Diversity Doesn’t Work

October 11, 2013

poker bannerImagine two groups of problems solvers.

Group #1 is homogeneous. That is, everyone has similar personalities and areas of expertise.

Group #2 is diverse and comprises a blend of different styles and experiences.

Which group will perform better?

In times of crisis and on simpler tasks, Group #1 will always perform better. They “speak the same language” and therefore get things done quickly. Their solutions may not be as creative, but they will be more likely to coalesce.

But what about in less time-sensitive situations or more complex tasks?

According to research and my own experience, Group #2 will still – left to their own devices – underperform.


Although diverse groups may attempt a wider and more creative range of solutions, the differing perspectives can lead to harmful disagreement. For example, someone throws out what they think is a great idea, but it quickly gets shot down by someone who has had different experiences. In this instance, it might be creativity going in a head-to-head battle with practicality.

Diversity doesn’t work naturally. It requires one key ingredient: appreciation.

Our studies find that when diverse teams are given the tools to appreciate one another, they generate solutions with higher value and have a better chance of implementing them.

I’ve found that for diverse teams to work well, each person on the team needs to:

  • recognize that opposites do not attract (they repel) and therefore it is natural to avoid or disagree with those who are different
  • be aware of his or her limitations (each style has positive and negative implications)
  • discover where he or she contributes and detracts in the innovation process (everyone can’t do everything well; certain part of the process are handled by some better than others)
  • appreciate how others complement his or her limitations (each person provides different forms of value and “completes” you)

So yes, diversity can work. But it is not a natural act.

Anyone who says that opposites attract has not been paying attention to the bickering on Capitol Hill.

But opposites can collaborate effectively when everyone appreciates the contributions of those with different perspectives, styles, and experiences.

P.S. If you believe that my article titles are too controversial, read this article. Clearly, I do believe that diversity can work.

P.P.S. Personality Poker is designed to enable diverse teams to work effectively together. Learn more about this card-based system, book, and keynote speech.

The Power of Positive Constraints (transcription)

February 27, 2013

Here’s the transcription of my Monday Morning Movie

This morning I want to talk about the power of positive constraints. In the world of innovation, there seems to be this belief that we’re supposed to let everybody be free thinkers and let them do whatever they want. But, this actually destroys innovation. We need structure. We need constraints.

I’ll give you a really simple example. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll notice that about a month ago, I made a bit of a change.

Now, instead of just writing whenever I feel inspired to write or writing about whatever I want to write about, I’ve created structure. Mondays, there’s always a Monday Morning Movie. Tuesday, there’ll always be the transcription of the movie, along with on some weeks, a Tuesday Travel Tip. Wednesday is my Wednesday Work Wisdom. Friday is my Friday Fun Fact. As a result, over the past month without fail, there has been a minimum of four blog entries and, in some weeks, I’ve had five or six.

If you turn back the clock, you’ll notice that when I didn’t have structure, when I didn’t have those positive constraints, there would be some weeks where I might have only one.  And there would be even a period of time where I wouldn’t write at all. So, constraints are actually a very good thing. First of all, because they give us a little bit of structure and it forces us to think a little more clearly around something. It gives us something to work around. But also, it sort of sets a tone for what we need to get done. If I’m committing to doing certain things every day, and I can do those constraints consistently, that’s very valuable.

And it’s not just about publicly declaring that on Monday, you can expect one of these videos. There’s another value that comes from having positive constraints…

It also reduces the level of thinking I need to do. This actually allows me to be more creative. If I gave you a blank sheet of paper and said, “Hey, come up with a great idea on how to improve your business,” you might come up with a lot of ideas. Probably, most of them would be pretty bad and I also suspect that you would struggle to come up with some great ideas.

On the other hand, if we worked on defining a really good problem statement – identifying what is the one area of your business where there is the greatest opportunity; identifying where you differentiate yourself from your competitors – that might actually give you even better results, more creativity, and even more value.

Constraints are not bad. We seem to think that we want people to “think outside the box,” but anybody who’s been following my work knows that I think instead, what we need is a better box (aka constraints).

Being organized; procedures; having a better box.

