Analytics, Strategy, and Agriculture

Tag: innovation (Page 2 of 2)

10 Steps to Turning your Idea into a Business

“Your billion dollar company starts with a million dollar product, and your million dollar product starts with a hundred dollar prototype.” – Spark.io Team (http://bit.ly/1e1xkuk)

I think there’s alot of great ideas out there in the world that never get off the drawing board because X gets in the way of Y. Whether it’s finances getting in the way of the prototype, or work commitments getting in the way of reading that book you need to research the topic you want to improve, there’s a world of things getting in the way.

I encourage you to take these 4 steps in mind, and accept that in the time it takes you to read this note, you have the time to take your idea and get it to the next step which you can then justify putting some time and effort behind. For what you’re already paying for (a computer, internet connection, chair) you have all the tools you need to create something great.

Step 1. Open up a word document and describe in 3-500 words write down the problem you think needs to get fixed, and potentially your idea to fixing it.

Step 2. Post that idea online, on a social network, and get people’s feedback on what they think of the idea.

Step 3. Accept your idea in it’s present form isn’t A) the last idea you’ll come up with and B) not the final form it needs to be in.

Step 4. Take that feedback, noodle on it, refine it, and write 500-1000 words on the idea

Step 5. Do research online to see what exists out there already to solve this problem, and how your product might be different

Step 6. Figure out what it takes to bring this product / service to market for as little money as possible. You’d be surprised how much is already out there for little to no money to help bring your product to market.

Step 7. Build a support team that’ll encourage and keep you accountable to bringing this to life. Keep in mind it’ll change 100 times, and ideas are plentiful so don’t worry if you feel like you need a new one.

Step 8. Take the first step in your research plan, fail, learn from that failure, try and try again.

Step 9. Get encouragement, get feedback, get more encouragement

Step 10. Never, never, never give up and keep trying to solve the problem without holding the solution too closely. That solution can look 100’s of different ways, but you only need one solution for the problem.

The risk you’ll face is falling too much in love with a single solution, and spend too much money trying to make it work. If it’ll solve the problem, the product / service will sell to people that need help, so it’s about awareness and feedback to keep making it better – both can be cheap, but will take time so get encouragement to keep working on the right combination of solutions and awareness.

You need money to scale, and help grow exposure, but prototypes and trials are cheap and t-shirts are a nice to have, not a need to have so don’t worry about the thickness of your business cards when you haven’t yet sold your answer to the problem.

An important note on Patents – They are great in theory, but once that idea goes public then it’s an easy step for a larger company to change the idea just slightly and avoid infringement, so make sure you can quickly get funding for the legal support you’ll need to enforce that patent, or keep it un-patented until you’re getting enough exposure and success that you know you’re on the right track with the idea as is. It can take 7+ years to get the patent filed, so focus first on getting the concept to market so you can prove the interest, get the investment, and grow the company while getting advice on when to pull the patent trigger.

A note on Advisors – it’s important to find 3-5 people that have been where you’ve been at before, can help you get to where you want to go, or help steer your idea in the right direction. Start by meeting with professors or community college teachers, that are teaching classes on the subject you’re researching. You can reach out to professionals as well, such as lawyers or financial advisors, and get some simple advise for free but consider bringing them on as advisors in exchange for a small piece of ownership if they’re on board for that. Don’t get too many advisors though, and don’t give away too much of your company or you’ll run into real problems when you have investors getting involved.

 

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).

11 Traits of an Innovator

It is important when considering what it takes to be innovative, to take a look at those who have been notable innovators in the past, as a means to gain context of how you can add to the pages of the history of your company, and perhaps the world. No one is born with the title “innovator” and that each person who wants it must work to achieve it in their own way. Rich or poor, blind or deaf, tough or soft, there is not anything that makes all innovators the same. Yet, each had a common desire to push on the glass ceiling and created room for the world to grow. These are not the greatest in history or put in any particular order.

These names were chosen because they all contributed to something different and did it in a variety of ways. There are names missing from this list, but it is impossible to build all-time greatest hits with something this subjective, so I looked for different traits outside of just “the best ever”. Whether you agree they are a legend or not you can’t deny they made an impact, and it is worth understanding how their contribution can help you in yours.

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.

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.

