The Three-Step Formula for Innovation Success

February 22, 2012

A lot of theories circulate on how organizations make innovation a reality. Over the past 20 years, I have found a very simple formula that helps a company transform the way it innovates.

Here’s the key: Ask the right question, the right way, of the right people. Let’s break that down into the three core components. Each component involves powerful questions to ponder.

1. Ask the right question

Issue: An internal focus is sometimes the enemy of innovation.

Many organizations have become overly enamored with idea-management programs. They ask employees for their opinions and suggestions. But having a large number of ideas does not mean you have a useful innovation program.

Einstein reputedly said, “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.” Most organizations are spending 60 minutes working on things that don’t matter.

The first step in the innovation process is to make sure you’re working on something of strategic importance. You have to leave the four walls of your company and see what is going on outside. Here are some questions to consider.

  • Do you know what your competitors are doing? How do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace? Innovate where you differentiate.
  • Have you articulated a clear business strategy that drives your innovation strategy? Most business strategies are too fluffy and give little direction.
  • Have you connected with your customers to understand their wants and needs? Have you done ethnographic studies to identify latent needs? Don’t rely on focus groups and surveys, which are notoriously inaccurate.
  • Are you addressing your customers’ pains? People are wired to want their pain eased before seeking “gains.”
  • Are you focused on simplification? Too often we over-innovate. But sometimes the best innovation simply reduces complexity and provides accessibility.

2. Ask the question the right way

Issue: A lack of rigor is sometimes the enemy of innovation.

Once you know the right question to ask, the next step is to ask it in the right way. This takes effort and discipline. Individuals and organizations often don’t invest the time framing better questions that lead to better information.

Use the Goldilocks Principle. Make sure you don’t ask questions that are too broad or abstract that lead to fluffy and irrelevant solutions. And don’t ask questions that are too specific, as this reduces the possible areas where you can find solutions. You want to frame questions that are “just right. Consider these useful factors when framing questions.

  • What are the leverage points for finding a solution? What is the one thing that has the greatest impact in delivering the desired result?
  • Does your question imply a solution? What are you really looking to achieve? Frame the question so you consider other approaches.
  • Does your question require a particular expertise? If so, re-frame it so that other domains of expertise offer solutions.
  • Is your question overly complex? Find ways to deconstruct it into smaller and more solvable parts.
  • Have you researched the facts your question involves? Too many questions are formulated on conjecture rather than on real data.

3. Ask the question of the right people

Issue: Expertise is sometimes the enemy of innovation.

Experts find solutions quickly, but the odds are they’re not new, different or innovative. Studies show that people from a differing area of expertise tend to find breakthroughs. As Will Rogers once said, “There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing that he was educated in.”

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

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Innovative Advertising

February 20, 2012

Today I received an email from the owner of a furniture store who read my “Best Practices Are Stupid” book.

He asked (paraphrased)…

In all my years of furniture advertising, I have been showing pictures of nice living room, bedroom, mattress, and dinette furniture on sale. In your book you suggest advertising pain. Should I change the way how I’ve been advertising furniture reminding readers about their fabric wearing out, cushions getting too soft, etc. 

Here is my response (paraphrased)…

Although I am not an advertising expert, all of my studies and experiences show that pain-based messages tend to motivate people into action more. Then again, Apple of course is a great example of a company that does not use a pain message; they sell on coolness. But that’s Apple. And what works for them might not work for you!

If you look at infomercials (versus standard commercials), they ALWAYS focus on the pain they solve. In fact, these direct marketing companies typically won’t sell a product that does not solve a pain. It has to be more than a “nice to have.”

The question is, who are your buyers? And what are their buying habits? Some customers only care about cost, and quality is not a factor in their decision making. On the other hand, for higher end buyers, you may not want to associate your message with negatives as this could turn them off. However, there is definitely a market for those who are price sensitive yet don’t want (as you put it) to be embarrassed by having old furniture. For these buyers, you can find a way of selling both the cost message and the pain message at the same time.  Of course, the pain can be monetary. Discount furniture stores are notorious for comparing their prices to those of the big retailers. That creates a pain – if you are in the market to buy.

