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Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Category: Innovation Topics (page 1 of 2)

Topics related to Innovation

How to Sell People on Really Big Ideas

I was recently talking to someone about his plans to launch a new concept focused on data analytics in the B2B space. He walked me through his models, his research, and all the great ideas he had on where he wanted to go.

I felt like he wasn’t going to be successful, though, because through most of the meeting, he talked to me in a monotone his head down. He didn’t have the kind of jump-out-of-your-seat enthusiasm or passion behind his idea that made me say “Wow, this really is something different.” And sadly, when it comes to breaking people out of their patterns, passion matters more than ability.

Investors may say it’s all about the numbers, and that’s true. It’s table stakes. However, if an investor doesn’t think you can sell the product, or yourself, then getting the cash is going to be a long shot.

If you’ve ever sold something or been sold to, you understand what I mean. The person that comes in with enthusiasm, whether it’s a TED talk or a sales pitch, will often surpass people with more knowledge and abilities. If you’re telling me something is amazing, I want to feel like you’re amazed by it yourself. If you’re telling me something is revolutionary, I expect you’ll show that in your body language.

A failure to connect with your audience is often a question of your emotional state, of how you interact or don’t interact, and how much enthusiasm you’re able to communicate to get other people excited as well.

Here are some tips then, on how to surface passion when it comes to launching something new and innovative–no matter how much of an introvert you might be.

1. Develop questions, not lecture notes.

When it comes to a conversation on a concept no one in the room has heard of before, don’t go in with a 50-slide PowerPoint deck. Instead, focus on preparing good questions ahead of time about the audience’s pain points and other things that matter to them. If you have a strong context for your audience, you’ll be able to adapt the pitch around them.

2. Don’t talk about the product or solution, talk about the problem you’re solving.

Anyone, from an investor to an executive to the person selling flowers on the corner, would give you a dollar if the person knew he or she would get two dollars back. Since there’s no such thing as a sure bet, it takes trust and confidence to get people to part with time or money. The only way you make that connection is by helping them see how they make two dollars by spending less, or by your helping them generate more. Assume your audience knows more about their business than you do, and focus on solving the pain points that are in their way to save money or generate revenue. If your product does neither of those things, you’re probably pitching the wrong people.

3. Numbers matter, but save it for the ask.

If you’re pitching investors, numbers are king. If you’re selling an executive on the benefits of your platform, you’re going to have to quantify that in some way. Passion does matter most, but it’s a nonstarter if you don’t have numbers to back up what you’re saying.

4. Practice, practice, practice.

Passion often comes through when we are feeling our most confident. To get there, practice how the pitch going to go. Get your questions down and your talking points committed to memory. Recite whatever good-luck quotes, prayers, or mantras to feel relaxed enough to pivot in the moment.

If you do these things, you’ll not only connect with your audience more effectively but also feel better coming out of the meeting, nine times out of 10, a great feeling in and of itself.

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3 Ways to Ensure That Your Idea Takes Root

When it comes to ideas, most disappear in the first hour they’re created because bringing something into the world takes serious effort. But no new thing can exist without real determination, struggle, and the effort of multiple people to see something come to life and flourish. Yet, some of the world’s best ideas disappear as quickly as they’re thought of because people shoot themselves down before telling another person what they’re thinking.

The simple truth is that often times our ideas don’t even get past the first handful of people because negative feedback is taken as justification to not do anything with the idea. What should happen of course, is that you take that feedback as a means to improve your idea and continue to iterate til it takes root.

How to do that though, can be easier said than done. Here then, are just a handful of steps that should help:

Tip #1 – Don’t let criticism get to your head

There are many successful people today living exciting lives built on their ideas, who had to fail at getting traction several times before they succeeded at getting their ideas to take off.

  • Akio Morita’s first rice cooker sold fewer than 100 units, because it burned the rice instead of cooking it. You may not have heard of him, but you’ve probably heard of his company, Sony.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor, because the editor felt “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas”
  • During his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh only managed to sell one painting but painted 800 anyway, during his lifetime.

The potential and ideas were there in each of these people all along the way. These ideas they had just had to either go through several iterations, or wait until everyone around them caught onto the idea themselves. In each case though, these people refused to let the ideas and concepts they had die at the hands of themselves or anyone else they encountered along the way. That’s what separated them from people with good ideas who you and I haven’t ever heard of before.

