Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

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.

Image credit: Unsplash

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What Einstein Got Wrong

Defining Design

What Einstein Got Wrong - Defining Design

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”Albert Einstein (supposedly)

This is one of my favorite quotes because it’s an absolute gut punch.  You think you know something, probably because you’ve been saying and doing it for years.  Then someone comes along and asks you to explain it, and suddenly, you’re just standing there, mouth agape, gesturing, hoping that this wacky game of charades produces an answer.

This happened to me last Monday.

While preparing to teach a course titled “Design Innovation Lab,” I thought it would be a good idea to define “design” and “innovation.”  I already had a slide with the definition of “innovation” – something new that creates value – but when I had to make one for “design,” my stomach sank.

My first definition was “pretty pictures,” which is both wrong and slightly demeaning because designers do that and so much more.  My second definition, I know it when I see it, was worse.

So, I Googled the definition.

Then I asked ChatGPT.

Then I asked some designer friends.

No one had a simple definition of Design.

As the clock ticked closer to 6:00 pm, I defaulted to a definition from the International Council of Design:

“Design is a discipline of study and practice focused on the interaction between a person – a “user” – and the man-made environment, taking into account aesthetic, functional, contextual, cultural, and societal considerations.  As a formalized discipline, design is a modern construct.”

Before unveiling this definition to a classroom full of degreed designers pursuing their Master’s in Design, I asked them to define “design.”

It went as well as all my previous attempts.  Lots of thoughts and ideas.  Lots of “it’s this but not that.”  Lots of debate about whether it needs to have a purpose for it to be distinct from art.

Absolutely no simple explanations or punchy definitions.

So, when I unveiled the definition from the very official-sounding International Council of Design, we all just stared at it.

“Yes, but it’s not quite right.”

“It is all those things, but it’s more than just those things.”

“I guess it is a ‘modern construct’ when you think of it as a job, but we’ve done it forever.”

As we squinted and puzzled, what was missing slowly dawned on us. 

There was nothing human in this definition. There was no mention of feelings or empathy, life or nature, connection or community, aspirations or dreams.

In this definition, designers consider multiple aspects of an unnatural environment in creating something to be used. Designers are simply the step before mass production begins.

Who wants to do that?

Who wants to be a stop, however necessary, on a conveyor belt of sameness?

Yet that’s what we become when we strip the humanness out of our work.

Humans are messy, emotional, unpredictable, irrational, challenging, and infuriating.

We’re also interesting, creative, imaginative, hopeful, kind, curious, hard-working, and resilient.

When we try to strip away human messiness to create MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) target markets and customer personas, we strip away the human we’re creating for.

When we ignore unpredictable and irrational feedback on our ideas, we ignore the creative and imaginative answers that could improve our ideas.

When we give up on a challenge because it’s more difficult than expected and doesn’t produce immediate results, we give up hope, resiliency, and the opportunity to improve things.

I still don’t have a simple definition of design, but I know that one that doesn’t acknowledge all the aspects of a human beyond just being a “user” isn’t correct.

Even if you explain something simply, you may not understand it well enough.

Image Credit: Misterinnovation.com

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Why Successful Innovators Are Curious Like Cats

Why Successful Innovators Are Curious Like Cats

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our previous blog, we shared how consciousness, imagination, and curiosity are the fundamental precursors to creativity, invention, and innovation. Where consciousness encapsulates our states and qualities of mind, our capacity for imagination and curiosity are the necessary states of mind that stimulate creativity, all of which propel successful innovators to bring the new to the world differently.

Yet, according to a recent article by the Singularity Hub “OpenAI’s GPT-4 Scores in the Top 1% of Creative Thinking”:

“Of all the forms of human intellect that one might expect artificial intelligence to emulate, few people would likely place creativity at the top of their list. Creativity is wonderfully mysterious—and frustratingly fleeting. It defines us as human beings—and seemingly defies the cold logic that lies behind the silicon curtain of machines.”

We have a “Sputnik moment” to further our creative abilities

Revealing that their recent study into the striking originality of AI is an indication, that AI-based creativity – along with examples of both its promise and peril – is likely just beginning.