But if you are not in the market to buy, the pain approach as I discussed can be effective.  In the book I discussed two different styles of “bed” commercials…

“Think about the last mattress commercial you heard. They all say the same thing: ‘Buy our xyz bed and you will get your best night’s sleep ever.’ Yawn. Boring. The commercial may put me to sleep, but it’s not going to get me to buy a bed. Now consider this actual radio advertisement. ‘If your mattress is 10 years old, it weighs twice its original weight due to the dust mites that accumulate over the years.’ Ouch! This creates a pain and makes me want to replace my mattress immediately.”

I just saw that commercial again the other day. And I have to admit, it really got me thinking about buying another bed, even though mine is in great shape and super comfortable.

Given this, there could be a few ways of going about this…

As you point out, the embarrassment factor. Getting people to really take a look at their furniture.   Most people don’t even notice the imperfections until they take a hard look.

Or maybe you can talk about health factors. Soft cushions can cause back problems. Maybe you can have an ad that says, “Does your back bother you? Maybe your sofa is the cause of your pain. If you furniture is more than 10 years old, the support structures may be sagging, robbing you of needed support.”

You get the point.

The key is, make sure your message matches your market. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to this.

Then do some tests. I would not invest heavily in any advertising where you did not use the “build it, try it, fix it,” approach I mention in the book. Your brand is too important to leave to chance and hypotheses. Let the real world tell you what works…and what doesn’t.

Understanding your customers’ pains can be a very powerful method for creating new products and for creating messages that have them want to buy your product.

Instead of selling customers on how great your product or service is, show them the downside of using a less reliable alternative. As a friend of mine says, “If you need open heart surgery, would you shop for a cardiologist based on price?” She then launches into the risk associated with not getting it (your product/service) right.

What pains do your products/services solve?

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Be Your Own Fan

February 6, 2012

It is the Monday after the Superbowl.  While scanning the TV stations and flipping through the radio channels this morning, it seemed as though everyone was discussing and analyzing (and analyzing and analyzing…) the football game.  Everyone is a Monday morning quarterback.

Come on, get a life!  Stop living your life through someone else.

Tom Brady does not care about your life.  Why should you invest so much emotional energy in studying his?

Instead of being a fan of someone else’s life, be a fan of your own life.

Be a Monday morning quarterback on what worked and what didn’t work last week…for your business.  Study your statistics to decide if you are moving in the right direction.  Invest in you and your greatness.

I invest my money in me: my education, the development of my business, the hiring of the right talent, personal development, etc.  I rarely invest my money in what others are doing.  In fact, I almost never buy stocks.  If I invest in me and my business, I am confident that in the long run I will have a higher return on my investment.

Start investing time, money and emotional energy in you and your business.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy watching the New England Patriots (even when they lose).  It is entertaining and inspiring.  Their drive and determination always jazzes me up and has me perform better in my life.

But I would not call myself a fan of any sports team.

I prefer to be fanatical about my life; doing what I can to make it as amazing as possible.

[end of rant]

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Strategic Partnership with Linkage

February 2, 2012

Press Release…

Stephen M. Shapiro Joins Linkage in Elite Partnership

Business Consultant to Bring Methodology on Innovative Culture to Linkage’s Clients

Burlington, MA (PRWEB) February 02, 2012

Linkage, a global leadership development company, announced its partnership with innovation guru Stephen M. Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro has consulted with Fortune 500 corporations for nearly 20 years on the subject of innovation; specifically focused on bringing together divergent points of view in an efficient manner. His partnership will provide Linkage’s clients with his proven innovation methodology through hands-on leadership training programs.

“This partnership adds an important dimension to Linkage’s innovation offerings by teaching leaders how to make their organizations more capable of innovation. This is a common challenge that we hear from clients. We are very excited to partner with Mr. Shapiro to help organizations improve their results in this critical area, and are pleased to introduce his cutting-edge methodology as part of our suite of leadership development programs,” said Ron Porter, Regional VP and VP, Innovation Practice at Linkage.

As President and CEO of 24/7 Innovation, Mr. Shapiro has worked extensively with global organizations in over 40 countries. Prior to that, he trained more than 20,000 consultants in innovation during his 15 year tenure with Accenture. His latest book, Best Practices are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition, has been featured on ABC News, CBS Interactive’s BNET, Southwest Airline’s Spirit Magazine, and Investor’s Business Daily, to name a few. Best Practices was selected as a best book on innovation by 800-CEO-READ. Mr. Shapiro also authored 24/7 Innovation, Personality Poker, and The Little Book of BIG Innovation Ideas. His Personality Poker® card game has been used by more than 50,000 people worldwide to create high-performing innovation teams.

