Category Archives: culture

Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry?

Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry?

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

Only 7 percent of companies are delivering on the growth triple play by unifying creativity, analytics, and purpose. They are driving average revenue growth of 2.3 times versus peers from 2018–19 (which increased to 2.7 times versus peers from 2019–20). McKinsey

Many innovation leaders are feeling “hung out to dry.” It’s not for the lack of desire to innovate for sure. The challenge is the current innovation processes themselves are not always conducive to actually innovating:

  1. the effort hits the balance sheet and potentially impacts profits
  2. organizational teams fear the unknown and not being involved so often does not support the effort
  3. some innovation leaders alienate team members by pushing too hard
  4. and the priorities of the day simply just get in the way of doing new things.

Innovation is not a buzzword, it is not easy or for the faint at heart. In a hyper-disruptive economy where technologies are impacting everything and changing at unfathomable speeds, keeping pace with trends will take a concentrated effort with very little tolerance for complacency.

Times of uncertainty bring times of doubt and fear on taking risks and making changes. However, the opposite is needed to continue growth in challenging economic times. Companies that infuse creativity and combine creativity with analytics and as McKinsey notes, PURPOSE, continue growth at a faster pace. These companies are creating new products that matter to their customers, they are innovating new campaigns and ways to engage customers as well as new ways to acquire new customers. Innovating methods, business models, and campaigns are just a few outcomes of driving creativity and an analytic savvy in your company’s culture.

Innovation does not have to be groundbreaking disruption (of course it can be! but does not have to be). Iterative changes to the benefit of future needs of customers can be a ground-breaking change for your company’s growth strategy. What is your company’s risk tolerance? What freedom to play with new ideas does your innovation team have or your new product development team encourage? How well aligned are creative process with sales, marketing and product teams?

Plazabridge Group has been involved with 100’s of projects over 15 years and we’ve seen success come to those that double down in the hardest times staying future focused. Segmenting out a future’s team that focuses on the future is important. The day-to-day business must keep going. There are a number of methodologies that work well but none will work at all without a few key changes to the organization to ensure ideas flow from ideation to commercialization.

In the The Wall Street Journal article: Why More Companies Are Putting the LEGO Group Bricks in the Office, Lego Serious Play (LSP) has been used by the U.S. Naval War College (Warfare Division), and spread across energy, transport and finance industries. Companies including Google, Ernst & Young, Microsoft, Visa, Lexus and Procter & Gamble have used it. Plazabridge Group uses LSP in our innovation future planning workshops for companies.

The key is not all play! The necessity to drive a stronger analytic savvy is critical to the effort. In the efforts to create, we must answer the questions: WHO CARES? and WHY? and WHAT WILL THEY CARE ABOUT IN THE FUTURE?

Here are a few tips to consider that may help make driving innovating just a bit easier on the organization:

  1. Build your innovation team’s sandbox and give them freedom to work within these constraints. Innovation is not permission to roam freely and haphazardly. Under a defined set of guidelines with a defined budget and set of resources the innovation team can be quite effective.
  2. Remove barriers to approvals under the above guidelines. Allow the innovation team to introduce to departments and company leaders new ways of thinking by hosting events or information sessions to the teams. By doing so it begins to remove fear of the unknown and the mystery around the effort. Open communications and systems can be a very positive outcome.
  3. Don’t be afraid to approach innovation from outside. There are a number of ways to do this, but you will need a strong leader inside to lead the way and manage the inside out and the outside in process.
  4. Recognize that new innovations do not always fit nicely in the current company structure, processes and culture. Consider spinning it out and investing in new ventures as their own entities.

At the end of the day, you need strong people with a tenacity to pursue outside the world of the unknown. This does not always feel comfortable to the organization. Just don’t leave the innovation team “hanging out to dry!”

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You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing

You Can't Innovate Without This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

It just landed on your desk. Or maybe you campaigned to get it. Or perhaps you just started doing it. How the title of “Innovation Leader” got to your desk doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that it’s there, along with a budget and loads of expectations.

Of course, now that you have the title and the budget, you need a team to do the work and deliver the results.

Who should you look for? The people that perform well in the current business, with its processes, structures, and (relative) predictability, often struggle to navigate the constant uncertainty and change of innovation. But just because someone struggles in the process and structure of the core business doesn’t mean they’ll thrive creating something new.

What are the qualities that make someone a successful innovator?

70 answers

A lot of people have a lot to say about the qualities and characteristics that make someone an innovator. When you combine the first four Google search results for “characteristics of an innovator” with the five most common innovation talent assessments, you end up with a list of 70 different (and sometimes conflicting) traits.

The complete list is at the end of this article, but here are the characteristics that appeared more than once:

  1. Curious
  2. Persistent
  3. Continuously reflective
  4. Creative
  5. Driven
  6. Experiments
  7. Imaginative
  8. Passionate

It’s a good list, but remember, there are 62 other characteristics to consider. And that assumes that the list is exhaustive.

+1 Answer

It’s not. Something is missing.

There is one characteristic shared by every successful innovator I’ve worked with and every successful leader of innovation. It’s rarely the first (or second or third) word used to describe them, but eventually, it emerges, always said quietly, after great reflection and with dawning realization.

