When one’s work occupies such a complex, higher-level realm of thinking, staying organized day-to-day can be quite the challenge (when you’re planning for 2030, how do you plan for tomorrow?). Zolli admits he cannot keep track of his organizational system in his head, so he relies on a number of methods for managing his tasks. He explains, “I keep a ‘cloud of info.’ I keep one-two years’ worth of email.
I use Copernic (desktop tool), which enables me to search a large breadth of info. A big part of keeping organized is that I interact with a data cloud, then I make sure that the cloud is entirely on the Web, making it accessible to me and other people at any given time. I give up privacy. I’ve learned that no problem that I might find embarrassing is unusual. If you’re willing to let people access your life and the cloud, then they’ll find what they need. I’ve open-sourced my life. My calendar, email, contacts are all shared with the organization. I’m highly transparent. You can see what I’m doing as a partner.”
To get the best results within a collaborate environment, Zolli has identified an indispensable new role: not of the idea-generator, but of the translator. “The way to get exceptional results is to have a team with a cognitive portfolio. People have different cognitive capabilities (some are planners, some people are explorers, some people learn by looking, some by hearing, etc.). We are trying to create routine breakthroughs and want our teams to solve problems with different cognitive capabilities. This requires mastering translation. People are passionate, and when pushed, they have a bias toward their natural cognitive way of thinking. A translation person is always required in any sort of collaborative effort.”
Of course, any team whose business is idea generation must maintain the ability to let go, alongside a focus on making their ideas happen. As Zolli states, “It’s a truism that ideas are cheap. The biggest and most important aspect of working is to trust in you and your colleagues to have new ideas. It’s critical that you have an ability to let go of ideas. My first job was in a creative firm. The best lesson I learned: you can kill any idea as long as you trust that more are coming. The trick is to move from an openness to new ideas to creating accountable management structures where people execute on those ideas and are responsible for seeing them through.”
Advising some of the world’s most preeminent companies has not compromised Zolli’s ability to forge his own path of free and innovative thought. He offers these words of assurance to fellow mavericks: “Expertise is overrated. Some of the world’s most successful people (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson) don’t have college degrees. They didn’t get professional training. They had many ‘experts’ telling them why what they were doing wasn’t possible. Paul Polak stubbornly refused to accept the dominating wisdom of the age. Expertise isn’t a source for innovation because it’s conventional. Accepting that you will look foolish on the way to learning things is important.”