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Monday, March 22, 2010

Authority Comes From Failure

Authority Comes From Failure
by Glen Stansberry

It's really simple: You can't become an expert until you've failed at something.

Yet it's funny how people with authoritative titles never talk about their mistakes. In fact, it's a taboo. We want to put our trust in someone who's more of an "expert" than us. It makes us feel safe and gives us warm fuzzies.

For example, you'd rather not be in the dentist chair and have your dentist proudly telling stories of botched root canals. And nobody wants to believe their doctor ever made a wrong diagnosis.

But they have. Many, many times.

This is where the world gets it wrong. It's not really 'failure' if we view it properly: it's learning. You don't know what works until you know what doesn't work. Failure is all part of the learning process, and anyone who says differently is delusional.

I'd rather a chef tell me how many times he got the recipe wrong before he finally made the perfect pancake.

So don't worry when you fail. It's going to happen, and it should happen. Often.

Just don't make the mistake of using it as an excuse to quit.

Further Reading: Here's a post from a couple years back that I love and still reference today - "There Is No Effort Without Error and Shortcoming".

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Image Credit: Oncle Tom

Glen StansberryGlen Stansberry writes at LifeDev, a blog that helps people make their ideas happen. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

11 Ways to Implement a Culture of Innovation

by Geoff Zoeckler

11 Ways to Implement a Culture of InnovationOn Wednesday, March 10, 2010, I had the privilege of attending an innovation conference and discussion - Elsevier's Corporate Connect Event: Implementing a Culture of Innovation. Given the low price tag (free) and complete sponsorship by one company (Elsevier), I was not sure how much information I would be able to apply directly to my company. I was very pleased to find that the event was far from a day long sales pitch and was truly an opportunity to connect and talk about ways to improve innovation within company walls.

The event was organized into four presentations and one expert panel discussion (with multiple networking opportunities in-between).

Presentation topics:
  1. Elsevier's Innovation Journey (Jeff Honious at Elsevier)
  2. Building a Culture of Innovation (Peter Skarzynski at Strategos)
  3. Implementing a Culture of Innovation (Mike Hess at Medtronic)
  4. Supporting a Culture of Innovation (Cynthia A. Larson at Eaton)

The expert panel consisted of four Information Specialists (super librarians) from Eaton, Abbot Labs, Kimberly Clark, and St. Jude Medical. The Q&A centered on understanding the role that internal and external information plays to support innovation and how to improve the way employees access that information.

Below is my "Top 11" summary from the conference. To help foster further discussion, I have placed company links throughout this summary and LinkeIn links for each of the presenters.

Build Your Innovation Culture:

#1 - Include the Most Important Member of Your Innovation Team - The End User

The customer is king was mentioned (in various ways) during every presentation. All innovation efforts will fail eventually if the end user is not driven to use your new product or service. Make sure everything you do starts with: "Who is the end user and why do they want this?"

For the most part, humans are intelligent and know when you have come up with something that will truly impact their life. It is true that people can not always voice their needs and desires in a way that makes sense, but your challenge should be to find creative ways to understand their behaviors and figure out how to include them in your innovation process.

#2 - Challenge an Orthodoxy (The Way Things Are)

The point of innovation is to come up with new ideas that can be turned into tangible outcomes (most measure in terms of profit or other quantitative metrics). However, some of the best ideas are not 'new' ideas but are instead challenges to existing assumptions (think of Apple challenging the way music was sold or Dell challenging the way computer were purchased and assembled).

However, those kinds of insights require all employees to be comfortable challenging the "way things are" around them. The further out in the organization you can instill this mentality, the more impact it will have on your culture. What benefit could come from your line workers feeling like it was there job to suggest new ways of doing things?

While it is not the overly positive case study it once was, Toyota is known for keeping low costs by listening to the ideas of their assembly workers.

#3 - Get Someone "Up Top" Interested

The majority of innovation teams start when a CEO or CIO says that it will be so. Those struggling to improve things from the bottom up without initial support will need to work to get the attention of someone up top. Without top level support, you may never gain the resources needed to really move the dial and impact the entire organization.

#4 - Take a Diagonal Slice Across the Organization

Diagonal Slice Across the OrganizationWhen assembling a new innovation team, it is best to take a cross functional/diagonal cut through the organization. Many companies start with something that looks like a country club meeting with top level executives getting together to discuss how to improve the performance of the common employee.

Instead of limiting the innovation team to top level strategic thinkers, make sure you include some middle level managers and some low level individual contributors. On top of getting suggestions from various levels throughout the organization, you will also be adding team members who are willing to put in extra effort to take advantage of the exciting opportunity.

Oh yeah, and all members should want to be part of the group. If someone doesn't have passion for improving innovation, they will never find the time needed to make an impact.

#5 - Don't Forget Your Managers - Their Brains Still Work

Most managers were once the lower lever employees who went to college, dreamed of making the world a better place, and happily moved away from concentrated individual work to manage a team towards bigger objectives. Managing a team doesn't allow for many individual contributions, but managers' brains are still working (most of them anyway).

When you are looking to implement a company-wide innovation process, make sure you create systems that allow and encourage managers to give quick bursts of energy and submit their individual ideas.

Keep the Momentum Going:

#6 - Stick to the Vision at All Costs - Do the Coin Test

Stick to the Vision at All CostsWhen you deviate from your initial founding vision, you increase the space between you and your current consumer. You also dilute resources, reduce focus, and most importantly diminish employee passion. Ideas are cheap.

Many paths end with increase profits. Make sure your path lines up with your vision so that all employees will passionately follow. Follow Medtronic's example and carry a physical reminder of the corporate vision on a coin. When you have a tough decision to make, review the vision on the coin to help set your path. If you don't have a clear vision that links to a consumer benefit, then that is the first place to start.

#7 - Demonstrate the Benefit

All innovation efforts should be tracked and measured. While is not always easy to quantify the impact of improving the culture or the benefit in increased communication, you can track things like the geographical diversity of idea contributors (put stars on a world map), the number of unique idea contributors, and the total number of ideas generated. When you do get a solid win, make sure you take the time to communicate it across the company.

#8 - Expect 96% Failure Rate

I was surprised by the finding that 96% of innovation efforts fail, but I would have guessed that failure was near 90% from my past experiences. Whatever the number is for your industry, failure is part of the innovation process. Your goal is to create a process that allows you to fail quickly and avoid wasting resources. How are you set up to learn from your mistakes and keep moving with renewed passion?

#9 - Develop an Innovation "Pressure Cooker"

New ideas can't get off the ground relying only on 15 minute blocks of time between meetings or other project work. From time to time you need to grab a team of people, rent a space off site, and commit days at a time to uncovering new consumer insights and product ideas. Make sure enough time is allowed to get from the discovery phase all the way to the creation of a full action plan and timeline. When possible, bring in some of your end users to the session.

Recognize what Success Looks Like

#10 - Increase Human Connections

When reviewing your innovation efforts, make sure to determine if you connected people and increased dialog. If you got people talking, then you were successful. If no new conversations have started, you need to rethink your approach.

