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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 05, 2010

Winning the Gold Medal

by Holly G. Green

Winning the Gold MedalI love the Olympics. I am fascinated by curling (although like most of you I can't quite figure out the rules). I love the thrill of the downhill, the luge, the speed skating, hockey, and the snowboarding events. And I am especially enthralled when I watch the Olympic athletes visibly get clear on winning.

Did you notice Lindsey Vonn at the top of the slope? Eyes closed, arms moving, legs bending as if she were already traveling down the slope in just the manner necessary to win? She was using a practice known as 'success visioning'. She was imagining the course, every twist, every turn... and how she would successfully meet the challenge of it and win the race. Olympic athletes have used success visioning for decades; since the time Roger Bannister broke the world record for running the mile in less than 4 minutes in 1954.

Premier athletes the world over know the power of getting clear on winning BEFORE they get in the race. They imagine it. They get clear on what it looks like, what it feels like, and what they must do. And it works because your brain is amazingly powerful. Once you are clear on winning, your body will follow. In many ways, it can't not follow. Your brain does not know you can't run faster, ski quicker, make higher jumps... it only knows what you tell it and your body steps up to deliver.

Winning also requires practice. Winning for an athlete means he/she is in top condition. It is likely they have practiced their race thousands of times. They are eating the right foods, taking care of themselves, and making progress almost every day towards their goal. Lindsey did not just sit around for a year, jump up, and ski her race. She got clear on goals, met them, and then set new ones. She spent her time and energy towards achieving them. She stopped doing things that got in the way. She stayed focused.

Are you clear on winning in your business? Do you know what it looks like at the end of 2010 when you have been insanely successful? What are the key operating achievements you will have accomplished; what will your company culture be including in regards to the attitudes, beliefs, values, and operating principles; what skills/knowledge/abilities will exist in your organization; what organizational structures will be in place; what work processes and metrics will be used; what tools, systems and technology are necessary; what products will be in market (existing and new); what products will be in development; who will the customers be; who will the competitors be/what types of companies will you compete against; what will the brand represent?

Get clear on winning, your body will follow.

Is it obvious to you and everyone on your team and in your company what it will take to win a gold medal? If not, what race are you running?

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Need more time for innovation (or whatever)?

How to get three hours back every day

Need more time for innovation (or whatever)?
by Matt Heinz

I need more hours in the day, and I assume you do as well. Between our personal and professional lives, there's always too much to do and not enough time to do it.

But despite these challenges, I'm constantly looking for ways to do two things:
  1. Eliminate distractions
  2. Make better use of "down time"

If you're trying to do the same, here are eight things I'd recommend trying. Collectively, I think they effectively give me back about three hours every day.

Don't drive
  • We waste a lot of time in the car, driving. Except for returning a few phone calls, this isn't very productive time typically. If you can take the bus, other public transportation, or even carpool with coworkers, you can use part of that time to get caught up on other work. Catch up on email offline, brainstorm something without other distractions, and work through other things on your to-do list. Worst case, catch up on some of your reading. Any of that is better than stop-and-go traffic.

Always have something to read with you
  • Everywhere you go, carry something you want to read. It can be printed materials (newspapers, magazines, printed-out articles), or it can be saved content on your SmartPhone. For example, on my iPhone I have access to my RSS feeds via Google Reader, a mobile version of ReadItLater that syncs Web articles I want to read, and also an iPhone version of Kindle software to catch up on a book I'm reading. There are so many times during the day when I'm waiting, or in a line, that can be used for a few minutes to catch up on some of this.

Avoid and cancel meetings
  • Do you really need to attend every meeting on your schedule? Have you yourself scheduled meetings that can be more effectively handled with a 5-10 minute conversation in the hallway? I'd be willing to bet that 25% of your meetings this week aren't worth your time. Figure out which ones they are, and get your time back.

Keep your email offline, all the time
  • If you use Outlook in particular, right-click on the icon in the lower right-hand corner of your screen and select "Work Offline". This will essentially "freeze" the email in your inbox currently, and queue up anything in your Outbox to sync when you want to. This helps you focus on what's at hand, without getting distracted in real-time by new incoming messages. Click the send/receive button when you want to, but otherwise stay more focused and more productive without the constant distractions.

Forward your phone to voicemail when you need/want to focus
  • Most phones and phone systems give you the ability to point inbound calls directly to voicemail. If you need to focus on something, shouldn't you turn off this distraction as well? You don't have to do this all day. But if the project in front of you will take 30 minutes to get done, don't let things like new emails and phone calls distract you. That 30-minute project could take 60-90 minutes easy if you check email, take a call, and have to get re-engaged and focused again.

Get up earlier
  • Would it really be that hard to get up 30 minutes earlier? This may not be your most productive, awake time. But an extra 30 minutes (when the rest of the house is still sleeping) could be used for reading, exercise, whatever you want. This alone gives you an extra 3.5 hours a week, and that's a lot of time.

Do your most important 1-2 tasks/projects FIRST every day (before email and voicemail)
  • At the beginning of each day, you already know what 1-2 things are most important to accomplish. But most of us, before tackling those projects, check email and voicemail and quickly get distracted by the day's interruptions and fire-drills. Nine times out of ten, those distractions can wait until your most important tasks are finished. Get them done first, and I guarantee you'll feel (and be!) far more productive every day.

  • You probably aren't delegating to others actively enough. You're probably doing too much yourself, including things might be more efficient to be done by others (and sometimes with better results). You could be using a service like TimeSvr to get small tasks done by someone else. You could use eLance to outsource a variety of administrative projects. You could use ActiveWords to shortcut frequently-used activities on your computer. Long story short, you're working too hard and doing too much. Do less yourself, but get the same and more done.

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Matt HeinzMatt Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at matt@heinzmarketing.com or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Growing a Garden of Innovation

"Companies are actually living organisms, not machines. We keep bringing in mechanics, when what we need are gardeners." - Peter Senge

by Mitch Ditkoff

Sustainable innovation, the endless effort to find a better way, cannot be achieved by robotically lining up best practices and imitating them. The real catalyzing agent for renewable innovation is the ground from which these best practices spring - the confluence of purpose, people, and processes better known as culture.