Vulnerability.

Whether you rolled your eyes or pumped your fist at the word made famous by Brene Brown, you’ve no doubt heard it and formed an opinion about it.

Vulnerability is the “quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”  Without it, innovation is impossible.

Innovation requires the creation of something new that creates value. If something is new, some or all of it is unknown. If there are unknowns, there are risks. Where there are risks, there is the possibility of being wrong, which opens you up to attack or harm.

When you talk to people to understand their needs, vulnerability allows you to hear what they say (versus what you want them to say).

In brainstorming sessions, vulnerability enables you to speak up and suggest an idea for people to respond to, build on, or discard.

When you run experiments, vulnerability ensures that you accurately record and report the data, even if the results aren’t what you hoped.

Most importantly, as a leader, vulnerability inspires trust, motivates your team, engages your stakeholders, and creates the environment and culture required to explore, learn, and innovate continuously.

n + 1 is the answer

Just as you do for every job in your company, recruit the people with the skills required to do the work and the mindset and personality to succeed in your business’ context and culture.

Once you find them, make sure they’re willing to be vulnerable and support and celebrate others’ vulnerability. Then, and only then, will you be the innovators your company needs.


Here’s the full list of characteristics:

  1. Action-oriented, gets the job done
  2. Adaptable
  3. Ambitious
  4. Analytical, high information capacity, digs through facts
  5. Associative Thinker, makes uncommon connections
  6. Breaks Boundaries, disruptive
  7. Business minded
  8. Collaborative
  9. Compelling Leader
  10. Competitive
  11. Consistent
  12. Continuously reflects (x3)
  13. Courageous
  14. Creative (x3)
  15. Curious (x4), asks questions, inquisitive, investigates
  16. Delivers results, seeks tangible outcomes
  17. Disciplined
  18. Divergent Thinker
  19. Driven (x3)
  20. Energetic
  21. Experiments (x2)
  22. Financially oriented
  23. Flexible, fluid
  24. Formally educated and trained
  25. Futuristic
  26. Giving, works to benefit others, wants to make the world better
  27. Goal-oriented
  28. Has a Growth mindset
  29. Highly confident
  30. Honest
  31. Imaginative (x2)
  32. Influential, lots of social capital
  33. Instinctual
  34. Intense
  35. Iterating between abstract and concrete thinking
  36. Learns through experiences
  37. Likes originality, seeks novelty
  38. Loyal
  39. Motivated by change, open to new experiences
  40. Networks, relates well to others
  41. Observes
  42. Opportunistic mindset, recognizes opportunities
  43. Opportunity focused
  44. Passionate (x2)
  45. Patient
  46. Persistent (x4)
  47. Persuasive
  48. Playful
  49. Pragmatic
  50. Proactive
  51. Prudent
  52. Rapidly recognizes patterns
  53. Resilient
  54. Resourceful
  55. Respects other innovators
  56. Seeks understanding
  57. Self-confident
  58. Socially intelligent
  59. Stamina
  60. Takes initiative
  61. Takes risks
  62. Team-oriented
  63. Thinks big picture
  64. Thrives in uncertainty
  65. Tough
  66. Tweaks solutions constantly
  67. Unattached exploration
  68. Visionary
  69. Wants to get things right
  70. Willing to Destroy

And the sources:

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why Diversity and Inclusion Are Entrepreneurial Competencies

Why Diversity and Inclusion Are Entrepreneurial Competencies

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers, M.D.

A competency is the ability to do something successfully. There are many entrepreneurial competencies. One of them is interdisciplinary teamwork and collaboration i.e. the ability of individuals to form partnerships with a team of professionally diverse individuals in a participatory, collaborative, and coordinated approach to share decision making around issues as the means to achieving improved health outcomes .

In the public health world, D & I means dissemination and implementation i.e. how does a intervention come into common use or become the standard of care. Here is what you need to know about it.

In the education and student success world, D, E & I means diversity, equity and inclusion. Here is the case for it.

In the entrepreneurial world, D, E & I is even more expansive and is measured by:

  1. Your ability to lead high performance teams both face to face and virtually
  2. How you create psychological safety – Here are four ways to boost psychological safety.
  3. The composition of your teams
  4. International representation
  5. Demographic representation
  6. Functional representation (marketing, engineering, finance, etc)
  7. Results
  8. Persona representation: coaches, teachers, cynics, mentors, etc
  9. Listening to both good rebels and bad rebels
  10. The people on your leadership team, advisory board and board of directors
  11. How you incorporate ideas from industries outside of your own. Sickcare cannot be fixed from inside.
  12. How you avoid bias and noise to influence outcomes and variability in decision making.
  13. How you avoid colorism in your sales and marketing approach.
  14. Ownership, not just fairness
  15. Improving your emotional intelligence along the narcissistic-empathy spectrum

Measuring the results or your efforts requires people analytics.

Are you ready to innovate?

I’m a privileged, old white guy who won the ovary lottery. My child of immigrant, first generation to college father got an advanced degrees. Consequently, I was able to grow up in the right ZIP code and take advantage of the opportunities afforded to me by sheer dumb luck. As a result, I wound up being an academic surgeon and worked at the same place for 40 years until I retired as an emeritus professor to pursue my next encore side gig, including working with several non-profits that sit at the intersection of sick care, higher education, biomedical and clinical entrepreneurship and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Four key arguments make the case for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What are the barriers to leading DEI?

