Curiosity Improves the Customer Experience

Curiosity Improves the Customer Experience

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

“Curiosity killed the cat.” According to Wikipedia, this saying first appeared in a 1598 play, Every Man in His Humour, by English playwright Ben Johnson. The following year, Shakespeare used a similar quote in Much Ado About Nothing. The intent behind this saying is “to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation. …” In other words, be careful pushing for more information. Knowing more is not always best.

That may be the case for the cat, but it’s not so in the world of customer service. A good customer service rep, salesperson, or anyone interacting with a customer should be curious. And that kind of curiosity shows up in the questions they ask.

Here’s another quote for you to ponder, and this one is from Dan Sullivan, founder of the Strategic Coach program. He says, “In a world where everyone is vying to be the most interesting, be the one who is most interested.” In other words, be curious. Sullivan says to ask genuine questions, actively listen, and take the opportunity to get to know clients and customers anytime you have contact with them.

The idea of curiosity in customer service is simple. Ask more questions. Once you understand what the customer is asking for or what the underlying issue is, ask more questions for the purpose of clarity and understanding.

Shep Hyken Curiosity Cat Cartoon

Certain types of questions are better than others. For example, open-ended questions allow you to gather more information. An example would be, “Can you please tell me what was happening right before the problem began?”  A follow-up question such as, “Can you elaborate on that?” shows you’re actively listening. You may even let the customer know you’re taking notes. But be careful about asking too many “closed-ended questions.” These are questions that require simple yes or no responses. You don’t need to avoid them altogether, but too many yes/no questions could make a customer feel like they are in a courtroom being cross-examined by an unfriendly attorney.

Your goal is to grasp what the customer needs, and asking the right questions shows you are interested in helping the customer. It also demonstrates empathy, as the right questions show you are taking the time to understand the customer. And the right questions build trust. They help make the customer feel as if they are valued and heard.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it will give life to your customer relationships!

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Re-engineering the Incubation Zone for a Downturn

Re-engineering the Incubation Zone for a Downturn

GUEST POST from Geoffrey A. Moore

In a prior post, written during the tech boom, I outlined how established enterprises could re-engineer their approach to managing innovation in order to catch the next wave before it caught them. Now we are in a different time, where capital is more expensive, and near-term profitability more necessary. We still need to innovate our way through the challenges ahead, and the management playbook is fundamentally the same, but there are enough nuances to attend to that it is worth revisiting the topic end to end.

The guiding principle is unchanged. Publicly-held enterprises routinely mismanage incubation to such an extent that, when they are successful, the market is actually surprised. Their approach is based on a process model, typically involving crowd-sourcing a large funnel of potential ideas from the workforce, taking those ideas through a well-structured qualification process with clear benchmarks for progressing to the next stage, and funding a handful of the best ideas to get through to a minimum viable product (MVP) and market validation. The problem is that this is a Productivity Zone operating model, not an Incubation Zone model. That is, these enterprises are treating the Incubation Zone as if it were another cost center. Needless to say, no venture capitalist operates in this manner.

Meanwhile, the venture capital industry is routinely successful at managing incubations, be they to successful exits or timely shut-downs. Their operating model has over forty years of established success—and yet it is a rare public enterprise indeed that even tries to implement it. Some of this is due to confusing the venture industry’s business model, which is not appropriate for a publicly held firm, with its operating model, which is perfectly suitable to emulate. It is that model that I want to describe here.

Anchor Tenets

There are at least five key principles that successful Venture Capitalists (VC’s) keep close to their hearts. They are:

