When I was a kid, we used to go trout fishing up in mountain rivers. I used to put artificial and fleeting faith in the type of bait I was using. I would vary my bait rapidly in search of the magic fishy elixir. This fake cheese stuff, some scented “marshmallows”, salmon eggs, and even the fancy plastic worms that I think I liked more than the fish did.
Fish bait catches fish, so click bait catches clicks. Not groundbreaking, but why is there so much of it? Do we honestly not believe that there are ways to repurpose bread ties and toilet paper tubes? I feel like that’s something we’ve been doing since arts and crafts time in elementary school.
We know click bait isn’t designed for the reader. It does not care if you save money on your insurance, organize your life, or identify that celebrities are people too. In fact, it generates more traffic by the reader never learning. It becomes Pavlov’s Buzzfeed, where the reader salivates at the sound of a bell and not the presence of food.
People are craving authentic connections. With their loved ones, with their companies, with their world. See here, here, here and here. And yet clickbait pushes a different narrative.
These 12 calls-to-action will make you jump! Number 7 will make you ask “How high?”
Let’s stop. We don’t have to stop with the listicles, the lifehacks, or even the quizzes to find out which pizza topping gives you life. But let’s start turning those into something. Something that gives you a great starting place but encourages you to add to the list. Something that teaches you how to solve problems in unconventional ways. Something that helps you understand yourself and how you think. Let’s use our powers for awesome.
Let’s start making engage bait, or learn bait. Even better… change bait. Let’s start making things that draw readers into a worthwhile experience that leaves them better off. As Scott Stratten says in his book Unmarketing:
“What is stopping you from calling yourself one of the experts in your field? Being an expert is not an official designation. You don’t get a certificate in the mail, nor do you get a cookie.”
We’re all experts in something. If you have experience, a special skill, or training in something, you can be an expert in that thing. Maybe not THE expert, but definitely AN expert. So be an expert and train someone. Channel your inner Splinter. The mutagen turned the teenage turtles into mutants, Splinter made them ninjas.
We already know how to make people click, now let’s lead them to something better.
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.
I’m in the middle lane of a three lane road, on the last leg of my school drop-off delivery. Just one of my kids left to go. A car in front of me has their right turn signal on. Flashing their intention to the world adjacent and slightly behind them. They kept going straight; no merging, no lane changing.
The car immediately next to them was unaware of their directional desires and held their ground. The car in front of me never sped up nor slowed down. Never made any other display of their intention. They just kept their speed, blinker blinking, until at the very last moment they slammed on their brakes in order to slide behind the next-door car and into the lane they wanted.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu
Too often companies use their turn signal towards innovation, yet never adjust their business plans to make it happen. “We want to be innovative industry leaders in X” is heard in more boardrooms than not. But their SUV of a company moves on unfaltering, in the lane they’ve always been in, while still signaling. It’s all about walking the talk.
In order to be innovative, there has to be some change in your current velocity. Physics tells us that acceleration is a change in an object’s speed OR direction. It would make sense that in order to accelerate towards market-leading ideas, an organization (or individual) would have to speed up, slow down, or start fading into the new lane.
Speed up the generation, prototyping, and validation of disruptive ideas.
Slow down the status quo and start preparing for some change management.
Merge into new procedures, culture, and atmospheres.
“Remember: It’s not innovation until it gets built.” Garry Tan
The business superhighway is littered with cars that never managed the merge to innovation. Blockbuster watched Netflix fly by in the fast lane. Xerox had the ability to change lanes thanks to PARC, but never made the move. Borders tried to let Amazon signal the lane change for them, but still kept their steady trajectory.
And as the driver ahead of me was able to finally get in the lane they needed, it wasn’t without last minute, emergency maneuvers. Often, even those are unsuccessful. Because change and innovation aren’t just things you can say you want to do. It takes commitment and dedication, adjustment and planning. You can’t just signal that you’re going to turn and magically end up in the correct lane.
Driving home on the final day of high school, I fell asleep at the wheel. I awoke only a handful of instants before slamming head on into a telephone pole. Luckily, in those spare milliseconds, I was instinctively wrenched the wheel to the left even though collision was imminent. Continue reading →
The 1984 Columbia Pictures classic, Karate Kid, obscures an awesome tidbit that I had not caught before this week. The movie glosses over quickly the fact that Mr. Miyagi had never taught anyone karate. Not until Daniel needed to learn that the secret to karate is in the heart and mind, not in the hands. This is the movie’s most memorable character arcs, as Daniel learns karate while sanding the deck, waxing the cars, and painting the fence.
Mr. Miyagi does not have years of proven methods to train Daniel with. No, he thinks outside the box to give Daniel hours of practice developing strength and muscle memory. That’s because Mr. Miyagi, whether he knew it or not, was employing shoshin (the beginner’s mind).
The beginner’s mind is something we need to embrace as well. No matter if we are trying to convince an innovation from the caves of our minds to bask in the light of day, or if we are just looking to go forth and be awesome.
Try taking on a new skill and expanding what you can do. Broaden your T-shaped self. By venturing into new territory, you activate your student mindset. You look at items with fresh eyes. You are unburdened with years of “this is how we’ve always done it”. Of course those first few steps in your chosen new skill are awkward and unstable. But you get to revel in the fact that this is part of the learning process!
