Design to Handle the Exception, Not for the Exception

April 24, 2012

While going through security at the airport the other day, I was reminded of an important design and innovation concept.

Things were going smoothly until a bag was flagged during the X-ray procedure. The luggage was held on the conveyor until an authority could conduct a manual inspection. At the same time, a similar problem arose on another line. Everything ground to a complete halt. Although it took only 5 minutes to get the lines moving again, during rush hour that was all it took for the queues to grow out of control.

Many years back, a supervisor shared with me a design principle I still use 25 years later: design to handle the exception, not for the exception. That is, don’t design your business model around the most complicated case. Instead, design it so that the exceptions can be addressed, even if their efficiency is impacted.

When designers try to make one process cover every situation, no matter how rare or unusual, the result is usually greatly increased complexity and diminishing returns for everyone.

Using my supervisor’s mantra, this airport dilemma differently would be solved by pulling off the bags that need manual inspections (the exceptions) into a separate area. Even if those bags would have to wait longer to be processed, they wouldn’t impact the bulk of the customers and would significantly speed up average wait times. Those travelers with the exception bags may be more inconvenienced than they are today, but perhaps knowing that you will be significantly slowed may encourage people to be more careful with what they put in their luggage.

How can this be applied elsewhere?

A major life insurance company found that its claims handling was slow and expensive. What they discovered was that every claim was being processed using the same rigorous procedures.

But all claims did not need to be treated equally.

To improve efficiency, they scaled down the process and segmented claims according to their level of complexity. A simple version was used for straightforward cases. More robust versions were used for more complicated cases, while the full process was reserved only for the most difficult and time-consuming cases.  The most skilled and expensive specialists would resolve these complex claims while generalists handled the easiest ones.

What they found was that 60 percent of their cases could be handled using the simplest process with the least expensive resources. Thirty percent received the mid-level procedure, while only 10 percent needed the original full treatment. The result? Processing costs were reduced by 40 percent while average processing time was greatly reduced. Service levels also increased.

So how does this apply to your business?

Look at your customers. Which customers account for the bulk of your business? Which customers account for the bulk of your profits? Design your business to meet their needs. If you have other, less frequent needs, find a way of handling them outside of your standard processes, even if the cost is greater (to you or the customer) and the convenience is lower.

If you run a restaurant and 80 percent of your customers order the same five menu items, make sure you can inexpensively and efficiently cook those meals. For patrons who want items less frequently ordered, maybe they can pay a premium or wait a bit longer. Additionally, instead of keeping perishable ingredients in house for those rarely ordered meals, maybe you can find a nearby store where you can buy them just-in-time when needed.

If you run a call center…

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

What It Means to Really Listen

April 13, 2012

…and guess what, you don’t really listen.  In fact, while reading this article, you are not really reading what I intended it to mean…

Last month, I was on a flight from Orlando to Boston that had a bit of a problem.

An hour before our scheduled landing in Boston, the pilot announced the main braking system was not functioning properly. Although the backup system would most likely work fine, the pilot and flight attendants were preparing us for the worst.

They carefully described the emergency procedures. They were very similar to the ones frequent travelers have heard many times before. But this time, you could hear a pin drop as they walked us through what would happen.  Everyone was paying attention.

Although I am on nearly 100 flights a year, I was listening in a way I never had before. The truth is, I rarely pay attention to the emergency procedures when we are not in an emergency situation.

This got me thinking: Do I ever really listen?

The answer is no. And regrettably, I am not alone.

Unfortunately even when you are trying to listen, you are still likely not really hearing properly.

Psychologists call this “confirmation bias.” We are naturally wired to filter and interpret information to conform to our underlying belief structures. And very simply put, these beliefs cloud how we hear. We only take in those pieces of information that align with our beliefs, and we disregard anything that contradicts them.

