Scaling New Heights – Building Resilience

Scaling New Heights – Building Resilience

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

“I just love it when people say I can’t do it, there’s nothing that makes me feel better, because all my life, people have said that I wasn’t going to make it.” -Ted Turner

Resilience is what allows us to scale new heights. It is the strength that comes from within, the power to push forward in the face of adversity. Resilience is what allows us to confront our fears and overcome challenges. Resilience is what allows us to build something great. When we are resilient, we are able to tap into our innermost strength and power. We are able to align our team and work together towards a common goal. We are able to face our challenges head-on and emerge victorious. Companies that continually work on building resilient processes, people and continue to innovate scale new heights.

Resilience and innovation are two critical components of any successful organization. Resilience helps organizations withstand and bounce back from challenges, while innovation allows them to proactively identify and seize new opportunities. However, too often these two functions are siloed within organizations, with little connection between them. To build a stronger relationship between innovation and resilience, leaders need to create a culture of collaboration and openness that values diversity and alignment. By fostering a culture of collaboration, leaders can encourage teams to share ideas and perspectives, leading to more innovative thinking. And by valuing diversity and alignment, leaders can ensure that all voices are heard and that everyone is working towards the same goal. When innovation and resilience are properly connected, organizations are better able to weather any challenge and emerge even stronger.

As the world increasingly becomes more VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – organizations must build their resilience in order to thrive. Here are five strategies that organizations can use to encourage imagination, scenario planning, break processes, and throw out old assumptions:

  1. Encourage imagination: One way to encourage imagination is to encourage employees to think outside the box. This can be done by encouraging them to come up with new ideas, and by providing opportunities for them to experiment and try new things.
  2. Scenario planning: Another strategy that can be used is scenario planning. This involves thinking about different possible future outcomes, and making plans accordingly. This can help organizations be better prepared for unexpected events.
  3. Break processes: Another way to build resilience is to break processes. This means breaking away from traditional ways of doing things, and instead being open to new ways of doing things. Sometimes, this may mean taking risks, but it can also lead to new opportunities.
  4. Throw out old assumptions: Finally, another strategy for building resilience is to throw out old assumptions. This means questioning long-held beliefs, and being willing to embrace new ideas. By doing this, organizations can stay flexible.

Image credit: Pixabay

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

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Making Innovation the Way We Do Business (easy as ABC)

Making Innovation the Way We Do Business (easy as ABC)

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“We need to be more innovative.”

How many times have you said or heard that? It’s how most innovation efforts start. It’s a statement that reflects leaders’ genuine desire to return to the “good ol’ days” when the company routinely created and launched new products and enjoyed the publicity and growth that followed.

But what does it mean to be more innovative?

Innovation’s ABCs

A is for Architecture

Architecture includes most of the elements people think of when they start the work to become more innovative – strategy, structure, processes, metrics, governance, and incentives.

Each of these elements answers fundamental questions:

  • Strategy: Why is innovation important? How does it contribute to our overall strategy?
  • Structure: Who does the work of innovation?
  • Process: How is the work done?
  • Metrics: How will we know when we’re successful? How will we measure progress?
  • Governance: Who makes decisions? How and when are decisions made?
  • Incentives: Why should people invest their time, money, and political capital? How will they be rewarded?

When it comes to your business, you can answer all these questions. The same is true if you’re serious about innovation. If you can’t answer the questions, you have work to do. If you don’t want to do the work, then you don’t want to be innovative. You want to look innovative*.

B is for Behavior

Innovation isn’t an idea problem. It’s a leadership problem.

Leaders that talk about innovation, delegate it to subordinates and routinely pull resources from innovation to “shore up” current operations don’t want to be innovative. They want to look innovative.

Leaders who roll up their sleeves and work alongside innovation teams, ask questions and listen with open minds, and invest and protect innovation resources want to be innovative.

To be fair, it’s incredibly challenging to be a great leader of both innovation and operations. It’s the equivalent of writing equally well with your right and left hands. But it is possible. More importantly, it’s essential.

C is for Culture

Culture is invisible, pervasive, and personal. It is also the make-or-break factor for innovation because it surrounds innovation architecture, teams, and leaders.

Culture can expand to encourage and support exploration, creativity, and risk-taking. Or it can constrict, unleashing antibodies that swarm, suffocate, and kill anything that threatens the status quo.

Trying to control or change culture is like trying to hold water in your fist. But if you let go just a bit, create the right conditions, and wait patiently, change is possible.

Easy as 123

The most common mistake executives make in the pursuit of being “more innovative” is that they focus on only A or only B or only C.  But, as I always tell my clients, the answer is “and, not or.”

