New at WaPo: How To Breed Big Innovation Inside A Small Business

WaPo-MediumAn endless list of priorities often relegates “innovation” to the list of buzzwords small business owners read about but can never tackle – something for the well-funded R&D labs at big corporations, not for the entrepreneurs on Main Street.

But innovation is about being competitive and inventive in your approach — and small firms already have everything they need to be a big player in the innovation game.

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New at Corp Magazine: How to Inspire an Innovation Culture

Corp-MediumPrimed Associates has been featured at Corp! Magazine with our latest post, “How to Inspire an Innovation Culture.”

Companies are faced with an era of constant evolution and creative disruption. They realize that they need to implement a culture of innovation to succeed. Can companies truly change their business objectives to include innovation without first instilling certain values in management?

Innovation: From the top down
Managers are really the only ones who can bring their teams together and implement meaningful and successful changes. If managers are not using a common language of innovation to link the actions of their team members to overall organizational goals, then employees will put their attention and dedication to other projects that they are more interested in, seem easier to implement, or for which they are given encouraging consequences.


See the full post here

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Primed Associates, LLC is Presented the ExperienceChange Business Simulation for Free


Primed Associates, LLC is offering a unique opportunity to participate in the ExperienceChange change management business simulation firsthand and free-of charge in Princeton, NJ on Thursday 28 February, 2013 at Princeton Public Library.

Adapting to change is a key ingredient for the success of any enterprise. This opportunity is being provided to participants to demonstrate the value that this change management simulation can deliver an organization that is about to launch, or is working through, a large-scale change initiative.

Consider it a no obligation way to experience a best-in-class learning experience that not only delivers learning it also provides an engaging way to practice what is learned so that it may be applied back in the work environment. The offer is open to individuals and up to three attendees from a single organization or company.

For more information see our event registration and our service offerings.

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Recent Posts at Collaborative Innovation

The sponsors of the Collaborative Innovation site, Dassault Systèmes, held their Customer 3D Experience Forum in Orlando Florida recently and this year’s event offered a fantastic array of tools and solutions for the way in which 3D modeling can be used to prototype product and service experiences as well as the design and manufacture of those offerings. I was originally going to be spending some time at the event but another storm coming up the Eastern seaboard of the USA put a decided crimp in those plans and I decided to observe the activities from afar—ah, the wonders of modern technology. Needless-to-say, while it would have been better to be onsite, I managed to see some patterns and key ideas across the various presentations. Here are a couple of my posts in response:

The View from Afar – 3DS in FL viewed from NJ

Due to another unfortunate weather systemmaking a guest appearance on the East Coast of the USA this week I was unable to successfully get into and out of Orlando forDassault Systèmes3D Experience Forum. Which is a shame because it looks like the range of innovations shared that are using 3D visualization to drive their successful implementation would have been great to witness first-hand.

Already this morning Tesla has been sharing the “Oooo”-worthy falcon-wing doors of its newModel X cross over vehicle and how they neatly fit into the family garage, tested before production through the wonders of 3D visulaization. This continues Tesla’s run on transforming the auto industry by identifying and meeting a broad range of needs as well as producing beautiful vehicles, too. [See full post here.]

And here is another post from the same event…

Height. Light. And Movement – Improving the Retail Experience Virtually

Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away…My apologies; the recent purchase of Lucas Film by Disney has given me Star Wars nostalgia. I remember a time when stop motion photography and the destruction of meticulously crafted models were considered the pinnacle of movie special effects. It was also a time when I was working my may through university in retail. As I said, “many years ago”.

One of my fondest memories of working in retail was the folklore that was passed on from the store manager to the upcoming employees. The measures of performance were shared, such: Days of Supply, Turns, Stock to Sales Ratio, Sell Through Percentage and Gross Margin Return on Investment. Alongside these metrics we were also the recipients of instruction regarding sales and marketing addressing: Point of Sale Displays, End-caps, and Placement. But the phrase that stuck with me most in reference to merchandise presentation effectiveness was that it had to have, “height, light and movement”. [See full post here.]

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Innovation Schadenfreude: creating value from the misery of others

The unspoken goal of innovation is to delight. In their delight, the user or recipient of the innovation validates the efforts made on their behalf to dispel their problem. For an innovator the joy comes from recognizing pain, suffering, heartache, or confusion and then conceiving of and designing something that takes that misery away.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then necessity can be one mean mommy, because innovation requires a challenge to address, and by its very nature, innovation has misery at its root.

