Tag Archives: Google

Big Companies Should Not Try to Act Like Startups

Big Companies Should Not Try to Act Like Startups

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In 2009, Jeffrey Immelt set out on a journey to transform his company, General Electric, into a 124 year old startup. Although it was one of the largest private organizations in the world, with 300,000 employees, he sought to become agile and nimble enough to compete with high-flying Silicon Valley firms.

It didn’t end well. In 2017, problems in the firm’s power division led to massive layoffs. Immelt was forced to step down as CEO and GE was kicked off the Dow after 110 years. The company, which was once famous for its sound management, saw its stock tank. Much like most startups, the effort had failed.

Somewhere along the line we got it into our heads that large firms can’t innovate and should strive to act like startups. The truth is that they are very different types of organizations and need to innovate differently. While large firms can’t move as fast as startups, they have other advantages. Rather than try to act like startups, they need to leverage what they have.

Driving Innovation At Scale

The aviation industry is dominated by big companies. With a typical airliner costing tens of millions of dollars, there’s not much room for rapid prototyping. It takes years to develop a new product and the industry, perhaps not surprisingly, moves slowly. Planes today look pretty much the same as ones made decades ago.

Looks, however, can be deceiving. To understand how the aviation industry innovates, consider the case of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Although it may look like any other airplane, Boeing redesigned the materials within it. So a 787 is 20 percent lighter and 20 percent more efficient than similar models. That’s a significant achievement.

Developing advanced materials is not for the faint of heart. You can’t do it in a garage. You need deep scientific expertise, state-of-the-art facilities and the resources to work for years—and sometimes decades— to discover something useful. Only large enterprises can do that,

None of this means that startups don’t have a role to play. In fact one small company, Citrine Informatics, is applying artificial intelligence to materials discovery and revolutionizing the field. Still, to take on big projects that have the potential to make huge global impacts, you usually need a large enterprise.

Powering Startups

All too often, we see large enterprises and startups as opposite sides of the coin, with big companies representing the old guard and entrepreneurs representing the new wave, but that’s largely a myth. The truth is that innovation often works best when large firms and small firms are able to collaborate.

Scott Lenet, President of Touchdown Ventures, sees this first-hand every day. His company is somewhat unique in that, unlike most venture capital firms, it manages internal funds for large corporations. He’s found that large corporations are often seen as value added investors because of everything they bring to the table.

“For example,” he told me, “one of our corporate partners is Kellogg’s and they have enormous resources in technical expertise, distribution relationships and marketing acumen. The company has been in business for over 100 years and it’s learned quite a bit about the food business in that time. So that’s an enormous asset for a startup to draw on.”

He also points out that, while large firms tend to know how to do things well, they can’t match the entrepreneurial energy of someone striving to build their own business. “Startups thrive on new ideas,” Lenet says “and big firms know how to scale and improve those ideas. We’ve seen some of our investments really blossom based on that kind of partnership.”

Creating New Markets

Another role that large firms play is creating and scaling new markets. While small firms are often more agile, large companies have the clout and resources to scale and drive impact. That often also creates opportunities for entrepreneurs as well.

Consider the case of personal computers. By 1980, startups like Apple and Commodore had already been marketing personal computers for years, but it was mostly a cottage industry. When IBM launched the PC in 1981, however, the market exploded. Businesses could now buy a computer from a supplier that they knew and trusted.

It also created fantastic opportunities for companies like Microsoft, Intel and a whole range of entrepreneurs who flocked to create software and auxiliary devices for PCs. Later startups like Compaq and Dell created PC clones that were compatible with IBM products. The world was never the same after that.

Today, large enterprises like IBM, Google and Amazon dominate the market for artificial intelligence, but once again they are also creating fantastic opportunities for entrepreneurs. By accessing the tools that the tech giants have created through APIs, small firms can create amazing applications for their customers.

Innovation Needs Exploration

Clearly, large firms have significant advantages when it comes to innovation. They have resources, customer relationships and deep expertise to not only invent new things, but to scale businesses and bring products to market. Still, many fail to innovate effectively, which is why the average lifespan of companies on the S&P 500 continues to decline.

There’s no reason why that has to be true. The problem is that most large organizations spend so much time and effort fine-tuning their operations to meet earnings targets that they fail to look beyond their present business model. That’s not due to any inherent lack of capability, it’s due to a lack of imagination.

Make no mistake, if you don’t explore, you won’t discover. If you don’t discover you won’t invent and if you don’t invent you will be disrupted. So while you need to focus on the business at hand, you also need to leave some resources un-optimized so that you can identify and develop the next great opportunity.

A good rule of thumb to follow is 70-20-10. Focus 70% of your resources on developing your present business, 20% of your resources on opportunities adjacent to your current business, such as new markets and technologies and 10% on developing things that are completely new. That’s how you innovate for the long term.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credit: Pixabay

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We Need To Stop Glorifying Failure

Here’s What To Do Instead

We Need To Stop Glorifying Failure

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Over 50% of startups fail (and that number goes up to 75% for venture backed startups). The same is true of about three quarters of corporate transformations, which is probably why the average lifespan on the S&P 500 continues to shrink. These statistics tell a humbling story: few significant endeavors ever actually succeed.

So it’s probably not surprising that we’ve come to glorify failure. We are urged to “fail fast” and are cheered on when we do. Failure, after all, is hard evidence that you’ve tried something difficult and paid the price. Yet failure, as anyone who actually experienced it knows well, is a horrible, painful thing.

As I explain in Cascades, great transformations are achieved not by glorifying failure, but when we learn from mistakes and begin to do things differently. That’s how great enterprises are transformed, industries are disrupted and then remade a new and seemingly all powerful tyrants are overthrown. Failure is something we should never accept, but rather overcome.

