Take Our Ultracool Test that Assesses the Unconscious Mind!

December 30, 2009

As many of you know, I am working on the manuscript for my next book.  It is based on “Personality Poker,” a game that is primarily used to help organizations be more innovative.  But everyone enjoys it because it is a fun card-based game that tells you all about your personality.

As part of my research for the book, I partnered with a professor in the psychology department of a well-known Cambridge, MA based Ivy League University (I’m sure you can guess who they are).

This university (ok, it’s Harvard) developed an approach for testing the implicit or unconscious mind.  You can read about it a previous blog entry.  This is fascinating stuff!  Read the article if you have not done so.

I loved the Implicit Association Testing so much that I had them develop a Personality Poker version. There is nothing out there like it!  Admittedly, it is not as much fun as the card-based version.  You take it on your computer.  And it takes A LOT of concentration.  But it is an interesting process.

And for the holidays, for a very limited time, I am allowing people to take the current version of the test with 4 simple stipulations:

  1. You will not share the “experiment file” with anyone else.  This is important because we are constantly refining the process to make it more accurate, simpler, and more insightful.
  2. You will take the entire test which lasts for about 30 minutes without interruption.
  3. You will send the “dat” file to me via email after taking the test.  This will help us compare explicit and implicit beliefs.  Your personal information is confidential.
  4. You agree not to sue me for damages if your head explodes after taking this test!

If you are interested in taking this test, please write us at iat-test@personalitypoker.net (please note it is a .net and not a .com).  We will send you the link and the password.  You will not be added to any lists.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Happy New Year.

NOTE: I am told that the software will not work on a MAC unless you are running a Windows emulator such as Virtual PC.

If you found this article useful or interesting, please press the "Like" button and post a Facebook comment below.

What is Your New Year’s Theme?

December 26, 2009

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner.  Many of you know that I have a tradition of setting a “theme” for each year rather than a resolution.

My theme for 2009 was “cool things.”  And it definitely was a year of cool things.

I signed a 2 book deal with Penguin’s Portfolio imprint.  I became InnoCentive’s Chief Innovation Evangelist.  I had many wonderful trips to cool places, including several to London and Copenhagen.  And I got to speak at some very cool events like the Global Creative Leadership Summit and the FT Innovate conference.  Most important of all, my family remains happy and healthy.

I’m not sure what my 2010 theme will be yet, but I know great things are in store.

If you have not done so, please read my article on setting New Year’s Resolutions.The article explains the 6 steps for setting a theme, including “Choose a broad theme rather than specific measurable goal.”  Excerpts of this article have appeared in over 300 newspapers around the world, including Costco’s Magazine.

You may also be interested in some statistics about New Year’s Resolutions.  Here is a highlight of some of the statistics:

Only 8% of people are always successful in achieving their resolutions.19% achieve their resolutions every other year.  49% have infrequent success.  24% (one in four people) NEVER succeed and have failed on every resolution every year. That means that 3 out of 4 people almost never succeed. Regardless, there is no correlation between happiness and resolution setting/success.  People who achieve their resolutions every year are NO happier than those who do not set resolutions or who are unsuccessful in achieving them.

Happy New Year!

If you found this article useful or interesting, please press the "Like" button and post a Facebook comment below.

Three Innovation Distinctions (part 1): Challenges not Ideas

December 23, 2009

Last week I was with a group of extremely successful entrepreneurs in Las Vegas. I was a bit of an outlier as my background is mainly with large, multi-billion dollar businesses. Everyone else in the room came from the start-up world. Also, nearly everyone in the room worked exclusively with speakers and authors. Although I too am a speaker and an author, it was clear that my perspectives were a bit different than everyone else in the room. Or as one entrepreneur said, “Steve, you have distinctions in innovation that we don’t.”

So they asked me to share my point of view. What I shared were three simple distinctions on innovation.

  1. Challenges not Ideas
  2. Process not Events
  3. Diversity not Homogeneity

In today’s blog entry I will focus on the first point. Subsequent blog entries will address the last two points.


