Live, Listen, and Play Like a Kid

April 10, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

Today I had the honor of seeing my good friend, Ed Gerety, speak to 200 junior high school students. He was amazing.

What I found most interesting was the response from the audience.

I am used to speaking to corporations where the average age is probably 40 – 50. Here the average age was 12 – 13. There is a marked difference between these groups!

When Ed asked the student to do something, 100% participated (well, several of the teachers sat and stared blankly). When he asked them to do something that an adult might think as “silly,” the audience went wild with laughter. When he told moving stories that might generate “crickets” from an adult audience, he received gasps, cheers, and awwwwws from the teenagers. There was an unbelievable energy in the room. Everyone was hungry for Ed’s message.

When did we, as adults, become so jaded? When did we forget how to participate and play in life? When did we decide that “looking good” in front of others was more important than full self-expression? When did we become so arrogant that we know more than everyone else? When did we stop truly learning and living?

I was inspired by these students. I was tempted to call them “kids.” But after spending an hour with them, I realized that they are more adult than many adults.

Today, I encourage you to look at the world through the eyes of a teenager. Play. Laugh. Participate. Clap. Gasp. Show your full range of emotions.

As Ed said during his presentation, tell people you love them. Be thankful, every day, for what you have. Help others. Stand up for yourself.

I’ve attended a lot of seminars and training over the years. But spending 60 minutes with Ed and a couple hundred students was the most valuable education I have received in years.

P.S. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when working for a large organization. I presented to 400 executives in the morning followed by 200 high school students in the afternoon. The two audiences could not have been more different. I wrote about how to tap into your “inner innovation child” in an American Express OPEN Forum article. You can also read my article “Unleash Your Inner Innovator” (pdf). It appeared in a British Magazine 10 years ago.

Innovate Where You Differentiate

March 27, 2013

This article originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum site, and is today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

I subscribe to the 20/80/80 principle. The idea behind this concept is to focus your energies on the 20 percent of those activities that create 80 percent of the value. This can mean concentrating on the customers that create the highest revenue potential or on the products that provide the greatest leverage return. Once mastered, you can spend your 80 percent on other activities that produce even more long-term value. But how do you know what those activities are?

In my book Best Practices Are Stupid, I describe a model called “The Innovation Targeting Matrix,” which helps business owners evaluate their business activities and put each into one of three categories: support, core and differentiating. Doing this helps them determine which areas are worth focusing their 80 percent on.

Innovate Targeting Matrix

Support
Activities that fall into this category are those that help you run your business, but are not the business itself. Although many assume that human resources and finance fall into this area, the reality is that there are parts of every function that are “support” in nature. What distinguishes these activities is that customers don’t pay for or value them, and they don’t create direct value for your business either. Therefore, your strategy should be to outsource these activities to a low-cost provider. Or, if they are truly low value, eliminate them altogether where possible. For example, I hire someone overseas to handle my audio transcriptions. Although I could eliminate this activity, I have deemed enough value to continue with it.

Core 
The next level represents your “core” activities, which are any activities that create direct customer value. They typically range from shipping and customer service, to sales and new product development. For core activities, consider simplifying, automating, improving (e.g., Six Sigma) or, in some cases, outsourcing to a strategic partner. If outsourcing, look to hire organizations or individuals for whom this work is a differentiator. For example, I’m not a marketing expert and my clients don’t pay me for my marketing expertise, so I retained an Internet marketing company because its results set it apart in the marketplace. In this case, strategic outsourcing makes the most sense. It’s important to note that just because something is a core function—like sales—does not mean that everything a salesperson does is core. Related administrative work may be a support function, while other aspects of sales may be differentiators.

Differentiating
At the highest level are your “differentiating” activities. These are what separate you from the competition, and they represent the unique reasons why customers buy from you and not someone else. What makes you different? Is it some particular aspect of your service? Do you have a unique pricing model? Are you able to give customers access to something they can’t get elsewhere? Do you provide a feature no one else can offer? Any activity can be differentiating. There are aspects of HR, for example, that enable your organization to stand out. Identify these activities in every department. Spend your time on those activities that set you apart from your competition, and innovate where you differentiate.