Ask The Hard Questions

Go to just about any innovation conference and you will find some pundit on the stage telling the story of some corporate giant, usually Blockbuster, Kodak or Xerox, that stumbled and failed. It is then explained that these firms were run by silly, foolish people who simply didn’t want to see the signs of disruption around them.

These stories are almost never true and, in fact, should be seen as ridiculous on their face. It takes no small amount of intelligence, drive and ambition to run a significant enterprise so to suggest that executives managing highly successful businesses were utter dopes beggars belief. The truth is that smart, hard working people fail all the time.

Once you realize that it forces you to ask some hard questions. Why did these smart, successful people fail? Why weren’t the dangers lurking more obvious? What hidden forces were working against them? Why did they think that they actions they undertook, after no small amount of deliberation, were the best of the available options?

Consider the case of Mahatma Gandhi and his Himalayan miscalculation. In 1919, he organized a series of demonstrations to protest against unjust laws passed by the British Raj. These were successful at first, but soon got out of hand and eventually led to the massacre at Amritsar, in which British soldiers left hundreds dead and more than a thousand wounded.

Most people would have simply concluded that the British were far too cruel and brutal to be dealt with peacefully. Gandhi, however, looked for the error in his own actions and learned from his mistakes. A decade later, rather than embark on a wholesale revolt, he identified a keystone change that would break the logjam. Today, both the salt march that resulted, and Gandhi himself, have become icons.

Test Your Hypotheses (Cheaply)

If you want to get a project going in a typical organization, the first thing you do is try to procure a big budget. So you write up an impressive business plan, examine the political tea leaves and work your contacts. If you’re successful, you can build out a great staff, line up tier-one partners and really hit the ground running.

You also can’t make any mistakes. Unless your plan was truly bulletproof from conception (and it never is) or you just get really lucky, you’re going to make some big, well-funded, well-staffed blunder that you’ll have to scramble to recover from. Unless you catch it early or have the political clout within your organization to get more money, you are likely to fail.

Now consider how Nick Swinmurn started his business. As Eric Ries explained in The Lean Startup, instead of spending money on some expensive marketing study to see if people would buy shoes online, he simply built a cheap site. When he got an order, he would go to the store, buy the pair at retail, and ship it out. He lost money on every sale.

That’s a terrible way to run a business, but a great way to test a business hypothesis. Once he knew that people were willing to buy shoes online, he started Zappos, which quickly grew to dominate the market for selling shoes online. It was sold to Amazon in 2009, ten years after Swinmurn started, for $940 million.

Build A Network

We tend to think that success is the result of hard work and talent. Yet look at any category and one brand tends to dominate. There are many search engines, but only one Google, just like there are many smartphone manufacturers, but only one Apple. Both are great products, but they end up taking the vast majority of profits in their industry. Are they really that much better than their competitors?

The truth is, as Albert-László Barabási explains in The Formula, is that performance is bounded, but success isn’t. You can be better than your competitors, but not that much better. On the other hand, there are no limits to success because networks tend to be dominated by a central node.

To understand why, consider the case of Albert Einstein. Until April 3rd, 1921, he was a prominent scientist, but by no means an icon. In fact, much of his press coverage was negative. But on that date, he arrived in America with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann. Reporters covering the event mistook the enormous crowds there to meet Weizmann as fans of Einstein and the story made the first page of all major newspapers.

That, along with his brilliance and endearing personality, is what catapulted Einstein to iconic status. In a similar vein, Google launched its product on the techie-dense Stanford computer network and Apple introduced the iPhone to its already expansive fan base. It’s networks, not nodes, that drive success.

Stop Disrupting And Start Solving Problems

Walk down any grocery store aisle and it becomes clear that there is no shortage of ideas. At any given time there are countless opportunities for line extensions, expansions into new categories, partnerships and other things. Executives spend countless hours discussing the merits and demerits of ideas like these.

Yet innovation isn’t about ideas, it’s about solving problems. That’s why most ideas fail, because they don’t address a meaningful problem that people really need solved. Nobody really needs a different flavor of cereal, but Zappos, Google and Apple all met needs that people cared about and that made all the difference.

That’s why companies that last not only look to solve problems for today’s customers, but also take on grand challenges. These are not “bet the company” type of propositions, but long, sustained efforts that seek to fundamentally change the realm of the possible, like Google’s more than decade long quest to create a self-driving car or IBM’s generational pursuit of quantum computing.

The truth is that you never really have to fail because, if you make your efforts sustainable, you can always learn from mistakes and try again. Failure rarely stems from a lack of effort, but is guaranteed by a myopic vision.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and an earlier version appeared on Inc.com
— Image credit: Unsplash

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Why Most Corporate Innovation Programs Fail

(And How To Make Them Succeed)

Why Most Corporate Innovation Programs Fail

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Today, everybody needs to innovate. So it shouldn’t be surprising that corporate innovation programs have become wildly popular. There is an inherent tradeoff between innovation and the type of optimization that operational executives excel at. Creating a separate unit to address innovation just makes intuitive sense.

Yet corporate innovation programs often fail and it’s not hard to see why. Unlike other business functions, like marketing or finance, in a healthy organization everybody takes pride in their ability to innovate. Setting up a separate innovation unit can often seem like an affront to those who work hard to innovate in operational units.

Make no mistake, a corporate innovation program is no panacea. It doesn’t replace the need to innovate every day. Yet a well designed program can augment those efforts, take the business in new directions and create real value. The key to a successful innovation program is to develop a clear purpose built on a shared purpose that can solve important problems.

A Good Innovation Program Extends, It Doesn’t Replace

It’s no secret that Alphabet is one of the most powerful companies in the world. Nevertheless, it has a vulnerability that is often overlooked. Much like Xerox and Kodak decades ago, it’s highly dependent on a single revenue stream. In 2018, 86% of its revenues came from advertising, mostly from its Google search business.

It is with this in mind that the company created its X division. Because the unit was set up to pursue opportunities outside of its core search business, it didn’t encounter significant resistance. In fact, the X division is widely seen as an extension of what made Alphabet so successful in the first place.

