain: 43 stores in ten states from California to New England, revenues of $500 million, net profits double the industry average, publicly traded shares, a goal of 100 stores and billion-dollar revenues by the end of the decade.

Mahoney agrees. Unlimited vacation fosters productivity and loyalty because itfavors results over input. “We don’t judge employees based on the number of lines of code they write, but instead on the impact their innovative ideas have on our users,” he says. “If we trust employees to make the right decisions with the time they spend at work in pursuit of our aggressive goals, we can trust them to make responsible decisions about when they choose to take time off of work.”