Rather than making leaders solely responsible for their own effectiveness, these researchers allow a balance between managerial competences and the many constraints that limit leaders. With bounded leadership, they look past the leader’s characteristics and consider the many constraints they encounter at the individual, team, organizational and stakeholder levels.

In bounded leadership, there are five distinct abilities leaders require to be effective:

  • Anticipation competence: The ability to predict market patterns and conditions, which are essential to the organization, such as future trends or customer needs
  • Mobilization competence: The ability to inspire employees to put an extraordinary effort into their work
  • Self-reflection competence: The ability to analyze past experiences and draw useful conclusions
  • Values-creation competence: The ability to promote a leader’s values in the organization
  • Visionary competence: The ability to create an attractive vision of the organization, communicate this vision to followers and empower them to implement it

Each of these competencies presents several hurdles: cultural (difficulties in changing values and norms), emotional (strong negative emotions that prevent rational behavior), entitlement (formalized organizational responsibilities and hierarchy), ethical (leaders’ dilemmas), informational (difficulties in processing or collecting data), motivational (problems with inspiring others) and political (office politics and power plays).

Competencies are measured by entrustable professional activities defined by a performance rubric. Creating diverse, equitable, inclusive teams that deliver expected results is one of them. But, getting from said to done takes more than education, training and policy changes.

Being DEI competent is not about changing your mind. It requires changing your mindset.

Image credit: Pixabay

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People Drive the World-Technology as a Co-Pilot via Center of Human Compassion

People Drive the World-Technology as a Co-Pilot via Center of Human Compassion

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

People at the Center – Technology as a Co-Pilot

Are people at the center of your innovation and new product plans? Have we made people the center of all things digital? Are human’s and our environment the center of the new world entering the 4th Industrial Revolution? When innovation is during groundbreaking disruptive inventions or whether innovation is iterating into new products… what is placed at the center of your strategies? What are the reasons for these new inventions?

So much is at stake, as the world turns to being driven by AI, humanoids, rockets’ red glare searching for new lands to inhabit, games and more games feeding our brains with virtual excitement and stimulation, devices galore on our bodies, in our hands, in our homes helping us navigate our every move and in many ways directing us on how to think. The acceleration of digital permeating our lives is mind boggling. The news we are fed, seemingly unbiased, the product advertisements that sneak into our feeds, the connections via too many social and work-related networks that appear all too promising and friendly too is overwhelming. Technology is encompassing our lives!

The Power of Technology

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology for all the positive it contributes to the world. Technology is allowing individuals to create! To create and earn! To take control of their lives and build meaningful endeavors. The creation of TIME and SPACE to live how we to live has been a major outcome of

1. technology but also 2. the pandemic.

Let’s explore the creator economy which has experienced an explosion of late. As referenced in the Forbes articleThe Biggest Trends For 2022 In Creator Economy And Web3, by Maren Thomas Bannon, Today, the total size of the creator economy is estimated to be over $100 billion and 50 million people worldwide consider themselves creators. Creators will continue to bulge out of the global fabric as individuals seek to augment their incomes or escape the confines or rigged corporate cultures. Technology is enabling creators no doubt!

Technology is also allowing forward acting organizations to scale growth at unprecedented speeds. Let’s look at a recent survey conducted by Accenture

Curious about the effects of the pandemic, we completed a second round of research in early 2021 and discovered the following:

  1. Technology Leaders have moved even further ahead of the pack and have been growing at 5x the rate of Laggards on average in the past three years.
  2. Among the “Others” there is a group of organizations—18% of the entire sample—that has been able to break previous performance barriers—the Leapfroggers.

Let’s look at a recent survey conducted by Accenture

Curious about the effects of the pandemic, we completed a second round of research in early 2021 and discovered the following:

  1. Technology Leaders have moved even further ahead of the pack and have been growing at 5x the rate of Laggards on average in the past three years.
  2. Among the “Others” there is a group of organizations—18% of the entire sample—that has been able to break previous performance barriers—the Leapfroggers.

Of course, so much technology is doing good things for the world. 3-D printing is emerging at the center of homelessness. As reported in the #NYTIMES, this tiny village in Mexico is housing homeless people. The homes were built using an oversized 3-D printer.

Another example positive outcomes of technology is the emergence of over-the-counter hearing devices. Fortune Business Insights estimates the global hearing aids market is projected to grow from $6.67 billion in 2021 to $11.02 billion by 2028 at a CAGR of 7.4% in forecast period, 2021-2028.

These devices, until this year, were regulated to being sold by medical professionals at, for the majority of population in need, very high prices $2000 to $5000+ per hearing aid. Yes typically you need two. But recent innovations in ear buds and bluetooth are allowing other technology companies into the game! Take Bose for example, the FDA recently approved Bose SoundControl Hearing Aids to be purchased on their website for $895/pair. No need for a hearing professional. This significantly changes the playing field and opens the doors for so many that have put off purchases (of these not covered by insurance by the way) devices.

