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A leading innovation and marketing blog from Braden Kelley of Business Strategy Innovation

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Think "Out of Four Walls"

I had coffee with a clever marketing consultant last week and one of the topics we discussed was the impact of location on a group's ability to innovate. At the time we spoke about getting people to think in new ways by getting people to think in new places. That is to say that if you always meet in the same places to try and be creative as a team, don't you ultimately get the same types of thinking? In other words, do you hit a creativity plateau by meeting in the same places all the time? I believe we ended up agreeing that this is the case.

That of course is part of the reason that companies have off-sites, but I would argue further that the "same places" includes the typical locations for off-sites. I would argue that if you are trying to get people to think differently that you have to take people to an unusual, unexpected location. I would argue that you announce one location for the meeting that you have no intention of going to, get everybody to assemble there, and then go somewhere else. What this achieves is that in the time leading up to the meeting people start preparing mentally for what to expect and how things will go, but then when they show up and you announce you are going somewhere else, you will generate buzz and excitement, the walls of expectation will come tumbling down and you will get people to begin thinking in a different way than they were prepared to think.

That is only half the battle though. My next recommendation would be to pre-arrange for people to bring portable seating with them or bring it for everyone yourself. Then if you are trying to get new thinking, get radical but relevant. For the approach I am to suggest, you must keep the groups small, tailored to the venue you select (you don't want to be asked to leave, or at least not too quickly).

For example, salespeople for BestBuy who are trying to figure out how to do things differently might go meet in an auto dealership, or a Nordstrom's, or a 7-eleven. Find a place out of the way and start your meeting. If asked to leave, have your meeting on the sidewalk outside or in the parking lot (going back inside as needed). The site you choose should be related to your business but not directly related - notice Circuit City was not an example.

The site could also however be related to your topic. A meeting to talk about how to better understand what customers want could be held at a busy intersection with stop lights in case you wanted to ask real people what they think. Just please make sure to be careful and not get yourself run over when trying to ask people questions(stay on the sidewalk).

If you meet at someone else's business, please try to choose a slow time of day and stay off to the side and out of the way. If you're looking for more "natural" thinking, then meeting in the woods, by a river, or on a hill can also be good. Regardless of where you choose to meet, just be sure to debrief at the site, or literally just outside your own building before returning to work.

If you try this approach to uncovering new thinking I think you will be pleasantly surprised, and I would love it if you send in your stories and photographs of different unusual places you meet and what the topic for the meeting was. I look forward to seeing your "Out of Four Walls" thinking!


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Possible Strategic Innovation in Tobacco?

Do you truly know how your customers want to consume your product?

Cigarettes are of course typically sold by the pack or by the carton. These have been the standards for a long time, and you start to take for granted that these are the only way to purchase them.

But, lo and behold I was in 7-eleven the other day and a woman in front of me ordered a single cigarette. The price for the convenience of buying an individually-wrapped generic cigarette in either regular, menthol, or light? - $1.00 + tax

At first this seemed rather unusual and then I started to remember being somewhere like the Philippines and seeing enterprising individuals selling single cigarettes in their shops or on the streets. Not being a smoker, I hadn't seen this in the United States before and my recent experience got me thinking about two things:

  1. Why aren't the major labels going after this niche?
  2. Why are some customers willing to pay the equivalent of $20 per pack buying cigarettes one at a time when they can buy a pack of 20 cigarettes for $5?

I have no idea why the customer only had generic choices at 7-eleven and no branded choices like Marlboro, Kool, etc. Maybe the market is too small for the major cigaretter manufacturers to be interested, but if market size alone is the reason that there are no branded options, then that is a mistake.

The decision by the majors on whether to sell individually-packaged branded cigarettes should be based on why customers are choosing to purchase single cigarettes. If the reason is that people trying to quit don't want a whole pack around because they would smoke them all, then the majors probably don't need to be in this market.