#11 - Build Your Planet Memory Alpha

Build Your Planet Memory AlphaWhen the panel of Information Specialists was asked what the future of innovation management would look like, Star Trek's Planet Memory Alpha was the quick answer. While I am not much of a Star Trek fan, I believed the expert panel when they described the planet as the ideal location for 'external innovation'. The Star Trek planet stored all historical knowledge for the universe and anyone could access that information.

While we live in a society of patents, trade secrets, and general information secrecy; increasing the availability of information is important for innovation. One significant opportunity discussed would be to improve the availability of internal information and improve how it connects to external information. What would it be like if when you searched Google to find external information, you were also searching all internal knowledge? How else could that connection be improved?

If you want to continue the discussion with me, jot your comments below.

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Geoff ZoecklerGeoff Zoeckler is a young, passionate innovator with 7+ years in product development roles leading the front end of innovation. Geoff is looking to connect to share personal insights to improve corporate innovation culture from the bottom up.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Free Range Innovation

by Jarie Bolander

Free Range InnovationCowboys love the wide open plain. The vastness of the prairie ignites a self-reliance that few others can comprehend or handle. The cowboy is free to drive his cattle the route he feels best, yet his end game is always clear - get them to market. The cowboy struggles to keep his herd moving and might even loose a few along the way. His satisfaction comes when the herd is safely to market and the wage he earns hardly pays for his trouble but that does not matter - he's in it for the journey.

The Cowboys of Innovation

Innovators are like modern day cowboys that peer out onto the vastness of the world and chart a course to get their ideas to market. They do it for the love of the journey and the results of seeing something they invented being used by millions. Companies tend to fence innovators in by overburdening them people with process, procedures, arcane organizations and stifling bureaucracy. These conditions severely limit the creative mind to the point of stalling out any sort of innovation.

Wander Within Limits

The innovation cowboy needs to wander around and seek the best path forward. This means his organizational structure has to be flexible enough to wander yet sets limits to get to market. The best structure for this is the automatous team that has flexibility to get stuff done but has clear objectives and timelines. Guidance from the boss should be the high level goals and objectives not micro-managed tasks and rigidly defined parameters. Doing this allows innovators to chart their own course while still having some guidance.

Failure is Always an Option

Innovation is full of failure. So much so that most people can't stomach the constant setbacks and uncertain future. The ideal culture for innovators is one that embraces failure, learns from it and moves on. This culture will always out innovate a punitive structure where everyone is afraid to make one little screw-up. The other vital cultural trait is one where intellectual curiosity is encouraged, especially outside the companies field of endeavor. More innovative ideas have come from cross-over problem solving (i.e. Taking a solution from another industry and applying it to something else), then just staying within your companies comfort zone.

Bonuses Don't Work

The journey is the incentive for innovators to invent. No other incentive is as strong or as effective as working on a challenging problem that you enjoy. In fact, the open source movement has taught us that creative people will work for free and give away their work product for something they find interesting. The organization can apply these incentives by giving innovators a support and recognition network that allows them to invent, be recognized and feel respected. The only monetary bonus that seems to work is one that treats everyone the same (e.g. The janitor to the CEO gets 'the same bonus'). Anything other that than, is ripe for gaming and defeats the purpose of incentives.

Rugged, Yet Refined

Free range innovation is all about respecting the rugged innovator that takes on the world yet still delivers products to market. It's the realization that innovation takes flight when you give creative people the space to move, explore and grow. No fancy organizational structure, no complex cultures and no silly incentives - just smart teams, building innovative products by driving their ideas to market the way the range tell them too.

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Jarie BolanderJarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. Jarie blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at The Daily MBA and has recently published his first book, "Frustration Free Technical Management". You can also follow him on Twitter @thedailymba.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Top 100 Lamest Excuses for Not Innovating

by Mitch Ditkoff

Top 100 Lamest Excuses for Not InnovatingRecognize any of these? If so, find your way pass the 100th and learn how to go beyond them. Takes less than five minutes. (Or maybe a lifetime).

1. I don't have the time.
2. I can't get the funding.
3. My boss will never go for it.
4. Were not in the kind of business likely to innovate.
5. We won't be able to get it past legal.
6. I've got too much on my plate.
7. I'll be punished if I fail.
8. I'm just not not the creative type.
9. I'm already juggling way too many projects.
10. I'm too new around here.

11. I'm not good at presenting my ideas.
12. No one, besides me, really cares about innovation.
13. There's too much bureaucracy here to get anything done.
14. Our customers aren't asking for it.
15. We're a risk averse culture. Always will be.

16. We don't have an innovation process.
17. We don't have a culture of innovation.
18. They don't pay me enough to take on this kind of project.
19. My boss will get all the credit.
20. My career path will be jeopardized if this doesn't fly.

21. I've already got enough headaches.
22. I'm no good at office politics.
23. My home life will suffer.
24. I'm not disciplined enough.
25. It's an idea too far ahead of its time.

26. I won't be able to get enough resources.
27. I don't have enough information.
28. Someone will steal my idea.
29. It will take too long to get results.
30. We're in a down economy.

31. It will die in committee.
32. I'll be laughed out of town.
33. I won't be able to get the ear of senior leadership.
34. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
35. The concept is too disruptive.

36. I won't be able to get enough support.
37. I don't tolerate ambiguity all that well.
38. I'm not in a creative profession.
39. Now is not a good time to start a new project.
40. I don't have the right personality to build a team.

41. Our company is going through too many changes right now.
42. They won't give me any more time to work on the project.
43. If I succeed, too much will be expected of me.
44. Nothing ever changes around here.
45. Things are changing so fast, my head is spinning.

46. Whatever success I achieve will be undone by somebody else.
47. I don't have enough clout to get things done.
48. It's just not worth the effort.
49. I'm getting close to retirement.
50. My other projects will suffer.

51. Been there, done that.
52. I don't want another thing to think about.
53. I won't have any time left for my family.
54. A more nimble competitor will beat us to the punch.
55. Teamwork is a joke around here.

56. I've never done anything like this before.
57. I won't be rewarded if the project succeeds.
58. We're not measured for innovation.
59. I don't have the right credentials.
60. We need more data.

61. It's not my job.
62. It will hard sustaining the motivation required.
63. I've tried before and failed.
64. I'm not smart enough to pull this off.
65. I don't want to go to any more meetings.

66. It will take way too long to get up to speed.
67. Our Stage Gate process will sabotage any hope of success.
68. I'm not skillful at building business cases.
69. Summer's coming.
70. The marketplace is too volatile.

71. This is a luxury we can't afford at this time.
72. I think we're about to be acquired.
73. I'm trying to simplify my life, not complicate it.
74. The dog ate my homework.
75. Help! I'm a prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory.

76. My company just wants to squeeze more blood from the stone.
77. My company isn't committed to innovation.
78. I don't have the patience.
79. I'm not sure how to begin.
80. I'm too left-brained for this sort of thing.

