Risk is critical for change but the spectrum of acceptable risk is personal—#BIF9

Stacy-PearsallThe range of risk explored, for the sake of self-discovery and innovation was quite extraordinary at BIF-9. It was humbling to see the extent to which people placed themselves, and their sense of self, at risk in the pursuit of revealing new truths.

Combat photographer, Stacy Pearsall opened with a story about joining the military and the elite combat photography troop and through her work received a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. The acceptance of death as a possibility was necessary to do her job and led to her project documenting, “America’s unsung heroes.”

Pearsall described her camera as one of the most powerful weapons possible. That said, after her traumatic brain injury, she discovered that there was a gap in what it meant to be a veteran and how veterans are perceived. She began to photograph veterans to be able to help broaden the definition of what it means to be a veteran and what their needs are in society today. The Veterans Portrait Project was created and she is self-funding the effort.

She wants no other veteran to experience what she experienced in her journey to recovery.

Through her Charleston Center for Photography, Pearsall teaches disabled veterans by giving them the tools they need to feel better about themselves. She finds inspiration in others and the ability to help and exhorted us to do something today—and together.

The concept of a bias for action was very much in play over the two days. Scott Heimendinger, started out as a passionate food blogger and fell into the traps of scrambling for SEO and page views, etc. It wasn’t great, but as Scott noted, doing work is good.

Doing work is important, even if you are not sure what you are doing.

In 2009 if you wanted to cook sous vide at home it cost $1200 to buy a lab device. It shouldn’t have cost that much. Make magazine published his slow food DIY project and he unlocked the Maker merit badge as a result. Heimendinger found the “right pond” to swim in through a process of taking more and more small risks on over time.

As someone who is very risk averse, I have come a long way.

Over time he created a molecular gastronomy cooking club and is establishing Culinary Jam Sessions. Jet City Gastro Physics, just filed its first patent on the way to making better French fries. Along the way he took a Modernist Cuisine course and snagged an internship during which he met Nathan Myhrvold former Microsoft CTO and molecular gastronomist, who created a guide. Now, after directly telling Myhrvold that he should hire him, Heimendinger is working there are as Director of Applied Research and recently had an amazing launch on Kickstarter for his $199 sous vide cooker.

For more on this topic listen to my post session interview with Scott.

Primed-in-5-logoPrimed in 5 with Scott Heimendinger

His efforts were rewarded by taking a series of risks that were manageable over time. All it took was bold passion and being unafraid to be passionate.




That kind of dedication and passion is something that Angela Maiers sought to tap into during her story. For Maiers, the act of contribution changes us. She sees that the moment we realize we have what someone else needs, in that moment our humanity is cemented.

To frame her story she noted that somewhere between preschool and grad school we have learned to hide our genius. And we need to change that. Then she launched into sharing the tale of a great project she conducted with some high school seniors on the last day of school before Summer. Maiers actively asked them to tap into their own genius, to risk a little by committing to something bigger than them selves. What occurred was nothing less than astounding. The students stayed for two days even though school was well and truly out for the year!

Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just changing the world.

The students felt that they were needed and were going to do something about it. Fifteen social enterprises launched and they all believed in themselves and in each other. By taking a risk they became invested in their own genius. And some of the participants joined Angela on stage at BIF-9 to share their own takeaways from the event and share their own stories, “These two days were really important to me…” which was great to see. Another risk taken…

FutureProjectIf Angela Maiers exemplified the process of leading others to recognize and take ownership of their own genius, Andrew Mangino illustrated the results of that journey of discovery from the student’s perspective. Arising from his work as a student journalist Mangino shared his path to eventually founding The Future Project,




High schools aren’t living up to what we all know they can be. Too many students drop out. Even more are disengaged daily. And the current thinking–to blame more teachers, impose more rules, and inject more money–just isn’t working.

At The Future Project, we see the problem simply: Our students aren’t pursuing their dreams. We’re out to turn high schools into Future Schools, where students develop the skills to do just that.

