This podcast continues our look at innovation from the perspective of Stephen Covey’s perennial bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I am a major fan of this book. In teaching advanced leadership courses at Arizona State University, this is one of the textbooks that I used. It comes under the heading of being proven and practical which many leadership traditional textbooks fail to measure up to, in my opinion.
And when it comes to best practices, the seven habits in this book are well-documented as highly proven and successful in the real world. In the previous podcast, we examined the first three habits – be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first. In this podcast we look at the final four habits of highly effective people.
Let’s get started. The fourth habit is think win/win. Like all of his other habits which are from a personal perspective, this also applies in group situations. Covey succinctly states, “Win/win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.”
In an earlier podcast I addressed the subject of the curse of the expert. In this podcast, I made a point that in group situations experts can often posture and defend their expertise and position as an expert. This is an ego-based behavior. In Covey terms, sometimes experts really like a win/lose outcome in which their expertise prevails over the views and positions contrary to theirs.
In the dynamic environment of a quantum idea generating session, win/win behavior by everyone in the session easily propels the group to achieve all objectives. When there is mutual respect between supposedly experts and non-experts, a playfulness with ideas can occur. As I facilitate these kinds of groups, I specifically asked people to play with possibilities. Engage the “what if.” Engage the “and we could do this.” The best results come from a group willing to go with the flow of ideas to make a core seed idea better and better and even better. When this happens, no one is looking for credit for the idea. There is no, “I did this” or “this is my idea.” It’s always “we did this” and “this is our idea.”
In earlier podcasts, I shared my deep personal belief that the best idea of any one person can be made better by the best idea of another person. I do not reserve these kinds of actions for innovation sessions. Anytime I’m working on something important, I share it with a colleague with the request that they make it better.
Is a closing quote from Covey on win/win, “cooperation in the workplace is as important to free enterprise as competition in the marketplace. The spirit of win/win cannot survive in an environment of competition and contest.”
The next habit is seek first understand, then to be understood. While this is one of my favorites for innovation sessions, it’s also one of my favorites for life.
Regarding this habit, Covey hits the nail on the head when he says, “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listened with the intent to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak.”
When it comes to innovation, this habit is critically important in one-on-one conversations and group sessions. Recall that in a quantum idea generating session that we bring in significant amounts of internal and external diversity. As an individual in the session, you can be guaranteed that people will share tremendous amounts of information, which will range from being totally new to vaguely familiar. If you do not engage this communication from the standpoint of seeking first of understand and then be understood, you will operate in the session on a lonely island where the only thing you know is your point of view.
This habit is all about listening and learning. When you do it well, you become a powerful co-contributor. When you do not do this, you’ll find your views barely engaged to totally ignored. It then makes it very difficult for you to be a contributor to the final outcome.
Since this is about listening, Covey does a great job in this quote of driving home when he means by listening: “when I say empathetic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm. Empathetic listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.” Through this kind of listening you engage the ability to combine what you have learned with what you know which is a very powerful outcome.
The sixth habit is synergize. How important is this habit? Covey states, “when properly understood, synergy is the highest activity in all life – the true test and manifestation of all the other habits put together.” I’d say it’s important.
So what is this thing we call synergy? He says, “Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.”
This becomes such an important part of successful innovation. Again, he says it well – “when you communicate synergistically, you are simply opening your mind and heart and expressions to new possibilities, new alternatives, new options.” This is what successful innovation looks like.
You act synergistically when you value differences – different points of view, different facts, and different expertise. In a creative session valuing and respecting points of view and expertise of others is a highly empowering behavior.
He also comments on another important personal quality: “the person who is truly effective has the humility and reverence to recognize his own perceptual limitations and to appreciate the rich resources available through interaction with the hearts and minds of other human beings.”
As you may have noticed, I’ve actually been talking about this habit throughout this podcast and some others. Successful innovation happens when individuals and groups have the ability to learn and respect different ways of thinking that can lead to the different solutions enabling enterprise to be much, much more successful in the marketplace.
The final and seventh habit is sharpen the saw. This is about continuous improvement both as an individual and an enterprise. Improvements can come in many dimensions. Some of the more powerful improvements are in areas like stronger emotional intelligence and discriminative thinking. Sharpening the saw includes other dimensions like spirituality, which can contribute to calmer and clearer thinking along with a stronger connection to others.
In these two podcast we’ve explored how the seven habits of highly effective people apply to and can dramatically help your innovation program. In this seminal book Covey provides insights that can help any human enterprise. I’ve attempted to show how each of the habits can directly benefit innovation. The advice he provides is some of the most proven and practical advice ever to come from a single person. The enduring popularity of his book is strong testimony to the ongoing benefits people receive.