Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What makes a great neighborhood? Can this be a model for Innovation?

We have all experienced it, felt it, and seen it firsthand. Others around us have too. And when we don’t have a great neighborhoods we certainly feel that too. Perhaps we pass through quickly, or stay cooped up for safety sake or just retreat to more sanguine surrounding, be it couch, TV, book, or bed.

Great neighborhoods have common areas frequented by people with spirited purpose. Pool, library, garden, coffee shop , grocery store, or front yard – it really doesn’t matter. These purpose felt people have a feeling of opportunity and venture out in the world to make things happen. They have the confidence they can learn from or share with those around them. Eye contact isn’t at all strange in a great neighborhood. There is no fear. Safety and security are nigh thought of; there simply isn’t any need. A great neighborhood doesn’t operate at a base level, it has the luxury of having evolved to the higher order of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Those in trouble are spotted by caring neighbors who assemble to lend a hand.

Great neighborhoods are not locked in time. They don’t rest on their laurels. Though things mature, there is rebirth and trimming; the hedges and gardens don’t feel overgrown and unwelcome. People know which direction to go, there are sidewalks and signs. There are guidelines, rules to promote peaceful coexistence and harmony among a diverse range of people of varying ethnicity, age, income, and health. People are at all different stages of development and ability. The community recognizes this and even puts in sidewalks that are accessible to those bound to scooters, walkers and wheelchairs. People help people, nobody is hungry for very long and there is at least one person a bit “out there” to challenge our “old comfortable” ways of thinking. There is an absence of broken windows and graffiti. Neighbors in great neighborhoods keep up appearances but not artificially. It feels very authentic.

Great neighborhoods have high levels of trust and pull through challenging situations from weathering the storm to planning the annual block party. People in great neighborhoods naturally harness the wisdom of crowds and embrace diverse creative thinking.

There is a focus on delighting others, especially by those children less hardened by the world. Though you never count on it you often welcome seasonal changes by the handmade holiday card, the special basket of may flowers, or “boo” package that you receive from clandestine snickerers.

People are not afraid to frequent their front yards for those are where new contacts are made and old friendships refreshed. There is a healthy balance of privacy and transparency without upsetting surprises.

People in great neighborhoods don’t care about hierarchy. Everything is contextual. Everybody leads and everybody follows. The kid selling lemonade is the leader for the day, bringing delight to others.

Business leaders can learn something from the uncommon but familiar study of a great neighborhood. Our increasingly diverse, interdependent, global , and dynamic work environments demands that we too, operate like a great neighborhood, an Innovation Neighborhood. Ignore the neighborhood and you’re leaving much to chance, a prescription for broken window syndrome and ultimately broken innovation.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Getting your Innovation Hive to Thrive

It is well known that raccoons are curious creatures; they love to handle food and objects with their tiny sensitive hands. In fact, many raccoon traps are baited with shiny objects such as coins, or foil. It turns out that raccoons will relentlessly hang on to a shiny object and become trapped.

In business sometimes our pursuit of innovation is much the same. We become fascinated, even fixated on our shiny object du jour sometimes not letting it go when we should. Organizations that don’t manage their innovation portfolios can get caught up in pursuing fascinating dead ends while the even shinier objects of yesterday go un-resourced and languish in the realm of the ordinary.

It is critically important that companies put in place vetting processes that pass thru shiny objects worth pursing while putting on ice or killing those that don’t measure up. Not every pursuit has to be a sure thing, hence the portfolio management approach. That said, too many organizations get caught up in pursuing too much with too little. This is especially prevalent in the tech sector where there is no shortage of ideas. Unfortunately there is sometimes no shortage of paths pursued as well and resources are spread thin to the point of personnel exhaustion and marketing place infectiveness.

If more raccoons were caught with their hands on the shiny object, starving to death, and increasingly desperate then this terribly unproductive practice would cease. However, corporate leadership, boards, and the culture in high tech companies tends to favor the shiny paths for those are the ones that everybody sees as the big payoffs. We are able to perfectly recall the successes of the Googles, Facebooks, and Apples even thinking that we are emulating them. However, we all suffer from amnesia when it comes to the countless companies and initiatives that fail to measure up or fail altogether.

It turns out that there are better role models than raccoons, namely, bees. Bees are equally fascinated but not with shiny objects. Their fascination is with pollen, water, and great digs. Each morning worker bees wake up (I wonder if bees have an equivalent of snoring and dreaming?) and venture off in a direction in search of pollen, water, and potentially better nesting ground. This pursuit by scout bees is necessary to sustain life for the entire colony. When a venturing scout bee encounters a stash of pollen, water, or great nesting site, it returns to the hive and performs a waggle dance. The energy exuded in the waggle dance signals to the surrounding bees the value of the treasure found.

