Category Archives: Business Innovation

2015 Innovation Best Practices Survey

An Innovation Best Practices survey conducted by MindMatters Technologies (republished in Forbes) reveals that a significant percentage of workers believe that their efforts are not sufficiently appreciated or managed within their organizations.

Specifically:

  • Three of four respondents (77%) said their ideas are poorly analyzed or reviewed by their companies,
  • Four of five people who took the survey (81%) said their firms do not have the resources needed to fully pursue the innovations and new ideas capable of keeping their companies ahead in the competitive global marketplace,
  • Half the respondents (55%) said their organizations treat intellectual property as a valuable resource,
  • One in seven (16%) believed their employers regarded its development as a mission-critical function,
  • Almost half (49%) believe they won’t receive any benefit or recognition for developing successful ideas.

One of the most outstanding results was the question, “Do you believe that there are adequate resources available to pursue new innovations and ideas in your organization?”, where over 80% answered negatively.  Unfortunately, this is typical in many organizations, and it is one of the leading reasons why I’ve seen innovation fail.   In the most extreme cases, it turns the entire innovation process upside down by forcing the innovators to justify (again) their ideas to someone who has to “make resources available.” It usually means that resources are taken away from another project and/or that the threshold for getting the resources is extremely high. If management is truly committed to innovation, then the innovation team is trusted with a “budget” to make resource allocations. We already know that not all innovations will be successful, and making an upfront resource commitment means that management is committed for the long term–a critical element of success.

surgery

Innovation and Pain

surgeryI was reading an article in the New Yorker comparing the adoption of surgical anesthesia versus antiseptics–two very important medical innovations. Some background is essential.

Anesthesia

In 1846, surgery was both painful and brutal. For most procedures, even a tooth extraction, patients were pinned down by assistants as they screamed and writhed in pain. Surgeons were trained to work with lightening speed to minimize the duration of the pain. Clearly, there was an emotional toll for both the patient and the surgeon. In October 1856, a gas was discovered by William Morton (a dentist) that could completely render a patient motionless and quiet. He demonstrated the gas to a surgeon, who was awe-struck by its effects, and who quickly published a paper in November 1846 in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. By the middle of December of the same year, surgeons were using the gas in London and Paris, by February 1847, anesthesia had been used in almost all of the major capitals in Europe, and in June 1847 by almost all regions in the world—mind you that this is before the internet–all of this communication was by letters, meetings, and other “slow methods.”  So, in took on 8 months from discovery to wide spread use! By 1852, anesthesia for surgery was a standard procedure everywhere.

Infection

Now consider infections. During this same time period, infections were the major cause of death for surgical patients, with as many as 50% of patients falling victim to post-surgical infection, sepsis, and death. Clearly, this is a big problem. In the 1860s, a surgeon named Joseph Lister came to the conclusion that infections were caused by microorganisms after reading a paper by Louis Pasteur.   Lister perfected his sterilization techniques and eventually published a paper in The Lancet in 1867 that documented spectacular reductions in death following surgery. His process consisted of many steps, such as washing hands, sterilizing instruments, and using sterile gowns and gloves.  Unfortunately, in wasn’t until nearly 40 years later that this practice became universal.

Why?

So we have two techniques that revolutionized medicine, yet one was adopted in 7 years and another in 40 years. Arguably, more lives could have been saved if surgeons had adopted the sterile techniques that were presented, but they didn’t. Both techniques required scientific/technical discoveries, i.e., the composition of the gas for anesthesia, and the realization that germs are present and need to be eliminated for infections. There are two main differences. With anesthesia, the doctor’s problem was solved, i.e., screaming, writhing patients (not to mention the emotional toll) making their job easier and less stressful. Also, the solution solved a very visible problem–screaming patients, something that was readily understood to be a problem. With sterile techniques, the problem was solved for the patient (they didn’t die!), but the doctor had little to gain. The patient was quiet during surgery, and would die several days or weeks later. Also, the problem was invisible–the killing of germs. It was hard to see that washing your hands or using sterile instruments was really solving the problem.

