How much does it cost to share new ideas?

October 14, 2014

I was surprised and amused to read that some Saskatoon residents recently created a website to collect suggestions for a name for a new bridge (www.namethatbridge.ca).  The funny part about the article was that the group said it took them 10 minutes and $20 to launch the site, after a city report said it would need $30,000 to do it.

When it comes to sharing new ideas, let’s keep things simple. Grab a whiteboard and start brainstorming.   Pick a blank wall in your office and start putting up post-it notes. Create a new email address for people to share their suggestions for innovative new processes and products.

Getting started with sharing ideas can be easy and fun, as demonstrated by the residents of Saskatoon.

Is your innovative idea truly useful?

In his book “The Truth About Innovation”, author Max McKeown defines innovation as “new stuff made useful.”  However, an idea doesn’t necessarily need to be completely unheard of to be new.   Sometimes we are talking about ideas that are borrowed from other industries and create a big impact.   For example: convenience stores are open seven days. Not a new concept.   However, when TD bank started opening some of their branches seven days a week, the change had a huge impact on their customers. The bank’s innovation resulted in an enormously attractive proposition for customers who work Monday to Friday and couldn’t get to the bank during the previous schedule of banking hours.

The beauty of the TD Bank idea is that it created real value for the customer, or, relating it to the definition above, it was “useful.”

That’s a key point. To be innovative an idea must be new AND useful. Yet, who defines usefulness?

Take, for example, the restaurant chain that recently opened in my neighbourhood. I’d never heard of it so I went to see what was on the menu. The place is called Chino Locos. Their new idea is selling burritos with a Chinese twist. One innovative option is getting chow mein noodles in your burrito.

While this IS new, as someone who loves burritos, it all struck me as novelty just for the sake of it. The way I see it, replacing the rice in a burrito doesn’t really add value or create a superior burrito.   However, the restaurant’s profile on yelp.ca shows it has a 4-star rating from over 100 reviews. Since there are quite a number of people who seem to love it, evidently Chino Locos is an example of innovation. It’s a new idea that is useful (or enjoyable) enough to justify its existence.

This is key. In order to innovate, we need to regard our new ideas in a positive light. If we judge them too quickly as “not really new” or “not useful enough”, we may be overlooking exciting possibilities that will help our customers and grow our businesses.

What if our innovative ideas aren’t really that new?

October 7, 2014

In his recent article, “Are There Any New Marketing Ideas Left Under the Sun?” author Jeff Beals sums up the “quest for innovation” nicely. He says that we need:

  • cutting-edge ideas
  • new ways of thinking
  • to do things that none of our competitors are doing

So, this post is dedicated to all leaders, in any industry or organization, who want to have their teams think more innovatively and share ideas for improvements.

Innovation is tricky. On the one hand, it can be a very sexy idea that gets people engaged. On the other, it can be scary and intimidating.   One common fear is whether “my idea is good enough, novel enough, to be considered innovative”?

Yet, what is new, really? I think it’s very rare to see a truly new idea. Perhaps it’s just new to you, your company, or your industry. Maybe it’s taking two ideas and combining them in a new way. Here’s an example: I live in the city of Toronto, and there is a service here called Car2Go. They have smart cars that are available to rent one way. You pay by the minute. I don’t have a car so I find this hugely helpful. It’s cheaper than a taxi and is great for things like getting my groceries home from the store.

This is how it works: I have a Car2Go membership. When I see a Car2Go smart car in a parking lot, I walk up to it, touch the sensor with my membership card and the car opens. I find the ignition key on the panel inside and off I go. At the end of my drive, I park in an approved parking lot, “sign out”, and leave the car for the next driver.

I think this is a breakthrough, cool idea. But, when you stop and think about it, it’s not really new. The idea of renting a car exists. One-way car rentals exist. Smart cars exist. And, billing by the minute exists (for example when you pay for a telephone service). The innovation is bringing all of these ideas together to create something that is so new and so “wow”. As Jeff Beal puts it, the idea is not to “reinvent the wheel “but to “re-engineer it”.

What does this mean for you and your team?   It means you should share and discuss regularly:

  • what you mean by innovation
  • great examples that you see inside and outside your organization.

Continually expanding your definition of “new” creates the right atmosphere for helpful ideas to flourish.

The Best Plan is the One You Use

September 15, 2014

Daily planning post-it note

 

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is quoted as having said, “Fail to plan; plan to fail”. I agree. In fact, creating a daily plan is my number one suggestion for better time management and personal productivity.

Why am I writing about such an obvious and well-known concept? It is because I am often surprised to discover that not everyone uses it. I think that people are reluctant to take the time to plan, when they could be working. However, I believe that planning your work is part of your work.

To me, a daily plan answers the question, “What do I want to accomplish today?” A daily plan is NOT a schedule or a general to-do list. A daily plan is a statement of the top three things that you intend to get done that day. Why only three? New priorities and tasks will come up throughout the day. That’s why I recommend picking three things.

Each day, before doing anything else, take a moment alone to decide what you want to accomplish. Write down up to three items. These are the goals that you will do your best to reach on THIS day.