Turns out that bees may be smarter than some corporate leaders. All bees in the colony do not follow one waggle dancing bee. Bees place many bets, in essence, as a colony they manage a portfolio that pays off with relative values of water and nectar. Any scout bee returning to the nest can perform the waggle dance with excitement equal to the value of the treasure they found. This is a fully inclusive process; no scouts returning to the nest are discriminated against because they don’t carry a certain title, possess a certain number of years experience or have a direct relationship with the Queen.

We can learn much from bees and raccoons. While raccoons are agile and can even climb headfirst down trees, bees are able to hover, fly, and change direction immediately when the situation calls. Raccoons amid all their curiosity are creatures that serve their own selfish purpose. Bees are no such creature. Bees appear to work alone but are always working in a larger distributed team for a common purpose to keep the hive alive and thriving.

Whether you lead an organization or simply work with or for one, be a little more like a bee and less like a raccoon and your hive may soon thrive too.

IDEA: Have a discussion with your team to brainstorm how you can work together more like bees and less like raccoons. Discuss how your organization handle shiny objects and whether you have the equivalent of an innovation waggle dance.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sensors in the Ground - A Path to More Compelling Products and Services

Do companies really care about their customers anymore? I’m sure in early industrial age America, the immigrant shoe cobbler or baker knew their customers by name and probably their families as well. Amid all of the technological progress something has gone terribly wrong.

Increasingly in our modern global economy where goods are designed in one location, manufactured in another, sold in yet another, and serviced from still another we have created a fragmented and frustrating experience for customers and even the people in organizations striving to serve them.

And, for all of our process and technology and attentive people we are all simply doing too much to give a damn at a meaningful detailed level about the customer. Sometimes it simply isn’t profitable to do the “right” thing. Ask many call center reps that are goaled on time spent on each call. If they spend too much time on the phone they are dinged so they sometimes react by passing the “problem” back into the pool for another rep to overinvest time in. Still others solve the immediate problem, checking off the box, and failing to take into account larger initiatives that might benefit the customer and company alike.

Worse yet, are the horrid products and service experiences that simply cut themselves off from any meaningful feedback whether things go right or wrong. If it isn’t easy and natural to provide feedback then most people will not. Most people do not complain; they simply no longer use your product or service. If they are vocal they probably influence others to behave the same.

So, it is no surprise that when somebody really pays attention to the customer experience it sends a resounding reverberation throughout the industry. Take the Apple iPhone of the recent past - the new gold standard for the mobile experience. It is now “Game On” for the rest of the industry as others play catch up, reach for what’s next and organize to execute on a path more relevant to the customer.

Establishing Sensors in the Ground can give your company an easy unfair competitive advantage and also provide you with innovation insights. Much like a seismometer can measure and record moving tectonic plates, “Sensors in the Ground” is a metaphor for measuring and recording movements in customer satisfaction or stronger yet, delight. It is also useful for measuring and recording the lack of delight that could result in defection and churn. Sensors in the Ground can provide your company with customer feedback that can improve products and services and even lead to next generation breakthrough innovations. Having effective sensors in the ground increases the likelihood that you will win the battle for your customers’ hearts and minds.

Imagine a world where every customer interaction made the customer feel as though they have a listened to voice and that the company and brand they are interacting with gave a damn.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Design Trends in an era of Less Junk and Increased Customer Delight.

We are rapidly entering an era of Less Junk and Increased Customer Delight.

The single biggest trend I see impacting design is the increased focus on the complete user experience. Whether it is hardware, software, or a pure service, a compelling experience is going to matter more and more in an increasingly social networked, mobility connected, time impoverished world.

We consumers of products and services simply will not tolerate products and services that waste our valuable time and provide a poor experience. We will tell our friends about them, often from the point of experience on our smartphones and other connected devices. On a related note, feedback would be more prevalent if companies had sensors in the ground to capture valuable customer feedback AND if the mechanisms to provide said feedback were not part of the user experience problem – efforts to visit a website on a smartphone to provide feedback to a company is too daunting save for the most diligent, persistent, handheld user.

Guilt by proximity is another trend that will impact poor design. It won’t matter where the software driver resides or who wrote it, the product experience that relies upon it had better work flawlessly. If it does not, then everything in the product experience chain will be blamed. One only need look at people that depart from the Microsoft platform for the greener pastures of a more controlled Mac ecosystem to understand the lack of tolerance for open systems that don’t play well together. Perpetual churn on mobile devices and with mobile network operators is no different. Airlines, automobiles, TV, supermarkets, etc. are all suffering the same, mostly invisible fate.

Soon (I hope) poorly designed product experiences will not move and the marketplace penalties for shipping junk and providing poor experiences will be even more hard felt by companies that continue to do so.

