How To Ignite Passion In Your Employees

Employee engagement is at crisis levels in some companies – sure, maybe your people show up physically (or perhaps not, depending on your telecommute policies) but do they show up mentally? Are they willing to give their maximum effort to your company for what you are paying them, or are they just going through the motions and phoning in their job, waiting to jump to the next company that they may be more interested in (don’t worry, there are only a few of those, so chances are low). read more

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Let’s Make Rejection Great Again

People hate being the bearer of bad news, but if you ask me, bad news is much better than no news.

One of the worst things that you can do to an innovator is to ignore their ideas, no matter if they are good ones or not. read more

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Is Innovation Career Suicide?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: your CEO (or more likely new CEO) decides that your company needs to be more innovative, either generating profitable new products, becoming more of a leader in the space or trying to juice up employee engagement. Let’s do some moonshots! As a career innovator, this is what you like to hear.

There’s a budget for the development of an innovation program, and possibly even the creation of an innovation group, dedicated personnel charged to foster and encourage innovation within the organization. The budget may be for the program, or the people, or the budget may be to generate targeted IP, to help start or expand an existing patent portfolio. The mandate is “envision the future of our business,” and help take us there.

They announce with great fanfare. They hire innovation and facilitation gurus, and internal teams are built to foster more innovative processes, new products, and process improvements, leading to higher profitability and cost savings.

It starts strong, with a lot of initial employee engagement. Ideas are submitted and if the program is properly set up, reviewed and dispositioned by a team of reviewers, and some rise up to become attractive enough to prototype, or even lead into a possible patent application.

These are great ideas. The ideas could go on to become an entirely new product, opening up new markets for the company. Unfortunately, there is no current market for the products TODAY, so enthusiasm from leadership wanes (not always, but in most cases, we’ve seen). Plenty of great forward-thinking ideas are generated, but few to none come to fruition.

The next step is accountability. Instead of the innovation group developing future products and services, its asked to justify these ideas against current day business models, when the markets may not exist yet. There was no guaranteed market for Twitter when it launched. No guaranteed market for Slack. No guaranteed market for the iPhone. The product was launched, and the market picked them up.

But it doesn’t matter. The same leadership which gave the innovation group free rein to envision the future of the company now needs to develop for today, not tomorrow. All work requires sponsorship by a profitable business unit and show promise as a real product for today’s market.

There are no more moonshots, no more disruptive innovation. And we are back to square one when the leadership decides to disband the group or keep it as a non-functioning figurehead (to brag to others that they have an innovation group).

The innovation staff is then reassigned, leaves or is let go. Those who are let go move to another firm which is at the front end of the “innovation cycle,” and the cycle begins all over again:

  • Innovation is important, let’s budget for it and give it the freedom to be disruptive
  • Innovation is important, but let’s make sure that it will solve a real business problem of today
  • Innovation is important, but let’s make sure that we hit our numbers.
  • Innovation is so important; we don’t even need to have an innovation group. Everyone needs to innovate.
  • read more

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    Ways We Innovate: Ask “Why Do We Still…”

    With all of the new technologies and ways of doing things seemingly better and faster, do you ever wonder why we sometimes cling to the old ways of doing things? Why even if much better options are available, we still do things a certain way? Why do we hesitate to innovate?

    We get hired to moderate and facilitate a lot of workshops, meetings, and events. Sometimes, they are innovation focused workshops, centered on developing products and services which can be developed and launched today. Sometimes they have targeted IP generation sessions, expressly designed to generate protectable IP, in the form of patent applications (and hopefully patents). Sometimes, they are far future strategy sessions which can generate all the above. In all our sessions, we also generate massive improvements in employee engagement.

    We tend to use repeatable, useful, and mind-expanding session formats, to generate the biggest return in the shortest period. One of the most useful tools in our arsenal is the “Why do we still…” format, which we find fun, engaging and helps to open the team’s minds to new possibilities.

    In this game, we spend a few minutes generating the end of the question “Why do we still…” – typically first using individual ideation, then group ideation, then dot voting to select the top three sentence ends. We then randomly split the team into two, and have each team argue for and against this assertion, looking at cultural, social, technical, and other markers to answer the question. We also ask the team to develop a sales pitch for their viewpoint and have the teams compete against each other to determine a winner.

