Comedy and Innovation are Bedfellows

See-through-eye-of-the-customerMany comedians are gifted with the same ability that good innovators have. Jerry Seinfeld is a great example. Jerry has the ability to see everyday things from a different angle. I prefer to think of it as “through a different set of eyes” to most people. Once he strips bare the everyday “nuance”, the humour unravels fast. He almost always looks at the problem the “nuance” created or could create.

Innovation requires the same skills. Looking at problems through the eyes of someone else. Looking at it with a fresh mindset. Looking at simple things.

Is Innovative thinking a Trainable Skill?

Yes, I think so. Here are tips to advance your innovative thinking:

Firstly, whose eyes will you be looking through? It should be the customer-set that you are hoping to capture. This may not be the customer-set you communicate with today. Crawl into the mind of this customer-set and try to imagine their thinking on the topic you are exploring.

You have to talk with an enquiring mind to understand their thinking. A great way to do this is to ask about problems. Ask why up to 5 times to really understand issues.

Secondly, new and naive people in the customer-set are just as valuable as the experienced and learned. It’s a fact that new “learner drivers” notice the annoying features of a new car far more than the experienced driver. With experience, the brain glosses over the everyday issues and nuances. These experienced people cant always see the simple nuances that annoy new drivers. They ignore the everyday bug-bears. So interview the young and naive as well as those with money.

Thirdly, a foreign designed object that looks foreign will provoke a lot of questions. My belief is basic needs around the world are fundamentally similar. It’s the environment that changes and this drives an additional layer of needs. Moving objects from one environment to another highlights this layer. Grab a lunchbox from Japan and see how it compares with yours.

At the Shanghai Boat Show a few years ago , I was puzzled why so many (not all) of the large cruising boats on display had a single engine. Were the Chinese not aware of the major benefits of twin engines? Yes they were aware; but no, they didn’t need them. Most buyers wanted large karaoke party boats. This meant small engine rooms, small galley kitchen and a huge below deck karaoke room. This customer-set found it easier to hire a karaoke boat than to rent a nightclub room.

You have new “eyes” what can you see?

Firstly, keep observations very simple. Don’t over complicate requirements or problems. Keep each one simply isolated from another. Don’t combine 2 problems together. Look at the very basics with fresh eyes and think about the problems you can see.

Here is a funny excerpt from Seinfeld:

Kramer: Mmm… Nice wallet.
Newman: Wallet.
Jerry: What?
Kramer showing Jerry the contents of his pocket
Kramer: Nobody carries wallets anymore. I mean, they went out with powdered wigs. Yeah, see here’s what you need. Just a couple of cards and your bankroll.
See, keep the big bills on the outside.
Jerry: That’s a five.

The humour is in the simple nuances. Could Kramer design an innovative wallet? Yes, if he wanted to…

Now you are in the final phase of this simple journey.

You have all the small nuance problems listed.

Now brainstorm solutions. Have as many team members working creative solutions. (see my other blog on the power of having quirky people on your team).

  • Use a principal that one solution for one problem is inadequate.
  • One solution to 2 problems is fair.
  • One solution to 3 problems is good.
  • More than this and you may have cracked it.

In the Kimberley Kruiser project we had documented over 160 problems. The core solutions were less than 30. Thats a nice ratio.

Practice will make you perfect

The only thing that will make you better is failure. Big failure is all to obvious. Its the small annoying mediocre failures that cost even more as you may persevere hoping that the innovation will pan out. When the don’t, you have lost a lot of time. We always undervalue time and over value the expenses we are trying to save.

Save yourself a lot of money and gain the experience of my failures. As a bonus you will get trained in the practical Innovation of your Big Ideas.

Read all of Bruce Loxton’s blogs on Innovation, simplification and be inspired to do the impossible!

Agility helps you do the “Impossible”.

