- Kit thought that innovation stemmed from technology, newbies AND customers;
- Lucy thought it was all about execution;
- Jerry echoed Steve Job’s famous saying that “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them”. (Apple again!);
- Joanna highlighted the fact that we can become swamped by the choices that we all face, so that we don’t know what we want;
- Brian made a great distinction between inventors and designers (very close to my heart);
- Ryan complained of Apple’s cables and pop-ups and vented his frustrations about spellcheckers and such; and
- James made a very insightful point “Customers are certainly a good source of innovation, but I read somewhere one of the gurus suggesting the people who weren’t yet customers, or weren’t customers anymore were even better. A bit more difficult to access, but an interesting thought.”
- Activators – these are people who will initiate the innovative process without worrying about stages or phases.
- Browsers – these are the experts searching for information.
- Creators – The people who produce ideas for the rest of the group. Their function is to ideate.
- Developers – People specialised in turning ideas into products.
- Executors – The people who take care of everything to do with implementation.
- Facilitators – Those who approve the new spending items and investment needed as the (team-defined) innovation process moves forwards.
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.
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!
New Year: A Dialogue
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1909)
THE NEW YEAR:
THE NEW YEAR:
THE NEW YEAR:
THE NEW YEAR:
THE NEW YEAR:
Wishing all readers of Thursday Thoughts
Good Cheer, Hope, Success, Good Health and Love in 2016
….on this, the last Thursday of 2015!
Poem by Clinton Scollard
Had I the power
To cast a bell that should from some grand tower,
At the first Christmas hour,
A jubilant message wide,
The forged metals should be thus allied:-
No iron Pride,
But soft Humility, and rich-veined Hope
Cleft from a sunny slope;
And there should be
And silvery Love, that knows not Doubt nor Fear,
To make the peal more clear;
And then to firmly fix the fine alloy,
There should be Joy!
A very happy Christmas
and Joyful New Year
to all readers of Thursday Thoughts!
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!
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!
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?
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!
Yesterday I flew from the UK to Germany to have the first meeting this year with a client that I last worked for ten years ago. Getting up at 4.00am and struggling through the security gates which reminded me of a cattle ranch and then twisting and turning through the duty-free glitter path that is the only way to get to the plane at Stanstead Airport, I took a short 20-minute taxi ride to the client’s office that turned out to be more expensive than the flight itself! It was a beautiful day and I had a good two hours before the meeting to walk down memory lane. I needed to make sure I was energised and that my mind was clear.
The most surprising thing for me was that the client faced pretty much exactly the same challenges that they faced when I was last there. It was like seeing an old friend in the street that I had not seen for a while and saying “Wow! You haven’t changed a bit!” They were stuck in a rut. And what is more, they acknowledged the fact. It got me thinking: how difficult it is for all of us (and large organisations in particular) to adapt and change.
Whilst chatting to a friend today, the exact same thought arose in a different way. We were reflecting on what we had achieved in 2015 and what 2016 holds in store for us. Like wine, we tend to describe the past year as a “good year” or a “difficult year” or even an “annus horribilis” – depending on what has happened.
I think I would call 2015 a year of transition. What one word would describe this year for you?
Yet another friend said that their work has gone very well in the past year (to the detriment of everything else) and that he was way off on the objectives he had set himself which were to spend more time with his family. Success is both personal and relative – not just from individual to individual – but also in terms of the emphasis we put on specific relationships and projects. Everything has an opportunity cost associated with it. Life is a balancing act.
For example, in the first six months of this year, I became very distracted by a project which meant that I took my eye off the ball for several other things in my life – both personal and business. Setting a balanced set of aims and objectives at the start of the year is so important. Reflecting on the objectives that I set myself at this time last year, I completely underestimated the passion that I had for this unplanned distraction.
Understanding the dependencies and trade-offs that need to be made is so important. Yet we are emotional creatures and can often be overtaken by distractions and unpredictable events that come at us from stage left. Planning for unexpected turns is also important. As the great Peter Drucker said: “It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.”
But perhaps the most difficult thing in all of this is to break old habits. This is the case with my client in Germany – and is also so true of myself as we move into 2016. In order to change, you need to jump out of an existing pattern and create a new pattern – like the goldfish jumping from one bowl into another in the picture.
Some say that if you practice a new habit for 30 days, then it will stick. I tried that by giving up alcohol for 6 weeks in mid-October. Those friends who got a bit worried need concern themselves no more! I started again last week. Which just proves that the 30-day rule doesn’t work!
The creation of a new habit requires the displacement of other habits that you need to stop. And it needs to happen so that the new pattern becomes unconscious behaviour. Yet, when you jump to a new habit pattern, it can be quite lonely for a while.
