How To Embrace And Conquer Pain

June 27, 2011

Let’s face it, sometimes you feel horrible. You feel like the universe is conspiring against you. It could be caused by an upsetting event, such as the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. Other times the feelings are elusive and unexplainable, thus attributed to the alignment of the stars or a chemical imbalance. All you want is to feel better.

Friends and coworkers may tell you to snap out of it, or find a meaningful project. As well meaninged as this advice may be, it can have a tremendous impact on your ability to effectively move forward.

Think about it. If you are angry and focus your attention elsewhere, do the feelings really go away? No. You are simply diverting your attention temporarily to avoid the experience. Even if you are not focused on the upset in the moment, you can rest assured it is still there. And it will be until you deal with the underlying issue.

Most people combat undesirable feelings by consciously or subconsciously creating a goal to feel better. However, consider the old adage, “The more you try to change things, the more they stay the same.” Trying to feel better will most often be a futile attempt.

I believe in living in the present. Although you may have to embrace something that you don’t really want, the more you deal with the now, the better the future. In college, there were moments when I would feel a little melancholy—it was typically due to women problems. Women were more important than grades. I didn’t do particularly well with either. For these occasions of sadness, I made this mix tape, aptly titled “The Depression Tape.”

When I felt down in the dumps, I would put that tape in the stereo, open a bottle of wine, turn off the lights, and allow myself to experience my sadness. Eventually I would fall asleep. When I awoke the next morning, I felt like a new man. The experience was very cathartic.

I have since learned to turn this approach into something a bit more, um, healthy. I have replaced the wine with journaling (better for my liver) and substituted the wallowing with a healthy dose of embracing the pain.

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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How Small Businesses Can Leverage Crowdsourcing

June 16, 2011

Open innovation and crowdsourcing promise to revolutionize the way companies innovate and develop new products, create marketing campaigns and solve problems of all kinds. Unfortunately, there is more confusion than clarity about how to best utilize these approaches. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of InnoCentive, one of the early pioneers in the open innovation market. He is the co-author of a new book on open innovation and he shared his perspectives with me.

Q: Your book is called The Open Innovation Marketplace. From my experience, there are many definitions of open innovation. What’s yours?

A: Open innovation (OI) is essentially not traditional or closed innovation, the latter having been the dominant mode for companies throughout the 20th century. In the closed innovation model, innovating relies on internal resources, problem solvers and experts to solve problems or capitalize on opportunities, whereas in OI, problem solvers and knowledge are widely dispersed and may reside outside the company. Additionally, closed innovation is often practiced by rigid “not invented here” cultures that focus too much on who solves problems, whereas companies that have embraced OI tend to have more open and collaborative cultures that embrace external ideas with the focus on finding solutions to key opportunities and challenges.

It’s the notion of challenges, in fact, which lie at the center of OI from our point of view. Challenges are specific, detailed, and actionable problems or opportunities. Via rigorous methodology, problems that matter are defined, prioritized and converted into discrete challenges. These challenges are then formulated and configured for specific channels (e.g., internal groups or divisions, external crowdsourced communities). The tail end of the challenge process involves submission evaluations and triage, legal and intellectual property treatments for the chosen solution, and awarding winner(s).

Q: Large companies like P&G, Eli Lilly, and even NASA using open innovation. How do you see open innovation being used by small businesses and startups?

A: From our experience, some of the best examples come from the nonprofit arena. These organizations are small and have limited resources similar to that of any small business. Nonprofits such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI), and Prize4Life have leveraged open innovation to great effect by focusing their efforts on specific challenges or a series of challenges that, with their limited resources, they could not tackle and solve alone. The beauty of open innovation is that it enables all companies, big and small, to leverage the same diverse global communities of problem solvers.

