Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

Wrong Questions to Ask When Doing Technology Development

I know you’re trying to do something that has never been done before, but when will you be done? I don’t know.  We’ll run the next experiment then decide what to do next.  If it works, we’ll do more of that.  And if it doesn’t, we’ll do less of that. That’s all we know right now.

I know you’re trying to create something that is new to our industry, but how many will we sell? I don’t know. Initial interviews with customers made it clear that this is an important customer problem. So, we’re trying to figure out if the technology can provide a viable solution.  That’s all we know right now.

No one is asking for that obscure technology. Why are you wasting time working on that?  Well, the voice of the technology and the S-curve analyses suggest the technology wants to move in this direction, so we’re investing this solution space.  It might work and it might not.  That’s all we know right now.

Why aren’t you using best practices? If it hasn’t been done before, there can be no best practice.  We prefer to use good practice or emergent practice.

There doesn’t seem like there’s been much progress.  Why aren’t you running more experiments? We don’t know which experiments to run, so we’re taking some time to think about what to do next.

Will it work?  I don’t know.

That new technology may obsolete our most profitable product line.  Shouldn’t you stop work on that? No. If we don’t obsolete our best work, someone else will. Wouldn’t it be better if we did the obsoleting?

How many more people do you need to accelerate the technology development work? None.  Small teams are better.

Sure, it’s a cool technology, but how much will it cost?  We haven’t earned the right to think about the cost.  We’re still trying to make it work.

So, what’s your solution? We don’t know yet.  We’re still trying to formulate the customer problem.

You said you’d be done two months ago.  Why aren’t you done yet? I never said we’d be done two months ago. You asked me for a completion date and I could not tell you when we’d be done.  You didn’t like that answer so I suggested that you choose your favorite date and put that into your spreadsheet. We were never going to hit that date, and we didn’t.

We’ve got a tight timeline.  Why are you going home at 5:00? We’ve been working on this technology for the last two years.  This is a marathon.  We’re mentally exhausted.  See you tomorrow.

If you don’t work harder, we’ll get someone else to do the technology development work.  What do you think about that? You are confusing activity with progress.  We are doing the right analyses and the right thinking and we’re working hard.  But if you’d rather have someone else lead this work, so would I.

We need a patented solution.  Will your solution be patentable? I don’t know because we don’t yet have a solution. And when we do have a solution, we still won’t know because it takes a year or three for the Patent Office to make that decision.

So, you’re telling me this might not work?  Yes. That’s what I’m telling you.

So, you don’t know when you’ll be done with the technology work, you don’t know how much the technology will cost, you don’t know if it will be patentable, or who will buy it? That’s about right.

Image credit — Virtual EyeSee

When it’s Time to Make a Difference

 

When it’s time to make meaningful change, there’s no time for consensus.

When the worn path of success must be violated, use a small team.

When it’s time for new thinking, create an unreasonable deadline, and get out of the way.

The best people don’t want the credit, they want to be stretched just short of their breaking point.

When company leadership wants you to build consensus before moving forward, they don’t think the problem is all that important or they don’t trust you.

When it’s time to make unrealistic progress, it’s time for fierce decision making.

When there’s no time for consensus, people’s feelings will be hurt. But there’s no time for that either.

When you’re pissed off because there’s been no progress for three years, do it yourself.

When it’s time to make a difference, permission is not required. Make a difference.

The best people must be given the responsibility to use their judgment.

When it’s time to break the rules, break them.

When the wheels fall off, regardless of the consequences, put them back on.

When you turn no into yes and catch hell for violating protocol, you’re working for the wrong company.

When everyone else has failed, it’s time to use your discretion and do as you see fit.

When you ask the team to make rain and they balk, you didn’t build the right team.

When it’s important and everyone’s afraid of getting it wrong, do it yourself and give them the credit.

The best people crave ridiculous challenges.

When the work must be different, create an environment that demands the team acts differently.

When it’s time for magic, keep the scope tight and the timeline tighter.

When the situation is dire and you use your discretion, to hell with anyone who has a problem with it.

When it’s time to pull a rabbit out of the hat, you get to decide what gets done and your special team member gets to decide how to go about it.  Oh, and you also get to set an unreasonable time constraint.

When it’s important, to hell with efficiency.  All that matters is effectiveness.

The best people want you to push them to the limit.

When you think you might get fired for making a difference, why the hell would you want to work for a company like that?

When it’s time to disrespect the successful business model, it’s time to create harsh conditions that leave the team no alternative.

The best people want to live where they want to live and do impossible work.

Image credit — Bernard Spragg. Nz

What it Takes to Do New Work

 

What it takes to do new work.

 

Confidence to get it wrong and confidence to do it early and often.

Purposeful misuse of worst practices in a way that makes them the right practices.

