Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Learning to Innovate

Learning to Innovate

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

One of my coaching clients shared with me recently how she was feeling insecure in her job role and lacking motivation. The company she works for is acknowledged as an entrepreneurial industry leader. Because it is currently being challenged by poor sales performance, it has hunkered down and frozen any change initiatives, learning programs or new projects until mid-2025. My client is in a substantial Research and Development function, crucial to innovation, so we aimed to explore new ways of helping the company use their existing equipment (capital investments) and resources (people and expertise) to design and deliver low-cost and sustainable innovations to the market. To create a focused, meaningful, purposeful role and a values-based motivating opportunity for my client to be proactive, that impacts the company by adding value to the bottom line by improving productivity and cost efficiency because anyone can learn to innovate.

Learning to innovate

As a result of our short time together, my client felt confident and empowered, motivated and energized, to invest time in learning how to apply her current skills and strengths, focus and attention to connect with key people and resources, explore options globally for identifying new business development opportunities, and in developing her technical skillset.

My client enrolled in an online innovation learning program to learn to innovate by acquiring the fundamentals of mindset and behavior changes to shift their thinking and act differently.  

The innovation imperative has shifted

  • Productivity growth needs to accelerate

According to McKinsey and Co, in the article “Investing in Productivity Growth” it’s not only time to raise investment and catch the next productivity wave; the world needs to and can accelerate productivity growth.

“Productivity growth means getting more from our work and our investments. It is especially needed now as the world faces the many challenges of a new geo-economic era. Productivity growth is the best antidote to the asset price inflation of the past two decades, which has created about $160 trillion in “paper wealth” and even larger amounts of new debt”.

  • Adapting to the new net zero reality

The world is currently not on track to meet net-zero targets, yet many opportunities are available to accelerate efforts and help meet de-carbonization goals. Whilst some progress has been made to reduce global carbon emissions, under the current trajectory, the world won’t achieve net-zero emissions even during this century. Again, according to McKinsey and Co., in an article “Adapting to the new net-zero reality”, mitigation efforts alone are no longer sufficient – the world will need to adapt as well by going green, ramping up technologies and increasing investments.

  • Improving cost efficiencies

According to new BCG research, corporate leaders are making better cost management a priority as a hedge against ongoing economic, financial, and political uncertainties, stating that:

“Wholesale cuts are one way to manage costs. However, drastic measures such as sudden workforce reductions may lead to unintended consequences because they fail to address the root causes of inefficiencies. Nor do they position an organization for future success”.

  • Generative Ai is a critical enabler of innovation

Whether the organization focuses on developing new products, services, processes, or business models, Generative AI (GenAI) can enhance and challenge the work of leaders and teams across all phases of the innovation cycle and process.

By learning to innovate through knowing how to generatively question and listen, reveal and challenge operating beliefs and test assumptions to enable them to emerge, diverge, converge and prioritize high-quality creative ideas for change.

According to BCG in a recent article, “To Drive Innovation with GenAI, Start by Questioning Your Assumptions.”

“GenAI’s most prominent contribution is in idea generation and validation—innovation’s divergence and convergence phases. Yet, it can play an even more critical role in helping leaders confront and update the strategic assumptions at the foundation of their business and innovation strategies: the doubt phase of the cycle. Organizations that regularly question their beliefs are more resilient because they are more likely to see and position themselves to benefit from the shifts on which competitive advantage turns”.

The innovation imperative is paradoxical.

Suppose we combine the contradictory features or qualities of developing productivity growth while adapting to the new net zero reality and improving cost efficiencies. In that case, many organizations have reverted to their conventional, business-as-usual focus, relying on Generative Ai to solve their problems.

This demonstrates a typically faddish response to a revolutionary, transformative new invention whilst being avoidant and resisting the urgent need to change by building the fundamental foundations in learning to innovate.

  • Thinking and acting differently

Anyone can learn to innovate, and it starts with allowing, accepting and acknowledging that a business-as-usual focus, avoiding risk, making the tough decisions and resisting change are no longer effective, profitable, or sustainable because:

  • We all know that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.
  • We can no longer afford to keep producing the same results that no one wants.
  • We can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it; we have to learn how to be, think and act differently to deliver the sustainable and innovative solution we want to have.