Nicola Tesla – Underdog

Nicola Tesla was not popular and there was more than enough negative press about him from competitors, much like the aforementioned Thomas Edison. Yet he had brilliant ideas and knew it. He kept at his research even when everyone else turned against him. Things did not end well for him, he was a true underdog and his ideas have gone on to influence modern day electricity technologies both large and small. People may not always understand your concepts, and it may even turn into a negative experience for you, but being the underdog does not mean they are bad ideas. Sometimes the most impactful ideas will run into the steepest resistance, so hold your ground and do your best to weather the storm because if the idea is truly disruptive then someday it will find a home.

Henry Ford – More with less

Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, but he did develop the assembly line and that let middle class Americans afford cars due to his innovations in the mass production space. His genius was in taking something expensive and out of reach to the average citizen, and bring it down to a level that more people could afford. Things that are rare, hard to come by, or overpriced are ripe for someone to come along and reduce the cost so more people can afford them. Luxury means scarcity, and in many cases there are barriers keeping it from the everyman that you could potentially tackle. Is the watch made with rare materials in the machinery? Try using different materials to build the same clock movements, so the same quality can be afforded by more people. Are certain functions of a luxury car not offered on mid-priced brands? Build an after-market version of the same thing and find a distributor to make it available to more people. There are some things you will not be able to manufacture yourself, such as gold (unless you know a good alchemy recipe). However, a great way to start thinking about innovative concepts is reducing scarcity and creating more of something there is not enough of. Whether it is creating a new way to make less expensive cars or finding new methods to make high end watches cheaper.

Wright Brothers – Partnership

When one thinks of the invention of the airplane, it is hard to differentiate where one brother contributed more or less than the other because the brothers took credit for inventing it together. Whether it was Wilber who engineered more of the three-axis control that enabled the pilot to keep the plane in the air or Orville, the two went down in history as doing it together. Other great partnerships have existed in history such as Hewlett & Packard or Ben & Jerry. In these partnerships, to bring a concept the partners were both passionate about bringing something better to life. You do not always have to do it alone and sharing the credit does not mean fading into the backlogs of corporate history. Sometimes great ideas can be magnified, by seeking out like-minded people and collaborating to bring the concept to life rather than trying to go it alone.

Benjamin Franklin – Multifaceted

Benjamin Franklin was a man of many inventions in various fields, from the Franklin Stove to inventing the bifocals. In each field he ventured into, he was a newcomer but kept his focus. He had a naturally inquisitive personality that allowed him to explore a number of different fields and make a successful concept or business out of each. There is a benefit to being a specialist in one area, such as Benjamin Franklin being a printer; it does not mean you are bound to that one area. Having a variety of educational pursuits can lead to creative ideas in areas you may be completely new to. Often when someone focuses too hard on one thing, they can miss the obvious things that a set of new point of view might bring to light. You will be surprised what may end up being the significant contribution you make. Benjamin Franklin was not known for the profession he held for a number of years or the area he knew most about, but rather his contributions in the founding of the United States of America and his experiments with electricity are more closely associated with his place in history. Step outside of the area you know best and you may be surprised what you come up with.

Fred Smith – Observation

Fred Smith, the CEO and founder of FedEx, built his system based on the time he spent in Viet Nam during his tour in the military, where he learned how logistics played a big factor. He developed a business idea to create a shipment version of a bank clearing house for a new type of integrated air-ground system which had not existed prior to FedEx. In combining the experiences he had and observing systems that worked in unrelated fields he was able to transform the face of shipping packages around the world. Whether it is systems in nature, or methods for doing business in the non-profit sector, the greatest business ideas might not always live in the business world. Pulling new concepts from unrelated places can often be the greatest method for innovation, and much easier than trying to invent something completely from scratch. There are so many great things already happening in the world that you can leverage for moving your concept into a viable success.

