More Blog Entries Coming Soon

January 25, 2010

I have been working ’round the clock to finish my Personality Poker manuscript.  It goes to the publisher Feb 1.  After that, I will be back and blogging in full force…

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R.I.P. Robert B. Parker

January 19, 2010

Today I learned that one of my favorite authors, Robert B. Parker, passed away.

He is probably best know for his “Spenser” books.  These fast-paced crime stories are based in Boston (my hometown) and were the  inspiration for the ’80s TV show, “Spenser: For Hire.”  I read every book and loved them all.

He is also the author of the Jesse Stone books which were made into several made-for-TV movies starring Tom Selleck.  And he wrote Appaloosa which was turned into a major motion picture featuring Ed Harris.

You can read a tribute to him in the Wall Street Journal.

Bob, you will be missed!

The picture is of me with Robert Parker at his home in 2008.  He and his wife Joan hosted a lovely dinner party there for me and 20 of my friends.  It will be a night I always remember.

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Three Innovation Distinctions (Part 2): Process Not Events

January 18, 2010

In the first part of this series, I wrote why you should focus on challenges, not ideas. You should read that article before proceeding. [for your convenience, all three articles have been packaged into one pdf file]

In this second entry, I will focus on “Process, not Events.”

I first shared these three distinctions with a bunch of speakers and authors.  In the speaking industry, conferences/conventions are the primary model for professional development.   That is, a bunch of people get together for a few days.  The days are comprised of presenters on the stage who share their “wisdom” with attendees.  When the event is over, the learning ends.  And for most individuals, progress ends.

People who attend these events leave with a laundry list of ideas.  Most people never implement any of the ideas.  They just sit on the shelf in a binder.

This, in a nutshell, is what happens in the innovation programs of many businesses.  They hold ad hoc brainstorming sessions. Or maybe they run a campaign using a crowdsourcing tool.   They develop new ideas.  If they are lucky, those ideas do get implemented. But quite often, the event ends and progress ends.  Regardless, innovation does not happen again until someone has another stroke of inspiration and decides to hold another event.

Innovation in most organizations is episodic.  It is unpredictable.  And it is certainly not repeatable.

But what if you had a systematic way for ensuring that innovation continued long after the event?  What if you didn’t need to wait for divine intervention for your next big idea to sprout?  What if you could make innovation repeatable?  To do this, you want to move from “innovation as an event” to “innovation as a process.”

Back to the authors and speakers…what if, instead of just events, there was a process that helped people see their ideas through to fruition?  What if everyone came to the event with some challenges?  The process could involve regular mentoring or an online community.  There could be measures in place to help monitor progress.  The point is, there is a process to help ensure progress.

In the business world, we have the opportunity to take this process-driven innovation concept a bit further.

For this “event to process” transition to be successful, the first step is to start treating innovation like you would treat any other part of the business. For example, your organization’s finance department has skilled experts, measures, supporting technology (e.g., Oracle or SAP), processes (e.g., processes for closing the books at year end), an owner (the CFO), and a strategy.

The innovation “process” requires all of these elements, and more, including skilled innovation experts (e.g., an innovation center of excellence aka innovation master blackbelts), innovation measures (e.g., return on investment for each idea), innovation management technologies (e.g., InnoCentive’s @Work solution), an innovation process, an innovation “czar” (aka advocate, Chief Innovation Officer, VP Innovation), and a clearly articulated innovation strategy (what you expect to achieve with your innovation program).

I call this level either “innovation as a process” or more accurately, “innovation as a discrete capability.”  You can read more about this in my “Innovation Philosophy” page.

With these fundamentals in place, you can begin to make innovation a repeatable and predictable process whereby creativity is encouraged throughout the organization and the best ideas are implemented.

It’s worth noting that after successfully moving through the process level of innovation, the highest level of innovation is embedded innovation (aka embedded capability or environment). With both the event- and process-driven levels, innovation tends to be reactionary and discrete. It is somewhat separate from the business. With embedded innovation, people not only innovate to deal with “problems/challenges” that are presented to them, but in everything they do. They continuously, even radically, improve their products, processes and organization.

I could write much more on this topic.  In fact I did.  I originally wrote about the three level of innovation in my 2001 book, 24/7 Innovation,” and upgraded the concepts for my “Little Book of BIG Innovation Ideas.”

Look for the third and final installment of this three part series sometime soon.

