Tag Archives: Innovation

Agile Innovation

How to Embrace Agile Leadership to Innovate at Speed

Agile Innovation

GUEST POST from Diana Porumboiu

In a world dominated by uncertainty, how can we prepare for the unpredictable and keep innovating in what seems like a highly chaotic environment?

We simply need to be faster in adapting to change and navigating uncertainty. Studies show that organizations that move faster achieve significantly better results across various metrics, including profitability, operational resilience, organizational health, and growth.

How to make sure your organization is fast enough? Innovation at speed is more relevant than ever, but someone must put the pedal to the metal. Typically, that someone has to be a leader, because in the face of unprecedented change, leaders are needed to get us through the transformation.

However, unless organizations rethink leadership, they won’t be able to innovate systematically. In this day and age, great leadership requires a different mindset and a new approach to drive innovation and keep pace with change. We call this agile leadership.

This article, the second in the series dedicated to Agile Innovation Management, explores the critical role of agile leadership in innovating at speed.

Discover the key challenges and misconceptions surrounding the topic and understand why many leaders struggle with it. We’ll also provide practical steps and examples that will hopefully inspire you to increase the agility of your organization.

From Old Leadership Models to Agile Leadership

Let’s begin by clarifying what we mean by agile leadership and its position in relation to established leadership models.

The history of leadership traces back to Frederick Winslow Taylor, American engineer renown for his methods aimed at enhancing efficiency and productivity. Innovative at his time for shaping industrial management, his legacy still lives on today.

Unfortunately, his methods are not adapted for this century. Despite this, many leaders and managers still adhere to “Taylorism”, a top-down approach where leaders make the decisions and plans, and employees are tasked with executing them.

This model conflicts with the flexible and adaptable mindset required for agility. The gap between employees and Taylorist leaders trying to implement agile practices often leads to frustration and inefficiency.

Even if they introduce squads and sprints, Taylorists maintain a top-down approach, telling people what to do and how.

For successful agile transformations, you need to move away from rigid, outdated models. As we saw in the ING examplepresented in the “Guide to Business Agility” article, simply copying other companies without suitable leadership will not produce the desired outcomes. Therefore, fundamental change is needed.

True agile leadership allows for rapid decision making, resilience, adaptability and innovation. It requires leaders to embrace new ideas, offer clear direction without micromanaging, and create a culture that supports speed and innovation.

Agile leadership is about rapid decision making, resilience, adaptability and innovation.

It’s also important to remember that managers and leaders are not the same. Leadership goes beyond overseeing a group and delivering desired outcomes.

As Seth Godin stated in his “Leadership vs Management” speech, “managers do things right, leaders do the right things”.

While it would be ideal for all managers to cultivate leadership skills, the reality is that their primary focus is on increasing efficiency and productivity within their domains, often overlooking the broader picture. Such skills are essential in leading people, lifting them up and empowering them to become agile, innovative problem solvers.

Despite the progress of AI and technology automating mundane tasks, we still need leaders capable of making decisions that address both present and future challenges. Effective agile leaders should be able to navigate failure and complexities, and map a way to move forward.

To succeed, we need to hone in on critical thinking and those often overlooked “soft skills” like navigating tough conversations, giving and receiving feedback, and showing empathy. No matter where you fall on the org chart, mastering these skills can be the game-changer between just getting by and achieving excellence.

While agile leadership might not be about the “Agile” way, being familiar with the agile values and principles can be useful on a practical level.

For example, the authors of Doing Agile Right help leadership teams shift to agile methods by tailoring the Agile Manifesto’s core values to fit their unique situations. It’s about adapting and making it work for you.

Viima design created from Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos

To give another example, think of the principle of self-organizing teams. It’s important to know how to build self-organizing teams that thrive, collaborate and continuously learn from each other through continuous feedback and transparent communication.

We’ve seen this time and again in how teams use Viima to collaborate on their ideas, assess, prioritize and develop those that have been discussed openly. We noticed that most successful projects created using Viima have strong leadership too.

But moving away from the practical details to the bigger picture, how much can leaders influence the speed of innovation at an organizational level?

Can Agile Leadership Drive Innovation?

We established in The Guide to Agile Innovation Management that agility enables innovation by embracing experimentation and learning, implementing adaptive planning processes, emphasizing cross-functional collaboration and bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise.

All these elements would not be possible without the guidance of a great leader. So how can a good agile leader unlock innovation in an organization?

Adapting fast by building trust

Agility in leadership is about adapting to changing environments quickly, often under the pressure of performance.

However, this can have negative consequences. The Work Trend Index from Microsoft surveyed over 20,000 people across 11 countries and found that half of them reported experiencing burnout. Although 83% of employees claimed to be productive, only 12% of leaders felt confident their teams were genuinely productive.

To build trust and participation in feedback systems, leaders should regularly share what they’re hearing, how they’re responding, and why. — Work Trend Index 2022

As a leader, offering support and trust can help balance the pressure of performance. Including people in the organization’s narrative and showing them where they fit in helps build trust and provides a sense of purpose.

This sense of purpose encourages people to commit, learn, grow, improve, and innovate. Which brings us to the next point: agile leadership nurtures not only the ability but also the willingness of people to innovate.

Speed requires commitment

Many large firms still rely on outdated “industrial-era management” models. These models focus on hierarchical organizational charts, emphasizing static reporting relationships.

In such environments, it can be extremely difficult for ideas and initiatives to navigate through the many layers of hierarchy and reach the right decision-makers. If they do make it through, the process takes so long that the opportunity may be lost by the time an idea reaches approval.

This approach can lead to a culture with limited transparency and collaboration across teams and departments, along with an attitude of “every man for himself.”

It’s no surprise that over 70% of workforce is disengaged or quietly quitting, which significantly stifles an organization’s ability to innovate. When employees lack motivation, everything slows down. But when there is a sense of ownership and pride, there is higher commitment.

An agile leader fosters a sense of community and nurtures people’s commitment and dedication. This leads to speed and adaptability.

While the right mindset is crucial, using the right tools can also help build trust and promote collaboration. Many leaders use Viima to create processes that enhance idea sharing at all levels, collaboration and trust. They can provide feedback and follow up on people’s ideas in a timely manner, while employees can see the progress of their ideas.

