To improve innovation, improve clarity.

Looking through binocularsIf I was CEO of a company that wanted to do innovation, the one thing I’d strive for is clarity.

For clarity on the innovative new product, here’s what the CEO needs.

Valuable Customer Outcomes – how the new product will be used.  This is done with a one page, hand sketched document that shows the user using the new product in the new way.  The tool of choice is a fat black permanent marker on an 81/2 x 11 sheet of paper in landscape orientation. The fat marker prohibits all but essential details and promotes clarity.  The new features/functions/finish are sketched with a fat red marker.  If it’s red, it’s new; and if you can’t sketch it, you don’t have it. That’s clarity.

The new value proposition – how the product will be sold. The marketing leader creates a one page sales sheet.  If it can’t be sold with one page, there’s nothing worth selling.  And if it can’t be drawn, there’s nothing there.

Customer classification – who will buy and use the new product.  Using a two column table on a single page, these are their attributes to define: Where the customer calls home; their ability to pay; minimum performance threshold; infrastructure gaps; literacy/capability; sustainability concerns; regulatory concerns; culture/tastes.

Market classification – how will it fit in the market.  Using  a four column table on a single page, define: At Whose Expense (AWE) your success will come; why they’ll be angry; what the customer will throw way, recycle or replace; market classification – market share, grow the market, disrupt a market, create a new market.

For clarity on the creative work, here’s what the CEO needs: For each novel concept generated by the Innovation Burst Event (IBE), a single PowerPoint slide with a picture of its thinking prototype and a word description (limited to 12 words).

For clarity on the problems to be solved the CEO needs a one page, image-based definition of the problem, where the problem is shown to occur between only two elements, where the problem’s spacial location is defined, along with when the problem occurs.

For clarity on the viability of the new technology, the CEO needs to see performance data for the functional prototypes, with each performance parameter expressed as a bar graph on a single page along with a hyperlink to the robustness surrogate (test rig), test protocol, and images of the tested hardware.

For clarity on commercialization, the CEO should see the project in three phases – a front, a middle, and end.  The front is defined by a one page project timeline, one page sales sheet, and one page sales goals. The middle is defined by performance data (bar graphs) for the alpha units which are  hyperlinked to test protocols and tested hardware.  For the end it’s the same as the middle, except for beta units, and includes process capability data and capacity readiness.

It’s not easy to put things on one page, but when it’s done well clarity skyrockets.  And with improved clarity the right concepts are created, the right problems are solved, the right data is generated, and the right new product is launched.

And when clarity extends all the way to the CEO, resources are aligned, organizational confusion dissipates, and all elements of innovation work happen more smoothly.

Image credit - Kristina Alexanderson

Bookmark and Share

The Prerequisites for Greatness

greatness in the makingThere are three prerequisites for greatness.

  1. You have to believe greatness is possible.
  2. You have to believe greatness is worth it.
  3. You have to believe you’re worthy of the journey.

If you can’t see old things in new ways, see new things in new ways, or see what’s missing, you won’t believe greatness is possible.  To believe greatness is possible, you have to change your perspective.

Greatness is an uphill battle on all fronts, and to push through the pain requires weapons grade belief that it’s worth it. But the power isn’t in the payoff.  The power is the personal meaning you attach to the work.  Your slog toward greatness is powered from the inside out.

Here’s the tough one – you’ve got to believe you’re worthy of the journey.  At every turn the status quo will kick you in the shins, and you must strap on your self-worth like shin guards. And when it’s time to conger greatness from gravel, you must believe, somehow, your life force will rise to the occasion. But, to be clear, you don’t have to believe you’ll be successful; you only have to believe you’re worth the bet.

From the outside, greatness is all about the work. But from the inside, greatness is all about you.

