Are you reading this blog post on a smartphone? Does your smartphone ever leave your side? Do you freak out if you ever misplace or lose your smartphone? Do you ever feel less than whole when your smartphone is not within easy reach?
How do you take your employees and ratchet up their engagement levels? How do you get them to genuinely care about your company, and exceed your expectation of them in their roles? Driving this kind of passion requires a few things you may or may not already have – here are some things which help:
It may be totally groundbreaking, disruptive and even unique enough to be patentable, but right now, we can’t imagine how to monetize it. That’s a normal thought – many organizations today are subject to this malady – applying the business models of today to the ideas of the future. The ideas may be generated based on some assumptions of a predicted future – and you have to think – is this idea going to have a business model in the future – not today. Sometimes its difficult to imagine.
However, if the idea has merit (and you can easily tell this actually – you can do customer focus groups but in many cases, it can be as simple as a gut feel) it may not have a current business model.
The ideas that your employees will generate during our typical program run the gamut from incremental improvements (which can be everything from minor to major improvements to your bottom line – or customer satisfaction – over time) to truly out-there ideas.
In many cases, the reason that those ideas are considered “out-there” is that they currently lack a current business model, or they pre-suppose a predicted sea change in your customers, industry, technology or product/service mix which may or may not occur. Many of the biggest companies of today launched products in just that environment, hoping that once the idea was made real and launched into the world, then the market would find a business model for it.
This is one reason why many firms around here are funded and remain profitless for years until they find the right business model. Notable examples are Twitter (initially developed as a way for podcasters to let their listeners know that there is a new show available) and Snapchat (for kids to share their test answers with each other in the classroom), now valued in the billions – created to address a need, to help humans, not make money.
I doubt that the founders of Twitter and Snapchat ever even imagined that their little skunkworks or side project would ever become what it is today. Many of the ideas generated by our programs may fall into this category, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t pursue them.
If you are looking for truly disruptive innovation, you should be encouraging these sometimes-thought-of-as wild ideas, possibly bereft of profitability, because those are the ones that may not only end up being brand new billion-dollar businesses, they’ll also drive your culture to generate even more of them, eventually turning you into a company with innovation at its core.
So ask not if your idea can make money, ask if your ideas help humans first, then the money will follow.
To Be Successful, You Need Both These Attributes In Equal Measure
If you look at most of the successful startups (and internal innovation programs) throughout history, you’ll note a trend – there are usually two or more partner founders (or intrapreneurs) right there at the beginning (although eBay is a notable difference). Additionally, these partners need to have specific traits, typically one is the more extroverted sales type, and the other is the more introverted engineering type, even though there are those who have both of those skill sets.
I’d venture to say that you can build the archetypes out even further than that – and Star Trek (the original series, of course) gives us near perfect role models. Of those, the only two you really need at a minimum at the outset are Kirk and Scotty. The qualities of Kirk (or Kirk-type) that you need are his willingness to take risks, make big decisions, and be the voice of the company (just as he is the voice of the Enterprise). Then as Kirk makes deals, confronts the alien menaces or confuses the evil computer with illogic, it’s up to Scotty-type to execute those deals.
When a Kirk-type has a need based on talking to the customer, he asks a Scotty-type to execute whatever needs to happen to keep that customer happy. The Scotty-type doesn’t want or need to be the one talking to the customer, he or she is most happy delivering Warp 5 or reading technical manuals, while the Kirk-types do all of the schmoozing. While many startup founders fall neatly into these roles, what some don’t get is that the relationship between these two is truly symbiotic – without a Kirk-type, the Enterprise would not know where to go, and without a Scotty-type, the ship wouldn’t go anywhere, no matter what customers say or what orders are barked.
In every startup, you need a good working relationship between Kirk-types and Scotty-types, each understanding that the other is absolutely necessary for the startup to be successful or the ship to get anywhere.
Sadly, there have been many cases where Scotty-types, despite laboring in the engine room to deliver everything that Kirk-types ask for (and usually more) gets short shrift, people perceiving that the Kirk-type is somehow more valuable to the company than the Scotty-type, and in these cases, Scotty gets (or feels) screwed, and requests a transfer.
