Uncategorized

A Little Pause to Learn

Hey everyone!

I wanted to drop a quick note to say thank you for even finding me! Thank you for spending time reading, commenting, and following. I’m going to take a little pause to shift some energy in order to come back stronger.

I enrolled in Seth Godin’s altMBA and it promises to be an enormously impactful experience. One that will add to what I bring here, what I share with, and what you will share with me.

I will be touching base but look for a better Go Forth and Be Awesome in the coming weeks.

Thank you.

Go forth and be awesome! – TD

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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

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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

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I Learned What’s Wrong with Innovation from Reading Children’s Books

I love reading books to my kids. So many characters and so many fun voices I get to use. My goal is to make these stories come to life and have them feel the drama when Elephant and Piggie trick the reader into saying the word banana out loud. (Mo Willems, if you’re reading this, you are a rock star in our house!)

Even though my voices tend to only have a few variants, it’s vastly better than if I just said each word in my own voice. But why?

Today I heard someone read a passage out loud. While each word was delivered correctly, I could tell they didn’t grasp the meaning of the message. It was if each word lived in its own verbal apartment and had no clue who it’s neighbors were. Just saying the words gives them no life, no pulse, and feels like the reader doesn’t believe what they’re saying. They don’t understand the core message.

This is the problem with corporate innovation initiatives. Innovation becomes a buzzword and a check list item. They recite words without invoking meaning. There is no pulse, there isn’t a deep understanding. It’s like the first time you have to speak in a foreign language. The depth of understanding is around pronunciation, not flow or the heart behind the words.

So if that kind of company innovation is the plain reading of a passage, who is doing the funny voices reading of children’s books?

These are the companies that get innovation as a thing to be actively done, not just checked off a list. Companies that get it and understand it at the core that they can offer their own interpretation of it. It’s not enough to just include “be an innovative leader in the market” in your vision statements if you don’t put heart and muscle behind the objective.

How do we innovate with heart and muscle? We don’t just say “innovation”. We commit to innovation. It takes effort and intention.

  • 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).
  • It takes designing mechanics of innovation. There have to be process and structure in place that sparks innovation, reinforces imaginative spirit, and keeps improvement at the forefront.
  • It takes budgeting resources for innovation. Setting aside time, tasks, and talent that fuel your culture of innovation. Resources that are designated for designing the unmade future.
  • It takes understanding outcomes of innovation. Where the end result is not always what you hope, requires great mental agility, and the minimum ROI is learning (though not the least important).

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore each piece individually, and layout a minimally viable plan for authentic and actionable innovation.

But for now, go back and read this post out loud. But don’t just SAY it. Bring it to life. Read it in a character’s voice. Make it yours. Make it awesome.


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Being Awesome, Fear, Grit, Uncategorized

We Have Lots to Fear in the Woods, and That’s Awesome

Fear can be a proxy for when you are going to do something great.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell started to rekindle their friendship as they worked together; preparing to face a magician of seemingly insurmountable skill. Mr. Norrell’s hands shook as he tried to conjure enough magic to save England. Jonathan Strange clasped his hands around Mr. Norrell’s and said,

“My hands trembled like that in the peninsula and after Waterloo. Sometimes it was a sign that I was afraid. Sometimes a sign that I was doing great magic. The two things go together.”

FEAR vs IMPOSTER SYNDROME

We often stand on the precipice of greatness, but balk at the task because fear rips our confidence to shreds. I know that in high school, I had a streak of not turning in homework. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what I was doing, it was the fear that somehow my confidence was misplaced. Maybe I was wrong about the correctness of my work? It wasn’t an outward sign that I was off-base or incorrect. No, it was coming from inside.

The Startup Bros put together a list of 21 ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome. But fear goes beyond that. It’s isn’t just “high achieving individuals”. Fear can also consume the novice, the role-jumper, the expert dipping their toes into something different.

SELF-MADE FEAR

I’ve never heard it explained as well as Vince Vaughn did on The Tim Ferriss Show. I have a newfound respect for Vince Vaughn after listening to this episode for many reasons, but especially one line at 1:37:07.

