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Handling the Truth

January 6, 2012

I read an interesting article in The New York Times the other day – an interview with John Donovan, chief technology officer at AT & T , entitled Strive for Results, Not for the Accolades.  The discussion topics ranged from the lessons of leadership to innovation.

He spoke about how when he joined AT & T, he started an internal Tech Council.  He brought together 16 people who were the “smartest” people –  not necessarily those who held a particular title or worked at a certain level.  And he met with them regularly.

“We then started with a list of all the things that were broken, stupid, idiotic, what’s killing innovation, from 16 really bright people who were willing and able to tell you the truth. And if you look at some of the things that we’ve done in our innovation program, a lot of the seeds were born in that room. And so we built a profile that started with the ugly truth, and that’s kind of where we had to start from.”

It was interesting to read that:

  • The group identified a distinction between invention and innovation
  • Initially, the members of the Tech Council had lots and lots and LOTS of reasons why they couldn’t innovate
  • There was acknowledgment that the overall organizational culture of caring, niceness and nurturing behavior led to a lack of innovation – people were just not comfortable with telling a colleague ‘your idea is a bad one.’

Ultimately the process bloomed.  And now there are 104,000 people/employees who are on the Innovation Pipeline.


Change and innovation.   Intimidatidating and often frightening.

But in order to be successful with either, it’s necessary to start from a foundation of truth.  A true assessment of the current state.

Can you handle the truth?

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