From where will the next wave of groundbreaking innovation come?

Not from organizations mechanically mimicking each other's best practices, but from organizations with the authentic commitment to take their stand on ground that has been cultivated for breakthrough.

If you check the contents of the most popular books on innovation, the same topics show up again and again: strategy, systems, process, leadership, customer focus, risk, speed to market, prototyping, metrics, mass collaboration, market intelligence, technology, and creative thinking.

Clearly, all of these topics are important. But none of them can take root in an organization without one fundamental element being in place - a consciously created culture of innovation.

Is such a culture simple to create? Yes. Is it easy? No. And the reason why it is not easy is because the ground of most organizations is hard, untilled, and in major need of clearing.

The metaphor that most clearly conveys the effort required is creating a garden.

To experienced gardeners, the steps needed to create a garden are simple. To the inexperienced gardener, it is a tangle of complexity.

Yes, gardening demands sustained and methodical effort. And yes, sweating comes with the territory. But getting a yield - something to harvest - is a fundamentally straightforward task.

If your company is clear about the effort required, creating a culture of innovation (lets just call it a garden of innovation) is simply a matter of taking the time to execute each step thoroughly 0- in the time honored way gardeners have always practiced their craft.


If you are serious about being a gardener of innovation, the first thing you will need is hunger - a real appetite for results.

Growing a garden takes sustained effort. It is hard work - most of it unglamorous and unappreciated. Hunger for a yield is the serious gardener's real motivator. Yes, the serious gardener likes being outdoors and, yes, the serious gardener likes getting exercise, but the ultimate product of his/her labors - the harvest - is what it is all about.

Without this level of commitment, the gardening effort remains only a hobby and does not have the roll up your sleeves and get dirty quality so essential to reaping a result.

If your workforce has no appetite for innovation, you will need to find a way to whet it. If you choose not to, people will sit idly by, waiting for R&D, senior leadership, or the tooth fairy to lead the charge. And while they may talk about growth, shovels, and the need for bulk purchase of mulch, talk will not put food on the table.

Fortunately, somewhere, deep inside everyone in your organization is the impulse to create. This impulse is innate. Your task is to awaken this impulse and help people own the effort to innovate. If they do not own the effort, the only thing you will be eating at harvest time will be your own words. (P.S.: Winter is on the way.)


Amateur gardeners, fueled by visions of ripe tomatoes, have a tendency to plant before they are really ready. Unclear about how large a garden they can sustain, unsure about what is needed to prepare the ground, unable to resist the impulse for a quick yield, they rush in willy nilly.

The result? Lots of wasted effort and the kind of sweating that signifies almost nothing. The same holds true for organizations who claim they want a culture of innovation.

The antidote is a simple, two step process (though the description of the process is much simpler than the execution).

First, an organization needs to get clear about the scope of the effort they want to make. It needs to stake its territory or, more precisely, define the fields in which it wants to innovate. (If it tries to innovate everywhere, all the time, it will only deplete its resources and exhaust its workforce.)

Secondly, it needs to prepare the ground for planting.

This task includes removing obstacles that will interfere with growth, as well as enriching the fertility of the soil. Weekend gardeners cringe at this kind of preparatory effort. It does not feel like fun and there is nothing immediately to show for it. But without this effort there will be no foundation - no ground - for future success.


You can have ample space to plant a garden. You can know exactly where that ample space is. And you can have lots of fertile soil in this ample space. But unless you have healthy seeds to plant, space is all you will ever have.

If you want a garden of innovation, you need seeds. Not just one kind of seed, but many. Indeed, the more varied seeds you have, the greater your chances for an interesting yield.

In the realm of innovation, ideas are the seeds. All innovation begins with an idea. Ideas are the fuzzy front end of the innovation process - the alpha and omega of new growth. No ideas, no innovation. Its that simple.

The big question, then, is this: Where will your company get its new ideas? Is there an existing process? And if so, is this process working? Can you count on your workforce to deliver high quality, game changing ideas? Or is there something else you need to be doing in order to tap their brilliance?


While it is true that some seeds, spontaneously carried by the wind and landing on fertile soil, find a way to plant themselves, most gardens require that seeds be planted in a more dependable way.

If your company is sincere about its intention to create a culture of innovation, it will need to refine its seed planting process. More specifically, it will need to establish a more effective way for the carriers of seeds to increase the odds of those seeds taking root.

Yes, aspiring innovators will need to become more adept at pitching/planting their ideas. But at the same time, the people to whom new ideas are being pitched will need to become more receptive to the possibility that something new is worthy of taking root.

Having a silo of healthy seeds is a good start, but ultimately those seeds need to be planted - and they need to be planted in a way that will radically increase the odds of them growing into seedlings.


If you have ever planted a garden, you have experienced the phenomenon of uninvited predators showing up at all hours to devour your tender, young seedlings. Deer, raccoons, moles, rabbits, and a host of other unidentifiable varmints seem to have no other mission in life but to downsize your dreams of winning the state fair or, at the very least, eliminate all possibility of you having fresh lettuce for dinner. It comes with the territory. And it will continue to come with the territory unless you fence your garden.

Organizations of all shapes and sizes experience the same phenomenon.

Promising new business growth ideas - the tasty indicators of breakthrough innovation - are routinely devoured by ravenous corporate naysayers. That is, unless the organization finds a way to protect their aspiring innovators.

Your role, as a gardener of innovation, is to fence your garden and protect your people from the overly acidic scrutiny, doubt, and premature evaluation of predominantly left brained, metric driven, analytical inhibitors of innovation. It can be done. It must be done. And you are the one to champion the process.


Conceiving a garden is relatively easy. It requires no special skills, discipline, or education. Anyone can do it. Indeed, anyone does do it every single Spring and Summer. Getting a harvest, however, is an entirely different matter. It is not so easy - and unlike conception, requires skill, discipline, resources, and the ability to learn on the job.