To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish.

–       Arthur Schopenhauer

Recently there was a slideshow post at the Huffington Post about the top consumer complaints to the FTC (the Federal Trade Commission, a United States regulatory body ). Over the course of 2010, the FTC received a total of 1,339,265 complaints filed. That’s a whole lot of unhappiness. When I first read this list, given my background in customer service and technical support environments, I was not surprised. It included such complaints as credit card charges, prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries, and identity theft (No. 1 by an 8 percent margin).

As I considered the list, I began to think of this as a great opportunity for innovation. Any one of these areas could be a huge goldmine for the willing innovator.


Something grim this ways comes

It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.

–       Theodore Roosevelt

What about the industries with the highest number of customer complaints? Well, let’s go to the data. At the top of the list are cellular telephone vendors, equipment manufacturers, and network providers. Given the ubiquity of these highly complex devices, seeing this industry at the top of the list is not surprising. What is more interesting is the fact that banks are near the top of this industry survey, too—ahead of collection agencies and used car dealers. The increasing complexity of available services for consumer banking combined with a less-than-transparent approach to fee implementation might make this an area ripe for transformation.

But the most compelling data from an innovation opportunity perspective is not which industries reside at the top of the list.  The greatest opportunities lie in those industries with the widest margin between customer complaints and the percentage of complaints that are resolved. That is the place of greatest pain. That is also the place where there might be rich human experience that could feed innovative solutions.

The banks’ attempts to resolve the customer issues see them at the peak. By addressing 100 percent of the complaints within 30 days, they’re not leaving much room for customer attrition. While the cellular phone companies have the most complaints, they are also doing a fairly decent job of addressing customers’ needs in a timely fashion. It’s those companies who deliver large physical products (cars, used cars, furniture) who seem to be failing to resolve customer issues quickly enough. Based on my customer service experience, I see a significant opportunity in this space to convert customers through service and support innovation.

Make the pain go away. Make a customer for life.

The enduring unhappiness of the unfulfilled need

What people need and what they want may be very different.

–       Elbert Hubbard

Clayton Christensen described the inherent need behind any successful innovation was a particular “job-to-be-done” by a customer. Here is an article in MIT Sloan Management magazine that highlights the theory behind the approach. The job-to-be-done theory holds that products and services are most successful when they connect a circumstance with a job that customers need to get done. By identifying those jobs people really care about and developing products and services that make it easier to achieve these jobs, companies can identify new markets that they were previously unaware of or that could not be uncovered by traditional market segmentation. The key ”a-ha” is that jobs-to-be-done are actually an indicator of customer pain and frustration.

When you look at the number of complaints in the segments above, you can choose to see a whole world of hurt. An innovator will see something different: They choose to see a realm of possibility.

Complaints arise from an unmet need, which often may be simply resolved, except the customer doesn’t know how to access the solution. Sometimes those needs may be quite complex, revealing a gap in functionality or utility that should be closed. Regardless, each and every complaint represents a unique opportunity to fulfill a job-to-be-done. If these needs remain unfulfilled, not only is the innovation opportunity lost, but the unhappiness will extend to the vendor of the product or service as they lose a customer.

In this light an unfulfilled need is a contagion spreading from customer to customer, and from customer to vendor, the result being a flight to the next possible alternative.


WTF? vs. “Can you hear me now?”

Art is not only about angst.

–       John Corigliano

Those enterprises that seek to exploit the deficiencies in their market segment often make significant strides against their competitors. Take Verizon Wireless. (Full disclosure: the parent company, Verizon, is a client.) One of the greatest complaints about mobile or cellular telephones is the poor service reception and the inability to hear calls. J.D. Power and Associates conducts a semiannual study measuring wireless call quality based on seven problem areas that impact overall carrier performance: dropped calls; static/interference; failed call connection on the first try; voice distortion; echoes; no immediate voicemail notification; and no immediate text message notification. Verizon Wireless saw that improvements in these seven areas would yield a significant return on investment, and so they began innovating to directly address these issues.