81. I won't be able to get the funding required.
82. I'm getting too old for this.
83. We're too competitive, in-house. Collaboration is a rarity.
84. Spring is coming.
85. I'm hypoglycemic.

86. That's Senior Leadership's job
87. I'm thinking of quitting.
88. Market conditions just aren't right.
89. We need to focus on the short term for a while.
90. Innovation, schminnovation.

91. What we really need are some cost cutting initiatives.
92. Six Sigma will take care of everything.
93. Mercury is in retrograde.
94. IT won't go for it.
95. Maybe next year.

96. That's my boss's job.
97. That's R&D's job.
98. I would if I could, but I can't, so I won't.
99. First, we need to benchmark the competition.
100. It's against my religion.

How to Go Beyond These Lame Excuses
  1. Make a list of your three most bothersome ones.

  2. Turn each excuse into a question, beginning with the words "How can I?" or "How can we?" (For example, if your excuse is "That's R&D's job," you might ask "How can I make innovation my job?" or "How can I help my team take more responsibility for innovating?"

  3. Brainstorm each question - alone and with your team.

  4. Then, DO something about it within the next 48 hours.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Harsh Reality of Innovation

by Hutch Carpenter

Nothing like putting your heart and soul into innovation, and then getting this:

Harsh Reality of Innovation - Apple and Google
Man, tough audience. But very much in keeping with some the best advice on innovation. Which is, you can't have innovation without some failure along the way. It's inevitable.

That advice is both true, and glib. Innovation consultant Jeffrey Phillips catches the right spirit when he says:

"Another thing about 'failure' is that we try to kid ourselves that failure is a 'good thing' a learning opportunity. Well, not in most cultures.

This is the reality of innovation. It's tough. The more disruptive an innovation, the tougher it gets. And we're in the middle of seeing how it plays right now with Apple iPad and Google Buzz.

Let me ask you this: Do you personally think either the iPad or Buzz will be guaranteed successes for their respective companies? Be honest now.

My guess is you're like most of us: I don't know.

Well, truth be known, neither do Apple and Google. But they've got a history you'd bet on.

Apple and Google: Big Time Failures, Big Time Innovations

Both Apple and Google have had their share of duds in the market:

Apple and Google Failures
Obviously, these companies do not have a perfect record of successful innovations.

But they do have a record of pressing through failures and continuing to roll out innovations. In fact, they're consistently ranked the best in the world:

BusinessWeek ranks Apple and Google top two for innovation
It pays to stick-to-it in trying out innovations. But can everyone?

Does Your Company Really Want Radical Innovation?

In Psychology Today, a professor at the University of Michigan gets to the issue:

From vaccines to Velcro, many inventions were spawned from accidents, seeming failures. But when Fiona Lee, psychology and business professor at the University of Michigan, explored which conditions help people experiment with novel ideas, she uncovered an interesting phenomenon: "Managers talk a lot about innovation and being on the cutting edge, but on an individual level, many people are not willing to try new things."

What's holding us back? A fear of failure.

Think about your own reaction to the question of whether the iPad and Google Buzz will be successful. It's easy enough to be uncertain as an observer. But imagine if you have to put shareholder capital in to it, affect your brand in the market and risk some career trajectories?

I will often read of the importance of taking risks and accepting some level of failure for companies to be innovative. This is very true. But it can be glib to summarily dismiss companies for not 'getting it'. When they're made up of people like you and me who possess ordinary... well, human characteristics.

Because how do you know when you're iterating toward a true high-value innovation, or you're just spinning your wheels? I'll turn again to Jeffrey Phillips:

"As Edison and countless others have demonstrated, you rarely get it right the first time, and if you are stymied by early failure, then you'll never find and implement the best ideas. Innovation, as has been pointed out by individuals with far more to say about it than me, will create some failures. Your job isn't to avoid the failures, since you can't predict them in advance, but to reduce the cost and impact of the inevitable failures. In other words, keep moving."

As I said before, I can't know for sure whether the Apple iPad or Google Buzz will be successful. But kudos to those companies for rolling out innovations that might fail. And in case you're wondering whether allowing employees some latitude to fail is worth it, check out the 5-year stock performance of Apple and Google versus the S&P 500:

Apple and Google Stock Performance

Let's take this one out with the great speech from Teddy Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."


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Hutch CarpenterHutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Don't Strive for Perfection

by Mike Brown

Don't Strive for PerfectionLast Thursday, I presented a session on 'Linking Blogs to Business Strategy' at Kansas City's Central Exchange. While discussing editing blog posts, one potential blogger asked about overcoming the problem of perfectionism when writing. I rather flippantly answered psychological help might be in order.

While trying to be funny, the answer wasn't completely facetious. I love when things happen exactly on strategy. Through years of observation, however, I've come to realize very few mistakes mean even a 'figurative' end to the world. Why drive yourself crazy trying to solve every little issue.

This realization began in earnest early in my career, when another person and I were working on a matrix comparing our company to major competitors. It was an arduous project, with many revisions and lots of eyes (including eyes senior to ours) reviewing various drafts. It was eventually published for several thousand sales and management people in the company.

Everything was fine until I received a call from someone who pointed out our company's goal of "reducing customer exceptions" was mistakenly printed as "reducing customer expectations." Figuring we were both fired, my co-worker and I went to our boss and informed her of the mistake.

We didn't get fired. In fact, no one else ever came forward as even noticing the problem.

Despite lots of effort to avoid them, mistakes happen all the time in life. Not that I condone poor performance, but don't waste your time seeking needless (and often self-defined, not customer-defined) perfection or losing your temper when mistakes do happen. You'll be much more content and better off if you use a different strategy.

When mistakes occur around you, look hard for what's actually better because of the mistake than what was originally planned.

In the case of the "lower customer expectations" gaffe, what was better was it made me a more careful editor. Does that mean I'm a perfectionist in writing. Not necessarily. It means I've learned and developed a whole repertoire of techniques for overcoming proofreading problems.

For you other perfectionists out there, what strategy do you employ to protect yourself from the tendency to be too correct?

Editor's note: Too often people try to make a potential product or service innovation perfect before they launch it. You know what? Often the last 10% of modifications that you make, generally take the longest and aren't always what the customer thinks will make it perfect - they're what YOU think will make it perfect. Instead, determine your potential risks, plan your risk response, get it in the hands of a customer sample, get ready for feedback you never expected, and love every bit of feedback you do get (it's a gift).

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Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning innovator in strategy, communications, and experience marketing. He authors the Brainzooming TM blog, and serves as the company's chief Catalyst. He wrote the ebook "Taking the NO Out of InNOvation" and is a frequent keynote presenter.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What does Apple do when it all goes pear-shaped?

by Yann Cramer

What does Apple do when it all goes pear-shaped?Most CEOs would say that innovation is critical to their companies' success. Loads of people would like to exercise their creativity and innovate, but whether at the corporate or at the individual level, something holds everyone back: risk. "What if it all goes wrong?" This can be more or less marked depending on the degree of acceptance of trial-and-error as a learning process, but to some extent it exists in all cultures, countries and companies.

