Category Archives: Innovation

Ice Cream Dreams

The surprising innovation stories behind that sunny afternoon delight

Ice Cream Dreams

GUEST POST from John Bessant

Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness — and those rare but wonderful days when the sun smiles down benignly. Strolling in the park, absorbing the warmth my attention was taken by an ice cream.

Or rather, to the face of a toddler who was very happily getting himself around an eminently lickable cone, with the usual results. We probably don’t really have to worry too much about the dietary impact of ice cream in situations like these because 80% of the foodstuff was being liberally spread around his face, across his clothes or dripping sadly to the floor. Which prompted the idle thought (it was a very warm and lazy afternoon) about the possibility of non-melting ice cream and from there to reflections on the general pattern of ice cream innovation.

It’s been with us a long time; the origins of ice cream are shrouded in the usual temporal mists but it’s generally thought to have emerged from eating snow and then someone having the bright idea (in China around 200BCE) of mixing in some milk and rice. Great if you happen to have nearby mountains to provide the necessary cold stuff but if not you need some way of making or at least preserving ice. Which is where the Persians came in with the necessary engineering; around 400 BCE, they developed an early concept for the refrigerator, a large pyramidal structure called a yakhchal that used evaporation and insulation to keep things cool.

Armed with this process innovation and after a few hundred more years they developed a delicacy called a sharbat — an ice-based fusion of various flavourings and a magic ingredient — sugar — which trade with India had given them access to. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to think that Xanadu (in Coleridge’s famous poem Kubla Khan) — his ‘…. miracle of rare device, A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice’ was populated by people happily eating these central Asian delights.

Not surprisingly the idea of ice cream spread across Europe though the pace of innovation slackened somewhat. It took another couple of centuries before ships began returning from the exciting exploratory voyages of the 16th century bringing with them a wonderful range of new flavours and additives — sugar, chocolate, vanilla and many more exotic spices. This kick-started a new phase of product innovation which placed the delicacy firmly on the tables of those people wealthy enough to afford it. Experiments proliferated and it was in England that the idea of mixing in milk was developed; in her cookery book published in 1718 Mrs Mary Eales wrote the first recipe down, based on her experience working as confectioner to Queen Anne:

Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten’d, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close…

Lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours.

Across the pond it was the same story. A confectioner called Philip Lenzi was the first to announce publicly the sale of ice cream, advertising in the New York Gazette in May, 1777 and George Washington indulged his presidential weakness for the delicacy to the tune of a $200/day habit during the summer of 1790. It was one of his chefs, Augustus Jackson, who came up with the valuable process innovation of adding salt to the ice mixture to lower its freezing point.

The only problem with all of this was that the cost of the key ingredient — ice — was so high that ice cream remained firmly at the luxury end of the market.

We can use another innovation lens to help understand what happened next. Abernathy and Utterback’s valuable model of innovation dynamics suggests that emphasis shifts during an innovation’s life cycle; in its early days the attention is on experimenting with the core product idea until a ‘dominant design’ emerges which captures the attributes the market values. This is followed by a shift of interest towards the process innovation side — how to make this cheaper or more reliably.

And in the case of ice cream this shone a spotlight on the core problem. If ice cream were ever to shift from being the exclusive luxury consumed by French aristocrats, US presidents or English monarchs then someone needed to do something about the chilling side of the equation.

That someone was a 23 year-old Boston merchant named Fredric Tudor who in 1806 hit upon the idea of harvesting ice from his father’s farm and shipping it to the (relatively) nearby islands of the West Indies. His ship, the Favorite, made the 1,500 mile journey in three weeks carrying its precious cargo in holds lined with sawdust to act as an insulator. It half-worked; he was able to sell on the half of his cargo which hadn’t melted in Cuba, albeit incurring a significant loss. Following the idea of ‘fail fast’ he followed up on this venture with three more voyages during the following year, all of which compounded his losses.

His business model wasn’t bad; shipping costs were low (because most made the journey to the islands empty to return with cargoes of sugar and fruit) and sawdust was free as a by-product of the timber industry. But it took him 4 years to turn a profit from the venture and his cash flow worsened to the point that he spent several stretches in debtor’s prison during 1812 and 1813. He struggled on and eventually he was able to open up the ice market in cities across the southern states of America.

His gradual success encouraged others to work on the process side; one of his suppliers, Nathaniel Wyeth, developed a horse-drawn plough for cutting huge blocks of ice, opening the door to large-scale harvesting. Others worked on the logistics and insulation side; by 1833 it was possible to sail the 16,000 miles from Boston to Calcutta with a cargo of 180 tons of ice and land over 100 of them on the dockside, ready for sale at a huge mark-up. The increasingly profitable ice trade flourished; by 1886 the industry employed over 40,000 people and cut a record 25 million tons of ice to ship as far afield as Hong Kong or Rio de Janeiro.

It’s at this point that we see another familiar innovation face — disruptive innovation. In 1834 Jacob Perkins had been granted a patent for his “Apparatus and means for producing ice, and in cooling fluids” with which he effectively demonstrated that vaporizing and condensing a volatile liquid in a closed system would do the job. In doing so he outlined the basic architecture which underpins today’s refrigerators; his work influenced a generation of researchers like the young Carl von Linde who beavered away in their laboratories to explore the approach. It wasn’t long before artificial ice making became a reality; by 1873 a patented commercial refrigeration system was on the market. In the years which followed the industry grew — in 1879 there were 35 plants and ten years later 222 making artificial ice.