Entertainment & leisure travel is going to a whole new level with the help of technology. It’s wonderful that anyone with connectivity and travel the world and explore via Virtual Reality. Here are 52 places you can explore in the comfort of your home shared by NY Times. Many of us attended conferences and events over the past two years virtually. We’ll see an exponential growth in virtual reality experiences in the coming year.

So why am I talking about creating a Center for Human Compassion if so much good is really coming out of technology? Because many of the outcomes are also unrealized and not anticipated or at least publicized to prepare people. It is essential for companies, technologists, and product teams to consider the consequences of new technologies. Not as an afterthought but at the forethought, from inception of ideas we must ask what are the downsides? How will people be affected? What could happen?

The quote below is taken from the World Economic Forum report, Positive AI Economic Futures

machines will be able to do most tasks better than humans. Given these sorts of predictions, it is important to think about the possible consequences of AI for the future of work and to prepare for different scenarios. Continued progress in these technologies could have disruptive effects: from further exacerbating recent trends in inequality to denying more and more people their sense of purpose and fulfillment in life, given that work is much more than just a source of income.

WeForum brings 150 thought leaders together to share thoughts on how we create an AI world we want. For all of AI’s good, there are potentials for negative outcomes.

Let’s take the military’s fight again hobbyists and drones. In the recent article from WSJ, The Military’s New Challenge: Defeating Cheap Hobbyist Drones, how much energy was placed on Human Compassion if drone technologies, IoT and AI got in the wrong hands?

The U.S. is racing to combat an ostensibly modest foe: hobbyist drones that cost a few hundred dollars and can be rigged with explosives. @WSJ

I feel certain there was some consideration but not enough to draw out possible negative impacts and how to mitigate them before they could even start. Did we really put people at the center of what is possible with drone technologies? What do you think?

This is no easy task. We know what is good for us can turn to bad for us when in the wrong hands, or if it’s not moderated to healthy limits. How do we help facilitate a more compassionate relationship with technology and put people at the center?

Here are four strategies to ensure you are keeping people at the center of your innovation, new products and technology development efforts.

  1. Create a Center of Human Compassion, or People Centered Technology Consortium, or what ever you wish to brand your initiative. Select trusted advisors from external (customers, partners…) and a select group of internal stake holders to join your collaborative to gather input, feedback and push back!
  2. Discuss with your trusted group very early on. Gamify initiatives around gathering what ifs! Anticipating the worst you will plan better for the best! (leaving the hope out)
  3. Build a continuous feedback loop. It is important that insights and scenarios are revisited and rehashed over and over again.
  4. Join other consortiums and get involved with AI and tech for good initiatives. If you can’t find ones you feel are of value to you and your company, start one!

Mantra for the year: #lucky2022 but not without work and placing people front and center of plans will good fortune and luck come for the masses.

As always, reach out if you have ideas you’d like to share or questions you’d like to discuss!

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Time for Innovation Excellence

Time for Innovation Excellence

GUEST POST from Norbert Majerus and George Taninecz

Lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System started an industrial revolution (at least for those who adopted it). Transformative events that began in the automotive industry spread into many other sectors (including healthcare, finance, even innovation). However, the term “lean” may not have been the best description for what was occurring then or now.

Lean implies removing things, such as waste, which is an accurate description of a key lean tool. But lean but fails to address many other aspects of what we now know about this improvement method. Today the scope of most improvement transformations goes far beyond what was originally defined as “lean” and/or “continuous improvement.”

So, what should we call the current and future states of businesses that develop superior processes and a continuous improvement culture to become the best companies possible? I don’t know exactly who first introduced the term “excellence” but it’s all-encompassing nature of superiority certainly applies to what is going on in some — but not many — organizations.

For example, very few companies have attempted to apply excellence to innovation. Yet I started this transformation in the three Goodyear Innovation centers in 2006. In 2016, the Innovation Center in Akron, Ohio, received the AME Excellence Award, proving that innovation excellence works and that Goodyear got the right results from the transformation. The application of excellence to an innovation process delivers corporate results that go far beyond the cost savings traditionally achieved by focusing improvements on manufacturing. Innovation excellence moves both the top and bottom lines of companies as a larger number of new products and services are more quickly and efficiently delivered to customers, creating market advantages that are difficult for competitors to replicate.

So, what is “innovation excellence”? It is the implementation of a superior innovation system and the simultaneous creation of an innovation culture. The cultural part assures the continuous improvement of the system and its sustainability.

The innovation system includes processes and features like:

  • An agile risk management system that allows rigorous review of an abundance of new ideas at high speed and low cost
  • A superior knowledge management and technology development process
  • A cost-efficient mass design process
  • Lean principles to achieve perfect delivery, with much higher speed and lower costs

The characteristics of a culture of innovation are based on some well-known, lean people principles as well as change-management concepts that allow an organization to foster creativity and risk-taking:

  • Respect and care for people
  • Engagement and empowerment of all associates and stakeholders
  • Humble leadership
  • Change behaviors to change beliefs
  • The removal of fear at all levels
  • Allowing people to experiment effectively and efficiently
  • The right strategy and reward system

Although it is relatively easy to describe processes and systems, it’s hard to describe behaviors and cultural needs. Text definitions and bulleted lists often fail to describe the challenges of this type of work. I found that the most effective way to do that is by observation. Many executives think you must observe perfect behaviors at other companies and then try to apply them in their own; they forget that you can observe them (or the lack thereof) during gemba walks at their own company. First, you gain a technical understanding about your operations that isn’t possible from behind an office desk. By humbly watching and talking with the workforce, you also impart a sense of genuine interest and a willingness to support. Earnestly engaging individuals, asking sincere questions, and really listening to what’s said offers tremendous insight into a company’s culture and why — or why not — actions necessary to achieve excellence are being pursued.