Understanding confirmation bias can have a significant impact on your ability to have effective relationships. And as a small business owner, it can have a profound impact on your success if you’re not hearing the true meaning of what your customers and colleagues are saying.

In the corporate environment, I’ve seen brilliant ideas proposed by recent college graduates that were completely dismissed by more senior people. But when those senior people said the exact same things, others thought they were geniuses.

A friend of mine recently attended a weeklong training class. When asked about the class, he responded that he was less than impressed with the instructor. When I asked why, he said, “It’s hard to listen to him. He’s dressed like a slob. His hair was a mess and his shirt was never properly tucked in.” The instructor’s appearance impacted how he was heard. Amusingly, on the last day of the class, his perspective changed. When pressed to understand why, I discovered the instructor had gotten a haircut and was wearing a stylish suit and tie. The change in appearance impacted how my friend heard the instructor. He claimed the instructor now “sounded more intelligent.”

As you read this article, I can assure you that your judgments are impacting how you receive what you are reading. If you want to actually absorb the value of what someone is saying, you need to know your natural biases.  This will impact your ability to innovate.

Listen better

The first step to listening better is to recognize the fact that you don’t. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you really hearing what others are saying?  Or are you only passively listening?
  • Are you focused on their words?  Or are you thinking about what you will say next?
  • Are you putting yourself in the shoes of the other person?  Or are you only interested in meeting your own objectives?
  • Do you ask a lot of questions?  Or are you doing all of the talking?
  • Are you hearing what they are really saying?  Or are you too colored by your own perceptions, judgments and filters?

This last question is critical. If you are honest, you will most likely begin to see that your filters are getting in the way of communication. By recognizing that you even possess these filters, you can become more aware when they begin to color your interpretations. This allows you the choice to set them aside so you can create an effective opening to listen.

Think about what your customers try to tell you…

Read the rest of this article (and comment) on the American Express OPEN Forum

Reframe the Framework to Generate More Cash

March 3, 2012

This article originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum

The way we frame our business world can significantly impact our success. Frameworks are useful, but they can also be limiting. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the way things have been done in the past.

One useful framework is often called the product funnel or the accelerant curve. This framework typically refers to speakers, consultants, Internet businesses and those who create “intellectual property.” But the concept can be applied to any business, especially small businesses.

The general philosophy of the product funnel is to have products and services that increase in value so that you can continue to up-sell over time.

In this framework, customers enter your pipeline to buy a low- or no-cost item. This helps you to build trust, which in turn, lets you provide more robust solutions to your customers and put more money in your pocket.

I work with a lot of professional speakers. They would probably draw the curve as it is depicted to the right.

Most speakers offer a $25 product, typically a book. This is the low end of their curve. And, at the high end, they deliver a speech for which they charge $25,000.

Given this framework, the natural tendency is to fill in the curve with products priced in between. This might include CDs, DVDs, membership sites or coaching. They create a $250 product, a $750 offering and a $2,500 service.

The boundaries established by this framework—$25 and $25,000—delineate how you think about innovation.

While this tends to be the practice of most people who offer such services, looking at the curve this way may limit your true growth potential. Instead of $25,000 being at the top of the curve, what if it were actually near the bottom?

What if the top of the curve is closer to $1,000,000, or higher? If that is the case, you need to create products that are more than $25,000, not less. These could include assessments and diagnostics, consulting arrangements, sustainability programs that bring a speech to life over an extended period of time, or anything else that adds value.

From this example, you can see how the framework you create dictates your production. A small framework produces only the results that fit within that structure. Expanding your view opens up possibilities for greater value and financial gain.

This concept can apply to any business.

Are you a plumber? Maybe your typical project generates around $2,000. You may be tempted to offer a lower-cost option, perhaps a do-it-yourself kit, for only $200, which is valuable.

But what if, instead of $2,000 being the high-water mark for your services, you created a $200,000 offering? This would certainly get your creative juices flowing. Maybe, instead of selling your services to individuals, you target condominium associations, selling them an all-inclusive deal for every unit. It would challenge you to think bigger than you have thought before.

