Jumpstart or Re-boot your Enterprise Architecture Program

jump!

There is a consensus that technology will play a large role in an organization’s success in the coming years. Technology has seeped into almost every aspect of the organizational value chain and, in many cases, directly supports competitive advantage. From the manufacturing floor, to planning, to marketing, to finance, every aspect of the organization is touched by technology in a way that is quite different than it was just a few years ago. Moore’s law, and the inevitable gains in processing power, is a tangible benchmark that can easily be measured, but innovation and the network of ideas, people, and technology that have arisen in the past 30 years have made an organization’s ability to benefit by leveraging technology to the benefit of the organization a critical differentiator. Underneath all of the much-hyped methods whether it is a shift in computing to the cloud or using enterprise architecture to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of leveraging technology, executives need to buy in, clearly communicate the value they intend to gain, and focus on execution to realize that value. In this article, I will focus on starting or rebooting an enterprise architecture effort, which has been touted by many as the means to align technology with business and ensure the realization of value from technology investments. Unfortunately, many of these efforts have failed to produce the returns that were promised.  In the following entry I will detail how to avoid common pitfalls and make your EA a success.

Building a successful EA program requires organizational credibility and that is why executives charged with developing an EA program should first think of their program as a project. This pulls the focus of the program in closer. Looking more than a year into the future is too long, I know this sounds drastic because EA folks are supposed to be more strategic than tactical, but I think most efforts fail to deliver strategic value fail because they don’t have any of the organizational credibility that is developed by delivering a measurable return on investment in the near term. I want to stress that this isn’t a recipe for every organization; this advice is targeted at those that are trying to start a program or reboot one that hasn’t been delivering. Every program needs to find a path to credibility in order to deliver value in the long term. Using the project approach allows you to become credible now so that you are seen as a responsible steward later. This solves the chicken and egg problem facing so many organizations when it comes to EA because the program needs buy in before it can show results.  Taking a project-oriented approach that delivers value over the course of a year gives proves to the organization that you can deliver results. A program-oriented approach subtly changes the focus of the effort to building the organization and the expanding role of the transformation rather than forcing the focus to stay squarely on delivering initial value. Stay focused on near term value.  Once the concept is proven and a return on investment is shown many of the things that are often discussed, as critical to an EA programs success, such as executive buy in will no longer be a problem because the numbers will be there to support it.

So if you treat your EA program like a project – where should you start? For an EA program I think near term success requires a laser like focus on three key things:
•Problem Definition & Scoping
•Skill Development and Problem Solving
•Executing on the Path to Value

Problem Definition & Scoping

Lack of scope is one thing that destroys the value of an EA program.  Enterprise architecture means the whole enterprise, but most EA programs either end up with a mile wide EA that is an inch thick or pockets of detail that don’t provide enterprise value. Sometimes the dogmatic adherence to a particular methodology derails the path to value because the enterprise architects are working from someone else’s recipe for EA success. I believe that an EA should identify an enterprise problem and help solve it as a project, which will help develop credibility and if done correctly, should provide a pillar on which the greater success of the EA program can be built. Critical factors to consider are the probability of success, access to information, and potential value to the organization. Do NOT forget the probability of success; great intentions and great potential won’t get you anywhere unless you can pull off the win. You absolutely must be able to develop a problem statement that will be universally accepted and that will define what success looks like. You can take on harder to measure, more strategic problems next year. A first great project starts with your organization’s application portfolio, unless your organization already has a good handle on it.  This is an ideal place to start because it is an area in which an EA team can bring exceptional short-term value while building a resource for the organization that will provide long-term value while building a resource for the organization that will also provide long-term value. Done correctly this should help you develop a high level understanding of the capabilities required to execute the business of the organization, a complete application list in the context of those capabilities, and an understanding of the technology components that comprise the applications. In most organizations I’ve seen the results of this analysis is fairly stunning, since redundancy and opportunities for consolidation become almost immediately apparent.