Learning to innovate requires a radical strategic shift

  • Harnessing collective intelligence

Anyone can learn to innovate; it’s simply a matter of knowing, combining, leveraging and scaling people’s multiple and collective intelligence – heads/cognition, hearts/emotions and hands/actions.

  • Revealing and closing knowing-doing gaps

Then, we should align these to close the significant knowing-doing gap or disconnect between what people know and what people do.

Everyone knows that innovation is the most impactful lever to use to scale and leverage change, yet are primarily unwilling to pause, stop and take time to retreat from their short-term focus, pay attention and reflect on how to equip people with the innovation fundamentals by getting people’s:

  1. Heads to make sense of innovation and what innovation means by defining and framing it in their organization’s unique context, setting a strategic focus, determining the level of risk involved in achieving it, and mitigating the roadblocks that may arise.
  2. Hearts aligned to embody and enact what innovation means by setting and sharing a passionately purposeful reason for innovation, building change receptivity and readiness for designing and delivering a range of bespoke deep learning processes and equipping people to activate it.
  3. Hands dirty by creating a safe environment where people are encouraged to emerge and share creative ideas and permission and be allowed to experiment by making small bets and mistakes and learning by doing to know what not to do.

Innovation requires a strategic and systemic focus

Innovation is subjective and contextual, so it must be defined and framed in an organization’s unique context.  It requires a strategic and systemic focus, so an organization needs to agree on whether they will choose an incremental, sustainable or disruptive strategy and the level of risk.

The 21st century requires us to unlearn, learn, and relearn a different set of mindsets, behaviors, and skills, and anyone can learn to innovate.

Commitment and conviction to learn to innovate

It’s only through being committed and having the conviction that my coaching client now has – to explore new ways of helping their organizations use their existing capital investments, collective intelligence, people resources, and expertise, supported by Generative AI and deep learning processes, to design and deliver low-cost and sustainable innovations to the market.

Image Credit: Pexels

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Time is a Flat Circle

Jamie Dimon’s Comments on AI Just Proved It

Time is a Flat Circle

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton


“Time is a flat circle.  Everything we have done or will do we will do over and over and over and over again – forever.” –- Rusty Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, in True Detective

For the whole of human existence, we have created new things with no idea if, when, or how they will affect humanity, society, or business.  New things can be a distraction, sucking up time and money and offering nothing in return.  Or they can be a bridge to a better future.

As a leader, it’s your job to figure out which things are a bridge (i.e., innovation) and which things suck (i.e., shiny objects).

Innovation is a flat circle

The concept of eternal recurrence, that time repeats itself in an infinite loop, was first taught by Pythagoras (of Pythagorean theorem fame) in the 6th century BC. It remerged (thereby proving its own truth) in Friedreich Nietzsche’s writings in the 19th century, then again in 2014’s first season of True Detective, and then again on Monday in Jamie Dimon’s Annual Letter to Shareholders.

Mr. Dimon, the CEO and Chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co, first mentioned AI in his 2017 Letter to Shareholders.  So, it wasn’t the mention of AI that was newsworthy. It was how it was mentioned.  Before mentioning geopolitical risks, regulatory issues, or the recent acquisition of First Republic, Mr. Dimon spends nine paragraphs talking about AI, its impact on banking, and how JPMorgan Chase is responding.

Here’s a screenshot of the first two paragraphs:

JP Morgan Annual Letter 2017

He’s right. We don’t know “the full effect or the precise rate at which AI will change our business—or how it will affect society at large.” We were similarly clueless in 1436 (when the printing press was invented), 1712 (when the first commercially successful steam engine was invented), 1882 (when electricity was first commercially distributed), and 1993 (when the World Wide Web was released to the public).

Innovation, it seems, is also a flat circle.

Our response doesn’t have to be.

Historically, people responded to innovation in one of two ways: panic because it’s a sign of the apocalypse or rejoice because it will be our salvation. And those reactions aren’t confined to just “transformational” innovations.  In 2015, a visiting professor at Kings College London declared that the humble eraser (1770) was “an instrument of the devil” because it creates “a culture of shame about error.  It’s a way of lying to the world, which says, ‘I didn’t make a mistake.  I got it right the first time.’”

Neither reaction is true. Fortunately, as time passes, more people recognize that the truth is somewhere between the apocalypse and salvation and that we can influence what that “between” place is through intentional experimentation and learning.