Just like getting a car out of a ditch, it takes real effort to get your idea moving initially until it takes off on its own momentum. Be careful to not be your own worst enemy, by failing to get the idea off the ground because you weren’t willing to conquer your own fears and insecurities to get the idea on paper and begin sharing it with people, while using that feedback to refine / shape the idea along the way.

Tip #2 – Don’t be afraid to alter your plan of attack

The hardest ideas to surface can sometimes be around questioning something already agreed to, or pushing back on something half way built. The truth is though, that the most difficult ideas to surface can end up leading to the biggest improvements, as those ideas can help reveal blind spots missed along the way.

I’ve worked with companies that have had to choose between incorporating the next idea, shipping the product as is, or pivoting altogether because something drastic changed since the product road map had been put in place. Though it’s never an obvious choice which direction to go, shipping something they knew would be flawed always turned out worse in the end than delaying shipment to get the product right. It’s important to consider new ideas at every stage of product development in order to ensure that the right product ships every time.

Tip #3 – Continue sharing the idea, re-calibrate with user input, and persevere

Only through doing difficult things multiple times does it become easier, and being innovative and driving new ideas certainly is a muscle we must flex multiple times to get better at it. Repeating the process of developing ideas, refining them, and getting those ideas into meaningful outcomes is certainly worth the effort, but will always take effort (either internally or externally). It will also require dedication and determination, but will produce meaningful outcomes each and every time.

You need to always be willing to bring something up and share freely so that your company can continue to reinforce a culture of innovation and collaboration.

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Why Tableau is Worth Billions: A Case Study on Becoming a Digital “Port City”

It’s appropriate that Tableau is located in Seattle, as they both became popular for similar reasons.

Seattle, started as a logging town shipping lumber down to San Francisco, then hit a big boom during the Klondike gold rush followed by a big shipping boom. It then moved into a big boom in aerospace followed by the growing influence of technology – starting with Microsoft. Access to resources, and a connector between multiple places. Seattle was big on logging, because there was an ocean that made it easier to transport lumber south, with the means to make it accessible and useful. Seattle was big during the Klondike gold rush, because you could take a ship from Seattle over to Alaska, and provided the resources and shipping to get there. Seattle was big into aerospace, because William Boeing got things kicked off here so there was the resources and buyers to set up a shop and build an aerospace business. Seattle then became big into technology, because Bill Gates changed the world with Microsoft Windows and people could come and leverage the resources that created.

Now lets look at Tableau – From wikipedia: “In 2003, Tableau was spun out of Stanford [9] with an eponymous software application. The product queries relational databases, cubes, cloud databases, and spreadsheets and then generates a number of graph types that can be combined into dashboards and shared over a computer network or the internet. The founders moved the company to Seattle, Washington in October, 2003, where it remains headquartered today” 

Tableau then, wasn’t famous because it invented data or created a better way to store data. Rather, the platform made that “digital lumber” we know as data more accessible. It became a way for an average user to reach out into the data space and extract useful information, which they can then use. In effect, Tableau is the digital “port” city for many business owners, that provides access to that raw material and the capability to make it useful.

Becoming a digital port city then, isn’t all about what the platform provides in and of itself but the material it helps you gather / process / leverage. Social media is billions of messages, but Adobe’s Marketing Cloud promises to make quantifiable sense of it all. Server log files are completely useless in and of themselves, but Splunk helps turn all that into a meaningful dashboard.

Lots of tools exist out there, promising to mine assets and turn them into something useful. But as data became a boom, and the trend grew, you could also see the rise of companies like Tableau growing along with that tide. If cities in the 1800’s decided to use clay instead of lumber, perhaps Seattle may never have taken off.

What’s important to note then, is that becoming a digital port city can produce a tremendous amount of value as long as the resource you’re accessing is growing in popularity. However, everything (even data) only stays a popular trend for so long. The hope is, then, that you’ve grown enough to sustain yourself until the next wave takes off and you can successfully adapt along with it. Tableau is in it’s first major boom cycle, as Seattle grew with lumber. As history has shown though, Seattle had many boom and bust cycles as time goes on. How many companies also rise and fall within a single hype cycle (ex: Detroit) ?