“Dude, suckin’ at somethin’ is the first step towards bein’ sorta good at somethin’.” – Jake the Dog, Adventure Time
Thinking differently is at the root of innovation. It happens in multiple ways. The traditional way is when someone gets so upset with the status quo that their thoughts break the boundaries of the typical box. They start to think of how everything can be better. These are the heretics that go against the rules. (Heretic in this sense meaning someone who goes against what is generally accepted)
Another road to innovation is when the tide of shoshin rises. Seeing things as a beginner means you don’t shy away from the boundaries. In fact you push on them to see if they give. This often leads beginners to solutions experts can’t see. Experts are weighed down by proven paths to success. To a beginner, all paths are viable from where they stand… so why not try a few?
So engage your shoshin, be a beginner at something. Then start applying that new viewpoint to your innovation. Who knows what solutions you’ll uncover?
What skill would help your innovation move forward?
What can you do to start learning that skill?
Early in your learning, look at your solution again. Are there new hypotheses to validate?
Being part of a good innovative team is a dream. It is mutually rewarding, there are no stepped on toes or bruised egos, and everyone helps elevate each other’s ideas and projects to that “OMG wait until the world sees what were doing!” level. However, not all teams are created the same, and some are clearly created just to put sand in your sunscreen. I’ve identified four attributes that can help your innovation team reach new heights and upgrade into a traction-churning prototype machine!
Making change sounds intuitive when working in innovation, but “change” is not just a product your team produces. Your team must embody change in order to stay relevant, effective, and productive. An innovative team that is set in their ways is like a brand new car in neutral; flashy and shiny now but ultimately going nowhere.
Change exists in your team procedures. There is no set template for innovation and what works today may not work tomorrow. Since variables and climates shift constantly, each problem you set out to solve needs to be evaluated for appropriate procedures for you and your team. Surveys and A/B testing of prototypes may have helped you understand your wireframes, but will those procedures help you learn about functionality?
Change exists in your team skills. Previously, we’ve talked about being T-shaped. If you are T-shaped, then your horizontal skills are where the change is going to be most noticeable. Those are the skills that possibly overlap with teammates, but are needed to fill in production gaps. Similarly, based on your proposed solutions that you need to prototype, you and your team may need to stretch beyond your skill sets into unknown territory. Sure, there are vendors out there that are experts in what you need to accomplish but they cost money. If you’re in the prototyping stage, you will need to weigh whether you can learn enough to create a testable prototype or if you need to spend the money. Either way, you should start learning about what you need, even if you chose to outsource work with a vendor. It makes communication easier if you have a basic understanding.
This can often be the hardest one for a team to develop because we want to encourage everyone. Yet not every idea, prototype, or hypothesis is a world-changing gem. Sometimes they’re just bland blobs of meh. That’s ok. You can still praise effort without agreeing with an idea. Try to level up the mediocre hypotheses and raise up your teammates. However, and I can not stress this enough, DO NOT LET THEM MOVE FORWARD WITH A STANDARD IDEA. You are doing them a disservice by not forcing them to make the idea better. You are passively undermining your whole innovation team. Likewise, you should prepare yourself for the time when your team will say your idea is “average” or worse. Candor is a two-way street. I am lucky that my team has saved me from shipping mediocre ideas. The best way you can show true respect for each other, is to demand each other’s best effort everyday.
“Life is way too short to make mediocre stuff. And almost everything that is “standard” now is viewed as mediocre.” – Seth Godin, Tribes
Innovation is lantern and unfiltered it can burn as bright as the sun. Nothing diminishes that light more than personal plans to receive recognition. In an innovative team, a team full of T-shaped dynamos, there is no room for ego and personal glory. When someone wins, it is because of the team. Just like a apple tree can not point to one rain storm as the reason it grew, your ideas are the product of the fertile soil in your brain and the collective brainstorms of your team in the past, event he unrelated ones. It is a bit cliche to say “There is no I in team” and it is quite futile because there are plenty of joke responses that defuse the power of the statement. However a team that is concerned about getting credit for individual contributions, wont contribute to the global good.
One great way to defuse this is to constantly recognize others for their contributions to your individual and team’s work. If people are constantly feeling appreciated for their efforts, then they won’t feel the need to find more recognition. It’s one of those “Do unto others” things. Plus, it’s just plain nice to do! Especially since you are working on an innovative team. Some projects you will lead and pilot. Others will find you following and pushing the project to gain momentum. And yet other projects will find you on the sidelines, cheering and consulting when you can. Team first, in every role.
You need to allow the odd, the unique, the unbelievable, and the silly to integrate with your team. Hopefully your team of innovators is a group of positive deviants; bristling with energy to make a good change in the world. Chances are that the team has some ideas that are “out there”. They must be allowed to exist. Maybe an idea can be so wild that you won’t do it, but talking about it can spur the conversation down avenues you would have never considered before. One of our favorite brainstorming questions is “What would our industry NEVER do?”. We dance on the undiscovered edges of the maps, the parts where the dragons are supposed to live. We need to be the explorers of the fringe, the cultivators of the odd thoughts. That’s how we disrupt the market’s standard flow.
When was the last time someone on your team said “This is how we always do it”?
What’s the most minimal way you can start to incorporate kaizen into your procedures?
A great way to start getting candor flowing is to be the first target. Put an idea out there and push your team to tear it apart. Have them find ways that it will fail.
How can you incorporate a team-only view of recognition?
At your next brainstorming, challenge the team to come up with the worst ideas or the silliest ideas.