In the same way, conceiving new ideas is relatively easy. It happens every day of the year to millions of people. Bringing them to fruition is not so easy. Along the way, they get neglected, mishandled, and trampled on. What starts out as a brilliant new possibility, often shrivels on the vine. Most organizations have no conscious process for nurturing the growth of new ideas.

As a result, many powerful, new ideas never mature.

They may break new ground, but they do not necessarily flower and bear fruit. The good news? It does not have to be this way. With the right kind of sustained effort, gardeners of innovation can dramatically increase the odds of exciting new ideas becoming part of the harvest and making it to market.


Inexperienced gardeners, intoxicated by their need for a big harvest and overcompensating for their fear of having nothing to show for their efforts, tend to plant too many seeds too close together. Their fear usually dissipates in a few weeks when the first sprouts emerge, but then another challenge surfaces - what to do with the apparent bounty of new growth?

While the profusion of greenery certainly looks good to the untrained eye, the reality is different. New seedlings start competing with each other for water and nutrients. Roots entangle. Left unaddressed, the results are disappointing - row after row of stunted, scraggly plants.

Savvy gardeners respond quickly, thinning out new growth to make room for a select number of the healthiest plants to flourish.

Really savvy gardeners go one step further - transplanting the healthiest of the thinned out plants to new, roomier locations.

Organizations trying to raise the bar for innovation face the same challenge. Intoxicated by their need for impressive growth (and wanting to involve as many employees as possible in the process), they get overwhelmed by a profusion of ideas and initiate too many projects - ideas and projects that end up competing for the same, finite resources.

The result? Scraggly, stunted, and undeveloped ventures.

The antidote? A clear strategy for how their organization will evaluate, select, and fund new initiatives - along with a process for identifying promising new growth to be transplanted for future development.


All cultures around the world have a holiday, ritual, or ceremony dedicated to expressing gratitude for the bounty of the harvest. In their bones, they understand the purpose, power, and privilege of giving thanks. Their recent harvest may have fed the body, but the collective acknowledgment of the harvest feeds the soul, strengthening everyones resolve to begin the growing process again the next season.

Corporate cultures could learn a lesson or two from this age old practice.

Historically, organizations have been severely lacking when the time comes to acknowledge the harvest and the people whose efforts were essential to manifesting that harvest. The endless demand for output drives most business leaders to conclude that acknowledging successes is a waste of time - a luxury no bottom line watching organization could afford. Somehow, deep within the collective psyche of senior leaders, lurks the fear that celebrating successes will invariably lead to a fat and lazy workforce.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

People flourish when their efforts are acknowledged - not only individually, but as an entire workforce. If you are serious about establishing a sustainable culture of innovation, remember to take the time to acknowledge your gardeners. For their effort. For their resilience. For their collaboration. And for whatever harvest they are able to manifest.

Food for thought?

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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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Friday, February 19, 2010

Are Best Practices Your Worst Enemy?

by Holly G. Green

Are Best Practices Your Worst Enemy?When I speak to CEO groups, trade associations, and industry conventions, this is one of my favorite questions to ask.

Why? Because I love the reaction from the audience. They look at me like I'm nuts!

Questioning the sanctity of best practices in a roomful of corporate leaders and managers is like walking into a Boston Red Sox convention wearing a New York Yankees cap. Or walking into a Microsoft Corp. strategic planning session with an iPad in your hand. I might as well criticize mom, apple pie, and puppies.

But I dont ask the question merely to provoke a reaction from the audience. I ask it because it may prevent someone from going out of business.

In the 1980's, when Japan was eating our collective lunches in one industry after another, best practices played a critical role in helping American companies develop better quality products. We wouldn't be where we are today had our business leaders not embraced the concept of studying what works best and applying what they learned in their companies.

Over time, however, best practices have become somewhat of a sacred cow. We rarely (if ever) take the time to re-examine them and see whether they still make sense for current market realities. And in today's high-speed business environment, accepting anything on blind faith - even a best practice - can be fatal.

Let me clearly state that I am not advocating that business leaders do away with all best practices. Just the ones that get in the way of achieving your strategic goals and objectives. Here's one that I see all the time.

During strategic planning, a common best practice involves conducting research in your industry to determine where the opportunities and threats lie. Who could argue against this practice? After all, in order to plan the future you have to understand the present.

The problem is two-fold.

One, this kind of research is almost always conducted by experts in their field who bring a boatload of preconceived ideas and assumptions about the way the industry operates. Two, this practice fails to take into account that your next biggest competitive threat may come from an area not even remotely related to your industry.

Do you know anyone who uses a fax machine anymore? Fifteen years ago, the makers of fax machines didn't worry about a little blip on the horizon called broadband Internet. They were too focused on important industry issues like baud rates, printer quality, and the cost of replacement ink. They never even saw e-mail coming.

So when I work with clients on strategic planning, I strongly recommend they make a list of everything they absolutely know is true about their customers, markets, and industry. Then I suggest they have a non-expert research each and every one of those truths. For example, have the CFO look at customer data. Or have the sales manager look at purchasing practices. It's amazing what a fresh set of eyes can see!

Each researcher shares their information with the management team. They explain the approach they took, the data they found, and any recommendations they have. Then I ask, "What questions do you have as a result of your research? What do you believe is possible to do that you aren't currently doing?"

Why is it so important to have non-experts conduct the research?

Because experts are human, and as humans we don't believe what we see. Instead, we see what we already believe. We constantly seek to prove what we think is right, and as a result we miss critical data and limit our success by getting locked into ideas and assumptions that may no longer be true.

So here's a new strategic planning best practice: research what you know to be true, both inside and outside your industry, and do it with non-expert eyes. My guess is that 50 percent of your "facts" will turn out to be wrong, especially if they're more than two years old.

The business world changes very quickly these days, and so should your best practices. Otherwise they may well become your worst enemy.

Which best practices are getting in the way of your success?

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

10 Lessons Learned from 2009

by Holly G. Green

10 Lessons Learned from 2009Wow, what a year!

2009 has come and gone, and many of us are taking a huge sigh of relief. Going through one of the worst recessions in U.S. history will certainly take the wind out of your sails. But we appear to have weathered the worst of the storm. And while the economy might not rebound with the speed and vigor we would like, it at least appears to be heading in the right direction again.