The result? Verizon Wireless began leading the way in call quality improvement, which gave rise to their decade-long advertising campaign with the enduring tag line, “Can you hear me now?” (The campaign was only retired in September 2010.) Perhaps a more compelling reason than age for the end of the campaign is that shifts in wireless phone usage, including smartphone and texting use, as well as an increase in the percentage of wireless calls being made and received inside buildings, has led to a halt in overall call quality improvement. This already has Verizon Wireless’s eye focused on a new complaint: the limitations of mobile bandwidth. Can you say, “Hello, 4G!”?

Whatever complaints your customers have, don’t disregard them. Take them for the gift they truly are. Because there’s opportunity in their misery, provided you choose to do something about it, and soon.

This post was originally featured here:

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Motivated to innovate: How an organization’s culture can cultivate or crush

While motivation is essentially a self-generated state, the organizational culture of a group or individual dedicated to the pursuit of innovation greatly influences their performance. That culture both dominates and mediates, and if it is not positively addressed, competing motivations and needs can come into play. As has been mentioned previously more than once in the Think Primed Blog, innovation requires the introduction of change into inherently stable systems. Because of this, an organizational culture plays a large role in fostering and sustaining motivation.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

–       John Muir

















To meet those competing needs, an organization must address powerful personal motivators. One of the best models highlighting what’s at stake during this kind of effort is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

So much of organization life takes place at the bottom of this pyramid; the equivalent of “keeping the lights on and the water running.” Which is a great model for an Industrial Age company intent on making an endless succession of the same widgets in a production line. Not many of those companies thriving today, are there?

A step up from physiological needs are the types of organizations that pitch benefits packages addressing the safety and security concerns of their members and, to a certain extent, some esteem needs. Organizations with strong and stable cultures often reinforce the needs associated with love and belonging, yet they have all the fun and dysfunction of families. They’re mostly built for comfort rather than speed, required to respond to changing and dynamic market forces.

The most dynamic and innovative companies seek to work at the highest levels of this model, to get the best from people every day.


Price of admission

It’s not enough for an organization culture to provide the equivalent of shelter in a storm, especially not if that same organization wants its members to invest themselves in the success of the enterprise. Prior to the Great Unpleasantness (aka the Great Recession), companies were scrambling to create environments that attracted the best and the brightest. Though many companies today remain focused on that, the majority merely pays it lip service or don’t pursue that practice at all.

These latter companies are minding their reserves and hoarding their resources. This is practice won’t yield significant results at all.

The price of admission to those seeking to create innovation-capable cultures is the same as it has always been: collaborative cultures where people feel safe to share their ideas, where they feel like they can find a “home,” where they are recognized for their contribution, and were they feel they can be their best selves. Charlie Gilkey, author of the Productive Flourishing blog, recently noted that it took him several quarters to come up with his list for a post titled “What I Believe.” The end result is something that reflects what most of us are looking for in our lives. Work is where people spend most of their waking hours, so organization better figure out how to create the conditions for a culture that supports those beliefs he mentions.

One such example of the fulfilling organization, a company dedicated to the principals of loose/tight leadership (small set rules, tightly managed), is the online video powerhouse Hulu. Recently Fast Company magazine ran a great profile online of Hulu’s organization culture, which showed how power is distributed to the lowest organization level possible for effective decision-making and execution. Engagement is driven by the establishment of a small set of performance-based rules that are tightly enforced, while most aspects of organization life are left to the individual or group to design, organize, implement, and process. The net result is an organization that makes people want to deliver their best effort.

We all want to belong

This kind of democratically-biased culture creates a cohesion that is rare in many larger organizations. Usually when start-ups cross the growth chasm (as distinct from the adoption chasm defined in Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm), the transition in revenues or size (over $10 million and over 150 people, respectively) means their flexibility collapses under command-and-control patterns and poorly defined and managed performance expectations. That hasn’t happened at Hulu. They are large, growing larger, and thriving by deferring to their community members.

Organizations that fail to cross the growth chasm come up hard against the reality of being inhospitable. They cease to grow and flourish, because they don’t make room for the strength that others may provide by applying their own unique and divergent talents. The start-up company that fails to grow is usually completely tied to one person’s hierarchy of needs: the founder. The founder is usually on a never-ending treadmill of addressing their most elemental needs for safety.

