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Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Month: March 2015

The Next Step In Driving Meaningful Innovation

In Sunday’s article “The First Step in Driving Meaningful Innovation“, I discussed the key steps in getting started and that was to focus on outcomes vs the idea and built a team to help vet your ideas.

Once that’s done, what’s the next step in keeping the momentum moving forward?

Well, if you read to the bottom of Sunday’s article, you may have noticed I said I’d be posting the article the next day. That didn’t happen of course, and it doesn’t matter the reason why, but was a fail on my part. This is important, because the next step in meaningful innovation is becoming comfortable with failure.

There’s many ways to do this, typically it’s going out and trying something multiple times, and building on the previous step, could mean taking your concept and beginning to circulate it to a broader audience. Perhaps though, it’s simply a mental exercise accepting that you may fail in what you’re trying to do, and that’s ok, or doing something particularly risky knowing fully well that risk goes hand in hand with failure.

The concept “failing forward” though is important, because it means you didn’t succeed but you’re better off because of the attempt. Whether it’s learning something new about a business situation you didn’t know about, getting first hand experience on the corporate politics of your company, or understanding what not to say in front of a particular executive. The important thing to remember is that a job is something that can be replaced and bosses are people that will come and go in your life, but the experiences you gain from attempting big things sticks with you for life.

Too many people are afraid to fail in a company, because they attach their job to safety and that causes fear – the most powerful motivator in the world – to protect you from going outside of the bounds you feel most comfortable in. This is a problem though, because it’s not the walls that protect your job like a castle but rather keep you penned into your job like a prison. The funny thing is that prisons and castles can be the same building, just depends on the purpose.

The same is true for risk, though too many people use it use risk avoidance as a prison to keep themselves locked into a certain mindset vs embracing risk and protecting themselves from a life of boredom or complacency. The phrase “a rolling stone gathers no moss” couldn’t be more appropriate, given today’s dynamic society, and statistics around how fast jobs and skills are being swapped in and out. The one skill that’ll never go out of style though? Embracing change, and learning to adapt. It’s not a book you read, it’s a muscle you flex and grow.

If you’re pushing meaningful innovation inside your company, you won’t be successful most of the time with most of the people. It’s an uphill battle, where you’ll get people fighting you at many levels of an organization. A corporation has an immune system that rejects a heart transplant, even though it’s the best thing for the company because risk means volatile stock prices and uncertain 3-5 year performance forecasts. However, it’s also the slow boiling heat that cooks the frog, if you take a look at big companies going bust over the past several years. Furthermore, how many start-ups are now bigger than Fortune 1000 companies from 10-15 years back?

Yes, change is inevitable and is a wave that rises those that surf on boards made of meaningful innovation but also washes out those stuck on the beach punching the clock each day hoping they can hide from that very same wave. The most valuable lesson I learned during my time at the Boeing Company, is that lay-offs are largely out of your control and happen when you least expect it, so the most dangerous thing you can do is not stay nimble and flexible to embrace something new if you have to.

Though that may be a broader narrative for life, it’s most important when you throw yourself into an intentionally risky space, like pitching new ideas in a company and stirring up “the way we do things around here”. That takes some mental fortitude, and preparation to get yourself in the mindset of running your own start-up, and having now to go sell and close people in your company on your idea.

Innovation isn’t something you can do once either, it takes 100’s of attempts over time to get good at hearing no, and thinking then about new ways to get to yes. But it’s worth it, you most likely won’t be putting your life at risk (depending on what you’re presenting), and you’ll gain an experience and learn a lesson that you will take forward into your next experience. The most important thing though, is you’ll flex that risk muscle, and get stronger in the face of larger amounts of uncertainty and ambiguous work situations.

I could give you exercises in doing this, but I think you already know 2-3 potentially risky moves you could make that get you out of your comfort zone. Don’t do anything wild and crazy to start if you don’t want to, sky diving probably isn’t a good place to start if you’re scared of heights, but start by jumping off the high dive at your local YMCA pool and work your way up to jumping out of planes. The key here is walking up to that edge, and not being afraid to look over the edge – not becoming the world’s greatest base jumper and taking on risk for risk’s sake – adrenaline junkies are in their own camp with their own set of motivations.