How does this apply to Innovation?

There are lots of good ideas that come up in organizations, but it’s the implementation that is the problem. It becomes hard to implement something when you are not directly solving your own problem and when the problem you are solving is invisible (to you). Organization’s are typically relying on “customer feedback” about a problem. In many cases, the people solving the problem don’t encounter the problem on a day-to-day basis like their customers—they may know and understand the solution better, but are not forced to “make it work” in order to get their job done like their customers are.   Consider just the simple example of a headache. If a co-worker of friend is having a terrible headache, you’ll probably lean back in your chair and recommend they find an aspirin, but if you are having the headache, you’ll knock over walls and doors to find a bottle of Advil.  The other aspect is the visibility of the problem.  Consider that you’re car stops working and you pull to the side of the road–you have no idea what is wrong. You open the hood and everything appears to be in order. In this instance, the problem is invisible, and you will probably just wait for your car to be towed to a service station.  Now imagine when you open the hood, you see that the battery connection is completely off–you immediately re-attach it and solve your problem. It was a problem that was visible and you fixed it right away.

These are the several major issues you must resolve when implementing new innovation:

  1. You must clearly articulate the pain/problem that is solved into something that everyone understands.  (If I don’t think I have a headache, then I am not going to be interested in your solution)
  2. You must make it visible. I think it is just a fact of life that it is easier to solve something where the solution is tangible. In business, it’s harder to sell services than products primarily because it is hard to see the results of services.
  3. Timing.  I believe that the time between the problem and the resolution must be short, or you’ll have to explain more.

In the case of infections, surgeons realize that having patient’s that live increases their collections (and they make more money), experimentation and microscope improvements make the problem visible, and it the benefit was immediate (the patient stopped squirming right in front on you).  Simply said, we need “sales” techniques to convince others of the value and benefit to themselves.

One way to do this is through innovation challenges. Challenges are problems proposed by organizational leaders.  The problem has value because solving it could result in a promotion, financial rewards, or other recognition.   Challenges force the problem to be explained in concrete terms and in simplified language so that everyone understands the issue, value, and benefits.  Challenges are also time-limited in order to force the timing between problem and solution.

 

 

Innovation and Internal Competition

rodneyThere are many elements critical to a successful innovation program, such as focus, a good process, and resources. Many organizations put all of these elements in place, but they still end up failing. Interestingly, their programs end up creating worthwhile projects, but the projects never materialize or are rapidly killed.  What happened?

When this occurs, many times it’s because the innovation teams worked in a vacuum from the rest of the organization.  (I immediately think of this clip from the movie Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield  In this clip, Rodney talks with a business professor about how to start a new company).  By this, I mean that they didn’t consider the “real way” that things work in the organization and believe that the sheer brilliance of their ideas and projects would cut through any organizational issues.  In most cases they are wrong.  For the most part, large organizations are built to kill ideas–they can’t help it.  There is competition from existing projects, political connections, important customer issues, and legal areas.  New ideas can easily be quashed by any of these, so it’s important to figure out a way to navigate through the organization in order to bring these ideas to fruition.

One of the best ways to mitigate many of the problems you’ll encounter with internal competition is to get a sponsor.  Sponsors have several characteristics:

  • They have political clout–usually higher level executive
  • Have experience in an area important for your project
  • Can pull resources
  • Provide sound advice

