Tag Archives: Insights

You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing

You Can't Innovate Without This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

It just landed on your desk. Or maybe you campaigned to get it. Or perhaps you just started doing it. How the title of “Innovation Leader” got to your desk doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that it’s there, along with a budget and loads of expectations.

Of course, now that you have the title and the budget, you need a team to do the work and deliver the results.

Who should you look for? The people that perform well in the current business, with its processes, structures, and (relative) predictability, often struggle to navigate the constant uncertainty and change of innovation. But just because someone struggles in the process and structure of the core business doesn’t mean they’ll thrive creating something new.

What are the qualities that make someone a successful innovator?

70 answers

A lot of people have a lot to say about the qualities and characteristics that make someone an innovator. When you combine the first four Google search results for “characteristics of an innovator” with the five most common innovation talent assessments, you end up with a list of 70 different (and sometimes conflicting) traits.

The complete list is at the end of this article, but here are the characteristics that appeared more than once:

  1. Curious
  2. Persistent
  3. Continuously reflective
  4. Creative
  5. Driven
  6. Experiments
  7. Imaginative
  8. Passionate

It’s a good list, but remember, there are 62 other characteristics to consider. And that assumes that the list is exhaustive.

+1 Answer

It’s not. Something is missing.

There is one characteristic shared by every successful innovator I’ve worked with and every successful leader of innovation. It’s rarely the first (or second or third) word used to describe them, but eventually, it emerges, always said quietly, after great reflection and with dawning realization.

Vulnerability.

Whether you rolled your eyes or pumped your fist at the word made famous by Brene Brown, you’ve no doubt heard it and formed an opinion about it.

Vulnerability is the “quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”  Without it, innovation is impossible.

Innovation requires the creation of something new that creates value. If something is new, some or all of it is unknown. If there are unknowns, there are risks. Where there are risks, there is the possibility of being wrong, which opens you up to attack or harm.

When you talk to people to understand their needs, vulnerability allows you to hear what they say (versus what you want them to say).

In brainstorming sessions, vulnerability enables you to speak up and suggest an idea for people to respond to, build on, or discard.

When you run experiments, vulnerability ensures that you accurately record and report the data, even if the results aren’t what you hoped.

Most importantly, as a leader, vulnerability inspires trust, motivates your team, engages your stakeholders, and creates the environment and culture required to explore, learn, and innovate continuously.

n + 1 is the answer

Just as you do for every job in your company, recruit the people with the skills required to do the work and the mindset and personality to succeed in your business’ context and culture.

Once you find them, make sure they’re willing to be vulnerable and support and celebrate others’ vulnerability. Then, and only then, will you be the innovators your company needs.


Here’s the full list of characteristics:

  1. Action-oriented, gets the job done
  2. Adaptable
  3. Ambitious
  4. Analytical, high information capacity, digs through facts
  5. Associative Thinker, makes uncommon connections
  6. Breaks Boundaries, disruptive
  7. Business minded
  8. Collaborative
  9. Compelling Leader
  10. Competitive
  11. Consistent
  12. Continuously reflects (x3)
  13. Courageous
  14. Creative (x3)
  15. Curious (x4), asks questions, inquisitive, investigates
  16. Delivers results, seeks tangible outcomes
  17. Disciplined
  18. Divergent Thinker
  19. Driven (x3)
  20. Energetic
  21. Experiments (x2)
  22. Financially oriented
  23. Flexible, fluid
  24. Formally educated and trained
  25. Futuristic
  26. Giving, works to benefit others, wants to make the world better
  27. Goal-oriented
  28. Has a Growth mindset
  29. Highly confident
  30. Honest
  31. Imaginative (x2)
  32. Influential, lots of social capital
  33. Instinctual
  34. Intense
  35. Iterating between abstract and concrete thinking
  36. Learns through experiences
  37. Likes originality, seeks novelty
  38. Loyal
  39. Motivated by change, open to new experiences
  40. Networks, relates well to others
  41. Observes
  42. Opportunistic mindset, recognizes opportunities
  43. Opportunity focused
  44. Passionate (x2)
  45. Patient
  46. Persistent (x4)
  47. Persuasive
  48. Playful
  49. Pragmatic
  50. Proactive
  51. Prudent
  52. Rapidly recognizes patterns
  53. Resilient
  54. Resourceful
  55. Respects other innovators
  56. Seeks understanding
  57. Self-confident
  58. Socially intelligent
  59. Stamina
  60. Takes initiative
  61. Takes risks
  62. Team-oriented
  63. Thinks big picture
  64. Thrives in uncertainty
  65. Tough
  66. Tweaks solutions constantly
  67. Unattached exploration
  68. Visionary
  69. Wants to get things right
  70. Willing to Destroy

And the sources:

Image Credit: Pixabay

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3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Most of my advice to leaders who want to use innovation to grow their businesses boils down to two things*:

  1. Talk (and listen) to customers
  2. Do something

But what if you don’t want to talk to customers?

