We Must Prepare for Future Crises Like We Prepare for War

We Must Prepare for Future Crises Like We Prepare for War

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In a 2015 TED talk, Bill Gates warned that “if anything kills ten million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.” He went on to point out that we have invested enormous amounts of money in nuclear deterrents, but relatively little to battle epidemics.

It’s an apt point. In the US, we enthusiastically spend nearly $700 billion on our military, but cut corners on nearly everything else. Major breakthroughs, such as GPS satellites, the Internet and transistors, are merely offshoots of budgets intended to help us fight wars more effectively. At the same time, politicians gleefully propose budget cuts to the NIH.

A crisis, in one sense, is like anything else. It eventually ends and, when it does, we hope to be wiser for it. No one knows how long this epidemic will last or what the impact will be, but one thing is for sure — it will not be our last crisis. We should treat this as a new Sputnik moment and prepare for the next crisis with the same vigor with which we prepare for war.

Getting Artificial Intelligence Under Control

In the Terminator series, an automated defense system called Skynet becomes “self aware” and launches a nuclear attack to end humanity. Machines called “cyborgs” are created to hunt down the survivors that remain. Clearly it is an apocalyptic vision. Not completely out of the realm of possibility, but very unlikely.

The dangers of artificial intelligence, however, are very real, although not nearly so dramatic. Four years ago, in 2016, I published an article in Harvard Business Review outlining the ethical issues we need to address, ranging from long standing thought experiments like the trolley problem to issues surrounding accountability for automated decisions.

Unlike the Terminator scenario, these issues are clear and present. Consider the problem of data bias. Increasingly, algorithms determine what college we attend, if we get hired for a job and even who goes to prison and for how long. Unlike human decisions, these mathematical models are rarely questioned, but affect materially people’s lives.

The truth is that we need our algorithms to be explainable, auditable and transparent. Just because the possibility of our machines turning on us is fairly remote, doesn’t mean we don’t need too address more subtle, but all to real, dangers. We should build our systems to serve humanity, not the other way around.

The Slow-Moving Climate Crisis

Climate change is an issue that seems distant and political. To most people, basic needs like driving to work, heating their homes and doing basic household chores are much more top of mind than the abstract dangers of a warming planet. Yet the perils of climate change are, in fact, very clear and present.

Consider that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that, since 1980, there have been at least 258 weather and climate disasters where overall damages reached or exceeded $1 billion and that the total cost of these events has been more than $1.7 trillion. That’s an enormous amount of money.

Yet it pales in comparison to what we can expect in the future. A 2018 climate assessment published by the US government warned that we can expect climate change to “increasingly affect our trade and economy, including import and export prices and U.S. businesses with overseas operations and supply chains,” and had similar concerns with regard to our health, safety and quality of life.

There have been, of course, some efforts to slow the increase of carbon in our atmosphere that causes climate change such as the Paris Climate Agreement. However, these efforts are merely down payments to stem the crisis and, in any case, few countries are actually meeting their Paris targets. The US pulled out of the accord entirely.

The Debt Time Bomb

The US national debt today stands at about 23.5 trillion dollars or roughly 110% of GDP. That’s a very large, but not catastrophic number. The deficit in 2020 was expected to be roughly $1 trillion, or about four percent of GDP, but with the impact of the Coronavirus, we can expect it to be at least two to three times that now.

Considering that the economy of the United States grows at about two percent a year on average, any deficit above that level is unsustainable. Clearly, we are far beyond that now and, with baby boomers beginning to retire in massive numbers, Medicare spending is set to explode. At some point, these bills will have to be paid.

Yet focusing solely on financial debt misses a big part of the picture. Not only have we been overspending and under-taxing, we’ve also been massively under investing. Consider that the American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that we need to spend $4.5 trillion to repair our broken infrastructure. Add that infrastructure debt to our financial and environmental debt it likely adds up to $30-$40 trillion, or roughly 150%-200% of GDP.

Much like the dangers of artificial intelligence and the climate crisis, not to mention the other inevitable crises like the new pandemics that are sure to come, we will eventually have to pay our debts. The only question is how long we want to allow the interest to pile up.

The Visceral Abstract

Some years ago, I wrote about a concept I called the visceral abstract. We often fail to realize how obscure concepts affect our daily lives. The strange theories of quantum mechanics, for example, make modern electronics possible. Einstein’s relativity helps calibrate our GPS satellites. Darwin’s natural selection helps us understand diseases like the Coronavirus.

In much the same way, we find it easy to ignore dangers that don’t seem clear and present. Terminator machines hunting us down in the streets is terrifying, but the very real dangers of data bias in our artificial intelligence systems is easy to dismiss. We worry how to pay the mortgage next month, but the other debts mounting fade into the background.

The news isn’t all bad, of course. Clearly, the Internet has made it far easier to cope with social distancing. Technologies such as gene sequencing and supercomputing simulations make it more likely that we will find a cure or a vaccine. We have the capacity for both petty foolishness and extreme brilliance.

The future is not inevitable. It is what we make it. We can choose, as we have in the past, to invest in our ability to withstand crises and mitigate their effects, or we can choose to sit idly by and give ourselves up to the whims of fate. We pay the price either way. How we pay it is up to us.