Here are the nine lessons he learned on the way:

  1. When we discover a passion, we discover we can do anything.
  2. Young people learn most when they are changing the world
  3. Schools are not really broken. They are working just as they were designed to work. And so they must be re-invented. [The performance system. Duh]
  4. A nation build on infinite possibility doesn’t feel like it.
  5. The most unjust gap in modern America is the inspiration gap. (seen as a luxury)
  6. The most solvable gap in modern America is the inspiration gap.*
    *But it is going to take a movement to do it.
  7. We don’t have to wait for permission to start.
  8. Nothing happens without a great team.
  9. It’s time for a new kind of leader in America—someone who stands for you.

The Future Project asked, what if there were dream directors? Now they have 16 dream directors across 4 cities in schools. Standing up for the infinite possibility of young people exemplified by Marielle, a student who stood up and began to transform her own school,

I have been a dreamer on stand-by for a long time. And that ends today.

Another way of looking at risk was presented by JoAnn Stonier, Chief Privacy Officer with MasterCard Worldwide. For Stonier, risk is not an immovable concept—it is highly fluid. One of the great challenges she sees for us as we innovate in an age of big data is that the risks to our privacy are not fully known and are not being considered widely enough to influence public policy and private behavior.

“The right to be let alone” arising out of the Gilded Age, is the early precursor to the right to privacy and at the time it was needed to create a retreat from the world due to the encroachments of the Industrial Age. That right to holding private some aspects of our identity and the data that is the manifestation of it is even more important now. Last year Stonier had spent the Summer months addressing the encroachment into private data by the NSA.

We are having these conversations because of the nature of the changes in our society today. Law lags innovation—they are never the solution.

If we look to law we are going to be waiting a very long time for a corresponding support. We need to be wrestling with what is at risk now. Privacy matters and it needs to be a part of the conversation for all who are innovating so that we can ensure that our own risk tolerance can be managed.

Perhaps Steve Blank captured the reframing of business risk best. As the author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual, Blank has been uncovering the ways in which those who take risks to begin new enterprises go about their work. He noted that Joseph Campbell identified the hero myth in multiple cultures as essentially the same story. Campbell recognized the pattern in the data.

Blank did 8 start-ups in 21 years. At no time was he looking for patterns, as he had his head down the entire time. Yet he did identify patterns.

After retirement Blankbegan sitting on boards and had one a series of private investments over the course of time he began to write his memoirs. While writing he identified a pattern emerging that no-one else had ever called out.

For the last century everyone had been striving for success is by treating start-ups as smaller versions of larger enterprises.

He offered a countervailing view. He noted that no business plan survives first contact with customers and that the only people who use 5 year plans are VC’s (venture capitalists) and Soviet-era countries.

The best start-ups went from failure to failure learning as rapidly as they could. Blank observed the “pivot”—times during which companies changed strategy by changing the people (firing the VP of Sales) and recognized that there needed to be a different way of handling the failure as a result of risk taking.

What we should have been doing instead of firing the person we should have been changing the plan.

On their first day, Blank said, every start-up is a faith-based enterprise based on guesses and no processes to test those guesses. There is no way you are smarter than the collective intelligence of your customers, so experiment with them. Make the risk to the enterprise manageable by learning as fast as you possibly can.

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Launching Soon – Hooray for Failure!

iTunesHFF_MasterHooray for Failure
is dedicated to exploring how to embrace risk-taking, practice resilience and strive for results in the face of setbacks, catastrophe and outright disaster. Hooray for Failure celebrates the effort required to making the startling, the fascinating and the truly innovative. Without failure there would be no breakthrough. Without failure there would be no success. Without failure there would be no stories to tell. Welcome to Hooray for Failure!

Increasingly when we are working with clients the question arises around how to develop a capacity to embrace risk, and overcome the inevitable failures when we attempt something truly new? One of the best ways to learn si through direct experience and short of that learning from the lessons of others. Hooray for Failure is going to share the stories of people who are visibly successful in their fields as they share how they tackle risk-taking, failure, and practice the resilience required to learn and grow towards success.

Some of the questions we’ll consider include:

  • What is the one failure you remember most? Why?
  • How did you overcome that failure? How do you continue to overcome that failure?
  • What part does failure have in your current success?

If you know of someone who might have a story to share or a lesson to teach based on their experience, please use the contact link and let us know?