Effectively this development sounded the death knell for the ice-harvesting industry, although it took a long time to go under. For a while both industries grew alongside each other, learning and innovating along their different pathways and expanding the overall market for ice — for example, by feeding the growing urban demand to fill domestic ‘ice boxes.’ But inevitably the new technology took over as the old harvesting model reached the limits of what it could achieve in terms of technological efficiencies. Significantly most of the established ice harvesters were too locked in to the old model to make the transition and so went under — to be replaced by the new refrigeration industry dominated by new entrant firms.

Ice Cream ConesAll of which was good news for the ice cream side of things. The stage was set now for another kind of innovation — market positioning. Anticipating Henry Ford by decades the next wave of innovation was all about turning a luxury product into one for mass consumption. With the falling cost and rising availability of ice the entrepreneurial opportunities became increasingly apparent, not least to Signor Carlo Gatti, a native of the Italian corner of Switzerland who moved to England in 1847. He started out with a small street stall selling roasted nuts and waffles in London and was successful enough to be able, two years later, to open a small café in Holborn selling a variety of coffee, chocolate and confectionery — including ice cream.

His ice came from the nearby Regent Canal via the Regent Canal Company who had followed Tudor’s ideas and diversified into ice harvesting. With them as partners Gatti was able to expand, exhibiting at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and in the same year opening another outlet in Charing Cross, a stand from which people could buy various drinks and confections, including ice cream. He’d got the economics down to the point where he could sell a portion served in a glass shell for one penny — something which became known as a ‘penny lick’.

It helped bring ice cream to the attention of a wide population though it didn’t do much for public health. His imitators (in a classic example of what Joseph Schumpeter called ‘swarming’) soon began offering ice cream everywhere but it was often served under questionable sanitary conditions. Essentially when you had finished your penny lick you handed the glass shell back to the vendor who would give it a perfunctory rinse in what was increasingly dirty water, wipe it with a rag — and then use it for their next sale!

Gatti’s efforts on the supply side to bring ice cream to the masses were matched by those of a cookery writer, Agnes Marshall, whose books jostled with those of Mrs Beeton for a place in the kitchens of a growing number of Victorian households. Her 1888 edition included a recipe for ‘cornets with cream’ which was perhaps the first published version of what became the ubiquitous ice cream cone. It did her reputation no harm; she became known as ‘the Queen of ices’. She helped position ice cream as a standard dish on the menu of households who could increasingly afford to buy ice from a local icehouse and store it in their own ice box.

These developments were mirrored in other countries; Manufacturing ice cream was pioneered in in America in 1851 by a Baltimore milk dealer named Jacob Fussell. Another company called Bassetts began making ice cream in 1861, and then opened theiir own shop in 1885; it’s still available today.

Gatti didn’t stop with selling ice cream. He understood the challenge of scaling innovations and the importance of building a system, a network which could deliver value at scale. He used his early profits to buy into ice storage, opening in 1857 an ‘ice well’ next to the Regent’s Canal where he could store ice for use all year round — and also sell it to others. It was so successful that he built a second in 1862 and also began importing ice from Norway, shipping it up the river Thames, unloading and transferring to barges and then moving it by canal to his warehouses. He quickly became the largest ice dealer in the country and completed his network with the other half of the logistics equation, a fleet of handcarts which took the ice to private houses in the better-off streets of London. And he consolidated his original distribution channel, opening a series of restaurants, cafes and even a music hall in the city.

His ice warehouses also supplied the growing number of small vendors who would make and sell ice cream from stalls and shops, opening up the market on the back of a plentiful supply of the cold stuff. And they also enabled a distribution network for the finished product; by the 1890s ice cream stalls were springing up everywhere and the increasing availability of ice enabled enterprising vendors to take the ice cream where it was needed — in parks on sunny afternoons, outside the opera at night, to the crowds gathering for public festivals and so on.

This trend towards portability of sales outlet led to another example of a common innovation phenomenon — peripheral innovation. In this case it involved the invention, often by small scale user innovators, of a variety of solutions to the sales and distribution problem. People began improvising refrigerated handcarts which could be pushed around, or attaching them to bicycles. And one of them, Italo Marchiony, was doing so in the streets of New York in 1896 He was particularly frustrated with the problem of what to serve his ice cream in; the glass containers which he used needed cleaning before re-use, they were prone to breakage and not a few of them wandered off in the hands of Wall St traders out for a lunchtime stroll and never returned.

So, he began experimenting with an edible container, based on making waffles and then folding them before they cooled into small cups. The idea worked and people began to enjoy the additional taste experience as well as the contents; his business boomed and by 1902 he was running a fleet of 45 ice cream carts, now horse-drawn. He couldn’t keep up with demand for his cups using his family’s kitchen and so developed and patented (in 1903) a machine for making ice cream cups. With the increasing volume he was able to build a successful business, setting up a factory in 1904 to produce cups and later wafers to enable him to sell an ice cream sandwich as an alternative delivery option.

That same year at the St Louis World’s Fair saw ice cream seller Arnold Fornachou running short of paper cups and increasingly desperate to find an alternative. The next-door concession was a stall run by Ernest Hamwi selling a crisp waffle called zalabis. He quickly saw a solution, rolling the waffles into a cone shape (a cornucopia) and in the process solving the problem and inventing a new form for eating ice cream. It caught on and prompted Hamwi to set up in the business of making cones, establishing the Cornucopia Waffle Company and in 1910 founding the Missouri Cone Company.

(This appears to be another case of simultaneous innovation although according to his daughter, Marchiony also exhibited his waffle cups at the same World’s Fair and it was he who invented the cone).