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

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Overcoming the Top 3 Barriers to Customer-Centricity

Overcoming the Top 3 Barriers to Customer-Centricity

GUEST POST from Alain Thys

I just finished a presentation for the leadership team of a European travel company that wanted to better understand the barriers they would face on their journey to true customer-centricity. And what they could do about it. 

It was a good excuse to give a 2022 update to some of my older thinking on the topic. And while I can’t really share the presentation, I’m including as summary of the Top 3 barriers below. In case you find them of interest. 

BARRIER #1: Lack of Clarity

Everyone wants to be customer centric, but no one explains what that means in practice. Not just to agree on what a great customer experience looks like. But also to think through its implications for the business. 

What changes does Aïsha need to plan in her logistics department? What return can shareholders expect for investing in ‘happy faces’? What new developments do distributors and ecosystem partners need to plan for? And are any of these implications realistic within available timelines and budgets?

Without this clarity, everyone will interpret ‘being customer-centric’ in its own way, so initiatives will go in a thousand directions. Or simply grind to a halt because of an operational or financial disconnect.

Either way, with the best of intentions, the only certainty is that customers will have a variable experience depending on the touchpoint, person or time of day. 

Overcoming the Barrier: Clearly describe your customer experience. What are you promising? How will you make it happen? And what does it mean for each of your internal and external stakeholders? And before you hit the ‘start’ button, check whether all of your ideas are realistic.

BARRIER #2: Lack of Empathy

Whenever a leadership team embraces customer-centricity, the buzzwords and targets start flying around. Metrics like Net Promoter, customer ease or new kid on the block TLM appear in PowerPoint decks and we focus everything on driving the numbers.

But as management teams get excited, those around them care a lot less. Employees prefer meaningful work and decent salaries over KPIs. Shareholders may not see why they should sacrifice short-term profit for customer smiles. Distribution and ecosystem partners have got their hands full in running their own business.

The result is that strategies are implemented because you say so as a leader. This compliance often works in the short-term. But it disintegrates when processes, negotiations, and culture get in the way. Or when the next budget cut or senior executive comes around.

Overcoming the Barrier: Anchor your customer-centricity drive in the culture by reframing it into what matters to your different stakeholders. Connect the customer experience to the values and culture of those who work for you. Show your shareholders how smiles and money go hand in hand. Engage your ecosystem to create a common vision, instead of imposing yours. Make the strategy theirs, instead of yours.

BARRIER #3: Lack of Vision

Customer teams focus most, if not all, of their attention on improving the customer’s experience based on feedback and competitive benchmarks. Rightly so. Dropping the ball on a touchpoint or moment may cost dearly in both loyalty and revenue. 

But too much focus on ‘continuous improvement’ can blind us to the experience that ‘should exist’ tomorrow. In today’s economy, the last best experience the customers had anywhere, become their expectation everywhere. It’s just that they can’t tell what it is before they’ve had it. At which point, we’re too late.

Unfair? Totally. But also reality.

Overcoming the Barrier: Keep improving today, but allocate at least 20% of your time to imagining the customer’s future that ‘should exist’. Look at life through the eyes of your customer and prototype experiences they cannot imagine today. Be the one who raises the expectation bar, so it forces others to follow.

I’m not saying these are the only barriers. But if you tackle them, you’ve probably avoided some of the biggest pitfalls to customer-centricity out there.

May the customer force be with you!

Image credit: Pixabay

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If You Can Be One Thing – Be Effective

If You Can Be One Thing - Be Effective

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If you’re asked to be faster, choose to be more effective. There’s nothing slower than being fast at something that doesn’t matter.

If you’re given a goal to be more productive, instead, improve effectiveness. There’s nothing less productive than making the wrong thing.

If you’re measured on efficiency, focus on effectiveness. Customers don’t care about your efficiency when you ship them the wrong product.

If you’re asked to improve quality, that’s good because quality is an important element of effectiveness.

If you’re asked to demonstrate more activity, focus on progress, which is activity done in an effective way.

If you’re asked to improve your team, ask them how they can be more effective and do that.

Regardless of the question, the answer is effectiveness.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Seven Ways to Create Brand Recognition Learned from Benihana

Seven Ways to Create Brand Recognition Learned from Benihana

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

When you think of recognizable brands, companies like Coke, Apple, Amazon, and McDonald’s come to mind. It’s hard to imagine there is anyone who wouldn’t recognize the brand name or logo of these companies. Some of my clients have said something like, “If we could just get a fraction of that kind of recognition, it would be a huge accomplishment.” Well, meet Benihana. Yes, the restaurant chain known for chefs putting on amazing, entertaining cooking demonstrations at your table while they prepare your delicious meal.

Benihana is an American restaurant company founded by Hiroaki Aoki in New York City in 1964. Today, its 116 restaurants serve about 18 million guests each year, and according to CEO Tom Baldwin, Benihana has 90% brand recognition. That’s incredible. Think about this for a moment. McDonald’s, with almost 13,500 restaurants in the U.S. serving millions of people each day, has almost 100% brand recognition. Benihana, with just 116 restaurants, has 90% brand recognition.

How did they do it? The restaurant chain has never strayed from what brought its original success. It is not the neighborhood restaurant you go to every week. This “special occasion” restaurant is known for creating great guest memories, which is their motto.

