Archive for October, 2014

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

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

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.

 

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.

Celebrating 5 Years of Writing

20141001-193440.jpgToday is a celebration.

I have written a blog post every Wednesday evening for the last five years. No guest blogs, no ghost writer, no repeat blogs, and no editor. Just me.

The main theme last year was around doing new. Though I used the word innovation too many times, I provided real examples and grounded observations on what to do and why. There are many tools, processes, and philosophies around innovation – too many to cover fully even over a year or two of blogs – but there are two things that apply to all of us.

Innovation is context specific. Whatever you do going forward is strongly shaped by what you did to make the present what it is. And because every company’s history is different, every company’s go-forward activities will be different. Yes, become knowledgeable about best practices, but use only the ones that fit and don’t use them as-is – twist them to match the curves of your company. Yes, understand what other companies have done, but don’t copy them.

Innovation is all about people. If you can get people to try new things, you’re well on your way. And to get them to try new things, figure out why they’re afraid and do the small things, the everyday things, that make is safe to try.

My goal for year six – another year of meaningful writing.

Thanks for reading.

Mike

Image credit – woodleywonderworks.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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