After all, talking to customers can be scary because you don’t know what they’ll say. It can be triggering if they say something mean about your product, your business, or even you as a person. It can be draining, especially if you’re an introvert.

Plus, there are so many ways to avoid talking to customers – Send a survey, hire a research firm to write a report, invoke the famous Steve Jobs quote about never doing customer research.

Isn’t it just better to stay tucked away in the office, read reports, state opinions as if they are facts (those opinions are based on experience, after all), and make decisions?

Nope.

It is not better. It is also not safer, easier, or more efficient.

To make the best decisions, you need the best data, which comes from your customers.

But that doesn’t mean you need to talk to them to get it.

The best data

The best data helps you understand why your customers do what they do. This is why Jobs to be Done is such a powerful tool – it uncovers the emotional and social Jobs to be Done that drive our behavior and choices (functional Jobs to be Done are usually used to justify our choices).

But discovering Jobs to be Done typically requires you to talk to people, build rapport and trust in a one-on-one conversation, and ask Why? dozens of times so surface emotional and social JTBD.

Luckily, there are other ways to find Jobs to be Done that don’t require you to become an unlicensed therapist.

Observe your customers

Go where your customers are (or could be) experiencing the problem you hope to solve and try to blend in. Watch what people are doing and what they’re not doing. Notice whether people are alone or with others (and who those others are – kids, partners, colleagues, etc.). Listen to the environment (is it loud or quiet? If there’s noise, what kind of noise?) and to what people are saying to each other.

Be curious. Write down everything you’re observing. Wonder why and write down your hypotheses. Share your observations with your colleagues. Ask them to go out, observe, wonder, and share. Together you may discover answers or work up the courage to have a conversation.

Quick note – Don’t be creepy about this. Don’t lurk behind clothing racks, follow people through stores, peep through windows, linger too long, or wear sunglasses, a trench coat, and a fedora on a 90-degree day, so you look inconspicuous. If people start giving you weird looks, find a new place to people-watch.

Observe yourself

Humans are fascinating, and because you are a human, you are fascinating. So, observe yourself when you’re experiencing the problem you’re hoping to solve. Notice where you are, who is with you, the environment, and how you feel. Watch what you do and don’t do. Wonder why you chose one solution over another (or none).

Be curious. Write down everything you did, saw, and felt and why. Ask your colleagues to do the same. Share your observations with your colleagues and find points of commonality and divergence, then get curious all over again.

Quick note – This only works if you have approximately the same demographic and psychographic profiles and important and unsatisfied Jobs to be Done of your target customers.

Be your customer

What if your business solves a problem that can’t be easily observed? What if you don’t have the problem that your business is trying to solve?

Become your customer (and observe yourself).

Several years ago, I worked with a client that made adult incontinence products. I couldn’t observe people using their products, and I do not have important (or unsatisfied) Jobs to be Done that the products can solve.

So, for one day, I became a customer. I went to Target and purchased their product. I went home, wore, and used the product. I developed a deep empathy for the customer and wrote down roughly 1 million ways to innovate the product and experience.

Quick note – Depending on what’s required to “be your customer,” you may need to give people a heads up. My husband was incredibly patient and understanding but also a little concerned on the day of the experiment.

It’s about what you learn, not how you learn it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is one best way to get insights. I’m 100% guilty (one-on-one conversations are a hill I have died on multiple times).

Ultimately, when it comes to innovation and decision-making, the more important thing is having, believing, and using insights into why customers do what they do and want what they want. How you get those insights is an important but secondary consideration.

* Each of those two things contains A TON of essential stuff that must be done the right way at the right time otherwise, they won’t work, but we’ll get into those things in another article

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

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

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

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

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

“If you want data, go to Hell.”

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

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

But it’s not entirely wrong.

Quantitative Data’s blessing: A sense of safety

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

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

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

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

Yet we rely on data that describes the past.

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

The Answer: And not Or

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

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

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

We need numbers and humans.

Qualitative Insight’s blessing: A view into the future

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

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

Qualitative Insight’s curse: We must be brave

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

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

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

One more story

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

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

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

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

Because, as Box founder Aaron Levie reminds us,

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

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

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Transformation Insights – Part Two

Transformation Insights - Part Two

“The world needs stories and characters that unite us rather than tear us apart.”~ Gale Anne Hurd, Producer of Aliens and The Terminator

GUEST POST from Bruce Fairley

In my early years I was fortunate to spend some time on film sets. Unlike how the entertainment industry is portrayed in the Netflix series, The Movies that Made Us, I did not come to blows with any of my directors as Eddie Murphy apparently did with John Landis during the making of Coming to America. Nor did I witness an entire crew mutiny, as James Cameron did on Aliens. Instead, I often saw the same dynamic I’ve witnessed in the tech sector from the first moment I stepped off set and into I.T.