  1. Trapped value. VC’s are nothing if not coin-operated, and in that context, the first thing to do is find the coins. In B2B markets, this typically equates to identifying where there is trapped value in the current way of doing business. The value may be trapped in the infrastructure model (think cloud computing over data centers), the operating model (think self-organizing ride dispatching from Uber over the standard call center dispatcher), or the business model (think software subscription over license and maintenance). The point is, if you can release the trapped value, customers will enjoy dramatic returns, enough to warrant taking on the challenge of a Technology Adoption Life Cycle, even in a downturn. This is key because in a downturn, absent a compelling reason to act immediately, pragmatic customers will defer their buying decisions as long as possible. So, innovation for innovation’s sake is not the play for today’s market. You should be looking for disease-preventing vaccines, not life-extending vitamins.
  2. 10X technology. VCs are fully aware that there are very good reasons why trapped value stays trapped. Normally, it is because the current paradigm has substantial inertial momentum, meaning it delivers value reliably, even though far from optimally. To break through this barrier requires what Andy Grove taught us to call a 10X effect. Something has to be an order of magnitude better than the status quo to kick off a new Technology Adoption Life Cycle. Incremental improvements are great for reinforcing the status quo, as well as for defending it against the threat of disruption, but they do not have the horsepower to change the game. So, do not let your Incubation Zone “major in minors.” If there is not something truly disruptive on your plate, wait for it, and keep your powder dry.
  3. Technology genius. 10X innovations do not fall out of trees. Nor are they normally achieved through sheer persistence. Brilliance is what we are looking for here, and here publicly held enterprises face a recruiting challenge. They simply cannot offer the clean slate, venture funding, and equity reward possibilities that private capital can. What they can do, however, is pick up talent on the rebound and integrate it into their own playbook (see more on this below). The point is, top technology talent is a must-have. This puts pressure both on the general manager of any Incubation Zone operating unit and on the Incubation Zone board to do whatever it takes to put an A Team together. That said, there is a loophole here one can exploit in a downturn. If your enterprise needs to catch up to a disruptive innovation, that is, if it needs to neutralize a competitive threat as opposed to instigating a new adoption life cycle, then a “fast follower” leader is just the ticket. This person does not think outside the box. This person catches the box and jumps on it. Microsoft has been the premier example of this playbook from its very inception, so there is definitely money to be made here!
  4. New design rules. The path for breakthrough technology to release trapped value involves capitalizing on next-generation design rules. The key principle here is that something that used to be expensive, complex, and scarce, has by virtue of the ever-shifting technology landscape, now become cheap, simple, and plentiful. Think of DRAM in the 1990s, Wi-Fi in the first decade of this century, and compute cycles in the current decade. Prior to these inflection points, solution designers had to work around these factors as constraints, be that in constricting code to run in 64KB, limiting streaming to run over dial-up modems, or operating their own data center when all they wanted to do was to run a program. Inertia holds these constraints in place because they are embedded in so many interoperating systems, they are hard to change. Technology Adoption Life Cycles blow them apart—but only when led by entrepreneurs who have the insight to reconceive these assets as essentially free.
  5. Entrepreneurial general manager. And that brings us to the fifth and final key ingredient in the VC formula: entrepreneurial GMs. They are the ones with a nose for trapped value, able to sell the next new thing on its potential to create massive returns. They are the ones who can evangelize the new technology, celebrate its game-changing possibilities, and close their first visionary customers. They must recruit and stay close to their top technology genius. They must intuit the new design rules and use them as a competitive wedge to break into a market that is stacked against them. Finally, they must stay focused on their mission, vision, and values while course-correcting repeatedly, and occasionally pivoting, along the way. It is not a job description for the faint of heart. One last thing—in a downturn, instead of starting with visionaries in the Early Market, a far better play is to focus on a beachhead, chasm-crossing market segment from Day One. The TAM is smaller, but the time to close is much shorter, and this gets you traction early, a critical success factor when capital is costly and funders are impatient.

Now, assuming we can embrace these anchor tenets from the VC playbook, the key question becomes, How can a public enterprise, which does not have the freedom or flexibility of a venture capital firm, construct an Incubation Zone operating model that incorporates these principles in a way that plays to its strengths and protects itself against its weaknesses?