But to reach this level, it’s important to understand the behavioral changes needed. In the next section, we’ll dive into practical tips on how to adapt your mindset by examining leaders who have successfully guided their organizations to thrive and innovate.

How to Be an Agile Leader

How can you become a great leader who adapts to change and guides others into the future? To provide some practical examples, I turned to Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation by Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback.

The authors conducted a decade-long research study of 24 leaders across different organizations and industries. They offer valuable insights into how exceptional leaders cultivate environments that foster collective creativity, collaboration, and experimentation.

In a nutshell, the authors describe the ABC of leadership which drives innovation and makes the shift from “vertical ideology of control” to “horizontal ideology of enablement”.

Their research has identified that to lead an organization that innovates at scale with speed, you need leaders that fill in three different functions:

  • the Architect — to build the culture and capabilities necessary to collaborate, experiment and work.
  • the Bridger — to create the bridge between the outside and the inside of the organization by bringing together skills and tools to innovate at speed.
  • the Catalyst — to accelerate co-creation through the entire ecosystem.

The Architect: Create the right environment

The paradox of business agility is that it takes time to build the capabilities needed for fast response and adaptability. Even if you want to move quickly and encourage others to do the same, you can’t force change.

Achieving agility requires a different mindset — letting go of some control that conventional leadership often demands. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect for many leaders who believe their power lies in maintaining control.

However, as an agile leader, you must recognize existing interdependencies. You rely on employees’ willingness, commitment, and ability to drive progress. Your success depends heavily on others, which is why it’s crucial to create an environment where people can ideate, create, and execute. As we will see in the next chapter, agile leadership involves balancing relinquishing control with providing enough direction and guidance to prevent chaos.

Many elements are at play here, but one of the most innovative animation studios, Pixar, offers a clear example. They created the first feature-length computer-animated film, Toy Story. What’s remarkable about Pixar is that every film they released after Toy Story became an instant commercial success.

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, is a mastermind of innovation and a pioneer in technology and storytelling. His legacy offers numerous inspiring lessons for leaders, but here are some key points on how he and other company leaders fostered an environment where innovation thrives.

Pixar’s culture is built on two essential elements: diversity and conflict.

  • Diversity

In this context, diversity means intellectual diversity — bringing together people with different perspectives, skills, working styles, and problem-solving approaches.

At Pixar, three different worlds converged: creative, technical, and business. People from all areas were treated as peers, and all perspectives were valued equally. Among visual artists and tech people, you could also find cultural anthropologists, music producers, and even a professional cheerleader.

When different views come together, great ideas, solutions, and innovations can emerge. But inevitably, disagreements and conflict can also arise.

  • Conflict

Conflict is something many leaders fear and seek to minimize. When conflict becomes destructive, personal, or a battle for who is right and who is wrong, nobody wins. However, at Pixar, feedback is honest and direct. Sometimes even brutal. But the aim is to improve things and find the best solution.

A confrontation becomes a debate in search of a better solution that serves everyone’s goals. Those who receive and provide feedback should always keep this in mind.

Naturally, this is not always achievable, and tempers can flare quickly under pressure, frustration or when passionate people clash. When conflict turns into a fight to win an argument, you should intervene, remind people of the greater purpose, and bring them back on track.

As a leader, community building should also be on your radar. Foster a strong sense of “we” and psychological safety. This encourages people to stand up for their ideas and pursue the solutions they believe are best for the greater good.

This is what contributed to Pixar’s continued innovation. As a leader, Ed Catmull realized early on the critical role of leadership in creating the context for innovation.

I realized the most exciting thing I had ever done was to help create the unique environment that allowed that film (Toy Story) to be made. My new goal became … to build a studio that had the depth, robustness, and will to keep searching for the hard truths that preserve the confluence of forces necessary to create magic.

The Bridger: Decentralize decision making

Decentralized decision-making is key to breaking down silos and eliminating bottlenecks, enabling faster experimentation, learning, and improvement. Although this approach is increasingly popular and recommended for driving innovation, many struggle with its implementation.

Decentralization demands strong leadership that empowers teams to drive progress, avoids micromanagement, and provides the right support while removing barriers and building innovation capabilities.

For teams to collaborate effectively, they need a leader who plays a central role — not to manage decisions, but to facilitate innovation.

Take the example of Volkswagen. In 2010, Luca De Meo was the CMO for VW, a group of nine brands, helping the organization achieve its goal of becoming a leading car manufacturer.

VW’s marketing decisions were decentralized, with local marketing teams independently creating and implementing their own strategies based on general guidelines from headquarters.

However, this approach led to a lack of communication and collaboration among marketing teams worldwide. Marketing spoke with different voices in each market, lacked alignment, and had no clear strategic role within the organization.

To build mutual trust and respect De Meo organized a two-day design lab where he brought together over seventy people to collaborate, ideate and work together to build a global brand. Of course, a one-time brainstorming workshop is not enough, so this became a recurrent event. Each gathering had different goals or action points on which diverse teams had to work together, bring their own experience and expertise to the table.

He also took a new approach in handling launches by creating a cross-functional team that brought together fresh perspective from young employees in marketing or other fields. He created a small team and gave them a free hand to come up with an integrated marketing strategy for the launch of a new city car model.

De Meo did not interfere and did not tell them how to go about it. Instead, he encouraged them to work as intrapreneurs within the larger organization. He set high expectations and tried to nudge them in the right direction when needed. Most importantly, he encouraged them to take risks and allowed them to make mistakes. The agile way.

A very important thing to highlight from this story is that De Meo made sure that minority voices were heard. In setups with a conventional approach to leadership, the loudest (or more experienced) voices usually get their ideas across. This means that many opportunities can be missed.

Long story short, leadership created the environment for people to innovate and removed barriers and enabled people to move faster. The efforts paid off and VW grew both as a recognized brand and in financial results.

The Catalyst: Grow capabilities of everyone around you

Visionary leaders made history, but if we take a closer look, it was not all about vision. It’s not enough to have a vision and expect others to follow you. You also need to set direction on how to get there, not just by dictating but by unleashing and amplifying people’s own capabilities, talents, passion and strengths that are useful for the bigger goal.

In our latest conversation in The Innovation Room podcast, we had the great pleasure of talking to John Bessant, an innovation veteran. From his vast experience he shared a few examples of how innovation leaders focused on facilitating conversations and debates to lead people to the future.