    Here are some examples:

  • Why do we still buy DVD players? (electronics manufacturer)
  • Why do we still use websites? (bank)
  • Why do we still use remote controls? (virtual audio assistant developer)
  • read more

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    When People Say “We’re Not Like Google”, I Say “Why Not?”

    I’ve worked with a number of clients over the years who seem to have a bit of a self-esteem issue. We have very successful ideation sessions, a number of great ideas are generated, but then when it comes to taking the best of the best of these ideas and turning them into reality, they get cold feet. The phrase I hear a lot of is “We’re not like Google, we don’t have unlimited funds to spend on crazy, out-of-the-box moonshots.” It’s lucky for you then, that you don’t need unlimited funds to drive innovative new products and services out of your organization.

    Sure, the might be true in some ways, but it doesn’t mean that you get off having to innovate, and actually implement some of those innovations.

    For example, people can look at something like Google Glass, and the millions of dollars spent to develop it, launch it, support it, then finally kill it, as a huge waste of money. What they don’t think about are all of the ancillary benefits just doing something like Glass, even if it wasn’t the ideal product. out into the world.

    Google expanded our consciousness about what can and cant be done (and as a side effect exposed the personalities of some people) even if the product itself didn’t fly. It made us think about what augmented reality devices should look like, and feel like. It made us think about a future where these kinds of devices are much more commonplace. It drove commentary and innovation about these devices and their more likely future form factor. As an experiment, it helped open the Overton Window on augmented reality by moving us into an uncomfortable space, where we could think new thoughts and possibilities. It likely created a ton of employee engagement internally as well, from both the pro and anti Glass folks.

    We all learned a lot from that, even though many people say it as a failure. Google did spend a lot of money, but they got in return a ton of other good stuff.

    You can do the same thing as they did, without the “spending tons of money part”. These days, with the available tools and frameworks, it can take almost no time and money for you to develop the best of the best of the ideas that you come up with during your internal ideation sessions and turn it into a real live proof of concept, or even a product just for internal use.

    When I worked with Yahoo!, there were plenty of internal projects (known as “dog food” – which were built and launched for internal use only, just so we could see if they would fly) At the very least, create a simple prototype in your labs and test it with a focus group, either your employees, prospects or customers.

    When you do take the best ideas and create prototypes, make sure that all of this activity is communicated to the inventors of the idea, as well as the rest of the company. Be loud and proud about the great ideas generated internally, and be even more vocal about the plans for the prototype. If it tests well, shout about that as well.

    Do this long enough and hard enough, and you can be as innovative as Google, without having to spend the big bucks.

    After all, are you trying to dent the universe, or just make your company more profitable and future proof? The latter is far cheaper.




    photo credit Lubomir Panak flickr


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    3 Ways to Deal with Innovation Resistance

    Having been in the innovation business all of my career and for the last 15 years as a professional innovator, I’ve seen my share of resistance to innovation. Most of the time, individuals within internal innovation groups within organizations are typically pretty innovative, they spend time pushing forward-thinking products and services forward within the organization. In some cases, however, especially in staid, older organizations without a strong innovation culture, even folks in the innovation group themselves can put up a fight when it comes to breakthrough ideas. Even in some organizations which are tied down by market forces or regulatory burden, there’s still a need to experiment.

    This is why is extremely important (and one of the very first things we do) to understand the culture of the organization. What does innovation mean to this company?

    Once you understand the culture – you’ll be able to figure out how to move things along. In any case, here are three solid strategies for pushing that innovative new concept to the next step, be it proof-of-concept, prototype, or even actual product.

    1: Recast The Concept For a Specific Underserved Desirable Market read more

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    Problem Solving: It’s What We Humans Do Best

    The Case For “Solutioning”

    As an innovator, disruptor and creator of new things, I love coining and using new words which can more effectively describe something, and solutioning is one of them.

    Be honest, when some people hear the word “innovation” all they think about is airy-fairy, pie-in-the-sky visions of a perfect world where everything goes right, with no connection to the world of today. Nothing could be further from the truth, but for some reason, these prejudices persist. For some, innovation is not something we are doing today, but something we may do tomorrow, and right now, we aren’t concerned with tomorrow – we just want to get through today.