JPMorgan started experimenting with AI over a decade ago, well before most of its competitors.  As a result, they “now have over 400 use cases in production in areas such as marketing, fraud, and risk” that are producing quantifiable financial value for the company. 

It’s not just JPMorgan.  Organizations as varied as John Deere, BMW, Amazon, the US Department of Energy, Vanguard, and Johns Hopkins Hospital have been experimenting with AI for years, trying to understand if and how it could improve their operations and enable them to serve customers better.  Some experiments worked.  Some didn’t.  But every company brave enough to try learned something and, as a result, got smarter and more confident about “the full effect or the precise rate at which AI will change our business.”

You have free will.  Use it to learn.

Cynics believe that time is a flat circle.  Leaders believe it is an ever-ascending spiral, one in which we can learn, evolve, and influence what’s next.  They also have the courage to act on (and invest in) that belief.

What do you believe?  More importantly, what are you doing about it?

Image credit: Pixabay

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Five Lessons from the Apple Car’s Demise

Five Lessons from the Apple Car's Demise

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In 2014, rumors started to circulate that Apple was developing a self-driving autonomous car to compete with Tesla.  At the end of February 2024, rumors circulated that Apple was shutting down “Project Titan,” its car program. According to multiple media outlets, the only logical conclusion from the project’s death is that this decision signals the beginning of the end of Apple.

As much as I enjoy hyperbole and unnecessary drama, the truth is far more mundane.

The decision was just another day in the life of an innovation.

As always, there is a silver lining to this car-shaped cloud: the lessons we can learn from Apple’s efforts.

Lesson 1: Innovation isn’t all rainbows and unicorns

People think innovation is fun.  It is.  It is also gut-wrenching, frustrating, and infuriating.  Doing something new requires taking risks, which is uncomfortable for most people.  Even more challenging is that, more often than not, when you take a risk, you “fail.” (if you learned something, you didn’t fail, but that’s another article). 

What you can do: Focus on the good stuff – moments of discovery, adventures when experimenting, signs that you’re making life better for others – but don’t forget that you’re defying the odds.

Lesson 2: More does not mean success

It’s been reported that Apple spent over ten billion dollars on Project Titan and that over 2000 people were working on it before it was canceled. With a market cap of over two trillion dollars, a billion dollars a year isn’t even a rounding error. But it’s still an eye-popping number, which makes Apple’s decision to cut its losses downright courageous.

What you can do: Be on guard for the sunk-cost fallacy.  It’s easy to believe that you’ll eventually succeed if you keep working and pouring resources into a project.  That’s not true, as Apple experienced.  And in the rare cases when it is, executives are often left wondering if the success was worth the cost.

Lesson 3: Pivot based on data, not opinions

At least four different executives led Project Titan during its decade in development, and each leader brought their own vision for what the Apple Car should be.  First, it was an electric vehicle with driver assistance that would compete with Tesla.  Next, it was a self-driving car to compete with Google’s WayMo.  Then, plans for fully autonomous driving were canceled. Finally, the team returned to its original target of matching Tesla’s Level 2 automation.  

Changes in project objectives, strategies, and execution plans are necessary for innovation, so there’s nothing obviously wrong with these pivots.  But the fact that they tended to happen when a new leader was appointed (and that Jony Ive caused an 18-month hiring freeze simply by expressing “displeasure”) makes me question how data-based these pivots actually were

What you can do: Be willing to change but have a high standard for what is required to cause a change.  Data, even qualitative and anecdotal data, should be seriously considered.  The opinion of a single executive, not so much.

Lesson 4: Dream big, build small

Apple certainly dreamed big with its aspirations to build a fully semi-autonomous vehicle and it poured billions into developing and testing the sensors, batteries, and partnership required to make it a reality.  But it was never all-or-nothing in its pursuit of the automotive industry.  Apple introduced CarPlay the same year it kicked off Project Titan, and it continues to offer regular updates to the system.  Car Key was announced in 2020 and is now offered by BMW, Genesis, Hyundai, and Kia.

What you can do: Take a portfolio approach towards your overall innovation portfolio (Apple kept working on the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Vision Pro) and within each project.  It’s not unusual that a part of the project turns out to be more valuable than the whole project.

Lesson 5: ___________________________

Yes, that is a fill-in-the-blank because I want to hear from you. What lesson are you taking away from Project Titan’s demise, and how will it make you a better innovator?

