Stop Running From Change and Embrace It

Why do people run from change, even when that change is for the better?

We always seem to fall back on the familiar, even if it causes pain. We stick with what we have, whether it works or not – even in some cases it’s worse for us. Most people fear change – they fear the future – they fear doing something different. read more

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How To Staff Your Innovation Group

Fill It Full Of Doits, And You’ll Never Be Short Of Ideas

A while back, I wrote a blog post about the two kinds of people in the world, the ShouldWes and the DoIts. You can go back here to read the full post, but in short, the DoIts are the action takers, the ones who see or generate an idea they want to move forward on that idea, no matter if the idea is incremental or disruptive, they want to take the risk and develop the idea, get in in front of customers and see if the idea lives or dies.

They would take ideas which have been considered good by a certain number of people, say possibly voted on or reviewed by a review committee, then apply their gut-feel filter on it (does this ideas seem like it will fly) then figure out some way (if there isn’t already a well-defined process for building and launching these ideas) to get those ideas, in some form, in front of customers. In some cases that means spending a few bucks to build it out (even in a rough form) and launch it to the world (or a small subset of the world). It’s the lean startup model, build an minimum viable product (MVP) and launch it.

Notable examples of some multi-billion dollar businesses which (you may have heard about) started this way – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat – someone had a core idea (a search engine which worked based on link count, an electronic version of a college Facebook, a text-based notification system, a way to share test answers in class) and instead of endlessly discussing the idea and researching the idea and thinking out all possible permutations of developing the idea, including figuring out a business model for the idea, they just built it and launched it.

Whoa, pretty scary idea, eh?

Those ideas could have failed miserably (and I’m sure that there are other versions of those ideas which were launched and did fail miserably) but they didn’t, and they are proof that ideas, when handled by the DoIts, can sometimes generate billion-dollar businesses.

On the other hand, you have the ShouldWes, who when confronted by a new idea (and yes, for some reason they seem to feel like they are confronted by them, right – they feel that reviewing and discussing the idea is a burden) its “oh here we go again – another idea with a ill-defined business model”. Or they may love discussing and researching the idea, endlessly thinking about the idea, all of the possible permutations of the idea.

They dwell in the realm of thought and ideas, never venturing into action or execution at all. They prefer to continuously mull an idea over and over, looking for ways to halt the progress of the idea towards an initial product (or any product for that matter) which could be introduced to their customers. They take the idea and compare it to the culture of the organization (this idea will never fly at Company X, its not how we do things here) or the current ethical atmosphere (this is really against the core principles of our industry) or may, God forbid, actually offend someone (oh boy, when Group X hears about this ideas, they’ll be sure to squash it).

They seem to go out of their way to find ways to dump all over the idea – especially if they are really interesting disruptive ideas which could possibly help a lot of people in huge ways, just because they are not business as usual, highly profitable business models we’ve used or are past-proven within the organization (it doesn’t matter if the model has been proven by others, if we’ve never done it, then it probably can’t be done by us).

There are already tons of ShouldWes in most organizations (interestingly enough, they seem to congregate in the finance areas of many organizations, but can really be found everywhere), but they really have no place in your innovation group. I suggest that if you are building an innovation group from scratch, being a DoIt should be an automatic qualifier, and being a ShouldWe should be an automatic disqualifier. If you’ve already got ShouldWes in your organization, maybe you can find more appropriate places for them elsewhere in the organization? If we are going to “move fast and break things” do we really need someone putting on the brakes and wrapping everything in bubble wrap?

In fact, your entire innovation group should be fully stocked with DoIts, and if possible, you should encourage the hiring of more DoIts beyond the innovation group.

There are already enough ShouldWes out there.

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The Most Interesting Thing in The World

 It’s In Your Pocket

I was a fan of Last Man Standing before it was canceled and during a recent binge watch there was an interesting scene of a neighbor couple bickering over a smartphone – they were sitting at the kitchen table and the husband was looking at a cell phone and the wife was talking, or at least trying to talk to him. She saw him looking at his phone and said: “Are you finding that phone more interesting than me?” He started to explain that the smartphone was the window to all of the world’s information, entertainment and people, saw the look on her face, then put the phone down.

But isn’t he right? Isn’t it true that the smartphone has become the most interesting thing in our lives?

