The Best Source of Innovation

The news this week that the upwards-ever-upwards iPhone sales are finally stalling was a stark reminder that even the greatest companies struggle to keep the juices of innovation flowing year-on-year.  The Apple Watch couldn’t replace the iPhone and the iCar (if it ever arrives) is still a few years out.

Most companies that I study or consult to are in an innovation crisis.  They know they must innovate in order to remain competitive and keep growing (or simply to stand still).  Yet how often does the innovation agenda become demoted to “novel” efficiency drives and cost-cutting initiatives?

It begs the question: where is the best place to source innovation?  Many of my clients in the telecoms world look to technology suppliers.  They continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of products and services that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  Yet I already have an iPhone 6s.  Why do I want a Plus?  I upgraded from an iPhone 4s to wait for the 6.  I think I’ll hang on until I see something really new and different from Apple.

evolution of lighting, with candle, tungsten, fluorescent , LED

Innovation can come from suppliers – but you can’t really differentiate your company if that is all you rely on.  Such is the fate of many telecoms companies: they continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of product features that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  A price war starts and the cost cutting initiatives cut even deeper.  No, suppliers, are not the best answer.

What about the young folk who have just joined the organisation?  Straight out of University or School, they bring a fresh set of thinking.  They are the next generation!  Surely they hold the answer?  Give them a difficult problem and let them brainstorm their ideas to create something truly whacky.  Too risky, I say!  They will not understand the product and how it is used, yet.  They might come up with some good ideas., but   Good ideas are not the same as innovation.  The newbees are not the best source of innovation either!

So where should we go next?  To customers, of course!  Customers that use (and misuse) your existing products and services!  Customers who suffer day-to-day from trying to work the processes that you have under-designed and waste your customers time and effort.  They are loyal customers until they suddenly vanish.  And if no one contacts them to see where they have gone, then innovation dies on the vine!

Customers are an incredibly cheap this source of innovation, too.  Not just cheap, but very valuable!  By asking a few simple questions of customers every time you interact with them, you can increase your profitability, customer loyalty AND innovation in one fell swoop!

And what are those questions?  Well, you will have to read the next few Thursday Thoughts to find out my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, try and work out what you think they might be and comment below!

Oh, and thank you so much for reading this far.  I hope, at least, it has made you think a bit more about one of the most important aspects of business and human life!

 

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Thinking Outside-In: A Thinking Tool for the Festive Season

Looking at “Major Tim” the Astronaut talking from space on the TV last night, it got me thinking.  How cool it must be to get outside of the earth’s atmosphere and look back down on the earth!

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It triggered another thought.  One particular type of thinking I find very useful is called “Outside-In” thinking.  It takes a perspective of looking at an individual, a family unit or an organisation from the outside looking inwards.  Some call it out-of-the-box thinking.  It is a way of thinking that allows us to step outside of the box and get a more objective perspective on how we fit within each of the social units within we operate.

This type of thinking can also be used in a number of different ways.

Firstly, looking at your the key personal relationships that you have with others:

  • How do you, as an individual, relate to those close around you?  Take stock of what has happened in the past year.  What were the good times and what were the not-so-good times?  How can you build on the good and release the not-so-good?  Which relationships require a little kindness to improve the energy between you both?
  • How do the folk that you care about relate to one another?  How could you assist in strengthening those relationships by listening and understanding both perspectives?
  • It can also be a useful tool to work out what presents they would like to receive.  Think about the last few conversations you have had with them.  Who knows?  They might even have dropped some hints!
A small water drop fall on water surface and jump back before the second one to collide with it.
A small water drop falls on a water surface and jumps back before the second one collides with it.

Secondly, it is useful when looking backwards and planning forwards:

  • What events or activities did you lead and enjoy – and how many others shared in your leadership and enjoyment at the time?  How can you build on these activities in 2016?
  • What themes do you want to improve and carry forwards into 2016 and how can they be accelerated by asking for some outside-in help?
  • List out the challenges you face and work out who do you know who could help tackle some of those challenges in a different or disruptive way.
  • Which activities and themes do you want to wind-down or stop – so that you can create more space for those that you want to build.  Who can you offload the activities onto without losing the overall momentum of the theme?

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Finally, as a tool for improving your business relationships. It is so very powerful when you get direct outside-in feedback from customers, employees, suppliers and business partners:

  • How does the organisation that you work with appear to others?  To customers?  To suppliers?  To those who work for it?
  • What insights can you see that others are blind to?
  • How can you work those into some actions that will help you and the organisation become more effective and be a more enjoyable and rewarding place to work?