People coming together.

Skilled, diverse, passionate people hard at work fighting against miscommunication, technical issues, and time constraints – coming together to achieve something significant. I referred to this in my previous Transformation Insights post, The Future Always Wins as:

Collaboration Between Complementary Influencers.

This dynamic is as true of a film set as it is of a firm engaged in digital transformation. In both cases, expertise in various areas is required to create a successful whole, with C-Suite leaders in the corporate sphere tasked with providing the articulated vision at the helm. Of course, the success of any endeavor comes down to human-powered action and decision making at every level of execution. And while the challenges of a digital transformation project may not be as bone-breaking dangerous as the stunts in an action film, getting to greatness requires a similar fusion of mind and machine – of talent and technology.

If that sounds like The Terminator, consider that its box office success speaks to the fusion of mind and machine as an unstoppable trajectory – but those who deepen their humanity rather than succumb to machine rule are the heroes that triumph. This was mirrored in the making of the film, which was nearly shut down when the crew put down their tools. Addressing their humanity and acknowledging the value of their contribution changed the story from disaster to blockbuster.

Humans lead – technology serves. Not the other way around.

When that is reversed, dystopia ensues whether on screen or in the boardroom. Having witnessed many occasions in which technology was expediently obtained before its value to the user could be established, I am convinced we have lost the plot in telling a wider, corporate story. Technology was supposed to liberate not enslave. Instead, how many times have you attended a Zoom meeting or prepared weeks for a presentation only to discover the sound not working, the slide deck freezing, or even a hidden ‘on’ button? These may be simple examples, but they rob the intrepid hero of the corporate journey; the chance to shine and advance their creative talent much like the crew of Aliens putting down their tools. Now multiply that by the large scale digital transformation projects I’ve spearheaded, and it becomes clear how a broken axis between human-powered decision making and technology can break the bottom line.

Optimism and momentum towards a more positive, successful outcome hinges on more than technological expertise. It requires an understanding of the whole story – and how the team, tech, leadership, and consumers each play a role. The story you wish to tell about your corporate journey requires buy-in at every level of service – human and tech. Obstacles are not indictments, they are merely obstacles. But they do often require a third-party complementary collaborator that understands how to transform pitfalls into profits.

When I launched the Narrative Group I wanted to amplify the genius of C-Suite executives through the optimization of the business-tech relationship. Similarly to how I observed the inner workings of a set and how all the pieces had to fit together to create a screen success, I spent years observing digital transformation from the inside. Across continents and boardrooms, I learned, led, and transformed as well. This only increased my commitment to helping talented leaders tell their story successfully.

If you’re a C-Suite leader that would like to storyboard the trajectory of your corporate success, please feel free to reach out and continue the conversation at:

connect@narrative-group.com

Image Credit: The Narrative Group

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Re-Thinking for a New Era

Re-Thinking for a New Era

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our last blog, we proposed, rather than living in a world where everyone hates to fail, why not adopt a rethink, respond, regroup, thrive pattern, and experience failure as an opportunity for change, unlearning, and re-thinking? Adopting this approach supports your human-centricity and enables you to become future-fit through developing your set of 21st-century superpowers in the face of the acute disruption of COVID-19. This is reinforced by Adam Grant, in his book “Think Again” (the power of not knowing what you don’t know) where he states that we are living in a time vital for re-thinking to help us become adaptive and agile and develop our future fitness to thrive in a disruptive, uncertain world.

Critical Art of Re-Thinking

The critical art of re-thinking involves being actively open-minded, hearted, and willed:

  • To learning, and possibly re-learning how to effectively question your own beliefs, mindsets, assumptions, opinions, and habits;
  • Through connection, association, detachment, and discernment to these qualities in other people’s minds and hearts;
  • And to then put our “mental pliability” and “emotional agility” to the test by creating the time and space for re-thinking with a new “set of goggles” and revising our views based on what we learn.

This potentially benefits everyone because it allows us to upgrade and update our points of view and expand our understanding of the world, we are all living in today and build our future fitness.

It also positions us for change innovation and excellence in the way we transform our approach to work and share our wisdom in life.

Making time and space for re-thinking

  • The vital role of unlearning

Embracing human-centricity and a future-fit focus involves unlearning and letting go of many of our old beliefs, mindsets, assumptions, opinions, and habits embedded in our habitual feeling and thinking systems.

Being able to discern which of these are now incomplete, ineffective, and irrelevant as we adapt, and serve people, teams, and organisations to survive, grow, and develop future fitness to thrive in the post-Covid-19 world.

Unlearning is not about forgetting, it’s about paying deep attention and developing the awareness to see, and safely and courageously step outside of our old thinking systems, mental models, biases, and paradigms.