So what did we learn from the trials and tribulations of the past year? And how can we apply those lessons going forward? Here are 10 things I believe that leaders need to do differently to position their businesses for success in 2010.

  1. Get used to the likelihood there will be no normal anymore. The old business world that most of us knew and loved went away with the recession, and it's not coming back. To adapt to today's business realities, question all your beliefs and assumptions, get comfortable with uncertainty, and adjust your expectations. For most, the new 'normal' will be slow and sustained growth rather than a hockey-stick curve and it will continue to surprise us.

  2. Break the rules. If you're not breaking rules on a regular basis, your customers and markets have probably already left you behind. The new rule for today's chaotic markets is to constantly challenge the status quo. Don't automatically assume that what made you successful in the past will continue to make you successful in the future.

  3. Recognize and minimize your "MSUs." We all constantly MSU (make stuff up) about our company, industry, and markets. During the strategic planning process, put everyone's beliefs and assumptions out on the table and ask, "What do we think we know to be absolutely true about our customers, competitors and markets? Is it still true? If not, what has changed and how do we need to respond to that change?" Get data and question your long standing beliefs constantly.

  4. Embrace social media. Embracing social media can be a real competitive advantage. In addition to instantly connecting you with customers, social media enables you to "mindshare" with industry peers, demonstrate thought leadership, recruit talent and more. Study the social media habits of your customers, and use the appropriate tools to make them part of your community.

  5. Expect more transparency. With the advent of social media, you can no longer control public perception by limiting information about your company and products. When you withhold information, today's bloggers, twitterers and forum posters will make it up for you. The next generation of market leaders will excel at using social media to create transparency and build trust with their key stakeholders.

  6. Communicate to fill the void. Today's employees are beset with doubts, uncertainties and fears about their jobs. If you don't tell them what is going on, they will fill the void with rumors and misinformation, usually negative. Constantly let employees know where the organization is going and what your plan for winning is. In today's world, you can't over-communicate.

  7. Encourage strategic thinking. Strategic planning involves a formal process whereby senior management peers into the future and charts a course of action for the organization. Strategic thinking occurs when the entire organization begins to act in concert with the strategic plan. Teach your people to anticipate opportunities and threats while managing the day-to-day tasks that fall within their scope of responsibilities.

  8. Make innovation a way of life. Innovation needs to become an integral part of the way you do business, not just a one-time event. Constantly challenge the way you do things, even when they have always worked well. Strive to create new products, services and ideas that have real value for stakeholders. Look for different and novel ways to deal with ongoing challenges. Constantly seek to implement new and better ways of achieving results.

  9. Slow down to go fast. In times of uncertainty, prepare to pause, focus, and plan. Learn to anticipate the unanticipated by making scenario planning part of your daily routine rather than an afterthought when plans don't pan out. Take the time to consider multiple perspectives and engage others who have diverse views. This may feel like slowing down, but will actually help you get where you want to go much faster.

  10. Get back to basics. When everything around you diverts you into complexity, get back to basics. Make strategic planning a way of life in your organization. Use a strategic planning framework to drive what you do and where you focus your energies. Constantly check for internal and external forces that may impact where you're going, what you need to do and how you need to do it. Organize your day around achieving your destination, and focus on informing, inspiring and engaging others in getting there.

Those are my top 10 tips for success in 2010. I'd love to hear what you plan to do differently going forward.

Here's wishing you clarity, focus, and great success in the New Year!

Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Five Minute Rule helps get intimidating projects done

by Matt Heinz

Five Minute Rule for project successWe all have big, intimidating projects on our plates that, frankly, are a little scary. They either feel like a lot of work, or you're not exactly sure how to tackle them. So, we hem and haw and avoid them.

I've found that a fairly simple trick can help me get more of those projects done. It takes just five minutes.

When I'm facing a big project or task, I tell myself I'm going to spend five minutes getting it started, and that's it. I'm either going to just do five minutes worth of that task, or just spend five minutes planning how to tackle it.

The secret of the Five Minute Rule is that I almost always keep going, blow past the five minutes, and get the task done in far less time than if I would have kept procrastinating.

It's those five minutes that demonstrate how relatively quickly & easily the task can actually get done. If you get five minutes of momentum, sometimes that's all you need to keep going to the finish. If you use the five minutes to brainstorm, it makes the task far less intimidating and easier to get done right away.

Find something on your list right now and give it five minutes. Let me know what happens next.

Matt HeinzMatt Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at matt@heinzmarketing.com or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Innovation is Not Free

by Paul Sloane

Allocating Time for InnovationOne of the most common barriers to innovation is lack of time. People are just too busy doing their day job to spend time trying new things. The common assumption is that working hard and working long hours are good things and sufficient for success. The mantra is "focus on delivering this quarter's results." But doing more of the same is not enough - we have to try the new.

It is as though we are so busy building rafts to cross the river that we never look up to consider building a bridge, or a tunnel or a dam or fording the river or building boats or planes or all the other things we could do. We just focus on producing those rafts.

If you want people to be creative, then set the goal (e.g. crossing the river) and then challenge them to come up with ideas. Give them time and some resources to test their ideas - to build prototypes, or to investigate what people elsewhere are doing.

Google allows its people to spend one day a week on innovative ideas. Is this a wasteful luxury? No. It has led to remarkable innovations such as Google Earth, Froogle and Gmail. Genentech has a similar provision for its people. Most organizations could not afford to give up as much time as Google or Genentech but the same principle still applies - you have to create some slack time in which people can experiment. You do not get innovation for free - you have to allocate time, money and people.

For many years 3M has allowed its scientists and engineers to spend up to 15% of their time on any project that interests them. They do not have to ask their manager's permission but they do have to keep them informed of what it is they are doing. This permission to be free has resulted in countless ideas and innovations for 3M which is regularly rated as one of the most innovative companies.