Your daily plan process should be fast and easy. You don’t need to make it complicated by ranking and sorting ALL of your items. You don’t need to add priority A, B and C against each item. Just pick the top three.

I also suggest choosing those tasks that will allow you to have the biggest impact. It’s an intuitive process – don’t take too long over it!

This daily planning technique has many benefits. Here are my favourite three:

  • It’s flexible. As you’ve only chosen three things, you’ll also be able to attend to other tasks as they crop up.
  • You can use it to lead by example with your team.  Let them know what three things you’re up to and ask for theirs. This helps your team realize that planning is part of their work too.
  • You’ll feel calm and in control.

When coaching with regard to personal and team productivity, I ask my clients how they plan for their day.

Since they usually have no planning technique, we discuss and agree that a daily plan might help. After going away and trying it for a while, my clients report that they are delighted by the results such an easy action can produce.

What are you using to plan your day? And are you doing it every day?

Edit: The fabulous Carrol Suzuki, over at Listening Better, shared with me this article from Fast Company (which makes similar points to those above): The Exact Amount Of Time You Should Work Every Day.   The article suggests:  “Choose three major tasks to focus on for the day and add other tasks as they pop up throughout the day to a separate list, readjusting your priorities throughout the day if required.”

Powering Down in Sleeptember

iPad powering off

September often feels like the beginning of the work year. Kids return to school after the summer holidays. Here in Canada, adults also get back down to business after a vacation (or just a slower period while others were away!). The weather is cooling, signalling that playtime is over and work time has arrived. It’s a busy period and you need to be firing on all cylinders to keep up.

Are you getting the rest you need to operate at peak capacity?

Many of us are “on the electronic go” until we lie down in bed. Just minutes before our heads hit our pillows, we’ve been surfing Facebook, answering emails, and/or doing a host of other e-tasks on our computers, iPads or smart phones.

Now, although our devices may be powered down, our brains are still powered up. Our bodies and minds need some time to switch off before we can relax into a restful state that slips into sleep.

Also, light from electronic communication devices provides a signal to our brains that it’s daytime. If you’re sitting in bed with your laptop, it will take longer to fall asleep. Several phases of sleep are essential for brain functioning. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is associated with learning, while theta brain waves are linked with creativity. In fact, sleeping only four or five hours a night for a week has been shown to induce impairment similar to a blood alcohol level of 0.1 per cent.

In the U.K., The Sleep Council has put together an article full of useful information about this issue. Created by a group of British bed manufacturers, The Sleep Council’s article, entitled “Sleeptember”, gives five practical tips for getting a good night’s sleep. (Due to the usefulness of the other four, I think we can forgive them that one of their tips is to get a new bed!) Here is a recap of what they suggest:

  1. Environment: Your sleeping area should be “cool, quiet and dark”.
  1. Routine: Get into a sleep habit. As much as possible, bedtimes and waking times should be consistent. Staying up late to finish a work assignment may have a short-term payoff, but will only have a negative impact on your performance in the days to come.
  1. Electronic-free: No gadgets, even T.V. Especially, nothing that glows. Experts recommend a “blackout period” from brightly lit electronics — including the TV — for at least an hour before bed.
  1. Relax: Before turning in, take time to wind down. Engage in a quiet activity like reading a book, listening to music, meditating or writing in a journal. If incomplete tasks are still cluttering your mind, write a to-do list. This will help you put them aside so you won’t ruminate over them at night. If you start to stress about your workload in bed, remind yourself that you’ve already made a plan for tomorrow to deal with these unresolved tasks.

“But wait!” I hear you say. “I’ve just got so much on my mind that by the time I remember to relax, it’s already time to go to sleep.”

You are not alone. In fact, you are SO not alone that a New York hotel has begun offering “work-down” calls. Just as a “wake-up” call tells you when you need to get out of bed, a “work down” call tells you when you need to get ready for bed.

Manhattan’s Benjamin Hotel started the work-down call program to help its business travellers. These travellers kept complaining that they were not getting enough sleep. It was hard for them to resist checking their emails or text messages “one last time”. The hotel encourages people to book work-down calls for one hour before bedtime.

You can make your own version of a work-down call by setting your phone alarm for one hour prior to bedtime to remind you that the e-day has come to a close.

Consider also, the impact that you are having on your team if you email them late at night. Companies are starting to instruct their employees to ignore “after hours” emails. This includes weekends. An article in The Washington Post said surveys show that about 1 in 4 companies have such policies in place.

Volkswagen has taken this one step further. The company and workforce have agreed not to even send emails between shifts. An article in The Toronto Star reported that these “emails stop flowing a half-hour after end of a shift, and resume 30 minutes before a shift starts.”

This month, I’m taking my own advice. I’m switching off all my devices an hour before bed. Apart from my Kindle, that is! For me, reading fiction in bed is a relaxing, sleep-promoting habit. As the Kindle has e-ink, it’s not bright like my phone, iPad or laptop.

Good night, sleep tight!

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