Such leaders can cultivate agility, and what is called dynamic capability: the ability to integrate, build and reconfigure internal and external competences to address rapidly changing environments.

To illustrate dynamic capability, Bessant gives the example of Procter and Gamble. P&G made a major change after 150 years of excelling in R&D and market research. They switched to a model they called “Connect and Develop” — their open innovation approach — well ahead of the open innovation trend. This shift involved a significant change in mindset and took them 20 years to get through it. They stepped back, reassessed, and adapted to the changing world.

This is a summary of their achievements, but reaching such results required an internal shift in culture. P&G needed to get everyone on board with open innovation, not just to embrace external ideas, but internal ones too. Early on, they recognized this model as essential for adapting to future challenges.

P&G leadership understood the critical role of employees in driving these changes. The new approach required employees to be more agile and flexible, to develop skills like curiosity, collaboration, and connectedness.

They worked to support employees who were inclined to control more, were insecure, or were resistant to sharing and opening up. P&G set new challenges and increased the complexity of some tasks to push employees’ capabilities. They ensured that employees worked across the business in different markets. As employees gained experience in different areas and improved at identifying and solving problems, their mindsets began to evolve.

Cultivating an innovative mindset is a process that takes time and a structured, intentional approach.

These are just a few examples, and although summarizing them may make it sound simple, each of these leaders struggled in their journey to achieve the desired outcomes.

Excellent agile leadership is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Let’s explore these challenges in more detail to help you assess what you can realistically implement in your own leadership role.

Challenges and Limitations of Agile Leadership

Being a great leader is never easy and being an agile one — navigating through uncertainty — is even tougher. Whether you call it agile leadership or not, your role as a leader is to create spaces for your teams to adapt quickly and steer the organization toward future success.

Let’s see what are some of these challenges and how you can address them by leading with agility.

1. Providing a sense of certainty in an uncertain environment

Certainty is an emotional state that can influence how we perceive our work environment. While you can’t control uncertainty, you can manage the fear of the unknown by being transparent. The least transparent environments often breed anxiety, rumors and speculations.

Remember: Share the big picture with your team, and don’t shy away from the truth. Provide updates on ongoing projects, successes, and setbacks. This way you build trust and foster a sense of purpose. Balance transparency with discretion — too much detail can overwhelm people, but too little breeds suspicion.

2. Managing the chaos

You want your team to take initiative and explore new ideas, but a lack of guidance can cause confusion and inefficiency. I’ve seen leaders struggle with this balance, either micromanaging their teams or stepping back too far.

Remember: Define clear ground rules and processes to guide your team. Support people to innovate within a framework that provides structure. Encourage ideas to surface and provide top-down guidance to turn them into actionable innovations.

3. Adapting to a new leadership model

Embracing agile leadership requires stepping out of your comfort zone and taking others with you. It demands discipline and a low tolerance for incompetence, with a focus on striving for excellence.

Remember: Encourage a disciplined approach to experimentation and ensure that failures lead to valuable lessons rather than wasted efforts. Candid feedback should flow both ways. Both leaders and employees should be open to having their ideas challenged. Embracing this kind of culture fosters growth and adaptability, but it also demands discipline and high standards to strive for excellence, as mediocrity thrives in comfort zones.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a leader or aspiring to be one, it’s important to recognize that perfection in leadership doesn’t exist — everyone has their own shortcomings and challenges. While we should empathize with these struggles, we must also hold leaders accountable.

Today, speed is a crucial competitive advantage, often going hand in hand with scale. Agility at the team level alone may not be enough; you need speed and scale in innovation to drive meaningful change.

Achieving this requires responsible and committed leadership that understands the need for both rapid and large-scale innovation. As you navigate your leadership journey, strive to lead with accountability, adaptability, and a focus on accelerating innovation.

Article originally published on viima.com/blog

Image credits: Unsplash

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The Beginning, Middle, and End of Innovation

And How Moneyball Fits In

The Beginning, Middle, and End of Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Not long ago, pitchers and catchers reported to MLB Spring Training facilities in Florida and Arizona.  For baseball fans, this is the first sign of Spring, an occasion that heralds months of warmth and sunshine, ballparks filled (hopefully) with cheering fans, dinners of beers and brats, and the undying belief that this year will be the year.

Of course, there’s still a lot of dark, dreary cold between now and Opening Day.  Perfect weather for watching baseball movies – Bull DurhamMajor LeagueThe NaturalField of Dreams, and, of course, Moneyball.

Moneyball is based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis and chronicles the 2002 Oakland Athletics season.  The ’02 Oakland A’s, led by General Manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), forever changed baseball by adopting an approach that valued rigorous statistical analysis over the collective wisdom of baseball insiders (coaches, scouts, front office personnel) when building a team.  This approach, termed “Moneyball,” enabled the A’s to reach the postseason with a team that cost only $44M in salary, compared to the NY Yankees that spent $125M to achieve the same outcome.

While the whole movie (and book) is a testament to the courage and perseverance required to challenge and change the status quo, time and again I come back to three lines that perfectly sum up the journey of every successful intrapreneur I’ve ever met.

The Beginning

I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall…he always gets bloody…always always gets bloody.  This is threatening not just a way of doing business… but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. Really what it’s threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. It’s threatening the way they do things… and every time that happens, whether it’s the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins – they have their hands on the switch – they go batshit crazy.”John Henry, Owner of the Boston Red Sox

Context

The 2002 season is over, and the A’s were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  John Henry, an owner of the Boston Red Sox, has invited Bill Beane to Boston to offer him the Red Sox GM job. 

Lesson

This is what you sign up for when you decide to be an Intrapreneur.  The more you challenge the status quo, the more you question how business is done, the more you ask Why and demand an answer, the closer you get to “tak(ing) it in the teeth.”

This is why courage, perseverance, and an unshakeable belief that things can and should be better are absolutely essential for intrapreneurs.  Your job is to run at the wall over and over until you get through it.

People will follow.  The Red Sox did.  They won the World Series in 2004, breaking an 84-year-old curse.

The Middle

“It’s a process, it’s a process, it’s a process” — Bill Beane

Context

Billy has to convince the ballplayers to forget all the habits that made them great and embrace the philosophy of Moneyball.  To stop stealing bases, turning double plays on bunts, and swinging for the fences and to start taking walks, throwing to first for the easy out, and prioritize getting on base over hitting a home run.