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Co-creating innovation—a better participation experience

To further the appreciation of culture among all the people, to increase respect for the creative individual, to widen participation by all the processes and fulfillments of art—this is one of the fascinating challenges of these days.
John F. Kennedy

Innovation, certainly open innovation, is an invitation to participate in a shared experience of co-creation. It asks everyone involved to come to the table ready to fully engage and give of themselves to the best of their ability. This doesn’t happen of its own accord unless there are some basic elements in place to create an environment in which trust can be generated over time. One of the ways to create the conditions for trust is to orient the environment toward the participants, to make it as accessible and engaging as possible.

The process of creating an engaging environment may begin with relative simplicity, but as anyone who specializes in environmental psychology will tell you, it can become quite complex over time. This interdisciplinary field of psychology focuses on the interplay between humans and their surroundings. In the need for the acceleration of creating an innovation space that supports the formation of trusting working relationships, the primary focus is on one attribute in particular: prospection. As defined by Daniel Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness, this is “the act of looking forward in time or considering the future.”

Anticipating is (almost) everything
Prospection is driven most explicitly by our ability to imagine—a critical ingredient in forming innovations—and an environment that invites this positive behavior is one in which innovation may not only take root, but thrive. Like its root word, prospecting, prospection is concerned with anticipation of some type of benefit. In the case of innovation, that benefit is, a novel solution to a compelling need that generates value.

To generate the kind of positive outcomes we seek in our organizations, this process of anticipation needs to be jointly experienced. As a driver of behavior, anticipation increases enthusiasm, often with a corresponding ability to delay gratification that can move like a contagion across a group. Factors that contribute to bias toward anticipation are making thinking visible—the actual in-process outputs of the innovation experience—as well as creating a way to stage the development of ideas over time. Seeing and feeling the results of ethnographic research in terms of videoed interviews, or the volume of Post-It notes concepts generated via brainstorming, or the material outputs from a prototyping exercise can all contribute to the physical reinforcement of a positive outcome.

This kind of anticipation, the focus on prospection, can be self-fulfilling. It generates a momentum that is difficult to create or sustain without the benefit of physical cues in the environment. With them, the pace of innovation may be accelerated.

How else might we better support broader participation in innovation?

Collaborative toolkits
Such happiness as life is capable of comes from the full participation of all our powers in the endeavor to wrest from each changing situation of experience its own full and unique meaning.
John Dewey

For some organizations, creating comfortable, relatively quiet locations where participants can always meet, with food and beverages available to share and materials to support creative output, yields positive outputs. Why? By establishing differentiated spaces for innovation activities, the behavior that occurred in those spaces is also differentiated. Some organizations pride themselves on the diversity of their physical spaces. Advertising agencies have been known to create unique, client-centric spaces, in which they will focus on the products and services of those clients. Product development consultancies also create divergent work environments as mental and emotional triggers to support the creativity desired for innovation. One such firm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Inventionland, has created a workspace filled with pirate ships, raceways, and tree houses. This may seem quite trite until you learn that Inventionland is the inspiration for 2,000 to 2,400 brand-new inventions each year licensed and secured by businesses.

The provision of work spaces that support innovation participation is not relegated to the physical world only. Consider the impact that online collaboration tools may have on people who are not geographically co-located. Most social networking sites have support capabilities for group or project organizers—SharePoint has long been used for this purpose, Google Aps like Google Docs is used to do this, too. Even tools like WebEx or Adobe Connect offer ways to use virtual whiteboards. Sometimes it may be as simple as a series of emails to support team members that can make all the difference in fostering participation. The key is to choose those structures and tools that will be most meaningful given the organization culture in place in your enterprise.

With the appropriate environmental conditions in place, fostering innovation participation becomes an easier prospect. Be clear about goals and the tools required to meet them. Be clear about the skills necessary to achieve your goals and the people who can provide them. Create a space to act as a crucible to bring them together and get out of the way. With the stage set, and managed, co-creating innovation will be something to look forward to and the opportunity to delight will present itself.

What environmental conditions and tools do you recommend for fostering innovation participation in your enterprise?

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Is it hot in here? A review of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire by Braden Kelley

For those of you who don’t know Braden Kelley, he is one of several thought-leader, whirling dervishes in the innovation space. Braden is the founder and executive editor of the innovation hub, Blogging Innovation, and most recently is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Culture of Ingenuity and Purpose. This readily accessible offering is focused on getting the fundamentals of innovation right. It directly addressed key obstacles that cripple innovation in organizations, regardless of their initial innovation successes.

