ACM Ubiquity has an interview with Peter Denning, who teaches students at the Naval Postgraduate School how to develop strategic, big-picture thinking about the field of computing. Excerpts:
DENNING: Let me return to my initial distinction between the creation of a new idea and the process of producing change. Many people can indeed be more creative in their production of ideas they can break loose from their standard habits of thinking, they can try out different observers, they can create new games. People often find these creative processes to be uplifting. The invention of a new possibility can lift one’s spirits and can be fun. Look at the great moods people enter after a brainstorming session. A creative person can help someone who’s stuck in a negative mood by proposing new possibilities for them. Obviously, people who can open new ways of thinking, and help us see what was previously invisible, can make a big contribution. But there’s a world of difference between being in a good mood about a new possibility and actually making it happen. Helping people actually make the change, is where the real work is, and that’s a different skill set…People who have trouble accomplishing innovations may lack knowledge of the process or of a foundational skill.
UBIQUITY: What’s next after identifying an opportunity and creating a new possibility for addressing it?
DENNING: Drucker says: Analyze it. Can you make a business or project plan to accomplish the result? Can you identify the costs, the benefits, the risks, the responses to risks, and the main milestones? Can you lay out your engineering or science approach? Only after such analysis can you decide whether you want to go forward; you might well decide that you can’t go forward. The analysis phase is very important. After analysis comes listening. Drucker says go out into the community in person, discuss your proposal, and assess their receptivity. Are they open to your proposal? Enthusiastic? Apathetic? Hostile? What changes must you make to secure their buy-in? Are they so unreceptive that you might as well drop the project?
UBIQUITY: What’s next or does the listening phase go on forever?
DENNING: After you have concluded that your plan is sound and is likely to be received well, you get to execution of the plan. But Drucker does not call this the execution stage; he calls it the focus stage. That’s because, during execution, you need to keep everyone’s attention on a simple core idea behind the change and keep from veering off into interesting distractions. Many projects fail because their leadership cannot maintain focus and their energies become scattered. Moreover, if your proposal looks too complex, people will give up on it. Maintaining the focus requires clear thinking, discipline, and a mood of ambition and confidence.