These are not bad things. These are things that will actually increase and enhance your level of creativity. So, look at an area in your life where you’re struggling to get things done.

Maybe part of the issue is confusion and a lack of clarity. Lack of clarity actually comes out of a lack of constraints. Constraints will give you clarity. Anytime that you feel stuck or confused, think about what structures you could put in place that would keep you accountable, that would keep you on track and keep you on target, and also improve your level of creativity.

When you start to think about positive constraints as a positive thing, I promise you, you will enhance your creativity massively.

The Power of Positive Constraints

February 25, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie…

We often think of constraints as being something bad. But actually they can be quite beneficial. They can help us get more done work more efficiently. And surprisingly, they can help us be more creative.

You can read the transcription here….

European Business Review Article

January 29, 2013

An article of mine was just published in the European Business Review. It is a concise summary of my overall innovation philosophy.

Here’s the introduction…

In today’s fast-paced business environment, the ability to innovate is not enough. You need to innovate efficiently, quickly, and with less risk. Tradition innovation methods, such as asking employees or customers for ideas, have proven to be a bad idea. Instead of “thinking outside the box” you want to define a better box. This article describes a five-step process that will help you accelerate the way you innovate. You will learn how to ask the right question, the right way, to the right people, in the right way, while implementing through experimentation.

You can read/download the entire article in pdf form here

Or you can read it online on the European Business Review website.

Stop Calling it Innovation!

June 18, 2012

A potential client asked, “What is the best way to create a culture of innovation?”

My response: “Stop calling it innovation!”

Innovation has become the word du jour.  Is it important?  Of course.  But the term has been used and abused by so many people that it means nothing. I am seeing a backlash against the word.  Inside many organizations, there are antibodies waiting to kill anything called “innovation.”

If you want to have a chance at innovating, call it something else.

Although this is an old fashioned term, I like: “problem solving.”  It is calling it what it really is.

Yes, maybe the problems when innovating seem bigger, like business model changes or the creation of new product lines.  But you are still solving a problem (ok you can call it an “opportunity” if you prefer).

If you have an innovative idea and if doesn’t solve a problem, it will not be valuable.* (see footnote)

When starting an “innovation” program (excuse my perpetuation of the word), I ask the leaders of the organization (top executives, P&L owners, Business Unit/Lines of Business leads) to give me their three most important issues; ones that if solved would be incredibly valuable.  These problems/opportunities could be related to improving productivity, developing new service offerings, stimulating sales, addressing changing market conditions, or dealing with commoditization.  We look for leverage points; things that will create exponential value.

Everything ties back to an issue, challenge, problem, or opportunity.

Once the challenge is identified, we use the best method – brainstorming, skunkworks, open innovation, outsourcing, alliances, etc – to find solutions.

After doing this with the senior leaders, we can then engage the entire organization in identifying and solving pressing challenges.  This starts the cycle.

Every organization wants to know if they and their ideas are “innovative enough.”  Who cares?  The more important question is, “Do you know which problems, if solved, would create substantial value for your organization and your customers?”

There are many companies that produce unsexy products with few “breakthrough” technologies (they are not considered “cool” like Apple, 3M or Google). However, these organizations adapt and grow at incredibly fast rates.  Does it matter that others don’t consider them to be innovative?

Explosive and continued growth is the name of the game.  By calling it innovation, you may in fact be killing what you hope to create.

Look for important problems to solve and then find the best means for sourcing solutions.  This is what you really want.

* FOOTNOTE: Please note that this does not mean that the problems/opportunities needs to be known/understood by consumers or others.  Focus groups and surveys are poor ways to identifying problems as they only tap into conscious beliefs.  For more on this, read my tip, “Your Market Research Sucks” in my Best Practices Are Stupid book.

Different Questions = Different Solutions

April 6, 2012

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who is a professional speaker.  She and her husband are debating if they want to have a child in the near future.

She said, “Right now my life is easy and I know if I have a child, it will be a lot more difficult.”

The implied question: “Do I want a life that is easy or one that is challenging?”  Based on that question alone, many might go for the easy solution.

But maybe this is the wrong question.  I asked her, “How fulfilling is your life right now?”

