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, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

The Lenses of Awesome

When I back out of my drive, there is this one little spot that is really hard to see. You cant see it in the rearview mirror and you can’t see it in the side mirrors. The dreaded blindspot. And that, in variably, is where I’ve put my trashcans.

lens (2)In our everyday, there are hidden aspects of problems that we can’t really see. Thats why auto manufacturers added all those mirrors, cameras, and sensors. What do we do as innovators? We can’t walk through life with an array of mirrors strapped to us. No, this is when we use some lenses. Previously, we’ve talked on the surface level of lenses (see prior post) and in this one we’re going to get more into the how.

In the movie National Treasure, historian Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage), has some fancy glasses with multicolored lenses that reveal hidden clues on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Innovation lenses work in a similar way. By looking at your situation through different lenses, and different combinations of lenses, new solutions come into sight.

“Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.”

Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

Lenses allow us to look at problems and solutions in a new way. They get you out of your normal brain path and into some divergent thinking. Your first instinct is to resort to your habits, your known constraints, and your know resources. Lenses stop you in your tracks so that nothing is an automatic response. To find new solutions, you have to break your old cycles.

Lenses get you beyond the confines of you business model and into some adjacent areas. Out in the unexplored areas, the hidden coves, is where treasure awaits.

How to use a lens:

  • Boil down your problem into the very base mechanics.
    • What are the root causes of your customer’s pain?
    • What very base jobs are they trying to do?
  • Apply a lens to your base mechanics.
    • How would McDonald’s address these customer pains?
    • How could the customer accomplish the jobs they need if the constraint was a positive instead of a negative?
  • Translate a lensed solution to your industry.
    • Now that you have a divergent base, build it back into your environment.
    • How could you actually pull this divergent thought off?

Previously I shared these lenses:

  • How would I never solve this problem?
  • What is the worst way I can solve this problem?

Here are a few more of my favorites:

  • How can the pain points be sold as features?
  • What would [Insert popular company] do?

What are some of your favorite lenses? Comment or tweet them! #lensesofawesome

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

Use New Lenses to See Past the Hammers

I mean really, what else could Geppetto have done?

He wanted and son so he looked around at the resources he had. Lathes, chisels, hammers, and wood. Geppetto leaned on his strengths to carve Pinocchio who would magically transform from wooden marionette to a real boy. You know, after he was done goofing off and finding his way.

Abraham Maslow said “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” That’s exactly what Geppetto did. He literally had hammers and built his “son” out of wood, a material he had decades of experience with but would require magical intervention to achieve his goal.

We often fall into the same trap as innovators. We apply the same thoughts to distinct and unique problems and we murmur befuddlement when our solutions look like solutions we had in the past for a different problem.

Well murmur no more! You just need more in your toolbox than hammers.

One of the best suppliers of new “tools” is the concept of lenses for brainstorming. Lenses have the ability to be an endless and infinite supply of inspiration… and you already know how to use them! The problem is that you and I default to the same lenses. Our default lenses are the place that we work, the go to inspiration we surround ourselves with. To apply new lenses, we need to think outside our comfort zone… we need to venture into problem adjacent areas.

Let’s say we’re working on solving a certain problem. To apply and adjacent lens, we need to whittle the problem down into its barebones mechanics. “Customers do this, they need it to do this, they feel this way” and so on. This is a great time to apply the five why method to get to the root mechanics. We’ll talk about that later but for now just think of it as an over-inquisitve toddler that just wont stop.

“I need to go to the store.” “Why?”

“Because we need food.” “Why?”

“Because without food we’ll go hungry.” “Why?”

You get the point. But take a look at what those three why’s did. Instead of the problem being “I need to go to the store”, the problem is boiled down to “we need food or we’ll go hungry”. That boiled down problem is more at the root and offers way more solution possibilities.

From the base mechanics of the problem, we need to venture into other solutions that exist for the base mechanic outside our given industry. You are looking for bright spot solutions outside your realm of dominance. Work in food service? Maybe you solution lies in the way health care solved a similar problem. The world is ripe with adjacent lenses. All you have to do is ask yourself “How would X solve this?” or “How did Y eliminate this problem?” Start there and start extrapolating ideas and making connections to your own industry.

Had Geppetto thought of using lenses, he might of said to himself “You know, I’d really like a son of my own. I wonder how the farmers solve the problem of wanting children?” He might not have started with a carved marionette.

And let’s face, we cant afford to wait for our solutions to magically solve the problem. We are the magic so get out there and make your awesomeness real!

EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS!!

As an added bonus, here are a couple other lenses I like to use during brainstorming.

  • How would I never solve this problem?
  • What is the worst way I can solve this problem?

Despite it being fun to think of anti-solutions, you’ll be surprised at how effective these are at finding hidden solutions!

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lean, Lenses

Charging Up the Wrong Hill

I was enjoying a morning run while listening to an excellent game design podcast, Ludology. In episode 113, Geoff Engelstein discussed the Sunk Cost Fallacy. It works like this:

You’ve played a boardgame for a little while with your friends when you realize no one is having any fun. You turn to your friends and say “Well, we’ve gone this far lads. Might as well see it to the end.” Then you proceed to spend an evening trudging through a less-than-enjoyable experience, just because you did not want to waste the time you had already sunk into it. Instead of stopping after wasting one hour on something, you decide to spend another hour on it just to finish it, essentially spending twice as much for no reward.

It seems silly here, but it happens often in innovation.

Ed Catmull uses a model of two hills in his book, Creativity, Inc.

“People need to be wrong as fast as they can. In a battle, if you’re faced with two hills and you’re unsure which one to attack, the right course of action is to hurry up and choose. If you find out it’s the wrong hill, turn around and attack the other one.” – Ed Catmull

He goes on to say that the only wrong attack, is to go between the hills. The Sunk Cost Fallacy would have your squad start attacking one hill, realize the enemy is on the other hill, but continue to charge up this hill because they already made it part of the way up. “We don’t want to waste that initial charge, sarge.”

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the enemy to innovation. To understand how to defeat it, well use the Lean Startup principle, the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, as a lens.

Build

This is the phase that lets you minimize your sunk cost. Keeping costs low helps you mitigate the opportunities for you to say “We’ve spent so much already on this… we should push forward.” A great way to minimize sunk cost is to prototype as minimally as possible. What are you testing? What’s the cheapest way to validate it? Maybe there is a way to build a Paper Prototype or to smokescreen your prototype? Do not splurge on additional features, functionality, or looks. You just need what is minimally viable.

Measure

Numbers never lie, but we tend to bend their truths from time to time. Set the success metrics for your prototype as early as you can. Do not budge on these numbers and be honest with yourself. If you set a goal of a 5% conversion rate, your test may be successful, but are you really reaching for where you need to go? Be wary of vanity metrics. Focus on the stuff that is going to matter.

For a great model of this, look to baseball and the rise of Sabermetrics. Some statistics are easy to calculate in baseball; like batting average or earned runs average. However, some people started to look at new statistics, ones that really highlighted the value of the player towards creating a winning team. Sabermetrics includes stats like runs created or wins above replacement. You need to find the mechanic or action that your prototype needs to accomplish now, and build a statistic tied directly to that, in its most simplistic form.

Learn

Charging up the wrong hill is ok, as long as when you realize it is the wrong hill, you don't keep charging up because that's what you've always done. Time to find the next hill.
Charging up the wrong hill is ok, as long as when you realize it is the wrong hill, you don’t keep charging up because that’s what you’ve always done. Time to find the next hill.

At this point you’ve tested your prototype, collected your success metric data, and your hypothesis has either succeeded (in which case, ignore me) or it has failed (read on, dear reader!). This is the exciting part. You’ve proven, with numbers, that you’ve charged up the wrong hill and it is time to face facts. Now you get to pivot! This might mean you need to spend more time understanding and building empathy for your customer. This might mean you need to evaluate the constraints of your test. Perhaps your solution has driven too far from the problem. There is a world of opportunity and learning at a pivot point… AS LONG AS YOU DONT KEEP CHARGING UP THE HILL!

But I mean, why would you? You kept your costs low by building a minimally functioning prototype, you set your success metrics early, and you failed/learned. This is a great moment! Celebrate as you get out your tactical map, cross the hill off with a red marker, and proclaim “Time to charge up that other hill!”

Challenge

Has there ever been a time when you charged up a hill even after you new it was the wrong hill?

How did the second half of that charge feel?

What are ways to minimize your sunk cost?

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Diffusion of Innovation, Ideation, Innovation, Understanding the Customer

Innovating with the Uninterested

My kids send me strong signals all the time. For example, when we have broccoli or sweet potatoes, they respond with very strong signals. Unfortunately their signals are strong AND negative. One way we’ve tried limit these anti-veggie reactions is to get them involved in the meal planning.