Ray Kroc – Taking something and improving it

Ray Kroc, upon purchasing McDonald’s in 1961, took an existing company and incorporated changes that have made it the most successful fast food operation in the world. He noticed a number of things wrong with the way McDonald’s was being run after he first met the McDonald’s brothers and incorporated a number of changes such as standardizing operations which ensured that every burger a store made tasted the same regardless of which store it was prepared in. Although Ray Kroc did not invent McDonald’s or found the company, he saw something with a lot of potential and improved it to pave the way for McDonald’s to be the company that it is today. This did not happen early on in his life, but rather success occurred for Ray when he was well past his 50th birthday. Sometimes the innovative idea you are looking for is taking something that is already out there and improving it beyond simply sustaining what is there and pushing the 10% that is different out to the public. Ray did not just improve the one McDonald’s store that existed at the time, but created a new experience from the top down and changed the face of the industry for every chain since. Look at what is in place today in the company you work for, as well as companies you come into contact with every day, and think about how you might improve them if you ran the place. Those ideas just may be the start of your innovative idea.

Andrew Carnegie – Simple beginnings

You do not necessarily have to start big to do big things. Andrew Carnegie’s family had to borrow money to migrate to the US, and his first job was at the age of thirteen working as a bobbin boy, twelve hours a day, six days a week. He later went into the steel industry and leveraged two inventions he helped develop to grow the largest steel company in the US at the time. Hard work and a little ingenuity mean you will be prepared when opportunity strikes. Waiting for greatness to happen versus putting in the time to excelling at what it is you do today while keeping your eyes open for the right opportunity can get you much further than doing just what is expected and waiting for something to come to you. Few people, if any, are given opportunity to succeed without doing something to have gotten them there.

George Washington – Courage

The first President of the United States does not show up on many lists of innovators. It is no small feat of ingenuity to help create a nation, lead an army of rebels against one of the largest militaries in the world, and then go on to direct the constitutional congress followed by becoming the first President of the United States of America. Success was not a slam dunk, and committing treason for a belief in something bigger than himself meant having the courage of conviction and a belief system that not only propelled George Washington to turn his back on his country to form a new one, but helped him lead others to battle against a military he spent most of his natural life fighting for.

There is no doubt George Washington was a smart and talented man, but sometimes it takes real courage to push past all the other obstacles that brains and abilities alone will not help you conquer. You have a concept and a conviction that your ideas will help drive change, not just in the company you work for, but the entire industry and potentially the world. Use that passion to help bring others alongside you. It is a fearful thing to be innovative and to actively try to disrupt the status quo you have been working for during your entire professional life. It is not an easy thing to be an effective innovator, and no amount of thinking will be enough to get stakeholders and team members to rally behind you and help you see your concept take flight. Displacement occurs when something new comes along, and people will undoubtedly lose their jobs or be moved to another one if your concept is successful. Perhaps it will cause profits to slip for a period, or cause a shift in leadership as a result of what you are trying to do. There is no clean way to make a difference; it’s as if you are on a surf board in the ocean and either you ride the wave or you get buried in it. There are certainly ways to minimize chaos, but not entirely, which is why companies are not prone to being disruptive. However, it is still possible to be innovative, and companies have money like never before to support ventures from within. If you have the concept that will make the difference, the first step will be a courageous one. The real test will not be the value of your idea, but the conviction and courage to step out into the spotlight to get your concept in front of the right people, along with the gumption to follow through and see your concept fight its way against the opposition that will show itself along the way.

Steve Jobs – Design

Steve Jobs was a smart man, but also had a passion for well-designed products. He knew the value in building something that looked and worked a certain way and was not content simply building a faster or more efficient machine. He required it to have a certain kind of interaction and a specific kind of aesthetic look and feel before it was brought to market. Whether it was his ruthless nature making sure each detail was just right for his keynotes, or his highly scrutinized management style that focused on details to the nth degree before being released to the public, there is no denying his impact on the world of computing today. He believed that innovations should be beautiful, and not just practical. Though he is an innovator for a number of reasons, it is this one that I believe everyone should take note of. It is easy to get lost in the math of a concept, or the focus to just make it work. Focusing on the design, the look and feel, as well as the operation is something that can take your concept into a complete new category of competition and create something people will remember long past the point that the function is relevant.

Each of these individuals brought something to the table which helped them lead teams, make decisions and impact the world based on the roles they played along the way. For some, it was deciding to see things differently and be ok with not everyone understanding what it was they were trying to share. For others, it was standing by their commitment and conviction regardless of what might happen down the road. For a handful, it was in knowing they had gold in their hands, and that people would eventually come to see it, even if there were numerous road blocks in their way at the time. There is no one single combination of skills that will make someone a better innovator, but, having an idea and building the belief that you have a unique set of skills to bring it to life is the universal starting point. Too many ideas fall by the wayside because someone does not believe in themselves to the same level of belief they have in the idea and so they let it die out of fear.

