My interview on

October 1, 2013

virginI was recently interviewed by Pedro De Abreu for an article on Here’s a little taste…

Every web site we visit, every book we read, every conference we attend, we are admonished to innovate, to be innovative and to disrupt the market with innovation. Stephen Shapiro, author of the international best-selling business book ‘Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out Innovate the Competition’, makes the case that instead of listening to all the noise, we should ignore all advice (including the ones he gives us in this interview).

What is innovation?

Innovation is an organization’s ability to adapt, evolve, and change repeatedly and rapidly. Although new products, services, and business models all play into this, they are a means to an end: to stay at least one-step ahead of the competition.

How can companies and individuals become innovative in their approaches to life and business?

Too often in life (and business) we have this false belief that we can predict the future. At a personal level, we set goals for many years out, hoping to achieve them using a well thought out plan of attack. But the flaw in this thinking is three-fold. 1) Our past is so limited that we really can never know what is the “best” future for us. 2) We can never predict the best path, as there are too many factors in the real world. 3) The world is changing fast, so a 5-year strategic plan is (in many cases) useless.

Instead, I suggest that you “use a compass, not a map.” Instead of a specific destination, you have a general direction. Then you “meander with purpose.” Learn by doing. Learn by experiencing. Adjust directions frequently, but still move in the same direction. To me, this is the ultimate in innovation living.

What the five rules of innovation that companies and individuals should stick by?

1. Innovate where you differentiate. Most organizations dissipate their energies by not focusing on the opportunities to set yourself apart from the competition. This should trickle down to every department and person. For any activity that is not a differentiator, you should optimize, automate, outsource, replicate or partner with others.

Read the other four rules and the rest of this article on

Do Less, Make More

September 5, 2013

dolessmakemoreIn the September issue of “Speaker Magazine” (published by the National Speakers Association), I have a 3-page article. It is called: Do Less, Make More: Work Only One Hour a Day by Mastering Leverage.

Here’s the beginning…

I’ve been trying an experiment. For the last six months, I’ve been working, on average, only one hour each day on my speaking business.

This wasn’t easy at first given my tendency to sometimes work more than 100 hours a week. However, what I eventually learned was that I could be insanely productive by simply shifting my mindset. Long hours aren’t necessarily required to lead a successful career.

The fact is, although there are an unlimited number of things that speakers can do to grow or improve their businesses, there is a point of diminishing returns. The upside on additional effort decreases significantly beyond this point.


To successfully work only one hour a day (or at least a greatly reduced amount of time), you need to master the concept of leverage.

Leverage is something that gives the greatest return with the least amount of energy. We typically view our work as linear. An hour of work gives us an hour of results. But what if an hour of work could yield 100 hours (or more) of results? Instead of diminishing returns, you get exponential returns.

This is leverage.

Each morning I ask myself, what is the one thing I need to do today? What is the one thing that will create the most value? What is the one thing that only I can do? That is the activity that I engage in for the day, delegating, deferring or eliminating everything else. The key is to focus on activities that create leverage and maximize results.

The remainder of the article discusses why you should “stop telling people what to do,” how to “multiple your results by first dividing, how to leverage your speech, and how to create new revenue streams.

Read the rest of this article

Two Recent Interviews

April 4, 2012

If you want to hear my voice talk about innovation, here are two recent interviews for podcasts:

I had a blast with Karen Keller when we addressed how women (and men) can be more innovative.  This was a no holds barred conversation where I said what was really on my mind: Power Influencer Series is a subscrition-based website targeted at school administrators.  In this interview, I discuss how teachers, educators, and administrators can be more effective in the way they teach their students.  This link will allow you to listen to the recording and read the transcript without a subscription: Re-Thinking Innovation, Creativity and Collaboration

Innovation 101

October 9, 2008

Although much has been written about innovation, there is little agreement on what it is or why it is necessary. Is innovation the same as creativity? Is it synonymous with product development? Or is innovation just radical change?

I like to describe innovation through an old, yet relevant, joke. The joke begins with two men who are hiking in the mountains of Canada when they stumble upon a hungry 600-pound grizzly bear. Immediately, one of the hikers takes off his backpack and hiking boots and proceeds to put on his running shoes. The other hiker looks at him and asks, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!” The first hiker responds, “I know, but I only need to outrun you!”

This is innovation. It is not simply about new products, new processes, new services or new ideas. It is about staying one step ahead of your competition.

Why you need innovation now more than ever
Sometimes the “competition” is not another company, but rather socioeconomic shifts. Rising oil prices, a slumping housing market, the collapse of well-known financial institutions, and a looming recession have all left corporate executives on edge.

While many companies are tightening their belts due to unstable market conditions, truly successful companies use these times as a chance to outstrip their competition. My favorite company, Koch Industries, increases their investments during difficult times. They know that if they focus on innovation while others are cutting costs, they will quickly catapult past everyone else. They must be doing something right; Koch Industries has grown seven times faster than the S&P 500 for the past 40 years.

How can innovation benefit your company? It is not just about product development or radical growth. When used properly, innovation can help you achieve the following:

  • Reduce costs
  • Increase service levels to customers
  • Improve overall employee performance and retention
  • De-commoditize a commodity business
  • Become recession-proof

Three levels of innovation

[Read more]

Articles in Thai, Danish and Dutch

August 25, 2008

Today’s blog entry gives you three feature articles with my thoughts on innovation.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what they say! 