The players are confused and frustrated.  Suddenly, everything that they once did right is wrong and what was not valued is deeply prized.

Lesson

Innovation is something new that creates value.  Something new doesn’t just require change, it requires people to stop doing things that work and start doing things that seem strange or even wrong.

Change doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s not a switch to be flipped.  It’s a process to be learned.  It takes time, practice, reminders, and patience.

The End

“When you get an answer you’re looking for, hang up.” — Billy Beane

Context

In this scene, Billy has offered one of his players to multiple teams, searching for the best deal.  When the phone rings with a deal he likes, he and the other General Manager (GM) agree to it, Billy hangs up.  Even though the other GM was in the middle of a sentence.  When Peter Brand, the Assistant GM played by Jonah Hill, points out that Billy had just hung up on the other GM, Billy responds with this nugget of wisdom.

Lesson

It’s advice intrapreneurs should take very much to heart.  I often see Innovation teams walk into management presentations with long presentations, full of data and projections, anxious to share their progress, and hoping for continued funding and support.  When the meeting starts, a senior exec will say something like, “We’re excited by the progress we’re hearing about and what it will take to continue.” 

That’s the cue to “hang up.”

Instead of starting the presentation from the beginning, start with “what it will take to continue.”  You got the answer you’re looking for – they’re excited about the progress you’ve made – don’t spend time giving them the info they already have or, worse, could raise questions and dim their enthusiasm.  Hang up on the conversation you want to have and have the conversation they want to have.

In closing

Moneyball was an innovation that fundamentally changed one of the most tradition-bound businesses in sports.  To be successful, it required someone willing to take it in the teeth, to coach people through a process, and to hang up when they got the answer they wanted.  It wasn’t easy but real change rarely is.

The same is true in corporations.  They need their own Bill Beanes.

Are you willing to step up to the plate?

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Do You Find Growth By Searching, Seeking, or Stalking?

Do You Find Growth By Searching, Seeking, or Stalking?

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Growth is the lifeblood of any organization, and the quest for growth opportunities is not just a strategic imperative. It is a fundamental necessity because the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities is a game-changer for companies wanting to achieve sustainable success and stay ahead of the competition. 

The challenge, however, is that not all opportunities are the same – some are head-smackingly obvious, while others are like trying to nail down JELL-O.  Yet companies take a “one size fits all” approach to finding, developing, and capitalizing on them.

SEARCH when need to transform

What do you do when you need information but don’t know precisely what you need and certainly don’t know where to find it? You Google it or, in less-branded terms, you search for it. 

When searching for growth opportunities, you’re looking for something but don’t know exactly what you need or where you’ll find it.  Finding opportunities requires you to go beyond traditional market analysis and adopt a learner’s mindset to see ways to disrupt the status quo, challenge existing paradigms, and create new value propositions for your customers.

Searching is a creative process that entails investing in R&D, fostering a culture of intrapreneurship, and experimenting with new technologies. It requires a culture of creativity, experimentation, and agility to adapt to changing market dynamics.  You have to be willing to be wrong on your way to being right, to move slowly so you can act quickly, and to throw out the timeline to harness the game-changing opportunity.

SEEK when you need to innovate

What do you do when you know what you need and generally where to find it?  You seek it out – you go to where you think it will be, and, on the off-chance it’s not there, you pivot to Option B.

When you’re seeking growth opportunities, you have a target in mind but are not 100% sure how to hit it.  Maybe you know you want to enter a new geography, but you need to figure out how to do it successfully and avoid the mistakes of previous entrants.  Maybe it’s a new industry or category, but you must understand if and how to do it without disrupting your existing business model.

Seeking is both creative and analytical.  You look for data and market intelligence, interview experts and individuals, analyze industry trends and explore untapped segments. It also requires you to stay open to surprises and new possibilities and take calculated risks to capitalize on emerging trends or consumer preferences.  Like searching, it requires patience.  Unlike searching, it respects a deadline.

STALK when you need to improve

Just like a lioness stalking a wildebeest, you do this when you see an opportunity and know exactly how to capture it. Yes, there will be zigs and zags along the way, and an unexpected competitor may pop up. But this is who you are and what you do. 

When stalking opportunities, you bring the full value and power of your experience, expertise, resources, and capabilities to bear on an opportunity.  This may happen when you’re operating and improving your core business.  It may also occur after you’ve searched (and found) an opportunity, sought (and decided on) a strategy, and now you have the confidence to launch and scale.

Do Your Approaches Align with Your Goals?

Most companies say that they want to transform. Still, very few have the patience or intestinal fortitude to search because there is no Google for Transformation that produces the exact plan you need to transform successfully.

Companies also tend to stalk when they want to innovate, leaving opportunities to change the game and build sustainable competitive advantage on the sideline because they’re too uncertain or take too long.

Growth requires all three approaches – search, seek, and stalk – but only happens when your chosen approach aligns with your goals.

Image credit: Pexels

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Five Lessons from the Apple Car’s Demise

Five Lessons from the Apple Car's Demise

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In 2014, rumors started to circulate that Apple was developing a self-driving autonomous car to compete with Tesla.  At the end of February 2024, rumors circulated that Apple was shutting down “Project Titan,” its car program. According to multiple media outlets, the only logical conclusion from the project’s death is that this decision signals the beginning of the end of Apple.

As much as I enjoy hyperbole and unnecessary drama, the truth is far more mundane.

The decision was just another day in the life of an innovation.

As always, there is a silver lining to this car-shaped cloud: the lessons we can learn from Apple’s efforts.

Lesson 1: Innovation isn’t all rainbows and unicorns

People think innovation is fun.  It is.  It is also gut-wrenching, frustrating, and infuriating.  Doing something new requires taking risks, which is uncomfortable for most people.  Even more challenging is that, more often than not, when you take a risk, you “fail.” (if you learned something, you didn’t fail, but that’s another article). 

What you can do: Focus on the good stuff – moments of discovery, adventures when experimenting, signs that you’re making life better for others – but don’t forget that you’re defying the odds.

Lesson 2: More does not mean success

It’s been reported that Apple spent over ten billion dollars on Project Titan and that over 2000 people were working on it before it was canceled. With a market cap of over two trillion dollars, a billion dollars a year isn’t even a rounding error. But it’s still an eye-popping number, which makes Apple’s decision to cut its losses downright courageous.

