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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Banish Failure! Did You Win Or Did You Learn?

Ah, failure. Are there still people out there who feel that it is a bad thing? I know of very few cases where, barring a life and death struggle, failure does not produce a positive effect. Failure does teach, and it teaches a great lesson.

It’s time to retire the word. For everything.

Read an article the other day in one of my favorite magazines – the New Philosopher (yes, as an innovator, you should read broadly too – just reading HBR and innovation tomes doesn’t open your mind like philosophy and great, far future sci-fi do) where a father was urging on this son to excel at chess. To keep from hurting his feelings, he never used the word “lose”, as in “Did you win or lose?” when he came back from his matches – but the phrase “Did you win, or did you learn?” Of course, there is learning in winning as well, but who can argue that we learn more than we lose. In fact, isn’t it true that we learn more when we lose because we hate feeling pain worse than love feeling pleasure?

Either way, note that the dad specifically did not say “lose” but “learn”. In the same say, can we not constantly attribute failing startups or losing market share to a solid lesson learned? If we slam our innovation initiatives every time they fail, do you think you’ll see your people continuing to take risks?

No, you’ll never get the kind of disruptive innovation that you need, you’ll get the same incremental stuff that might help a little – but won’t lead you to those unicorns you love so much.

We need to recast the concept of failure, eliminate the word as much as we can. Didn’t Thomas Edison say that he never failed, just came up with hundreds of ways that didn’t work? We need to look at risk-taking anew and realize that without risk of “finding ways things don’t work” then we rarely get to the way that does work.

If startups and projects don’t gain traction, they pivot or shut down. The lessons learned from these moves into the founders next startup or the project teams next project or company. Instead of saying “a string of failed startups” you should be thinking “a string of educational experiences”

We had a very long string of inventions, from the Renaissance to the jet engine, truly disruptive concepts which dented the human universe and changed humanity for the better. Even those concepts which were tried and didn’t fly taught us what not to do or educated us that this was the wrong time and place for this concept (so many businesses start too far ahead of the world and are unable to pivot to product/market fit).

But should we slow down, should we stop trying, just because it might cost us to learn? If you ask me it costs us more when we don’t take the risk, when we are afraid to fail.

When you are afraid to fail, then you never do, and without doers, where would we be?

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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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Indifference Is The Enemy Of Innovation

It’s Time To “Make Rejection Great Again”

What is worse? Being rejected or being ignored?

While the pain from rejection can be severe, the closure that one gets from the rejection can allow people to move on to other things. When someone pours their heart and soul into an idea which they feel is great, then they hear nothing – nothing good or bad – then the lack of communication becomes one of the worst possible things you can do.

Studies have shown that the pain caused by ignoring individuals can in some cases be more painful than physical pain. In ancient tribes and societies, being shunned or expelled from a community could be tantamount to the death penalty. As a mostly social animal, (although recently an increase in introversion may have changed this somewhat) we crave approval and communication with others.

This is likely embedded deeply in what author Charles Duhigg calls our “dinosaur brain” the oldest part of our brain (which also happens to be where our habits are stored), as ostracism has always been a highly effective punishment – familiar to almost every high school student – you are either a somebody people pay attention to or a nobody. (Actually, if you think about it, social media has turned life itself into high school. We are all just craving likes from millions of strangers instead of our own classmates).

We all know the pain of rejection, and the pain of indifference, and we all know that the latter is worse. Why then do we ignore inventors who have submitted ideas into our innovation programs, simply because we don’t like giving them the bad news that their idea may not be the right fit right now? Or that it doesn’t solve an immediate issue. Or that the idea is untenable.

We would rather sit on the idea and not provide a response on a timely basis. What is worse: giving bad news right away, so that the inventor can take the hit, possibly feel pain for a short while, then recover?

Your typical inventor is highly inventive, it won’t be long before they come up with another, possibly even better idea. Should we wait until the inventor feels that their idea has dropped into a black hole and will never get reviewed or looked at? They ask themselves, why should I give my company any of my ideas at all, if they won’t be doing anything with them?

If they are entrepreneurial at all (and most people are nowadays) then what is to stop them from keeping their ideas to themselves and eventually leaving to found their own, competing startup? If we all know that being ignored is worse than being rejected, then why do we procrastinate in our communications, effectively ignoring others?

While I’m talking specifically about inventors and innovation programs, I think we would all be better served as humans to avoid ignoring people in general. If you think about it – no matter who is communicating with you – whether it’s a salesperson, or a customer, or a colleague, we should understand that being ignored is worse for them than being rejected.

Don’t be so afraid to reject. Speak up when you want an annoying salesperson to stop emailing you, or unsubscribe from their list, address an annoying customer, and answer that colleague in a reasonable amount of time, or at least let them know when you might be able to respond.

Some people have said that they are seeing a decline in manners due to the prevalence of audio-based virtual assistants in our homes, who simply perform tasks without a “please” or a “thank you” – some parents are seeing an alarming decline in manners and are suggesting that these assistants should have a sleep phrase of “thank you” in order to bring some manners back into the conversation.

