Sailing through your next planning session

We’ve been using the Innovation Games® framework Speedboat for many years to help teams evaluate the anchors holding back their product or company, then develop solutions to cut the anchor chain and propel them forward.  It’s a great, easy to understand metaphor.

We adapted it to use the Sailboat analogy so we could add in the positive aspects of the breezes filling the sails, representing the things which are moving the team or product in moving.  This went down especially well in coastal areas.

Recently we’ve been extending the metaphor to more closely align with the elements of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) that most managers are used to using.

Our approach using anchors and wind, didn’t differentiate between internal and external factors, so anchors could capture both Threats and Weaknesses, and winds could capture Opportunities and Strengths.

As this seems like a brilliant idea, it must have been done before, right.  Well…it has.

There are two approaches we like, developed by diverse organizations; Black Swan Farming and Paladin Studios.

Black Swan Farming’s approach, which is most similar to our thinking (as it’s also based on Innovation Games) is:

Sailboat Exercise

So you can see the original elements, but they differentiate Storms, or negative wind events, representing Threats and Anchors, which represent Weaknesses or internal barriers.

The Tradewinds are a positive wind, so represent Opportunities, and the sails are the Strengths, as you can set the proper sails for you market, increasing or decreasing as required.

The Paladin Studios model is a bit different, but also easily understandable. Here is their representation:

The Sailboat Metaphor

In this case they extend the metaphor in, perhaps, an even more appropriate way.  As Threats and Opportunities are meant to focus on external elements, they use an Island to represent Opportunities and a Reef to represent Threats.

Their use of the sailboat with it sails representing Strengths and Anchors representing Weaknesses is consistent with the original Innovation Games® Speedboat game, as modified.

So we encourage you to think about how you might use these tools to help move your product, service, team or organization forward.

As always, you can benefit from having a professional facilitator help you with game design and set-up, playing the game, and then post-processing the results.  We’re always willing to help.

Happy sailing!

Steve and Megann

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Collaboration, or the Fine Art of Making Your Own Luck

Collaboration Clover

Where should your product or service go next? What will the next iteration look like? Product managers wrestle with these questions all the time. Sometimes they talk to their colleagues or others within the organization. Perhaps they listen to feedback from channel partners. And if they’re customer-centric, they’re finding ways to listen, observe, and discuss the customer journey. Often these explorations occur separately from one another. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As soon as we disconnect a desired new feature set from real things like production limitations, distribution challenges, or plain old price, we’re only considering part of the story. Taking this approach can mean that you as a product manager are setting each of these groups of stakeholders in opposition, weighing the needs of one against another. Invariably this sets a big weight on your shoulders.

We contend that it’s a weight that doesn’t need to be there. Collaboration is the lucky four-leaf clover that can provide everyone with a solution they can live with – without watering down the final result in some sort of “management by committee” scenario. While this used to involve a lot of expensive, time consuming travel and research, modern collaboration tools and techniques mean it’s much easier to get all these people around the table. Having a chance to explain their rationale, answer the big “why” questions, and see their feedback having an impact during the planning process is much more effective that having to explain why they didn’t get what they want. Moreover, it could even result in an even better approach than any one group had thought of alone.

Imagine investing a little talk time up front to come up with a product that’s truly wanted, efficient to produce, and easier to deliver. If that sounds like the sort of lucky outcome you’ve been looking for, we have the tools that can help.

Collaboration makes it happen,

Megann and Steve

For a Fresh Start, Start with a Clean Slate

April is a month of rebirtClean Slateh, renewal, and fresh starts (although as the snow continues to fall in Nova Scotia, it seems that including “spring” in that list may be an overstatement). The first quarter has come and gone, and now you’re either evaluating those great ideas you came up with in January, or you’ve given up hope that they will come to pass. Is it too late for a fresh start?

It’s never too late for a reboot, but for new ideas to take hold, it’s important that they not be crowded out by the same old, same old. That calls for a clean slate. Clean slate thinking allows you to ask the question, “what if we were building this new thing from the ground up, without any of the constraints we experience in our current business?” One technique we like to use is one we apply regularly in our own business. It’s an Innovation Game called Remember the Future. In our adaptation of this game, we imagine the new offering, or activity, or expansion at the height of its success. Then we look back, figuring out all the steps we took to get there, without considering the impacts or effects of what we’re doing now. That lets us really see the possibilities. Then, and only then, do we explore what we would have to change or not do, to make it happen.

This kind of thinking is only possible with an attitude of abundance. Scarcity thinking forces us to hang on to what we have, and to fear what we might have. So clear off your slate, imagine what your business or product could be, and kick that reboot you’ve been toying with into high gear.

Thinking clearly,

Megann and Steve

Hold fast? Or let go?

Poker HandThere’s an old Kenny Rogers song, The Gamblerthat has the line, “you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”…

That’s something useful to consider when you are doing a business refresh, rejuvenation, or even a resurrection. If you truly want to do something differently, you need to decide what’s essential to retain, and what you can let go. It seems like an easy decision, but that Drucker-ism to “stop doing something old” is more difficult than it looks.