At a recent meeting of general managers, Baldwin shared what has made the Benihana brand a success, and how it will continue to be even more successful in the future. These strategies are the “brand builders” that have helped make Benihana so recognizable and can do the same for you:

  1. A One-of-a-Kind Restaurant Platform. While there may be some competition in local markets, with 116 restaurants, it is the largest chain of its kind. If you’re not already, what could you do to become a one-of-a-kind brand? What makes you unique?
  2. Timeless Appeal that Transcends Generations. If you walk into a Benihana, you will see young and old. Families are there celebrating children’s and grandparents’ birthdays. There are couples, young and old, celebrating anniversaries. Companies host events for their employees and customers. There are no age boundaries at Benihana. While most companies don’t have such a wide customer base, you must understand who your customers are and create an experience that is both timely and timeless.
  3. An Exceptional Leadership Team, Culture and Infrastructure. Benihana has a system. They deliver a consistent and predictable experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a restaurant in New York, Los Angeles, Miami or any of the other 113 locations, you will have a similar experience. Its leadership team, from headquarters down to managers of each location, along with the culture and processes, ensures the same great memories are created regardless of location. With focused effort, any company can create a consistent experience that comes from a good system and the right culture.
  4. A Clean Environment. A guest can expect to have an excellent meal and a great experience in a spotless environment. This is an important point. While you may not want to eat off the floor of any restaurant, they do their best to make you feel as if you could. Cleanliness creates guest confidence. Anything less may send a negative message. For example, a dirty floor means the food might not be fresh. What’s your version of the dirty floor? What sends mixed or negative messages to your customers?
  5. The Kaizen Philosophy. It may not be a surprise that a Japanese restaurant chain embraces Kaizen, the Japanese business philosophy focused on continuous improvement. It is a strategy in which all employees work together to find new ways—large or small—to improve the process. The five principles of Kaizen include teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality circles and suggestions for improvement. The growth and innovations that Benihana has created come from its attention to Kaizen, a philosophy that can be embraced by any company.
  6. Engaging and Embracing the Community. Part of the Benihana company mission is to “engage and enhance the community.” How do you get involved with your community? More and more, customers are being drawn to companies that support what they believe in. It could be a cause in the local community or something as large as the sustainability of the environment. It’s about giving back.
  7. An Unparalleled Guest Experience. It’s all about the guest experience at Benihana. They relentlessly focus on creating great guest memories. They also recognize that the guest experience comes from the right employee experience. The strategy—and lesson—are simple. Focus on the employee and customer experiences. Create the experience that makes your customers say, “I’ll be back!” This is an appropriate strategy for every company—one you want all your customers to associate with your brand.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of November 2022

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of November 2022Drum roll please…

At the beginning of each month, we will profile the ten articles from the previous month that generated the most traffic to Human-Centered Change & Innovation. We also publish a weekly Top 5 as part of our FREE email newsletter. Did your favorite make the cut?

But enough delay, here are November’s ten most popular innovation posts:

  1. Human-Centered Design and Innovation — by Braden Kelley
  2. Four Ways to Overcome Resistance to Change — by Greg Satell
  3. What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do — by Mike Shipulski
  4. 5 Simple Steps for Launching Game-Changing New Products — by Teresa Spangler
  5. Why Small Teams Kick Ass — by Mike Shipulski
  6. Crabby Innovation Opportunity — by Braden Kelley
  7. Music Can Make You a More Effective Leader — by Shep Hyken
  8. Lobsters and the Wisdom of Ignoring Your Customers — by Robyn Bolton
  9. Asking the Wrong Questions Gets You the Wrong Answers — by Greg Satell
  10. Brewing a Better Customer Experience — by Braden Kelley

BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in October that continue to resonate with people:

If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 4-7 new articles every week built around innovation and transformation insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin feeds too!

Have something to contribute?

Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all innovation and transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have valuable human-centered change and innovation insights to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

P.S. Here are our Top 40 Innovation Bloggers lists from the last two years:

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Innovate for Good – Breaking Paradoxes

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

At the time of my writing this, the world is in the midst of unprecedented triple crises. The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on healthcare and on the personal lives of people globally. The economic impacts of this pandemic are crippling nations, small towns, and people all over the world. And to top it off we are experiencing incredible social unrest – protests for Black Lives Matter are taking shape all around the world, with the goal of peaceful protests for change – but they’ve been hijacked by anarchists of varied profiles… individual crusaders, terrorists acting solo, antagonists of the left and the right wings… so many different factions creating chaos. All of this to say, change is happening at paces unimaginable, and ‘INNOVATION for Good’ – of all types, centered on human, economic, and environmental impacts – is a dire necessity.

The world faces many great challenges. For example, the World Economic Forum reports that “by 2050, global food systems will need to sustainably and nutritiously feed more than 9 billion people while providing economic opportunities in both rural and urban communities. Yet our food systems are falling far short of these goals. A systemic transformation is needed at an unprecedented speed and scale.”