Image credit – Dietmar Temps

Bookmark and Share

Mind-Body Motivation for Innovation

ultra marthon with beerMind and body are connected, literally.  It’s true – our necks bridge the gap. Don’t believe me? Locate one end of your neck and you’ll find your head or body; locate the other and you’ll find the other.  And not only are they connected, they interact.  Shared blood flows between the two and that means shared blood chemistry and shared oxygen.  And not only is the plumbing shared, so is the electrical.  The neck is the conduit for the nerves which pass information between the two and each communicate in a closed loop way. Because it’s so obvious It sounds silly to describe the connectedness in this way, yet we still think of them as separate.

When the mind-body is combined into a single element our perspectives change.  For one, we realize the significance of the environment because wherever the body is the mind is. If your body walks your mind to a hot place, your body is hot and so is your mind.  No big deal?  Go to the beach in mid- summer, stand in the 105 degree heat for 1 hour, then do some heavy critical thinking.  Whether the environment is emotionally hot or temperature hot, it won’t go well.  Sit your body in a noisy, chaotic environment for two hours then try to come up with the new technology to keep your company solvent. Keep your body awake for 24 hours and try to solve a fundamental problem to reinvent your business model. I don’t think so.

Innovation is like a marathon, and if you treat your body like a marathon runner you’ll be in great shape to innovate.  Get regular physical activity; eat well; get enough sleep; don’t go out and party every night; drink your fluids; don’t get over heated.  If you don’t think any of this matters, do the opposite for a week or two and see how it goes with your innovation.  And as with innovation climate, geography and environment matter.  Train at altitude and sleep in a hypobaric chamber and your mind-body responds differently.  Run up hill and you get faster on the hills and likely slower on the flats.  Run downhill and your legs hurt.  Run in sub-zero temperatures and your lungs burn.

Just as the mind goes with the body, the body follows mind.  If you are anxious about your work, you feel a cold pressure in your chest – a clear example where your mental state influences your body.  If you are depressed, your body can ache – another example where your mind changes your body. But it’s more than unpleasant body sensations.  Your body does far more than move your head place-to-place.  Your body is the antenna for the unsaid, and the unsaid is huge part of innovation.  Imagine a presentation to your CEO where you describe your one year innovation project that came up empty.  When you stop talking and there’s a minute of silent unsaid-ness, your body picks up the signals, not your mind.  (You feel the tightness in your chest before you know why.) But if your mind has been monkeying with your body, your crumpled antenna may receive incorrect signals or may transmit them to your brain improperly, and when the CEO asks the hard question, your mind-body is spongy.

And what fuels the mind-body? Why does it get out of bed? Why does it want to do innovation? Dan Pink has it right – when it comes to tasks with high cognitive load, the mind-body is powered by autonomy, the pursuit of mastery, and purpose.  For innovation, the mind-body is powered intrinsically, not extrinsically.  If your engineers aren’t innovating, it’s because their mind-bodies know there’s no autonomy in the ether.  If they’re not taking on the impossible, it’s because they aren’t given time to master its subject matter or the work they’re given is remedial. If they’re doing what they always did, it’s because their antennas aren’t resonating with the purpose behind the innovation work.

When your innovation work isn’t what you’d like it’s not a people problem, it’s an intrinsic motivation problem.  Innovators’ mind-bodies desperately want to pole vault out of bed and innovate like nobody’s business, but they feel they have too little control over what they do and how they do it; they want to put all their life force into innovation, but they know (based on where their mind-bodies are and when) they’re not given the tools, time, and training to master their craft; and the rationale you’ve given them – the “WHY” in why they should innovate – is not meaningful to their mind-bodies.

Innovation is a full mind-body sport, and the importance of the body should be elevated.  And if there’s one thing to focus on it’s the innovation environment in which the mind-body sits.

Innovators were born to innovate – our mind-bodies don’t have a choice.  And if innovation is not happening it’s because extrinsic motivation strategies (carrots and sticks) are blocking the natural power of our intrinsic motivation.  It’s time to figure that one out as well.