Becoming a digital “port city” and staying that way really comes down to 3 things

1. Don’t oversell the hype (to yourselves or your clients)

No matter how on fire your company might be today, every marketing pitch or slogan only has so much gas in the tank. Focusing on the broader industry issue (ex: revenue growth vs access to data) means you’ll continue to stay relevant long after the initial hype has passed. Take advantage of a trend’s popularity, but don’t so closely associate yourself to that one thing that you can’t exist without it – what if Kodak had focused on better living through chemistry vs film? As film declined, chemistry surely didn’t go out of style. And as it turned out, Kodak had some of the most talented chemists in the world working for them because film is a hard thing to make. What would have changed, if Kodak’s brand became focused around something that wouldn’t ever go out of style, vs a single product focus? 

2. You’ll have to think of the post-hype at some point 

Yes, it’s important to stay hyper-focused on your core competency and capability during a big sales cycle, but long term planning focusing on “what do we do when people don’t care about X trend any more” is important. Google will have to figure out ways to make money, after online advertising. Facebook may not be the hot social network 100 years from now it is today, and Microsoft is already starting to evolve in a world that cares less about personal computers. Tableau, too, has the talent and revenue to think about what’s next in the data space long after people stop caring about 2D data visualization in the form of accessible dashboards. Though we have examples, every company has to overcome it’s own culture and leadership challenges to continue to evolve and adapt. 

3. Build a foundation around the longer term trend, while capitalizing on the current hype 

Say you’re Boeing, and you’re contemplating life after airplanes, or perhaps investments that build a platform of services focused on a single brand element of your company. Do you diversify, by extending your reach into other areas of aerospace, or do you step back and say “well, our real purpose is to connect people, so lets invest in other ways to connect people outside of just flying them together”. It’s a tricky question, with no easy answer, which could mean botched acquisitions and a confusing marketing plan if you’re too broadly focused. However, tying in telepresence as part of the “connecting people together” strategy may mean infrastructure investments in aerospace communications networks, that you wouldn’t otherwise make, to allow video chats in airplanes while investing in smaller start-ups that focus on video codecs and compression algorithms that might net you a decent return down the line.

Focusing on just building airplanes though, Boeing would never invest in a Skype, but down the line will it be too entrenched to see a decline in aerospace with the will to shift their focus? Skype would have been a bad idea for Boeing, but what about investments in technologies that make it easier to transmit video which is entirely something they could leverage today? It’s not easy to do, and a lot of companies get it wrong here, but focusing your core message and internal alignment on something bigger than the immediate trend or fad is important, if you want to build a company that’ll be around 30+ years down the road.

If you do those three things successfully, whether you’re a city near the Ocean or a data analysis tool helping unlock value, you’ll no doubt continue to justify the value you bring long after that initial wave has past. It’s why Seattle continues to thrive, whereas cities like Detroit have struggled, and why Tableau is worth billions as a tool that accessed data without developing/ hosting/ managing most of the backend infrastructure that makes up those data systems. Stay beholden to only one path, or one product and you could go from the top of the pile to getting buried by your competitors. Toyota would say it’s not a car company, but a transportation company – because cars are only relevant for a period of time, but people will always need a way to get transported.

Become a digital “port city” by making a useful resource accessible and useful, then focus on continually evolving as the thing people need access to changes.

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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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Peter Drucker and the Innovative Executive

Peter Drucker in 1967 published The Effective Executive which has become one of the most quoted and cited books on management of all time. It’s lessons have helped shaped managers of all levels, and continues to help inform business leaders around the world today.

What can we take from Mr. Drucker’s work, though, that could be applied to Innovation related initiatives to drive success inside your company and turn the overused concept into a meaningful concept that drives results and revenue?

“The first practice is to ask what needs to be done. Note that the question is not ‘What do I want to do?'”

When you’re thinking about ideas to spur growth inside your company, focus on what goals and targets the company needs vs what you think would be the most fun to work on. It’s important to love what you do, but if you are pitching a pet project vs something that will directly contribute to the revenue growth of the company, you’ll have a very hard time getting buy-in from both leadership and team members.

“Problem solving does not produce results. It prevents damage. Exploiting opportunities produces results.”

When thinking about ways to drive new Innovation initiatives in your company, look and see what the low hanging fruit looks like vs striving to come up with something completely new and original. Being innovative doesn’t mean it has to result in a completely new invention to solve a problem, sometimes it can be enrolling in a career rotation program to learn about what other teams are doing and bring best practices into your org or taking the boss up on going to lunch once a month to discuss what’s on their radar. The ideas will come, but it starts by looking for the right opportunities vs coming up with something on your own and forcing it’s way into the conversation.