“The creative abilities now realized by AI may provide a “Sputnik moment” for educators and others interested in furthering human creative abilities, including those who see creativity as an essential condition of individual, social, and economic growth”.

  • What if we, as humans, could compete with, and perhaps even complement, AI-based creativity and become successful innovators?
  • How might we spark our imagination and curiosity to gain new knowledge that reduces ignorance and sustains our relevance to benefit all of humanity?

How does this link to cats – successful innovators are like cats!

As an animal lover, and the second servant to two sublime household pet cats, I have always wondered why our cats are so curious, always exploring and getting into everything, and yet are also well known for having at least nine lives.

This, in many ways, is a similar experience of many successful innovators, who apply their capacity for imagination and curiosity to explore and navigate the edges of the system and wander into wonder into surprising states of boundarylessness.

In a LinkedIn blog, David Miller shares that:

“Leonardo Da Vinci taught us that curiosity is the basis for creativity and innovation. The more relentless our curiosity, the more likely we will be innovative and creative, and possibly one step closer to perfection. If we want to build innovative organizations, we should start by creating curious organizations which nurture and enhance the curiosity of people”.

  • Exploration and discovery

According to a post in Quora, “Why are cats so curious” the common saying that “curiosity killed the cat,” is not entirely accurate and states that:

“Cats are naturally curious animals, who also have a strong survival instinct that helps them avoid dangerous situations. Humans, on the other hand, have evolved to have a powerful curiosity that drives them to explore and discover new things”.

  • Imagination and curiosity

Suggesting that intentionally applying our imagination and curiosity, potentially enables us humans to become successful innovators, who can both survive and thrive, in today’s globally hyperconnected, constantly uncertain and continuously changing VUCA/BANI world, in ways that benefit all of humanity.

Where we have an opportunity to focus and harness our imagination and curiosity toward becoming successful innovators who cultivate and exploit their curiosity as a radical force.

Curiosity as a radical force for unforeseen bonuses

According to the author, Philip Ball in his book Curiosity – How Science Became Interested in Everything curiosity is a radical force, introduced in the mid-sixteenth century, fuelled within scientists and philosophers with a compulsion to understand why and how.

Enabling curiosity to become the engine that drives both knowledge and power, reduces ignorance and has become a source of “unforeseen practical bonuses” in all of the sciences, and innovations, since then.

Curiosity and creativity spur innovation

Curiosity is derived from the Latin “cura” which means to care. In a sense, this potentially makes successful innovators and innovative entrepreneurs “curators” of curiosities and strangeness.

Richard Freyman, in an article on curiosity, in the FS blog, states that curiosity has to:

“Do with people wondering what makes something do something. And then to discover, if you try to get answers, that they are related to each other – that thing that makes the wind make the waves, that the motion of water is like the motion of air is like the motion of sand. The fact that things have common features. It turns out more and more universal. What we are looking for is how everything works. What makes everything work”.

Someone who evokes and cares for what exists now and for what could exist possibly exists in the future by:

  • Demonstrating the mental acuity, fitness, and readiness to find the peculiar and the unusual in what surrounds them, and an ability to break up familiarities and seek new associations and unlikely connections,
  • Disregarding convention and traditional hierarchies, and allowing their minds to wander into spaces that are unknown, invisible, and intangible,
  • Harnessing their attention and patience to evoke, provoke, incubate, and generate deep and bold questions that they listen to, to result in profound* insights.

What can successful innovators learn from cats?

A recent blog post, Why Are Cats So Curious? The Science Behind Cat Curiosity, explains that a cat’s insatiable curiosity develops as a result of its survival instinct. Cats have mental acuity and fitness, because like successful innovators, they are:

  • Incredibly intelligent, and have the ability to learn from experience and remember it for years.
  • Opportunistic creatures, and are always on the lookout for a chance to explore their environments.
  • Attentive and observant, and have a heightened sense of awareness and constantly observe their surroundings, and listen deeply, to attend to, and discover any new, or missing objects or movements in their environment.
  • Always on the move, and are driven by their need for constant exploration and mental stimulation.
  • Protective in investigating any potential threats to their own and others close to them.