It could be that the idea in its current form is not enough to get the concept going, so it will take perseverance and belief that it will evolve into something great. That can be the difference between having an idea and having an impact on the world around you. In the corporate space, it will take a lot of things to be successful at bringing about big changes, but you are not more or less qualified than anyone else with ideas and a desire to act on it. People from all walks of life have been or have not been successful at driving concepts into creation. It is the hard work and difficulty you will face that you have to be willing to work past and be prepared for.

Building businesses in no tech enviornments

I was recently driving down the road on the way to work, and was struck by just how few “high tech” businesses I crossed driving from Kirkland, WA to Redmond, WA (home of Microsoft). You’d think, given the amount of tech savy people in the area, that the streets would be lined with tech offices, all buzzing with new and innovative ways to leverage groundbreaking technology.

Yet, despite what most of what I read about the age of start-ups and the power they have over mankind, all I saw were dry cleaners and mom & pop’s restaurants with the occasional gas station.

It dawned on me then, that despite all the buzz that occurs in technology circles about entrepreneurship and the future of technology, most people are doing just fine without it. The latest apple product isn’t replacing my need to get a dry cleaner, and the newest Samsung tablet isn’t helping me get gas in my car. For most of the day, even though I work on a laptop, I must rely on fairly non-technical solutions to make it through the day. Whether it’s the $30 coffee maker I rely on to get me going in the morning, the relatively low-tech shoes I wear to walk from my car to the office, or the basic plastic water bottle I drink out of it once the coffee is gone, there’s little I do that’s “technical” outside of what I use my laptop and occasionally my phone for.

This led me to suspect that perhaps, just maybe, there’s innovative ways to change peoples lives and start businesses that perhaps don’t deal with gadgets or software. Perhaps the next hot thing is something much neglected, yet is something people need.

Often I go to start-up seminars and it’s full of solutions either using the web, a device, or a power source to function. Yet, if I could create a better solution that’s completely non-tech, how much competition would I run into? Depending on what it was I was trying to improve on, perhaps quite a bit – but as much effort as it would take to make a better shoe, how much more effort would it take to build a better smart phone.

It seems that most start-up minded people these days are bent on leveraging technology to push the ball forward, and make their mark on society. Perhaps though, society has room for more non-tech solutions than one thinks.

Creating something great

It’s often the case in life that in order to create something great, you must do it multiple times before that something great begins to emerge. Even if you have a knack for it, raw talent is no match for that same talent polished and refined over time. There’s something magical about what happens when you’ve done something enough times, that it becomes second nature to the point you don’t have to think about it. Keyboarding is probably the talent I’m most in awe of, as it was something I learned in High School and have leveraged it so much since then that it’s as closer skill to me than writing (which I do much much less of, unfortunately). Up until high school though, I didn’t know the first thing about not looking at the keyboard and certainly didn’t have the practice to type as fast and flawlessly as I do now. It’s easy to take talents you’ve acquired and honed for granted, whether it’s handling rush hour traffic in Seattle or making the perfect cup of coffee.

Too often in the workplace, we lost track of the things we do well that we’ve learned to do over time. Whether it’s how to handle yourself in a stressful meeting, or knowing just the right thing to say to your boss, these are all skills that are honed and refined over many years of work experience. I’m honored to be a consultant, in that I have to maneuver through very different situations quite often, so it becomes obvious what skills people do or don’t have from company to company, and what skills I need to work on myself. It’s taught me a lot about the things that people often consider second nature, but had no practice or experience doing prior to entering the working world.

Too often though, it’s expected that if you’re going to do something that it has to be done flawlessly the first time. Whether it’s taking a gamble on a new technology, or getting funding to launch a new project, innovation in it’s truest form requires a high level of efficiency up front. One has to work at a place like Google these days, to find a culture that believes in true trial and error, and is willing to go from one project to the next in the name of moving the ball forward for society. Though I think any company built on a try-anything-free-for-all culture is bound to eat itself alive (especially publicly traded ones) due to the need for people to build homesteads in a company then set up the turrents and guns to kick off turf wars and political battles, there is a need to try and fail.