So, as we enter the period where we have cleared our desks and are stocking up for the festive season it is worth looking forward to the challenges and projects that we want to take on in 2016 and spend a bit of time thinking outside-in.  I’m sure you will find it useful.  Please do write any thoughts on how else you and others could use this type of thinking.

And good luck to Major Tim and his space travels into 2016!

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The Single Most Important Ingredient for a Great Product Launch

This week’s “Thursday Thoughts” is one in a series on Product Launches – a subject that I find fascinating and so important to growing a successful business.

So, what is the single most important ingredient of a great product launch?  We need to look no further than the film (or movie) industry – and to a quote Shawn Amos:

“Every major summer blockbuster that is released is essentially a product line being launched across multiple verticals. However, the centerpiece of the product launch is a big, beautiful story whose job is to entertain.”

I believe that the single most important ingredient for any successful launch is to frame a “big, beautiful story whose job is to entertain”.  Think about it.  A story that describes a personal journey.  Your personal journey with all the ups-and-downs and trials and triumphs that go to make us all human.

Our Story

And so, in the closing two days of Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula (a once-in-a-year opportunity to see the master in action), Jeff has offered two personal but quite different stories that show how changing the way you think about a product by re-framing it around a product launch can literally transform people’s lives.

The first story is from Barry who overcame a life-changing accident to go on and organise and teach those who make a living from entertaining.

The second is from Shelly – a very different story of a mother trying to juggle the three forces of family, paying work and passion.

Watch the videos and work out what you can learn from each of them.  See how the personal stories create a different way of thinking.  By building your business around a series of launches (and great stories), rather than flogging a me-too product, you can create a new sense of drive and momentum.  Think hard about how you can apply the learnings to (re-)launch your own products and services and create a new sense of purpose and heartbeat to your marketing campaigns.

Of all the research I have done into this area, Jeff’s strategies and teachings are second-to-none.  And it can be applied to book launches too!

If you think that there is value in digging deeper into the Product Launch Formula, then I thoroughly recommend that you sign up for Jeff’s programme – which will only be available for the next day or two.  Otherwise, you will have to wait another year for the offer to come around again!

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Measurement Madness

I met up recently with an old friend. She has decided to give up work in March. The hospital she has worked in for many years as a family therapist was transferred from the private sector to the public sector last year. She is giving up because the (UK) National Health Service (or NHS) that has now taken over the hospital has made the unit a “national asset” and patients are being referred to it from across the country. She can no longer practice as she used to because the patients are disconnected from the families that should support them when they leave hospital care. Costs have also gone up because of the additional remote support that need to be given to both patients and their supporting families.  In addition, she finds the extra “meetings about meetings” and paperwork completely stifling.

It reminded of a similar problem that is embedded within the UK prison system.  It has been proven that offenders are much more likely not to reoffend once they leave prison if they get family support during their term inside. Yet most prisoners are deliberately sent to another part of the country to do their time. Families (often poorer than most) cannot afford regular visits. So the likelihood of prisoners reoffending when leaving prison goes up.

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In each of these cases, I suppose the patient or the prisoner could be seen as the “customer”.  Yet these two state-run systems have been designed without the customer’s requirements (or real needs) in mind. They have been designed at the expense of other measures (such as top-down political targets, reduction in costs etc.)

The current business fads of rationalisation, outsourcing, off-shoring, cost-cutting and factory call-centres seem to have driven traditional sane local business practices and have allowed madness to prevail.

I can’t prove it, but I believe that local, common-sense sanity has to create more flexible, cost effective public services over the prevalent national (or international) managing-by-abstract-measures madness. But that is a very difficult case to prove when big egos, big technology, big politics and big finance have each, in their own way, presented measurement madness as the new religion.

Maybe measurement is, itself, the root cause of the problem. Maybe we should be suggesting a new way to educate the cohorts of ignorant managers and measurers.
Taiichi Ohno would have thought so.  One of his great quotes fits well here:

“People who can’t understand numbers are useless.

The gemba (or real place) where numbers are not visible is also bad.

However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.”

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Lorne at the Lords

I gave evidence at the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications on Tuesday – all about the future of UK Internet Access.