In a corporate environment, it means taking the concept you’ve gotten vetted and focused around outcomes, and getting prepared to start telling people outside of the folks you know and accepting not everyone is going to like it (this is most in line with calculated risks than fool hardy risks throwing something at a wall and hoping it sticks). Then take that idea, refine it, and be prepared for the next step in meaningful innovation – building the prototype.

Stay tuned then, for the next article in the meaningful innovation series, “Effective Ways to Prototype Your Innovative Idea“.

Follow me here on LinkedIn to stay in the loop or via my blog at DanMaycock.com, and share with people you think would care to learn more about what meaningful Innovation could look like – follow me on twitter @DanMaycock to see articles posted on whats possible or drop me a line at dan@transform.digital if you have any questions or doubts around this topic of Innovation that does something measurable and impacting for your company.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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The First Step in Driving Meaningful Innovation

In yesterday’s post “What Lies Between Ideas and Outcomes“, I shared that meaningful innovation was possible and can help shape companies in every aspect but required an intentional approach driven by outcomes and focused on helping shape concepts in ways that drive real impact for the business

The first step then, in heading down this path, is actually two fold

The first part is to stop focusing on the idea itself first off and instead focus on what measurable outcomes you’re going to drive / achieve (ROI, revenue growth, efficiency, etc). Too many innovative ideas out there focus on the technology or process or solution (ex: mobile apps, 3d printing), and not enough on the outcomes that will make the executive leadership shine, along with helping the bottom line of the company itself (ex: greater customer engagement, reduction in prototyping costs).

Once you have a clearly defined outcome, and have thought through what kinds of tangible impacts your concept could produce, then you’re in a much better position to begin discussing it with those outside of your immediate support team. The further you go with your concept as well, the harder it’ll be to get people on board to support you unless it comes with a clear tie in as to how they can be a part of it and/or benefit from it.

Test it with a co-worker or leader you trust inside your organization that has approval authority, and see if it passes the sniff test. Anyone that’s used to working with third party vendors, approving contracts, or negotiating statements of work will have the right level of objectivity to think through push back and whether the outcome focused business case holds water or not.

Once that’s done, then it’s time to take that concept and outcome and build your vetting team

The second part is to incorporate those that would be most against your concept into the process early on. Too often when I talk to groups inside corporations about an innovative new idea they’re working to launch, they talk about wanting to get a strong foundation of support around them before taking the idea outside of their team and launching it companywide. When I ask why they’d take that approach, I’m told of all the groups most likely to shut them down (legal, hr, corporate governance, procurement, etc) because of regulations, budgets, risk, etc.

The problem with that though, is that no one really wants to say no – well some might – but these functions inside of a business are here to help the company, not hinder it. However, when the legal team is brought into a product launch (ex: consumer facing mobile app) or internal initiative (ex: IP accelerator / hackathon) too late in the game, with everything defined, it sends up red flags and questions that could delay or cancel the project after all the time and effort has been placed to get it ready to launch.

Bringing the folks into the room early enough on, that would historically strike something risky and new down, means they’re not only included in the process but can highlight risks that would ultimately get the project shut down further down the line anyways. At the same time, having groups like security or legal giving the green light on new ideas does not hurt your chances for getting executive buy-in as it can greatly reduce the risk as the concept goes through the various hoops for approval.

Vetting isn’t a bad thing, and there are tons of good ideas out there, but getting the right foundation of support doesn’t mean filling a room full of supporters or yes men, or asking people that report to you if your baby is ugly or not (as there will always be some level of bias there) but rather it’s about the hard balls out early and really working through the concept before a lot of time and effort is spent moving the idea forward.

People that traditionally get shut out till the end, will feel included and a member of the team and at the same time you’ll get the benefit and knowledge of seeing the potential land mines before the solution is too far down the path.

Concepts and ideas have a certain level of pride and ownership around them, but you need people that’ll help you see past your bias and tell you the things that people will think down the road but not say.

A good well thought out approach, with a strong outcome, and diverse inputs early on is a far stronger foundation and one less likely to get pushed aside due to the idea being too far out there or not grounded in business realities.

