Experience Thinking – The Next Evolution for Design Thinking

Experience Thinking - The Next Evolution for Design Thinking

GUEST POST from Anthony Mills


Design Thinking is an incredibly powerful way to approach the design of just about anything that involves an interaction with people (or other intelligent creatures). Its underlying philosophy of Human Centered Design requires that we develop a comprehensive empathic understanding of the customer and their situation in a particular context. This can only happen when we dissect the situation – using the many different Design Methods available to us – to understand the customer’s underlying values, beliefs, motivations, priorities, expectations, and preferences. From this we understand their real needs and desires. This is what we are doing when we work through the divergence of hypothesis formation, the convergence of hypothesis testing, the arrival at a compelling Point of View, and from that the definition of relevant Design Principles. And it is what empowers us to thereafter work through the divergence of solution ideation and the convergence of solution testing – all to arrive at the most optimal solution to the right problem, reframed at the right level. This results in new innovations that resonate with real market needs. Powerful indeed!

But, there are limitations.

The limitations lie not so much in Design Thinking itself, but rather in how Design Thinking is typically used.

The manner in which Design Thinking is typically used is what we refer to as a “static approach.” That is, it is generally used to understand how a customer interacts with a product or service at one particular moment in time – typically the most critical moment in time – or in one particular mode of usage – typically the most critical mode of usage – as though everything were about this one particular “freeze frame”. It may examine, for example, how they sit in a chair, how they use a toothbrush, how they read a user interface, or how they comprehend a set of service instructions. This can work okay for very simple products and services, but not so much for complex ones. Sometimes the lens of focus is zoomed out to examine more moments and more modes, but rarely does it venture so far out as to truly understand the entire product or service experience in its entirety, as well as the overriding brand experience it must convey. To do this, we need a different approach.

A Different Approach

Fortunately, we have a different approach. We call it “Experience Thinking”, or XT. One can think of XT as a more “dynamic” approach to Design Thinking, in that it seeks to examine the entire product / service / brand experience in its totality. By combining the tools of Design Thinking (the Design Methods) with the tools of Customer Experience Design and Customer Experience Management (CX Journey Maps, Stakeholder Analysis, NPS, etc.), it takes the practitioner through the Design Thinking journey for each and every touchpoint in the entire customer experience – or through whichever touchpoints are of interest. This ends up being far more powerful than the narrow-lens focus of static Design Thinking, albeit at the price of additional work.

Experience Thinking is, in fact, what has allowed companies like Apple, Uber, Mercedes, Tesla, Harley Davidson, Patagonia, and Amazon to all produce such highly differentiated offerings that each deliver a coherent and compelling brand experience. In most cases, this brand experience extends well beyond the product or service itself to encompass a far broader value proposition focused on lifestyle or workstyle enhancement. Experience Thinking understands this, and it understands that the emotional and social outcomes involved are just as important (and in some cases more important) than are the functional outcomes. And so offerings get designed that deliver compelling experiences that satisfy those emotional and social outcomes.

Understanding the essence of Experience Thinking then, the next logical question is always, “Okay… so how does one use Experience Thinking? How do they go about carrying it out?” That is a great question.

A Simple Four Step Approach to Using Experience Thinking

In our work with clients, we have a very specific and defined approach to how we do this. It involves four steps.

Step 1 — Foundation: The Brand Experience

We always begin with the brand:

  1. What is the brand persona or brand DNA that defines this brand?
  2. What is this brand’s relative positioning in the market (is it luxury, mid-tier, or value-line)?
  3. What brand promise is this brand making, and what expectations does this then create for its customers?
  4. What brand language (descriptive, visual, and experiential) is being used to convey this brand promise?

And finally, as a consequence of all of the above, what is the overall brand experience we are attempting to deliver, and what, therefore, is the brand experience lens through which we must design the associated product experience or service experience that is to follow-on from this?

These are all crucial questions. For existing brands, the answers are often already known, though they sometimes have to be polished and sharpened a bit. For new brands, we first must answer these questions before proceeding further. An important implication, however, is that this process does not depend on having an existing brand or even an existing product category; it can just as readily be applied to an entirely new brand and/or product category so long as we can define the above points that we intend to deliver for the brand.

Step 2 — Manifestation: The Customer Experience

Once we have defined all of the above, and thus our brand experience lens, we can then move on to the next step, which is to look at either the entire customer lifecycle (eight stages – four on the buy side and four on the own side), or some particular portion of the customer lifecycle that we are specifically interested in.

Using a relatively standard CX Journey Mapping process, we then design our intended customer experience, making sure that at each touchpoint we undertake careful Cognitive Task Analysis so that we fully understand the cognitive and emotional “dance” happening between our offering / brand / business and our customer, as well as capturing all of the on-stage and back-stage stakeholder actions required to stage this experience as designed (the latter can also be complemented with Swim Lane Analysis to help better visualize the timing of each action). Undertaking Cognitive Task Analysis requires a sound understanding of Experience Psychology. As an aid toward this, we recommend reading any of Don Norman’s books, but in particular The Design of Everyday Things.

Step 3 — Translation: The Product (Service) Experience

Next, having defined the intended customer experience, and in so doing understanding the intended attributes of each of its touchpoints (for example, are certain touchpoints to be fast or slow, simple or complex, what human factors or ergonomics concerns have to be considered, what emotional responses need to be evoked, and so on), we then use a tool that in our case we call the Product Experience Framework, or PX Framework (known generically as an alignment model) to map these experience attributes into corresponding product or service attributes. Such attributes might include, for example, size, weight, location, color, finish, actuation force, ease of interpretation, styling, craftsmanship, and so forth.

