Tag Archives: innovation

Two Questions for your Next Team Meeting – Where are we missing it? Where are we hitting it?

…successful products and strategies are quickly copied. Without relentless innovation, success is fleeting. …there’s not one company in a hundred that has made innovation everyone’s job, every day. 
In most organizations, innovation still happens “despite the system” rather than because of it.
…innovation is the only sustainable strategy for creating long-term value.
Gary Hamel, What Matters Now:  How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation

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There is no debate…  it is an innovate or die era.  What worked yesterday will likely be surpassed by someone else’s product, or service, or process, tomorrow.  If you don’t make it better, someone else will.

Innovate, innovate, innovate.

But we are all so busy just doing our work that we don’t have time to think about doing it differently, better, in a new and more innovative way.

But if we don’t, we could be left behind.

Here are two questions to ask every week, in every meeting…actually, to ask almost every day.

Question #1 – Where are we missing it?

We are missing it.  I can assure you of that.  There is something we are doing, now, that isn’t quite right.  There is something that needs our attention, now.  What is that?  Identify it, tackle it, fix it.

Question #2 – Where are we hitting it?  Can we hit it even better? 

Be sure to applaud your best successes.  Celebrate them.  But then, go back to the game film, and ask, can we tweak this to make it even more amazing, more dominant?

Fixing what is wrong.  Making even better has is already quite good.

Innovate, innovate, tweak, fix, and innovate some more…

We’ve got our work cut out for us.

Take these two questions into your next team meeting, and the one after that, and the one after that…

Question #1 – Where are we missing it?
Question #2 – Where are we hitting it?  Can we hit it even better? 

Is It Tougher To Come Up With Ideas When You Work Alone? (A Few More Thoughts on Creativity & Innovation)

America seems to be suffering a decline in innovation advantage.

America seems to be experiencing an increase in the number of people who work alone.

Is it possible that these are connected?

I have read a lot of books on innovation.  And a few on creativity.  (Bob Morris, our blogging colleague, is good at reminding us of the difference between the two).  And I think about these subjects, creativity and innovation, a lot.

And, right now, on my reading list is the new book The Idea Factory, about the Bell Labs, and the new book by Jonah Lehrer, Imagine.  (Imagine is getting a lot of buzz, and I will present my synopsis of this book at the May First Friday Book Synopsis).

So, here’s my latest thought about our innovation deficit.  A lot of us are in a deficit position.  Why?  Because we work primarily alone.

I am an independent consultant.  Though Karl Krayer and I have hosted the First Friday Book Synopsis together for fourteen full years, we spend little actual time together.  We each office separately.  And though I work with other folks in a few different ways, I do most of my thinking and pondering alone.  My “coffee breaks” lead to little business interaction.  And yet, all of the new research seems to say a lot about the enormous value of the forced and not-so-forced interactions in idea factories of one kind or another.  Being together, rubbing elbows together, just talking in “unscheduled” run-ins, can lead to breakthrough thinking.

Why?  Here’s a quote from Imagine, which Bob Morris quoted in his review of the book:

“Sometimes a creative problem is so difficult that it requires people to connect their imaginations together; the answer arrives only if we collaborate. That’s because a group is not just a collection of individual talents. Instead, it is a chance for those talents to exceed themselves, to produce something greater than anyone thought possible.”

And don’t forget — “together” actually does require some time “together.”

The Bell Laboratories provide an example of a true idea factory. So too with Pixar, and Apple, and other entities that profit from smart and creative people being together.  And it is the sum of all of these many interactions, constantly occurring, that leads to breakthrough ideas.

And, yet, so many more people now work in “alone” settings.  The very people that, if they had more interactions, might produce more great ideas.

I “interact” virtually.  I read widely.  But I’m not sure it is the same as the company cafeteria and ping pong tables and simple coffee breaks…

What do we do about this?  I’m not sure.  But I think this is a problem worth our attention.

Continually Innovate, Or Else – Hinting At TED’s True Value

What do we mean when we say that every company, every organization, needs to continually innovate?

It means that every company and every organization needs to continually innovate!  Or, they will be left behind, and maybe even cease to exist.

There is no alternative.

This post is prompted by a question that I asked a good friend.  First, the background.  There is an article critical of the TED conference, written by Nathan Jurgenson.  (I read about it on Andrew Sullivan’s blog:  TED Talks: “The Urban Outfitters Of The Ideas World.  The full article, Against TED, is available at The New Inquiry here).