“Everything requires time. It is the one truly universal condition.”

No matter what your idea or initiative looks like, it’ll take time – most likely your own until you get the right sponsorship. Be prepared to ask what’s at stake by proposing a new initiative or innovative idea, and make sure you’re committed to spending the time it takes to make it successful.

“The test of organization is not genius. It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.”

For a company to be truly innovative, and disruptive it means that every member of the company is contributing in a way that trumps external competition in a way that competitors are continually scratching their heads wondering how to catch up. How can Innovative drive uncommon performance? If it’s an idea that only affects a small number of people in the company, consider how to expand that idea in a way that can either cause different groups to launch incubators or take a best practice or business process and make it something scalable and transferrable.

“To be more requires a man who is conceited enough to believe that the world really needs him and depends on his getting into power.”

Being disruptive and Innovative is a four letter word in most organizations, because it’s easy to talk about those concepts and host a workshop on the issue because it’s become the “junk food” of corporate america. Whether it’s design-based thinking, or clear whiteboards with iPad-synced brainstorming technologies, everyone loves ideating and writing math symbols on glass surfaces but the fun ends when it’s time to go out and do something with all that brain power.

That effort requires a champion motivated to push base the barriers that stop risky innovative initiatives which often get killed by corporate immune systems, and push those initiatives into production because the company, and perhaps the world, needs these initiatives to come to light. Though I don’t think it requires conceit to motivate you into this space, it does require an almost unnatural dedication to making your company a better place.

Ideating is fun, Innovation workshops are fun, but really being Innovative and turning those ideas and workshops into meaningful and tangible outcomes is hard hard work. Figure out what where that motivation lives, and be prepared for the battles to come.

“If there is any one ‘secret’ to effectiveness, it is concentration.”

You can’t fight a war on multiple fronts and win, and the same is true if you’re focused on too many initiatives at once. If you have a good idea you’re working to push through your company, put your effort behind that and concentrate on making it a winner. You can scale and delegate, depending on the size(s) of the objectives, but you can’t focus your attention on too many things or you’ll become less effective on driving all of them.

“Scientists have shown that achievement depends less on ability in doing research than on the courage to go after opportunity.”

This is so true when it comes to Innovation, as I mentioned before it’s not easy work and stopping after the fun stuff is why the word is so overused and underutilized. Have courage, be brave, read books on war and strategy, and go into driving Innovation knowing you’re fighting a good fight. If the idea goes south, failure in the moment is ok, but always learn from what you did and take those lessons forward. Driving Innovation spans many concepts and ideas over and over again, and is not just about one particular initiative. It takes time and several attempts to driving change in a company and make it really Innovative so take heart and make sure you have fox hole buddies to continually lean against when corporate politics get tough.

“Effectiveness, while capable of being learned, surely cannot be taught.”

This is the thing about Innovation that’s hardest to grasp, because people get jazzed about a mobile app or data pilot being associated as an “Innovative Initiative” then scoff when the pilot fails to take off. It can taken dozens, if not hundreds, of attempts to drive Innovation inside a company and after each failure you have to come back and examine “what could we have done differently?”. A company can’t lose enthusiasm for funding the process, and the team can’t lose heart if it takes several attempts to drive an idea into production, but it takes both a strong leadership mindset and effective teaming to get there. Effectiveness at driving disruptive ideas will come, but it takes a while to learn the methods to make it work inside a given company.

All quotes taken from Drucker, Peter F. The Effective Executive. New York: HarperBusiness Essentials, 2002. Print.

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 him at http://www.danmaycock.com

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Sun Tzu & The Art of Innovation

It’s one thing to build an Innovation team within your company, but entirely another thing to then take those best practices and successfully reproduce the success in departments through a company. My goal in putting together a book on best practices for Innovation was to discuss methods and strategies that I’ve seen work during my time at several different Fortune 500 companies. I also wanted to help share some first hand accounts of when things have gone well and not so well in the process in order to help individuals build a successful process for innovation regardless of what type of team or how much authority they currently have.

In thinking about what it takes to make something successful happen in multiple groups throughout a company though, it’s an entirely different set of skills and processes necessary to reproduce that innovative best practice in a hundred different teams. If we look at the first chapter of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, Sun Tzu discusses the five factors that will affect the outcome of a war.