Another important aspect is that the X division provides a platform to incubate internal projects. For example, Google Brain started out as a “20% time project.” As it progressed and needed more resources, it was moved to the X division, where it was scaled up further. Eventually, it returned to the mothership and today is an integral part of the core business.

Notice how the vision of the X division was never to replace innovation efforts in the core business, but to extend them. That’s been a big part of its success and has led to exciting new business like Waymo autonomous vehicles and the Verily healthcare division.

Focus On Commonality, Not Difference

All too often, innovation programs thrive on difference. They are designed to put together a band of mavericks and disruptors who think differently than the rest of the organization. That may be great for instilling a strong esprit de corps among those involved with the innovation program, but it’s likely to alienate others.

As I explain in Cascades, any change effort must be built on shared purpose and shared values. That’s how you build trust and form the basis for effective collaboration between the innovation program and the rest of the organization. Without those bonds of trust, any innovation effort is bound to fail.

You can see how that works in Alphabet’s X division. It is not seen as fundamentally different from the core Google business, but rather as channeling the company’s strengths in new directions. The business opportunities it pursues may be different, but the core values are the same.

The key question to ask is why you need a corporate innovation program in the first place. If the answer is that you don’t feel your organization is innovative enough, then you need to address that problem first. A well designed innovation program can’t be a band-aid for larger issues within the core business.

Executive Sponsorship Isn’t Enough

Clearly, no corporate innovation program can be successful without strong executive sponsorship. Commitment has to come from the top. Yet just as clearly, executive sponsorship isn’t enough. Unless you can build support among key stakeholders inside and outside the organization, support from the top is bound to erode.

For example, when Eric Haller started Datalabs at Experian, he designed it to be focused on customers, rather than ideas developed internally. “We regularly sit down with our clients and try and figure out what’s causing them agita,” he told me, “because we know that solving problems is what opens up enormous business opportunities for us.”

Because the Datalabs units works directly with customers to solve problems that are important to them, it has strong support from a key stakeholder group. Another important aspect at Datalabs is that once a project gets beyond the prototype stage it goes to one of the operational units within the company to be scaled up into a real business. Over the past five years businesses originated at Datalabs have added over $100 million in new revenues.

Perhaps most importantly, Haller is acutely aware how innovation programs can cause resentment, so he works hard to reduce tensions through building collaborations around the organization. Datalabs is not where “innovation happens” at Experian. Rather it serves to augment and expand capabilities that were already there.

Don’t Look For Ideas, Identify Meaningful Problems

Perhaps most importantly, an innovation program should not be seen as a place to generate ideas. The truth is that ideas can come from anywhere. So designating one particular program in which ideas are supposed to happen will not only alienate the rest of the organization, it is also likely to overlook important ideas generated elsewhere.

The truth is that innovation isn’t about ideas. It’s about solving problems. In researching my book, Mapping Innovation, I came across dozens of stories from every conceivable industry and field and it always started with someone who came across a problem they wanted to solve. Sometimes, it happened by chance, but in most cases I found that great innovators were actively looking for problems that interested them.

If you look at successful innovation programs like Alphabet’s X division and Experian’s Datalabs, the fundamental activity is exploration. X division explores domains outside of search, while Datalabs explores problems that its customers need solved. Once you identify a meaningful problem, the ideas will come.

That’s the real potential of innovation programs. They provide a space to explore areas that don’t fit with the current business, but may play an important role in its future. A good innovation program doesn’t replace capabilities in the core organization, but leverages them to create new opportunities.

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

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Underground Innovation

How giving people space can make a big difference to your innovation profile

Underground Innovation

GUEST POST from John Bessant

If you’d snuck up behind me last weekend you’d have caught me in the act of painting walls. Not the most exciting of pursuits but it needed to be done so that now I can sit here and write in a freshly-painted room. And importantly one where even my clumsy brushwork doesn’t show in unsightly streaks and overruns. I am amongst millions of painters, professional and otherwise who regularly mutter small votes of thanks to Richard Drew and his invaluable contribution to the world of painting and decorating — masking tape.

This humble but essential innovation is getting on in years but still turns a profit for the company which originated it way back in 1925–3M. But it would never have seen the light of day if company strategy and official policy had prevailed. It exists because of Drew’s late night and unofficial efforts in direct defiance of his boss’s orders.

Drew was working as a technical salesman, dealing with some of the copmpany’s biggest customers for their core product — sandpaper. He spent a lot of time visiting car factories in that newly-growing industry, and in particular the paint shops where sandpaper was used to prepare metal surfaces for painting.

The paint crews were well aware of the good old days when Henry Ford had simplified their job — in 1909 he’d outlined a strategy for his company, which concentrated on a single model (the Model T) which could be built in high volume at low price. Doing this involved a number of trade-offs, not least in terms of massively editing down the choices available to customers. It was at this strategy meeting that he reputedly said ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.’

That decision helped establish the Model T as ‘a car for Everyman at a price every man can afford’, bringing the price down by 75% and putting it within the reach of many people. But it didn’t satisfy the market for long. People wanted more choice in models, styles — and colour schemes. All of which made life more difficult for the skilled craftsmen in the paint shops, trying to deliver ever more exotic paint jobs without slowing down production.

The problem is that when you want to paint with more than one colour then you need to cover up the area you don’t want painted. Which is a clumsy fussy business; early attempts involved using rags, newspapers and scraps of cardboard but then they had to be held in place, making a one-man job into a two-man job. Attempts to solve this by using sticky tape to hold the mask in place also failed; the solvents in the paint dissolved the adhesive on the tape making the whole mask slip and slide all over the surface.