How to cultivate your curiosity like Leonardo De Vinci

The creative brain balances intense focus with relaxed states like daydreaming and the time and space for mind wondering and wandering. Doing this activates both our imagination and curiosity and guides any problem-solving efforts with emergent, divergent, and convergent breakthrough ideas and illuminating insights.

  1. Active minds, and are always asking powerful questions and searching for answers in their minds, through mind wandering and mind wondering in expectation and anticipation of new ideas and increased knowledge related to their questions.

They are grounded, mindful, and attentive in observing and recognizing ideas when they emerge.

Be a successful innovator like Da Vinci ask bold and difficult questions, listen deeply, and use the answers to develop your knowledge, and to inform your creative ideas for invention and innovation:

  • How can I see this situation with fresh eyes?
  1. Open minds, and come from not knowing, are always searching, sensing, and discovering new worlds and possibilities that are normally not visible, in that they are often hidden behind or below the surface of normal life.

They are open to sensing, perceiving, and illuminating possibilities to crystalize new ideas.

Be a successful innovator, like Da Vinci, and keep notebooks and a daily journal by retreating, reflecting, and recording your time mind wandering and wondering in your search for insights and answers to things you don’t yet understand.

  • What might I be assuming about……?
  1. Flexibility, adaptability, provocation and playfulness, and challenging routines, seek excitement, new adventures, and a variety of things that attract attention, increase knowledge and play, and search for a more meaningful life.

They seek learning as a fun way of expanding and applying both knowledge and imagination, as a mechanism for co-creating ideas, staying relevant, and being informed and innovating in ways that illuminate people’s hearts and minds towards effecting positive change.

Be a successful innovator, like Da Vinci and ask provocative and disruptive questions, such as: “Why do shells exist on top of mountains, why is lightning visible immediately, but the sound of thunder takes longer to travel? How does a bird sustain itself up in the air”?

  • What am I missing? What matters most?

Increasing our knowledge for the benefit of humanity

Like cats, and like Albert Einstein, we can apply our imagination and curiosity and become successful innovators who explore and navigate the edges of the system, wander into wonder and surprising states of boundarylessness, in ways that benefit all of humanity, and make cultivating and harness your imagination and curiosity a daily habit:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.” – Life Magazine 1955

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting October 3, 2023.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus, human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique innovation context. Find out more about our products and tools.

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An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

If you’re like most people, you’ve faced disappointment. Maybe the love of your life didn’t return your affection, you didn’t get into your dream college, or you were passed over for promotion.  It hurts.  And sometimes, that hurt lingers for a long time.

Until one day, something happens, and you realize your disappointment was a gift.  You meet the true love of your life while attending college at your fallback school, and years later, when you get passed over for promotion, the two of you quit your jobs, pursue your dreams, and live happily ever after. Or something like that.

We all experience disappointment.  We also all get to choose whether we stay there, lamenting the loss of what coulda shoulda woulda been, or we can persevere, putting one foot in front of the other and playing The Rolling Stones on repeat:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, well, you might just find

You get what you need”

That’s life.

That’s also innovation.

As innovators, especially leaders of innovators, we rarely get what we want.  But we always get what we need (whether we like it or not)

We want to know. 
We need to be comfortable not knowing.

Most of us want to know the answer because if we know the answer, there is no risk. There is no chance of being wrong, embarrassed, judged, or punished.  But if there is no risk, there is no growth, expansion, or discovery.

Innovation is something new that creates value. If you know everything, you can’t innovate.

As innovators, we need to be comfortable not knowing.  When we admit to ourselves that we don’t know something, we open our minds to new information, new perspectives, and new opportunities. When we say we don’t know, we give others permission to be curious, learn, and create. 

We want the creative genius and billion-dollar idea. 
We need the team and the steady stream of big ideas.

We want to believe that one person blessed with sufficient time, money, and genius can change the world.  Some people like to believe they are that person, and most of us think we can hire that person, and when we do find that person and give them the resources they need, they will give us the billion-dollar idea that transforms our company, disrupts the industry, and change the world.

