Archive for January, 2014

Decide To Tackle The Impossible

20140129-203655.jpgDoing the impossible doesn’t take a long time, starting does. More precisely, what takes a long time is getting ready to start.  Getting ready is the gating item.  So what’s in the way?

The big deal about starting is other people will see you do it and they’ll judge you.  Your brain tells stories about how people will think you’re silly or incompetent for trying the outrageous.  It takes a long time to build the courage to start. But where starting is scary, getting ready is safe and comfortable.  Getting ready is done in the head – it’s a private process.  And because you do it in your head, you can do it without being judged, and you can do it for as long as you like.  And you can take comfort in getting ready because you rationalize you’re advancing the ball with your thinking.  (Hey, at least you’re thinking about it.)  But the real reason for staying in the getting ready domain is starting the fear around being judged for starting.

After you finally mustered the courage to start, you’ll get welcomed with all sorts of well-intentioned, ill-informed criticism.  The first one – We tried that before, and it didn’t work.  Thing is, it was so long ago no one remembers what was actually tried.  Also, no one remembers how many approaches were tried, and even fewer know why it didn’t work.  But, everyone’s adamant it won’t work because it didn’t work.  Your response – That was a long time ago, and things have changed since then.  There are new technologies to try, new materials that may work, new experimental methods, and new analytical methods to inform the work.

Now that you dismissed the we-already-tried-that’s, the resource police will show up at your door.  They’ll say – That’s a huge project and it will consume all our resources.  You can’t do that.  Your response – Well, I’m not eating the whole enchilada, I only taking the right first bite. And for that, I don’t need any extra resources.  You see, my friends and I really want to do this and we pooled our resources and narrowly defined the first bite.  So, as far as resources, I’m all set.

Now the alignment officers will find you.  They’ll say – Your off-topic mission impossible will confuse and distract our organization and we can’t have that.  You know there’s no place for passion and excitement around here.  Can you imagine engineers running around doing things that could disrupt our decrepit business model? We’ll no longer have control, and we don’t like that.  Please stop.  Your response – Let’s set up a meeting with the CEO who’s on the hook to create new businesses, and you can deliver that message face-to-face.  You want me to set up the meeting?

Lastly, the don’t-rock-the-boaters will nip at your heels.  They’ll say – Things are going pretty well.  Did you hear we’re laying off fewer people this quarter?   And, we’re losing less money this quarter.  Things are looking up.  And here you are trying something new, and scaring everyone half to death. You’ve got to stop that nonsense.  Your response – Though it may be scary, I have a hunch this crazy stuff could create a whole new business and help secure the company’s future.  And I have kids going to college in a couple years, and the company’s future is important to me.

When doing the impossible, the technical part is the easy part.  Once you decide to try, what you thought impossible comes quickly. What’s difficult is the people part.  Doing the impossible is unpredictable, and it cuts across grain of our culture of predictability.  For years it’s been well defined projects with guaranteed profits and completion dates etched in stone.  And after years of predictability injections people become the antibodies that reject the very work the company needs – the work that delivers the impossible.

No kidding – once you start the impossible, your organization will make it difficult for you.  But, that’s nothing compared to the difficulty of getting ready because in that phase, you must overcome the most powerful, sly, dangerous critic of all – yourself.

Bridging The Chasm Between Technologists and Marketers

20140122-212144.jpgWhat’s a new market worth without a new technology to capture it? The same as a new technology without a new market – not much. Technology and market are a matched set, but not like peanut butter and jelly, (With enough milk, a peanut butter sandwich isn’t bad.) rather, more like H2 and O: whether it’s H2 without O or O without H2 – there’s no water. With technology and market, there’s no partial credit – there’s nothing without both.

You’d think with such a tight coupling, market and technology would be highly coordinated, but that’s not the case. There’s a deep organizational chasm between them. But worse, each has their own language, tools, and processes. Plain and simple, the two organizations don’t know how to talk to each other, and the result is the wrong technology for the right market (if you’re a marketer) or the right technology for the wrong market (if you’re a technologist.) Both ways, customers suffer and so do business results.

The biggest difference, however, is around customers. Where marketers pull, technologists push – can’t be more different than that. But neither is right, both are. There’s no sense arguing which is more important, which is right, or which worked better last time because you need both. No partial credit.

If you speak only French and have a meeting with someone who speaks only Portuguese, well, that’s like meeting between marketers and technologists. Both are busy as can be, and neither knows what the other is doing. There’s a huge need for translators – marketers that speak technologist and technologists that talk marketing. But how to develop them?

The first step is to develop a common understanding of why. Why do you want to develop the new market? Why hasn’t anyone been able to create the new market? Why can’t we develop a new technology to make it happen? It’s a good start when both sides have a common understanding of the whys.

To transcend the language barrier, don’t use words, use video. To help technologists understand unmet customer needs, show them a video of a real customer in action, a real customer with a real problem. No words, no sales pitch, just show the video. (Put your hand over your mouth if you have to.) Show them how the work is done, and straight away they’ll scurry to the lab and create the right new technologies to help you crack the new market. Technologists don’t believe marketers; technologists believe their own eyes, so let them.

To help marketers understand technology, don’t use words, use live demos. Technologists – set up a live demo to show what the technology can do. Put the marketer in front of the technology and let them drive, but you can’t tell them how to drive. You too must put your hand over your mouth. Let them understand it the way they want to understand it, the way a customer would understand it. They won’t use it the way you think they should, they’ll use it like a customer. Marketers don’t understand technology, they understand their own eyes, so let them.