But, if the reason is that customers, particularly younger customers don't always have money for a whole pack, then the majors should be there. And, if people want to buy a single cigarette for any reason other than trying to quit, then any brand trying to increase their current position should be in this market, subsidizing it down to zero cost if necessary and promoting it at point of purchase. If customers are buying them for a reason other than quitting then it opens up the opportunity for trial and possibly brand switching.

With zero personal interest in promoting tobacco, I won't be doing this research, but I still am curious what the main reason for single cigarette purchases might be. What do you think it is?


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Friday, August 24, 2007

New Telecommunications and Gaming Developments

I came across the following articles on Engadget and thought they serve as a foil to the recent Unnovation Award winner:

Telecommunications - Plantronics' Calisto Pro makes telecommuting fun

Gaming - Sony's PlayTV turns your PS3 into a TV tuner / DVR, plus VoIP on PSP

And finally, another article on Engadget hypothesizes that worldwide sales of the Nintendo's Wii (mainly due to strength in Japan) will soon surpass that of the XBox360. This is further validation that Nintendo's strategic innovation of being "good enough" on the value dimension of graphics quality and exceeding expectations on value dimensions such as interactive play and casual gaming have proven to be a better strategy than competing on the traditional value dimensions of graphics power and extendability like PS3 and XBox360.


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Unnovation Award (Inaugural)

Usually I like to talk about great things that I've seen different places, but occasionally a company does something so nonsensical that it deserves special mention.

For this purpose I've decided to create my own word in the English language. Here is the word and the definition:

Unnovation (n)- The opposite of innovation.

To go with the word, I've created an award that I will bestow upon a deserving winner from time to time called the Unnovation Award. The winner will have done something that violates common sense and the tenets that innovators hold dear. I hope this award will be rarely given.

The winner of the inaugural Unnovation Award is...
Drumroll please...

Motorola for releasing the Motorola HS850 Bluetooth Headset with a charger with a different device connection than that of any Motorola mobile phone I've ever seen (including my Razr). So now I have to carry two chargers in my laptop bag, instead of the logical one that you would expect from a company that designed both products to work together.

Congratulations Motorola!


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Monday, August 20, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking Laptop

As technology advances and people's demands for ever-thinner, ever-lighter laptops increase, more and more the thickness of a laptop is beginning to be determined by what ports it has. What are manufacturer's to do?

Well, the first thing they did was to introduce docking stations and mini-docking stations. Not a very elegant solution for mobile uses. What we need now are new standards for the biggest offenders - the biggest ports (Ethernet, VGA, and Phone). We need the industry titans to come together and give us new standards. Apple created a smaller Firewire connection and a smaller video connector, but given that all projectors out their use a VGA connection, they are not as handy as having a standard VGA port built-in. Without the commitment of all the players involved in connecting devices, these ports will hang around another twenty years.

Apple is apparently looking at an interesting interim step - collapsible ports, but what we really need are smaller, more useful connection points. Even better would be magnetic connections like Apple's laptop power connections.

With the delivery of cooler processors, a laptop of fewer chips, better batteries, flash memory instead of hard drives, and smaller connections, the industry would reach the next level of portable value. Chiropractors better step up their marketing, the laptop shoulder may soon be a thing of the past. :-)


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Why Seattle Needs Double-Decker Buses

Traffic is a problem for drivers and bus riders alike. When traffic gets bad, it gets even worse for buses downtown. Here is why:

Transit agencies, in their quest to put more capacity on popular routes, have added long "bendy" buses to their fleets. The problem is that these buses require twice the available space before an intersection to be able to move from one block to another. They also have more difficulty changing lanes and negotiating corners than standard buses. During periods of heavy traffic this often results in "bendy" buses being unable to move to the next block for more than one light cycle, backing up traffic behind them and delaying other, shorter buses that might have fit into the smaller space in front of them. The answer?