Like in meal planning, we should be looking for strong signals with prototype tests. Strong signals validate that solutions are worthy of digging into deeper. Sometimes, you will get responses of “I don’t like this” or “I’m not sure this will work.” These are great strong signals, just not the ones you may have been looking for. Their value though can be immense.

diffusionOfInnovationLooking at the Diffusion of Innovation, these types of strong signals would be achieved from folks in the “Late majority” category. That accounts for 34% of the market, and yet we design by relying on “Early Adopters” or the “Early Majority”. How can we move their timeline of adoption up? How can we use their strong signals, and their personas, to help make our prototype better?

We can design with them!

Wrangle up some of those “This will never work” naysayers and get them in an ideation session. You can often get them to agree by just being honest. No need for trickery or bribes. Just tell them that you’re sorry your one idea didn’t fit for them but you’d like to understand their view better.

“Great! Now I have all the people who hated my prototype in one room. What do I do now?”

It is simple, just understand these three guidelines.
  1. Let the customer drive the conversation
    Strong signals, like kids rebelling over the inclusion of broccoli, can indicate the presence of the "Late Majority". Instead of taking a hit to your momentum, use their energy to design a new, better solution!
    Strong signals, like kids rebelling over the inclusion of broccoli, can indicate the presence of the “Late Majority”. Instead of taking a hit to your momentum, use their energy to design a new, better solution!
    • You must aim for a 80-20 ratio of listening to talking.
    • Listen to understand, not to react.
      • This is a personal pet peeve, but too often we listen with the intent of reacting to what someone says. Especially here where you’ve already show the customer a solution. They will say “Well I need it to do X.” and you’ll want to say “Well what I showed you will already do X, you may have missed it.” AVOID THIS! Internalize that thought but come back to them with something like “Interesting. When it does X, what does that look like to you?”
    • Reiterate what they say if you are unclear.
      • Remove any uncertainty.
    • You may need to set up the ideation session with some easy wins up front to grease the gears of innovation.
  2. Keep their options limited
    • Too many options and they will freeze up. It’s a cousin of the “blank page” syndrome.
    • Constraints can also help people be creative.
      • It’s like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Applying pressure, with the constraints of the rest of the tube, pushes the paste onto the brush.
  3. Nothing needs to be pretty
    • An “ugly” prototype or a napkin sketch keeps the customer from thinking the idea is set in stone.
    • Thinking everything is “up for change” frees them up to make more suggestions.
    • Encourage them to take a crack at some wireframes.
      • You will hear “I’m not good at drawing” but we’re not looking for art here, just ideas. You can offer to draw for them if this is a sticking point.

I’m not saying you’ll end this process with a market-capturing design. But you will have a better understanding of the needs, the pain points, and the potential gains for your innovation with the Late Majority. Imagine if you can inspire the Late Majority to adopt sooner!

Failure, Going Forth, Innovation

Vanity Metrics & Bathrooms: It’s not the size of your mirror.

Numbers never lie. However numbers can be misleading, even when they don’t mean to be.

One thing that my good friend Joe Greaser has often said “If someone is bragging about their data, it is probably a bunch of vanity metrics.”

Eric Reis (Lean Startup) brought the term “vanity metric” to light. They are the metrics that sound really good, but in the end don’t amount to much. In contrast to vanity metrics are the actionable metrics. These metrics are tied to specific actions or tests and inform you on what to do with them. “My app has had 50,000 downloads.” Vanity metric. “I tested two versions of my app and customers purchased 40% more through the B version.” Actionable metric.

Another one of my good friends, Mike Jarrell, was going to a sporting event where they were promoting stadium upgrades. “87% more female restroom facilities and 20% more male facilities!” At first glance you say “Wow! They really understand that lines for the women’s restroom at sporting events can be painfully long.

But are we falling into the trap of vanity metrics?

Let’s take this to absurdity to prove a point. Assume that Innovation Stadium has 5 female restrooms and 20 male restrooms. Pretty unlikely and unreasonable, I know… but we’re imagining the absurd here. Stick with me. Now let’s agree that Innovation Stadium added 5 more female restrooms and 5 male restrooms. The grand totals are still unbalanced at 10 female restrooms and 25 male restrooms. And yet Innovation Stadium can claim “We’ve added 100% more female restroom facilities and 25% more male facilities.” Sound familiar? Not saying that’s what happened, but sometimes you pick the numbers you want to market.

What sounds better? 5 more female restrooms or 100% more?