These principles can be very helpful in understanding best practices for business strategy, and can also be applied in helping build effective innovation teams within a company. Consider as your reading this further, how building an innovation practice could potential utilize the first three principles, and replicating those practices could potentially be helped by understanding and utilizing the last two principles.

The First Principle, The Moral Law, is all about how to cause people to follow you in complete accord so they will follow you regardless of the personal impact. In war, this of course looks very different than it does in business, but user buy in from both your co-workers, leaders, and employees is paramount in being successful as an innovator.

The Second Principle, Heaven, discusses the environment you’re operating within. The principle applies to whether high or low ground makes a difference, the effect of rain on the battlefield, etc. For this context, the culture and make up of your company will have a big impact on how you can launch an innovative idea and how you can take your surroundings into account when it comes to getting buy off and moving an idea through the risk-based immune system within your company.

The Third Principle, Earth, discusses aspects such as the terrain taking into account the hardness of the ground, distances to travel, etc. In this context, it’s aspects such as whether you work for a multi-national company versus a start-up and the realities of regulations and reporting structures that make up the sometimes overly rigid structures that keep truly innovative ideas from springing up. There has been a lot about being innovative, and creating a series of steps on how to grow ideas into products, but a lot of literature doesn’t take the realities of enterprises into account and bringing those steps against the hurdles the typical employee or manager will run into.

The key though, is replicating that success as an executive or senior leader in multiple departments throughout the company, and not just once within a particular group but several times in several different teams. The next step is taking the next two principles into account, The Commander, along with The Method and Discipline, to grow this best practice into something replicatable throughout your company.

The Fourth Principle, The Commander, is all about your beliefs, values, and models making up the integrity and core of a leader. This is important to replicate, because being an innovator is something that can be taught and learned, but each individual comes with their own pretext and a sub-culture that can come with it’s own challenges. Training teams and raising leaders to command new ideas is the first part of successful replication, and will make or break a new concept from working it’s way through that organization without having to micro-manage or hand-hold the individual you’re recruiting to help spread that innovative best practice.

The Fifth Principle, Method & Discipline, is all about the organization and goals of troops to help them focus on outcomes in battle despite the chaos that exists within large groups of soldiers as fights break out and battles erupt. In business, you can only control so many variables, and the real key to war is to win before you go to battle. Defeating the opponent in this case means going to war with everything from apathy, to a lack of discipline, to fear around risky investments. Having clear methods and disciplines in place means that everyone is equip and adaptable, despite the issues that can sideline progress and cause people to panic either due to macro-economic factors (ex: the stock price drops due to unusually bad weather, and your project is at risk of being cut) or internal issues such as a re-org or change in executive leadership.

Being innovative as a company is much harder than having an innovation team, but it’s the only way to truly matter company-wide in the long run and is the hardest thing to do. From changing the culture, to accepting higher levels of risk, the path isn’t an easy one but it’ll ensure your company remains proactive, and stays far ahead of your competitors for years to come.

I encourage you to spend time reading The Art of War, this time considering how these principles can help you rehabilitate the overused yet underutilized concept of Innovation and help drive effective change inside your organization.

Interested in my book? Contact me at dan@transform.digital to get a copy or follow me at http://www.danmk.com/buildingtheexpo to get notified when the book is released later this month.

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Thomas Alva Edison & Persistence

Regardless of what kind of person you think Thomas Edison was there is one thing he can go down in history as, and that is he was persistent. Making the several hundred attempts at getting the light bulb working, or building all the components necessary to make DC viable for people, moving this many concepts forward was not easy for him, or the grad students that helped contribute to his many patents. With each of the ideas he worked on to develop it required a long period of time to get from the concept to the invention, but he recognized when he was onto something and would work persistently to get there. All one has to do is look through several of his famous quotes to get a sense of how he felt about giving up:

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”.

Thomas Edison was a man that was willing to try things multiple times until it worked, and he pushed others around him to do the same. Often you will fail the first time out of the gate getting traction with your concept, so it is important to be persistent and make adjustments each time until it works. Perhaps the initial concept you had was bad, and the idea is determined to be a failure. You are most likely still to stumble onto something great, so refine what you need and keep working on it till you strike gold.