In addition to using the Innovation Targeting Matrix, entrepreneurs should ask themselves the following questions to help focus their energies on the most important tasks:

  • Am I the best person to execute this activity? If not, get someone else to do it. When possible, only engage in activities that you deem to be your strengths. I hired a branding company because branding is their strength, not mine.
  • Is this activity something I enjoy doing? If not, consider having someone else to do the work. Creating strategic partnerships is essential to my business, but I find the work exhausting, so someone else handles this responsibility on my behalf.
  • Is this activity something I need to do? This is often a tough question. From my experience, much of the work we do provides negligible value; however, we convince ourselves it is necessary. Surfing the Internet, being sidetracked by emails all day long and other distractions disguised as opportunities should be eliminated.
  • Does this activity give me leverage? This is a critical question. Think about it this way. For some activities, an hour of work rears an hour of value. When my income is based solely on speaking to groups, there isn’t a lot of leverage. I’m limited by the number of hours in the day. Personal/executive coaching often has even less leverage because you’re having an impact on only one person at a time. When I license my work to others, there is greater impact as they do the work and I make the money with minimal effort. In this case, one hour of work on my part can lead to hundreds of hours of value. Selling can be leveraged too. Instead of selling once and making one sale, find a channel whereby they can create dozens or even hundreds of sales for you.

Why invest in activities that don’t yield the greatest return? There are only so many hours in a day, so focus your energies on activities that you enjoy, that are differentiating and that create leverage. Using these strategies will help you stay one step ahead of the competition.

Creative Leverage for Professional Speakers

March 20, 2013

NSA LogoToday’s Wednesday Work Wisdom is an interview between me and Theo Androus where he asked me about the business model of my speaking business. We discussed the concepts of gamification and leverage and how they are important for creating a successful business (of any kind).

This recording was part of the “Voices of Experience” CD that is included with Speaker magazine – a magazine given to all members of the National Speakers Association (NSA). If you are a professional speaker (or want to be one), I strongly encourage you to check out NSA.

You have two ways to enjoy this interview:

  • Listen to the audio (streaming): 

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Download the audio (mp3) (right click to save to your computer)

Read the transcription here…

What is Leverage…Really?

March 13, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

I recently attended a training class where the instructor was telling professional speakers how they could leverage their content as a way of making money in their sleep. The reality is, the focus was really on how to make products, not how to make money. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, the goal of a business is to make money, not to make products.

What I found interesting is the use of the word “leverage.” This individual was actually using the word leverage to mean reuse. For example, if I have a blog entry, I can convert it into a book, which can be adapted into articles, which in turn could be made into audio recordings and more.

From my perspective this is not leverage; this is just repurposing.

All too often, I will hear consultants use the word leverage in this manner. They might ask, “How might we leverage our assets?” Again, this is typically about reuse.

Leverage comes from the word lever. A lever is something that allows you to get the greatest results with the least amount of force.

In the word of business and innovation, leverage is about figuring out what are the things you can do that will unleash the greatest value.

The teacher of the class suggested that people should take their content and create a lot of different products (e.g., ebooks, mp3s, webinars) as a way of creating leverage in order to make passive income.  She suggested that these various items would allow someone to make money in their sleep, and therefore they should not give them away for free.

This is a mistake!

Many speakers in the group were relatively new to the business.  Their mailing lists are very small.  Even if they made a bunch of these low cost items, the odds are they would never make more than a few hundred or maybe a few thousand dollars. This would hardly justify the effort involved in creating the products in the first place.

When thinking in terms of leverage, they should ask, “How do I use my content to most efficiently create the greatest ultimate return?”

I think a better use of their time would be to figure out the best way of creating a huge following so that when they decide to create a product, they have a market.

I could charge for a webinar that I market to my list. Maybe I would get a handful of buyers to pay me a couple hundred dollars each to attend. Maybe I would make a few thousand dollars doing this. But there is no leverage in this.

Instead, I choose to give away my webinars. I do free webinars for various organizations that have access to the people I want to attract. For example, I am doing a webinar for Soundview Business Book Summaries. Anyone interested in business book summaries is probably in my target market. I am doing a webinar for a major website where many people in the innovation space gather.

These webinars always generate leads for speaking. In addition, these free webinars add more people to my list; people that may not otherwise know about me. Each becomes a prospective buyer in the long run. The lifetime value of one free webinar to the right audience can be many times that of a webinar done only to my list for a fee. This is leverage.

When assessing your business strategy, be sure to look at what will increase your access to your buyers.

There is a big difference between making products and making money. Leverage is not about repurposing in order to create something new that might provide incremental value. Leverage is about creating exponential returns.

Are You Playing With a Full Deck?

March 6, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

Personality Poker is a tool I developed for helping organizations play with a full deck; enabling them to have a good balance of complementary styles.

Why? Because opposites don’t attract. As a result, organizations naturally homogenize around one particular style.  (See my article, “Your Organizations is a Cult” for more on this)

You, as an individual, can also play with a full deck.

Although in Personality Poker, I suggest that people play to their strong suit, it is useful to recognize that everyone has a mix of four styles within them. And we can call on them at various times when needed. This allows us as individuals to be whole and integrated.

