Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Pre-Mortem, Systems, Uncategorized

7 Mechanics of Innovation

A game is a series of interesting choices. – Sid Meier

A common game design framework is called MDA, or Mechanics – Dynamics – Aesthetics. Players experience it back to front; from feelings (Aesthetics) through how they interact with the game (Dynamics) due to the rules (Mechanics). Game designers, however, create the game by starting with the basic moves that build how the player interacts and leaves them with feelings.

It’s said that good mechanics are instinctual and invisible to the player. And yet they are still designed first. As an innovative leader, you are the game designer. So I’ve compiled 7 of the top mechanics you’ll need.

Process

Having structure and templates for innovation feels oxymoronic, but a well-defined process means people don’t have to waste mental muscle figuring out HOW to innovate. Constraints often spur on change and growth, similar to pressure on a tube of toothpaste. Your clearly communicated innovation process will have people pushing more ideas forward and allows others to jump on the idea because they’re all familiar with the process that it graduated from.

Metrics

As a business analyst, this one is true to my heart! You wouldn’t think that something as amorphous as “innovation” would have measurable KPI’s, but that makes them even more important in your culture. Some sample metrics would be “process efficiencies”, “prototypes developed”, and “hypotheses validated”. It is important to not lose sight that the key byproduct of innovation is knowledge gained.

Problem-sourcing

Many places picture their innovation process as a funnel, with disruptive products exiting out the narrow end of the funnel. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that. But what we can control is having enough raw material coming into the wide end of the funnel to work with. There are multiple channels for sourcing problems. Check your social media channels to see what your users are saying online. Set-up focus groups at regular intervals. Go to where your users are and experience it through their eyes. Open it up to internal communication channels. The more sources you can use, the clearer your understanding of the problems becomes.

Rituals

Don’t confuse rituals with routines. Rituals involve mindful participation towards the desired end state. Routines are practiced behaviors that you can tune out and still accomplish (like making that pot of coffee Monday morning without thinking about it.) Rituals are designed by the leader and are focused events. Maybe it’s a Friday meeting to share team victories from the week, or maybe it’s a weekly challenge using work skills on a non-work challenge. Whatever your rituals are, keep the end in mind.

Showcase

Knowledge doesn’t do well locked up. It needs to spread, grow, and spin-off into new questions and that means you need to connect brains together. Provide a forum and method for the sharing of all knowledge; from failed prototypes to focus group responses. These showcases must include the problem, the audience, the solution, the test plan, and (of course) the metrics. Not only do you need to create mechanics around the creation and sharing of showcases, but you also have to create the mechanic of others reviewing the showcases.

Reflection

As fun as it is to look 3, 5, 10 years ahead, it’s as important to look backward as well. Not through a lens of nostalgic status quo, but through a lens of “what could we do better?” Continuous improvement is needed with your processes, rituals, and all of your mechanics, just like it’s needed for your products. This will become more beneficial as the candor in your innovation culture grows stronger.

Absent-mindedness

Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you walked in and only remembered once you started doing something else? Creative ideas can strike like that. Sometimes putting focused effort on solving a problem is like being stuck in the mud. You’re just spinning your wheels. What you need is to shift gears. Allowing some time for distracted focus or absent-mindedness gives the brain time to make unique connections. This can be accomplished through challenges or cross-departmental conversations to name a few. The important aspect is to give people time to think of other topics.

By now you’ve noticed that I haven’t given you step-by-step instructions on how to apply these mechanics to your organization. It’s up to you to tailor them to your team, your product, and your problems. You are the game designer. I’ve just given you some mechanics for you to now craft the dynamics and aesthetics around.

What interesting choices will you make?

 


Check out more of Go Forth and Be Awesome‘s Authentic Innovation series

Links

Advertisements
Authenticity, Culture, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Uncategorized

Growing a Culture of Innovation

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. -Gertrude Jekyll

My dad was a football coach and told me that what you see your team do in the game is either a product of your coaching, or bad habits you let go uncorrected in practice. It’s just as true in gardening. What you see in your flower bed, you either planted or you let it grow.

A company or team culture is just like a football team and a garden. If what you see in your team’s culture is not what you want it to be, then you either have mechanics that reinforce it, or it has taken root and you haven’t weeded it out. It takes a growing a culture of innovation. You must nurture mindsets that are confident in creativity, not afraid to fail, and realize that disruptive innovation is a team sport (not a solo one).

Weeding

I think the trickiest part to understand about creating a culture of innovation is that what you weed out is just as important as what you plant and water. Don’t just decide what to be, also decide what you won’t be. Weeds make an astounding amount of seeds once the start flowering. For example, crabgrass produces around 50,000 seeds per plant. You have to weed your culture early, often, and consistently. Great cultures don’t happen with negligence. It takes effort and intention.

