February 27, 2013
Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom…
Yesterday I spoke at an event called Crowdopolis. The topic was crowdsourcing. This has become one of the hot buzzwords in business. Companies of all sizes are dipping their toes into crowdsourcing.
But what is it really? Well, crowdsourcing is a lot of different things and can’t easily by lumped into one small bucket.
Here are a few of the crowdsourcing variations (and this is not a complete list):
- Solution Finding: This is where you use a crowd to solve a complex problem. Are you looking to develop a glass for the next iPhone that won’t smudge? Ask a crowd to see if they have a solution. InnoCentive and BrightIdea are two platforms that help` companies solve these types of problems (the latter is the engine behind GE’s ecoimagination initiative).
- Opinion Seeking - Crowds can be used, of course, to provide input and suggestions on how to improve your product. SurveyMonkey is a low-end version of this in action. MyStarbucksIdea.com is a more sophisticated version that runs on SalesForce.com’s “ideas” platform.
- Content Creation – Want to create an advertisement for your company but don’t want to hire a single design agency? Why not hire the world? Companies like Doritos have done this for their Super Bowl commercials with great success. Platforms like Tongal help companies crowdsource the creation of videos. News broadcasters are also doing this to help collect videos from individuals who shoot newsworthy footage on their iPhone.
- Design Competitions – Need a new logo? You don’t need to hire just one person from an agency or eLance.com (which is also a form of crowdsourcing, even though you only get one person doing the work, you get multiple people to bid on the work), you can use 99designs.com or logotournament.com to get hundreds of designs for the price of one. You select the one logo you like and pay only that one designer.
- Data Collection - This is a growing area of crowdsourcing. Instead of sending your employees out to inspect buildings, shelves in super markets, or potentially even read meters, get anyone to do it. For example, when someone is in a supermarket, have them snap a picture of your product on the shelves. This gives you insights into stocking levels and product placement, and the GPS tracking will give you the location without the need for tagging. Think of this as more data for your big data.
- Manual Tasks - This is outsourcing on steroids. Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk is an example of this. Break up your work into bite-sized chunks and get people to do these activities for pennies. There are many platforms for doing this in all shapes and sizes. Although it is not technically a crowdsourcing platform, one of my favorites websites is fiverr.com; a site where people will do almost anything for $5.
- Testing – Do you have something you want to test? uTest is a great platform for this. They can beat the heck out of your website looking for bugs, usability issues, or anything else. You can get hundreds of people banging on your system to stress it and test it.
- Customer service – What if you could get your fans to be customer service employees? Platforms like CrowdEngineering.com allow your most knowledgable customers to provide help to your entire customer base. If your customers have a technical problem, instead of speaking to an employee, they can be routed to one of these knowledgable fans. Think of this is a virtual “geek squad” or “genius bar.”
- Programming – One of my favorite crowdsourcing platforms is TopCoder. This is truly amazing. They have nearly a half million programmers, designers, testers and program managers who compete to create wireframes, designs, code, and algorithms, and then test everything for customers. This is one of the best end-to-end solutions out there.
- Crowd funding – Need money for an initiative or cause? Crowdfunding may be the way. Platforms like kickstarter.com enable people to raise money for their projects. There are platforms for raising money for non-profits. And now there is the emerging version which can allow for micro-angel investing.
As you can tell, crowdsourcing can be leveraged in many ways.
It is important to note that crowdsourcing is not THE answer. It is only a tool. You need to make sure you understand what you want to achieve and then determine if this approach is appropriate. Too many organizations have tried crowdsourcing, thinking it was a silver bullet, only to be wildly disappointed. Having said that, when used properly, it can reduce costs, timeframes, and risk, while providing high quality solutions.
February 19, 2013
Here is a transcript of yesterday’s Monday Morning Movie…
When I started my business 12 years ago, one of the first things I did was join a mastermind group. Basically “mastermind” is just a fancy word for a group of people who come together that work on each other’s business. So we learn from each other. I’ve learned a number of things over the years in terms of what makes a good mastermind group. If you’re in a business and you want to learn from others, this is an awesome way.
For most of my career, I decided to mastermind with other professional speakers. In the early days of my career this was great because I learned some of the basics and I learned some of the things that would have taken me much longer to learn. I was able to learn from people who’ve already done what I wanted to do.
But then I recognized something. There is a point in every business where only hanging out with people who are in the same business is actually going to hold you back, because you start breathing the same oxygen. You start thinking the same way.
Sometimes you want to breathe fresh ideas into your business; to think differently.
Just last weekend I got together with four other people in Las Vegas. We had this great two-day mastermind. We spent about an hour and a half on each person’s business and we dug really deep.
What was particularly cool about this mastermind is that instead of being composed of a bunch of speakers, we had a diverse group: someone who is in real estate, someone who works in multilevel marketing, someone who is in the printing business, and someone who had his own creativity space. And then there was me, the speaker. We also invited someone in who was an executive at Zappos for a while. So we got a very interesting mix of people. I learned a lot about business, and what would be valuable to my business, from this group of people.