In every startup, in every successful innovation program, both Kirk-types and Scotty-types are equally important to the success of the startup or the initiative. It’s not enough to have the communicator/connector, you need the builder as well.
Same goes for your innovation program – you can’t just have your people generate ideas, you need some kind of execution too. Without execution, your program will fail, as your inventors realize that their ideas never get the chance to ever be built.
What about Spock and McCoy you ask? Well, as the startups get larger, you need to bring Spock in to provide that keen analysis, and McCoy to keep the culture healthy, but at the very beginning, Kirk and Scotty are all you really need.
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.
photo credit Lubomir Panak flickr
Anonymity Helps Innovation
As I mentioned in a previous post, our culture and technology are making it much easier to survive and thrive in the world as an introvert, and in so doing, more and more of us are becoming introverts. With the ability to work from home, and have everything delivered 24/7, there are many people who are taking that route. Some of your best people prefer to interface with others through the internet and in non-face-to-face interactions.
At the same time, in some companies, the internal culture can be a strong innovation demotivator: if you are in one of these companies, then you constantly feel like its a war between those who want to move things forward and innovate, and those who think things are just fine the way they are and you shouldn’t rock the boat. I sometimes refer to that as the war between the DoIts and the ShouldWes.
I’ll bet that there are plenty of “closet” DoIts in your company, politically sensitive folks who are afraid to come out with some great ideas, thinking, maybe incorrectly, that they will be dismissed, or even worse, fall on deaf ears. Just like on social media, there are plenty of folks who’ve learned to be politically correct, and just say nothing, because if their true feelings are known, they could lose friends, family, jobs or more.
But when it comes to innovation, and charting the future course of your business, everything should be on the table, even those ideas not politically correct within your organization.
So how do you ensure that those contributions are heard? How do you run an effective ideation session, brainstorming new ideas in a team setting, when maybe half of your people may be too worried to speak up? If not introverts, you may have an entire cadre of folks who are afraid to truly think outside the box, lest their ideas are shot down, or in the worst case, get retribution from their manager.
Situations where the corporate culture is very hierarchical, where employees are told to go to their immediate manager with ideas, those managers may feel threatened when those ideas, which may have been shot down by the manager, are brought up again and again in these sessions.
You have to disconnect the idea from the ideator.
When running an enterprise futurist or innovation program, we typically encourage our clients to allow people to post ideas into the system anonymously, so if they feel that their ideas might be too disruptive and/or ruffle too many feathers, at least they are heard. Additionally, those who vote for an idea should also be allowed to vote anonymously, so that they can vote for an idea fearlessly.
But what do you do when you have in-person sessions? We strive to ensure that all voices are heard, so in all sessions, we include both personal ideation time and group ideation time. For example, at the start of each session, right after introduction, we use post-its or index cards and some quiet time to allow those introverts politically sensitive ideators to write down their ideas, unafraid of repercussions. We then have them place their cards or post-its in a box, then have a member of our team pull them out and put them on the board for group discussion.
At this point, the introverts work could be done – the idea is out there, disconnected from the submitter, and the idea receives consideration. By the same token, the political sensitives are also protected from any repercussions. When we present these ideas, it’s our job as innovators and facilitators to ensure that even the craziest, most out-of-the-box ideas are considered and properly discussed.
Above all, all of your innovators, whether introverted, closeted or outspoken DoIts, need to be heard.
Recognizing the future is tough but not impossible.
Many people say that predicting the future is hard. It is – there are few of us who can take the myriad signals and drivers of today and successfully map them to a tomorrow which may happen.
Although, personally I believe that everything that we have envisioned will happen (no matter how crazy it might seem right now), we just don’t know when. As I’ve said, being a futurist is like being a meteorologist, you are usually always right, just at the wrong time.