The message is clear. The leader has to free time for innovation in order to empower people to come with great ideas and to explore them. Whether it is one day a week or one day a quarter, time for innovation is critical.

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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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Five Ways to Prepare for 2010

by Matt Heinz

2010 planningI can't believe it's already December, and 2009 is almost gone. That means it won't be long before the holidays are over, and we're staring at a brand new month, quarter and year. Before January hits you unprepared, spend time in December both catching up and getting ready. Here are five specific things to get you started:

1. Read
  • That backlog of blog posts sitting in your RSS Reader? The stack of magazines on your desk? Dig into them. You don't need to read every single article, but take time this month to catch up a bit on the reading you've wanted to do. I guarantee you'll find inspiration many times over.

2. Learn
  • What skill have you wanted to learn? What new sales or marketing strategy have you wanted to get smarter about before testing for your organization? There's something youve been putting off, because you simply don't have time. What if you devoted the next 30 days to reading, practicing and testing that skill? How could that make you smarter and more successful in 2010?

3. Brainstorm
  • Pick a handful of important problems or challenges. They can be things facing you personally or professionally, individually or with a group. Feel free to brainstorm on your own, but also pull friends, family or colleagues (whichever group is most appropriate) into a room with a white board to help. Even if you just take 30 minutes (our team takes as little as 10 minutes depending on the topic), with a bit of mental isolation and focus, you'll come up with something highly useful.

4. Secret Shop
  • Which competitors - big or small - are creeping up on you? Which ahead of you might be within reach? How can you dig deeper, directly, into how they do business to learn what they're doing well, where they're weak, and what you can do differently to accelerate past (or further away from) them in the coming months?

5. Plan
  • You've probably done some of this already for 2010, at least for your organization overall and/or for your department. But have you done it for yourself? For your career, or other professional and personal goals? What focus areas and milestones will be important to you in 2010, and what do you need to do starting in January to achieve them? Then, what do you need to do in December to hit the ground running?

Matt HeinzMatt Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at matt@heinzmarketing.com or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

People With Passion Drive Innovation Success

by Jeffrey Phillips

I love those truisms that people use to describe a situation. Strangely they are usually based on obvious failures, but perhaps it's simply easier to teach people based on failure than success. Some relatively well-known truisms include:

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink
You can't push a string uphill
Time waits for no man

I'd like to add one about innovation. While we like to say that everyone can innovate, its probably also safe to say that

You can't force a disinterested person to innovate

Now, to me, a person who loves change and new ideas, I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't leap at the chance to participate in innovation. Sign me up! But I've discovered that while "everyone" can be innovative, many people usually aren't, and there are several good reasons for that. Understanding the reasons, and identifying the people who can or will overcome the barriers, will make your innovation effort more successful.

The first reason some people can't or won't innovate is that they don't understand what innovation has to do with them. They simply can't imagine doing their work any differently, and if they did innovate, they might have to learn a new way of doing things. They either can't, or won't imagine the possibility of doing things in a new or different way. These folks aren't resistant to innovation per se, they are resistant to CHANGE.

The second reason some people can't or won't innovate is that they don't believe they'll have the opportunity, or permission, or time. They are willing to project a new future and to try to change, but believe that nothing will change, or that if they have good ideas they'll just be shot down. These folks have good imaginations and are willing to exercise them. They aren't resistant to innovation, they are RESIGNED to the current state or believe it can't be changed.

The third reason some people can't or won't innovate is that they don't want the extra work involved. They are perfectly comfortable punching a clock for eight hours and going home on time. They can see the opportunities for change and innovation, but don't want to have to do anything extra. They aren't resistant to innovation, they simply expect to PUNCH THE CLOCK and don't want any extra work.

The fourth reason some people can't or won't innovate is that they have been infected with a negative perspective or bias. They can recognize the possibilities for innovation but believe that their firm "won't listen" or shoot down their own ideas or the ideas of others too quickly. Just like a the barrel of crabs pulls down any crab that tries to escape, these folks use their negative mojo to shut down any innovation effort. They aren't necessarily resistant to innovation, they are simply NEGATIVE about anything new or different.

OK, so if you weed out these individuals from your organization, then hopefully what's left are the open-minded, the engaged, the change agents and the naive, and that's the perfect blend for innovation. Innovation is going to require change, since it will introduce new products, services or business models. It will require open minded people who can and will think differently. It will require the naive who don't yet know what "can't" be done. And it will require the people who are most engaged who will be willing to make the changes and do the extra work required to make innovation succeed.

This is why we try to staff all innovation efforts with volunteers. People who will volunteer for a difficult project that requires change see the opportunities and want to accomplish them, regardless of the obstacles and barriers, and are willing to do the extra work. Conversely, people who have been conscripted to innovation work are likely to doubt it can happen and abandon the effort at the first sign of resistance, or simply wait for permission.

Perhaps the easiest way to kill an innovation project is to staff it with people who don't believe it will be successful, aren't willing to effect change and who are content to wait passively for permission to proceed.

Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of "Make us more Innovative", and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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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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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Top 10 Corporate Time-Wasters

Do you need time to innovate?

by Mike Myatt

Do you need time to innovate?Time is the only thing we all have in common, yet it's how we choose to spend it that defines and differentiates us as individuals. Even though time is a key success metric, I am always amazed at how many executives don't manage it as such. Time is indeed a precious and finite commodity, and those professionals that manage it wisely are those that achieve the greatest results. Show me an executive that doesn't leverage time to its highest and best use and I'll show you an executive likely to be replaced by one that can. In today's blog post I'll examine the value of time.

The proper understanding of how to use time directly impacts income. You see, time doesn't slow, nor can it be accelerated or recovered; it can only be wasted, invested, or leveraged. I often hear people espouse the axiom "don't work hard, work smart."

I have a bit of a different take on the subject as I work very hard at working intelligently. It was coming to an understanding of these fundamental principles at an early age that have made a tremendous difference in my life as contrasted with many others I've encountered along the way.