An Innovation Dust-up

Which is where Richard Drew came in, trying to sell a new kind of sandpaper which 3M had launched which offered to cut down the dust created when preparing a metal surface for painting. Hearing some choice language coming from one corner of the shop he walked over to ask what the problem was — to be given an expletive filled tutorial in how not to mask up a paint job. What was needed — he was told in no uncertain terms — was a better adhesive tape which would actually stick and stay stuck!

He went back to his office and began to tinker around with various formulations to try and make something suitable. His boss wasn’t too pleased, ordering him to get back to his main job of selling sandpaper — but he kept on with the quest.

It took him two years and involved a variety of vegetable oils, chicle, linseed, various resins, glue, glycerine and treated crepe paper. What he eventually came up with was a tape strong enough to stick to the surfaces but easy enough to peel off without leaving any scars on the paintwork. Despite its promise his boss wouldn’t allow him to buy the machinery he needed to produce it in quantity — so Drew turned his innovative skills to the problem of financing capital equipment. He bought his machinery in small pieces, each of which cost less than the $99 he was permitted to spend on an item of equipment., and then assembled the machine himself.

This last act finally convinced his boss to let him go ahead — and also provided a lesson which became a company mantra. The boss in question was William McKnight and he made a key policy out of the experience. “If you have the right person on the right project, and they are absolutely dedicated to finding a solution — leave them alone. Tolerate their initiative and trust them.”

And so 3M’s ‘bootlegging’ approach was born, and it persists today embodied now in formal company policy. Give people permission to play around, don’t control them too tightly and let their natural creativity and entrepreneurship do the rest. Their 15% policy (allowing employees to spend up to 15% of their time in pursuit of their own ideas and hunches) has been responsible for thousands of product and process innovations, a few of which (like PostIt Notes) have gone on to be breakthrough radical innovations.

Operating Below the Radar

The masking tape story is a classic example of innovation happening below the radar screen (except the radar wasn’t invented in 1925!). We know today that smart companies who care about innovation invest in the capacity for innovation — R&D and market research, future scoping, etc. Organized innovation, buying themselves options on the future. All good — but maybe only focusing on the formal means potentially missing out on what might be happening underground. Because by their nature people are innovators, prone to experiment and tinker around, frustrated with aspects of their work which they think a little hacking around the edges might help them with. Why not tap into this as another source of innovation?

(Especially since it’s actually not that expensive in terms of lost productive time. The origin of the 15% figure at 3M was McKnight’s the observation that this was the time people spent on coffee breaks and on lunch breaks and so on, times when they could do some of this unofficial innovation).

It’s not just the benefits in terms of the possible product and process innovations which it might lead to. It’s also a powerful motivator, something which can help retain and inspire employees. Allowing people time and space to explore communicates a core company value — — it’s an invitation to tinker to hack things, to play around. And it has certainly paid off for 3M and other companies; consider these examples:

  • The Sony PlayStation started as a bootleg project by Ken Kutaragi, an engineer who secretly worked on a video game console with Nintendo without Sony’s approval.
  • The HP DeskJet printer was originally developed by a group of HP engineers who wanted to create a low-cost inkjet printer for personal use. They used bootleg parts and software to build their first prototype, which they hid under a tablecloth when not in use.
  • The first spreadsheet software was created by two programmers Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, who worked on their project without any formal support or funding from their employers. They went on to found their own company, Visicalc, which for a while was the market leader in the field.
  • Google’s 20% allowing employees time to spend on personal projects led to several innovations including Google Maps, Google News and Gmail.
  • Toshiba’s pioneering notebook computer was developed by a team of engineers who worked on it covertly for four years. They used their own laptops and software tools to create a prototype that featured innovative elements such as a lightweight design, a long battery life and a high-performance processor. The project was initially rejected by the management, but later accepted after some modifications. Introduced in 1985 it became a global leader in the portable computer market.
  • BMW has a long history of bootleg innovations which have gone on to become success stories. For example the Z1 roadster was developed by a small team of engineers who worked on it secretly for four years. They used their own time and resources to create a prototype that featured innovative elements such as a plastic body, retractable doors and a modular design. The project was eventually discovered by the top management and approved for production in 1986. And the iDrive was developed by a team of engineers who worked on it without any formal mandate or budget, using their own laptops and software tools. They also conducted user tests with their own cars and friends. The project was initially rejected by the management, but later became a standard feature in many BMW models. These projects helped legitimise what the company now calls ‘U-boat’ projects , recognising the value of the bootlegging approach.

Forbidden Fruit

Peter Augsdorfer made a classic study of the phenomenon, reported it in his wonderful book ‘Forbidden fruit’ in which he highlights many examples of such ‘bootlegging’ approaches. (The term originated during the 1920s when the US government banned the manufacture and sale of hard liquor; the measure didn’t have the desired effect of wiping out the industry and sobering up the country. Instead it triggered a wave of illegal but at times highly innovative ways around the problem, essentially driving innovation underground and out of sight . This included hiding illicit liquor down the inside of boots).

Augsdorfer argues that bootlegging can be seen as a form of learning under uncertainty, where employees experiment with new ideas and technologies without formal approval or support. In other words it’s an unofficial extension of the R&D/exploration work which companies need to do anyway.

Importantly it’s an approach which can have other positive benefits for organizations beyond the innovations which its employees create, such as enhancing motivation and employee retention and fostering a culture of internal entrepreneurship. But it has its ‘dark side’; there are negative outcomes including wasting time and resources, violating ethical norms and — a big challenge for those trying to ‘manage’ it — undermining organizational control and co-ordination frameworks.

Innovation Missionaries

Augsdorfer orginally wrote about this 25 years ago but a recent article in the Sloan Management Review reminds us that such underground innovation is alive and well. It’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’ and their article highlights a number of different approaches. It also usefully identifies three key archetypes of characters who may be innovators of this kind. They call them ‘missionaries’, ‘users’ and ‘explorers’.