Image credit – Eli Duke

Bookmark and Share

How It Goes With Innovation

A view of the whole thingInnovation starts with recognition of a big, meaningful problem. It can come from the strategic planning process; from an ongoing technology project that isn’t going well; an ongoing product development project that’s stuck in the trenches; or a competitor’s unforeseen action. But where it comes from isn’t the point. What matters is it’s recognized by someone important enough to allocate resources to make the problem go away. (If it’s recognized by someone who can’t muster the resources, it creates frustration, not progress.)

Once recognized, the importance of the problem is communicated to the organization. Usually, a problem is important because it blocks growth, e.g., a missing element of the new business model, technology that falls short of the distinctive value proposition (DVP), or products that can’t deliver on your promises. But whether something’s in the way or missing, the problem’s importance is best linked to a growth objective.

Company leaders then communicate to the organization, using one page. Here’s an example:

WHY – we have a problem. The company’s stock price cannot grow without meeting the growth goals, and currently we cannot meet them. Here’s what’s needed.
WHAT – grow sales by 30%.
WHERE – in emerging markets.
WHEN – in two years.
HOW – develop a new line of products for the developing world.

Along with recognition of importance, there must be recognition that old ways won’t cut it and new thinking is required. That way the company knows it’s okay to try new things.

Company leaders pull together a small group and charters them to spend a bit of time to develop concepts for the new product line and come back and report their go-forward reccommendations. But before any of the work is done, resources are set aside to work on the best ones, otherwise no one will work on them and everyone will know the company is not serious about innovation.

To create new concepts, the small group plans an Innovation Burst Event (IBE). On one page they define the DVP for the new product line, which describes how the new customers will use the new products in new ways. They use the one page DVP to select the right team for the IBE and to define fertile design space to investigate. To force new thinking, the planning group creates creative constraints and design challenges to guide divergence toward new design space.

The off-site location is selected; the good food is ordered; the IBE is scheduled; and the team is invited. The company leader who recognized the problem kicks off the IBE with a short description of the problem and its importance, and tells the team she can’t wait to hear their recoomendations at the report-out at the end of the day.

With too little time, the IBE team steps through the design challenges, creates new concepts, and builds thinking prototypes. The prototypes are the center of attention at the report-out.

At the report-out, company leaders allocate IP resources to file patents on the best concepts and commission a team of marketers, technologists, and IP staff to learn if viable technologies are possible, if they’re patentable, and if the DVP is viable.(Will it work, can we patent it, and will they buy it.)

The marketer-technologist-IP team builds prototypes and tests them in the market. The prototypes are barely functional, if at all, and their job is to learn if the DVP resonates. (Think minimum viable prototype.) It’s all about build-test-learn, and the learning loops are fast and furious at the expese of statistical significance. (Judgement carries the day in this phase.)

With viable technology, patentable ideas, and DVP in hand, the tri-lobed team reports out to company leaders who sanctioned their work. And, like with the IBE, the leaders allocate more IP resources to file more patents and commission the commercialization team.

The commercialization team is the tried-and-true group that launches products. Design engineering makes it reliable; manufacturing makes it repeatable; marketing makes it irresistible; sales makes it successful. At the design reviews more patents are filed and at manufacturing readiness reviews it’s all about process capability and throughput.

Because the work is driven by problems that limit growth, the result of the innovation work is exactly what’s needed to fuel growth – in this case a successful product line for the developing world. Start with the right problem and end up with the right solution. (Always a good idea.)

With innovation programs, all the talk is about tools and methods, but the two things that really make the difference are lightning fast learning loops and resources to do the innovation work. And there’s an important philosophical chasm to cross – because patents are usually left out of the innovation equation – like an afterthought chasing a quota – innovation should become the umbrella over patents and technology. But because IP reports into finance and technology into engineering, it will be a tough chasm to bridge.

It’s clear fast learning loops are important for fast learning, but they’re also important for building culture. At the end of a cycle, the teams report back to leadership, and each report-out is an opportunity to shape the innovation culture. Praise the good stuff and ignore the rest, and the innovation culture moves toward the praise.

There’s a natural progression of the work. Start – do one project; spread – use the learning to do the next ones; systematize – embed the new behaviors into existing business processes; sustain – praise the best performers and promote them.

