How To Lay The Groundwork For Your Organization’s Next Breakthrough Innovation

All innovation comes from an idea that started with a problem and ended with a solution. It seems simple, right?

There’s just a small — though very important — differentiator: Everyone can think of problems, but not everyone has the same ability to come up with solutions. That is why collaboration is such a valuable tool. One person might see the problem clearly, but it might take the perspective of another to see the solution clearly.

If your goal is to have your business find the answers for the problems and pain points of your customers, then you need to set your company up to successfully collaborate with the best and brightest in your niche. By following these steps, I’ve found collaboration and innovation can become much easier:

Understand your starting point.

Over time, the knowledge each company brings to its specific niche becomes even more specialized. This is because you get better at what you do and can solve the issues that come up for those specific pain points.

However, to find a solution to a customer’s problem, your knowledge might be too specialized to see a valuable solution. It is vital that you have an understanding of what you know as a company — and what you do not know. That way, you see where the gaps are that you need to fill in.

Many leaders today reach out to startups or collaborate with individuals from completely different industries in order to identify these gaps. My personal favorite (and what I’ve found is one of the most powerful ways to learn) is working with children. What if you asked your employees’ kids to test your product in order to challenge your processes and assess your operations? It can be insightful and a true eye-opener to start asking your next-generation customers (as well as your next-generation talents) for their perspective.

Combine teams to improve the knowledge base.

To make sure your company can come up with as many innovative solutions as possible, make sure your knowledge base is vast. This can be done by mixing employees from different departments and having them work as a combined team on selected company challenges. This way, they can bring in their specific skills and expertise, as well as learn from and train their new team members — an excellent and fast way to build and share knowledge inside your organization.

As previously mentioned, it can be very insightful to conduct “experts workshops” with external experts such as young entrepreneurs, influencers, representatives from suppliers, artists, etc. to get their perspectives on the challenge the team is facing. For extra credit, make sure these teams have access to some guidance or a toolbox of creative and innovate techniques so they get support when trying to come up with innovative solutions.

If your teams are unable to work together at first, provide some team-building exercises to help them learn how to rely on one another and value others’ opinions. The more closely each team works together, the sooner their collaboration can result in innovative thinking. Again, for extra credit, make sure the office space is set up in a way that fosters and supports collaboration and creative brainstorming sessions (yes, innovation is often more of a “people” thing than a “technology” thing).

Encourage people to collaborate on all aspects of a business.

While many believe they already understand how to collaborate, your company might need your teams to work together differently than they are used to. For example, by simply taking two ideas from different use cases or product lines and putting them together, you might get a completely new solution, or maybe even a new business model. However, if you take two known ideas and your teams work together to add in one whole new part, it might be just different enough from what has been tried in the past to create a unique, new and innovative solution.

It’s important that your people understand the power of trying something unique in order to come up with a solution your clients will love. Nevertheless, doing minor adjustments to an existing way of doing it can also sometimes be just enough of what’s needed. The bottom line is that as long as your teams remain open and are willing to give different perspectives and collaboration a try, they are on a good track.

Many companies have taught the value of collaboration to their employees by simply encouraging them to keep striving for new answers. They show through the organization’s culture that they value communication and an agile leadership style in all avenues of how they do business. These companies give rewards to those who continually step up and provide more than what is expected of them. They are set up to listen to new ideas regularly, and they truly understand the concept of “fail fast and fail forward.”

If you want your company to have successful, innovative ideas and collaborative people, then you need to encourage collaboration at every level of the company. Even brand-new employees should be encouraged to be a part of this practice, as you never know where the next breakthrough will come from.


The good news is that your company has all of the innovation potential. You simply need to ensure that you are set up to collaborate with the best talents. Make yourself aware of your shortcomings, and fill in those gaps with people from the outside who can elevate your company. If you are not sure where to begin or what shortcomings you might have, reach out to sparring partners who can show you how to bring your company up to the next level of innovation and collaboration. After all, fast innovation capabilities will turn more and more into a key currency in the digital economy.

This article appeared in its original version on late 2019.

5 Pieces Of Advice For Leaders To Deal With Toxic Employees

It is a question that many leaders at different levels and industries keep asking themselves at least on a weekly basis: If research is correct that the quality of my life depends on my social connections, which in return impact my happiness, how should I handle those 40+ hours a week with negative and even toxic people around me? They take away my energy, they kill my vision and positive perspective and they just make me see the glass half empty instead of half full!

Whether hiring the wrong people, organizing teams with the wrong players or simply not dealing with toxic people in an efficient way will impact your personal and your organization’s productivity and performance. Together with some of my colleagues from the Forbes Coaches Council, we tried to find positive solutions to that tension.