Her answer: “Although life is easy, it is not fulfilling.”  She felt that having a child would make life more fulfilling.

A different question gives a different perspective which yields different solutions.

Because she eventually wants children, she wants to travel less.  As a professional speaker, she currently only makes money when she is on the road.  Therefore, to create passive income, she has been developing a number of “products” (books, CDs, DVD, cards, etc) that she can sell.

What she is doing again implies a particular question: “How do I create products that will generate passive income?”  As it turns out, the creation of these products has required a lot of time and money on her part.  And there is very little leverage since the margins are so low and the distribution channels are limited.

But what if she asked a different question: “How do I generate passive income that can scale with minimal effort and minimal investment?”

Now she has many more options including licensing, partnerships, sponsorships, technological platforms, etc.  The work can be done by others rather than her.  And given that others are selling to their networks, she can gain much greater leverage.  The opportunity now is much larger.

If you ask a different question, you will get a different solution.  And from my experience, most individuals and organizations are asking the wrong questions.  And this will always lead to the wrong solution.  A simple shift in mindset can fundamental shape your success.

eCornell and TrainingIndustry.com Webinar

March 14, 2012

Innovation Book of the YearI recently gave an hour-long webinar for eCornell and TrainingIndustry.com.  Over 3,000 people registered for only 1,000 slots, maxing out the system.  Thousands of people were unable to attend, so they made the recording available to everyone.

I discussed some of the key concepts from my book, “Best Practices Are Stupid.”

Watch this wildly popular webinar by clicking here.

You Don’t Hear Your Customers

January 10, 2012

The other day, I asked my business manager to follow up with a client about an unpaid invoice.  She contacted the company’s accounts payable department and was told that the invoice was paid on June 1st, 2012. (italics added for emphasis)

OK, I have some pretty talented clients, but I don’t think any have mastered time travel…yet.  It is only the first week in January.  There is no way they could have paid (past tense) an invoice 6 months in the future.

So obviously my client miscommunicated.  Or did they?

What my client actually wrote was that the “invoice was paid 6/1/12.”  To my American business manager, this was clearly June 1st.  But to my European colleagues, they would interpret this as January 6th.  In the US, our date format is mm/dd/yy; in Europe it is dd/mm/yy.

Although this is a very simplistic example, it clearly demonstrates how biases – cultural, language, experience, etc – significantly impact how we perceive the world around us.  And most people are unaware of the fact that they do not truly see things to same way as they occur to others.

In the world of innovation, this can have an impact on how we understand customer needs.

We think we know what they want.  But what they are saying is always interpreted differently than what they really mean.

I like the story told by Professor Chris Parker of the University of Lucerne about a tribesman from a remote part of Malaysia who was taken to Singapore for the weekend as part of an anthropological study. It was his first exposure to the outside world. After a tour of the bustling city, his guides asked him what had struck him most about this place, one of the great high-tech centers of the world. The tribesman said without hesitation that the biggest surprise was a wheelbarrow that he had noticed being used to haul a large quantity of bananas, more bananas being hauled by one conveyance than he had ever seen before.

All the computers and all the mobile phones on the technology-mad island meant nothing to him. He was most impressed by nothing more sophisticated than the big wheelbarrow because in his world, what mattered still focus on basic gathering and distribution of food and water. The digital world has yet to have any bearing on their lives. The technology of choice for this tribe would be a consignment of new wheelbarrows. Of course, in the context of business, technology is more sophisticated than the wheelbarrow, but no more important to its success.

How you see the world is different than how others will see it.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie, “The Gods Must Be Crazy.”  A Coke bottle is interpreted many different ways by those unfamiliar with glass.  To most of the world, it is obviously a Coke bottle.  But if you have not seen one before, it means something entirely different.

Assume you don’t understand what your customers really want.  Poke.  Probe.  Ask clarifying questions. Have them tell you stories that help elaborate.  Ask “why” they want a particular feature.  Look for alternative perspectives and meanings.

Maybe your customers really only want a bigger wheelbarrow.

P.S. This technique applies to family members and friends.  Don’t assume you know what your spouse or kids are saying.  Odds are, you are not really understanding them.