One of my favorite examples of a small business leveraging challenges is Precyse Technologies, a firm that specializes in radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Like many emerging high tech companies bringing cutting edge products to market, Precyse sought to improve the performance and battery life of its mobile computing products. A challenge was posted to InnoCentive.com and more than 500 problem solvers from 64 countries contributed their ideas and technical expertise to help solve it. Within 90 days, Precyse received 33 relevant submissions—several which offered novel, innovative solutions. The winning solution, which was truly a breakthrough, entailed harvesting energy from radio waves to significantly extend the battery life of Precyse’s RFID tags. The overall experience for Precyse was extremely positive, as the solution enabled the company to get to market faster, lower costs and improve overall utility to its clients in what is a highly competitive market.

Q: What are the mistakes that many companies make when implementing open innovation?

A: The biggest mistake we see is when companies try to “bolt it on” to existing innovation practices and processes. They try to dip a toe in the water and often achieve mediocre outcomes as a result. Or, they approach OI only tactically, and in some cases myopically, as they don’t understand the broader implications of what OI can do to transform their cultures and their businesses. It’s particularly hard for companies that are very rigid and set in their ways. It’s a corporate mindset issue more than anything. The companies that tend to use OI successfully are those that are willing to embrace and combine both traditional modes of innovation (i.e., internal innovation, stage-gate) with newer forms (e.g., open innovation, crowdsourcing), but do it with an integrated set of new processes and reward mechanisms. You can’t keep rewarding people only for solving problems when their job should be finding solutions (inside or outside).

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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New School is Old School

June 14, 2011

I just finished reading a mindless crime novel* – my favorite genre of book. The victim was the producer of an old television series who recently sold the rights to do a remake of the show.

Fans were outraged. Most were purists who liked the original version and would do anything to prevent the new show…including kill the producer.

The producer of the remake defended the decision to do a new version of an old show. He said…

“New school is old school. It’s too risky for the networks and for the audiences. People are much more comfortable with the familiar. Reimagination is the new new.”

Basically he is suggesting that “reimagining” something old is the latest way to innovate.

But is it? Is “reimagining” the same as innovation?

  • Is remaking a classic television show innovative? “The Twilight Zone” remake, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” or “America’s Got Talent” (a reimagination of the “Gong Show”).
  • Is remaking an old song with a new interpretation innovative? Jimi Hendrix covering Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” is a classic example.
  • What about sampling an old song in a new song? Eminem sampled Dido’s “Thank You” in his rap, “Stan.”  Vanilla Ice sampled Queen’s “Under Pressure” in “Ice Ice Baby.”
  • What about TV spin-offs such as “The Jeffersons” (an “All in the Family” spin-off), “Frasier” (a “Cheers” spin-off), or “Mork and Mindy” (a “Happy Days” spin-off)?
  • Are movie sequels such Hangover 2 (which is awesome, by the way), Father of the Bride 15, or The Fockers movies, innovative?

You get the idea.

Many would argue that these are NOT great examples of innovation. But I beg to differ. Although they may not all be wildly original, that does not mean that they are not innovative.

Innovation is developing anything new that creates substantial value. It does not need to be original or even creative in order for it to be innovative.

If a remake, resample, spin-off, or sequel can generate profits, then from my perspective, it is innovative.

It takes innovation to adapt something old to new tastes.  It takes creative thinking to develop sequels and spin-offs that are as good as (if not better than) the original. It takes marketing savvy to convince people that they should spend their time and money on something that they have seen before (albeit in another form).

From my perspective, reimagining is definitely a form of innovation – as long as it creates the intended value.

But of course, not all innovation is simply revamping the old.  Adaptive innovation is only one form of innovation.

And equally important: innovation is more than creating a single hit. You need to do it over and over again. Repeatability is key. If you only reimagine the old, at some point you will run out of ideas.

* Mr. Monk in Outer Space by Lee Goldberg. This book series is a reimagination of the TV show “Monk.”

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Should You Catch or Fish for Innovations?

June 13, 2011

On talk radio the other day, they were discussing the fishing industry. The conversation centered on how certain types of much more popular than others. I not sure of the specifics, but I think salmon, tuna, and sea bass are the hot fish.

Most consumers, when they go to the supermarket, ask for those specific fish. They have a recipe in mind and want to cook that. It was suggested that it would be better if people asked the “freshest” catch instead.

