For those of you who attended Ignite Princeton 2 at the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey on Wednesday February 9 – Thanks! It was great to see and great to have your support for a fun local event. Thanks to the people who traveled from near and far to participate and present. Without your involvement it wouldn’t have been half as good. A little video recap to share with you…
Are you ready? It’s such a simple question. When asked of the would-be entrepreneur inevitably the answer is an enthusiastic, “Sure!”, or, at the very least a more tempered, “I think so.” Contained within that one question is a whole universe of variables that business strategist Carol Roth seeks to unfold and hold up to the scrutiny of common sense and rationality in her book, The Entrepreneur Equation, which I was lucky enough to receive as an advance copy. Styled by her friends as the Lucy Van Pelt of the business world, Carol offers her assessment of how people should go about determining whether or not they really want, need or should be entrepreneurs.
Half measures are not an option and often, in the world of entrepreneurship, end in disappointment.
Seeing a book like this, questioning the basic foundation of the “can-do” ethos that powers so much of the spirit of enterprise in the USA, coming to the market at a time when small business is being touted as the savior of the economy, is a testament to Carol’s personnel commitment to supporting excellence and success. Certainly the advice it contains seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. But isn’t that what has been said about common sense – it’s not that common.
With over 90% of all entrepreneurs losing some or all of their investment within the first five, perhaps taking a closer look at the attitude and effort it takes to make a business work is warranted?
To call Carol a pragmatist would be to understate her willingness to address some fundamental flaws in the ethos surrounding building a business. With the enduring love affair between business and innovation, Carol’s approach is to dispel the notion that anyone with an idea could or should be in business for themselves. She focuses on the idea that a passion does not make a business and that an invention is not a business model. If a business is not desirable, feasible, or viable, it should not exist. Carol’s goal is to provide her readers with a useful set of assessments to determine whether they have the right idea and the right fit to create a business from the ground up.
This is not someone who hides her recommendations in a cloud of jargon or confusing “consultant-speak”. Carol calls it like she sees it. A hobby that you turn into a job is a “jobbie”; the call of the new, a business idea that will break you out of your everyday and perhaps hum-drum existence, is targeted at “The Shiny New Thing Syndrome”; and the bottom-line to Carol’s advice, she’s the friend who tells you that you have “Spinach in Your Teeth®”. It is rational, accessible, witty advice delivered in a frank and concise manner.
In reading Carol’s insights, I often found myself laughing at my own choices and furiously scribbling down notes to help me tighten my approach. The wisdom she shares from her own experience, and the experiences of others she taps into frequently, help make this book a great, low cost, low threat tool for assessing yourself and your ideas before you spend, and perhaps waste, a good deal of time, energy and effort. The best part about how Carol presents her ideas is how accessible she makes that advice. The “Personal Brainstorm” that concludes each chapter is only one of the many ways she makes her advice tangible. Which is what she is all about. Carol was, in her words, compelled, to write this book to help others.
To that end, Carol has partnered with the national non-profit organization SCORE, to help with their quest to create 1 million successful American businesses by 2017.
If your friends won’t tell you your business idea is no good, why not use Carol’s tools to conduct your own self assessment? After all, if The Entrepreneur Equation saves you from yourself, or better yet helps you to make a better business, Carol Roth may be the best friend you never met.
Recycling is not a new concept. As long as people have had “stuff,” they’ve been figuring out ways to re-use and re-purpose it. We visited that topic when we explored bricolage—and dipped into the idea of innovating with what you have. At the time we explored four concepts that help to support a “can-do” attitude when it comes to finding breakthrough uses for existing materials and concepts. This time we are going to dig a little deeper on the first concept—the power of having an intimate knowledge of resources. The reason for this exploration is that increasingly, the notion of “doing more with less” has been replaced with “make do with what you have.”
Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.
– Teilhard de Chardin
As innovators I think we can reach beyond “making do,” can’t we? How might we push beyond our perceived limits? How might we use what we have to make things that are great?
Taking a different perspective
One of the simplest paths to take involves supporting your organization’s use of existing assets and leveraging them via technology. The application of technology to an existing product can transform it from functional tool to a necessary piece in a business model ecosystem. Consider the Velibe: the Velibe (a contraction of vélo libre or vélo liberté) is the bicycle-share program that was rolled out in Paris, France in 2007. It is a simple concept, offered at various places around the city: bicycles that might be shared among the people of the city, residents and visitors alike. These bicycles are available for rent by the hour or day.
Apart from the challenges involved with capacity management, and yes, the occasional “blue screen of death,” the Velibe program has created a service of value. At the intersection of a centuries-old transportation method and modern billing systems this bicycle share program enables a city to move. It helps reduce traffic for short distance errands, and it creates a ready and reasonable alternative to other forms of transportation. A simple innovation to an existing technology can transform a city.