Recently, TechCrunch posted about the math behind startup valuations. This is an amazing article, especially for a mathy like me. And I have no doubt that these calculations are reliable within certain parameters. I want to point out my one concern. The article says that without enough customers, a startup has to use estimations. Believe me, I get it. You have to estimate sometimes, especially in a new business. However, if any startup bragged about data calculated from estimates, then they too have been wooed by vanity metrics.

It reminds me about how quark-sized some baseball statistics have become. Almost to the point where a batter can walk to the plate while the announcer tells you his batting average in the month of August, with runners in scoring position, against pitchers with a weekend birthday this year, when they’ve gotten a call from their mom before the game.

Vanity metrics may look good, but they lure you into dangerous assumptions of success.
Vanity metrics may look good, but they lure you into dangerous assumptions of success.

In innovation, we don’t have the kind of time baseball has. They have a 162-game season to see their statistics play out. In innovation, you’re lucky if you have a couple weeks. Build, test, measure, learn… sprint, sprint, sprint. So how do we avoid vanity metrics?

  1. Establish what hypothesis you are testing, before you test.
  2. Identify what metric, or metrics, would absolutely validate your hypothesis.
  3. Now you can test your prototype.
  4. Collect, reflect, observe, and analyze.
  5. Be ok with failing forward.

By setting the hypothesis and success metrics before you test will prevent you from latching on to bright spots. Also, by being alright with failing (as long as you are failing forward) then you feel less pressure for each test to be successful or be validated. It is a tough practice, because you’d like your idea to be a winner, but this is all part of the process in finding the right solution. Remember, you’re refining an idea that will work, not just pushing your favorite to the finish line. So be modest, avoid the vanity metrics, and keep it all actionable.

UPDATE!!!

So here’s something pretty applicable. Early today, another good friend of mine, Adrienne Campbell, and I had a great conversation about this post. I am lucky to have many good friends who:

  1. are deep thinkers
  2. challenge me and make me think deeper

We were talking about vanity metrics and if there really was a good use for them. Maybe they don’t need to be avoided at all costs. Perhaps they could provide some value.

Take a look at this example.

A vanity metric for blogs would be the number of views. This is a great statistic if you are looking for overall exposure and reach. “Should we promote on Blog X? How many views do they get?” A great actionable metric would be “How many excellent conversations came out of a post?” (that’s one from today!) or “When I write about Subject A, how many views do I get compared to when I write about Subject B?” I get more views in WordPress when I write about writing. I get more retweets when I write about innovation processes. This is data I can act on.

Something Adrienne brought up was (and I’m paraphrasing) “Different metrics are appropriate depending on the purpose.”

  • Want to know if your prototype is working? You need to locate actionable metrics to test.
  • Want to promote your solution to an outsider? There may be some vanity metrics that get the conversation going.

It brings it all back to the stadium restroom example. They probably justified the construction based on actionable metrics such as length of wait and restrooms per person, but they promoted vanity metrics by promoting the percentage increase.

That means both can be a welcome tool in your innovative tool box. You just have to know when to use which one. ~GFandBA

Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Sustaining versus Disruptive

Thinnovation

This past week, I was talking with the main man in charge at Mastermind Games, Mike Jarrell. He has recently released a trailer for the upcoming game, Affliction. In the midst of the conversation, Mike paused and shared his snack of choice that day. They were Oreo Thins. He commented that they had spent all those years double stuffing, and max stuffing, to come to this… half stuffing.

I don’t know if you’ve had Oreo Thins, but they are quite different. I expected just less filling, but the cookies themselves were slimmer and crisper. It actually lends itself to a different experience. Now before you wonder if I’ve gone off on a cookie-fueled foodie rant, let me ask you this question:

Are Oreo Thins an innovation?

When I stood in the cookie aisle looking for the Oreo Thins, I noticed that there were no less than 15 or so different varieties of Oreo. From different amounts of stuff to different flavors of stuff to different types of cookies. But can remixing and slight alterations to an established product really amount to innovation?

Yes… and no.

There are two types of innovation: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining innovation is what Oreo is good at. It is slight manipulations to keep the product fresh, introduce new features or variants. Sustaining innovation goes after the existing market and strengthens their position in it. Oreo is using sustaining innovation because they are operating with a red ocean strategy. This is an ocean they are already in, competing with other snack food “sharks” in a feeding frenzy for consumer dollars.