Having some level of experimentation in your job means you’ve accepted that it’ll take time to do something new, and make it great, and you’re willing to put in the time if someone else can spare the resources. Even if it’s you in a corner doing it yourself, given enough time you’ll get better at what it is you want to excel at. The concept or idea may be flawed, but the skills you’ll take along the way can always be used elsewhere – no matter how abstract or specific those skills may seem at the time.

Trying anything new, until you hone it into greatness is something most people are sadly giving up in exchange for the easy and one-click way at greatness. Someone had to build that one-click though, by becoming great at it first. Though there isn’t much new ground to cover on this earth, pioneering is far from dead – you just have to rethink the topography you’re looking to map. And remember, if you’re the first one to do it then that makes you the best at it. Even if someone catches up to you (which someone always will) being the first can only happen once, and is often credited regardless of how many people come afterwards. Even if something has been done millions of times though, it can always be done better because true greatness is impossible to achieve but should always be pursued.

So go out, and work to create something great.

What Makes an Innovator?

Part of the work I’ve been doing this year is gathering up the last several conversations I’ve had over the course of doing several mobile strategy engagements at various Fortune 500 companies around the US. It’s been on the forefront of companies’ agendas as emerging technology that’ll transform the way business is done, so it’s not uncommon for the forward looking people at a company to be involved in the conversations I have while I’m there.

Typically the person put in charge of mobile is someone that’s been there a while, though it’s also been brand new employees who are just getting up to speed. Regardless, the people that typically champion mobile are A) an executive that knows it’s important and has a deep understanding of the IT culture who has also gained some level of tenure and favor with the CIO to move this initiative forward and B) someone that reports to that individual who has the passion & drive to learn it inside and out, then help promote it throughout the enterprise.

Both individuals typically know it’ll be difficult to maneuver through the foray of enterprise politics, approvals, and individuals and has to be someone that knows mobile inside and out on day 1 who also has the ability to build relationships and help with the user adoption from the get go. There isn’t a “ramp” time on the knowledge, because confidence has to be built for others to follow the direction vs feeling like they’re just as much of an expert and decide down a different path entirely.

I’m brought in as a consultant, because I can do both of those things, and helps augment the staff at the company assigned to make it happen. However, whether I’m there or not, it’s not easy seeding a new technology along with all the best practices and governance elements that come with it to make sure it’s rolled out efficiently and responsibly. People often have their own perspectives on how things should go, there’s conflicting budget request, it’s never a good budget cycle to do this, and technology typically gets adopted slowly. These are just some of the barriers that an organization will face, when trying to push a new technology out into the business.

Yet, over time, the technology does become seeded and eventually does get adopted. It’ll happen at some companies faster than others, but it’ll happen because in the back of everyone’s mind, change has to occur for the business to stay competitive. Consultants like myself help speed up things, because we’ve done it numerous times elsewhere and much like installing carpet – you could learn to do it yourself, but it’s not cost feasible if you’re only going to install carpet once every 5-10 years vs. someone that does it day in and day out.

Those people I met though, that champion the technology, are true innovators. Innovation is difficult, it’s painful, and it’s not fun to shake things up and help people believe that they are in worse shape if they don’t listen to you. Each of these people are innovators in their own right, because they know the current climate and understand what it takes to make change happen along with knowing what needs to change and the benefits therein. More importantly though, they have the gusto and motivation to push that change forward regardless of the obstacles. Too often, the term “innovator” is given to people that invent new ways of doing things or help shape / design a new type of product or service. Though that may be a type of innovator, they will leave at the end of the day and who’s left in the company is now tasked with the other kind of innovation – getting these brainstorms and blueprints implemented and adapted. This requires years of relationship building, execution and trust, selfless service, and a red hot passion for helping their company be better. Innovation means in its simplest form “A new method, idea, product, etc.” and represents newness. It varies from invention though, in that this is translating an idea or invention into a good service or product that creates value for which someone will pay money.