Wendi’s advice: Disengage Through Diplomacy and Positive Solutions

Remaining diplomatic, neutral and polite toward a toxic employee is one sure way to extinguish any negative discourse or problem behavior. A great way to expand on this is to consider taking the higher road by not feeding into or clashing with a toxic colleague’s behavior. When the toxic colleague displays negativity, you can address it with positive solutions that disengage their behaviors.

Laura’s advice: Be Bold Enough to Care

I often work with leaders on cultivating curiosity and empathy. A “toxic employee” is also a human being. Start by getting curious about what they are experiencing in the whole of their life and practice empathy that demonstrates support. That alone may be enough to cause a shift, or you could discover that their “toxicity” is reflective of something deeper going on in your organizational culture.

Bill’s advice: Top Leaders Get Beyond Labels

The best leaders understand when they make an inference that a colleague is “toxic” they aren’t ready to “deal with” them until they unpack the word. What does “toxic” look like? What is a person doing when they are being “toxic”? Once a leader can describe the behavior, then they should confront the behavior (e.g., “When you [fill in the blank with such and such behaviors], it has the following impact…”)

Jessica’s advice: Be Direct and Open Their Eyes

Many times people don’t realize they are the ones who are contributing to the toxic behavior. Be direct and make them aware of what you are seeing. Don’t make an ultimatum, but present them with support and solutions allowing them to make the decision to change. If they choose not to change their behaviors, this is when you make a business decision later to part ways.

My personal advice: Listen, Lead and Leave

Normally toxic people aren’t toxic to the entire organization. It is just the wrong minds in the wrong crowd with wrong tasks. Good leaders listen first how their team feels about this toxic colleague and how this person pictures him/herself. Then they take the lead and re-shape the environment. If nothing works, leaders have the duty to protect their team and make toxic members leave the party.

This article was co-created by international executive coaches and initially published on

Who Scores Highest In The Digital Game?

Despite all the technological innovations taking place, we need to keep in mind that there is a human factor that plays a vital role in the digital industry. We can automate processes, we can have robots as new team members, and we can work with smart, connected, shared devices that tell us what we want before we even know it. But there is no organization—to date or in the future—that can operate without any human beings at all.

The true success factor for companies in the twenty-first century will be human maturity at the right key positions of an organization.

So the questions of the day are—Who are the main actors in this disruptive digital game? What distinguishes these up-and-coming talents of generation Y from their parents and grandparents? The makeup of the global workforce is in the middle of a massive change, where today half of the employees in the world are considered millennials or generation Y—born between 1980 and 1997. Millennials are the children of generation X and the large group of baby boomers, the majority of whom is about to retire. This Y generation has been strongly influenced by the impact of the Internet on our daily activities: work and life are strongly interwoven, personal opinions are expressed directly and openly, and their new personal lifestyle shapes how entire societies think, act, and collaborate.

Understanding how these most important players of the future workforce tick and what makes them perform and live a purposeful life is essential for a successful digital revolution in any industry.

One could fill a bookshelf with articles and studies that have been published on this markedly different generation of millennials. Yes, there are differences that are worth remembering, and yes, there are still a lot of values, interests, strengths, weaknesses, and desires that remain the same as in previous generations. Being a millennial myself, I once was asked in a plenary discussion to introduce myself as “the typical gen Y / millennial.” Here is the transcript of my answer:

I (as a millennial) favor the entrepreneurial spirit, a high level of independence, and yes, I’m digitally savvy with strong objections to micromanagement. I love empowerment, I love challenge, and I love excitement, thus I have a more unorthodox approach to my career and my daily job performance that does not parallel traditional paths. I view traditional hierarchies and authorities skeptically, but I bring an impressive portfolio of academic credentials and skills to the workplace. What do I want in return for putting those skills into action? I aim for fast-track promotions, nice salary raises to fuel my nonprofessional areas of interest/hobbies, flexible work arrangements to combine professional and family life, and yes, there needs to be a reason, a bigger purpose, and, of course, fun in whatever I am supposed to be doing. I want meaningful work that adds value, and I appreciate constant feedback, flexibility and recognition. I am also very impatient, so don’t you dare promise a distant pay raise or promotion—this will not get my attention.

It is typical for us millennials to find different and rapidly changing workplaces over the course of our careers. What will remain constant from one job to the next, however, is that we have certain expectations of ourselves, our supervisors, and the organizations we work for. To start with ourselves first, generation Y wants to learn technical or core skills in their areas of expertise because they fully understand how necessary those skills are in a digital environment. We are also extremely interested in learning skills focused on self-management and personal productivity as well as leadership skills, which are needed to solve current management challenges. All this should come with some sprinkles of industry or functional know-how and should be presented in a creative, innovative form or environment.

