Over the last couple of decades there has been a shift in the world’s economy. While the age of industrialization has brought us the technology and means to link the economies of super powers with those of emerging markets, we are no longer dictated by factors such as supply and demand. Money is no longer the driving force of our global economy. Innovation has taken the helm and is steering traditional and new companies alike to invest in research and ideation, to create new products and services that impact life on a global scale.
The shift in a global economy is tectonic in size, meaning that the change is so large that it’s given companies who were watching, the necessary time to implement change. It’s given today’s successful companies the foresight to invest their capital into the research and development needed to create the products and services of the future. Companies like Apple and Netflix as a result have changed the way we purchase and interact with music and multimedia. This is a trend that they need to continue however if they want to stay alive in the new innovation economy.
To successfully invest in innovation requires two different strategies.
Investing in Research
The tools, the resources and the techniques for conducting the necessary research will vary for each company. Factors like niche markets, will have an important role in your research. You need to get to know your customers and consumers, their lifestyles, and the problems or challenge that they face. You need to understand what drives them, what they seek and how they learn about new products and services. All of this changes over time as the lives of your customers are changing rapidly as a result of new technologies. Once you have this level of research concluded, you can better invest in ideation.
Research will continue to be a part of your process as you move into the ideation phase. As you come up with ideas for new products, you must research the best methods through which to create them, how to improve upon them and make them more economical, etc.
Investing in Ideation
Investing in ideation very broadly means, investing in the means to enable ideation or critical free thinking within your organization. Different organizations are achieving this in different ways. Some choose to dedicate one day per year, or one day per quarter, to allow team members to ideate on the next project or product for the organization. Some invest in tools that make submitting and tracking ideas throughout the year easy. With our platform, you can invest in ideation in both of the ways we’ve just discussed. Whether you use the platform to host short innovation sprints, or host projects that task your team members to think creatively and innovate all the year through, Idea Hunt brings team members together, to think, and collaborate for the innovation of your organization.
This article is an excerpt from a 25 min keynote by Andy Cars during the Purple Ideas event hosted by Telia Company, January 17, 2017. If you prefer to watch the video here it is.
Most of us hate advertisements, but if I had to pick one that I love, it would be Apple’s Think Different campaign from -97. The one narrated by Steve Jobs. If you are an entrepreneur or innovator trying to build something new to improve the lives of others, I bet that you will identify with the message in that clip.
But as we embark on our journeys to create something truly different, one thing is for sure. We will fail! The market will crush our first fledgling attempts. And of course we may feel under a lot of pressure when things don’t go our way. We may even feel like cursing at our customers for not understanding the true greatness of our creations.
But complaining and cursing is not going to get us any closer to achieving our vision. And by the way, there is nothing wrong with failing. In fact, failing is an integral part of the innovation process. If we are not failing, we are probably not trying anything new. So it’s not failing that is wrong. What’s wrong is how we sometimes deal with failure.
Either we decide that life sucks and there is nothing that we can do about it, or we begin to fail smart. At it’s core, failing smart is easy. Essentially it’s about learning from our mistakes, adapting and trying again. When was the last time that you failed smart and what did you learn from that?
All great entrepreneurs and innovators fail in a smart way. They learn from their mistakes and they take that learning with them into their next iteration. Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
One of many great things with the startup community is that we have events dedicated to sharing and learning from each other’s failures. Failures that have come about as a result of trying to build new business models and creating new customer value. I am of course thinking of FailCon and Fuckup Nights.
The people who go to FailCon and Fuckup Nights all share one thing in common. As psychologist Carol Dweck would say, they all have a growth mindset. A growth mindset is diametrically opposed to a fixed mindset. Fixed mindsets are threatened by the success of other people, and when they fail they complain and generally feel bad about it. They are stressed by challenges and feel constrained by their current abilities. Growth mindsets, on the other hand, feel that they can learn anything and are inspired by challenges and the success of other people. Their attitude drives change.
The good news is that anyone has the ability to go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset simply by changing their attitude. It’s not like we have to practice 10 000 hours, as suggested by Malcolm Gladwell, to master a growth mindset. We just have to decide to stop whining and start learning instead.