In using the PX Framework, we step through each and every “event” involved in using the product or receiving the service. Events represent the individual interactions the user has with the product or service, and as such any given touchpoint can include any number of different events. For each such event, we document all of the pertinent attribute details for the product or service. One can see the structure and content of the PX Framework at The Legacy Innovation Product Experience Framework.

Since highly complex products and services tend to involve lots of events (or potential events), this can end up being a very large document. In some cases, therefore, it is helpful to treat each major subsystem separately, with someone watching the overall product integration so as to ensure harmony between all of them.

Step 4 — Realization: The Design

Finally, having the PX Framework in hand, one is at last ready to sit down and actually design the product or service. They now have as an input to this design a clear prescription of what its attributes need to be in order that using the product, or receiving the service, will in fact result in the intended product or service experience, which will in turn convey the intended brand experience for the affected brand.

A New Design Philosophy — The “Designed Experience”

This approach – and Experience Thinking in general – is incredibly different from what so many designers and engineers are accustomed to doing, which is namely to just jump straight into designing a product or service without any idea whatsoever what its attributes need to be to deliver a particular experience. Indeed, they have not even attempted to define in the first place what its product or service experience needs to be, only that it needs to accomplish some outcome in the end; the assumption being that whatever happens along the way toward that outcome is not particularly important – usually an incredibly erroneous assumption!

We believe so strongly in this approach, in fact, that we have wrapped our entire design philosophy around it and have given that philosophy a name. We call it the Designed Experience Approach, and all of the information arising out of these four steps we refer to as the Designed Experience Model. A key tenet of this philosophy (and of Experience Thinking in general) is that the design of a product or service cannot be considered complete until we have first gone through this process of defining its intended product or service experience, together with its intended brand experience. This process must be done, and the resulting insights must be applied, so that we can design all of the product or service attributes accordingly, thus ensuring the final design is in fact capable of delivering its intended experience.

Recently we taught this design philosophy and its accompanying process to a major American automotive OEM in Detroit. The team we were working with there found this to be an incredibly eye-opening approach, because it finally allowed them to make the connection they were looking for between product attributes and the overall intended customer and brand experiences.

Why & Where?

The final two points that need to be made about Experience Thinking are why it is so important, and where it is most applicable. But these two points are best addressed in reverse order.

In terms of where Experience Thinking is most applicable therefore… it is most applicable anywhere we have a branded business and thus a branded line of offerings. Because they are branded, they have a specific brand promise that they must live up to, and ideally this is a brand promise that differentiates and distinguishes the brand from other brands. The need for differentiation is therefore incredibly strong. As a consequence, we must design the products and services associated with this brand in a highly intentional manner so that their attributes can in fact deliver on that brand promise and ensure the level of differentiation we are attempting to achieve. The contrast to this, of course, would be commodity products and services that are undifferentiated. Such products and services need only accomplish their intended outcomes; how they do so and what happens along the way is not overly critical in their case.

In terms of why Experience Thinking is so important then, it is precisely as described above. In those cases where we must espouse and then deliver on a specific brand promise – so that we can differentiate ourselves – our products and services no longer matter by themselves. What matters in these cases is the experience that those products and services are able to deliver. Thus how they go about achieving their intended outcomes, and everything that happens along the way, are all incredibly, incredibly important. They must be things that deliver on our brand promise and thereby reinforce our brand message, which in turn builds our brand value and allows us over time to capture increasing market shares.

The thing is, the vast majority of businesses and their offerings are – to one degree or another – branded. Those who are truly hungry for market leadership tend to be the ones who most readily recognize this and therefore put the most effort into building their brands. This in turn means they are the most eager to embrace Experience Thinking and to use this approach to design their products and services to deliver on their brand promises.


The questions to ask yourself, therefore, are:

  1. “Is our brand as differentiated as it needs to be?”
  2. “Does it have a compelling brand promise that lets us define a unique brand experience?”
  3. “Have we defined specific product and service experiences that are aligned to that brand promise and brand experience?”
  4. “Are we designing our products and services to have the attributes they need to deliver on those experiences?”
  5. “Should we – like perhaps some of our competitors are doing – be using Experience Thinking to design our next offerings?”

If the answers to these questions are “no”, “no”, “no”, “no”, and “yes”, then it’s probably time to get serious about shaking up your design process – time to start applying Experience Thinking. Though it does take more time and effort to do, it tends to pay back greatly in terms of commercial success and ongoing brand building.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Don’t Forget to Innovate the Customer Experience

Don't Forget to Innovate the Customer Experience

Too often we speak about Innovation, Customer Experience, Digital Transformation, Employee Experience and Organizational Change as very distinct and separate things.

But is this the right approach?

Those of you who have read both my first book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and my second book Charting Change know that the main reason that the second book even exists is because innovation is all about change.

Apple couldn’t bring the iPod, iTunes and the iTunes store to market without inflicting incredible amounts of change upon the organization and building many different new organizational capabilities and hiring many new types of people with many types of expertise new to the organization.

I’ve also written about BIG C and little c change, with BIG C change including transformations of many types (including digital) and little C change including projects and other small initiatives. And yes, every project changes something, so every project is a change initiative. And so yes, project management is in fact a subset of change management, not the typical wrong way ’round that change management is usually made subservient to project management.

Stop it!

Architecting the Organization for Change

For an invention to have any chance of becoming an innovation, the organization must transform, and to do this well we must design corresponding changes in both employee experience and customer experience to accelerate and integrate:

  1. Value Creation
  2. Value Access
  3. Value Translation

See my important article Innovation is All About Value for more background on these three phrases.