  • Being intellectually humble

Being intellectually humble involves “knowing what we don’t know” and being inquisitive and curious enough to explore new discoveries, and pay deep attention, and be consciously aware of the rich and valuable rewards to be found in the “unknown”.

Most of us are unconsciously motivated to move away from change and learning as a result of “blindness” to our learning or survival anxieties (Schein), and the need to cover up our “learning incompetence” (when people pretend to know things they don’t).

The willingness to be actively open-minded, hearted, and willed and embrace intellectual humility helps us see things clearly and moves us towards overcoming our blind spots and weaknesses.

Re-Thinking in a Disconnected and Disruptive Era

  • Thinking, fast and slow

Daniel Kahneman, in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” describes the “machinery of … thought,” dividing the brain into two agents, called System 1 and System 2, which “respectively produce fast and slow thinking.”

For our purposes, at ImagineNation™, in our group, leadership, and team coaching programs, these can also be thought of as intuitive and deliberate thought.

  • Introducing System 3 thinking

My colleague, Peter Webb (www.peterjwebb.com), has added to this work by researching and validating a System 3 which he describes as considerative, which is complementary to our approach to thinking differently at ImagineNation™.

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. it is intuitive, quick, and emotional.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration. It is deliberative in that is rational and calculated.
  • System 3 thinking is more considerative, thoughtful, and consequential in that it enables you to focus on what really matters, discern what makes common sense, make small decisions and take small actions to find out what works best, be compassionate, regulate your emotions and develop a tolerance for divergent values.

You can explore more these three thinking systems, and initiate your own re-thinking process by contacting Peter at https://www.peterjwebb.com/

Initiating Your Re-Thinking Strategy

  • Developing a habit of reflective practices

Our innovation coaching, leading, and teaming learning programs involve developing a regular reflective practice –which according to Turner, Lucas & Whitaker, in the learning and coaching context is:

“the ability to step away from your work and identity patterns, habits, strengths, and limitations in your work, and/within the system you work in.”

  • Pause-retreat-reflect cycle to catalyse re-thinking

At ImagineNation™ to initiate the re-thinking process, through partnering with clients to be actively open-minded, hearted, and willed through our “pause-retreat-reflect-reboot” cycle.

To support the development of the new habit, we include:

  • A personal reflection practice involves initiating or continuing a mindfulness activity.
  • A set of regular reflection activities which include different sets of reflective and generative questions.
  • Journaling processes, incorporating the CCS Cards for play and critical reflection for our clients to experiment with.

This involves practicing a set of regular retreat and reflection activities involving safely and intentionally enabling people to deeply listen and question and paradoxically dance across the 3 thinking systems simultaneously.

Enhancing your own and your team’s capability to do this will transform your approach to work, harness people’s collective intelligence to share their wisdom in life with the world, and develop future fitness to master challenges and solve problems as they arise.

  • Shifting to re-thinking
  1. Interrupt their habitual “do-feel-think” cycles (doing stuff that may not deliver the results you want, feeling the awful emotions that result from mistakes, imperfection, and failure, then thinking what to do about it).
  2. Create “stop signals” to affect a pause, long enough to stop doing stuff and become present to the range of emotions to calm down their nervous system.
  3. Connect, associate with and acknowledge how they might be feeling at this unique and specific moment in time.
  4. Pay deep attention to observing their operating thought patterns, with detachment and discernment.
  5. Intentionally choose a desired future state or outcome.
  6. Consider the impact of their feelings and thoughts on the results they are getting.
  7. Deliberate, consider and quickly choose more resourceful visceral and feeling states that compels (pulls) and mobilise them to achieve the desired future state or outcome.
  8. Finally, deliberate, consider and quickly choose more resourceful thought and feeling patterns to choose the most intelligent actions to take to achieve the desired future state or outcome.

The result is usually the development of a re-thinking process that has evolved from “do-think-feel” to “feel-think-do” (connecting to a desirable outcome, feeling present, thinking about the most intelligent thoughts and actions to embody and enact to get there, saving both time and money on wasted activities, avoiding mistakes and failures, to get to their desired future state.)

A Final Word on the Benefits of Re-Thinking

Taking just a moment to pause-retreat-reflect catalyses our rethink, respond, regroup, thrive pattern and creates opportunities for change, unlearning, and re-thinking. It is also a vital ingredient towards developing peoples’ future fitness.

Enabling us to appreciate the value of tuning into ourselves and into others, to leverage our emotional and mental muscles, towards actively creating the space for evoking and provoking different options and creative choices.  Which better enable and empower us to re-think about being, thinking, and acting differently in a new age, impacted by the technologies created by accelerated digitization.

We can then perform at higher levels, achieve our desired outcomes and goals, interact, lead and team more effectively and develop functional and highly valued collaborative relationships with others, as well as with stakeholders and customers.

To leverage the current turning point, and develop our 21st-century superpowers, to co-create a more equitable, resilient, sustainable, human-centric, and future-fit environment, within an ever-changing landscape.