Another bicycle company, Pi Mobility Systems, has begun to transform the way in which bicycles might serve a wider set of local and longer-distance transportation needs. Pi Mobility was struggling to realize prototypes of its electric bicycles, and the amount of time, effort, and money was exceeding the limits of their resources. It could not afford to build any more prototypes without having a product to sell to offset their costs. The whole enterprise was in a perilous state. Rather than seek additional funding they sought an alternative solution.
That solution was for Pi Mobility to strike a partnership with the AutoCAD software publisher Autodesk, through their sustainable design initiative. Where their previous six prototypes had been achieved at a very high cost due to their complex physical nature, Pi Mobility were now able to use $150,000 of Autodesk software for a nominal $50 fee. Using this, they were able to hold off a physical prototype until just before production, much in the same way that Boeing used the CATIA system (Computer-Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application) that it sourced from Dassault Systemes and IBM. In Pi Mobility’s case, they found that they could rapidly prototype their electric bicycle online in order to get it to market faster, minimizing the additional risk and cost of physical prototyping.
Using what you know and combining it with the technology or subject-matter expertise of others can help you take your resources further. The same resources, when combined with new thinking, might yield even greater returns. The challenge is to be flexible enough to recognize them.
Build on traditional knowledge—use measured destruction
Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.
– Pablo Picasso
Another essential trait for better exploitation of available resources is to build on the knowledge we already possess. In manufacturing, it might mean taking an existing product but conceiving of its construction in different forms or using different materials. This might require us to destroy the way we currently perceive the value we create for customers. For example, a team of designers rethought the Coke range of cans by eliminating the need for overly printed surfaces. They killed the flash. The newer designs stripped colors down to two (at the most). Less ink meant lower cost and also a more readily recyclable container. Some enterprising design students, such as Harc Lee, have done away with inks altogether, which may be a step too far for Coca Cola, but it does point to the ways in which an existing product can be transformed via design and innovation. Other beverage firms have begun to follow suit in terms of re-conceiving what they already bring to market.
Consider plastic bottles: like plastic shopping bags, they have become an environmental scourge. Bottle-making practices for years were bound by the need to emulate the hard container styles of glass and metal bottles. With the recognition of a need to produce a product with a reduced environmental impact, Poland Spring developed the Eco-Shape bottle. The recyclable Poland Spring Half Liter Eco-Shape bottle is not only less impactful on the environment, it’s purposely designed to be easy to carry and hold. It is lighter, requiring less energy to make—resulting in a reduction of CO2 emissions—and also requires less energy to recycle. Additionally, the flexibility of the plastic, initially a concern when the bottle was empty, became a non-issue when the bottle was filled. The contents provided the necessary pressure to make the bottle feel substantial.
The microcosm of sub-cultures within the social network in your organization can also yield unique ways to transform your limited resources into something unique and new and, perhaps, game-changing. As well as building on the explicit and tacit knowledge resident in the people within your organization, it pays to pay attention to the communities of practice they represent, too.
The tribe knows: know your tribe
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
– Jane Howard
One of the fastest ways to reveal and realize the hidden potential of resources you already have at hand is through the social networks that exist in your organization. The social relationships that comprise a present-day organization consist of a variety of subgroups, such as functional teams, project teams, new hires, managers, experts, or communities of practice. It is in the last subgroup that the most tribal aspects of organization life may be at work.
The cliques that form around communities of practice are created by a commonly held belief in a set of operational practices that create value in an organization. They usually comprise those subject matter experts (a core group) most interested in furthering their understanding of their knowledge, and who are often most interested in sharing that knowledge with newer members. Other members of a clique may be ad hoc or occasional members who engage when they have a specific need to address. The value of the tribe is their willingness to share information, knowledge, and collective wisdom that may be completely unrecognized by existing knowledge-management tools in the organization.
It is in their ability to serve as a knowledge-management repository that these tribes can provide significant value to the organization. Their experiences can improve decision-making about when and how to apply scarce resources for maximum value and minimal waste. They can connect needs expressed to potential solution-finders or problem-solvers faster and more effectively than most technology. Better yet, they may be a self-sustaining and self-governing source of ongoing innovation that requires very little in the way of “care and feeding.”
A wise innovator sees opportunities where others believe none exist. In times of severe economic constraint, it is a common practice to reduce the explorative and expansionist tendencies that innovation requires. Leaving little to chance or risk results in little innovation. By seeking to view existing resources with fresh eyes, taking the calculated risks to destroy existing products and services in the pursuit of breakthroughs, and leveraging the hidden knowledge residing in your people, you may find that making innovation with less is not as difficult as you first thought.
What are tells? A tell is an unwitting signal made by a player in a poker game. It is any clue, habit, behavior, or physical reaction that gives other players more information about your hand. Organizations have tells, too, signs, patterns, and behaviors that indicate what is going on across and within the organization without any explicit announcement. Reading tells is an essential skill for anyone looking to have a positive impact on an organization. Knowing how to read innovation tells can give you an idea of how well-disposed your organization is – or isn’t – to achieving its innovation goals.
Why are tells important?…for the answer and more see the full article at Blogging Innovation