Because of the interconnectedness between innovation, change, transformation, customer experience and employee experience we must look at these different specialties holistically and in a coordinated way if we are to maximize our chances of successfully completing the journey from invention to innovation.

Service Design and Journey Mapping have a role to play, as does Human-Centered Design because people are at the heart of innovation and transformation. These tools can help uncover the customer needs and help visualize what the NEW experiences must look like for both employees and customers to maximize the holistic value created and the ability of customers to access that value as effortlessly as possible.

As we work to design the potential innovation as a product or a service or a combination of the two, we must also consciously design the customer experience and employee experience to enhance to possibilities of this invention becoming an innovation. This includes potentially designing OUT touchpoints in current journeys that people may taken as a given, but maybe no longer need to exist if we are truly keeping the customer and their wants/needs at the center of our focus.

As part of your innovation activities, consider creating customer and employee journey maps, printing them poster size and placing them front and center on your innovation wonder wall so that you can ask your innovation team the following questions:

  1. What is different about this customer or employee touchpoint when considering our potential innovation?
  2. How could we design out the need for this customer or employee touchpoint?
  3. With our potential innovation, what customer or employee touchpoints may no longer be necessary?
  4. With our potential innovation, what new customer or employee touchpoints may we need to create?
  5. What organizational and employee knowledge and capabilities are we missing, that we must have, to deliver the necessary and expected customer and employee experiences?

As we explore these questions, they allow us to look beyond the product or service that forms the basis of the potential innovation that we are creating and create more value around it, to make our customers’ and employees’ experiences of our potential innovation better, and to increase our chances of more successfully translating the holistic value for its potential customers.

Customer and employee experiences are not detached and separate from the new products and services forming the basis of your innovation activities.

The change and transformation that accompany innovation are not separate either.

We must look at all of these specialties together and not see them as isolated things, otherwise we will fail.

So keep innovating, but be sure and consider the change and transformation necessary to help you be successful and how you are going to innovate your customer and employee experiences at the same time!

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Going with the Flow

How Great Ideas Sometimes Come From Following the Natural Flow of Things

Image: James Homans on Unpslash

GUEST POST from John Bessant

Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas which change the world. Barbed wire is nothing more than a cleverly twisted piece of metal, yet its role in taming the Wild West was much more significant than any cowboys or cavalry. It enabled settlers to graze their herds and property rights to be marked out and defended.

Joe Woodland’s idle scratches in the sand on a Miami beach were the prototype for what became known as the Universal Product Code — and paved the way for bar codes identifying everything from supermarket items to surgical implants.

And a simple metal box transformed the pattern and economics of world trade. Brainchild of Malcolm McLean containerisation changed the way goods were transported internationally, drastically cutting costs and saving time. In 1965 a ship could expect to remain in port being loaded or unloaded for up to a week, with transfer rates for cargo around 1.7 tonnes/hour. By 1970 this had speeded up to 30 tonnes/hour and big shops could enter and leave ports on the same day. Journey times from door to door were cut by over half and the ability to seal containers massively cut losses due to theft and consequently reduced insurance costs.

McLean was a tough entrepreneur who’d already built a business out of trucking. He’d learned the rules of the innovation game the hard way and knew that having a great idea was only the start of a long journey. Realising the value at scale would take a lot of ingenious problem-solving and systems thinking to put the puzzle together. He needed complementary assets — the ‘who else?’ and ‘what else?’ — to realise his vision. And he understood the challenge of diffusion — getting others to buy into your idea and enabling adoption through a mixture of demonstration, persuasion and pressure.

But he wasn’t the first to come up with the idea; that distinction probably goes to another systems thinker who played the innovation game well throughout his unfortunately short life. And, like McClean, he can take a big share of the credit for transforming the pattern of world trade, this time in the 18th century.

Image: David Dibert on Pexels

James Brindley was born in 1716 and spent his early years learning the hard way about how things work — and how to make them work better. He didn’t have much of a formal education, could barely read or write and worked as an agricultural labourer until he was 17. He used his savings to buy his way into an apprenticeship to a millwright, one Abraham Bennett. Bennett was an engineer who preferred to leave much of the work in his business to others while he relaxed (and drank away) the fruits of their labour. Which offered James an opportunity not only to learn fast but to try out ideas. He’d grown up around mills, (both wind and water driven) and was fascinated by their operations.

He got a chance to put some of his innovative ideas into practice when he was given the task, in 1735 of carrying out emergency repairs to a small silk mill. His work so impressed the mill superintendent that he recommended Brindley to others; it wasn’t long before he’d acquired enough experience and skill from different projects to set up on his own as a millwright. He earned the nickname of ‘the Schemer’ because of his approach which was often unconventional but certainly delivered results.

Photo by Ali Arapoğlu from Pexels

Which is how he came to be associated with the Wedgwood brothers who were busy establishing their ceramics business in nearby Stoke on Trent. They sought him out to help with problems they were having in grinding flint, one of the key ingredients in their pottery. Brindley built a series of mills for them, finding ways to improve efficiency and cut costs, and consolidating his reputation They in turn recommended him to John Heathcote, owner of the large Clifton collieries near Manchester who was struggling with a big problem of flooding in his mines.

Brindley’s solution seemed crazy at first — he proposed drawing in more water! But in fact his ingenious idea was to draw water from the nearby river Irwell, pass it through an underground tunnel nearly a kilometre in length and use it to drive a huge mill wheel which drove a pump. It was strong enough to pump out the mine and efficient since it returned the water to the river. It worked — and established his reputation not just as a skilled engineer but as an imaginative problem-solver and innovator.

