Adding/Creating Value

Reading “Rational Optimism”, Great book if you have not, do. one theme is that individuals engaged in tech will solve problems not outside regulators.

A great section speaks of how Innovation in products as well as technology that helps those products become accessible to more through lower costs or percentage of earnings. This is the result of not investing in monetary assets but investing monetary assets in products that save people time.

Then that time is invested back into the system and the multipliers kick in! It seems though that a larger percentage of that value created is in entertainment not products, Hamburgers and Haircuts! value to see a concert adds more value than time used to do a marathon Television day!

In my humble opinion our culture is less one of learning or building than it has become about the third screen passive engagement. No I have not become that “GET OFF MY LAWN” old man. And no things were not better in the old days, but I do see a trend toward having learned and being an expert than learning and being a student.

We talk so much of experiments in product development but what is an experiment? Many times the exercise seems more to prove than to explore at and after the MVP stage. Bias is taking that third screen approach to your testing. Ask yourself what is the value you are creating and how downstream will it create time or lower costs. If we truly want to do something create for the world then we should think about quantifying that downstream value as well as what we do with the value we extract for the value we have created.  

Leadership is Vision, Ideas are for Godot

The greatest compliment I have ever received in my life is excellence in leadership and driving vision. Ideas are as common as grass, they are clouds floating and many have them waiting for history to catch up with them. These are the; I am right and always right in hindsight because I did nothing folks.

Leadership and vision are active states, one holds and drives leadership, makes choices and fails. Vision is an end definition, you have to choose a point on the horizon and take actual steps to get there. Driving a vision for your life, your family, your business is not casual or passive.

Yes the leadership role has a shadow, actually many classic architypes can show up from dictator to magician. But no goal has been achieved without vision. Even Columbus had a vision of getting to the East Indies when he bumped into North America. Perhaps our visions get hijacked by new data or reality but nothing gets hijacked in the parking lot.

Respect follows leadership not ideas, we may like a great poet or philosopher but we respect and follow visionaries from Steve Jobs to Martin Luther King.

The great Innovation melting pot happens in the US for very specific reasons.

For great innovation to happen these four things are essential for large-scale digital innovation to flourish:

  1. Great research universities, big fundamental pursuits
  2. The rule of law and respect for contracts and property, intellectual and civil protection
  3. Large pools of innovation-seeking capital
  4. A cultural acceptance of risk and failure.

America’s combination of these is “unprecedented and unparalleled in the world. I note that one other country I can think of with all four of these in ample supply is Israel, which has a large (especially for its size) and thriving tech sector.

Effective Corporate Product Process

Years ago I was on a business trip and one in which a clean dress shirt and jacket was required. In my usual last minute packing I grabbed a couple of shirts direct from the cleaners. So the second day I pull out the last shirt only to discover that it was not mine, it looked like a shirt I have, the right color and size but not the right cut and it had French cuffs!

As someone who is eager to literally roll up my sleeves and work with clients and the French cuffs made that uncomfortable. On the flight back reviewing my trip I had not felt that I gave the session my best, it was all just a little uncomfortable and rough. I remember returning the shirt to the cleaners and the clerks comment, “Why would you wear another mans’ shirt?” Truly prophetic.

All this to draw the analogy with companies who try to install innovation frameworks rather than guide the team to create one that works for them. You are never comfortable in another mans’ shirt even if it seems attractive.

On the other end of the spectrum, some years ago I was brought into a company to run a tiger team. The company was growing rapidly and focused on creating a new products funnel for the core products. The CEO hired a big national frim to install their modified version of the most popular framework of the day.

The team worked to customize the framework but had never actually worked it and the product mangers rapidly took advantage of the situation customizing it so they could do as they wanted with little accountability. This mistake ended up costing the company a few million dollar in wasted infrastructure spending. The team started projects outside the company mission wasting key resources and chased ideas over market data.

Custom build your Product Process from a Core that serves the business today to more dynamic models for your New Product Development. Never wear another mans’ shirt!

Drills not holes; buying tools over results, means over ends.

I challenge the marketing adage by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” We buy so much more and if you drill down, pun intended, you can expand to buying a shelf or desk or place to study………You may argue latter that in all these examples consumers are buying the end product, I counter and say more today in our fast moving world we are buying the means to that ends.