Join Our Next Free “Making Innovation a Habit” Masterclass to Re-Engage 2022!

Our 90-minute masterclass and creative conversation will help you develop your post-Covid-19 re-engagement strategy.  It’s on Thursday, 10th February at 6.30 pm Sydney and Melbourne, 8.30 pm Auckland, 3.30 pm Singapore, 11.30 am Abu Dhabi and 8.30 am Berlin. Find out more.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Training Your Quantum Human Computer

Quantum Human Computing

What is quantum computing?

According to Wikipedia, “Quantum computing is the use of quantum phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computation. Computers that perform quantum computations are known as quantum computers.”

Rather than try and explain all of the ins and outs of how quantum computing differs from traditional computing and why it matters, I encourage you to check out this YouTube video:

In case you were curious, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current record holder for quantum computing is a Google machine capable of processing 72 Quantum Bits. There is supposedly a machine in China capable of 76 Qubits, but it has yet to be fully recognized as the new record holder.

So, what does quantum computing have to do with humanity and the human brain and our collective future?

Is the human brain a quantum computer?

The easy answer is – we’re not sure – but scientists are conducting experiments to try and determine whether the human brain is capable of computing in a quantum way.

As the pace of change in our world accelerates and data proliferates, we will need to train our brains to use less traditional brute force computing of going through every possibility one after another to do more parallel processing, better pattern recognition, and generating an increase in our ability to see insights straight away.

Connect the Dots

But how can we train our brains?

There are many different ways to better prepare your brain as we move from the Information Age to the Age of Insight. Let me start you off with two good ones and invite you to add more in the comments:

1. Connect the Dots

Many of us grew up doing connect-the-dot puzzles, and they seemed pretty easy. But, that is with visual queues. The image above shows a number of different visual queues. Connect the dots, especially without numbers or visual queues are great proving grounds for improving your visual pattern recognition skills.

2. DLAIY JMBULE

One of my favorites is the word game DAILY JUMBLE in my local newspaper. You can also play it online. The key here is to work not on using brute force to reorder the letters into a word, but trying to train your brain to just SEE THE WORD – instantly.

Succeeding at this and other ways of training your brain to be more like a quantum computer involves getting better at removing your conscious analytical brain from the picture and letting other parts of your brain take over. It’s not easy. It takes practice – continual practice – because it is really hard to keep the analytical brain out of the way.

So, are you willing to give it a try?

Stay tuned for the next article in this series “The Age of Insight” …

Image credits: Utrecht University, Pixabay


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Building an Innovation and Insights Group from Scratch

Building an Innovation and Insights Group from Scratch

Many of you reading this have created or operated innovation or insights programs for organizations of a variety of sizes, or are curious about how to go about it.

Operating an innovation program or leading an insights group is definitely much different than creating one. In some ways it is easier, because things are already in place, but inheriting processes and expectations different than your preferences can also make things more difficult.

The folks at Aperio Insights are conducting research for a large utility company doing business in several states in the United States with a focus on electricity, natural gas, renewables, and ancillary services. Their research project is looking for a variety of perspectives from practitioners with experience in setting up a more formal and centralized innovation program or insights program (or ideally both), from scratch, where ad hoc and informal efforts occurred previously.

They’re looking for people who have been there and done that, tripped over the unseen obstacles in the dark, stubbed their toes, and are willing to share their perspectives on what they wished they had never done in setting up an innovation and insights program and what they would definitely do again.

OR, if you’ve inherited leadership of an existing innovation and insights program and were magically given the opportunity to start over and set it up from scratch, how would you go about it?

To jump start the thinking of those who get paid for your advice, let’s look at what a hand-picked group of guest experts have to say on the subject:

The Tony Ulwick Perspective:

Tony UlwickWe have worked with Fortune 500 companies and other organizations over the past 26 years deploying Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI), a proven innovation process with an 86 percent success rate. From my perspective, there are 5 major barriers companies must overcome before replacing luck with predictable innovation.

Across an organization, key managers and stakeholders must:

  1. Recognize that innovation is a process.
  2. Stop executing the innovation process backwards.
  3. Stop cobbling together incompatible innovation tools and methods.
  4. Budget the time and money needed to execute the process correctly.
  5. Recognize that new market research methods are required.

— Tony Ulwick, Strategyn founder and creator of the Jobs to be Done methodology (free pdf)

The Stephen Shapiro Perspective:

Stephen ShapiroIn setting up an innovation and insights group from scratch, first want to define how you define success. What does this group hope to achieve? What issues is it addressing? What are the barriers to success?