Our expectations toward the company we work for include the development of skills needed for the future, paired with ongoing professional coaching as we have been used to since our childhood days: whether it was our parents, neighbors, family members, or friends, there was always a good “coach” ready for a good conversation geared toward finding the best solutions. We also want a company with strong values and individualized offerings and benefit packages: from B as benefits to S as salary and W as working time. Organizations ready to gain and retain Y talents have to allow for—but not require—blending work with private life, and a clear career path must be presented.

Last but not least, the question remains of what millennials expect from supervisors or “the boss”—a term Ys would never use because of their dislike of hierarchy.

The “boss” is supposed to help navigate the career journey and provide constant, timely, and thorough feedback. This person should not only help guide but also coach and mentor on an informal basis and act as a sponsor in formal development initiatives. And, by the way, he or she should not have an issue with flexible work arrangements.

In a nutshell one could say that millennials are not willing to trust “old-school” schemes and sources such as preachy old advisors or traditional career tracks.

Given that generation Y will make up more than 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020, any company succeeding in attracting and working with millennials sits on a gold mine for future business success. Gen Y’ers are ambitious for thriving careers and charged lives, thus they will see progress in their professional lives, will see income growth, and see an increased possibility to pay for premium services. So if an organization has not yet disappointed them and manages to be attractive to them as customers and employees, chances are high that these organizations are well prepared for future success.

This Internet-savvy generation Y, with its focus on speed, openness, transparency, and global reach, is contrary to current management representatives who value quality, safety, privacy, and personal relationships. This changed mind-set, paired with a changed approach and a changed set of values and beliefs, will allow for taking on new perspectives and even generating new job descriptions such as a “generation integrator” or “digital disruption specialist.” Whether an organization can then motivate all generations to join forces in creating innovative and successful solutions remains another differentiating yet critical factor for high performance of any business in the digital future.

A Digital Diet to Enhance Productivity

You read diet and you think of losing weight? How come? Well, simple answer because that’s what we normally want when we are interested in reading something about a diet, right? But what if I told you that the next sentences won’t be about reducing your calorie intake, lowering your blood sugar level, doing more exercise and taking the stairs instead of the elevator? What if there are simple steps you can implement in your daily life as of today that won’t hurt, won’t make you change long-existing habits immediately and that will still help you improve, feel happier and get closer to your desired professional performance?

It’s somehow ironical that we live in a world of plentifulness, yet we suffer disease and conditions that were unheard of in our grandparent’s teenage years. Despite all the lifestyle choices available, we have difficulty doing the simple, most powerful things first! Why simple? There must be a complicated solution for sure, after all, we live in a constantly changing, digital world where being overstrained is the norm! If you continue reading, be prepared that those ideas might sound too simple but take me at my word and implement them today….and let me know how much positive change you experienced!

The world’s best diet doesn’t cost you a penny!

This is the best diet you have ever taken! Whether your body mass index screams for a calorie reduction or is in brilliant shape, this diet is just perfect for you: for the next 3 weeks you will go on an information diet! Yes, an information diet! Avoid all the distraction and the time taken away by reducing all the unnecessary information you consume daily. So for the next 3 weeks, do not read any newspapers, do not listen to the radio, don’t touch any online news channel or news on TV, don’t touch your smartphone or computer for pure surfing online, no Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or any other social media you frequently use! Don’t even watch TV! Give it a try and you will find out how much more time you will get back into your life that you can use for working on projects that bring you closer to your big life’s objectives by enhancing your productivity!

“25” is your new time slot.

Structure your work time and your productive time in blocks of 20-30 minutes. Those time-blocks you dedicate to one topic each and work without distraction on what needs to be done. A very powerful technique to structuring your work in time blocks is the Pomodoro® technique: you set a timer to 25 minutes where you spend your undivided attention on subject A, then have a five-minute break before you go into the next Pomodoro-session of 25 minutes. After four Pomodoros you deserve a bigger break of 15-20 minutes. It is all about working WITH your time, not AGAINST it. It helps avoid burnout and trains you to focus and get rid of distractions, subsequently helping you fight procrastination and foster happy, successful and productive days.

Just close your eyes and recharge.

Forget about all the myths regarding sleeping before midnight or those adults are fine with 6 hours of sleep only. Make sure you get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night because a rested body is a baseline for performance. Without enough sleep, you can nurture yourself with all good ingredients but your internal system is simply not rested well enough to make use of all the good stuff you put in. Sleeping time is also renewal time for your body, needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. If it helps, get yourself a sleep app or some smart wearable device that measures your actual sleep time and then make it a priority to push this time in bed to 7+ hours.

I know this is not the typical dietary change or exercise recommendation that you would expect. The digital era is different, traditional answers won’t stick to currently burning questions and that is true for business as well as for private. We need to take care of ourselves again because digital transformation takes place at a fast speed and those who will master this – on an individual as well as organization level – are the ones who realize that innovative ideas don’t grow on trees but in the minds of healthy, high performing talents!