An Enterprise Playbook for the Incubation Zone

We should acknowledge at the outset that every enterprise has its own culture, its own crown jewels, its own claim to fame. So, any generic playbook has to adapt to local circumstances. That said, it is always good to start with a framework, and here in outline form is the action plan I propose:

  • Create an Incubation Board first, and charter it appropriately. Its number one responsibility is not to become the next disruptor — the enterprise already has a franchise, it doesn’t need to create one. Instead, it needs to protect the existing franchise against the next technology disruption by getting in position to ride the next wave as opposed to getting swamped by it.
  • In this role, the board’s mission is to identify any intersections between trapped value and disruptive technologies that would impact, positively or negatively, the enterprise’s current book of business. We are in the realm of SWOT threats and opportunities, where the threats take precedence because addressing them is not optional. Another way to phrase this is that we are playing defense first, offense second. This is particularly critical in a downturn because that is a time when visionaries lose power and pragmatists in pain gain power.
  • Given a chasm-crossing mentality, the first piece of business is to identify potential use cases that emerge at the intersection of trapped value and breakthrough technology, to prioritize the list in terms of import and impact, and to recruit a small team to build a BEFORE/AFTER demo that highlights the game-changing possibilities of the highest priority case. This team is built around a technology leader and an entrepreneur. The technology leader ideally would come from the outside, thereby being less prone to fall back on obsolete design rules. The entrepreneur should come from the inside, perhaps an executive from a prior acquisition who has been down this path before, thereby better able to negotiate the dynamics of the culture.
  • The next step is to socialize the demo, first with technology experts to pressure test the assumptions and make improvements to the design, and then with domain experts in the target use case, whether from the customer base or the enterprise’s own go-to-market team, who have a clear view of the trapped value and a good sense of what it would take to release it.
  • The next step is to pitch the Incubation Zone board for funding.

a) This is not an exercise in TAM or SAM or anything else of the sort. Those are tools for determining ROI in established sectors, where category boundaries are more or less in place. Disruptive innovation creates whole new boundaries, or fails altogether in the process, neither of which outcomes are properly modeled in the normal market opportunity analysis frameworks.

b) Instead, focus on beachhead market potential. Could this use case gain sufficient market adoption within a single target segment to become a viable franchise? If so, it will give the enterprise a real option on an array of possible value-creating futures. That is the primary goal of the Incubation Zone.

Whether the effort succeeds or fails, the enterprise will gain something of real value. That is, success will give it a viable path forward, and failure will suggest it need not spend a lot of resources protecting against this flank. The job of the board is to determine if the proposal being pitched is worth prioritizing on this basis.

  • To pursue the opportunity, you want to create an independent operating unit that looks like a seed-stage start-up. Once funded, it should target a specific, value-trapping process in a single industry, ideally managed by a single department, and apply breakthrough technology and laser focus to re-engineering the process to a much better outcome. This will require developing a whole product, defined as the complete solution to the customer’s problem, organized around a core product plus ancillary supporting products and services. The latter can be supplied by third parties, but the effort has to be orchestrated by you.
  • With this problem-specific solution in hand, the final step is to bring it to market via restricted distribution, not general availability. Your goal is to target a beachhead market with a single use case—just the opposite of what general distribution is designed to accomplish. Thus, the entire go-to-market effort, from product launch to pipeline generation, to sales, post-sales implementation, and customer success needs to be under the direct management of the GM of the Incubation Zone operating unit. Success here is measured by classic chasm-crossing metrics, focused on winning a dominant share of the top 30 accounts in the target market segment.

In a downturn, crossing the chasm—not winning inside the tornado—represents the fulfillment of the Incubation Zone’s real option mandate. You want to create a cash-flow-positive entity that protects your franchise from disruption by coopting an emerging technology while at the same time solving a mission-critical problem for a customer who needs immediate help. That is value, in and of itself, over and above the optionality it creates for future category creation.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Five Key Digital Transformation Barriers

You may be struggling to drive some sort of change, innovation, or digital transformation within your organization right now.

Five Key Digital Transformation Barriers

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Why is it so hard? And what’s the secret to getting big companies to transform successfully?

There are five main barriers that large enterprises face when trying to innovate: change resistance, knowledge of customers, risk management, organizational agility and transformation vision.