This should drive all of the other decisions you make. Next, I would look at the process you use. The goal of any innovation group is to move from an ad hoc approach to one that is repeatable and predictable. Although most companies start with an idea-driven approach (which is ad hoc by its very nature), I encourage something I call “Challenge-Centered Innovation(TM)” Instead of asking for suggestions, ask for solutions to well-framed, important, and differentiating challenges. This fits in nicely with an insights-driven approach which looks for wants and needs in the marketplace and looks to develop solutions to address those. Beyond measures and process, one item you need to quickly address the organization model.

In general, you want a very small, centralized innovation team that helps defines the standards (e.g., measures, process, technology, etc). But the real work is pushed into the various businesses with only support from this team. Innovation should never be the domain of one group; rather it should be done where the money resides in the business. Although some capabilities can be centralized (e.g., market research), the ultimate decisions on how to use that information needs to be determined by the business. Of course there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for this and it needs to be tailored to your specific culture and needs.

— Stephen Shapiro, Speaker Hall of Fame Member and Author of Best Practices Are Stupid

The Geoff Tuff Perspective:

Geoff TuffMany corporate innovation leaders don’t have the luxury of starting an innovation and insights function “from scratch” as they’re often saddled with the inspiring (?) vision of a senior leader, a mandate to make use of resources who don’t fit in elsewhere, or the herculean task of filling a gap in a company’s growth plan which has few degrees of freedom to actually go and try something new. So on the rare occasions when this is the starting place, here are the top five things I consider strong precursors of success:

  1. Have a crystal-clear sense for your level of ambition for the group: do you exist to advance to core business, to stretch it into adjacent spaces, to disrupt its business model, so some combination of all three? And if some combination, what proportion of your time and efforts will you spend on each?
  2. Develop clear operating procedures, rights and responsibilities relative to the rest of the company, especially regarding funding and what happens to innovation initiatives when they get to various stages of development.
  3. Start with a clean playing field and, as I write about in my forthcoming book Detonate, ignore the playbooks that have made the rest of the company successful.
  4. Focus on building complementary and nontraditional sources of insight such as ethnography that will supplement but not replace the insight machine of the rest of the company.
  5. Focus on driving economic value as quickly as possible and trumpeting it when you achieve it; a few quick, high-profile wins can help broaden your playing field and deepen your funding.

— Geoff Tuff, Deloitte principal and senior leader of the Doblin practice. Author of Detonate coming May 8 (pdf)

The Braden Kelley Perspective:

Braden KelleyIt doesn’t matter whether your organization is B2B, B2C, a charity, a government entity, or all four. Every innovation and insights organization must begin with their customers in mind, and make sure that they have the buy-in of key internal organizations (their customers in this context) to pick up their outputs and turn them into new or renewed product and/or service offerings. Unless the rest of the organization converts your ideas into new sources of value for the organization or utilizes them to increase existing sources of value, then eventually your group will become the victim of budget cuts.

Equally important is the creation of a common language of innovation. This includes the creation of a definition of “innovation” for the organization, along with an innovation vision, strategy, and goals. But for it to be sustainable you must also address funding, staffing, metrics, communications, training, portfolio management, and have a clearly defined and visualized innovation process. My Infinite Innovation Infrastructure integrates all of this together:

Infinite Innovation Infrastructure

You will notice I’ve integrated my Nine Innovation Roles methodology from Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire into the Infinite Innovation Infrastructure because it is not whether any particular individual is innovative or not, but instead, everyone has a role to play in innovation.

Finally, innovation and insights in this context are very different, but yet complementary. Insights professionals typically focus on the uncovering new understandings at the intersection between customers and existing products and services, where innovation professionals are focused on uncovering new understandings about customers (and non-customers) that usually DO NOT link to existing products and services. Blending an optimization mindset with a creation mindset in the same organization can be a great challenge, and identifying where to keep things separate and where to create intentional overlap will be a balancing act as well.

— Braden Kelley, Keynote Speaker and Author of Charting Change and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire

The Scott Anthony Perspective:

Scott AnthonyThe most critical thing the leader of a new insight and innovation group needs to consider in order to be successful is stakeholder expectations. Are stakeholders seeking insights and innovations that improve today’s business? Are they hoping to go build exciting new disruptive ventures? Or are they trying to create a more enabling culture of innovation? Those are distinctly different mandates, and a lack of clarity can lead a new leader to move in the wrong direction.

Embedded in this area is my second key success factor: understanding how leaders define innovation. At some companies innovation is broad, covering everything from day-to-day advancements to more disruptive approaches; other companies mean it to only mean the bigger, bolder stuff. Of course, we have both a broad general definition of innovation (“something different that creates value”) and specific categories of innovation. But without common definitions, it is easy for an insights and innovation leader to miss the mark.

That leads then to the third and final point: knowing the specific problems that innovation should solve. One of the mistakes people make is they think innovation should be unbounded, and that a good leader lets hundreds of flowers bloom. I’ve never seen that work; letting hundreds of flowers bloom leads to a lot of undernourished flowers. Focus is the innovator’s friend. Identifying the specific problems to solve, such as improved employee engagement, higher customer retention, experimenting with a new technology, or winning in a particular customer segment, improves the ability to innovate for impact.