For example, I made several predictions as part of a futurist program at one of our major clients 10 years ago. About half of them have already happened (although they are not called the same thing), some are in progress, and others have yet to begin happening. For the half which is happening today, most are not named anywhere near the same, and while some map to the spirit of the original prediction, they may be implemented in a completely different way.
So how do you recognize the future? How can you look around, or come across these clues which will lead to major changes? How will you know which of these truly have long lasting staying power, and should be invested in, where others are just fads which will fade?
There are certain attributes which these signals have which help to indicate that they will be something which may become the future.
For example, who could have predicted that the e-commerce industry would be as big as it is today, compared to Amazon of 1999, which looked like a guy behind a makeshift desk at a single computer with an “Amazon.com” banner over his head (I’m sure that you’ve seen the picture)?
How To Review The Clues.
You must look at these clues with both your heart and your head.
Start with instinct – take the clue in front of you and think about it. Can you project it into the future? Can you see it evolving into something, new, different, important, powerful? What does your gut say?
Next, can this thing become a platform? Can it turn into something that others can use as a tool to do other things, beyond its original intent?
Next, think about what a future version of this signal will solve. Is there a current problem it’s addressing, or is it like most innovations, solving a problem which we did not know was there? Does it seem like a doorway to a whole new ecosystem of some still undefined other place?
Next, does it make you feel a little queasy? Is it unsettling or “creepy”? Does it sit on (or over) the edge of acceptability? Then it may be truly innovative, and therefore, part of the future.
Identifying clues to the future will now let you address them – if this future is going to happen (and it may) then what steps should you be taking to ensure your companies continued survival. Recognizing the future is not easy, but its also essential for you the survive and thrive.
People. And As Depeche Mode says:
“People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully”
I love Depeche Mode. As a guy who grew up in the 80’s, there was nothing better than kicking back and listening to music, reading Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus and thinking, aren’t people horrible?
As you may be able to tell, I used to be a very serious introvert. Now I think I’ve changed a bit, but I still get this nagging feeling that everything that ever goes wrong with almost anything is someone’s fault.
At one company I was at, the most popular idea submitted was “fire half of the middle management”. You think this guy may have had a bone to pick with some people?
This post is about the people who are essential to the success of your innovation program or lab, the key essential personnel you need in order to make it a success:
- Executive Sponsor, or preferably sponsors
- Program Manager
- Human Resources
Here, we’ll dive deep into the roles that we think you will need in order to have a successful program, as well as some other people issues. Some of the roles above you’ll find in multiple individuals, in others they may be teams of people. If you ask me, the more people that you can pull in to support your program, the better.
You need an executive sponsor. Let me say that again: you need an executive sponsor. This is non-negotiable. In fact, you really need more than one executive sponsor. Based on my experience, the number one killer of innovation labs and innovation programs is losing their executive sponsor. We have seen this far too many times.
It doesn’t matter if your program is doing well or flailing – without an executive sponsor, your days are numbered.
If you are looking to start a program, before you do anything, get an executive sponsor. You don’t have to build up a huge case for it since it’s almost impossible to show an ROI on possible future innovation unless you are already showing an ROI on current innovation efforts. Put together a short deck describing the program that you want to set up and pitch it to your most receptive boss who can run it up the chain. Be persistent, and eventually, you should find an executive sponsor. If you can’t find one in the C-Suite, you still may have a chance to start a smaller program, but your chances of success are lower. If you can’t find a sponsor no matter how hard you try, then I have some bad news for you. Your company may not be ready or able to run an innovation program. If you are still interested in running an innovation program, you may need to scale it down to your group. You may even have to leave your company. There is nothing more frustrating than attempting to drag a company into a more innovative culture if the top is not ready for it.
If your program is already running and you have a sponsor, that’s great. Take my advice: get more. These days, in fact in any days, in my experience the moment there is any uncertainty about the markets, the company or its future, then the first thing to go is the innovation program. Innovation is considered a “nice to have” and only seems to flourish in good times, and is almost always cut in lean times, (or even if lean times are on the horizon) so if you really want your program or lab to live on, no matter what happens, you will need to spread the sponsorship duties across a number of people. Additionally, with all of the M&A activity and executive shuffling that tends to go on in some larger organizations, it is always a good idea to have more than one sponsor at the top.
