Are You Making Hay While the Sun Shines on Your Business?

From the LookoffOn the weekend we took a drive down to the Valley – our local agricultural mecca, where farms stretch as far as the eye can see. Everywhere we turned there were busy folks from the city, wanting to relax from their busy work schedules and take in the pastoral landscape, kicking back, and dreaming of the country life. Imagine it…just living by the rhythm of the seasons.

It made us smile.

The fact is, there’s precious little downtime for farmers in any season. But certainly we could all take a lesson from them on work-life balance, especially if we’re salespeople, entrepreneurs, or anyone else whose living depends on building business. And it’s this: when there’s work to be done, they work. Hard.

Oh sure, they might complain from time to time. But by and large they understand all too well that whether it’s planting, weeding, watering, or harvesting, it needs to be done, and it won’t wait. Moreover, it doesn’t always arrive in easy, manageable increments. It’s the planting that leads to the harvest. It’s weeding that keeps profitable crops from being overtaken. And there’s a reason why they make hay while the sun shines. Because they must. So the next time we’re complaining because there’s too much to be done, we’re going to give a thought to the farmer. And when it’s the opposite, we’re going to

  1. Appreciate the downtime, and
  2. Use it to do everything we can prepare for the next harvest, which will come as surely as the summer sun.

Hard at work,

Megann and Steve

Seriously, Solve Something for Somebody Else. That’s the Job of the Inventor.

Science & Invention, November 1928. Volume 16 Number 7There are far more patents than viable products in our world. Why is that? Usually it is because the inventor wanted to create something. Perhaps even to solve a problem he or she was experiencing. What makes an invention really take off is when it solves a problem for somebody else (preferably, for a number of somebodies). How can you validate whether someone else is having the same problem?

  1. Define the problem solved by your invention. (Can’t? Proceed with caution).
  2. Done? Look for others who are having that problem.
  3. Find out if it is serious enough that they are trying to solve it.
  4. Make sure the reason they are using a competitive solution is because they believe they have the same problem as you do. (Management Thinker Clay Christensen says to ask them what job they trying to get done by using that product or service).
  5. Compare your solution to theirs. Is it easier? Cheaper? Faster? More reliable? You may be on the right track. Keep validating your idea with real customers. It’ll save you a lot of real failures if you fail at the drawing board.

Got a customer, contact, or colleague with a problem they’re trying to solve? Your idea may be the invention they need.

Start solving,

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

An Invention is Not a Synonym of Innovation

Inventors are always coming up with ideas. One thing we’ve noticed in our work with entrepreneurs, is that they sometimes believe an invention is an innovation. But in our view, an innovation is a bit like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If it doesn’t solve someone’s problem, it’s probably not really an innovation at all. Just an invention in search of a home.

Why does this matter? It matters because of the effort required to convince someone to buy it, or to use it. Convincing someone to buy a product or service they don’t want is push marketing. And push marketing is the hardest kind of marketing there is. It’s that telemarketer that calls you during dinner to convince you that you want to buy auto insurance, when you don’t even own a car. It’s trying to convince someone that they want something they haven’t even been looking for.

On the other hand, pull marketing is creating something that the buyer or user already wants. Something that solves a problem. Something that makes their life easier. Something that they’ve been wishing for, hoping for, or dreaming of. It’s an invention that answers the question, “If only I had a… [Enter Solution Here]”.

How can you know if your invention is really an innovation? Don’t ask your mom (she’ll either lavish you with unfounded praise, or tell you to ‘smarten up’.) Instead, validate with customers. Real ones. Not your friends. Do this before you build the thing. Target carefully, ask people who are your identified and intended audience, and see what they have to say. Accept their advice, and you’ll know whether you have an innovation on your hands, or just an invention.