Are you a restaurateur? So many businesses offer their customers low-cost meals through Groupon or These may be reasonable entry points for your product funnel and are effective for driving new traffic.

But instead of focusing your efforts on smaller “transactions,” what if you shift your view to incorporate a higher-value, higher-dollar, relationship-driven option? How can you create a $10,000 meal?

Think big. Consider catering or developing an annual diet program that delivers meals to your customers to meet their dietary needs. Who knows what you will think of? But it is time to think big.

When you think small, you produce small.

You could even sabotage the business that you already have. I recently purchased a Groupon deal for a cleaning service. The owner’s hope was that Groupon would help her acquire new customers. She has been in business for seven years, but this low-price mindset might have killed her company. So many people subscribed that she could not adequately service her regular customers, let alone the new ones, and she risked losing them.

No matter what your business, avoid the “transactional” mindset. Find ways of engaging with your customers by providing both lower- and higher-priced offerings that will ultimately create a long-term relationship. But even more importantly, think big. Find ways of creating massive value, beyond anything you have considered before. Redraw your funnel or your curve by blowing the top off it.

How will you rethink your business?

Please comment on this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

Extra added bonus content:

When I originally posted this article on my Facebook page, someone commented that,

“The assumption that you are even worth $25,000 is a stretch for many folks. And for product companies, like shoes, for example, why spend hours thinking about a $200,000 shoe? Certainly that time would be better spent figuring out how to lower costs or enter new markets.”

Great point!  Here was my response:

“The usefulness of this concept depends on the evolution of your company. Regardless, it is a useful thought exercise. Most small businesses get stuck with a mental model which limits their thinking. I have this product, so this is what I sell. Just asking the question, ‘What product/service could I offer that is 10x what I offer today?’ can get a mature and established business thinking about bigger opportunities with greater leverage.

“And sometimes it is not about a bigger product.  For example, with my self published book, it is easier for me to sell 500 books to one client than it is to sell 500 books to 500 individuals. There is no leverage in the latter. Instead of a $15 sale, I discount and sell 500 in bulk for about $4,000.

“The question isn’t necessarily even new products but maybe different sales channels/methods for increasing $$ per sale.”

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

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

If you enjoyed this article, please press the “like” button on the American Express OPEN Forum website and spread the love.  Also, please leave comments there.

One Small Step for Your Business, One Giant Leap for Success

January 13, 2012

Quite a few books and studies recently have touted the power of incremental change. Small actions can have a huge impact on long-term business growth.

The appropriate degree of change needed for innovating within organizations is, in general, a 45-degree change, consistent but not too radical. That tends to be more effective than a 5-degree change (purely incremental) or a 90-degree change (radical).

Feeling good about it

People feel good when they accomplish something, even if it is small.

If you increase motivation, you improve overall performance and creativity, according to Teresa Amabile, Harvard Business School professor. In The Progress Principle, she makes a compelling case for why small successes contribute to motivation.

Small changes implemented over a long period of time compound their value and are the keys to long-term success, according to Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success Magazine. His book, The Compound Effect illustrates his perspective.

A good example of the compound effect is a slow and steady approach to weight loss, which has more sustainable results. Instead of trying to lose weight quickly through restrictive diets, become aware of the foods you put in your mouth. This awareness helps you make small adjustments, which have a significant impact in the long term.

We’ve all heard about compounding when you’re investing in retirement accounts. Start early, even if you invest small quantities, to take advantage of compounding.

Getting it done

An old study compared Japanese cost-reduction programs to similar ones in the United States. Japanese companies on average had 300 times more suggestions per employee, yet the average value associated with each idea was only 1/50 that of the U.S. companies. However, in the end, the Japanese companies saved 20 times more per employee than the U.S. companies.