Speed and scale, these days, are the operative words prioritized in innovation investments. When and how are the big questions that investors and stakeholders primarily ask? Of course, these are important questions. Breaking the cycle of ‘profit first’ is not an easy shift for capitalist societies. Social Entrepreneurism, Social Innovation Organizations, and Non-Governmental Organizations are charting courses toward innovating in new and socially impactful ways, but they need the support, collaborative partnership, and help from investors and from the public and private sectors. The world of business has been groomed for years to drive everything fast, faster, and fastest – fail-fast, rapid prototype, accelerated stage gates, hire-slow-fire-fast, rapid returns… and so on. Measured return on investments drives innovation decision-making from new cure-all drugs to the closet full of patents that sit in the coffers of giant industry leaders never making it out into the commercial world, even though these may be game-changing, lifesaving, humanity-improving innovations.

This chapter looks at examples of how to shift from ‘profit first’ to ‘ethics and innovation for good and safety first’. If you build it safely, ethically, and build it to serve humanity, improve the environment, and support socially good causes, the profits will come. But investors and stakeholders need to understand the WHYs – why safety, ethics, and serving are so important. How are we innovators sharing these three critical priorities in the stories we build to gain buy-in on new ideas? So often, safety and ethics are afterthoughts. Responsible Innovation: Ethics and Risks of New Technologies, Joost Groot Kormelink, TU Delft Open, 2019 note:

“If we do not critically and systematically assess our technologies in terms of the values they support and embody, people with perhaps less noble intentions may insert their views on sustainability, safety and security, health and well-being, privacy and accountability.”

Also in the textbook, Responsible Innovation: Ethics and Risks of New Technologies, it sites are case study examples of how conflicting values can open up new opportunities to innovate responsible. As a learning method, the case study opens up our minds to the point of view or moral foundations as an opportunity:Moral dilemmas can help stimulate creativity and innovation, and innovative design may help us to overcome problems of moral overload.”

In the case study excerpt below: “Smart meters and conflicting values as an opportunity to innovate.” The case study points to an example of smart meter design.

The smart meter 3.0, which is what we are ideally looking for, is designed to accommodate both of the functional requirements in order to make energy use more efficient, while also protecting personal data. It gives us privacy and sustainability. In this respect, innovation in smart metering is exactly this: the reconciliation of a range of values, or moral requirements, in one smart design, some of which were actually in conflict before. Similarly, if we would like to benefit from RFID technology (enabling to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects) in retail, but fear situations in which we might be tracked throughout the shopping mall, it has been suggested we can have it both ways. A so-called ‘clipped chip’ in the form of a price tag with clear indentations would allow customers to tear off a piece of the label, thereby shortening the antenna in the label so as to limit the range in which the label can transmit data.

Clarity of Values-Based Purpose

In the case above, there is clear purpose-driven innovation. Study after study has shown clarity of purpose is key to engaging people in new ideas.

A Kin&Co survey conducted by Populus points out that “Not embedding purpose properly also alienates customers, because in this age of transparency employee problems leak out online, and into the press. Over a third of employees surveyed (34%) said they’d consider writing a negative review online.” One example cited is of “… the Etsy employee who started a petition against the company’s leaders for not living their purpose and values, which was signed by thousands of employees and then went viral.” From: Why purpose matters and four steps companies can take to get it right”, Rosie Warin, 14 February 2018, Ethical Corporation Magazine, Reuters Events – Sustainable Business, the conclusion was thus that …

 Having a purpose and not living it will actually hurt your business more than not having one at all! Why Purpose Matters

There is a hunger for more transparency, having our work be meaningful, and knowledge that ethics and privacy are forethoughts, not afterthoughts. It’s good for business, and certainly will drive better profits in the long run.

Breaking the ‘Fast Profit’ Addiction and Adapting Innovation for Social Benefits – Seeking Purpose

Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.  Winston Churchill

What if we asked the BIG ‘What if?’ What if we were more focused on the benefits of our innovations to humans, the environment, and society – making these priorities over profits first? Can it be proven that if you build it, the profits will come?

The United Nations: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The chapter Foundations of Moral Innovation (Chapter 3 – page 57) mentioned the ‘triple bottom line’ that socially conscious companies focus on serving – People / Planet / Profit… the social, environmental, and financial aspects of an organization’s impact. In 2015 the United Nations cast a vision (and put actions to their words) to build a better world for all people by 2030. Engaging a world of collaborators is key to the success of these 17 Development Goals (noted below).

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are one of the world’s best plan to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030. Adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the SDGs are a call for action by all countries – poor, rich and middle-income – to promote prosperity while protecting the environment. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, equality, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and working to preserve our ocean and forests. See Transforming A World: A 2030 Agenda.

The Division for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG) within the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) provides substantive support and capacity-building for these SDGs and their related thematic issues.

To say the least, as we read these 17 audaciously massive and impactful goals, the goals feel incredibly lofty; the actions to innovate solutions for three of the goals, much less 17 of them, feels nearly unachievable (in our fast prototyping, rapid release, ROI-focused, capitalistic mind-sets) and CFOs around the world sense that acting on these in any way may weigh heavily on profits. Yet many companies are collaborating to drive solutions to these goals. The United Nations built a values-based and purpose-driven platform to participate in solving these world challenges. They provide guidelines, research, information on other collaborators, tools, data, and so much support to help those that choose to participate. And participating they are! Noted from a press release in July 2019: “28 companies with combined market cap of $1.3 trillion step up to new level of climate ambition. Ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit, companies commit to set 1.5°C climate targets aligned with a net-zero future, challenging Governments to match their ambition”.