Innovation isn’t magic.  Innovation is team work.

We need other people to help us see what we can’t and do what we struggle to do.  The idea-person needs the optimizer to bring her idea to life, and the optimizer needs the idea-person so he has a starting point.  We need lots of ideas because most won’t work, but we don’t know which ones those are, so we prototype, experiment, assess, and refine our way to the ones that will succeed.   

We want to be special.
We need to be equal.

We want to work on the latest and most cutting-edge technology and discuss it using terms that no one outside of Innovation understands. We want our work to be on stage, oohed and aahed over on analyst calls, and talked about with envy and reverence in every meeting. We want to be the cool kids, strutting around our super hip offices in our hoodies and flip-flops or calling into the meeting from Burning Man. 

Innovation isn’t about you.  It’s about serving others.

As innovators, we create value by solving problems.  But we can’t do it alone.  We need experienced operators who can quickly spot design flaws and propose modifications.  We need accountants and attorneys who instantly see risks and help you navigate around them.  We need people to help us bring our ideas to life, but that won’t happen if we act like we’re different or better.  Just as we work in service to our customers, we must also work in service to our colleagues by working with them, listening, compromising, and offering help.

What about you?
What do you want?
What are you learning you need?

Image Credit: Unsplash

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3 Ways to View Your Innovation Basket

(including one that makes Radical Innovation easy)

3 Ways to View Your Innovation Basket

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You are a rolling stone, and that means you gather no moss!  You read the September issue of HBR (and maybe last week’s article), tossed out your innovation portfolio, and wove yourself an innovation basket to “differentiate the concept from finance and avoid the mistake of treating projects like financial securities, where the goal is usually to maximize returns through diversification [and instead] remember that innovation projects are creative acts.”   

Then you explained this to your CFO and received side-eye so devastating it would make Sophie Loren proud.

The reality is that the innovation projects you’re working on are investments, and because they’re risky, diversification is the best way to maximize the returns your company needs.

But it’s not the only way we should communicate, evaluate, and treat them.

Different innovation basket views for different customers

When compiling an innovation basket, the highest priority is having a single source of truth.  If people in the organization disagree on what is in and out of the basket, how you measure and manage the portfolio doesn’t matter.

But a single source of truth doesn’t mean you can’t look at that truth from multiple angles.

Having multiple views showing the whole basket while being customized to address each of your internal customer’s Jobs to be Done will turbocharge your ability to get support and resources.

The CFO: What returns will we get and when?

The classic core/adjacent/transformational portfolio is your answer.  By examining each project based on where to play (markets and customers) and how to win (offerings, profit models, key resources and activities), you can quickly assess each project’s relative riskiness, potential return, time to ROI, and resource requirements.

The CEO: How does this support and accelerate our strategic priorities?

This is where the new innovation basket is most helpful.  By starting with the company’s strategic goals and asking, “What needs to change to achieve our strategy?” leadership teams immediately align innovation goals with corporate strategic priorities.  When projects and investments are placed at the intersection of the goal they support, and the mechanism of value creation (e.g., product, process, brand), the CEO can quickly see how investments align with strategic priorities and actively engage in reallocation decisions.

You: Will any of these ever see the light of day?

As much as you hope the answer is “Yes!”, you know the answer is “Some.  Maybe.  Hopefully.”  You also know that the “some” that survive might not be the biggest or the best of the basket.  They’ll be the most palatable.

Ignoring that fact won’t make it untrue. Instead, acknowledge it and use it to expand stakeholders’ palates.

Start by articulating your organization’s identity, the answers to “who we are” and “what we do.” 

Then place each innovation in one of three buckets based on its fit with the organization’s identity:

  • Identity-enhancing innovations that enhance or strengthen the identity
  • Identity-stretching innovations that “do not fit with the core of an organization’s identity, but are related enough that if the scope of organizational identity were expanded, the innovation would fit.”
  • Identity-challenging innovations that are “in direct conflict with the existing organizational identity.”