Do the impossibleYou may think agility is a “cultural transformation”. I think of it as “learning to tango”. Just start practicing the dancing steps and “presto” (nearly) every one can tango. I say “nearly” to take the pressure off perfection. An 80% tango dancer looks a lot better than the couple sitting down. So what are the dancing steps in business?

Agile dancing steps in business

Firstly, you need to be invited (to dance). So when a customer throws an invitation to discuss a problem… bingo, start to move fast.

Secondly, you need to keep your eye on the vision with the customer, not the dancing floor. Looking at the details early may stop the speed and result in a hiccup. Keep the big picture centre most.

Finally, momentum is the key. Do something everyday, no matter how small it is, with the customer. This can be detailed. Keep the momentum building to your final meeting.

What stops Agility in its tracks

Internal Team Meetings: Im sorry to say that if you emailed many people on this activity right at the start, then your agility may be doomed. Read my blog on simplifying communication: Only cc the essential people according to policy. Keep the team size small. Like 2-3 people max. Large corporations lose agility because of a large cc list on nearly every memo. Everyone may want to wade in and “help”.

Corporate approval: You can’t wait weeks for approval to move quickly with this customer. So if approval is needed, get “exploratory” approval to pursue a broad goal.

Incoherent Vision: Your vision and the company’s vision are not quite aligned. So become clear on what is perfectly aligned and assess if that fits and work from there.

Customer gets sidetracked with a crisis:  Empathy and understanding are needed until the customer comes back up for air. They will appreciate the space you give them. Generally, things will move faster after a customer delay if you have kept tabs on it.

Customer is OK but boss is nervous

You are in a great space in this scenario. Here are some tips to handle the boss:

Demonstrate that the “operational risk” is low (which i hope it is).

Demonstrate that this is a pilot for a much bigger initiative.

Demonstrate that this customer is a leader in their field. If they don’t dance with you, who will it be?

Customer needs a nudge to move fast

Play the above steps with the customer from their viewpoint. You “shake hands” with a customer, and you invoice an “account”. So in this paragraph “customer” is a physical person.

Demonstrate that the “operational risk” for the customer personally is low (which i hope it is).

Demonstrate that this is a pilot for a much bigger initiative.

Demonstrate that a leadership dash in their field will help the customers career.

What are the big benefits of agility?

You get a result before the competitor realises what has happened. This throws them into a tail spin. They will burn energy evaluating.

You can change the detail of your plan as you understand more information. This will manage any emerging risk and create more opportunity. You have the time to do this as you have been working quickly.

You will simplify your business. It becomes a necessity if you are to move quickly. Simplification takes cost out.

Everyone loves speed and winning. Morale will rise and team members will shine.

Then tackle the “Impossible”

With a quick win at good speed, pause for the next round with a bigger goal.

Read my blog on “lifting the perceived skill of employees” and tackle the impossible!

Go for it.

Read all the blogs by Bruce Loxton on innovation and doing the impossible. Reduce costs by simplifying your business.

 

 

With speed, there is the possibility of a fall. The agile leader will carefully set the speed and direction to minimise any impact from a hiccup ?Here are my tips:

Keep the

tango, just like business, someone has to lead.

 

Looking for Growth.

Looking-for-Growth

Looking at the Same Old – gives the Same Old.

You have to work on “today’s business” to bring the money in. Generally, the same activities and operations as yesterday. It can be hard to find the time to tackle serious innovation for growth, especially if the heat is on for immediate profits.

Start by creating a circuit breaker from the “same old”.
I had the benefit of listening first hand to Jack Welsh when he was working a merger with Honeywell. (it didn’t eventuate). One question was how he would do the people integration. His reply was “I turn the business on its head and spill jobs every 3-4 years to avoid the “same old” syndrome”. “We lose some productivity in the turmoil but we sure get some motivated people looking for profitable growth”. Now thats a big circuit breaker!

Circuit Breaker

A circuit breaker means things have to look differently tomorrow compared to today.