Here are a few of the participating companies from this release: AstraZeneca, Banka BioLoo, BT, Dalmia Cement Ltd., Eco-Steel Africa Ltd., Enel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Iberdrola, KLP, Levi Strauss & Co., Royal DSM, SAP, Signify, Singtel, Telefonica, Telia, Unilever, Vodafone Group PLC, and Zurich Insurance, amongst others. The release goes on to note that this collectively represents over one million employees from 17 sectors and more than 16 countries.

It seems that the United Nations has created an intensely collaborative framework that offers a moral ground to innovate. It’s just one example, and as complex as these goals are, the framework is simple… build a mission-driven platform, engage thought-leaders around the world, set up metrics and measures for success, provide as much data as possible, offer support when and where needed, and provide as many tools as possible to encourage collaboration amongst them.

ESG – A Moral Compass

Social investors are a group growing in popularity and size. These investors focus their investments and their portfolios on corporations around the world with metric-driven processes to ensure they are building sustainable and responsible companies – a practice known as environmental, social and corporate governance, or ESG.

An example of such an organization is Philips Corporation, which has made a commitment to ESG and thus to ethics over profits. In the article, “Good business: Why placing ethics over profits pays off”, they share “When companies work ethically, they will naturally outpace competition. Why? Simply because customers, as we’ve discovered, will see them as a trusted partner, not only for what they do, but how it is delivered. Commitment from management is a key factor to effectively deal with these situations.”

In Stanford Social Innovation Review, authors Chris Fabian and Robert Fabricant write, “An ethical framework – ‘a way of structuring your deliberation about ethical questions’ – can help to bridge disparate worlds and discourses and help them work well together.” Their article further notes that, “Ethical questions might include: ‘Is this platform / product actually providing a social good?’ or ‘Am I harming / including the user in the creation of this new solution?’ or even ‘Do I have a right to be taking claim of this space at all?’”11 Such a strong ethical framework can help innovators to plan for ‘value-based collaborations’. Establishing such a framework within your innovation practice also provides a process whereby collaborators can monitor the work, and consistently ensure that ethics are intact. Moreover, planning for positive outcomes and managing to an ethical framework gives customers, buyers, stakeholders, users, and investors some comfort that the ‘net new disruptive innovations’ will be safe for all, which will result in strong profits and longevity in due time.

Very importantly, this article also points out that while ethics may involve subjectivity, nevertheless “an ethical framework can bridge the worlds of startup technology companies and international development to strengthen cross-sector innovation in the social sector.”

Fabian and Fabricant outline a 4-model framework in this article:

  • Innovation is humanistic: solving big problems through human ingenuity, imagination, and entrepreneurialism that can come from anywhere.
  • Innovation is non-hierarchical: drawing ideas from many different sources and incubating small, agile teams to test and iterate on them with user feedback.
  • Innovation is participatory: designing with (not for) real people.
  • Innovation is sustainable: building skills even if most individual endeavors will ultimately fail in their societal goals.

“Critical to the world’s innovation effort is harvesting the Human Imagination!”  Patrick Reasonover – writer and producer of They Say It Can’t Be Done

Incorporating any of the above four models provides the basis for forethought and planning. There may be additional considerations accompanying the above framework to drive even better outcomes yet – especially for those with big audacious visions of disruptive innovation. But often there are unexpected barriers. So how can one plan for the unexpected? There is a documentary film that explores some of these barriers, and four companies working to overcome them.

They Say It Can’t Be Done, written and produced by Patrick Reasonover, is an excellent documentary exploring how innovation can solve some of the world’s largest problems. The film tracks four companies on the cutting edge of technological solutions that could promote animal welfare, solve hunger, eliminate organ wait lists, and reduce atmospheric carbon. The film explores often unexpected challenges and barriers that are potentially keeping these companies from realizing success. They each share steps and strategies on how to break through the ‘concrete walls’.

The compelling theme from these companies is innovation for good – innovation with a moral foundation to improve humanity. One of the first questions typically asked by stakeholders is “When will these companies or their new innovations become profitable?” Here’s the BIG ‘What if’ question.  What if we changed this question to, “What will it take to make this successful, and how can we help you get there faster?”  These are fairly typical questions. But what about roadblocks potentially challenging even the most knowledgeable and experienced teams and proven technologies? I recently spoke with Patrick Reasonover about his mission and the documentary. Reasonover shares, “Faced with similar challenges to the companies in the documentary, I felt if more people understood barriers, the world would see more successful outcomes that could save people, improve human conditions, and the environment.”  Reasonover went on to share four themes that would greatly help disruptors in their innovation practices. These four themes are summarized as follows:

  1. One of the most important points he made in our discussion was to engage regulators and government agencies – collaborating with them very early on in the process and all along your path. Help them to understand; listen and take in their input.
  2. Institute what Reasonover calls an ‘Ambassador of Imagination’. We need more imagination in the world and in our own world. It’s too easy to get boxed into an innovation framework and forget to take the blinders off in order to think and create big things!
  3. Optimism is sorely needed in the world and especially for innovators. Getting new things out the door is daunting. Infuse your efforts with doses of optimism grounded in reality.
  4. CELEBRATE… hitting milestones should be celebrated along the way. It’s a long road, and all too often we get push back from doubters, investors wanting faster outcomes, governing approval agencies, and so on. Celebrate and move forward!