Tolerance for not knowing what to do next and tolerance for those uncomfortable with that.

Certainty that they’ll ask for a hard completion date and certainty you won’t hit it.

Knowledge that the context is different and knowledge that everyone still wants to behave like it’s not.

Disdain for best practices.

Discomfort with success because it creates discomfort when it’s time for new work.

Certainty you’ll miss the mark and certainty you’ll laugh about it next week.

Trust in others’ bias to do what worked last time and trust that it’s a recipe for disaster.

Belief that successful business models have half-lives and belief that no one else does.

Trust that others will think nothing will come of the work and trust that they’re likely right.

Image credit — japanexpertna.se

Two Questions to Grow Your Business

Two important questions to help you grow your business:

  1. Is the problem worth solving?
  2. When do you want to learn it’s not worth solving?

No one in your company can tell you if the problem is worth solving, not even the CEO. Only the customer can tell you if the problem is worth solving. If potential customers don’t think they have the problem you want to solve, they won’t pay you if you solve it. And if potential customers do have the problem but it’s not that important, they won’t pay you enough to make your solution profitable.

A problem is worth solving only when customers are willing to pay more than the cost of your solution.

Solving a problem requires a good team and the time and money to run the project. Project teams can be large and projects can run for months or years. And projects require budgets to buy the necessary supplies, tools, and infrastructure. In short, solving problems is expensive business.

It’s pretty clear that it’s far more profitable to learn a problem is not worth solving BEFORE incurring the expense to solve it.  But, that’s not what we do.  In a ready-fire-aim way, we solve the problem of our choosing and try to sell the solution.

If there’s one thing to learn, it’s how to verify the customer is willing to pay for your solution before incurring the cost to create it.

Image credit — Milos Milosevic

The Five Hardships of Success

Everything has a half-life, but we don’t behave that way.  Especially when it comes to success.  The thinking goes – if it was successful last time, it will be successful next time.  So, do it again. And again.  It’s an efficient strategy – the heavy resources to bring it to life have already been spent. And it’s predictable – the same customers, the same value proposition, the same supply base, the same distribution channel, and the same technology. And it’s dangerous.

Success is successful right up until it isn’t. It will go away. But it will take time.  A successful product line won’t fall off the face of the earth overnight. It will deliver profits year-over-year and your company will come to expect them.  And your company will get hooked on the lifestyle enabled by those profits. And because of the addiction, when they start to drop off the company will do whatever it takes to convince itself all is well.  No need to change.  If anything, it’s time to double-down on the successful formula.

Here’s a rule: When your successful recipe no longer brings success, it’s not time to double-down.

Success’s decline will be slow, so you have time.  But creating a new recipe takes a long time, so it’s time to declare that the decline has already started. And it’s time to learn how to start work on the new recipe.

Hardship 1 – Allocate resources differently. The whole company wants to spend resources on the same old recipes, even when told not to.  It’s time to create a funding stream that’s independent of the normal yearly planning cycle.  Simply put, the people at the top have to reallocate a part of the operating budget to projects that will create the next successful platform.

Hardship 2 – Work differently. The company is used to polishing the old products and they don’t know how to create new ones. You need to hire someone who can partner with outside companies (likely startups), build internal teams with a healthy disrespect for previous success, create mechanisms to support those teams and teach them how to work in domains of high uncertainty.

Hardship 3 – See value differently. How do you provide value today? How will you provide value when you can’t do it that way? What is your business model? Are you sure that’s your business model? Which elements of your business model are immature? Are you sure? What is the next logical evolution of how you go about your business? Hire someone to help you answer those questions and create projects to bring the solutions to life.

Hardship 4 – Measure differently. When there’s no customer, no technology and no product, there’s no revenue.  You’ve got to learn how to measure the value of the work (and the progress) with something other than revenue.  Good luck with that.

Hardship 5 – Compensate differently. People that create something from nothing want different compensation than people that do continuous improvement. And you want to move quickly, violate the status quo, push through constraints and create whole new markets. Figure out the compensation schemes that give them what they want and helps them deliver what you want.

This work is hard, but it’s not impossible. But your company doesn’t have all the pieces to make it happen.  Don’t be afraid to look outside your company for help and partnership.

Image credit — Insider Monkey

Uncertainty Isn’t All Bad

If you think you understand what your customers want, you don’t.

If you’re developing a new product for new customers, you know less.

If you’re developing a new technology for a new product for new customers, you know even less.

If you think you know how much growth a new product will deliver, you don’t.

If that new product will serve new customers, you know less.

If that new product will require a new technology, you know even less.

If you have to choose between project A and B, you’ll choose the one that’s most like what you did last time.

If project A will change the game and B will grow sales by 5%, you’ll play the game you played last time.

If project A and B will serve new customers, you’ll change one of them to serve existing customers and do that one.