I am a big fan of TED; I have watched many of the videos, and shown them to my speech students.  I’m not sure that I buy Jurgenson’s criticism.  Here is one line from his article:

At TED, “everyone is Steve Jobs” and every idea is treated like an iPad.

Now, I own an iPad, I have presented a synopsis of the Isaacson Steve Jobs biography, I am a raving fan of the innovation of Apple, and I got to thinking…  Is it in fact “fair” to compare all companies and organizations to Apple?  Should we expect that level of innovation in all the rest of the world of business, and nonprofits?  In other words, does every company and every organization need to continually innovate?

Now, acknowledging the obvious, that genius like Steve Jobs’ genius is not available for purchase on the shelf at your local grocery store, let me say that yes, the quote is not that far off:  “At TED, “everyone is Steve Jobs” and every idea is treated like an iPad.”  And, that is what we should do with ideas.  We should keep looking for that next profitable, successful idea, and then the next one, and then the next next one.  It is the only path to innovation.  And if we do not continually innovate, we are in deep, deep trouble.

After reading the TED criticism, I called a friend of mine; an exceptional business consultant/coach.  You’ve seen his face on TV, representing a company that became more successful with his help.  My question went something like this:

“I know that companies that are directly impacted by technology have to keep innovating.  But, does every company have to continually innovate?  Aren’t there companies that simply provide a product of service, and basically they keep providing the same product or service.  Oh, sure, they will upgrade their software occasionally.  But, continually innovate?  Really?”

I wondered if this pressure to continually innovate just might not be so “necessary” in quite a few arenas.

Well, this is a smart man, and when he was through with me, I was fully whipped.  He told me of one client of his:  they provide a product that was basically put out of business by a previously unknown competitor who developed a cheaper, better way to provide the same product.  It had to do with what goes inside the “shell” of the product that they manufactured and sold.    So, this company had to adapt, quickly.  They had to modify what they put inside their own shell, find a new market for their product, and then churn out the product for less than they thought possible.  Their innovation saved their company – and quite a few jobs.  If they had failed to innovate, they would have had to close the doors.

I started thinking about other examples — example after example.  Just look around.  What restaurants did you used to eat at – and they are now shuttered?  (Does anyone else miss the Steak & Ale salad bar?)  What about hotels that you used to stay at?  Recently, my wife and I stayed at a three year old Holiday Inn.  It is nothing! like the Holiday Inns we stayed at early in our marriage (we married back in the dark ages, when there was no cable TV, not even a remote control, and tennis rackets were still made of wood.  I played with a Jack Kramer autograph).

Maybe the only path forward is to treat every new idea like an iPad – a breakthrough for this moment, but soon to be outdated by the new version.  Someone will come up with the new version.  It is better that you do this yourself.

No matter what your business, it really is a “you’d better learn how to continually innovate” world out there.  And here is the value of TED.  TED, if nothing else, keeps asking, “Since the world is going to keep changing, what are the ideas that will drive that change in the best direction?” 

Look at the TED logo — it is right there in the wording:  “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

And out of these presentations, and the many conversations that such a conference and on-line resource sparks, (and, of course, the many other conferences and conversations from other sources), we think about the future differently.  And so we ask, how can we do our job better?  How can we continually innovate?

Somebody is asking that question right now — someone who is itching to put some other company out of business.  Not because they are mean (though they may be); it is just that they want to build a profitable enterprise themselves.  They want the customers, and if that means taking them from you, then so be it.  And so somebody keeps looking for that next, better idea.

You’ll be smarter if you make that somebody “you.”

A Lesson on Innovation, and “Openness” – (from the Fall of the Soviet Union)

Here is an enlightening, simple look at the fall of the Soviet Union by Leslie Geib:  The Forgotten Cold War: 20 Years Later, Myths About U.S. Victory Persist.  The primary argument in the article is that the United States came out ahead in the contest due to the economic strength of the United States, and the economic weakness of the Soviet Union.  But, here is an especially revealing section of the article, from a former Soviet insider (from the later days of the Soviet Union).