However, there is another wide open ocean out there, a blue one where disruptive innovations could take them. Disruptive innovations take the existing flow a customer expects and breaks it in a new, exciting, and unexpected way. Oreo’s don’t seem to explore blue oceans very often, so let’s take a moment and pretend they did.

Alternate Futuristic Oreo Timeline

Remixing the same ingredients is ok for sustaining innovation, but what if you want to disrupt to cookie business?
Remixing the same ingredients is ok for sustaining innovation, but what if you want to disrupt to cookie business?

When I went to purchase the Oreo Thins for “product knowledge” I was instructed to bring home some Oreo Double Stuf as well, because that is the Official Cookie of our house. I can only imagine that across the globe, there are homes divided by their Oreo preferences. Imagine if Oreo planned to ease this tension with the Oreo Your Way. The Oreo Your Way is a pack of just the cookie wafers, all clean and crisp, and separately sealed tub of cream filling. Commercials would feature everyday people talking about how they Oreo. How much Stuf they use, the different configurations. Oreo then solidifies itself as a snack food that allows you to express yourself. The onslaught of selfies with unique Oreo combinations alone could topple servers from here to Walla Walla.

Then Oreo would take it even further. By starting with the Oreo Your Way, they’ve unlocked the whole hand-crafted, artisanal movement that has ensnared almost every other food group. This is when they unleash Oreo’s Manhattan Craftsman Biscuit. The design harkens back to Oreo’s humble beginnings in 1912. Each cookie is composed of top-quality ingredients, and assembled by cookie architects who sculpt the filling. They are artists themselves and sign each bag since each artist has their own style; a signature flair. This sleeve of cookies sells for nearly twice the traditional sleeve of Oreo’s.

And now Oreo has found two blue oceans. One where they let the customer take part in the personalized assembly of the cookie, and one that caters to the high-end and scarce, hand-crafted market. And while I enjoy a box of Oreo Thins that need some more “product research”, I will await your call Nabisco.

Challenge

  • Is your innovation a sustaining or a disruptive one?
  • How can your innovation use the red ocean strategy?
  • How can your innovation sue the blue ocean strategy?
Empathy, Innovation, Lenses, Persona

Buckle Up for Empathy

Loading the family into our Swagger Wagon (ok… minivan) I asked my oldest son to help my youngest son buckle his seat belt. I want to recognize as many “I can do it myself” statements as I can, but not when were in a hurry. That’s when I lean on the buckling-up experts to lend a guiding hand. My oldest quickly assesses what I asked him to accomplish, grabs the buckle, and promptly drives it home with the satisfying click that means “all safe and secure”. However in doing so, my oldest had pulled the strap across the face of my youngest.

But, as they say in the American South, bless his heart. He did precisely what I had asked. “Please help your brother buckle up.”

  • Task? buckle brother’s seat belt
  • Status? accomplished
  • Brother’s feelings? not in the scope for this mission

I say this not because I want to tell a cute story about how goal-driven my oldest can be sometimes, or about how my youngest has the resilience and facial elasticity to bounce back from this. I want to highlight that this is a trap we all fall into as innovators.

We listen to our clients, our customers, our primary personas because we’re good innovators. That’s what we do. However sometimes when the customer says “I want a product that does X”, we head right into the prototype factory and make Product X. And then we are flabbergasted when Product X fails to capture the market.

What we need is more empathy.

Empathy is all about understanding the customer’s worldview. We can gain a better understanding by observing the customer in the situation and taking note of what they say, think, do, and feel. Check out Stanford d.school’s empathy map for more detail.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford (?)

We can not focus solely on the function of buckling or what the customer says they want. We must have empathy for the person in the seat and understand their potential pain points.
We can not focus solely on the function of buckling or what the customer says they want. We must have empathy for the person in the seat and understand their potential pain points.
Empathy keeps us from taking the customer at their word and let’s us get at the heart of the problem. Like the quote attributed to Henry Ford suggests, we don’t want to give them faster horses. We want to understand WHY customers say they need faster horses. What job is the horse doing and why does it need to happen faster? The more we drill down into the empathetic questioning, the more we can find the true cause of the problem and actual working solutions.

My oldest is a very caring person, but in this case he simply listened to what I said, and made that happen. He did not think “Why is dad asking me to buckle him in this time?” nor “What’s going on with my brother that I need to help?” He did not have to buckle innovatively. I wasn’t looking for a new way to secure my children in their car seats. However, with a little more empathy he would have noticed that an immediate solution was not going to be the most optimal.