If you think you know how the market will respond to a new product, it won’t make much of a difference.

If you don’t know how the market will respond, you may be onto something.

If you don’t know which market the product will serve, there’s a chance to create a whole new one.

If you know how the market will respond, do something else.

When we have a choice between certainty and upside, the choice is certain.

When we choose certainty over upside, we forget that the up-starts will choose differently.

When we have a lot to lose, we chose certainty.

And once it’s lost, we start over and choose uncertainty.

Image credit — Alexandra E Rust

 

Companies, Acquisitions, Startups, and Hurricanes

If you run a company, the most important thing you can control is how you allocate your resources. You can’t control how the people in your company will respond to input, but you can choose the projects they work on.  You can’t control which features and functions your customers will like, but you can choose which features and functions become part of the next product. And you can’t control if a new technology will work, but you can choose the design space to investigate.  The open question – How to choose in a way that increases your probability of success?

If you want to buy a company, the most important thing you can control is how you allocate your resources. In this case, the resources are your hard-earned money and your choice is which company to buy. The open question – How to choose in a way that increases your probability of success?

If you want to invest in a startup company, the most important thing you can control is how you allocate your resources. This case is the same as the previous one – your money is the resource and the company you choose defines how you allocate your resources. This one is a little different in that the uncertainty is greater, but so is the potential reward. Again, the same open question – How to choose in a way that increases your probability of success?

Taking a step back, the three scenarios can be generalized into a category called a “system.”  And the question becomes – how to understand the system in a way that improves resource allocation and increases your probability of success?

These people systems aren’t predictable in an if-A-then-B way. But they do have personalities or dispositions. They’ve got characteristics similar to hurricanes. A hurricane’s exact path cannot be forecasted, the meteorologist can use history and environmental conditions to broadly define regions where the probability of danger is higher.  The meteorologist continually monitors the current state of the hurricane (the system as it is) and tracks its position over time to get an idea of its trajectory (a system’s momentum). The key to understanding where the hurricane could go next: where it is right now (current state), how it got there (how it has behaved over time), and how have other hurricanes tracked under similar conditions (its disposition).  And it’s the same for systems.

To improve your understanding of how your system may respond, understand it as it is.  Define the elements and how those elements interact.  Then, work backward in time to understand previous generations of the system.  Which elements were improved? Which ones were added? Then, like the meteorologist, start at the system’s genesis and move forward to the present to understand its path.  Use the knowledge of its path and the knowledge of systems (it’s important to be the one that improves the immature elements of the system and systems follow S-curves until the S-curve flattens) to broadly define regions where the probability of success is higher.

These methods won’t guarantee success.  But, they will help you choose projects, choose acquisitions, choose technologies, and choose startups in a way that increases your probability of success.

Image credit — Alexander Gerst

Disruption – the work that makes the best things obsolete.

I think the word “disruption” doesn’t help us do the right work. Instead, I use “innovation.” But that word has also lost much of its usefulness. There are different flavors of innovation and the flavor that maps to disruption is the flavor that makes things obsolete. This flavor of new work doesn’t improve things, it displaces them. So, when you see “innovation” in my posts, think “work that makes the best things obsolete.”

Doing work that makes the best things obsolete requires new behavior. Here’s a post that gives some tips to help make it easy for new behaviors to come to be. Within the blog post, there is a link to a short podcast that’s worth a listen. One Good Way to Change Behavior

And here’s a follow-on post about what gets in the way of new behavior.  What’s in the way?

It’s difficult to define “disruption.” Instead of explaining what disruption is or isn’t, I like to use “no-to-yes.” Don’t improve the system by 3%, instead use no-to-yes to make the improved system do something the existing system cannot. Battle Success With No-to-Yes

Instead of “disruption” I like “compete with no one.” To compete with no one, you’ve got to make your services so fundamentally good that your competition doesn’t stand a chance.  Compete With No One

Disruption, as a word, is not actionable. But here’s what is actionable: Choose to solve new problems. Choose to solve problems that will make today’s processes and outcomes worthless. Before you solve a problem ask yourself “Will the solution displace what we have today?” Innovation In Three Words

Here’s a nice operational definition of how to do disruption – Obsolete your best work.

And if you’re not yet out of gas, here are some posts that describe what gets in the way of new behavior and how to create the right causes and conditions for new behaviors to emerge.

Make it Easy

The Most Powerful Question

Creating the Causes and Conditions for New Behavior to Grow

Seeing What Isn’t There

The only thing predictable about innovation is its unpredictability.

For innovation to flow, drive out fear.

Image credit — Thomas Wensing

The Difficulty of Commercializing New Concepts

If you have the data that says the market for the new concept is big enough, you waited too long.

If you require the data that verifies the market is big enough before pursuing new concepts, you’ll never pursue them.