No-one could call him a lazy man — he worked incessantly on a wide range of projects. But he also spent a lot of time in bed — sometimes days at a time. This was his thinking space, a way of incubating novel and sometimes crazy ideas.

And water was at the centre of his thinking; he seemed to have an intuitive grasp of how it flowed and how those principles could be applied in a wide variety of situations. As he famously replied to an early enquiry about how he had come up with a solution to a complex hydraulic problem he said ‘…it came natural-like…’

And of course one thing about water is that it requires you to think in systems terms, how things are linked together. Brindley had a gift for seeing the interconnected challenges in realising big schemes like the mine pumping system — and for focusing on solving those to enable the whole system to deliver value.

This approach stood him in good stead as he moved into the field for which we best know him — canals. Canals played a critical role in the early Industrial Revolution; they meant that raw materials could get in to factories and their finished products could find their way to ports and be exported around the world. Britain, as ‘the workshop of the world’ depended on the canals as the veins and arteries that enabled the giant to come to life.

And canals represented just the kind of systems challenge which Brindley was so good at. When the Duke of Bridgwater approached him in 1759 to help create a canal to connect his mines in Worsley to the city of Manchester he began a journey which would eventually see him changing the face of Britain, constructing 365 miles of canals criss-crossing the country and revolutionising productivity.

When the Bridgwater Canal was finished in 1761 it helped cut the price of coal in Manchester by 50% and it fell further over the coming years. He followed this with other major projects; he worked with the Wedgwoods to create the Trent and Mersey canal which linked the Potteries to the big industrial cities and ports, providing a way of climbing (through a total of 35 locks) the country and delivering their fragile wares to a global export market. Whether it was shipping coal, flint or other raw materials into cities or transporting their finished wares out to the great ports like Liverpool, Brindley’s canals connected the country.

Photo by Inge Wallumrød from Pexels

It wasn’t easy; quite apart from the eye-watering costs of construction building the canal posed many challenges. Brindley innovated his way around them, coming up with radical ideas for:

  • using natural contours, working with the grain of the land rather than in straight lines. His canals might have been longer as a result but they were much cheaper to dig since this approach reduced the need for tunnels or expensive cuttings
  • cutting narrower canals, which reduced the water consumption and hence the running costs. Of course to make these work required the design of narrow longer boats — something else which Brindley pioneered and which became the dominant design for the waterways
  • pumping and circulatory systems to ensure efficient water flow into and tough the canal systems — and improving the design and productivity of the equipment involved
  • raising and lowering boats as they traversed the country through a series of watertight locks, some of which survive to this day
  • using puddling clay — a watertight ceramic material which he devised (using knowledge picked up from working with the Wedgwoods in their pottery factories) and which offered a watertight base with which to line the canals and solve the problem of water seepage
  • imagining and realising things like the Barton viaduct, a bridge carrying the Bridgwater canal over river Irwell 12m below
Image: Watercolour of Barton aqueduct by G.F. Yates 1793, public domain

He also developed another innovation as part of his problem-solving for the coal industry. His narrow boats were nicknamed ‘Starvationers’ on account of the wooden braces across the hull which gave them strength. They looked like an emaciated torso but this design meant they were strong enough to haul tons of coal or iron ore. But there was a bottleneck in terms of loading and unloading and so Brindley designed a system of wooden containers for coal which could be filled and transhipped easily. His first boat with 10 containers began work in 1766, predating Malcolm McLean by close to 200 years.

(The concept was elaborated and really brought to the mainstream by James Outram who linked the idea into a system in which horses pulled containers from mines along rails to the canal where they were quickly transhipped. As the railways emerged to replace horse drawn traffic so this ‘intermodal system’ took off)

Water was what made him and indirectly it was the death of him. In 1771 he’d begun work on another visionary scheme, surveying the route of what was to become the Trent and Mersey canal. But he was caught in a heavy thunderstorm and drenched through. He wasn’t able to dry out properly at the inn where he was lodging and by the time he returned home he was severely ill; he died of pneumonia a few days later.

He left a legacy of innovation, both in the 365 miles of canals which he built and in the locks, pumping stations, tunnels and other engineering solutions to the problem of creating a viable water-based transport system.,

And he also offers a good reminder of some key innovation themes involved in bringing large scale ideas to fruition and having an impact at scale. He might have been nicknamed ‘the Schemer’, improvising his way to solving engineering problems, but he also understood things like:

  • the importance of systems thinking and the need for complementary assets — identifying and putting in place the many interlocking pieces of the puzzle
  • the value of prototypes and working models to help persuade and accelerate adoption. Legend has it that when he was presenting his ideas to a sceptical group of Members of Parliament whose approval he needed for the Bridgwater canal route he used a cheese out of which he carved a model of the aqueduct he proposed to build!
  • the power of open innovation, learning from the many different sectors and projects he worked with and integrating knowledge from these different worlds — for example, using his knowledge of ceramics to develop the puddling clay liners for his canals
  • the importance of business models in laying out the architecture through which ideas can create value. He not only understood the literal flow of water, he was also skilled at managing cash flow, acquiring a reputation for being ‘careful with money’ which undoubtedly helped realise some of the huge schemes with which he was involved.

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How to Close the Sickcare AI DI Divide

How to Close the Sickcare AI DI Divide

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers

The digital divide describes those having or not having access to broadband, hardware, software and technology support. It’s long been acknowledged that even as the digital industry exploded out of this country, America lived with a “digital divide.” While this is loosely understood as the gap between those who have access to reliable internet service and those who don’t, the true nature and extent of the divide is often under-appreciated. Internet infrastructure is, of course, an essential element of the divide, but infrastructure alone does not necessarily translate into adoption and beneficial use. Local and national institutions, affordability and access, and the digital proficiency of users, all play significant roles — and there are wide variations across the United States along each of these.