What can we do about it? There are process answers around framing the project and keeping it focused, rapid prototyping different versions of the product or piloting in the market. But most importantly there is a mindset answer which is both accept it and don't accept it.

Accept It

Forbes provides an interesting list of Apple failures: a few forgotten computers such as the Lisa, the Mac portable, the Taligent, the power mac G4 cube, and a raft of other products that most people may be surprised to hear about: the Newton PDA, the Quicktake digital camera, the Macintosh TV, the Pippin video-game console, the Motorola Rokr mobile phone/mp3 (Apple developed with Motorola).

For all its resounding successes from the Apple II to the iPhone, Apple has not been immune to failure. The difference that makes the difference is that they accept that there will be some failures along the way. They have a portfolio mindset: they continuously scan the environment, they identify potential opportunities, they try, they go for it. When it does not work they pull the plug decisively, but when it works: bingo!

Don't Accept It

Apple may have failed with the Newton, the Quicktake and the Rockr but they have remained true to their multi-media vision, they sticked to the strategic challenge they had set for themselves to get into the handheld market, and ultimately they found "the magic number" to succeed with the iPod and the iPhone.

Accepting failures does not mean accepting that these mark the end of the road. Too often, a company's response to a few innovation failures is to abandon the field and shift strategic priorities in another direction. As they do so, they actually reduce the relevance of what they have learned (or should have learned) from their failures, they land themselves in a new field where they need to learn everything, and their chances of success are actually lower than if they had sticked to their initial strategic priority.

So, accept that you will be thrown off-balance along the way, but don't accept being blown off-course.

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Yann Cramer is an innovation learner, practitioner, sharer, teacher. He's lived in France, Belgium and the UK, he's travelled six continents to create development opportunities with customers or suppliers, and run workshops on R&D and Marketing. He writes on www.innovToday.com and on twitter @innovToday.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Failure - The Mother of Innovation

by Paul Sloane

Failure - The Mother of InnovationIn the 1950s the Jacuzzi brothers invented a whirlpool bath to treat people with arthritis. Although the product worked, it was a sales flop. Very few people in the target market, sufferers from arthritis, could afford the expensive bath. So the idea languished until they tried relaunching the same product for a different market - as a luxury item for the wealthy. It became a big success.

Very often the best way to test an idea is not to analyze it but to try it. The organization that implements lots of ideas will most likely have many failures but the chances are, it will reap some mighty successes too. By trying numerous initiatives we improve our chances that one of them will be a star. As Tom Kelley of IDEO puts it:

"Fail often to succeed sooner."

Honda Motor Company entered the US market in 1959 with its range of low-powered motorcycles. It endured failure after failure as it learned the hard way that little motorcycles popular in the Tokyo suburbs were not well received on the wide open roads of the USA. They eventually brought out a range of high powered bikes that became very popular. Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda said:

"Many people dream of success. Success can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection. Success represents the one percent of your work that results from the 99 percent that is called failure."

What makes Silicon Valley so successful as the engine of high-tech growth? It is the Darwinian process of failure. Author Mike Malone puts it like this:

"Outsiders think of Silicon Valley as a success, but it is, in truth, a graveyard. Failure is Silicon Valley's greatest strength. Every failed product or enterprise is a lesson stored in the collective memory. We don't stigmatize failure; we admire it. Venture Capitalists like to see a little failure in the resumes of entrepreneurs."

In order to develop the concept of the benefits of failure, Penn State University has a course for engineering students called Failure 101. The students have to take risks and do experiments. The more failures they have, the sooner they can get an A grade!

Many great successes started out as failures. Columbus failed when he set out to find a new route to India. He found America instead (and because he thought it was India he called the natives Indians). Champagne was invented by a monk called Dom Perignon when a bottle of wine accidentally had a secondary fermentation. 3M invented glue that was a failure - it did not stick. But it became the basis for the Post-it note, which was a huge success.

Scientists at Pfizer tested a new drug called Viagra, to relieve high blood pressure. Men in the test group reported that it was a failure at stopping high blood pressure but it had one beneficial side effect. Pfizer, the manufacturers, investigated the side effect and found that the drug had a dramatic effect on men's sexual vigor. Viagra became one of the most successful failures of all time.

Failure as a stepping stone

Even if the failure does not lead directly to a success it can be seen as a step along the way. Edison's attitude to "failure" is salutary. When asked why so many of his experiments failed he explained that they were not failures. Each time he had discovered a method that did not work.

Tom Watson Jr. was the legendary President of IBM who led them through the high-growth years when they were the most admired company in America. He encouraged what he called 'wild ducks', people with unconventional and disruptive ideas. On one occasion a Vice President who had lost the corporation $10 million on an experiment which failed was called to Watson's office. The VP was expecting to be fired so he took his letter of resignation with him and presented it. Watson refused to accept it. "Why would we want to lose you?" he said. "We've just given you a $10 million education."

Another boss who welcomes failure is Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. According to his publisher, John Brown, "The secret of (Branson's) success is his failures. He keeps opening things and a good many of them fail but he doesn't care. He keeps on going."

In 1985 Coca Cola experimented by introducing "New Coke" - a new flavor to replace "Classic Coke." It had fared well in consumer tests but it was a marketing disaster and flopped. Coca Cola had to eat humble pie and reintroduce Classic Coke. Did this great disaster do any long-term harm to Coca Cola? Probably not. Did the senior managers and marketing professionals responsible for this failure all get fired? No, they did not. It was an experiment that failed but Coca Cola survived, learned and prospered. As the great philosopher Nietzsche put it:

"That which does not kill me makes me stronger."

Bill Gates stood down as CEO of Microsoft so that he could focus more time and energy on strategic leadership of the company's development efforts. He took intense interest in Microsoft Research, the 600 person think-tank he set up in the early 1990s to push the envelope of software technology, user-interface design, speech recognition and computer graphics. As one of his colleagues put it, "Bill isn't afraid of taking long-term chances. He understands that you have to try everything, because the real secret to innovation is failing fast."


The innovative leader encourages a culture of experimentation. You must teach people that each failure is a step along the road to success. To be truly agile, you must give people the freedom to innovate, the freedom to experiment, the freedom to succeed. That means you must give them the freedom to fail, too.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

56 Reasons Why Innovation Initiatives Fail

by Mitch Ditkoff

56 Reasons Why Innovation Initiatives FailInnovation is in these days. The word is on the lips of just about every CEO, CFO, CIO, and anyone else with a three-letter acronym after their name. As a result, many companies are launching all kinds of "innovation initiatives" - hoping to stir the soup. This is understandable. But it is also, far too often, very disappointing...

Innovation initiatives sound good, but usually don't live up to the expectations. The reasons are many.

What follows are fifty-six of the most common ones - organizational obstacles we've observed in the past twenty-two years that get in the way of a company really raising the bar for innovation.