An innovation doesn’t have to create something from scratch, but rather take what’s been created and find a way to apply it. The conception of the idea is the fun part, but it’s the implementation of that idea that’s so tricky. Inventors are all over the place, everywhere you look, and one doesn’t have to go far to see someone that has a patent or credited with inventing something new. To see the innovators though, is trickier, because they’re lodged deep inside organizations or governments or corporations taking those inspirational ideas and creations, and finding a way to apply it to their environment. More importantly, they’re spending the time and effort to grease the wheels and make sure there’s a compatible and acceptable environment for that invention to thrive.

A number of people have written books the last several years on innovation, and the words “disruptive innovation” are mentioned 4.2 million times on Google. Yet, we’re in a worldwide recession with serious issues in every area of our lives, from childhood obesity to guns in schools in the forefront of our minds. There’s no lack of thinking around disruptive innovation, and no shortage of best practices and formulas for being a more innovative you.

I believe the real disconnect though, because the theories and the problems, is the doers in the middle that connect the dots and take a small amount of thinking and do something with it. It’s not easy to be a doer, it’s not easy to connect dots (especially when it’s just a side job). There’s so many things that can get in the way, yet the unsung heroes in every enterprise get up and make it happen each and every day. The real question is, how does one reduce the drag & complexity towards making innovation something the corporations can stomach, support, and streamline?

That’s for the next blog – What supports the Innovator?

What is Mobile? A Definition for Today’s Business World

When meeting with executives in Fortune 500 companies, I’m always presented with the question “I know you’re here to talk about Mobile, but what exactly does that mean?”.

Here is the answer I most often give, to help clarify how you can define “Mobile” as well as the world it fits within.

Production – This is the ability to create new content, publish papers or Power points, and build new digital media for others to consume. Traditional production devices are screens, mice, and keyboards all working with components like hard drives and processors, assembled in both desktop & laptop form. Can you turn an iPad into a production device? Sure, add a keyboard and turn your iPad into a screen – though you have the ability to produce content on tablets, without a physical keyboard, that’s not what it’s ideally built for, which is…..

Consumption – This the ability to view content, movies, power points, etc which is what Tablets were primarily designed to do. Can you write e-mails on it? Sure you can, but it’s typically not a doctoral thesis. Tablets, and devices with just a screen are primarily geared around viewing – reading – watching. What, then, is a mobile device for?

Interaction – This is the ability to interact with content, people, data, etc and is done best on a small pocket-sized device you carry around with you. Blackberry made e-mail an interactive medium, and enhanced it with blackberry messenger, Apple followed with iMessage, and text messaging even before that – and to this day – remains the #1 way in which people worldwide interact with each other without talking. Outside of communication though, we are starting to see people interacting in new ways – mobile payments, RFID, accelerometer-enabled data transactions for information like contact information. Yet, this world is not nearly as well explored as production and consumption, so where does the future belong to? Smart homes give us a small preview into this world, where you use your phone to interact with everything around you – but where do businesses take this? We’re already seeing an example of this at Starbucks, where people are paying with their phones and interacting with the cash register using a bar code generated through Starbuck’s loyalty card program. This I think, is just the beginning, with close to 10% of the world now using smartphones (http://bit.ly/ttrJHq) we will see companies using these personality-rich devices driving more of the end user experience, and using the data to get smarter on how consumers think.

Though technology will continue to evolve, and devices continue to proliferate – we will see production, consumption, and interaction becoming more advanced (and complimentary) with new interaction methods, like Siri, driving the experience to become more seamless and mature as technology becomes less of an aid and more of a companion. What’s to come is anyone’s guess, but it’s evident that technology is going to continue to surprise – and hopefully enhance – the way we look at mobile.

Mobile Technology & Retail Environments

Summary

It’s long been known that the more information the customer has on your product line, the more likely they are to keep coming back. A well informed customer knows what tools can do what, what sales go on when, and who to ask what questions to, then they’ll be fully armed to take advantage of everything your store has to offer. This is why tools such as a website have revolutionized brick & mortar commerce, and helped to not only make products more available to the consumer, but also help to better educate and inform them on the full line of products available to them. Mobile technology however, has advanced to where this is now possible.

Not simply as a way to browse product information online while browsing the products themselves, but the means to better draw the customer into what products can do (ex: combining mobile grocery list app with your product line to show what tools could prepare what foods they’re making for dinner), but also better entice customers with store-only ad-hoc promotional campaigns or help to answer why someone would chose a more expensive blender over the discount store special they saw earlier that day.