This report indicates why so many idea-driven innovation initiatives fail. Instead of asking for small, incremental changes that we can implement quickly with little or no funding, most U.S. efforts ask for larger changes that require time and investment. The Japanese companies had a rate of adoption and implementation almost three times higher, with an eight times higher participation rate.

Making small changes to great effect

Making small changes is a good habit for companies and individuals to adopt. I developed a very simple technique called “3-cubed 30.”

In a nutshell, three times a week, implement three activities to help your business grow. Each of these should take less than 30 minutes. The investment per week is a maximum of 4.5 hours, yet the benefits can be huge. In reality, it will only take about two hours most weeks to complete all nine tasks.

Here’s what this looks like in my business…

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

How Oprah Nearly Killed My Business

January 9, 2012

My book, Goal-Free Living, was featured on the cover of the November 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Two full pages were dedicated to my goal-free concepts. (If you check out the cover left, you’ll see the headline “What the happiest people know for sure.” That is my article.)  

Although this was one of the proudest moments in my life, surprisingly, this type of publicity actually had a negative impact on my business.

You must be thinking: How is this possible? Doesn’t everything Oprah touch turn to gold?

Yes, typically. But my situation was different. My core buyers were (and still are) innovators within corporations. As much as I personally admire Oprah and her work, my clients were not as enthusiastic.

For example, after putting the Oprah mention on my website, my bounce rate (the number of people who immediately leave my website) went through the roof. I had potential clients say that they chose someone else who appeared to be more focused on the needs of corporations. They proceeded to share that the Oprah mention made me seem less “serious.”

I even had one client tell me, just as I was about to go on the stage, “If you mention Oprah, we won’t pay you.”

Apparently, the combination of my “self-help” book and the magazine publicity caused confusion. It was no longer clear that my main business focused on the needs of corporations. In this moment I discovered that the old mantra was true: “A confused buyer never buys.”

There is a lesson in this for every small business.

Know your audience. Know their needs—explicit and latent. Speak their language. Understand what gives you credibility in their eyes.

When you innovate, don’t alienate your current market. You can expand to other markets, but continue meeting the needs of those who have been loyal fans.

Innovation is about shifting your business in a new direction at the right speed. Think of the degree of change as a compass setting.

Reinvention is different than innovation. Reinvention (what I attempted when writing Goal-Free Living) is when you move your business on a 90-degrees (or even 180-degrees) turn. It is a pretty radical change. Your customers may not understand the shift and you may lose them in the process.

On the other side of the compass, there are many businesses making only 5-degree turns. They focus their time on incremental innovations. Although these improvements are valuable, on their own they are not sufficient to sustain long term growth and prosperity. You can ride your past success for a while, but eventually your competition will out-innovate you.

So the big question is: What is the right level of innovation? What is the correct compass setting for your business?

Typically, a 5-degree turn is too little while a 90-degree shift is too much. Forty-five degrees should be just about right.

What does a 45-degree turn look like? It is exploring how to tap into your existing market with new offerings, new services and new products, while also expanding into adjacent markets.

My business just turned 10 years old and I am in the process of rethinking my current model. As it stands today, I primarily convey my innovation messages via speeches and books. My objective in 2012 is to leverage my current intellectual assets by finding new ways of delivering my content.

For example, in 2012, I will be expanding the licensing of my content to corporations, training organizations and individuals who can deliver my work. The more I can tap into the reach of others, the more I can grow my business.

For this, I am not changing my message or products. I am primarily deepening the content and making the process of delivering it “replicable.” Instead of content changes, I am exploring different distribution channels such as eLearning systems, membership sites and other digital platforms.

Additionally, while others are delivering my content to my current target audience, I can explore how to extend my existing content to new, tangential markets. For example, my Personality Poker assessment tool has been largely focused on the corporate market. It can also, however, be positioned to provide value anywhere collaboration is beneficial: relationships, families, negotiations, ventures and so on. Expanding in these directions still positions me as a collaboration expert (a key component of innovation) and would most likely not alienate my core market…

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum
(please leave comments on the AMEX site and “like” the article if you in fact like the article…thanks!)