In Hulu’s case, ownership of issues, problem-solving, and performance management is baked into the culture of this company. Everyone has an opportunity to accept responsibility and accountability for outcomes. Rather than struggling with lines of authority, each person is supported in discovering how they may best contribute collaboratively to the overarching corporate success. This cohesive sense of belonging serves as a path for higher levels of self-actualization, each of which offers material benefit in attaining organization strategy.


To be held in high esteem

The path through successive levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy is not necessarily straight, but the value to the company of performing at each successive level is nearly always positive. Provided that each level offers some opportunity for consolidation of the needs met, and that the striving continues upward, value generation will be significant. Given a place to call “home” and the recognition that they do have a place to contribute, many employees capitalize by fostering esteem among their peers.

That focus informs value by playing to the individual’s strengths so that they may be successful and have increasing impact over time. The respect of peers for contributions, whether directly from innovation or as a result of building on an existing practice or procedure, by turn fosters self-respect. This leads to a positive environmental feedback loop—each success creates the opportunity for greater successes over time.

A better you/me/us through self-actualization

At the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy is the concept of self-actualization. The term originated in a work by Kurt Goldstein called The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man (commence head-spinning now). While Goldstein used the term to describe a state all humans strove to achieve, Maslow used the term self-actualization to describe a desire, not a driving force, that could lead to the realization of one’s capabilities. For Maslow, self-actualization did not determine one’s life; rather, it gave the individual a motivation to achieve personal ambitions and fulfillment.

Taken as a level of development to meet specific personal needs, self-actualization is completely in alignment with effective innovation. Those people who are operating to become more self-actualized are more likely to embrace reality and facts rather than deny truth. This leads to more rational understanding of the root causes of circumstances and a drive towards focusing on problems outside themselves.

When it comes to an understanding of the human-centricity required for effective innovation — the notion that an innovation must have a specific utility in mind — those who firmly address their need to self-actualize accept their own human nature with all its shortcomings, and similarly accept the nature of others with a general lack prejudice. This breeds resilience and a spontaneity that are great innovation traits.

Those organizations that can play to this desire for self-actualization, that recognize the need to become our better selves, will reap the benefits. Command- and control-driven organizations will, by their nature, drive performance from the level of meeting physiological needs of safety and property. Those organizations that treat their members with respect, recognizing their talents and contributions, will enable their members with the freedom to be their best, and in so doing, will make better organizations because of it.

What kind of organization are you building? A safe place? Or a place to become your best self? If you’re interested in more innovation, it had best be the latter.

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Innovation Illusions: It’s not the idea it’s the action – innovation only exists when value is created in the market

Creativity. Invention. These are core elements in the process of innovation. They are not innovation itself. Mistakenly identifying them as innovation creates confusion and dissatisfaction. An idea, fully formed, but not realized in any tangible manner, creates little value. It might spur other invention or other creativity, but unless it is directly applied to meeting a particular need or providing a solution to a defined challenge, it cannot be labeled innovation.


What can this piece of paper do; Imagine?

–       Alamgir Hashmi

Mistakenly regarding something shiny and new as an innovation is commonplace. Innovations are concrete and make a meaningful difference to a user. That doesn’t mean all innovations are serious or universally appealing. I give you exhibit A: the Slap Chop. (Note: I’m not linking to the official Slap Chop site as the number of pop-up ads is a nightmare. Think: “innovation as annoyance.”) This device, one in a long line of “As Seen on TV” kitchen gadgets, is designed to save one from the drudgery of using a knife to actually, well, cut things. As an innovation it’s not a big stretch, but somebody somewhere must consider it of value: it’s one of the biggest-selling gadgets in recent years. Its popularity has also given rise to fantastic remixes of its commercials, such as DJ Steve Porter’s YouTube hit.

Infomercial lunacy aside, the Slap Chop demonstrates what has to happen to an idea before it can be considered an innovation: it must make it into users’ hands.


Ideas as a false focus

It is our illusions that create the world.

–       Didier Cauwelaert

For many intent on fostering innovation in their organization, the front end (i.e., ideation) is most likely their primary target. The reasons for this are many: it’s easier to engage with the generation of ideas than the work of implementing them; the notion of producing ideas gives a false sense of accomplishment (“Look, I filled up the whole whiteboard/easel sheet/napkin. I rock”); and it’s simpler to pitch idea creation as a sign of innovation success to senior leaders and peers, especially when looking for a quick victory.