Skill Development and Problem Solving

Once you have defined your challenge, you will need to make sure you have the appropriate skills in order to accomplish the tasking. Even in the application portfolio example discussed above, you often need to develop specific skills with regard to tooling and taxonomies. Scoping down the work required to develop a full blown EA program into a specific effort to develop organizational value may also bring into focus the need for critical training around specific areas of effort that may dictate project success. However, if you want to fold these informational inputs into a larger EA framework you will need to begin closing any skills gap your team has with regard to understanding the bigger picture of what EA can and should be delivering. Most EAs come from solution architect, or other more specific architectural or technology oriented disciplines. Training on big picture EA concepts as well as meeting specific skill gaps, is critical during the execution of the project phase so that your project oriented EA effort doesn’t become another stove-piped information set. Even though you will have scoped your effort as a project it is critical to keep in mind that this is a step towards solving larger and more strategic issues facing the organization. Training around EA concepts and other more general skill sets is critical in order to keep the big picture in mind as you work to solve a more narrowly scoped organizational issue.

Finally, you may also want to address general productivity and problem solving. Is your team able to deal with communication challenges, leadership issues, and collaboration or organizational productivity concerns? Figuring out how to work together effectively can be as big a challenge as figuring out how to solve a particular problem. I find that EA teams that are broken down by EA functions like security architecture, information architecture, and business architecture can sometimes become their own stovepipes. Using a project-based approach solves the stovepipe issue because it forces staff to work together to develop organizational value. Too often EA programs that are focused on building a program have individual architects working to build “their” architecture rather than a shared architecture that is understood across all domains. If your team is struggling to work together, consider addressing productivity, teamwork and collaboration skills specifically outside of the technical skills required to implement the EA project. Sometimes the type of detail oriented, high intelligence individuals who are able to understand and develop EA concepts require help in the area of soft skills.  I cannot stress enough how important this area will be to creating real organizational value. Enterprise architecture will always involve relationship-building skills in order to be successful because you are dependent on others to gather and use information. Don’t become so focused on technical development that you lose track of the soft skills required to solve real organizational problems.

Executing on the Path to Value

Once you’ve identified a manageable scope, sold the idea to management, developed success metrics and identified skill gaps it is time to execute. During execution, it is very important to stay on schedule and ensure that your project does not become a victim of scope creep. Many of the inputs into even something as simple as the application portfolio effort mentioned above can easily become the victim of a lack of access to outside resources. A critical factor in meeting your goals is staying on top of the execution and schedule and leveraging your executives in order to get the information you need to be successful.  Make a project plan. You cannot manage your EA program like a project without identifying key milestones and marrying them to a realistic timeline. Keeping a tight rein on that timeline and ensuring that you manage the effort in order to meet these evaluation gates is critical. If you begin to fall behind or encounter organizational roadblocks or unanticipated challenges it is imperative that you react in real time. EA programs are often derailed by the combination of scope creep and a perceived lack of value. If you begin to slip on schedule ask yourself why. The answer is almost always a skill gap, scope creep or lack of access to informational resources. The latter is probably the hardest to deal with but if you have defined the project well and scoped it with an eye towards organizational value you should be able to make the case to an executive who will help support your access to other organizational resources. If you find yourself with a skills gap or scope creep, you may want to consider leveraging outside resources to bootstrap yourself into your initial success. Having a seasoned EA or tools specialist that can help address technical issues can be critical to the success of the effort at large.  Having outside support can also help guard against scope creep by enabling a respected outsider to weigh in on the implications of specific items that may fall outside of scope and, therefore, either increase the time to value or add little value.

In fact if you are rebooting or starting an effort from scratch it is very likely that you will need some level of outside assistance in order to meet your requirements. The type of assistance is likely going to be dictated by the skills gaps you have previously identified, and most new teams will require some type of outside assistance as they execute. Areas to think about in advance are tooling, general EA competency, productivity and mentoring. I think the first few are self-explanatory but I would like to expand on the idea of mentorship and introduce the idea and importance that workshops can have on enabling real results. I am a big believer in training and many of our folks hold multiple certifications in addition to advanced degrees. However too often this training is under utilized because of the gap between learning new skills and using those skills. Mentoring can help bridge that gap as well as provide the type of expert advice and experience that will prevent costly missteps and ensure that you meet your success criteria. The right mentor may also enable you to better communicate value upstream by virtue of their ability to communicate current efforts in the context of their own experiences. Having someone who has lived the project you are now executing keeps missteps to a minimum and ensures the path to value is fairly straight. Workshops are another great way of leveraging the experience of experts in the context of your own projects. In our application portfolio example it may be useful to run a workshop around the evaluation of a application portfolio that provides both training value in terms of developing an understanding of how to evaluate the portfolio as well as real value by performing those very tasks using your organizations real data. I believe this type of combined learning is invaluable in terms of building near term value and long-term skill development.