  • Change job roles (if you don’t someone may do to you)
  • Move all the offices around simplifying some processes
  • Change the entrance to the business
  • Change the uniform completely
  • Be as big and bold as you can afford

Then embark on using innovation for growth…

Don’t do a Kodak

kodak-and-fujifilm-sales-over-time

Kodak failed for simple reasons.

  • They didn’t want to canabalize their profitable existing film business for “digital”
  • They couldn’t see the recurring revenue astray were getting from film.
  • They didn’t diversify fast enough (too little, too late)

What’s interesting is the board took advice for this big step. Kodak had invested in the digital patents. They had the future in the palm of their hands. So they took lots of professional advice on how to move forward.

  • Prominent photographers, both commercial and artistic gave opinions on the future of digital photography to the board.
  • Digital specialists described the time delay before the digital image was of high enough resolution for a quality print.
  • Overall, the conclusion from the experts was it would be a long time before there would be a future for digital photography in the professional space.

Can you see what is wrong with their picture? An educated board listening to very experienced professionals, many of whom had digital experience?

The professionals were not the “growth” customer set. The Mums and Dads were the growth set. There would be a thousand more digital photos taken of family than a professional one.

They couldn’t think of how to make recurring revenue from this new media. So they abandoned enforcing the patents. The rest is history.

The professionals were right, of course. They would continue to use film for many years past the digital introduction.

As Stuart Loxton reminds me: “technology is always “over hyped” in the short run and always underestimated in the long run.

Who is your growth customer set for tomorrow?

  • Look at competitors who have grown quickly. Are they more active in a different customer set?
  • Dont block out customer sets as “unprofitable” yet. (Remember Kodak)
  • Stay with the process to be clear where the growth is.
  • Don’t move on until this is clear.

What will you sell to this Growth set?

  • Map your revenue to the “age” of your products or services. Do this in a big ticket way.
  • Estimate the growth you are getting from the product age map.
  • Do you have the product(s) for growth?

Innovate for Growth

  • A structured journey of the problems the growth customer set is having with competitors and your products.
  • Strict observance of the voice of the customer. Avoid recommended solutions, stick to the problem definitions.
  • Turn the problems into solutions using our innovation process (see other blogs)

Every Client deserves Innovation

Innovation can shift the needle on growth.

There are management decisions on timing:

  • Loss of profit on legacy products.
  • Change management of processes.
  • Marketing investment.

Doing the Impossible

On the other hand, you could achieve all this without a drop in profits in the short term!

Read all of Bruce Loxton blogs on innovation, simplification and doing the impossible.

 

“Welcome to Hell”.

Leadership-to-do-impossible-4x3

Courage and Pain

“Welcome to Hell,” a caver once told me by a campfire at night. “Where happiness goes to die. . . . If you wish to survive, you need to cultivate a strong mental attitude.”

“Why do you do it?” I asked.

“We do it for the unimaginable pleasure of conquering the unknown.”

True exploring spirit with unbelievable courage; and, as far as I could tell, a numbness for pain. Have you experienced these emotions without the cave?

Hard to find a customer in such a place

There is a business reality that should keep you out of dark caves. It would be hard for most of us to make money in that environment. (Tongue in cheek: there may be some who say they do have customers from there…)

In the Innovation game, you need, in my opinion, to both swim in a sea of customers AND crawl into a private cave. You need customer problems and space to think through solutions. In an ideal world, one should quickly follow the other to keep the vision fresh. Continue reading “Welcome to Hell”.

Which one can do the impossible?

Doing impossible in desert

Can the Helicopter Leader see the impossible?

In a helicopter at 1,000 feet you’ll be able to clearly recognize what you’re looking at with the benefit of seeing a higher perspective.

From this perspective, you can elevate your thinking from the tactical day-to-day operations to a higher level. At this higher level

  • You expand your perspective to understand how the core essential elements of your business fit together and provide best value to customers.
  • You think in both abstract (higher level) and specific (lower level) terms.
  • You link the two together is a structure of business plans.  For some, this approach is ‘business as usual’; for others, with a more hands-on approach, it can take a little practice.