I’d suggest that we should also bring back rejection. Instead of ghosting people, no matter the reason, have the decency to turn to them and say “no”. It’s better for you, your inventors, your company, our society, and the world.

As Elie Wiesel wrote: “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference”. Let’s all work together to eliminate indifference.

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Seeking Out the New

The New Should Be Better Than The Old

There have been studies which indicate that there is a major difference between young minds and older minds – apparently, we are born curious, with wide open minds. We are genetically and chemically designed to be open to new experiences from the moment we are born, and as we get older, and as we get more experienced, we close ourselves off to new ideas and new experiences.

As humans, we are deep learners at our core, designed from the ground up to be able to observe, ingest and analyze our surroundings from day one. We may be physically weak little things which require physical protection (our newborn even biologically resemble their fathers at birth, so that they may recognize them as their kin, even if they look more of a blend later), but as babies and children, we are designed to seek out the new and different, and learn.

If you think about it, our ability to reason, observe and think is really the thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. So, if we are born learning, inquisitive sponges, why do we seem to lose (or simply suppress that capability) in later life?

As we get older, we tend to compare our previous experiences with our current experiences – almost like a bubble sort – where we take this current new experience, compare it to all previous experiences, and then slot it into our sorted list of experiences.

We don’t automatically give the new experience any more weight simply because it’s new because we have this constantly increasing the set of past experiences to compare it against. This is one of the reasons that we dismiss previously tried failed ideas as ones that should never be tried again, simply because they failed in that specific time and place.

However, just because they failed in that place in the past, do not mean that they will fail in the here and now. To remain innovative, disruptive and forward thinking, we must look at all new ideas which we encounter with the same kind of weight we did as children – the open-minded practice or be weighing the new as more important than the old.

As our brains actively chemically cease automatically processing “the new” as more important simply because it’s new, we must rewire our own brains to do that ourselves.

Therefore, to be and stay innovative, as we grow older, we must consciously both regard anything “new” to us as having more weight that we would normally have, and secondly, be open to the fact that while a previously tried idea may have failed at a specific time and place, there is no reason that it will fail again now.

I’m personally the object of something like that – one of my earlier startups, AdviceTrader, was too early, providing a similar service to Quora from 2000-2005. Had we started it later, or where able to raise funding, who knows where we would be. In short, we need to actively look at the new, no matter what we think of it, as more important than our collected experience to date, to remain innovative.

One of the hallmarks of ageism is that younger people accuse older ones of not being open to new ideas – we need to change that perception. So, when something new – or something that’s failed before – comes across your desk – try to look at it through a different lens.

Try to be a child again.

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Hacking Innovation

Do we make innovation more complicated than it has to be?

Anyone can bring innovation to their organization and it doesn’t take much time or investment to do it.

If you want more innovation in your company, try these 5 things:

 

1. Hire for creativity.

Take a look around your conference table. Everyone may (or may not) look different but to they think differently?

The World Economic Forum’s 4th Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab predicts that creativity will be the third most important job skill by the year 2020. read more

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Sometimes, Being Professional Is No Fun

Why So Serious? Maybe You Are Being Too Professional

Don’t you feel that sometimes you spend your days mired in jargon-land, forced to act “professional” against your will? If I had a nickel for every time I had to sit through a jargon-laden meeting, or review yet another PowerPoint loaded with “management speak”, I’d be a rich man sitting on my own private island right now.

Do we all have to be serious and professional all the time?

Lately, there has been a mini-backlash against being “too casual” or “too colloquial”. Articles like “You’re Not Being Authentic, You’re Being Unprofessional” litter the business and personal development press.

I say, bah humbug.

One of the best books on public speaking I’ve ever read condensed it all down to two main points:

  1. Be Yourself
  2. Tell them what you are going to tell them

That’s it. No froth. No “stand like this, walk like that, hold your hands in a certain way, don’t say, “um” and “uh” (sorry Toastmasters). Just be you. There is nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to be Tony Robbins when you speak, you just must be you. People want you to be you. Nobody likes fake (well, maybe some people do). There is a downside to being “too professional.”

IMHO, most people crave authenticity. If you are too slick and polished, then people get wary.

What does this have to do with innovation? Plenty. But I have one more digression to make.

Since 2008, when Iron Man burst onto the movie scene, it’s likely that most of you have seen one of more Marvel superhero movies. You may have also seen a Batman, Superman, or other DC movie as well. If you have, then you have probably noticed the stark differences between the Marvel and DC universes. They both take their superheroes as existing and real, but one Marvel injects some fun into it, where DC is just all super serious and grim about it.

Ever feel like everything that you hear, communication-wise, within your organization is like a DC movie, super serious and professional? I heard it myself, innovation programs announced in a serious tone, asking employees to come up with billion-dollar businesses in their spare time (well, we won’t lift any of your current responsibilities so that you will have time to innovate) and you’d better innovate, otherwise…

Where is the fun? Where are the treats? Where is the engagement? Isn’t this just more work for me?