1. Change resistance

Change is uncomfortable. Even if a change sets us up for a great future, most people won’t warm up to it quickly. To successfully drive change within an organization, create a burning platform for change so that failing to change is more painful than the change itself. Offer a compelling vision of the future once the change is complete, give people the confidence of success, and provide the opportunity to help create the change (instead of falling victim to it).

2. Knowledge of customers

You may think you have the answers, but how well do you actually know your customers? To incorporate your customers’ voice into your product development, you can use these five tactics:

  • Humility: Truthfully, we don’t even know ourselves that well, so it’s important to recognize that understanding someone else well enough to predict future behavior is no small feat.
  • Specificity: Figure out exactly what you need to know about your current or potential users that would make a difference to your product development. Use questions like: “What do you they like or not like about your product?” and “What are their unmet needs?”
  • Involvement: Get your whole team involved in customer research to allow the entire development process to include an understanding of the customers’ world and their current reality.
  • Iteration: One round of user testing is not enough — You need to continually study your customers to see how they’re reacting to your product and how their needs are changing.
  • 4D listening: Try to see past the surface of what your customers are saying to what they’re truly asking of you. Your customers may not be able to envision the more practical solutions that your product team conceives.

3. Risk management

Is it risky to transform your enterprise? Of course! The key to success is creating the expectation that innovation efforts are an iterative process. Successful innovation requires experiments, learning, persistence and, most importantly, the willingness to fail. Once you have alignment around the idea that some level of risk is necessary and appropriate, you can gain confidence from enterprise funders by envisioning the different types of risks your efforts might face and develop remediation strategies to combat those risks.

4. Organizational Agility

As quickly as you can adapt, the digital world changes. Organizational agility is key to keeping up in the digital arena. There are five specific types of agility that are important for success in digital:

  • Sensing: This means knowing what’s going on around you so you can be aware of what actions might be required. How are customers, competitors and industry regulations changing, and what new technology exists that could impact your digital experiences?
  • Technology: Moving quickly from idea to live solution is important in supporting and growing your digital experience. Does your enterprise have technology stacks that are adaptable and easily maintained? Are your content and presentation capabilities accessible to your product owners and content managers?
  • Decision-making: Capital approval processes that take months to reach a final decision don’t work with the speed of digital. The people running your innovation projects need the autonomy and authority to make decisions on the ground-level so that they happen with speed necessary to keep up with the digital world.
  • Strategy shifts: Embrace and expect that your innovation projects will go through a process of trial-and-error on their way to the kind of digital transformation success that you’re seeking.
  • Teaming: Despite a persistent myth, there is no one structure in which all digital work can be done by a single team of people operating under a single executive. The key to teaming agility is creating a culture with alignment across divisional silos, so that mobilization of the right people happens quickly and efficiently.

5. Transformation vision

Many organizations have a basic vision for growth: Optimize what already exists or expand upon current offerings. But to create a true transformation vision, one that encompasses your entire organization, you need to determine how the world is changing and how that will affect your customers’ needs. Only then can you determine what new products and services you can bring to market and the different channels you’ll need to deliver on them. You may even decide that the imminent changes will shift your focus to an entirely new set of customers! To be successful in the long-run, think regarding transformation time so that you can get a few steps ahead.

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pixabay

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We Need To Stop Glorifying Failure

Here’s What To Do Instead

We Need To Stop Glorifying Failure

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

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

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

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

Ask The Hard Questions

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

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

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

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

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

Test Your Hypotheses (Cheaply)

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

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

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

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

Build A Network

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

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

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

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

Stop Disrupting And Start Solving Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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The Amazing Efficiency of Systematic Guessing

The Amazing Efficiency of Systematic Guessing

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

Are you as personally efficient as you could be? Most of us aren’t, and that may be because we’re not as innovative as we could be. Being efficient—for people and for organizations—isn’t just about doing things more quickly and automatically. It’s about rapidly adapting to change and discovering new strategies.