Image credit: Dall-E via Bing

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How I Use AI to Understand Humans

(and Cut Research Time by 80%)

How I Use AI to Understand Humans

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

AI is NOT a substitute for person-to-person discovery conversations or Jobs to be Done interviews.

But it is a freakin’ fantastic place to start…if you do the work before you start.

Get smart about what’s possible

When ChatGPT debuted, I had a lot of fun playing with it, but never once worried that it would replace qualitative research.  Deep insights, social and emotional Jobs to be Done, and game-changing surprises only ever emerge through personal conversation.  No matter how good the Large Language Model (LLM) is, it can’t tell you how feelings, aspirations, and motivations drive their decisions.

Then I watched JTBD Untangled’s video with Evan Shore, WalMart’s Senior Director of Product for Health & Wellness, sharing the tests, prompts, and results his team used to compare insights from AI and traditional research approaches.

In a few hours, he generated 80% of the insights that took nine months to gather using traditional methods.

Get clear about what you want and need.

Before getting sucked into the latest shiny AI tools, get clear about what you expect the tool to do for you.  For example:

  • Provide a starting point for research: I used the free version of ChatGPT to build JTBD Canvas 2.0 for four distinct consumer personas.  The results weren’t great, but they provided a helpful starting point.  I also like Perplexity because even the free version links to sources.
  • Conduct qualitative research for meI haven’t used it yet, but a trusted colleague recommended Outset.ai, a service that promises to get to the Why behind the What because of its ability to “conduct and synthesize video, audio, and text conversations.”
  • Synthesize my research and identify insights: An AI platform built explicitly for Jobs to be Done Research?  Yes, please!  That’s precisely what JobLens claims to be, and while I haven’t used it in a live research project, I’ve been impressed by the results of my experiments.  For non-JTBD research, Otter.ai is the original and still my favorite tool for recording, live transcription, and AI-generated summaries and key takeaways.
  • Visualize insights:  MuralMiro, and FigJam are the most widely known and used collaborative whiteboards, all offering hundreds of pre-formatted templates for personas, journey maps, and other consumer research templates.  Another colleague recently sang the praises of theydo, an AI tool designed specifically for customer journey mapping.

Practice your prompts

“Garbage in.  Garbage out.” Has never been truer than with AI.  Your prompts determine the accuracy and richness of the insights you’ll get, so don’t wait until you’ve started researching to hone them.  If you want to start from scratch, you can learn how to write super-effective prompts here and here.  If you’d rather build on someone else’s work, Brian at JobsLens has great prompt resources. 

Spend time testing and refining your prompts by using a previous project as a starting point.  Because you know what the output should be (or at least the output you got), you can keep refining until you get a prompt that returns what you expect.    It can take hours, days, or even weeks to craft effective prompts, but once you have them, you can re-use them for future projects.

Defend your budget

Using AI for customer research will save you time and money, but it is not free. It’s also not just the cost of the subscription or license for your chosen tool(s).  

Remember the 80% of insights that AI surfaced in the JTBD Untangled video?  The other 20% of insights came solely from in-person conversations but comprised almost 100% of the insights that inspired innovative products and services.

AI can only tell you what everyone already knows. You need to discover what no one knows, but everyone feels.  That still takes time, money, and the ability to connect with humans.

Run small experiments before making big promises

People react to change differently.  Some will love the idea of using AI for customer research, while others will resist with.  Everyone, however, will pounce on any evidence that they’re right.  So be prepared.  Take advantage of free trials to play with tools.  Test tools on friends, family, and colleagues.  Then under-promise and over-deliver.

AI is a starting point.  It is not the ending point. 

I’m curious, have you tried using AI for customer research?  What tools have you tried? Which ones do you recommend?

Image credit: Unsplash

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Next Generation Leadership Traits and Characteristics

Next Generation Leadership Traits and Characteristics

GUEST POST from Stefan Lindegaard

What are the traits and characteristics for a new generation of leaders, those who will shape the future in this sea of uncertainty?

To me, this is more about mindset than age. However, the mindset which I hint at below and that I believe we need more of reside well within the younger generation.

Thus, we could see a higher number of younger executives in the coming years even though they lack the leadership experience and skills that have been normal for leaders in their roles. They need to learn fast and hopefully do this while being surrounded with experiences in different ways.