I always devote significant time to “people transformation” in every presentation and workshop I teach on innovation excellence. I do this with stories and descriptions of real or invented characters, which I’ve learned are very popular with my audiences and tend to get the message across. They also give people enough of an understanding and motivation to change on their own.

Over the years I also learned to supplement the stories and descriptions with genuine emotions and feelings because they are at the core of change management. I’ve lived through all of this — the good and bad of cultural transformations — and I’ve felt the highs and lows that inevitably occur. That’s one of the reasons why George Taninecz and I wrote Winning Innovation as a business novel. The format has allowed us to show a cultural change coming alive and how the emotions, feelings, and actions of characters evolve along the way — eventually helping a company achieve innovation excellence.

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3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Most of my advice to leaders who want to use innovation to grow their businesses boils down to two things*:

  1. Talk (and listen) to customers
  2. Do something

But what if you don’t want to talk to customers?

After all, talking to customers can be scary because you don’t know what they’ll say. It can be triggering if they say something mean about your product, your business, or even you as a person. It can be draining, especially if you’re an introvert.

Plus, there are so many ways to avoid talking to customers – Send a survey, hire a research firm to write a report, invoke the famous Steve Jobs quote about never doing customer research.

Isn’t it just better to stay tucked away in the office, read reports, state opinions as if they are facts (those opinions are based on experience, after all), and make decisions?

Nope.

It is not better. It is also not safer, easier, or more efficient.

To make the best decisions, you need the best data, which comes from your customers.

But that doesn’t mean you need to talk to them to get it.

The best data

The best data helps you understand why your customers do what they do. This is why Jobs to be Done is such a powerful tool – it uncovers the emotional and social Jobs to be Done that drive our behavior and choices (functional Jobs to be Done are usually used to justify our choices).

But discovering Jobs to be Done typically requires you to talk to people, build rapport and trust in a one-on-one conversation, and ask Why? dozens of times so surface emotional and social JTBD.

Luckily, there are other ways to find Jobs to be Done that don’t require you to become an unlicensed therapist.

Observe your customers

Go where your customers are (or could be) experiencing the problem you hope to solve and try to blend in. Watch what people are doing and what they’re not doing. Notice whether people are alone or with others (and who those others are – kids, partners, colleagues, etc.). Listen to the environment (is it loud or quiet? If there’s noise, what kind of noise?) and to what people are saying to each other.

Be curious. Write down everything you’re observing. Wonder why and write down your hypotheses. Share your observations with your colleagues. Ask them to go out, observe, wonder, and share. Together you may discover answers or work up the courage to have a conversation.

Quick note – Don’t be creepy about this. Don’t lurk behind clothing racks, follow people through stores, peep through windows, linger too long, or wear sunglasses, a trench coat, and a fedora on a 90-degree day, so you look inconspicuous. If people start giving you weird looks, find a new place to people-watch.

Observe yourself

Humans are fascinating, and because you are a human, you are fascinating. So, observe yourself when you’re experiencing the problem you’re hoping to solve. Notice where you are, who is with you, the environment, and how you feel. Watch what you do and don’t do. Wonder why you chose one solution over another (or none).

Be curious. Write down everything you did, saw, and felt and why. Ask your colleagues to do the same. Share your observations with your colleagues and find points of commonality and divergence, then get curious all over again.

Quick note – This only works if you have approximately the same demographic and psychographic profiles and important and unsatisfied Jobs to be Done of your target customers.

Be your customer

What if your business solves a problem that can’t be easily observed? What if you don’t have the problem that your business is trying to solve?

Become your customer (and observe yourself).

Several years ago, I worked with a client that made adult incontinence products. I couldn’t observe people using their products, and I do not have important (or unsatisfied) Jobs to be Done that the products can solve.

So, for one day, I became a customer. I went to Target and purchased their product. I went home, wore, and used the product. I developed a deep empathy for the customer and wrote down roughly 1 million ways to innovate the product and experience.

Quick note – Depending on what’s required to “be your customer,” you may need to give people a heads up. My husband was incredibly patient and understanding but also a little concerned on the day of the experiment.

It’s about what you learn, not how you learn it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is one best way to get insights. I’m 100% guilty (one-on-one conversations are a hill I have died on multiple times).

Ultimately, when it comes to innovation and decision-making, the more important thing is having, believing, and using insights into why customers do what they do and want what they want. How you get those insights is an important but secondary consideration.