Planting

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade. -Rudyard Kipling

While each garden can be personalized based on what you want to harvest, they all have some systems in common. In a culture of innovation, how you accomplish these systems should be tailored to make them authentic to your needs, pain points, and products.

A freedom to fail

Innovation and gardening both require you to get your hands dirty. But it needs to go deeper than saying your team has the freedom to fail. This one requires you to go deeper and create a micro-culture within your culture.

  • Candor
    • Innovation demands that people are able to call problems out as they see them. There is no room for false pretense here. Everyone has ideas and everyone needs to have a voice. Friends don’t let friends ship mediocre products.
  • Performance not tied to success
    • Everyone needs goals for the year. But what goals are set as key performance indicators, that’s the type of work they will do. If the KPI’s are around sales and profit, then you won’t get innovation. You get sales optimization. Think about setting a required number of prototypes or a base number of user interviews. Start with the end goal in mind and then set metrics that help people focus on and achieve those goals.
    • Keep in mind that the key by-product of an innovative culture is learning. Learning new things that work, and learning new ways it won’t work. Both can be equally valuable.
  • Little bets
    • Innovative staff have to be able to take those wild chances and chase those crazy ideas. Set up a structure that allows people to pursue those passionate projects, but doesn’t create a big draw on resources. If a prototype is deemed “cheap” to produce, then it minimizes the bottom line impact when it fails. People will be willing to take more chances if they don’t feel like they will negatively impact the organization.
  • Reflection time / resources
    • If you want to grow watermelons, then you have to plant watermelons. If you want to grow innovation, then you have to give your team time and resources to do it. Like… officially. If your team’s week is already packed full with normal tasks, they won’t get to the innovation. Set an organizational expectation that X hours are devoted to passion projects and Y resources are set aside to build them.

A flat conversation hierarchy

  • Anyone can talk to anyone. In an innovative culture, there isn’t time for a corporate version of the telephone game. The more people ideas have to pass through, the more diluted they become.
  • Work to reduce barriers to the sharing of ideas, to the building of camaraderie across job functions. You don’t hire cheers players and then use them as chess pieces. Let them play the game together.

No products or processes are sacred

  • Everything is up for disruption and if it’s good enough for your products, it’s good enough for your internal process.
  • It is possible to create a list of “untouchables”, but for every item on that list, you are leaving the door open in the market for someone to upend you.

Plenty of conversations with clients

  • Everyone should be involved in empathy field trips. Experience the product with clients. Understand what they say and think.
  • The longer your team’s boots are off the ground, you exponentially lose the vision of the user. It’s similar to how strong a light is. The further from the source you are, the more diffused the brightness of the light becomes.

As you build your culture of innovation, remember that is is a combination of two activities: planting what you want to grow and weeding out what you don’t want. And it’s not a passive process. It takes effort and intention. It’s also ok to not get it right the first time because you’re innovating too. You’re innovating with culture. Just keep an eye on where you want to be, establish mechanics that allow that to happen, and keep tweaking the formula. Because when it comes down to a culture of innovation, it’s weed ’em and reap.


Check out more of Go Forth and Be Awesome‘s Authentic Innovation series

Links

Being Awesome, Bias towards action, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Pre-Mortem, Systems, Uncategorized

Thinking like a Producer vs Producing like a Thinker – And Three Things You Can Do About It

bigproducinglikeathinker

A bias towards action.

It’s one of the most sought-after characteristics in a lean, mean innovation team. However, can too much of a good thing be hazardous to the quality of your work?

Creating movement and getting stuff in the hands of the user is great, but just quickly delivering what was asked for only perpetuates mediocrity. We need a strategic bias towards action.

“Work smarter… not harder.” – Allan Mogensen

I have succumbed to blind efficiency in the past. And to be honest, I’m not cured of it… but I am getting better!

I wanted to be a rapid responder. I was delivering what was asked for at lightspeed. Yet after completing task after task, I was able to look at my products and realize… I wasn’t solving the job to be done. I was merely doing what was asked for.

I was thinking like a producer when I should’ve been producing like a thinker.

All of my thoughts and energies were around producing a large bounty of checked-off to-do items. I wasn’t making an impact. I was delivering the “fast food” version of my craft; speedy and filling, but it wasn’t a noteworthy meal.

My bias towards action was misplaced.

“You can not dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” – Edward de Bono

“Thinking like a producer” and “Producing like a thinker” is not a dichotomy. Instead of seeing one as bad and the other as good, view it as more like a sliding scale. There are times when one mindset will serve us better than the other. Unfortunately, we can get stuck in ruts.

