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Tags: Innovation, Teamwork, Design Thinking, The Economist
Inside Project Red Stripe:
Incubating Innovation and Teamwork at The Economist
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The team had a conference call with Javier. Javier asked them about their personal feelings and motivations about the project.
The following extracts from their unprepared answers give a distorted and wholly unfair view of why the team were there. I quote them for several reasons:
Steven (who is wearing jeans): 'I'm hoping that my work will provide potentially an out from Beijing [after the six months of the project, he was due to return to his job there].... I'm interested in the glory. I think it's going to look really good on my résumé.'
Stewart (who is wearing jeans): 'I wanted to learn what it takes to start something... Part of it is to guide me on whether to leave my existing job. I'm a classic geek... Should I develop a separate work personality? My intention is to learn about how to be me.'
Ludwig (who is wearing jeans): 'For me it's also a personal development thing. I want to learn whether I can work in a team... Shall I go on being a journalist?'
Tom (who is wearing a cravat and waistcoat): 'I wanted to learn how to do start-ups... My big dream is to be a stand-up comedian and to write comedy... There's a revolution happening in media. It's one of the most exciting times you can even imagine.'
Joanna (who is wearing black and a very high collar and later said, 'I tend not to wear jeans because I like a degree of formality to get my head in the zone'): 'I think what I really like is being part of a process... I love this sort of exercise: making things come together... I do like belonging to something. Being part of this thing, with such kudos, is so good on your CV and a real privilege.'
Mike (who is wearing jeans): 'I wanted to do something I enjoyed more than my old job. I wanted to do something that proved that I can do something other than what I'm currently doing.'
Now, my reasons for quoting them:
First reason: the team made much of honesty and openness. One of the ten draft recommendations, which were then whittled down to seven for inclusion in the 'not a white paper' was: Be honest with each other. There were often times when team members felt that they didn't achieve this goal, which Stewart had named during the first week thus, 'We should be able to say to each other, "You're a bit slack."'
At the end, Mike summed this feeling up by saying, 'The unsaid stuff exploded a few times.' The unsaid stuff was what Tom had stuck under the table in Inferno early on. Mainly, what was unsaid, I think, were negative feelings that they had about each other. But, in situations like this one, I was struck by the team's remarkable frankness about themselves.
Learning to say the negative stuff about each other in a constructive way, and learning to hear it in an open and non-defensive way, is one of the toughest skills, in my opinion. We have very few role models for it. Few families can manage it. It's a skill that's intrinsically alien to children, politicians, journalists and even most teachers. Yet it's probably at the heart of almost any successful team. This team had that skill in very good measure.
Second reason: there was some debate later on about whether the team should have been offered a financial bonus for a successful outcome, or a share in the resulting business. Everyone except for Ludwig said that some kind of financial incentive would have helped:
Steven: 'It would have been different if we'd all had a financial stake, for sure. Much different.'
Yet, it was clear from the conversation and the websites and blogs that the participants had created as part of their applications, that the opportunity to work on a groundbreaking project like this for The Economist, to get away from the routine of their usual jobs and to have a chance of coming up with the next Google was already a massive incentive.
So what was it that led people to look for a further financial incentive? What was it that led Mike to say, 'I got the sense at one point that people were just turning up for work.'?
Probably it was connected to how the project was going. Had the team members felt that they were on the verge of creating the next Google, they would all probably have been happy with the kudos and happy just to be part of it. Mike had various thoughts on this, including blaming himself and a helpful suggestion which only Tom really took up:
I didn't make it big enough, aspirational enough. It should be people saying 'this could change my life, this is the thing I'm going to be remembered for'.
[I don't agree with him on that. Everybody knew it could change their life. That was the whale thing. If anything, in my opinion, it was too aspirational.]
Maybe people were too comfortable. I don't think it's anything to do with incentivising. If people had been out of a job at the end of the six months, that would have been an incentive. That's how most start-ups work.
[I don't agree with him on that, either. If people had been out of work, they would have come up with a business, for sure. But The Economist didn't need a business. They had a very good one already, thank you very much. In this case, the team found they had to do far more than come up with a business. Which is why, in part Lughenjo and HiSpace didn't happen - The Economist didn't need them enough.]
When you talk to other people about the idea, that's when you feel good. You feel more fired up and energised. We needed to get out and do that... Tom's good at that. He gets that anyway.
Third reason: people at work are just like people at home. They're not very grand. They want to feel OK about themselves, feel wanted, find out what sort of a person they really are, do something they can be proud of, make people laugh, have fun.
When I said in an early blog about the team that they needed a mother, I think that's what I meant. Because work has always been a very chilly business. Where do you go for a hug and a wail? They did need someone to make tea for them, but mostly they needed someone to ask them if they were OK and to find out what they wanted. Perhaps I meant that they needed a grandmother. Not like my grandmother who used to wander round the house with a steaming potty. A wise old babushka. Every team should have one.
Samovar: eye of einstein