From their perspective, there are two reasons why requesting the freshest catch is good idea. The obvious reason is that the fish will most likely be tastier.

But there was a bigger reason; one that is critical to the industry.

If people stop asking for specific fish, it would allow fishermen to “catch” rather than “fish.”

The distinction might seem subtle, but it is important.

Fishing means you target specific fish, even if they are not plentiful or fresh.

On the other hand, catching means you get what you get; whatever is plentiful and ready to be caught. From an industry perspective, this is preferred.  It prevents over-catching of popular fish and helps the industry survive.

This got me thinking about innovation.

What is better: catching or fishing for innovations?

Although catching might be better for the fishing industry, fishing is better for the innovation industry.

When you “catch,” you tend to innovate around your capabilities (what you do well), what you do today, or what feels right. This is not a good strategy. If you do this, your innovations will not be grounded in what the market desires.

According to an Accenture study of executives in 639 companies, the number one reason for innovation failure was that their products and services “failed to meet customer needs.”

Your innovations need to be relevant to the needs of the marketplace.

Therefore, “fishing” for solutions that meet consumer needs it a more powerful strategy. Innovating on what is “important” helps focus your efforts, ensures relevance of solutions, and increases your overall capacity to innovate.

So, although the “catch of the day” might be a good strategy for selecting your dinner, using this as an innovation strategy might leave you with a lot of unpopular (and unsold) solutions.

P.S. For those of you who fish, if I got the distinction backwards, please don’t shoot me…I’m running from my recollection of the radio broadcast.

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How to Always Be On Time

June 8, 2011

If you have been around for a while, you might recall the Hertz commercials from the 70s where the ex-football star and criminal, O.J. Simpson, is running through airports hurdling over rows of departure lounge seats and luggage. I know of other road warriors who also run through airports, priding themselves in being able to arrive at the gate just as the doors are closing.

Not me. In fact, I tend to get to most places early. And there is a good reason.

My background is in process design where there is a concept called “the theory of constraints.” The general idea is that success is limited by at least one constraining process—a bottleneck. In the business world, this means if you want to improve capacity, the most effective way is to increase the throughput at the bottleneck so that overall throughput is increased. You can think of this as strengthening the weakest link in the chain. Or to provide a more visual representation, by expanding the neck of an hourglass, throughput will be significantly improved allowing the sand to move more rapidly to its destination.

These bottlenecks aren’t too difficult to spot. As an example, XYZ company launches a huge marketing campaign for a new product, but the call center is inadequately staffed to handle the volume of incoming requests. This bottleneck will cost them potential customers. By improving the throughput of the call center, overall throughput for the company will be improved.

While it is common for companies to employ the theory of constraints to improve business results, I also use aspects of this model to increase success in my own personal life. Take flying—with over 1 million miles of flying under my belt, I have never missed a flight. How is this possible? I identified the places where bottlenecks typically occur, and I put those behind me first.

There are many potential logjams we can face when trying to catch a flight: traffic on the way to the airport and long lines at the check-in counter, baggage drop-off, or security. Any one of these could prevent me from getting to my plane on time. I can’t predict when it will happen nor do I have the capability to minimize any of these potential bottlenecks (although I do try to fly during slower times when traffic to and in the airport will be less)…

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

P.S. I’m curious.  Which do you think is a stronger title for this article – “How to Always Be On Time” or “How to Never Be Late”?  Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

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Microwork Sourced Innovation Article

June 3, 2011

In my blog entry yesterday, I posted an interview with a woman who does “microwork” on the fiverr site. Be sure to read that interview first as context.  Now, as promised, here is the article on innovation she wrote for $5.  Not bad, if you want my two cents…

5 Ways To Make Your Company More Innovative

Innovation is one of the most important things to keep constant in your company. Without new ideas, it’s impossible to stay ahead of the business curve. For a good example of what innovative staff can create, look at businesses like Google or Apple. Both are innovative companies, and both are extremely profitable. It’s easy to see why you should encourage innovation in your staff as a business owner.

