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

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

My Company Wants to Control Customer Research from Global…What Now?

Increasingly often, we hear this complaint from our clients. Suddenly they are being kicked out of the loop when it comes to research projects. Global sources the projects and then fields them in local markets – sometimes without even telling or involving the affiliates. These projects can go through many layers of handling and management before a moderator and respondent(s) sit down in the same room. In a worst case scenario, this can look like a game of broken telephone, with muddied objectives and watered-down results. Yet some of our best clients seem to have learned a few tricks for still getting an optimal result. Here’s what they have shared with us:

  1. The researcher or product team at the local affiliate has built a strong relationship with their counterpart(s) at Global.
  2. They have specifically requested that if moderation is to be outsourced, one of their preferred local suppliers should be considered.
  3. Local researchers take time to get involved with the briefings themselves, so they can contribute home field tips that will make the project go more smoothly.
  4. Global requires that suppliers at the top of the research chain facilitate a dialogue between the local moderator or field service and the home town affiliate.
  5. Field Managers or Project Directors ensure that everyone can reach the right person to answer a question or deal with an issue in the fewest number of steps.

We’ve seen some tremendous results when our clients have taken these steps. First, the local researcher has a chance to shine in front of more senior head office personnel. Secondly, there is often an opportunity to adapt questionnaires and discussion guides to eliminate questions that have been answered, or add probes about specific local issues. Some of our customers have also been able to pay for a local “advance copy” of their report, rather than waiting for multi-country results to be analyzed – allowing for faster decision-making – while keeping the field costs as Global’s line item.

These approaches can allow a result that is “glocal” at its finest – perhaps one of them will work for you! We’re happy to discuss how you can make the most of your research budgets.

Always optimizing,

Megann and Steve

Grammy Said Everything Comes in Threes

SwitchRecently we were discussing Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. It’s a terrific book with some great insights into why rational arguments aren’t enough to get teams, families, businesses, or towns to go where they need to go. We don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but the Heath brothers break down the process into three critical components, all of which must be satisfied for the change to happen. Similarly, we’ve spoken many times with our clients about how, in order to adapt and grow, three parts of the organization must be modified: the strategy, the systems, and the structure. Product managers we know talk about successful products being dependent on people, products, and processes.

Why are these triumvirate models so logical, reasonable, and easy to understand? It’s because they’re all about metaphor. The best metaphor we know, came from a services marketing course Megann took at Queen’s University – it’s the three-legged stool. Whether your stool consists of a rider, and elephant and a path like the Heath brothers’ book, or whether it’s the triple-s organizational change model, or even the three p’s…people can easily grasp the idea that if you’re sitting on a three-legged stool, and one leg is broken, things aren’t going to turn out nicely.

So the next time you’re trying to make a change in your people, process, or product, we recommend you figure out what the three legs are, and make sure they’re all working in tandem.

Three-legged racing toward the finish line,

Megann and Steve

A Step in the Right Direction

As spring begins to settle in and the days get longer, we’re also noticing that organizations are awakening to new ideas and fresh ways of thinking. It also seems that many of us have had quite enough doom-and-gloom or fear-mongering, and we’re pushing our friends, clients, and colleagues to focus on opportunities, and to turn them into action. Around our table we’re developing new offerings that address the questions that companies are wrestling with, and working with them to find solutions to their burning questions.

So how do you move from fear to action? There are lots of steps you can take to get going; just taking a step (any step) is what’s important. For inspiration, here are some activities we’ve heard about from our own friends and clients over the past week or two:

    1. Craving a little optimism in your life? Check out the Combined Optimism Project
    2. Want to shake up your thinking and look at business (or life) in a new way? Mindcamp’s Idea Tastings might be just the thing for you. 
    3. Finally, those of you who know us personally know we’re big believers in using a walk or a workout to solve problems. One of our clients told us this week that she solved a whole shopping list of problems by going running. So why not work some activity into your day?

Here’s to a step in the right direction,

Megann & Steve

Plan to Succeed

When creative and critical thinking skills come together, great things happen. Teams can innovate more effectively, focus their direction, mobilize resources, and get support from senior management for new initiatives. But when either one is used alone, sometimes what promised to be a great session ends up fizzling into a potage of inaction, cynicism, or divergence. Use only creative thinking skills, and you’ll probably get plenty of fantastic ideas on the table, especially if you work in the company of smart, talented people (which you probably do, even if you don’t realize it). The drawback to a mountain of great ideas, though, is that you can’t implement everything, even if you have unlimited time and money to spend. Conversely, employ only critical thinking skills and your discussion can devolve into, well, criticism. Then you’re left no farther ahead (and quite possibly behind).

What can you do to make sure you harness your innovation session’s full potential?

    1. Set objectives for what you want to achieve in your session. (If you don’t have a destination in mind, how will you know when you’ve arrived?)
    2. Make sure the objectives are SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound). Otherwise you’re just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.
    3. Dig deep. Don’t settle for the first 10 ideas you find. Continue until you’ve extracted every possible idea (no matter how crazy!) from your talent pool. When something’s missing, you always find it in the last place you look.
    4. For every idea, don’t figure out how to get rid of it. Decide what you could do to make it work. Then choose the ones that your organization is most uniquely suited to implement.
    5. Commit to their success, and ask everyone to decide what action they can personally take, today. Write it down share it with the group. There’s something about an on-paper, out-loud promise that makes it more likely to get done.

Thinking about your success,

Megann and Steve