Whether you are a sales person, professional advisor, entrepreneur, or executive, you only have 24 hours in a day, which consists of 1440 minutes, and when reduced to the ridiculous amounts to 86,400 seconds. If you want to do more, earn more, serve more, influence more, or significantly change the level of your impact in any area, you simply must make more out of the time you have at your disposal. So, my question is this - How well do you leverage your 86,400 seconds?

Have you ever heard someone say they wish there was more time in a day?

While I've already pointed out that you cannot increase the amount of time in a day, I've also said that time can in fact be leveraged if you know how. Some people use only a portion of a full day, while others leverage the entire day, and those who are most productive leverage multiples of a day.

Multiples of a day you ask?

In my world there are far more than 24 hours in a day. Through making good use of personal time, leveraging staff and technology, outsourcing across different time zones, associating with quality people and organizations, managing risk, and having a laser like focus on highest and best use principles, I estimate that I'm able to average nearly a full week's work into a single 24 hour period while rarely working more than an average work week on a personal basis. Leveraging time is all about making good choices.

Are you making good choices?

The first step in making the most out of your time begins with the understanding that time itself is a key success metric. You can either leverage your time, or waste your time. Once you learn how to invest your time wisely, you can then get to a point where you can start to leverage your time into multiples. The first step in making this transition is to maximize personal time by avoiding the most common workplace time-wasters. According to most of the research I've read, the following items represent the Top 10 Corporate Time-Wasters:
  1. A lack of focus and shifting priorities

  2. Technology (phone, email, IM, social media, etc.) interruptions

  3. Lack of planning

  4. Biting-off more than you can chew (initiative overload)

  5. Drop-in visitors

  6. Ineffective delegation

  7. Lack of organizational skills

  8. Procrastination

  9. Inability to say "No"

  10. Unproductive meetings

Time can either be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Executives that understand how to use time to their advantage accomplish great things, and those who allow time to slip through their fingers don't. The lesson to learn is to accomplish more through leverage while decreasing personal time commitments. Remember that time is a finite commodity, and once a moment in time has passed it is gone forever.

Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of "Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual", and Managing Director of N2Growth.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

How many years of experience do you have?

by Mike Brown

Job ExperienceSeveral years ago, an HR professional passed along a piece of wisdom warranting consideration by anyone who works: Lots of people claim twenty years experience, when what they really have is one year of experience, twenty times over.

Since that conversation, I've used her statement to gauge my career:
  • What new skills, capabilities, and accomplishments have I demonstrated in the past year?

  • Based on near term potential, what opportunities exist to gain new experience in the coming year?

  • What can I do specifically this year to increase the likelihood I'll be developing additional valuable skills?

Ask yourself those same questions. If it looks like you've posted several years of the same experience, you owe it to yourself to take deliberate steps and correct the situation. Potential solutions?
  • Work to redesign your job - formally or informally

  • Step forward for new and different work assignments

  • Figure out ways you'll increase your learning

  • Volunteer for associations and specific roles to help grow your experience

If you haven't done this self-assessment, do it now and get to work making sure your next twelve months are materially new and different.

Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning marketer and strategist with extensive experience in research, strategy, branding, and sponsorship marketing. He's a frequent keynote presenter on innovation and authors Brainzooming!

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Setting a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG)

Power of Flight
by Matthew E May

Over at the American Express Open Forum Idea Hub, I've posted "How to Set a BHAG." A BHAG is a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal, and it's a term coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

I'm constantly asked about the challenge of complacency -- you know, things are going well, but there's a comfort setting in, and people are riding a different wave than when things were a struggle. The complaint goes something like this: "We're stuck. Stuck in the old school, stuck in the status quo, stuck in stall mode. We want things done differently, but we can't seem to get there from here. We've lost our edge. The days of rapid innovation are disappearing in the rearview mirror. There's widespread lethargy."

In short, the entrepreneurial spirit is M.I.A. and "How do I create a burning platform for change?" is the question.

G.K. Chesterton once said: "Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame."

In that quote is the answer to the question! You must create limits and constraints to frame the challenge and drive innovative thinking. The best way to do that in the midst of success is to set stretch goals...BHAGs.

You see, the problem is an addiction to abundant resources. And that addiction to resources is blocking innovation. The cry is for more money, people, and space to innovate. But wait a minute! That's probably not how the company started. Somewhere in the company tree is a story of humble beginnings. Maybe it didn't start in the proverbial garage, but it started with little of everything: money, space, labor. But it was those limits that made people more creative and resourceful than they are today. What WAS in abundance: goals, and a passion for reaching them.

So, reset the bar. Get back to the future. Get the band back together. Get back to basics. Get back to blocking and tackling. Return to your roots. And all the other cliches that spring to mind for vanquishing the complacency that comes with success. To recapture the start-up spirit, recreate the kinds of limitations that drive new thinking.

Then trust people to solve the problem.

Matthew E MayMatthew E. May is the author of "IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing." He is constantly searching for creative ideas and innovative solutions that are 'elegant' - a unique and elusive combination of unusual simplicity and surprising power.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are your innovation efforts working?

by Stephen Shapiro

Innovation MetricsSometimes the question you ask is more important than the actions you take.

During President Obama's inauguration speech, he said:

"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."

This is brilliant in its simplicity. The same thought applies to innovation.

The question you need to ask is not whether you are developing creative products, processes or business ideas, but whether your innovation efforts work - whether they serve your customers, serve your employees, and ultimately serve your shareholders.

Innovation is not about change for change sake. It is about purposeful change that creates value that reduces costs, increases sales, or improves cash flow.

In these troubling times, asking the right question is more important than ever. Do your innovation efforts work?

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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Five Ways to Stay Focused, Be More Successful & Get More Done

by Matt Heinz

Coaching for SuccessI recently asked several business and executive coaches what they do for their clients. I wanted to know more about their process, their approach, and generally how they create value for the people and organizations they engage.

Although each had a slightly different take, it all boiled down to one thing - focus. Each successful coach produced results for their clients by helping them get the most out of themselves and their teams, in every case by focusing time, talents, resources and values.

