Planting the seeds of success

Spring is gradually sneaking up on the east coast of Canada.  One day it’s 10°C and the next it’s snow flurries.  It’s interesting trying to guess what’s coming around the corner.

We are, at Panoptika Central, currently inundated with greenery.  There’s a new garden to be planted and we don’t know what will grow, so we’re trying many different things.

It’s a bit like the start-ups we’ve been following this year through the Dalhousie Faculty of Management.  They are working with an approach we’ve talked about before, the lean canvas.  The principal being that you have an idea, or several; you look at the 9 key dimensions fleshing out your idea; you formulate hypotheses to test your assumptions; and then you test your hypotheses, either validating them, or invalidating them.  Either way, you end up knowing more about your idea and its potential utility.

Then your idea lives or dies by real world conditions, but not after you’ve sunk everything into it!

To use our garden analogy, we could have invested our entire budget into planting potatoes.  We like potatoes; they grow them in Nova Scotia; but will they grow in our garden?  So instead, we have invested in a series of small tests to see what will be the most successful.  Then, having facts to go on, we can pivot in the coming years into things we can grow successfully and that we like.

Maybe we should write a book…Lean Canvas GardeningJ

Here’s to making your personal garden (or idea) grow successfully!

Advertisements

Where will all tomorrow leaders come from?

To read the popular press, you’d think the future of our young people is pretty bleak…layoffs, part-time jobs, off-shore competition.  Horrible!

But there’s another aspect that doesn’t make the front pages:

Last night I had the privilege of attending the final presentations for a course at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Management called Starting Lean.  Peter Moreira of Entravestor.com has described it better than I can, so please read his article.

Mary Kilfoil and Ed Leach took a group of diverse students, including engineers, programmers, business students, arts students, PhDs…and in less than 3 months had them go through the entire process from idea to, in some case, commercialization, along the way doing real-world evaluation with true potential customers and stakeholders (ahem…market research was instrumental).

Not everyone ended up traveling the road on which they started, there were a number of significant pivots along the way, revamping, re-tooling, and generally navigating the messy process many entrepreneurs go through along the way.  But that all part of the learning, a big part of the learning!

In addition to some amazing product/service/ventures, these real-world entrepreneurs blossomed right before their colleagues’ eyes.  Students who were petrified to stand in front of 2 people on September 6th, presented in front of an almost packed auditorium in the Faculty’s Rowe Building.  And they presented professional pitches, complete with live displays, skateboarders and amazing video.

All I can say is, if these are the people who are going to be funding my public healthcare system in the years to come through their tax dollars…I’m going to do everything I can to keep them here and have them develop their dreams in Nova Scotia.  Even if this particular dream doesn’t make it through the brutal process that is real life business development, their next one, or the one after that will be a success.

There’s no quitting when you’ve been schooled by Doctors Kilfoil and Leach!

Left…Right…I’m their leader. Which way did they go?

Has the time come to get rid of the Left and Right labels in politics?  Given the recent actions on the part of Nova Scotia’s NDP government…it appears maybe.

To misquote The Who; “and the Party on the left is now the Party on the right.”

It’s supposed to be right-of-centre governments which give grants and tax breaks to private business, but things work differently these days in Nova Scotia.  In recent weeks we have saved a paper mill in Cape Breton,  “stolen” engineering jobs from Calgary, outsourced government IT jobs to IBM, and are now looking at buying back forests from bankrupt Bowater.

And the Irving shipbuilding contract hasn’t even started yet!

Public opinion seems divided as to the benefits of these moves, but it does make for exciting times in the province which, at the time of Confederation, was once the richest corner of the nation.

It’s actually refreshing to see a government sticking their neck out to try and create an atmosphere of sustainable success.  Not all of these scenarios will work out to everyone’s satisfaction, but that’s business!

Here’s to Nova Scotia…land of opportunity!

Start it now!

Do you have a project you’ve been hoping to implement – a new initiative or some sort of change in process or procedure, but you just can’t seem to get it going in the summertime? It’s easy to let things slide in the summer, when offices frequently take on a slower pace. You deserve a rest, right? Besides, half the people you need to get that project off the ground are away on holiday! So why not just let it go until after Labour Day?

Here’s why: when those team members return after the holiday, they’ll have loads of catching up to do. They may not be interested in taking on something new. Despite the perception that a “back-to-school” mentality exists in September, the reality is that many of your co-workers may feel like they need a vacation to recover from their vacation backlog.