I think this will be most prominent in Asia and even parts of Africa and South America where there is a stronger belief in the future compared to Europe and even the USA with its stronger sentiment of complacency as well as many overwhelming challenges.

Many current executives will of course also develop in good ways so I suggest we look for traits and characteristics in both groups such as:

  1. Holistic point of view (intrapreneurial skills)
  2. Understanding of psychological safety and the growth mindset (and ability to lead with and through this)
  3. Ability to constructively handle conflict
  4. Optimism, passion and drive
  5. Curiosity and belief in change
  6. Tolerance for / ability to deal with uncertainty
  7. Adaptive fast learner with sense of urgency
  8. Talent for networking / strategic influencing

The desired end-game? Leaders who are capable of the almost super-human task of both managing day-to-day activities and shaping the future.

Get the Right People on the Bus

By shaping the future, I mean the ability to thrive with transformation/change, apply new ways of working and improve collaboration capabilities while pursing new business opportunities and innovation.

Just a discussion starter. What do you think?

Image Credit: Pexels, Stefan Lindegaard

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3 Innovation Lessons from The Departed

3 Innovation Lessons from The Departed

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

It’s award season, which means that, as a resident of Boston, I have the responsibility and privilege to talk about The Departed (pronounced: The Dep-ah-ted).  The film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2007 and earned Martin Scorsese his first, and to date only, Academy Award for Best Director.  It is also chock-full of great lessons for corporate innovators.

Quick Synopsis

If you’ve seen The Departed, you can skip this part.  If you haven’t, why not and read on.

The Departed is loosely based on notorious Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger and features three main characters:

  1. Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a vicious and slightly unhinged Irish mob boss
  2. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a Massachusetts State Trooper in the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) formed to catch Costello, who, in his spare time, is a spy for Costello.
  3. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a police academy recruit who goes undercover to infiltrate Costello’s organization

But wait!  There’s more.  Alec Baldwin plays Colin’s SIU boss, George Ellerby.  Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg (who received an Oscar nomination for this role) play Billy’s Mass State Police (MSP) bosses, Captain Queenan and Staff Sergeant Dignam, respectively.  Completing the chaos is Vera Farmiga, who plays Madolyn Madden, Colin’s girlfriend and Billy’s court-ordered psychiatrist.

There’s a lot of other stuff going on, but that gives you enough context for the following quotes to hopefully make sense.

Listen to the words people use.

Colin (after Dignam refuses to hand over undercover files): I need those passwords.

Ellerby: No, you want those passwords

It’s not often that Ellerby says something useful, let alone wise, but he nails it with this one.  Colin wants the passwords to Dignam’s files on undercover agents because it will make both Colin’s official job of finding Costello’s rat in the MSP and his unofficial job of finding the MSP officer in Costello’s crew easier.  He doesn’t need the passwords, however, because, with enough time and effort, he can find the rats he’s looking for.

When we hear from customers that they want something, it’s tempting to run off and create it.  But as Ellerby points out, wants and needs are different.  Just because customers want something doesn’t mean they are willing to pay for or change their behavior to get and use it. 

Figuring out what a customer needs is difficult because it requires them to trust you enough to admit they have a problem they can’t solve.  It’s also difficult because most of us have access to solutions to our functional needs (think the bottom few layers of Maslow’s hierarchy).  As a result, the needs consumers grapple with tend to be emotional and social, and it’s far more challenging to admit those to a stranger, especially in a focus group or product-focused interview.

How you feel impacts everyone around you

Madolyn (after a counseling session): Why is the last patient of the day always the hardest?

Billy: Because you’re tired, and you don’t give a sh*t.  It’s not super-natural.

Billy and Madolyn get off to a rough start in their first counseling session, culminating in Billy asking for a prescription for Valium.  Madolyn calls him out for “drug-seeking behavior” and throws two Valiums across the desk before Billy storms out.  A few minutes later, Madolyn catches up with Billy, hands him a prescription for Valium, and asks the above question.

Being a corporate innovator can be difficult, sometimes soul-crushing work (ask the good people at Store 8).  It can also be thrilling and inspiring.  It can even be all those things in one day.  That’s what makes it tiring, even when you give a sh*t. 