Sponsors will help drive success for a project by providing these valuable assets.   They also will help you with the 80-20 rule, or in other words, they know how to get the most out of the organization with a minimal amount of effort.  Think about something simple that you want to do, like plant a garden.  You may have come to the conclusion that a garden would provide your family with lots of benefits, such as low cost, organic, and fun.  If you’ve never done this before, there are a couple of ways to go about it.  You could go to the library, local nurseries, and the internet and research the best practices for planting. You’d try and learn the best times, best plants, and best cultivation techniques.   Without a mentor, you’d most likely make some mistakes, i.e., planting too early, picking the wrong varieties, or not using the right fertilizer.  However, if you talked to your neighbor (who has had a successful garden for the past 10 years), he’d be able to tell you exactly what to do.  He’d provide helpful advice on the best things to plant so that you’d get the best yield, avoid bugs, and prevent rabbits from eating everything.  He’d know where to get the best deals on supplies, and he’d probably have helpful tools for you to use, like a rototiller.  The best part is that you’d learn all of this information is a short amount of time, and you’d get someone who would help you through the entire process.

The same is true for an organization.  A sponsor can help you quickly navigate all of the issues that you’ll encounter and provide you with advice and resources to get to your end goal.  Sponsors usually have “skin in the game” as well, and will benefit from your success.  They may be the ultimate manager of the product you develop, or it might be their customer’s problem that gets solved.  They’ll be able to shield your project from others, and insure that it moves forward, in essence, they’ll mitigate the competition.

There are two ways to go about finding a sponsor.  First, you can sell your idea to potential sponsors, hoping that one of them will adopt your project.  Second, you can talk with potential sponsors about what issues that they need solved and try to innovate for their success.  I believe that the second way is easier because you’re helping them with their problems, and the “sale” is easier.  The downside is that your ideas may not be 100% yours, and you’ll have to be flexible to make it happen.  However, if you’re successful with this approach, then you’ll gain more and more success, and have more control over what you create.  Think about teaching one of your kids to drive.  The first few times, you make certain that you have lots of control over the situation by picking the location and time.  However, as they progress, you become more comfortable with their decisions, and eventually send them on their own.

How to Kill Innovation

I read an article by Jason Hiner in Tech Republic talking about the 5 things that can kill innovation. Here they are:

  1. Don’t give ownership of projects
    His basic premise is that individuals do better at managing projects/ideas than teams. The old saying that “Too many cooks spoil the broth” is the acting principle here.  While it may seem “progressive” and socially acceptable to allow the team to make decisions by committee, in practice it just doesn’t work.   There is a difference between “working as a team” and being run as a team.  Consider the real world example of an airline cockpit.  Great effort has been put into getting the pilot and co-pilot to act as equals while managing the aircraft.  It’s called cockpit management, and resulted from accidents where one person–typically the pilot–acted without regard to the opinion of the other.  The pilot and co-pilot now work together, but ultimately, there is only one person in charge.  Consider the case of the USAirways flight that crashed into the Hudson river.  As soon as the birds struck the airplane and they began to lose power, captain Sullivan states, “I’ve got the plane” indicating that he is the one now in charge.  With that said, there is still an active collaborative dialogue as captain Sullivan asks his co-pilot, “can you think of anything else [to do]”.
  2. Create too many layers of management
    To create an innovative environment, Mr. Hiner states, “that you have to find ways to flatten your organization and create less hierarchy, while making sure every employee still gets a little bit of time with the boss on a regular basis in order to stay energized and on target.”  I agree completely.  Management is one of the most critical aspects of innovation, and in addition to his suggestions, you also need management that is supportive (and demonstrates their support) of innovation.
  3. Ignore brainstorming rules
    If you want to be innovative, he suggests that you keep good brainstorming rules, such as limiting negativity because, “some of the craziest ideas could morph into something amazingly useful.”  Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true, as there is little evidence (in the research literature) that anything of industrial/commercial value has come from brainstorming.   There are plenty of examples of people coming up with a 100 different ways to use a paperclip, but commercially successful innovation almost never involves brainstorming.  It goes against our nature–we’re too competitive.    Nonsense, you might say, “everyone at our organization is happy to help others develop ideas,” and I believe this to be true.  But if you open an idea up to an entire group, you’re going to do a couple of things.  First, you’re diluting the inventors’ idea, possibly in a way that doesn’t make sense, especially if the group is trying to reach consensus.  Second, you’re removing a large part of the incentive for the inventor to push the idea to completion, because you’re reducing the impact of his/her reward. One of the best examples of this is in academia.  I used to believe that this was the most open and collaborative area around, however, this is not the case.  Researchers/Professors are extremely guarded with their ideas, and rarely “brainstorm” them with an entire group.  Why?  Because in most cases, their career, prestige, and funding are directly related to the number of successful ideas that they can come up with.  Sharing can be catastrophic.    Do they collaborate?  Sure, but usually with a very, very limited number of trusted associates.  These people are solicited specifically and are invited to participate because the originator believes that they’ll benefit. When I invent something, I hope (and expect) to be rewarded in some way, i.e., keep my job, get a promotion, get a raise, get a better position, etc.   There are very few people who freely give their best ideas to their colleagues.  More realistically, when people want to collaborate, they do so with some understanding of secrecy, such as NDAs and other agreements to guard their intellectual property.
  4. Rely too heavily on data and dashboards
    Innovation has a tough ROI.  Mr Hiner writes, “Beyond some of the basic data, such as sales and customer traffic, a lot of the data requires sophisticated analysis (because it’s so ambiguous) and many of the truths it contains are relative — or worse, they hide other truths.”  This is really true.  It’s hard to create a return on investment report for an idea.  If the idea is successful, the ROI could so high it would seem unrealistic.  On the other hand, innovation rarely lasts (beyond a 6 months to a year) without payback.   One of the best ways to generate payback and ROI is to innovate against specific problems/issues.  If you innovate against strategic issues, you already have a built-in ROI.
  5. Under-resource your hidden opportunities
    The article states, “Having too many resources makes people sloppy. When you have to get something done with fewer resources than you think you need, it often sharpens your wits, forces you to hustle, and leads you to break through barriers.”  Completely agree.  It’s a great mental challenge to find an answer with limited resources.  It reminds me of the story of the Apollo 13 mission where they had a catastrophic failure shortly after launch.  One of the pressing issues was that the carbon dioxide in the module where the astronauts were living was increasing.  In order to remove the carbon dioxide, the engineers at NASA had to figure out how to fit a “square filter into a round hole” using only the materials available to the astronauts.  They obviously did it and saved the astronaut’s lives.

A Fictional Example of Innovation

Tara had just finished visiting with her largest customer, a network of 13 hospitals in her county. She had met with many people that day, but one meeting in particular had stood out. She had met with Dr. George Freeman, chief of surgery, who explained the problem they were having with their aging set of surgical instruments.   Dr. Freeman explained that they have the budget and are prepared to buy new sets, but they have one major reservation with the ones that Tara’s company makes.  They are uncomfortable for left-handed surgeons, and George happens to be left-handed.  He goes on to explain that without something different, the sale will go to Tara’s competitor.

Tara knows that this is a major problem.  This hospital system is a major customer and purchases millions of dollars of products from her company.  Letting her competitor get an advantage like this could be devastating.  Tara takes her problem to her supervisor.
Tara works in the marketing department and presents her issue to the group.  She explains Dr. Freeman’s problem, and how they’ll lose the sale without a change.  Tara champions a suggestion made by Dr. Freeman, which simply involved moving the finger clasp about 20 degrees off center.  Tara is familiar with her company’s manufacturing capabilities and realizes that although this is a significant change, they can (and have) made this accommodation in the past.  After they talk with a few others in marketing, they realize that this is their only chance to make the sale, and take their issue to the engineering department.

