Monday, January 5, 2009

Screwing Things Up!

Artist Robert Rauschenberg: "There are a lot of things more interesting than being right ... Screwing things up is a virtue. Being correct is never the point ... I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Treading Light

"Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. We have caused a lot of damage to the Earth. Now it is time for us to take good care of her."
Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Innovation by Numbers

A review of The Innovator's Guide to Growth by Scott D. Anthony, Mark W. Johnson, Joseph V. Sinfield, Elizabeth J. Altman of Innosight Consulting

Having toiled in the world of new product development, creating breakthroughs for highly successful Fortune 500 companies, I know all-to-well the tension between the need for measurability, scalability, predictability and repeatability on the one hand, and the voodoo, fairy-dust, alchemy, lightening-strike elements of creativity on the other -- both needed for successful innovation. And those who are charged with leading innovation on the client side tend to be adaptive (as in Kirton's KAI) by definition. After all, they function in a corporate environment, which likely requires such adaptive behavior and is one in which they are also held accountable for success as defined by return on investment, working within existing structures. As such, the fairy-dust piece of the process tends to scare the crap out of them. It's too unpredictable.

What to do?

To the rescue is the recently released book by Harvard Business press, The Innovator's Guide to Growth. The authors state, "This book attempts to provide practical tips and techniques to help channel your inner Edison. Innovation doesn't have to be shrouded in fog; nor does it require a lightning bolt of creativity. That is not to say innovation is risk-free and that creativity isn't important. Risks remain, and creativity is critical. But following a consistent approach can lead to more consistent results ... The fundamental message of this book is that using the right processes and principles can meaningfully increase your chances of creating growth through innovation." Their mission -- "to change the world of innovation from one of frustrating inconsistency to one of orderly patterns."

They describe their target audience for the book as "senior executives and middle managers within existing corporations that are seeking to create new growth business." Also anyone with "a vested interest in innovation."

The authors know what they are talking about. Their insights come from years of working with successfully innovative companies, including P&G, J&J and Motorola, to name but a few. Their focus is on how to create a business culture that tends to cultivate and advance "disruptive innovation".

And, you might ask, "Why is 'disruptive innovation' so important?"

The authors answer, "Of the companies [that showed the] best return to shareholders between 1970-2001, seven of the top ten were disruptors." So disruptive innovation is key to success, but what is also key is that disruptive competitions tend to be won by new entrants to the market. So, what is vital to established companies is to find a methodological and consistent way of being disruptive, as this is not their natural tendency.

What this book offers is a prescription for how to make it just that -- a natural tendency.The Innovator's Guide to Growth further asserts that there is a way to integrate the disruptive innovative dynamic into any organization. They define the present as an "era of pattern recognition" wherein wizened innovators are moving from a process of "random trial & error" to one of "predictable paint-by-numbers rules" that can provide consistent growth, with reduced risk, through innovation processes. The authors add, "While we are not yet at the point where innovation is [entirely] paint-by-numbers predictable, patterns of success and failure are coming into sharper focus by the day." They assist their reader by providing a book chock full of resources, including checklists, question guides, templates, tools, worksheets, activities "sprinkled throughout". They can also be found at

Altman, Anthony, Johnson and Sinfield again emphasize that, "The fundamental premise of this book is that following the right steps and putting in place the right structures can allow managers and entrepreneurs to improve significantly their odds of creating profitable growth businesses. This view contrasts with the prevailing stream of thinking that innovation is random and requires creative genius. Our belief, backed by market evidence, is that following the right steps can enable any manager to create a growth business successfully." Equally key, "Senior managers who implement the right systems and structures can free internal innovators from the shackles of processes and policies that are not conducive to innovation."