It probably won’t surprise you that identity-enhancing innovations are far more likely to receive internal support than identity-challenging innovations.  But what may surprise you is that core, adjacent, and transformational innovations can all be identity-enhancing.

For example, Luxxotica and Bausch & Lomb are both in the vision correction industry (eyeglasses and contact lenses, respectively) but have very different identities.  Luxxotica views itself as “an eyewear company,” while Bausch & Lomb sees itself as an “eye health company” (apologies for the puns). 

When laser-vision correction surgery became widely available, Bausch & Lomb was an early investor because, while the technology would be considered a breakthrough innovation, it was also identity-enhancing.  A decade later, Bausch & Lomb’s surgical solutions and ophthalmic pharmaceuticals businesses account for 38% of the company’s revenue and one-third of the growth.

One basket.  Multiple Views.  All the Answers.

Words are powerful, and using a new one, especially in writing,  can change your behavior and brain. But calling a portfolio a basket won’t change the results of your innovation efforts.  To do that, you need to understand why you have a basket and look at it in all the ways required to maximize creativity, measure results, and avoid stakeholder side-eye.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why You Don’t Need An Innovation Portfolio

According to Harvard Business Review

Why You Don't Need An Innovation Portfolio

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You are a savvy manager, so you know that you need an innovation portfolio because (1) a single innovation isn’t enough to generate the magnitude of growth your company needs, and (2) it is the best way to manage inherently risky endeavors and achieve desired returns.

Too bad you’re wrong.

According to an article in the latest issue of HBR, you shouldn’t have an innovation portfolio. You should have an innovation basket.

Once you finish rolling your eyes (goodness knows I did), hear me (and the article’s authors) out because there is a nuanced but important distinction.

Our journey begins with the obvious.

In their article “A New Approach to Strategic Innovation,” authors Haijian Si, Christoph Loch, and Stelios Kavadias argue that portfolio management approaches have become so standardized as to be practically useless, and they propose a new framework for ensuring your innovation activities achieve your strategic goals.

“Companies typically treat their innovation projects as a portfolio: a mix of projects that, collectively, aim to meet their various strategic objectives,” the article begins. “MOO,” I think (household shorthand for Master Of the Obvious).

“When we surveyed 75 companies in China, we discovered that when executives took the trouble to link their project selection to their business’s competitive goals, the contribution of their innovation activities performance increased dramatically,” the authors continue. “Wow, fill this under N for No Sh*t, Sherlock,” responded my internal monologue.

The authors go on to present and explain their new framework, which is interesting in its focus on asking and answering seemingly simple questions (what, who, why, and how) and identifying internal weaknesses and vulnerabilities through a series of iterative and inclusion conversations. The process is a good one but feels more like an augmentation of an existing approach rather than a radically new one.

Then we hit the “portfolio” vs. “basket” moment.

According to the authors, once the management team completes the first step by reaching a consensus on the changes needed to their strategy, they move on to the second step – creating the innovation basket.

The process of categorizing innovation projects is the next step, and it is where our process deviates from established frameworks. We use the word “basket” rather than “portfolio” to denote a company’s collection of innovation projects. In this way, we differentiate the concept from finance and avoid the mistake of treating projects like financial securities, where the goal is usually to maximize returns through diversification. It’s important to remember that innovation projects are creative acts, whereas investment in financial securities is simply the purchase of assets that have already been created.

“Avoid the mistake of treating projects like financial securities” and “remember that innovation projects are creative acts.” Whoa.

Why this is important in a practical sense (and isn’t just academic fun-with-words)

Think about all the advice you’ve read and heard (and that I’ve probably given you) about innovation portfolios – you need a mix of incremental, adjacent, and radical innovations, and, if you’re creating a portfolio from scratch, use the Golden Ratio.

Yes, and this assumes that everything in your innovation portfolio supports your overall strategy, and that the portfolio is reviewed regularly to ensure that the right projects receive the right investments at the right times.

These assumptions are rarely true.

Projects tend to enter the portfolio because a senior executive suggested them or emerged from an innovation event or customer research and feedback. Once in the portfolio, they progress through the funnel until they either launch or are killed because of poor test results or a slashed innovation budget.