Conclusion

Your ability to jumpstart or re-boot your EA program depends on defining project level objectives, building the right skills, and staying on top of execution. The eventual goal of most EA programs is to truly transform the organization in order to support agility, efficiency, and effectiveness in a manner that delivers a sustainable competitive advantage by achieving a more perfect relationship between technology and the business. It is by its very nature a complex and difficult endeavor. In fact most organizations have been unable to get to the value they hoped for from these types of programs and projects. The fact that so many organizations continue to support these efforts is a testament to the benefit the organization will achieve if it is successful. Executives intuitively understand how beneficial this type of program could be, but, they often lack a proven means to achieve this value. I suggest focusing on scoping a project level EA first because it removes some of the complexity from the program and defines it in manner that can be understood by the business. In the application portfolio example, the business case is centered on removing cost and increasing efficiency in the application portfolio. Once complete this EA project will have developed a very strong informational backbone on which you can hang other program level EA inputs, provided a return on investment back to the business and established organizational credibility. This is the foundation on which other more strategic efforts that may have harder to measure outcomes can be placed. I believe that even EA programs that have a history of success should always evaluate their program portfolio to ensure that there is a mix of projects that deliver short and long term value in order to ensure that they stay relevant to the organization as a whole. Your EA program should never have to hunt for organizational or executive buy-in. If it is done correctly it should become a driving force within the organization that ensures the efficient and effective application of technology in order to improve performance. Getting there will require your team grow their skills, keep their focus and build relationships across the organization.

Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance.
Visit Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates online.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Unlocking learning and innovation in your organization.

Today’s organizations exist in a rapidly changing environment where disruptive technologies, economic turmoil, and the winds of political change have put a premium on the organizations ability to rapidly react to a changing environment and meet evolving organizal challenges. This is leading to an even greater emphasis on the value organizations put on their human capital. Companies that can get a great idea from the person who spawned it to the market with little organizational friction are winning. So are companies that are able to be leaner and react to the market more rapidly, locally or more economically. Given this reality it is important that organizations take a proactive approach to the development of their human capital. I think there is wide acceptance now that one of the roles senior leader play is in mentoring there staffs and fostering a general understanding that a key component of leadership is increasing the performance of their personnel. This mandate should be broader than simply one on one time in the office. Real development requires a more comprehensive and holistic approach. This means looking both at programs that support professional development within a chosen career path but also more general tracks that may address productivity, communication, leadership, or other general skills that play a role in real performance. Even in organizations that place a high value on professional education many do not put enough value on these general skills. Investing in these general skills within your organization ensures that the professional training you invest in is leveraged to its maximum value. Also too often these general skills are assumed, but take a look around your working environment. Is a lack of organization a problem for someone you work with? Do you have people you wish had a few more “soft skills” to couple with there analytical skills. These are bottle necks that need to be overcome if the organization is to get all of the benefit it should from its people. In the end it requires a mix to drive results.

As organizations work to develop the right mix and maximize the value of their educational programs  it is important to think about how to drive results from their development programs. The question is how do you develop the right organizational approach to foster a culture of learning and innovation. I believe the first key step is to ensure that you are thinking about these two key concepts correctly. First with regard to learning, organizations should clearly identify the objectives. Learning in the organizational performance context should mean identifying problems, issues and obstacles and working to solve them  by developing a deeper understanding, finding solutions through individual research or identifying formal educational options that lead to solutions. Learning should also be tied to retaining the information that comes in via these mechanisms leveraging it to increase performance. Successful organizations should be fostering a learning culture where professional development occurs via employee to employee knowledge transfer, mentoring, and individual problem solving. Seen from the lens of the desired organizational outcome learning needs occur both broadly across the range of developmental areas that lead to increased performance and performed in a way that leads to retention, use and ultimately performance.

So why all the focus on learning? We opened with the idea that one of the critical advantages that modern organizations are looking to foster is a culture of innovation. I believe that developing the learning organization is a critical key to developing an environment that is conducive to innovation. I also believe that too often innovation gets reserved for executives trying to drive capital “I” type “Innovation.” In order to truly drive performance I think innovation comes needs to come in two flavors, big “I” innovation that is driven by ecexutives, subject matter experts, and other people whose general job description includes driving organizational perofrmance and transformation and little “i” innovation which is the daily things people at every rung of the organization do to perform a little better personally, or on a smaller scale. To really be effective organizations may need to make big “I” innovative changes but they also need to foster a culture where every tier of the organization little “i” innovates every day. Some great advances that have led to real bottom line performance have happened on assembly lines because people were paying attention, confronted with a problem and empowered to facilitate change. With a rise in the number of people who are considered knowledge workers, the increasing use of automation and economies of scale the rippling effect of little “i” innovation and empowerment can be enormous for an organization.