It should be noted that I know Braden and admire his work in innovation. That said, I purchased the book myself (Kindle edition) and have every intention of offering a clear perspective. When I make recommendations I fully understand that my reputation is on the line, too. So, I am pleased to be able to offer a strong endorsement for this book. For anyone interested in innovation in their organization, the ideas presented matter.

One of my favorite features in this obviously well-researched effort is the devotion to case studies. Braden uses the case studies to both highlight best practices and shortcomings in innovation and the wide range makes his thinking relevant to people across all industries and levels in organizations. Interestingly, while many authors have positioned Apple’s journey as one of a paragon of innovation virtue, Braden takes the time to truly unpack and review Apple’s overnight innovation success. His attention to detail means that we begin to understand how hard innovation can be, even for the best, and what we can do to address the blockages to success head on.

Now, for those hoping to find a silver bullet for innovation success, this book is not for you. Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire is focused on providing the reader with practical, incremental steps that can be taken to build innovation effectiveness over time. There are no quick fixes. There are no simple solutions. On offer is solid advice, clearly presented. It is not ground breaking, but to perfectly clear, that’s not what is needed. People need to understand that for innovation to matter in an enterprise and to be sustained over time the basic tenets that Braden identifies and clearly explains need to be in place. Without them the opportunity to fail will present itself quite readily.

The book’s natural progression from vision and strategy through to organization psychology and innovating under crisis conditions makes this a useful guide to keep at hand as you continue on your innovation journey. Braden notes, and I wholeheartedly agree, that there are fundamentals without which you will not be successful. He clearly describes the challenges and offers sensible solutions for addressing them. His approach is to create the culture and systems and processes that will support innovation for the long-term.

Perhaps one of my favorite sections is titled “Saying No in the Right Way.” So many times I have seen the passion of innovators in organizations run aground on the negativity attendant with the strategic (and sometimes, not-so-strategic) decision-making surrounding which opportunities to pursue and which to abandon. Braden addresses the ego inherent in people sharing and evaluating their ideas in a public domain. He also notes that sometimes the smartest people in the room have the least capability to explain or develop their ideas in order to make their invention an innovation reality. The approach he recommends is to foster trust by understanding the skills that people bring to the table before you go down the innovation road as well as set clear expectations for the process of selection. All of which requires preparation.

Ultimately, the investments you make in creating clear communications around your idea evaluation policies and processes, and in maintaining their transparency, will be repaid tenfold. Innovation ideas will continue to flow only as long as there is trust and faith in the healthy operation of the process.

Which is the heart of the matter. If you want to innovate you cannot simply jump in and expect the best outcomes. You need to think and prepare. That does not mean you must prepare to perfection. But you do need to have the elements in place, the basic framework that will support your collaborative efforts, to keep your innovation efforts heading in the right direction. Like a bonfire, innovation burns best and brightest when it has a stable structure to which you can keep adding fuel. If your organization is struggling to get its innovation efforts off the ground, or if you feel it has lost its way, then you should take a look at Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, it will help your business rebuild its hidden or lost innovation capabilities.

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Recognition as a force to foster innovation

Sometimes, the wide range of things that must be accomplished to improve an organization’s innovation culture can be overwhelming. The sheer range of available actions along with the anticipated complexity of their implementation can cause one to feel like a small woodland creature caught in the headlights of a large truck. Or, worse yet, may simply cause you to want to sit in a corner and quietly cry yourself to sleep. Sorry, was that out loud?

Nevertheless, there are some simple steps that, when repeated, can create an engine that will drive innovation practices across your enterprise.

Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.
Peter Drucker

Recognition is the key ingredient to get things moving.

Recognition is not the ability to identify something, although that helps. What we’ll focus on here is the systematic observation and public witnessing of the right kinds of behaviors in the organization. It means “catching people doing the right thing,” and believe me, as a practitioner, it is much more fun for the giver and receiver than any performance management system focused on finding fault and making corrections. The power of recognition is that it can be simple, readily applied, and the knock-on effects can have enduring positive impacts that may carry on repeatedly.

Measure for measure
Count what is countable, measure what is measurable. What is not measurable, make measurable.
Various attributions (the more common variant meme: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.”)

