One Way We Innovate: Randomized Lunching

Ever wonder why your rideshare driver is way more chatty than your typical cab driver? They may be doing this less for the money and more for the social interaction. 

I was picked up the other day by an electrical engineer who was ridesharing during his commute times to a) talk to new people b) earn money to build a personal airplane and help send his college-age daughters through school and c) kill time until the commute level traffic had a chance to calm down. During our conversation, he said a few interesting things which turned into more than three blog topics, as well as possible new product ideas.  read more

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Enough with the robocalls already!

While I usually get a few robocalls a day, yesterday I broke a record: I had 11 robocalls and one lone telemarketer. It felt like I was getting a call every 45 minutes or so. These calls are getting ridiculous, and none of the calls were even political! There were “IRS is after you” calls, “renegotiate home loan” calls, “make big money from home” calls, “liens against your property calls” and some calls where I just hung up after hearing a stern male robo voice shout “We have been trying to reach you…” read more

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We Need More Stern Robots In Our Lives

There was a recent article on an experiment in The New Scientist which explored human/robot interaction.

They took three rooms of people and put a friendly robot in one room that hung out with them and was very funny and friendly and really helpful to the people in the room. They took another room and they put in a stern robot, a not so friendly robot, a serious robot. Then in the third room, they put no robot at all. They acted friendly or stern prior to the test, once the test started they just sat in the corner and didn’t say anything. read more

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Our Content Needs To Go On A Diet

Time to fight the bloat

Did you know that FOMO has been around since the 16th century?

Back in 1525, Erasmus, among many others, opined that due to the printing press, that there were just too many books to read — that one could never read all of the books out there in one’s lifetime. read more

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When Is The Best Time To Experiment?

What’s better in innovation, thought experiments or real experiments?

Many people, from philosophers to scientists, use thought experiments to determine the outcome of a hypothesis. In many of our innovation, targeted IP generation and futurist sessions, we generate ideas which can be considered hypothesis (although our futurist program typically uses thought experiments to generate a  possible future state, then generates products and services to address that future state, then backcast to generate hypothetical capabilities we need to address that future state.

Once the idea is generated, however, some innovation groups remain in a perpetual state of running one thought experiment after another on it, preferring to deal in the rarified air of intellectual discussion every and every possible permutation of the idea. This is all great, but at a certain point, you have to step back and ask – where are all these thought experiments leading?

Are you simply attempting to justify moving the ideas forward into the real experiment phase, are you trying to imagine all possible negative outcomes in order to kill the idea, are you concerned that the idea is so radical that there is no possible way that this will ever be developed into a real idea.

Are you worried that the culture of your organization is not ready for ideas like this, are you worried that there is no budget for this ideas to be built, or are you concerned that there is no demand for the idea? In reality, only the last concern is of merit, and this is what is behind startup methodologies like lean, as well as the principles behind design thinking.

You can only run so many thought experiments on an idea, at some point you need to build it (or a version of it) and run it past your customers.

This is otherwise known as a “real experiment” (isn’t this one of the reasons that some groups call themselves “labs” – their whole point is not to endlessly discuss an idea but to experiment). Without stepping back, it can become very easy to fall into the thought experiment trap.

In fact, in one version of our program, the one that is designed to generate targeted IP, the only thing we should do are thought experiments, since the outcome of those sessions is patentable ideas, which by some definition, are things you simply just can’t build yet.

But I digress.

The question of when you should move from thought experiments on an idea to real experiments on an idea is simple: as soon as possible. What is the point of endlessly thinking about a concept, when you might run it past a sample of customers and get a highly negative, or even indifferent response, and the sooner you get those responses, then sooner you can determine if it is worthwhile to pursue that idea.

Continually running new thought experiments on ideas may be fun for some, but should be minimized in innovation groups – the sooner you get to your customers, then sooner you’ll know if an idea is viable – the sooner you can move on to the next one. You may have a phenomenal idea, but if it doesn’t resonate with customers, then you need to find out as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, its a numbers game – in the same way, VCs make a large number of bets assuming that most will fail but a few will be incredibly successful, you must do that same – and the faster you can move ideas from thought experiment to real experiment, that faster you’ll get to that next unicorn.

Let’s leave the bulk of the thought experiments to the philosophers and scientists, and spend our time envisioning how to develop concepts our current and future customers will love.

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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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Ask Not If Your Idea Can Make Money, Ask If It Can Help Humans

A common refrain that I hear from individuals at some of the companies that we’ve worked with in the past (and some prospects who ultimately decide not to work with us) is that we are experts at generating ideas, but most of those ideas simply do not have a business model – which is, of course, a fancy way of saying “we can’t figure out how to make any money with this idea”.

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.

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