Signal-to-Noise Ratio
One of the most important, yet under-considered measure in the innovation process is the signal-to-noise ratio. The signal-to-noise ratio is the ratio of a signal power to the noise power corrupting the signal. In layman’s terms, it is the ratio between what you want and what you don’t want. For example, in audio recordings, it is the ratio between the music and the background noise.

Organizations do not have a shortage of ideas. They have a shortage of good ideas that matter.

In innovation, the signal is comprised of the good ideas. The useful ideas. The ideas that can and will ultimately be implemented in such a way that they create value. The noise is made up of all of the other ideas. Useless suggestions. Solutions to problems that don’t matter. Ideas that will never come to fruition.

To increase innovation’s your signal to noise ratio the first thing you want to do is stop asking for ideas.

Drowning in Ideas

Suggestion boxes are cluttered with noise. The amount of time required to sift through the chaff to get to the wheat is huge. And even when you do find a good solution, the amount of effort required to rally to troops to implement the problem is huge.

The innovation team of a large retail bank implemented a major suggestion box program. They received thousands of ideas. Evaluators looked at every idea.  In the end, none were implemented. In the aftermath of their efforts, they asked me for my observations.  In hindsight, the submitted ideas could have been categorized into 3 groups:

  1. Duds: A large percentage of the ideas were clearly not worth pursuing. These ideas were not new, or were unlikely to show a positive ROI.  However, even with these, there might have been a nugget of usefulness that was missed.  However the energy to nurture these nuggets was probably not worth it.
  2. False Negatives: There were, from my perspective, many ideas that were indeed good. But for whatever reason, the evaluators dismissed them.  Part of it had to do with biases of the evaluators.  Sometimes it was due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the evaluators.  And often, it was because the ideas were not fleshed out enough making it difficult for them to be properly judged.
  3. Good, But No Home: This was the most disconcerting category.   These were ideas that were good ideas that the evaluators liked, but sadly they had no organizational home. As a result, the ideas withered on the vine and were never implemented.  They never got the resources or funding necessary to move them to the next level.

The company’s innovation program lasted a total of 18 months.  It was shut down and deemed a huge failure.

I have seen similar results in other organizations. One large company I know has a competition each year where employees submit new product ideas. The winner gets a large check and the company implements the best idea. I asked the person responsible for this program if it was viewed as a success. The answer was, “It was a PR success but a commercial failure.” The competition generated buzz in the media, but none of the products have yet to generate a positive ROI. Contrast this with their more focused efforts on creating or improving specific product lines. In nearly every case, these were commercial successes. Their idea-based programs did not generate good bottom-line results, while their challenge-based initiatives did.

The other issue with ideas is that there is no level of accountability. Because people tend to develop ideas on their own time, there are no time tracking methods that can keep tabs on how much energy is invested in idea generation. If you encourage ideas, I suspect that you are spending a lot more money on those initiatives than you could ever imagine. You might be able to measure the ROI of a winning idea. But I doubt you can determine the ROI of your overall ideas-based program. There is no way to know how much time was spent on the thousands of duds that never see the light of day.

The Power of Challenges

Contrast this with challenges. With challenges you assign owners, resources, evaluators, evaluation criteria, and funding up front. We know that the solution to a challenge will be relevant to the needs of the organization, so if a solution is found we know it will be valuable. Also, because of the nature of challenges, we have better tools to evaluate the amount of time spent on finding solutions. We can truly measure the ROI of each challenge and the overall challenge-based program.

Some of you may see a loophole in my logic. You might think, “Ok Steve, why not just post a challenge that asks for new ideas. This would seem to be a challenge-based approach. But of course all you are getting back are ideas.” This is true. And this is why it is important to discuss the construction of challenges.