See which ones are familiar to YOU. Then, sit down with your Senior Team... CEO... innovation committee, or best friend and jump start the process of going beyond these obstacles. Let the games begin:

  1. "Innovation" framed as an initiative, not the normal way of doing business
  2. Absence of a clear definition of what "innovation" really means
  3. Innovation not linked to company's existing vision or strategy
  4. No sense of urgency
  5. Workforce is suffering from "initiative fatigue"

  6. CEO does not fully embrace the effort
  7. No compelling vision or reason to innovate
  8. Senior Team not aligned
  9. Key players don't have the time to focus on innovation
  10. Innovation champions are not empowered

  11. Decision making processes are non-existent or fuzzy
  12. Lack of trust
  13. Risk averse culture
  14. Overemphasis on cost cutting or incremental improvement
  15. Workforce ruled by past assumptions and old mental models

  16. No process in place for funding new projects
  17. Not enough pilot programs in motion
  18. Senior Team not walking the talk
  19. No company-wide process for managing ideas
  20. Too many turf wars. Too many silos.

  21. Analysis paralysis
  22. Reluctance to cannibalize existing products and services
  23. NIH (not invented here) syndrome
  24. Funky channels of communication
  25. No intrinsic motivation to innovate

  26. Unclear gates for evaluating progress
  27. Mind numbing bureaucracy
  28. Unclear idea pitching processes
  29. Lack of clearly defined innovation metrics
  30. No accountability for results

  31. No way to celebrate quick wins
  32. Poorly facilitated meetings
  33. No training to unleash individual or team creativity
  34. Voodoo evaluation of ideas
  35. Inadequate sharing of best practices

  36. Lack of teamwork and collaboration
  37. Unclear strategy for sustaining the effort
  38. Innovation Teams meet too infrequently
  39. Middle managers not on board
  40. Ineffective rollout of the effort to the workforce

  41. Lack of tools and techniques to help people generate new ideas
  42. Innovation initiative perceived as another "flavor of the month"
  43. Individuals don't understand how to be a part of the effort
  44. Diverse inputs or conflicting opinions not honored
  45. Imbalance of left-brain and right brain thinking

  46. Low morale
  47. Over-reliance on technology
  48. Failure to secure sustained funding
  49. Unrealistic timeframes
  50. Failure to consider issues associated with scaling up

  51. Inability to attract talent to risky new ventures
  52. Failure to consider commercialization issues
  53. No rewards or recognition program in place
  54. No processes in place to get fast feedback
  55. No real sense of what your customers really want or need
  56. Company hiring process screens out potential innovators

Others we may have missed?

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Realistic Impossibilities

by Kathy Robison

Realistic ImpossibilitiesBeing on the wrong end of the continuum between realistic and impossible is what plagues many of today's large multi-national corporations. The fear of failure by employees who are only partially engaged and don't entirely feel like valued members of the team, will always translate into goals and ideas that are mediocre and achievable and never ones that are innovative or impossible. In the 21st century, which is fraught with global economic adjustments, global-interdependence, developed world saturation, and a consumer base that is rapidly changing, creating the impossible is the only way to break away from the competition, ensure success and create a meaningful impact on the world.

Unfortunately most large companies live in the land of the realistic. It has permeated their business model, their culture, and the expectations of their customers. Many of these companies are starting to realize that creativity, thinking differently, and innovation are the keys to success in the future, but they feel stuck in how to achieve such goals. Hopefully some will view them as impossible and find the courage to achieve them anyway. You see, if you want to create a culture that reaches for the impossible, despite the odds, it must begin at the top and it often begins with an updated and innovative business model.

Designing an innovative and exciting business model with impossible goals is often a much easier and less expensive way to creating a culture of creativity and innovation that trying to dictate it. Processes, procedures, and changes in organizational structure can be dictated; innovation and creative thinking must be experienced and nurtured. The act of dictating, making rules, and imposing your will on others are the very things that have turned off our creativity, thinking, and innovative traits in the past. It was OK in the last century where the goals were to build, duplicate, and be efficient. The difference now is that we are moving from a world of industrialization and knowledge to one of conceptualization and connection.

Yes, there will be impediments and unforeseen circumstances that get in the way of creating the impossible, but they must be viewed as learning and growth opportunities. And, yes, there is always the possibility of failure, but failure is not altogether a bad thing. We must learn to accept failure as a part of the process of success. Unfortunately, many corporate cultures are so anti-failure that they no longer reach for anything exciting, tantalizing, or remotely interesting, which are the very things that improve productivity, reduce turnover, attract talent and create cultures that regularly innovate.

The disillusionment with big business and the realization that job security was really an illusion anyway is the fuel for new competition that will come charging out of the gates with all of these new attributes in tact. During the next 50 years, we will see some of the biggest companies in the world come crumbling down as well as the birth of some of the greatest companies in the world. It will be an interesting game to watch and fascinating to see the rules of play take a completely new direction. Here are a few of my favorite new perspective one-liners to start 2010:

  • Do as Wayne Gretzky and "Skate to where the puck will be"

  • Have the capacity to collaborate with the most unlikely of players

  • Create something larger than the products you sell

  • Lead with the tenacity of an underdog

Kathy RobisonKathy Robison is the CEO of YURU, (The Guru Is You), dedicated to assisting businesses to realize the full potential of their success through innovative business strategies, executive coaching and leadership development.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Do people seek risk only to minimize losses?

by Stephen Shapiro

Taking Risk to Avoid LossesBack in the 1980's, executives used to joke that you would never get fired for buying "Big Blue" (IBM) computers. It's not that IBM was the best, but you knew they would not screw up.

When I worked for Accenture (then Andersen Consulting), the Economist once called us "The McDonalds of the consulting industry. You know what you will get and it's not fillet mignon." People hired us not to get highly creative solutions, but rather to be assured of a successfully implemented solution.

There is a reason why consulting firms are so successful.

People choose safe, tried and true solutions over those which may be better yet have a risk of failure.

This is human nature. People take risks to minimize losses, yet play it safe when it comes to increasing gains.

But how much of a gain must be dangled in front of us before we will risk giving up the sure thing? I've been conducting a survey to find the answer.

Here's the first question posed to respondents:

Which would you choose?
  • Option 1: A guaranteed gain of $75K or

  • Option 2: An 80% chance of getting $100K and a 20% chance of getting nothing

Our survey found that 75% of the people go for the sure thing, option 1. People play it safe when it comes to increasing gains. But how safe?

What if the upside is increased to an 80% chance of getting $150K? Now, 57% take option 2. Still, 43% play it safe, even though there is an 80% chance of doubling their money.

What if the upside is increased to $225K? 76% choose option 2. This means that, 1 in 4 people still play it safe even when the potential upside is 3 times the original amount. When we increase the upside to $450K - 6 times the original amount - we still have 20% of the people who go for the sure thing.

It appears that people believe the expression, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Interestingly, the original Old English expression was, "Better one byrde in hande than ten in the wood." That seems even more accurate.

Ok, let's look at the loss side of things.