Missionaries have a particular interest in the development of the company; their self-adopted ‘mission’ is to improve things. Characters like Richard Drew would fall into this category, seeing their own progress as being tied up with the fortunes of the company they work for and tapping into its resources to help them achieve their goals.

User innovators are essentially frustrated in what they are doing — they develop hacks and work arounds to solve problems particularly in the area of process innovation and their ideas can often be surfaced through suggestion schemes and other mechanisms.

And explorers are concerned with pushing the frontiers of what they do, sometimes going in directions which the company does not believe is possible. The risk here is that they pursue their ideas too far, detracting from their mainstream work and official company strategy.

Making Space for Innovation

So what makes underground innovation work? It’s not simply waving a magic wand, Harry Potter style, and casting the ‘Innovate!’ spell. Instead a number of things need to come together:

  • Allowing space — time, access to resources, etc. The exact amount — 15, 20 or even higher percentages of time — is irrelevant. It’s the signal that matters, communicating that it is OK to experiment around the edges and that there won’t be negative consequences for such action. What often happens is that this small amount of investment encourages employees to spend much more of their own time and initiative, often working long unpaid hours in pursuit of their ideas. At the limit (as Paula Criscuouolo and her colleagues point out) there are good examples of bootlegging arising from contexts in which there is no formal space or time allocation but an underlying perception that it is still OK to ‘dig around a little’.
  • Giving boundaries — defining the space within which innovation is possible and permission to explore there. For example we don’t necessarily want bootleg innovation in the formulation of pharmaceutical products but that leaves plenty of scope for other ideas, particularly in process innovation.
  • Establishing a development pathway to pick up on bootleg ideas. There’s no point stimulating lots of bootlegging behaviour if employees have nowhere to channel their ideas once they start to develop. In the case of 3M there’s a clear pathway which allows employees to take bright ideas and pitch for varying amounts of internal funding and other resources to grow and scale their innovations. Such functionality is increasingly built into innovation collaboration platforms and many companies — such as Liberty Global with their Spark programme — have established employee entrepreneurship pathways in parallel to their suggestion schemes.
  • Communicate trust as a core value — allowing bootleggers to feel a sense of psychological safety about what they are doing and that they will not be penalised for their activities.
  • Reward and recognise — it’s no coincidence that one of the things about 3M is that the people who have been involved in developing bootleg projects to fruition are then rewarded not just with resources and money but also with the opportunity to carry their venture forward. One of the two people involved in the development of Post it notes was Art Fry who moved on to run the division for 3M. The originator of the laptop computer within Toshiba similarly went on to run that division of their business.
  • Encourage intelligent failure — the down-side of allowing people to take initiative is that they will make mistakes. Importantly one of McKnight’s famous comments was that Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.’

Underground innovation has a lot to offer -but as the above suggests it isn’t a simple matter of mimicking Google or 3M, allocating a percentage of time and then waiting for the magic to happen. Successful organizations make employee involvement a key plank in building their innovation culture; something William Mcknight learned from his experience as Richard Drew’s manager. By 1929 he was running the entire 3M company and he pulled together some of the core principles through which their culture developed — including what he called his ‘Basic rule of management’. It’s deceptively simple and it serves well as a motto for anyone interested in tapping into underground innovation:

“delegate responsibility and encourage men and women to exercise their initiative.”

Image Credits: Pixabay

You can find a podcast version of this here and a video version here

And if you’d like to learn with me take a look at my online course here

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Good Design Makes Technology Disappear

Good Design Makes Technology Disappear

by Braden Kelley

The late Clayton Christensen wrote a little book called The Innovator’s Dilemma that many of you I’m sure have read. Many people think of it as a book about disruptive innovation, but it can be much more than that if you shift your perspective.

The Classic Disruptive Innovation Example

One of the case study examples is that of mini-mills disrupting the rolled steel producers in the steel industry by starting at the bottom of the food chain with the production of low margin re-bar and then moving upwards into higher margin steel products. This is seen as the blueprint for how you disrupt an industry. You go first where the incumbents are least likely to be concerned about new entrants – low margin products – a market that incumbents might actually be happy to lose, because their average margins will actually increase and wall street will potentially reward them in the short-term with higher stock prices.

But if you shift your perspective on this case study and apply it to emerging technology, something new emerges.

Learning and Adoption Require a Compelling Use Case BEFORE They Can Occur

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts while I work lately. Podcasts with leading scientists from around the world. One of the core themes that continuously emerges is that innovation is really hard and takes a long time. I was really struck by iRobot co-Founder Rodney Allen Brooks speaking about how they had a target of launching the Roomba at $200 and this meant that he had FIFTY CENTS per unit to spend on a piece of silicon to power their invention. He told the story of running around Taiwan looking for a chip that was cheap enough and was handicapped in ways that wouldn’t matter for their particular application – as ALL chips in that price range are going to have severe limitations. This is a great story for highlighting some of the unexpected challenges in turning an invention into an innovation.

Another interesting innovation case study – on the failure side – is that of Google Glass. The smart glasses arrived as an overhyped and underwhelming product and died on the vine in a very short period of time. One of the key reasons for their failure was the lack of a compelling use case, and another was that technology was too front and center – so much so that Google Glass seemed like a creepy invention.

“Making access to information just instant and intuitive. By doing that, technology fades into the background, and we’re more connected with the people and things around us.”

This quote is pulled directly from the video below about Google’s reboot of their smart glasses initiative:

Google’s Live Translation Glasses arrive this time without a product page, without a formal product name and promising much less.

One of the things that really struck me in this short video is that while it is super easy to anchor on the value of the translation piece – displaying Mandarin on screen from an English voice for example – they have several other powerful uses cases, including:

  • People who have single-sided deafness
  • People who don’t want to wear hearing aids, or for whom hearing aids don’t work
  • People who are fully deaf
  • People who are trying to learn a new language

Do One Thing Really Well and Build From There

Google’s Live Translation Glasses remind me of another pair of smart glasses launched a little while back in the glow of the Google Glass failure – Amazon’s Echo Frames.