So let’s get unstuck!

One of the original goals of Go Forth and Be Awesome was to not be another voice providing abstract discussion on theoretical ideas. Oh, I will get theoretical and abstract, but I will also provide tools, process, and things you can use today. I want to be more “activity book” and less “newsletter”.

So let’s dig into how I got myself unstuck, in hopes that it can help you do the same.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.” – C. R. Jaccard

Before we start chopping away at jobs and projects, these tips will help you sharpen your axe, before you strike your first blow.

Identify Triggers

If you’re like me, there are enough projects in your past that you can analyze. Look for the key phrases or situations that shift your mindset into thinking like a producer. Is it a rapidly approaching deadline? A small project window? An easily completable request? Find your triggers.

Add a Process

With your triggers identified, you can now build a gameplan. Do this before your triggers are triggered; outside of the heat of battle. When you’re in the thick of it, you become blinded by the pursuit of progress. You need a calm heart and clear eyes to devise this process. When the triggers strike, what will you do? How might we stay in the “Producing like a thinker” mindset when our reactions argue differently?

My “response to triggers” process  is to go through a quick succession of questions, including:

  • What are they really trying to do?
  • What are alternate ways to accomplish this?
  • What fits with their story?
  • What would I do if time was not a constraint?

Reflect

Developing a process for triggers is like a pre-mortem, so it makes sense to have a post-mortem as well. However, we often don’t make this kind of time for ourselves. It is very crucial to check the direction we’re sailing often, or we will run aground on the shore while trying to sail out to open waters. Make time for this. Schedule it.

“If you create a vision for yourself, and stick with it, you can make amazing things happen in your life.” – Pete Carroll

Get out of the ruts and be free to steer where you need to. Don’t serve up the “fast food” version of your skills. Give them your five-star finest! Make time to identify your triggers, design a process, and reflect on your work. It’ll feel like some projects are too short and too quick to work in a “thinker’s” process. But I say the shortest projects with the tightest timelines are the ones most in need of a strategic bias towards action.

______________________

I am a big process junkie. I believe even the most amorphous and intangible concepts can have their own patterns and processes.

Let me know what your process for producing like a thinker is!

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation Mindsets, Motivation

Shooting for the Moon

I trip-to-the-moon-movieam a sucker for a well-crafted motivational phrase. That’s actually how “Go Forth And Be Awesome” got started. But not all motivational phrases are created equal. Some go too far for the cute analogy and miss the point altogether.

It’s hokey hokum.

Today’s egregious example is about aiming for big goals. When I was researching it, I found two distinct versions. Let’s dispense with the wrongest of the wrong first.

“If you shoot for the stars, you’ll at least hit the moon.”

No, that’s not how the universe works. I can’t tell you “Pick up a dart and aim for a wall because at least you’ll hit the bullseye.” You absolutely COULD, but the geometric probability is astronomical. In fact, humankind is especially good at aiming for stars and NOT hitting the moon. As of January 2017, there have been 314 space flights with people, and only 6 of those landed on the moon. Zero of which were by accident. That gives you, at very best, a 1.9% chance of hitting the moon. Hardly an “at least” scenario.

On to the most prevalent version…

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, at least you’ll land amongst the stars.”

You missaiming the moon but you’re still in space. Not what you were aiming for, but it is kind of neat. Who says you only get to aim once, though? This isn’t basketball, it’s rocket science! NASA doesn’t aim just once and neither should you. Shoot, check, adjust. Translating that to Lean Startup vocabulary gives you “build, measure, learn”.

 

It is a well-meaning phrase at its heart. No need to jettison it into space. We just need to give it a little corrective push into effectiveness.

“Shoot for the moon. Check your path. Adjust as needed.”

Not as snappy, but it will prevent from people realizing they aren’t headed on the right trajectory and just accepting their lonely drift into space.

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Breakthrough, Failure, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Sustaining versus Disruptive, Uncategorized

Boss Battle Breakthroughs

villainI can’t imagine a less appealing career than being a video game villain. No matter how hard you try, or how many henchmen you hire, the hero is destined to win the game. Castles broken. Airships grounded. Treasure looted. So what does the video game villain do next? They build a different castle, marginally tougher, but still pretty much using the same stuff. Insanity? Maybe. But definitely on the way to a breakthrough innovation.

“Whaaaaa?” you exclaim in disbelief. We’ll get there, but first we need to take a slight detour. Let’s set some common terms by grouping Innovation into three levels.

Level 1 is sustaining innovation.