Measurement is an important factor in the recognition of innovation-supporting actions. The challenge with measurement is in selecting the appropriate measures of performance to assess the progress toward a desired set of outcomes. If we choose metrics less than wisely, we can find that our actual performance and our desired performance slowly drift apart. The same can be said of recognition. As an acknowledgment of performance against expectations, choosing where and how recognition should be applied must also be considered just as wisely as what we measure.

When we decide to recognize performance, we come up hard against the realities of measurement in our organization. We soon discover that we are actually required to manage what we cannot measure. Innovation is an especially difficult area in which to define absolute measures. When we attempt to do so, we realize that not everything that can be measured should be managed, and that not everything that must be managed can be measured. Innovation recognition requires us to focus on movement toward desired actions rather than any hard and fast outcomes. It may also mean some missteps as we become clearer about what we need to recognize in order to move our unique culture in the appropriate direction.

One of the greatest management principles is that the things that get recognized get done again. If you’re looking to create innovation momentum, look for the behaviors you want to recognize, and explicitly tell the organization what you’re looking for, whether it’s deeper customer observations, more ideation, or faster prototyping. Be clear and be repetitive. You get more of the behavior you recognize, but you certainly will not get what you merely hope for, wish for, or beg for. Better yet, when you do see the behavior you were looking for, don’t wait a moment–make the recognition immediate, visible, and shareable.

From a performance management perspective, the closer you can tie individual (or group) performance and action to it being recognized, the stronger the tie will be in the eyes of the receivers and any observers. Any time separating their performance and its recognition, means the opportunity to foster the needed behavior diminishes rapidly.

Remember, recognition systems are much more than just bonus plans and stock options. While it is certainly possible to include both of these incentives, they can also include awards and other rewards, such as promotions, reassignment, non-monetary bonuses (e.g., vacations), or a simple thank-you. Above all, make recognition a production.

Recognition is all about seeing
Sawubona – “I see you” (traditional isiZulu greeting)

In their most recent book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath discuss how to create change when change is hard. Fostering an innovation-capable culture is hard work. One of the earliest concepts in their work is the notion of being able to “find the bright spot.” This concept is firmly tied to the work on appreciative inquiry of David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Reserve University. Finding the bright spot means looking diligently for and highlighting that which is going right. It means making the success, no matter how small-seeming, a visible and desirous outcome. They are “successful efforts worth emulating.”

Recognition is about identifying and promoting the desired innovation-focus behavior. The reason to focus on recognition rather than reward systems is because recognition elicits a psychological benefit, whereas reward indicates a financial or physical benefit. Although many elements of designing, managing, and sustaining reward and recognition systems are similar, it is useful to keep this difference in mind, especially for small business owners interested in motivating staffs while keeping costs low. Additionally, recognition is great for early stage and in-process outcomes essential for behavior change, while rewards are generally end-stage and conclusive-results focused.

Being prepared to recognize is key. Some simple guidelines include:
• Create goals and action plans for innovation-supporting behavior recognition,
• Maintain fairness, clarity, and consistency in recognition, and,
• Set guidelines so all leaders acknowledge equivalent and similar contributions.

In order to develop an effective recognition program, leaders must be sure to separate it from the company’s reward program. This ensures a focus on recognizing the efforts of organization members. Effective recognition should be sincere; applied consistently and fairly; noise-free (not combined with other reporting activities); timely and frequent (especially when fostering early behavior changes so that no one’s efforts are overlooked); flexible; appropriate; and specific (specific in terms of what it recognizes and specific in terms of how it recognizes the desired behavior). See people do the right thing, early and often.

It is important that every action that supports a company’s innovation goals be recognized, whether through informal feedback or formal company-wide recognition. All members should have the same opportunity to receive recognition for their work, too. Finally, a common understanding of the behaviors or actions to be recognized should be shared. One way you can ensure this is by visibly and explicitly describing what actions will be recognized, and then reinforcing this by communicating exactly what someone did to be recognized.

How are you recognizing your bright spots and capitalizing on them?