If you had a sponsor and have recently lost them, maybe they’ve been reassigned, or maybe let go, or maybe they’ve left the company and you currently have no sponsor, you should be prepared for the program to either be shuttered, or try your hardest to get a new sponsor as soon as possible. An innovation program without an executive sponsor likely has a short shelf life.
Why is this? When everyone keeps saying that innovation is so important to an organization, you might think, so do I really need a sponsor?
The issue is that, no matter how well you attempt to integrate your innovation function into the culture of your organization, there will always be factions within your company who are ready to kick you out of the organization or shut you down. The organizations, which find all innovation non-threatening, are few are far between. You can always tell those organizations because even their own organizational structures can be innovative. If you are seeing a standard ordinary org chart in your organization, then there is a good chance that someone out there still wants to shut you down.
Program Manager – Your Innovation Team Leader
Once you have secured your sponsor, you will need a program manager to actually create and run the program. I’m assuming that’s you.
OK, I’m kidding. The fact is that while you may have the toughest role, keeping all of this moving forward, you also have the most rewarding. There is nothing like seeing the ideas submitted by your inventors being viewed and reviewed. There is nothing like the amazing engagement and excitement a program like this elicits among your employees. There is nothing like the thrill when you hear how someone’s idea was selected from so many others to become a real product or go into the patent pipeline. When you see your inventors, your employees, joining in and actually being excited and engaged with the future directions of your company. No longer are they simply pushing bits around, but are truly contributing to the future welfare of your company. It’s a great feeling.
Of course, on the flip side, there are many barriers to overcome, but your role is to manage everything that comes along, knock down those barriers, and keep moving forward. You will:
- Design the parameters of the program and get the executive sponsor
- Work with your internal marketing team to come up with a theme for the program which fits your culture. The positioning of the program is extremely important to its success. Some people feel that it’s all about the tool and the processes used to capture and process the ideas, but in reality, it’s more about the overall program than it is about the technology.
- Work with your HR people to position this as an employee motivation program in addition to an ideation program, as well an educational and training program. As I mentioned in Chapter 1, an innovation program, especially an enterprise-wide program, has an amazing ability to motivate even the most jaded workforce, assuming that it’s done properly (otherwise known as “following the principles in this book”)
- Work with your legal team to figure out the patent side of things. Depending on your company’s current stance on intellectual property (which we will cover more in chapter 6) you may be completely prepared to funnel patentable ideas
As the program manager, you are the key to making this whole thing work. No pressure! But seriously, there may be some days when you are ready to give up, some days when you feel like you are battling the entire company in order to move a few steps forward, some days when you truly wonder if people really mean what they say when they say “innovate or die”. Sometimes it will feel like the inverse, that the last thing your organization needs is to innovate.
We’ve all read the Innovator’s Dilemma, and understand that a company that does not innovate will eventually be overcome by competitive forces and die. We all understand (well, most of us do anyway) that innovation is not a force to be feared, but the next evolutionary step in your company’s future. Your innovation program is the womb which will birth new products, new services and eventually new companies to replace your own. If you can think of it that way, innovation and disruption is a natural way of life. We disrupted our parents and our children will disrupt us, and so on.
OK, I beat that metaphor up. Let’s move on to the rest of your team.
When you do finally get a program up and running, you will need a tool to capture, sort and review those ideas. While there are plenty of tools like that on the market, you will likely need someone from IT to assist you in the selection of an innovation management system.
As I mentioned, there are many tools on the market, and you will need to attempt to select a tool which will map to your corporate culture. This is why it is so important to nail the outcomes and the culture fit first: if you use a tool which does not map to the culture, that is not good.