1. Hire innovative and creative people for your company. If you continually hire people who lack creativity, or even a spark of passion for working in your business field, you aren’t going to get people who are going to be innovative. When you need to hire an intern, look for an intern who has a lot to say about what the company should do, as well as being able to help out around the office. By hiring people specifically because they are creative, you will create an atmosphere that promotes new ideas.

2. Offer rewards or bonuses for employees who come up with imaginative solutions to normal problems. Giving people an incentive to “think outside the box” is one of the quickest ways to get employees motivated to start thinking differently. If you need to be blunt, tell them flatly, “Any time that you think to yourself, ‘I wish our product had this feature,’ tell us. If it’s a good idea, we’ll pay you a bonus.”

3. Take half an hour to an hour every week to come up with new ideas. Call it a creativity break, call it a brainstorm, but meeting up with employees every week for the sole purpose of figuring out innovative solutions to all sorts of problems is a great way to get the wheels turning. Some businesses even take time off to let their employees partake in creative exercises such as painting in order to boost employee imagination in other realms of work. Moreover, these meetings offer a great opportunity for employees to prove their creative abilities to higher ups.

4. Even if the idea is downright awful, do not overly criticize or embarrass the employee who suggests it. In order to encourage others to share ideas, it’s crucial to avoid making employees regret presenting their ideas. No matter how bad the idea may be, thank them for their input, and encourage everyone to contribute their ideas to the table. Embarrassing one employee will make others think twice about sharing any ideas with you.

5. Keep staff up to date on what other companies are creating. Sometimes, reading a news article about the latest app to hit the market, or a new method of marketing is all that a person needs to jog their creative streak. Keeping staff updated on the latest in your business also will provide the added advantage of more knowledgeable staff on all levels of your business. Encourage your staff to come up with similar ideas every time you forward them an article. Talk about your business field, and keep them engaged. The more they think about the field they work in, the more likely it is that they will come up with a brilliant innovation that can turn into huge profit.

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An Insider’s View on Fiverr and Microwork Outsourcing

June 2, 2011

As readers of this blog know, I am always interested in exploring different forms of open innovation, collaboration, and outsourcing.  Personally, I have used a number of sites including 99designs.com and elance.com.  I have used these for the development of logos, graphics, websites, and research.  In most cases I would pay several hundred dollars for the work.

An interesting trend has emerged: microwork outsourcing.  This is work that can be completed in a matter of minutes and costs only a few dollars.

My favorite microwork website is fiverr.com.  Here you can hire people to do lots of things for only $5.  I saw that someone offered to write an article for only $5, so I hired her to write an article on innovation.  I was impressed with how she could pull together something of high quality so quickly.

This got me wondering: Can she make a living at $5 a time? How long does it take to complete a $5 job?  And why do it at all?

So I invested another $5 and hired her to write another article.  But instead of writing about innovation, I had her answer five questions about her experience on fiverr.

1. How did you write an article on a topic you don’t know so quickly…and for only $5?
Coming up with methods that businesses can use for innovation and creativity actually is something that I know very well. As an ex-model turned writer/teacher/businesswoman, I try to incorporate as much creativity into my life as possible. None of my income would be possible without a high respect for imagination. As a business owner, I realized quickly that low prices sell large amounts of goods, and it also is a very decent gig for me. Eventually, I will raise my prices, but not yet.

2. Why do you sell your services on Fiverr, when you could probably make more money per gig on sites like eLance?
Actually, I tried eLance, but never quite seemed to get any jobs off it. The minute that I tried Fiverr, I managed to get a gig in the first day. When people actually noticed that my work is decent, the orders poured in.

3. Is there enough money to be made doing micro work? Or do you do this for some pocket money? How many gigs can you possibly do in one day?
I do up to 30 gigs in one day. Microwork can be a decent way to make money, but I think having a part time job is also a smart idea. I like a balance of work.

4. How much time do you spend, on average, for each gig? I was impressed with the article you wrote on innovation.
Depending on how much research I do for the gig, I can spend anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or so (when I decide to watch TV or eat while working). My typing speed is notoriously speedy, so doing research and actually just compiling my thoughts coherently are the bulk of time spent on each gig.