Unless you can create a substitute pattern that is more fulfilling and purposeful, the tendency is to jump back to what is familiar. All the 12-step programmes understand that. The first step is always to admit that you are powerless to the particular addiction or pattern. In doing so, you become conscious of it and can change it.
Think about it. Which patterns do you want to dissolve or move away from in 2016 to give yourself more time to do the things you really want to do? What entrenched (perhaps unconscious) patterns do you want to jump out of? Write them down and share them with a close friend or relative. Get some support on the shift to a new pattern. It is much easier like that!
That’s what I hope to do with my German client. Given that they are conscious and want to change, we will start by describing the new fish tank. All the good things about the new environment and the benefits of being there. Then finding one or two fish that will make the first jump. A bit like “Finding Nemo”. The good news is that there are plenty of fish to choose from and I believe that, 10 years on, the temperature in the current tank is a bit too warm for comfort.
Please comment if you see any other analogies or have any relevant stories to tell! In particular, let us know what patterns you want to jump out of and let us know how you are thinking of doing it!
The arguments raged for ten hours in the House of Commons. The vote was cast. The MPs agreed by a sizeable majority that it was a good thing to let the Royal Air Force bomb Syria. A few hours later, the Tornado Jets were set loose like the dogs of war.
The rest of the country stood by like a confused onlooker. Whatever your beliefs, whatever your fears, however good your knowledge of the situation: none of those would count. In May, the UK’s democratic system transferred our voting rights for another five years to a bunch of elected MPs to take nearly all decisions on our behalf. We’ll all get a vote on whether or not we want to stay in Europe – but that will be equally confusing too. Just like the Scottish No vote last year.
David Cameron’s timing for the bombing Syria vote was lucky. The Paris atrocities a couple of weeks ago certainly added considerable weight to the case. His party held the line, and increased a narrow Tory majority by doing whipping deals with selected allies and the vote for the “ayes” was further buoyed-up by the schism in the Labour party. So the “ayes” had it and the NATO alliance held together because that’s what allies do. Stick together in hard times.
What other solutions were put forward? What other creative ideas were framed? What other, more effective ways of preventing further bloodshed were considered? What were the real options to stop further escalation the a tit-for-tat of a bomb in a beach resort or another vulnerable European city versus drone attacks and bombing raids on strategic Daesh targets in Syria?
I remember visiting Beirut for a day in 1978. I was in transit from Egypt to Cyprus. Middle East Airlines put me up for a free night in a four-star hotel as part of the deal of flying via their country. It was a great deal for the penniless student that I was at the time. I took a taxi around the central part of the city on the way back to the airport. On every street corner there was a burned-out armoured car and a different faction guarding their patch. Nothing much seems to have changed since then.
The UN Climate Change Conference, which started in Paris this week, has given some hope that we might be reaching a level of consciousness that understands that climate change is going to continue to hit random parts of the world as a knight moves around in a game of chess. Although ridiculed by some newspapers for his views, I can see the connection that Prince Charles made about climate change causing drought in Syria which in turn causes a shortage of natural resources (like water), which in turn cause a refugee problem in South Eastern Europe. The world is so connected now – more than it ever has been, perhaps. It is the butterfly effect in action.
We need to think differently and organise ourselves differently if we are going to solve the complex problems that the world is currently facing. I used to think that X causes Y was the only way to think. I’m not so sure anymore. Just look at the weather. Everyone’s weather in the world is apparently affected by changes in water temperature just off the West Coast of South America with the El Niño effect. And so it is with international politics and relations: everything is connected.
I’m sure computer modelling and technology can help here – but we need a lot more than “big data” and analytics and advanced aerial killing machines directed from many thousands of miles away to solve these problems. In particular, we need to understand that each of the world’s primitive fragile systems of fresh water, clean air, natural energy resources and inhabitable land are themselves so interconnected that together they will have the greatest impact on the world’s population migration and quality of life of all of us in the coming twenty to thirty years. Southern Europe is currently under siege from migrants who themselves are refugees from a part of the planet that is fast burning-up. Areas which have traditionally sustained life, but which can no longer do so.
What to do? Commentary by analysts simply isolate the issues. Linking them together does not seem to happen so much. It might be my associative mind, but the inter-dependencies BETWEEN the systems mean that the gaps between the systems might just hold the answers. As regular readers will know, one of my favourite expressions is that: “the answer lies in the space between”.
On first glance, it was very encouraging to see Mark Zuckerberg give up 99% of his fortune to charitable causes. Line up all the rich kids and strip them of 99% of their fortunes. Job done! Yet, reading between the lines, the vehicle Zuckerberg will use will be a limited liability partnership (LLP), not a charitable foundation. The LLP will be allowed to lobby, make a profit and won’t have to give away a pre-determined amount of cash to other charities every year. Smart man, Zuckerberg. Maybe he is onto something.