  • This is where you do what you’ve done, just better. You are reorganizing pieces of what you have, maybe pushing a piece up a notch or two1, and in the end you have a better version of what you do. Fits in your  existing business model.

Level 2 is breakthrough innovation.

  • At this level you are still remixing your existing components like in Level 1. However this time you find a magical combination that is greater than the sum of its parts. It takes you into new territories. Still fits the vision but pushes the limits of your business model (if it doesn’t force you to change).

Level 3 is disruptive innovation.

  • This involves some new elements to the mix. Maybe its new technology, processes, or market strategies, but you are definitely off the status quo path. If you remixed every piece of your org, you wouldn’t arrive at this innovation which means you’re definitely looking at a new business model.

Video game villains are great at sustaining innovation. With the same blocks and baddies from their Stage 1 Basicworld, they are able remix a whole suite of levels. The first is very simple, but with each defeat the villain concocts a new version that’s moderatly tougher. They’re taking little bets by using what they have in this stage.

Breakthrough innovation happens between the stages. This is when the core obstacles remain the same (something is trying to run into you, smash you, or blast you), there is a new twist that adds the unique value to the stage. This time the villain built his defenses under water forcing you to swim to victory. This time the villain set up shop in the sky, saying “I wonder if the hero can stop me if I just remove the ground?” Still mostly the same core mechanics of hopping, dodging, and running, but they’re being used in new ways.

So when you’re ideating around some sustaining innovation, embrace your inner video game villain! Still use the Basicworld pieces you have but what is a unique twist you can add to them to make it a new stage. What’s your Lavaworld? What’s your Spaceworld? Be the ruler of your own Awesomeworld!

 

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Learning, Theme Park of You, Tool

AngularJS Showed Me 5 Innovation Truths

learningIn an effort to broaden my t-shaped skills portfolio, I dug in and started learning AngularJS. Being able to mock things up quickly (and by myself) allows me to get prototypes into the hands of the core users faster, cheaper, and more closely aligned with the hypothesis I’m testing. So while I am certainly no master of the craft, I can do enough programming to get some ideas off the ground and feeling real (ok real-ish).

While learning AngularJS, I observed some truths that apply to the innovative process as a whole.

It’s good to be a beginner at something.

Being a beginner means you see things with fresh eyes. You have no established patter or status quo in this skill or topic yet, so you don’t have to break old habits to be personally innovative. Also, there will be moments when you’ll discover a faster, easier way to accomplish something because you don’t “know” enough to build in the old-guard way of doing things. Bill Gates said he chooses “a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” I say that applies to beginners as well.

Break your mental models.

What you do have is a status-quo in your brain that shows you how to decipher the world. If life was a map, your mental models are the legend. A squiggly line over here seems to match with the mountain shape in my legend, so I will plan for it to be a mountain. However, what if that squiggle is actually a lake, you just didn’t have lakes in your mental model? Learning something new breaks your existing legend, expands it to include new models, and gives you more lenses in your innovation toolbox. The trick here is to constantly find things to break your legend.

Get something live quickly.

Learning code is awesome because you need to have a working “thing” in order to see if what you’re mashing into your keyboard is right. And the quicker and more often you can have a working “thing”, the less down the wrong road you travel. Imagine writing a 15-page term paper to only find out it is all garbage because your first sentence was wrong. Having something live minimizes risk down the road. And by live, I’m not saying it always has to be market-ready. But functioning to some end helps stakeholders and customers alike envision your innovation. There’s great stuff in Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull on this… about having the story always viewable, even if it is just rough sketches.

Iterate, iterate, iterate.

Keep going, keep trying, don’t stop. Once you feel you have a handle on your new thing, it’s time to do it again and see if you’ve REALLY got it. Don’t just put a new skill on the shelf. It isn’t a conversation piece, it’s a working tool. The next problem you are trying to solve in your innovative journey, spend some time thinking about how you can solve it with your newly learned skill. This is why we learn… the abstract application in real-life.

Ladder up into the unknown.

Learning a new skill or topic usually has a definitive end state. “Once you can do this, you’ve learned all I can teach you for now.” But this is where the magic happens. What ELSE can you do with this new thing you’ve got? Unity3D has a popular tutorial that teaches people how to make a ball game. The ball rolls around a surface and collects items when it collides with them. But innovation isn’t simply doing what people tell you to do, or give you step-by-step directions to do. I’ve seen ball games that have the ball teleport through different dimensions or become Newtonian physics simulations. You have to take your new skill one more step up the ladder into the unknown.

Challenge: Learn something new

  • What new things have you wanted to learn?
  • What’s preventing you? How can those roadblocks be eliminated?
  • After you’ve learned your new thing, do something more awesome with it!
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.