The ongoing pursuit of idea generation means that we neglect to build the infrastructure necessary to support their systematic and repeatable production for customers (be they paying customers in the marketplace or internal customers). Ideas are valuable only in relation to the problem they solve for a particular constituency. If there is no human target for your ideas, what’s the point? Action is required, the kind of action that breathes life into an idea, that makes it useful and of value, that requires more than the appearance of effort. Usually that effort is provided by more than one person.


Many hands make faster, lighter, easier work

The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.

–       Daniel J. Boorstin

Often we think we know more than we actually do. A while ago, we posted on the topic of fundamental attribution error. In that post we described how easy it is to delude yourself into behaving as though you have all the answers. If you are only concerned with the generation of ideas, the notion that you should be concerned with their utility in the market would be quite foreign to you. Many people and organizations fall into the trap of doing the same thing that worked before over and over again, even when the circumstances are no longer appropriate.

Inventors invent. Because people are more likely to take the actions indicated by the thinking foremost in their minds, coming up with “wild and crazy ideas,” this means that people whose perception has been affected by intense subjectivity are more likely to think of and take actions that underestimate the effects of relationships and interactions. They have an illusion of progress without all that horrible effort. (Yes, that is sarcasm.)

Neglecting relationships and interactions also reinforces the “ivory tower” syndrome, the idea that only a single great mind can come up with the truly world-changing idea. Thomas Edison, the great American innovator renowned for his amazing ability to produce inventions, was no lone player. While he took sole credit for many inventions, people fail to realize the wealth of additional resources he had at hand to produce his ideas. His Menlo Park laboratory was a hive of industrious activity with men (mostly men) producing prototypes of his ideas and experiments to test his theories. Edison knew the value in an idea was the ability to deliver it to market. And he was tenacious about delivering.

That perspective runs completely counter to the creative genius of Nikola Tesla, an Edison rival, who died alone, in debt, in a New York hotel room. Tesla decried the scale of Edison’s efforts in producing his innovations, he saw it as wasteful, yet history bears out the greater impact of the more productive man.


A culture of creativity tied to a culture of execution

A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.

–       Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sharing the creative process with others in a collaborative manner can unlock ideas and bring them to market faster and with greater impact. It requires an organizational mindset that binds idea generation tightly to their execution and delivery to meet users’ needs. This requires a resilience and flexibility that accommodates different perspectives, synthesizes them, and integrates them into a common purpose. Rather than being focused on the declaration of impossibility, for innovation to succeed it must take a leaf out of the improviser’s playbook and adopt the art of the possible.

In improv, the phrase “Yes, and…” is used to begin responses to an idea that’s been offered by other actors, driving creative outcomes. The original idea is merely the starting point, a place for departure— it is not the destination. To treat the idea as the hardest part (or the most valuable part) of an innovation is to be led into a false sense of security. It offers the illusion of success. Those with more experience as innovators know the truth.

With an idea in hand, they recognize that the hard work is about to begin.

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Innovation at Scale: A foundation for growth means minding the store while shooting the moon

It’s not that we are confused about the necessity for innovation. Most organizations, their leaders and members alike, recognize the need to innovate in order to stay relevant to their customers and to continue growing. Confusion arises when organizations don’t recognize that the systems and processes that serve their current needs are not particularly suitable for creating, introducing, and supporting the new innovations coming to life. Like an ill-fitting suit, an unchanged organization attempting to dress itself in innovation will just look…wrong, and will probably feel uncomfortable, too.

Try and fail, but don’t fail to try.

–       Stephen Kaggwa


It’s necessary to keep the doors open and the lights on. To foster an innovation-capable culture does not mean that you have to abandon all the stable processes and actions that enable you to produce products and services as profitably as possible. What is required is the adoption of a mindset that is additive, risk-aware, resilient, and which enables the exploration of the new while tending to the old.

Keeping an eye on the things that fund innovation

The basic drivers that support an enterprise are its ability to produce a set of products or services for which a customer, or group of customers, is willing to pay enough to cover their production while providing some margin for profitability. Those seeking to increase their rate of innovation within their organization must pay attention to the things that are at the heart of why the organization exists.