They rarely enter the portfolio because they are required to deliver a higher-level strategy, and they rarely exit because they are no longer strategically relevant. Why? Because the innovation projects in your portfolio are “assets that have already been created.”

What this means for you (and why it’s scary)

Swapping “basket” in for “portfolio” isn’t just the choice of a new word to bolster the claim of creating a new approach. It’s a complete reframing of your role as an innovation executive.

You no longer monitor assets that reflect purchases or investments promising yet-to-be-determined payouts. You are actively starting, shifting, and shutting down opportunities based on business strategy and needs. Shifting from a “portfolio” to a basket” turns your role as an executive from someone who monitors performance to someone who actively manages opportunities.

And this should scare you.

Because this makes the challenge of balancing operations and innovation an unavoidable and regular endeavor. Gone are the days of “set it and forget it” innovation management, which often buys innovation teams time to produce results before their resources are noticed and reallocated to core operations.

If you aren’t careful about building and vigorously defending your innovation basket, it will be easy to pluck resources from it and allocate them to the more urgent and “safer” current business needs that also contribute to the strategic changes identified.

Leaving you with an innovation portfolio.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why You Should Care About Service Design

Why You Should Care About Service Design

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

What if a tool had the power to delight your customers, cut your costs, increase your bottom line, and maybe double your stock price? You’d use it, right?

That’s precisely the power and impact of Service Design and service blueprints. Yet very few people, especially in the US, know, understand, or use them. Including me.

Thankfully, Leala Abbott, a strategist and researcher at the intersection of experience, innovation, and digital transformation and a lecturer at Parsons School of Design, clued me in.

What is Service Design?

RB: Hi, Leala, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

LA: My pleasure! I’m excited about this topic. I’ve managed teams with service designers, and I’ve always been impressed by the magical way they brought together experience strategy, UX, and operations.

RB: I felt the same way after you explained it to me. Before we get too geeked up about the topic, let’s go back to the beginning and define “service.”

LA: Service is something that helps someone accomplish a goal. As a result, every business needs service design because every business is in the service industry.

RB: I’ll be honest, I got a little agitated when I read that because that’s how I define “solution.” But then I saw your illustration explaining that service design moves us from seeing and problem-solving isolated moments to seeing an integrated process. And that’s when it clicked.

LA:  That illustration is from Lou Downe’s talk Design in Government Impact for All . Service Design helps us identify what customers want and how to deliver those services effectively by bringing together all the pieces within the organization. It moves us away from fragmented experiences created by different departments and teams within the same company to an integrated process that enables customers to achieve their goals.

Why You Need It

RB: It seems so obvious when you say it. Yet so often, the innovation team spends all their time focused on the customer only to develop the perfect solution that, when they toss it over the wall for colleagues to make, they’re told it’s not possible, and everything stops. Why aren’t we always considering both sides?

LA: One reason, I think, is people don’t want to add one more person to the team. Over the past two decades, the number of individuals required to build something has grown exponentially. It used to be that one person could build your whole website, but now you need user experience designers, researchers, product managers, and more. I think it’s just overwhelming for people to add another individual to the mix. We believe we have all the tools to fix the problem, so we don’t want to add another voice, even if that voice explains the huge disconnect between everything built and their operational failures.

RB: Speaking of operational failures, one of the most surprising things about Service Design is that it almost always results in cost savings. That’s not something most people think about when they hear “design.”

LA: The significant impact on the bottom line is one of the most persuasive aspects of service design. It shifts the focus from pretty pictures to the actual cost implications. Bringing in the operational side of the business is crucial. Building a great customer journey and experience is important, but it’s also important to tie it back to lost revenue and increased cost to serve

Proof It Works 

LA: One of the most compelling cases I recently read was about Autodesk’s transition to SaaS, they brought in a service design company called Future Proof. Autodesk wanted to transition from a software licensing model to a software-as-a-service model. It’s a significant transition not just in terms of the business model and pricing but also in how it affects customers.