The increasing connection to customers is another emerging trend. People will use your product in ways that you did not anticipate and demand it interact with other products and in situations you didn't think of. Better get connected to your customers. Feedback is everything.

Product Innovators and Marketers that can get the sensors in the ground and stay connected to customers and what matters to them will earn their firms great returns. Companies that lack this customer connection and experience focus will stagnant and go away.

ID firms, agencies and other innovation centers that help firms to stay connected to customers will also do well in the new era of Less Junk and Increased Customer Delight.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Measures for Innovation in the era of Customer Delight and Less Junk

If Innovation is so important then why don't businesses pay more attention to getting it right. Afterall, the landfills are full of junk that people discarded long before those products reached their end of useful life. There are plenty of unwanted or underused services to go around as well.

So, why does this happen? Great question. I liken it to happiness. People know what happiness is by comparison to other things that make them happy but there isn't great and widespread understanding of what happiness actually means let alone how to achieve and maintain it. Imagine having a happiness scorecard for your personal life.

Okay now back to the business world. Like happiness, the word innovation is overused and not well understood especially when businesses and technology have evolved past the current management and business performance measurement systems. Sure we can crank out the financials and show investors the annual report but what about the balance sheet of innovation? What does that look like? How often is it refreshed? How well are the measures integrated across the organization? What about customer, partner, and culture measures?

In the "Information Right Now" age, bad products don't stand much of a chance. Customers in a connected world have access to reviews, peers, family, and trusted advisors to steer them toward products that delight. Also, it is more common than not today that no one company provides the customer the entire experience. There is a complex web interwoven between interdependent companies that all share in the spoils when a customer is delighted. This will increasingly be the case as companies focus on what is core and critical and partner with others in the ecosystem that do the same. If there were not already enought market pressures to force better innovation practices then the environmental impact could be one to take notice of as well. Think of your future customers' landfill quota and hope that your junk doesn't add to it.

We need new thinking in our innovation practices. It is time for better measures for things that have traditionally been accepted as invisible, ignored, or taken for granted.

See also my related blog post in June Innovation Checklist – 10 Questions for a 15 minute checkup that recommended having an innovation scorecard.

Here are a few internal and external measure that come to mind for that innovation scorecard.

Internal measures
Purpose Alignment
Process Alignment
Discipline in Execution
Results Measurement
Exception Processing
Culture Engagement

External measures
Customer Delight
Channel Performance
Ecosystem Relevance


Internal measures
Purpose Alignment
Portfolio management of innovative ideas. Show stage of ideas/businesses and rank according to current potential and current risk.

Process Alignment
Every employee should be on boarded, trained and well versed in how ideas mature and flow within the company. This is a binary measure at an individual level and at an org level a percentage complete.

Discipline in Execution
Evidence that the Vetting process has stopped some ideas from maturing. If you pass everything through your net is too narrow or you lack discipline. If you pass nothing you may have a left brain right brain conflict. Better if there is a hook to pass them through at an appropriate time e.g. upon a certain qualifying event. Over time this metric is balanced against execution gaps and resource mix.

Measure Resource Mix
Build, buy, partner to maximize stakeholders, leverage, skills, and capacity. Not all ideas come from inside your building(s). Measure should be a discrete number and stage and performance of relationship.

Execution Gaps
Are there any? Are they persistent? Track gaps by innovation area. Persistent gaps reduce the probability of success.

Results Measurement
Removal from market product or services that failed to delight (this could lead to course correction through early failure). Measure failures v. failures that led to further innovation. Capture and socialize learnings with other and future teams.

Exception Processing
The number of times somebody in the company approached the Innovation Ombudsman. What? You don’t have an Innovation Ombudsman. How serious can you possibly be. Funny thing is companies have safety officers and the like but lack a goto person for all matters innovation.

Measure whether the requisite levels of investment internally and externally for launch of new products is in place for products and services to ensure flight. If there isn’t a holistic plan that employs contributions from multiple disciplines/perspectives (wisdom of crowds) that is backed by real functional underpinnings then you score lower.

Culture Engagement
A metric to cover internal authentic dialogue on all matters innovation or lack thereof. Give people a scoring system to rate communications and meeting effectiveness. Low – that was a waste of time, distracting noise. High – that furthered our collective cause or captured useful information from a potential customer, etc.

Make visible the worldwide strategic operating plan appropriately messaged to all levels of the company. This is binary “yes/no” available to personnel by department with a percentage to indicate people that have read it.

External measures
Customer Delight
Measure or Evidence of customer delight on new products or services (similar to Net Promoter Score) – compare to previous product or service experience.

Voice of the Customer
Evidence that voice of the customer and other market research was/is factored into the product development and launch considerations.