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I Need Your Help: Personality Poker Book Subtitle

January 8, 2010

I need your help!

I am in the process of finishing the manuscript for my next book, “Personality Poker.”  The book will be published by Penguin’s Portfolio books and is expected in stores September 2010.

We have been working on a subtitle for the book – and I would love your input.

I realize that you don’t know the details of the book.  But in general, it is about creating high performing innovation teams through the use of my specially designed poker cards.  There are a few key concepts:

  1. Individuals should “play to their strong suit.”  In Personality Poker, the four suits correlate to the four primary innovation styles and the four steps of the innovation process.  Therefore, if you understand your innovation style/suit, you can maximize your contributions to your team.   [NOTE: "strong suit" is actually a term from bridge and not poker]
  2. Organizations must “play with a full deck.”  That is, companies must have all of the styles (and sub-styles) in order to truly be innovative.  Most organizations are out of balance and have too many of just one or two styles.  This inhibits innovation.
  3. Deal out the work.”  Once everyone is clear about their role in the innovation process, you want to divide and conquer.  Avoid having everyone do everything.  Give people specific tasks and roles.

That’s the 10,000 (maybe 30,000) foot view.  You can learn more – and watch a video – on the Personality Poker page.

So, the question is, what is a good subtitle? Here’s a list of some ideas we had…

  • “[How to] Play Your Best Hand to Win Big in Business”
  • “[How to] Play with a Full Deck to Win Big in Business”
  • “[How to] Play to Your Strong Suit to Win Big in Business”
  • “[How to] Play with a Full Deck to Create High Performing Teams”
  • “[How to] Play to Your Strong Suit to Create High Performing Teams”
  • “[How to] Play Your Best Hand to Create High Performing Teams”

Do you like any of these?  Note that the “How to” is optional as each subtitle can stand on its own without those words.

Better yet, I would love to get new ideas for a subtitle.

Please leave your suggestion (either a new idea or a vote for an existing idea) as a comment.  If we end up using your subtitle, we will send you the Personality Poker system (a $200 value).  Plus, when the new book is published, we will send you a signed copy (with an additional deck of the redesigned cards).

Thanks in advance for your help.

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Why Best Practices are (not Always) Stupid

January 7, 2010

A couple of days ago I wrote an article entitled – “Why Best Practices Are Stupid.”  You can read my rationale there; I won’t bother reiterating it here.  Besides, there is a video in that post.

But there are situations when best practices are NOT stupid.

Core & Support Capabilities
In an even earlier article I talk about innovation targeting.  Again, I won’t repeat what was said there.  But in summary, best practices are not a good idea for your “differentiating” capabilities.  But they can be quite useful for optimizing your “core” and “support” capabilities.  Read the article to learn more.

Cross-Industry Best Practices
Don’t get too excited about best practices that are from within your industry.  But certainly “steal with pride” from other industries.  You can get some incredible innovations from companies who are not your competition and are from an entirely different industry.  Watch my TEDx NASA video (only 6 minutes long) or read the speech transcript for some examples.

The Innovation Process
Here’s a question for you: Should you innovate  the innovation process?  Here’s my two cents.  Although innovation is used primarily for your differentiating capabilities, the innovation process itself is, for most companies, only a core capability.  Therefore the answer is “no, you should not innovate the innovation process.”  Or in other words, innovation best practices are extremely useful (and not stupid).

For example, if you are an insurance company, you might want to apply innovation to your claims processing.  Claims processing might be a differentiator.  But innovation is a core capability.  Therefore you want to use innovation best practices rather than inventing new approaches for innovating.

The one exception to the rule however, is if you are indeed an innovation company.  For example, for companies like InnoCentive, innovation is their differentiator.  Using innovation best practices would not be enough.  They differentiate themselves in the marketplace via the thought leadership on the innovation topic.

As you can see, although it is fun to say that best practices are stupid, they do in fact serve a useful purpose if used in the right way.

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Deja Vu All Over Again

January 6, 2010

Some things never change.

October 7, 2008 I wrote an article about how our airport security measures are messed up.  I contended back then that we needed to move from a reactive model to a proactive model.  Instead of responding to terrorist threats after the fact, we need to predict what will happen next.  In the article I discuss why we have to take off our shoes and can’t bring liquids on planes.  It was not because we predicted the use of shoe bombs or liquid explosives.  Instead these inconveniences are solely (pun intended – shoe reference) due to the acts of terrorists.  They do something nasty, we respond.  But we never predict what will happen to prevent an attack in the first place.  In this article I also discuss how to predict the next innovation for your company.