In the early 1970s, the newly elected president and CEO of Kimberly-Clark, Darwin E. Smith, saw that the company couldn’t survive in the long-term as a paper manufacturer. Procter & Gamble, the large consumer products company, was beginning to challenge Kimberly-Clark in the marketplace, and if there was no direct response, they would likely be overwhelmed. Smith decided that to compete properly in consumer product markets, Kimberly-Clark had to prune its coated-paper business. Within one year of taking control of the company, Smith initiated changes that included the sale or closure of six paper mills and the sale of more than 300,000 acres of prime land. This was unheard of in the company’s history.

Smith recognized that he had a make-or-break situation on his hands. If he and his leadership team didn’t find a way to compete (and win) against Proctor & Gamble, then Kimberly-Clark would be lost. With more than $250 million in reserve, primarily from the land sale, Smith began the process of transforming the paper manufacturer into a consumer products powerhouse specializing in paper products. An aggressive research campaign was launched by hiring specialists away from competitors. Smith also increased the company’s advertising budget substantially, and plans were made for the construction of additional production facilities.


Marketing was central to Smith’s strategy for growth, as Kimberly-Clark emphasized its commitment to consumer products. He realized that the transformation of the company required not only research and development efforts but also new manufacturing facilities, human resource capabilities, and sales and marketing prowess. Only by selling the old business was Kimberly-Clark able to create the foundation for something new.

Similar stories of transformation could be told about Nokia, the mobile technology giant which still sells more handsets than any other manufacturer in the world. It began its life as a paper mill, rubber mill, and a cable works. There’s also that other innovation powerhouse, 3M, which began life as a mining and metals company. Each company had to fund a transition to something new, without which they would not exist today.

How did they make the transition?

Each company had leaders who had a vision of where they needed to go next. They effectively shared and spread that vision so that others would believe in it and commit to it. Each company also took steps to tend to their baseline business so that they could effectively fund the transition to the new business models and product lines that would ensure their future prosperity. And they invested those funds and energies as wisely as possible.

Focusing on the future

The key traits of the organization that can transform itself, creating innovation from its core businesses, are deceptively simple. They understand the need to keep customers pleased, engaged, and actively purchasing existing services. Without that effort, the resources required to fund a transition to a new set of products or services, or a whole new business model, would rapidly dwindle or even become absent. The effective stewardship of available resources also means that organization leaders understand how to foster and promote the risk-accepting practices and resilience across the people in the enterprise, so they can deliver the needed present business results and strive for the business results demanded by change.

The people unable to commit to transformational change are like barbed wire (protectionist or defensive specialists) or drag chutes (slowing down the rate of progress until it collapses in on itself) in an organization. Those companies that do manage wholesale shifts, essentially placing innovation at their core, are composed of people who are steadfast and true, the mainstays and anchors that provide stability and endurance in the face of challenging conditions. Their focus on the possibility of a brighter future is a beacon to all.



Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

–       Mary Anne Radmacher

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Intangible Innovation – lessons to be learned from concrete design in a service-hungry world

What are you doing to capture feedback on your innovations that have no tangible manifestation?
How do you determine the value and impact of those experiences that are designed (or not) for your customers when they purchase your services? How do you know that they have had an optimal experience? Satisfaction surveys only go so far. There are other ways to capture the level of service design and experience innovation success.


As far as I can see there is little inherent in the design process that protects design thinkers from these same failures if we choose to tackle abstract, intangible questions such as services, systems and networks. Instead we might imagine how to apply the same rigor and discipline to the design process that has emerged from hundreds of years of practice in the tangible world.


We might concentrate on how to make the process of the design of the intangible as transparent and open to observation as the design of the tangible. We might develop prototyping environments that allow us to learn through failure without catastrophic implications. We might accept that we need better mechanisms for criticism and feedback so that we begin to establish a body of knowledge about what works, and what does not, in the design of these things that don’t go ‘thud’ when we drop them.

–       Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (


In a post on a similar theme recently, Seth Godin  extolled the virtues of having the designers of services “sign” their work. The rigor and discipline being applied to product development and its attendant innovation should be applied everywhere.


Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault. Sadly, the complaints rarely make it as far as the overpaid (or possibly overworked) executive who made the bad design decision in the first place. It’s the architecture of service that makes the phone ring and that makes customers leave.

