The Luck of the…Innovator?

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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

You’ve Figured Out Your Great Idea? Now Tell Your Story!

Our January theme has been focused on fresh starts, new ideas, and innovation. Some of you have been working on new businesses, new offerings, or just a general re-tooling of what you do, with new circumstances in mind. Those might include:

1. Changes to your customer demographic (either someone new is buying, or your buyer is buying something new).

2. What you’ve learned (a new discovery has made it possible to do something you couldn’t before).

3. A dramatic life shift has given you a push (you’ve finally started that business or business unit you’ve been dreaming of…)

No matter which of these circumstances has occurred, every time you make a shift in your business, you need to rewrite your story. That starts with re-identifying your target audience. Then you need to learn how to tell the story of what you do in words that they understand, that will resonate with them, and that will motivate them to hear more. Even if your customers have known you for a very long time (or perhaps especially if that is the case), whenever something is new, your story should be, too.

Keeping it fresh,

Megann and Steve

(Think we’re just about big business? Not so! Ask us about options to accelerate your business today).

Remember the 80’s? These Opportunities for Innovation Still Hold Up

DruckerMegann has been re-reading Peter Drucker’s classic, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It’s interesting to see the predictions (hmm…in the 80’s, innovation and entrepreneurship were the future that would save the economy – sound familiar?) What Drucker stressed was that innovation and entrepreneurship were not just about new technology, but about a revolution in thinking, in doing, and in performing. In short, innovative would be demanded of every organization. Fast-forward to today, and Drucker’s work really does look like a seminal work – with many of the same messages in “new” (dare we say “innovative”) treatises on innovation and entrepreneurship theory. So it seems worthwhile to revisit Drucker’s Seven Opportunities for Innovation. (For more inspiration, check out the Drucker Institute).

We help our clients explore opportunities to find out which are right for them and their organization. Which one resonates with you?

  1. The unexpected (What happened in your business that surprised you in 2014?)
  2. The incongruity (Is there a gap in your market or your business between the “on paper” reality – and the “real” reality?)
  3. Innovation based on process need (Have you found a new way of doing things that makes you say, “Wow, why didn’t we try this sooner?”)
  4. Changes in industry structure or market structure that catch everyone unawares (How could we have been ready for that tsunami?)
  5. Demographics – (Is your traditional buyer outgrowing your product? Or is someone unusual buying it all of a sudden?)
  6. Changes in Perception – (Do you have customers who are suddenly ready to buy, who weren’t before? Or just the opposite?)
  7. New Knowledge – (Has your team had an aha moment that makes them see a whole new way to offer your service or product?)

All of these opportunities are still valid. If you need a hand exploring them in your business, we’re ready.

Looking at all the angles,

Megann and Steve

Love might be Blind, but Optimism doesn’t Have to Be

January. It’s a time of fresh starts, start-ups, innovation and invention. Part of this is driven by the fact that the starters, inventors, and even entrepreneurs (notorious over-workers that they are) have had a little reflection time over the holiday season. Taking a step back because business is slow or customers are hard-to-reach can bring clarity and new ideas. IMG_0002Creative juices are flowing and optimism starts to take hold. But optimism doesn’t have to be blind “Pollyanna-ism”. Instead, it might be simply a better tolerance for risk, based on an awareness of ways that risks might be mitigated.

How can you get a better handle on how to handle risk with your customers, or your invention, or your new project? One, you can chart the risks and assess the potential impact if each one came to fruition. (You might want to also look at the anchors that can hold you back from success, using an adapted version of an Innovation Game (R) like Speed Boat). After figuring out which potential problems are either (a) “hairiest” or (b), most worth addressing, build a systematic plan of what you can do to alleviate or manage those issues. So don’t give up on optimism – just make sure it isn’t blindfolded!

Steps to take to un-blind your optimism for 2015:

1. Take stock of the possible risks around your new idea.

2. Evaluate which ones can, and should, be handled.

3. Put together a risk-management plan.

4. Go forth with all the informed optimism you can muster.

Best wishes for an optimistic 2015!

Eyes wide open,

Megann and Steve

It’s not your customer’s job to solve their own problem. It’s yours.

…and your problem isn’t their problem, either.

At this time of year, as companies revisit their strategies with an eye to a reboot in the New Year, they frequently reach out to customers and stakeholders, trying to get them to identify with a problem the supplier has. Then they ask them how to solve it. Usually it’s a question like, “What can we do that the other guy isn’t doing, that will differentiate it and this make you buy more from us?”

The answer is to stop getting the customer to solve your problem. Ask them how they’re doing with your product (or the competitor’s). Watch them in action as they access or use your service. Listen to their complaints or challenges, on social media, or through more traditional channels. Then get your thinking caps on.

This holiday season, their problem is your opportunity.

Carpe Diem!

Megann & Steve