July 17, 2019

I Stands for Innovation: 6 Skills Today’s Leaders Need to Turn Ideas into New Products and Services

INNOVATION! You see the word everywhere today, in every business journal and even on billboards.  Everyone is talking innovation these days, because we are all competing to find the next big idea…a way to make our next million!

But what does it take to truly be innovative?  See, innovation to me is a bit different than creativity.  From my perspective, creativity is thinking of new ideas.  The majority of people say that they have creative ideas all day long, but they never do anything with them…they don’t speak about them, write about them or do anything to try to get them into the marketplace.

Innovation is a bit different…it is a process which may or may not start with creative thinking.  From my observations, innovation is much more related to a creative thinker being out in the world, noticing something odd or something new and asking the question “WHY?” and then “HOW?” She then goes and answers the question “WHY?” by coming up with the HOW and then creating something brand new that never existed.  So, the creativity is sparked most often by a question or an observation in life.

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos

I have never met Amazon Founder, Jeff Bezos (who changed my life!  I am an Amazon junkie!) , but the stories and interviews I have read and heard go something like this.

Bezos is of course one of these computer geniuses who in the early 1990’s noticed that internet usage was increasing by 2300 percent a year.  At this time, the internet was not really being used for commerce (a small bit but not to a great degree)  but he knew it was coming, so he immediately began looking at what type of offering he could make on the internet that would change the way we all do business.

So, Bezos went about reviewing the top 20 mail order businesses and began asking himself several questions such as “What type of business could be conducted more efficiently over the Internet than by traditional mail order Because there were no comprehensive mail order catalogs for books (they would be gigantic), he believed that the internet would be a perfect vehicle to set up an online bookstore.

Bezos began attending book conferences, publishing events and becoming masterful on how to best sell books.  This venture selling books online started in his garage (how many times have we heard this scenario about innovation?  Starting in a garage or a bathroom?), and here we are today…buying everything under the sun on Amazon.  I had to do a little time capsule display a few months ago, and I ordered a bottle of Tang on Amazon, have recently purchased a clock, furniture, and bedding on the Amazon and just saw where I can even buy a lawn mower…they have everything imaginable.

I could probably go on and on about other great innovators like Steve Jobs, whose big motive is to “Put a ding in the universe” or Bill Gates, whose vision was to see every home in the world with a computer running windows (that was going to be possible until Steve Jobs came along and said…I think we can do this better and in a way that is really hot/cool”).  But, the bottom line is that these innovators use certain skills including:

1. Breaking up the status quo. Innovators don’t accept that what is available is the best option.  They take ideas that are already in existence and make them better.

2. Questioning everything.  Innovators invest a great deal of time each day asking questions…asking “Why?” and “How?” and “What’s next?”  By sitting down and writing out some questions that are the unthinkable each day, you can exercise your innovative thinking.

3. Brainstorming. Most innovators are not sitting in their offices alone thinking up ideas.  They get out and talk to people and get ideas.  My husband, Mike and I are building a home right now, and we have a great crew helping us out.  We have hit about 100 snags, and we then go to our crew and say “Okay…we have this issue, let’s talk options…what are all of the possible solutions.”  And, as soon as the best one comes to the surface, we act…but trust me…we are relying on the bright ideas of others to make this home beautiful and truly efficient and effective.

4. Nosy-ness. Most innovators are nosy.  They get into doors and look around.  They open drawers and look at files and scope out retail shops and look around.  They take in everything, and pull it all back in and say…”Hmmm…something is missing, and it is this.”

Duct Tape Has Over 500 Uses. I Believe I Have Seen Jack Bauer Use This Approach On "24"

5. Problem Oriented Passion. The majority of people I have met who are truly innovators started their big idea because they quite frankly got ticked off about something not working in life.  The positive passion and inspiration are great, but the majority of time, something is missing in life or someone needs something to make life easier, and they go out and find a way to make it happen.  Duct Tape was invented to keep moisture out of the ammunition cases (see…a problem was here…moisture was getting into ammunition cases). Because it was waterproof, people referred to the tape as “Duck Tape.”  Of course, now, we use Duct Tape for everything…I saw a show one night on all of the uses for Duct Tape…including a house that had repaired everything in the house with Duct Tape.   You can see some of the uses for duct tape here.