There is  a video of it here:

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Clean Thinking and Clean Language

Have you ever been in a situation where you say something that you regret later? For example,  I was with a close friend the other day trying to “help” her work through some problems.  The suggestions that I made to her were taken the wrong way and the conversation broke down.  Purely because I put too many of my own thoughts into the flow.

It made me think: I wondered whether there was a way we could communicate without putting our own ideas, suggestions and bias forward?  In my research,  I came across a whole system of communication that originates in psychotherapy that allows you to do just that!

The originator of the approach was a guy called David Grove (whom I never met) – who died far too young four years ago in January 2008.  The ideas behind the system have various names – but one of the best-known terms is that of “Clean Language” – popularised in an excellent book published shortly after Grove’s death called “Clean Language” by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees.

Rooted in the idea that we all live with our own very personal, subjective metaphors, the technique allows the person being questioned to explore those metaphors without any judgement or bias from the interviewer  or therapist.

The basics of using Clean Language are simple:

  • Keep your opinions and advice to yourself
  • Listen attentively
  • Ask Clean Language Questions to explore a person’s metaphors (or everyday statements)
  • Listen to the answers and then ask more Clean Language questions about what they have said
If the person being asked the Clean Language questions is seeking to change, then the change can happen naturally as part of the process.  It is not a technique to force change on anyone!  I have found that there are equally useful ways in which to use the method: whether it is gathering information on a project, interviewing someone or asking children about their own worlds that they live in.
In the book there are twelve basic questions in Clean Language with a further 19 “specialised” questions.   However, to get going, other articles refer to the five basic questions which are designed to help clients add detail and dimension to their perceptions:

1. “And is there anything else about [client’s words]?”

2. “And what kind of [client’s words] is that [client’s words]?”

3. “And that’s [client’s words] like what?”

4. “And where is [client’s words]?”

5. “And whereabouts [client’s words]?”

There is a great video on the use of Clean Language in therapy – with some interesting results:

Another strand of this line of research was published in an earlier book “Metaphors in Mind: Transforming through Symbolic Modelling” by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins in 2000.  There is a short two-part article by Lawley on some of these ideas as they apply to organisations which can be found here: Metaphors of Organisation – an angle to this whole work that I find fascinating.  There is also a quote from Gareth Morgan at the start of the article which sums-up some of the ideas:

“All theories of organisation and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that persuade us to see, understand, and imagine situations in partial ways. Metaphors create insight. But they also distort. They have strengths. But they also have limitations. In creating ways of seeing, they create ways of not seeing. Hence there can be no single theory or metaphor that gives an all-purpose point of view. There can be no ‘correct theory’ for structuring everything we do.” 

To open up our thinking, Morgan seeks to do three things:

(1) To show that many conventional ideas about organisation and management are based on a small number of taken-for-granted images and metaphors.

(2) To explore a number of alternative metaphors to create new ways of thinking about organisation.

(3) To show how metaphor can be used to analyse and diagnose problems and to improve the management and design of organisations.

I wish I had known this a month ago before the encounter I described at the beginning of this thought.  The outcome would have been very different, I’m sure.  I’m also very interested to know if you use any of these ideas in the work that you do.  Please comment below if you have any thoughts or observations.  In the meantime, try using clean language in your everyday work and play – it is a really useful tool – even if you are not a fully-trained psychotherapist!  It is so clean it can’t hurt anyone – and can actually be quite fun realising how much of our own “stuff” we put into normal conversation.

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Creating Purpose and Meaning

Following on from the popular RSAnimate video of Dan Pink’s great lecture describing the three attributes that really motivate people: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, I came across an equally impressive piece of work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in this month’s McKinsey Quarterly.  If you don’t already subscribe, it is well worth doing so.

In their recent book, The Progress Principle, Amabile and Kramer uncover the events that allow people to gain deep engagement in their jobs and make progress towards meaningful, purposeful work.  The McKinsey article (How leaders kill meaning at work) highlights four really interesting traps that leaders fall into that prevent the progression towards meaningful work.

These four traps outlined are:

  1. Mediocrity Signals
  2. Strategic “Attention Deficit Disorder”
  3. Corporate “Keystone Cops”
  4. Misbegotten “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAGs)

We all need a higher purpose – and if we cannot find it in our work we do, then we don’t work nearly as well than if we do have one.  The article ends with a simple set of ideas:

“As an executive, you are in a better position than anyone to identify and articulate the higher purpose of what people do within your organization. Make that purpose real, support its achievement through consistent everyday actions, and you will create the meaning that motivates people toward greatness. Along the way, you may find greater meaning in your own work as a leader.”