These four practices create a culture that encourages and celebrates imagination, innovation, success, and all the collaborators helping you get there. And involving agencies early on in the process helps them to understand that you are taking safety and ethics seriously. Take for example 3D-printed organs for those needing transplants. There is so much at stake. Stepping through the approval process to prove it out on less risky organs – for example, 3D printed ears – helps to chart the course for other organs as the technologies and the discovery of new methods continues to develop.

The article “On The Road To 3-D Printed Organs” in TheScientist reports, “There are a number of companies who are attempting to do things like 3-D print ears, and researchers have already reported transplanting 3-D printed ears onto children who had birth defects that left their ears underdeveloped, notes Robby Bowles, a bioengineer at the University of Utah. The ear transplants are, he says, ‘kind of the first proof of concept of 3-D printing for medicine.”

Ethics First

All in all, there is much evidence pointing to success, longevity, scale, and profits when building a framework that places ethics, safety, values, and purpose as planned practices in any innovation effort.

These practices do not have to slow the process of innovation in the least. On the contrary… they will often speed up the effort, as in the example of engaging regulators as collaborators early on in your efforts. Engaging imagination and optimism are sorely needed, and keeps teams engaged and enthused. And.. leveraging one of Stanford’s four models could save a great deal of pain by monitoring outcomes all along your development stage gates. It all just makes good and safe business sense!

*Article is an excerpt contribution (chapter 6): The Other Side of Growth: Innovator’s Responsibilities in an Emerging World

Image credit: Pixabay

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Innovation or Not? – Catios

Innovation or Not - Catios

GUEST POST from Art Inteligencia

Catios are quickly becoming the new trend for cat owners. They’re a great way to give your cats the chance to explore the outdoors without having to worry about them running away or getting into trouble. Catios provide cats with a safe, secure space to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, while also keeping them safe from predators or other dangers.

Catios come in all shapes and sizes, so you’re sure to find one that fits your home and your cat’s needs. Some are small and enclosed spaces, while others are larger and offer cats more room to explore. You can also choose catios with multiple levels, so your cats can climb and explore different heights.

When considering a catio, the most important factor is safety. Make sure your catio is made of sturdy materials and is properly secured. Check for any gaps or holes that your cat could easily escape through. Make sure you also choose a catio that is large enough for your cats to move around comfortably.

In addition, catios are great for providing cats with mental stimulation. Place toys, scratching posts, and other items inside the catio to keep your cats entertained. You can also add plants and bird feeders to the catio to create a more natural environment and attract wildlife.

Finally, it’s important to keep your catio clean. Make sure you regularly sweep and vacuum the area to keep it free of debris and bugs. Keep the catio free of dirt and debris, as these can harbor bacteria and other germs that can be harmful to your cats.

But are they an innovation?

Sound off in the comments.

p.s. It will be interesting to see how this furry family member and home improvement trend evolves. Will we start to see new homes built with incorporated catios? Will your catio positively or negatively impact the value of your home when it comes time to sell? Wish I had one – if I was a cat.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Shark Tanks are the Pumpkin Spice of Innovation

Shark Tanks are the Pumpkin Spice of Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

On August 27, Pumpkin Spice season began. It was the earliest ever launch of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte and it kicked off a season in which everything from Cheerios to protein powder to dog shampoo promises the nostalgia of Grandma’s pumpkin pie.

Since its introduction in 2003, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has attracted its share of lovers and haters but, because it’s a seasonal offering, the hype fades almost as soon as it appears.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for its counterpart in corporate innovation — The Shark Tank/Hackathon/Lab Week.

It may seem unfair to declare Shark Tanks the Pumpkin Spice of corporate innovation, but consider the following:

  • They are events. There’s nothing wrong with seasonal flavors and events. After all, they create a sense of scarcity that spurs people to action and drives companies’ revenues. However, there IS a great deal wrong with believing that innovation is an event. Real innovation is not an event. It is a way of thinking and problem-solving, a habit of asking questions and seeking to do things better, and of doing the hard and unglamorous work of creating, learning, iterating, and testing required to bring innovation — something different that creates value — to life.
  • They appeal to our sense of nostalgia and connection. The smell and taste of Pumpkin Spice bring us back to simpler times, holidays with family, pie fresh and hot from the oven. Shark Tanks do the same. They remind us of the days when we believed that we could change the world (or at least fix our employers) and when we collaborated instead of competed. We feel warm fuzzies as we consume (or participate in) them, but the feelings are fleeting, and we return quickly to the real world.
  • They pretend to be something they’re not. Starbucks’ original Pumpkin Spice Latte was flavored by cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. There was no pumpkin in the Pumpkin Spice. Similarly, Shark Tanks are innovation theater — events that give people an outlet for their ideas and an opportunity to feel innovation-y for a period of time before returning to their day-to-day work. The value that is created is a temporary blip, not lasting change that delivers real business value.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you’re serious about walking the innovation talk, Shark Tanks can be a great way to initiate and accelerate building a culture and practice of innovation. But they must be developed and deployed in a thoughtful way that is consistent with your organization’s strategy and priorities.