And after the videos and the live demos, it’s time to agree on a customer surrogate. The customer surrogate usually takes the form of a fully defined test protocol and fully defined test results. And when done well, the surrogate generates test results that correlate with goodness needed to crack the new market. As the surrogate’s test results increase, so does goodness (as the customer defines it.) Instead of using words to agree on what the new technology must do, agreement is grounded in a well defined test protocol and a clear, repeatable set of test results. Everyone can use their eyes to watch the actual hardware being tested and see the actual test results. No words.

To close the loop and determine if everyone is on the same page, ask the marketers and technologist to co-create the marketing brochure for the new product. Since the brochure is written for the customer, it forces the team use plain language which can be understood by all. No marketing jargon or engineering speak – just plain language.

And now, with the marketing brochure written, it’s time to start creating the right new market and the right new technology.

Photo credit – TORLEY.

Breaching the Wall of Denial

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To do innovation, you’ve got to be all in, both physically and mentally.  And to be all in, you’ve got to bust through one of the most powerful forces on the planet – denial.

Denial exists because seeing things as they are is scary. Denial prevents you from seeing problems so you can protect yourself from things that are scary. But the dark consequence of its protection is you block yourself from doing new things, from doing innovation.  Because you deny the truth of how things are, you don’t acknowledge problems; and because you don’t admit there’s a problem, there’s no forcing function for doing the difficult work of innovation.

Problems threaten, but problems have power.  Effectively harnessed, problems can be powerful enough to bust through denial.  But before you can grab them by the mane, you have to be emotionally strong enough to see them.  You have to be ready to see them; you have to be in the right mindset to see them; and because your organization will try to tear you down when you point to a big problem, you have to have a high self worth to stand tall.

Starting an innovation project is the toughest part and most important part.  Starting is the most important because 100% of all innovations projects that don’t start, fail. Those aren’t good odds.  And because starting is so emotionally difficult, people with high self worth are vital.  Plain and simple: they’re strong enough to start.

Denial helps you stay in your comfort zone, but that’s precisely where you don’t want to be.  To change and grow you’ve got to breach the wall of denial, and climb out of your comfort zone.

The Parent of Learning

elbowHypothesis is a charged word – It has a scientific color; it smacks of sterility; it is thought to be done by academics; and it’s sometimes classified as special class of guessing. In thought and action, hypothesis is misunderstood.

We twist the word so it doesn’t apply in our situation; we label it to distance ourselves; we tag it with snarl connotations to protect ourselves. We do this because we’re afraid of the word’s power.

Replace hypothesis with “I think this will happen – [fill in the blank.]” and it’s clear why we’re afraid.  Hypothesis, as an activity, has the power to make it clear to everyone that you really don’t know what’s going on. Hypothesis demands you speculate based on your knowledge, and the fear is when you’re wrong (and you will be) people will think your knowledge (and you) is of a meager kind. Hypothesis demands you put yourself out there for the world to see. And that’s why it’s rarely done. And since it’s rarely done, its benefits are not understood.

Innovation is all the rage these days, and innovation is all about learning. And where necessity is the mother of invention, hypothesis is the father of learning. Hypothesis breeds learning by providing a comparison between what you thought would happen and what happened. The difference is a measure of your knowledge; and how the difference changes over time is a measure of your learning. If the difference widens over time, you’re getting cold; if it stays constant, you’re treading water; and if it converges, you’re learning.

Like a good parent, hypothesis knows which rules can be bent and which won’t be compromised. In the hypothesis household clarity and honesty are not optional – clarity around the problem at hand; clarity around how you’ll test and measure; and honesty around the limits of your knowledge.

Learning is important – no one can argue – and learning starts with a hypothesis. More strongly, learning is so important you should work through your fear around hypothesis and increase your learning rate.

Really, hypothesis isn’t the stern parent you think. Hypothesis will make time to teach you to ride your bike without training wheels, and be right there to bandage your skinned knees.

And, like a good parent, if you ask hypothesis for help, I think this will happen – [you’ll learn more and learn faster.]

Letting Go Of Last Year

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Last year is gone, and going forward things will be different.  Last year’s you is gone, and going forward you will be different.  That’s the thing – everything changes. Regardless if last year was enjoyable or terrible, no matter. This year will be different.  You can try to hold on to it, but all you’ll get is rope burns. Or, you can take comfort in the impermanence.

Your company is different; your competitors are different; your customers are different.  In fact, everything is different.  And what you did last year won’t get the same response today.  Yet we hold on.  It’s difficult to see things as they are when there’s so much comfort in seeing things as they were.  Even if things weren’t so good last year, there’s comfort in seeing things as they were.

Toughest of all is to see yourself as you are. (I’m not talking about the body stuff – older, grayer, more wrinkles – that’s easy to see.  I’m talking about the inside stuff.) On the inside, you are not what you were last year.  You don’t have to know how you are different; just take comfort that you are different. Take comfort that right here, right now, as you sit, you are different, and so is everything else.

It’s difficult to plan out how things will go this year; and it’s impossible to predict how you’ll grow. Things will change; you will change; and putting yourself in that frame of mind can be helpful.

At the New Year, take time to celebrate the upcoming impermanence that will surely find you.

Photo from free HDR Photos – www.freestock.ca

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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