  1. Start with Architecture because it’s logical, rational, and produces tangible outputs like org charts, process flows, and instruction manuals filled with templates and tools. Architecture is comforting because it helps us know what to do and how.
  2. Use Architecture to encourage Behavior because the best way to learn something is to do it. With Architecture in place (but well before it’s finished), bring leaders into the work – talking to customers, sharing their ideas, and creating prototypes. When leaders do the work of innovation, they quickly realize what’s possible (and what’s not) and are open to learning how to engage (behave) in a way that supports innovation.
  3. Leverage Architecture and Behavior to engage Culture by creating the artifacts, rituals, and evidence that innovation can happen in your company, is happening and will continue to happen. As people see “innovation” evolve from a buzzword to a small investment to “the way we do business,” their skepticism will fade, and their support will grow.

Just like the Jackson 5 said

ABC, It’s easy a 123

Architecture, behavior, culture – they’re all essential to enabling an innovation capability that repeatedly creates new revenue.

And while starting with architecture, building new leadership behaviors, and investing until the culture changes isn’t easy, it’s the 123 steps required to “be more innovative.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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The Ways Inflection Points Define Our Future

The Ways Inflection Points Define Our Future

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Humans tend to think in a linear fashion. If something is growing, we expect it to keep growing. If it is decreasing, we expect it to continue to decrease. We are natural trend watchers and instinctively look for patterns. Yet it is often the discontinuities, rather than the continuities, that have the biggest impact.

The mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot referred to this cycle of continuity punctuated by discontinuity as “Noah effects and Joseph effects.” Joseph effects, as in the biblical story, support long periods of continuity. Noah effects, on the other hand, are like a big storm creating a massive flood of discontinuity, washing away the previous order.

Throughout history, inflection points have defined the future. Business models, built on top of Joseph effects, are disrupted by Noah effects, creating new opportunities for those who are able to identify and adapt. Today, we’re in the midst of a series of inflection points in what was already a time of enormous flux. We can’t predict the future but we can prepare for it.

1920s: A Second Industrial Revolution

By 1920, electricity was already nearly a 40-year old technology. In 1882, just three years after he had almost literally shocked the world with his revolutionary electric light bulb, Thomas Edison opened his Pearl Street Station, the first commercial electrical distribution plant in the United States. By 1884 it was already servicing over 500 homes.

Yet although electricity and electric lighting were already widespread in 1919, they didn’t have a measurable effect on productivity and a paper by the economist Paul David helps explain why. It took time for manufacturers to adapt their factories to electricity and learn to design workflow to leverage the flexibility that the new technology offered. It was the improved workflow, more than the technology itself, that drove productivity forward.

Automobiles saw a similar evolution. It took time for infrastructure, such as roads and gas stations, to be built. Improved logistics reshaped supply chains and factories moved from cities in the north — close to customers — to small towns in the south, where labor and land were cheaper. That improved the economics of manufacturing further.

It was the confluence of electricity and internal combustion, along with the secondary innovations they spawned, that led to mass manufacturing and mass marketing. Enterprises scaled up into huge bureaucracies exemplified by the organization Alfred Sloan built at General Motors. Firms were designed to move large numbers of men and materiel efficiently. Information flowed up, orders went down and your rank determined your responsibility.

1990s – Globalization and Digitization

In November 1989, there were two watershed events that would change the course of world history. The fall of the Berlin Wall would end the Cold War and open up markets across the world. That very same month, Tim Berners-Lee would create the World Wide Web and usher in a new technological era of networked computing.

Much like in the 1920s, these forces had been building for some time. Commercial computers had been around since the 1950s and global trade as a percentage of GDP began to sharply increase in the 1970s. Yet 1989 marked an inflection point and the world would never be the same after that.

The combined forces of globalization and digitization favored the quick and agile over the large and powerful. Rather than spending months or years to develop products, startup firms could rapidly prototype and iterate their way to launching a product in months or weeks. So called “unicorns”, startup companies valued at over a billion dollars, began to emerge and disrupt incumbent industry giants.

Perhaps the biggest shift of the globalized, digital world was from hierarchies to networks. While in the industrial era strategy was focused on linear value chains and the sum of all efficiencies, in the networked world strategy increasingly focused on the sum of all connections. A leader’s role was no longer simply to plan and direct action, but to inspire and empower belief.

Yet much like technologies that came of age in the 1920s, the second and third order effects of globalization and digitization were very different than anyone had predicted. Instead of the triumph of democracy we got a rise in authoritarian populism. Instead of a new era of prosperity, we got stagnant wages, reduced productivity growth and weaker competitive markets.

2020s – A New Era of Innovation

Today, as Moore’s law nears its theoretical limits, the digital revolution is coming to a close and we’re about to embark on a new era of innovation. Much like in the 1920s and the 1990s, the future is likely to surprise us, but the rough outlines of new inflection points are already beginning to take shape.

The first is in energy. The World Economic Forum reports that wind and solar now produce energy cheaper than coal and gas in North America. In fact, in some sunny parts of the world, solar costs less than half as much as coal. Costs for energy storage are still too high, but here too there is significant progress and we’re likely to see a scaled solution within a decade.

Another is the rise of synthetic biology. Driven by new technologies such as CRISPR, we’re beginning to go beyond merely reading genomes and starting to write them. Andrew Hessel, CEO of Humane Genomics, told me that we’re nearing the point that the value of a genome exceeds the cost to produce one. That will unleash a new wave of biologically driven business models. A similar revolution is underway in materials science.