Ice Cream Boat

It didn’t really matter; the market grew fast enough to accommodate both of them. By 1924 annual production in the USA reached 245million cones and the idea had spread around the world. Ice cream had become big business and it drew in a number of other players including one of the largest butchers in the UK, the Wall’s company. They saw the potential in diversifying into ice cream since sales of meat traditionally slumped in the summer, and they also had extensive investments and experience in refrigeration. They began experimenting in 1913 and went into full-scale production after the First World War in 1922.

They sold their ice cream in their shops and even going door-to-door and they also mobilised a fleet of bicycles to distribute during the summer of 1923; by 1924 they’d expanded the business with new manufacturing facilities and a new fleet of 50 specially-designed tricycles. Their efforts paid off; by 1927 sales had increased from £13,719 to £444,000.

Ice cream delivery vans were a next obvious step since they could extend the range of coverage and carry more stock on board. Equipped with loudspeakers to replace the bicycle bell they became a feature of every summertime street across the country. They also opened up an interesting sideline in what we might call ‘pirate innovation’ — using a novel idea in unexpected ways.

The city of Glasgow in Scotland became notorious during the 1980s for what were termed the ‘ice cream wars’ in which there was increasing violence between ice cream van salesmen — a classic case of gangland turf wars. These weren’t fuelled by a particularly strong appetite amongst the local population for ice cream; the problem arose because the vans (being highly mobile and working as cash-based businesses) offered an excellent base for illegal trafficking of drugs and stolen goods!

Back to our Abernathy/Utterback model of the innovation life cycle which also points us towards the next innovation wave which occurred in the 1970s. Once a dominant deisgn has been established and process innovation takes over there’s a drift towards maturity — which opens up the possibility of new growth coming as the cycle repeats. In the case of ice cream this was through marketing innovation — repositioning the product.

This may involve significant storytelling, weaving a new narrative around an old idea. In the case of ice cream it changed perception of the product from a simple treat to be enjoyed by children and their indulgent parents on hot days to something which was a much more adult-focused luxury experience. Exotic flavours proliferated and advertising stressed the sophisticated aspect; brands like Haagen Dazs were created which emphasised the sensual pleasures of consuming frozen milk.

Of course, this effectively returned ice cream to where it had started — as something which only the wealthy could afford. Only this time its luxury appeal was to everyone; the rise of such specialist ice cream can be seen today in the amount of refrigerated cabinet space now devoted to it in supermarkets.

Today’s market for ice cream is vast; estimates suggest it will reach $97.85 billion in 2027, up from $71.52 billion in 2021. And that’s without taking the potential demand increase which might come if global warming continues! It also provides further incentive for innovation, with increasing investment into advanced R&D to try and understand things like the micro-crystalline structures of ice cream or the key parameters involved in stimulating taste and texture receptors inside the mouth. So maybe somewhere in a laboratory right now someone is working on my non-melting ice cream idea.

Image credits: Pixabay

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Three HOW MIGHT WE Alternatives That Actually Spark Creative Ideas

Three How Might We Alternatives That Actually Spark Creative Ideas

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Q: How might we brainstorm new ideas to serve our customers better?

A: Have a brainstorming session that starts with “How Might We help customers [Job to be Done/problem]?”

If only it were that simple.

How Might We (HMW) is an incredible tool (not BS, as some would assert), but we misuse it. We focus too much on the “we” and not enough on the “might.”

Might > We

HMW was first used to prompt people to be “wildly creative while simultaneously leveraging [company’s] innate strengths.”

IDEO popularized the prompt as a way to solve “wicked problems” – problems so complex that there is no right or wrong answer.

In both of these cases, the assumption was that the word “might” would free people from the shackles of today’s thinking and constraints and give people permission to dream without fear of judgment and reality.

“We” kept ideas tethered to the reality of the company’s “innate strengths,” providing a modicum of comfort to executives worried that the session wouldn’t result in anything useful and would, therefore, be a waste of time.

We > Might

Alas, as time went on and HMW became more popular, we lost sight of its intent (prompt wildly creative thinking about wicked problems) and twisted it to our purposes.

  • We end the HMW sentence with our problems (e.g., HMW cut costs by getting more customers to use self-service tools?).
  • We use it to brainstorm solutions to things that aren’t even problems (e.g., HMW eliminate all customer service options that aren’t self-serve?)
  • We mentally replace “might” with “will” so we can emerge from brainstorming sessions with a tactical implementation plan.

How Might Can YOU Fix HMW?

If you’re not getting creative, radical, or unexpected ideas from your brainstorming sessions, you have an HMW problem.< As a result, continuing to use HMW as a tool to prompt creative, radical, or unexpected ideas is the definition of insanity. And you are not insane. Instead, mix it up. Use different words to articulate the original intent of HMW.

How would we solve this problem if the answer to every request is YES?

Innovation thrives within constraints. Brainstorming doesn’t.

Even when you tell people not to constrain themselves, even implore them to value “quantity over quality,” you still get more “safe” ideas rather than more “crazy” ideas.

Do more than tell. Make a world without constraints real. Explicitly remove all the constraints people throw at ideas by creating a world of infinite money, people, capabilities, willingness, appetite for risk, and executive support. Doing this removes the dreaded “but” because there is no “but we don’t have the money/people/capabilities” or “but management will never go for it” and creates space for “and.”

What would we ask for if we were guaranteed a YES to only ONE request?

This question is often asked at the end of a brainstorm to prioritize ideas. But it’s equally helpful to ask it at the beginning.

This question shifts our mindset from “the bosses will never say yes, so I won’t even mention it” to “the bosses will say yes to only one thing, so it better be great!”  It pulls people off the sidelines and reveals what people believe to be the most critical element of a solution.   It drives passionate engagement amongst the whole team and acts as a springboard to the next brainstorm – How Might We use (what they said yes to) to solve (customers’ Jobs to be Done/problem)?

How would we solve the problem if the answer to every request is NO?

This one is a bit risky.

Some people will throw their hands in the air, declare the exercise a waste of time and effort, and collapse into a demotivated blob of resignation.

Some people will feel free. As Seth Godin wrote about a journal that promises to reject every single person who submits an article, “The absurdity of it is the point. Submitting to them feels effortless and without a lot of drama, because you know you’re going to get rejected. So instead of becoming attached to the outcome, you can simply focus on the work.”

For others, this will summon their inner rebel, the part of themselves that wants to stick it to the man, prove the doubters wrong, and unleash a great “I told you so” upon the world. To them, “No” is the start of the conversation, not the end. It fires them up to do their best work.

Don’t invite the first group of people to the brainstorm.

Definitely invite the other two groups.

How Might Will/Do YOU Fix HMW?

If you want something different, you need to do something different.

Start your next brainstorm with a new variation on the old HMW prompt.

How do people react? Does it lead to more creative or more “safe” ideas?

How might we adjust to do even better next time?

Image credit: Pexels

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Meet me in Manhattan – Innovation and Change Advisory

Meet me in Manhattan - Innovation and Change Advisory

As the title of the site says, I focus on human-centered change and innovation, bringing in elements of design thinking, customer experience, employee experience and digital transformation as needed.

On November 18, 2022 I will be in New York City (Midtown Manhattan) and available to connect for any of the following purposes:

  • Private keynote or workshop for your organization
  • Certification session on the Change Planning Toolkit™ and/or FutureHacking™ sets of tools for your team
  • Featured keynote speaker or workshop for a sales event or conference
  • Advisory session to provide input on your innovation or transformation program, or a specific innovation project
  • Audio or video podcast appearance
  • Grab a coffee or a meal — to connect or reconnect

If you work in Manhattan or are willing to travel in from elsewhere in the greater New York City metropolitan area (or the world) and are looking to increase the innovation or transformation capabilities of your organization or to de-risk an innovation project by getting an outside perspective, please contact me.

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What’s Next – Through the Looking Glass

What's Next - Through the Looking Glass

by Braden Kelley

Humanity is obsessed with the future, and we always want to know what’s next for us.

Sometimes we want to know the future so badly that we stress ourselves out about imagined futures that won’t ever come to pass instead of dealing with what is right in front of us.

Time is Not Linear

Most people think of time in a linear fashion, but this is the wrong way of thinking about it.

It is more helpful instead to think of time as a wave (or as a pulse) emanating from a central point in an outward direction, representing all of the possible futures. Then as the next point in one of those possible futures becomes fixed, then another wave emanates from this new point representing all of the new possible futures. The math of what the future MIGHT look like gets really big, really fast – as you might imagine.

This is what makes predicting the future so difficult.

The number of inputs influencing the next step in your future journey is massive, and the number of potential next steps that are outputs of your next best action is equally massive.

So, while it is important to plan for the future and to develop a point of view on the future you would like to be the result of your actions, it is still just a guess. Making it more important and impactful to look at the near future more often than not.

Recently I came across a video from CableLabs that looks at one potential near future:

We Are Already Living in a Virtual Reality

The first choice the creators faced was augmented reality versus virtual reality, and you’ll see that they chose to highlight augmented reality instead of virtual reality. I think this is the right choice as many people would say we are living in a virtual reality already.

Our eyes and other sensory organs do their best to provide inputs to our brain about the physical reality we live in, but the information is often inaccurate and incomplete. Our brain tries to fill in the gaps, but there is some much we don’t understand about how the reality we live in operates.

The world we live in is already amazing, and there is more value in augmenting our experience of the reality we live within, than there is escaping into another reality that is more clumsy, awkward and lower fidelity than our experience of the virtual reality we live in now.

Our world is changing so fast that it is important for organizations and individuals to not just plan for the next month or the next quarter, but to plan for what we would like the near future to look like and think about the ways in which we would like to, and realistically can, influence it.

FutureHacking™ is Within Our Grasp

But the concepts of futurology and the role of the futurist seem pretty nebulous at best. It is because of this that I’ve begun creating a collection of FutureHacking™ tools to help you.

These tools will be available to license soon, and I’ll be holding virtual, and possibly in-person, workshops to explain how to use these simple tools to identify a range of potential futures, to select a preferred future, and activities to help influence its realization.

I think you’ll really like them, but in the meantime, I invite you to check out the embedded YouTube video and to share your thoughts on how you look at and plan for the future in the comments below.

Finally, make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter to get our weekly collection of articles, along with updates on the forthcoming FutureHacking™ set of tools.

Keep innovating!

To read more about what scientists say we get wrong about time, check out this BBC article

Image Credit: Pixabay

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How Do You Judge Innovation: Guilty or Innocent?

How Do You Judge Innovation: Guilty or Innocent?

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Several months ago, a colleague sent me a link to Roger Martin’s latest article, “The Presumption of Guilt: The Hidden Logical Barrier to Innovation.”  Even though the article was authored by one of the preeminent thinkers in the field of innovation and strategy (in 2017, Thinkers50 voted him the #1 most influential management thinker in the world), I didn’t have too much hope that I would read something new or interesting. After all, I read A LOT of articles, and 99 times out of 100, I’m disappointed (80 times out of 100, I roll my eyes so hard I give myself a headache).

This one blew my mind.

With just a few sentences and applying a well-known analogy, Martin explained a phenomenon that plagues every organization and kills most innovation.

Presumed Innocence is a fundamental human right

Martin begins by pointing out that in the legal systems of modern democracies, all citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In 1948, the United Nations extended this concept to all nations (not just democracies) in Article 11.1 of their Declaration of Human Rights.

The presumption of innocence is so important because “the presumption of guilt (or even neutrality) puts an almost impossible burden on the defendant. The State is strong and has resources far beyond that of the individual.”

Presumed Innocence is not a fundamental innovation right

Now let’s apply this analogy and the lens of presumption of innocence or guilt to business, arguably a field where we spend much more time and make far more judgments.

You, and your fellow decision-makers, are judges and jury.

It is up to you to determine whether the projects in front of you are innocent (worthy of additional investment) or guilty (not worthy).

If you presume all defendants are guilty, you place the burden of proof on them. They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they will succeed and are, therefore, worthy of investment.

If you presume all defendants are innocent, you place the burden of proof on yourself (or the business as a whole). You must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they will fail.

What type of judge are you? What kind of decision-making system do you preside over? Do you presume guilt or innocence?

In most boardrooms, projects are presumed guilty.

Presumptions in practice

Let’s consider the two “defendants” (types of projects) that appear before you – core business projects and innovation projects.

Each defendant has a team of advocates. The core business typically has a large team with ample resources and a history of success. Innovation has a much smaller team with far fewer resources and few, if any, “in-market” successes.

To be fair, you ask the same questions of both defendants – questions about market growth, performance versus competitors, and what the P&L looks like.

The team advocating for the core business produces data-filled slides, reports from reputable third parties, and financials blessed by Finance. In the deluge of facts, you forget that all the data is about the past, and you’re making decisions about the future. You find the evidence compelling (or at least reassuring), determine that the team met their burden of proof, declare the Core Business innocent, and allocate additional funds and people.

Innovation’s team also comes with slides, reports, and financials, but it’s not nearly as compelling as what you just saw from the current business team. But you are a fair judge, so you ask most questions like

  • We believe we can get X% of a Total Addressable Market estimated to be Y
  • There are no direct competitors, but consumers rated this better than current solutions
  • We don’t have a 5-year NPV or P&L for this business at scale because we’re not asking for permission to launch. We’re asking for $100,000 to continue testing.

Believe? We need to know!

No direct competitors? Perhaps there’s a reason for that!

No P&L? I’m not going to throw scarce money away!

“Guilty!” you declare, “no more resources for you! Try again!”

This example illustrates what Roger Martin considers corporate innovation’s fatal flaw. In his article, he argues,

“the status quo must play the role of the prosecutor and prove that the innovation is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The innovation asserts its case, laying out the future that it imagines is plausible and explains the logic that buttresses the plausibility. The onus is on the status quo to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the innovation’s logic is flawed — e.g., the proposed economics are unrealistic, customers haven’t shown a hint of caring about the unique selling features of the innovation, competitors already have a lead on us in the proposed area, etc.

If the status quo can do so, then the innovation is guilty. If it can’t, then the innovation is not guilty, and the organization should invest.”

As much as I love the idea of requiring the status quo (managers? Executives? Stockholders?) to prove that investments should not be made (i.e., the default answer is “Yes” to all requests), it’s just not a practical solution.

Burden of proof as barrier

There’s another fundamental principle in our legal system that Martin doesn’t touch on: the burden of proof shifts as the stakes increase.

Specifically, the State’s burden of proof increases from warrant to arraignment to grand jury to trial. For example, the State must provide probable cause based on direct or other reliable information to get a warrant. But the State must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt when the defendant goes to trial and risks losing their freedom or even their life.

But in the example above, the questions (proof required) remained the same.

The questions were appropriate for the Current Business because it’s already in the market, consuming massive resources, and its failure would have a catastrophic impact on the company.

But the questions aren’t appropriate for innovation in its early days. In fact, they were the business equivalent of demanding proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to get a search warrant. Instead, a judge evaluating a project in the early Design phase should ask for probable cause based on direct or other reliable information – observed consumer behavior, small-scale research findings, or simple prototypes.

The Verdict is In

I love the concept of Presumed Guilty vs. Presumed Innocent. I see it all the time in my work, and it is painfully prevalent in Innovation Council meetings and other boardrooms where managers sit as judge and jury over a project’s (ad a team’s) fate.

I want to flip the paradigm – To make “yes” the default instead of “No” and to require managers, the keepers of the status quo, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a project will fail.

But I don’t think it’s possible (if I’m wrong, PLEASE tell me!).

Instead, our best bet for true innovation justice is not to shift who bears the burden of proof but rather how heavy that burden is at various points. From probable cause when the stakes are low to beyond a reasonable doubt when they’re high. And certainly more than a ham sandwich at any point

Image credit: Pexels

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Making Innovation the Way We Do Business (easy as ABC)

Making Innovation the Way We Do Business (easy as ABC)

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“We need to be more innovative.”

How many times have you said or heard that? It’s how most innovation efforts start. It’s a statement that reflects leaders’ genuine desire to return to the “good ol’ days” when the company routinely created and launched new products and enjoyed the publicity and growth that followed.

But what does it mean to be more innovative?

Innovation’s ABCs

A is for Architecture

Architecture includes most of the elements people think of when they start the work to become more innovative – strategy, structure, processes, metrics, governance, and incentives.

Each of these elements answers fundamental questions:

  • Strategy: Why is innovation important? How does it contribute to our overall strategy?
  • Structure: Who does the work of innovation?
  • Process: How is the work done?
  • Metrics: How will we know when we’re successful? How will we measure progress?
  • Governance: Who makes decisions? How and when are decisions made?
  • Incentives: Why should people invest their time, money, and political capital? How will they be rewarded?

When it comes to your business, you can answer all these questions. The same is true if you’re serious about innovation. If you can’t answer the questions, you have work to do. If you don’t want to do the work, then you don’t want to be innovative. You want to look innovative*.

B is for Behavior

Innovation isn’t an idea problem. It’s a leadership problem.

Leaders that talk about innovation, delegate it to subordinates and routinely pull resources from innovation to “shore up” current operations don’t want to be innovative. They want to look innovative.

Leaders who roll up their sleeves and work alongside innovation teams, ask questions and listen with open minds, and invest and protect innovation resources want to be innovative.

To be fair, it’s incredibly challenging to be a great leader of both innovation and operations. It’s the equivalent of writing equally well with your right and left hands. But it is possible. More importantly, it’s essential.

C is for Culture

Culture is invisible, pervasive, and personal. It is also the make-or-break factor for innovation because it surrounds innovation architecture, teams, and leaders.

Culture can expand to encourage and support exploration, creativity, and risk-taking. Or it can constrict, unleashing antibodies that swarm, suffocate, and kill anything that threatens the status quo.

Trying to control or change culture is like trying to hold water in your fist. But if you let go just a bit, create the right conditions, and wait patiently, change is possible.

Easy as 123

The most common mistake executives make in the pursuit of being “more innovative” is that they focus on only A or only B or only C.  But, as I always tell my clients, the answer is “and, not or.”

  1. Start with Architecture because it’s logical, rational, and produces tangible outputs like org charts, process flows, and instruction manuals filled with templates and tools. Architecture is comforting because it helps us know what to do and how.
  2. Use Architecture to encourage Behavior because the best way to learn something is to do it. With Architecture in place (but well before it’s finished), bring leaders into the work – talking to customers, sharing their ideas, and creating prototypes. When leaders do the work of innovation, they quickly realize what’s possible (and what’s not) and are open to learning how to engage (behave) in a way that supports innovation.
  3. Leverage Architecture and Behavior to engage Culture by creating the artifacts, rituals, and evidence that innovation can happen in your company, is happening and will continue to happen. As people see “innovation” evolve from a buzzword to a small investment to “the way we do business,” their skepticism will fade, and their support will grow.

Just like the Jackson 5 said

ABC, It’s easy a 123

Architecture, behavior, culture – they’re all essential to enabling an innovation capability that repeatedly creates new revenue.

And while starting with architecture, building new leadership behaviors, and investing until the culture changes isn’t easy, it’s the 123 steps required to “be more innovative.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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The Ways Inflection Points Define Our Future

The Ways Inflection Points Define Our Future

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Humans tend to think in a linear fashion. If something is growing, we expect it to keep growing. If it is decreasing, we expect it to continue to decrease. We are natural trend watchers and instinctively look for patterns. Yet it is often the discontinuities, rather than the continuities, that have the biggest impact.

The mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot referred to this cycle of continuity punctuated by discontinuity as “Noah effects and Joseph effects.” Joseph effects, as in the biblical story, support long periods of continuity. Noah effects, on the other hand, are like a big storm creating a massive flood of discontinuity, washing away the previous order.

Throughout history, inflection points have defined the future. Business models, built on top of Joseph effects, are disrupted by Noah effects, creating new opportunities for those who are able to identify and adapt. Today, we’re in the midst of a series of inflection points in what was already a time of enormous flux. We can’t predict the future but we can prepare for it.

1920s: A Second Industrial Revolution

By 1920, electricity was already nearly a 40-year old technology. In 1882, just three years after he had almost literally shocked the world with his revolutionary electric light bulb, Thomas Edison opened his Pearl Street Station, the first commercial electrical distribution plant in the United States. By 1884 it was already servicing over 500 homes.

Yet although electricity and electric lighting were already widespread in 1919, they didn’t have a measurable effect on productivity and a paper by the economist Paul David helps explain why. It took time for manufacturers to adapt their factories to electricity and learn to design workflow to leverage the flexibility that the new technology offered. It was the improved workflow, more than the technology itself, that drove productivity forward.

Automobiles saw a similar evolution. It took time for infrastructure, such as roads and gas stations, to be built. Improved logistics reshaped supply chains and factories moved from cities in the north — close to customers — to small towns in the south, where labor and land were cheaper. That improved the economics of manufacturing further.

It was the confluence of electricity and internal combustion, along with the secondary innovations they spawned, that led to mass manufacturing and mass marketing. Enterprises scaled up into huge bureaucracies exemplified by the organization Alfred Sloan built at General Motors. Firms were designed to move large numbers of men and materiel efficiently. Information flowed up, orders went down and your rank determined your responsibility.

1990s – Globalization and Digitization

In November 1989, there were two watershed events that would change the course of world history. The fall of the Berlin Wall would end the Cold War and open up markets across the world. That very same month, Tim Berners-Lee would create the World Wide Web and usher in a new technological era of networked computing.

Much like in the 1920s, these forces had been building for some time. Commercial computers had been around since the 1950s and global trade as a percentage of GDP began to sharply increase in the 1970s. Yet 1989 marked an inflection point and the world would never be the same after that.

The combined forces of globalization and digitization favored the quick and agile over the large and powerful. Rather than spending months or years to develop products, startup firms could rapidly prototype and iterate their way to launching a product in months or weeks. So called “unicorns”, startup companies valued at over a billion dollars, began to emerge and disrupt incumbent industry giants.

Perhaps the biggest shift of the globalized, digital world was from hierarchies to networks. While in the industrial era strategy was focused on linear value chains and the sum of all efficiencies, in the networked world strategy increasingly focused on the sum of all connections. A leader’s role was no longer simply to plan and direct action, but to inspire and empower belief.

Yet much like technologies that came of age in the 1920s, the second and third order effects of globalization and digitization were very different than anyone had predicted. Instead of the triumph of democracy we got a rise in authoritarian populism. Instead of a new era of prosperity, we got stagnant wages, reduced productivity growth and weaker competitive markets.

2020s – A New Era of Innovation

Today, as Moore’s law nears its theoretical limits, the digital revolution is coming to a close and we’re about to embark on a new era of innovation. Much like in the 1920s and the 1990s, the future is likely to surprise us, but the rough outlines of new inflection points are already beginning to take shape.

The first is in energy. The World Economic Forum reports that wind and solar now produce energy cheaper than coal and gas in North America. In fact, in some sunny parts of the world, solar costs less than half as much as coal. Costs for energy storage are still too high, but here too there is significant progress and we’re likely to see a scaled solution within a decade.

Another is the rise of synthetic biology. Driven by new technologies such as CRISPR, we’re beginning to go beyond merely reading genomes and starting to write them. Andrew Hessel, CEO of Humane Genomics, told me that we’re nearing the point that the value of a genome exceeds the cost to produce one. That will unleash a new wave of biologically driven business models. A similar revolution is underway in materials science.

Over the next decade we will also see the emergence of post-digital computing architectures such as quantum and neuromorphic computing, which are potentially thousands, if not millions of times more powerful than today’s technology. Although we don’t expect much of an impact from either of these for at least a decade, they will accelerate advancements in biology, materials and artificial intelligence.

Clearly these new technologies will open up new possibilities, but right now it’s impossible to see beyond first order effects. Nobody looked at a light bulb and saw household appliances empowering women to enter the workplace, or looked at a Model T and saw suburbs and the transformation of retail, or came across an IBM mainframe and said, “Gee, this thing will put journalists out of work one day.”

Preparing For the Future

Six years ago, I wrote how 2020 was shaping up to be a pivotal year. Boy, I had no idea! In addition. In addition to the convergence of longstanding trends in technology, energy and transportation, Covid-19 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement burst onto the global consciousness.

Two things stick out about these new inflection points. First, they were not only predictable, but were, in fact, predicted by a number of people. Second, both will accelerate already existing trends. Covid-19 has shifted digital transformation and synthetic biology into high gear. Black Lives Matter will likely expedite the shift in political power from Boomers to Millennials.

We can think of various scenarios that can play out. Covid may catalyze nascent trends, such as telemedicine and genomic medicine to greatly improve healthcare in the US. Black Lives Matter may cause a shift in hiring patterns that may help to accelerate productivity. On the other hand, the tensions both inflection points create may exacerbate underlying divisions and make things worse.

Those are just two possible scenarios. There are many more, each of which will create their sets of Noah and Joseph effects and then combine secondary and tertiary changes in ways that are unknowable today. What we can do, however, is explore new possibilities and prepare for them. The most important inflection points are often the ones that we create ourselves through the choices we make. No future is inevitable.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Unsplash

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Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of September 2022

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of September 2022Drum roll please…

At the beginning of each month we will profile the ten articles from the previous month that generated the most traffic to Human-Centered Change & Innovation. We also publish a weekly Top 5 as part of our FREE email newsletter. Did your favorite make the cut?

But enough delay, here are September’s ten most popular innovation posts:

  1. You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing — by Robyn Bolton
  2. Importance of Measuring Your Organization’s Innovation Maturity — by Braden Kelley
  3. 3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers
    — by Robyn Bolton
  4. Four Lessons Learned from the Digital Revolution — by Greg Satell
  5. Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry? — by Teresa Spangler
  6. Why Good Job Interviews Don’t Lead to Good Job Performance — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  7. Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups — by Soren Kaplan
  8. Why Diversity and Inclusion Are Entrepreneurial Competencies
    — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  9. The Seven P’s of Raising Money from Investors — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  10. What’s Next – The Only Way Forward is Through — by Braden Kelley

BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in August that continue to resonate with people:

If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 4-7 new articles every week built around innovation and transformation insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin feeds too!

Have something to contribute?

Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all innovation and transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have valuable human-centered change and innovation insights to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

P.S. Here are our Top 40 Innovation Bloggers lists from the last two years:

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Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You have, no doubt, seen the design squiggle. The ubiquitous scribble is all loopy and knotty in the beginning until it finally sorts itself into a straight line by the end.

It illustrates the design process – “the journey of researching, uncovering insights, generating creative concepts, iteration of prototypes and eventually concluding in one single designed solution” – and its elegant simplicity has led it to be adopted by all sorts of other disciplines, including innovation.

But when I showed it to a client, her immediate response was, “It’s Jeremy Bearimy!”*


And that is how I discovered The Good Place, a sitcom about four humans who die, go to The Good Place, and struggle to learn what it means to be good.

The show, created by Michael Schur of The Office and Parks and Recreation fame, is a brilliant treatise on ethics and moral philosophy. It also contains valuable wisdom about what innovators need to succeed.


With all due respect, “It’s the way it’s always been done” is an excuse that’s been used for hundreds of years to justify racism, misogyny…

Tahani Al-Jamil

This quote was a gut punch from the show’s fourth and final season. As innovators, we often hear people ask why change is needed. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” they proclaim.

But sometimes it is broke, and we don’t know it. At the very least, it can always be better.

So, while “it’s the way it’s always been done” at your company probably (hopefully) doesn’t include racism, misogyny, sexism, and other genuinely horrible things, framing the status quo as an enabler of those horrors is a harsh wake-up call to the dangers of an unquestioning commitment to continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.

Decisions (not just Ideas)

If you’re always frozen in fear and taking too long to figure out what to do, you’ll miss your opportunity, and maybe get sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat.

Jason Mendoza

Even though Jason Mendoza is the resident idiot of The Good Place, he occasionally (and very accidentally) has moments of profound insight. This one to a situation that innovators are all too familiar with – analysis paralysis.

How often do requests for more data, more (or more relevant) benchmarks, or input from more people slow down decisions and progress? These requests are rarely rooted in doubt about the data, benchmarks, or information you presented. They are rooted in fear – the fear of making the wrong decision, being blamed or shamed, and losing a reputation or even a job.

But worse than being wrong, blamed, shamed, or unemployed is missing an opportunity to radically improve your business, team, or even the world. It’s the business equivalent of getting sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat.

Actions (not just decisions)

In football, trying to run out the clock and hoping for the best never works. It’s called “prevent defense.” You don’t take any chances and just try and hold on to your lead. But prevent defense just PREVENTS you from winning! It’s always better to try something.

Jason Mendoza

Jason does it again, this time invoking a lesson learned from his beloved Jacksonville Jaguars.

Few companies publicly admit to adopting a prevent defense, even though most companies engage in it. They play prevent defense when they don’t invest in innovation, focus exclusively on maintaining or incrementally improving what they currently do, or confine their innovation efforts to events like hackathons and shark tanks.

Incremental improvements and innovation theater keep you competitive. But they won’t get you ahead of the competition or make you a leader in your industry. In fact, they prevent it by making you feel good and safe when you’re really just running out the clock.


Come on, you know how this works. You fail and then you try something else. And you fail again and again, and you fail a thousand times, and you keep trying because maybe the 1,001st idea might work. Now, I’m gonna and try to find our 1,001st idea.


It’s hard to explain this quote without sharing massive spoilers, so let’s just say that The Good Place is an experiment that fails. A lot.

But it’s also an experiment that generates profound learning and universe-altering changes, things that would not have been possible without the failures.

Yes, smart innovators know when to kill a project. They also know when to try one more time. Wise innovators know the difference.

One final bit of wisdom

Innovation is hard. You will run into more resistance than expected, and things will rarely work out as planned. As long as you keep trying and learning, you won’t fail.

To paraphrase Jason Mendoza (again), you’re not a failed innovator, you’re pre-successful.

*For those of you who are, like I was, unfamiliar with Jeremy Bearimy, here’s a clip explaining it (WARNING: SPOILERS)

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What’s Next – The Only Way Forward is Through

What's Next - The Only Way Forward is Throughby Braden Kelley

The world needs you. The United States needs you. Your family needs you.

Both your heart and your mind are needed to work on potentially the greatest innovation challenge ever put forward.

What is it?

We must find a solution to the division and lack of meaning that has become the American experience.

I’m not sure about the country you live in, but here at home in the United States we are more divided than we have been in a long time – if ever. People are feeling such an absence of meaning and purpose in their lives that they are finding it in opposing ‘the other’.

In the most extreme cases, we are so divided that brothers and sisters, and parents and children are no longer speaking with each other or getting together for holiday meals.

We speak often about the importance of diversity of thought, diversity of group composition for innovation, but when a society reaches a point where people cannot productively disagree and debate their way forward together, innovation will inevitably begin to suffer.

When there is no dialogue, no give and take and a culture begins to emerge where opposition is mandatory, progress slows.

As long as the current situation intensifies, there will be no progress on other areas in desperate need of innovation:

  • Climate change
  • Gender equity
  • (Insert your favorite here)

We all need your help creating the idea fragments that we can connect as a global innovation community into meaningful ideas that hopefully lead to the inventions that will develop into the innovations we desperately need.

The innovations that will move social media from its current parallel play universe to one which actually encourages productive dialogue.

The innovations that will help people find the renewed sense of meaning and purpose that can’t be found making Sik Sok videos, watching other people play video games on Kwitch or investing in cryptocurrency pyramid schemes.

Meaning of Life Quote from Braden Kelley

Our entrepreneurs have made a lot of cotton candy the past couple of decades and people are starving, people are hangry.

There are certain constants in the human condition, and when we as a species stray too far away, it creates huge opportunities for innovators to create new things that will bring us back into balance.

But we can’t ignore where we are now.

We must acknowledge our current situation and fight our way past it. The only way forward is through.

As a thought starter, here is an ad campaign from Heineken from 2017:

We need everyone’s help to address the meaning crisis.

We need everyone’s help to bring America (and the rest of the world) back into productive conversation and connection – to end the division.

Are you up to the task?

Are you ready to help?

Let’s start the dialogue below and get that pebble rolling downhill in the winter, gathering snow as it goes.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments on:

  • other great thought starters
  • good idea fragments to build on
  • the way through

Image credit: Pixabay

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