    Considering times are much better than they were, say, 10 years ago, this new attitude that “the sky may fall at any second so I need to keep my eye on the bottom line more than ever”, is puzzling to me. In good times, (like now) you should have the luxury to look a bit further forward down the line, but for some reason, this roaring comeback is not like the others.

    But I digress.

    Innovation has rarely been about the far future, innovation has mostly been about solving the problems of today in new ways. A way to look at the current challenges which your organization is facing with new eyes and a new perspective. It’s a chance to get more and more diverse minds, perspectives and viewpoints on the issue: what is your biggest challenge, and how do we solve it? How do we move forward in this challenging environment? How do we increase revenues and profitability when new, leaner and agiler competitors start to siphon off our customers and prospects? How do we tighten up our operations to increase our profit margins and massively increase employee engagement? How do we enlist all levels of our organization, or even our customer and prospects,  to solve our biggest problems? This is what innovation is.

    But if the term itself is a problem, that’s not a problem – let’s just call it something else.

    Recently, I’ve been using a term from the past (at least some tell me that it reminds them of an outmoded term that old line IT companies used to use) which I find completely applicable, and more true to the real act of what is going on.

    When we are all in a room, or in a virtual room, attempting to address this thorny issue or that, combining the brainpower of your stellar team and our unique facilitation process, we are solutioning. We are actively applying the tenets of innovation (facilitation, ideation, and problem-solving) to developing innovative solutions for your challenges of today, not tomorrow.

    When you bring in fresh minds of all kinds into the process, the results are massively effective. So should we dispose of the term “innovation” – it’s served us well all of these years, and talk about the results of the work – effective and real solutions to your day-to-day tactical challenges?

    Should we call what we are doing what it actually is: solutioning?

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    What Price Innovation?

    What Would You Pay To Unearth A Billion Dollar Innovation?

    What would you be willing to spend to unearth a billion-dollar idea from your organization? A hundred thousand? A million? Nothing?

    Why are you looking at revenues at all?

    Unless you have a true Silicon Valley mindset, that question is wrong in so many ways. I’ve posted before on how many executives feel that an idea is not innovative unless it makes a billion dollars (everyone loves a unicorn), so anything less than that is not worth working on.

    Firstly, if Silicon Valley startups have taught us anything it’s that the driver of your innovation efforts shouldn’t be cash (although increasingly this is what people think success should be in Silicon Valley), but a product or service which massively improves people’s lives. The billion, or multi-billion, or even million-dollar payoff is a side effect – change people’s lives for the better – and the money will follow.

    So, how much would you pay to unearth a billion-dollar innovation, lurking somewhere deep in your organization? You know it’s out there, somewhere among your own employees, just waiting for the right spark to let it loose. The billion dollars itself seems like a great incentive to me, but in addition to that, you can generate multiple billion-dollar businesses, multiple million-dollar businesses, and process improvements which can save millions to billions of dollars, what would you pay for it now? But that’s not all.

    What would you pay to drive massive employee engagement? To take your current workforce and turn it into a powerful machine driving towards your success, at every level of the organization. What would it be worth to you if you instantly received great ideas to increase your revenues or cut costs from any and every level of your organization, anywhere in your organization, at any time of the day or night?

    Imagine your field personnel, noticing or realizing a cost-saving measure somewhere in the field, communicating it across the organization, allowing others to view, review, comment and improve upon the idea, then eventually rolling it out across your organization, greatly reducing costs. How much would you pay for that?

    How much would you pay to instantly capture and can review any ideas from far-flung corners of your organization, many of which may never get a hearing in your C-suite? What if the billion-dollar idea was buried there, and it would just come to you – the moment your employee thought of it.

    What would you pay to generate hundreds of patentable ideas, creating a veritable fortress of intellectual property around your business, any future business, and any other areas you may wish to get into? If you are planning to develop or expand your current portfolio of IP, would you prefer to hire external inventors to develop it, or leverage your internal workforce?

    The question is, of course, not what you would pay, but what wouldn’t you pay. Every second that you are not running, or running an ineffective innovation program within your organization is another second lost, another opportunity lost, and possibly, another billion-dollar idea lost.

    Are you willing to take that chance?

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