Most organizations—and most innovators—are convinced that innovation takes extra time and resources. That’s certainly true at times, but also misleading. Because being innovative can also make you dramatically more efficient. Finding solutions, making improvements and inventing new ways of doing things can save countless hours and resources—and there’s a more immediate gain than those future benefits.

Let me explain it this way.

Imagine that your challenge is to figure out how to spell a simple ten letter word: INNOVATION. (And let’s pretend you don’t already know.) You can of course start guessing, but that will take a while—a long while. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet and ten in this word. So that’s 26 to the 10th power, or more than 141-trillion, possibilities! If you guess once per second—without repeating any—it will take you more than four-and-a-half million years to cover them all.

Suppose instead that you’re at a computer, one that won’t tell you how to spell innovation, but will tell you when you’ve guessed the right letter. In other words, you can do what skilled innovators do. You can continually check whether your ideas—your guesses—are working. Now, each letter will require at most 26 guesses, one for each letter in the alphabet. You can cover all possibilities in 26 times 10 or 260 attempts. At one attempt per second, that will take you less than four-and-a-half minutes. And you don’t need to know anything about how to spell the word when you start.

Of course, the challenges you face are probably more complex than spelling a ten-letter word, and it will probably take longer than a second to explore possible solutions. But as complexity grows, so does the relative efficiency of this kind of systematic guessing.

Suppose the word you want to spell has eleven letters—INNOVATIONS. Just trying to guess it will now take you 26 times longer. That’s more than a hundred million years! When you check each of your guesses, it only adds another 26 seconds. You’re still done in less than five minutes. A hundred-million years, vs. five minutes. That’s the astronomical gain in efficiency you achieve when you know how to systematically investigate what works.

It’s as though you’re facing a genie with a puzzle. You need to solve that puzzle to make your wishes come true, and the genie won’t tell you the answer. But the genie is willing to give you clues—in the form of consequences. So to solve the puzzle, you must attempt possible solutions that will generate consequences—feedback—that will tell you whether you’re on the right track. That’s what skilled innovators do—and anyone else who hopes to successfully handle uncertainty—which is all of us.

So, if someone tells you, you don’t have time to be innovative, tell them you don’t have time not to.

Here is a video version of this post:

The Innovator Mindset YouTube channel brings you weekly tips, tricks and insights into how to be more creative, innovative and personally effective.

Image Credit: Pexels

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Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of November 2023

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of November 2023Drum 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. Did your favorite make the cut?

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

  1. A Quantum Computing Primer — by Greg Satell
  2. Disagreements Can Be a Good Thing — by Mike Shipulski
  3. What’s Your Mindset — by Dennis Stauffer
  4. We Are Killing Innovation in America — by Greg Satell
  5. Two Kinds of Possible — by Dennis Stauffer
  6. Eddie Van Halen, Simultaneous Innovation and the AI Regulation Conundrum — by Pete Foley
  7. Five Secrets to Being a Great Team Player — by David Burkus
  8. Be Clear on What You Want — by Mike Shipulski
  9. Overcoming Your Assumptions — by Dennis Stauffer
  10. Four Things All Leaders Must Know About Digital Transformation — by Greg Satell

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 three years:

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Skills versus Judgement

Skills versus Judgement

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

Best practices are good, but dragging projects over the finish line is better.

Alignment is good, but not when it’s time for misalignment.

Short-term thinking is good, as long as it’s not the only type of thinking.

Reuse of what worked last time is good, as long as it’s bolstered by the sizzle of novelty.

If you find yourself blaming the customer, don’t.

People that look like they can do the work don’t like to hang around with those that can do it.

Too much disagreement is bad, but not enough is worse.

The Status Quo is good at repeating old recipes and better at squelching new ones.

Using your judgment can be dangerous, but not using it can be disastrous.

It’s okay to have some fun, but it’s better to have more.

If it has been done before, let someone else do it.

When stuck on a tricky problem, make it worse and do the opposite.

The only thing worse than using bad judgment is using none at all.

It can be problematic to say you don’t know, but it can be catastrophic to behave as if you do.

The best way to develop good judgment is to use bad judgment.