Amazon’s Echo Frames build themselves around the compelling use case of hands-free searching and calling. They have speakers and a microphone, connect to your iOS or Android smartphone, and can even be fitted with prescription lenses.

Amazon Echo Frames

Don’t Strip the Gears on Your Innovation Machine

Our ability to imagine usually outpaces our ability to execute and it can be a challenge to rein in our imagination to match our ability to not just execute, but to do so profitably and at a pace that our customers can see their way to adopt it.

When we look at my Innovation is All About Value methodology, we can also see that companies fail less often at value creation, and more frequently at value access and value translation.

When your start small and build around a compelling use case it is easier to get the value translation right and it is easier to build the key value access components to support your value creation.

Timing matters…

Price matters…

Compelling use cases matter…

What’s yours?

Keeping the end in mind and the future in sight – is important – but it is more valuable to identify where to start and add value as you go.

Don’t strip the gears on your innovation machine and keep innovating!

Image credit: The Verge, Amazon

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Can You Be TOO Strategic?

Can You Be TOO Strategic?

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

While the lack of a clear strategy can create problems in any business, there is another end of that spectrum.

Having a strategy means having clarity on what you want to achieve and a plan on how to get there. These are good things, but it’s also possible to be too strategic—too focused on a single goal and plan.

When Being TOO Strategic is a Problem

1. You Have an Ineffective Plan

What if you have a plan for reaching your goal but it doesn’t work? You could be putting all your eggs in one basket.

In some cases, you may be able to determine very quickly if your strategy isn’t working. That’s one of the beauties of digital. For example, with ecommerce, you can try a new email subject line and within a few hours (or even minutes) you can see whether people are responding to it.

There are other strategies, however, that demonstrate their effectiveness over time. A program that is designed to build relationships to drive more long-term customer loyalty is an example of a strategy that you won’t be able to determine the success of overnight.

Regardless of whether your plan can be evaluated quickly, if you put all your eggs in one strategic basket, there’s always the possibility that you’re wrong about the method to achieve your goal.

2. You Set the Wrong Goal

There’s also the possibility that you have either the wrong goal or a goal that’s not optimal.

No matter what group of consumers you choose to target, things can change quickly; it may turn out that you haven’t chosen a good target at all.

For example, think about when COVID-19 first disrupted our world. Consumers’ needs and habits changed because of the pandemic, which caused many companies to adjust their goals because their original goals were no longer going to bring successful outcomes. If you stayed laser focused on the goal of increasing the number of shoppers coming to your store each day amidst the pandemic, you were a little too strategically disciplined.

Even in less extreme cases, there are still situations where leaders fail to see new trends and opportunities for growth.

Blockbuster VideoBlockbuster is a great example of a company that had the wrong goal in mind. They were so hyper focused on putting a video rental store in every neighborhood that they failed to see the potential opportunity in digital streaming services.

Netflix, on the other hand, did an excellent job seeing that opportunity and successfully transformed from the DVD rental by mail service to the popular digital streaming service consumers love today.

There’s always the risk that either you’re pursuing the wrong destination or the wrong means to get there. And what do you do then? You have the opportunity to say, “Maybe I shouldn’t be 100% strategic.”

Often, mistakes and variability promote evolution and growth in a company, so it’s important to determine what percentage of your business should be based on strategy and what percentage should be based on trying new and different things which may not align with the current official strategy.

3. Consider a Balanced Approach

Ideally, find a balance of mostly strategic activities, but carve out some time for non-strategic activity to allow employees to be creative and freely come up with new ideas that just might turn into something great.

An example of a company who does this well and has seen success come out of this strategy is Google. Google offers “20% time,” which allows each employee to spend 20% of their work time on independent projects they feel will benefit Google in the long run without having to justify it to anyone.

This freedom promotes innovation and creativity, making employees feel like their work and input really matters to the company. Many of Google’s widely known products have come out of this non-strategic time, such as Gmail and Google Maps.

Another area of business that often takes a balanced approach to strategy is Research and Development (R&D). R&D teams are typically made up of creative and original thinkers; they may be faced with problems that they’re fascinated by and are trying to solve. It’s not always clear how solving that problem is going to help the company right away, but some of the world’s greatest innovations have come out of R&D departments.

For example, at Bell Labs, the transistor was invented by people who were fascinated by the way materials could be used to control electricity. It wasn’t clear when they were doing that original research exactly how the product would be used; it was much later that the potential was realized for commercial applications such as the microchip

Another example is Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple. When the Apple ][ computer was at its height, it was the main focus of the company and where all the money was coming from. The long term success of the Apple ][ platform was the strategic focus of the company.

At the time, in order to politically sideline him, Jobs was assigned to work on a seemingly non-strategic project, which was the Apple Macintosh, originally intended as a product for the education market. As successful as the Apple ][ was, ultimately, the innovation that came from launching the Macintosh massively eclipsed the Apple ][ and is a key product line to this day. Thank goodness for a non-strategic project.

4. It Might Be Worth It to Pursue a “Moonshot Idea”

It can be beneficial to allow a certain amount of time to work on complete “moonshot ideas”—
ideas that are highly risky but could change the company or the industry as a whole if they’re successful.

While these grand ideas have only proven to be occasionally successful, the payoff can be so huge when they do succeed that they are worth pursuing.

The bottom line is that you want to be good at being strategic, but not get so caught up in being so strategic that you miss out on a great opportunity for growth and success in your company that may not align with your strategy.

Parting Gift

My Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, contains a blueprint for developing a successful strategy for your company as well as practices to aid in identifying new trends and opportunities to explore. You can download the first chapter for free here or purchase the book here.

Image credits: Pixabay and Unsplash

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AI Has Already Taken Over the World

AI Has Already Taken Over the World

by Braden Kelley

I don’t know about you, but it’s starting to feel as if machines and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have already taken over the world.