Win / Loss Reports
Evidence that win/loss data is factored back into product and business development. Multiplier score for losses that impact future wins.

Financial Performance
Revenue generation from new products and services.

Channel Performance
Measure for strategic fit, state of readiness, and results. Results are comprised ideally of customer exposure, conversion, and retention.

Ecosystem Relevance
Evidence of successful interdependencies with others in the ecosystem that complete the compelling customer experience. Measure by level of “experience integration” complete and engagement stage.

Evangelism Index
Track what others (analysts, media, etc.) are saying about your company, products, and services. Could be hostile, neutral, or friendly.

Macrogetitness - from "Macro Get It 'Ness"
Evidence that macro trends were factored into the development and launch of the product or service.


New thinking needs to start with dialogue about meaningful measures. New tools and processes to measure innovation progress will evolve to eventually catch up. Although to make that right there is an inherent dependency upon innovation. This might take a while; no wonder this hasn't been done effectively before! See related quote "Sometime you have to slow down in order to speed up" on Business of Innovation Quotes I Like Very Much .

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rule of 16 - Thinking versus Doing

Smart and creative groups of individuals will generate ideas 16 times as fast as they can even organize to execute on them, let alone actually execute on them.

Or put differently...

Your ambitions will always exceed your ability to execute given the available level of resources.

Innovation pass thru rates varies greatly by firm, type of business, business maturity, competitive situation, size of business, resources available, and absorptive capacity of the organization.

If you lack disciplined execution and are not delivering results then perhaps you have “passed through” too many innovations without putting the functional underpinnings in place to realize those innovations.

Simply put, it is easier to think of stuff, than it is to actually do the stuff required to make it real. As the business moves further into the execution space as opposed to the idea space there are fewer and fewer concepts that can be worked on given the available level of resources. At some point all resources are already assigned to previous “passed through” innovations. Sure, you could hire more people but somebody has to onboard these people and well, you never stopped innovating, correct. The filter keeps getting chock full of more ideas. Take any person or group temporarily out the “doing” mode and have them brainstorm new stuff and you are sure to come up with even more concepts.

Successful serial intrapreneurs/entrepreneurs realize over time that they get many more ideas than they even attempt to execute on. Established innovation engines in businesses of all sizes should be no different. After all, they are still made up of people, process, and technology and don't have any special exlusions to reality based execution.

The best businesses have extreme discipline in this translation from the idea space to the execution space. One best practice to emulate is being more ambidextrous, treating “next curve” innovation separately than extensions of products/services on “this curve”. That way you get the best disciplined execution for both worlds.

If you think you might be trying to break the Rule of 16 you might get a reality check by reading Innovation Checklist - 10 Questions for a 15 minute Checkup

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Reasonable Investor Test

This is the notion that you should be able to justify your actions e.g. spend, decision, execution path, etc. to a collection of 16 reasonably minded investors. This is meant to be a self test by somebody about to make a decision, spend money, etc. in a company that is funded by investors (public or private). This is important given the fact that the person closest and most sensitive to the investor (CEO, CFO, or Investor Relations) is not able to be present in an organization at all levels and at all times to safeguard decision quality.

The Reasonable Investor Test was coined for the group of people that I worked with at my software company where I often challenged potential abuses from staff and leadership at all levels of the company that unchecked would fail this test. As I explained to my colleagues, imagine yourself presenting your decision to a collection of 16 investors that politely assembled to hear your story. If you can look them in the eye and justify the decision or expenditure then it passes the test. If you would not be willing to do this then you probably should not make the decision or take the action you are considering.

Hmmm, I wonder where we’d all be if Enron and other hosts to corporate scandals had a reasonable investor test?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Innovation Should Not be Left to Chance

I originally wrote this feature article and published it in the Spring 2001 issue of the American Electronics Association newsline. I am sharing it here...

Ask yourself, “How does my organization rate on achieving innovation? When and how do we talk about innovation?”
It will come as no surprise that certain activities, practices, and people are conducive to innovation while others act as anchors in the sand. Imagine all the individuals in your company serving your organization’s purposes. The challenge for leadership is to create an environment that fosters innovation.
We’re in the Information Overload age. Everyone in your organization is afflicted by information assault. How can you work together like a well-oiled machine when you haven’t discussed what the machine looks and acts like? This is exactly my point in writing this article. Use it as a tool to have some authentic dialogue with your team.
Innovation Framework is structure upon which to turn opportunities into desired outcomes. It involves a formal process as well as a nebulous social contract. Your Innovation Framework helps generate a binding social fabric that is woven among all of the individuals in your company so your firm can innovate reliably and successfully.
What follows are four fundamentals to explore in creating or reviewing the Innovative Framework within your organization.