A catchphrase employed by a client also comes to mind. He is fond of saying, “You touch it, you own it.” In that sense all innovation should be owned. In that light if the original need is not being appropriately addressed, or the problem being adequately resolved, the recipient of the service (or new business process, etc.) can go to the design source to provide feedback and insight into what was missed. The journey to a richly rewarding innovated experience is paved with the feedback of customers and users. Neglect them at your peril.

The keys to learning lessons from physical product design are to make the intangible concrete; designers and innovators should:

  • Own the design. All designers must take responsibility for their work. The decisions made should be documented and reference-able, regardless of the point of origin. No hiding.
  • Experience the design. All designers should experience their own design. They should prototype it, move through it and live with it. And they should be the first to experience it, “live.”
  • Create a feedback loop in and around the design. Make it perpetual and make responses to that feedback a part of the ongoing evaluation process, too.

No innovator is omniscient. If experience design is not tied to results accountability for performance is an afterthought but less fleeting than the negativity associated with a bad experience.

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An idea stuck in your enterprise isn’t innovation—it’s useless

A good idea stuck in your enterprise is just a clever notion adding little value. As Shakespeare might have put it, it is “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” No matter how inventive it may seem, if it’s not directly addressing a specific need, and generating remarkable value, it is useless. The world doesn’t need more uselessness.

What good ideas need is social mobility. They need to be transferable, presentable, and accessible. Good ideas need to be backed up with subject-matter expertise. They need to directly address the questions that surround the ecosystem of an idea as it becomes an innovation. Good ideas need to be able to be clear about their gaps and deficiencies so that those people who might provide assistance can readily identify where and how they can provide effective support. Good ideas also need to be clear and cogent, so they can be better positioned by advocates across the organization; positioning the idea to those with the power and the networks to extend the impact of the innovation as it meets users’ needs.

Good ideas live and thrive when the people supporting them know how to navigate organizations: these people are flexible and resilient enough to build a collaborative coalition of partners, regardless of their own egos, who will help carry the idea forward as it grows into a true innovation and finds a useful place in the world. Most enterprises don’t know if they have these people because most don’t know that they need them. In the meantime, the output of the best and brightest might be shelved or trapped in a presentation on someone’s hard drive, never to see the light of day or have a chance of testing themselves in the only arena that matters, the marketplace.

Where have all the smarty-pants gone?
Sometimes it takes an expert to point out the obvious.
Scott Allen
Long the domain of subject-matter experts, invention has offered so much squandered promise. While invention is the end result of a spark of creativity, it’s innovation that takes that invention and brings it to the world in a way that generates value. Having the idea is a big deal, sure, but like parenting, it is not over and done with the moment a child is born. What follows are years of hard work. The inventor, long lauded as a mythic figure, is only valuable when they can get their idea into the hands of someone who can use it. Unless there is a way for an invention to be successfully tested and used to address a compelling need, its intrinsic value is negligible.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the folklore surrounding invention is that of the ivory tower syndrome— the notion that for greatest effect, an individual or a group of experts from a specific field of study should be closeted away to work in glorious isolation, only to be released upon the delivery of an earth-shaking innovation, is ludicrous. Why on earth we would think that an absence of collaboration would produce an optimal result is beyond me. Perhaps it is because some consider that collaboration denotes invention by committee? And we all know what they say about committees, especially when it comes to the value of their output. Consider the character Sir Humphrey Appleby, from the British TV show “Yes, Minister,” when asked what can be done about a particular situation.

…to that end, I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.

In short, committees are where ideas (good or bad) go to die.

An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less, until eventually he knows everything about nothing.
Edwin Meese III

The challenge for subject-matter experts is how they can best “wire” themselves into the organization in which they exist. For a technology expert, connecting them to financing and accounting experts may help them see how they might afford prototyping at an earlier development stage, so that they might avoid late stage problems. A service-development expert might benefit from a connection to a marketing expert in order to understand how a client segment or market demographic is evolving over time, thereby increasing the chances of delivering on-target service innovation. The bottom line is that a subject-matter expert needs to supplement the depth of their experience through both access to other adjacent subject-matter expertise, and the generalists required to identify, and advocate for, those people who can best support of the designed solution.

Knowing where to turn is the next major hurdle in getting an idea through a company and out the door.