So we can finally put that to rest in the grave yard of old advertising adages that no longer have merit. Besides in today’s world if I really just wanted a hole I would borrow a drill from the UBER drill lending site. I suggest what you really want to do is build!

First case is how often do you hear investors say it is all about the team. When you build a great team they can pivot and change with the market. What investors are really buying is a team that will find a way to return 10x on their money in short time. If their needs were less than they would buy other more secure investments. Investors are buying a risk return profile they can embrace or work with. Some buy friends or people, but in the end results count on that investors return.

Second case is in B2B sales where you buy tools for process and that process changes. If you buy SharePoint what are you buying? A process tool or a process? The application by its’ self is mostly useless out of the box. If you are selling collaboration software it is useless without people sharing ideas and content. Your team already collaborates and may document tat collaboration but what you are really buying is a tool that sustains that process for a given time. Tools are what you buy, what you do with those tools is amazing and hopefully always changing.

Third is consulting, you buy an end vision, an issue solved. That consulting approach of experience to teach. Here the feature function of the drill is the most important. I get hired to get Product Mangers and Innovation culture working. I know full well that the minute I leave entropy takes over and it is rare that the pending system dysfunction is not blamed on me. But at time I do get that second call to prop up the culture and those are great days. Great not for the repeat business but great in that they understand the solution is morphing as the company situation and staff evolve.

Lastly is building innovation, culture is amorphous and will add value to your offering over and over. Tools, people and advisers are drills to the companies that understand adding value over a long period of time in as many ways as possible is the core expertise required in today’s market. And customers will pay a premium for that commitment to the market and them.

Innovation process 101 – Sculpting and Smashing!

1smashedIn martial arts you use your strengths, then allow your opponent to over extend their attacks grabbing that energy for your advantage. Corporations have unique skills in building processes and analyzing markets to produce accurate probabilities. This is also the root of the “paralysis by analysis” trap. Innovation is about understanding probabilities. The key for larger companies is grabbing agility and high risk courage from the start-up while increasing your chance of success with your broad assets.

 

Corporate incubators can rapidly build and understand the processes of others, build in market factors and understand the best opportunities for innovation. There is strength in large operations organizations that is often undervalued by product groups and R&D. The challenge is how to use the strong analytical power while not burdening innovation.

 

We all enjoy creating and process teams are no different. We enforce process as a way of validating the process, good process covers all situations right. What if the creation of process is not for use but for change? What if you can build a culture in your analytical teams that is about documentation with the intent to break the existing process? I have a term for this, Sculpting and Smashing!

 

                                          Sculpting – Design and document the activity of the target segment or persona.

 

 

 

                                          Smashing – Break that process through automation and innovation to eliminate wasted                                                                                                             activity or entire steps. Basically add ease or productivity that create value.

 

Sculpting and Smashing is fun, it leads to a very full idea funnel that leads to solid innovative features and products. What is amazing is experiencing business analyst get energized. Teams often do retrospectives or plus/delta sessions without optimizing a process immediately. What if that learning can become positive immediately, what if you change the culture to one where learnings are quickly institutionalized in a positive manner then celebrated.

 

For example:

 

Culture of innovation requires, breaking down the Moonshots.

Successful work fails, great innovative companies always fail forward! Experimentation and failure is the result of taking predictive risk or as I like to say, “Thinking outside the box working inside

 

Break down the flow or your product into each area and innovate within each before bringing them together. What helps is to have first the Crazy moonshot vision like say driverless cars. Now you can break down every step of driving and automate it!

 

A recent capital equipment company I worked with was passionate about staying ahead of a market where they already lead. As the company expanded internationally the CEO and I spoke of how to build innovation proactively when the history of the company was winning through rapid response to any RFP. The moonshot thinking was complete automation, the steps were: First automated with operator, then automated with operator outside as observer, followed by automated from a distance, and lastly only to give the equipment a task then read a report of the results.

 

OK so the last two steps are still quite a bit in the future but the process accomplishes three things.

  1. Build trust in market that this moonshot is achievable in steps. Building trust is important for the partnership with the market.
  2. Take steps that you can achieve that build confidence in your own capabilities, learn, and fail forward at a reasonable pace.
  3. Be agile to changes in the market, in technology and the Moonshot goal itself.