6. Stick-To-Itiveness. I am not 100% sure of the accuracy of this quote, but quote masters say that Thomas  Edison said “I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”  Whether or not this is an accurate quote, I have studied Edison enough to know that he was a master of sticking to a project and continuously experimenting so that he could get it right.  He did indeed finally discover the magical formula for the light bulb, yet so often, we stop our innovative processes after failing one single time.  If you are going to lead the edge in your industry, you have to be willing to stick to it until you reach your new idea comes to life.

If you are a leader or business owner who is struggling with innovation, I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you to see how I can be of assistance.  Just send an e-mail to bea@beafields.com, and we will set up a time to speak.

Ten Critical Questions to Answer to Drive Innovation

Radical innovation is going to be a critical component in a leader’s toolkit in the future, and this does not mean that you “try to innovate” over a week-end brainstorming retreat. True innovation happens by disrupting the current environment, challenging old assumptions and even turning the culture upside down so that you can take a creative idea, turn it into a product or service and successfully move it to the marketplace.Each day I meet business leaders, and one of the first questions I ask is “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being super sticky, how stuck are you?” Most people laugh, and they usually respond by saying “I’m a 20 or a 25!” So, when you are stuck, you have to break up the pattern . . . turn a table upside down and figure out a way to still use the table as an eating surface, roll out of bed on the other side, shave with the hand you don’t normally use . . . do something to be disruptive. This is the same for companies. What would happen if you do the opposite of what you’ve always done? What would you do if you totally destroyed your most profitable item and had to start from scratch? Or, how would an artist, physician or scientist suggest that you change your products or services?

When I coach business leaders on the topic of innovation, we usually start with the following questions.

What have you done in the last year to get engaged with your imagination and the imagination of others?

Being stuck in a rut won’t get you very far when it comes to innovation. Get out there and get your brain turbo-charged with creativity. Art houses, skateboarding events, movies, food, music and travel can serve as catalysts to get you thinking more creatively.

What is the pain being experienced in the marketplace?

People usually buy to address a pain or to solve a problem. Don’t assume you know what pains people are feeling. Ask your clients and perform as many interviews and surveys as possible to discover repeating patterns of struggle.

What are people searching for online?

By using a keyword suggestion tool such as http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com, you can discover current, relevant and popular keywords which can help you consider where to go next in the marketplace. If people are searching for it, that means they will most probably buy it.

What tasks can be achieved more efficiently and effectively in business?

Business leaders are constantly asking “What can we do now to improve our efficiency and be more productive right now?” If your product or service can help answer this question through your next product or service, you can help fill the productivity void.

If you were to take your business and merge it with a business that is completely different than your own, what products and services would emerge?

If you are a financial consultant, and you merge your business with a physician, what products or services would you develop? If you are an ice cream shop owner, and you married your business with a law firm, what products and services would you design? While these questions may seem far-fetched, they can stretch your mind into new territory and right into a new idea for your business.

What are the political pundits arguing about?

You only need to turn on CNN or Fox News for one hour a day to learn what the big debates are around the world. Debate creates a craving for a solution, and your next big idea might just be the answer to the current great debate.

What seems to be constantly breaking, and how can you fix it?

People are sick and tired of complexity and things not working. Broken technology gets in our way and sucks up our energy, time and resources. People will buy a new product or service that if they know it’s going to work and if their buying experience is hassle free.

Who are the most creative people you know?

When great minds mix together, the perfect innovation storm happens. Look closely at your network, and bring together the smartest, most wildly creative people you know for a few hours of fun discussion about the next big, cool opportunity.

If you could change the world with the resources you have in your life (including people, knowledge, money and time), what product or service would you develop?