How To Publish A Book In 2 Weeks (For Less Than $250)

October 31, 2011

It seems as though everyone wants to write a book. Unfortunately, most people don’t know where to start and, therefore, become under-motivated or overwhelmed. The result? Good intentions; no book.

But what if you could have a bookstore quality paperback book in your hands in two weeks? And what if you didn’t have to do much writing? Here’s a technique that I used to publish a nonfiction book in a fortnight, and sold tens of thousands of copies.

Why do you want to write a book?

It is important to start here. It’s a question many people fail to ask themselves. They don’t think about what they want to achieve with their writing. And they should, because the objectives will define the approach. I’ll give you three common reasons people want to write (in addition to just wanting to see their name in print or to share their ideas with the world).

1. You want to be rich and famous. If this is your objective, you may want to look elsewhere. Only 1,000 out of 172,000 books published each year sell over 50,000 copies. Very few authors become wealthy from books sales. In fact, most top-selling authors were rich and famous before they published their book.

2. You want to establish your credibility. If this is your objective, then using traditional publishers (e.g., Penguin, Harper Collins, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, etc.) may be the best approach. These publishers reject 98 percent of the books submitted to them, so getting your book published by them is like getting a stamp of approval; it’s automatically credible. In addition, these publishers handle all distribution, so you don’t have to worry about getting your books into stores yourself. If you’ve never before published a book, and credibility is your objective, then you may want to consider this path first.

3. You want to boost you existing business. Do you already have a business with an established client base? A book can be great marketing material. Instead of pushing your business, it teaches readers (and potential customers) what you know. And yes, it can generate some extra income, too.

Print-on-demand (POD) publishing

Even if you want to establish your credibility via a traditional publisher, you have one challenge: getting a publisher.  Publishing is a bit of a Catch 22. Authors who are not published are most interested in traditional publishers, yet publishers want only those people who already have a following.

Also, traditional publishing can be notoriously slow, and your content could very well be dated by the time your book gets released. In contrast, print-on-demand publishing allows you to have 100 percent up-to-date content, since you have the opportunity to update the content before each printing.

Another advantage of POD is the cost per book. Even with author discounts, you are lucky to get copies for $10. This makes it too expensive for many companies to order in bulk.

Finally, a potentially important advantage to POD is the fact that you retain all of the rights. You can reprint your content in any form you want: workbooks, audio books, eBooks, flash cards or training manuals. You are somewhat limited when you work with traditional publishers as they require you to sign over most of the rights.

Writing and publishing your book

You will probably make less money from your book than you will from the services or products you sell as a result of the book. However, the book still has to be good enough for people to want it, yet inexpensive enough for you to be able to give it away.

I have boiled the approach down to eight easy steps. Although a lot more can be written on the subject, this should give you enough to get started.

Step 1: Get clear on the content and format

Here are some important things to consider for your two-week book.

  • Your book should provide the reader with insights on your area of expertise. You want to share the breadth of your experience, but not necessarily the depth. The key is, you must already be an expert and should be able to talk about your topic for at least an hour. Two hours is better.
  • Create a book that is concise and easily digestible. The final length should be under 100 pages. Fifty to 75 pages is fine.
  • Identify an overarching framework. Most business books have some type of framework that’s incorporated into the book. It can serve either as the table of contents or, at the very least, can guide the development process.

Step 2: Record a speech or workshop

This is the step where most of the content is generated. Many of us, especially in the professional services area, give presentations, do training and facilitate workshops. Buy yourself a digital recorder and record a session. It’s that simple.

If you don’t give speeches, you can record a workshop. Or you can simply record a conversation with someone where you describe your approach. Doing is better than discussing. The key is, don’t do it alone. You must record a session where you interact with one or more other people.

