TODAY! “Best Practices Are Stupid” is available

September 29, 2011

I am excited because today my 5th book, Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition, is published by Penguin.  You can watch a short video about the book.  And after you are done, you can watch even more videos on our new website, StupidPractices.com.  Please help spread the word to anyone who might benefit from this book.

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My New Mantra

September 26, 2011

Chris Martin created this cool graphic that is the mantra for my new book.  As you can see, it includes the url for our soon to be launched website.

Innovation is not replication replication replication

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Slideshow of 10 Tips from New Book

September 23, 2011

Innovation and best practicesDennis McCafferty from Baseline Magazine, created a cool slideshow that features ten of the tips from my upcoming book. Although the names of the tips were changed (maybe to protect the innocent), you will get a good sense of the content.  Click the image on the right to go to their website.

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One Week Until My New Book is Available

September 22, 2011

In one week (September 29th), my new book will be available in book stores, online, and on the Kindle. It is published by Penguin’s Portfolio imprint.  For those of you who are new to this blog, here’s a description…

Best Practices Are Stupid:
40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition

Well-intentioned leaders, in their attempts to boost innovation, are inadvertently destroying it.

What if everything you know about creating a culture of innovation is wrong?  What if the way you are measuring innovation is choking it?  What if your market research is asking all of the wrong questions?

It’s time to innovate the way you innovate.

In Best Practices Are Stupid, I offer forty counterintuitive yet proven strategies for boosting innovation and making it a repeatable, sustainable, and profitable process at the heart of your company’s culture.  They include:

  • Hire people you don’t like. Bring the right mix of people to unleash your team’s full potential.
  • Asking for ideas is a bad idea. Define challenges more clearly.  If you ask better questions, you will get better answers.
  • Don’t think outside the box; find a better box. Instead of giving your employees a blank slate, provide them with well-define parameters that will increase their creative output.
  • Failure is always an option. Looking at innovation as a series of experiments allows you to redefine failure and learn from your results.

I will show you that nonstop innovation is attainable and vital to building a high-performing team, improving the bottom line, and staying ahead of the pack.

Other powerful strategies include:

  • The performance paradox. When organizations hyper focus on their goals, they are less likely to achieve those goals.
  • Expertise is the enemy of innovation. The more you know about a particular topic, the more difficult it is for you to think about it in a different way.
  • The Goldilocks principle. Challenges can’t be too big or too small.  They must be “just right” to maximize the likelihood of a workable solution.
  • Learn from Indiana Jones. Real treasure can be found when you leave your office, don your fedora and bullwhip, and study customers with your own two eyes.
  • Use the reality TV show model. Competitions are as much about generating buzz and stimulating interest in innovation as they are about finding specific solutions.

You can pre-order NOW on any of these sites.

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

800 CEO READ

Indie Bound

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Freedom Can Limit Innovation

September 22, 2011

InnovationOver the past couple of weeks, I have had the identical conversation with several different clients. Apparently, there is an existing belief that if you want to instill a mindset of creativity, you need to have less “structure.” To some degree that is true. But unfortunately, most companies, when undergoing this kind of change, swing too radically to the other side.

One company that has been autocratic for decades now wants to be more innovative. Their belief is that they can accomplish this by letting people do what they want to do, in turn, enhancing their competitive position.

Another organization wants it’s employees to be more creative. They are now encouraging people to “think outside the box” while giving them minimal constraints.

In both of these cases, the company is going from a highly structured and bureaucratic approach to one that is a bit of a free-for-all. Sadly, and often surprisingly, swinging the pendulum that far in the other direction might also kill creativity and innovation.

To illustrate this point, there is an exercise I conduct with my clients that is simple yet powerful. I won’t go into all of the details here as I describe it in my new book, Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition (available one week from today!). But here’s a short version…

Exercise #1: People are asked to list a number of ways in which they can use a brick. They are given no restrictions (unbounded). I give them about a minute. Typical answers involve using it as a paperweight, a door stop, or a weapon.

Exercise #2: Then they are asked to identify something random (e.g., on the body, in the kitchen, in a marriage) and are to find all of the uses of a brick for that. For example, if “a kitchen” were the random context, people might find uses like heating it up to make paninis, flattening a lump of dough, or using it as a trivet.