It is time to think afresh about how we take decisions and how we control the excesses – whether they be banking bonuses, lobbying for vested interests or pollution. Relying on individual human nature won’t solve these problems. Traditional economically-driven regulation won’t hack the course either. The current systems are so stuck in the past; they need a complete rethink.
Waging war by throwing deadly flying machines at an enemy who can only fire back with machine guns and suicide bombers will only dig us deeper into the proverbial. It may well take Zuckerberg, Gates and a few others with purposeful family-centric LLPs to crack many of the problems that our more outdated institutions have failed to solve.
Then again, I suppose that rich families and the dynasties that they create have always ruled the world. All other structures are impermanent, insignificant or mouthpieces of the ruling classes. Mr Zuckerberg for President, anyone?
Last week we explored what it was to be “on purpose”. The various meanings of the word and the importance of living a purposeful life or working within a purposeful organisation. It has been very encouraging that so many readers have commented on the post and that the ideas resonated with many of you so well. Thank you also for the feedback: it is always welcome! I wish you all success in thinking more about what it is to lead a more purposeful life and continuing the quest to find more meaning in it and in the work you do.
This week I want to deepen that thinking and explore the relationship between purpose and the main aims (or goals) that cause us to line-up the activities that we perform as we go about our day-to-day lives both at home and at work. I believe that this process is at the heart of what it is to be successful. Indeed, success is a very personal and subjective thing. Sure, others might judge your success – but that is by THEIR opinion, not yours. It is important to shape the factors that will make you successful by moulding them out of what you are and what you want to be. Sourced from your passions and purpose, as it were.
It is a perfect time of the year to look back and look forwards. Particularly as today in Thanksgiving in the Americas. Even if you are not from that part of the world, it is a useful exercise to be grateful for all that has happened to you in the past year and for the friendships and experiences you have had.
At the same time, it is also worth looking forwards. Thinking about the habits that you want to grow, or the ones that you want to release. Thinking about the ideas or relationships you want to nurture and the ones you want to celebrate or change.
There is an old phrase “Ready, Aim, Fire” that covers the stages you go through when firing an arrow at a target. For a bit of amusement, I decided to reverse the order of these three steps to see what new thinking might emerge. It ended up as “Fire, Aim, Ready”. Not a very significant sequence of events if you want to hit a target, you might think.
But wait! What if we use the word “Fire” in some slightly different meanings: FIRE that you are fired-up by – or FIRE when you have a “burning platform” that needs immediate attention – or FIRE when we fire someone from work or a relationship.
If you write down your purpose and underneath put the three or four things that are firing you up at the moment or that they need immediate attention, then FIRE becomes a good first step to deciding the few things on which you should focus. Either because they are important (as in fired-up) or because they are urgent (as in burning platform) or else you want to be rid of it (as in “you’re fired”). What few things do you want to add, act on urgently or get rid of in your life? For me, I have a bonfire worth of business books that have been lying up against the wall on the landing for the past year!
By listing-out these few aims (or goals) and then understanding what sort of change is needed in your life, you can then try to envisage what life would be like with more (or less) of the factor. New role at work, more time with family, change-out the car, less time tripping over books. That sort of thing.
At this stage, it is so important to write these ideas down on a bit of paper. Sure, a computer will do, but somehow writing them down on paper and referring to them on a regular basis helps speed the process to achieving the aim – and either adding to or subtracting from the fire! They need to be the bigger things in your life. Otherwise, you will bury yourself in a long to-do list. If this happens, try to pick the top five or six ideas and work on them.
If nothing else, by doing this exercise in the next few days, you will be in a better position to shape your ideas, projects and activities as we move into 2016 and be ready to design some bold, boring or fun New Year’s resolutions over the next few weeks ahead of the rush. Typically, in the past, I have jotted my resolutions down on a paper napkin with a hangover from the holiday period on 1st January and then throw them out with the rest of the excess paper a few days later! It is only in the past few years that I have become a bit more disciplined – but I still have a way to go.
Writing out your aims and then having the discipline to review them regularly reaps the rewards. Not least, by the above definition of success, you will be much more effective in aligning your activities to your purpose and living a more fulfilling life!
Next week we will focus on how you can measure your aims (or goals) by breaking each one into a series of defined objectives. Not only will this allow you to envision more clearly what success looks like, but it will also let you recognise success when you arrive at your destination sometime in the future!
If you are interested in digging deeper into these ideas in the New Year – as well as wanting some help to accelerate success in achieving your aims and objectives, then please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you some additional information in December.