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Innovation Psychology – Innovation is a hostage to what we think and feel

No psychologist should pretend to understand what he does not understand… Only fools and charlatans know everything and understand nothing.
Anton Chekhov

Why explore the impact of psychology on innovation?
Organization psychology examines the relations between the individual and the tasks he or she is posed, between the individual and the surrounding social context in which he or she find themselves, and between the individual and the formal organizational structure. The practice of innovation, the creation and invention of new products, services, business models is very much at the heart of organizations seeking to increase their long-term success. The psychology of organizations plays a primary role in the effectiveness innovation practices and outcomes.

Also, when we consider a psychological framework for innovation it is also vital to include a broader understanding of social psychology. Social psychology is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by others; regardless of whether or not that presence is actual, imagined, or implied. This influence is especially important when we factor in the influences on innovation of open source models which reach beyond the formal boundaries of organizations.

In order to create a wider understanding of the psychology underpinning innovation in the next few weeks and months regular posts will focus on those aspects of psychology that hold sway in the practice of innovation (whether we choose to acknowledge them or not.) Topics will include anchoring, heuristics, and biases, as well as cognition, group dynamics and resilience. The intent is to unlock their power and influence and improve their management in the development of robust innovation cultures.

For an innovation culture to be successfully created and fostered over time, it is a necessity to have a better sense of how people interact and engage. So let’s explore…

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Customers in Innovation – Sound and Fury Signifying…

The watch words for innovation at present are “open innovation” and “customer-centricity”. The idea that the customer should not only be invited into the innovation process, they should be at its very heart, is of paramount significance. The oft-quoted Henry Ford, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse,” for years held sway over product development. The thinking was that customers don’t know what they want until we tell them and sell them. That may have worked in the era of Mad Men, but customers’ access to data and ability to wield it to their own purposes means that that they can be excluded from product and service innovation at a producer’s peril.

We don’t know what we don’t know

If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.
Karl Albrecht

The fact remains that most companies producing products and services have only a limited perspective on their customers’ needs (as those needs relate to their set of offerings). Which means often the stewards of innovation are flying blind. Recently April Dunford, of Rocket Watcher, posted on why it might be important to run a customer advisory board. Her directives speak to the need to include a customer perspective in the mix that not only provides insight into the customer experience of your products and services, but one that also reaches beyond the horizon to provide a glimpse into potential new markets.

Without customers’ perspectives it is very hard to know limits of what you do and do not know. Inviting them into the mix means that even if you can’t name the dragons at the end of your world (read: market) you can at least see them. The other opportunity to be created by including customers’ views in your thinking is that not only will the community that they form will feed you new ideas and innovation options, that same community will also generate the goodwill that comes from an expanded network. You can create the opportunity for customers to share and network with each other, which may not have an immediate benefit to you, but you better believe it will have a positive return.

One of my personal guides as I ventured into the world of consulting services many years, Nancy Truitt Pierce (the Founder and CEO of Woods Creek Consulting Company in the Seattle, Washington state area) was a great proponent of the customer advisory council. She actually turned the advisory council concept on its head and made networking the heart of its reason for being. She now has a model of consortia that encompass the needs of her customers: technology sector executive peers, senior executive peers, sales executive peers, and CFO’s. Each group meets to share insights, advise each other, and Nancy moderates. Long term many members have become Nancy’s clients and she brings their insights back into her firm to innovate her service offerings

Our customers don’t know but they can show us
Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.
Marshall Field

For many companies though, the customer cannot conceive what they need because they are too close to their issues. No matter how hard they might try to articulate their concerns they fall short. This leads to poor communication and inadequate responses on the part of market to meeting their needs. This is not satisfactory for anyone.

Again, the key is to get closer to the customer so that the path to innovation is as pain-free as possible. The design power-house, IDEO, when working on product design opportunities for their clients uses ethnographic study (targeted, field-based observation) to achieve this end very readily. They have perfected a multi-layered approach to observing the customer experience, that may include questioning, but more often than not involves direct experience of customer’s challenges live, in real-time. Sometimes it involves their staff essentially moving into the home of a customer in order to glean first-hand experience. One of IDEO’s partners, Proctor & Gamble has actually adopted this concept and uses it to drive their own innovation processes.