Innovation requires Shared Knowledge
Human nature dictates that most people do not thrive on chaos or uncertainty. Thus, it is essential that individuals have opportunity to gain understanding. What are the desired features in the new product? What is the new business process to be adopted and why? A previous mentor of mine, and CEO of a Fortune 500 company, believed that employees needed to be informed in excess of 50 times on major initiatives. These weren’t stupid people, incapable of comprehension; they were people living in a state of Information Overload.
Because learning is often a slow iterative process, individuals must have the opportunity for re-exposure through repeated messaging and visual communications. Great visuals can reinforce innovation. Examples of reinforcing visuals include “Clearly expected deliverables” and “Milestone accomplished”. “Product attributes v. timing” worksheets are also useful for detailing product innovations and painting the big picture. Might as well provide a visible view to your innovation portfolio; chances are you have various products and services at different stages of maturity. But this is more valuable when people share the same view and can have dialogue about how to realize it or improve it. While shared knowledge is a necessary component of your innovation framework, it alone is not sufficient.

The challenge for leadership is to create an environment that fosters innovation.

Organizational Attitude can Make or Break Innovation
The attitude of the leader(s) permeates the culture within an organization. What messages are being sent from your leadership and what attitude does the social fabric within your organization reinforce? Individual attitudes of employees can retard or propel innovation. A popular motivational poster captures the essence, “Attitudes are contagious, is yours worth catching?”
Worth exploring is your organization’s attitude toward employees suggesting new products and services. Do you have an environment in which employees are comfortable making suggestions? Does your organization listen well, prioritize well? Or, does it embrace each individual idea to the point of including it in the current offering? Great ideas often come at the wrong time, serve as a distraction for the time being, and are not captured for later recall.
When the social fabric within an organization and leader are in alignment, individuals take notice – the boss is talking the talk and walking the walk. This is a bandwagon that is easy to get on and when an organization has such believers the stage is set for innovation.

Innovation Requires Action
It is not sufficient that individuals have knowledge and promising attitudes if they are not moved to action. Some individuals will be self guided, sharing the vision; others will require some help. Leaders should encourage an environment of reviewing and recognizing individual contributions that are aligned with the desired outcome. This practice alone helps to motivate individuals to move from thought to action. This also imprints that nebulous social fabric at play within the organization – individuals step up to the plate as they realize that words alone are not an investment.
A great Innovation Framework allows individuals to personalize innovation. Give a stakeholder the freedom to question, influence and suggest. Create individual measurements and deliverables that are meaningful and you have afforded individuals the opportunity for personal wins. Persistent wins form individual habit, which transforms individuals from thought to action. When multiple individuals have transformed from thought to action your Innovation Framework is beginning to foster innovation. At this point innovation will take on new life with the organization.

Innovative Organizations often start with Small Groups

Organizations do not become innovative upon command. Since individuals adopt innovation at different rates, individuals who have already moved from thought to action form an initial subgroup replete with a subculture. Members of this subculture seek comfort in their own company and naturally act to pull-in or influence individuals outside their “norm”.
A great Innovation Framework recognizes and makes use of these human dynamics by leveraging the influence of peers. Relentless focus of the subgroup on the desired outcome will help pull others into the group. Authentic dialogue concerning failures as well as success along the way will help to build trust. Peers have a way of affecting outliers that is unbeknownst to senior management. Incidentally, this is not unlike the peer effect v. parental effect on teens. In time, it comes as no surprise that outliers conform or self-select out of the process, joining other organizations in which they are more comfortable. Allowing the subgroup to recruit others into the organization is also paramount to speeding adoption and bolstering the Innovation Framework. In this way, Small Groups grow up into innovation organizations and the social fabric is woven even tighter among individuals.
Your Innovation Framework may be well defined or may be under construction. In either case, these four fundamentals should serve as discussion points among your team. Your Innovation Framework, just like product development is an iterative process. Begin with a prototype, and then define 1.0, building layers upon it as your needs and understanding evolve. Good luck innovating – there’s much to do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How to Avoid an Innovation Ship Wreck

Innovation as opposed to invention is a highly collaborative affair. An inventor can work in isolation, deep in the bowels of a lab. In contrast, innovation that is realized in the marketplace, as measured by delighted customers and revenue, necessarily involves many people in a highly collaborative and iterative process.

Though the innovation (concept to commercialization) process differs by organization, successful products and services launched today and in the future involve many people within and beyond the immediate organization. These people contribute relationships, knowledge, and experience.