A few days later, a meeting is scheduled with engineering, and they make their presentation.  The engineering group has assembled their senior engineers, and they’re joined by the company’s controller and manufacturing VP.  Tara prepared slides outlining the issue, and she documents how sales will likely increase substantially as a result.  No one else has instruments with this capability.  Engineering spends a few days and designs a new set of instruments, noting that the clasp should only be moved 19 degrees off center.   Preliminary mock-ups prove the point, and the change to manufacturing is estimated at $850k (a fraction of what the potential sales will be).  Finance approves the money and the project is started.

Tara’s company is responsive, voice-of-the-customer oriented, and innovative.  They addressed the need of a major customer, secured new sales revenue, and improved their product.  But did they really do the best that they could?

Tara’s company has repeated the missteps of many organizations.  They answered the question for an important sale, but they really didn’t innovate.  Find out how using MindMatters’ processes and the Innovator™ software system can make supercharge your organization.  Click here to request a copy.

People with Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

The old adage that “people with glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” suggests that not everyone is perfect, and that before you criticize your neighbor for doing something foolish, you should think about whether you have acted similarly.

Did you ever go to a restaurant and watch parents try to manage a group of rowdy kids?  They’re making noise, throwing food, and causing a general raucous.  I know more than once I’ve rolled my eyes and thought how I would easily be able to control “those kids!”  But, unfortunately, I’ve been that parent trying to control my own children during a particularly rough day.  It’s easy–from a distance–to see the solution, “I’d just sit those kids right down and tell them that if they didn’t behave themselves, I’d….”  In many cases, you’d probably be right.  The farther we are from the problem/situation, the easier it becomes to find a solution.

A recent article by Psychologist Yaacov Trope posits that the further we move in distance from the issue we are trying to solve, the better our thinking/creativity and decision-making become.  And distance is not just physical.   It can be imagining yourself either at a future point or historical point in time, looking from a different dimension (up/down, left/right), the distance between two people in terms of social connections (my best friend versus an acquaintance), or even hypothetical, such as what might have happened.

The article suggests that the farther we move from the issue, the more general and abstract our perspective becomes and we are able to consider solutions from a wider angle.  Conversely, the closer we are to the problem, the more concrete and practical our thinking becomes.  Think about how easy it is to solve other people’s problems, and you’ll understand exactly what the article is getting at.

This is one of the principles of innovation as well.  People often think that they should only challenge engineers with technical problems, and only marketing people with sales problems.   Using these principles in the article, and based on many years of experience, I can tell you, that you should definitely open up your problems to a wider audience.  You’ll be drawing on different experience/knowledge bases, but you’ll also be creating distance–they key to problem solving.

Deliver Innovation Overnight

Learn how the Dutch company, PAT Learning Systems, uses short, timed events to achieve innovation, a concept completely embodied in our Flagpole software system. This methodology, illustrated in my book, helps eliminate some of the human aspects of innovation, namely procrastination, while enhancing competition and socialization.

Link: Click here for article

7 Rules for Improving Innovation: #6 Culture

Improving Innovation: Company Culture.

An interesting paradox exists: Most companies fear change. Yet, they have to resist fear and take serious risks in order to innovate. How do you change that culture of fear that pervades most companies?

Change can be a tremendous opportunity, but there are no guarantees – it can also backfire and cause terrible consequences like profit loss, wasted time and resources, public humiliation, and other dismal failures. On the other hand, fear itself also causes companies to pay out lots of money for quick fixes to problems they should be solving permanently and internally.

So, how can you be sure you’re doing the right thing? Start by basing your innovations on sound principles, rather than on the latest trends, untested methodologies, and spaced-out ideas from self-dubbed “thought leaders.”

One thing is bankable – if you want to beat the competition and own your respective market space, your company will not accomplish this if they operate on a culture of fear. Don’t let the anxiety of ‘being different’ hold you back from delivering new products and ideas. Just test the waters properly first and always follow a sane, proven methodology each and every time.

Culturally speaking, how do you start encouraging innovation, rather than stifling it? Allow your employees to have some time to work on their own projects and improvements, and give them credit for doing so. When it comes to moving ideas and programs through development, eliminate as much of the red tape as possible. Meetings, talks, seminars, studies, reports, and ‘documentation-for-the-sake-of-documentation’ – all of these slow people down.