What you can do: Be on guard for the sunk-cost fallacy.  It’s easy to believe that you’ll eventually succeed if you keep working and pouring resources into a project.  That’s not true, as Apple experienced.  And in the rare cases when it is, executives are often left wondering if the success was worth the cost.

Lesson 3: Pivot based on data, not opinions

At least four different executives led Project Titan during its decade in development, and each leader brought their own vision for what the Apple Car should be.  First, it was an electric vehicle with driver assistance that would compete with Tesla.  Next, it was a self-driving car to compete with Google’s WayMo.  Then, plans for fully autonomous driving were canceled. Finally, the team returned to its original target of matching Tesla’s Level 2 automation.  

Changes in project objectives, strategies, and execution plans are necessary for innovation, so there’s nothing obviously wrong with these pivots.  But the fact that they tended to happen when a new leader was appointed (and that Jony Ive caused an 18-month hiring freeze simply by expressing “displeasure”) makes me question how data-based these pivots actually were

What you can do: Be willing to change but have a high standard for what is required to cause a change.  Data, even qualitative and anecdotal data, should be seriously considered.  The opinion of a single executive, not so much.

Lesson 4: Dream big, build small

Apple certainly dreamed big with its aspirations to build a fully semi-autonomous vehicle and it poured billions into developing and testing the sensors, batteries, and partnership required to make it a reality.  But it was never all-or-nothing in its pursuit of the automotive industry.  Apple introduced CarPlay the same year it kicked off Project Titan, and it continues to offer regular updates to the system.  Car Key was announced in 2020 and is now offered by BMW, Genesis, Hyundai, and Kia.

What you can do: Take a portfolio approach towards your overall innovation portfolio (Apple kept working on the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Vision Pro) and within each project.  It’s not unusual that a part of the project turns out to be more valuable than the whole project.

Lesson 5: ___________________________

Yes, that is a fill-in-the-blank because I want to hear from you. What lesson are you taking away from Project Titan’s demise, and how will it make you a better innovator?

Image credit: Dall-E via Bing

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How I Use AI to Understand Humans

(and Cut Research Time by 80%)

How I Use AI to Understand Humans

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

AI is NOT a substitute for person-to-person discovery conversations or Jobs to be Done interviews.

But it is a freakin’ fantastic place to start…if you do the work before you start.

Get smart about what’s possible

When ChatGPT debuted, I had a lot of fun playing with it, but never once worried that it would replace qualitative research.  Deep insights, social and emotional Jobs to be Done, and game-changing surprises only ever emerge through personal conversation.  No matter how good the Large Language Model (LLM) is, it can’t tell you how feelings, aspirations, and motivations drive their decisions.

Then I watched JTBD Untangled’s video with Evan Shore, WalMart’s Senior Director of Product for Health & Wellness, sharing the tests, prompts, and results his team used to compare insights from AI and traditional research approaches.

In a few hours, he generated 80% of the insights that took nine months to gather using traditional methods.

Get clear about what you want and need.

Before getting sucked into the latest shiny AI tools, get clear about what you expect the tool to do for you.  For example:

  • Provide a starting point for research: I used the free version of ChatGPT to build JTBD Canvas 2.0 for four distinct consumer personas.  The results weren’t great, but they provided a helpful starting point.  I also like Perplexity because even the free version links to sources.
  • Conduct qualitative research for meI haven’t used it yet, but a trusted colleague recommended Outset.ai, a service that promises to get to the Why behind the What because of its ability to “conduct and synthesize video, audio, and text conversations.”
  • Synthesize my research and identify insights: An AI platform built explicitly for Jobs to be Done Research?  Yes, please!  That’s precisely what JobLens claims to be, and while I haven’t used it in a live research project, I’ve been impressed by the results of my experiments.  For non-JTBD research, Otter.ai is the original and still my favorite tool for recording, live transcription, and AI-generated summaries and key takeaways.
  • Visualize insights:  MuralMiro, and FigJam are the most widely known and used collaborative whiteboards, all offering hundreds of pre-formatted templates for personas, journey maps, and other consumer research templates.  Another colleague recently sang the praises of theydo, an AI tool designed specifically for customer journey mapping.

Practice your prompts

“Garbage in.  Garbage out.” Has never been truer than with AI.  Your prompts determine the accuracy and richness of the insights you’ll get, so don’t wait until you’ve started researching to hone them.  If you want to start from scratch, you can learn how to write super-effective prompts here and here.  If you’d rather build on someone else’s work, Brian at JobsLens has great prompt resources. 

Spend time testing and refining your prompts by using a previous project as a starting point.  Because you know what the output should be (or at least the output you got), you can keep refining until you get a prompt that returns what you expect.    It can take hours, days, or even weeks to craft effective prompts, but once you have them, you can re-use them for future projects.

Defend your budget

Using AI for customer research will save you time and money, but it is not free. It’s also not just the cost of the subscription or license for your chosen tool(s).  

Remember the 80% of insights that AI surfaced in the JTBD Untangled video?  The other 20% of insights came solely from in-person conversations but comprised almost 100% of the insights that inspired innovative products and services.

AI can only tell you what everyone already knows. You need to discover what no one knows, but everyone feels.  That still takes time, money, and the ability to connect with humans.

Run small experiments before making big promises

People react to change differently.  Some will love the idea of using AI for customer research, while others will resist with.  Everyone, however, will pounce on any evidence that they’re right.  So be prepared.  Take advantage of free trials to play with tools.  Test tools on friends, family, and colleagues.  Then under-promise and over-deliver.

AI is a starting point.  It is not the ending point. 

I’m curious, have you tried using AI for customer research?  What tools have you tried? Which ones do you recommend?

Image credit: Unsplash

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Predicting Unintended Consequences

The 93% Rule

Predicting Unintended Consequences

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Unintended consequences often catch us off guard despite their predictability.  The moment they occur, we gasp in shock, shake our heads, and look at each other in wide-eyed horror at this thing that just happened that we could never ever ever have anticipated. 

Yet, when (if) we do an After-Action Review, we often realize that these consequences were not entirely unforeseeable. In fact, had we anticipated them, we might have made different decisions.

The Unintended Consequences of Spreadsheets

In 1800 BCE, ancient Babylonians started recording data by scratching grids and columns onto clay tablets, and the spreadsheet was born.  Over the millennia, we went from clay tablets to papyrus to parchment and then paper. 