The Relationship, Experience, Knowledge Distribution (REKD) diagram conveys this idea. You, denoted by the largest box, have a finite amount of relationships, experiences, and knowledge that is useful to realizing an innovation. The box to the right of “you” represents your colleagues, others in your organization. To be successful you need to partner with others in your organization. For example, if you are the lead inventor, you might need a product development team to build your widget. You will need marketing and executive sponsorship to carry it forward and get noticed in a crowded marketplace. Further ensuring your success, you will involve media, analysts, channel partners, customers, etc., all denoted by the bottom box since these people typically exist outside of and in spite of your company. Note, the relative sizes of the boxes may be different than shown depending on what each party brings to the table. It is likely that you are the tiny, tiny postage stamp inset box and with those around you bringing many more relationships and much more knowledge and experience.

To be successful in the marketplace it is essential that you tap into your colleagues as well as the ecosystem that lies outside of your organization. Swimming and Diving is a metaphor for shared learning and evangelism inside and outside of the organization.

Think of the realm of possibilities (all possibilities as the ocean). This is fitting since people often say things like there is an ocean of opportunities out there. Yeah - sure there is but what are you doing to realize those opportunities? Hopefully you are not trying to "boil the ocean." See, the metaphor continues to work... The ocean is deep and wide. All others exist in this vast space as well, customers, alliances, partners, investors, future employees, competitors, devices your product or service will interact with, etc.

Your challenge is swimming out of your immediate vicinity to others in your organization. You need to share with them your knowledge, experience, and relationships as well as make sure you are leveraging the same from them. Sometime this will be a surface activity; at other times this will be deep dive stuff. The metaphor continues to work. In the first case you have a swim partner, sometimes even synchronized swimming; whereas in the deep dive you’ll need a dive partner. This metaphor doesn’t stop at the boundaries of your organization. You will also need to swim and dive with suppliers, partners, customers, and others in the ecosystem to deliver compelling experiences around products and services.

Dive deeper for more knowledge and swim across to reach out to others in companies that can help you realize your innovations in the marketplace.
Good swimmers and divers find treasure, save isolated, endangered swimmers, and stay fit. Remember you can’t swim everywhere or you will fatigue - stay focused. Also, you can’t hold your breath for too long; even with a high capacity dive tank you’ll eventually need to surface. Swim and dive responsibility and help others to do the same. While you might not make the Olympic swim or dive team you may win in the marketplace and the hearts and minds of your customers, partners, investors, and colleagues.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Business of Innovation Quotes I Like Very Much

"Imagination works so quickly, quietly, and effectively that we are insufficiently skeptical of its products."

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard College Professor Psychology at Harvard University. Author, Stumbling on Happiness.


"No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution."

"And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly...."

"Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage."

Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian diplomat, political philospher, musician, poet, and playwright (1469-1527).


“It's not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference."
Paul William "Bear" Bryant, American college football coach best known as the longtime head coach of the University of Alabama football team (1913 – 1983).


"The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced, if the nation doesn't want to go bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."

"Don't get so set on your goal that you lose your humanity."

"We must not say every mistake is a foolish one."
Cicero Roman author, orator, & politician (106 BC - 43 BC).


"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors."
African proverb.


"As the births of living creatures are at first ill shapen,
so are all innovations, which are the births of time."

"Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable."
Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman, spy, Freemason and essayist (1561 – 1626).


“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood — and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.”

Daniel Hudson Burnham, American architect and urban planner (1846 – 1912).


"People go from denial to despair stage so quickly that they don't stop right in the middle and do something about it."
Al Gore, an Inconvenient Truth


"If you cannot do it inside the company - you cannot extend it beyond."

"If you could do it on your own - you would have done it by now."

"Sometime you have to let the monkeys drive."

"Sometimes you have to slow down, in order to speed up."

"Words alone are not an investment."

"Our ambitions will always exceed our ability to execute given the available level of resources."

"The world is finite; we become larger."
Greg J. Olson, writer, thinker, entrepreneur, business catalyst, doer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Innovation Checklist – 10 Questions for a 15 minute checkup

  1. Have you mapped your IP portfolio to your business strategy and direction?
  2. What does your brand say about your ability to deliver innovation?
  3. What are the conversations that you are not having?
  4. What is the collaboration model between marketing and engineering in your organization?
  5. Who is empowered to say NO or NOT YET?
  6. Are you managing your innovation portfolio like a Venture Capitalist?
  7. What is your vetting process for new lines of business, products, and programs?
  8. Are you delivering experiences or merely products and services?
  9. Do new ideas compete for resources with established businesses?
  10. Do you have an innovation scorecard?

AND probably the most important question of all... Do all of your personnel answer these questions that same? How about senior management? Is there consistency between thought at the top and action in the execution level trenches?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Back to Basics – Getting Businesses to Flourish

Ingredients Required - 3 funnels, delight, and a bit of cash

Ok – you’re a senior executive, perhaps a student or maybe an eyes wide open entrepreneur. Perhaps you’re an investor that hit a 100 banger in your portfolio and you now know everything. Whatever the case, you have some business that you’re involved in and your looking to take it to another level. Here is a simplified way to look at your business and an exercise to get others engaged in a meaningful discussion about getting the business to flourish.