5. Anything else you I should know about you?
Because of the extreme injustices that have happened to me as an inexperienced model, I have recently taken up advocating for women’s rights, as well as model’s rights. One of my photographers gave me a website which I update with my own blogs about various subjects that I feel are important to women, men, and everyone in that industry. I don’t think that many people realize how corrupt, how sick, and how twisted the world of modeling has become. This is the reason why I warn my students’ parents against getting their children involved in child modeling, and also warn young teenagers who want to follow in my footsteps about the dangers of being a model.

All forms of open innovation, crowdsourcing, outsourcing and microwork are evolving.  They are redefining what “work” means for individuals and is creating new career models.  It provides exciting opportunities for both the buyer and the service provider.

Tomorrow I will post her article on innovation.

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When You Sit on the Fence, You Get Splinters in Your Ass!

June 1, 2011

This article was published on the American Express OPEN Forum.  The title you see here on this blog was rejected by them and replaced with “The Art of Decision Making.”  I decided to retain the original.

A couple months back, Accenture released the results of a survey of more than 3,400 professionals in 29 countries showing that fewer than half of all respondents are satisfied with their current jobs. I suspect these less than glowing findings are far from surprising.

Reading the results reminded of a conversation that surfaced during a Q&A section of a workshop of mine a while back. One of the attendees asked, “I work in a cubicle in a well-known technology firm and I am unhappy. How do I know if it is me or if it is my job? Do I need to change myself or change my job?”

I queried the audience to get their responses and the answers ranged from, “Stay at your job while you explore other options,” to “If you are really miserable, find another job quickly and quit this job,” to the most outspoken (and comedic) within the group, “Quit your job now! How could you work another day for the evil empire?”

After collecting the various responses, people looked anxiously to me for the “correct” answer.

My perspective was a bit different than the masses. My response was four words: “It doesn’t really matter.”

Very simply put, with the right mindset, any decision is the right decision. If you sincerely believe that the path you are on is the right one, then it is. Quitting your job doesn’t change things. You can switch jobs all you would like, but without the right attitude, it won’t make a bit of difference. Conversely you can alter your attitude and find new opportunities in staying where you are today, without ever changing jobs.

We often fail to make progress in life and in business because we postpone action until we feel as though we have the “right answer.” We painstakingly research all the facts, consider every angle and study each relevant detail. However, this quest for the “right answer” has us sitting on the fence in limbo, often without end.

Instead of answers, perhaps what we need are decisions.

Sadly, many of us suffer from a mild form of “decidophobia“—the fear of making decisions. No, I didn’t make up that work. It was coined by Princeton University philosopher Walter Kaufmann in his 1973 book, Without Guilt and Justice.

It is human nature to avoid putting ourselves into circumstances that we see as being risky, uncomfortable or scary. Therefore, we often decide to not decide. Many relate to decisions as having a “right or wrong” with an associated set of risks and rewards. By postponing decision-making, we mistakenly believe we are avoiding or minimizing the pain and risks of a wrong decision. However, indecision is a no man’s land with no direction, no progress and often more angst.

Without decision, there is no commitment. If you stay in a job yet do not commit to it, there is no way you can be satisfied. You will always be looking elsewhere. If you stay in a relationship but have one foot out the door all of the time, there is no hope for the future.

Should I change my job? Should I stay in my relationship? Should I buy a new house? What should I do with my life? These all seem like pretty big decisions. And for most people, they are.

We think “Oh, it’s so hard to make these big decisions,” when what’s really hard is the indecision.

In life there are no right or wrong decisions. There are only decisions. When we come to a fork in the road, we tend to overanalyze it. We might say, “I have an opportunity to create this new business venture BUT…” These are the considerations that have us stay upon the same path. Or how often do we choose a different path and then rethink our decision.

One of the reasons we worry so much and wonder whether we are on the right track is that we often see decisions as long term, semi-permanent decisions.

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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