A bit cheesy, perhaps, but there are some useful case studies in the  article.

My parents founded The HALO Trust – a mine clearance charity that has grown very successfully, over the years.  The purpose of the organisation has remained the same since its inception: “GETTING MINES OUT OF THE GROUND, NOW”.  Very present.  Very simple.  Very effective.  And the motto has really stood the test of time and allows everyone in HALO to focus on a very clear and important purpose.

I am sure that every reader has other interesting stories of their own – both positive and negative – which I would love you to share below!

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What Makes a “Smart” Service

I was fortunate enough to be asked to facilitate a discussion on Tuesday evening at the Savoy on Smart Services. Everything seems to be “Smart” nowadays. Smart Metres, Smart Grids, Smart Cities….. so what about Smart Services?

The debate centred around the rise and rise of multiple devices within the so-called Digital Home and what the implications are on the traditional support channels that phone companies, cable companies, ISPs and device manufacturers provide for their customers.

When asked to wrap-up, I was reminded of the acronym for SMART Objectives which I am sure most readers will have come across some version of:

According to Wikipedia, this acronym was originally coined in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran.

Anyway, I tried to create a simple reminder of the main points of discussion about smart services and put together the following thoughts:

Most are self-explanatory – but the last one was all about creating a service as excellent as the one you might expect from the concierge at the Savoy. Can you match that kind of service with what you do? Makes you think anyway!

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Presence over Process

This week, the bees went to bed for the winter. Fed down with verroa treatment in the hope that most colonies will survive the winter.

I have also had three very different conversations this week about the importance of Business Processes. In each conversation, I came to a different set of conclusions. However, there was one over-riding idea that shone through from each conversation. The obsession with the current process-centric religion in management thinking has actually made many of our service-based organisations less, not more effective and less, not more efficient.

The first conversation came from an experience I had with a US-based hosting company I have used for about ten years. Last year they put SAP into the company. Two months ago the company was sold. The service has been declining for about a year. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The new process involves forcing you to ring a US telephone number which is actually answered by someone in the Phillipines who filters you so they can direct you to the right department. The problem I had involved both Domain Names and Hosting – so I ended up being put through to two departments. In the end I was double-billed and had to ring back a week later to complain – when I went through the same rigmarole – and was sent an email to say I couldn’t reclaim the money because it was against company policy. I rang a third time and finally got through to someone who sorted me there-and-then. Sounds familiar? More like a telephone company? Yes, indeed. I then got hold of the Director for Customer Experience and Process Design on LinkedIn to share my story. He was a Harvard MBA. He saw my profile but ignored me. The company is called Network Solutions.

The second case was with a former colleague whom I had lunch with. He is an aspiring partner at one of the big five consulting practices. He told me he was writing a paper about the importance of process design in telecoms companies. I cited the above story and said that Presence was more important than Process. He looked quizzical. He could not compute. He was not sure how he could implement Presence and make money out of the idea from a consulting assignment.

The final conversation was with an enlightened ex COO of a Telecoms company with whom I had lunch with on Tuesday. He said he was process mad – yet when you listened to his stories of how he managed processes, there was a great deal of practicality and experience blended in with the importance of providing the right information to the right person at the right time to turn customer issues and questions around on the first call.

In the crusade to banish the obsession with Process centricity, I continue to marvel at the bees that I keep. They don’t have crazy processes to waste time. They have developed an approach that balances Process AND Content (or pollen/nectar collection) IN THE MOMENT so that they can respond with far more intelligence than just following a book of rules. Interestingly, the model they use shows that outsourcing is extremely wasteful and makes no sense at all. If you have to hand off, do it only once (not three times like ITIL). The models from the bees also demonstrates the sense of investing in small, agile “cells” of capacity and capability tuned to specific types of demand.

To summarise, I believe it is time to create a new management paradigm based on Presence (modelled much more on the natural world that the bees have developed over 50 million years). It creates a paradigm shift that takes us away from the insanity (or caetextic thinking) of process-obsession and into a new much more organic model based on cells or colonies that can respond to demand of various types a seasonal basis.

Just like the bees do.

I am writing a book on the idea – so expect more like this in future postings.

I have also posted Presence over Process on MIX – The Management Information Exchange – please add comments and vote for the idea there or add your comments here as you wish.  Always valuable!

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