They describe key elements that need to be in place for such an initiative to work are:

- The core business is in control
- A game plan for growth
- A mastery of the resource allocation process

Among they key insights the authors share that lend credence to what they preach:

- Innovation is less random than we think -- there is an innovator in all of us
- Creativity is important - but nobody needs to be a certain "creative type"; by following this process, you can be creative
- Innovation always occurs at the intersection of disciplines, as a result of different perspectives, not individually creative but collectively creative & collaborative

And they also suggest a three-step process for disruptive innovation essential to success:

1. Identify market opportunities
2. Formulate & shape innovative ideas
3. Take ideas forward

A key point of the book is that disruptive innovations are a different animal. Sustainable innovations tend to be incremental -- because they address the needs of the company's "best customers". As such, they tend to ascend a linear vector that takes innovation into more complex advancements, based upon the underlying prevailing model. Layered on that is a higher level of sophistication and complexity that is often more advanced than the consumer. While these innovations veer more toward complexity, paradigm-shifting "disruptive innovations" may move more toward aspects such as simplicity, acceptability, affordability, convenience -- they get into a broader, deeper, redefined space that finds a new type of consumer among their most "demanding customers".

As examples, the authors cite Wii, eBay, iPod and QuickBooks TurboTax, Skype and YouTube. TurboTax is a particularly enlightening example, as small business owners -- their customers didn't want more accounting, but really no accounting -- in short, a simple user-friendly way to insure that their businesses had sufficient working capital. That simple realization and designing the product to those needs, has resulted in an astoundingly successful business.

Other companies, like consumer products giant P&G, created whole new categories around the needs of demanding consumers, seeking new, simpler, cost-effective solutions - with products like Febreze, Swiffer and Crest Whitening Strips. Disruptive innovators, characterized by these P&G products are "Masters of the Art of Trade-offs. Their offerings typically aren't better along traditional performance dimensions. In fact, they are typically just good enough along dimensions that historically matter in the mainstream market. Disruptors redefine the notion of performance by pulling overlooked innovation levers. Simplicity. Convenience. Accessibility. Affordability. All these are hallmarks of disruptive innovation."

P&G runs its innovation out of a smaller group within Procter & Gamble called the Future Works Division. The authors assert that having a small group 100% dedicated to innovation is best. "100% of 10% is better than 10% of 100%" they say, referring to a smaller unit completely devoted to making disruptive innovation happen. Those wanting to create such an entity within their organization, must realize that it will take no less than a three year commitment.

Among the benefits that I see that their philosophy and mode of implementation offer are:

- Reducing anxiety among those charged with making innovation happen
- Moving those with adaptive behavior preferences to the right on the KAI scale to more routine innovative behavior (on roller blades with jet packs)
- Creating a common framework for dialogue, planning, process and collaboration for innovation teams, no matter what their expertise or style preference
- Establishing consistency and progress benchmarks so that innovation becomes part "of the routine" - establishing a method to the madness
- As in classic Osborn-Parnes creative Problem solving (CPS) it recognizes that everyone is creative
- Focusing on reliable, scalable techniques to create business growth

I believe this book -- and this is implicit in its target audience -- is more for the "non-creative" or the non "distinctively creative" person. It asserts that innovation is possible through well defined processes and the collaboration and convergence of diverse people working with a common cause in mind. I would also argue, that the "distinctively creative" type of person would also benefit by learning new modes of structure and behavior - and thus ways of communicating with their more adaptive-prone, left brain counterparts.

I would add as well, and I think the authors would agree, that innovation cannot happen without their creative spark and energy. But their point is well taken --not unlike The Wizard of Menlo Park -- Thomas Edison's observation that innovation is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, and that much can be accomplished through well-designed systems -- by not so exceptionally creative people -- in the way that we typically think of them. So while creative catalysts and ideational fluency may still be vital to success, a sound process will take you much of the way there.

Finally, in the authors' words, "If you want to redefine a market, create a new one, or defend against attack from below, disruptive strategies are essential to success ... [yet] this book is not really [just] about disruptive innovation, but rather practical tools and techniques that allow innovators to see and do things differently." I believe that the authors have succeeded in providing the modern innovator with a particularly powerful guide or recipe book to allow this to happen. In The Innovator's Guide to Growth, they have created a great resource.