— Scott Anthony, Innosight Managing Director and author of Dual Transformation (mini pdf)

Now It’s Your Turn to Share

So innovation and insight practitioners, now that you’ve heard some inspiration from five carefully selected thought leaders, it’s your turn to jump into the tactical details and share your thoughts with researchers about HOW you would build a successful innovation and insights program from a blank canvas.

But wait!

It gets better, not only will you be able to help fellow innovation and insights practitioners get their program started on the right foot, but people accepted into the research program will be PAID $250 for an hour of their brainpower.

Aperio Insights are interviewing experienced client-side innovation and research leaders to help gather ideas on how to setup an effective consumers insights and innovation team, including tactical things like how to inform the rest of the organization that this function is now in place and how to prioritize the objectives of diverse departments.

They’re looking for a mix of B2B and B2C client-side innovation and marketing research leaders for 60-minute one-on-one webcam interviews.

  • Each study participant will receive a generous honorarium $250 (Amazon e-gift card or PayPal) as a token of our appreciation
  • Not looking for your corporate secrets, just your advice and opinion
  • Evening and weekend times are available for your convenience
  • Study participants will be kept anonymous

Click here to sign up (link expired)

Insights and Innovation Study

Image credit: spanishdict.com


Accelerate your change and transformation success

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Check Out My Latest Interview with DisrupTV

I had the opportunity recently to sit down with DisrupTV co-hosts R “Ray” Wang and Vala Afshar to be part of Episode 63.

DisrupTV is a weekly Web series that airs live at 11:00 a.m. PT/ 2:00 p.m. ET every Friday. Brought to you by the Constellation Executive Network.

You can watch my segment from the program here:

Or if you would prefer to check out Episode 63 below in its entirety, you’ll see my interview segment in the middle of two other interviews with Jeff Gothelf, Author of “Sense & Respond” and Heather Clancy, Editorial Director at GreenBiz Group.

Innovation Audit from Braden Kelley

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Get Social with Your Innovation

Get Social with Your InnovationIf your organization is struggling to sustain its innovation efforts, then I hope you will do the following things.

  • Find the purpose and passion that everyone can rally around.
  • Create the flexibility necessary to deal with the constant change that a focus on innovation requires for both customers and the organization.
  • Make innovation the social activity it truly must be for you to become successful.

If your organization has lost the courage to move innovation to its center and has gotten stuck in a project – focused, reactive innovation approach, then now is your chance to regain the higher ground and to refocus, not on having an innovation success but on building an innovation capability. Are you up to the challenge?

There is a great article “ Passion versus Obsession ” by John Hagel that explores the differences between passion and obsession. This is an important distinction to understand in order to make sure you are hiring people to power your innovation efforts who are passionate and not obsessive. Here are a few key quotes from the article:

“The first significant difference between passion and obsession is the role free will plays in each disposition: passionate people fight their way willingly to the edge to find places where they can pursue their passions more freely, while obsessive people (at best) passively drift there or (at worst) are exiled there.”

“It’s not an accident that we speak of an “object of obsession,” but the “subject of passion.” That’s because obsession tends towards highly specific focal points or goals, whereas passion is oriented toward networked, diversified spaces.”

More quotes from the John Hagel article:

“The subjects of passion invite and even demand connections with others who share the passion.”

“Because passionate people are driven to create as a way to grow and achieve their potential, they are constantly seeking out others who share their passion in a quest for collaboration, friction and inspiration . . . . The key difference between passion and obsession is fundamentally social: passion helps build relationships and obsession inhibits them.”

“It has been a long journey and it is far from over, but it has taught me that obsession confines while passion liberates.”

These quotes from John Hagel’s article are important because they reinforce the notion that innovation is a social activity. While many people give Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the modern-day equivalent, Dean Kamen, credit for being lone inventors, the fact is that the lone inventor myth is just that — a myth, one which caused me to create The Nine Innovation Roles.

The fact is that all of these gentlemen had labs full of people who shared their passion for creative pursuits. Innovation requires collaboration, either publicly or privately, and is realized as an outcome of three social activities.

1. Social Inputs

From the very beginning when an organization is seeking to identify key insights to base an innovation strategy or project on, organizations often use ethnographic research, focus groups, or other very social methods to get at the insights. Great innovators also make connections to other industries and other disciplines to help create the great in sights that inspire great solutions.

2. Social Evolution

We usually have innovation teams in organizations, not sole inventors, and so the activity of transforming the seeds of useful invention into a solution valued above every existing alternative is very social. It takes a village of passionate villagers to transform an idea into an innovation in the marketplace. Great innovators make connections inside the organization to the people who can ask the right questions, uncover the most important weaknesses, help solve the most difficult challenges, and help break down internal barriers within the organization — all in support of creating a better solution.