Over the next decade we will also see the emergence of post-digital computing architectures such as quantum and neuromorphic computing, which are potentially thousands, if not millions of times more powerful than today’s technology. Although we don’t expect much of an impact from either of these for at least a decade, they will accelerate advancements in biology, materials and artificial intelligence.

Clearly these new technologies will open up new possibilities, but right now it’s impossible to see beyond first order effects. Nobody looked at a light bulb and saw household appliances empowering women to enter the workplace, or looked at a Model T and saw suburbs and the transformation of retail, or came across an IBM mainframe and said, “Gee, this thing will put journalists out of work one day.”

Preparing For the Future

Six years ago, I wrote how 2020 was shaping up to be a pivotal year. Boy, I had no idea! In addition. In addition to the convergence of longstanding trends in technology, energy and transportation, Covid-19 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement burst onto the global consciousness.

Two things stick out about these new inflection points. First, they were not only predictable, but were, in fact, predicted by a number of people. Second, both will accelerate already existing trends. Covid-19 has shifted digital transformation and synthetic biology into high gear. Black Lives Matter will likely expedite the shift in political power from Boomers to Millennials.

We can think of various scenarios that can play out. Covid may catalyze nascent trends, such as telemedicine and genomic medicine to greatly improve healthcare in the US. Black Lives Matter may cause a shift in hiring patterns that may help to accelerate productivity. On the other hand, the tensions both inflection points create may exacerbate underlying divisions and make things worse.

Those are just two possible scenarios. There are many more, each of which will create their sets of Noah and Joseph effects and then combine secondary and tertiary changes in ways that are unknowable today. What we can do, however, is explore new possibilities and prepare for them. The most important inflection points are often the ones that we create ourselves through the choices we make. No future is inevitable.

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

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Kicking the Copier Won’t Fix Your Problem

Kicking the Copier Won't Fix Your Problem

GUEST POST from John Bessant

Have you ever felt the urge to kick the photocopier? Or worse? That time when you desperately needed to make sixty copies of a workshop handout five minutes before your session begins. Or when you needed a single copy of your passport or driving license, it’s the only way you can prove your identity to the man behind the desk about not to approve your visa application? Remember the awful day when you were struggling to print your boarding passes for the long-overdue holiday; that incident meant you ended up paying way over the odds at the airport?

The copiers may change, the locations and contexts may differ but underneath is one clear unifying thread. The machines are out to get you. Perhaps it’s just a random failure and you are just the unlucky one who keeps getting caught. Or maybe it’s more serious, they’ve started issuing them with an urgency sensor which detects how critical your making a copy is and then adjusts the machine’s behavior to match this by refusing to perform.

Whatever the trigger you can be sure that it won’t be a simple easy to fix error like ‘out of paper’ which you just might be able to do something about. No, the kind of roadblock these fiendish devices are likely to hurl on to your path will be couched in arcane language displayed on the interface as ‘Error code 3b76 — please consult technician’.

Given the number of photocopiers in the world and the fact that we are still far from being a paperless society in spite of our digital aspirations, it’s a little surprising that the law books don’t actually contain a section on xeroxicide — the attempt or execution of terminal damage to the lives of these machines.

Help is at hand. Because whilst we may still have the odd close and not very enjoyable encounter with these devices the reality is that they are getting better all the time. Not only through adding a bewildering range of functionality so that you can do almost anything with them apart from cook your breakfast, but also because they are becoming more reliable. And that is, in large measure, down to something called a community of practice. One of the most valuable resources we have in the innovation management toolkit.

The term was originally coined by Etienne Wenger and colleagues who used it to describe “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” Which is where the idea of communities of practice comes in. It’s a simple enough idea, based on the principle that we learn some things better when we act together.

Shared learning helps, not least in those situations where knowledge is not necessarily explicit and easily available for the finding. It’s a little like mining for precious metals; the really valuable stuff is often invisible inside clumps of otherwise useless rock. Tiny flecks on the surface might give us the clue to something valuable being contained therein but it’s going to take quite a lot of processing to extract it in shiny pure form.

Knowledge is the same; it’s often not available in easy reach or plain sight. Instead it’s what Michael Polanyi called tacit as opposed to explicit. We sometimes can’t even speak about it, we just know it because we do it.

Which brings us back to our photocopiers. And to the work of Julian Orr who worked in the 1990s as a field service engineer in a large corporation specializing in office equipment. He was an ethnographer, interested in understanding how communities of people interact, rather as an anthropologist might study lost tribes in the Amazon. Only his research was in California, down the road from Silicon Valley and he was carrying out research on how work was organized.

He worked with the customer service teams, the roving field service engineers who criss-cross the country trying to fix the broken machine which you’ve just encountered with its ‘Error code 3b76 — please consult technician’ message. Assuming you haven’t already disassembled the machine forcibly they are the ones who patiently diagnose and repair it so that it once again behaves in sweetly obedient and obliging fashion.