One article is from “Computerworld” in the Denmark (scanned in by a colleague there).  Another is from “High Tech Analysis” in the Netherlands.  And the last is the cover story from “inMarketing” in Thailand.  If you can read any of these languages, you might enjoy the articles.  If not, you might just enjoy the pictures.

Computerworld (Denmark) (pdf – scanned from original)

High Tech Analysis (Netherlands)  (pdf – click here to view original online flash version)

inMarketing - Article #1 (Thailand) (pdf)

inMarketing - Article #2 (Thailand) (pdf)

(click cover to view larger version)

Resolutions That Work

August 18, 2008

Making Resolutions That Work

Goal-Free Living and New Year's Resolutions

Like dinosaurs and gas-guzzling SUVs, is the traditional New Year’s Resolution rapidly becoming a thing of the past?

According to a survey by Stephen Shapiro, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

In a survey of 1012 Americans, only 45% of Americans now say they write up New Years Resolutions down from 88% of Americans who did so in the past. The random telephone survey was conducted by Shapiro, author of “Goal-Free Living,” with the assistance of Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton N.J. The survey has a margin of error of 3%.

[Read more]

New Innovation Article

April 18, 2008

Although I have written about this many times before on this blog, we have created a formal article on “The Performance Paradox.”  This is part of an eBook being published by 21 professional speakers.

You can find this, and a dozen other articles in my “innovation articles” section of the website.

“21 The Movie” and Innovation

March 28, 2008


“21: The Movie” is in theaters today in the United States.  Last week I wrote a blog entry on what innovators could learn from blackjack card counters. 

Today, to celebrate the formal release of the movie, I am including a downloadable pdf with a full article on the topic of statistics, probability, card counting and innovation.  This is an expanded version of the blog entry.

Download the article (pdf) – to save the file, right click and “save target as”

Feel free to email the article to all of your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who is interested in innovation.

What Innovators Can Learn From Vegas Card Counters

March 21, 2008

Which will help your business be more successful: statistics or probability?

Underwriters at insurance companies use statistics to assess future risks. This is based on years of collected data.

Probability is what card counters in Vegas use to increase their odds of success. This is based on real-time, real-life experience.

If you want to play it safe, use statistics. If you want to win big, use probability.

There Are Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – Mark Twain

Businesses are increasingly using statistics to manage decision making, as evidenced by popular books like Tom Davenport’s Competing on Analytics and the boom in CRM system usage.

The belief is that if we gather more data we can make better decisions. But this may not be true when it comes to innovation.

If you are crunching numbers, you are probably gathering information from existing customers. This will give you insight into their buying habits, usability behaviors, and other patterns. But most likely you are only gathering data on YOUR customers.  This represents the middle of the bell curve or the norm. This information may be useful in “incremental” improvement, but it will rarely lead to significant innovations.

When you move beyond the norm to the far ends of the bell curve, you will find the real interesting ideas.

Being normal is not a virtue; it denotes a lack of courage

On the far right-hand side of the curve are the market leaders; the advanced users. They may not be your customers because you can’t meet their high-end needs. Or maybe they were once your customers and they left. When someone is not a customer it is difficult to gain insights into their wants and needs. If you could somehow understand their perspectives, you may find opportunities for “advanced” innovation and insights on where the industry may be going in the near future. These innovations would be more radical, yet continuous in nature. Think of this as the Blu-ray improvement on the standard DVD (we’ll save a discussion on the demise of HD DVD for another time).

On the far left-hand side of the curve are the laggards; the less sophisticated users. Your products/services may be too advanced, too complicated, or too expensive for their needs. Again, you are probably not gathering statistics on these individuals or organizations. But here lies the greatest opportunity for discontinuous innovation.  Or as Clayton Christensen would call it, disruptive innovation.  If you can find a way of “dumbing down” your offering, you might find new and untapped sources of revenue. Quite often these products become the de facto standard, much like when PCs replaced the more sophisticated mainframes and mini-computers.

The problem is, it is very difficult to get data about the ends of the bell curve. Focus groups, surveys, and other traditional data gathering techniques are useless. I love this quote from Scott Cook at Intuit: “For every one of our failures, we had spreadsheets that looked awesome.” We can use numbers to justify anything we want. But quite often they justify the wrong actions.

The Probable is What Usually Happens – Aristotle

If a statistics-driven innovation model does not work, what would a probability-based model look? Probability tells me that if everything is equal, the more bets I have, the more likely one will be successful. The odds of 1 success out of 200 are greater than 1 success out of 20.

But how can you have more bets without diluting your effort and potential returns? The key is to learn as you go. This is exactly what card counters to.

Let’s contrast a more statistics-driven model with a probability-based model. To do so, we will use two exceedingly simplistic examples. With innovation model #1, you make a few “big bets” based on analytics you gathered from your customers (a statistics-driven model). Innovation model #2 is a more experiential “learn as you go” model (a probability-based model).

In both examples, let’s assume you have $100 million to bet, woops, I mean invest in innovation.

[Read more]

Innovation and the Performance Paradox

January 9, 2008

The Innovation Performance Paradox CurveToday, my article on “The Performance Paradox: When Less is More” was published by the American Management Association.

You may recall that I introduced this concept in a blog entry last month.

What is the Performance Paradox?

The more fixated on your goal you become, the greater your chance of success, right? Yes, but only to a certain extent. It turns out that when people are too fixated on the future, their creativity and overall performance actually diminish.

Read the entire Performance Paradox article on the AMA website.