If you’re a customer of Autodesk, you used to pay a one-time fee for your software, but now you are paying based on users and services. Budgeting becomes messy. The costs are no longer simple and predictable. Plus, it raises lots of questions about the transition, cost predictability, control over access, managing subscriptions, and flexibility. Notice that these issues are about people managing their money and increasing costs. These are the areas where service design can truly help. 

Future Proof conducted customer interviews, analyzed each stage of the customer journey, looked at pricing models and renewal protocols, and performed usability studies. When they audited support ticket data for the top five common customer issues, they realized that if Autodesk didn’t change their model, the cost of running software for every customer would increase by 40%, and profit margins would decrease by 15% to 20%.

Autodesk made the change, revenue increased significantly, and their stock price doubled. Service design allows for this kind of analysis and consideration of operational costs.

How to Learn More

RB: Wow, not many things can deliver better service, happier customers, and doubling a stock price. Solid proof that companies, and innovation teams in particular, need to get smart on service design. We’ve talked a lot about the What and Why of Service Design. How can people learn more about the How?

LA: Lou Downe’s book is a great place to start Good Services: How to Design Services That Work. So is Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight by Thomas A Stewart and Patricia O’Connell.  I also recommend people check out The Service Design Network for tools and case studies and TheyDo, which helps companies visualize and manage their service design.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Leaders Avoid Doing This One Thing

Leaders Avoid Doing This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton


Being a leader isn’t easy. You must BE accountable, compassionate, confident, curious, empathetic, focused, service-driven, and many other things. You must DO many things, including build relationships, communicate clearly, constantly learn, create accountability, develop people, inspire hope and trust, provide stability, and think critically. But if you’re not doing this one thing, none of the other things matter.

Show up.

It seems obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many “leaders” struggle with this. 

Especially when they’re tasked with managing both operations and innovation.

It’s easy to show up to lead operations.

When you have experience and confidence, know likely cause and effect, and can predict with relative certainty what will happen next, it’s easy to show up. You’re less likely to be wrong, which means you face less risk to your reputation, current role, and career prospects.

When it’s time to be a leader in the core business, you don’t think twice about showing up. It’s your job. If you don’t, the business, your career, and your reputation suffer. So, you show up, make decisions, and lead the team out of the unexpected.

It’s hard to show up to lead innovation.

When you are doing something new, facing more unknowns than knowns, and can’t guarantee an outcome, let alone success, showing up is scary. No one will blame you if you’re not there because you’re focused on the core business and its known risks and rewards. If you “lead from the back” (i.e., abdicate your responsibility to lead), you can claim that the team, your peers, or the company are not ready to do what it takes.

When it’s time to be a leader in innovation, there is always something in the core business that is more urgent, more important, and more demanding of your time and attention. Innovation may be your job, but the company rewards you for delivering the core business, so of course, you think twice.

Show up anyway

There’s a reason people use the term “incubation” to describe the early days of the innovation process. To incubate means to “cause or aid the development of” but that’s the 2nd definition. The 1st definition is “to sit on so as to hatch by the warmth of the body.”

You can’t incubate if you don’t show up.

Show up to the meeting or call, even if something else feels more urgent. Nine times out of ten, it can wait half an hour. If it can’t, reschedule the meeting to the next day (or the first day after the crisis) and tell your team why. Don’t say, “I don’t have time,” own your choice and explain, “This isn’t a priority at the moment because….”

Show up when the team is actively learning and learn along with them. Attend a customer interview, join the read-out at the end of an ideation session, and observe people using your (or competitive) solutions. Ask questions, engage in experiments, and welcome the experiences that will inform your decisions.

Show up when people question what the innovation team is doing and why. Especially when they complain that those resources could be put to better use in the core business. Explain that the innovation resources are investments in the company’s future, paving the way for success in an industry and market that is changing faster than ever.

You can’t lead if you don’t show up.

Early in my career, a boss said, “A leader without followers is just a person wandering lost.” Your followers can’t follow you if they can’t find you.

After all, “80% of success is showing up.”