They do this through deploying their knowledge, some of which is contained in their manuals (or these days on the tablets they carry around). But that’s only the explicit knowledge, the accumulation of what’s known, the FAQs which represent the troubleshooting solutions the designers developed when creating the machines. Behind this is a much less well-defined set of knowledge which comes from encountering new problems in the field and working out solutions to them — innovating. Over time this tacit knowledge becomes explicit and shared and eventually finds its way into an updated service manual or taught on the new version of the training course.

Orr noticed that in the informal interactions of the team, the coming together and sharing of their experiences, a great deal of knowledge was being exchanged. And importantly that these conversations often led to new problems and solutions being shared and solved. These were not formal meetings and would often happen in temporary locations, like a Monday morning meet-up for breakfast before the teams went their separate ways on their service calls.

You can imagine the conversations taking place across the coffee and doughnuts, ranging from catching up on the weekend experience, discussing the sports results, recounting stories about recalcitrant offspring and so on. But woven through would also be a series of exchanges about their work — complaining about a particular problem that had led to one of them getting toner splashed all over their overalls, describing proudly a work-around they had come up with, sharing hacks and improvised solutions.

There’d be a healthy skepticism about the company’s official repair manual and a pride in keeping the machines working in spite of their design. More important the knowledge each of them encountered through these interactions would be elaborated and amplified, shared across the community. And much of it would eventually find its way back to the designers and the engineers responsible for the official manual.

Orr’s work influenced many people including John Seely Brown (who went on to be Chief Scientist at Xerox) and Paul Duguid who explored further this social dimension to knowledge creation and capture. Alongside formal research and development tools the storytelling across communities of practice like these becomes a key input to innovation, particularly the long-haul incremental improvements which lie at the heart of effective performance.

Tacit Explicit KnowledgeAn important theme which Japanese researchers Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi were aware of and formalised in their seminal book about ‘the knowledge creating company’. They offered a simple model through which tacit knowledge is made explicit, shared and eventually embedded into practice, a process which helped explain the major advantages offered by engaging a workforce in high involvement innovation. Systems which became the ‘lean thinking’ model which is in widespread use today have their roots in this process, with teams of workers acting as communities of practice.

Their model has four key stages in a recurring cycle:

  • Socialization — in which empathy and shared experiences create tacit knowledge (for example, the storytelling in our field service engineer teams)
  • Externalization — in which the tacit knowledge becomes explicit, converted into ideas and insights which others can work with
  • Combination — in which the externalized knowledge is organized and added to the stock of existing explicit knowledge — for example embedding it in a revised version of the manual
  • Internalization — in which the new knowledge becomes part of ‘the way we do things around here’ and the platform for further journeys around the cycle

CoPs are of enormous value in innovation, something which has been recognized for a long time. Think back to the medieval Guilds; their system was based on sharing practice and building a community around that knowledge exchange process. CoPs are essentially ‘learning networks’. They may take the form of an informal social group meeting up where learning is a by-product of their being together; that’s the model which best describes our photocopier engineers and many other social groups at work. Members of such groups don’t all have to be from the same company; much of the power of industrial clusters lies in the way they achieve not only collective efficiency but also the way they share and accumulate knowledge.

Small firms co-operate to create capabilities far beyond the sum of their parts — and communities of practice form an excellent alternative to having formal R&D labs. John Seely Brown’s later research looked at, for example, the motorcycle cluster around the city of Chongquing in China whose products now dominate the world market. Success here is in no small measure due to the knowledge sharing which takes place within a geographically close community of practice.

CoPs can also be formally ‘engineered’ created for the primary purpose of sharing knowledge and improving practice. This can be done in a variety of ways — for example by organizing sector level opportunities and programs to share experience and move up an innovation trajectory. This model was used very successfully in, for example, the North Sea oil industry first to enable cost-reduction and efficiency improvements over a ten-year period in the CRINE (Cost reduction for a new era) program. It resulted in cumulative savings of over 30% on new project costs and as a result a similar model was deployed to explore new opportunities to deploy the sector’s services elsewhere in the world as the original North Sea work ran down.

It can work inside a supply network where the overall performance on key criteria like cost, quality and delivery time depends on fast diffusion of innovation amongst all its members. One of Toyota’s key success factors has been in the way in which it mobilizes learning networks across its supplier base and the model has been widely applied in other sectors, using communities of practice as a core tool.

CoPs have been used to help small firms share and learn around some of the challenges in growth through innovation — for example in the highly successful Profitnet program in the UK. It’s a model which underpins the start-up support culture where expert mentoring can be complemented by teams sharing experiences and trying to help each other in their learning journeys towards successful launch. And it’s being used extensively in the not-for-profit sector where working at the frontier of innovation to deal with some of the world’s biggest humanitarian and development challenges can be strengthened by sharing insights and experiences through formal communities of practice.

At heart the idea of a community of practice is simple though it deals with a complex problem. Innovation is all about knowledge creation and deployment and we’ve learned that this is primarily a social process. So, working with the grain of human interaction, bringing people together to share experiences and build up knowledge collectively, seems an eminently helpful approach.

