Tag Archives: innovation

Lessons from Machiavelli – Part 1

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men (sic) he has around him.” – Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli was referring to how loyal and competent a ruler’s team is.  The ruler’s wisdom is reflected in her/his ability to select capable people and keep them loyal to him/herself.

Machiavelli’s insights are still useful today, however with the span of almost 500 years we can also look at this through an additional lens. Through research, and not just warm fuzzy feelings about inclusion, we know the more diverse a team, the more intelligent decisions the team will make.  A diverse team has the ability to challenge my assumptions or perceptions.  Nothing interesting starts with knowing.

So, the modern leader, not only needs the wisdom that Machiavelli refers to of choosing capable people, but also the wisdom to select a diverse team.  There has been lots of emphasis placed on diversity that is visible – such as gender and ethnicity.  And this is a great place to start. But, what about the diversity that is not visible – thinking differently? different personalities? political persuasions? religions? educations?

Working in a diverse team requires not just our functional expertise. We can no longer assume we have the same experience, same network and same perceptions as the rest of the team.  Instead, we need a curious mind and a humble attitude.  We need to be able to listen, really listen, collaborate, ask great questions, and think deeply.

Finally, each member of a diverse team has to provide unique value. When a team is diverse there is no room for passengers.  So each person on the team has to be able to balance listening, with speaking up with insight… No pressure!

So, how would Machiavelli rate your team?

  • How diverse is your team?
  • Out of 10, how do you rate the capability of your team to meet today’s challenges?
  • Does your team have a mindset that enables diversity? is it curious? is it humble?
  • Does your team have the skills needed to embrace diversity – listening, asking good questions, collaborating and deep thinking?
  • Do you have any passengers?



Have you learnt to fail in a perfect world?

With many children returning or starting school this week, my mind has turned to how we learn.  In particular, how and when we learn to fail.

At early years, our kids learn that getting something “wrong” is bad. Our brains are wired to listen to fear more than reward and we play it safe. So, it is no wonder that when we get to the workplace we arrive with a strong aversion to failure.

We are surrounded by systems that demand perfection. We want customers to have a perfect experience – 100% of the time. We want products that are perfect or we want a refund.  We want shareholders to get healthy and ever growing dividends. We want trains to run on time. Our “reality” TV “actors” have white teeth and wake up perfect hair.  Our Facebook poses must be perfect and natural.  Even our bananas have to be blemish free.

Yet the enduring adage of successful innovators is to fail fast, fail often, fail forward, fail cheap, ….

Learning to fail takes self awareness, self control, reflection, humility, resilience, humour, graciousness, vulnerability, patience and an appetite for risk. Sometimes, failure can be served with a side dish of anger, frustration, self loathing, shame, guilt and sleepless nights.

Our reality is that we are caught in a conundrum – working in a system that generates operational excellence to be successful today but knowing we must innovate (and fail) to be successful tomorrow.  We have to be ambidextrous.  It takes wisdom to know when to be “perfect” and when to fail.

  • When did you last fail?  What did you learn? How did you respond?
  • Who have you shared your failures with?
  • Do your team know when they can fail?  What do they think your response to their failure would be?
  • What have your taught your kids about failure?