What I heard generally fell into five distinct areas of focus:

1. Focus on what's important
  • It's easy to feel successful in a day that's busy. Filled with putting out fires. Getting things done. But often, we don't get the right things done. By stepping back and focusing on what's most important (not necessarily what's in front of us, or what's easiest, or what's screaming the loudest), we make far better forward progress (and often in less time).

2. Focus on what you're good at
  • Know your strengths, and lean into them. Compare that to what your organization needs, and ensure that others are doing everything else for you. Yes, there's a cost to delegating, but the results will far outweigh the investment when you have more time for your strengths, and others are accelerating your cause by leveraging theirs.

3. Focus on fewer things
  • Most of us take on far too much. Even if those are all things that are both important and speak to our strengths, there's not enough time in the day to get it all done. Make the hard trade-offs for what's going to drive the most value, and make the hard decisions to put other projects on the back-burner.

4. Focus on the basics
  • What's most important to your business? What's fundamental? What got you where you are now? What are your values? Getting back to the basics of your business can oftentimes be the simplest and most effective way to accelerate growth and productivity again.

5. Focus on what you want
  • It's amazing to me how many people let the day and its myriad influences direct not just day-to-day, but larger directional decisions that affect personal and professional success. When's the last time you took 30 minutes to reflect on what's most important to you? What will make you happiest and fulfilled? How do you map those priorities back to your life & your business?

Of course, achieving one or many of these areas of focus is far easier said than done. If you have the discipline to address and stick to these on your own, you're in the minority. For the rest of us, finding a coach (or even just a mentor) to keep us accountable and help unlock the full potential of our focus can reap significant dividends personally and professionally.

Matt HeinzMatt Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at matt@heinzmarketing.com or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Edison Was Wrong

The other night I had an enlightening conversation with Alph Bingham, the co-founder of InnoCentive from Eli Lilly. This guy is fascinating!

Alph suggested that many people do not like open innovation (external crowd sourcing) because it runs counter to a widely held belief of the R&D community. Researchers often throw around the Edison quote, "I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."

Researchers use this quote because it "validates" the iterative development innovation process; the cornerstone of most R&D departments. They have convinced themselves that they learn as much from their failures as they do from their successes. Call it what you want, the 700 attempts were failures.

When some R&D people look at open innovation, they see it as linear rather than iterative: post a challenge and get a solution. This seems inconsistent with their belief in learning from failures.

Alph made the point that in the R&D world, the value of iterative development is overrated.

What if Edison found a solution to the light bulb challenge on the first try? Would that be bad? Would he have continued to find the 700 ways that did not work? Did the 700 failures really add that much value? Can R&D organizations afford to fail 700 times? Not in today's competitive environment.

Alph suggested that open innovation is a massively parallel process where failures and successes happen at the same time. You post a challenge and you get dozens or hundreds of solutions. Some won't work. But all you need is one solution that does work. And with open innovation, you only pay only for the solutions that do work. Failures cost you nothing in terms of time and money. With internal iterative development, you pay for the successes and the failures. Do you really learn enough from your failures to justify the extra cost and time involved?

Alph's perspective is fascinating and I fully agree with him for analytical/deterministic challenges. Creative challenges and their solutions, on the other hand, often can't be proven correct until they are tried out in the real world. Iterative development - via small and scaling experiments - may still be the best approach for solving less deterministic problems. I call this approach the "build it, try it, fix it" model. Having said that, the iterations could potentially be staged as a series of open innovation challenges that continue to refine concepts until they are market ready. This would be a massively parallel iterative creative development. Very cool.

This got me thinking about a conversation I had with an executive from Chrysler many years ago while I was working at Accenture. I asked him who he felt his biggest competition would be in the future. He pointed at me and said, "You." Although he was half-joking, it's true that the role of car manufacturers these days is less about manufacturing and more about integration. The Accentures of the world are masterful at integration.

And maybe this integration skill is the MOST important skill for your organization to have.

As platforms like InnoCentive continue to grow, problem solving of all types - creative and analytical - will be outsourced in a massive parallel way to a huge network for solvers. If we take this to an extreme where all challenges are outsourced via crowdsourcing, the role of a company would only be to integrate these solutions together into a seamless offering.

Although this is easier said than done, this one skill may be critical for the survival of your business...and maybe even the US economy.

China and India have a growing base of highly educated engineers and experts. Eastern European countries and parts of Asia have large creative bases. The world is truly flat. And all of these countries have people who are willing to work for pennies on the dollar.

If we try to beat these countries at their game, we will lose. We could never educate enough people. And even if we could, our workforce would probably not be willing to labor for lower wages.

Integration is the key. Yes it is difficult. And that is good news. While the rest of the world is focused on the trees (the point solutions to specific challenges), we need to become masterful at defining the forest (the strategy, architecture, and integration of the point solutions). This is where value is created. And this is much harder to outsource.

It reminds me of something from my "24/7 Innovation" book I wrote back in 2001...

"(As innovators,) we are architects of companies and industries. An architect is not a 'reengineer.' To illustrate this point, I often ask clients what is the difference between an optimist, a pessimist, a reengineering consultant, and an architect. The optimist looks at a half filled glass of water and sees it as half-full. The pessimist looks at the same glass and sees it as half-empty. The reengineering consultant sees too much glass. Cut off the top. Downsize. An architect looks at the same glass and asks questions such as 'Who's thirsty?' 'Why water?' Or 'Is there another way to satisfy the thirst?' It is this questioning, challenging and rethinking that differentiates architects from those who rearrange the deck chairs on The Titanic."

Find solutions everywhere. Embrace open innovation. And think like an architect. Ask the difficult questions. Assess what matters most. And build a core competency around integrating point solutions.

Remember, we are no longer in the tree business...we are in the forest business.

Bonus: An interview with Alph Bingham and Dwayne Spradlin of Innocentive

Stephen 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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Saturday, August 08, 2009

14 Most Important Innovation Factors

I came across a nice 2003 study by Dutch academics titled, "SME innovation and the crucial role of the entrepreneur." The study's purpose was to ask small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) what they viewed the most important factors in innovation to be. In this study, SMEs consist of 100 employees or less.