The problem for most organizations is threefold in achieving increased performance through their education and professional development programs:

First, many organizations that could benefit from an increased ability to facilitate change by empowering daily little “i” and big “I” innovation simply have not changed their culture to support either one. Innovative cultures are dependent on creating channels for communication, investing in professional development developing an ability to internalize change. I think the first two of these are fairly obvious but the last one may require a bit more explanation. Having the ability to adapt and transform means having an organizational commitment to internalizing and making common practice changes in the culture, direction or operational aspects of the organization. Implementing a best practice process is more often hamstrung by an inability on the part of an organization to implement a new process rather than an inability to learn about or understand that best practice. Essentially any education, training, mentoring or other learning capabilities your organizations gain are useless without developing the organizational  ability to internalize opportunities that flow from them and put them into action.

Second, education and professional development programs need to be well thought out and done in a manner that drives results. This seems obvious but think about your last training seminar or professional development class. Whether it was a four day bootcamp leading to a certification or a full blown university class – has it changed the way you work? If not is the reason because you didn’t get to apply it close enough to the educational opportunity to cement the new working pattern or understanding you gained into your execution? As leaders I think that you have to assume that if you want to gain the benefit of the professional development you are putting forward for your people you need to assume some lower level of performance not just during the time while the person is in training, but also when they return as they begin to exercise and build new skills and understanding into their routine. If you treat their professional development efforts like a vacation and let work stack up on their desk and then expect them to hustle through what they missed while they were gone you can almost guarantee that the new skills you sent them to get aren’t likely to get used very rapidly. Give people time to implement and internalize what they have learned. If you need to get to the results part of their training faster you may be better suited to follow the professional development activity with mentoring, workshops that place the learning into the context of your workplace environment or consulting services that enable you to bootstrap your way into the results you are looking to achieve by placing the expertise on staff as you ramp towards internalizing the educational benefits.

Finally, look at your unique requirements and build toward your specific outcomes. Establish curriculums that fit the generally required skills and abilities of the various roles in your organization and then adapt as needed to meet specific opportunities or to address specific deficiencies. Make sure that you talk to the people coming back from classes and other educational opportunities to make sure that not only did they get the certificate or attend the class, but that they felt they got value. Their is an enormous difference between even highly regimented certification oriented classes that are supposed to be tied to a very strict curriculum. If you find a great instructor make sure you request that instructor going forward. I’ve advocated a few times in this article to invest in professional development. Now I’m telling you to make sure you maximize those dollars. If you have a great experience make sure you get that person, organization or class again. Particularly if you are taking training that is intended to help you lead organizational change or transformation make sure that you aren’t just book smart. Follow training with a workshop where and an expert can help you use your new found skills and apply them to your organizational problems. This is one of the greatest ways to ensure that you get full value for your training dollars. There is nothing that will help you retain and internalize concepts like applying them to your problems. Also, consider mentoring as an option in this area. Too often we go to training and come back invigorated and ready to apply it to change the world. Unfortunately  once we get back to our desks we hit some small snag or bump up against a hurdle in our real word problem that wasn’t clearly illustrated in class. Having a mentor available that can help you apply the concept may be the key to getting you over the hurdle and unlocking the benefit you were hoping for when you left for class.

I think if you follow these steps you can begin to unlock the the incredible untapped potential that resides in so many organizations. The most successful organizations will find ways to get more from their human capital in order to become the more adaptable, foster innovation and maximize the ability to  get great ideas from whiteboard to implementation. I also cannot say enough about focusing on little “i” innovation. Getting people at every level of the organization to believe in and focus on making what they do a little bit more efficient or effective will change organizational performance. Senior leadership needs to identify the areas of focus for professional development, provide the opportunities to develop professionally  and finally create an environment where that development can lead to organizational change.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

What does Enterprise mean to my Enterprise?