Step 3: Transcribe your audio

This is the simplest, yet most expensive step. You can of course do it on your own if money is an issue. Or you can use a third party that charges approximately 1 cent per word.  If you record a two hour conversation or workshop, you might end up with 90 minutes of usable content. This would translate to a little more than 10,000 words, which is perfect. Your cost would be under $100 for the transcription. And if you go overseas, you can get it done for as little as $40 for 90 minutes (this is what I do).

Step 4: Choose your book format and paste in your transcript

Go to a book store and find books that have a similar layout to what you want. There is no right or wrong approach. For this book, the content is more important than the layout. The nice thing is, you can refine the layout with future printings.

Make a template in Microsoft Word (or whatever editing software you are comfortable with). Use the “Styles and Formatting” as a way of setting your text, headers, bullets, etc.  Once you have your template created, you can paste in the text from your transcription. Be sure to paste the text in an unformatted style so that you pick up the fonts of the template and not those of the transcription.

Step 5: Add headings, ask questions and edit

First, try to find logical headings. The more the better, as you can create a content rich table of contents page.

Next, edit the text so that it reads like a book rather than a speech. Although you can hire people to do this, it can be quite expensive. Take your time. So far you only invested a few hours and less than $100. If you do want professional editors, 10,000 words should cost about $200 to $400 for light editing/proofreading. Extensive editing is more.

Once you have a reasonable edit, give the book (printed on your inkjet printer) to a friend or colleague. Have them critique it. The objective is not to wordsmith at this point. Rather you want to make sure your friend understands the content. Have him or her write down questions as s/he reads it. Then have a conversation where you answer those questions. Record the conversation. Transcribe the conversation. And then paste in these refinements.

Now finalize the text. Paste in graphics that will help illustrate your points. If you have a framework, it certainly makes sense to include that. Pictures help improve readability.  I used to create a first graphic, and then I hired the designer to create the rest to my graphics.  But to save money, you can do this on your own using PowerPoint or any other graphics editing package.

A lot of white space also makes a book seem less intimidating. And then edit. Proofread. Make sure the text says what you want and is laid out the way you want. If you want something better looking, you can go to and have your MS Word document converted into a professional layout for $100 to $150.  I did this for one of my self-published books.

At this point, you know the page count and the page size. You will need these for the next step.

Step 6: Find a printer…

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What I Learned From An Expired Bottle Of Mayo

October 28, 2011

The late Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect…connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Or, in my words, in order to innovate, you need to collect and connect the dots.

The other night I decided to make myself some tuna fish. As I started to prepare my meal, I realized that the 18 ounce squeeze bottle of mayo I was about to use had expired six months prior. I guess I don’t use it very often because the bottle was still 90 percent full.

After throwing out my expired food in frustration, I realized that there is a lot to learn from things we routinely do around the home. Here are just three of the lessons I learned from around the house.

Fail cheaply

Although Costco is one of my favorite stores, I rarely buy perishable items there. As a person who lives alone, I find it difficult to predict how much I will use. Sometimes, as is the case with my mayo, buying the smallest size and paying a premium is better than saving money on larger quantities. Smaller quantities result in less space used, less waste when things aren’t needed and lower costs all around. In business, your best bet is to become masterful at creating small, inexpensive and scalable experiments that give you insights into the real world, not just backroom-based predictions. As you gain new insights and become more confident that a new idea will work (i.e., there is greater predictability), then you can ramp up and go for efficiency.

Sell one, make one

It’s safe to say that one situation no one ever wants to encounter is to be sitting on the toilet and running out of toilet paper. The best solution is to always have a spare roll within reach. When the main roll is finished, the spare role is put into the dispenser and the backup roll is replaced. This is an example of a simple manufacturing technique called “sell one, make one.” To avoid running out of product, companies often produce large quantities of inventory. But as we saw in the “fail cheaply” example above, this can lead to waste. Items that don’t sell need to be liquidated at significant discounts. In the meantime, the inventory takes up space and hurts your cash flow. Instead, if you get your manufacturing process (or your innovation implementation process) efficient enough, you can make one immediately after you sell one—that is, when you sell one, you make one. You will never run out if demand never exceeds your ability to manufacture.