When I ask groups which approach – #1 (unbounded) or #2 (connecting to something random) – yields more creative solutions, nearly 90% of audiences choose the second way. In fact, when we take the time to evaluate the uses, there is indeed much greater divergence when using the second method. The first approach tends to yield a lot of common solutions.

In some respects, this seems counterintuitive. By bounding people we actually increase creativity.

How can this be applied in a business setting?

A client, in an attempt to expand, is always looking at ways to branch into new markets. To accomplish this, they used to ask employees the unbounded question, “How can we adapt our (commodity) product to new markets?” Unfortunately they found that most suggestions were mundane. Therefore, as a way of increasing their level of creativity, they created a list of 200 different industries/roles (one for each business day of the year) and posted it on their wall. Each day management chose a different industry/role from the list (e.g., toll booth collectors, nurses/healthcare, or librarians) and used that to brainstorm new opportunities for their product for that industry/role. They found that they generated greater insights when bounding the conversation around a specific market segment.

In this case, more structure increased creativity.

The same is true when it comes to organization structures. For this, I use jazz and classical music as the metaphors.

Most organizations, in the past, have been designed like classical symphonies. Large compositions (processes, policies and procedures) where employees were expected to perform rote, note by note, exactly as written. There was very little room for creativity or improvisation.

But some organizations, in their attempt to increase their level of innovation, have decided to throw out all structures. Power to the people. However this leads to chaos, not innovation. There is no coordination between individuals or groups. The level of work redundancy is high. And the level of collaboration is low. If you brought together a bunch of musicians and didn’t give them any structure, they would not be able to play anything that resembles music.

Therefore, organizations would better benefit by structuring themselves like jazz music. Jazz is not random. There is a simple structure – like a 12 bar B flat blues – that enables the musicians to collaborate and play together while improvising their own parts. Adding structure, in this case, allows innovation to emerge in the moment when it is needed most.

Although it might be tempting to throw structure out the window in the name of innovation, this may kill the very thing you want. Paradoxically, more structure often leads to greater innovation.

P.S. The brick exercise, as it is described in Best Practices Are Stupid, makes several other important points on innovation and breakthrough thinking.

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Let’s Get Some Terms Straight!

September 13, 2011

Last night I was at an event where I woman said, “I want to get in touch with my creativity.  I used to paint and play music, but no longer do that.”

This got me thinking about how we throw around a lot of terms with no real clarity around what they mean.

Here are four terms that people use interchangeably.

  • Invention, from my perspective, invention is the creation of something that previously was not in existence.  The focus is not on commercial value but rather on novelty.
  • Innovation, on the other hand, is an end-to-end process that starts with a specific problem, challenge or opportunity and results in commercial value (however that is defined for the organization).
  • Creativity is one step in the innovation process.  When you have a defined problem/opportunity, creativity is the act of finding a solution.
  • Artistry involves things like music, painting, and photography.  Although there may be commercial value, the primary focus is often on the experience.

You might think I am splitting hairs discussing the differences between these terms.  But language is important to any culture.  And distinguishing these words can be quite useful in helping an organization grow.

Commercial organizations (including non-profits) really want innovation.  Putting people through creativity training is interesting, but if the resulting solutions are not relevant to needs or are not ultimately implemented, there is no point.  In fact, it can create extra work that detracts from the real opportunities.

Invention can be great.  But I know a lot of broke inventors.  Developing something new does not mean there is a market need.

Equally, I know a lot of great artists who never want to “sell out” and as a result are struggling to get by.

Innovation is the key.  The resulting change does not need to be radical, it only needs to be relevant to the needs of the market.  It does not need to be fancy, as long as the solution is commercially viable an implementable.

Getting clear on these distinctions can help you focus your energies on what matters most.

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The Key to Immediate Happiness

September 2, 2011

Imagine the following scenario. You are single and live just outside of New York City. Your employer wants you to work in London for a few years. You are excited about the prospect of living overseas and are interested in the job. Assuming that the costs of living for New Jersey and London are roughly equivalent, which option would you choose?