There is also a sickcare artificial intelligence (AI) dissemination and implementation (DI) divide. Infrastucture is one of many barriers.

As with most things American, there are the haves and the have nots. Here’s how hospitals are categorized. Generally, the smaller ones lack the resources to implement sickcare AI, particularly rural hospitals which are, increasingly, under stress and closing.

So, how do we close the AI-DI divide? Multisystems solutions involve:

  1. Data interoperability
  2. Federated learning Instead of bring Mohamed to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohamed
  3. AI as a service
  4. Better data literacy
  5. IT infrastructure access improvement
  6. Making cheaper AI products
  7. Incorporating AI into a digital health whole product solution
  8. Close the doctor-data scientist divide
  9. Democratize data and AI
  10. Create business model competition for data by empowering patient data entrepreneurs
  11. Teach hospital and practice administrators how to make value based AI vendor purchasing decisions
  12. Encourage physician intrapreneurship and avoid the landmines
  13. Use no-code or low-code tools to innovate

We are still in the early stages of realizing the full potential of sickcare artificial intelligence. However, if we don’t close the AI-DI gaps, a large percentage of patients will never realize the benefits.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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AI Has Already Taken Over the World

AI Has Already Taken Over the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Algorithms Have Become the New Cool Kids on the Block

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

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

Think about that for a bit…

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

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

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

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

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

Machines have become the gatekeepers between you and your customers.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

(insert maniacal laugh here)

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Weighing the Effectiveness of a Leader

Weighing the Effectiveness of a Leader

GUEST POST from Robert B. Tucker

As a college student, I was a volunteer on Joe Biden’s initial race for U.S. Senate. I recalled him saying something like, “If I’m elected, come see me in Washington.” Twenty or so years later I did just that. I put Biden to the test.

It was after a speaking engagement in Washington, D.C. I was about to head to the airport when I spotted the majestic Capitol dome in the distance. I remembered Biden’s promise. I had the cabbie to take me over to the Senate Office Building wherein the Delaware senator’s receptionist dutifully passed along my request.

Moments later a smiling and familiar figure appeared. The senator shook my hand and barely slowed down long enough to usher me to accompany him over to the Senate floor where he needed to cast a vote. We visited on the tram back and forth, and shortly we were back at his office, whereupon he thanked me for my service and disappeared.

Brief though it was, Biden passed my little test. He kept his word. He walked his talk. It was just that simple, yet I never forgot it.

I recall that incident from long ago because right now because it seems that leaders everywhere are being put to the test. Constituents, employees, and everybody else is asking tough questions about the competence and character of leaders.

As an innovation coach and public speaker, I’ve had a 35 year ringside seat to observe leadership in action. Working in 54 countries, and in every state and with businesses and trade groups of every size and industry, I’ve seen examples of great leadership that inspired me no end. I’ve worked with top teams of businesses in Rome, Charlotte, Bangkok and Abu Dabi. I’ve observed leadership in mobile phone companies in Bahrain, staffing companies in Kansas City, energy companies in Kenya, and direct selling companies in Peru. And lately, as we all have, I’ve seen dysfunctional and self-serving leadership at the national level that has disgusted me and made me fearful for future generations.

Never has there been such an urgent need for leadership as right now. Many of the readers of InnovationTrends are CEOs and senior leaders of large organizations. This is my call for you to step up to the plate: your company, your country needs you to lead.

And as leaders, you and I face three distinct challenges going forward:

  1. Can we build trust where trust is lacking?
  2. Can we anticipate change and think ahead of the curve?
  3. Can we execute skillfully and turn vision into reality?

Let’s examine these one-by-one:

The first thing leaders must do is build trust.

From the White House to the schoolhouse to the state house and to businesses and nonprofit organizations large and small, followers are asking those in leadership positions: are you the “real deal” and can I trust you? Do you have my back? And can I trust you to keep me and my family and my community safe? Can you steer and navigate this organization to a better place, or will you stand idly by as it is disrupted by forces you don’t understand, and don’t have a strategy to counteract?

The second thing leaders must do is to anticipate future threats and opportunities.

This week I’m interviewing Rick Sorkin, CEO of Jupiter Intelligence, a climate risk startup with headquarters in Silicon Valley, and whose business booked ten times as many contracts in the first quarter of this year as it did in the prior year. “I think that the pandemic was a bit of a near death experience,” Sorkin told the Washington Post. “Once people got past [it], they were like, ‘Oh, what else is there like this that we’re not worrying about?’” Climate change is at the top of that list.

By using advanced computer modeling, Jupiter forecasts the likelihood of a wildfire disaster, or the threat of a flood engulfing your chemical plant. Jupiter offers a whole new level of insight into what might previously have been considered “unforeseen” risks. Post Covid/Post Jan 6 everyone instinctively realizes we are living in a period of ever-broader “unsustainable” risks. Today’s leaders can no longer kick cans down the road. They must lead, for their anticipation skills are on full display. All leaders need to develop and use better tools and methods to help anticipate threats, but also, as Jupiter is doing, to position, wherever and whenever possible to translate them – using creativity and innovation thinking — into opportunities.

The third thing that leaders need to do is to execute successfully and turn vision into reality.

I once interviewed Warren Bennis, the late leadership guru and former president of the University of Cincinnati. Professor Bennis believed in the adage that great leaders are not born but made, insisting that “the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being,” as he put it in an interview with the New York Times. Both, he said, were grounded in self-discovery.