When innovation starts with business objectives, the objectives are met; when innovation starts with company leadership, resources are allocated and the work gets done; and when the work shapes the culture, the work accelerates. Anything less isn’t innovation.

Image credit – Jaybird

Bookmark and Share

Don’t boost innovation, burst it.

Burst you balloonThe most difficult part of innovation is starting, and the best way to start is the Innovation Burst Event, or IBE. The IBE is a short, focused event with three objectives: to learn innovation methods, to provide hands-on experience, and to generate actual results. In short, the IBE is a great way to get started.

There are a couple flavors of IBEs, but the most common is a single day even where a small, diverse group gets together to investigate some bounded design space and to create novel concepts. At the start, a respected company leader explains to the working group the importance of the day’s work, how it fits with company objectives, and sets expectations there will be a report out at the end of the day to review the results. During the event, the working group is given several design challenges, and using innovation tools/methods, creates new concepts and builds “thinking prototypes.” The IBE ends with a report out to company leaders, where the working group identifies patentable concepts and concepts worthy of follow-on work. Company leaders listen to the group’s recommendations and shape the go-forward actions.

The key to success is preparation. To prepare, interesting design space is identified using multiple inputs: company growth objectives, new market development, the state of the technology, competitive landscape and important projects that could benefit from new technology. And once the design space is identified, the right working group is selected. It’s best to keep the group small yet diverse, with several important business functions represented. In order to change the thinking, the IBE is held at location different than where the day-to-day work is done – at an off-site location. And good food is provided to help the working group feel the IBE is a bit special.

The most difficult and most important part of preparation is choosing the right design space. Since the selection process starts with your business objectives, the design space will be in line with company priorities, but it requires dialing in. The first step is to define the operational mechanism for the growth objective. Do you want a new product or process? A new market or business model? The next step is to choose if you want to radically improve what you have (discontinuous improvement) or obsolete your best work (disruption). Next, the current state is defined (knowing the starting point is more important than the destination) – Is the technology mature? What is the completion up to? What is the economy like in the region of interest? Then, with all that information, several important lines of evolution are chosen. From there, design challenges are created to exercise the design space. Now it’s time for the IBE.

The foundation of the IBE is the build-to-think approach and its building blocks are the design challenges. The working group is given a short presentation on an innovation tool, and then they immediately use the tool on a design challenge. The group is given a short description of the design challenge (which is specifically constructed to force the group from familiar thinking), and the group is given an unreasonably short time, maybe 15-20 minutes, to create solutions and build thinking prototypes. (The severe time limit is one of the methods to generate bursts of creativity.) The thinking prototype can be a story board, or a crude representation constructed with materials on hand – e.g., masking tape, paper, cardboard. The group then describes the idea behind the prototype and the problem it solves. A mobile phone is used to capture the thinking and the video is used at the report out session. The process is repeated one or two times, based on time constraints and nature of the design challenges.

About an hour before the report out, the working group organizes and rationalizes the new concepts and ranks them against impact and effort. They then recommend one or two concepts worthy of follow on work and pull together high level thoughts on next steps. And, they choose one or two concept that may be patentable. The selected concepts, the group’s recommendations, and their high level plans are presented at the report out.

At the report out, company leaders listen to the working group’s thoughts and give feedback. Their response to the group’s work is crucial. With right speech, the report out is an effective mechanism for leaders to create a healthy innovation culture. When new behaviors and new thinking are praised, the culture of innovation moves toward the praise. In that way, the desired culture can be built IBE by IBE and new behaviors become everyday behaviors.

Innovation is a lot more than Innovation Burst Events, but they’re certainly a central element. After the report out, the IBE’s output (novel concepts) must be funneled into follow on projects which must be planned, staffed, and executed. And then, as the new concepts converge on commercialization, and the intellectual comes on line, the focus of the work migrates to the factory and the sales force.