If you’re afraid to trust the judgement of your best technologists, you’ll never build the traction needed to launch new concepts.

If you will sell the new concept to the same old customers, don’t bother. You already sold them all the important new concepts. The returns have already diminished.

If you must sell the new concept to new customers, it could create a whole new business for you.

If you ask your successful business units to create and commercialize new concepts, they’ll launch what they did last time and declare it a new concept.

If you leave it to your successful business units to decide if it’s right to commercialize a new concept created by someone else, they won’t.

If a new concept is so significant that it will dwarf the most successful business unit, the most successful business unit will scuttle it.

If the new concept is so significant it warrants a whole new business unit, you won’t make the investment because the sales of the yet-to-be-launched concept are yet to be realized.

If you can’t justify the investment to commercialize a new concept because there are no sales of the yet-to-be-launched concept, you don’t understand that sales come only after you launch. But, you’re not alone.

If a new concept makes perfect sense, you would have commercialized it years ago.

If the new concept isn’t ridiculed by the Status Quo, do something else.

If the new concept hasn’t failed three times, it’s not a worthwhile concept.

If you think the new concept will be used as you intend, think again.

If you’re sure a new concept will be a flop, you shouldn’t be. Same goes for the ones you’re sure will be successful.

If you’re afraid to trust your judgement, you aren’t the right person to commercialize new concepts.

And if you’re not willing to put your reputation on the line, let someone else commercialize the new concept.

Image credit – Melissa O’Donohue

Transcending a Culture of Continuous Improvement

We’ve been too successful with continuous improvement. Year-on-year, we’ve improved productivity and costs.  We’ve improved on our existing products, making them slightly better and adding features.

Our recipe for success is the same as last year plus three percent. And because the customers liked the old one, they’ll like the new one just a bit more. And the sales can sell the new one because its sold the same way as the old one.  And the people that buy the new one are the same people that bought the old one.

Continuous improvement is a tried-and-true approach that has generated the profits and made us successful. And everyone knows how to do it.  Start with the old one and make it a little better. Do what you did last time (and what you did the time before). The trouble is that continuous improvement runs out of gas at some point. Each year it gets harder to squeeze out a little more and each year the return on investment diminishes. And at some point, the same old improvements don’t come. And if they do, customers don’t care because the product was already better than good enough.

But a bigger problem is that the company forgets to do innovative work. Though there’s recognition it’s time to do something different, the organization doesn’t have the muscles to pull it off. At every turn, the organization will revert to what it did last time.

It’s no small feat to inject new work into a company that has been successful with continuous improvement.  A company gets hooked on the predictable results of continuous which grows into an unnatural aversion to all things different.

To start turning the innovation flywheel, many things must change. To start, a team is created and separated from the continuously improving core.  Metrics are changed, leadership is changed and the projects are changed. In short, the people, processes, and tools must be built to deal with the inherent uncertainty that comes with new work.

Where continuous improvement is about the predictability of improving what is, innovation is about the uncertainty of creating what is yet to be. And the best way I know to battle uncertainty is to become a learning organization.  And the best way to start that journey is to create formal learning objectives.

Define what you want to learn but make sure you’re not trying to learn the same old things. Learn how to create new value  for customers; learn how to deliver that value to new customers; learn how to deliver that new value in new ways (new business models.)

If you’re learning the same old things in the same old way, you’re not doing innovation.

Innovation Truths

If it’s not different, it can’t be innovation.

With innovation, ideas are the easy part. The hard part is creating the engine that delivers novel value to customers.

The first goal of an innovation project is to earn the right to do the second hardest thing. Do the hardest thing first.

Innovation is 50% customer, 50% technology and 75% business model.

If you know how it will turn out, it’s not innovation.

Don’t invest in a functional prototype until customers have placed orders for the sell-able product.

If you don’t know how the customer will benefit from your innovation, you don’t know anything.

If your innovation work doesn’t threaten the status quo, you’re doing it wrong.

Innovation moves at the speed of people.

If you know when you’ll be finished, you’re not doing innovation.

With innovation, the product isn’t your offering. Your offering is the business model.

If you’re focused on best practices, you’re not doing innovation. Innovation is about doing things for the first time.

If you think you know what the customer wants, you don’t.

Doing innovation within a successful company is seven times hard than doing it in a startup.

If you’re certain, it’s not innovation.

With innovation, ideas and prototypes are cheap, but building the commercialization engine is ultra-expensive.

If no one will buy it, do something else.

Technical roadblocks can be solved, but customer/market roadblocks can be insurmountable.

The first thing to do is learn if people will buy your innovation.

With innovation, customers know what they don’t want only after you show them your offering.

With innovation, if you’re not scared to death you’re not trying hard enough.

The biggest deterrent to innovation is success.

Image credit — Sherman Geronimo-Tan

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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