Mobile technology has the power to connect the product to the customer, in a way they know and trust, and allows your product line to become a part of their life, even before they’ve made the purchase. It’s the ultimate sales and branding tool, because the relationship no longer has to be between your brand and their persona – but rather, the brand connects with their specific device, to which they’ve already customized and personalized. The relationship is almost instantaneous, from the moment they walk into the store.

Web Today, Gone Tomorrow

Mobility Shaping the Customer’s Decision Making

Today, information you place on your website is largely isolated to the desktop consumer, and hasn’t translated into significant benefit for people going into stores (except for the occasional “print, grab, and go” customer). You have a tremendous amount of information you’ve made available, and rendered in such a way to give anyone a pleasant experience while learning more about your products, and placing orders via the ecommerce portal. However, other than branding & positioning, very little of that experience translates into the B&M customer as they’re walking through your stores. Some of this is due to channel conflict, not wanting people to become solely reliant on the web or the store, so the customer ultimately uses both in conjunction with each other. However, there’s no clear way to bring both the web & the store experience into the same location at the same time – meaning the investment in one customer avenue vs. the other is largely a separate effort and expense.

Mobile technology however, is largely becoming the driving force for accessing website content. It’s reported that, by 2013, people will browse more web content on their phones than their desktops1. Not only will mobile devices continue to dominate the web, but the computing power in any given mobile device will continue to become more powerful and more capable, rivaling PC’s that were state of the art 5-8 years ago, with the gap closing day by day. With this amount of computing power entering your stores each day, it’s never been more important to develop capabilities that your customers can utilize, to connect their devices as well as themselves with your product line.

The key sales principle for years is the more a customer trusts the brand, the less resistance they’ll put up against making a purchase. If I know and trust something, I’m more likely to come back and buy more, or even pay more; because it’s something I know and trust. It costs more to make new customers largely because of the hurdle of establishing the initial relationship, and translate that trust into an ongoing relationship between your brand and their purchasing decisions. Mobile devices can help, because it’s already a device customer’s use and trust – much like the trust they have sitting in front of their computer at their home.

The difference is, you have the combined power of your B&M presence on top of utilizing the trust relationship the individual has while browsing information on their device. The typical consumer knows that a salesperson has an agenda, and is most likely dealing with a commission. Even in a store, or elsewhere, the typical persona is one of hesitance. However, when accessing mobile applications with the whole purpose to simply inform and educate, then the consumer is less likely to throw up emotional barriers and allow the information in. Furthermore, utilizing deals and incentives can help to ease the concerns of even the most frugal customer.

These are all technics that mobile devices can take full advantage of, and have largely gone unexplored.What the web was yesterday is no more – people want to interact with their environments, and use their technology to help them – web sites have to connect through social networks, through forums, and through blogs & posts. A brand that will thrive in the years to come, is a brand that knows how to engage the customer – how to draw them in and make them feel like a part of the company and the product lines. Mobile devices are shaping this new direction, and it’s in linking your stores and online content that will make or break your business going forward.

Store to Phone – Phone to Consumer – Consumer to Sale

A Hypothetical Story on utilizing Mobile Connectivity

Jan, a 28 year old house wife, is in the market for a new blender. She lives in the Shoreline neighborhood, in the greater Seattle area, where there are a number of stores and locations nearby from which she could chose to purchase her ideal blender from. Being an internet savvy consumer, she hops on the web, heads over to Google, and types in “blender reviews”. ConsumerSearch.com is the first link to pop up, so she heads over, and the website’s professional look and feel help her to gain a sense of trust right away. She clicks on the first blender she sees, the one branded “Best” and is instantly taken to a product description place, along with a number of online retailers that sell the product (Amazon, eBay, etc.)However, she knows from past purchases, that kitchen accessories need to be felt and experienced before being bought, because the process to ship back and refund is a hassle, plus she is making dinner for in-laws tomorrow night and doesn’t want to pay for overnight shipping. So she makes a list of a handful of the “top rated” blenders on her iPhone’s note pad, listed on ConsumerSearch.com, then begins a search for nearby blender retailers. Wal-Mart, and Target are the first two on her list, but figures since she’ll be in the Alderwood Mall area, will stop in there to explore some of the kitchen stores as well, because she’s always been someone more concerned with quality than cost, when push comes to shove.

