Being Awesome, Diffusion of Innovation, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Systems, Tool, Uncategorized

Beyond the Right Tool for the Job

Today I did a few odd errands around the house. A typical Sunday afternoon. I finally went to hang the new tiles with our house number on them. For 30 minutes I bore into the front of my house. I switched screw types and drill bits. The sad truth was I had barely made a dent. The tiles lay on the front lawn mocking me.

powertools
Notice the state of the art powerdrill I was using. And Jebediah was no help at all.

I decided to do some research online and found just what I needed. And thus the standard pilgrimage to the local home improvement store rewarded me with some concrete screws. The tiles went up almost instantly.

I had chosen the correct power tool, my handy dandy drill with screwdriver bits, but I failed to be detailed in how to apply the tool. I was using the wrong screws and all that got me were unhung tiles and two shallow, but noticeable holes in the front of my house.

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhn

This can be the bane of the innovator as well. Powerful tools within their grasp, but the details about the application and the context evade them. This has two potentially disastrous outcomes:

  1. Problems remain out of reach, still unsolved.

2. You can cause new problems, like holes in your house.

It is important to invest time in identifying the details behind the tools you use. Even if your innovation toolbox is stocked with the best tools around, it’s the details and the context that can throw you off.

“Stop. Hammer time.” – MC Hammer

The following places have excellent tools for your innovation toolbox, and some supporting details to help you know when to use them.

Stratgeyzer by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, and Alan Smith- Value Proposition Design is always within grasp. I may keep a spare in my glovebox. From learning cards, to testing matrices, Strategyzer’s VPD is a solid foundation for any innovator.

Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie – This fantastic book has tools and details around the full innovation timeline. From “What is?” to “What if?” to “What wows?” to “What works?” No matter what your question is, Designing for Growth has something for you.

Joe Greaser has a post over on his blog about some tools for detecting weak arguments.

Also, we’ve got stuff right here at Go Forth And Be Awesome!tools

  • New Lenses for finding new ways to look at the world around you.
  • Donkey Dice for rapidly going through lenses with a little bit of chaos.
  • Premortems help you prepare for failure before you test a prototype.

Avoid the frustration and embarrassment of drilling all afternoon with nothing to show for it. Even if you’ve got the right tool, pay attention to the little details too.

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Being Awesome, Failure, Going Forth, Grit, Motivation, Theme Park of You

In Pursuit of Happy Little Accidents

beingnew (1)I remember watching Bob Ross paint his happy trees and powerful mountains and just being in awe of his calmness and lack of fear of “happy little accidents”. When I painted “accidents” usually involved large splotches of the wrong color paint. They didn’t qualify as “happy” or “little”. Bob Ross just made it seem so easy as he pulled palm tree branches out of a single line of black paint.

Recently I learned the picture he painted on television was not the first time he painted it. Bob regularly painted the scene once before, which was kept off-screen as a reference. Now honestly, the difference in the level of skill between Bob Ross and I was huge, but I was at another disadvantage.

I was comparing my first try to his second. 

There is a ton of learning that happens between tries. Lines become smoother, decisions are easier, and you have better command of the paint on the brush. And this is something we do all the time. We compare our beginnings to the middles of others.

“Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake the Dog

You’ve got to give yourself permission to fail, to not be good at something. At one point, all experts struggled with the basics. There was a time when Albert Einstein didn’t know his ABC’s. As Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, and often that first step is more of a stumble. And that’s ok. We’re chasing something new, something better. We don’t have to be perfect at it yet; we’re learning.

dunningkrugerAs we learn, we’re a bad judge of our own skill. It starts with the “I can paint that!” bravado of someone who’s never painted, an over-estimation of abilities that is part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Beyond that peak is a deep valley of doubting your own ability. This is where the Impostor Syndrome lives and it can shake you off the pursuit of learning something new. This is the where most of the beginning to middle comparison happens, and when it is the most damaging.

You have to remember that you are learning and maybe you haven’t mastered it yet. But the key word is “yet“. You determine your own finish line. You can even determine your own starting line. Instead of wishing that you had learned something earlier in life, get started! Now is better than tomorrow.

Just from the act of trying something new we have the ability to practice the beginner’s mind (Shoshin). Without years of practice or knowledge, our eyes are untainted with preconceptions or the “ways things have always been done”. If we let ourselves be openminded, we can see the forest AND the trees, instead of only one in lieu of the other. This is a time when we might find new ways hidden from the experts, when we might challenge even the most foundational tenets, when we might ask “Well why not?”.