Which suggests that next time you are thinking of taking a chainsaw to the photocopier you might like to pause — and maybe channel your energies into thinking of ways to innovate out of the situation. A useful first step might be to find others with similar frustrations and mobilize your own community of practice.

You can find a podcast version of this here

If you’d like more songs, stories and other resources on the innovation theme, check out my website here

And if you’d like to learn with me take a look at my online course here

Image credit: FreePik

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

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

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

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

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

  1. You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing — by Robyn Bolton
  2. Importance of Measuring Your Organization’s Innovation Maturity — by Braden Kelley
  3. 3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers
    — by Robyn Bolton
  4. Four Lessons Learned from the Digital Revolution — by Greg Satell
  5. Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry? — by Teresa Spangler
  6. Why Good Job Interviews Don’t Lead to Good Job Performance — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  7. Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups — by Soren Kaplan
  8. Why Diversity and Inclusion Are Entrepreneurial Competencies
    — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  9. The Seven P’s of Raising Money from Investors — by Arlen Meyers, M.D.
  10. What’s Next – The Only Way Forward is Through — by Braden Kelley

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

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

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

Have something to contribute?

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

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

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The Power of Praise

The Power of Praise

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

Praise happens when you tell someone they did something wonderful. Praise is virtually free and almost the most powerful force in the universe.

When you tell someone what they did was amazing, they stand three inches taller. Right in front of you, they get taller. They grow. They expand. Don’t believe me? Try it. And bring a ruler.

To deliver praise, you must pay attention. You must invest in what’s going on, you must hear what is said, and watch what is done. Congratulations. Though you have yet to deliver praise, you’ve already differentiated yourself. Next, you must compare the behavior against the norms and recognize a difference. Sure, it’s a simple difference calculation, but it’s a calculation that takes attention and caring, which in today’s rat race are in short supply. Now, you must find words the right words to describe the specialness of the behavior-why it’s different and why it matters. Then, you’ve got to deliver it in a way that is worthy of the specialness.

Deliver praise in public and be specific. This person (use their name) did (say what they did) and it’s important because (and say why it is important). And tell people what you think and feel. They (use their name) did (say what they did) and I feel (e.g., happy, excited, proud) because (tell them why you feel as you do). Feel free to steal that script, but if you do, stick to it because it’s a good one.

A rule: If you don’t praise people, you don’t know what you’re doing.

But here’s the thing about praise. If you fake it, you bring about its opposite. When you fake it, people get smaller and they get angry. They get smaller because they know they are being patronized. And they get angry for the same reason. So, a word of caution. If you deliver paise that’s fake, you will lose all credibility with the recipient and anyone in earshot. And it’s such a violation of their dignity, I don’t know a way to resurrect their trust. In short, if you fake it, it’s over for you.

Another rule: If you have the urge to deliver fake praise, don’t.

Praise is powerful, but in today’s environment is almost extinct. It’s not that praise-worthy behavior is uncommon, rather, the time and attention required to recognize and formally acknowledge praise-worthy behavior is uncommon.

If you want to elevate the performance of a team, praise their behavior. And do it in public. Pay attention and praise. Schedule a meeting, buy the pizza, and praise. Be specific, be genuine, and praise.

Yes, you will spend a lot of money on pizza, and, yes, that is the best return on investment in the universe.

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

Alex and his lion friend” by Tambako the Jaguar is marked with CC BY-ND 2.0.

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Three Ways Technology Improves the Retail Customer Experience

Three Ways Technology Improves the Retail Customer Experience

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

E-commerce hasn’t killed retail—it’s just transformed it.

For years we’ve been hearing that retail is dead, and the rash of store closures in cities across the country would seem to confirm the trend. The local mall no longer serves as a de facto community hub, if it’s even stayed open at all.

Given what we think we know, would it surprise you to learn that retail sales in 2021 were actually up more than 10% over the previous year, topping $4.44 trillion? Although fears of recession loom, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that both personal income and consumer spending continued to rise in June. And while e-commerce may be an unstoppable force, much of this consumer spending is still happening in brick-and-mortar stores.

That said, there’s no question that the retail experience is changing—and must continue to change. E-commerce growth and tech developments, in general, have transformed customer expectations. I always advise my clients to meet customers where they are, and where retail shoppers are right now is standing in an aisle, smartphone in hand, comparing prices and reading online reviews. Technology has become an integral part of the retail experience, and retailers would be fools to ignore that.

Luckily, they aren’t fools. Whether saving their customers time or offering them unique experiences, retailers are incorporating technology to improve the customer experience. Here are three ways they’re doing it:

1. Smart Screens Digitize the In-Store Experience – You probably remember the first time you went to fill your soda cup at your favorite fast-casual spot and found yourself facing a dizzying digital array of fountain soda choices. Smart screens are on the march, and they’re not just in restaurants anymore.