It is not innovative to have a customer ask for a faster horse and just deliver a faster horse. What customers say is only one-fourth of the puzzle. In the Value Proposition Design framework, Innovation is when a customer asks for a faster horse, you dive into what jobs the horse was doing, what pain points the speed of the horse was causing, and what opportunities for gains existed in the current horse-driven model. Innovation is disrupting or challenging the flow of the current model with a solution that gets at the root of the pain felt by the customer. Delivering what a customer wants is not the job of the innovator. Our job is to find what they need.

Innovation ignites when empathy is your spark.

Challenge

  • What does your customer say they want?
  • Identify the pain points that are leading them to voice this need.
  • Find an opportunity to observe your customer and take notes.
Being Awesome, Chupacabra, Innovation, Motivation, Theme Park of You

Be the Theme Park of YOU!

If I was to ever start a theme park, and let’s say my mascot is Chupey Chupacabra, I’d be 100% sure to offer a goofy looking Chupey Chupacabra hat. Every theme park has their own trademark-toting version of the Chupey Hat because tourists eat those kinds of things up! They will spend some hard earned cash on items they will only wear while at a theme park. Folks, this is a hat you will never wear again… yet you will wear it for the length of your vacation until a permanent indention forms on your forehead from the sweatband. You will shriek in panic if you leave it behind on a ride. You will run back to your hotel to grab it before you dinner reservation at our five-star restaurant.

But why?

You won’t wear it while shoveling snow in Pocatello, Idaho. You certainly wont wear it walking down the street in Dover, Ohio. There is a special aura that theme parks give off, especially in their merchandise. So what makes theme parks such a hot bed for impulse fashion decisions?

For only $19.99, you too can wear the Chupey Chupacabra Hat all around the theme park. You'd never wear this at home, but in this theme park it is enchanting!
For only $19.99, you too can wear the Chupey Chupacabra Hat all around the theme park. You’d never wear this at home, but in this theme park it is enchanting!
  • For starters, they are telling a story that tourists can get into. Tourists are allowed to have fun, believe, and pretend.
  • Also, there is great power in being surrounded by like-minded others.
  • Lastly, everything the tourists are experiencing enhances and pushes the story further. The theme park supports and enables the Chupey Hat culture.

We need to capture this for ourselves! We need to tell stories about us that others can get behind. We need to give people are reason to believe in our ideas, our innovations, our plans for the future. We need to foster the culture around us so that our supporters aren’t one or two individuals, but rather a massive crowd gathered to watch a parade and maybe some fireworks later. And because they’ve gathered, we need to show that we can drive the story, ideas, innovations further. We are going to reward and support those who carry our banner.

And yet, when tourists go home, they put their Chupey Hats and other souvenirs away. So how can we lengthen the effects of their Chupey Hat? How can we recreate the excitement of our rollercoasters of innovation?

There are two paths: We can give them a take-home version, or we can encourage and enable repeat visits.

  • Take-home versions are compact, often watered down, and don’t affect their worldview. At best, take-home versions are distractions to their daily life, if they have time. They will most likely be put in a box in the garage and then reminisced over when they are told to clean the garage because we can’t park a car in this mess.
    • This path is not effective, yet. I think it could be reinvented to be more optimal.
  • Repeat visits encourages them to take care of their Chupey Hat. It deepens the hold the story has within their heart and mind. Someone who visits repeatedly is more likely to have memorabilia all over their house. They are planning a return visit to the theme park of you before their current visit is over. They are probably stock holders; they are invested in your success.
    • This is the good path!

As I am writing this, I can identify who wears the Chupey Hats in the theme park of me. They are amazing people and I’m honored that they even visit much less be such adamant supporters. However I can not rest on my laurels. I have to add new rides, I have to give them better experiences. I’ve got to expand and develop the Chupey Chupacabra storyline because these tourists are the early adopters. And what they’ve early-adopted was a belief in me.

Challenge

  • What is the main story in the theme park of you?
  • What kind of merchandise can we get in the theme park of you?
  • How are you going to make tourists want to come back?
Being Awesome, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

Paint the Fence as a Beginner

Daniel didn't balk at starting his own bonsai tree when Mr. Miyagi offered. Even though he was a beginner, the vision for the tree still lived in his mind.
Daniel didn’t balk at starting his own bonsai tree when Mr. Miyagi offered. Even though he was a beginner, the vision for the tree still lived in his mind.

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?

Challenge:

  • 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?