P&G’s approach is called the “Living It” program. Living It creates opportunities for P&G’s ethnographers to live with customers (willing participants), to observe how they go about their everyday lives. The ethnographers get to rapidly identify customers’ needs first hand by seeing what their customers are trying to do, and how they might be hampered by their environment or the inadequacy of their tools. They can then use these insights to identify potential new products that would make customers’ everyday lives easier. This focus on understanding customers’ needs through jobs and desired outcomes is absent from the question and answer-based innovation process that passes for customer involvement in many companies today.

Opening innovation to the customer experience
The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.
Peter F. Drucker

The next step beyond experiencing the customer live and in real-time is to actually open the innovation process so that they are not passively observed; open innovation brings customers into the mix to co-create and design solutions that meet their needs without the filter of internal enterprise interpretation. This kind of inclusion would have been considered nightmarish in past generations. “Invite the customer to develop their own products?! Why the heck would I do that?!” might have crossed the mind of more than one researcher or product developer. The inherent fears at play driving that reaction were loss of control and like Nosferatu, once they were invited into the process they might never leave. The shock was that not only did customers behave themselves, but given their vested interest in the design outcome, they were enthusiastic collaborators.

Stefan Lindegaard, the founder of innovation consultancy 15inno based in Copenhagen, is one of the most vocal proponents of the open innovation model. His advocacy for open innovation is breaking open the discussion about its utility for all types of companies. Previously open innovation was reserved as the practice of larger companies with the funds to develop a customer engagement model (see P&G above), yet Stefan is making the case that open innovation should not only be embraced by all companies, no matter how small, but that it should tap the widest global network possible. His reasoning, why limit yourself when who knows where you might make the best solution connection?

Not every suggestion warrants action (but they all warrant a response)

Innovation comes from the producer — not from the customer.
W. Edwards Deming

What happens when your open innovation network comes with ideas that are not the right fit for your organization? One of the failings of inviting the customer into the innovation experience is that companies do not actively manage that experience. If you think a customer having a poor purchasing experience can cause havoc you haven’t seen anything until you have seen a customer relationship poorly managed when it is invited into a closer discussion about product development and is ignored, or worse yet, discounted.

Including the customer in your innovation processes requires just as much planning and management as your marketing and sales management processes. To neglect this preparation, or poorly implement the management of the customer experience as you bring them into your organization’s systems and processes can not only damage the immediate client relationship it can actually damage their total lifetime value to your enterprise.

Before a customer suggests an idea that you know you cannot and will not implement, develop a plan to address that potential problem. Either, remove the circumstances in which that request might be formed by developing a set of clearly defined and constantly visible expectations against which you can manage their experience. Or, develop contingent strategies that acknowledge their contribution and defuse its impact. Failure to do so might result in disastrous consequences. Losing customers while trying to meet their needs is certainly not a good result from your innovation efforts.

After all, you are trying to meet their needs not create new ones that they will seek another provider to solve!

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Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? (A call to arms from Seth Godin)

A genius looks at something that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck.
Seth Godin, Linchpin

Genius Marketer Markets Book Ingeniously

If Seth Godin was doing anything with his past books it was perhaps leading a trail of breadcrumbs to this current book, Linchpin. Where Tribes (2008) was a call to finding a following and to stake out a territory as a leader, Linchpin, released today (January 26th – Happy Australia* Day and Happy Republic Day in India, by the way) is more a call to arms. It reaches out, grabs your lapels (or collar, if you don’t have lapels, or neck if you don’t have a collar) and gives you a good shake. Linchpin directly addresses the anxiety of our time and offers a self-directed path away from that experience. It points toward a future where we can control how and where and with whom we will make meaning. And it does so with a joy and enthusiasm that are all Seth’s own.

I’ve long been an avid reader of Seth (to call him Mr. Godin, while proper, seems inappropriate given the long acquaintance we have had, however one-sided as it has been.) I’ve succumbed to the Ideavirus; I’ve Dipped; and, I’ve fallen for a Purple Cow. When the opportunity arose to make a donation to The Acumen Fund (established by Jacqueline Novogratz – featured at the number two slot on the book jacket blurb) in order to receive an advance copy of this book, I jumped at the chance. Contribute to a good cause? Read the latest from a favored author? What’s not to love? The genius of this is that I talked about the unique promotion of the book widely. I talked about my anticipation as I awaited my advance copy. I talked to people as I read the book. And now, I’m fulfilling my final obligation (willingly) as part of the original promotional bargain, I’m writing about the book. Like I said, ingenious genius.