Seattle and other communities should take a second look at double-decker buses for popular routes that traverse the city center or look to banish "bendy" buses from downtown routes altogether. Double-decker buses are only slightly taller than most standard buses, have a smaller footprint than bendy buses, and give riders a nice view of the city. Oh yeah, and keep the WiFi coming, people love their WiFi on the buses. :-)


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Unlocking the Inner Child for Innovation

In the quest to unlock innovation in organizations, it may be beneficial or even mandatory to learn how to unlock the internal children in our employees.

I'm sure we can all remember as children being told "don't" do this or you "can't" do that, and the result growing up was to reinforce the idea that there is one "right" way to do anything. It has also led to the creation of a national psychosis of believing that many actions that would create positive change are too difficult to try.

How else would you explain the decline in electoral participation or in labor union membership? The majority of our nation believes that their ideas and their voice are too small to make things better. If it weren't for those "crazy" entrepreneurs, our country would not continue to grow and dominate new markets.

So how could we create a whole nation of entrepreneurial thinking (or at least a whole organization)?

Well, by reducing the prevalence of "don't" and "can't" in our organizational vocabulary, and replacing it with "how" and "when". Here is how it works:

Currently we might say things like:

"Don't be silly. We can't build a spaceship that will go faster than the speed of light."

When if we seek to innovate, we must say:

"How could we build something to travel faster than the speed of light? We can improve upon current methods of propulsion when we achieve the following advances to build upon:"

We must also always ask:

"How could we approach this in a different way?"

This problem of believing there is only one "right" way is compounded by our organization's inherent intolerance for risk and the accompanying preference to identify reasons not to do something or not to fund an effort. There are lots of ways to overcome this negative management reinforcement, but that is a topic for another day.

For now, we must stop treating employees like children and instead help them unlock and channel their inner child to uncover new "right" ways. Are you ready to democratize innovation?


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Friday, August 10, 2007

A Revolution in Management Consulting?

Management consulting firms are built on a model that requires the maintenance of a bench of their people to staff on their projects. People sitting on their bench cost them money, so any management consulting firm with a bench is naturally going to staff whatever people they have on their bench to whatever projects they have signed with clients, regardless of their experience. No management consulting firms will tell you that they might staff your project with consultants with little or no experience in the specialty of the project, but they will do it if they can get away with it. The highly skilled team they put before a client to win the project often bears little resemblance to the team that is staffed on the project to execute it.

For many reasons, including the increasing challenge in recruiting and retaining star talent, management consulting firms and clients are beginning to question this practice. After the last downturn, consulting firms have become more apprehensive about carrying people on the bench. On the client side, clients are demanding more and more control over who is staffed on their project.

From a talent perspective, smart employees recognize that employers have no loyalty anymore and will lay off people at the drop of a hat. Taken to the extreme, I came across a consulting firm recently that had an unwritten policy of laying people off immediately if they rolled off a project and there wasn't another project to staff them on.

Because clients are increasingly demanding expert resources (not just warm bodies), and because firms don't want to maintain a bench of expert resources, the use of professional associates" is growing. Firms sometimes hire me as a professional associate to augment their staff, and I gladly take the assignments to supplement my direct engagements. I go in and pretend like I work for them, and they pay me a negotiated portion of the rate billed to the client.

Independent consultants and experts like myself who sometimes have openings in their schedule are not easy to find. Many companies mine their alumni networks, but sometimes they have to resort to web sites as diverse as Top Contract-Consultant, LinkedIn, and even Craigslist.

In 2005 Global Consulting Group (GCG PLC) launched a new service for management consulting firms and corporations. The service is provided on professionalassociates.com. On their site you will find a BBC interview with Valentine Feerick, the Director of the Global Consulting Group. In a nutshell, Professional Associates provides a marketplace for connecting independent consultants and experts (aka "professional associates") with management consulting firms or corporations looking for a short-term expert resource. Professional Associates does not just create a marketplace, but also screens the talent to maintain a certain standard of quality for the resources who appear on the marketplace. Currently the site is operated in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Whether you work for a corporation, or a management consulting firm, or are an expert resource yourself, I encourage you to check it out!