This exercise is one where the help of a professional facilitator can come in handy. They don’t have the same emotional bond with your “old stuff” as you do. That frees them up to ask hard questions, such as, “from what you’ve told me, that thing you’re clinging to doesn’t really fit with where you’ve told me you want to go”. We like to ask the hard questions – although we’re also keen on making that as painless as possible. One technique we use is to play metaphor-based games, such as Innovation Games®. One called Prune the Product Tree is easily adaptable to just this situation – and can also help you and your team consider the impacts of keeping, versus letting go.

We’re happy to help if you’d need a hand with this or other sticky business problems. And your location is no object – have suitcase, will travel!

Knowing when to hold ’em,

Megann and Steve

Check your pockets for luck!

City ShopperHave you ever pulled a coat or purse you haven’t used for awhile from the closet, only to discover money inside? Even when it’s a small amount, you feel richer. Lucky, even. You can do the same thing with your business.  Whether it’s going back through your idea file (you do have one, don’t you?) or getting together with colleagues to review some back-burner projects, or even meeting with clients to review what’s changed in their agenda or strategy recently, there’s an undiscovered opportunity awaits. We have all sorts of facilitation techniques we use to make these tasks easier and more fun, like the Innovation Game® Me and My Shadow. If you’re not making interesting, useful discoveries to move your business forward, search through some of those “coat pockets” you haven’t looked in for awhile. We’re sure there’s some luck waiting in there somewhere.

Try these steps today to find it:

1. Call a client you haven’t seen recently, and set up some time to observe them while they’re using your product or service.

2. Think back to January and the projects you were going to start but haven’t, then pick one, and get going!

3. Pull out a file on an old sale or project – and see if you can figure out a better way to approach it, knowing what you learned in the process.

Happy discoveries,

Megann and Steve

The Luck of the…Innovator?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The luck o’ the Irish is the theme of the day around Halifax, but Innovators are also frequently associated with luck.

“Oh, weren’t they lucky to come up with that idea?”

“I wish I was creative enough to figure out new ways of doing things. People who can do that are so lucky!”

“We’ve asked the customers a thousand times how we should solve their problem, but no such luck. They haven’t come up with anything.”

The truth is, innovation has more to do with exploration, openness, readiness, and preparation than it does with luck. Expecting solutions to be linear, direct, and rapid is a bit like expecting long-term relationships to be instantaneous. Instead, if we enter every customer conversation with an openness that what we learn will be useful someday, we create a positive environment for innovation, creation, and invention. If we believe that innovations, inventions, or ideas are built on thinking, working, exploring and applying our talents, then we’ll be inspired to keep trying – instead of being envious and chalking someone else’s  good fortune up to luck.

Today, whether you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day or not, set yourself up for the Luck of the Innovator with these ideas:

1. Every customer conversation has value – remember that you may not see the value today; it may need time to mature and percolate.

2. Processes that don’t work are like a fun puzzle for solutions-minded people – so give them some space to spread out the pieces and start solving.

3. Practice recognizing challenges as opportunities and finding ways to say “yes”. The next time you want to say “no” because something looks too difficult, see if you can figure out what would make it possible to say “yes”, instead.

Have a great day, and may the luck o’ the innovator be with you.

Megann and Steve

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me (your customer)

One of the underlying features of great relationships is respect.  True respect is when it is both given and received, mutual respect.

In commercial relationships we often measure the level of respect our customers provide to us through metrics such as repeat purchases, or survey-based systems such as Net Promoter Score.  But how often do we examine the level of respect we show to our customers?

It’s easy to show examples of our disrespect for our customers.  In Customer Understanding it’s evident in behaviours such as surveys which contain rating and ranking exercises that fill multiple pages, ask questions about our spending habits at 14 different stores, in 10 categories, over the past 12 months.  Who keeps that in their heads?  then we reward them with 25 points in the airline “loyalty” program of our choice. Or we herd them into focus group facilities, at a time convenient to us, where Category Managers deride them from behind a mirror while simultaneously checking their email.

Fortunately not everyone works this way, but these are behaviours which are still too common.

So, how do we do it better? R-E-S-P=E-C-T

R – Remember that your customers pay your salary.  This is very important!

E – Engage your customers in interesting ways.  Make it convenient for them to talk to you using the appropriate tools and techniques.

S – Spend more time with your customers.  Go where they go, see what they see, hear what they hear.

P – Protect their personal information at all costs. Ask for explicit permission and keep asking.

E – Educate everyone in your organization to balance their selling with their listening so you are hearing more about your customers’ needs on an everyday basis.

C- Communicate in both directions.  Don’t be afraid of what you might hear.

T – Thank them often for the respect they show you by continuing to do business with you.  Find little ways to reward your most respectful customers, especially the ones who take the time to tell you how you could do better.

Respectfully yours,

Steve and Megann