Here's the first question posed to respondents:

Which would you choose?
  • Option 3: A guaranteed loss of $75K or

  • Option 4: An 80% chance of losing $100K and a 20% chance of losing nothing

This time, when presented with a loss rather than a gain, 71% go for the riskier option 4. People take risks to minimize their losses. [As an aside, when I ask audiences this question, the percentage of risk takers is closer to 90%]

Increase the potential loss to $125K and 44% still go for the riskier option 4. When the potential loss is increased to $250K, 22% of the respondents still opt for option 4.

Risk versus RewardIf you plot these responses (risk-taking probabilities against expected gains), they make a nice 'S' curve as depicted in the graphic left.

What does this graph tell us?

It clearly supports the premise that people take risks to minimize losses, yet play it safe when it comes to increasing their gains. The loss of $1,000 hurts more than a gain of $1,000 feels good.

This means that you can sell someone more easily when you focus on losses rather than the gains. This might explain why Al Gore has been so successful with his "Inconvenient Truth." Instead of focusing on the benefits of a cleaner environment, he focused on the 'meltdown' associated with the status quo. Can anyone say Nobel Prize?

The shape of the curve also gives us a bit more insight. First, the gain of $2,000 does not feel twice as good as the gain of $1,000. Equally, the loss of $2,000 does not hurt twice as much as the loss of $1,000. There is a point where we become numb to the increased gain or loss.

Another potentially useful take-away is what I call the "risk/reward tipping point." This is the point where the 'S' curve flattens out on both the loss and gain side. This occurs at the point when 80% of the people take the desired action. And based on my research, this ratio is a little under 3.

What does this mean?

The hoped for win (the upside) must be three times the guaranteed amount in order for most people to risk the sure thing.

There is a reason why the status quo wins out in business, politics, and life. Rarely are we given options where the benefit is three times the sure thing/current situation.

On a final note, there was some interesting research on this topic...but with a twist. Researchers at Duke University, in a paper entitled "Sleep Deprivation Elevates Expectations of Gains and Attenuates Response to Losses Following Risky Decision" (Venkatraman, Chuah, Huettel, Chee), wrote that this risk-taking profile changes when someone does not get enough sleep.

When kept awake for 24 hours, the study (supported by brain scans) showed a double whammy: people became more optimistic about potential gains and they were also numbed to the negative feelings associated with losses. They would act riskier and have less regret (distinct from disappointment) about bad decisions. Their decisions were often bad decisions. If you go to Las Vegas, be sure to get plenty of sleep!

Our ancestors lived in a world of scarcity. Therefore it is not surprising that we do everything in our power to horde what we have. Unfortunately, our desire to play it safe can cause us to miss out on big opportunities. Risk taking is fundamental to innovation. And innovation is critical to long-term success.

If you want to see some of this stuff action, be sure to read my entry on 10 1/2 Ways to Improve Your Life - By Losing. This may give you some tools to enable you to take healthy risks to improve your life and business.

Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Innovation Leadership versus Traditional Leadership

by Paul Sloane

Innovation LeadershipThere are many different ways to lead. CEOs with markedly divergent styles can be successful in different ways. The same leader will often adopt different styles in different circumstances. There is no one correct way to lead or manage. Ultimately the right way is the one that works for you and for the organization in delivering the goals you set out to achieve.

Let's contrast two extremes of leadership style that I have designated as the command and control leader and the innovative leader. The command and control leader is goal-oriented, authoritative and decisive. He or she is well suited to a structured regime with clear tasks. The innovative leader, on the other hand, is better suited to an ambiguous or fluid situation. He or she is much more focused on creativity, innovation and helping the team to find new ways forward.

The command and control leader...The innovative leader...
Leads from the front.Leads from the side.
Checks and controls.Trusts and delegates.
Improves effectiveness and efficiency.Finds new approaches.
Thinks he knows best (and often does).Harnesses the abilities of others.
Has a strong sense of direction and purpose.Has a clear vision and communicates it.
Prioritizes operational over strategic issues.Prioritizes strategic over operational issues.
Gives directions and orders.Asks questions and solicits suggestions.
Treats staff as subordinates.Treats staff as colleagues.
Is decisive, often without prior consultation.Ponders and solicits input before making decisions.
Builds a team who can execute policy and implement plans.Builds a team who can create and innovate.
Hires based on experience, track record and qualifications.Hires based on attitude, creativity and latent capabilities.
Discourages dissent.Encourages constructive dissent.
Cares about results above all.Cares about ideas, peoples and the vision.
Promotes himself as the leader and figurehead.Shares exposure and prestige with the team.
Encourages action, activity and work.Encourages ideas, innovation and fun.
Rewards performance.Rewards entrepreneurial action.
Is numbers-oriented and analytical.Is ideas-oriented, analytical and intuitive.
Sees technology as a means to do things better, faster and cheaper.Sees technology as a means to do things entirely differently.
Minimizes risk.Takes calculated risks.
Abhors failure.Is comfortable with failure.

It may appear that I am painting one of these characters as a saint and the other as a sinner but it is more complex than that; each has a role to play. There are times when you need take command and there are times when you need to empower. But you cannot micro-manage everything in a large organization - especially in turbulent conditions. You must inspire and delegate.

The command-and-control leader's approach is fine for improving operational efficiency in a well-defined environment. However, in today's fast moving, complex situations, we need to supplement conventional approaches with more of the skills of the innovative leader.

Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Innovate or Die - Tactics #1-16 of 110

by Tom Peters

Innovate or DieRecession or no recession, deep recession or not, the challenge to add more and more value grows, and the importance of innovation, and a culture of innovation, grows exponentially. A "culture of innovation" covers "everything." There is no halfway. There, of course, are "first principles." Or are there? I started a list of "stuff" that's imperative to creating an innovative enterprise. The list of 10 or so grew to 25, then 45, and at the moment includes no less than 110 "tactics." Of course you can't do all of them. Or must you? Well, you can't do all 110, or maybe even half that number, but the absence of any one or two or three or six weakens and perhaps even imperils the entire structure. Use what follows as you will.

Trying Stuff. Screwing Stuff Up. Fast.
  1. Tries. Darwin rules. More stuff goin' on, more interesting-good stuff happenin'. Innovation is to a large extent a "numbers game": He-she who tries the most stuff wins. (Astonishingly true.)

  2. Culture of "Try it! Now!" Culture! Culture! Attitude! Attitude! Mindset! Mindset! "The way we do things around here." "Around here, we try things first, fix 'em fast, try again, talk about it later, when we've got something to talk about."

  3. Philosophy/F.A. Hayek/"spontaneous discovery process." Firm as market economy. New stuff emerges "spontaneously" from lots of trials and lots of errors. The innovator's life is life on the run, zigging here and zagging there - but always hustling.

  4. Failures encouraged/celebrated/cherished. Failure is the key to success. Period. Fast failure is the key to fast success. And so on. This must be "cultural" to the core.

  5. Transparency. All info on all these tries and cock-ups available to all to inspire, to chew over, to add to, to attract adherents and champions, etc.

  6. Connection/Ubiquitous. No barriers! Across-the-wall communication is as normal as breathing!

  7. MBWA/Managing By Wandering Around. An informal, in touch, high-camaraderie, on the move atmosphere underlies the "try it"-"screw it up"-"learn from it"-"fast" "culture."

