I have a great guest for us to learn from – the author of a new book, The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough. Doesn’t that sum up the challenge of being a product manager – when your good idea is not enough.
My guest, Professor Samuel B. Bacharach, argues that in order to implement any innovation — no matter how great your idea — that you must be an “agenda mover.” He’s analyzed how leaders such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have been able to turn their ideas into action. He has also spent years teaching the skills that enable people to move agendas. Today he helps leaders of Fortune 500 companies apply the steps to move their ideas forward. He is also an organizational behavior professor at Cornell University and the co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of some questions discussed:
- In your latest book you shared “If you cannot move your agenda, you are not a leader.” What do you mean by that? We tend to over-dramatize what we mean by leaders and what it takes to innovate. We live in a culture where we tend to see leadership as a heroic quality, the charismatic person like the Lone Ranger who is coming to save you. That’s total nonsense. We should begin with the assumption that all leaders are individuals trying to get some action taken, to move something forward. This being the case, the litmus test in leadership is what you get done. How many leaders do you remember for ideas they had or simply for their charisma? What gets remembered is their capacity to move the ideas forward. Thomas Edison once said, “A good idea without execution is hallucination.” Well, that’s my notion. Can you move the idea? Can you execute? There is no leadership without it.
- The challenge with innovation is it means change – and change brings fear. How do leaders address the fear of change — of something new? This is the $64,000 question. If you begin with the assumption, which is a premier assumption, that people will resist change, the issue quickly becomes more complicated than initially suspected. I’ll elaborate on that — you see, opposing innovation and opposing change is like opposing apple pie, even when there’s not a lot of sugar in it! No one ever comes and tells you, “This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. Forget it.” And no one tells you in the corporate world, “We’re against change, forget it.” It’s a lot subtler than that. People resist by playing a game of, “Yes, but did you think about this…” Given that there’s room to play this game, it demands from you, as someone trying to move change and innovation, that you seriously anticipate the possible resistance. That means you need to methodically understand arguments of resistance. There are not many arguments people can make against you. Further, you can develop the skills to justify and move your agenda. You must begin to really work on getting the buy-in. And you can’t drop the ball – you must take action to sustain the momentum.
- What are the skills for moving your agenda? When I talk about skills, I’m talking about the capacity to anticipate, mobilize, negotiate, and sustain momentum. These are things you can actually learn. We’ve trained people all around the world in these skills, and some of them were the least charismatic people you could think of. You examine what are you really trying to do in any setting. What are we really trying to do? You are trying to get someone to shift their priorities to align them, at least in some capacity, with your priorities. You’re trying to get someone to shift their resources to support what you’re trying to do. It’s going to happen because you were methodical and deeply understood the perspectives and needs of those you want to influence. I teach people in the book to categorize resistance so you can align your priorities with those of other people. All of it has to do with categorizing, getting beyond words like resistance and agenda and breaking up the specific things you really need to do. That’s all skills that can be learned.
- Useful links:
- Samuel’s new book, The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea is Not Enough
- BLG — Bacharach Leadership Group – Samuel’s leadership consulting group
- Recommended book for innovators, The Structure of the Scientific Revolution, by James Kuhn
“A good idea without execution is hallucination.” –Thomas Edison
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