Category Archives: Strategy

Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups

Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Building a new business is tough. These strategies will help your startup succeed without a big investment.

As many of my readers know, I usually write about strategy, innovation, and leadership. But recently I’ve been asked a lot about how I helped establish Praxie.com as a destination website for hundreds of best practice digital tools and templates using growth hacking strategies. That’s because it’s incredibly hard to cut through the noise and establish a new brand, website presence, and business model in today’s increasingly cluttered competitive world.

So, here’s what we did to build a brand and drive tens of thousands of visitors to our website each month, all without any significant marketing investment. Anyone who’s focused, methodical, and willing take the time can do it.

1. Create Expert Content

Content is king. You can create it yourself or provide a platform that encourages users to contribute content as part of your business model. Content drives the brand and engages customers. Plus, Google and other search engines index and prioritize pages with solid content, so your specific webpages with noteworthy content will get a boost in SEO rankings and see increased traffic over time. Content comes in many forms: articles, blog posts, listicles, white papers, templates, and videos.

2. Syndicate Content to Grow Backlinks

Backlinks are the lifeblood of SEO. The more that reputable websites link back to your website (or sub-pages on your site), the higher you’ll rank will be in search engines. And the higher your rank, the more organic visitors you’ll receive. Whatever you’re doing or providing as part of your business, position yourself as the expert. Become a source of knowledge and insight for the press, get interviewed on podcasts, write articles for other sites, or do anything else that gets your name (and backlink) out there on the net. This strategy also builds your brand.

3. Become a Video Star

Content isn’t just about the written word. YouTube is now the number-two search engine in the world, right behind Google. Video content highlights your expertise. It gets shared. And it drives traffic to your website that can convert to newsletter signups, subscriptions, and product purchases. Be sure to include keywords in the titles and descriptions of your videos. Also include a plug at the end of the video for where the viewer can learn more (e.g., your website). Re-purpose your videos on social media and embed videos into your website to further reinforce your content expertise.

4. Build Email Relationships

While just about every email inbox is cluttered with spam these days, when someone gives you their email address, they’re essentially giving you permission (opting in) to connect with them. While the same principle applies to social media, email is still a unique, higher-touch, form of connection-making. As compared with social media, email is like pinning a flyer up on someone’s front door versus hoping they see one that has been posted on the corner telephone pole as they walk by. So, create easy ways for people to sign up for newsletters. Connect with others on LinkedIn, where most profiles include email addresses. Focus on building a list and providing high-value communications that use expert content to connect with your audience versus just trying to sell them your product. Many free or inexpensive tools can get you started like Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

5. Measure Everything Using Dashboards

The only way to gauge progress is to measure it. Use Google Analytics to track your most important metrics, like the number of visitors, landing pages, conversion rates for your newsletter and purchases, and more. Use free tools like those provided by Moz and Similarweb to benchmark yourself against the competition. Connect social media metrics and advertising into a dashboard that provides a holistic picture of the business. But don’t spend too much time cobbling together data. Keep it simple so you can get a quick read on how you’re doing while spending most of your time doing the things that grow your business.

6. Test, Retest, and Test Again

Google recently introduced a great tool called Optimize. Optimize allows you to quickly run tests on your website or individual web pages. By creating A/B tests that serve up different page headings, product prices, button colors, etc., you can gain insight into what works and what doesn’t based on what you’re trying to achieve. Track which market positioning statements result in the most newsletter signups or which price model delivers the greatest revenue. Running tests should be an ongoing activity which essentially means you’re taking the winning formula from your A/B test and then running another A/B test using that as the baseline. Connect your tests to your data analytics to track what works (and doesn’t) over time.

Most small startups don’t have big funding. That’s why growth hacks are so important. Use a little elbow grease, coupled with savvy customer engagement strategies, to build the basis for market traction. You might need to give it a little time to yield results, but that’s also what’s needed to create an enduring business.

Image Credit: Getty Images (acquired by Soren Kaplan)

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

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The Phoenix Checklist – Strategies for Innovation and Regeneration

The Phoenix Checklist - Strategies for Innovation and Regeneration

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought.”   Sun Tzu

As reference I love using Michael Michalko book, Thinkertoys. It’s been on my shelf since first released in the 1991, especially in the most challenging times. This book has gotten me and my businesses through 2 gulf wars, 9/11/01 economic aftermath, 2008/9 deep recession and even good times where innovation felt no need.

In chapter 14, Phoenix, he shares the CIA’s checklist for dissecting and solving critical problems. BUT don’t just use this for tackling a problem, use it to help you design new business models, new revenue models, innovating a new product… the checklist applies to scenario planning and breaking down opportunities into manageable strategies to execute new ideas, processes and products.

It’s a strategy used and touted by experts over and over again and it works: The Phoenix Checklist Strategy. Challenging your own assumptions every minute of the day is not a bad thing right now. Putting a framework around how best to challenge your team and build stronger more reliable assumptions and plans is a great idea. I am sure there are strategies already at play and that too is a great thing. What more could be done today that you are not already doing? Maybe this is a great basis for the first question you want to answer using the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) trusted Phoenix checklist.

Below is the Phoenix Checklist but broken down in the way we at Plazabridge Group use the tool for innovating new ideas and solving critical issues for our clients.

>Start here: Can you imagine the result if you solve the problem?

Illusion licensed from iStock by PlazaBridge GroupGet those creative juices flowing.

What do you see?

What’s the first thing you see?

What’s the 2nd thing you see?

I. Define the problem– The first stage is to tackle the checklist.

Below are the Typical questions we ask and may have answers for… but go deeper!

  • Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
  • What benefits do you get by solving the problem?
  • What are the unknown factors?
  • Have you encountered this problem before?
  • What data do we have to help us dissect the problem down into smaller pieces?

We often fail to go deeper into defining the challenges to be solved or opportunities to create Go deeper questions:

  • What are you not yet understanding?
  • What information do you have?
  • What is not the problem?
  • Is the information you have sufficient? Insufficient? Superfluous? Contradictory?
  • Can you describe the problem in a chart?
  • Where is the limit for the problem?
  • Can you distinguish the different parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships between the different parts of the problem? What is common to the different problem areas?

Then go even deeper exploration:

  • Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form? Do you know a related issue?
  • Try to think of a familiar problem with the same or similar unknown factors.
  • Suppose you find a problem similar to yours that has already been resolved. Can you use it? Can you use the same method?
  • Can you reformulate your problem? How many different ways can you reformulate it? More generally? More specifically? Can the rules change?
  • What are the best, worst and most likely outcomes you can imagine?

Designing the plan checklist:

Our team starts here cutting through most challenges or designing new opportunities we want to tackle.

What will solving this problem do for our company? Answer this question daily for two weeks. See what happens. It’s magical really!   Define, Write, chart, and visualize every step of the way. Assign roles to each member of the team to tackle component outcomes of the exploration.

  • How will you solve the whole problem? Can you break the problem down?
  • How much of the unknown can you influence?
  • Can you deduce something useful from the information you have?
  • Have you used all available information?
  • Have you taken into account all the essential factors in the problem?
  • Can you identify the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the accuracy of each step?
    • Draw these out –
    • Then redraw them
    • And again
  • What creative techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?
    • After exploring creative techniques go back to the previous bullet point and draw out the steps again.
    • Then again
    • And yes ONE MORE MAGICAL time

Imagine again the results in the perfect world! What would the results be, look like, feel to everyone in the company, to you and to your customers?

  • Can you imagine the result? How many different types of results can imagine?
  • How many different ways can you try to solve the problem?
  • What have others done?
  • Can you intuitively see the solution? Can you check the result?
  • What should be done? How should it be done?
  • Where, when and by whom should it be done?
  • What do you need to do right now?
  • Who will be responsible for what?

Now what? Can you do more with the plan?

  • Can you use this problem to resolve any other issues?
  • What are the unique qualities that make this problem what it is and nothing else?
  • Which milestones can best highlight your progress?
  • How do you know when you are successful?

This last point is so very important and often left out of processes. There are stages of success. Success doesn’t happen all at once so how will you create your timeline to give any new plan a chance to succeed? Better yet, how will you know if you are not succeeding? The plan was well thought out, a lot of time was invested and possibly a lot of money! Don’t give up but in your scenario planning do know what you are watching for to say, how and where shall we adjust along the way and constantly question how to improve the plan. Give it long enough, give it a fighting chance, put your top minds in the company on these challenges and opportunities.

Create your opportunity team of diverse thinkers! They are your innovators.

Create your action team! They are your executors!

Now you are ready for the next challenge or opportunity. Start at the top and repeat.

Original Article

Image credits: iStockPhoto (purchased by the author)

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Strategy for a Post-Digital World

Strategy for a Post-Digital World

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

For decades, the dominant view of strategy was based on Michael Porter’s ideas about competitive advantage. In essence, he argued that the key to long-term success was to dominate the value chain by maximizing bargaining power among suppliers, customers, new market entrants and substitute goods.

Yet digital technology blew apart old assumptions. As technology cycles began to outpace planning cycles, traditional firms were often outfoxed by smaller competitors that were faster and more agile. Risk averse corporate cultures needed to learn how to “fail fast” or simply couldn’t compete.

Today, as the digital revolution is coming to an end, we will need to rethink strategy once again. Increasingly, we can no longer just move fast and break things, but will have to learn how to prepare, rather than just adapt, build deep collaborations and drive skills-based transformations. Make no mistake, those who fail to make the shift will struggle to survive.

Learning to Prepare Rather Than Racing to Adapt

The digital age was driven, in large part, by Moore’s law. Every 18 months or so, a new generation of chips would come out of fabs that was twice as powerful as what came before. Firms would race to leverage these new capabilities and transform them into actual products and services.

That’s what made agility and adaptation key competitive attributes over the past few decades. When the world changes every 18 months, you need to move quickly to leverage new possibilities. Today, however, Moore’s Law is ending and we’ll have to shift to new architectures, such as quantum, neuromorphic and, possibly, biological computers.

Yet the shift to this new era of heterogeneous computing will not be seamless. Instead of one fairly simple technology based on transistors, we will have multiple architectures that involve very different logical principles. These will need new programming languages and will be applied to solve very different problems than digital computers have been.

Another shift will be from bits to atoms, as fields such as synthetic biology and materials science advance exponentially. As our technology becomes infinitely more powerful, there are also increasingly serious ethical concerns. We will have to come to some consensus on issues like what accountability a machine should have and to what extent we should alter the nature of life.

If there is one thing that the Covid-19 crisis has shown is that if you don’t prepare, no amount of agility will save you.

Treating Collaboration as a New Competitive Advantage

In 1980, IBM was at an impasse. Having already missed the market for minicomputers, a new market for personal computers was emerging. So, the company’s leadership authorized a team to set up a skunk works in Boca Raton, FL. A year later, the company would bring the PC to market and change computer history.

So, it’s notable that IBM is taking a very different approach to quantum computing. Rather than working in secret, it has set up its Q Network of government agencies, academic labs, customers and start-ups to develop the technology. The reason? Quantum computing is far too complex for any one enterprise to pursue on its own.

“When we were developing the PC, the challenge was to build a different kind of computer based on the same technology that had been around for decades,” Bob Sutor, who heads up IBM’s Quantum effort, told me. “In the case of quantum computing, the technology is completely different and most of it was, until fairly recently, theoretical,” he continued. “Only a small number of people understand how to build it. That requires a more collaborative innovation model to drive it forward.”

It’s not just IBM either. We’re seeing similar platforms for collaboration at places like the Manufacturing Institutes, JCESR and the Critical Materials Institute. Large corporations, rather trying to crush startups, are creating venture funds to invest in them. The truth is that the problems we need to solve in the post-digital age are far too complex to go it alone. That’s why today, it’s not enough to have a market strategy, you need to have an ecosystem strategy.

Again, the Covid-19 crisis is instructive, with unprecedented collaborative efforts driving breakthroughs.

Drive Skills-Based Transformations

In the digital era, incumbent organizations needed to learn new skills. Organizations that mastered these skills, such as lean manufacturing, design thinking, user centered design and agile development, enjoyed a significant competitive advantage. Unfortunately, many firms still struggle to deploy critical skills at scale.

As digital technology enters an accelerated implementational phase, the need to deploy these skills at scale will only increase. You can’t expect to leverage technology without empowering your people to use it effectively. That’s why skills-based transformations have become every bit as important as strategic or technology-driven transformations.

As we enter the new post-digital era the need for skills-based transformations will only increase. Digital skills, such as basic coding and design, are relatively simple. A reasonably bright high school student can become proficient in a few months. As noted above, however, the skills needed for this new era will be far more varied and complex.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that everybody will need to have deep knowledge about things like quantum mechanics, neurology or genomics a decade from now any more than everybody needs to write code today. However, we will increasingly have to collaborate with experts in those fields and have some sort of basic understanding.

Making the Shift from Disrupting Markets to Pursuing Grand Challenges

The digital economy was largely built on disruption. As computer chips became exponentially faster and cheaper, innovative firms could develop products and services that could displace incumbent industries. Consider that a basic smartphone today can replace a bundle of technologies, such as video recorders, GPS navigators and digital music players, that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars when they were first introduced.

This displacement process has been highly disruptive, but there are serious questions about whether it’s been productive. In fact, for all the hype around digital technology “changing the world,“ productivity has been mostly depressed since the 1970s. In some ways, such as mental health and income inequality, we are considerably worse off than 40 or 50 years ago.

Yet the post-digital era offers us a much greater opportunity to pursue grand challenges. Over the next few decades, we’ll be able to deploy far more powerful technologies to solve problems like cancer, aging and climate change. It is, in the final analysis, these physical world applications that can not only change our lives for the better, but open up massive new markets.

The truth is that the future tends to surprise us and nobody can say for sure what the next few decades will look like. Strategy, therefore, can’t depend on prediction. However, what we can do is prepare for this new era by widening and deepening connections throughout relevant ecosystems, acquiring new skills and focusing on solving meaningful problems.

In the face of uncertainty, the best way to survive is to make yourself useful.

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

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Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Many years ago, Clay Christensen visited his firm where I was a partner and told us a story*.

“I imagine the day I die and present myself at the entrance to Heaven,” he said. “The Lord will show me around, and the beauty and majesty will overcome me. Eventually, I will notice that there are no numbers or data in Heaven, and I will ask the Lord why that is.”

“Data lies,” the Lord will respond. “Nothing that lies can be in Heaven. So, if people want data, I tell them to go to Hell.”

We all chuckled at the punchline and at the strength of the language Clay used (if you ever met him, you know that he was an incredibly gentle and soft-spoken man, so using the phrase “go to Hell” was the equivalent of your parents unleashing a five-minute long expletive-laden rant).

“If you want data, go to Hell.”

Clay’s statement seems absolutely blasphemous, especially in a society that views quantitative data as the ultimate source of truth:

  • “In God we trust. All others bring data.” W. Edward Deming, founding Father of Total Quality Management (TQM)
  •  “Above all else, show the data.” – Edward R. Tufte, a pioneer in the field of data visualization
  • “What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker, father of modern management studies

But it’s not entirely wrong.

Quantitative Data’s blessing: A sense of safety

As humans, we crave certainty and safety. This was true millennia ago when we needed to know whether the rustling in the leaves was the wind or a hungry predator preparing to leap and tear us limb from lime. And it’s true today when we must make billion-dollar decisions about buying companies, launching products, and expanding into new geographies.

We rely on data about company valuation and cash flow, market size and growth, and competitor size and strategy to make big decisions, trusting that it is accurate and will continue to be true for the foreseeable future.

Quantitative Data’s curse: The past does not predict the future

As leaders navigating an increasingly VUCA world, we know we must prepare for multiple scenarios, operate with agility, and be willing to pivot when change happens.

Yet we rely on data that describes the past.

We can extrapolate it, build forecasts, and create models, but the data will never tell us with certainty what will happen in the future. It can’t even tell us the Why (drivers, causal mechanisms) behind the What it describes.

The Answer: And not Or

Quantitative data Is useful. It gives us the sense of safety we need to operate in a world of uncertainty and a starting point from which to imagine the future(s).

But, it is not enough to give the clarity or confidence we need to make decisions leading to future growth and lasting competitive advantage.

To make those decisions, we need quantitative data AND qualitative insights.

We need numbers and humans.

Qualitative Insight’s blessing: A view into the future

Humans are the source of data. Our beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions are tracked and measured, and turned into numbers that describe what we believed, wanted, and did in the past.

By understanding human beliefs, motivations, and aspirations (and capturing them as qualitative insights), we gain insight into why we believed, wanted, and did those things and, as a result, how those beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions could change and be changed. With these insights, we can develop strategies and plans to change or maintain beliefs and motivations and anticipate and prepare for events that could accelerate or hinder our goals. And yes, these insights can be quantified.

Qualitative Insight’s curse: We must be brave

When discussing the merit of pursuing or applying qualitative research, it’s not uncommon for someone to trot out the saying (erroneously attributed to Henry Ford), “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a horse that goes twice as fast and eats half as much.”

Pushing against that assertion requires you to be brave. To let go of your desire for certainty and safety, take a risk, and be intellectually brave.

Being brave is hard. Staying safe is easy. It’s rational. It’s what any reasonable person would do. But safe, rational, and reasonable people rarely change the world.

One more story

In 1980, McKinsey predicted that the worldwide market for cell phones would max out at 900,000 subscribers. They based this prediction on solid data, analyzed by some of the most intelligent people in business. The data and resulting recommendations made sense when presented to AT&T, McKinsey’s client.

Five years later, there were 340,213 subscribers, and McKinsey looked pretty smart. In 1990, there were 5.3 million subscribers, almost 6x McKinsey’s prediction.   In 1994, there were 24.1M subscribers in the US alone (27x McKinsey’s global forecast), and AT&T was forced to pay $12.6B to acquire McCaw Cellular.

Should AT&T have told McKinsey to “go to Hell?”  No.

Should AT&T have thanked McKinsey for going to (and through) Hell to get the data, then asked whether they swung by earth to talk to humans and understand their Jobs to be Done around communication? Yes.

Because, as Box founder Aaron Levie reminds us,

“Sizing the market for a disruptor based on an incumbent’s market is like sizing a car industry off how many horses there were in 1910.”

* Except for the last line, these probably (definitely) weren’t his exact words, but they are an accurate representation of what I remember him saying

Image Credit: Pixabay

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The Resilience Conundrum

From the Webb Space Telescope to Dishwashing Liquids

The Resilience Conundrum

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

Many of us have been watching the spectacular photos coming from Webb Space Telescope this week. It is a breathtaking example of innovation in action. But what grabbed my attention almost as much as the photos was the challenge of deploying it at the L2 Lagrange point. That not only required extraordinary innovation of core technologies, but also building unprecedented resilience into the design. Deploying a technology a million miles from Earth leaves little room for mistakes, or the opportunity for the kind of repairs that rescued the Hubble mission. Obviously the Webb team were acutely aware of this, and were painstaking in identifying and pre-empting 344 single points of failure, any one of which had the potential to derail it. The result is a triumph.  But it is not without cost. Anticipating and protecting against those potential failures played a significant part in taking Webb billions over budget, and years behind it’s original schedule.

Efficiency versus Adaptability: Most of us will never face quite such an amazing but  daunting challenge, or have the corresponding time and budget flexibility. But as an innovation community, and a planet, we are entering a phase of very rapid change as we try to quickly address really big issues, such as climate change and AI. And the speed, scope and interconnected complexity of that change make it increasingly difficult to build resilience into our innovations. This is compounded because a need for speed and efficiency often drives us towards narrow focus and increased specialization.  That focus can help us move quickly, but we know from nature that the first species to go extinct in the face of environmental change are often the specialists, who are less able to adapt with their changing world. Efficiency often reduces resilience, it’s another conundrum.

Complexity, Systems Effects and Collateral Damage. To pile on the challenges a little, the more breakthrough an innovation is, the less we understand about how interacts at a systems level, or secondary effects it may trigger.  And secondary failures can be catastrophic. Takata airbags, or the batteries in Samsung Galaxy phones were enabling, not core technologies, but they certainly derailed the core innovations.

Designed Resiliency. One answer to this is to be more systematic about designing resilience into innovation, as the Webb team were. We may not be able to reach the equivalent of 344 points of failure, but we can be systematic about scenario planning, anticipating failure, and investing up front in buffering ourselves against risk. There are a number of approaches we can adopt to achieve this, which I’ll discuss in detail later.

The Resiliency Conundrum. But first let’s talk just a little more about the Resilience conundrum. For virtually any innovation, time and money are tight. Conversely, taking time to anticipate potential failures is often time consuming and expensive. Worse, it rarely adds direct, or at least marketable value. And when it does work, we often don’t see the issues it prevents, we only notice them when resiliency fails. It’s a classic trade off, and one we face at all levels of innovation. For example, when I worked on dishwashing liquids at P&G, a slightly less glamorous field than space exploration, an enormous amount of effort went into maintaining product performance and stability under extreme conditions. Product could be transported in freezing or hot temperatures, and had to work extreme water hardness or softness. These conditions weren’t typical, but they were possible. But the cost of protecting these outliers was often disproportionately high.

And there again lies the trade off. Design in too much resiliency, and we are become inefficient and/or uncompetitive. But too little, and we risk a catastrophic failure like the Takata airbags. We need to find a sweet spot. And finding it is still further complicated because we are entering an era of innovation and disruption where we are making rapid changes to multiple systems in parallel. Climate change is driving major structural change in energy, transport and agriculture, and advances in computing are changing how those systems are managed. With dishwashing, we made changes to the formula, but the conditions of use remained fairly constant, meaning we were pretty good at extrapolating what the product would have to navigate. The same applies with the Webb telescope, where conditions at the Lagrange point have not changed during the lifetime of the project. We typically have a more complex, moving target.

Low Carbon Energy. Much of the core innovation we are pursuing today is interdependent. As an example, consider energy. Simply replacing hydrocarbons with, for example, solar, is far more complex than simply swapping one source of energy for another. It impacts the whole energy supply system. Where and how it links into our grid, how we store it, unpredictable power generation based on weather, how much we can store, maintenance protocols, and how quickly we can turn up or down the supply are just a few examples. We also create new feedback loops, as variables such as weather can impact both power generation and power usage concurrently. But we are not just pursuing solar, but multiple alternatives, all of which have different challenges. And concurrent to changing our power source, we are also trying to switch automobiles and transport in general from hydrocarbons to electric power, sourced from the same solar energy. This means attempting significant change in both supply and a key usage vector, changing two interdependent variables in parallel. Simply predicting the weather is tricky, but adding it to this complex set of interdependent variables makes surprises inevitable, and hence dialing in the right degree of resilience pretty challenging.

The Grass is Always Greener: And even if we anticipate all of that complexity, I strongly suspect, we’ll see more, rather than less surprises than we expect.   One lesson I’ve learned and re-learned in innovation is that the grass is always greener. We don’t know what we don’t know, in part because we cannot see the weeds from a distance. The devil often really is in the details, and there is nothing like moving from theory to practice, or from small to large scale to ferret out all of the nasty little problems that plague nearly every innovation, but that are often unfathomable when we begin. Finding and solving these is an inherent part of virtually any innovation process, but it usually adds time and cost to the process. There are reasons why more innovations take longer than expected than are delivered ahead of schedule!

It’s an exciting, but also perilous time to be innovating. But ultimately this is all manageable. We have a lot of smart people working on these problems, and so most of the obvious challenges will have contingencies.   We don’t have the relative time and budget of the Webb Space Telescope, and so we’ll inevitably hit a few unanticipated bumps, and we’ll never get everything right. But there are some things we can do to tip the odds in our favor, and help us find those sweet spots.

  1. Plan for over capacity during transitions. If possible, don’t shut down old supply chins until the new ones are fully established. If that is not possible, stockpile heavily as a buffer during the transition. This sounds obvious, but it’s often a hard sell, as it can be a significant expense. Building inventory or capacity of an old product we don’t really want to sell, and leaving it in place as we launch doesn’t excite anybody, but the cost of not having a buffer can be catastrophic.
  2. In complex systems, know the weakest link, and focus resilience planning on it. Whether it’s a shortage of refills for a new device, packaging for a new product, or charging stations for an EV, innovation is only as good as its weakest link. This sounds obvious, but our bias is to focus on the difficult, core and most interesting parts of innovation, and pay less attention to peripherals. I’ve known a major consumer project be held up for months because of a problem with a small plastic bottle cap, a tiny part of a much bigger project. This means looking at resilience across the whole innovation, the system it operates in and beyond. It goes without saying that the network of compatible charging stations needs to precede any major EV rollout. But never forget, the weakest link may not be within our direct control. We recently had a bunch of EV’s stranded in Vegas because a huge group of left an event at a time when it was really hot. The large group overwhelmed our charging stations, and the high temperatures meant AC use limited the EV’s range, requiring more charging. It’s a classic multivariable issue where two apparently unassociated triggers occur at once.   And that is a case where the weakest link is visible. If we are not fully vertically integrated, resilience may require multiple sources or suppliers to protect against potential failure points we are not aware of, just to protect us against things we cannot control.
  3. Avoid over optimization too early. It’s always tempting to squeeze as much cost out of innovation prior to launch. But innovation by its very nature disrupts a market, and creates a moving target. It triggers competitive responses, changes in consumer behavior, supply chain, and raw material demand. If we’ve optimized to the point of removing flexibility, this can mean trouble. Of course, some optimization is always needed as part of the innovation process, but nailing it down too tightly and too early is often a mistake. I’ve lost count of the number of initiatives I’ve seen that had to re-tool or change capacity post launch at a much higher cost than if they’d left some early flexibility and fine-tuned once the initial dust had settled.
  4. Design for the future, not the now. Again this sounds obvious, but we often forget that innovation takes time, and that, depending upon our cycle-time, the world may be quite different when we are ready to roll out than it was when we started. Again, Webb has an advantage here, as the Lagrange point won’t have changed much even in the years the project has been active. But our complex, interconnected world is moving very quickly, especially at a systems level, and so we have to build in enough flexibility to account for that.
  5. Run test markets or real world experiments if at all possible. Again comes with trade offs, but no simulation or lab test beats real world experience. Whether its software, a personal care product, or a solar panel array, the real world will throw challenges at us we didn’t anticipate. Some will matter, some may not, but without real world experience we will nearly always miss something. And the bigger our innovation, generally the more we miss. Sometimes we need to slow down to move fast, and avoid having to back track.
  6. Engage devils advocates. The more interesting or challenging an innovation is, the easier it is to slip into narrow focus, and miss the big picture. Nobody loves having people from ‘outside’ poke holes in the idea they’ve been nurturing for months or years, but that external objectiveness is hugely valuable, together with different expertise, perspectives and goals. And cast the net as wide as possible. Try to include people from competing technologies, with different goals, or from the broad surrounding system. There’s nothing like a fierce competitor, or people we disagree with to find our weaknesses and sharpen an idea. Welcome the naysayers, and listen to them. Just because they may have a different agenda doesn’t mean the issues they see don’t exist.

Of course, this is all a trade off. I started this with the brilliant Webb Space telescope, which is amazing innovation with extraordinary resilience, enabled by an enormous budget and a great deal or time and resource. As we move through the coming years we are going to be attempting innovation of at least comparable complexity on many fronts, on a far more planetary scale, and with far greater implications if we get it wrong. Resiliency was a critical part of the Webb Telescopes success. But with stakes as high as they are with much of today’s innovation, I passionately believe we need to learn from that. And a lot of us can contribute to building that resiliency. It’s easy to think of Carbon neutral energy, EV’s, or AI as big, isolated innovations. But in reality they comprise and interface with many, many sub-projects. That’s a lot of innovation, a lot of complexity, a lot of touch-points, a lot of innovators, and a lot of potential for surprises. A lot of us will be involved in some way, and we can all contribute. Resiliency is certainly not a new concept for innovation, but given the scale, stakes and implications of what we are attempting, we need it more than ever.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScl

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Surfacing Your Hidden Assumptions

Successful strategy and innovation are about how fast you can become aware of your assumptions.

Surfacing Your Hidden Assumptions

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

When it comes to strategy and innovation, success depends on how fast you become aware of your assumptions and then modify them. But it’s a paradox:  You can’t see your most fundamental assumptions until you overcome them. This means that you can only understand your mindsets that were barriers retrospectively.

Let’s look at how this works. I have a quick story for you, then a question.

A bus driver was heading down Van Ness Avenue in my hometown of San Francisco. He went through a stop sign without even slowing down, then turned onto a one-way street going the opposite direction as the rest of the traffic. A police officer saw the whole thing but he didn’t stop him or issue a ticket because no laws had been broken. The question for you is this: How can this scenario be possible?

If you answered that the bus driver was walking down the street, you are correct. This is a very simple example to illustrate how we all make assumptions. Most people just assume that a bus driver is always driving a bus. But of course, that’s not the case. The most important part of this exercise isn’t to point out that an assumption may have been made in the first place – it’s only natural to do so. It’s to show that most of us only recognize that we’ve made an assumption after we’ve discovered that our thinking was invalid or that it led us astray. And by then, it can often be “too late.”

Let’s go back to the bus driver for a moment. What if I had framed things up in the scenario a little differently and included another statement up front that said “In San Francisco, people use cars, take the bus, or walk down the street to get where they’re going.”  How would this have impacted your assumptions? For most people, the idea that it’s possible the bus driver could be walking down the street would have been planted in their brains as they read the rest of the scenario – and they would have more easily overcome their limiting assumption that bus drivers only drive buses. The goal is to continually broaden your perspective so that you can overcome your assumptions before they limit your options or slow you down.

Here are a couple of tried and true approaches I’ve used to challenge and expand mindsets.

Identify Areas of Intrigue

When it comes to developing your strategy or innovating, get clear on what you need to know and learn. List up to 4-5 topics. Examples might include things like board games children like most, the healthiest yet best tasting desserts, or the most successful social media influencers. For each topic, create a list of guiding questions that, if answered, would really give you a solid understanding of the area. For instance, using the board games children like mostexample, you could come up with questions like: What are the most popular children’s board games? How long do the best games take to play? Do adults usually play with the children? What does it take to win? This exercise will help you better understand what’s most important to further explore so you can broaden your perspective.

Adapt a Business Model

Find a company completely outside of your industry or market and look at what makes them different and what they do really well.  Then adapt their model to your cause.  Use the format “I want to be the ____________ of ____________” by putting a company name into the first blank and the area of your target market or innovation area into the second blank.  For example, if you want to transform the fashion industry, you might try “I want to be the Netflix of fashion”, which could lead you down the path of high-end evening gown rental services like Rent the Runway.  Consider companies like Starbucks, Twitter, Domino’s, NIKE, Home Depot, or any other innovative company you can think of.

Your mindsets naturally constrain your ability to consider alternatives and possibilities that go beyond the boundaries of your thinking. Your limiting assumptions can be about personal skills, team knowledge and abilities, organizational capabilities, market needs, technology, financial limitations, partnership possibilities, competition, or just about anything else. The goal is to recognize you hold assumptions and then act to surface them.

As the writer John Seely Brown once said, the harder you fight to hold on to specific assumptions, the more likely there’s gold in letting go of them.

Image credit: Pexels

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

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Chance to Help Make Futurism and Foresight Accessible

I’ve been hard at work building all kinds of tools to help innovation, change, transformation and design thinking practitioners be more successful in their jobs.

The number of human-centered tools in the Change Planning Toolkit v13 from the initial fifty (50) to more than SEVENTY.

I also introduced lots of inexpensive tools like the:

  1. $9.99 – Problem Finding Canvas
  2. FREE – Innovation Maturity Assessment
  3. FREE – Visual Project Charter™
  4. FREE – Experiment Canvas™
  5. FREE – ACMP Standard for Change Management® Visualization

And the core of the forthcoming Human-Centered Innovation Toolkit is well underway.

But I’ve also been exploring the very obtuse realm of futurism and foresight and pondering how to make it more accessible to us ordinary humans, and I think I’ve done it!

Chance to Help Make Futurism Accessible

I’ve created a set of TEN (10) simple but powerful foresight and futurism tools to power my FutureHacking™ methodology.

To spread them farther and faster I’m looking to partner with a forward-thinking organization to bring them to market.

  • Does your organization view itself as leading its customers into the future?
  • Are you looking for an amazing marketing opportunity?
  • One that would empower thousands of innovation and strategy professionals to do their own foresight and futurism work?

If so, then contact me here and we’ll build a launch plan together that connects your brand to a powerful new FutureHacking™ movement!

Benefits to you will include, but will not be limited to:

  1. Joint promotion of your brand via my site, social media, email newsletters, etc.
  2. Presence of your logo as a sponsor on the tools and educational assets
  3. Access to the tools for your employees
  4. Other ideas you suggest!

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A Guide to Organizing Innovation

A Guide to Organizing Innovation

GUEST POST from Jesse Nieminen

I recently read a couple of excellent articles by Nick Skillicorn, and Prof. Rita McGrath where both discuss the challenges and intricacies involved in structuring and governing innovation within a large organization.

This is a classic topic that every corporate innovator has without a doubt come across, and it’s also one where “the right approach” is often quite elusive.

Inspired by those articles, we’ll present the most common archetypes and then dig a little deeper on the topic and share our thoughts and experiences to help you figure out how innovation should be structured within your organization.

Why organizing innovation is challenging

Before we dive into the different models for governing and organizing innovation, it’s important to understand why this is such a challenging topic to begin with.

That’s of course quite a lengthy and nuanced topic, but in short, there is no such thing as a perfect organizational structure or governance model. The bottom line is that a large organization is simply such a complex entity that structuring everything perfectly so that there aren’t any kind of bottlenecks, misaligned incentives, or any duplication of work just isn’t very realistic. If you’ve ever worked in large organization, you’ve certainly come across some of these challenges.

Now, most of these challenges are likely to be worse with innovation than with “business as usual” as, by definition, innovation means introducing changes. And most organizations simply aren’t designed for constant change.

What’s more, businesses are naturally very different from one another. A structure that works for a single product software company probably isn’t ideal for a CPG manufacturer or a house of brands because not only are their industries different, so are the innovations they are going after. So, what works well for some organization probably won’t be ideal for you.

This means that benchmarking and then applying “best practices” likely won’t work too well. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a single correct way to organize innovation.

Exploring the organizational archetypes for innovation

Having said that, there are a handful of common approaches, which we like to call archetypes, that most organizations use as the foundation for their efforts to organize and govern innovation.

Both McGrath and Skillicorn have done an excellent job in presenting many of these approaches, so a lot of credit for the following descriptions goes to them and I’d warmly recommend you read their takes too. Regardless, we’ve summarized their main points and combined them with our own experiences to create the following archetypes.

We’ll next explain each of these briefly, along with a quick summary of the key strengths and weaknesses for each.

External Innovation Organizational Model

No in-house innovation

The first and simplest way to organize innovation is to not do it, or to completely outsource it. Perhaps the most common method here is to simply keep tabs on promising startups and then acquire them, or to have tight collaboration with universities and other research institutions.

While this obviously keeps things simple organization-wise and minimizes fixed costs, it also means that you no longer have control over your own destiny, and are instead reliant on third parties, which puts you in a very vulnerable position long term. Furthermore, in the last decade, we’ve seen a huge inflow of capital to fund startups, which means that valuations for promising startups have skyrocketed and acquiring them on the cheap is simply no longer a very feasible strategy.

Suffice to say, if you want to build an organization that thrives in the long run, I wouldn’t recommend this approach.

Pros

  • Low fixed costs
  • Structurally simple


Cons

  • Lack of strategic control and ability to build the future of the organization
  • Lack of differentiation
  • Reliance on third parties for both execution and especially exploration
  • Acquisition of promising innovations has become expensive

Centralized Innovation Organizational Model

Centralized

Perhaps the most common way large organizations set up innovation is by creating a centralized department that serves the innovation needs of the entire organization including each business unit and support functions, such as IT or HR. This can be a subdivision within R&D, but these days it’s typically a separate cross-departmental unit serving the innovation needs of business units.

Either way, such a unit is quick and easy to set up, and the approach has some other obvious advantages too, such as innovation expertise being built and managed centrally, which speeds up learning, as well as management and reporting being easy to organize.

It’s these advantages that make centralization the obvious choice for many who are just starting out with innovation. This is also an especially common approach for large industrial companies that typically have a strong R&D tradition.

If all of the innovation has to go through a single team, that team will inevitably become a bottleneck for innovation, no matter how skilled or large it is.

However, in the long run, this approach is also one that is likely to significantly limit your innovation potential. The reason is simple: if all of the innovation has to go through a single team, that team will inevitably become a bottleneck for innovation. No matter how large or skilled the team, they’ll never have enough resources. What’s more, this will also disincentivize everyone else in the organization from innovating and that prevents you from creating a true culture of innovation.

Pros

  • Quick, easy, and cheap to set up
  • Dedicated resources for working on innovation
  • Easy to govern, manage, and report on the overall innovation portfolio
  • Centralization can speed up learning


Cons

  • Poor scalability as centralized team will inevitably become a bottleneck for innovation
  • Likely to be pulled into too many projects, which leads to poor execution
  • High risk of degenerating into a support function serving business unit requests instead of strategically building the future of the organization
  • Likely to disincentivize others in the organization from innovating
  • Conflicting interests between business units can make prioritization difficult
  • Typically lack authority to make important, hard decisions

Dedicated Innovation Organizational Model

Dedicated

Popularized by Clayton Christensen as a solution to the Innovators’s Dilemma, dedicated business units for innovation have become increasingly popular in large organizations that are looking for the next stage of their growth. Sometimes these units have proper P&L responsibility, and they might even report directly to the CEO or others in senior management, but at times they can also be innovation labs responsible primarily for testing and piloting new ideas before they are to be integrated into the core business.

Regardless of the particularities, these approaches have some specific strengths, but also clear weaknesses. The good thing is that because the unit is independent, it can usually avoid being held back by the restrictions of the business as usual and can build their talent and approaches from scratch.

If innovation is the job of a select few, it will be incredibly hard to build a pro-innovation culture.

The downside is that they also don’t necessarily play to the strengths that the organization has already built. Without strong and clear leadership, these kinds of innovation efforts are likely to have an equally poor success rate as your average startup – but without the asymmetric upside.

The reason is simple: if you already have hundreds of millions or billions in revenue, most new businesses just don’t move the needle enough – unless they can quickly grow to a massive size or be combined with the strengths and competitive advantages of the core business.

And just like with the centralized model, this model again limits innovation to one part of the organization. As before, that will likely prevent you from creating a true culture of innovation, and thus lead to the unit becoming a bottleneck down the road.

Pros

  • Freedom to operate independently from processes of existing business units, which is essential for trying new things and creating disruptive innovations
  • Ability to hire and organize specifically for innovation
  • If led well, ability to focus on the long-term instead of short-term performance
  • High profile innovation unit can also be used for marketing and employer branding purposes


Cons

  • Conflicts of interest and lack of cooperation between core business and innovation unit likely to lead to politics, tension, and other challenges in integrating innovations into core business
  • Independence and lack of communication between business units might hurt strategic alignment and prevent the innovation unit from benefiting from the existing strengths of the organization
  • Can easily degenerate into a cost center performing innovation theaterwithout a clear strategic focus, strong leadership, and evidence-based processes
  • Likely to disincentivize innovation in other parts of the organization and thus prevent the creation of an innovation culture
  • High initial investment with lots of uncertainty can make the business case for investing in innovation look bad

Embedded Innovation Organizational Model

Embedded

Many organizations have relatively independent business units or product and brand teams, and for them it can often make sense for innovation to be embedded within these units.

Traditional examples of such an approach are companies like P&G and other CPG companies with strong brands. These companies are working hard to keep up to date with evolving trends and consumer needs to innovate and create new products for the consumer. However, the same can also be true for many other kinds of businesses, such as software companies with multiple products.

Depending on the industry and organization, these units might have varying levels of control over their innovations once they are on the market. For example, in CPG companies manufacturing, logistics and many other functions would likely be managed by core business operations instead of this unit.

Pros

  • Better able to focus innovation on things that matter for each business, be they strategic projects or emerging customer needs
  • More control over innovation resources and ability to get talent that meets specific needs
  • Parallelization over different units can increase innovation throughput of the organization overall
  • Easier to align innovation with business needs and plans within the unit
  • The business case for investing in innovation is typically easy to make as you can start from low-hanging fruits that provide immediate value


Cons

  • Innovation likely to be biased towards more applied and incremental projects due to focus on immediate business needs
  • Some efforts may be duplicated between teams, especially if more long-term R&D work is being done
  • Can lead to a silo-effect, extra need to focus on facilitating knowledge transfer between units

Ambidextrous Innovation Organizational Model

Ambidextrous

Our fifth approach is usually referred to as the ambidextrous organization. We’ve  also seen it be referred to as the Hybrid model, and it’s quite a natural evolution from the previous archetypes as it seeks to combine the best of both worlds.

In a nutshell, the idea is that innovation should happen across the organization with existing business units focused on exploiting their current position through incremental innovation, and a separate dedicated unit being responsible for exploring and building the future of the organization through more radical or disruptive innovation.

In the ambidextrous model, existing units use incremental innovation to exploit the current position and new units are set up to explore and build future.

In practice, a new P&L responsible division will be setup for new non-core businesses, and the more incremental innovation will then be organised either as Embedded or Centralized.

If an organization does successfully implement such an approach, it can lead to exceptional long-term performance, but that’s of course easier said than done. For most organizations, this is likely to require a significant transformation, and it can be challenging to get everyone onboard, build the right processes, as well as to align goals and incentives the right way across the organization.

Pros

  • Easier to build a balanced innovation portfolio with both strong short and long-term performance
  • Enables building an innovation-oriented culture across the organization
  • Enough resources for key projects across the organization
  • Makes it easier to communicate the innovation strategy with clear roles and responsibilities for each part of the organization
  • Can customize governance models to meet the needs of different types of innovation in different parts of the organization


Cons

  • Expensive and difficult to build, as well as to maintain
  • Requires clear leadership and a commitment to a transformation from the top
  • Can demotivate innovation-oriented employees that are in the core business
  • Usually requires extensive changes to processes and the re-skilling of managers and employees across the organization
  • While easier than with most other models on paper, prioritization and division of responsibilities can still be challenging in practice

Decentralized Innovation Organization

Decentralized

Our final model is the decentralized approach. If you look at any of the best innovators in the world, be it Apple, Tesla, SpaceX, or Amazon, this is closest to the model they use. None of these organizations has a centralized or dedicated team responsible for all innovation in the organization.

Instead, the organization decentralizes the responsibility for innovation to happen in individual teams (which are typically cross-functional and relatively small) across the organization. Each team is focused on figuring out how they could help the organization better reach their strategic goals, and innovation is just one of the key tools in that process.

If a team (or an individual leader or employee) comes across a big idea that shows promise but would require significant additional investments, they’ll apply for additional resources from management via a quick and streamlined process. If approved, that typically leads to another team being set up to pursue that idea.

This approach is sometimes called the permissionless model due to the significant freedom each team possesses to make decisions affecting their own work. The obvious advantages are that they usually know the problems intimately and have the resources, incentive, and know-how to solve them, and have fewer dependencies to other parts of the organization. That leads to an extremely high pace of innovation and innovation throughput for the organization, which together create a tremendous competitive advantage.

Loosely Coupled vs Tightly Coupled Organization

Having said that, this too isn’t exactly an easy model to implement for most organizations. Typically, this would require a fundamentally different mindset, leadership philosophy, and a significantly higher talent density. For the average organization, that means a full-blown transformation where most fundamentals in the organization would need to change, which of course isn’t feasible for many.

Pros

  • Extremely high throughput and pace of innovation
  • Ability to adapt, re-organize and meet changing demands quickly
  • Strong focus on execution and value creation
  • Clear roles and responsibilities


Cons

  • Would require a fundamental transformation for most organizations
  • Requires strong communication and strategic clarity from management
  • Active management involvement required to remove barriers and to organize teams so that the portfolio remains balanced
  • Requires high talent density across the organization, which can be very challenging to achieve in practice
  • Continuously evolving and rapidly changing landscape might be too intensive for some employees
  • Some work often initially duplicated across teams, but can be managed by creating horizontal support teams

Choosing the right approach for your organization

As you can see, every approach has their benefits, but also their disadvantages.

In our experience, the Hybrid and especially Decentralized are the likeliest approaches to lead to sustained levels of high innovation performance in the 21stcentury but implementing either isn’t exactly a walk in the park for a large organization. If you have the luxury of meeting (or are close to meeting) the prerequisites, these are the models I’d personally go for.

However, for many, that just isn’t the reality. Even if you’re like most organizations and don’t quite have the talent, leadership, or other prerequisites needed for these approaches, I’d keep either the Hybrid or Decentralized approach as your eventual goal to build towards.

Move control and decision-making down in the organization to be able to move faster, make more informed decisions, respond to changes quicker, and to simply innovate more.

However, instead of a major overnight transformation, you should be prepared for a set of smaller, gradual steps that build your capabilities and culture towards that future while solving the current problems with your processes and structures.

Centralization vs Innovation Maturity

While not ideal in theory, in practice the journey towards becoming a mature top innovator typically first leads towards centralization for most incumbent organizations. They need to build their innovation strategy, knowledge and capabilities before they can successfully decentralize and move control and decision-making down in the organization to be able to move faster, make more informed decisions, respond to changes quicker, and to simply innovate more.

With that background, if such an approach is used, it’s crucial that this centralized innovation function understands and embraces their temporary role so that they are willing to relinquish control and power over innovation to others. All too often we see these leaders clinging on to the team, budget and power they’ve built long after it would’ve been in the organizations’ best interest to re-organize.

Best practices for organizing innovation

As we’ve discussed, if you’re planning to make changes to the way you organize innovation, most decisions will depend on your context. Still, there are a few things that are good to keep in mind regardless of the approach you end up choosing. Here’s my top three:

The best innovators continuously evolve

The first, and perhaps the most important point to remember is that the best innovators continuously evolve and improve the way they work. They don’t just pick one organizational structure and go with that forever. Instead, they are constantly looking for ways to re-organize their efforts so that they work on whatever is likely to best help them reach their goals. This is of course one of the fundamental strengths of the Decentralized model but applies to other approaches too.

This is also in line with how the most successful organizations approach re-organizations in general. They don’t just wait until the old structure is burning, they act proactively to position themselves for the future they want to create.

Clear roles and decision-making structures

It’s pretty obvious, but if people don’t know who can make a decision on an idea that they may have, or even who’s responsibility it would fall under, odds are that not a lot of innovation will happen.

The reality is that there will always be some ambiguity and overlap, especially in fast moving environments, but clear roles and decision-making structures are regardless important for an organization that wants to innovate.

If projects or decisions seem to get stuck, or turf battles seem to consistently pop up in your organization, unclear roles and ambiguous decision-making are likely to be the main culprits.

Organize according to strategy and plan for the execution

Again, it might sound obvious, but especially with innovation, the differences can be dramatic. Organization is the link between your strategy and your execution, so make sure it isn’t detached from the realities of what it will take to reach your goals with innovation.

To use a bit of a simplified example, if your strategy is focused on creating new business from emerging disruptive technologies, then the Embedded model probably won’t cut it as your innovators will be kept busy by the priorities from the core business.

How to organize innovation

Plan for the execution, on the other hand means that each team should have the resources and the freedom needed to reach your goals. If, using our previous example, you allocate just a few engineers to the team and then hope that sales will magically turn those technologies into booming businesses, odds are very much against you.

In other words, try to allocate resources so that the team has everything they need to reach their goals. While this sounds super basic, we still see these mistakes frequently when innovation is a bit of an afterthought for management.

Conclusion

As is probably evident by now, no structure or approach to governing innovation is ever going to be perfect, at least for long. As your goals change or your business and industry keep evolving, you will need to change and evolve too.

Even though organizing innovation doesn’t seem to get the same kind of attention as innovation strategy or culture, it’s extremely important, nevertheless. Get it wrong, and it will be almost impossible for your organization to succeed at innovation. Get it right, and you’ll at the very least have a realistic shot at that.

Hopefully this article has provided you with more thoughts on the topic, and some views on what to do and not-to-do.

This article was originally published in Viima’s blog.

Image credits: Unsplash, Viima, Nick Skillicorn

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Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2021

Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2021After a week of torrid voting and much passionate support, along with a lot of gut-wrenching consideration and jostling during the judging round, I am proud to announce your Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2021:

  1. Janet Sernack
    Janet SernackJanet Sernack is the Founder and CEO of ImagineNation™ which provides innovation consulting services to help organizations adapt, innovate and grow through disruption by challenging businesses to be, think and act differently to co-create a world where people matter & innovation is the norm.

  2. Greg Satell
    Greg SatellGreg Satell is a popular speaker and consultant. His first book, Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age, was selected as one of the best business books in 2017. Follow his blog at Digital Tonto or on Twitter @Digital Tonto.

  3. Braden Kelley
    Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a Human-Centered Experience, Innovation and Transformation consultant at HCL Technologies, a popular innovation speaker, workshop leader, and creator of the Human-Centered Change™ methodology. He is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons and Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan. Follow him on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.


  4. Jesse Nieminen
    Jesse NieminenJesse Nieminen is the Co-founder and Chairman at Viima, the best way to collect and develop ideas. Viima’s innovation management software is already loved by thousands of organizations all the way to the Global Fortune 500. He’s passionate about helping leaders drive innovation in their organizations and frequently writes on the topic, usually in Viima’s blog.

  5. Robert B Tucker
    Robert TuckerRobert B. Tucker is the President of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group. He is a speaker, seminar leader and an expert in the management of innovation and assisting companies in accelerating ideas to market.

  6. Rachel Audige
    Rachel AudigeRachel Audige is an Innovation Architect who helps organisations embed inventive thinking as well as a certified Systematic Inventive Thinking Facilitator, based in Melbourne.


  7. Howard Tiersky
    Howard TierskyHoward Tiersky is an inspiring and passionate speaker, the Founder and CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency, innovation consultant, serial entrepreneur, and the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance. IDG named him one of the “10 Digital Transformation Influencers to Follow Today”, and Enterprise Management 360 named Howard “One of the Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers That Will Change Your World.”

  8. Paul Sloane
    Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, both published by Kogan-Page.

  9. Pete Foley
    A twenty-five year Procter & Gamble veteran, Pete has spent the last 8+ years applying insights from psychology and behavioral science to innovation, product design, and brand communication. He spent 17 years as a serial innovator, creating novel products, perfume delivery systems, cleaning technologies, devices and many other consumer-centric innovations, resulting in well over 100 granted or published patents. Find him at pete.mindmatters@gmail.com

  10. Nicolas Bry
    Nicolas BryNicolas is an International Innovation Executive, expert in corporate innovation programs, and innovation labs, designing place where good innovation thrives! He currently helps the 20 innovation managers of Orange Africa to develop their projects locally. In 2019 he wrote The Intrapreneurs’ Factory, a practical guide to leverage intrapreneurship for your company, and is the writer of the innovation blog RapidInnovation.fr.

  11. Build a common language of innovation on your team


  12. Arlen Meyers
    Arlen MyersArlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org

  13. Linda Naiman
    Linda NaimanLinda Naiman helps executives and their teams develop creativity, innovation, and leadership capabilities, through coaching, training and consulting. She brings a multi-disciplinary approach to learning and development by leveraging arts-based practices to foster creativity at work, and design thinking as a strategy for innovation.


  14. Anthony Mills
    Anthony MillsAnthony Mills is the Founder & CEO of Legacy Innovation Group (www.legacyinnova.com), a world-leading strategic innovation consulting firm working with organizations all over the world. Anthony is also the Executive Director of GInI – Global Innovation Institute (www.gini.org), the world’s foremost certification, accreditation, and membership organization in the field of innovation. Anthony has advised leaders from around the world on how to successfully drive long-term growth and resilience through new innovation. Learn more at www.anthonymills.com. Anthony can be reached directly at anthony@anthonymills.com.

  15. John Bessant
    John BessantJohn Bessant has been active in research, teaching, and consulting in technology and innovation management for over 25 years. Today, he is Chair in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Research Director, at Exeter University. In 2003, he was awarded a Fellowship with the Advanced Institute for Management Research and was also elected a Fellow of the British Academy of Management. He has acted as advisor to various national governments and international bodies including the United Nations, The World Bank, and the OECD. John has authored many books including Managing innovation and High Involvement Innovation (Wiley). Follow @johnbessant

  16. Mike Shipulski
    Mike ShipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

  17. Scott Anthony
    Scott AnthonyScott Anthony is a strategic advisor, writer and speaker on topics of growth and innovation. He has been based in Singapore since 2010, and currently serves at the Managing Director of Innosight’s Asia-Pacific operations.


  18. Jeffrey Phillips
    Jeffrey Phillips has over 15 years of experience leading innovation in Fortune 500 companies, federal government agencies and non-profits. He is experienced in innovation strategy, defining and implementing front end processes, tools and teams and leading innovation projects. He is the author of Relentless Innovation and OutManeuver. Jeffrey writes the popular Innovate on Purpose blog. Follow him @ovoinnovation

  19. Phil McKinney
    Phil McKinneyPhil McKinney is the Author of “Beyond The Obvious”​, Host of the Killer Innovations Podcast and Syndicated Radio Show, a Keynote Speaker, President & CEO CableLabs and an Innovation Mentor and Coach.


  20. Gijs van Wulfen
    Gijs van WulfenGijs van Wulfen helps organizations to structure the chaotic start of innovation as author, speaker and facilitator. He is the founder of the FORTH innovation method and author of the innovation bestseller The Innovation Expedition. He was chosen by LinkedIn as one of their first 150 Influencers. Follow Gijs @gijsvanwulfen


  21. Kate Hammer
    Kate HammerKate Hammer is a joint founder of KILN, working with large-scale companies in the USA and Australia to transform their internal innovation processes. Kate works as a business storyteller. In 2012, she created StoryFORMs to help others articulate their commercial & organisational stories. Kate offers workshops & 1:1 coaching.

  22. Accelerate your change and transformation success


  23. Phil Buckley
    Phil BuckleyPhil Buckley is an award-winning author and change management strategist with over 32 large-scale change initiatives, including co-leading global change management for the $19.6 billion Kraft Foods acquisition of Cadbury. He is the author of two books: Change on the Run and Change with Confidence. You can find Phil’s podcast and monthly newsletter at www.changewithconfidence.com.

  24. Tamara Ghandour
    Tamara GhandourTamara Ghandour of GoToLaunchStreet is a TED speaker and entrepreneur. From building and running multimillion dollar businesses, advising Fortune 500 like Disney, Procter and Gamble and RICOH on fostering innovative ideas and people. Tamara’s life is about breaking through the status quo for game-changing results, and that’s what her keynotes, online programs and assessments can do for you.

  25. Tom Koulopoulos
    Thomas KoulopoulosTom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.

  26. Michael Graber
    Michael GraberMichael Graber is the cofounder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis.

  27. Yoram Solomon
    Four Rules to Snap Judge a New VentureDr. Yoram Solomon is the author of The Book of Trust and 12 more books, a TEDx and keynote speaker, the founder of the Innovation Culture Institute, and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship. You can follow him everywhere on @yoramsolomon.

  28. Shilpi Kumar
    Shilpi KumarShilpi Kumar an inquisitive researcher, designer, strategist and an educator with over 15 years of experience, who truly believes that we can design a better world by understanding human behavior. I work with organizations to identify strategic opportunities and offer user-centric solutions.

  29. Shawn Nason
    Shawn NasonShawn Nason, founder and CEO of MOFI, lives his life with a commitment to make everyone he meets a part of his family. Armed with the gift of discernment, he has the uncanny ability to walk alongside people as they struggle to connect with their deepest passions and engage their most debilitating demons. He challenges the world around him to be fully present, get real, and knock down the barrier that separates the various compartments in their lives.


  30. John Carter
    John CarterJohn Carter has been a widely respected adviser to technology firms over his career. John is the author of Innovate Products Faster: Graphical Tools for Accelerating Product Development. As Founder and Principal of TCGen Inc., he has advised some of the most revered technology firms in the world.

  31. Jeff Rubingh
    Jeff RubinghJeff Rubingh is a technology innovation expert, consultant and analyst. Focused on the intersection between technology and business, Jeff helps clients identify ground-breaking solutions that maximize ROI across existing and emerging technology disciplines.

  32. Ludwig Melik
    Ludwig MelikLudwig Melik is CEO of Planbox, whose mission is to help organizations thrive by transforming the culture of agile work, continuous innovation, and creativity across the entire organization… Connect with him on LinkedIn or join the conversation by following Planbox on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


    Get the Change Planning Toolkit


  33. Soren Kaplan
    Soren KaplanSoren Kaplan is the bestselling and award-winning author of Leapfrogging and The Invisible Advantage, an affiliated professor at USC’s Center for Effective Organizations, a former corporate executive, and a co-founder of UpBOARD. He has been recognized by the Thinkers50 as one of the world’s top keynote speakers and thought leaders in business strategy and innovation.

  34. Shelly Greenway
    Shelly GreenwayShelly Greenway is a front-end innovation strategist and partner at The Strategy Distillery – a brand innovation consultancy that specialises in opportunity hunting and proposition development. Their success rates are driven by their proprietary consumer co-creation IP. Follow @ChiefDistiller

  35. Eric Eskey
    Eric EskeyEric Eskey is a Managing Director at Strategyn, an innovation consultancy. Eric is in the business of creating the future. I aim to use the resources he has – his work, investments, voice, and imagination – to encourage innovation and defeat the hidden forces that resist it.


  36. Mick Simonelli
    Mick SimonelliMick Simonelli is an innovator with 20+ years of implementing change and positive disruption at USAA. As a military veteran, he held transformation roles in numerous military organizations; and as a business executive, he purposely hired vets to help launch numerous innovations as the Chief Innovation Officer for a Fortune 500 company. Mick currently serves as an innovation consultant and can be found at www.micksimonelli.com Follow @MickSimonelli


  37. Mitch Ditkoff
    Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of “Awake at the Wheel”, as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.


  38. Peter Cook
    Peter CookPeter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, providing Keynotes, Organisational Development and Coaching. He is the author of seven books on business leadership. His three passions are science, business and music, having led innovation teams for 18 years to develop life-saving drugs including the first treatments for AIDS and the development of Human Insulin. Peter is Music and Business editor at Innovation Excellence. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock.


  39. Mukesh Gupta
    Mukesh GuptaMukesh Gupta is Director of Customer Advocacy, SAP India Private Limited. He also served as Executive Liaison for the SAP User group in India, and as a Global Lead in Sales & Business Development. He blogs, and shares podcasts and videos, on his site rmukeshgupta.com


  40. Paul Hobcraft
    Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities. Follow @paul4innovating

  41. Ralph Christian Ohr
    Ralph OhrDr. Ralph-Christian Ohr has extensive experience in product/innovation management for international technology-based companies. His particular interest is targeted at the intersection of organizational and human innovation capabilities. You can follow him on Twitter @Ralph_Ohr.

  42. Randy Pennington
    Randy PenningtonRandy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority for helping leaders deliver positive results in a world of uncertainty and change. To learn more or to engage Randy for your organization, visit www.penningtongroup.com, email info@penningtongroup.com, or call 972-980-9857 (U.S.).

If your favorite didn’t make the list, then next year try to rally more votes for them or convince them to increase the quality and quantity of their contributions.

Our lists from the ten previous years have been tremendously popular, including:

Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2015
Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2016
Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2017
Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2018
Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2019
Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2020

Download PDF versions of the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2020 and 2021 lists here:


Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2020 PDF . . . Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2021

Happy New Year everyone!

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Sickcare Digital Transformation Playbook

Sickcare Digital Transformation Playbook

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers

First there was the Great Recession. Then came the Great Resignation. Now we are facing the Great Digital Transformation, i.e. how do businesses win the 4th industrial revolution?

When cloud computing collides with 5G, the internet of medical things, quantum computing, virtual reality and virtual medicine, all occuring in an environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, things get wicked.

So what should be your next steps if you want to be standing on the middle podium of sickcare digital transformation?

  1. Create value by constantly changing and testing your business models
  2. Scale your culture
  3. Lead innovators, don’t manage innovation systems
  4. Focus on the people part
  5. Transform sick care to healthcare
  6. Fix your dysfunctional processes and eliminate waste
  7. Steal ideas from other industries
  8. Be sure you get the right information and communication tools to the job site
  9. Change your mindset1
  10. Commit to adoption of digital solutions with the same passion that you commit to strategy.
  11. Become an ambidextrous organization
  12. Think big, start small, stay small on projects that matter to end users and patients.

The digital transformation of medicine has become a land grab for investor’s money and end user shelf space. Some think it is a bubble and it remains to be seen how much will be left after the pandemic. One thing you can be sure of, though, is that the solutions will mutate faster than the corona virus and we will need constant innovation to immunize ourselves against obsolescence and the corporate immune system.

Image credit: Pixabay

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