3. Social Execution

The same customer group that you may have spent time with, seeking to understand, now requires education to show them that they really need the solution that all of their actions and behaviors indicated they needed at the beginning of the process. This social execution includes social outputs like trials, beta programs, trade show booths, and more. Great innovators have the patience to allow a new market space to mature, and they know how to grow the demand while also identifying the key shortcomings with customers who are holding the solution back from mass acceptance.

Conclusion

When it comes to insights, these three activities are not completely discrete. Insights do not expose themselves only in the social inputs phase, but can also expose themselves in other phases — if you’re paying attention.

Flickr famously started out as a company producing a video game in the social inputs phase, but was astute enough during the social execution phase to recognize that the most used feature was one that allowed people to share photos. Recognizing that there was an unmet market need amongst customers for easy sharing of photos, Flickr reoriented its market solution from video game to photo sharing site and reaped millions of dollars in the process when they ultimately sold their site to Yahoo!.

Ultimately, action is more important than intent, and so as an innovator you must always be listening and watching to see what people do and not just what they say. Build your solution on the wrong insight and nobody will be beating a path to your door.

NOTE: This article is an adaptation of some of the great content in my five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire (available in many local libraries and fine booksellers everywhere).

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Ten Reasons to Hire an Innovation Keynote Speaker

Innovation Keynote Speaker Braden Kelley

Innovation Keynote Speakers are often misunderstood, maligned, and underutilized.

We have all been to many conferences, and heard many good (and bad) keynote and session speakers with a variety of styles (all of which are perfectly acceptable), including:

1. The Motivator

Say this public speaking style and most people will envision Bill Clinton, Tony Robbins, Steve Ballmer or someone like that. Notice that not all three examples are people you think of as full of boundless energy, that can be incredibly motivating. The motivator tries to connect on an emotional level with the audience and dial up the inspiration.

2. The Academic

This speaking style is nearly, but not completely synonymous with college professors and others in the “teaching” business. My personal style straddles between The Academic and The Storyteller. The Academic focuses on bringing compelling content and connecting with the intellect of the audience, bringing them tools and concepts that done well, are easy to grasp and use.

3. The Storyteller

The Storyteller makes a strong use of similes, metaphors, and stories to get their points across. Bill Clinton straddles the line between The Motivator and The Storyteller. Storytellers try to connect on an emotional level and along with The Academic, tend to dive deeper into their points than The Motivator or The Standup comedian. Personally I love good stories and funny pictures and so my personal T-shaped speaking style embraces bits of The Storyteller and The Standup Comedian as well.

4. The Standup Comedian

The Standup Comedian aims to keep the audience laughing, using humor to underscore and to make their points. Other than comedy writers or standup comedians, few speakers will rely on this as their primary style, but many will drift into this style from time to time.

As you might expect, all of these styles are perfectly valid as long as the content is solid and valuable, but the energy of The Motivator entices a lot of people and as you can imagine, this group does the most to both help and hurt people’s perceived value of keynote speakers. Sometimes The Motivator inspires people to action, and other times they are the equivalent of cotton candy, firing people up with weak content that they can’t do anything with.

So, if with public speaking, like other communication vehicles, content is king and all speaking styles are valid, then you need to find the right content, the right speaker, and have the right reasons for employing one.

With that in mind, let’s look at the…

Top 10 Reasons to Hire an Innovation Keynote Speaker

  1. To begin an honest dialog around the role of innovation in your organization’s future
  2. To help build/reinforce your common language of innovation
  3. To bring in fresh ideas to inspire fresh insights
  4. To bring additional perspectives to existing innovation conversations
  5. To lay the groundwork for building an innovation infrastructure
  6. To help reduce the fear of innovation in your organization
  7. To reinforce your commitment to innovation publicly to your employees
  8. To increase the energy for innovation in your company
  9. To inject fresh life into an existing innovation program
  10. To combine with an innovation workshop to build new innovation capabilities

Click the image to download as a PDF:

Ten Reasons to Hire an Innovation Speaker

This is of course, not a comprehensive list of the reasons that companies around the world find value in periodically bringing in an innovation keynote speaker to dialog with their employees. Some companies choose to achieve some of these objectives via the innovation keynote, and others by sponsoring innovation training programs, or by retaining an innovation thought leader in an advisory capacity to provide the same kind of external perspectives, input, insights, and diversity of thought.

So, whether you are a new innovation leader seeking guidance on how to get off on the right foot, or an experienced Chief Innovation Officer, VP of Innovation, or Innovation Director, I encourage you to consider having myself or another innovation keynote speaker or workshop leader as a guest from time to time. I know you’ll find value in it!

Book Innovation Speaker Braden Kelley for Your Event

Innovation Speaker Sheet for Braden Kelley

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