As I mentioned earlier, I was brought in to reboot a moribund program at one of my clients, and the tool that they used was a big stumbling block. All of the other tools that the client used were cool and cutting edge, this one looked like it was Windows 3.1 app which had been turned into a webpage. Beyond the look and feel (even though the design and workflow of the tool are extremely important – there have been so many programs which fall flat due to poor interface design) the process and transparency options were sorely lacking. Here we were trying to foist a backward-looking, closed process system tool on a leading edge user base. When it launched, it collected a few ideas, but nowhere near what it could have had it been the right tool for the job. Think of it this way: this is how your inventors will interact with your innovation program. The interface has to be as cool and slick as the rest of your program.
You need a technologist to assist you in selecting a tool. You may already have a tool in-house which does this kind of thing (at one client I did a review of tools without realizing that they already had 7 licenses of a perfectly good tool, which they were using, in a completely different area of the organization. If you don’t have a tool, the technologist can assist you in selecting and configuring the tool to your specifications and process. Don’t be timid here: the success of your program depends on the tool being able to accurately communicate the theme and process involved in the program.
Depending on your industry, you may have many different levels of review and approval in the ideation and review process, but my most successful implementations have been ones where the most transparency and the most communications occurred.
In later chapters, we’ll talk about the pluses and minuses of specific tools, but at this point, make sure that you attempt to work with a technologist who understands that the program itself is more important than the tool itself. The functionality of the tool should not dictate the process of the program.
While this is rare in my experience, you may be in a truly forward thinking company which understands that if there are some really interesting ideas which come out of your innovation program, then some of those ideas will need to move to the prototype stage in order to garner enough support to develop into a real live product. If you have the luxury of being able to create a team who can also develop prototypes of the ideas submitted and approved, then you will need coders to do the work. These coders can be part of your team or if you have some kind of Google-style 20% time, then they can come from other teams and it can be their 20% time. Ideally, the ones who’ve come up with the idea can also help you code the idea. Ideally, here you need at least one front-end developer who can design beautiful interfaces (the interface design is more key than covering all of the functionality) and a backend developer who can make the thing work. Don’t worry about scalability, just use a rapid prototyping framework and have it generate a beautiful working prototype. You can then use this prototype to pitch the idea for the product.
I’ve never been able to create, launch and run a successful program without some marketing help. You need marketing in order to sell your program, keep it top of mind for the duration of the program, help you to come up with the theme and materials of the program, and generally assist in building communications and outreach. You can use marketing personnel who typically talk to your customers, or ideally internal communications folks who already have the pulse of your internal corporate culture. You may be able to do it on your own if you have a marketing background, but I suggest that you get help here – you want the program to look professional, and there is nothing like professional designer’s touch. You will need a theme, imagery which matches that theme, copy which matches that theme, and a communications plan which describes what you say when and to whom.
You might not have accounted for this, but an enterprise-wide crowdsourced innovation program is a phenomenal motivating force for employees. As long as your HR department is receptive (believe me, I have come across some who aren’t) then the HR department will be one of your biggest allies in assisting you in spreading the word about your program. They can help you with selecting awards for participation, communicating with employees, making sure that you don’t step on any landmines with awards (there are some companies who have very specific rules when it comes to what you can and cannot reward your employees with – iPads maybe, recognition for sure, wild drunken trips to Vegas, probably not)
However, you have to be careful here, as the HR department can also be a venerable foe. You will need to test the waters with them early and make sure that you keep them as allies.
Actually, you should try and make everyone your ally. You already have enough hidden (and some not so hidden) forces trying to take your program down, why make any more enemies?
You need to consult with legal on two fronts.
One, you have to ensure that whoever will join the program has properly agreed to give up their rights to any intellectual property that they generate for the program. Most employees have already done this, (it’s typically handled by HR during the onboarding process) but in some cases, it might be iffy when it comes to contractors. While typically all contractors also sign terms when they come on that all of their work is work for hire and that the work product, including any ideas that they come up with when they are engaged with the company automatically become the company’s property, in some cases, your legal department may wish to restrict participation in the program to only full-time employees. Even though some of your contractors may have great ideas, there is likely too much of a legal risk to allow them into the program. Every time I have come across this issue, contractors have not been allowed to participate. Can’t argue with the lawyers on this one, they know way more than me on this topic.