Image credit: Pixabay

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3 Ways to Make Smarter Decisions – Confidently

3 Ways to Make Smarter Decisions - Confidently

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

When my niece was 4 years old, she looked at her mom (my sister) and said, “I can’t wait until I’m an adult so I can be in charge and make all the decisions.”  My sister laughed and laughed.

Being in charge looks glamorous from the outside, but it is challenging, painful, and sometimes soul-wrenching. Never is this truer than when you must make a tough decision and don’t have all the data you want or need. 

But lately, I’ve noticed more and more executives defer making decisions. They’ll say they want more data, to hear what another executive thinks, or are nervous that we’re rushing to decide. 

This deferral is a HUGE problem because making decisions is literally their job! After all, as Norman Schwarzkopf wrote in his autobiography, “When placed in command, take charge.” 

When you decide, you lose

decision is “a choice that you make about something after thinking about several possibilities.”  Seems innocent enough, right? Coke or Pepsi. Paper or plastic. Ariana Madix or Raquel Leviss (if you don’t know about this one, consider yourself lucky. If you choose to know about it, click here).

The problem with making decisions is that loss is unavoidable. Heck, the word “decide” comes from the Latin roots “de,” meaning off, and “caedre,” meaning cut. When you choose Coke, paper bags, or Ariana, you are cutting off the opportunity to drink Pepsi with that meal, use a plastic bag to carry your purchases or support Rachel in a pointless pop culture debate.

Decisions get more challenging as the stakes get higher because the fear of loss skyrockets. Loss aversion, a cognitive bias describing why the psychological pain of loss is twice as acute as the pleasure of gain, is common in cognitive psychology, decision theory, and behavioral economics. You see this bias in action when someone refuses to ask questions or challenge the status quo, to take a good deal because it’s below their initial baseline, or to sell an asset (like a house) for less than they paid for it. 

No decision is the worst decision

Deciding not to decide is often the worst decision of all. Because it feels like you’re avoiding loss and increasing your odds of making the right decision by gathering more data and input, it’s easy to forget that you’re losing time, employee engagement and morale, and potential revenue and profit.

When you decide not to decide, progress slows or even stops. No decision gives your competition time to catch up or even pass you. Your team gets frustrated, morale drops, and people search for other opportunities to progress and have an impact. The date of the first revenue slips further into the future, slowly becoming just a theoretical number in a spreadsheet.

Decide how to decide

In a VUCA world, a perfect, risk-free decision that offers only upside does not exist. If it did, the business wouldn’t need an executive with your experience, intellect, and courage. Yet here you are. 

It’s your job to make decisions.

Make that job easier by deciding how to decide

1. Tell people what you need to see to say Yes. “I’ll know it when I see it” is one of the biggest management cop-outs ever. If you don’t know what you want, don’t waste money and time requiring your team to become mind readers. But you probably know what you want. You’re just afraid of being wrong. Instead of allowing your fear to fuel inefficiency, tell the team what you need or want to see and that, as they make progress, that request might change. Then set regular check-ins so that if/when it happens, it happens quickly and is communicated clearly.

2. Break big decisions down into little decisions. I once worked with a team that had an idea for a new product. They planned to pitch to the executive committee and request 3 million dollars to develop and launch the idea. After some coaxing, we decided to avoid that disaster and brainstormed everything that needed to be true to make the idea work. We devised a plan to test the three assumptions that, if we were wrong, would instantly kill the idea. When we pitched to the executive committee, we received an immediate Yes.

3. Present options and implications. As anyone with a toddler knows, you don’t ask yes or no questions. You give them options – do you want to wear the yellow or pink shirt? If they pick something else, like their Batman costume, you explain the implications of that decision and why the options previously presented are better. Sometimes they pick the yellow shirt. Sometimes they pick the Batman costume. You could force them to make the right decision, but no one wins. (Yes, I just compared managers to toddlers. Prove me wrong).

It’s your decision

Being in charge requires making decisions. When you decide, you lose the option (maybe temporarily, maybe forever) to pursue a different path. But you can’t be afraid to do it.

After all, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

Image credit: Pixabay

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