As organizations struggle to evolve, adapt and become more efficient in these challenging economic times, one of the things they focus on is making better use of scarce resources in order to meet their goals. Often this takes the form of identifying areas where consolidation can occur in order to leverage economies of scale. The discussion in the meeting may include sentences like “Well, I think we really need to focus on enterprise capabilities” or “The only way for us to get some of these costs out is to identify our global business processes and make sure they are truly efficient.” I’ve sat in these meetings and had these conversations at the water cooler, and I think that to truly capture these efficiencies and economies of scale, their needs to be a broader understanding of how terms like enterprise, global, common, etc. fit into the way that the organization operates. There needs to be some precision about what these terms really mean and the organization needs to define these things explicitly. It is also important to define more than just the biggest or most global things in the enterprise. It’s important to have categories for the things that aren’t global, enterprise or common. This is because to really work well organizations need to explicitly define not just what will be governed, but what won’t. Deciding where to allow local control explicitly opens the door to real agility where it is most needed and prevents wasting management resources on making decisions that should really be made at a lower level. This needs to be made explicit because the tendency otherwise is to pass decisions upwards. Eventually the avalanche of decision requests will overcome the ability of the decision makers to make insightful rulings and a breakdown occurs where those making the decisions are uninformed and those passing the decision upward bear little responsibility for the results of the decision. This obviously does not increase organizational performance and can lead to a viscous cycle where the decision makers attempt to rest even more decision making authority from those below in an attempt to get things moving back down the right track with disastrous consequences.
Fortunately, there are some proven approaches that organizations can use to help work this problem that includes developing an explicit vocabulary and determining how the organizational operating model should work. For one thing many people have caught on to the Operating Model concepts embodied in Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution by Ross and Weill and begun to frame their governance in a manner that is based on the organizational operating model structure. By taking the time to determine the right level of standardization and integration at the various levels of organizational federation these organizations are helping to build the framework from which governance should be expressed. By making clear determinations about what they expect to get from their governance, i.e. a specific degree of standardization and integration they make it easier to craft the governance itself. This is absolutely a critical activity for Enterprise Architects and architectural organizations.
Essentially, if you buy into the idea of an “organizational operating model” you are buying into the idea that successful organizations openly express the degree to which they will standardize business processes and/or integrate data to produce optimized business outcomes. 

Operating Model Concept in Brief

 

Federated organizations will include being able to effectively categorize items and concepts within the organization in a manner that provides insight into the amount of governance that will be applied to them as well as their intended use. For example a “global” business process or application might be defined as one that can be used by the entire organization across federated boundaries without customization. This is just an example, but I think it illustrates why it is necessary to have the definition. Without out it the user may not know or may make assumptions about configurability, extendibility, etc. I’m not going to go into extensive details on the Operating Model in this article, but I am going to focus on the language of classification that might be used beneath this construct in order to facilitate standardization and integration. Please keep in mind that this classification structure is meant to illustrate a point and not to state that this is ”the” language that should be used by all organizations. Your needs will vary, please customize and tailor in order to meet your organization’s specific requirements. Remember that what we are building is a common language for classification that can be applied across many organizational concepts including applications, services, business processes, data, etc. For my example I have used the following terms:

Enterprise

An Enterprise concept supports the organization without customization for all markets. Enterprise concepts do not contain any organization specific business logic, business rules, or business processes, etc. If this is an application or service it is possible that they can be configured for specific business unit use, but this should be limited to configuration that does not impact usage across the organization. Enterprise items may initially be developed and funded by any organization; however it is my opinion that once something is recognized as “enterprise” the funding mechanism should be moved to the highest level of the federated organization leveraging the concept in order to maintain the enterprise nature of the item in question.

Enterprise in a Federated Environment

Common

A Common concept supports multiple business units or organizations within the federated structure. Common concepts contain or may be tailored to organization specific business logic, business rules, or business processes, etc. An important consideration for common concepts is governance structure. Significant efficiencies may be gained by encouraging common item usage, but only if the organizations using these concepts can count on having a voice at the table when decisions are made to adapt, tailor or change these concepts. The use of common concepts probably embodies one of those most fertile areas for many organizations to gain economies of scale and facilitate collaboration and capability but the usage and value of these are going to be heavily influenced by the design of the governance structures that will support them. The ongoing financial support and funding mechanisms should also be clearly illustrated in order to gain maximum benefit. If “common” concepts are to be adopted and leveraged the organizations that use them must believe they are getting a square deal on the purchase (or development) and support costs across the organizations that leverage these items. 