  8. Fail to share yields "death penalty." Sharing-transparency are the innovation organization's lubricant; therefore those who hoard must get the boot.

  9. Fast prototyping/Serious play. Prototyping skills-attitude are more central than almost anyone can imagine. Entire organization as "playpen" with "playmates" gathering spontaneously to try stuff. Quickly. Quickly.

  10. Tempo/OODA Loop mastery/RFA. "Ready. Fire. Aim." is the premier cultural trait. Try it-learn from it-try it again-spread the news-recruit adherents-etc. The organization has a high metabolic rate ("metabolic management"), a rapid tempo. The Observe-Orient-Decide-Act cycle, invented by military strategist John Boyd, is quick and the quickness per se confuses one's competitors.

  11. FFFF/Find a Fellow Freak Faraway/"The Sri Lanka Strategy." Try cool-scary-risky stuff out in the boondocks, well away from HQ and typical HQ stuffiness. Find a playmate in "Sri Lanka" ready to give your idea a whirl; eventually, the network of Champions-from-the-boondocks become the premier carriers of the innovation.

  12. Demos/Heroes/Stories. Tries and screw-ups and sagas of bold champions become the "stories" that animate the organization - and induce everyone to climb aboard, play with vigor, or lose out.

  13. Social Networks. The emerging social networking tools become the accelerator for the process described and implied in these first dozen ideas. Nothing automatic about this - must be thought through, overseen (but also loose-as-a-goose, not judgmental). Emergent leadership from hither, thither, and yon becomes the de facto "leadership for innovation" in the organization.

Discipline. Accountability. Execution.
  1. Department of Sanity/"Dreamers with Deadlines"/Fiscal responsibility/Budget skills. Warren Bennis called hot groups of innovators "dreamers with deadlines." Innovation is not pie-in-the-sky, "let's all have a blast, yo my man, cool, eh?" in nature. There is a compelling and disciplined "execution" thread that is central to the innovating organization. The innovating organization is focused on "new stuff," "cool stuff" - but is pragmatic to a fault. The project "budget and milestones guru" is as honored as the true believer-dreamer-champion.

  2. Department of Sanity/Accountability. Screwing up, for instance, is essential to innovating. But there is as much accountability around screwing up as there is around inventory management in a traditional outfit; that is, the innovator takes responsibility for the screw-up and for insuring rapid learning and dissemination of lessons learned and for mounting the follow-up experiment posthaste.

  3. Department of Sanity/Implementation training. Execution and Implementation are paramount skills, highly rewarded and cherished. Bunkmates to the end.

Tom PetersTom Peters is the author of "In Search of Excellence" and twelve other international bestsellers, and a consultant, columnist, seminar lecturer, and more at the Tom Peters Company

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Innovating with Constraints

Our October Innovation Contest winners won a signed copy of "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis" by Bill George and the right to have their article re-published here on Blogging Innovation. Here is the first of the three winning entries:

by Tim Kastelle

I've been giving further thought to the issue of public sector innovation which I discussed briefly last week. John and I do a lot of work with people in the public sector as that makes up a fairly big part of Brisbane's economy, and I know that people often find it difficult to be innovative in that area. However, it is essential that we have good public sector innovation because large parts of our economies are in the public sector, and these parts are often very important. We just can't afford to have industries like health and education stagnate - innovation is critical in these fields, as it is in the other areas that fall within the public sector.

So what's the problem? There are a few. One is that overall, the public sector is not viewed as being very dynamic. Consequently, it does not attract a lot of attention from those of us that are interested in innovation. The Australian government is currently undertaking a review to try to devise strategies to improve public sector innovation. The website for this project includes a list of links to resources on public sector innovation (at the bottom of the page) - and you can see that there are not a lot of resources available (the project has a twitter feed too which updates new resources as they find them). This reflects a lack of interest at the levels of both research and policy.

The second issue is that government departments are often fairly risk averse - which makes innovation challenging. This issue is consistently raised by people in our innovation classes that come from the public sector, but it is a common issue for many people in other sectors as well - particularly middle managers that don't have much scope for action. When I talk to people in this situation they often say that the only way they can be more innovative is if they get more support from top management. It is true that top level support generally helps improve innovation. However, if you are waiting for increased upper management support before you start trying to innovate, in most cases, you're likely to be waiting for a long time.

Innovating with ConstraintsThere are a few things you can do to get out of the straightjacket. The main thing is to figure out how to try things. Experimenting is the key to innovating.

"The secret of fast progress is inefficiency, fast and furious and numerous failures." - Kevin Kelly

Now, obviously, failure is not a very popular idea within most government departments. The key to the whole idea though is to figure out ways to generate ideas and discard the ones that don't work as quickly and cheaply as possible. There are three steps here.

The first is to generate ideas.

"The secret to having good ideas is to have a lot of ideas, then throw the bad ones away." - Linus Pauling

Usually, this isn't the problem. People are naturally creative, and the number of untapped ideas that are in your organisation will probably surprise you. One way or another, you need to figure out how to tap into these. If you want some place to start, go to the Tom Peters site and download the Innovation Tactics paper that he has there.

The second step is the tricky one in public sector organisations - you have to select which ideas to try out. The central idea here is to look at how much authority you have. This might be as simple as signing authority - if you can authorise items worth up to $100, then what new ideas can you try to implement for $100 or less? What if you can't authorise any expenditures? The two jobs in which I've been the most innovative have actually both been in the public sector. In the first, I worked out at the start 47 ideas that I thought might make my section run better. Over 18 months, I tried out 45, at a total implementation cost of $0. At the end of that time, my section was just under 20% more effective in turning enquiries into new students, in part as a result of some of those 45 ideas that we tried. Not all of them worked, but a lot of them did - and some of the simplest had the biggest impacts. My bosses weren't too enthusiastic about new ideas when I started, but they were very enthusiastic about results. Most bosses are. So the second step is to figure out what you can get away with, and start trying things that fall within your scope of power. That's how select the ideas to try - you may have to wait on the big ones that will change the world, but if you succeed with some small ones, you may eventually get to try those out too.

The final step is getting the ideas that work to spread.

"Some people look for things that went wrong and try to fix them. I look for things that went right, and try to build off them." - Bob Stone

You need a strategy for amplifying the good ideas. Part of this is selling them to the people around you. To do this, you need to figure out which of the ideas are working. An important activity here is measurement - if you're able to measure the outcomes of your ideas, it is easier to gain support for trying more things.

Innovating is always hard. It's especially hard if you don't feel supported. But the key to innovating when you have constraints is to try things. Try as many as you can, figure out what works, and do more of that. It's a formula that you can follow in nearly every work setting. Instead of telling me why it won't work in yours, why don't you spend the time figuring out a new idea to try yourself instead?

"We have a 'strategic plan'. It's called doing things." - Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines)

(photo from flickr/djwudi - creative commons licensed)

Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Optimizing Innovation - Francois Ragnet of Xerox

by Braden Kelley

Francois Ragnet of XeroxWe are happy to bring you some of the key points and insights from Francois Ragnet's talk at the Optimizing Innovation Conference, which was held October 21-22, 2009 in New York City.