Yet It was Bennis’s definition of leadership that I recall now, as being particularly appropriate to the times we are living in. Leadership, as Bennis saw it, is “the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

And that vision-to-reality transformation is what we need to study now, to celebrate now, and to strive to get better at. Instead of “just getting by” or muddling through, true leaders develop a vision of where they want to take the organization. They study the trends, they look back to be guided by history, and they inform themselves consciously and consistently as to where today’s trends are headed, and they take risks and make investments, rather than merely “kicking the can down the road” for future leaders to deal with.

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Borrow an Idea from a Different Field

Borrow an Idea from a Different Field

GUEST POST from Paul Sloane

Sometimes the best way to innovate is to borrow someone else’s idea and apply it in your business. A successful innovation does not have to be an all-new invention. It just has to be something useful which is new to your business. Maybe everyone in Singapore is doing it but you are the first in Holland; maybe every consulting firm does it but yours is the first doctors’ surgery to try it; maybe everyone in IT knows about this but no-one in hairdressing; maybe lots of youngsters communicate this way but you are the first city councillor to do so.

Rob McEwen

Rob McEwen bought a Canadian gold mine which was in decline. Production of gold had been falling. At a computer conference he happened to hear about the Linux operating system and how its success was based on its open source principle – anyone could see any of the code. Thousands of programmers around the world analyse, extend and develop Linux code. He decided to borrow this idea and apply it in the conservative world of gold mining. He published all the data about the mine on the internet and challenged people to predict where to drill for gold. His colleagues thought he was crazy – no-one ever gave away all their mining data. But the internet competition he started, the Goldcorp challenge, was a great success. The winner used sophisticated fractal graphics software to analyse the data and accurately predict where to drill for gold. The output of the mine went up tenfold.

If McEwen had attended a conference about mining he would never have had the trigger of an idea about open source.

Doctors had a problem with hypodermic needles. Patients were afraid of them. Children dreaded them. The pain the needles caused was not intense but it was unpleasant and it dissuaded many people from having important injections. So the doctors asked – who else has this problem? Who else injects into people and has solved this problem. The answer was quickly given. Mosquitoes insert a tiny needle into people and extract blood. They carry the deadly malaria virus. They go about their deadly work without being felt. By studying how the mosquito stings its victims scientists were able to develop a hypodermic needle that patients do not feel.

The scientific study of nature in order to copy its methods is called mimetics. Alexander Graham Bell was a practitioner of mimetics. He copied the workings of the human ear when he invented the telephone. The diaphragm in the ear became the diaphragm in the telephone.

The mobile operator Vodafone uses interesting customer segmentation. Like every other business it segments customers by revenue and margin. But it also segments customers by which ones it can learn the most from. Vodafone identifies the top 20 clients world-wide who are doing the most interesting things with mobile technology. It ensures that senior managers visit these customers and keep abreast of their latest applications and uses. Some of these clients are very small organisations but Vodafone knows that the ideas they can garner here are very valuable. Who are your most innovative clients? Do you monitor and track them. Do you keep them close? Could you borrow some of their great ideas?

The problem you face right now is a problem that someone else has faced and solved. Why not harness their ideas?

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The Dreaded Perfect Entrepreneur

The Dreaded Perfect Entrepreneur

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers

“Perfect is the enemy of good” is a quote usually attributed to Voltaire. He actually wrote that the “best is the enemy of the good” (il meglio è nemico del bene) and cited it as an old Italian proverb in 1770, but the phrase was translated into English as “perfect” and made its way into common parlance in that form.

Perfectionism is a problem. Here are some reasons why.

  1. It drives other people you interact with, who are not perfectionists, crazy
  2. We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where there is no definition of perfect. There are only solutions we test until we find out whether they work or not and then change if they don’t.
  3. Defining something as perfect is a value judgement, not an absolute, Perfection is a pipe dream. As Psychology Today explained, “‘perfect’ may exist as a concept,” but it’s not a reality. After all, its definition is entirely subjective. “Achieving perfection” is entirely a judgment call, depending on who’s trying to achieve it and who’s watching.
  4. It could be a symptom of a more serious psychiatric problem like obsessive-compulsive disorder which is a personality disorder characterized by excessive orderliness, perfectionism, attention to details, and a need for control in relating to others. It is one of many entrepreneurial syndromes that are characterized by entrepreneurial psychopathologies
  5. Meeting the expectations of others to be perfect is bad for your mental health. It will make you unhappy.
  6. There is reason why the Golden Mean has been around for several thousand years
  7. Innovation starts with mindset Being a perfectionist is not consistent with revising the “good” with evidence based business idea testing results
  8. There are reasons why we say doctors, actors, athletes, lawyers, entrepreneurs and other service providers practice their craft. You never get it perfect, even if someone gives you a 10, or a Facebook like or an Oscar for your performance. There is always room for improvement, but almost never perfection. Failure is part of the drill and inevitable. What’s on your failure resume? That’s why, when it comes tapping into a source of entrepreneurial internal motivation, you should make it personal, but don’t take it personally.
  9. The goal of making something perfect or doing something perfectly will get in the way of starting something, like:
  • Business Idea: Instead of waiting until you have a complete airtight business plan, simply start your business.
  • Software: Instead of ironing out every last bug, release your beta.
  • Products: Instead of adding every conceivable improvement and feature, ship your product. Release improvements later.
  • Health: Instead of finding the right gym, selecting the right outfit and picking the right workout, just go for a walk.
  • Website: Instead of finding the best server, CMS, theme, appearance and font, just get a landing page up and start selling.
  • Email: Instead of trying to create a well-written and grammatically impeccable email, just get the message out and click “send.”
  • Value proposition and business model canvas: Define your underlying assumptions and validate them with evidence. It’s called minimal viable product, not perfect product, for a reason.