We’ve all heard of the importance of diversity when building teams. That great teams require a good mix of different but complementary competencies and people of different backgrounds and cultures. I am all for this, but in my experience, if you mix people with fixed and growth mindsets on an entrepreneurial team, you’re setting yourself up for endless frustration and gridlock. It’s like oil and water – they just don’t mix very well.
Perhaps I was being a bit too optimistic when I suggested that anyone has the ability to go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Changing people’s minds is probably one of the hardest things that we can do. So instead of trying to change people, we could actively search for and recruit people with growth mindsets to join our teams.
According to The Innovator’s DNA, Jeff Bezos sometimes interviews people for key positions at Amazon. Bezos favourite question to ask is for the candidate to tell him about something that they have invented. The answer to this question tells a lot about the person. Are they curious, are they actively observing the world around them, are they unhappy with the status quo and do they want to improve the world around them? Curious minds that want to challenge the status quo is core to innovation.
At IDEO, one of the world’s leading design firms, they look for so called T-shaped people to join their company. T-shaped people have a deep knowledge of one area but with the extra curiosity to also have developed a working understanding of additional disciplines. The reason why IDEO actively searches for and hires T-shaped people is because they know that innovation often begins at the intersection of different disciplines.
In an article for Forbes in 2012, Andy Ellwood talks about the Hacker, Hustler and Hipster, when describing what a typical startup dream team looks like. The Hacker is the software developer focused on the solution, the Hustler is the business minded person who is in close contact with customers trying to figure out what problem to solve for, and the Hipster is the UX designer making sure that the interface is beautiful and intuitive while providing a seamless experience across multiple platforms.
Diversity is something the powerful and wealthy Medici family knew a thing or two about. In the 15th Century the Medici family brought together creators from a wide range of disciplines — sculptors, scientist, poets, philosophers, painters, and architects.
This sparked a creative explosion across Florence and far beyond, giving birth to the Renaissance, which still today is referred to as one of the most innovative periods in human history. When we talk about innovative breakthroughs that have come about at the cross-section of diverse disciplines, we often refer to this as the Medici effect.
A modern version of the Medici effect in action would be whenever people meet at a TED conference, or a TEDx conference, which are independently organized events in the spirit of TED. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment & Design. Past speakers include Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Bono, Jeff Bezos and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. There have also been several Nobel Prize winners throughout the years. To me TED represents a conscious attempt by brilliant minds to cross-pollinate ideas and perspectives for the purpose of creating a better world.
The more touch points and diverse experiences that we have, the more building blocks do we have access to when associating, combining, creating and exploring. As such, it’s hardly surprising to learn that there’s a positive correlation between the number of new and diverse experiences that we have and the number of associations and new ideas that we tend to generate.
This is a photo of my eight month old son crawling around on the kitchen floor. We all know that these eating and pooping machines are the future of humanity. We need them, or else the human race will cease to exist, just like the dinosaurs. The same goes for companies. If we don’t invest into new business models today, our chances of long-term survival becomes non-existent.
Besides eating and pooping, this little dude literally spends all his awaken time exploring the world around him! But as you know, when we first start our journey to explore the unknown, we’re really quite small and vulnerable. Perhaps it’s just two or three buddies with some cash and a shared vision. When we’re small we need all the support that we can get to keep exploring. What we need is a sponsor.
Inside the big corporation that would typically be a VP who takes care of the red tape and hands you some funds so that you can go off exploring. Just the same way that we can’t expect a child to carry a 50 pound backpack when we go hiking, we can’t expect a startup to report ROI and expected revenues and profits down to the third decimal point. The startup may not even have figured out who is going to be the customer, let alone what problem to solve or how to price their solution. They just have an idea of where they would like to start exploring.
This is Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defence. Richard Nixon once called him ”a ruthless little bastard”. I can think of another Donald who is also a ruthless little bastard. But that is the fodder for another article. Perhaps one about the perilous rise of right-wing populism and what it feels like to shoot yourself in the foot. But let’s not get sidetracked. This is what Rumsfeld had to say when a journalist asked him to explain why there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.