She also adds the food she needs to get from the grocery store, to her iPhone’s shopping list app, to make some juices and soups to try out with her new purchase. She heads out, and hits target first, she zaps each of the barcodes for the blenders with her barcode scanning application, to quickly price compare to other nearby retailers, to make sure she’s getting the right price. She checks her list with the products at target, avoiding the frequent offers for a salesman to answer any questions, and finds a couple she likes based which were on her blender hit list.She then proceeds to head to a handful of other stores, before arriving at Alderwood Mall. Walking down the aisle, her phone begins to vibrate. She takes it out of her purse and a notification pops up that there’s a deal going on today at Williams-Sonoma, which was triggered by being in proximity to a Williams-Sonoma store, and the receipt app she’d downloaded last week having set notifications for sales when the device is within 1000 feet of the store.

The sale was for food processors, but she thought she’d stop by anyways, and see what the store had for blenders. After walking into the store, the phone once again vibrated, asking Jan if she’d like to pair the phone via Bluetooth with the store for information & sales on products. She clicks yes, and is then asked to download the Williams-Sonoma application for 10% off all products within the store. Once again, she clicks yes, and downloads the store application. After quickly downloading the application, the app launches and asks what she’s interested in – she hits blenders – and the application directs her to the blenders in the store. Once she’s standing in front of the blenders, the Bluetooth triggers product specific information to appear along with device comparisons and promotional deals in the store and on the web.

She looks around at the models in front of her, flipping the app to her list of products, but just then the phone once again vibrates and asks her if she wants to know what blenders will make what foods on her shopping list. She clicks yes, and the grocery list she prepared is displayed in a handful of receipts with the blenders & food processors on her list displayed by what device can make what foods.After looking through the application, she finds out that all the foods on her list can’t be made with a blender, in fact for soups, she’s much better off with a higher end food processor. She then clicks on the model in question, and is directed to that product in the store. She is a bit taken by the price, but looks down at her iPhone, and the actual price of the product minus the in-store sale & 10% off for the application is displayed, as well as price comparisons to local retailers as well as the online price, along with product reviews, etc.

She quickly accesses the product comparison tab on the Williams-Sonoma application, to make sure she’s getting the best food processor, and a quick matrix pops up with features and information on what the difference in models are.After looking at the product check-marks in the comparison, she’s confident that this is the best model for her. She then takes the product up to the register, where her phone once again vibrates, and asks if she’d like to securely transmit billing information for the purchase, and if she’d like to join the mailing list. She didn’t want to fumble through her purse, so clicks to accept the secure transaction, with the receipt for the food processor being e-mailed to her. Furthermore, she joins the mailing list for further deals on accessories for the food processor she just purchased. The individual behind the register bags the food processor, and asks how Jan’s experience was.

She declares “Well, I came here for a $79 blender, and left with a $200 food processor – how did that happen!” The cashier behind the register chuckles, having been told similar comments on being up-sold several times that day.Jan leaves, excited to head to the QFC grocery store near her house, and using the Williams-Sonoma iPhone application to help determine what foods she can make with her new purchase, as well as get new receipts from the product-specific lists. Later the next week, she gets notified by the iPhone app that the pasta making accessory is on sale, along with a handful of pasta-specific ideas for dinner. Once again, Jan hops in the car, and heads to Alderwood Mall….

Conclusion

Though situations like transmitting purchasing data in real time as someone approaches the register may be a bit far out there, the story highlights ways in how a retail store can help influence decisions without ever taking the person away from their mobile device. The goal is making the customer feel comfortable with their purchase, and the mobile device can help to make sure the individual thinks it was their idea to purchase more, than when they initially set up on their trip, for example.

It’ll also help to keep them well connected beyond their visit, and help provide a useful function (ex: receipts for the kitchen tools they own) making the relationship between food preparation and your product line that much more of a reality.The mobile device is a conduit to the things that the consumer knows and cares about, and the more closely aligned your products can be, with that information, the more successful you’ll be in not only selling more but selling more efficiently, helping to drive up the ROI on Bluetooth proximity systems and store-only discounts.

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