Two, if you are very lucky, some of the ideas which your people will generate will be so amazingly cool that they will be patentable. If that is the case, your legal team will determine the patentability of the idea (although I do go into some detail on what is and isn’t patentable later in this book) and if it is patentable, they may file a patent for the idea.
I suggest that even if you are not looking for patentable ideas, you will get some – ideas that are so cool and far out and probably not buildable today, but at some future time and with some future system. These ideas may be something that your company may do in future or something one of your competitors may do.
Depending on your company, your legal department may totally understand this and have legal personnel ready to take any of these possibly patentable ideas and process them for patentability. On the other hand, your legal team may know nothing about patents and patentability and completely rely on Outside Counsel (or OC) for the review and processing of ideas. Either way, you need to prepare your legal department for the possible acceptance of patentable ideas. Please see the patentability chapter later in the book to determine if the idea in question should go to the legal department for review. After doing this for a number of years, I can usually tell when an idea is patentable immediately. Until you get there, please fall back on your own legal team or my guidelines in Chapter 6.
Inventors – The Key Members Of Your Innovation Team
These are your peeps, yo.
Who is an inventor? Anyone within your organization that you would like to solicit ideas from. Ideally, IMHO, this is enterprise-wide, but in some organizations, you may need to restrict it to a smaller group. In one organization, a major retailer I worked with, while I really wanted to extend it to the entire organization (which at the time had 2M global employees), we kept it to the e-commerce group only, of which there were about 3000 employees at the time. As I mentioned above, you may have to restrict it to full-time employees only, which will require that your technologists program the system in such as way as to only allow full-time employees into the system. Even if you can do that, sometimes some names sneak in, and you may have to discard some ideas if a contractor or two get into the system (this happened to me a few times and it was pretty sad as the ideas they had come up with were pretty good – but of course I couldn’t tell them that.
Beyond selecting who will submit ideas, which I suggest be everyone, you will also need to decide if you wish to allow for anonymous submissions. While these are not truly anonymous, since the login system will likely know the identity of the submitter, this may provide a layer of comfort for inventors with truly radical ideas to allow them to come forth. It really depends on the culture of your organization – some organizations will not allow it, others may believe that those are the best submissions, as the inventors are free to disconnect themselves from the idea, and therefore pose very disruptive and challenging ideas.
As I mentioned earlier, I remember someone once posting anonymously that “half of the middle management team should be fired as non-essential” and I had to initially block the name of the submitter from the CEO until he relented and agreed that whoever posted that should remain anonymous (along with the hundreds of voters who upvoted the idea too)
Your inventors are your lifeblood. Without your inventors your program will fail miserably, so make sure that you take very, very good care of your inventors. Some tips:
Do You Need to Disrupt?
Let’s face it – most people just don’t like change. We like things being the way that they are – even the word “upset” has a negative connection – to turn over the “set” to break with the established order. The only problem is – there are so many things we have the ability to just SOLVE, only we would be willing to “upset” things.
As I write this, I can hear raindrops on my roof – California is finally getting some much-needed rain. We’ve been in severe drought for over 4 years now, no doubt you have seen those pretty scary photos of lakes simply disappearing – boats in the middle of the lake simply beached. Our water is disappearing – it has barely rained here and we are feeling the pain. Until the last few days, we’ve had almost never-ending sunny days for the last four years. No one knows if we will see enough rain this year to take us out of the drought.
I thought about that when I read and watched an interview with a scientist who hadn’t showered in 12 years. He used very little water, only washing his hands just prior performing experiments. Apparently, he had devised a way to stay clean by spraying himself with a mist that he had invented which combined beneficial bacteria which both destroyed the bacteria which made him smell, and at the same time, supplemented his skin with other bacteria (from dirt, apparently) which nourished his skin.
He is now selling the stuff, of course. The story and interview were played for disgust – they even had 3 willing people from their staff try the stuff out and not shower for a week and (not surprisingly) all but one thought it was awful. The article on the topic was interesting – it mentioned that our penchant for bathing was apparently very strong prior to the rise of Christianity, which linked cleanliness with promiscuity.