 

We followed a hybrid IDEO/Blue Ocean footprint by breaking down the core product into the various systems, Mechanical, Fluid, Control, Power Systems, Usability and finally company support services. Taking a look at all the systems they begin to optimize, (Sculpting and smashing). The customers were excited about each idea however they had expected incremental innovation from the company.

 

Where the market sat up and applauded first was on the company services improvements. Not to say they were insufficient but the market just shocked to see them step in and listen to their customers business issues and be willing to be a true partner. The back story on this innovation is that a customer service agent speaking with a customer captured a comment about the equipment being like his new car and send him an e-mail on how it is.

 

In a market where the pain of downtime is great and a product already outfitted with sensors only connected to the operators’ panel it was a simple task to have a capture of sensor output and use data sent. Customer reaction was overwhelming. Users would pre-order warn parts and be confident planning big projects, now the company was building a trusted relationship based on data sharing. The camel’s nose was under the tent, the first step to the moonshot.

 

The opportunity would not be identified without understanding how the market consumes the product, understanding the wear cycle of parts and pain of the customer. All this through the data and experience of an established producer with a focus on innovation and optimizing patterns.1smashed

Ideas to Innovation to Market Successful Innovation

Market Tested and Accepted Innovation is the goal of all Innovation process. There first appears the idea! That idea evolves through process to a product or service. That product is then placed in the marketplace and marketed to target groups. Some will buy on novelty, some on interest, some see their lives improved through the product.

When those products are deemed successful is when a customer repeats the purchase cycle or independently endorses the product to others. Many would claim this as to high a standard for innovation, not me. Over the last 5 plus years I have worked with innovation helping companies not only capture ideas but deliver on product R&D efforts.

Many times the one time buy or trial period at a discount is deemed success, truthfully without a customer commitment demonstrated through promotion or repurchase something is not right about the product. Many times it can be pricing or promotion that is outside the consumers’ price/value equation. Other times the product itself is a one-time curiosity purchase.

Then of course there is the product that never presents value enough for a consumer to trial it in manner. These are the difficult innovation failures to face as money, time, and heart has gone into them. Have had a couple of these myself, often there is a missing part of the value that is significant to the consumer. Today recovering that value and launching again is tough, consumers are more anti second chances as there are more options. The best strategy is to launch under a new brand entirely.

Many of the early efforts at innovation by companies are thought to be best if unbounded by process. This is wrong, the capture and evaluation of ideas is critical and must be systemic, complete and measured by the same yard stick each time. When ideas get variable measure innovators shy away from presenting ideas. Standing up for your idea in a politicalized environment is painful and empty even when accepted.

When your process is complete on the front end the ideas flow and evaluation is perceived as fair, and the company becomes a learning organization rather than politicized. Innovation that fails to deliver to the market an ROI to the company is wasteful. Where is your company Innovation? How are you, measuring and evaluating ideas, success and finally what have you learned?

Opponent or Competitor based Leadership

Companies and countries reflect their leaders, how those leaders drive forward as people is how the company moves forward. We see this in our country today. For the first time in decades we have a leader who is opponent based, looking at the world in a finite Zero Sum manner. I win or you win, you see this in the leaders favorite sport basketball. This is a sport where I try to achieve a goal and you defend or block your turf. One on One is the apex of the sport for a star. Even other territorial sports are not best One on One, ever hear of one on one football?

Competitor based sports see the goal more the way a competitive market is in the business world where multiple players put their best foot forward to win market share. This is the act of winning over others with better ideas and execution.

Leaders in business fight on the field of ideas and execution to win market share. We pull the best from out teams to win hearts and minds of prospects. The old adage that negative advertising does not work is a truth, while recently we have seen some attempts at this with Apple and Mac even done cute it grates on our cultural norms over time. Recently Apple had that strategy turned on them by Samsung and one of the reasons it worked was they played on Apples earlier arrogance.

When a leader drives to pummel their opponent they are not focused on the market and customer, they are not fighting for you they are fighting for themselves. The focus is not innovation and solving problems the focus is their position relative to the other, Zero Sum thinking. Zero sum is not a future based mind set, there is no room for others there is only you and them.

How can someone join if the field is full, why would I join if it is all about you? Leading teams and winning hearts and minds is about taking your eye off yourself and seeing beyond what is there. This is where innovation happens. This action gains true support from your customers because it is inclusive

My sport is Cycling, individuals compete to be the best, they also know that without each other they can’t win. There are starts and support, there are differing skills required like climbers and sprinters. Many winners at various levels, teams, rookies, king of the mountain! Even Football had linemen and runners and receivers. We do talk about the quarterbacks but great QBs without the tools to receive are failures.