Its no wonder that many baby boomers and Gen X folks, trying to downsize are seeing resistance from their kids when they try to give them stuff which may have a lot of meaning for them – what is the value of a prized framed photo when a digital photo of it stored on a smartphone can have the same impact? One could argue that the sentimental value of an object cannot carry to the next generation, but at the same time, have we not revised our culture to the point were many of the objects which earlier generations used to cherish, are now worthless, and their digital twins have the same or even more value?

We are starting to value the ephemeral over the solid, the rental over the ownership, the temporary use of an object as opposed to a permanent possession. At the same time, we are focusing more and more of our lives at that little screen. Because it contains all of the worlds information, entertainment, and connection to other human beings, it is the most interesting thing in your life. It will not only remain the most interesting thing in your life, it will become all that you may need, outside of things you need to consume.

The future of retail may very well be split between those focusing on consumables and those focusing on digital objects. Advanced augmented reality glasses may eliminate the need for things completely. Why buy an object when you can paint it into your vision digitally where you want it to be? Why paint your walls any color when you can repaint them at will at any time?

It’s true that time spent looking at screens has skyrocketed, and will only increase further. As we spend more and more time looking at screens, we spend less and less time looking at real things and each other.

Will we reach a point where we will not be able to interact with each other unless it’s through a screen – with its ability to augment our reality?

People will buy fewer things (unless they are consumables), need fewer things, and leave behind fewer things. Fewer things will need to be created, but their digital analogs will flourish. Digitizing then destroying real-world objects will become commonplace – like shredding trucks, I can foresee businesses focused on high definition rendering of 3D objects, then destroying the original objects.

While the older generations may mourn the loss of these sentimental objects, just having fewer non-consumable objects in the world is a good thing.

So yes, I do find my phone to be more interesting than you – but to be fair, you can’t compete.

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Need Innovation? Change Your Space.

Change in surroundings lead to a change in thought

What do they call it when expert after expert proves beyond a doubt that something exists and is roundly agreed to be the case, but is then summarily ignored, even though the findings are real and true?

In study after study, humans have been found to be profoundly affected by their environment, writers from Dan Pink to Dan Ariely and others discuss how humans are so affected by changes in their surroundings that simply moving from one room to another in your house can cause levels of cognitive dissonance.

Repeatedly, we are told that our behavior changes when we are in a different place, but we still expect our humans to act and react in the exact same way, no matter where they are. Even though it’s been proven that people are more creative in a creative, messy space, where they can bump into other people, places, and things, it still not encouraged, even if the goal of the team is to generate creative ideas.

We still ask our people to show up every day, at or around the same time, in the same place, and ask them to hang out with the same people, and leave at the same time, then lament that they haven’t come up with any new ideas or creative solutions. On the one hand, we say that humans are affected by their environment, and on the other hand we dismiss it out of hand. Well, my suggestion is, lets start listening to the experts and the psychologists who tell us that the environment we put our humans into matters.

Our surroundings not only matter, they predict how we will act. For example, if you want to encourage creativity, you need to place your humans in a messy creative space, where they can bump into each other, and generate random juxtapositions of people, places and things. If you are looking for creativity from your team, you need to shake them up – drive them out of their day-to-day location – take them somewhere new and mix them up with new people, places or things.

In some companies, like HubSpot, this kind of rotation has been institutionalized, with teams moving around the office randomly on a regular basis to maintain their creative edge. If we acknowledge that humans work differently in different environments, then why can’t we encourage the environment which works best for the what we want the team to do.

If we want the team to be productive, put them in uncluttered closed offices and war rooms, and have them laser-focused on the task at hand. If we want creativity, then we put them in a messy place. However, we too often put everyone into the same cramped, disorganized, noisy open space and expect them to effortlessly move from one to the other.

If humans are so easily swayed to be different based on their surroundings, wouldn’t you want to use that edge as best you can? Of course, you do. In future, listen to the behavioral psychologists – to get your team to innovate, you need change their surroundings.

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Prepare For The Unpreparable

People Always Say, “That Will Never Happen To Us”

Can we all finally agree that life is change, and there is no such thing as a steady state? If we can do that, then it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you to also agree that if life is change, then change is inevitable? If change is inevitable, is there any reason to think that your core business is immune to change? That its immune to new threats, new competitors, new startups and other disruptive forces which, like a Black Swan, swoop in out of the blue with no warning?

Think about this example for a second – how long have we had the concept of a paycheck? You know, that thing that gets dropped in your bank account every two weeks, twice a month or once a month. Who among us has not spent our early working years managing our budgets to the tune of our paychecks?