Hope you’ll stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: The Next Step in Driving Meaningful Innovation

Follow me here on LinkedIn to stay in the loop or via my blog at DanMaycock.com, and share with people you think would care to learn more about what meaningful Innovation could look like – follow me on twitter @DanMaycock to see articles posted on whats possible or drop me a line at dan@transform.digital if you have any questions or doubts around this topic of Innovation that does something measurable and impacting for your company.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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What Lies Between Ideas & Outcomes

As part of my journey to do 500 words a day for the next two months (see http://thegeekypress.com/2015/03/06/the-500words-writing-challenge-join-me/) I am starting with a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart, and is the thing I’d say that gets me out of bed in the morning and is the reason for doing what I do so it’ll go a little past 500 words I think.

So many people in the world today are full of good ideas, and have passions and purpose locked within them. Yet, too many people are stuck in a place they don’t want to be doing something they don’t want to be doing, and hope that someday those ideas will come to the surface and manifest themselves into that person’s reality.

Oftentimes, this is a corporate employee working for a company they believe has all the ingredients to be great, but they’re in a job that piles on too much work with decisions swirling around them that gets in the way of their vision for what things could be like. People with ideas on how to make companies better, or projects more effective, or products that work better but are so tired and worn out by the day to day job they have to maintain that they’ve all but given up on ever seeing these ideas come to light.

Some leave to start their own thing, most stay because job security is so important today when someone has people depending on them. And in between the world of ideas and meaningful outcomes that get projects, jobs, and careers sponsored by executives is the need to keep up, stay profitable, and focus on survival. Innovative ideas are bogged down by politics and individual agendas, near term concerns around risky and potentially public blunders, and an uncertain and continually shifting economic landscape.

Meaningful innovation though, stands in that gap and helps those down trodden by this stark reality, and offers up a path to success while bringing both employees and executives along with it. Ideas that can fund themselves, groups within companies that can act like start-ups, and people motivated by passion and purpose to put in the work it takes to shift a company culture in a new direction.

innovation needs the word meaningful, because using the word by itself is often seen as a four letter word by pragmatic leadership focused on what works today with as little risk to the bottom line as possible. It means workshops and sticky notes, far out of the practical reality of profitable and efficient business operation and flies in the face of several years of good corporate governance and MBA-built business models that focus on incremental and sustainable returns vs large bet-the-farm gambles that can take entire companies out with one fell swoop.

Yet inaction and status quo thinking can be the slow heat that eventually cooks the frog, and the signs of this can be seen all around companies across the US. I’ve been a consultant for long enough to see these signs, and wrote a book to try and help people see what’s possible even in the midst of situations where the deck is stacked against them and there isn’t enough time in the day to stay above the fray and think about doing things differently.

Yes, meaningful has to be in there because innovation as a concept isn’t enough today in corporate America – innovation has to do something, and do something meaningful. Whether it’s lowering attrition, improving revenues, or helping more effectively adopt digital technologies. It’s a multi-headed hydra with impacts on every part of a company, and involves a multi-level approach to affect culture, technology, politics, revenues, and leadership. It’s intentional, well thought out, and driven by outcomes that both employees and shareholders care about.

Yes, it’s still risky, but it’s a calculated risk and one meant to not just keep people employed, but put folks on the cover of Forbes and help be a model to competitors around that company wondering what it takes to get ahead vs just keeping up.

If you’re reading this now, and I’ve kept your attention so far, then I hope I’ve kept your attention long enough to share that this is possible and it’s do-able and companies around the world are seeing the impacts of innovation done the right way. If you’re an executive, the next question should be where to start? If you’re an employee, the next question should be where can I learn more? If you’re hopeful about an innovation rich culture, the next question should be what can I do to help?

The good news is, you have many of the answers probably inside you. People that know their own company are the most effective at helping make innovation solutions come to light. The bad news is being that kind of expert can also bias you around what is or is not possible.

Stay tuned though, and in the coming weeks I’ll share more about this possible reality and how your company can begin to see the kinds of effects that get recruits excited, employees passionate, and competitors envious. It starts though, with you accepting this is possible and willing to sign up for the challenge of helping drive meaningful innovation where you work.

Tomorrow’s entry: The first step in driving meaningful innovation

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