The Goldilocks Principle

Good challenges must adhere to the Goldilocks Principle. That is they can’t be too big (broad, novel, abstract – e.g., asking for new ideas) or too small (overly specific). They must be “just right.” As Dwayne Spradlin said in his InnoCentive blog entry on the topic:

For example, the big problem is not the need for a new drug for a neglected disease, it is the elimination and/or minimization of the human suffering caused by the disease. The right questions might include: How do we limit transmission? How can we cost effectively produce treatments that comprehend market based economics to ensure a sustainable model? How do we distribute treatments in the developing world? Even these questions require further decomposition until we get to well formulated challenges (e.g., Can we get 5X more vaccine into the hands of those that need it in the context of real world economic, cultural, and political constraints in Sub-Saharan Africa?).

The key is good challenges. The right challenges.

A lot more could be said on this topic. But I will close with a quote from Albert Einstein, who in 1938 said, “The mere formulation of a problem is far more often essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

[for your convenience, all three articles have been packaged into one pdf file]

If you found this article useful or interesting, please press the "Like" button and post a Facebook comment below.

Video of My TEDx NASA Speech

December 16, 2009

For those of you who asked, here is the video of my six minute speech at the TEDx NASA conference. Click the bottom right button on the video player to watch in full screen. Enjoy.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube

If you found this article useful or interesting, please press the "Like" button and post a Facebook comment below.

Hand Dryer or Paper Towels / Collaboration or Competition

December 9, 2009

Hand Dryer Paper TowlAt the Open Innovation Summit last week, I had a lively conversation with a few individuals. The debate was about which model of open innovation is most effective – competitive or collaborative.

Kevin Boudreau and Karim Lakhani wrote an excellent article earlier this year in the MIT Sloane Management Review on this very topic. They looked at the merits of each form of open innovation. I encourage you to read the article as it addresses factors like intrinsic and extrinsic forms of motivation.

InnoCentive uses both forms of open innovation in different environments.

Their “marketplace” model is competitive. That is, when posting challenges to their network of 185,000 experts, the solvers cannot see any of the other solutions. One reason for using this model is that the intellectual property needs to be protected.

This is in contrast to InnoCentive’s @Work product which is used to broadcast challenges internally to employees. With this product, solutions are provided in a collaborative fashion where solvers can see all responses. Given that only employees are participating, intellectual property issues are not as critical.

The competition/collaboration debate reminds me of the Miller Lite commercials – “Tastes Great…Less Filling.”

It also reminds me of the hand dryer versus paper towel debate (in terms of efficacy – not impact on the environment, which is a different debate).

After much experimentation, I have the long awaited answer: Use paper towels first followed by the hand dryer. The paper towel gets off most of the water so that the hand dryer can quickly evaporate the remaining liquid. The best solution for drying your hands is not one approach, but a combination of the two… in the right order.

I believe that the answer is the same for the competition versus the collaboration debate. It is not an either/or proposition.

From my experience, you start with competition followed by collaboration. Here’s why….

If you start with collaboration, you end up with “group think” very quickly. That is, as soon as the first idea is thrown out, it tends to influence the thinking of the other contributors. This narrows the set of ideas that are typically generated. Therefore, if you start with a competition, you get the broadest set of ideas possible.

Then, after selecting the winners of the competition, you take the best ideas and allow a collaborative community to flesh them out. This gives you get a much richer solution in the end.

This approach models the most effective way of running brainstorming sessions. It works best when you first have each person independently write down their own creative ideas. Only after everyone generates their own list does the group come together. Then they share ideas, select the best ones, and expand upon those best ideas collaboratively. Individual thought followed by group throught. Competition followed by collaboration.

IMHO, the same is holds true for open innovation.

Of course there are a variety of factors that may “require” the use of one approach over the other (e.g., intellectual property protection), but there are even ways to address that. But more on that in another blog post.

P.S. I’m serious about using paper towels first followed by the hand dryer…
P.P.S. If you are not aware, I am InnoCentive’s Chief Innovation Evangelist.
P.P.P.S. It was pointed out that I use the word “ideas” in this post.  To be clear, when I say ideas I am referring to solutions to the given challenge.  I am a big believer that idea-driven innovation (i.e., give me your best idea) tends to lead to sub-optimal solutions.  I am an advocate of challenge-driven innovation (i.e., give me your best ideas that can solve this specific problem).  Although the difference may appear to be subtle, in reality the difference is significant.