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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Business Strategy Innovation - Human Resources Contribution

When looking for a new job, it seems like 95% of the time people will only hire you to do the job you just did, and the other 5% of the time will provide an equal mix of once in a lifetime opportunities and jobs you shouldn't take.

So why aren't organizations more innovative in their hiring processes?

First, recruiters are tasked with providing candidates for interviews who meet certain education and experience requirements set out by the hiring manager. It quickly becomes a case of "you get what you ask for, not what you need."

Recruiters provide a set of potential recruits that tick the boxes and look very similar on paper. Time constrained hiring managers then interview the people they are provided with and figure they are a "smart" hire because they have the education and experience. This generally means hiring the guy or gal that has done the same job before, preferably at a larger or more respected company.

For example, a restaurant will hire a waiter who has been a waiter before, even if the only reason he is available is that he was a crap waiter every other place he worked. In our hiring system, someone who has experience almost always gets the job, regardless of ability and capacity for growth. Meanwhile the gal who dreams of being a waitress, whose passion for the profession would make her an amazing waitress as she strives to create the perfect customer experience, never gets hired. Where does this leave the person with amazing potential but no direct experience in the position they seek?

They are confined to finding that desperate manager with an entry level opening who just had three people turn down their offer and has nobody left in their pipeline.

We hire people the same way we hire an office chair:
  • Four wheels? - check
  • Tilt? - check
  • Height adjustment? - no
  • ...and on to the candidate who might have a height adjustment built-in

Consequently we end up with amazing consumer marketers working as engineering firm accountants because they started out in accounting for an engineering firm straight out of university and now can only get accounting jobs. How much stronger would our economy be if we could find an innovative way to allocate our human resources to those places where their star potential would be unleashed?

Now granted, some companies will allow someone from accounting to move to marketing within the company, but even in those companies that do facilitate this type of movement, the great majority really occurs at the managerial level with individuals the organization views as skilled managers with the potential to move up in the organization. So where does this leave the staff accountant whose real talent is not management but something else like consumer marketing?

Usually this person is doomed to remain an unhappy accountant, potentially seeking an MBA that may or may not successfully allow them to transition over to the world of marketing.

So why don't we change the hiring process?

Well, change is hard, and checklists are easy. "I don't have time to interview as it is, I've got work to do! I certainly don't have time to think about creating a better way to hire. My list of questions works pretty well."

The problem is that people can only look at how candidates perform that have actually been hired in terms of how long they stay, and similar metrics. We cannot measure how much more we would have benefited if we had hired someone else that we didn't even consider.

But, if we continue to hire the same type of people that we've always hired in the same way that our competitors continue to hire, then we will never achieve a business strategy innovation.

So what's the answer?

There is no magic answer, but here are some guidelines to consider:

  1. Have recruiters identify and provide at least one or two candidates who show passion but don't have the experience or education tick boxes checked
  2. Don't focus on what someone has done, have them show you what they can do
  3. Think about the key tasks and challenges of the position
    • Have the candidate tell you, or even better, show you how they would approach them (remember lingo and document formatting can be learned - do they understand what's involved?)
  4. Ask them what job they would really like to do in the organization
    • Regardless of what job they've applied for
    • Maybe even go so far as telling them that the job they applied for has been filled and see how they react (What job would they choose to interview for?)
  5. Ask them if they think they are qualified to do that other job and if not why not
  6. Movie producers don't interview actors, they have them audition
    • Use appropriate role plays
    • Have candidates present if doing presentations are part of their role
    • Give them a small piece of real world work to do to see both how they approach it and how well they execute it
    • Have candidates pitch you your product as if you were a potential customer (even if it is not a sales role)

Special Bonus:

There is one other side benefit to hiring people with the passion and capability for the job, but not the experience, they'll usually take less money upfront and won't be turned off by probationary periods.


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