10. Underbidding everyone by making something “good enough for government work” and then submitting endless add-ons leading to cost overruns is a tried and true profitable business model and there is little or no chance you will go to jail or get fired doing it.

If you want to know how to get to Carnegie Hall, it’s just easier to practice, practice, practice and focus on the journey, not the destination.

Image credit: Pixabay

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No Regret Decisions: The First Steps of Leading through Hyper-Change

GUEST POST from Phil Buckley

Workplace change has never been at a higher rate or faster pace than now. Everything from consumer preferences to product sourcing models is in flux. ‘Reinvention,’ ‘transformation,’ and ‘disruption’ are popular terms to describe how private and public organizations are evolving to accommodate changing operating environments, stakeholder expectations and regulatory requirements. Leaders and their teams must enable multiple, complex changes when most organizational practices are obsolete and the future is at best uncertain.

In today’s dynamic environment, many leaders default to strategies that have worked under very different conditions. Relying on past practices to solve present challenges is often naive and highly risky. Other leaders instinctively select courses of action that feel right or appear credible based on limited or easily available data. In these cases, the speed of response and hope for simple solutions trump rigorous assessment and disciplined evaluation.

Addressing Uncertainty with No Regret Decisions

A pragmatic way to move forward through unknown conditions is to identify ‘no regret’ decisions. A no regret decision provides a net benefit under any future scenario. For example, building awareness of sanitation and hygiene good practices at the beginning of the pandemic was a no regret decision because it benefited people even if the virus didn’t spread through surface contact.

The Benefits of No Regret Decisions

There are four benefits of making no regret decisions. The first is they align stakeholders to a course of action. There is strength in agreement that leads to positive team dynamics and a foundation of success to build upon.

The second is that no regret decisions move a team from a static state to one of motion. Success in change is not about being perfect; it’s about responding to circumstances based on available information, identifying options, and selecting the best way forward. Delaying action is rarely a good strategy during change because issues amplify with time—speed of execution matters; inactivity is harmful. Taking action transitions people from being observers to participants, preparing them to address future time-bound situations and make bigger decisions. Momentum is a source of strength that ignites future efforts.

Creating a fact-base is essential to understanding the interplay of environmental factors that lead to analysis, hypotheses, and action. The third benefit is it provides opportunities to test and learn, to challenge assumptions and modify strategies to deliver the highest value.

The fourth benefit is the building of confidence of individuals and teams. They foster a belief in capabilities, decision-making process, and a high probability of success. Also, taking concrete actions minimizes the “fight, flight, or freeze” effect triggered by uncertainty. It renews people’s belief in their abilities and avoids the emotional responses of self-doubt and fear that come with unknown or vague circumstances.

No Regret Decision Examples

What decisions provide net benefits regardless of future outcomes? Capability development is an enabler of performance. The current focus on resiliency training is an example of equipping people with mindsets, tools, and behaviors, irrespective of the emerging scenarios. Critical thinking, ideation and creativity are other skills that add value when addressing all forms of hyper-change.

Simplifying and standardizing processes is another no regret decision. The decision-making process is a good example of how a consistent framework leads to shared understanding, assessment, and alignment on actions. When people use the same process, they follow the same rules and speak the same language. The symmetry of the approach leads to clarity and agreement.

Soliciting customer feedback to inform strategy development and execution offers benefits regardless of the operating environment. It is easy to skip this step of intelligence gathering when faced with multiple, complex changes requiring quick responses. The risk of doing so is that solutions don’t address client needs, risking relationships and sales.

Leaders and their teams are navigating business environments never seen before. Internal and external realities require them to rethink their operating models and pivot their strategies, initiatives, and resources to achieve their performance goals. Making no regret decisions enables them to align stakeholders on actions that lead to positive outcomes. They also provide the opportunity to test assumptions and hypotheses and refine the understanding of marketplace dynamics. The forward motion and small gains generated by no regret decisions build the confidence of individuals and teams to face challenges head-on to mitigate risks and seize opportunities.

The only regret from this type of decision is not making them. What no regret decisions can you make to help you lead through hyper-change?

Image credit: Pexels

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Where Do Innovation Strategies Usually Go Wrong?

GUEST POST from Jesse Nieminen

Innovation strategy is a common source of anxiety for many innovation managers: they always want one, but few think their organization has a clearly defined one.

However, the good news is that innovation strategy is just a set of decisions on how to best fulfill the company’s overall strategic goals related to creating something new or improved. So, even if your organization doesn’t yet have a clearly defined innovation strategy, it’s often a surprisingly straightforward task to derive it from the overall corporate strategy.

Having said that, there still are a handful of ways in which innovation strategies often go wrong. In this article, we’ll explore some of these more common mistakes, and seek to provide you with some actionable tips for avoiding them.

Innovation Strategy

The Classic Strategy Mistakes

Let’s start by covering the five classic strategy mistakes. These are not specific to innovation strategies but are by far the most common problems in those too.

The Five Classic Strategy Mistakes

At first glance, these classic mistakes seem like very basic rookie mistakes that no senior leader worth their salt will make. However, they are actually very difficult to avoid completely in a large organization. Most strategies, even some of the best, thus usually include some of these elements.The point is that if you start to see more than one or two of these, or if they’re obvious issues, odds are that your strategy will run into challenges down the road. Let’s next cover each of these mistakes briefly.