Think about how leadership works for you. Are you finite in your thinking or do you compete to be the best for your customer? When Coke and Pepsi changed their focus from opponents they both grew and innovated with new brands and I personally love the new multi-flavor dispensers.

Focus on the customer and be your best, Markets reward competitors especially when they are competing for them.

Product to Platform – the transition to a viable company

Think about where you are on this continuum and are you moving toward a threshold where your company is viable, serving a customer base with a common need. Great products in today’s technology marketplace partner with others to deliver a whole or integrated experience. Seems obvious however few early stage companies understand the value and role that others play in their future resulting in poor behavior as a partner.

The only way around this is to embrace the idea that your product/market fit needs to expand beyond the singular “Problem Fixed” stage. We all know that “problems fixed” are the peak of success for start-ups. “Great ideas” and “better solutions” come in second then the dreaded “Nice to have”.

That said when you get a “Problem fixed” you can start adding Nice to haves and a few “better solutions” to create a platform. Think of getting your toe hold in an industry by solving a problem, now expand to deliver a more highly configured solution for that industry then the common solution in an adjacent function.

Now you have a great platform solution for that industry and a platform for a viable strong company. Let’s dream up a MRP solution that serves the bread baking industry and they solve a Gluten free compliance problem. Great solution the industry starts buying and they are off to the races growing to an 80% market saturation position.

Now what? Sure there are POS solutions out there but what if one had a POS that tracked just bakery products and was easy to use as they tracked Gluten or spelt or rice sales and would leverage recipes for instant reorder of ingredients. Now you are adapting more common functions to create ease for your industry and a bigger footprint.

This will allow your “solution” to become a platform then company that lives beyond the gluten free phase of the industry lifecycle. This is where Product managers with cross domain experience become more valuable than those in Just from your segment or those that started with your company and share that initial experience.

Many start-ups focus after success on creating a new even hotter innovation. What if that innovation was broader custom solutions that end up part of a suite of components? Now you are truly servicing a customer persona, making marketing easier, improving the lives of other small business owners!

The bottom line is helping people live better or businesses to do what they do better. Rarely are our customers in the technology innovation business they are in the Baking or brewing or cleaning business. Technology should help them do more with less and do it better. They are not in the technology buying or process changing business.

80/20 RULE, Embracing Failure

Many times I have stated we learn through failure. Sounds cliché but it is true in so many applications in life. We have ideas and test them, these hypothesis succeed and break giving us data to build the next hypothesis.

A_B testing shows us which is better but not if it is the best so we test again. Often I tell the story of the US and Russia space race in building rocket engines. The Russian approach was build and break then repeat after analysis. In the US we used computer modeling rather than build and break. The US produced a highly capable efficient engine, Russia built a work horse that we still use today.

The lesson is that if we break our models we rebuild stronger. It is human nature to back off when reaching a goal then focus on efficiency over more power. I have had many failure start-ups and a few successes. Product tests and learnings show us direction but not how to scale. Early exit is a very smart safe path that I have taken and feel with no data that I have left upside on the table.

Recently I launched a service and found that the core was good but needed a communications layer that my team was unable to deliver effectively from a skills, core, and time/money perspective. The answer was sell my learnings to a competitor who can do both elements. My heart is low as I would have enjoyed turning what I knew into a new strong company but the math did not work for the market or finances.

The task now is to embrace the failure on my part/dream/idea and now embrace the consulting that will see the core concept emerge in a manner I did not expect but honors the core concept.

Ideas are not fixed, they flow through us and 80% of them are not so great but 20% are great. We fear that if we do not execute on the ones that seem to have greatness potential we loose our one ticket to greatness.

The truth is we need to keep failing then pulling ourselves up again, that is how we get stronger in spirit like the Russian rocket engine. Retrospectives are how we get smarter like the US engine. Shuttering a start-up is harder than starting one. One makes choices, then others see only a small part and judge then we look back in retrospective again and wonder did I make the right choice. It is our nature to look back through a long glass and question but we must embrace our choices.

Like other areas we all do the best we can with our current skills, our current knowledge the current environmentals’ and current market. Now to start building another 80 failures!