Recognizing that what worked isn’t any longer

I have a background in education and have long recognized that the structure of much Western education continues to represent a response to the needs of the newly Industrial Age. I cannot begin to count the number of ages that have been (and gone) since that time. When Linchpin identified that educational indoctrination as something that prevents as from achieving our potential, in all its self-fulfilling messiness, I crowed. Finally, arguments long had in academic circles were to receive a wider airing and I couldn’t be happier.

If an aversion to risk is hardwired into us, taking that to its extreme and designing and living a system of education that only prepares us for managing that risk is a crying shame. Seth’s response, that we have created and continue to create a dispensable, interchangeable workforce when the present cries out for something much more robust, is refreshing to say the least. If we are what we do, then let’s do something new, because what we used to do won’t do any more. In short, Seth is inviting us to each become a “linchpin”.

Choosing to be something new and true
Keith Ferrazzi in his book, Never Eat Alone, talked about the power of abundance and notes that, “the currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Seth takes this concept of the power of generosity and, instead of applying it to networking, he applies it to personal insight, productivity and market growth. Being generous, being capable, and being indispensable – in short, being a linchpin – “leads to more opportunities and ultimately a payoff for everyone involved.”

In this book, Seth wrestles with what it means to be a linchpin. It isn’t glamorous. It isn’t necessarily singular. What it is, is essential to organizational success. With the linchpin an organization frays and begins to fall (in some cases fly) apart. Linchpins, through their perseverance, talent and charm, create organizational momentum. Their self-awareness of their capabilities, combined with the application of that knowledge and the soundness of their judgments make their contribution to organizations exponential in terms of impact.

On the benefit of hard labor
Perhaps where Linchpin seemed to really come into its own for me was when Seth began to re-frame the concept of work. He offers up the concept of hard work as something physical, or boring, or mundane; then he concludes that perhaps the important work, the investment of our emotional selves in our efforts, is a more important form of hard work. The emotional life of the workforce is often relegated to the backwaters of Human Resources practices, something around which everyone should tread lightly. Seth, gloriously wades into the middle of this and calls out emotional labor for what it is.

Having done my share of work both in the human resources domain and in the volunteer world, where emotional laboring is the order of the day, to have someone describe that work accurately as “a gift” is wonderful. It requires engagement. It demands the best of us. It draws on our creativity, or passions, our insight, our willingness to take risks and to be generous. I love that this kind of work lies at the heart of being a linchpin in Seth’s eyes.

The job is not your work; what you do with your heart and soul is the work.
– Seth Godin, Linchpin

Make your own way – make art through connection

One of the only challenges I would have had with the linchpin concept was that for all its generosity of spirit this was obviously only going to be an individualized call to action. What I wanted, certainly needed, was an understanding of how being a linchpin connected to others. After all, that’s what a linchpin does, it holds stuff together. Just when was getting worried, I was granted comfort when read into the chapter “The Culture of Connection” with the lead sub-header, “The Linchpin Can’t Succeed in Isolation.”

After all, for a linchpin to be effective, they need the connection of others. Because if they are not connecting, and giving, what the heck are they doing? Take a look at Linchpin, I think this book is not only an invaluable tool I think it is a great and necessary call to action.

*The Sir Donald Bradman reference (p.62) was especially appreciated, Seth.

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Bill Gates’ 2010 Annual Letter focuses on Innovation

Gates: This is my second annual letter. The focus of this year’s letter is innovation and how it can make the difference between a bleak future and a bright one.

2009 was the first year my full-time work was as co-chair of the foundation, along with Melinda and my dad. It’s been an incredible year and I enjoyed having lots of time to meet with the innovators working on some of the world’s most important problems. I got to go out and talk with people making progress in the field, ranging from teachers in North Carolina to health workers fighting polio in India to dairy farmers in Kenya. Seeing the work firsthand reminds me of how urgent the needs are as well as how challenging it is to get all the right pieces to come together. I love my new job and feel lucky to get to focus my time on these problems. The full letter is here.

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On Projects and Innovation

“Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”Edwin Land, founder of the Polaroid Corporation. Among other things, he invented inexpensive filters for polarizing light, a practical system of in-camera instant photography, and his retinex theory of color vision.

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