Fast forward to 1963 when R. Brian Walsh of Marquette University ported the Business Computer Language (BCL) program to an IBM 7040, and electronic spreadsheets became a reality.  The introduction of VisiCalc by Apple in 1979 revolutionized spreadsheet capabilities, followed by Lotus 123 and Microsoft Excel. Today, spreadsheets are ubiquitous in education, business operations, financial markets, budgeting, and even personal inventories.

Unintended yet predictable consequences

While spreadsheets have undoubtedly enhanced efficiency and accuracy compared to traditional methods like clay tablets or hand-drawn tables on parchment, their ease of use has inadvertently led to complacency.

We stopped engaging in a multi-millennial habit of discussing, debating, and deciding before making a spreadsheet. We started flippantly asking people to create spreadsheets and providing little, if any, guidance because “it’s easy to make changes and run scenarios.”

This shift resulted in a reliance on automated models and a lack of shared assumptions or analytical rigor in decision-making processes.

Of course, these behaviors were never intended.  They were, however, very predictable.

93% of Human Behavior is predictable.

Research spanning disciplines as varied as network scientists, anthropology, neuropsychology, and paleontology shines a light on how truly predictable we are.

Here are some examples:

Emotions before Reason: Ask someone if they make decisions based on their motivations, aspirations, and fears and use data to justify the decisions, and they’ll tell you no. Ask them the last time someone else made a decision that “made no sense,” and you’ll listen to a long list of examples.

Small gains now are better than big gains later: Thoughtfully planning before using solutions like spreadsheets, word processing, email, and instant messaging could save us time at work and help us get home 30 minutes earlier or work a few hours less on the weekend.  But saving a few seconds now by brain-dumping into Word, setting up a “flexible” spreadsheet, and firing off a text feels much better.

Confidence > Realism: We’ve all been in meetings where the loudest voice or the most senior person’s opinion carried the day.  As we follow their lead, we ignore signs that we’re wrong and explain away unexpected and foreboding outcomes until we either wake up to our mistakes or adjust to our new circumstances.

Predict the 93%. Create for the 7%

Acknowledging the predictability of human behavior is not an endorsement of stereotypes but a recognition of our innate cognitive processes. By incorporating this understanding into design, innovation, and decision-making processes, we better anticipate potential outcomes and mitigate unintended consequences.

While 93% of human behavior may follow predictable patterns rooted in evolutionary instincts, focusing on the remaining 7% allows for the exploration of unique behaviors and novel solutions.  By embracing both aspects of human nature, we can navigate challenges more effectively and anticipate a broader range of outcomes in our endeavors, leading to informed decision-making and value creation.

Now, if I could only get Excel to stop auto-converting numbers into date/time format.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Positive Power of Negative Emotions Drive Change

Positive Power of Negative Emotions Drive Change

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You want to make life better for others. This desire is reflected in the optimism and positivity of your language – create value, love the problem, and delight the customer.  But making life better requires change, and, as the adage goes, “People want change, but they don’t want to be changed.”

You are confident that the solution you created will make life better and that the change people need to make is quite small and painless, well worth the dramatic improvement you offer.  Yet they resist.  No amount of explaining, showing, convincing, or cajoling changes their mind.  What else can you do?

To quote Darth Vader, “Give yourself to the Dark Side.  It is the only way to save your friends.”

“If only you knew the power of the Dark Side…”

The Dark Side is populated by “negative” emotions like anger, fear, and frustration, which are incredibly powerful.

Consider that:

Unfortunately, these are also some of the first emotions experienced when confronting change.   

Change requires people to let go of what they know in exchange for the promise of something better.  This immediately triggers Loss Aversion, the cognitive bias in which the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. 

As a result, people won’t let go of what they know until the pain of holding on becomes unbearable.  When you point out the problems and pain of the current situation, you help people understand and experience the unbearableness of the current situation. 

“Anger, fear, aggression; the Dark Side of the Force are they”

Not every “negative” emotion elicits the same behavior, so carefully choose the one to tap into.

Fear motivates people to seek safety, which can be good if your solution truly offers a safer alternative.  It’s a motivator used well by companies such as Volvo, SimpliSafe, and Graco.  But lean on it too much, and people may feel overwhelmed and remain frozen to the status quo.

Anger motivates people to take risks, which can be good when the change requires bold decisions and dogged persistence.  It can be great when it bonds people together to achieve a shared goal or protect a common value.  Apple used this emotion to brilliant effect in its famous “1984” commercial announcing the launch of Macintosh.  But incite too much anger, and things can get broken and not in a helpful way like Apple’s ad.

Frustration, one of the emotions that often drives aggression, is anger’s polite little sister.  When people feel frustrated, they’re likely to act, persistently pursue solutions, and creatively approach and overcome obstacles.  But if the change is big, feels scary, and puts their sense of self at risk, frustration isn’t powerful enough to convince people to let go of the old and embrace the new.

“If you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

Yoda is incredibly wise, but he gets this one wrong.  Using the Dark Side to speak to people’s “negative” emotions doesn’t doom you to a life or career of fear-mongering or inciting violence.  Start here, don’t stay here.

Multiple research studies show that positive emotions, like hope and joy, are more powerful than negative ones in maintaining motivation and even enable more creative thinking and problem-solving.  By speaking to both negative and positive emotions, the Dark Side and the Light, you enable change by giving people a reason to let go of the past and a future worth reaching for.

When people stop resisting and start reaching to the future you’re offering, change happens, and you realize that Yoda was right, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Image credit: Pixabay

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Cover versions, Sequels, Taylor Swift and Innovation

Taylor Swift and Innovation

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

An inherent contradiction in almost any new innovation is that it needs to be both new, but also somewhat familiar.  If it doesn’t offer anything new, there is little motivation for consumers to risk abandoning existing habits or preferences to try it.  But if it is not at least anchored in familiarity, then we ask consumers to put a lot of effort into understanding it, in addition to any opportunity cost from what they give up for trying something new.  Innovation is difficult, and a lot of innovations fail, at least in part because of this fundamental contradiction. 