  1. Daydreaming. This is the classic case of management coming up with a big, bold vision but not having any idea on how to get there, and no concrete plans for figuring that out. For front-line employees and managers, it’s immediately obvious that the strategy just isn’t rooted in reality.
  2. Alignment is a related, but more nuanced challenge, and one that almost every large organization struggles with. Bridging the gap between the big picture goals and the day-to-day across the entire organization is just a very difficult task that is nearly impossible to get right from the get-go. The key is getting most of the way there, and then actively working to further improve alignment as you execute on the strategy.
  3. Hoping for the best is a classic mistake for the big-picture style of leaders who think that their job is to get the big picture right, and its’ then other people’s job to make things happen. In reality, as Professor Martin well put it, it just doesn’t work like that. If your strategy doesn’t consider the execution, you’re just hoping for the best and usually that won’t happen. There’s a reason for the CEO being the Chief Executive
  4. Not deciding is probably the second most common challenge right after alignment. We’ve all seen strategies that are basically a variation of “we do everything for everyone because that’s the biggest market”, and that lack of focus can only lead to spectacular failure when it comes time to execute the strategy. Another variation of this is strategies like “we focus on growth”, “we will become a market leader”. These aren’t meaningful choices; they are the end results, and very abstract ones at that. Nevertheless, growth can be made into an effective strategy if it’s focused on a very specific area, and the strategy includes the compromises you’re willing to make to achieve that growth, for example profitability. However, that’s just not what most companies are doing when they say their strategy is growth.
  5. The 5-year plan is our nickname for running an extremely intensive one-off strategy process where a detailed roadmap is created for the next five (or however many) years. The problem is that no matter how well you know the business and do your research, no one gets it right from the get-go, and even if you theoretically would, there are very few markets that are so stagnant that nothing significant will change in the next five years. Good strategies are always a result of an iterative, on-going process.

In a nutshell, innovators plan for the long-term and towards specific goals – but remain flexible on the ways to get there and make strategy an iterative learning process focused on getting things done and continuously moving in the right direction. There are many good frameworks for this. Be it Future-Back, Discovery-Driven Planning, Blue Ocean Strategy, or the Lean Startup, they all essentially talk about variations of the same thing.

The Real Challenge is Implementation

Let’s say you get the big picture right and avoid the classic mistakes we’ve just covered. The good news is that you’re now in the game! The bad news is that you’re still a long way from successfully pulling off your strategy.

The implementation is the hard part, and the part that makes all the difference. In essence, a great strategy, be it an innovation strategy or any other kind of strategy, sets the upper limit for the performance of the organization. A poor strategy, even when executed perfectly, will still lead to poor performance. But so does a perfect strategy when implemented poorly.

Strategy execution is the hard part

Reliable figures for the failure rate of strategy execution are hard to come by, but the consensus seems to be in the range of 60-90%. I haven’t seen research on the same figures for innovation focused strategies but based on the stats that are available, I’m quite confident they aren’t much better.

Anyone can, after all, say that they want to change the world or become a global leader at something, but few can make that happen.

So, a great innovation strategy is built on a nuanced understanding of an organization’s operating environment and is built on choices that give the organization the best possible odds of success. And, in that, keeping the implementation and the day-to-day realities top of mind during each phase of the strategy work is key.

A great innovation strategy is built on a nuanced understanding of an organization’s operating environment and is built on choices that give the organization the best possible odds of success.

The details will naturally vary depending on the business and industry, but before we wrap up, we’ll briefly cover some of the key principles that most organizations pursuing an innovation focused strategy should pay attention to.

Getting Implementation Right

1. Tell the What, focus on the Why, and leave room for the How

The first of our principles is to understand that you as a leader don’t have all the answers. Whatever plan you create will need to be adjusted, and it should be done by the people executing the strategy. So, make sure your strategy tells the big picture mission and key choices you’ve made (the What), but focuses especially on the rationale behind them (the Why) while leaving room for people to figure out what the best methods are for achieving those goals (the How).

Statistically speaking, no one will remember your strategic goals, but with a couple of well-chosen examples, you can get your employees to remember the rationale behind key choices, which has far reaching consequences throughout the organization. If you get that right, alignment and execution will become dramatically easier.

2. Speed is key, systematically seek out and remove barriers for it

As we’ve covered earlier, executing an innovative strategy is an iterative learning process. The faster you can move, the faster you will learn, and the more you can accomplish. This leads to compounding returns, and that’s why I think pace of innovation is the ultimate competitive advantage any organization may have.

There are a number of things that can help make an organization more agile, innovative, and faster, but in the end it comes down to systematically seeking out and removing any and all barriers that prevent people from executing the strategy – and innovating. Sometimes this is straightforward if you just keep an ear to the ground, but often you may need to resolve more complex structural issues.

3. Decentralize

While it’s been shown that an extraordinary CEO can temporarily get an organization to execute well with sheer will of force, things will unravel the moment they leave if capabilities and responsibilities aren’t spread out across the organization. Thus, smart leaders will focus on controlled decentralization and capability building from the get-go.

The same principle applies for both strategy execution and innovation. Simply put, decentralization will help your organization make more informed decisions and move even faster.


As we all know, strategy plays a big role in determining the success of any organization. It essentially sets the upper limit for their performance, and a poor one will prevent the organization from ever reaching its full potential.

But, in any industry, there are likely dozens if not hundreds of companies with great, often even nearly identical strategies. Some just seem to pull it off, where others don’t.

Thus, it’s the implementation that makes the difference and really determines the success of an organization, and planning for execution and adapting to a changing reality must be crucial parts of your strategy from the get-go.

Image credits: Unsplash, Jesse Nieminen, unsplash

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