Guess what.  Some things never change.

On Christmas day 2009, 14 months later, there was the same reactive response.  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane on its way into Detroit.  He tried to light his crotch on fire.  What do our crackpot security agents do?  They react once again just as they have so many times before. Now you can’t keep anything on your lap for the last hour of certain flights.

In 2001, in my book, 24/7 Innovation: A Blueprint for Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Change, the pervasive theme was about “connecting the dots.”  This term appeared dozens of times in the book.  Sometimes I used the term “boxes” and “lines” instead.  For example, in the prologue I wrote:

“I find it useful to think of a business as being, quite simply, a pattern of boxes and lines.  Boxes can be tasks, people, departments, computers or units within a business. Lines are the inter-relationships and dependencies that connect these boxes together. It seems to me that too often businesses have focused on the boxes rather than the lines.”

The point being that businesses need to get better at connecting the dots within and across organizations.  For your enjoyment, you can read the entire prologue of 24/7 Innovation here (pdf).

I received my first copy of the book, hot off the press, on September 12, 2001.  Clearly given the events of the previous day, the receipt of my book was not the joyous occasion I had hoped it would be.

In the years following the book release, I searched for interesting examples of organizations who successfully and unsuccessfully connected the dots within their organization.  Then one day, I found an excellent quote that I used frequently during my speeches.

“In looking back, I believe that… the inability to connect the dots was really structural. We couldn’t be dependent on chance that something might come together… [Since then] we have made some very important structural changes… That is an extremely important innovation.”

Any guesses as to who said that and about what situation? It was Dr. Condoleeza Rice, who at the time was Assistant to the President for National Security.  She was talking about the failure of the intelligence agencies prior to the 2001 terrorist attacks. Eight years ago she too understood the need to connect the dots.  And according to her statement which was made in front of the 9/11 committee in 2004, “structural changes” were made to improve the situation.  You can read the full quote in a transcript of her testimony on the NYT website.

Some things never change.

Just last night, President Obama said that the Christmas Day attack was the result of a “failure to connect the dots.

Anti-terrorist agents “had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot … but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots. This was not a failure to collect intelligence; it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.”

Sound familiar?

My questions to you is…

What things never change within YOUR organization? Are you predicting the next innovation or are you just waiting for your competitors to beat you to the punch?  Are you connecting the dots within your organization, or are you still operating in silos?

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Why Best Practices are Stupid

January 5, 2010

The other day I saw this  video of Tom Peters from 2007.  He contends that “benchmarking is stupid.”  It is a good video that is worth watching.

While watching this, I couldn’t help but reflect back to back to the year 2000, when I started penning my first book, “24/7 Innovation.”  The first paragraph of the first chapter was:

I play golf — not well, but I play golf. My handicap is in double digits. For me to shoot par would be a dream. But for Tiger Woods, par would be a nightmare. I am reminded of this comparison when I see companies that are satisfied to focus on their understanding of “par,” otherwise known as best practice. It was once an admirable aim, but is not sufficient today. Your competitors are more like Tiger Woods than they are like me. Par won’t keep you alive in the current environment.

Smart businesses are learning to push farther. They know that best practice will not get them where they want to be. Not so long ago, it was possible for a company to set the industry standard or best practice, then sit back and watch weaker rivals try to catch up. But businesses are now in a greater state of flux than ever before in the history of commerce. Global competition has reached a stage where no sooner has one firm achieved excellence than so too have its imitative rivals. The only way a company can hope to stay ahead now is by being continuously entrepreneurial and innovative, by creating processes and capabilities that allow innovation to flourish and become a core strength. Only then is it possible to escape from the game of follow-the-leader, of shooting for par.

However, having said that, I am not against best practices altogether.  I am just against them as your innovation strategy.  In particular, best practices are not useful for defining your “differentiating” capabilities.

In my 2007 article on “Innovation Targeting,” I discuss why best practices are actually ideal for core (and sometimes support) capabilities.  These are part of the business that are important to the customer but do not set you apart in the marketplace.  You want these to run like a well-oiled machine.  High quality, low cost.  But differentiating capabilities must help you stand out in a crowded marketplace.

I discuss this concept in this 10 minute presentation (in Malaysia) where I use a very simple example.

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