Transformative Performance:  Of course, innovations can be successful, which means we do navigate this challenge.  But how? One way is to deliver something with such transformative benefits that people are willing to push themselves over the hump of learning something new. Huge benefits also create their own ‘gravity’, often spreading via world of mouth via media, social media, and even old-fashioned human-to-human conversations. This avoids the need for brute force mass marketing spend that can create the illusion of familiarity, but with a hefty price tag that is typically beyond smaller companies

Familiarity: The second option is to leverage what people already know in such a way that the ‘adoption hump’ becomes relatively insignificant, because new users intuitively know what the innovation is and how to use it.

Wow!  The best innovations do both.  CHATgpt Generative AI is a contemporary example, where transformative performance has created an enormous amount of word of mouth, but the interface is so intuitive there is little barrier to adoption, at least superficially. 

Of course, using it skillfully is another thing altogether, but I think there is an insight there too.  It’s OK to have an ongoing learning curve after initial adoption, but initial engagement needs to be relatively simple.  The gaming industry are masters of this.    

Little Wows!  CHATgpt is brilliant innovation.  But realistically, few of us are gong to create something quite that extraordinary.  So how do we manage to create more modest wows that still drive trial, engagement and ultimately repeat business?

Science, Art and Analogy:  As a believer that a lot of interesting things happen at the interface between science and art, and that analogy is a great tool, I think we cam learn a little about solving this by taking insight from the arts.  In this case, music and movies. For example, popular music routinely plunders the familiar, and repackages it as new via cover versions.  I often do the same myself!   Movies do something similar, either with the cycle of remakes of classic movies, or with sequels that often closely follow the narrative structure of the original.  

But this highlights some of the challenges in solving this dichotomy.  It’s rare for a remake, cover version, or sequel to do better than the original.  But a few do, so what is their secret?  What works, and what doesn’t? 

  1. Distance from the original.  Some of the best movie remakes completely reframe the original in ways that maintain a largely implicit familiarity, but do so without inviting direct comparisons of alignable differences to the original. For example, West Side Story is a brilliant retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Bridget Jones Diary reframes Pride and Prejudice, She’s All That is a retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, while The Lion King retools Hamlet, etc.  I’m not suggesting that nobody sees these connections, but many don’t, and even if they do, the context is sufficiently different to avoid constant comparisons throughout the experience.  And of course, in most of these cases, the originals are not contemporary, so there is temporal as well as conceptual distance between original and remake.   Similarly with cover versions, Hendrix and the Byrds both completely and very successfully reframed Dylan (All Along the Watchtower and Mr. Tambourine Man).  Sinead O’Connor achieved similar success with Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  For those of you with less grey in their hairl, last summers cover of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ by Luke Combs shows that covers can still do this. 

2.  Something New.   A different way to fail is to tap familiarity, but without adding anything sufficiently new or interesting.  All too often covers, sequels and remakes are simply weaker copies of the original.  I’m sure that anyone reading this can come up with their own examples of a disappointing remake or sequel.   Footloose, Annie, Psycho, Tom Cruise’s the Mummy or Karate Kid are all candidates for me.  As for sequels, again, I’m sure you can all name a respectable list of your own wasted 2 hours, with Highlander 2 and Jaws the Revenge being my personal cures for insomnia.   And even if we include novelty, it cannot be too predictable either.  It needs to at least be a little surprising.   For example, the gender reversal of the remake of Overboard has a point of difference in comparison to the Goldie Hawn original, but its not exactly staggeringly novel or surprising.  It’s a lot like a joke, if you can see it coming, it’s not going too create a wow.    

3.  Don’t Get De-Selected.  Learning from the two previous approaches can help us to create sufficient separation from past experience to engage and hopefully delight potential consumers.  But it’s important to not get carried away, and become un-tethered from familiarity.  For example, I personally enjoy a lot of jazz, but despite their often extraordinary skill, jazz musicians don’t fill many arenas.  That’s in part because jazz asks the listener to invest a lot of cognitive bandwidth and time to develop an ‘ear’, or musical expertise in order to appreciate it. It often moves a long way from the familiar original, and adds lot of new into the equation.  As a result, it is a somewhat niche musical form.  Pop music generally doesn’t require the same skill or engagement, and successful artists like Taylor Swift understand that.   And when it comes to innovation, most of us want to be mainstream, not niche. This is compounded because consumers today face a bewildering array of options, and a huge amount of information.  One way our brains have evolved to deal with complexity is to quickly ignore or ‘de-select’ things that don’t appear relevant to our goals. A lot of the time, we do this unconsciously.  Faced with more information than we can process, we quickly narrow our choices down to a consideration set that is ‘right-sized’ for us to make a decision.   From an innovation perspective, if our innovations are too ‘jazzy’, they risk being de-selected by a majority on consumers before they can be fully appreciated, or even consciously noticed.     

There’s no precise right or wrong strategy in this context. It’s possible to deliver successful innovations by tapping and balancing these approaches in many different ways.   But there are certainly good and bad executions, and I personally find it helpful to use these kinds of analogy when evaluating an innovation.   Are we too jazzy? Do we have separation from incumbents that is meaningful for consumers, and not just ourselves? And the latter is a real challenge for experts. When we are deeply engaged in a category, it’s all too easy to get lost in the magic of our own creations.  We see differences more clearly than consumers. It’s easy for us to become overly excited by relatively small changes that excite us, but that lack sufficient newness and separation from existing products for consumers who are nowhere near as engaged in our category as we are.  But it’s also easy to create ‘jazz’ for similar reasons, by forgetting that real world consumers are typically far less interested in our products than we are, and so miss the brilliance of our ‘performance’, or perhaps don’t ‘get it’ at all. 

For me, it is useful to simply ask myself whether I’m a Godfather II or a Highlander II, a Taylor Swift or a Dupree Bolton, or even Larry Coryell.  And there’s the rub.  As a musician, I’d rather be Larry, but as a record company exec, I’d far rather have Taylor Swift on my label. 

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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Good Intentions Pave the Way to Innovation Hell

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and nowhere is that more true than in innovation.

Good Intentions Pave the Way to Innovation Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

That’s one of the insights I took away from InnoLead’s Q1 report on corporate innovation priorities.  The report is an eye-opening look at the impact of AI on corporate innovation as experienced by corporate entrepreneurs themselves.  But before deep diving into that topic, the report’s authors shared intriguing data about member companies’ innovation structure, leadership engagement, organizational connections, and results. Nestled amongst the charts were several that, when taken together, got my Spidey senses tingling.

61.0% of innovation teams are “directly under a high-visibility leader with a broad company focus.”