Get out there. Start painting trees on your landscape. They may not be the best trees but you’ve got the power of “yet”. And always welcome happy little accidents on your journey to learning something new.

 

Brainstorming, Going Forth, Grand Canyon, Ideation, Innovation, Lenses, Prototyping, Systems, Tool

The Donkey Stuck in the Status Quo

Once upon a time, there was a donkey. This donkey, with all other conditions being the same, would eat from the hay closest to him. Kind of an easy win strategy. Well one day the donkey was walking down the road and his hunger grew immensely. There was a bail of hay up ahead, and an equal sized bail of hay, the exact same distance behind him. With neither being closer, the donkey stood still, not choosing one nor the other until he died.

The end.

This heartwarming tale is called Buridan’s donkey and it is a paradox about free will. Often, we become the donkey. There are disruptive ideas out there to follow, but we sit in the middle, too afraid to give up one for the other.

Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, says that “when some systems become stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness can unlock them and set them free.” The donkey just needs a little push; just one fly to land on its ear and nudge it towards one hay pile.

Organizations, teams, and people need that dose of random, unexpected, and different to get ideas moving.gonowhere

These little nudges can feel scary, but there are ways to minimize the risk and fear. Start by breaking down the problem you want to solve into its core pieces; boil it down to its base essence. Then start looking for small things to move the needle. If you were to solve this problem, what’s the first thing you need to figure out? Find a way to prototype and test that thing. Prototyping is great for keeping cost low and risks at a minimum (especially when it is with paper).

“Prototyping is one of the most effective ways to both jump-start our thinking and to guide, inspire, and discipline an experimental approach.” – Peter Sims, Little Bets

Regularly we will need to unstick ourselves. Each idea we naturally think of is a byproduct of your point of view, past experiences, skill set, and what you had for lunch. That’s why I am going to give you a tool to help, a tool forged in process-driven chaos. It’s called…

Donkey Dice

The rules here are very simple. In fact, there’s only three:

  • CARD: On a notecard, write down six lenses and number them.
    • Things like “How would WordPress do it?”, “How would I never solve this?”, or use a random word. (Random words should be generated before each use of Donkey Dice.)
  • ROLL: Roll 1 six-sided die and identify lens selected
  • THINK: Generate ideas with lens

It’s simple, but effective. As you get good at Donkey Dice, expand your card up to 12 lenses and use two six-sided dice. You can unlock the extreme level and list 20 lenses and roll a twenty-sided die. Soon your donkey will be making his way towards relief, instead of stuck in the muck of status quo.

“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” -Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care

 

Being Awesome, Empathy, Going Forth, Innovation, User Experience

Making Customers Feel Cool

coolCurves are the enemy of fast moving trains. Just ask Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in Unstoppable. Nearly 30 years before the movie, The British Rail Research Team unveiled the APT. The APT was a train that tested out at an amazing top speed of 160mph, and could safely sprint 40% faster than any other train through curves. And it failed.

In 1981, the first public riders traveled aboard the APT and felt motion sick from the uncommon tilting that allowed the train to rip through the bends. Data, speed, and savings aside, the customers did not feel cool while leaning and the train quickly picked up a nickname. The Queasy Rider.

“If people are made to feel uncomfortable in the kitchen, they won’t go in there.”- Giada De Laurentiis

The APT was technically a marvel, doing something that the long, rigid rectangely trains never could before… lean into the curves like a well-trained sprinter. However it was the user experience that lacked the sparkle. It’s hard to argue how neat it is to go 40% faster when the rider is busy holding onto their lunch. The user experience is a major key.

Design thinking encourages us to find the real root problem for customers, and to evaluate what jobs they need a solution to do. Yet if your solution solves the problem at the expense of user experience, then it is doomed to fail. There is a famous quote by Leo McGinneva, while talking about how customers don’t go to the hardware store to buy quarter-inch drill bits. He said, ‘They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.” It’s easy to abstract this into a postulate:

Customers aren’t buying products, they are buying a version of their life with a problem solved.

People purchase products because they can make life easier, more enjoyable, more rewarding. This is why medicine comes in flavors now. Why choke down an unpalatable tonic when you can get the same benefits with bubblegum flavor?