Remember when you first lived on your own outside of college, got your first job and paid your first rent check? How you had to learn to manage your money so that you had enough to pay for food, clothes, and rent. What contortions did you have had to go through to make sure that your paycheck stretched until everything was paid? For those still living paycheck to paycheck (at last, count that’s 78% of Americans) an entire $30B industry (the payday loan business) was invented in the space between when you got paid, and when you had to pay.

A few months ago, several major employers decided to test a new concept (McDonald’s, among others) – instead of paying their workers every two weeks, they would start to pay workers daily. They would pay workers a day’s pay, the day after they worked it. Instead of waiting for one to three weeks for a paycheck, people would just get paid a day after every day they worked. No more waiting. No more budgeting. If this takes off, you know what else there will be no more of – the $30B payday loan industry, which never saw it coming. A $30B industry, gone in a flash.

Many executives walk around with blinders on. They live by the maxim “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it” Too bad that maxim is untrue in our world of continuous disruptive innovation. With us, our maxim is “If it ain’t broke, it will be”. We must prepare for the day it will break. We just don’t know exactly when, but with a well-managed futurist program, you can get a much better idea.

The reality is that one day, some event will occur and hit your core business so hard that you may not be able to recover. When that happens, it’s prudent to have your backup plan in place – your new business – already on its way or just ready to go. This is what your innovation lab is for – it is an incubator in which to birth new businesses, a place to create new value for your current and future customers.

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How To Pick Winning Ideas For Your Innovation Lab

Your innovation labs existential question: which idea is the billion-dollar idea?

The biggest problem I’ve seen companies struggle with, once they have launched a futurist innovation program, is not a low number of ideas. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.

After possible years of not providing any kind of systematized institutional method of capturing, collecting, reviewing, voting on, providing feedback on, and deciding on the fate of an idea, innovation labs are usually swamped with ideas once an effective program is launched.

Some ideas are slightly incremental, and may already be on the roadmap, unbeknownst to the inventor. Others are a bit too far out and may not be in a space that the company wishes to invest in, or are currently not possible, due to technological capability or the culture of the company not being ready for it.

Even after adding those filters, there are still usually a ton of really good ideas in that sweet spot – great ideas which could be implemented today and could grow your revenues or cut your costs by a substantial amount.

But which will have the most impact?

You can take a wild guess and use your gut instinct to figure out the winners, or get a team together on a regular basis of the brightest minds in the company and filter and prioritize, but in the end, you really don’t know which of these ideas are the winners.

What do you do? Do you come up with complicated schemes, using various metrics which may or may not reveal the most profitable ideas, do you throw it back out to the crowd again by allowing those with the top votes become your prioritized list, or do you randomly select a subset of ideas to focus your efforts on? In our view, none of these are the best course of action.

It may sound obvious, but you need to lift a page from the venture capital playbook and simply fund all of them.

VCs have huge floods of ideas coming into their businesses, which they do filter for all kinds of fit, type of business, knowledge of space etc. Even then, they still end up with many supposedly great ideas, but even they, with their in-depth knowledge of what a winner may be, still have very little idea which of their businesses will truly fly. They do the same – they take their pre-vetted short list and fund them all.

The key thing to remember here is that they don’t just fund all of them the same amount, they fund each of them just enough to take them to the next “proof step”, just enough to further test the idea.

These days, with the frameworks and infrastructure available to a typical lean startup, it takes very little time and effort to build a version of the business which is “testable” – enough to drop in front of real possible future users and get an idea of whether it will take off. These testable versions could be as simple as some wireframes whipped out over a few days by a UX designer, all the way to a working non-scalable simplistic prototype rapidly cranked out by a small team of designers and engineers.

Any of these variants are many times less expensive and resource intensive than they used to be. You can now quickly stand up a proof of concept within weeks or day, and quickly get something in front of real users for a thumb up or down.

With the costs of building these proofs of concept plummeting, there is no excuse – there is no reason you can’t at least afford a small amount of time and effort on each pre-vetted idea, to ensure its viability. Once its passed successfully into the testable stage and tested well, you can then move on to a more fully developed prototype.

Remember, your company is an innovation lab. Think of these as experiments. The more experiments you do, the better chance one will be a huge winner. Experiment early and often, kill the unsuccessful experiments as soon as they fail and nurture the successful into massively profitable new businesses, and possibly billion dollar ones.

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