BOLD Statement #1. Business always has and always will be about 1) Satisfying customers better than the competition in the long run and 2) not running out of cash in the short run. If you can do those 2 basic things, you will have a business that continues to operate. An operating, perhaps barely sputtering along business is not why we are in business. That is not very satisfying. We all want to make a bigger impact that the sputter along business. Add 3 basic funnels to the model and you have a recipe that allows to diagnose potential sputter spots and identify areas of breakthrough performance. You don’t need a team of MBAs or business consultants to do this for you. Whatever team you have at your disposal is quite capable given the model and a healthy dose of authentic dialogue and commitment to excellence in execution.

Funnel 1 – Exposure

The exposure funnel is all about exposing prospective customers to your product or service. Creating awareness, generating demand, etc. You have barriers in doing this, least of all budget and human resources e.g. you simply cannot talk to everybody on the planet nor do you have enough advertising budget to reach everybody, everywhere. There are other barriers as well and you must have a strategy and credible plan to overcome those barriers.

Funnel 2 - Conversion

Conversion is more than turning prospective customers into customers. Getting money from customers is necessary but not sufficient. You want to make sure that your customers are actually using your product or consuming your service. You have barriers in doing this. You must also have a strategy to overcome those barriers.

Funnel 3 - Retention

Retention is oft overlooked but equally critical to your long term success. Retention is about retaining customers for the long term. Happy repeat customers that refer you to other prospective customers and whom return to buy or consume your next offering. Note: exposure become less expensive when you are exposing customers whom you already retain. Again you have barriers to retention which again require you have strategies to overcome.


There you have it – a model for your business today or even a business that you’ve yet to start or invest in. Now with the model in hand you are able to ask basic questions of yourself and other stakeholders. Ignore one of these funnels and unless your business is really really, lucky, your business will sputter or worse. Pay attention to the funnels, thinking critically about the barriers to each, then crafting and implanting strategies to overcome those barriers, will reward your business. For example, say you have no problem with exposure, many prospective customers are exposed and a healthy percentage of these prospects purchase, becoming customers. Returns and complaints are low, you don’t seem to be gaining any customer testimonials or suggestions for improvement. Is there a problem? Uh – yeah dummy. Chances are your customers have purchased but they have not fully adopted the product. If they are not actually using the product you will not receive product feedback and customer testimonials. Your ability to improve your products and services will diminish. Worse, these customers are unlikely to refer you to other customers OR purchase future products and services from your business.

A Fortune 50 software giant was expanding its technology platform in attempt to sell related server software into large enterprise accounts. Account executives and technical teams were successful with customers in getting pilot projects started based upon this technology platform. Many of the customers completed the pilots and even purchased the requisite server software. Things looked great on the surface. However, when personnel in other parts of the organization became involved in trying to gain customer testimonials or develop case studies, problems emerged. It turns out that much of the software purchased was never deployed; projects were abandoned at the proof of concept stage. Answers received from customers varied but all had the same basic message, “We never deployed that software”. Weird huh, people buying software that they never deployed. WHY? It turns out that the account executives were compensated at the point the pilot completed and the server software was purchased. They simply moved on to the next opportunity, checking out of the process leaving the delicate handholding and account management details up to the technical personnel, partners, and customer. Without the glue to pull it together it was left to chance. Further complicating matters was the fact that partners that would be necessary for deployment were different than the partners and personnel involved in the proof of concept pilot. Deployment stage partners never even had the opportunities on their radar. They didn’t have a chance to be successful. Luckily, smart people in the software giant saw what was going on and set out to make some changes.

Here is what we did...
We put programs in programs in place to track the progress of pilot projects all the way to deployment. We changed the compensation structure, providing an incentive for account managers to stick around and become the point person in the account for all time not just up until the sale. We also rearchitected the CRM system so that the workflow reinforced the business objectives. We put programs in place and funded them to ensure that partners were brought in at the appropriate stages and that there were clearly defined handoffs between complimentary partners, all facilitated by the account team lead by the account executive.

The software giant looks like one company in the eyes of the customer, revenues are up, numerous case studies have been developed to give the company more credibility in the enterprise space. Account executive productivity and retention have increased. Partner satisfaction and productivity are also up. All good stuff and it wasn’t too hard once we were looking at the right stuff and having relevant conversations.