Wonder when “cleanliness is next to Godliness” became the norm.
After I read this I thought to myself: this is a great idea. It’s the right approach to address the water situation (assuming showering does make a pretty sizable dent in our water supply). We don’t really need to be using all of the water that we do: why doesn’t some enterprising entrepreneur develop a shower based on this scientist’s formula? Instead of a shower every morning, we’d step into a fine mist of this stuff, dousing ourselves and killing all the bad bacteria without using up our precious water. I can see the Kickstarter page even now.
However, when I suggested this to people, they thought I was crazy. What? Are we not supposed to take showers now? It may be “upsetting” but if you think about it – it’s the future. No matter what you think of climate change, reducing our water use can only be good. Why not come up with a waterless shower that cleans you with science.
Yuk, right? No, it’s the future. It’s INNOVATION.
There is a company here in Silicon Valley called Suitable Technologies who have a product called the “Beam Telepresence Robot”. To describe it: it looks like a flat screen monitor (about 20 inches) mounted about human height (around 5’ 7”) on two pillars, which are then connected to a drive unit on the floor which can move the unit around. The screen has speakers, microphones and a video camera for the remote users to see who they are looking at, and the drive unit on the floor has sensors to detect if it’s going to bang into walls. The entire unit is controlled remotely over the internet from a laptop. It’s supposed to mimic a real live person standing and talking in front of you, the screen presenting the webcam image of the person controlling it. It is a crude form of virtual telepresence, allowing the remote person to move around a space, interact with people and be virtually there. At first, when you see this thing it looks a little freaky, but then you see your buddy Sven from home office accounting on the screen and you can chat with them and walk down the corridor with them and even walk into meetings. It’s like being virtually there.
The Santa Clara Convention Center even has these things for rent. If you can’t make it to a conference there physically, you can at least be there virtually.
There is a local organization called the Institute for the Future here in Palo Alto, and they have one of these units. They find it to be a very useful tool and an interesting technology, not only for use in telepresence but also to measure reactions to this kind of technology. I’ve seen them use it to “beam in” remote presenters and others who can’t be there for a presentation. After you get over the initial short shock, you completely get it and it’s like the person it really standing right there.
A while back, as an experiment, one of their researchers and someone driving the Beam Pro drove/walked around the corner to a local pub just around the corner of their offices. The moment they came in the door they were, apparently rudely rebuffed and told to leave.
I can’t imagine what was so scary about a woman and her telepresence robot. But apparently the clientele was quite agitated and they asked her and her remote companion to leave. And this is in the heart of Silicon Valley, where we literally have a shop staffed only by Beam robots. When I thought about this I realized that the future is very upsetting to some.
However, that only makes me think that we are on the mark. If the futures we are weaving, the innovations we are creating aren’t upsetting someone, then are we really doing our jobs? Are we really pushing the envelope? Are we staying in that safe little box when we innovate, or are we making people uncomfortable? Are we upsetting them? We should aim to disrupt.
Part of our mandate should be to push the envelope, make people feel a little upset about where things are going. Get them to think about those futures, trigger thinking, trigger innovation, push them to think thoughts out of the mainstream.
So here is the question: how disruptive can you actually be when you come up with these ideas in your program? I’ve mentioned before that some great ideas go unpatented because the company doesn’t think that the ideas will have any application in the company’s current or future space, what happens with those ideas which are too upsetting for your company to even think about?
I’m sure that someone, somewhere within your company has probably thought about some ideas which would totally ruin your company. Products and services so much better than your own that even thinking of someone out there with them makes your senior people think “let’s not go there”. I’ve seen where ideas are squashed in brainstorming sessions as being too radical (I was in a recent session where someone said – “if we implemented this idea, it would completely undermine our entire industry – might be a bit too radical for us”.)
You have to think: if my people can come up with an idea like that, then it’s pretty likely someone else will as well. That someone else could be your soon-to-be competitor.
So what do you do?