In fact here are three reasons why it may be better to simply start that project now:

  1. It will give other colleagues a chance to stretch themselves by taking on unfamiliar tasks.
  2. Fresh eyes often result in more creative solutions, rather than status quo.
  3. Those who step up in summer may be more committed to the project than those who do it just because it’s another obligation.

We have a host of new initiatives on the go right now, and it’s invigorating! By September we hope to be reaping the fruits of our labours.

Rolling up our sleeves,

Megann and Steve

Brainstorming Gone Wild!

Recently we’ve been observing a company we know, trying to find a solution to a problem. They have been looking in every direction, but the end doesn’t seem to be in sight. They’ve come up with several possibilities, and tried different approaches, but nothing seems to be working. They’ve put their heads together. So what’s going wrong?

What our friends are experiencing is brainstorming gone wild. We often hear criticism of brainstorming – and it generally takes the form of “We looked at every possible option, but we still didn’t come up with an answer. Brainstorming just doesn’t work.” However what usually doesn’t work is that the team involved has tried to shortcut or short-circuit the process.

Effective problem solving requires a two-phased approach. First, discovery. Getting all the ideas on the table. Exploring every possible avenue. Then, assessment and development. What do the solutions have in common? What are the best elements? Can they be combined? What isn’t implementable or affordable? Most brainstorming failures we have seen have occurred when ideas are rejected, adapted, or assessed during the discovery phase, or when the brainstormers have satisficed – settling for the first, obvious solution. There’s a fine line between stopping too soon, and keeping on looking long after the solution has been revealed, in the hope of eliminating all possible risk.

How can this be avoided? Seek help from an unbiased source – a professional facilitator, or even a successful colleague from a completely different domain. Someone who can hold up the magnifying glass for you, and help you know when it’s time to cross the line.

Throwing ideas at the wall…and helping you choose one that works,

Megann and Steve

Want Deeper Insights? Try the Rule of One.

Last week we got together with some other curious people at a meeting of the QRCA. Our colleague Elizabeth Jenkins from Threads Research was talking about a particularly enjoyable project she had worked on, and it sparked a train of thought that led to today’s blog. The gist of our discussion was this: if you want research that delivers a deep, rich tapestry of insights, ask fewer questions, not more. In fact, some of the best results we and our colleagues have uncovered were the result of working with clients who were able to distill what they really wanted to know into a single question. That’s right, one. So, if you’re searching for a big answer, look first for the one fundamental, over-arching query that lies beneath that laundry list of things you think you want to know about. If you can express it, you’ll be on track for some real meaning.

Stay curious,

Megann and Steve

To Drive Customer Understanding in your Company, Get Yourself in Gear

Tools to understand your customer better are proliferating exponentially. Along with time-tested methods such as telephone and internet surveys, or face-to-face groups, software and social media have made it possible to listen in on conversations in a variety of ways. But simply asking and listening isn’t enough.

Last time, we talked about the importance of making research interesting, engaging, and dare we say, entertaining for the buyers or users of your product. We’ve also discussed how no amount of data is a substitute for understanding and interpretation. Another important aspect of getting to know your customer on a personal, relationship level is to engage yourself in the process. That means not simply firing off surveys and waiting for the results. Nor does it involve just asking a consultant to scan what the world is saying about your brand, using text analytics, geocoding, or a host of other tools to come back with a result.

Getting involved with your customer means more work for you. It’s as easy as that. Just like meeting an attractive other person, getting them to go on a date with you isn’t a single step. You need to make an effort. The other person will know. You’ll know. And your effort and engagement in the process will make a difference. Being stand-offish or distancing yourself is a sure-fire path to failure. So the next time you want to get to know your customer (or even your prospect) a little better, get yourself in gear. A few ways you can do that include:

  1. Front-end planning, with a backup (know what you want to do with what you learn, before you start – and have a bailout plan in case new information calls for a change of plans).
  2. Flexible methodologies (even if your process seemed like the right one, if the customer isn’t interested in responding, you have to adapt – to paraphrase one of our trusted partners, just because you have a hammer, why are you assuming everything is a nail?).
  3. Triangulation (verify and validate by considering the questions, and the answers, from multiple perspectives – you’ll get a richer, deeper understanding).
  4. Rewarding interaction – (conditioner removes tangles when combined with careful combing; social conditioning such as revealing more about yourself, taking time to listen to the other person, and offering an appealing, appropriate incentive will help lubricate the conversation).

Untangling the threads,

Megann and Steve