“You know your country has military superiority over my country, and that your superiority is growing.”
“All modern military capability is based on economic innovation, technology, and economic strength,” he continued. “And military technology is based on computers. You are far, far ahead of us with computers.” Now waving his arms, “I will take you around this ministry and you will see that even many offices here don’t have computers. In your country, every little child has a computer from age 5.”
“We are so far behind because our political leadership is afraid of computers. The political leadership in my country sees the free use of computers as fatal to their control of information and their power. So, we are far behind you today, and will be more so tomorrow.”

And the lesson?  The company (organization, country) with the technological advantage, spread far and wide throughout the entire organization, is ahead in the contest.  So, to be behind, especially far behind, is genuinely deadly.

And, one price tag of such technological reach is that the people at the “top” lose control of some of (much of) the information.  The Soviet Union saw “the free use of computers as fatal to their control of information and their power,” as indeed it was.  But the further you spread the tools, the larger the circle of innovators can grow.

So, in other words, keep innovating, with all the technological tools you can afford (and, be sure you can afford the technologic tools), or be left far behind…

This Baffles Me: So Much Emphasis On Innovation, and Leadership – So Little Actual Innovation and Leadership

Consult any of the current works unlocking the mysteries of the leadership and management arts by revealing “7 miracles,” “12 simple secrets,” “13 fatal errors,” “14 powerful techniques,” “21 irrefutable laws,” “30 truths,” “101 biggest mistakes,” and “1001 ways.”
Chris Lowney, Heroic Leadership:  Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World

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Bob Morris introduced me to the phrase “The Knowing-Doing Gap.”  I think I already grasped the concept, but this named it really well.  We “know,” but we do not “do.”  The phrase is one that immediately resonates. We get it.  Yes, we “know” a lot, but we do not “do” all that we “know” – actually, we “do” so very little of what we “know.”

So, here is my current observation.  We read, we “learn” – but we do not do.

This is bothersome to me — worse than bothersome, it is costly.  I read books.  You might say that I read books for a living.  I read books, present synopses of books to companies, organizations.  I like my job.  I “learn” a lot.  But do I “do” what I learn?  Not enough – not often enough, and not comprehensively enough.  And, I suspect, the same is true for the groups to which I present my synopses.  They “learn” the key points from the books.  But do they “do” what they “learn?”  Not enough, and not comprehensively enough.

We are a nation awash in “learning.”  We go to seminars, read books…  But we implement nowhere near enough of the ideas that we “learn.”

My wife worked with a number of real estate agents.  Some good, some really good – a few, not so close to the “good” end of the scale.  But only a couple were really, really good – you know, “exceptional,” truly “above the crowd.”

Here is an observation about these agents.  Many of them went to the same seminars and workshops, even bought products from the same real estate marketing and coaching gurus.  But only a few (OK – really only one) had a knack for hearing something, and then actually doing – actually acting on what she “learned.”

Here are two areas where this problem is especially seen:  leadership, and innovation.  The quote above, from the book Heroic Leadership, has just lingered with me.  Chris Lowney described how there has been so very much written about leaderhip, and yet, as he observed, no one would claim that the United States, either in the business or the political arena, has a surplus of good leaders.  In fact, it is the opposite.  Great leadership is way too rare.  We have lots and lots of books and speeches and workshops on leadership.  But not that many great leaders.

And the same is true in the innovation area.  Consider this brief video on Slate.com.  Slate’s Jacob Weisberg interviewed Nathan Myhrvold:  Where Have All the Crazy Inventors Gone? — Tech visionary Nathan Myhrvold on why American innovation is lagging.  Here’s the intro to the interview:

America has always been known for its spirit of invention, but that spirit seems to be flagging.  Nathan Myhrvold, the onetime CTO of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures, handicaps the state of innovation in a sprawling interview he recently gave to Slate’s Jacob Weisberg.

In the interview, Myhrvold described how there used to be moreCrazy individual risk-taking…”

I have presented many, many synopses of books that deal with innovation.  We write about innovation, we study innovation, we talk about innovation, we applaud innovation.  And, yet, our “spirit of innovation seems to be flagging.”  How is that possible — with so much attention given to it?

I think this.  Closing this “knowng-doing gap” may be the biggest challenge we face.

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A side note, maybe illustrative of this problem.  Take a life inventory.  Do you have a challenge or two that you have known about for a long time (years – decades?) that you just can’t quite meet.  You know, things like your weight, or the need to exercise, or your tendency to be to abrupt with people.  I suspect, if you are like me, you have your very own, very personal “knowing-doing” gap.