“Given today’s frenetic pace of change, the organizations that repeatedly and rapidly adapt and evolve are the ones that will survive. This requires that innovation be treated like a capability rather than a series of ad hoc events. Linkage brings much more than training; they bring the ability to create sustainable change,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro will be featured in Linkage’s Thought Leader Series on How to Out-Smart the Competition on Wednesday, April 18, 2012. In his 90-minute broadcast, he will explore why innovation isn’t just about generating occasional new ideas; it’s about staying consistently one step ahead of the competition. To learn more about this elite partnership or Linkage’s Thought Leader Series call 781-402-5555.

Linkage works with leaders and leadership teams worldwide to build organizations that produce superior results. For over 25 years, they have delivered on this promise by strategically aligning leadership, talent, and culture within organizations globally. They do this by providing strategic consulting on leadership development and talent management topics and through their learning institutes, skill-building workshops, tailored assessment services, and executive coaching.

Linkage is headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts with operations in Atlanta, Boston, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis and outside the U.S. in Athens, Bangalore, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Hamilton, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, Kuwait City, Mexico City, Rome, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Vilnius.


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Goals Are Stupid

February 1, 2012

NOTE: This article is on the American Express OPEN Forum with the title “How to Make Goal-Setting Work for You.”  But the title I really wanted was “Goals Are Stupid.”  I’ll let you decide if they are or not.

We are a society obsessed with goals. Nearly everyone sets them. In fact, we just finished the most popular goal-setting day of the year: New Year’s Eve. This is when we establish our annual objectives, called resolutions.

Even though goal-setting is in vogue, is it good for us? Maybe, but not necessarily.

After studying goals for nearly 10 years, I have seen that for many, this ritual can lead to both failure and disappointment. Why? Goal-gurus often use words like “achievement,” “success” and “potential.” They position these concepts in a way that sounds appealing. “Get a better job.” “Make more money.” “Find the perfect partner.” Although our culture has placed a high value on success, money, status and fame, none of these are what we really want. I believe the ultimate goal for human beings is “happiness.”

So, what is it that makes people happy?

A few years ago, I commissioned a statistically valid study that uncovered some startling figures:

  • 58 percent of people admit to willingly sacrificing their happiness today in the belief that when they achieve their goals they will be happier. This means that over half of all goal-setters believe that happiness only exists in the future when they achieve their goals.
  • Sadly, according to the same study, 92 percent of people fail to achieve their annual goal—their New Year’s resolution. And it appears that this failure rate applies to all goal-setting.

But what about the 8 percent who achieved their goals? Clearly they must be happy with the results. But surprisingly, 41 percent of those who achieved their goals found that the accomplishment did little to improve their happiness. In fact, they were left disillusioned, dissatisfied and worse afterwards. Why? Many realized they inadvertently set the “wrong” goal. What’s the response? Set yet another goal, and allow the vicious cycle to continue.

If you do the math, this means that only about 5 percent of goal-setters both achieve their goals and are happy as a result. And many of those “successful” 5 percent become acclimated to the fruits of their labor and the happiness wears off. The more money you make, the more money you want. The bigger your house, the more space you desire. The more successes you obtain, the more success you want.

This acclimation perspective is supported by Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, in an interview in the January/February 2012 Harvard Business Review. He says:

“A recent study showed that very few experiences affect us for more than three months. When good things happen, we celebrate for a while and then sober up. When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.”

He contends that happiness is not linked to achievement. In fact, he provides striking examples of people who had experienced “horrible” circumstances yet were ultimately happier in the long run. Apparently, we are good at finding the “silver lining.” On a lighter note, he quotes Pete Best, the drummer in the Beatles who was replaced by Ringo Starr before the band became big. He is now a session drummer and said, “I am happier than I would have been with the Beatles.”

Achievement does not necessarily drive happiness—nor does having “more” or “less.” To be clear, I am not advocating that people sit idly while eating bonbons and watching Jerry Springer. A life like this is neither juicy nor exciting and will most likely lead to hedonistic tendencies and a feeling of being lost. You still need to have something pulling you forward; something that gets you energized.

So here is what I am suggesting…

Read my four counterintuitive tips for goal-setting and the #1 fallacy of goal-setting on the American Express OPEN Forum

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