Cassandra Communication in Innovation

Cassandra: Cursed to tell prophecies that no one would believe — Anthony Frederick Sandys (1829–1904)

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a princess of Troy. The God Apollo gave her the power of prophecy in order to seduce her. When Cassandra denied his advances, Apollo cursed her that no one would believe her prophecies, including her prediction of the burning of Troy. As you can imagine this gift brought Cassandra constant frustration and despair. Frustration and despair are emotions that innovators, changemakers and mavericks recognise all too well.

Imagine you had an amazing idea, a new innovation that could save a company or a conviction that your business or industry was headed for disruption but none of your colleagues would believe you. This is the situation so many innovators find themselves in.

To find support innovators, intrapreneurs or changemakers find support from similarly-minded individuals within their own business or in similar roles outside their organisation. Finding birds of a feather is important to know that you are not crazy, but for breakthrough innovation to happen the changemaker must convince the status quo that the change is necessary for survival. The status quo must see the benefit in the change. That is the focus of today’s Thursday Thought.

Pirates v Navy

Dread Pirate Roberts

“It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy” — Steve Jobs

While Steve Jobs is lauded as one of the most celebrated innovators of our times, naturally he made mistakes.

In 1983, Jobs reportedly held a retreat with his Macintosh team. At the retreat, Jobs discussed three “sayings” that he wanted his team to focus on: “Real artists ship,” “It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy,” and “Mac in a book by 1986.” Jobs was addressing a challenge that pervades all organisations. As a business grows and becomes a steady revenue generating machine it becomes more disciplined and bureaucratic. The people who envision new business ideas, the founders, the entrepreneurs, the pirates are often allergic to such structure. The changemaker is more comfortable in chaos.

Jobs’ remark verbalised the feelings of his “pirate” team, which he also felt. Pirates often feel that the very place they created becomes too structured, too ordered, too much like The Navy. While the idea of “fitting in”, of belonging to an intact team of innovators is appealing to changemakers, ultimately it leads to resentment, silos and failed innovation. Pirates (the changemakers) often need the structure and financial support of The Navy to ship (pun intended) their innovations.

Creating an “us and them” divide leads to stillborn projects, frustration, despair and the resignations (or firing) of great people. Hostility rather than profitability becomes the common denominator. In the case of Apple, the pirate and navy divide meant the Mac failed commercially, Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak resigned and Jobs was exiled for twelve years.

As next week’s guest on the innovation show Safi Bahcall tells us, when Jobs returned to Apple as it’s CEO, he realised he had to love The Pirates (Jonny Ive) and The Navy (Tim Cook) in equal measures. A more recent example is where Instagram founders abruptly quit and left Facebook. It appears Instagram’s rapid rise bred resentment at Facebook, like the Pirate team at Apple. The Navy (Facebook) perceived that Instagram (The Pirates) were cannibalising growth and engagement away from the core Facebook app (The Navy).

Bringing the Pirates and the Navy together and optimising the information flow between them is key for innovation to thrive. Often pirates claim that big organisations kill ideas and strangle innovation because they are “too big” or “too slow”.

To stand a chance innovative ideas must be expertly communicated. Pirates must realise that when you point a finger, there are three pointing back at yourself and when the Navy reject your innovations, maybe you did not communicate your vision effectively? Maybe you spoke in features and not benefits? Maybe you spoke in pirate language and not navy language? Communication is the focus of this week’s innovation show where Chris Westfall discusses his latest book “Leadership Language” (show links below).

Yes, we need gifted people to dream up great ideas. Yes, we need structure and process to scale businesses. Often overlooked is the essential ingredient that communication between your two business operating systems by a neutral party is key.

Mediation is the skilled process where a third party assists disputing parties in resolving conflict through the use of specialised communication techniques. To ensure organisational pirates and navy don’t become enemies, a mediator is required, the job of the mediator is to communicate the benefits of disruption, self-cannibalisation and innovation to the navy. Equally this mediator must let the pirates know they are on the right track and that their work will be recognised.

For a vision to be realised it must be effectively communicated.

What is so often overlooked is what Safi Bahcall calls out in “Loonshots”, both the pirates and the navy must be fairly and equally loved as Steve Jobs discovered the hard way.

Don’t get Defensive!

Like many of you working in innovation roles, I often got defensive when an innovation, (incremental or disruptive) was challenged or killed. When I look back at those failures, I realise I am guilty as charged. My mistake? I did not mediate. I failed to translate the innovation into navy language, worse, I wanted to ensure the credit lay with my team (and worse still, with me also). This is a huge mistake. To succeed as a leader of any kind we must be credit makers and not credit takers, a lesson I learned in rugby many years ago.

“We believe Insta­gram has been able to use Facebook’s infrastructure to grow more than twice as quickly as it would have on its own.” — Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Earnings Call July 2018

I fully empathise when an innovator gets frustrated when the Navy takes credit for the hard work of the pirates, who have often worked much harder than the Navy for much smaller gains. Imagine how the Instagram team felt when Mark Zuckerberg announced in Facebook’s July 2018 earning calls that the Navy (Facebook) was responsible for the growth of Instagram (see quote above).

When you are a pirate and anyone challenges the project you’ve poured your heart into, do you defend with anger or investigate with curiosity? Do you point the finger and overlook the three pointing back at yourself? An oft-overlooked, but vitally important skill for entrepreneurs, changemakers and innovators is to ensure their work is communicated effectively. Every business needs a Chief Storyteller, a Chief Vision Officer, an articulate Champion who is fluent in both Pirate and Navy.

The Job of the Entrepreneur: Sharing Your Vision — Chris Westfall

On this week’s innovation show episode 154, we welcome author of Leadership Language, Chris Westfall.

Leadership Language will help you to peel back the ineffective “business speak”, so you can change the conversation. And change your results. Imagine what could happen when you replace frustration with an irresistible vision — for yourself, your team and your organization.

Today’s leaders face so many challenges — employee retention, operational efficiency, culture, collaboration, leading across generations, and more — but communication is at the heart of every one of those issues. A clear message with a powerful delivery gets you halfway home. Honing in on your next conversation can drive more impact, better relationships, and greater overall effectiveness. For yourself. Your career. Your company.

They say there’s nothing that can stop an idea whose time has come. So, take the lead. It’s time for you to create what’s missing. And Leadership Language will show you how.

  • Get clear on your vision, align with your story, and engage others with your message
  • Connect with the people that matter most, in a way that invites innovation and new outcomes
  • Find the courage to move forward, conquer change, and create powerful impact — while you help others do the same

From student leaders to the C-suite, there is only one way for a leader to make an impact: communication. Leadership Language is your personal guide to mastering critical skills and unveiling your authentic potential.

Have a listen:







Links mentioned during the show:

Stanley Anderson, the man who hits a 266 mph fastball:

Murray Willcocks interview:

The new online group coaching program, just introduced:

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