  • Make Shark Tanks the START of an innovation effort, not a standalone event. Clearly establish the problems or organizational priorities you want participants to solve and the on-going investment (including dedicated time) that the company will make in the winners. Allocate an Executive Sponsor who meets with the team monthly and distribute quarterly updates to the company to share winners’ progress and learnings
  • Act with courage and commitment. Go beyond the innovation warm fuzzies and encourage people to push the boundaries of “what we usually do.” Reward and highlight participants that make courageous (i.e. risky) recommendations. Pursue ideas that feel a little uncomfortable because the best way to do something new that creates value (i.e. innovate) is to actually DO something NEW.
  • Develop a portfolio of innovation structures: Just as most companies use a portfolio of tools to grow their core businesses, they need a portfolio of tools to create new businesses. Use Shark Tanks to the surface and develop core or adjacent innovation AND establish incubators and accelerators to create and test radical innovations and business models AND fund a corporate VC to scout for new technologies and start-ups that can provide instant access to new markets.

Conclusion

Whether you love or hate Pumpkin Spice Lattes you can’t deny their impact. They are, after all, Starbucks’ highest-selling seasonal offering. But it’s hard to deny that they are increasingly the subject of mocking memes and eye rolls, a sign that their days, and value, maybe limited.

(Most) innovation events, like Pumpkin Spice, have a temporary effect. But not on the bottom-line. During these events, morale, and team energy spike. But, as the excitement fades and people realize that nothing happened once the event was over, innovation becomes a meaningless buzzword, evoking eye rolls and Dilbert cartoons.

Avoid this fate by making Shark Tanks a lasting part of your innovation menu — a portfolio of tools and structures that build and sustain a culture and practice of innovation, one that creates real financial and organizational value.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Leading Your Way Through Crisis

Leading Your Way Through Crisis

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

There’s a passage in Ernest Hemingway’s 1925 novel, The Sun Also Rises, in which a character is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he answers. “Gradually, then suddenly.” The quote has since become emblematic of how a crisis takes shape. First with small signs you hardly notice and then with shocking impact.

That’s certainly how it felt to me in November, 2008, when I was leading a media company in Kyiv. By that time, the financial crisis was going full throttle, although things had been relatively calm in our market. Ukraine had been growing briskly in recent years and, while we expected a slowdown, we didn’t expect a crash.

Those illusions were soon shattered. Ad sales in Ukraine would eventually fall by a catastrophic 85%, while overall GDP would be down 14%. It was, to say the least, the worst business crisis I had ever encountered. In many ways, our business never really recovered, but the lessons I learned while managing through it will last a lifetime.

Build Trust Through Candor and Transparency

Our October revenues had come through fairly strong, so we were reasonably confident in our ability to weather the crisis. That all changed in November though, when ad sales, our primary source of revenue, dropped precipitously. By mid-November it had become clear that we were going to have to take drastic measures.

One of the first things that happens in a crisis is that the rumor mill goes into high gear. As if the real news isn’t bad enough, unimaginably crazy stories start getting passed around. To make matters worse, the facts were moving so fast that I didn’t have a clear picture of what the reality actually was, so couldn’t offer much in the way of consolation.

Yet what I could do was offer clarity and transparency. I called my senior team into an emergency meeting and told them, “This is bad. Really bad. And to be honest I’m not sure where we stand right now. One thing that I can assure you all of though is this: Like everything else, eventually this crisis will end and, when it does, you are going to want to look back at how you acted and you are going to want to be proud.”

A good number of those in the room that day have since told me how much that meeting meant to them. I wasn’t able to offer much in substance, or even any condolence for that matter. What I was able to do was establish a standard of candor and transparency which made trust possible. That became an essential asset moving forward.

Create An Imperfect Plan

Creating an atmosphere of transparency and trust is essential, but you also have to move quickly to action. In our case, that meant restructuring the entire company over the next 36 hours in order to bring our costs somewhat back in line with revenues. We weren’t even close to having a plan for the long-term, this was about survival.

We still, however, wanted to limit the damage. Although we were eliminating some businesses entirely, we recognized that some of our best talent worked in those businesses. So to lay people off indiscriminately would be a mistake. We wanted to keep our top performers and place them where they could have the most impact.

Over the next day and a half, we had a seemingly never-ending and excruciating series of meetings in which we decided who would stay and who would go, where we could increase efficiency by combining functions and leveraging our scale. Our goal was to do more than just survive, but to position ourselves to be more competitive in the future.

The plan we created in that short period of time was by no means perfect. I had to make decisions based on poor information in a very compressed time frame. Certainly mistakes were made. But within 36 hours we had a plan to move forward and a committed team that, in many ways, welcomed the distraction of focusing on the task in front of them.

Look for Dead Sea Markets

In their 2005 book, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne popularized the notion of a Blue Ocean Strategy, which focuses on new markets, rather than fighting it out in a “red ocean” filled with rabid competition. As MIT Professor David Robertson has described, however, sometimes markets are neither a red or blue ocean, but more like a dead sea, which kills off existing life but provides a new ecosystem in which different organisms can thrive.

He gave the example of LEGO’s Discovery Centers, which has capitalized on the abrupt shift in the economics of mall space. A typical location is set up in an empty department store and features miniature versions of some of the same attractions that can be found at the Toy giant’s amusement parks. The strategy leverages the fact that many mall owners are in dire need to fill the space.