Well, I am not what you called the organized type.  I have fought (ok – at times, simply ignored) clutter, and lack of personal organization, for years – make that decades.  I said to my wife just yesterday that my goal is to be organized by the time I turn 65.  (that’s not too terribly far away).  She has bemoaned my “knowing-doing” gap in this arena for a very long time.

Well, I ran across an e-book that is giving me a new set of tools for this challenge.  I read it to learn – not to present.  I need help!  Ask me in six months, and I‘ll let you know if it has helped any.

Here’s what struck me about this book – it is all about “do this.”  Not much “this is why.” Or, “this is the philosophy behind this.”  Just, “do this.”  It is not as “good” a book as other time management books that I’ve read. (He does refer to David Allen more than once).  But he skips giving much explanation, and just says “do this.”  The book, 30 Days to a More Organized Life, is by C G P Grey (Colin Grey).  I think it might be a collection of blog posts.  It has 30 chapters.  Here are some of the chapter titles:

Day 1:  Get a Notebook and Pen.
Day 6:  Scan Everything
Day 9:  The Rule of Two

Not much explanation.  No beating around the bush.  Just “do this.”  Each chapter tells you something to “do.”  I already “knew” practically all of this, but I did not “do” much of it.  I’m “doing” some of these.  And, it might be helping.

I suspect you have a few “knowing-doing gap” challenges of your own.  Let’s all get to the “doing” part.  It might be good for us all.

Second Life, Google+ and the Very Rough Road to Successful New (or Sort-Of-New) Endeavors

On Slate.com today, there is a post mortem on Second Life, and a pre-mortem on the “doomed” Google+.  The authors are the Heath Brothers (the Second Life piece: Why Second Life Failed), and Farhad Manjoo (the Google+ take down: Google+ Is Dead).  So, what do we learn?  (By the way, I am a big fan of both the Heath brothers and Farhad Manjoo).

Regarding Second Life, the Heath Brothers say that it is simply a product with no actual job to do.  And for a product to succeed, you need an actual job to do.

What job is it (Second Life) designed to do? Most successful innovations perform a clear duty. When we craved on-the-go access to our music collections, we hired the iPod. When we needed quick and effective searches, we hired Google. And looking ahead, it’s easy to see the job that Square will perform: giving people an easy, inexpensive way to collect money in the offline world.
But what “job” did Second Life perform? It was like a job candidate with a fascinating résumé—fluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze—but no actual labor skills.  

Regarding Google+, Manjoo says that it simply was not, and still is not, “cool” enough (my word).

by failing to offer people a reason to keep coming back to the site every day, Google+ made a bad first impression. And in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death.
…a social network needs a critical mass of people to be successful—the more people it attracts, the more people it attracts.
…Google+, by contrast, never managed to translate its initial surge into lasting enthusiasm. And for that reason, it’s surely doomed.

I don’t know a lot about the people behind Second Life, but, regarding Google+, it is safe to say that Google is a true behemoth.  But even Google can not guarantee success against another behemoth, one that people are happy with already (Facebook).

So, what are the lessons?  Here are a few:  a “cool” idea must still serve a purpose by doing a job that people want/need to be able to do.  And, it’s good to remember that to succeed with a new idea is always a tough assignment.  And, if you are truly one-of-a-kind, a less-than-stellar first impression might be survivable, but when you are competing against an established giant, a bad first impression is probably insurmountable.

These two examples fit in the overall history of innovation and “new, new things.”  Netscape gave us our first browser, but did not endure.  MySpace gave us our first “Facebook,” but has disappeared in the rear-view mirror.  Palm Pilot was a wonder, but my iPhone does everything my Palm Pilot did, only better, and without a stylus.  (No stylus! – Steve Jobs insisted).

{By the way, I still have my Palm Pilot.  Do you know what I do with it?  When I am utterly exhausted, too tired to read, but not quite ready to fall asleep, I pull it out and play Solitaire.   I connect with my iPhone, I play Solitaire on my Palm Pilot.  That pretty much says it all…}

The world would be worse off if the Google+ and the Second Life efforts had not been attempted.  We need a lot of new ideas, a lot of new products, a lot of “copycats,” to help us choose the best and lasting products that fill our lives.  Remember, when the automobile was ramping up, there were a lot of car company hopefuls.  Only the best survived.

But, once you “make it,” you’d better keep tweaking and making it even better.  Because, in a garage somewhere, someone is hard at work to put you out of business.