Rather than have the businesses come up with their own factors, the academics conducted an extensive survey into the prevailing studies on the matter. From this survey, they culled to the 14 most commonly mentioned bases for innovation.

They then asked 167 firms to answer 50 different questions, which resolved to the 14 factors. From these responses, they generated a statistically valid ranking of the what small businesses consider to be the most important drivers of innovation.

Before discussing these ranked factors, it's interesting to note the academics' take on this. They came up with a really rough ordering of the most important innovation factors, based on their frequency in research studies. They then compared the research studies to what the businesses themselves identified. It's of interest to see the discrepancies.

The chart below shows how business ranked the 14 factors, along with their approximate frequency in research work:

The findings are useful, and perhaps not surprising. In a firm with under 100 employees, the entrepreneurial zeal of a founder certainly is a key driver of innovation. Unique product advantages make sense as the #2 factor - although perhaps that's a bit confusing in that innovation produces the unique product advantages.

Innovation culture comes in for #3. This is important, and my guess is that if you were to survey growing sizes of firms, this factor would rise in the rankings.

Check out the full paper for details.

Hutch Carpenter is the Director of Marketing 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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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

10 Rules for Small Business Success

I attended the fantastic first Small & Special conference one afternoon in July, with more than 100 other small business owners (some just weeks into their new venture) and several excellent speakers. The energy was palpable, and the agenda was inspiring.

It was clear throughout the afternoon that starting and succeeding with a small business involves a lot of hard work, but for nearly everyone that spoke it was a true labor of love.

Several themes developed throughout the afternoon, which I believe make up ten critical lessons or rules for succeeding with a small & special business. Here's what I took away:

1. Do What You Love (Follow Your Passion)

Fleurish was started with a $15K loan from a friend, and is now a highly-successful floral arrangement and consulting business. A gentleman whose business is laser engraving spoke at length about the history and usefulness of lasers, which culminated in a trivia contest about lasers for samples of his products. He's that passionate about lasers!

Moral of the story is to start and work on a business not because you think it's something that can make money, but because it's something for which you're truly passionate.

2. Past History, Education or Experience Doesn't Really Matter

Eric LeVine started CellarTracker.com without much experience or knowledge about wines at all. Just a growing passion for wine, and a knowledge of how he wanted to help other collectors organize their cellars. Rachel Venning now teaches sex ed in addition to operating four sex toy shops across the country, but admitted she didn't know much of anything about "that" (her word) when she started.

Others may know more than you now. But if you're passionate and willing to learn, it's your oyster.

3. Overnight Successes Take Years

The current revenue and margins for many businesses presenting today was impressive (to put it mildly). But most of those stories were preceeded by years of hard work oftentimes while still losing money or barely breaking even. Oliver Chin of Immedium spoke of hos important it was for his wife to have a "day job" to keep good health benefits for him and their two kids. Others spoke of difficult and lean early times (and early years) before they caught their stride.

If you're passionate and determined, you can get there. You just may need to be patient.

4. Be Open to New, Unexpected Opportunities

Joe Mansfield of EngraveYourTech.com stumbled upon an opportunity to do custom engraving on Moleskine notebooks. It was a new business like with hockey-stick growth until he realized the toxic PVC impact of lasering Moleskine covers. A promising, fast-growth business came to an immediate halt overnight.

Undeterred, Joe started experimenting with engraving on other media, including tech devices such as laptops and iPhones. He actively posts his new creations on Flickr, which generates significant new business on a regular basis.

Be open to new opportunities, especially when existing opportunities shrink or vanish. Your business likely won't evolve the way you think, but opportunities are everywhere.

5. You Can Start Now

Start it part-time. Several business owners spoke of doing research and starting initially during nights and weekends. Eric LeVine wrote code until the wee hours of the morning while keeping his day-job at Microsoft before deciding he was ready to take the plunge full-time.

Rachel from Babeland wrote a business plan, but really just got started. She said the advantage of "just doing it" gave her much better on-the-job learning, and better visibility into opportunities emerging in real-time. If you have a business idea or passion, start exploring it now. Do it for fun, start it as a hobby. You may be surprised how quickly you're ready to make it a full-time focus.

6. Ask For Help

Rachel had long admired a popular sex shop in San Francisco called Good Vibrations. She cold-called the founder to ask for advice, and that founder ended up serving as a quasi-advisor to Rachel and her partner as they launched and grew their own business. A successful founder helping a prospective competitor!

You'll be surprised who will help you - with advice, with their time, even perhaps with their products and services. It never hurts to ask.

7. Work With People You Love

Some speakers recommended finding a good partner. Steven Bristol from LessAccounting.com said his partner was critical to the success of the business, if for no other reason than they help each other "say no" to things they don't really need (helping them maintain focus and keep costs low).

What's more, working with people you love makes it fun! Andrew Bennett from Deneki Outdoors realized one day that he was working 50 weeks a year to spend two weeks a year doing what he really wanted. He now spends most of the year managing his fly-fishing lodges and working with people who share his passion.

8. Execute, Every Day

Jon Rimmerman from Garagiste talked about the importance of working hard, every day. You may occasionally hit a home run, but successful businesses are build from hitting a lot of singles. So, as the analogy goes, keep swinging. Keep a good attitude, keep your head down, and execute.

9. Embrace Competition

Steve Bristol loves competing against bigger brands like QuickBooks and Quicken. Competition is scary, he said, but it's important. When there's no competition, there's no market.

What's more, embrace your role as an underdog and you'll draw customers to you.

10. Focus On Your Customers

Last but probably the most important. Every single successful business speaking today not only had this as a central focus of their business, but they did it not as a proactive initiative but as a natural, critical part of doing business.

Jon Rimmerman talked about the conversation he has with his customers, not at them. He writes his wine emails (sent daily to nearly 100,000 recipients) as if he's writing a 1:1 correspondence.

Steven Bristol talked at length about the loyalty customers will have when you treat them right. Even if you screw up occasionally, loyal customers will stay with you if you treat them right. Make something people love, and you'll create long-term passionate users who tell your story to others.

Matt Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at matt@heinzmarketing.com or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.

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