I love the British expression ‘start as you mean to go on,’ which I’ve appropriated for the headline on this post. I believe that one simple phrase can help set the foundation for successful projects undertaken by more than one person. Which — surprise! — is almost everything we do.
When the project involves collaborating to create something of value — surprise again! there’s a lot of that happening at any given time — ’start as you mean to go on’ is absolutely critical to create while avoiding frustration, delays, misunderstandings, setbacks, and failure. Failure of an innovation project due to poor communication or lack of communication is an innovation crime, since the main thing to be learned from such a failure is — lack of communication causes problems. We know that lesson already, as I’ve said in this post. Why would we want to repeat it as often as we do?
Note I am not advocating for one framework and one Common Language for innovation. I have my preferences in terms of process and language for innovation, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the success of a collaborative effort for the sake of pushing my language and process on everyone else with whom I might collaborate. Instead I suggest we all look at language from a descriptive rather than a prescriptive point of view.
When I was a 17-year-old English major at a small college that did not have an instrumental music program, I undertook the challenge of writing arrangements for between-scene music for a production of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. The college’s organist helped me find appropriate tunes from the period, so I had the tunes on sheet music. I rounded up a few fellow students who had played instruments in their high school bands to participate. I had a flute, an oboe, and a guitar to add to my own harpsichord playing.
The problem? I could read music and play keyboard and stringed instruments, but I had never played any wind instruments. I quickly discovered a critical problem — my lack of knowledge about what fingering positions on teh instruments produced which notes in the scale. There was no one around who would know, and this was well before YouTube or the Internet.
The wind players and I needed a common language. We needed to get down to the essence of the miscommunication and build from there. We needed to go back to the alphabet itself, which in this case was the scale, and find a common language with which to communicate.
So one day I met with a flute player in a practice room, played middle C on the piano, and asked, “what note do I write on the scale that will cause you to play that sound?” In this way I learned a critical “alphabet” that I hadn’t known before. Finally I was able to communicate to the wind players what I wanted them to play. (Cue up the children singing, “Doe, a deer, a female deer…”)
Start as you mean to go on, even if it seems to elementary for professionals to discuss terms and how each party uses them.
We’ll be discussing this on #innochat today, and I’ll post a recap and further thoughts later.