Are You Asking the Right Question?

January 3, 2012

For many years, I was a loyal BlackBerry fan.  More accurately I was a CrackBerry addict.

A year ago a got a MacBook Pro and six month layer I acquired an iPad.  It felt like I should switch to the iPhone.  But I was not ready for two reasons:

  1. I wanted a Verizon phone that could work globally, and the iPhone 4 was North America only.
  2. I was wildly concerned about my ability to type on a virtual keyboard.  Previous attempts were disastrous.

When the 4S came out, it addressed my first concern.  But it did not, from my perspective, address the keyboard issue.  Or so I thought.

I was asking for the wrong feature.  Instead of asking for a better keyboard, I should have looked for a better data entry method.

I bought the 4S the day it hit the market.  I turned off Siri, Apple’s voice recognition system, because I did not think it would be valuable.  Man, was I ever wrong!  On a whim, I tried it one day.  And now I dictate many of my emails and text messages through voice recognition.  The accuracy is amazing.  And my speed has been increased significantly.

I also marvel at the fact that I can gain access to so much information without ever going into Google. Will these types of devices be game changers, bypassing the search engine’s revenue generating ads?  I’m not sure; time will tell their full impact.

But for me, it is a game changer.  In one sitting, I dictated four articles; something that I had never been able to do previously.  I realize that there are other voice transcription services (manual and automatic) out there.  However, the convenience of having it built into my phone made it so accessible I could write anytime I was inspired.

When you are innovating, are you striving to make a better keyboard?  Or are you focused on creating a better data entry method?

Asking the right question will lead you down an entirely different path.

Ideas, Ideas Everywhere…

December 23, 2011

There’s an old tale that goes…

Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.

Inside of organizations, there’s a corollary…

Ideas, ideas every where, Nor any one can think.

Um, ok, I should stick to my day job.  But the point is, organizations are drowning in a sea of ideas, yet they never take the time to think about what matters most.

The other day I was at an event run by a non-profit.  They have built up a large network of advocates who support the cause.  As I am a good friend with the woman who runs this group, I spent a fair amount of time with her that evening.  As the hours passed, many people gave her their thoughts on how to run the organization.  “Do more of this…”  “Do less of that…” “Call your group this….” “Engage these organizations…” “Copy what this non-profit is doing…”

The ideas were all over the map.

I could tell that the organization’s leader was a bit frustrated and confused as there were so many suggestions.

She turned to me and asked what I thought she should do.

Of course, like everyone else, I had my opinion.

I told her, “Stop listening to people’s suggestions.”  I then joking said, “And you should ignore my suggestion too.” (Someone once said to me, “Isn’t telling people that they should not use best practices a best practice?” Hmmm….)

Within any organization, there is never a shortage of ideas.  There is a shortage of good ideas that actually matter and ultimately create real value.

My recommendation to her was:

  1. Stop listening to suggestions (and don’t solicit them either).  Everyone wants to give you their two cents…and that’s all their ideas are worth.
  2. Get clear on your strategy.  There has been too much focus on day-to-day activities that the business model has not been clearly articulated.  There has been an over-focus on tactics rather than outcomes.
  3. Stop copying the best practices of other, similar non-profits; study for-profit organizations.  This will provide new insights.  And it will have you less reliant on sponsorship/donations and will force you to develop a real value proposition.
  4. Based on the strategy, identify a series of challenges/opportunities (“How might we…?”).  The strategy defines “what” you want to achieve (outcomes) and “why” (purpose).  The challenges deconstruct the strategy into questions, that when solved, provide the “how”.
  5. Ask your network (through email or better yet a private discussion board) for “solutions” to these challenge/opportunities.  Encourage collaboration.
  6. Find people who are passionate about moving these opportunities forward and put them in charge of implementation.

A critical issue with so many organizations (especially smaller businesses and non-profits) is that there are so many opportunities and so little focus.  The ideas/needs of the day tend to overshadow the overall strategy.

Get clear on how you make money, how you differentiate yourself, and then define a series of challenges that will help make that strategy a reality.  Focusing on what matters most will accelerate your innovation efforts and reduce your investment.

Happy Holidays.

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