The Lucky 100 – How Big Can This Thing Get?

Expanding CircleMaybe you started off as a startup. Or perhaps you joined a venture team in a giant corporation. No matter what kind of founders were in that first circle, if you’ve been successful, you’ve been growing. Congratulations. You’ve surmounted all sorts of challenges by now. So why does it suddenly feel so…difficult?

That exciting, innovative, exploring feeling just doesn’t seem to be there any more. It’s not like the old days, when you could gather all these stakeholders into one small circle (and in fact, some of them were wearing two or more of the hats). Now you can’t seem to get the kind of cohesive idea-making you once did. So maybe you’ve made a few decisions within the inner circle, and you’ve been rewarded with pushback, complaints, or alienation.

Our experience is that the lucky 100 is a time of huge growing pains. Each time you hit that number, whether it’s when your team grows to 100, or your circles total another 100, or you add 100 new customers, something great happens. And yet…you need an adjustment. Not necessarily a reboot, but a new assortment of tools, or how you use the ones you have, to make it easier to learn from each other, communicate, and collaborate.

Fortunately, there are a host of great techniques, tools, and templates that have been developed to make this possible. They work for all sorts of groups, teams, and organizations, be they public, private, or not-for-profit. You’ve heard from us before about how excited we were to be part of making the Conteneo Decision Engine work for Participatory Budgeting. We can put this, and a host of other very useful implements, to work for you as well. As we help you reconnect everyone, you’ll start to recapture that feeling of being on top of it all, when you were still in the small circle. Before you know it, you’ll start to wonder if there’s any limit to just how big the ideas can get.

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

Drucker: Stop Doing Something Old

Melting SnowThe late great Peter Drucker said that if you wanted something new, you had to stop doing something old.

Not everyone celebrates Easter and the octave of renewal that goes with it, but many cultures do herald the arrival of spring as a time to renew, refresh, rejuvenate, and set new plans for growth. However all these new plans and ideas do have a way of piling up – and how do you choose which ones to tackle first? It’s difficult to resist the urge to try and simply layer the old on top of what we’re already doing. Or simply revert to the old way, because there doesn’t seem to be room for new right now. Old feels comfortable. Old feels familiar. We know how Old works. So how to break out of old and take Drucker’s advice, in order to embrace the new?

Not finding a place for that great new idea in your organization? Repeat after us: “Trying something new just isn’t a priority for [me/our company/our team]”. Feel good saying that? We thought not. So how do you prioritize? In our office and with our clients, we like to use metaphor-based games like Innovation Games ® to get to the root of problems like these. This isn’t a single-stage process, but here are the steps we like to use:

1. Set the goal for where you’d like to be at a specific time in the future (remember, be SMART – specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound).

2. Determine the activities you’ll have to do to get there.

3. If any of these are new activities, figure out where they will put a stress and strain on you, your team, or your company in terms of resources.

4. Are there any current activities that aren’t getting you to the new objective, and, if you dropped them, would free the resources you need?

5. If so, start there. (Prioritizing on a matrix of which are easiest versus costliest to stop will help).

What are you waiting for? Even here in Atlantic Canada, the thaw has begun. Get a spring in your step, drop something old, and embrace the new.

Refreshingly yours,

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