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Peter Drucker & Systems Thinking

Peter Drucker was a management consultant, an educator, and an author who contributed a great deal to the modern business corporation. Throughout his life, he invented a number of concepts and wrote several books that are considered foundational in management theory and practice. Yet, when told he was a guru he once replied, “I have been saying for many years that we are using the word ‘guru’ because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into a headline”. His insights were often applied with lessons from history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, culture and religion. He focused on relationships between people and did not bother as much with the math. He wrote much about interpersonal relationships in organizations rather than focusing too much on the metrics-driven side of the business. He had a passion for learning, writing, and teaching which led to accomplishments such as winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, and 7 McKinsey awards, along with receiving several honorary doctorates in various countries.

Peter Drucker was a smart man, but more importantly he worked to make unique contributions in his field and did the hard work to develop concepts and theories that others could use. He put his intelligence to good work and changed the world of management theory as a result. There are a lot of intelligent people that taught at schools during the same period of time that did not have nearly the affect. His greatness was not just in that he was intelligent, but that he had the insight to build a system and set of theories around what he was spending his time researching. There are many people that would have enjoyed sitting down and spending time talking with him about management theory. There were a number of ways he could have spent his time rather than writing books and papers on his research, however you do not get a medal from the President of the United States for having great conversations or taking up a number of hobbies. Good ideas need a place to go. Developing systems thinking means you are building models for thoughts and creating frameworks for all those great ideas to fit into so they can be replicated and shared with others. This can also turn into a concept and series of innovations as they continue to develop. Every good idea needs a place to go.

When you find yourself not able to bridge from common sense in the field you are in to ground breaking stuff, studying unrelated fields to gain additional context, as well as working with those that are not as deep in the weeds, can often help add insight as well as getting a knack for building systems which can lead to concepts. This in turn leads to innovative ideas and more pronounced impacts. Do the research, test the theory and build the concept, but make sure it lands in a form that others can receive value from and do something with it. In Peter Drucker’s case, the product was his insight and theories. Whether it is written down, built, or delivered in the form of a service – innovation can look many different ways, but should always provide greater benefit to the people around you and will be noted as such if it proves useful.

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Path or the Gear?

There comes a time during your professional life that you need to stand back and get perspective if you’re heading in the right direction. However, how often does that perspective take you in a whole new direction?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11 jobs from ages 18 to 44. On average, men held 11.4 jobs and women held 10.7 jobs. 25% percent held 15 jobs or more, while 12% held four jobs or less.

I’m curious in those stats, how many of those people changed jobs because they had to, wanted to, or felt like they should. So often we try to make the right decisions in our professional life’s, and rely on the help of those that have gone before us to help us through the path. The problem is though, that we can often ignore the internal compass we all have inside of us when it comes to someone’s advice that we rely on to act as a guide and mentor.

It means it’s important to find the right mentor, but it’s also important to keep advice at arms length if you don’t have your bearings as to where the path you’re on is taking you. Picking the “right” job may have motivations other than something you care about and are passionate about.

What were you into when you were a kid, when all you had was your internal compass telling you what direction to head in? I often took things apart, figured out how they worked, and put them back together in a new configuration I thought worked better. I chose IT strategy as an outlet for that love, but I could have easily been a mechanic or engineer. The point is that the passion I had to take things apart and put them back together, whether it’s a company or an engine, is present in what I do which is where my internal compass has led me.

It wasn’t obvious though, until I looked back on my life and patterns and detected in the jobs I haven’t enjoyed that there wasn’t a part of what I loved to do as a kid, though it was the “right” job at the time for money, opportunity, or education. Where I’m at now though, I not only find enjoyment and fulfillment in my current job though, but am finding I’m much more successful in achieving my goals than I have been in the past – getting in shape, spending time with my wife, reading books, and focusing on the things that matter in life have always been goals but now that I’m aligned in my purpose and am doing work I care about I’m finding it a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning.

Yet, when I think about what this job really has that’s all that great, I’m reminded of those themes in my life that reappear in different manifestations and see where my internal compass has continually reminded me the work I was passionate about. My body literally wouldn’t let me be put up with work I wasn’t cut out for, and things started to break down and no longer work – stress, depression, anxiety – all the cost of doing something I wasn’t cut out for.

I thought mentors would fix me, but when it comes to what I was most passionate about, the only answer I needed was the ones I already had. No one is more of an expert on you, than you – you’re the only one that’s been with you since the beginning.

If you’re unhappy in your professional life, or even if you think you have the perfect job, think about a time when you didn’t have to do anything and about what you chose to spend your time on – what’s your internal compass telling you? It could make all the difference between changing paths in life (entirely new career), vs just changing the gear you’re using along the path you’re already on (new job, same career).

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