This is great because innovation needs senior leaders’ support and active engagement to survive, let alone survive for long enough to produce meaningful results. Add this to the fact that 45% of senior leadership teams frequently discuss the “progress and value of the innovation program,” and all signs point to innovation as a strategic priority.

But (you knew there was a but, didn’t you)…

If “broad company focus” means “no P&L responsibility,” we have a problem.  In every for-profit company I’ve worked for and with, people with P&L responsibility have greater power, influence, and access to resources than people without a P&L.  This division may not feel fair, but it makes sense – the people who bring in profit and revenue will always be more influential than people who represent “cost centers.”

You can see the impact of P&L owners who are, understandably, focused entirely on delivering short-term results throughout the report – 75% of companies have shifted their focus more towards near-term priorities, and 61% shifted their innovation portfolio away from Horizon 3 (also known as radical, breakthrough, or disruptive innovation).

As for all those discussions, it’d be great if they focused on walking the talk of innovation. But suppose it’s only innovation platitudes or, worse, questioning innovation’s ROI. That doesn’t bode well for the “high-visibility leader with broad company focus,” the innovation team, or the company’s culture.

71.2% of innovation teams’ customers or business partners are unaware of the team’s existence, don’t engage, or engage only occasionally.

Welcome to Innovation Island!  Where the cool people work on cool things in cool offices while all you drones slave away doing the same thing you’ve always done and making the money that pays for the cool people to do cool things in their cool offices.

I’m sure this isn’t the message the innovation team intends to send, but it’s the one received by most organizations.

When arguing for Innovation Island, managers often point to the organizational antibodies likely to swarm and kill H3/radical/breakthrough innovation and even some H2/adjacent innovations.  They’re right, and those innovations must be “protected.” But not every innovation needs protection.  H2 and certainly H1 innovations, where most portfolios are now, should be shared with the core business because the core business will eventually run them.

The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that innovation teams don’t seem to be reaching out to others in the organization.  Like the P&L owners they report to, people in the core business are busy running the business and generating revenue.  Very few have the time or energy to seek out the innovation team to discuss and explore innovation.  Companies that want to build a culture of innovation need to turn their innovators into evangelists, not residents of an island connected to the mainland by a single drawbridge.

23.4% of innovation teams are considered outsiders or actively undermined by other functions and business units.

This may not sound bad, but add to it the 55.0% that are “somewhat integrated with occasional collaboration” with other departments and business units, and you may be tempted to believe that Innovation Island would be wise to invest in a surface-to-air missile defense system.

Sadly, this perception of the innovation team as “The Others” isn’t surprising when considering that the most important tactic for building a relationship between innovation and the functions or business units is already having strong relationships and interpersonal trust (75.3% of respondents).  The least effective (4.7% of respondents) is “writing down shared objectives and expectations.”  So, no, the email you sent is not enough to win friends and influence people.

Bottom line

Well-intended companies appoint a senior executive to lead the innovation team because they’ve been told that doing so is powerful proof that innovation is a strategic priority.  They hire outsiders to inject new thinking into the organization because they know that “what got you here won’t get you there.”  They cordon the team and their work off from the rest of the organization because they read that separation is essential to preserving innovation’s disruptive nature. 

But if the senior executive doesn’t have the organizational power and influence that comes with P&L ownership, the team doesn’t have strong personal relationships with others in the business, and other functions and business units don’t know the team exists or how to interact with it, innovation will go nowhere.

But that’s better than where it could go.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Challenging the Assumption of the Status Quo

(A Lesson Learned from Yogurt)

Challenging the Assumption of the Status Quo

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In September 2006, I moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, on a temporary assignment with BCG.  As one does when arriving somewhere for an extended period, I went to the grocery store to stock my kitchen. 

Since the grocery store was on the ground floor of my building, I bought enough food for a few breakfasts and dinners, made note of the other offerings for future trips, and learned through painful public embarrassment that one must purchase grocery bags (and those bags are nowhere near the checkout lane).

The following day, yogurt was on the menu, and I grabbed the first of the three options I had bought the previous day – a small container of strawberry yogurt.

My heart sank when I peeled off the top.

Instead of super healthy, organic, natural (I’m in Scandinavia, for crying out loud!) yogurt, the stuff in my cup was a rather suspicious beige with dark brown flecks.

Stifling my instinct to dry heave, I chucked the cup into the garbage, along with the five other cups in the clearly spoiled pack, and pulled Brand #2 out of the refrigerator.  Surely, this strawberry yogurt would be safe to eat.

But it, too, was beige.  A lighter beiger and without the disturbing brown flecks.  But still beige.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered.  Admittedly, the grocery store was more of a glorified convenience store, but c’mon, how hard is it to keep track of Sell By dates?

Into the garbage, it went.  Out of the refrigerator came Brand #3 (Yes, I take a portfolio approach to innovation AND food purchases)

Closing my eyes and saying a quick prayer to both the grocery and yogurt gods, I peeled open the yogurt. Not beige but a slight hint of pink, just enough to reassure me that it contained strawberries and hadn’t curdled but not so much that I suspected an American-amount of food coloring.

Later that day…

At lunch, my new colleagues asked how I was settling in.  I regaled them with my “bumbling American experiencing culture shock in a country where she looks (and is initially treated like) a local” stories. 

As we gathered up our dishes and returned to the kitchen, I commented that I was surprised that my local grocery would keep expired products on the shelf.  When they echoed my surprise, I told them about the spoiled yogurt and that 2 of the three brands I purchased were bad.

Based on the glances they exchanged, I knew I had another story to add to an already uncomfortably full book.

It turns out that. The “good” yogurt I ate that morning was from the lowest quality brand, one that no self-respecting Dane would consider eating but that is sold to unsuspecting foreigners (Hi, that’s me).  The “bad” yogurt was from respected all-natural brands.  All yogurt, they explained, falls somewhere in the spectrum from white to beige or even tan. That’s why they print the flavor name and a picture of the fruit on the label.

How often do we make the same mistake?

How often do we reject something because it’s not what we expect to see?  Because it’s not what we’re used to?

Maybe not often when it comes to yogurt, but what about other more important things, like:

  • Trends
  • Technologies
  • Ideas
  • Business Models
  • Startups
  • People

And what happens when we don’t have people willing to point out that we’re no longer in a place where our status quo applies?

Image credit: Pixabay

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