When you don’t know what to do, don’t do it.

Image credit: Unsplash

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CEO Secrets of a Successful Turnaround

CEO Secrets of a Successful Turnaround

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

While most outside of the tech industry won’t know the Avaya brand, most will have experienced its technology if you’ve contacted customer support or communicated directly with a brand for any reason. It is a multinational technology company based in the U.S. that provides communications and collaboration technologies for contact centers in 172 countries, including 90% of the Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. Its product helps give a better customer service experience for its customer’s customers.

I had the opportunity to interview Alan Masarek about the Avaya story. Specifically, we discussed what happened since he joined the company less than one year ago. The short version of the story is that he and his leadership team successfully guided the company through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, restructuring its finances and streamlining its operations. And they did this while maintaining what Masarek calls Avaya’s North Star.

In referring to that “North Star,” Masarek says, “Customer service and experience is core to who we are and for every role in the company. Our customers count on us for the communications and collaboration technology that make customer interactions not only work, but work better.” He went on to explain the four core components they focus on:

1. Culture: Everything starts with culture. Masarek wants to make Avaya a “destination place to work,” which means attracting and keeping the best talent. Once you get good people, you must keep them there. His strategy for creating a “destination place to work” includes three components. The first is a rewards and recognition program that validates an employee’s efforts and creates a sense of accomplishment. The second is to create a culture employees want to be a part of. And third is to provide an opportunity for growth. Masarek says a company’s positive reviews and ratings on, where employee rate their employers, is a success criteria he looks at.

2. Product: Avaya is a technology company and must continuously innovate and improve. They created a “product roadmap” where customers can see what products are being phased out, retained and, most importantly, being developed for the future. “We must deliver innovation—the right innovation—and we have to deliver it on time and with quality,” said Masarek. “We will be successful when we are both transparent (which is why Avaya published the roadmap) and reliable. When we deliver on that commitment over time, that reliability becomes trust.”

3. Customer Delight: If your customers don’t like the experience or the product doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, they will find another company and product that meets their needs. Masarek recognizes the importance of customer delight and has invested heavily in hearing and understanding the “Voice of the Customer,” paying attention to customer satisfaction scores and NPS (Net Promoter Scores). Masarek is emphatic about customer delight, stating, “We are in service to the customer. CX is everyone’s responsibility.” And this isn’t just lip service. Those satisfaction and NPS numbers are tied to some of the employees’ compensation plans.

4. Accountability: “We must be accountable,” Masarek says, “to one another, to the customers, and to the results. When you take care of the first three (culture, product and customer delight), this fourth one becomes much easier to achieve.”

While sharing the entire story in a short article is impossible, you can see the overarching strategies and thinking behind Masarek’s leadership and Avaya’s success. And here’s my observation: It’s not complicated!

If you look at the four core components Avaya focuses on, you might say, “There’s nothing new here,” but don’t let simplicity, or that these seem like common sense, get in the way of incorporating them into your strategy. In good times and bad, focusing on culture, product, customer delight and accountability/results are the undeniable strategies that drive success.

This article originally appeared on

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Four Growth Mindset Myths

Four Growth Mindset Myths

GUEST POST from Stefan Lindegaard

It’s not about profit, you don’t have to be upbeat all the time and you actually have a hybrid mindset!

# 1 – Growth mindset equals business growth, profits

A common finding by Neuro Leadership Institute is that some leaders believe growth mindset is about profits. In reality, growth mindset is the continuous belief that improvement is possible and that failures are opportunities to learn

# 2 – You either have a growth or a fixed mindset

No, we have a hybrid mindset with growth and fixed traits. Whether one is stronger than the other is often situational. Know yourself in given situations and be careful when labeling others

# 3 – Organizations, rather than people, can have a growth mindset

A mindset is a personal thing and thus not a part of an organizational culture as such. However, the essence of the growth mindset in an organizational context is to instill a mindset that is wired towards always trying to get better rather than believing – and proving – that you are the best. It overlaps

# 4 – You have to be positive all the time

Developing a growth mindset is much more about self-awareness and development rather than being in a positive growth mode all the time. We all have our ups and downs

What’s your mindset and what behaviors does this bring along? What about your team? Let’s talk if you want some free resources or other help on this. Get in touch.