DJS 10/08

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The "Grand Experiment" Gone Awry?

"Just get up off the ground, that's all I ask. Get up there with that lady that's up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won't just see scenery; you'll see the whole parade of what Man's carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That's what you'd see. There's no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties ... I wouldn't give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn't have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too."

In these times it seems that we need to treasure what a great, crazy, creative and innovative undertaking the American Experiment is in its essence. And even the greatest ideas can go astray if we are not vigilant in the daily application of the principles we profess to hold dear. We need to remember that with freedom comes responsibility -- and it isn't just some other guy's responsibility. We must be mindful too, that "free market" isn't a "free-for-all", where the greedy grab and the regular guy perishes. Our "noble experiment" for the ages is not meant to be institutionalized Social Darwinism where only the fittest and privileged thrive. "E Plurbus Unum" -- meaning, "Out of many, One", is our national motto. It appears on the the seal of the United States and on the Seal of the President.

Jefferson Smith, of Frank Capra's classic, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", puts it rather eloquently, don't you think? Out of many One -- "we're all in this together". Like every creative endeavor, the American Dream is collaborative --ours together to work for and share ... and it takes "a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too." Competing makes us better. Cooperation makes us whole.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Never, Never, Never Give Up

“The maxim ‘Nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘Paralysis.’”
-- Winston Churchill

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Wait 'til Next Centennial

"A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request"
words & lyrics by Steve Goodman -- Dedicated to Steve Bartman ...

By the shore's of old Lake Michigan
Where the "Hawk Wind" blows so cold
An old Cub fan lay dying
In his midnight hour that tolled
'Round his bed, his friends had all gathered
They knew his time was short

And on his head the put this bright blue cap
From his all-time favorite sport
He told them "its late and its getting dark in here"
And I know its time to go
But before I leave the line-up
There's just one thing I'd like to know

(Chorus, sung)
Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still playIn their ivy covered burial ground?
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

(talking blues) Told his friends ...
"You know the law of averages says: Anything will happen that can."
That's what it says.
"But the year the Cubs last won a national league pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan"
The Cubs made me a criminal
Sent me down a wayward path
They stole my youth from me (that's the truth)
I'd forsake my teacher's
To go sit in the bleachers
In flagrant truancy

And then one thing led to another
Soon I'd discovered alcohol, gambling, dope, football, hockey, lacross, tennis
But what do you expect,
When you raise up a young boys hope
And then just crush 'em like so many paper beer cups.

Year after year after year, after year, after year, after year, after year, after year ....
'Til those hopes are just so much popcorn
For pigeons beneath the "EL" track to eat
He said "You know I'll never see Wrigley Field, anymore before my eternal rest
So if you have your pencils and your score cards ready,
And I'll read you my last request:

Give me a double header funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the National Anthem
And then a little "na, na, na, hey hey, hey, Goodbye

"Make six bull pen pitchers, carry my coffin
and six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath
Its a beautiful day for a funeral,
Hey Ernie lets play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,and conduct just one more interview
Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field,
Have Kieth Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a Frosty Malt
And I'll be ready to die

Build a big fire on home plate out of your 'Louisville Sluggers' baseball bats,
And toss my coffin in
Let my ashes blow in the beautiful snow
From the prevailing 30 mile an hour south west wind
When my last remains go flying over the left field wall
Will bid the bleacher bums adieu
I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue

The dying man's friends told him to cut it out
They said stop it that's an awful shame
He whispered, "Don't Cry, we'll meet by and by near the Heavenly Hall of Fame
He said I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now,
So its just what I'm going to do
He said but you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs,
So its me that feels sorry for you!

And he said "Ahh Play, play that lonesome losers tune,
The one I like the best"
And he closed his eyes, and slipped away
What we got is the Dying Cub fan's last request

(Chorus, big finish, sung)
Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League