You have to find the right balance, based on a ton of factors, but mostly the tolerance of your organization for radical ideas. This is not something I can prescribe – this is something that you will get some a gut feel instinct about how radical the ideas you feel your business can accept.
If you are new to the organization, you probably should tap a more senior member to be on your team, or at least as an advisor, so they can give you a sense of what will and will not work.
Sometimes these things will sort themselves out – when I ran a program for one company I purposely entered an extremely radical idea into the system to see what the tolerance level was like. I can’t tell you the exact idea, but it had something to do with creating a portal for various religions to present themselves, with information and discussion areas, how to convert to that religion, etc.
That idea was universally downvoted and became the most unpopular idea pretty fast. Even if the commentary against the idea was thoughtful, you could see that the company had no stomach for doing something like that – you could see that it was all risk for little reward. The crowd dissed the idea, giving me a sense of how radical an idea would have to be for it to be knocked down by the company – some slightly less radical ideas made it through. By doing that, you get a sense of what’s allowed and what’s taboo. At least they didn’t tell me to remove the idea completely – that would have really made it far too radical.
You need to test the boundaries of the disruptive ideas, and slowly push them out. You can’t just leap forward and be incredibly radical day one – you need to slowly ease the company towards a more disruptive future.
One of the more interesting exercises I’ve done is called KILL THE COMPANY (based on this book). It’s a free-for-all brainstorming session where you get people within your organization to come up with ways to disrupt your company into the ground. What would a competitor, or outside agency, or massive change in the industry or in the world have to do in order for it to literally kill your company?
For example, let’s say that you are a gig economy startup which accepts packages for your customers and holds them at a secure location for them, and then delivers them when you get home. You buy your things and ship them to this service, they text you when the package arrives and then arrange a time for the company to drop it off to your door when you are home. This is a
There is No Such Thing As A Steady State Anymore
In the time I’ve managed projects, as we got through the process of implementation of any kind of program, whether it’s a software implementation, an innovation architecture, or software development, most project managers I know like to end their projects with a mythical land known as “steady state”. In their view, the project, no matter what it is, is like a perturbation in the force (or in the reality of running a business), but then once its over, it’s over, and everything goes back to normal.
Unfortunately for those people, the reality is is that in this world of continuous innovation and disruption, there is no such thing as a steady state anymore. The world is in flux (which is why agile project management – and even running your life in an agile way works so well) and the old models which return things to a steady state, no longer ring true.
There is no such thing as “normal” anymore. Even if you try to get back to “the state that you were in before the project started” you’ll find that the world, your competitors, your customers and your market have changed so much, that your original state is no longer viable. This is true of any project which has a lifespan of anything more than a few months. In the span of a few months, new competitors can crop up and start eating your market share, you might merge with or buy another company, or you may be bought.
Flux is a way of life. Rapid change is the new way of the world, and we can’t tell it to stop so we can get off.
How do you deal with the rapid change of pace? Simple. You accept it and embrace it. You assume that everything will change, all the time, so you go into it with a change mindset. You never “set anything in stone”, you set it in Silly Putty, so you can change it later. If your software has limitations, where it can’t be changed as often as your customer’s world changes, then you need to make sure that those limitations can be lifted or changed. This is one typical issue with SaaS, like Salesforce, where you get what they give you – but their rate of updates can never match the speed of your business.
If you assume that you will never be at anything like a steady state, then how does that change your thinking? How does that affect your day-to-day business? You will need to build into all of your processes the ability to pivot and change, based on everything shifting around you. You need to go from a planning mindset to a resilience mindset, allowing yourself to be buffeted by the disruption around you, but still be able to come out on top.
For some companies, this is a very tough slog. Some industries are bogged down with regulation, others have to deal with a staid corporate culture. But those can be changed, there are ways to innovate and implement a change mindset, even in the most “steady” companies and industries. There are proven methods that work, can help to measure and change your corporate culture, to get your people to think faster and more resilient, to break them out the box that they may be happy in – even if the box must be broken for you to innovate.
Once you realize that change is the only constant, everything changes.