This is a question that most people hedge on by saying “Well, my resources are really limited.” That is just ridiculous. Some of the best ideas have been born by people with no money, sitting in a garage with a friend and a $300.00 Best Buy computer. Sit down with a few friends, and answer this question and by all means, don’t censor yourself. Every idea is fodder for discussion.

Who is going out of business and why?

Doors to businesses are closing right and left, and the question is “Why?” Something obviously went wrong, or plans were changed, or something in the global economy is going awry. Get out there and find out what shifts are happening in business. Your next product or service may just help business owners keep their doors open.

If you like these questions, I encourage you to join us for our upcoming teleclass in July:  The Future of Business from the Minds of Ten Top Professionals. .

How do I create an environment where my top employees’ contributions can keep my company relevant in today’s world?

The answer: RADICAL INNOVATION!

Radical innovation is going to be a critical component in a leader’s toolkit in the future, and this does not mean that you “try innovation” over a week-end brainstorming retreat. It happens by disrupting the current environment, challenging old assumptions and even turning the culture upside down so that you can move ahead and start being highly competitive.

Each day I meet leaders, and the first question I ask is “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being super sticky, how stuck are you?” Most people laugh, and they usually respond by saying “I’m a 20 or a 25!” So, when you are stuck, you have to break up the pattern…turn a table upside down and figure out a way to still use the table as an eating surface, roll out of the bed on the other side, shave with the hand you don’t normally use…do something to be disruptive. This is the same for companies…what would happen if you do the opposite of what you’ve always done? What would you do if you totally destroyed your most profitable item and had to start from scratch? Or, how would an artist, physician or scientist suggest that you change your company?

To keep your company relevant, a culture must foster a sense of psychological safety for employees to not only feel comfortable but be encouraged to challenge the status quo and bring fresh, radical ideas to the table and feel safe that they are not going to be criticized or made to feel silly in the process. Everyone in the company needs to be brought up to speed on the vision and direction of the company, and the leader needs to make a statement that the game is now on…everyone is going to be challenged to think radically, innovate, think strategically and that a part of this is to be open to divergent thinking and to allow open debate to get to the root of the issue. You have to be willing to get very uncomfortable…to laugh nervously and feel the sweat bead up on your brow.

Staying ahead will also call leaders to design an environment that includes a diversity of people…a mix of cultures, ages, ethnicities and religions can bring new, more creative ideas to the table. It will also be very important to add a Chief Knowledge Officer to your staff…someone who has their finger on the pulse of what is going on in the world and how your company fits in and how competitive you are to people who are thousands of miles around the world from you.

Tomorrow is already here. Are you relevant, or are you becoming obsolete? Only you can answer that question! .

Is Your Organization Truly Built for Innovation?

Is your business or organization really designed for innovation?  Are you sure?  Every day I speak to leaders who swear that their businesses are designed for innovation, but in my opinion, this is usually not the case. Why? Because they are stifling open debate, shooting the messenger and making it unsafe for people to voice their opinions.

If your business or company is truly an innovative one, your doors will be open for debate, and your culture will be designed to make it psychologically safe for both employees and customers to voice not only their suggestions, dreams and goals but their concerns, complaints and frustrations.  A recent article in Harvard Business Review: The Customer-Centered Innovation Map is a must read for any business that wants to thrive in the future.  The article comes from the perspective that when a customer buys a product or service from your company, they are actually hiring you to get a job done.  This “job to be done” could be to make more money, look more beautiful, live a more healthy life, move into a dream home, become more credible or build a better relationship.  At each step of the process of the job getting done, both your employees and customers are going to experience both successes and struggle points (and some people will struggle more than others.) By carefully mapping the job a customer is trying to get done, you can find golden opportunities to innovate as you help the customer through your process.   Along the way, you will want to ask questions such as “How can we do this much more efficiently?” and “What struggles and inconveniences are our customers experiencing?” and “How are trends affecting the way the job gets done?” and “What causes execution to go off track?”  As you move through the life cycle of working with a client, looking at each and every compliment, complaint and challenge can open the door for your company to provide a new product, offering or level of customer service that will set you apart from your competition.

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