It is easy for us to focus on the tangible features when developing a prototype. But it is crucial to bring user experience into the equation as early as you can, and for as many steps possible. There needs to be devoted thought to the future user and making them feel like they’re getting ahead of the game by using your product. Fast Company has a great article tackling the marketing angle of this. In it, Belle Beth Cooper (co-founder of Exist) says “A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.”

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes.” – Daniel Pink

APT eventually returned in 1984 after some work to shore up the uneasy feeling in the tilt. This time the reviews were much better, but not good enough to save the train. The negative user experience and nickname lingered, and all APT’s were removed from service by 1986.

Think about your project. Is it full of fantastic features but leaving the core customer queasy? Maybe it is time to lean into some user empathy and tilt your solution in a different direction.

After all, our customers shouldn’t just be able to go forth. They also need to be awesome!

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation Mindsets, Lean, Learning, Like a Startup, Motivation, Theme Park of You

You Might Be An Uncontrolled Optimist If…

optimism (1)In Episode 20 of Gimlet Media’s podcast, StartUp, Lisa Chow investigates what happens when a lean, “let’s all try to do new things” startup shifts into the established, “wait we have an HR department now?” organization. It’s a brilliant take on the need for process and the translation of vision from one strategy to the next. Episode 20, “Disorg Chart”, opened my eyes… but not for the reason intended.

I tend to be a positive person, but listening to Alex Blumberg (cofounder of Gimlet media) contemplate the negative affect of his own positivity, with help from cohost Lisa Chow, was like the opening of Pandora’s box for me. You know, if opening Pandora’s Box was a good thing and only new insights and thoughts flowed out, not the gross evils of the world. So maybe bizarro Pandora’s Box.

“Optimism is inevitably the last hope of the defeated.” – Albert Metzler

Wait, innovation and startups thrive on the whole “We’re not afraid to fail” and “Let’s try something completely disruptive.” Well, unfortunately that same optimism can hurt when a prototype fails or the market dislikes your idea. Uncontrolled optimism urges you to push forward, past the failures.

You have the data and feedback in your hands that tells you moving forward is wrong. Yet the can-do mantra of steamrolling optimism is very luring, it’s just that sometimes it lures towards the rocks like a siren song.

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” – Walt Disney

One of the best lines from Disorg Chart was that a leader needs to protect employees from their worst selves. More than that, they need to provide opportunities to grow into their best selves. The same holds true for ideas, prototypes, minimum viable products, launched products, et al.

You still need a healthy dose of optimism to survive in the entrepreneur/intrapreneur world. Sometimes the only one believing that you can, is you.

The first step to undisciplined optimism recovery is identifying that you have a problem; which is really hard for the eternal optimist.
Here are some starting scenarios:
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you have to ignore hard data to move an idea forward.
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you avoid the difficult conversations with people who flirt with their worst selves.
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you constantly sacrifice your own values and strengths just to smooth things over.
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you have analyzed the results of a prototype test and blamed failure on the testers because they just didn’t get it.
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you read this post, questioned your own bright-like-an-iPhone-at-night optimism for a brief second, and then said “Nah, I’m sure my optimism doesn’t need evaluating.”
    • If this is you, please embrace your kaizen. Every process (even internal ones) are up for constant improvement.

In all things, moderation is a major key. Optimism has it’s benefits, but don’t let your drive to be optimistic prevent you from charting a better course. If you are charging up a hill and all the signs point to it being the wrong hill, there is no shame in a rapid retreat to charge up the right hill.

The only shame is in pressing on when you know deep down that you shouldn’t.

 

Being Awesome, Failure, Going Forth, Lean, Learning, Like a Startup, Motivation, Systems, Uncategorized

Happy Systems Evaluation Day Eve!

It’s that time of year again! The internet is littered with “Top 10 [these things] of 2015” lists. Tweets and updates center around what friends and family plan on accomplishing within the next 12 months. But every time you see a “I’m going to lose X pounds this year” update, know that you are reading a goal.

“Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners.” Scott Adams

I’m not saying they are losers. I’m saying they are playing a losing game. Boardgames are no fun when halfway through you realize that you have no hope of ever catching up to the leader. I’ve played these games with my younger brother who will CRUSH all in his path. I’ve looked over at his gargantuan pile of cardboard wealth and watched mine wither more than once. But a good game has mechanics that keep all players in the game. There are ways to get back up front. The Bullet Bill power-up is only available to those trailing in Mario Kart.

goals (1)Setting a goal is playing a game where you are constantly in failure, until you’ve succeeded. If my goal was to get a promotion, everyday that I don’t have my promotion is a day that I haven’t hit my goal. And even when I do, what then? I’ve reached a waypoint but I don’t have any other direction.

Goals are waypoints; places to be reached. Systems are a compass; they provide global direction.

Instead of setting a promotion as a goal, I should define a system that makes me more valuable to my company. Maybe, along the way I will earn that promotion. Both before and after, I have the ability to work successfully within my system. Success is within my grasp and in my control, each day.

“A good system shortens the road to the goal.” Orison Swett Marden

Don’t abandon goals altogether because when used with a system, they are still hugely important. We set them constantly in innovation. They are the success metrics for each prototype. They are the conversion rates in A/B testing. Running lean and using design thinking are systems; systems that leverage and make use of goals. One can not live on goals alone.

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” W. Edwards Deming

If you’ll allow me a short sports metaphor real quick, let’s talk about Notre Dame football. I don’t have details but I do have experience and I am 87.3% sure that Notre Dame’s players decide what their goals are going to be for the season. Probably “Beat Stanford” or “Play in a major bowl game” are in there. Until they play Stanford, that goal has not be achieved. When they do play Stanford, success and failure are equally within grasp. After the game, they cross that goal off as either DONE or FAIL and then… focus on a new goal? Drift directionless in a sea of college football powerhouses? No. Notre Dame has a system that is more important than their goals.

“Play like a champion TODAY.” Notre Dame Football’s system

Goals are good as measures of your system, but make sure your goals aren’t vanity metrics.

So as you and I and everyone on Facebook sets goals for the upcoming year, also think of a system that can help guide you through those goal waypoints to a you beyond your expectations. And we’d be honored if “Go forth and be awesome” was a part of your system!

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Grit, Motivation

The Three-Sided Coin

SPOILER ALERT: All coins have three sides.

I learned something that I already knew but never knew when I read the book, “Make the Big Time Where You Are“, by legendary football coach, Frosty Westering. He called attention to the often-overlooked, magical third side of any and all coins.

A coin is nothing more than a squashed cylinder. It has two circular faces we call heads and tails, but it also has some thickness that becomes the third side. THE EDGE! Coach Westering would use the analogy of the coin to explain how the edge is used to go from “doing your best” to “being the best”, but we’re going to borrow it for a slightly different purpose.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.36.41 PMImagine you and your brother are flipping a coin to see who gets the last dinner roll. Picking heads, you’ve predetermined that one side of the coin is success, while the other is embarrassing failure. As it floats in the sky, moving slowly through its parabolic arch, you salivate thinking about the melted butter on that last roll. And in this moment, the coin becomes kind of like Schrödinger’s cat’s coin, existing in a state of heads and tails at the same time. Both success and failure.

But let’s remove more variables here and not flip the coin in the air. You and your brother decide to stand the coin on its edge, and when it falls, whomever’s side is up, they get the roll.

The coin balances on its edge like an Olympic gymnast on the balance beam, and it sits. Here we are, like with the coin flying through the air, perched between success and failure, and it all rests on the edge.

There are all kinds of things you can do when the coin is resting on the edge to encourage it to fall your way. You could blow on it, tap the table, try to create some distinct movement in your favor. But why?

When the coin is on its edge, there is still a chance for victory.

Life, my friends, is a coin on the edge. You are constantly between success and failure everyday and the worst thing we can do is sit idly by and watch others take our dinner rolls.

Well not today buster. 

learnThis is just like the prototype that we want to test with our early adopters. Every prototype (no matter how ugly, how duct-taped together, or how functionality barren) has a chance of success. You’re setting your success metrics early and you know if you epically fail, at least you’re failing forward and learning. You let your prototypes live on the edge of the coin, why not you?

If you felt you had control over your success, wouldn’t you tap the table, scoot your chair, do anything you could to create enough movement to have the coin fall in your favor? Yes you would. So stop feeling like success or failure is written in the stars, or the deal of a deck of cards. Life is a coin on the edge, and you have to power to make it fall your way.

Go forth and be edgy!