Clothing retailers are using touchscreens to help customers build their wardrobes, while furniture stores use similar tech to let shoppers design rooms in their homes. Smart screens can offer retail customers what they love about online shopping—plentiful product information, eye-catching photos and on-the-spot promotions—in an in-store setting.

Consider the cooler aisle at Walgreens, where high-resolution smart screens from Cooler Screens have transformed the drugstore chain’s fridge and freezer doors. Shoppers no longer have to brave an icy blast—they can see the beverages and frozen treats inside at a glance without even opening the door. Plus, they can get calorie counts and take advantage of instant deals—and soon will also see customer ratings and reviews.

Data showed that 90% of Walgreens customers prefer the new smart screen cooler doors to the traditional kind. For retailers looking to bridge the online/in-store gap, smart screens present the opportunity to both accomplish some point-of-sale digital marketing and enhance the customer experience.

2. Click-and-Collect Services Save Time – Another way retailers are meeting their customers’ hybrid shopping expectations is by beefing up their click-and-collect capabilities. Buying items online and picking them up in person offers consumers the best of both shopping worlds. They can browse a store’s product selection on their desktop or phone, and once their order is assembled, there’s no wait or shipping expense. Curbside pickup goes one better by allowing people to order products online and pick them up without stepping foot in the store.

I admit it’s not rocket science, but I believe that high-quality customer service depends on listening to what customers want, and many of them clearly value this hassle-free shopping experience. The 2022 Click-and-Collect Forecast shows that U.S. buyers will spend $95.87 billion via click-and-collect this year, a 19.4% increase over 2021. Retailers that expand their click-and-collect offerings stand to increase revenue by giving customers more of what they want.

Enabling this experience requires an up-to-date e-commerce website that’s optimized for mobile. Furthermore, retailers will need to achieve seamless integration between their online shopping platforms and on-the-ground operations. Many are already adapting by adding more parking spaces for click-and-collect customers and hiring more personal shoppers to gather orders.

3. Self-Service Improves Convenience – Another thing the e-commerce revolution has changed is customers’ expectations of self-service. From product page to shopping cart to checkout, the typical online shopping experience is a solo affair. While a retail store offers the possibility of assistance from a real person, many shoppers would rather take care of themselves. Smart retailers are using tech to let them.

Digital self-service kiosks help in-store shoppers get their bearings, look up product information, scan prices and see whether the item they want is in stock—and order it on the spot if it’s not. Retailers’ mobile apps enable customers to locate products, read reviews, compare prices and pounce on in-store discounts. By offering the right tech assistance, retailers give their customers a sense of control.

When customers think of self-service, self-checkout is usually the first thing that comes to mind, but even that is evolving. Going beyond the usual “Scan your first item and put it in the bag,” Amazon has launched fully autonomous checkouts. In its Amazon Go stores, customers scan a barcode going in and get charged electronically for purchased items as they leave. Instead of making customers do more work, Amazon employs its “Just Walk Out” technology to make customers’ lives easier and the retail experience friction-free.

Technology has greatly impacted people’s lives, and the retail setting is no exception. Retailers that use tech to improve the customer experience will see increased profit and customer satisfaction. Research has shown that experiences increase happiness more than things, so retailers that can provide both are setting themselves up for success.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

Four Things You Need to Succeed in The Good Place

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You have, no doubt, seen the design squiggle. The ubiquitous scribble is all loopy and knotty in the beginning until it finally sorts itself into a straight line by the end.

It illustrates the design process – “the journey of researching, uncovering insights, generating creative concepts, iteration of prototypes and eventually concluding in one single designed solution” – and its elegant simplicity has led it to be adopted by all sorts of other disciplines, including innovation.

But when I showed it to a client, her immediate response was, “It’s Jeremy Bearimy!”*


And that is how I discovered The Good Place, a sitcom about four humans who die, go to The Good Place, and struggle to learn what it means to be good.

The show, created by Michael Schur of The Office and Parks and Recreation fame, is a brilliant treatise on ethics and moral philosophy. It also contains valuable wisdom about what innovators need to succeed.


With all due respect, “It’s the way it’s always been done” is an excuse that’s been used for hundreds of years to justify racism, misogyny…

Tahani Al-Jamil

This quote was a gut punch from the show’s fourth and final season. As innovators, we often hear people ask why change is needed. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” they proclaim.

But sometimes it is broke, and we don’t know it. At the very least, it can always be better.

So, while “it’s the way it’s always been done” at your company probably (hopefully) doesn’t include racism, misogyny, sexism, and other genuinely horrible things, framing the status quo as an enabler of those horrors is a harsh wake-up call to the dangers of an unquestioning commitment to continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.

Decisions (not just Ideas)

If you’re always frozen in fear and taking too long to figure out what to do, you’ll miss your opportunity, and maybe get sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat.

Jason Mendoza

Even though Jason Mendoza is the resident idiot of The Good Place, he occasionally (and very accidentally) has moments of profound insight. This one to a situation that innovators are all too familiar with – analysis paralysis.