But can you see the impossible from the helicopter?

The helicopter has the disadvantage of an apparent “see it all”. Can you set “impossible goals” based on the perspective you have? Have you got it all-too mapped out? Continue reading Which one can do the impossible?

View from the Proverbial Canoe.

Kayaking in swirl 1050px

Picture yourself as the one in the canoe. You don’t have all the information but the confused water speaks for itself.
How worried would you be? Just getting to shore safely would be a common response.

This picture represents crossroads we often face in business:

  • Lack of all the information,
  • Things look murky on the surface
  • Action is needed to recover.
  • Those watching have frozen looks of fear.

If you are at these crossroads, here are some tips on handling fear in your team:

  • Validate the current downside risk: Unless it is death or destruction, dispell the gravity of the danger.
  • Validate the unknowns: Eliminate low probability unknowns. Reinforce the most probable unknowns.
  • Simplify the problem statement in one sentence: Dumb down the visuals to non threatening simple problems.
  • Focusing on the best case scenario will ease feelings of fear. Your team will move in a positive direction. Thoughts have tremendous power to visualise the universe, so make sure you create a good one!

Continue reading View from the Proverbial Canoe.

Response – can it be over the top?

Response-time-to-call

Its hard to go over the top when you simplify communication

Younger people respond faster and with more brevity.
However, you may get 3 letter acronyms that take a few seconds to process. Once learned, they are fun.

This form of communication is usually short but maybe sometimes obscure!

Simplifying a business can be started with simpler communication. Lets start with email and break a few rules to get to “simple”:

  • Unless it’s a policy, don’t “CC” the crew. This loads up their inbox and takes more time.
  • If it is policy, keep the CC list as brief as possible.
  • Unless you are handling sensitive legal documents, abandon the footer disclaimer.
  • Keep your footer short with no images and best contact phone number.

Continue reading Response – can it be over the top?

Quirky People – essential Team Members

Quirky-people-are-valuable-with-doing-the-impossible

People with a quirky frame of mind are an invaluable asset. Ill go even further and say without these people on your team, it will be hard to do the impossible.

Read further down to my personal meeting to Elon Musk, a great example of quirkiness…

Quirky people think creatively to solve problems and tackle tasks.

  • Think of outside-the-box solutions for problems.
  • Try to see all aspects of a situation.
  • Come up with solutions that no one has thought of before.

Creative People have a great deal of Physical Energy 

  • They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm.

Key characteristic is Courage

  • Quirky creative people adapt to almost any situation and adjust quickly to reach their goals. More than anything else, is their resourcefulness and the courage not to give up.

Continue reading Quirky People – essential Team Members

Inspire people to do the impossible

Henry Worsley explorerAn impossible trek to most, but possible to one

Henry Worsley trekked for seventy-one days and nearly eight hundred nautical miles to reach the south pole single handed in January 2016. He was inspired by Ernest Shackleton who had walked to within ninety-seven miles of his goal in 1909.

Worsley had studied every aspect of Shackleton and admired not only his courage but his leadership and of course his determination.

On January 2nd, 2016 only a day behind schedule, he reached the South Pole. He now had to continue to the Ross ice shelf so he had “crossed” Antartica. To stick to the principle of an “unaided trek” he refused to go into the base at the South Pole. “It was weird arriving here and not stopping,” he wrote in his diary, adding, “Very tempting to stay at Pole—eat and sleep.” He set up his camp nearby maintaining a self-imposed exile.

Worsley did not make the complete journey and he died in hospital of a lung disease shortly after. You can read the story “THE WHITE DARKNESS, A solitary journey across Antarctica. in the New Yorker by David Grann. Grann tells it well. Worsley raised a huge sum of money for a foundation and is now an inspiration to others. Continue reading Inspire people to do the impossible