The IBE is designed to break through the three most common innovation blockers – no time to do innovation; lack of knowledge of how do innovation (though that one’s often unsaid); and pie-in-the-sky, brainstorming innovation is a waste of time. To address the time issue, the IBE is short – just one day. To address the knowledge gap, the training is part of the event. And to address the pie-in-the-sky – at the end of the day there is tangible output, and that output is directly in line with the company’s growth objectives.

It’s emotionally challenging to do work that destroys your business model and obsoletes your best products, but that’s how it is with innovation. But for motivation, think about this – if your business model is going away, it’s best if you make it go away, rather than your competition.  But your competition does end up changing the game and taking your business, I know how they’ll do it – with Innovation Burst Events.

Image credit – Pascal Bovet

Bookmark and Share

Your value proposition is dying.

old man and childYour value proposition is aging and will soon die. No matter your value proposition, this is truth – no value proposition has ever made it out alive.

Your value proposition – what you deliver, the goodness you provide – is what has made you what you are, and that’s why you center your existence on its principles and that’s why it’s sticky. And that’s also why it’s too sticky. Your successful value proposition makes you feel good so you cling to it all costs. And when it’s on life support, when it can no longer breathe on its own, you grasp more desperately for its long past goodness. And when it’s flat-lined you hysterically grab for the paddles to shock it back to life. This is unskillful, but it’s how it goes.

Value propositions are impermanent – they’re born, they grown, they die. It’s best to recognize this truth and work within the impermanence. When a successful value proposition is almost through adolescence and is thinking of heading off to college, that’s the time to bring another one to life. You may be looking forward to being an empty nester, but that works with kids, not with value propositions.

Value propositions have a long gestation period, and you never really know how they’ll turn out until they mature, or they don’t. You may think you have a good idea how they’ll turn out when they get to kindergarten, but life is uncertain, and you don’t really know how things will go. You can’t predict; you can only decide to try, or not. But there’s hope.

There are several important lenses to squint through to improve your odds, but, before that there’s one rule to live by – all infant value propositions must be disruptive. If you’re going to invest all that time and energy, the payoff must be worth the effort – think diapers of disruption.

The lens of cost of entry. To distrupt, look to radically reduce the cost of entry. If you make capital equipment, come up with a way to provide value without the capital purchase. It could be financing terms, renting, leasing, power by the hour. It could be smaller, lower cost machines that do the job, but lets the customer buy smaller chunks of capacity. It could be new technology that radically reduces cost. Or, it could be my favorite – eliminating functionality and features so the product does less and costs a whole lot less. Or, figure out some non-traditional yet powerful blockers of entry and make them go away.

The lens of user decisions. This is a big one. Eliminate all the adjustments on your so you can sell your product to people who, today, don’t have the technical savvy to run them. Eliminate all words from your product, which will let you sell them to folks that cannot read your language. Design your product with a green light and a red light, and when the red light is on, your product emails someone letting them know the failure mode and also automatically reorders the replacement parts. Add sensors to your product so it reconfigures itself so the user gets more value.

The lean lens. If you make big machines that create batching, right-size them. Look at your customer’s value stream and try to change your product to eliminate their processes with the longest cycle time. (These processes should be unfamiliar to you and should drive unfamiliar technology work.) Or, offer a new service to help them eliminate a problem supplier. Or provide them process data or information that helps them be more productive. Or, change how you make the product or how you stock/ship it to help your customer reduce inventory and respond faster.

Constrain the inputs. Reduce by 90% the required inputs to your product and reinvent it. The best example is electrical power. Give your engineers a radically lower power budget and tell them to provide as much goodness as possible. The result will be less goodness and a whole lot less power consumption. This could allow you to sell products to people with poor utilities (developing world) or help companies reduce their carbon footprint. (Isn’t that a nice value proposition these days.)

Make it more portable. If your product weighs tons, think pounds; if it weighs pounds, think ounces. If its size is measured in meters, think millimeters; if millimeters, think micrometers. The key here is to strip out functions and goodness so you can make it portable. Give ground on the crusty value proposition to sprout a new one.