* Each of those two things contains A TON of essential stuff that must be done the right way at the right time otherwise, they won’t work, but we’ll get into those things in another article

Image Credit: Pixabay

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6 Ways to Leverage Virtual Tools to Create an Innovation Culture

6 Ways to Leverage Virtual Tools to Create an Innovation Culture

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Culture is a key success factor for every team and organization. Shape it to get more innovation, even from your remote workforce.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Box, Slack, and Salesforce all say that employees can keep working remotely well into next year or even forever. We’re seeing a sea change toward remote work and how to make it more fun and effective. But what happens to the culture of teams and organizations in a virtual world?

In my book, The Invisible Advantage: How to Create a Culture of Innovation, I define culture as “the norms and values that shape behavior.” If you want to change culture to get more innovation, for example, you need to change norms and values toward things that inspire people to generate ideas, prioritize the best ones, test them out, and implement them using customer input. So how do you do that when you’re working remotely and it’s impossible to gather around the water cooler?

To change norms and values, you need to first change your own behavior, since our behavior is what ultimately communicates and reinforces what’s important. If you want more innovation, you need to do things that demonstrate you’re serious about soliciting ideas and doing something with them.

Here are six things you can do to get more innovation from your remote team in today’s virtual world:

1. Find Problems to Fuel Ideas

Innovation starts with problems. Ineffective leaders ignore problems and sweep them under the carpet. Innovative leaders love problems because they’re the basis for new ideas. Every month, ask your team to share the toughest problems they’re facing due to working remotely or in their work serving customers. Keep a running list that you can continually prioritize. The result: People see you’re serious about addressing real issues and they don’t hold back sharing problems that, if solved, will make a big different for the business.

2. Bring on Virtual Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a simple process that includes generating lots of ideas, prioritizing them, and the selection the best of the best to pursue. Get a tool specifically designed for online brainstorming, like Mural, Lucidchart, or Ideaboardz. The result: People learn the brainstorming process and your team will have online tools that are just as effective as stickies on a white board.

3. Tell Symbolic Stories

People remember stories. And stories contain messages about what’s important and why. Look for current or past examples of “innovation” from your team, other teams in your organization, or even outside your company. Find stories about how people overcame physical distance or used technology to innovate. Discuss what led to success and how you can do similar things as a team working remotely. The result: People internalize what’s important and why and will re-tell the same stories to others as part of reinforcing culture.

4. Pair Up to Show Up

Working remotely can feel isolating. Pair people to tackle a tough idea or problem. Give pairs time to work together and then report back progress. Use the larger team to provide feedback and support each pair’s efforts. Run virtual “innovation synch-ups,” where pairs share their ideas with the larger team and get feedback. The result: Pairing people up builds relationships infused with the values of innovation while ensuring more robust results.

5. Count It to Make It Count

You get what you measure. Set a target to collect some number of new ideas per month (like 15-20) and successfully implement 1-2 as a team. Track and report on progress regularly so everyone knows the targets are serious success measures. Create an online dashboard that you that you use to track progress from meeting to meeting. The result: People see the importance of quantifiable results and feel accountable to them.

6. Celebrate Wins to Create a Winning Team

Recognition of achievements and team celebrations are as important as ever. When someone delivers an innovation–whether creating a new product, service, process, or anything else–recognize them publicly. During virtual team meetings, set aside time for “virtual awards” to recognize those who have made valuable contributions. Email or snail mail a certificate or gift card in advance so recipients have real-world awards in their possession during the ceremony. The result: People understand the innovative behavior and results that are valued and will do what they can to deliver more of it themselves.

As I wrote in my last article, business should ideally keep going and growing, even in a pandemic or economic downturn. Innovation shouldn’t stop either. If you’re not innovating, it’s likely someone else is. And it’s likely your competition. In today’s world, everything eventually gets disrupted. Your culture is ultimately your only sustainable competitive advantage-even in a virtual world. Shape yours today.

If you want to see how you can build tools & resources to support your remote team, visit Praxie.com.

Image credits: Getty Images (acquired by Soren Kaplan)

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Meeting face to face, for a lovely lunch recently, with a coaching colleague, we were both shocked to discover how stressed and anxious we were feeling about being asked to deliver live workshops and face-to-face coaching to clients once again.

We shared how emotionally, mentally, and physically overwhelmed we felt, despite having decades of knowledge, experience, and skills in being able to deliver deep learning programs and face-to-face coaching sessions, about doing live gigs again! We also agreed, that despite the range of largely effective emotionally intelligent coping strategies we developed to help ourselves and our clients self-regulate, self-manage, to better adapt to the pandemic-imposed work-from-home restrictions that the past two and half years of working, alone, and in isolation, online, had taken its toll.

We acknowledged and accepted that we along with many of our clients were all suffering from elevated levels of stress, discomfort, and anxiety. We then agreed that it was time to focus on exploring how to better help ourselves and our clients reconnect and reset by enabling them to create states of well-being, emotional agility, and mental fitness, where they can feel good, can function well, and be effective and innovative in an increasingly chaotic world.

To seek new ways of enabling ourselves and our clients to deal effectively with a range of unresourceful feelings including helplessness, powerlessness, and fearfulness about an uncertain future. 