What at first blush may seem as a complete nonsense, is actually quite smart when you think about it. The startup community has picked up on this quote, since it goes to the heart of what entrepreneurship is all about.
Let me explain. If we look at the first part of the quote ”There are KNOWN KNOWNS. These are things we know that we know.” Now this is the domain of managers. We know who our customers are, how to reach them and how to price and package our products. We put one dollar into “the machine” and out pops some multiple of that. It is business as usual and has nothing to do with entrepreneurship whatsoever.
The second part of the quote: ”There are KNOWN UNKNOWNS, that’s to say there are things that we know that we don’t know”. Now this is the reason why entrepreneurs venture outside to interview customers to learn about their problems. What they really care about and how they go about solving those problems today.
We also have the last part of this quote ”But there are unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” This is where things start to get really interesting for the entrepreneur. As we’re interviewing customers and start to dig really deep to understand their problems and constraints, we will – if we play our cards right – uncover things that we didn’t even know we didn’t even know. This is where the real gold dust of innovation is hiding.
By understanding our customers better than anyone else on the planet, we are able to bring that knowledge back to our teams and use as a starting point for ideation, prototyping, experimenting and innovating.
Is that it? Well, kind of! But remember, processes and tools mean nothing without the right mindset. And the right mindset means nothing without a lot of real world practice. If you want to become great at skiing, playing the violin, or anything else for that matter, you have to practice a lot. It’s the same with innovation, which begs the question – are you willing to put in the hours, are you in it for the long-run?
The video also contains the stories of Alex Honnold, the world’s greatest free climber, and how Burger King grabbed market share from McDonalds in Japan by making black burgers.
There are always risks that come with making your startup ideas a reality. This risk can be lessened by letting others know about your ideas first so they can be validated. After receiving positive feedback regarding your ideas, it is time to make them happen.
On the other hand, changes should be made if these ideas were not received well. It is better to hear those negative comments now as you still have time to do the necessary changes instead of dealing with them once the business has already started.
It is important that people’s problems are solved with the help of your business. It is easier to make your business more appealing if they can see the importance of the products and services you will offer in solving their problems.
There are a lot of business ideas out there and some of them might have already been implemented. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop making your ideas a reality. It only means that you should do better. Find a way to solve more problems and compete head on with similar businesses out there. There is no need to replicate what others are doing, but you can at least come up with a better version.
It is very important to listen to what your potential customers have to say. In conducting surveys, you will get their pulse regarding your ideas. This helps you tweak the ideas if necessary or totally overhaul the concept just to please them.
Make sure that there is a space for them to leave their comments. This helps so you can address their concerns and come up with something better before implementing your startup ideas.
If you want someone who can be brutally honest about your ideas, find a mentor. This person will guide you towards the right path. Just make sure you are keen in listening to advice. Integrate the suggestions in improving your business. Don’t feel bad if your startup ideas are not validated or rejected.
Take note that this person is someone who has walked the path you are still taking. Even if the comments hurt, take them positively. You will still be the one to ultimately benefit from these suggestions later on.
Coming up with a startup idea is not easy. Making these ideas happen is an even bigger challenge. It is great if you can have these ideas refined first so that when you are ready to implement them, they will be perfect. Again, it is better to have them altered now while you are still on the initial phase rather than do the changes later when you have already invested money on your business.
The infographic below presents some more ideas on how to validate your startup ideas. Take the advice seriously if you want to see your business move forward and succeed. A lot of business owners didn’t just reach the pinnacle of success without having their ideas validated by other people first.
Like many corporate initiatives, innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, on it’s own. The very nature of an innovation project compels it to be something that will move a large corporation forward, or in a new direction. Innovation requires a team of people, serious effort and a commitment from the corporate leadership team.