My kingdom for a broker!
A good friend is a connection to life—a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.
Lois Wyse

Knowing where to turn for support and guidance is often an issue of great frustration for those who conceive of potential innovations. Often organizational life, with its politics and brinkmanship, offers little comfort for someone who knows they have a great idea in their hands but no clear path to get that idea through the organization and out the door for the best test of its value: customers. Instead, ideas lie abandoned after what may have been grueling and punishing campaigns for their novelty to be seen and heard. The person with the idea is left shell-shocked at the very least, and angry and hurt at best.

Why is it that good ideas die in organizations?

Quite often the good idea is never connected by its originator to the person or people with the resources to breathe life into it, or to those who might be able to assist in its genesis. The reasons are many, but a primary one is that inventors are often marginalized. Their behavior and passion for their subjects sometimes makes them seem out of touch with the rest of the organizational life and purpose around them. This results in isolation and their ideas being discounted.

To survive, ideas must be connected to the whole network of available resources across the enterprise. Rather than seeking to navigate the functional silos that exist in most organizations, valid structures designed to improve reliability and reduce waste in the systematic production of similar products and services, inventors seeking to turn their creations into innovations need different access. They can be better helped by being wired into the social network of the organization. The social network is the structure that supports the way cross-organization value is truly created. What they need are people to connect them to that social structure. Those people are brokers.

Communication–the human connection–is the key to personal and career success.
Paul J. Meyer

A broker in organizational life is someone who understands where the best people are to provide assistance and support, and who is willing to connect people across the organization. They often act as agents on behalf of people’s ideas. Some brokers end up in senior roles in organizations because of their willingness to help others. Many of them find their way into what are considered ancillary or supporting functions within organizations. Human resources, customer support, and marketing are some functional areas that are often home to brokers. The key attributes that make someone an effective broker are seen in the breadth of their organizational “connectedness” and their willingness to make new connections in assistance of others’ passions.

For most brokers in organizations, their motivators and drivers come in creating a robust web of relationships around themselves. They seek to validate their own credibility by building effective relationships between and among others across the enterprise. In seeking to link people who may provide assistance to each other or create value with each other, they see the fruits of their efforts creating a stronger organization.

But a smart idea connected to the correct additional resources may only get you so far. Another key trait is missing that would aid in freeing the idea and helping it become a reality. That role is filled by the advocate.

Salesperson? I’d be happy with a sales monkey
The weapon of the advocate is the sword of the soldier, not the dagger of the assassin.
Alexander Cockburn

Salespeople have a bad rap. When you think of a salesperson, what’s the first image that comes to mind? If it’s a polyester-clad, used-car salesman with a Cheshire Cat grin and an oily comb-over in your mind’s eye, I’m truly sorry. Let’s be perfectly clear: without effective salespeople, organizations die. No sales, no income, no business. Good night. Which doesn’t mean that all salespeople are good and right and useful, either. In fact, the general experience with salespeople out in the world tends to color our perspective on the whole pool. Yet salespeople provide an invaluable service, and not just between our enterprises and our customers. A critical team member in bringing our ideas to market faster is the salesperson, but in an organization, there is often little (save reputation) to accrue or squander. There is no actual transactional sale. Rather than terming them salespeople, let’s consider them advocates.

An advocate is one who believes in something and is willing to speak on its behalf. In the case of ideas stuck inside an organization, one of the few ways to gain support is for an advocate to take the message behind the idea to those people with the funds to support its further development and the power to promote it as an organization-owned initiative. Without an advocate, someone willing to address the perceived deficiencies of an idea in a way that doesn’t cripple its progress, an idea will continue to make little progress towards the marketplace.

The first duty of a wise advocate is to convince his opponents that he understands their arguments, and sympathizes with their just feelings.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The power of an advocate lies in their ability to draw others into the fold, to make them a part of a growing group of enthusiastic supporters if not raving fans. A true advocate knows how to present an idea in the best light possible. They understand that just as important as having a clear message to communicate is also knowing how to communicate that message in a manner tailored to fit the audience in front of them. They recognize that timing is critical and that sometimes receptivity also depends on tenacity, repetition, and resilience.

Where the subject matter expert may be the originator of an idea, it goes nowhere without the benefit and support of some “friends”: the broker who connects that idea to the social network in a manner that can unleash its potential, and the advocate capitalizes on that potential so that the idea can face the only tests that matter — the experiences of potential customers.

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