The styles at a high level are:

  • Spades – analytical
  • Diamonds – creative
  • Clubs – results-oriented
  • Hearts – emotional

Consider that inside of us, we have our own Board of Directors. And each style represented in Personality Poker is on this Board.*

The Chairman of the Board is your strong suit. However, even though one style is sitting at the head of the table, it doesn’t mean that you can’t tap into the power of each.

For me, although I am naturally creative (a diamond), when I am under stress, my intellect (spade) runs the show and is usually the Chairman of my Board.

But I make a concerted effort to utilize all aspects of my personality.

For example, I literally set aside time to nurture and check in on my emotional side. I reflect upon how I am feeling. I look to see what I may need. If I have something bothering me emotionally, and I don’t address it, my work will definitely be impacted.

The same is true with my intellect (spades). I check to make sure that there aren’t any worrying thoughts lingering in my mind. Am I feeling skeptical? Are others challenging my intelligence? What am I thinking? I carry a notebook not just to capture creative thoughts, but also to document thoughts or concerns that need to be handled.

The club is the part of me that gets things done.  I look at what I want to accomplish. What are my goals? My aspirations? Am I doing what I want to do? Am I accomplishing what I want to accomplish? Even though I am naturally not inclined to set goals, (hey, I’m the author of Goal-Free Living), I still look at where I am and where I am going – without attachment.

And of course I check in with my creative (diamond) side. This is my natural expression when I am not under stress. What am I doing to tap into my inner wisdom? Am I leveraging my creative energies? Am I serving my higher purpose?

Everyone has each aspect of Personality Poker residing within them. And ignoring any one of them at some point will have consequences. If I don’t process concerns that a given part of my personality has, it will start to fester and will eventually impact all areas of my life. Even if you are primarily intellectual, if there is something bothering you emotionally (e.g., in your personal life), it will impact everything else.

Therefore consider checking in daily to determine how you are doing in each of these different areas so you can take appropriate corrective action.

Also, look to see how each area of your personality can contribute.  If you are inclined to be intellectual, see how your emotions and creative side can contribute to your work.

Taking just 5 or 10 minutes each day to “check-in” as a daily ritual can ensure that you are nurturing all facets of your personality. This can have a huge impact on your day, your work, and your life as a whole.

* I got this concept while attending a course called The Hoffman Process.

Types of Crowdsourcing

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.

What Are Your Innovation Blind Spots?

February 20, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

Innovation is often discussed in terms of what we know about innovation. But sometimes it is useful to uncover what we don’t know. What are the things that might catch us off guard and ultimately reduce the long-term impact of our innovation efforts?

Some useful questions to ask to are:

  • What don’t we know about a particular topic? InnoCentive ran a challenge to identify what researches didn’t know about Type 1 Diabetes. Doing this provided useful insights that improved the chances of finding a cure.
  • What do we need to find out? If you are looking to attract customers that are different than your current ones, don’t just ask what you know about them. Identify what you need to learn; what you don’t know.
  • What do we need to do in order to uncover what we don’t know? If you don’t know what your customers really need, don’t rely solely on big data. Instead try ethnography. If your customer surveys are giving misleading results, try techniques designed to uncover implicit/subconscious biases. Using different techniques will yield different insights.
  • Who do we need to involve that is currently not part of the process? Who can help you uncover what you don’t know you don’t know? If you want to surface potentially disruptive market shifts that can kill your business, partner with a university or futurist.  If you want to understand emerging economic shifts, seek out the council of an economist. Insights from experts outside of your company/industry will lead to better innovations.
  • What do we need to stop doing in order to free up time to focus on what matters? Don’t get wed to your ideas. Be rigorous in killing anything that does not show potential in order to free up resources. Keep a crew of “devils advocates” who poke holes in your theories.
  • Who’s our competition in the future? Assume that your current competitors will not be your biggest threat in the future. Look for disruptive technologies that may make your business irrelevant. Look for competitors in emerging markets that could offer services at a lower cost.
  • What demographic changes may blind-side us? Sometimes your biggest competition is not a new company, but a new set of buyer values.  For example, if you are an insurance company, your biggest threat may not be a new insurance company. It might be the fact that millennials (the next generation of consumers) are “present moment” focused. Getting them to save, invest in the future, or buy insurance will be increasingly challenging.

This is only a starter list of things that could catch you off guard.

Although you need to focus on what will make innovation a success, don’t forget to identify the questions that might create unexpected roadblocks. Be sure to uncover your blind spots so that you are not blind-sided.

What other questions would you add to this list?

The 20/80/80 Principle

February 13, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom is conceptual and lays the groundwork for future blog entries where I will provide specific tactics and strategies. In my Monday Morning Movie, I discussed how simplifying your life allows you to worry less about money, freeing you up to be more creative.