Remember in primary school when everyone tried really hard to impress, or even just to be recognized by, a handful of cool kids?

It’s feeling more and more each day as if the cool kids on the block that we’re most desperate to impress are algorithms and artificial intelligence.

We’re all desperate to get our web pages preferred over others by the algorithms of Google and Bing and are willing to spend real money on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to increase our chances of ranking higher.

Everyone seems super keen to get their social media posts surfaced by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok, and even LinkedIn.

In today’s “everything is eCommerce” world, how your business ranks on Google and Bing increasingly can determine whether you’re in business or out of business.

Algorithms Have Become the New Cool Kids on the Block

According to the “Agencies SEO Services Global Market Report 2021: COVID-19 Impact and Recovery to 2030” report from The Business Research Company:

“The global agencies seo services market is expected to grow from $37.84 billion in 2020 to $40.92 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.1%. The market is expected to reach $83.7 billion in 2025 at a CAGR of 19.6%.”

Think about that for a bit…

Companies and individuals are forecast to spend $40 Billion trying to impress the alogrithms and artificial intelligence applications of companies like Google and Microsoft in order to get their web sites and web pages featured higher in the search engine rankings.

The same can be true for companies and individuals trying to make a living selling on Amazon, Walmart.com and eBay. The algorithms of these companies determine which sellers get preferred placement and as a result can determine which individuals and companies profit and which will march down a path toward bankruptcy.

And then there is another whole industry and gamesmanship surrounding the world of social media marketing.

According to BEROE the size of the social media marketing market is in excess of $102 Billion.

These are huge numbers that, at least for me, demonstrate that the day that machines and AI take over the world is no longer out there in the future, but is already here.

Machines have become the gatekeepers between you and your customers.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

(insert maniacal laugh here)

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Building a Culture of Innovation

Strategies for Engaging Employees

Building a Culture of Innovation

GUEST POST from Chateau G Pato

In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape, organizations striving for sustainable growth and success must foster a culture of innovation. Building such a culture starts with actively engaging employees, harnessing their creativity and empowering them to contribute their best ideas. This thought leadership article will explore effective strategies for cultivating a culture of innovation, supported by two inspiring case studies that demonstrate the power of employee engagement in driving innovation.

Case Study 1: Google’s “20% Time Rule”:

Google, the tech giant known for its innovative products, follows a unique approach to inspire employee creativity and engagement. In order to foster innovation, Google allows employees to spend 20% of their time on projects they personally find interesting or meaningful. This initiative has led to major breakthroughs, including the creation of Gmail and Google Maps. By empowering employees to work on passion projects, Google demonstrates a commitment to employee interests while encouraging their investment in the company’s success. This strategy strengthens engagement and has resulted in a culture of innovation ingrained within Google’s DNA.

Strategies:

1. Promote Open Communication Channels:
Building a culture of innovation requires establishing open communication channels across all levels of the organization. Encourage idea sharing by implementing platforms for employees to submit suggestions, hold brainstorming sessions, and facilitate cross-functional collaboration. Regular feedback sessions and town hall meetings provide opportunities for employees to be heard and feel valued, fostering a culture where creativity thrives.

2. Invest in Employee Development:
Nurture a culture of innovation by investing in employee development programs. Offer workshops, training sessions, and mentorship programs that encourage continuous learning and skill development. These initiatives not only foster individual growth but also enable employees to approach problem-solving from new perspectives, enhancing their ability to generate innovative ideas.

3. Celebrate and Reward Innovation:
Recognize and reward innovative ideas and contributions. This can be done through formal programs, such as Innovation Awards or Hackathons, which showcase the successful implementation of employee-driven initiatives. Publicly acknowledging and celebrating innovation reinforces a culture where employees are motivated to think creatively and take risks, knowing their efforts will be recognized and appreciated.

Case Study 2: 3M’s “15% Culture”:

3M, the multinational conglomerate known for its innovative products, introduced the “15% Culture” to foster employee-driven innovation. Employees are encouraged to spend up to 15% of their work time on projects outside their regular responsibilities. This initiative led to the invention of products like Post-it Notes and Scotchgard. The 15% Culture showcases 3M’s commitment to providing time and resources for employees to explore their creative ideas, fostering engagement and driving continuous innovation.

Conclusion

Building a culture of innovation starts with engaging and empowering employees to contribute their best ideas. By implementing strategies like promoting open communication, investing in employee development, and celebrating innovation, organizations can create an environment where individuals feel supported to think outside the box. Case studies from Google and 3M highlight the tremendous impact that employee engagement can have on driving innovation and shaping a successful future. Embracing these strategies will not only foster a culture of innovation, but also enhance employee satisfaction, attract top talent, and position organizations at the forefront of their industries.

SPECIAL BONUS: The very best change planners use a visual, collaborative approach to create their deliverables. A methodology and tools like those in Change Planning Toolkit™ can empower anyone to become great change planners themselves.

Image credit: Pexels

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Building a Change-ready Culture

Key Elements to Foster Organizational Agility

Building a Change-ready Culture

GUEST POST from Art Inteligencia

In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive business environment, the ability to adapt and respond quickly to change has become crucial for organizational success. Building a change-ready culture is paramount, as it enables companies to embrace and navigate disruption, seize opportunities, and stay ahead of the curve. This article outlines the key elements necessary to foster organizational agility, supported by two case studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of these strategies.

1. Shared Purpose and Vision:

One of the fundamental elements of building a change-ready culture is establishing a shared purpose and vision throughout the organization. When employees understand the why behind their work, they become more invested and committed to embracing change. A clear purpose and well-communicated vision provide a strong foundation for aligning efforts and creating a common sense of direction.