Stefan Lindegaard Four Growth Mindset Myths

Image Credit: Stefan Lindegaard, Pexels

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Reinventing the Retail Store

Online orders are increasingly fulfilled through stores, making retailers much more efficient and competitive

Reinventing the Retail Store

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

I’ve worked with a lot of online retailers over the years, and a frequent question I’ve received is, “When you have physical stores and you also have an online presence, where should you be shipping goods from?”

In the early days, a lot of retailers were trying to ship from their stores because that’s where the merchandise was.

Further, these retailers didn’t necessarily have the infrastructure or process in their warehouses to ship directly to the consumer. Their warehouses were just for shipping goods to the store.

But when e-commerce started to take off in a major way and orders jumped, those retailers that we’d think of as traditional large brick and mortar stores started to do the vast majority of their e-commerce shipping from centralized distribution centers, so much so that some actually had quite different inventory from their stores.

As a result, there was a period where chains were shipping from centralized distribution centers for the most part.

In some cases, these chains didn’t even expose you to what was available in the store when ordering online.


After that, retailers started trying to show us alternatives.

“Buy online, pick up in the store” became increasingly prevalent, with retailers creating more integrated systems that allow us to see the online merchandise that may not be available in the store, as well as the store merchandise that might not be available online.

Some of the merchandise was available in both places, and you could at least see the full universe through these systems.

You would know if an item was carried in the retailers’ stores, then you could find out if your local store had it, buy it online, and arrange to pick it up there.

Once retailers got to that point, it became more and more logical to have the store ship at least some merchandise out, as they did in the early days.

And today, we’re seeing even more shipping from stores because e-commerce orders that are “order online, pick up in the store” have risen substantially with Covid.

With more and more orders being fulfilled this way, it’s imperative that stores are able to handle e-commerce effectively.


In fact, Best Buy reported recently that 60% of their e-commerce orders are either buy online, pick up in store or buy online, pick up curbside.

More than half of their online orders are not only being fulfilled through the store, but they’re actually being physically picked up at the store.

As physical retailers continue their effort to compete with Amazon, they realize that one of the assets that they have that Amazon does not have at that scale is a physical store location.

It makes sense to use this shift as an opportunity to either make it convenient to pick up items that are ordered online or even start to use stores as distribution hubs to permit faster delivery for items that are ordered to the home.

In their recent announcement, Best Buy also reported that of their thousand stores, they have designated 250 of them as distribution hubs.

This means that they will be using those stores not only as physical showrooms but also as fulfillment centers for e-commerce orders.

So if you order something on the Best Buy website, it’s increasingly likely to come from the back room of your local Best Buy.


This shift is interesting because it’s not just Best Buy—we’re seeing it across the industry.

And when you have a lot of retailers repurposing their physical locations as e-commerce hubs, there are bound to be greater implications.

For one, this change is going to affect store design, as stores will need larger storage areas and shipping facilities.

As a result, the ratio of the back of the store to the front of the store will probably shift.

It may also make a shift in terms of how stores think about real estate.

A location that may not have been viable due to a lack of foot traffic may all of a sudden make sense if it’s in a convenient spot for pickup or in a central location that allows online orders to be distributed to a large geographic area.

In focusing more and more on fulfilling orders through their store locations, Best Buy may see additional, industry-specific benefits.

In the electronic space, we know that there are a lot of SKUs, and it’s hard to keep some items on stock, particularly the ones that are popular.

The opportunity to leverage not only the inventory at a warehouse or distribution center but all the inventory sitting in their stores expands Best Buy’s ability to provide a great customer experience.

Today’s top retailers are making sure that if they’ve got that new iPhone, or camera lens, or obscure cable, or whatever it is that you’re looking for anywhere in their ecosystem, they are going to find a way to get it to you one way or the other.

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Unsplash

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