These are just a few of the lenses, and you should use your deep knowledge and context to come up with the right ones for you. Here’s a neat exercise – ask your sales people how they’d sell your product without using your existing value proposition, then reimagine the product so they can sell it that way.

Your existing value proposition isn’t bad – it pays the bills and it’s what got you here, and, it’s what pays for creating the next generation of value propositions. What’s unskillful is thinking it will last forever.

Now is the only time you can shape your future. It’s time to disrupt yourself.

Bookmark and Share

What’s your innovation intention?

behind the maskIf you want to run a brainstorming session to generate a long list of ideas, I’m out. Brainstorming takes the edge off, rounds off the interesting corners and rubs off any texture. If you want me to go away for a while and come back with an idea that can dismantle our business model, I’m in.

If you can use words to explain it, don’t bother – anything worth its salt can’t be explained with PowerPoint. If you need to make a prototype so others can understand, you’ve got my attention.

If you have to ask my permission before you test out an idea that could really make a difference, I don’t want you on my team. If you show me a pile of rubble that was your experiment and explain how, if it actually worked, it could change the game, I’ll run air cover, break the rules, and jump in front of the bullets so you can run your next experiments, whatever they are.

If you load me up to with so many projects I can’t do several I want, you’ll get fewer of yours. If you give me some discretion and a little slack to use it, you’ll get magic.

If, before the first iteration is even drawn up, you ask me how much it will cost, I will tell you what you want to hear. If, after it’s running in the lab and we agree you’ll launch it if I build it, I won’t stop working until it meets your cost target.

If there’s total agreement it’s a great idea, it’s not a great idea, and I’m out. If the idea is squashed because it threatens our largest, most profitable business, I’m in going to make it happen before our competitors do.

If twice you tell me no, yet don’t give me a good reason, I’ll try twice as hard to make a functional prototype and show your boss.

To do innovation, real no-kidding innovation, requires a different mindset both to do the in-the-trenches work and to lead it. Innovation isn’t about following the process and fitting in, it’s about following your instincts and letting it hang out. It’s about connecting the un-connectable using the most divergent thinking.  And contrary to belief, it’s not in-the-head work, it’s a full body adventure.

Innovation isn’t about the mainstream, it’s about the fringes. And it’s the same for the people that do the work.  But to be clear, it’s not what it may look like at the surface. It’s not divergence for divergence’s sake and it’s not wasting time by investigating the unjustified and the unreasonable. It’s about unique people generating value in unique ways. And at the core it’s all guided by their deep intention to build a resilient, lasting business.

image credit: Chris Martin.

Bookmark and Share

Starting starts with starting.

lightning in handIf you haven’t done it before and you want to start, you have only one option – to start.

Much as there’s a huge difference between lightning and lightning bug, there’s a world of difference between starting and talking about starting. Where talking about starting flutters aimlessly flower to flower, starting jolts trees from the ground; fries all the appliances in your house; and leaves a smoldering crater in its wake. And where it’s easy to pick a lightning bug out of the grass and hold it in your hand, it’s far more difficult to grab lightning and wrestle it into submission.

Words to live by: When in mid conversation you realize you’re talking about starting – Stop talking and start starting. Some examples:

Instead of talking about starting a community of peers, send a meeting request to people you respect. Keep the group small for now, but set the agenda, hold the meeting, and set up the next one. You’re off and running. You started.

Replace your talk of growing a culture of trust with actions to demonstrate trust. Take active responsibility for the group’s new work that did not go as planned (aka – failure) so they feel safe to do more new work. Words don’t grow trust, only actions do.

Displace your words of building a culture of innovation with deeds that demonstrate caring. When someone does a nice job or goes out of their way to help, send words of praise in an email their boss – and copy them, of course. Down the road, when you want help with innovation you’ll get it because you cared enough to recognize good work. Ten emails equal twenty benefactors for your future innovation effort. Swap your talk of creating alignment with a meeting to thank the group for their special effort. But keep the meeting to two agenda items – 1. Thank you. 2. Pizza.