Managing your energy and monitoring your behavior are leadership qualities we don’t discuss often enough.  It’s okay to be exhausted after a day of facilitating ideation sessions or intense strategic meetings.  It’s normal to be frustrated after a contentious conversation or demotivated when you get bad news.  But leaders usually find a way to not take those emotions out on their teams.  And, in the rare instance when they punish the team for someone else’s sin, they apologize and explain. 

Your job is not your identity.

Billy: Look, I just want my identity back, all right?  That’s all.

Colin: All right, I understand.  You want to be a cop again.

Billy: No, no, being a cop’s not an identity.  I want my identity back.

Towards the end of the film, Billy is tired of working undercover and reports to MSP headquarters to complete the paperwork required to expunge his criminal record and get his identity back.  That’s when Colin makes the same mistake most of us make and confuses Billy’s job with his identity.

We spend so much time at work.  We rely on our paychecks for so much.  We even introduce ourselves to new people using our job titles.  It’s easy for your job to feel like your identity, especially when your job aligns so closely with your deeply held beliefs and values.  But your job is not your identity.  You are still a Tempered Radical, even without your corporate title.   You are still an optimistic problem-solver, even when it’s been months since your last brainstorming session. 

You are an innovator, even if you don’t have a business card to prove it.

Image credit: RadioTimes.com

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Surprising Secrets and Customer Research Revelations

Surprising Secrets and Customer Research Revelations

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Most customer research efforts waste time and money because they don’t produce insights that fuel innovation.  Well-meaning business people say they want to “learn what customers want,” yet they ask questions better suited to confirming their own ideas or settling internal debates.  Meanwhile, eager consumers dutifully provide answers despite the nagging belief that they’re being asked the wrong questions.  

It doesn’t have to be this way.  In fact, you can get profound revelations into consumers’ psyche, motivations, and behaviors if you do one thing – channel your inner Elmo.

First, a confession

I find Elmo deeply annoying.  I grew up watching Sesame Street, and I still get an astounding amount of joy watching Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Grover, and Oscar the Grouch (especially when Oscar channels his inner Taylor Swift).

Elmo moved to Sesame Street in 1985, and it hasn’t been the same since.  He’s designed to reflect the mental, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of a 3.5-year-old, and, in that aspect, his creators were wildly successful.   I fully acknowledge that Elmo plays a vital role in the mission of Sesame Street and that people of all ages love Elmo. But Elmo makes my ears bleed, and I will never be ok with the fact that Elmo refers to himself in the third person.

This is why my recommendation to channel your inner Elmo is shocking and extremely serious.

Next, an explanation

On Monday, Elmo posted on X (yes, the minimum age limit is 13, but his mom and dad help him run the account, so it’s apparently okay), “Elmo is just checking in!  How is everybody doing?”

180 million views, 120,000 likes, and 13,000 comments later, it was clear that no one was okay.

And lest you think this was Gen Z trauma dumping on their ol’ pal Elmo, Dionne Warwick, T-Pain, and Today Show anchor Craig Melvin responded with their struggles.  Comments ranged from, “Mondays are hard” to “Elmo I’m gonna be real I am at my f—ing limit,’ to “Elmo each day the abyss we stare into grows a unique horror. one that was previously unfathomable in nature. our inevitable doom which once accelerated in years, or months, now accelerates in hours, even minutes. however I did have a good grapefruit earlier, thank you for asking.”

Wow.  Thank goodness for that grapefruit.

There are a lot of theories about why Elmo’s post touched a nerve – it’s January and we’re tired, it’s easier to share our struggles online than in person, or we still enjoy “that wholesome and sincere bond from childhood that makes us want to share.”

I’m sure all those are true, and I think it’s something more, something we can all learn and do.

Now, the secret

Elmo may be a red, hairy, 3.5-year-old muppet. Still, he nailed the behaviors required to get people to open up and share their inner worlds – the very thoughts, beliefs, and motivations that enable others to create and offer impactful and innovative solutions.

