Innovative thinking habits and holiday networking, evening of December 16th

November 20, 2014

This month I’m planning for my short talk at the Verity Business Network.  The Verity Business Network holds meetings once per month at the beautiful Verity club near Queen and Church in Toronto.  We have a buffet dinner catered by George restaurant and the opportunity to meet new contacts in a relaxed way on small tables.  I’ll be speaking about how we can all make innovative thinking a daily habit, no matter what kind of business you have.

I’ll show you how to:

1) Define innovation to make it relevant to your business

2) Set achievable goals to make it motivating to change

3) Identify sources of innovation to help new ideas come more easily

If you’d like to attend, please email me for more details.

“Butting in” for the sake of innovation

November 11, 2014

Walking down the street on the way to work, you see a person slumped over in the middle of the pavement. What do you do? If you are like most people, you will continue on your way. It’s hard to believe that anyone would act this way. But, this behaviour, called the bystander effect is a well-documented phenomenon.

Why does the bystander effect happen? Research points to a number of factors that can be present singly or in various combinations.

  1. The bystander does nothing due to personal issues such as lack of time (have to get to work, etc.), fear, or distaste for the situation (dirty, ragged, homeless person).
  2. The situation is too ambiguous. Ambiguity in this case means the person isn’t sure about HOW to help, what steps to take. So, rather than racking their brains, people leave things be.
  3. When bystanders are a group, the attribute of cohesiveness comes into play. It is hard to be the ONLY one in a group that behaves differently. So, if the group decides not to help, that’s it. Obviously, the larger the group, the harder it is to act independently.
  4. Then, there is diffusion of responsibility which is basically the attitude “it’s not my job”. Sometimes, people truly assume that others must have taken care of the situation by now so they need not act. In other cases, no one wants to be the first to volunteer. As with cohesiveness, the more people in the group, the less likely individuals will take action.

Let’s look at this in a new context. In this case, it’s not a person in crisis, but your organization that needs help with innovative thinking. It’s common for CEOs to communicate a strategic, cross-company, imperative to innovate. However, if it is everybody’s responsibility, it’s possible that no-one will step up. Why? Some people do not like change (personal issues). Others are not sure quite how to go about it (ambiguity). Perhaps, during break, people discuss it, with the consensus being “they (management) must be joking!” (cohesiveness). If after the “innovation meeting” there is no follow up, employees may assume that others are coming up with ideas so they don’t have to (diffusion of responsibility).

In any case, NOT what was intended.

What you want to avoid is having people think that:

  • they have not been asked
  • their ideas are not valuable
  • it’s someone else’s responsibility

In Harvard Business Review’s “10 Must-Reads On Innovation” author Rosabeth Moss Kanter describes the following situation:

A worker in a textile factory  had an idea for how to reduce yarn breakage. Yarn breakage is a very costly operating expense and therefore, a source of competitive disadvantage. It wasn’t until a new executive came in and said, “This search for innovation applies to everyone” that this worker tentatively came forward and shared his idea. When the employee was asked how long he had had this idea, he replied “32 years.”

It’s pretty sad, I think, that many people don’t feel their ideas are valuable or welcome. There are some people who will have wonderful suggestions but need to feel they’ve been personally asked to contribute. That’s why it’s your job as a leader to let people know that all ideas are welcome and encourage those ideas when they are put forth.

If you need help creating a program to spark the sharing of innovative ideas within your organization, please get in touch with me.

 

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.

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