When it comes to starting, start small. When you can’t start because you don’t have permission, reduce size/scope until you do, and start. When you’re afraid to start, create a safe-to-fail experiment, and start. When no one asks you to start, that’s the most important time – build the minimum viable prototype you always wanted to build. Don’t ask – build. And if you’re afraid to start even the smallest thing because you think you may get fired – start anyway. Any company that fires you for taking initiative will be out of business soon enough. You might as well start.

Talk is cheap and actions are priceless. And if you never start a two year project you’re always two years away. Start starting.

Image credit – Vail Marston

Bookmark and Share

Are you doing innovation?

Bizarro SupermanIf you’re not thinking differently, you’re thinking the same. And if you’re thinking the same, you’re going to get the same. Same may feel safe, and at some level it is. But when sameness festers into staleness, too much of a good thing isn’t wonderful.

In our fast moving Bizzaro World, safe is dangerous; repeatable is out and remarkable is in; improving what is is displaced by creating what isn’t; more capacity is outlawed and new capability is the only way; growing existing markets is wasteful because it gets in the way of creating new ones.

Ask your company leaders if they’re doing innovation, and the answer is yes. It’s a loaded question, and nothing good can come of it. “No, we don’t do innovation.” is a career-limiting response. Here are two better questions: What are you doing that’s different? What are you doing differently? These questions are effective because they require answers that are relative – relative to what you used to do. And because innovation starts with different, these questions are a good start.

Our assembly process is different and we increased productivity 0.3%; our product design is different and we made it stronger by 2.1%; our customer service tools are different and we decrease waiting time by 1.7%; our plastics are different and we reduced product cost by 0.6%. The difference is clear, but it didn’t really make a difference. Innovation starts with different, but all different isn’t created equal. Instead of shades of gray, think binary, think black to white, think no to yes.

Here are some better questions:

  • Have we stopped distracting ourselves by focusing on growth of our biggest markets?
  • Did we change the value proposition with our new product?
  • Have we increased sales people in the undeveloped markets at the expense of sales people in our biggest markets?
  • Do our new technologies change the argument?
  • Are we working on the new products that will obsolete our most profitable product?
  • Does the new product do less of anything so it can do more of something else?
  • Are we working on the technologies so we can sell into Africa?
  • Are we hiring experts in mobile technology?
  • How about experts in data science?

There’s no hard and fast definition of what makes for the right no-to-yes thinking but their telltale sign is their wake of oblique problems. If your organization doesn’t know how to do something, then it could be an indication of powerful no-to-yes behavior. For example, if your translations group doesn’t know how to translate into a new language requested by sales, it could be because a new region of the world is now important. If your sales managers want to use a new search firm because your longstanding one can’t find the right new candidates, it may be because your new product demands a new flavor of sales people. If your compensation structure doesn’t let you make an acceptable offer to an engineer you really need, it could be because you need to hire for new specialties from different industries with radically different compensation norms.

“Are you doing innovation?”, as a question, is not skillful.  Instead, do the work so you must sell where you haven’t sold; use materials you’ve never used; use technologies you’ve never heard of; hire people you never had to hire; and create problems related to new geographies and new languages.  And when someone asks “Are you doing innovation?”, tell them you used to, but you’ve found something better.

Image credit – JD HANCOCK PHOTOS

Bookmark and Share

Orchids and Innovation – Blooms from the Same Stem

orchid prideInnovation is like growing orchids – both require a complex balance of environmental factors, both take seasoned green thumbs to sprout anything worth talking about, what worked last time has no bearing on this time, and they demand caring and love.

A beautiful orchid is a result of something, and so is innovation. It all starts with the right seeds, but which variety? Which color? With orchids, there are 21,950 – 26,049 species found in 880 genera and with innovation there are far more options. So which one and why? Well, it depends.