Exercise - Give your senior management team a blank piece of paper and ask them how the business works. Tape these to the wall and relate the drawings to the model outlined here with the 3 funnels. Have some dialogue about what barriers are impeding your ability to expose, convert, and retain customers. Discuss strategies to overcome these barriers. Repeat the process at different levels of the company with cross functional teams. Put it all together in a framework, reinforce it with meaningful measures that your personnel can wrap their minds around. Have fun. Prosper.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Killing the Gilded Goose – Knowing when to Quit or …

So you have a team that's been working on the next big thing – this could be your golden goose, providing golden eggs for all stakeholders, for eternity. Sounds splendid. The opportunity is enormous. You've all drank the Kool-Aid and bought into the projections. "Things" have been developing. The technology is maturing. You have some early prototypes that prospective customers have seen; these customers have provided positive feedback. Your sales and biz dev people are wetting the appetites of past and prospective customers, and courting interested partners. Your CEO is pitching investors and other stakeholders.

Then BLAM - out of nowhere comes a competitor you didn’t see because YourCo was focused internally on maturing your baby. SO WHAT DO YOU DO? The ordinary organization will continue on doing the same things they were already doing albeit with increased nervousness, oft dampened spirits, and questions that go unanswered.

The Extraordinary organization will rally the troops, draw new battle plans (exuse the war analogies) and put in place new strategies and execution tactics. After all, the war theatre has now changed.

The Extraordinary organization knows it is time for Authentic Dialogue AND effective Leadership AND Followership.

Authentic Dialogue – get the right people to the table for discussion without hidden, personal agendas. This is open dialogue without the fear of reprisal. It is time for critical thinking, active listening and a shared purpose. Think Apollo 13 & saving astronauts. See related post – Saving Apollo 13 Astronauts and YourCo.

Leadership – this is the time for leadership to be informed, report progress and make the vision and execution path clear and credible. This is a time for positive, truthful, encouraging words, as well as CEO action that backs those words up. This is not a time for FAITH BASED EXECUTION.

Remember “Words Alone are not an Investment”

– this is the concept of the wood behind one arrow. When the CEO or other leadership charts the direction it is time to get in line and execute along the communicated path. No deviant paths, etc. If your path was better, you would have mentioned it in the Authentic Dialogue, correct? If you understand the new direction better than your colleagues, help them to get on board. Carry the message. Communicate the vision. Make it easier for others to adopt.

A wise board member once said "People don't dislike change - they dislike ambiguity"

YourCo might not be in this situation right now. But – if you have a broad enough innovation portfolio that is relevant to real customers, chances are you will light up the competition and you will face tough choices. So, when do you know it is time to kill the “golden goose” whose time has not yet come? When is it time to shift resources, direction, garner new alliances, sell out, acquire technology, etc.

Chances are you cannot answer this alone, nor can your CEO so you better get to the table and start talking.

IDEA! Have a mix of leading and lagging indicators coupled with operating mechanisms that tell you where YourCo is with respect to (wrt) the competition, the opportunity, etc.
Exercise: have some authentic dialogue around this with your team.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Innovation Rant #2 - Relevant Noise

We've all seen the ads. "More bars in more places." Clever visual representations of the reception bars disguised as sailboats, progressively taller buildings, etc. Here is the deal.

Advertising the power or clarity of your wireless network is yesterday's news. It isn't about the network anymore - that is a point of parity. Let's move beyond.

Imagine a world of advertising where customers of increasingly complex mobile device were actually told about new capabilities that they can do with their device and services. As a current customer, give me a reason to consume more of your products and services. As a prospective customer, show me some compelling and relevant use cases that convince me to switch to your device or services. In the words of Seth Godin – be Remarkable. More bars in more places, it’s the network. Give me a break. Who cares about this stuff.

A more relevant message might be.... "Phone - its not just for calling anymore." "Email a friend from the bus", "Send granny a photo", "Noisy scene, text instead", "Watch a movie", "Post to a Blog", "Play a game", "Make a Shopping List", "Buy Flowers", "Get Directions", "Get Lost".

Be different. Be courageous. Or at least be less Ordinary.

Innovation Rant #1 - Shape and Form

The purpose of this blog is to share my rants as it relates to innovation – these opinions were shaped and continue to be shaped by my experiences working with high tech companies including Boeing, Microvision, Microsoft, ALATRON, GT Development, Pioneer-Standard Electronics, Wesmar Marine Electronics, Precor, Quinton, Stairmaster, Mackie, Rane, Palm, Eaton, Itronix, Intel, Microchip, and numerous others.

I wish to have more dialogue and share some of my observations and ideas in hopes that those doers involved in innovation will glean insights and take away practical tools to solve problems, delight customers, and create fantastic returns for stakeholders. Along the way may there be fewer products and services that excite few or fail to live up to their promise. Now.... on to greatness.