This weekend we’ll be judging entrepreneurs’ pitches at Canada’s Business Model Competition – an event specifically built around separating inventions from innovations using Osterwalder & Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas. It’s a tool you can use, too. So before you call yourself an innovator, go out and validate, validate, validate – and make sure you’re not just an inventor. And if you need help asking hard questions, let us know. We can help.

Public judging of the finals takes place Saturday afternoon. Hope to see you there!

Megann and Steve

Go outside. Look around you! …Exploration is vital to Innovation

When we were thinking about the idea of exploring, Steve Blank came to mind (“get the heck out of the building”), but really, we think Robin Williams is so memorable when he describes what would happen if Siri was French, and was asked to find a restaurant in Paris. Innovation is all about exploration, and it’s vital to get outside and look around. Sitting at your desk, your bench, your workshop, or in your studio won’t get you where you need to go. It’s important to stop flying around on autopilot and to really pay attention. So get outside and explore.

Three ideas to try this week to get your inner innovator working:

1. Take a new route to work – new highway exits or transit stops will help you remember how to practice mindful travel.

2. Instead of looking up that great restaurant (or other important information), walk to a library, call a colleague, or visit a target customer.

3. Use a microscope – or a telescope. That is, look at something you’ve been wrestling with from a more micro, or macro, perspective.

Here’s looking at you,

Megann and Steve

It’s Groundhog Day – Don’t See Your Networking Shadow!

Groundhog Day is the day on which a small rodent is reputed to forecast the end of winter – be it sooner, or later. Whether it’s Shubenacadie Sam, Punxsutawney Phil, or Wiarton Willie in your neck of the woods, the story is that if the groundhog sees his shadow on this day, he goes back in his den to hibernate some more – for six more weeks of winter, to be precise. If you’re a business-owner, a salesperson, or really, anything other than a groundhog, foul weather is no reason to hide out from your contacts. In fact, it’s a tremendous opportunity to build relationships. This month our theme is relationship-building and networking – critical activities no matter what your business, and certainly important if you want to deepen your customer discovery and customer understanding.

So get out there! Snowbound? Pick up the phone. Send an email. Keep a supply of cards to send out – snail mail is becoming so rare that it has real stopping power with some clients. Here are some steps to help you make the most of these activities:

  1. Networking at an event? Research the event and some of the people you’d like to meet there before you go.
  2. Calling? Remember something about your last meeting and ask about it when you reach your contact – they’ll appreciate that you were thinking about them.
  3. Emailing? Craft your subject line carefully for impact. (And if you’re on the receiving end, ask yourself whether “Reply All” is really necessary).
  4. Sending a card or a note? Enclose something thoughtful and useful – like an article your contact might appreciate, or better yet, an invitation to a networking event so they can build their business, too.
  5. Take 5 – Make a list of five of your contacts that you haven’t given enough time to lately – and make today the day to reach out.

Reaching out for six more weeks – and beyond,

Megann and Steve

The Truth About Predictions? They’re Unpredictable…

Today’s predicted storm hasn’t turned out quite as expected. While early forecasts showed us buried in snow, it looks like we have more to fear from skating-rink-like conditions at the moment. Layers of snow interspersed with ice and freezing rain promise to make transportation a nightmare over the next couple of days, and high winds mean that power outages are still a definite possibility. But much of the city has taken its leave, and a good chunk of the workforce is comfortably ensconced on the couch. Outside of our region, clients continue with business as usual, and the requests keep coming.

What do you do when you prepare for a very likely disruption or course correction, and then it doesn’t happen? Or what if you are forced to take a break from your expected schedule? Treat it as a gift – the gift of time. Catch up on paperwork. Reschedule work you can do today to make room for emergencies (or at least, “urgencies”) that will surely follow tomorrow. And use at least some small piece of that gift to recharge, refuel, and plan for something that inspires you. Use some of these great Productivity Tips so when you do return to the office, you’re in top form. That will help you get through the backlog you’ll face when the interruption has come and gone. Live this day like it’s your own. It is.

There’s no day like a snow day,

Megann and Steve