Your innovation program should be like a Marvel movie – fast moving and fun – a great diversion from your day job. A time to relax and open your mind.

Your employees should enjoy the act of innovating, feel free to come up with great ideas without the oppressive sense that they must “deliver” (like they do the rest of their jobs). Innovation time should be fun time, not just another set of tasks that they need to add onto their already voluminous list.

In fact, the best ideas will come when you aren’t even trying. This is one of the most awesome things about the human brain – its background processing capabilities are probably even more powerful than its foreground capabilities.  In our sessions, we encourage play and fun, it’s one of the best ways to spark interesting new innovations.

In short, if you are interested in innovating, you need to let your people relax and be real. Innovation should be fun – make sure that you make it so.

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Do You Fail To Change When You Need To?

ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Plenty of companies, like Kodak, Nokia, and Blackberry (previously known as Research in Motion or RIM) weren’t able to change fast enough when disruption came to their markets. In Kodak’s case, the disruption even came from within.

Apparently, it was a Kodak engineer who invented digital photography. He came up with a way to do photography without film. When he presented it to senior management they told him to keep it quiet, that they made too much money from selling photographic film. They told him to not let this innovation out.

Of course, what happened is that other companies came up with it and now we have cameras on every smartphone all over the world. Digital photography has basically taken over the world and hardly anybody uses film anymore.

Even though Kodak had an engineer within their ranks who invented the thing they were disrupted internally because they couldn’t change fast enough.

There seem to be a lot of companies that are seemingly unable to change when disruptive innovation comes along. It just puts them into disarray.

Even Yahoo could be considered one of those companies. We unearthed innovation within that organization. Why doesn’t Yahoo seem to able to change no matter who is in the top spot? Could it be the same reason people don’t change?

Here is a supposition: corporates are like people. So, let’s take a second and examine what makes people truly change? What must happen for people to truly change?

People are creatures of habit, inattention, and inertia. They’ll just keep doing the exact same thing over and over unless something pushes them in a different direction.

External stimuli which force people to change can either be positive or negative. When you look at the history of how people change, true, lasting change is more likely to come from a negative stimulus.

For example, let’s say somebody is an overeater and are hundreds of pounds overweight. They try to stop, thinking about a being happier, having a better quality of life, not huffing and puffing up the stairs, possibly living longer. They don’t derive any immediate pleasure by eating less (in fact it makes them feel worse). But then, they have a heart attack. A huge negative stimulus which drives change.

Corporations are very similar. They look at it from that perspective as well. Profits are coming in, they are doing well. They don’t need to change. Some massively negative impact comes in and forces them to change, but usually, it’s too little too late.

How do people force themselves to change without a black swan type major negative impact? By creating that negative stimulus themselves. By seeing themselves in that horrific future state if they don’t change their behavior. By fully realizing that if they keep doing what they are doing, a massive negative event may occur.

So how do these corporations deal with disruptive innovation before it’s too late? In the same way. They create their own internal change agent which will purposely work against the company and attempts to kill it. They need to envision those paths and follow them through to the end of their company. They need to vividly experience their end state and map out plans to stop it from happening.

Let’s go with the Kodak example. Let’s say that when the Kodak engineer who came up with the digital photography went to senior management and presented this concept to do digital photography. They, rightly, deemed that it would probably destroy their current business if it took off.

What if instead of keeping it quiet, instead of saying don’t go there, they thought that possibility through? What if they assumed that a) somebody else came up with this technology, and b) assumed that it would take off. Probably, at that moment, unthinkable to Kodak’s senior management, but what if they played it out to its logical conclusion? What if they put their impossibility filters aside?

This is one of the main tasks of the corporate futurist. They think the unthinkable, they go down that path to see what happens. If they paint a complete enough picture, it may frighten (yes, frighten) senior management enough to at least investigate the possibility of dealing with that possible future.

This is one of the possible futures of the company. Why not throw some cycles at the scenario and play it out, so that if it happens at least you can create plans to deal with it?

Kodak, BlackBerry, and Nokia failed to see the disruptive innovation since they did not have a strategist or futurist on staff who could envision it themselves internally and take it seriously enough. They may have looked a few years out, but not far enough, and not, probably, crazily enough (in the minds of the senior management).

As I’ve said before, futurists are usually right, just at the wrong time. There’s no danger in having a plan in place too early.

To stay nimble, agile, and resilient, you need to map out those crazy, disruptive futures, and at the very least, develop a plan of attack. No matter what happens, you can defeat the disruptive innovation that’s coming along or at least work with it so that you don’t end up dead.

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Ways We Innovate: Wander Aimlessly

Do You Wonder, as You Wander?

It’s been proven that rigor and process kill innovation. In one study, they took two groups of college students and gave them a problem. But before they had a chance to solve the problem, they made one group walk in straight lines, up and down the room, back and forth, straight lines. Then they told them to solve the problem. The second group was told to wander aimlessly around the room, but specifically not go straight, go in curves, or whatever shapes they’d like. They were then told to sit down and solve the problem. Can you guess which group came up with the more creative solution? read more

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