Case Study 1: Zappos

Zappos, the online footwear and clothing retailer, is renowned for its customer-centric culture. To foster organizational agility, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh instilled a strong sense of purpose by promoting the company’s core values, which include delivering wow through service, embracing and driving change, and creating fun and a little weirdness. By building a change-ready culture, Zappos consistently evolves to meet customer needs and thrives in the ever-changing e-commerce landscape.

2. Transparent Communication and Collaboration:

Transparent communication is critical for an agile organization. Leaders must be open and honest about the need for change and its potential impact on employees. Encouraging feedback and creating platforms for collaboration empowers employees to contribute innovative ideas and adapt to new challenges collectively. Open communication channels build trust and foster a sense of psychological safety that supports a change-ready culture.

Case Study 2: Google

Google, renowned for its innovation and agility, emphasizes transparency and open communication. Google’s famous “TGIF” meetings, where employees ask candid questions directly to the CEOs and discuss company updates, serve as a platform for transparent communication. By fostering a culture of open dialogue, Google has created an environment where change is not only expected but also embraced, leading to continuous innovation and growth.

3. Empowerment and Continuous Learning:

To foster an agile organization, it is crucial to empower employees by providing autonomy, fostering a learning culture, and supporting professional growth. Empowered employees are more likely to adapt quickly to change, take ownership of their work, and proactively seek innovative solutions. Continuous learning ensures that employees have the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate evolving circumstances effectively.

Case Study 3: Netflix

Netflix, the renowned online streaming giant, has successfully built an agile culture that embraces change. The company promotes a “freedom and responsibility” culture, granting employees the autonomy to make decisions without seeking approval from higher-ups. This empowerment, combined with a strong focus on continuous learning and development, has allowed Netflix to successfully pivot its business model multiple times and innovate in the highly competitive entertainment industry.

Conclusion

Building a change-ready culture is no longer a choice but a necessity for organizations in today’s dynamic business landscape. By establishing a shared purpose and vision, promoting transparent communication and collaboration, and empowering employees through continuous learning, organizations can foster agility and adaptability. The case studies of Zappos, Google, and Netflix provide actionable insights on how these strategies can be effectively implemented. By embracing and nurturing an agile culture, organizations can thrive, stay ahead of the competition, and create a path to long-term success.

Bottom line: Futurology is not fortune telling. Futurists use a scientific approach to create their deliverables, but a methodology and tools like those in FutureHacking™ can empower anyone to engage in futurology themselves.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Creative Workspaces: Designing an Environment that Inspires Innovation

Creative Workspaces: Designing an Environment that Inspires Innovation

GUEST POST from Art Inteligencia

In the fast-paced and ever-evolving world we live in, organizations are increasingly looking for ways to foster innovation and creativity in their teams. One vital factor in nurturing innovation is the design of the workspace. A well-designed environment can inspire and motivate employees to think outside the box, collaborate, and generate groundbreaking ideas. This article explores the significance of creative workspaces in driving innovation, delving into two intriguing case studies and providing a link to another insightful article here on the Human-Centered Change & Innovation web site.

Case Study 1: Pixar Animation Studios

Pixar Animation Studios, a renowned company behind iconic animated films, has long been praised for its imaginative approach to workspace design. At Pixar, the physical environment is carefully crafted to inspire innovation among its employees. The company’s headquarters in Emeryville, California, features a central atrium known as the “Steve Jobs Building” that fosters spontaneous encounters and encourages cross-pollination of ideas.

One prominent element at Pixar is the abundance of communal areas. Employees are encouraged to gather, interact, and share ideas in well-designed spaces such as lounges, cafes, and outdoor gardens. Additionally, the workspace is filled with whimsical art, colorful decorations, and creative visuals, stimulating the imagination of artists, writers, and animators. This unique environment not only sparks innovation but also enhances collaboration and a sense of belonging among employees.

Case Study 2: Googleplex

Google, renowned for its innovative and forward-thinking approach, has created extraordinary workspaces worldwide. The Googleplex, the company’s headquarters located in Mountain View, California, is a prime example of how an innovative environment can fuel creativity. Google’s offices boast colorful and unconventional designs, featuring slides, nap pods, foosball tables, and playful workout spaces.

The aim behind Google’s workspace design is to break down traditional office barriers and encourage free thinking. Employees are empowered to take breaks, relax, and engage in activities that promote creativity and well-being. An important aspect of Google’s workspace philosophy is the strategic placement of communal areas, ensuring frequent interactions between employees from different departments. This helps in fostering innovative ideas and problem-solving by facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration.

To deepen your understanding of fostering innovation, I highly recommend reading the article “What Can Leaders Do to Have More Innovative Teams?” by Diana Porumboiu. The article explores four key elements necessary for organizations to build a culture of innovation: leadership, strategy, processes, and culture. It delves into how these pillars can be implemented to achieve sustainable innovation and success.

By blending the insights provided in this article with the case studies of Pixar and Google, readers can gain a comprehensive understanding of how creative workspaces contribute to innovation, as well as the broader dynamics of cultivating an innovative culture within an organization.

Conclusion

Designing a workspace that inspires innovation can significantly impact an organization’s ability to generate groundbreaking ideas and stay ahead in today’s competitive landscape. Through the case studies of Pixar and Google, we witnessed how well-thought-out physical environments can foster a culture of innovation, collaboration, and creativity. Whether it’s through communal areas, playful designs, or strategically encouraging interactions, organizations can create spaces that spur imagination and inspire employees.

Remember, a creative workspace is not just about the physical aspects but must be supported by leadership, strategy, processes, and culture. It is a holistic approach that promotes innovation throughout the entire organization. By immersing ourselves in insightful articles like “The Four Pillars of Innovation” by Braden Kelley, we can further enhance our knowledge and leverage these principles to create an environment that truly sparks innovation.

Bottom line: Futurology is not fortune telling. Futurists use a scientific approach to create their deliverables, but a methodology and tools like those in FutureHacking™ can empower anyone to engage in futurology themselves.

Image credit: misterinnovation.com

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