We noticed that these feelings often caused many of our clients to contract and freeze, and become immobilised as a result of what we describe as a “bubble” of self-induced silo-based behaviours. That often evolved into extreme self-centeredness, and unconscious selfishness, which ultimately increased their feelings of isolation and loneliness, and lack of belonging, resulting in defensive and avoidant behaviours, in what is becoming an increasingly chaotic world.

How are these ways of being and acting impacting organisations?

Partnering in a wide range of online global coaching sessions, we noticed that a number of common trends emerged as to how our client’s teams and organisations, are being impacted at the cultural level:

  • Immobilization – many people are unable to self-manage their work from home workloads and are quietly burning out, through being overly task-focused and busy, whilst others are preferring to work autonomously, and not waste hours commuting.
  • Lacking safety and trust – many organisations are freezing all of their change initiatives, learning programs, and projects, causing people to fear loss and overall job insecurity, where many people are contracting more deeply within their “bubbles” and become even more distrustful of leadership and even more passively defensive and avoidant.
  • Lacking clarity and foresight – many organisations have slipped into being so reactive, focussing only on delivering short-term results, and are not communicating a clear strategy for leading the way forwards.

Resulting in:

  • Increased resistance to change and going back to the office adds to people’s inertia, and to their sense of disconnection and lack of belonging.
  • Increased risk adversity and conventional (cost cutting), tactical and short-term focus, inhibits any investment in Research and Development or the skills development required in developing and executing a future innovation strategy.
  • People have become even more fearful of failure, and are not stretching themselves to adapt, grow, learn and innovate with disruption, and often choosing to merely change jobs, in a competitive job marketplace, driven by scarcity, as a perceived short term solution.

A unique moment in time

This has created an opportunity, in this unique moment in time, to focus on being kinder to ourselves and to others by helping and supporting each other, respectfully and compassionately, creatively and courageously, to reconnect and reset. Despite rising levels of economic, civic, and social uncertainty and unrest.

What made sense yesterday may not make so much sense today.

Many of the mental models we applied yesterday may not be relevant for tomorrow because corporate culture, civic and social structures have drastically changed and digitalization has become commonplace, noting that we are shifting from a VUCA to BANI world where:

  • Brittle has replaced Volatility.
  • Anxiety reflects Uncertainty.
  • Non-linearity is an addition to Complexity.
  • Incomprehensibility is ultimately the consequence of our non-linear world and goes one step further than Ambiguity.

Paradoxically, this has created new openings to genuinely explore and discover new thresholds to adapt, generate new mindsets, develop skill sets, and power up our toolkits to keep pace with the effects of the emerging BANI world and capture complex systems by asking a  key generative or catalytic question:

How might you support and enable others to think and act differently in such a world, where old patterns seem to crumble while new ideas and systems still need to be created, invented, innovated, and established?

As the world of work changes, so does the need for everyone to consider how to be more open-hearted, minded, and willed with one another.

A final word from Gallop CEO Jon Preston in the Gallop Global Emotions Report:

“All over the world, people are trying to understand the rise of violence, hatred, and increased radicalization. They will continue to argue over what the best policy responses should be and what role social media plays in fueling negative emotions.

However, policymakers must understand why so many more people are experiencing unprecedented negative emotions and focus on the drivers of a great life.

Our shared humanity and wellbeing depend on it”.

When we generously and kindly demonstrate care, respect, and appreciation for the value everyone brings, we can also demonstrate helpfulness and support, through our unconditional willingness to reconnect and reset.

Resulting in an ability to co-create a better sense of belonging and a more optimistic outlook, through enhancing our emotional intelligence.  To effectively self-regulation and self-manage the superpowers and strategies required to thrive, flourish and flow, and make transformational changes in the face of relentless uncertainty, disruption, and a chaotic world.

This is the first in a series of three blogs on the theme of reconnecting and resetting, to create, invent and innovate in an increasingly chaotic world. You can also register for our free 45-minute masterclass on Thursday, 25th August, to discover new ways of re-connecting through the complexity and chaos of dis-connection to create, invent and innovate in the future! Find out more.

Image credit: Pixabay

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This 9-Box Grid Can Help Grow Your Best Future Talent

This 9-Box Grid Can Help Grow Your Best Future Talent

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Hiring good people is tough. Retaining your best talent can be equally challenging. In today’s disruptive world, competitive advantage relies as much on people as it does technology.

So, how do you objectively know which people are your all-stars, especially in a bigger organization? And not just the best talent today, but the best for the future?

I originally wrote this article for my Inc. Magazine column. My team at Praxie.com created an online 9-Box app and I was stunned at how much interest there was from across industries for this solution.

Keeping & Growing Talent is Today’s Name of the Game

Just as it’s easier and cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones, the same goes for employees. Knowing who your current and future all-stars are helps you keep them and gives you the opportunity to help them grow into more strategic roles.

The 9-box talent grid categorizes your people into nine categories. The grid contains two axes, performance and potential, each of which includes three levels each: low, moderate, and high. When you match up the categories on the axes, you get nine boxes that become classifications.