Option 1

You stay an employee of the NYC office and are “on loan” to London. You continue to pay your mortgage/rent in New Jersey, but can rent/sublet your place to someone during your absence. The company pays all of your expenses in London: housing, food and travel to and from the U.S. They cover the difference in taxes between the US and UK. Basically you have no expenses for the three years you are there, affording you the chance to sock away 100 percent of your salary. Your stay is temporary. After your time overseas, you will return to the U.S.

Option 2

You transfer from the NYC office and become an employee of the London office. You are paid in British pounds just like all other British employees and you pay U.K. taxes—which are higher. Although you sell your house in New Jersey and have no expenses in the U.S., you need to cover all of your expenses in London. There is no guarantee of a job in the NYC office should you decide to return to the states.

Financially, option No. 1 is a significantly better deal. But when faced with this situation in real life, I chose option No. 2.

Why?

While I recognize that finances are important, I place a higher value on my happiness. And the best way to effectively leverage that happiness is to live life fully immersed in the present.

What does that have to do with my choosing scenario No. 2?

I have found that when we engage in a temporary or transitory activity, the mindset is different than when we are settled into a seemingly more permanent option. Temporary situations can create a “holding pattern” where we wait for a “better” option down the road. Temporary employment is not your real job. Temporary housing is not your real home. These give the illusion of “here today, gone tomorrow.” Why take it seriously? Why invest your heart and soul into activities when you will eventually be leaving. Living in the moment can be difficult when you are waiting for your “real” life to begin.

Although from a financial perspective, the permanent option may not have been a great decision, it was the right one for me. I had the most spectacular three years of my life. London felt like my home. I lived there like a native. I acted as though there was no return to the U.S. This forced me to be present to what I was doing and to take full advantage of England.

I am not sure that I would have had the mental conviction to live in that same manner had I chosen the temporary solution. I may never have felt settled. The thought of leaving might have lingered in the back of my mind, negatively impacting my experience.

Instead, I formed new social circles. I dated. I lived as though I would be there forever. London became my home. A little more than three years later, I was back in the U.S., without a traditional job and salary (this is when I launched my own business).

“Permanent” situations tend to give the illusion of future stability, even though that is an illusion.

Where are you living like you are in a temporary situation?

Have you ever been in a job that you didn’t like? Did you daydream continuously about leaving, yet three years later you are still in the same job? How might your perspective change if you thought this were a permanent option? Perhaps instead of dreaming about the future, you would be present to what you can do today in your job. Look for new opportunities internally. Do the best job you can. Find ways of adding more value. If you are focused on leaving, seeing this job as a temporary option, you will be miserable. And the odds are, you will lose your job because of poor performance. That’s when you will begin to daydream about how great your job used to be.

We see this phenomenon in relationships as well. While there are many reasons why people marry, there is a psychological shift that many undergo upon saying those two little words: “I do.” It creates a more predictable and stable life with a clearly defined future. And many marry for that reason—for the perceived stability they gain. To love, honor and cherish till death do us part. It gives us the appearance of certainty. But of course, that too is an illusion.

How often do you live with uncertainty? How much of that uncertainty is created by you in your mind? How much does this uncertainty ruin your present moment experiences?…

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

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Ask the Wrong Question, Waste a Lot of Money

September 1, 2011

Innovation is accelerated when you “ask the right question, the right way, of the right people.”

It may seem obvious, but if you ask the wrong question, you may be led down a futile path.

An example of this comes from Colgate-Palmolive (shared at a recent open innovation conference).

While asking customers what they wanted in their dental care products, one thing they consistently heard was that consumers wanted a mouthwash without alcohol.

This led C-P to explore various alternatives that were alcohol-free yet had the same level of effectiveness.  Needless to say, this was a daunting task the required a large investment of time and money.

However, when they stepped back and really understood what customers wanted, they discovered that consumers only wanted a mouthwash that did not burn.  Alcohol was not this issue.

Creating an effective, non-burning mouthwash with alcohol proved to be a much easier endeavor.

Where are you attempting to solve the wrong problem, and as a result are needless wasting time and money?

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