Francois Ragnet, Managing Principal, Technology Innovation at Xerox spoke about technology transfer and the paper-free office. Xerox generated 940 patents in 2008 and has 8,000 active patents and invests $884 million in R&D (5.2% of revenue). 5,000 world-class scientists & engineers are generating more than 2 patents a day for Xerox. They recently started an Innovation Hub in India where they will try to leverage open innovation.

From Francois' perspective, part of the difficulties in innovating in the services space is to create something that is repeatable and differentiated. Innovation in services relies on learning from failure.

"We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery." - Samuel Smiles

"We can believe that we know where the world should go. But unless we're in touch with our customers, our model of the world can diverge from reality. There's no substitute for innovation, of course, but innovation is no substitute for being in touch, either." - Steve Ballmer

Xerox has an initiative called "customer-led innovation":
  • We have technology showcase centers where we show people technology not products (researchers and customers coming together)

  • We also do a lot of work practice studies (ethnography)

    • Tthe naturalistic study and recording of human behavior

    • Naturally occuring behavior, habitats, etc.

In designing our service solutions we also use ethnographic studies to make automated processes more intelligent and human.

While the paperless office has not become a reality, Xerox is still seeking ways to make this happen.

Xerox has an agile innovation pipeline that they use (FUNNEL top to bottom below):
  1. Research (called Innovation)

  2. Readiness

  3. Productization

  4. Integration

  5. Operation

The traditional innovation funnel is very limiting and the handoffs from one stage to the next involve groups with different timescales and sometimes knowledge is lost in the handoffs between groups. The traditional innovation funnel approach is very much like a waterfall approach to software. But, that approach is very limiting, so we have tried to make this a more agile approach and create a group that goes across all of the innovation pipeline (to provide consistency and negotiate between the different stages and also to drive bi-drectional communication that involves passing potential research ideas back from the operations people to the research people).

"Too much process kills the process."

Key Xerox Innovation Criteria:
  • ROI/Reusability

  • Differentiation

  • Cost

  • etc.

Finally, there was a question from the audience about managing the necessary cannibalization of Xerox's existing business, and the response was as follows:
  • We see services as a key part of the future of our company (documents and workflow)

  • We don't see one replacing the other overnight

Optimizing Innovation Conference

Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Creating an Improved Environment for Innovation

by Robert F. Brands

Thomas EdisonThomas Alva Edison was a failure. It has been said that he "went back to the drawing board" more than 6,000 times before finding the right plant to produce a carbonized filament for his incandescent light bulb.

Six thousand times. Do you have that kind of innovative stamina?

It's been said that:

Risk + Experimentation (+ Failure) = Improved Environment for Innovation

Put another way:

Innovation = Creativity x Risk Taking

Innovation is an experiment of sorts. It requires a culture of risk, opportunity and challenge. Moreover, for an organization to benefit from innovation, leaders and team members alike must welcome - and grow from - failure.

Rather than view failure as inherently bad, successful innovation requires that executives and teams commit to learning from each experiment gone bad - and incorporate those teachings into the next endeavor.

The successes and failures borne of innovation experimentation perpetuate innovation. When strategies are emerging, innovators test their hypotheses and gather information to continue forward with their ideas. Whether the innovation is a consumer product, a software application, or an internal process for an existing business enterprise or workflow strategy, the question remains:
  • How will the idea resonate with the target audience or user?

  • What costs are reasonable?

  • Can the audience (consumers, manufacturers, employees) be convinced to shift well-established habits to embrace The New?

Because of a high failure rate, organizations pursuing the practice of Innovation must have a tolerance for failure. Not every idea will win. But each failure must be perceived as valuable in the trial-and-error process as a team seeks improvement. Tolerance for failure must be encouraged, as well as enthusiasm for risk-taking. Without risk, there can be no reward.

To create a culture of innovation, organizations should:

Encourage Well-Reasoned Risk-Taking
  • The pursuit of innovation isn't some fool-hardy flight of fancy. Encourage - or insist upon - a plan to be presented first, to ensure understanding and buy-in across the affected organization. Know your tolerance for risk and failure in the pursuit of innovation.

  • True innovation requires thorough testing in pursuit of success. Testing, measurement, and an accounting of what's been learned - even in failure - brings measurable outcomes from successes and failures alike.

  • Do you - as a CEO or team leader - trust your people to pursue new ideas on behalf of the company? Build a culture of trust in the individual's pursuits - so long as safety-measures are in place to safe guard against failure damaging the organization.

Most of all, avoid letting a failed concept kill your team's motivation. Every idea should be given positive acknowledgment, every failure should be studied for "what went wrong," and every success should receive appropriate reward. By providing your team with a culture of Innovation, their risk-taking abilities will improve. And, as was the case with Mr. Edison, they eventually will see the light borne from their successful innovations.

Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Innovation Strategy - Fight the Fear of Change

by Paul Sloane

Fear of the UnknownPeople are naturally apprehensive about change. They fear the unknown. There is a reluctance to take risks. This can be particularly true in a successful enterprise. Success can be an enemy of innovation. Why mess with a model that works? There is little incentive to take risks and try new things. But even successful companies are at risk if they stand still. Polaroid Corporation was a leader in its field but digital camera technology dealt it a serious blow and pushed it into Chapter 11. Smith Corona was very successful making typewriters but the advent of word processors proved fatal.

Overcoming the fear of change is a key objective for innovative leaders. They will need to take this issue head-on. They must engage people in a dialogue and discuss the risks and benefits of standing still or of innovating. The types of messages they strive to convey are:
  • We are doing well right now but we need to do better

  • We must fight the risk of complacency

  • If we don't find new ways to reach and delight our customers then others will do it for us

  • There is a risk in innovating but there is a bigger risk in standing still

  • Change can be a big positive for us if we can drive it in the direction we want

Leaders must promote a dialogue where, in addition to telling these messages, they listen to people's concerns and solicit their input. You can turn negative people around by asking for their views on how to make things better. When asked, they will often volunteer great ideas for how we can make the change a big success.

Here are some tools you can use in the battle to win the hearts and minds of your people:
  • Stories about companies that focussed on what they did well and who missed the next big wave

  • Examples of how we lost business to more innovative competitors

  • Examples of how we won business by doing something new

  • Praise for risk-takers and entrepreneurs within the business who have helped to drive change - successfully or unsuccessfully

Innovation involves taking risks, changing things that work and coping with failures. Many people find it an uncomfortable journey. It can be a very bumpy ride but the alternative is to stay in the same place and slowly wither.


Innovative leaders constantly evangelize the need for change. They replace the comfort of complacency with the hunger of ambition. We are doing well but we cannot rest on our laurels - we need to do even better. They explain that while trying new ventures is risky standing still is riskier. They must paint a picture that shows an appealing future that is worth taking risks to achieve. The prospect involves perils and opportunities. The only way we can get there is by embracing change.

Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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