Lather, rinse but don’t repeat

Shampoo bottles are infamous for telling you to lather, rinse and repeat. Perhaps I am one of the few, but I had been following these directions every morning without much consideration. As an experiment, I tried skipping the repeat step. No difference. I even experimented with using less than one pump of shampoo. Same result. Sometimes we take on wasteful activities because we never think to step back and question them. I reduced shampoo usage by 75 percent without any impact on my hair. From my experience, most companies can reduce wasteful activities simply by questioning what has always been done in the past.

Three simple insights, and all were generated from a bottle of mayonnaise.

Want to improve your business? Start by looking around your home. Every day, take an inventory of the innovative products you possess…

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Is Thinking Choking Your Creativity?

October 12, 2011

As I write this, I am sitting in a Starbucks in London, England. Cars and taxis are zipping by on the street in front of me as I sip my espresso. Although I lived in London for several years, I only drove a car once while there…just once.

There is an exceptional transit system in London, so owning a vehicle isn’t necessary. Thankfully. If it were, I would have been significantly challenged. It’s funny…before moving to England, I had been driving effortlessly for 20 years. But one small difference made it nearly impossible for me to navigate here.

I am of course referring to the right-hand drive cars that are driven on the left-hand side of the road. I felt incapacitated while behind the wheel. I never knew which way to look. I had a hard time judging the edge of the car and kept hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road. And attempting to drive a manual stick-shift vehicle proved to be even more comical.

What I learned was that we quickly pick up habits. After driving for two decades, my skills were on automatic. Thinking was not necessary.

Unfortunately, moving the steering wheel and driving on the “other” side of the road forced me to think. Thinking caused me to choke.

It’s been shown that as athletes get closer to breaking a major record, their performance drops. They begin to “think,” when they otherwise would not. For example, as Barry Bonds approached his record breaking 762nd home run, his home runs per at bat dropped by as much as 90 percent. And what about Tiger Woods? Thinking of his personal situation seems to have thrown him off his game. Why?

When the “thinking” part of the brain—the cerebral cortex—is triggered, it literally chokes off the pathways to the pre-programmed skills that are stored in the cerebellum.

Studies show that 98 percent of 5-year-old children are highly creative, yet by the time they are the age of 25, only 2 percent are. Creativity is a pre-programmed skill. But education and the need to learn skills designed to pass standardized testing, chokes the creativity out of us. Instead of effortless fun and play, we are programmed to focus our thoughts on succeeding, winning or looking good, hampering our natural capabilities. But our innate creative abilities are still there. We just need to find better ways of tapping into them.

What does this have to do with business innovation?

Unfortunately the drive to perform in business is the very thing that inhibits creativity. Despite this truth, businesses will always be driven by metrics designed to monitor performance.

So, as an individual, what can you do to avoid choking your creative potential? The answer is simple: stop thinking.

Have you ever noticed that while taking a shower, you sometimes get creative thoughts? Have you ever had a brilliant insight while falling asleep or when waking up? The relaxing water and restful sleep quiets the judgmental part of the brain allowing your innate creative abilities to emerge. Take advantage of these moments. Keep a notebook by the side of the bed. Or in my case, a waterproof note pad in the shower. When lying in bed, Aristotle reputedly put a brass plate on his chest and held a metal ball above it in his hand. As he fell asleep, the ball would hit the plate waking him. He claimed to have his greatest insights just as he was dozing off.

Consider a company that is in the fragrance business and needs to develop 40 new scents every day. This is a daunting task. One manager I know decided to take his team out to Stonehenge to meditate before embarking on some brainstorming…

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