Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike

January 16, 2008

I’ve always said, “Expertise is the enemy of creativity.” The New York Times recently had an article on this exact topic.

Although the article is pretty basic, it is a good reminder that sometimes the most creative ideas come from those who are not experts on the problem being solved.

This poses a dilemma for organizations. If your Product Development team are experts in your product, then they may be the wrong people to develop new and innovative products.

As Chip Heath (co-author of “Made to Stick”) said in the article,“I HAVE a DVD remote control with 52 buttons on it, and every one of them is there because some engineer along the line knew how to use that button and believed I would want to use it, too,” Mr. Heath says. “People who design products are experts cursed by their knowledge, and they can’t imagine what it’s like to be as ignorant as the rest of us.”

This “curse of knowledge” is increasing the need for open innovation; the ability to get new ideas from outsiders from all corners of the earth. One company that is revolutionizing this is InnoCentive - the leader in prized based open innovation. This open innovation concept is also helping solve pressing social issues such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The key is to engage people who have fresh eyes.

Or, whenever possible, heed the words from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

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Pursuing Passion Quote of the Day

January 15, 2008

“If it is possible to make yourself into a great hacker. The way to do it may be to make the following deal with yourself: you never have to work on boring projects (unless your family will starve otherwise), and in return, you’ll never allow yourself to do a half-assed job (not done properly). All the great hackers I know seem to have made that deal, though perhaps none of them had any choice in the matter.” — Great Hackers by Paul Graham

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Turning a Passion into a Profession

January 14, 2008

Boston Sunday GlobeIn yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe, I was quoted in an article entitled “Turning a Passion into a Profession.” The piece shares the story of people who left their regular jobs in pursuit of their passion. Here was my contribution to the article:

And his approach to realizing his dream was well-conceived because he was not only doing something that created value for himself, but for others as well, said Steve Shapiro, a motivational career speaker from Quincy.

“If you’re serious about pursuing your passion, you have to do your homework and put yourself through training and only make the leap when you’re ready,” he said. “And once you are, you can’t just dip your toe, you have to jump in with both feet.”

Shapiro said it’s important not to get restricted or intimidated by the reality checks that will be thrown at your dreams, but to understand that there will be sacrifices along the way.

The author of the article, Kate M. Jackson, also asked me to write 5 tips for a side-bar. They were not published, so I am including them here. [Read more]

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Innovation and the Performance Paradox

January 9, 2008

The Innovation Performance Paradox CurveToday, my article on “The Performance Paradox: When Less is More” was published by the American Management Association.

You may recall that I introduced this concept in a blog entry last month.

What is the Performance Paradox?

The more fixated on your goal you become, the greater your chance of success, right? Yes, but only to a certain extent. It turns out that when people are too fixated on the future, their creativity and overall performance actually diminish.

Read the entire Performance Paradox article on the AMA website.

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Innovation and Leadership

January 8, 2008

Back in my Accenture days, I had the pleasure of working with many brilliant individuals.  One person in particular stood out amongst the crowd: Brad Kolar.  Although he worked in the “professional development” department (which typically implies taking other people’s intellectual property and converting it into training), he was one of the firm’s greatest thinkers.  After leaving Accenture he became the Chief Learning Office for the University of Chicago Medical Center.  Recently he started doing his own thing.

Brad recently started a blog, “The Question of Leadership,” which has some fantastic materials.  Although every post is a gem, here are a few of my favorites:

Please take the time to peruse his collection and post comments.

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Innovation Lesson from The Apprentice

January 7, 2008

Innovation Lesson from The ApprenticeI’ll admit it. I, unlike most people in the United States, did not watch Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” the other night. But in a conversation with some people who did tune in, it sounds like the winners applied an important innovation concept.

As I understand it, the task for the week was to see which team could sell the most hot dogs to raise money for charity.

The first challenge for each team was to set the price of the hot dogs: low enough to sell large volumes yet high enough to maximize margins. This is a challenge that all companies face when pricing their products or services.

Each team started selling their dogs for about $5. Then they started to ask their customers for more money using a variety of creative gimmicks. Their plan worked so they continually increased the selling price by bundling in extras (e.g., pictures with the celebs).

One team continued to focus on these “traditional” business techniques, selling as many high priced hot dogs as possible. In the end, they sold about $17K. Not bad for a day’s work.

But the winning team figured out something quickly. The hot dogs were not the end game; they were a means of getting to the objective: raise the most money for charity.