Here’s what Elmo did (and you should, too):

  1. Show that you’re genuinely curious:  Elmo didn’t open with the standard “How are you?” that if answered with anything other than the socially acceptable “Fine,” results in awkward silence and inner panic. Elmo opened by declaring his intent – checking in – and then asked a question. Because of that, we understood his motivation was genuine, and he wanted an honest answer.
  2. Ask open-ended questions: Elmo didn’t ask a closed question that can be answered with yes or no.  He asked a question that allowed people to share as much or as little as they wanted and that could act as a springboard to a deeper conversation.
  3. Listen silently and without judgment: Elmo didn’t follow up his original tweet with options like “Are you doing ok, or not ok, or are you happy, or sad, or mad, or…”  Elmo asked a question and then listened (read the responses) without jumping back into the conversation or firing off follow-up questions.
  4. Acknowledge and thank the person sharing: On Tuesday, Elmo responded but not by skipping off to the next scheduled post.  He acknowledged the response by opening with, “Wow!  Elmo is glad he asked!”  He didn’t share his opinion or immediately ask another question.  Instead, he thanked people for sharing, acknowledged that he heard their responses, and was grateful.
  5. Do something with what was shared: Even if you do #4, it’s tempting to move on to the next question.  Don’t.  Elmo didn’t.  Instead, he wrote that he “learned that it is important to ask a friend how they are doing.” He also wrote that he “will check in again soon, friends!  Elmo loves you.”  You don’t have to profess your love but do respond with what you learned and what it makes you wonder.

People can’t tell you what to create because they don’t know what you know.  But they can tell you the problems they have.  If you’re willing to listen (just don’t talk about yourself in the third person, you’re not a muppet).

Image credit: Dall-E via Bing

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The Remarkable Power of Negative Feedback

The Remarkable Power of Negative Feedback

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

The most effective innovators—entrepreneurs, scientists, new product developers, and advocates of social change—are adept at seeking feedback. But not just any feedback. They look for a particular type of feedback that may surprise you. They actively seek negative feedback, feedback that tells them when they’re wrong.

That probably sounds counterintuitive. Who goes around wanting to fail? The whole field of positive psychology has convinced many of us that to be successful, we need confidence and plenty of positive reinforcement. There’s some truth to that. Entrepreneurs understandably want their businesses to be successful. Scientists don’t win many awards for failed theories.

But deficits matter. One crucial flaw can torpedo the best of ideas. In the real world there are always many things that can go wrong. Figuring out what those shortcomings are can save you a lot of time and wasted effort. Negative feedback tells you when the strategy you’ve chosen isn’t working, so you can adjust, either by overcoming some obstacle, or adopting a different strategy.

Seeking only positive feedback predisposes you to confirmation bias, when you tend to see what you expect, or hope will happen. It feels good, but it may not be telling you what you most need to know, to be at your best. Savvy investors—and my own research—have found that those innovators and entrepreneurs who most actively seek negative feedback, create by far the greatest value.

Almost any feedback is better than none. You need feedback to get a clear take on the realities you face, so you can respond effectively. But only seeking positive feedback ultimately fosters false-confidence and insecurities. It’s always looking for validation and simply wanting to be right.

Negative feedback can be humbling, but you can build confidence in your ability to respond to setbacks and failures, rather than pretending they aren’t there. Accomplished innovators can handle the bad news because they’ve done it many times before. When you’re trying to bring change, it comes with the territory—and it’s always an opportunity to practice being creative and resourceful.

The next time you face some challenge, hoping for success is understandable, but the best way to make sure that success is real is to look for indications that what you’re doing isn’t working. 

That’s the fastest way to make sure it is working.

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5 Job Titles That Break the Mold and Fuel an Innovation Culture

5 Job Titles That Break the Mold and Fuel an Innovation Culture

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Fabric & Home Care Marketing

That is the job title on my very first business card.  I remember holding the card in my hands, staring at it for entirely too long, and thinking, “This is sooooo boring.  Even my parents won’t be impressed.”

To be fair to P&G, that was the job title on the business card of everyone in marketing in the business units.  The company didn’t put job titles on the card for security reasons (or at least that’s what my boss told me when I politely asked why my title wasn’t on the card).

I am older now and should have the maturity to accept the bland and nondescript title on my first business card.  But I’m not.  It’s still boring, and it shouldn’t be because we were working on innovation projects with code names and outfoxing corporate spies in the airport (another story for another post).  We were doing cool stuff and should have cool titles to show for it!

