March 14, 2012
I 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.
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.
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:
- I wanted a Verizon phone that could work globally, and the iPhone 4 was North America only.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- Ask your network (through email or better yet a private discussion board) for “solutions” to these challenge/opportunities. Encourage collaboration.
- 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.
November 1, 2011
Malcolm Gladwell has an excellent piece on how Apple created its first computer after visiting Xerox parc. In particular, he discusses how the mouse was developed.
After Jobs returned from parc, he met with a man named Dean Hovey, who was one of the founders of the industrial-design firm that would become known as ideo. “Jobs went to Xerox parc on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and I saw him on the Friday afternoon,” Hovey recalled. “I had a series of ideas that I wanted to bounce off him, and I barely got two words out of my mouth when he said, ‘No, no, no, you’ve got to do a mouse.’ I was, like, ‘What’s a mouse?’ I didn’t have a clue. So he explains it, and he says, ‘You know, [the Xerox mouse] is a mouse that cost three hundred dollars to build and it breaks within two weeks. Here’s your design spec: Our mouse needs to be manufacturable for less than fifteen bucks. It needs to not fail for a couple of years, and I want to be able to use it on Formica and my bluejeans.’ From that meeting, I went to Walgreens, which is still there, at the corner of Grant and El Camino in Mountain View, and I wandered around and bought all the underarm deodorants that I could find, because they had that ball in them. I bought a butter dish. That was the beginnings of the mouse.”
This is a simple, yet powerful example of how a well-defined challenge can transform an industry. What challenge can you frame that will help you redefine your industry?