As an entrepreneur, there are an unlimited number of things I could do in order to grow or improve my business.  I could easily keep busy 100 hours per week, and have done so countless times throughout my career.

Unfortunately, we often convince ourselves that we MUST work those kinds of hours in order to be successful.

The reality is that there is a point of diminishing returns.  Although more work might produce more results, the return on the additional effort decreases significantly.

Regardless, we keep plugging along because we are programmed to do so.  I personally feel like I’m slacking off if I’m not on my computer, on the phone making calls, or meeting with people.

For some individuals, they wouldn’t know what to do with their time if their profession did not keep them occupied.  There are others who become workaholics in order to avoid dealing with difficult issues in their life.

So we keep on working.

But what if you were only allowed to work one hour a day?  What would you do?

I have been experimenting with this concept since the beginning of the year.  During the month of January, with the exception of delivering speeches, I have worked a total of 10 hours and have been continuing along that trend into February.

Why am I doing this?   There are two main reasons:

#1: It Forces Focus

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? And that is the activity that I engage in for the day. Eliminate or delegate everything else.

Instead of keeping myself busy and climbing to the top of the “S” curve, I stop at the inflection point; the point of diminishing returns (the star). Pareto would say that 20% of the effort provides 80% of the results. Whether it is 20% or 40% is not important. The key is to find the point where more effort starts producing fewer results, and only you can decide that.

Will you achieve 100% of the potential value?  Probably not.  But is squeezing out an extra 20% of value really worth 4 or 5 times the effort?

The key is to focus on activities that will create leverage and will maximize results.

#2: Create a New S Curve

What will you do with your free time?

You could of course take a vacation or spend more time with family. You could engage in work that is more meaningful.  You could volunteer and give back to society.

Or you could create a new S-curve.

Instead of squeezing out those few extra drops from your current business model where there are diminishing returns, start building a new business or business model that leverages your past success and creates entirely new revenue opportunities.

With the extra time created, I’ve been working on a new book that targets a completely different market for me.  This will take upfront effort. But when it is done, and I have built up momentum, I will spend less time on that business model, freeing me to create a new set of revenue streams.

I am also developing new relationships that leverage my existing content. For example, my content has been licensed to a training company that is now delivering my material to their clients. It doesn’t take any of my time, yet I get residual income. And these relationships free me up even more, allowing me to focus again.  Clearly this strategy requires extraordinary partnerships.  And as they do more, I can do less.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you do a half-assed job. This will kill your business in the long run.

And this strategy works best for a business that has momentum; where you are already successful. Once you are successful, you can then reap the rewards. You can implement processes that others can execute. You can delegate, automate, or eliminate the things that are not critical.

If you only spent 20% of your time extracting 80% of the value from your business, this gives you 80% of your time to do something different – something more fulfilling, something more enjoyable, or something that can provide even greater long-term value.

Wednesday Work Wisdom: Your Organization is a Cult

January 30, 2013

Contrary to conventional wisdom, opposites do not attract. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that opposites repel. The reality is, like attracts like.

As a result, your organization has a bunch of people who think the same way.

People have personalities, and so do organizations. Many would call this their culture. This is an appropriate word since it is related to the word “cult.” Everyone in your organization most likely fits the mold.

There are four primary organizational personalities:

  • Analytical: Organizations that value expertise and intelligence, like pharmaceutical companies, research labs (like NASA), and many financial institutions.
  • Results-Oriented: Organizations that value the bottom line, quarterly earnings results, and stock price like large, publicly traded organizations.
  • People-Centered: Organizations that value relationships and their impact on society, like non-profits and NGOs.
  • Creative: Organizations that value imagination and ingenuity, like advertising/branding agencies and some entrepreneurial start-ups.

The key word in each description above is “value.”

The personality of your organization is not determined by the work you do, the industry you are in, or the people you hire. It is determined by what is valued.

Ask yourself which of the attributes above – analysis, results, people, or creativity – is valued the most. Don’t just look at your performance management system.

What is truly valued, when push comes to shove, by your leadership? Who really gets promoted? What always gets recognized and rewarded?

Here’s the important point…

*** Your organization’s personality will give you a hint at what is not valued. ***

This is your organization’s innovation blind spot. Non-profits are notorious for not valuing traditional business lessons. Large corporations are known for not truly appreciating creative individuals who think differently.

In order to innovate more effectively, you need to first identify your innovation blind spot – what is not valued – and make a concerted effort to encourage these people, behaviors, and activities.

Although your organization will have a single personality, you need to be adept at all four sets of innovation skills.

P.S. Personality Poker is a great tool for identifying your innovation personality and specific innovation blind spots.