We found something similar during the Ukraine economic collapse of 2009. Because the country was a major outsourcing center for web developers, demand for those with technical talent actually increased. Many of our weaker competitors were unable to retain their staff, which gave us an opportunity to launch several niche digital brands even while we were cutting back in other parts of our business.

Every crisis changes economic relationships and throws pricing out of whack. In some cases that turns cheap commodities, such as Lysol and hand sanitizer amid a Coronavirus pandemic, into highly demanded products. In other cases, however, it makes both assets and market share surprisingly affordable. That can create great opportunities.

Prepare for the Next Crisis

By the fall of 2009, our company was financially stable and things were returning to some form of normalcy. We had a strong management team, a portfolio of leading products and our survival was no longer seriously in question. However, I was exhausted and decided to leave to pursue other opportunities.

The founder, who had started the company almost 15 years before, was as exhausted as me and was ready to sell the company. Given our highly political sensitive portfolio of news brands, I urged him to seek a deal with a multinational firm. However, for various reasons, he decided to go with a local group led by Petro Poroshenko and Boris Lozhkin.

In my book Cascades, I describe what happens next. Due to the hard-hitting coverage of our news journalists, the company came under pressure from the oppressive Yanukovych regime. In 2013, the new owners were forced to sell the company to an ally of the Ukrainian President. A few months later, the Euromaidan protests broke out and Yanukovych was unanimously impeached. Later, Poroshenko was elected President and named Lozhkin as his Chief of Staff.

I still keep in touch with a core group of my former colleagues. Many have started families or new businesses. Quite a few have moved to different countries. Yet we all share the bond of working through the crucible of crisis together, some pride in what we achieved and the satisfaction that, when it was called for, we gave it our honest best.

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

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What are Strategic and Market Foresight?

What are Strategic and Market Foresight?

by Braden Kelley

In my previous article What’s Next – Through the Looking Glass we explored the notion that time is not linear and this is a key part of the FutureHacking™ mindset.

To paraphrase, we get to the future not in a straight line, but by hopping from lily pad to lily pad and as we do so our landings create ripples outward in all directions and our jump direction choices and the amplitude of the ripples at each waypoint determines the shape of our path choice and our view on the potential future. And ultimately futurology and futurism are the disciplines of exploring potential, possible and preferable futures.

Only from a continuous commitment to this exploration can any organization have any chance of ongoing success. But trying to make sense of the future and to find productive ways to shape it – feels incredibly dauting to most people.

To simplify this complexity, I created the FutureHacking™ methodology and tools to enable us average humans to become our own futurist.

“FutureHacking™ is the art and science of getting to the future first.”

This is our goal. To get better at finding the best possible path and the best ripples to amplify. Doing so optimizes our distance and chosen directions so that we arrive at our preferred future. The FutureHacking™ methodology and tools make this not only possible, but accessible, so that we’ll put in the work – and reap the benefits!

This article is another in a series designed to make foresight and futurology accessible to the average business professional. Below we will look at what Strategic and Market Foresight are and how they drive ongoing business success. First some definitions:

  • Strategic Foresight is about combining methods of futures work with those of strategic management. It is about understanding upcoming external changes in relation to internal capabilities and drivers.
  • Market Foresight is about the consideration of possible and probable futures in the organization’s relevant business environment, and about identifying new opportunities in that space.
  • Source: Aalto University

Strategic Foresight and Market Foresight are two tools in our toolbox as we sharpen our focus on the potential and possible futures as we work to define a preferable future and a path to creating it.

Market Foresight gives us permission to explore how the market we compete in is likely to change as we move forward. This includes looking at how customers may change, how their consumption of existing products and services might change, and how changing customer wants and needs will create the potential for new products, and services, and even markets. Economics, demographics, trends and other factors all have a factor to play here, and we need methods for exploring the impact of each.

Strategic Foresight gives us permission to make shifts in strategy. The magic happens when we productively look both internally and externally to identify the most important changes that we can influence AND that we would monitor. The better we can understand the external changes most likely to occur (or that we want to occur), the more focus we can bring to identifying the internal capabilities that we will need to strengthen and the capabilities that we will need to build OR to buy & integrate.

The most successful organizations do a good job of matching their timeline for strategic and capability changes to the pace of market changes that are occurring. And while not explicitly mentioned, the pacing and branching of technology is a big consideration in both Strategic Foresight and Market Foresight.

Good Market Foresight will give you a better view to where the lily pads will be, and good Strategic Foresight (and investments) will help strengthen your jumping legs and propel you through a more optimal path – increasing your chances of getting to the future first!

Public resources for those that want to learn more about Strategic Foresight:

To learn more about Market Foresight, increase your knowledge of:

  • Market Research methods
  • Trendwatching/Trendhunting
  • Innovation frameworks

FutureHacking™ is Within Our Grasp

I’ve created a collection of 20+ FutureHacking™ tools to help you be your own futurist.

These tools will be available to license soon, and I’ll be holding virtual, and possibly in-person, workshops to explain how to use these simple tools to identify a range of potential futures, to select a preferred future, and activities to help influence its realization.

I think you’ll really like them, but in the meantime, I invite you to share your thoughts on how you look at and plan for the future in the comments below.

Finally, make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter to get our weekly collection of articles, along with updates on the forthcoming FutureHacking™ set of tools.

Keep innovating!


Accelerate your change and transformation success

Image credit: Pixabay

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