Instead of selling $200 hot dogs on street corners, they called their high-roller friends and asked them to buy hot dogs for $5,000 or more. The result? Over $52K in sales. Over three times the profit of the other team.

Can you imagine how many hot dogs you would have to sell to make a $50K?

This highlights one of the mistakes that organizations make when thinking about innovation.

Although top executives typically keep their eyes on the end game (usually some variation of short- and long-term stock price), as you move down through the organization this changes. The focus shifts to measuring and managing tasks and products (such as selling hot dogs). The reality is, these are only a means to an end.

The solution? Stop micro-managing activities and make sure that every employee understands – and keeps their eyes on – business fundamentals and what matters most. This will enhance both creativity and overall business performance.

Is your organization measuring how many hot dogs it sells? Or are you looking at creative ways to make as much money as possible?

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Turning the Extraordinary into Ordinary

January 4, 2008

As many of you know, my sister (Deborah) and her husband (Gary) sold their house and are now traveling the country in an RV for the next year. Gary sells cancer insurance door to door as they make their way across the states (yes, he knocks on people’s doors) . The idea is to integrate his work with their desire to be on “vacation” every day. They have now been on the road for four months, traveling from Chicago, across to Maine, down the coast to Georgia and Florida.

I bet you think this sounds like an incredible opportunity. It is. But opportunities are not necessarily reality.

Although they created this once in a lifetime trip, they have not capitalized on what is possible.

Old habits have surfaced. Instead of exploring, they have settled into their old habits. Each day in their RV looks pretty much the same as it did when they lived at home: work, dinner, wine, TV, sleep.

In her blog entry on “Turning the Extraordinary into Ordinary,” Deborah describes her daily routine and makes a brilliant observation:

As exciting as cross-country travel could be, has consistency and predictability become more of a priority? Although Gary and I are in the 4th month of our trip, over 1/3 complete, we are still waiting for the trip to begin.”

This is our natural tendency. We seek out the familiar. We play it safe to protect what we have and know.

We are waiting for life to begin. The five most dangerous words are: “I will be happy when…”

We convince ourselves that our happiness lies in the future. That life will be great when we lose 10 pounds, when we get married, when we have more money, or when we have a high-status job.

It’s not true. Happiness lies in the present. Now.

Every day we are presented with opportunities. Most of them are not as obvious as a 365 day vacation. Many are subtle; somewhat hidden from view. Find these opportunities. Take advantage of them. Play full out…today.

Do not wait for your trip to begin.

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See Stephen Speak About Innovation

January 4, 2008

Are you ready to start the New Year with some creative thinking?

If so, join me when I speak at the International Special Events Society’s January meeting.

What: Get ready for a fast paced, value-packed 60 minutes. First, you will play “Innovation Personality Poker.” In this highly interactive game, you trade specially designed poker cards with other participants. The objective is to get a perfect hand that reveals your preferred innovation style. You may be surprised at what you discover. Next on the agenda is “Speed Ideating,” a rapid fire creativity session where you will learn radical, and pragmatic, techniques for solving your most pressing business problems. Finally, your mind will be stretched even further with some unconventional, yet proven, approaches for increasing sales and team motivation. You will never look at your business the same way again.

When: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Where: The Liberty Hotel Boston,215 Charles Street,Boston, MA

How: Register for this innovation event

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See Stephen on Television

January 3, 2008

Tomorrow, Friday January 4th, I will be on Fox 25′s Morning News in Boston. I am scheduled to be on at 8:20AM.

I will talk about my story that appeared in the recent “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book.

In particular I will address my life as a recovered “Goalaholic.” As part of the conversation, I hope to give some tips for how to set goals for success in the New Year without losing yourself (and your family).

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My New Year’s Theme

January 2, 2008

2008 new years resolutionsBy know you know that I am a believer in setting theme-based resolutions. Every year at this time I announce my theme. After considerable contemplation, I have decided on my theme for 2008:


I have been inspired by the New England Patriots this year. They just completed the first 16-0 season in the history of American football. Their success is not by luck or chance. It is due to discipline and teamwork. They live by 7 powerful lessons. This year, I will take take these lessons to heart and play my best game, each and every day. Head Coach, Bill Belichick, once said after achieving a 20 game win streak, “We did not have a 20 game win streak. We had 20 one-game win streaks.” This year I am striving for 366 one-day win streaks.

Please share your New Year’s Theme.

Happy New Year.

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