You can fast-track certain projects with a ‘Just Do It’ policy – that is, allowing certain ideas to circumvent the normal process if they come with a strong enough business case and fast-to-prove ROI. Keep in mind that budgeting a small amount of money for these quick-turn projects is crucial. Putting tools in place to streamline certain parts of the process is very important, but make sure these are planned and implemented with strong processes behind them.

Maybe most importantly, you’ll need to communicate from the top down and let everyone know that innovation will be the priority from now on. Get visionary leaders inplace that know how to look at the larger picture and leverage thefeedback.

Minimize the fear and get your culture right and you’ll see thewheels of innovation start rolling.

www.mindmatters.net

www.StepByStepInnovation.com

 

7 Rules for Improving Innovation: #5 Process

Process.

Manycompaniestruly want to innovate, but don’t know where to start. It all begins with defining a clear, straight-forward process. If you want success, you simply have to create, implement, andenforce a process for how innovative ideas and projects will flow through your organization from early stage to completion.

Without getting too technical or obtuse in the course of a 300 word blog post,here are some of the general questions you’ll need to be prepared to answer up front:

  • Howareconcepts found or uncovered in your company? How could that be better?
  • Who needs to be involved in reviewing and making decisions on “go forward” strategies?
  • What are the stages a project or concept must go through to move from development to action? (Make it as few as possible).
  • What are the criteria and benchmarks for moving the concept through each of these phases?
  • Who are the folks who need to be involved in enforcing the rules and criteria at each various stage?
  • What are the approximate costs of each stage and do you have the money earmarked to execute?
  • Who is ultimately accountable?

If you can answer most or all of these questions, then you’re starting to fill out the data you need to mapthe process. Now think of the workflow whicha concept must travel through and create a diagram of all of these stages.

If at all possible, it’s highly important to hire employees that have “been there and seen it before”. Before you bring in a consultant toteach you the ways of innovation, see who you already have in your company that are experienced with process. Innovation is no different than any other strategic or functional business process, and needs to be built and managed by folks whose clear strengths are in these areas.

If your company does a lot of talking about innovation, but really isn’t producing measurable results, thenyou’re definitely in the majority. Chances are what’s missing is either strongleadership or a solidprocess.The good news is you can easily change both of those things.

www.StepByStepInnovation.com

www.mindmatters.net

7 Rules for Improving Innovation: #3 Better Planning

Better Planning.

Many great ideas will cost money to implement, but not as much as you would think. Spend your money and resources in the right ways. Provide your employees with a meaningful, exciting environment and innovation will explode.

Better yet, hire innovative people and give them the power andfinancial backingto make things happen. For instance, an executive we spoke with told us about his company’s failings when it came to planning for and implementing new innovations. All across the organization, there was never ashortage of ideas being offered, and employees interacted and collaborated freely to come up withsolutions to major issues. A team was even put together to review and vet the best ideas.

But when it came to implementing thechosensuggestions for new projects, that’s where the company completely dropped the ball. Itquickly became apparent that some of these new programs were going to take resources, time, people, and cost actual money. Some required the hiring or redirecting of staff, earmarking time to do research and testing, purchasing or upgrading of new equipment, investing in new partners, and so on. The company was ill-prepared and most of their new programs fell short, or never even got off the ground.

Maybe your organization could learn from this mistake and plan out not only the process of innovation, but what you’ll do with the projects and programs you decide to launch out of yourinnovationprocess. Youalready allocate a certain amount of money for marketing, capital purchases, hiring new employees,and R&D, to name a few. Innovation cuts across all these areas. Take a small portion of these budgets and earmark them to only beused for innovativenewprograms in these areas each year.

www.StepByStepInnovation.com

www.mindmatters.net