Categorizing people helps reveal who’s contributing the most now, and who will likely contribute the most in the future:

  1. Stars (High Potential, High Performance): Consistently high performance with high potential. Will likely become part of the future leadership team.
  2. High Potentials (High Potential, Moderate Performance): Solid performance overall with high potential to grow. Will most likely advance in current or future roles and may become part of the future leadership team.
  3. Enigmas (High Potential, Low Performance): While high potential, challenges exist in performance that may require additional support or training and development.
  4. High Performer (Moderate Potential, High Performance): Consistently high performance with solid potential to advance in current role and future positions with the right opportunity.
  5. Key Player (Moderate Potential, Moderate Performance): Overall good performance and potential with additional support and opportunities to grow.
  6. Inconsistent Player (Moderate Potential, Low Performance): Low performance and moderate potential require additional support and training to validate growth opportunity.
  7. Workhorses (Low Potential, High Performance): Highly effective performance yet may have peaked in terms of potential so coaching or training may help elevate potential.
  8. Backups (Low Potential, Moderate Performance): Decent performance and an asset but may not become a more significant contributor.
  9. Bad Hires (Low Potential, Low Performance): Low performance coupled with low potential means re-evaluating overall role in organization.

The team at Praxie.com has made the 9-Box application available to try to free.

9 Box Example

Shoot for the Stars

The easiest way is to assign people to the categories is based on your experience working with them. Or, if you’re in a larger organization, collect inputs from managers and aggregate the results.

Here’s how it works: The CEO of an organization works with their HR director to collect inputs from managers within the sales department. Twenty-five sales representatives are mapped into the nine boxes. The results are used to provide additional incentives, identify people for leadership development programs, and promote individual reps to managers for new territories.

The 9-box grid provides a snapshot in time. Use the tool to continually assess and reassess your talent. You’ll see some people move up and to the right while others may stay stagnant. Use these trends to help people grow. It won’t improve just your organizational culture. It will also improve your business.

Image credits: Praxie.com

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Empathy: The Currency of Human Connection and Innovation

Empathy: The Currency of Human Connection and Innovation

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Having worked with innovation teams from global companies like Visa, Colgate-Palmolive, Kimberly-Clark, Disney, Medtronic and many others, there’s one consistent success factor when it comes to innovation, no matter what you’re doing: it all starts with the customer.

Companies spend oodles of time and money trying to understand customers. They conduct surveys, hire market researchers, run focus groups, analyze social media, and the list goes on. What’s often missed, however, are customers’ deeper needs and underlying pain points that really matter to them. Quantitative surveys, for example, might give you a sense of a market’s overall sentiment about a topic, but you won’t get to know someone’s personal struggles and underlying motivations from checkboxes on an online form.

Instead, you need to truly put yourself in the customer’s shoes. It’s not just about intellectually understanding their situation. It’s about tapping into the emotions they feel, and even feeling them yourself as part of the process of connecting to their experience.

Empathy Reveals New Opportunities

I recently led a leadership development program for a large health care provider with hundreds of hospitals. They wanted to understand their patients better, so they could come up with innovations to help them stay healthy and avoid costly visits to the doctor and hospital. Initially, the team had ideas to provide promotional materials on how to eat healthier and exercise.

As part of the process, a small team went to visit patients at their homes in rural areas. At one house, they discovered a giant water tank had been built by a company that towered over their patient’s home–and it was slowly dripping water on the roof, creating a whole variety of problems, including causing the beginnings of respiratory issues for the woman living in the house due to mold. The team was shocked.

The team realized that pamphlets about healthy eating and exercise wouldn’t do much to help. They also recognized that in certain cases they might need to provide radically different types of support to their patients as part of ensuring their overall health, beyond just providing traditional health care. They helped the woman contact the water tank company to fix the leak. They have also since expanded their approach around prevention to address various “social determinants of health” in communities like poor quality water, lack of healthy food, and other issues that lead to health issues long before someone shows symptoms of a formal medical issue.

Immersing yourself in the world of your customers through visits, observation, interviews, and other interactions can provide a new perspective around issues, problems, and assumptions.

Capture Concrete Observations

Empathy is a core element of “design thinking,” a common approach used for product and service innovation. It’s also a concept that can be hard to understand when it comes to translating what you might see and hear into something meaningful about the customer. Here’s a template for doing just that from Praxie.com.

Customer Empathy Map

The next time you connect with a customer, consider the following to help capture concrete observations:

  • Say: What does the customer explicitly say?
  • Feel: What are the customer’s emotions?
  • Think: What occupies the customer’s thoughts?
  • Do: What does the customer do in public?

By providing a structure for cataloguing your observations, you can turn what might seem as ambiguous into something tangible.

Turn Observations into Insight

It’s one thing to observe customers. It’s another to translate what you observe into real insights that help catalyze new ideas.

Once you’ve cataloged your observations, take a step back. Consider the ultimate “pain points” that your customer experiences. What are the customer’s top problems or frustrations? Also be sure to consider the “gain” the customer hopes to achieve. What does the customer hope to accomplish or achieve?

Answering these questions helps move general observations into insights that can be used as the basis for generating new ideas.

Give the World Your Empathy

Empathy is the currency of human connection. We all crave it. And when we give it to others, we build and deepen relationships. Try empathizing with others. You’ll see the returns in the form of a better world, and greater innovation.

Image credits: Praxie.com, Pexels

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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