It’s no small feat to grow orchids or innovate:

To propagate orchids from seed, you must work in sterile conditions. The seeds must be grown in a gelatinous substance that contains nutrients and growth hormones. You must also be very patient. It takes months for the first leaves to develop, and, even then, they will only be visible with a magnifying glass. Roots appear even later. It will be at least three, and possibly as many as eight years before you see a bloom. — http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/growing-orchids/5072.html

[This is one of the best operational definitions of innovation I’ve ever seen.]

But there’s another way:

It is far easier to propagate orchids by division. But remember that dividing a plant means forsaking blooms for at least a year. Also, the larger the orchid plant, the more flowers it will produce. Small divisions take many years to mature. — http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/growing-orchids/5072.html

So do you grow from seed or propagate by division? It depends. There are strengths and weaknesses of both methods, so which best practice is best? Neither – with orchids and innovation no practices are best, even the ones described in the best books.

If you’ve been successful growing other flowers, you’re success is in the way and must be unlearned. Orchids aren’t flowers, they’re orchids. And if you’ve been successful with lean and Six Sigma, you’ve got a culture that will not let innovation take seed. Your mindset is wrong and you’ve got to actively dismantle the hothouse you’ve built – there’s no other way. Orchids and innovation require the right growing climate – the right soil, the right temperature, the right humidity, the right amount of light, and caring. Almost the right trowel, almost the right pot, and almost the right mindset and orchids and innovation refuse to flower.

And at the start the right recipe is unknown, yet the plants and the projects are highly sensitive to imperfect conditions. The approach is straightforward – start a lot of seeds, start a lot of propagation experiments, and start a lot of projects. But in all cases, make them small. (Orchids do better in small pots.)

Good instincts are needed for the best orchids to come to be, and these instincts can be developed only one way –  by growing orchids. Some people’s instincts are to sing to their orchids and some play them classical music, and they’re happy to do it. They’re convinced it makes for better and fuller blooms and who’s to say if it matters? With orchids, if you think it matters, the orchids think it matters, so it matters. And let’s not kid ourselves – innovation is no different.

With orchids and innovation, mindset, instincts, and love matter, maybe more than anything else. And for that, there are no best practices.

Image credit — lecercle.

 

Bookmark and Share

Innovating from a Woman’s Perspective

A woman's perspectiveInnovation is about selling different products and services to different customers. Different means growth because you’re not yet selling the different products and you’re not yet selling to the different customers.

If you can learn to see your customers differently, you’ll create new products that are different; and if you can learn to see your products and services differently, you’ll create new customers that are different.

Innovation is all about connecting the unconnected, and that’s what’s behind the push for diversity within innovation teams. A diverse group brings more things to connect and more perspectives to see connections.

And it’s best to innovate where there’s little to no competition. If you’re the only one developing new products for those new customers or your the only one creating a whole new community of customers, you’ll be more successful – your products have only to compete with products that don’t exist.

In almost every industry and market there’s a huge community of new customers just waiting for products and services that fit them – women. Women have ever more say over family finances, ever more buying power and, thankfully, ever more influence over our society. If you want to sell new and different products, you should learn how to innovate for women.

I’m not talking about the 1950’s-like worldview where men innovate and sell new dish detergent and vacuum cleaners to women. I’m talking about all products and all markets. What does a cordless drill look like when it’s designed for women? I don’t know because I’m a man. (The only thing I do know is it’s not the same old drill wrapped in pink. That’s just patronizing.

Plain and simple, women know best how to innovate for women.

The most important way to increase the diversity of your innovation teams is to add more women. Women can see unmet needs to which I, as a man, am blind. Women can connect things that I cannot. Women have an unique worldview that, as a man, I cannot fully appreciate.

If you really want a competitive advantage, replace some of your innovation leaders with women. And if you want to accelerate the transformation, your Chief Innovation Officer should be a woman.

There’s been a strong effort to teach STEAM/STEM to our girls and young women, and that’s good. But it’s time to create the climate where our girls and young women see themselves as the innovators of our future.

Image credit – Judepics.

Bookmark and Share
Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner