Tag Archives: constraints

How to Solve Transparent Problems

How to Solve Transparent Problems

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

One of the best problems to solve for your customers is the problem they don’t know they have. If you can pull it off, you will create an entirely new value proposition for them and enable them to do things they cannot do today. But the problem is they can’t ask you to solve it because they don’t know they have it.

To identify problems customs can’t see, you’ve got to watch them go about their business. You’ve got to watch all aspects of their work and understand what they do and why they do it that way. And it’s their why that helps you find the transparent problems. When they tell you their why, they tell you the things they think cannot change and the things they consider fundamental constraints. Their whys tell you what they think is unchangeable. And from their perspective, they’re right. These things are unchangeable because they don’t know what’s possible with new technologies.

Once you know their unchangeable constraints, choose one to work on and turn it into a tight problem statement. Then use your best tools and methods to solve it. Once solved, you’ve got to make a functional prototype and show them in person. Without going back to them with a demonstration of a functional prototype, they won’t believe you. Remember, you did something they didn’t think was possible and changed the unchangeable.

When demonstrating the prototype to the customer, just show it in action. Don’t describe it, just show them and let them ask questions. Listen to their questions so you can see the prototype through their eyes. And to avoid leading the witness, limit yourself to questions that help you understand why they see the prototype as they do. The way they see the prototype will be different than your expectations, and that difference is called learning. And if you find yourself disagreeing with them, you’re doing it wrong.

This first prototype won’t hit the mark exactly, but it will impress the customer and it will build trust with them. And because they watched the prototype in action, they will be able to tell you how to improve it. Or better yet, with their newfound understanding of what’s possible, they might be able to see a more meaningful transparent problem that, once solved, could revolutionize their industry.

Customers know their work and you know what’s possible. And prototypes are a great way to create the future together.

Transparent” by Rene Mensen is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Innovating Through Adversity and Constraints

Innovating Through Adversity and Constraints

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

It’s been almost two and a half years since most of us shifted to working virtually and remotely, which, in turn, seriously disrupted most of our business-as-usual behaviors and learning habits. Interestingly, this also disrupted our habitual unconscious safety and comfort zones, and, in many cases, disconnected our overall sense of security. For some of us, our ability to make sense of ourselves and our futures, has been impacted, impacting our abilities to find new ways of being creative and innovating through the range of constraints and adverse situations.

Looking inward

Some of us have also had our confidence to survive and thrive in a world severely impacted, and many of us have felt exploited, exhausted, and depleted by our employers. According to Lynda Gratton, in a recent article in MIT Sloane Magazine “Making Sense of the Future” many of us are looking inward — working through the impact of our changing habits, networks, and skills, and begin to imagine other life trajectories and possible selves.

Looking outward

Again, according to Lynda Gratton, some of us are now also looking outward to analyze how talent markets are changing and what competitors are doing, which is creating momentum and a force for change, but also frustration and anxiety, given institutional lag and inertia.

The larger-than-life, terrible, and confronting conflict in Ukraine has also inflated, for some of us, a deeper sense of helplessness and exhaustion, and amplified our concerns and fears for a sustainable future.

The momentum for change is growing 

Yet some people have successfully responded to worries and concerns about the inertia holding our companies back, and have adapted to working, learning, and coaching online. Using this moment in time to help de-escalate our reactivity to what’s been going on to deeply connect, explore, discover, listen, and respond creatively to what is really important, to ourselves, our people, teams and our organizations.

To help shift the tension between today and tomorrow, through regenerating and replenishing ourselves and our teams, by shifting the dialogue towards renewing and innovating through constraints and adversity in uncertain and unstable times.

Innovating through constraints at ImagineNation™

Innovating through constraints enabled the collective at ImagineNation™ to design and deliver a bespoke, intense, and immersive learning journey for an executive team aiming at igniting and mobilizing their collective genius to step up to face their fears, adapt, take smart risks and innovate in uncertain and disruptive times!

Some of the constraints we collaboratively and creatively mastered included adapting to differing:

  • Geographies, we are based in Melbourne, Australia, and our client was based in Canada, which made managing time zone schedules challenging, including some very early 4.30 am starts for us –  Making flexibility and adaptiveness crucial to our success.  
  • Technologies, balancing Zoom-based online webinars and workshops, with Google chat rooms and jamboards, completing one on one coaching sessions, and assigning, completing, and presenting group action learning assignments – Reinforcing the need for constant iteration and pivoting to ensure the delivery of outcomes, as promised.
  • Communicating, including air freighting hard copy reflection packs, scheduling, and partnering virtually, all within a remote and fractured working environment –Ensuring that clarity and consistency would lead to the successful delivery of the outcomes, as promised.

Shifting the dialogue

Demonstrating that we can all be resilient and creative when we live in times of great uncertainty and instability through investing in reskilling people and teams to become more purposeful, human, and customer-centric.

We can all break the inertia by challenging our business-as-usual thinking and shifting the dialogue towards exploring our inner challenges and navigating the outer challenges of our current environment.

If we commit to doing this with more consciousness, hope, optimism, and control, to follow a direction rather than a specific destination by:

  • Perceiving this moment in time as an “unfreezing opportunity” and an opening to shift out of inertia and complacency, to re-generate and re-invent ourselves and our teams?
  • Knowing how to connect, explore, discover, generate and catalyze creative ideas to rapidly and safely unlearn, relearn, collaborate and innovate through constraints and adversity?
  • Committing to letting go of our “old baggage” and ways of making sense of our new reality, by experimenting with smart risk-taking, and making gamification accessible in an environment that is unpredictable?

Re-generating and re-inventing in uncertain and unstable times

In fact, many of us successfully adapted to online working, learning, and coaching environments by de-escalating any feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

To bravely focus on regenerating and reinventing ourselves and our teams and using this moment in time to be curious, shift the dialogue, explore possibilities, harness collective intelligence and ask some catalytic questions:

  • What if we intentionally disrupted our current way of thinking?
  • How might we think differently to shift our perception and perceive our worlds with “fresh eyes”? What might be possible?
  • What if we shift the dialogue to engage people in innovating through constraints?
  • How might we shift the dialogue to activate and mobilize people towards taking intelligent risks through constraints?
  • How might thinking differently empower, enable and equip ourselves and our teams to navigate the current environment with more hope and optimism?
  • What if re-consider and perceive these constraints differently?
  • How might we support people to ignite their creativity?
  • How might we equip people to be creative and develop better ideas?
  • How might we resource people to force more change and innovation?
  • How might we discover new ways of creating value for people in ways that they appreciate and cherish?

Grappling with the future is paradoxical

Finally, Lynda Gratton suggests that we need to:

“Acknowledge that this is not straightforward. Right now, many leaders are stuck between two sources of tension: the tension of enlightenment, where they can begin to imagine what is possible, and the tension of denial, where they are concerned that more flexible working arrangements will negatively affect performance. They grapple with whether the change will be necessary or possible. These are legitimate tensions that are only exacerbated by the sense of exhaustion many people feel”.

If we perceive these constraints as catalysts for setting a clear focus and direction, it might force us to experiment with creative ways of acting and doing things differently.

It might also force us to make tougher decisions around our inner and outer priorities, by exploring and discovering more balanced, creative, and inventive ways of constantly iterating and pivoting whatever resources are available to get the important jobs done.

An opportunity to learn more

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, May 4, 2022.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Innovation Requires Constraints

Innovation Requires Constraints

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Some years ago, I wrote an article in Harvard Business Review about stock buybacks, which were being pilloried at the time. Many people thought that companies were spending too much money to gin up their stock price when they could be investing those funds into innovation, making better products and creating new markets.

Yet I pointed out that things weren’t as they seemed. As Clayton Christensen had showed around the same time, there was a superabundance of capital (in response to the financial crisis, central banks had been flooding markets with money) and corporations had more money than they could profitably invest.

I also suspected, although the evidence was scant at the time, that the extra money was going to Silicon Valley startups, which seemed to me to be less potentially problematic, especially when the public sector was being woefully underfunded at the same time. Today, we can see the results and they aren’t pretty. Without constructive constraints, even good ideas go bad.

The Chimera of Mass Adoption

Shai Agassi had a good idea. His key insight was that electric cars couldn’t survive without an ecosystem of charging stations. Therefore, he reasoned, to spur mass adoption you needed to develop the cars and the charging stations in tandem. Once you relieved the problem of “range anxiety,” so the theory went, ordinary consumers would buy in.

An entrepreneur at heart, Agassi started a company, Better Place, to make his vision a reality and, with the support of a wide array of celebrities and politicians, raised nearly a billion dollars of venture capital. It seemed like a sure winner. After all, with that much money and star power, what could go wrong?

As it turns out, everything could go wrong. From the design of the cars, to the charging stations to the batteries themselves, every detail was fraught with problems. But with so much money, Agassi could continue to press forward, sell his vision and win over partners. Instead of resolving issues, they multiplied. In a few short years, the company was bankrupt.

The truth is that, outside of software, going after mass adoption from the start is usually a bad idea. Rather than trying to please everybody at once, you are much better off focusing on a hair-on-fire use case—a small segment of customers that has a problem they need solved so badly that they almost literally have their hair on fire—and building up from there.

Incidentally, that is exactly what Elon Musk did with Tesla. He didn’t try to build for the mass market, but for Silicon Valley millionaires who wanted a cool, eco-friendly car and wouldn’t need to rely on it for everyday use. That foothold allowed the company to learn from its inevitable mistakes, improve the product and its manufacturing process and, eventually, to prevail in the marketplace against much bigger, but more traditional, competitors.

Buying Into The Silicon Valley Myth

While Agassi’s idea had a certain logic to it, Adam Neumann’s is much harder to figure out. Essentially, he sold investors on the idea that renting coworking space to businesses, which was not at all a new or innovative idea, could somehow be married with some Silicon Valley pixie dust. The result was WeWork, a $47 billion debacle.

While WeWork is, in many ways, an exceptional case, in others it is surprisingly mundane. For more than a decade, investors—and the business community at large— have bought into the Silicon Valley myth that its model of venture-funded entrepreneurship is widely applicable outside of software and consumer gadgets. It is not.

The truth is that Silicon Valley’s way of doing business was a specific solution that applied to a limited set of industries where low or near-zero marginal costs and the potential for network effects made increasing returns to investment not only possible, but a legitimate business planning objective.

Unfortunately, when you try to apply those same business principles to an industry where those conditions do not exist, you essentially get a Ponzi scheme. As long as investors continue to pour money in, the business can continue to win market share by undercutting competitors on price. Eventually though, as in the case of WeWork, the bottom falls out.

The Cult of Talent

Better Place and WeWork, as well as other notable “unicorn debacles” such as Uber and Theranos, are cautionary tales. Venture capitalists, believing in their own brilliance as well as their ability to spot it in others, shoveled money into founders with questionable ideas and, as soon became apparent, even worse morals.

But what if you could have the best of both worlds? What if you could take all of that Silicon Valley venture money and, instead of throwing it all at some young hotshot, invest it in some grizzled veterans with real track records. Instead of betting on a long shot, you could essentially put your money on a proven performer.

That, essentially, was the idea behind Quibi, a short form video company founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who revived Disney’s animation studio and then went on to even greater success as Co-Founder of Dreamworks, and Meg Whitman, who led eBay from a small startup of 30 people to become a global powerhouse employing thousands and earning billions.

Yet these two old hands, with all of their experience and know-how, somehow managed to do even worse than the more obviously incompetent Agassi and Neumann. Despite raising more than $2 billion, within seven months of launching, Quibi acknowledged defeat, shutting down operations and vowing to return whatever money that was left over to investors.

A Recurring Pattern of Fundamental Fallacy

It’s not hard to see an underlying pattern in all three of these massive failures. Venture investors, whose model is based on the principle that one outsized success can easily make up for any number of failed ventures, have come to believe that betting big can increase the chance of hitting that unlikely triumph.

What they don’t seem to have considered is that too much money can make a good idea go bad. Clearly, electric cars can succeed in the marketplace. Coworking spaces have been a viable business model for decades. There’s no question that Katzenberg and Whitman are talented executives. Yet, with the massive support of investors, they all failed massively.

Yet researchers have known for decades that creativity needs constraints. When you have a limited budget, you simply don’t have the luxury of ignoring problems. You have to face up to them and solve them or you won’t survive. When you have virtually unlimited resources, however, you can leave the hard stuff till another day. Eventually, it all comes crashing down.

Unfortunately, as Charles Duhigg explains in a piece in The New Yorker, that Silicon Valley investors who are seen as insufficiently “founder friendly,” now find themselves shut out of the best deals. Further research has begun to show that these tendencies, souped up by an overabundance of capital, have begun to crowd out good investments.

Or, put another way, Silicon Valley is building a doomsday machine and we desperately need to get off.

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

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Following the Line to Innovation

Following the Line to InnovationOK, it may not really be an innovation, but I appreciated the following operational efficiency anyway:

Going to check out of the Hilton New York City, there was a queue in spite of the several available kiosks and multiple employees staffing the counter to help customers with various requests. Hilton had obviously invested in some business process consulting (or possibly listened to an employee suggestion) because in addition to the kiosks and the employees staffing the counter, they had an employee staffing the line to identify the needs of guests while they waited in line.

In my case, she asked how my stay was and I told her the story about how I had difficulty with the WiFi not allowing me back into my work e-mail after the connection went down and came back up again. I told her that the first night it worked fine and that I expected not to pay for the second night because it didn’t work properly (leaving important time-critical messages stuck in my outbox). She was sympathetic, but I halfway expected to have to tell the story all over again when I got up to the counter (as this is the typical bad customer experience on the phone or in person). I was surprised and impressed when she told the counter person to take off the second night’s WiFi and that I was ready to check out. Thankfully, I didn’t have to tell the story again.

This is good operational practice for a couple of reasons:

  1. It gave them a way of increasing throughput during busy times when they would otherwise be limited by the number of computer workstations.
  2. It provided a good customer experience. I only had to tell the story once.
  3. I was on my way much more quickly as a result, and the counter person was on to their next customer more quickly as well
  4. The poor person behind me didn’t have to wait while I told my story again, and potentially argued with the counter person because this had already been taken care of while we were both waiting in line (except no arguing was necessary).
  5. If the customer has no special needs, the employee can direct the customer to an available kiosk.

This example, while more about good operational practice and customer service than innovation, does provide the opportunity to identify process innovation opportunities if we look at our own business through a lens of separating the customer experience into the following parts:

  1. Information Gathering
  2. Information Evaluation
  3. Information Processing

Are there times in your business when your customers are waiting? Why are they waiting?

Innovation Training for your whole organization from Braden Kelley

Do you have certain resources that reach capacity quickly or for sustained periods during busy times that you can’t expand easily?

Is there a way to utilize that waiting time to separate out the information gathering or information evaluation components of a customer interaction, to allow for a division of labor that can be more easily flexed to accommodate demand spikes?

In a phone scenario, could you not implement an interactive voice response phone system that notifies the customer how long they can expect to wait and then transitions to a “While you are waiting…” message and then asks the customer for their name, account number, and phone number to either be played for the agent before transferring the call, or maybe even trying to do some kind of speech to text and facilitate a record-lookup using that information?

Maybe you need to allow your skilled people to focus on information evaluation and processing, while lower skilled people focus on information gathering. Or, maybe in your industry the skilled people are at the front end, focusing on information gathering and evaluation and need to be separated from the information processing tasks.

In a manufacturing environment, while we don’t talk about information gathering, evaluation, or processing, we still use the same logic to evaluate the overall system throughput. Then, break it down into components so that we can identify and manage critical constraints and manage them in a way that maximizes throughput.

So whether you are in a manufacturing or a service environment, are you constantly looking for ways to optimize throughput and maximize profits or customer service (or maybe even both)?

What are your favorite stories of process innovations that have led to improved customer service or manufacturing efficiencies?

P.S. Continue reading on this topic by reading – Followup – Following the Line to Innovation at Costco

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