“How much of it is the woods we’ve created, versus the actual path to the destination.”

It’s simple and astute. How much of my fear was distractions and obstructions that I was placing myself? How much of it was the actual task of getting to my goal? Looking back I can clearly say that it was all self-made.

But in the moment, it’s hard to discern the two.

WHAT TO DO WITH FEAR OF THE AWESOME

There we are, about to do something amazing, and the fear creeps in. The woods spring up around our path ahead, and our hands start to tremble.

Just like the process for leading a productive brainstorm, we need every action to be purposeful. So let’s repurpose a strategy from “Getting More”, a fantastic book on negotiation by Stuart Diamond. In Chapter 6, Diamond discusses a process for negotiating and dealing with emotional situations. We’re going to use pieces from that, but make it more about dealing with the fear from inside ourselves.

  1. Recognize when you are acting against your goals
    • Stop, breathe, and reflect. Are these fears stopping you from doing what you want to do?
  2. Find the cause of your fear.
    • Go through the five why exercise with yourself. Keep asking yourself why you are afraid until you find the root.
  3. Avoid using extreme statements.
    • “Life or death”, “Never”, “Always”… don’t use them if you can. Dial down the drama. Don’t initiate the “fight or flight” response unless absolutely necessary.
  4. Correct erroneous facts.
    • Is there anything you are fearing because of a misunderstanding? An error in logic? Try to math this one out. Give your fear a percentage of probability (but only AFTER dialing down the drama).
  5. Write down possible actions you can take.
    • When you’ve done all you can to prepare for success, it gets easier to make the jump. Also realize, you may not be able to do absolutely EVERYTHING.
  6. Tell your fear to shut it.
    • You got to the root, you’ve kept the drama to a realistic level, you’ve corrected errors and done all you can. Now it’s time to tell fear to “hold my drink and watch this”. 
  7. Go forth and be awesome.
    • Press start and be the “fantastic you” that you want to be. The world needs you to be awesome.

You will still feel fear. It’s inevitable. We can’t eliminate it entirely. But now you have a plan of attack, and the ability to realize that sometimes your “woods of fear” is a sign you are about do some great magic on your path to awesome.

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!

Authenticity, Uncategorized

Phonebook SEO: Being First vs Being You

It was 12:34 pm. We were stopped behind a large truck, sitting at a red light. Unable to see anything but the monolithic back-end of the semi, I stared at the letters to occupy the 30 seconds until we could drive again.

AAA Cooper Transportation

Along with the words was their abbreviation as a logo. ACT. Which made me ask out loud “So the A stands for… AAA?”

By wanting an abbreviation as a logo, they forced a new purpose on their name that served a completely different purpose: to come first alphabetically. It’s like having the wrong tool for the job.

 

phonebook
Who wouldn’t want to come first of this tome of telephone numbers?

Not long ago, companies altered their names to be first in the phone book. Today we use SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to show up at the top of the list when people are searching for answers. People used to be the search engine and the phone book was the database. It’s not alphabetical anymore, it is based on keywords, links, and more.

 

Life is hard at the top. There are many players vying for the coveted first page. In fact, Googling “how to be on the first page of google” yields 158,000 results. That’s just for learning how to do it!

Luckily, it’s not about being first anymore.

“It doesn’t bother us that we are second, third, fourth or fifth if we still have the best. We don’t feel embarrassed because it took us longer to get it right.” – Tim Cook

Apple’s Tim Cook raises the point that he’d rather be the best than the first. And it works because of how Cook ties it to their company’s mission. It is authentically Apple. “Our North Star is making the best products that really enrich people’s lives…”

So if everyone is optimizing for search engines, who is optimizing for the customer?

Who is optimizing for authentic connections?

Who is optimizing for the long game?

Lee Clow tweeted, or rather, Lee Clow’s beard tweeted “Ads need two things: a reason to pay attention and a reason to be glad attention was paid.” SEO helps people pay attention to you. Like a carnival barker it draws people in. And they’re willing to pay the price of admission and walk through the entrance to the red and white striped tent. Now that they’re here, all you have to figure out is one thing.

How will you make them glad?