If you found this article useful or interesting, please press the "Like" button and post a Facebook comment below.

Toothpaste Innovations

December 6, 2009

Toothpaste InnovationsI never really thought much about toothpaste.  But at the last two innovation conferences where I spoke, toothpaste was one of the hot topics.

At the FT Innovate conference in London, Unilever discussed their “Signal White Now” (and other brands) toothpaste.  Instead of using harsh bleaches and abrasives, they borrowed an optical-effect technology from their laundry team.  This toothpaste uses a blue pigment to make yellow teeth instantly appear whiter.  This same ingredient is used to make white clothes look even whiter.

At the Open Innovation Summit in Orlando, GSK discussed how their “Aquafresh iso-active” toothpaste borrowed an idea from a GSK cleaning product which acts like Edge shaving cream (she used that example since most people in the room would understand it).  The toothpaste comes out like a gel, but foams in the mouth, much like the shaving cream.  This formulation, according to the can I was given, removes 25% more bacteria than regular toothpaste – or 3x more according to the picture left.

This got me thinking.  If toothpaste manufacturers can get ideas from shaving cream and laundry detergent, where else could they get ideas?  Within 5 minutes, I thought up a few ideas of how to gain inspiration from other products:

  1. Pop Rocks:  As a kid, I loved how Pop Rocks, the carbonated candy, exploded in your mouth.  What if you added Pop Rock-like crystals to toothpaste?  Not only would the toothpaste foam, it would fizz and explode.  Maybe this would blast the plaque off your teeth.  Of course, it might blast off your teeth like Pop Rocks reputedly did a few times.
  2. Shampoo: Shampoos are infused with vitamins and minerals to give your hair bounce and shine.  What if you infused toothpaste with these ingredients? Or maybe you could add some homeopathic remedies – for those who believe in these alternative “medicines.”  Sublingual administration (under the tongue) is a common and effective way of delivering drugs directly into the bloodstream.
  3. Conditioner: We use shampoo to clean and conditioner to protect.  Maybe they can create a tooth conditioner; a special toothpaste that you use after your regular toothpaste.  It could coat your teeth to prevent staining, bad breath, or split ends.  Even better, they could borrow the “technology” used by shampoos like “Pearl” that combine shampoo and conditioner into one formulation.
  4. Moisturizers: Several moisturizers have an AM and a PM formulation.  One is used in the morning and the other at night before you go to sleep.  The AM formula of toothpaste could be infused with caffeine that would be absorbed into the bloodstream sublingually (see idea #2 above).  And the PM formulation could be infused with melatonin to help you sleep better at night.
  5. Weight Loss Products:  I’m not sure how this would work, but what if you could create a toothpaste that somehow made certain foods taste bad?  This might cause you to reduce the amount of food you eat.  Or maybe there is another way to make toothpaste a weight loss product.  OK, this one is a stretch, but there might be a kernel of an idea there!

In a breakout at the Open Innovation Summit, an innovation leader from Johnson & Johnson, when asked to name the most important word for their business right now, answered “Convergence.”  By this, he meant the sharing of ideas across business units and brands.

Ideas can indeed come from anywhere.  And quite often, the best ideas will come from inside your own organization- just from a different product, function, division, or brand.  Where will your next big idea come from?

If you want to learn how to tap into the collective wisdom of your organization, look into InnoCentive’s @Work product.  This collaboration tool helps you post challenges to anyone inside your organization.  And if you don’t get the answer you like internally, you can “flip a switch” and post your challenge externally to their 185,000 solvers.

If you have other toothpaste innovation ideas, I would love for you to post them as comments!

P.S. In addition to the comments below, look at the solutions provided on the InnoCentive blog.  There are some great ideas there!

If you found this article useful or interesting, please press the "Like" button and post a Facebook comment below.