 Common in a Federated Environment

Local

A Local concept is applicable to specific units or organizations within the federated environment. These local products may include specific extensions to “enterprise” concepts or standalone items that are unique to a single organization. For the larger organization the management of these will be heavily dependent on the Operating Model approach. Important considerations should include ensuring that local concepts are faithful to the operating model and do not undermine the optimum level of standardization and integration that is being sought by the larger organization. Local concepts should also be reviewed on a regular basis in order to identify locally successful concepts that could be applied to a larger swath of the organization. Most importantly for organizations where the operating model dictates a high degree of autonomy because of the specialized nature or high degree of independence of the “local” organization is that the central organization should respect this local designation. The tendency to over govern or apply an enterprise solution to a local problem is sometimes quite predominant among strong central planning organizations. If you have worked hard with the business’ various federated planning structures to develop an operating model that includes the management of concept “x” as a local item DO NOT go back on that promise lightly.

 Local in a Federated Environment

I hope this provides a better understanding of how to use a light classification of items within a federated organization. I can’t stress enough how important a mature understanding of Operating Model concepts can be to really leveraging these concepts within your organization. For this I would recommend reading the book Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution by Ross and Weillas well as spending some time reviewing your general governance in light of this reading. I think the operating model is one of the most under appreciated concepts in the practice of Enterprise Architecture and is often treated as an after thought rather than a foundational component of the EA program. Understanding the level of standardization and integration that is applicable to your business has enormous implications for how you execute your EA program, the governance you use to implement the program and the way you resource and staff. The above was focused on a small piece of making a real understanding of your organizations operating model something that can really work by having clearly defined classifications for concepts in terms of organizational span. Combine these with governance based on the desired operating model and you have a pretty mature method for controlling the usage of EA concepts within the organization.

Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance.
Visit Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates online.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

What do leadership, writing, and charity have to do with performance?

I had the opportunity last night to attend an event put on by 826DC. In their own words “826 centers offer a variety of inventive programs that provide under-resourced students, ages 6-18, with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. We also aim to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our mission is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” As someone who has spent years 6-to now aspiring to be a writer, it was a powerful event; and one that made me think about the many people both real and literary that inspired me and shaped me into the person I am today. One of the readings was done by a 16 year old student at the Duke Ellington School in Washington, DC. The student commented on the dramatic improvement the program has made not just in her literary skills, but across all her subjects and in her life in general. Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian writer whose works include “Beneath the Lion’s Gate,” also spoke of the power of literature in shaping not just her world view, but her own character.

826DC Event

One of the great things that programs like these do for kids is inspire them to imagine themselves in a different light or see themselves as able to transform into something else. Tapping into this creative side of ourselves can be a powerful mechanism for personal transformation. I have written in 3 Ps to Meeting Success about the power of visualization in setting the stage for successful meetings, but I think more generally that this is a skill that is critical to success in daily life. One of the most powerful ways that 826DC touches under privileged children is by engaging them in using their imagination and thinking of the world as something that can be shaped. These skills are just as applicable in later life as they are with the 6-18 year olds engaged in this program.
One of the best things you can do for the people within your organization as a leader or executive is encourage them to see themselves as the next and better version of themselves. It is very hard to become the person you want to be if you can’t imagine yourself in that light. I don’t know if people often make that connection despite how often visualization has come up in recent literature regarding performance improvement. Visualization skills depend in large part  on our imaginations. Fostering creativity and imagination not only helps helps people to visualize themselves in a positive manner moving forward, but bleeds over into many other areas of our professional and organizational performance. Wonder why your organization isn’t as innovative as the next? You may want to ask yourself what you are doing to foster creativity and imagination. These are tools that will help you and those within your organization move towards their organizational, career and life goals. I think you can really begin to understand the power of this when you pair it with one of my favorite quotes from Dale Carnegie, “There is only one way… to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.” (How to Win Friends & Influence People) As an executive, manager, or leader a big part of your job is getting others to get things done. This is made a great deal easier if those who are charged with doing the doing actually want to get those things done. Part of getting people to want to do those things can be facilitated by working to understand who they imagine they will be in the future and helping shape that image to be something that is both achievable and desirable for the organization.
What last night hammered home for me was just how important creativity and imagination are to me as an executive. It’s something I hadn’t really thought through before, but as we drove home I couldn’t help but think about how important these things are to every organization and the many ways that what 826DC does ties directly to what most organizations want from their employees. I know that my wife and I were inspired by the evening and we will be working to help make this service available to more students in our area by donating here. Please join us in helping to inspire children to imagine themselves in a better light and remember that the journey doesn’t stop when you enter adulthood.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.