How often do requests for more data, more (or more relevant) benchmarks, or input from more people slow down decisions and progress? These requests are rarely rooted in doubt about the data, benchmarks, or information you presented. They are rooted in fear – the fear of making the wrong decision, being blamed or shamed, and losing a reputation or even a job.

But worse than being wrong, blamed, shamed, or unemployed is missing an opportunity to radically improve your business, team, or even the world. It’s the business equivalent of getting sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat.

Actions (not just decisions)

In football, trying to run out the clock and hoping for the best never works. It’s called “prevent defense.” You don’t take any chances and just try and hold on to your lead. But prevent defense just PREVENTS you from winning! It’s always better to try something.

Jason Mendoza

Jason does it again, this time invoking a lesson learned from his beloved Jacksonville Jaguars.

Few companies publicly admit to adopting a prevent defense, even though most companies engage in it. They play prevent defense when they don’t invest in innovation, focus exclusively on maintaining or incrementally improving what they currently do, or confine their innovation efforts to events like hackathons and shark tanks.

Incremental improvements and innovation theater keep you competitive. But they won’t get you ahead of the competition or make you a leader in your industry. In fact, they prevent it by making you feel good and safe when you’re really just running out the clock.


Come on, you know how this works. You fail and then you try something else. And you fail again and again, and you fail a thousand times, and you keep trying because maybe the 1,001st idea might work. Now, I’m gonna and try to find our 1,001st idea.


It’s hard to explain this quote without sharing massive spoilers, so let’s just say that The Good Place is an experiment that fails. A lot.

But it’s also an experiment that generates profound learning and universe-altering changes, things that would not have been possible without the failures.

Yes, smart innovators know when to kill a project. They also know when to try one more time. Wise innovators know the difference.

One final bit of wisdom

Innovation is hard. You will run into more resistance than expected, and things will rarely work out as planned. As long as you keep trying and learning, you won’t fail.

To paraphrase Jason Mendoza (again), you’re not a failed innovator, you’re pre-successful.

*For those of you who are, like I was, unfamiliar with Jeremy Bearimy, here’s a clip explaining it (WARNING: SPOILERS)

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

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What’s Next – The Only Way Forward is Through

What's Next - The Only Way Forward is Throughby Braden Kelley

The world needs you. The United States needs you. Your family needs you.

Both your heart and your mind are needed to work on potentially the greatest innovation challenge ever put forward.

What is it?

We must find a solution to the division and lack of meaning that has become the American experience.

I’m not sure about the country you live in, but here at home in the United States we are more divided than we have been in a long time – if ever. People are feeling such an absence of meaning and purpose in their lives that they are finding it in opposing ‘the other’.

In the most extreme cases, we are so divided that brothers and sisters, and parents and children are no longer speaking with each other or getting together for holiday meals.

We speak often about the importance of diversity of thought, diversity of group composition for innovation, but when a society reaches a point where people cannot productively disagree and debate their way forward together, innovation will inevitably begin to suffer.

When there is no dialogue, no give and take and a culture begins to emerge where opposition is mandatory, progress slows.

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

As long as the current situation intensifies, there will be no progress on other areas in desperate need of innovation:

  • Climate change
  • Gender equity
  • (Insert your favorite here)

We all need your help creating the idea fragments that we can connect as a global innovation community into meaningful ideas that hopefully lead to the inventions that will develop into the innovations we desperately need.

The innovations that will move social media from its current parallel play universe to one which actually encourages productive dialogue.

The innovations that will help people find the renewed sense of meaning and purpose that can’t be found making Sik Sok videos, watching other people play video games on Kwitch or investing in cryptocurrency pyramid schemes.

Meaning of Life Quote from Braden Kelley

Our entrepreneurs have made a lot of cotton candy the past couple of decades and people are starving, people are hangry.

There are certain constants in the human condition, and when we as a species stray too far away, it creates huge opportunities for innovators to create new things that will bring us back into balance.

But we can’t ignore where we are now.

We must acknowledge our current situation and fight our way past it. The only way forward is through.

As a thought starter, here is an ad campaign from Heineken from 2017:

We need everyone’s help to address the meaning crisis.

We need everyone’s help to bring America (and the rest of the world) back into productive conversation and connection – to end the division.

Are you up to the task?

Are you ready to help?

Let’s start the dialogue below and get that pebble rolling downhill in the winter, gathering snow as it goes.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments on:

  • other great thought starters
  • good idea fragments to build on
  • the way through

And last, but not least …

Join me November 17, 2022 in New York City to explore What’s Next at an intentionally intimate event limited to only 100 participants with unprecedented access to ten amazing business thought leaders. For details on the event and to see the speaker lineup, please visit:

Image credit: Pixabay

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Leveraging Opposition to Drive Change Forward

Leveraging Opposition to Drive Change Forward

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Clearly, we live in a time of great flux. First, #MeToo, then Covid-19 and now a new racial consciousness in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The most important task for leaders over the coming years will be to guide their organizations through change. Make no mistake, it won’t be easy. Important changes always encounter staunch resistance.