And to add a Zen-like koan at the end of all of this just to get you thinking even harder (or not at all):
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
Oh, and some of you have kindly asked about my friend’s planning application that I wrote about two weeks ago. The inquiry has been adjourned until 21st December – so we might well not know the outcome until the New Year – but I’ll keep you posted when I know the result!
Picture the scene. A young child who has done something wrong. A parent standing tall over the child looking on in disgust or anger. The young child cowering, knowing that they should not have done it – whatever the act was. The parent erupting: “You did it on purpose, didn’t you?”
Doing something on purpose, in this case, is doubly bad. It adds to the criminal act because it was “on purpose”. It is the difference between manslaughter and premeditated murder. Somehow, when a crime is committed, when it is done “on purpose”, then it is so much worse and carries a heavier penalty.
Picture another scene. A company gets amazing results. Profits are up. Revenues are up. The workforce has high morale. The CEO is asked: “Why are you are doing so well? How did you make so much profit” He or she answers “Our primary objective isn’t to make a profit – although it is nice to make a profit so we can develop better services for you. The main reason that we are doing so well is that we are all in service for a higher purpose”.
Think of some recent technology successes: Google and Apple. Each one highly profitable, yet much more importantly, each one serves a higher purpose. “Do no evil”. “Putting a ding in the Universe”. Interestingly, in its early days, Microsoft had the mission of putting “a computer on every desk and in every home”. In 2013, Microsoft changed its mission to “morph from a software company to a devices and services company”. In doing so, their purpose became clouded (literally) in confused corporate-speak and financial engineering. As soon as the purpose (or mission) is framed in terms of profit or puts shareholder returns above everything else, the writing is on the wall that the organisation to become less successful.
Such a powerful phrase it is, then. “On Purpose”. It shows premeditated intent. Driven by purposeful desire, it can create extraordinarily beautiful things. It also drives people to follow great leaders – not because of the ego or personality of the leader, but because the whole tribe/team/organisation believes in a higher purpose beyond the power of a single human being. It is why great religions have such enormous followings. Abraham, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed. Each, in their own way, started a religion which today still have many followers.
Purpose also drives revolution and could be seen as the lifeblood of change. The events in Paris last week were a tragedy, attacking the French libertarian belief system to its core. The repercussions are still to be played out in terms of hardening European borders, increasing the checks on people travelling to and from Europe as well as the need to control the mass migration to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. In some cases, it is a cash of ideas, ideals and purposeful intent. In another, it is driven by a desire to find a better life for yourself and those who depend upon you.
However hard it is to imagine a cause is so strong for someone to want to blow themselves up in martyrdom, history shows that there is nothing new to such an extreme act. Religions are full of martyrs – often given god-like attributes after their demise. For someone to die “on purpose” or in total alignment with their belief system is somehow at the extreme end of heroism and martyrdom.
Back to the first scene that I started with at the start of this piece. What is most interesting is whether you saw yourself as the child, the parent or an onlooker? Think about it!
At an individual level, many of my close friends in their late forties or early-mid fifties are in transition from a full-time career in corporate life to a much less secure “portfolio career” in post-corporate life. Is it at times like this that you really do question your own purpose in life. You think “what is this all about?”. “Why did I spend over 10/20/30 years working for such-and-such a cause and end up with …..?” It is a time for reflection and searching for a deeper meaning in your own life so that it can become more purposeful.
In thinking about your own purpose, I like to think of an analogy with the Global Positioning System or GPS. I used to do offshore sailing back in the 1980s and early ‘90s – when the navigation was all based on charts using pencils and compasses and triangulation to work out where you are. How the world has changed! Via the GPS system, you can now know exactly where you are – even if it is thick fog outside. A Guiding Purpose Statement (or GPS) should do the same for you at major transitions in your life.
Over the next few weeks, I am creating a programme to go deeper into some of these ideas. If you would like to find out more, please do email me at: lorne(at)objectivedesigners(dot)com and I will send you an outline of what I am thinking about – plus a few questions that might help us create something that is a bit different and special.
The main purpose is to create a group that can support folk as they transition from a more structured (corporate) part of their lives to a portfolio career where you have to take more personal risks and seek deeper meaning in what it is you do and how you express yourself. I’ve been through it myself – and have some lessons I would like to share – but I am sure many readers will also have equally valid ideas and suggestions to help others through this period of their lives.
By the way, on my search for more meaning and purpose, I have come up with my own GPS: “To help people communicate more effectively”. It helps me to bridge my interests in telecommunications, media, marketing and conversational flow between systems. I’m currently refining it to be a little more tangible, but it will do for the moment. If I can help you in this mission – or, indeed if you can help me become more effective in my mission, please also email me!