Although I was shocked at how useful the input was, it really shouldn’t surprise me since my message around innovation is that we need to hang out with people who aren’t like us. But I have to say, I was still amazed to see the real power of getting a divergent group of people together that have a deep trust for one another and can share their open and honest opinions. It was fantastic.
The other thing that we learned, which is an extremely important part of not just masterminding but innovation in general, is you have to know what question to ask. Anybody who’s seen my work knows that I love to quote Einstein who reputedly said, “If had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.” This is really important. Even in a mastermind it is critical to make sure we’re asking the right question. Sometimes even a small change in language can have a huge impact.
For example, one person might be thinking about starting a restaurant. Now, that question – “What do I need to do to start a successful restaurant?” – implies the individual needs to worry about everything associated with starting a new business. If we change the language slightly and ask – “What do I need to do to buy a successful restaurant? I don’t want all of the hassle of starting one from scratch.” – very different suggestions and ideas will pop up with that. Or if the question is – “Instead of buying a restaurant, what if I became an advisor to other restaurants? I want to be involved in restaurants but I don’t necessarily want all of the day to day work.” – well, that’s again a fundamentally different question.
What we found over and over in the course of the weekend is that if you’re asking the wrong question, all the advice you might get from someone is irrelevant. So you want to make sure that you’re taking the time to really think about what matters. What’s important? What do you value? Make sure your questions are framed accordingly.
The other thing that we learned is that sometimes, when you want to improve your business, you don’t want to hang out with people who are even in the world of business.
We spent a fair amount of time talking about personal development: things that have nothing to do with the success of our company but are about our own internal success. How do we become better people? Live better lives? Be happier? Be more compassionate?
It is amazing how these types of things, these non-business activities, can have a huge impact on your business. That’s why it’s really important for you – whatever your business, whatever your role is in business – to recognize that you don’t want to spend all of your time hanging out with people who think like you.
Don’t just go to industry conferences. Don’t just go to conferences with people who have the same role or function as you. Instead, find people who have fundamentally different types of businesses. Find people who are in different parts of your business. If you’re in HR, hang out with people who are in sales. Learn from people who think differently.
And again, don’t just spend all of your time thinking about business. Think about your life and what you want out of your life. This will make you more powerful in everything you do. This will then help you create a more successful business because you will be able to define success on your terms.
This is Stephen Shapiro, and I hope that you find a group of people who together will change your business and change your life through divergent points of view together.
P.S. I still mastermind with other speakers, and get incredible value. The point isn’t to stop spending time with people from your industry. I am suggesting that you need to balance that with individuals/groups from different industries, different functions, and different disciplines.
February 6, 2013
Here is today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom…
The question I get most often from my Fortune 500 clients: “How do we create a culture of innovation?”
Although there is no simple answer, here’s a blueprint I’ve found useful to get things started and build momentum.
- Ask employees for ideas – Most organizations start here with the corporate suggestion box. Let’s call it idea-driven innovation. This step is useful for getting people engaged. It also helps capture low hanging fruit and incremental innovations. However, after a period of time, the ideas become less practical and less valuable. The “noise” (low quality ideas) increases. And sadly, even the good ideas often have a difficult time finding a home (sponsor, owner, funding, resources), so they wither on the vine.
- Ask top execs for their most pressing challenges – We now move from idea-driven innovation to a more useful approach: challenge-driven innovation. Find the people with money, power and resources in your organization, and ask them for the most important challenges that they need solved. Don’t call it innovation. Think of it as problem solving. This step gets the executives engaged as they start seeing direct value.
- Ask employees to solve these challenges – Once you’ve identified the top executive challenges, it is now time to get the employees working on finding solutions. This is done via internal crowdsourcing. Instead of asking everyone for their suggestions, ask them for solutions. This keeps them engaged, reduces the noise, and provides a much higher ROI.
- Ask employees to identify challenges - This step is designed to get everyone to realize that the mantra, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions,” is wrong. Teach employees that if you bring bigger and better problems, there are many ways to find better solutions. Ask employees to submit good challenges. This steps requires proper education/guidance to avoid being inundated by poorly defined challenges.
- Go externally for solutions to challenges – Use alliances, outsourcing, and external crowdsourcing/open innovation as a means for discovering solutions to exceptionally pressing solutions. Or use “tech scouting” in order to find off-the-shelf solutions to meet needs of less strategic challenges. Some organizations do this earlier in the process, starting here before asking employees for solutions.
- Go externally for identifying challenges – Most organizations struggle to identify the right challenges. They are too close to the business and therefore have reduced peripheral vision. Therefore, it is useful to partner with trend monitoring organizations, universities, think tanks, and experts to help identify the challenges that might be in the organizational blind spot.
This process is not sequential. Some steps are done in parallel at times. And sometimes they are done in a different order.
If your objective is to accelerate the way you innovate, this model is extremely useful. You will find that less time is spent on innovation with better results.
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.
December 11, 2012
Sacha Chua, a “sketchnote artist and experimenter-at-large” from Toronto, developed this very cool infographic of my Best Practices Are Stupid book. And she was kind enough to allow us to share it under the Creative Commons Attribution License. So spread the love, and visit Sacha’s site to show your appreciation. (click on the picture to get the full size image). Thank you Sacha!