So, to right the wrong inflicted upon me and the countless others stuck with boring job titles despite doing brave, bold, and daring things, today is Make Your Own Title Day (business cards not included)

Intrapreneur

PRO: Short and sweet with a great original definition – “dreamers who do”

CON: Everyone will think you misspelled Entrepreneur

Pirates in the Navy

PRO: Title of a book by one of the foremost thinkers in the field of corporate innovation and a phrase inspired by Steve Jobs’ statement that it’s better to be a pirate than be in the Navy.  It also creates the excuse to wear an eyepatch, talk like a pirate, and keep a parrot in the office.

CON: People are afraid of pirates.  You don’t want people to be scared of you.

Rebel Smuggler

PRO: Also the basis of a book with the benefit of being a cool title that doesn’t scare people.  Plus, who wanted this to describe them:

Whether you’re are a Rebel in a functional company or a Smuggler in a dysfunctional company, you are the essential part of any transition.  You are the catalyst that transforms the caterpillar into a butterfly.  You disrupt the status quo and create opportunities for growth,

You are not the caterpillar nor the butterfly.  You are the magic that prompts the transition.”Natalie Neelan, Rebel At Work: How to Innovate and Drive Results When You Aren’t the Boss

CON: Legal and Corporate Security may not love the “Smuggler” part of the title

Tempered Radical

PRO: A more “professional” version of Rebel Smuggler, and it’s a term used in HBR, so you know it’s legit.  Here’s how they’re described:

They all see things a bit differently from the “norm.” But despite feeling at odds with aspects of the prevailing culture, they genuinely like their jobs and want to continue to succeed in them, to effectively use their differences as the impetus for constructive change. They believe that direct, angry confrontation will get them nowhere, but they don’t sit by and allow frustration to fester. Rather, they work quietly to challenge prevailing wisdom and gently provoke their organizational cultures to adapt. I call such change agents tempered radicals because they work to effect significant changes in moderate ways.Debra Meyerson, “Radical Change, the Quiet Way” in HBR (October 2001)

CON: Sometimes working quietly doesn’t work.  Sometimes, you need to make a ruckus. 

[YOUR TITLE HERE]

What title do you want to give yourself and other innovators?

Drop your suggestion in the comments (and feel free to print up new business cards)!

Image credit: Pexels

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This One Word Will Transform Your Approach to Innovation

This One Word Will Transform Your Approach to Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Have you heard any of these sentences recently?

“We don’t have time”

“Our people don’t have the skills”

“We don’t have the budget”

“That’s not what we do”

I hear them all the time.  

Sometimes they’re said when a company is starting to invest in building their innovation capabilities, sometimes during one-on-one stakeholder interviews when people feel freer to share their honest opinions, and sometimes well after investments are made.

Every single time, they are the beginning of the end for innovation.

But one word that can change that.

“We don’t have time – yet.”

“Our people don’t have the skills – yet.”

“We don’t have the budget – yet.”

“That’s not what we do – yet.”

Yet.

Yet creates space for change.  It acknowledges that you’re in the middle of a journey, not the end.  It encourages conversation.

“We don’t have time – yet.”

“OK, I know the team is busy and that what they’re working on is important.  Let’s look at what people are working on and see if there are things we can delay or stop to create room for this.”

“Our people don’t have the skills – yet.”

“Understand, we’re all building new skills when it comes to innovation.  Good news, skills can be learned.  Let’s discuss what we need to teach people and the best way to do that.”

“We don’t have the budget – yet.”

“I get it.  Things are tight. We know this is a priority so let’s look at the budget and see if there’s a way to free up some cash.  If there’s not, then we’ll go back to leadership and ask for guidance.”

“That’s not what we do – yet.”

“I know.  Remember, we’re not doing this on a whim, we’re doing this because (fill in reason), and we have a right to do it because of (fill in past success, current strength, or competitive advantage.”

You need to introduce the YET.

It is very rare for people to add “yet” to their statements.  But you can.

When someone utters an innovation-killing statement, respond with “Yet.” Maybe smile mischievously and then repeat their statement with “yet” added to the end.

After all, you’re not disagreeing with them. You’re simply qualifying what they’re saying.  Their statement is true now, but that doesn’t mean it will be true forever.  By restating their assertion and adding “yet,” you’re inviting them to be part of the change, to take an active role in creating the new future state.

There’s a tremendous amount of research about the massive impact of this little word.  It helps underperforming students overachieve and is closely associated with Dr. Carol Dweck’s research into fixed and learning mindsets.

The bottom line is that “YET” works.

Put YET to work for you, your organization, and your efforts to innovate and grow.

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