One person can think critically and creatively to come up with a good idea, but it requires a team to test that idea, explore all of its aspects to find potential risks or problems, and improve upon that idea until it transforms from a good one to an actionable corporate project. Building a diverse team of people to work on submitting, refining and improving these innovative ideas helps to ensure that ideas are fully vetted and fully formed. When you have someone from finance, research and development, marketing, and sales on the team, they can view and test each idea from their department’s needs, knowledge and experience.
From the very beginning of the innovation project, the formation of teams and the laying of the project groundwork, right up until the point of implementation, a serious amount of effort is required. Putt the necessary energy and effort into the project will help to ensure it’s success. If a corporation is not ready to invest the manpower, the time and potentially the resources for this type of effort, then that corporation is not ready to tackle an innovation project.
Generally for corporate innovation projects to be successful, the entire organization has to support them. By support, we mean see value in. Think of it this way, even if the innovation project is not a company wide effort, meaning not everyone will be involved in the project, a certain number of individuals will be. Time these individuals are spending on the innovation project, is time they are not spending on daily tasks, or other initiatives. As a result, their team members may have to put in extra effort to make up for the absence of a team member or supervisor assigned to an innovation project.
If these other team members do not see value in the innovation project which is drawing on their fellow team member’s or supervisor’s time, resentment, annoyance or other thoughts and emotions may take root.
It’s hard to inspire from a top down corporate structure, unless the leader of the corporation is a charismatic and energetic, engaging everyone in the organization. So instead of creating a mandate from the CEO, approach team leaders and get them excited about it. You then empower them to speak to their individual teams about the project and explain how each member on the team will play a role in the success of the project, whether directly or by helping those who are directly involved.
David Marquet** was speaking in a post on The Harvard Business Review about empowerment programs, and why they just don’t work, when he said, “ You can’t implement a bottom up concept in a top down way.” he goes on to further explain that if your employees don’t want added responsibility, if they don’t want to be empowered, trying to force it with a command from a superior won’t work.
I’d like to take this idea one step further, and say that when your employees don’t feel like they can be empowered, they won’t accept an empowerment program, because it doesn’t feel genuine. Allow me to take a step back and explain.
Working for and with both American and Scandinavian companies, I’ve noticed one major difference. It’s not in the mission statements, the motivation of the workforce, or the perks given (although I am convinced that we need to adopt the Fika). It’s the physical organization structure of the different companies that greatly differs.
American companies are often based on a vertical hierarchy, where one person or a board of people are in charge, and then there follows a series of levels, of decreasing authority and responsibility. This creates the top down structure to which Marquet was referring. And it works. Employees have very clearly defined roles and all contribute to the success of the organization. However it’s not very empowering.
You are a customer service representative for a large company. Every day, you speak directly with customers and help to address their issues. Over time you identify a common theme across a large number of service issues and develop a great idea, that if implemented, could solve a large portion of issues. This would make customers much happier. So you submit the idea to your manager, who has to submit it to their department head, who then has to submit it to their boss and so on. Very quickly, you the owner of the idea, become very far removed from it. Maybe along the way the person who submitted the idea get’s lost, or the idea loses steam and never makes it to the appropriate decision maker and fizzles out.
Now let’s look at a Scandinavian company, which is structured much more…horizontally. While team members serve different roles, and there are varying levels of responsibility and authority in these companies, an effort is made to all work together and all ideas are submitted to the team rather than funneled up through a network of individuals. Using the same example, a customer service representative who identifies a common trend across reported issues, and identifies a potential solution would be able to submit the idea not to a supervisor, but to a team. The individual team members can provide feedback and help to add to the idea, until it becomes an actionable solution.
This second solution is much more agile, and allows for innovation to happen much more organically, and ultimately more quickly. This isn’t to say that American companies are all hierarchical, or that none of these hierarchical companies foster a culture of innovation.
Idea Hunt was built around this Scandinavian, group innovation concept, where all ideas are submitted to a group or team of people, to collaborate and co-create innovative concepts, products, services, and more, to grow and succeed in a faster, more agile way.
**David Marquet is the former commander of the nuclear submarine, the USS Santa Fe, and author of Turn The Ship Around, a Fortune’s Best Business Book.