In Cascades, I researched dozens of change efforts ranging from historic turnarounds at major corporations like IBM and Alcoa, to political revolutions like the color revolutions in Eastern Europe and social movements like the struggle for civil and LGBT rights in America. Every one had to overcome entrenched opposition to succeed.

Yet probably the most impressive strategy for overcoming opposition I came across was how the Serbian movement called Otpor devised a plan to turn arrests to their advantage. The key to their strategy was to study their opposition, anticipate its actions and leverage them for their own benefit. Business leaders can use similar strategies to drive change forward.

Forming a Sense of Identity

Clearly, the threat of arrests poses a significant obstacle to any protest movement. In the case of Otpor, which was working to bring down the brutal Milošević regime, there was not only the threat of incarceration and embarrassment, but serious physical harm. The authorities depended on this fear to keep people in line.

So Otpor set out to make arrests a source of pride rather than fear. Anyone who was arrested got a t-shirt and the more times you were arrested, the better t-shirt you got. Once you were arrested five times, you received the coveted black Otpor t-shirt that you could wear to school the next day and impress all your friends.

Many of the transformational change efforts I researched used similar strategies. In his quest to reform the Pentagon from within, Colonel John Boyd gathered around him a passionate group of “Acolytes” which would support each other, help check facts, streamline logical arguments and hone the message of a particular reform plan.

Those who are working to undermine your efforts want to make you feel isolated and alone. Even a seemingly powerful CEO can face a skeptical board, investor community and media. So, the first step is to build a strong sense of identity, which is why even massive transformations tend to start with small groups and build out from there.

Devising an Infiltration Strategy

Whenever you set out to make a significant change, there are going to be some people who aren’t going to like it. Change of any kind threatens the status quo, which has inertia on its side and never yields its power gracefully.

Yet one of the biggest mistakes a change effort can make is to see the opposition as monolithic. While it’s easy to think that anyone who isn’t with you to be against you, the truth is that there are always shades of belief. Some really are dead set against the change you want to bring about, but others are only passively opposed, and most are probably fairly neutral.

One of the Otpor activists’ most brilliant strokes was to see arrests as an opportunity for infiltration because it gave them the opportunity to make friends with the individual police officers, most of whom didn’t particularly like arresting peaceful student protestors. Later, when many of these same officers had to decide whether to shoot into the crowd or join the movement, they chose the latter.

Make no mistake. To drive any kind of change forward you need to bring people in who don’t immediately agree with you. Transformation is never really top down or bottom up, but moves side to side. You don’t create change just by rallying your supporters, but by breaking through higher thresholds of resistance to bring in others.

Let Your Opponents Overreach and Send People Your Way

While Otpor’s infiltration strategy was highly effective, it didn’t solve the problem of arrests. Peaceful activists were still being taken in and, in many cases, abused. No amount of respectful behavior and playful banter could fully inoculate the activists from the reality that at least some of the police officers enjoyed terrorizing them.

Yet here too, Otpor found ways to use the situation to their advantage. First, every activist had the local Otpor office on speed dial. When someone got arrested, they pressed the button on their phones and their colleagues immediately knew that an arrest was under way. Which set into motion a number of actions.

First, lawyers were called to ensure that the rights of the activists would be protected. Then, a protest would be organized outside the police station and the media would be notified. An affiliate group, “Mothers of Otpor,” would show up and demand to know why their sons and daughters were being persecuted and abused.

So instead of arrests embarrassing the protestors, they embarrassed the regime. Every time it arrested an Otpor activist, it was subjected to a media barrage that showed peaceful protests outside police stations including not only well-behaved activists, but their mothers demanding to know why the regime was terrorizing their children.

Once your opposition senses that you are gaining traction, they will tend to lash out and send people your way. In my research, I’ve been truly amazed at how consistent this behavior is. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an activist executing peaceful protests, a change agent trying to scale an important program or simply someone trying to win a consensus in a meeting. Getting your opponents to overreach will often be the thing that breaks the logjam and brings change about.

Learning To Love Your Haters

Every transformational change starts with a heartfelt sense of grievance, and it doesn’t take a brutal regime to arouse passions. The need to adopt a new technology, transform a business model or shift an organizational culture, can be just as emotional as a political movement like Otpor. So it can be incredibly frustrating when people stand in the way of change.

Yet in my research, I found that successful change efforts didn’t demonize their opposition, they learned from them. In some cases, those that resisted change had good reasons and helped point out flaws in the plan. In other cases, by engaging in dialogue, they helped identify shared values and a common purpose.

The genius behind Otpor’s arrest strategy is that it made a distinction between the institution of the regime and the humanity of the police officers who were just trying to do their job and go home to their families at night. It was that insight that led them to engage with the individual officers, joke with them and get to know them on a personal basis.

And that’s the lesson we can learn, whether we are working to transform an organization, an industry, a community or society as a whole. Those that oppose us often feel just as passionately about their cause as we do ours. We overcome opposition not by overpowering it, but through identifying shared values and attracting others to our side.

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

What's Next - New York City on November 17 2022

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