Archive for: June, 2010

Zappos: Delivering Happiness through experiments

tony hsieh, ceo,

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We talk about doing experiments a lot in the innovation space and I personally get asked about this a lot. A major problem I see with some businesses is they don’t know what they should be experimenting with: experiments around what?

I was just listening to about his new book . One of the things that he talked about was how they do experiments and I think it highlights an important point: The Zappos brand is all about customer service, so their experiments are focused on improving their customer service.

Whether this is by design for them I don’t know, the points is that if you don’t know what you stand for then you have ways to go but if you do then you know where to focus your efforts. The no. 1 search engine on the planet, Google, runs because they know users expect the best search results all the time. What these experiments look like we don’t know but the fact is companies make experiments and they expect most of them to fail in one way or another and that’s also important.

Do like Zappos, appreciate the value of experiments to improve your core business and don’t be afraid to fail. Try a lot of stuff and keep what works!

I haven’t read the book yet but in the meantime the 18 minute interview is well worth listening to, listen and learn.

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose — live with author and CEO of’s Tony Hsieh from GasPedal on Vimeo.

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Innovation is an evolutionary process to get better at something

I ran into a former training partner over the weekend, I hadn’t seen him for almost a year since we were teammates in a basketball team. As we were reflecting on the past I was reminded that there are lessons to be extracted from anywhere, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a business case to learn something.

Last year I got invited to play on a basketball team and compete in a basketball tournament, our team trained two times a week for two hours. At the beginning my conditioning was off and I knew I wasn’t going to feel too good with myself (and not help the team) if I didn’t perform at a high level, so in order to accelerate the process of getting back into basketball shape I started experimenting with different work out routines at the gym.

At the gym I tried mixing it up with more resistance exercises but some of the things I tried didn’t yield any results for me, so next I thought that instead of driving to practice I should ride my bike to practice (5 miles both ways) to get some strength to my legs. This worked pretty good but I felt that it wasn’t enough, I wanted something that gave me agility, strength and resistance at the same time in a short amount of time so I kept looking for better ideas.

I started thinking of where I could find accelerated workouts like they do in movies to get actors in shape in a short amount of time, and in my research I found my answer in Men’s Health Magazine where the was being promoted. I downloaded the PDF off their website and printed it so I could take it with me to the gym the next morning.

By the next morning, I knew I had what I was looking for because the workout was beating me and I was struggling to stay on my two feet but it felt really good, it felt different. It’s a ridiculous workout, so much so that I had to cut back on the reps because I wasn’t finishing the workout.

In our next basketball practice I wasn’t struggling to catch my breath, my legs felt powerful and my energy level was very high. My teammates noticed right away and started asking me questions about what I was doing and two weeks after I started that workout I got my teammates to do it themselves.

All in all getting back in shape took me 3 weeks, before this I hadn’t played in a basketball team since I was in college (5 years).

So what does this have to do with innovation?

Innovation is an evolutionary process, you try lots of stuff and keep what works all in an effort to get better at something. That’s essentially what I did, I didn’t innovate anything really nor was I trying to, I just found a way to get better at something by experimenting with different things until I found a better ‘combination of ideas’ that gave me that boost I wanted.

I knew what I wanted, it was just a matter of finding a combination of activities that accelerated that process.

Key takeaways

  • Try different things and keep what works. New ideas come from old one’s. What you need is permanent evolution where you constantly search for a better combination.
  • Break out. I could’ve just kept on doing the same workouts and relying on getting in basketball shape organically just by playing but I wanted to break that pattern and get better faster.
  • Know what you want. What’s your goal?
  • Look elsewhere. Somebody somewhere has had a similar problem for which they found a solution, look for it no matter if it’s not in your domain.


P.S. There is another side to this story, adoption, which I’ll post about here tomorrow.

Innovation posts of the week: Why firms don’t innovate

The power of bringing in an outsider for innovation

, CEO of Rubicon Consulting, that if organizations want to be innovative they should stop hiring the same type of people just to meet the requirements of the job position:

It seems to me we ought to also know how to get diverse points of view into the system, because that is what allows us to see things from different angles and fundamentally shift our approach from seeing the problem the way it’s always been seen (and thus unsolved, one could presume) and see it afresh to create the shift in viewpoint that allows for a new creative act.

I think she makes a very important point, hiring an outsider or bringing in someone who is hasn’t worked in your industry, who has no experience in what you do can bring in a fresh perspective that can yield new insights. For example Henry Ford West Bloomfield is a well known hospital in the Detroit area, they recently built the first hotel since it’s founding in 1915. The new hospital is anything but a hospital, it was and to do this they brought in an outsider to spearhead the project:

Why some people tolerate failure more than others

There are a number of reasons why I liked the by G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón. Not only are they right, but they also touch on a very important topic: The reason .

If you’ve read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success then you know what I’m talking about. Check it out…

Read the following four sentences and write down whether you agree or disagree with each of them:

  1. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
  2. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
  3. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
  4. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.

If you agree with items 1 and 3, you’re someone who has a ’fixed mindset’. If you agreed with items 2 and 4, you tend to have a ‘growth mindset’.

What does this mean?

People with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are basically static whereas people with a growth mindset believe abilities are like muscles that can be built up with practice. With a growth mindset you tend to accept more challenges despite the risk of failure, therefore if you are of a growth mindset you seek to get better all the time; which usually means learning from mistakes.

What does this have to do with innovation?

As the authors of the article say, fear of failure makes growing, getting smarter, and becoming a learning organization all but impossible. So if we are to cultivate ‘innovativeness’ in our organizations we must first instill the growth mindset in our team and then work to change how we perceive failure by coming to a collective understanding that failure will happen along the way of any new initiative we pursue.

As Carol Dweck says: People will persevere only if they perceive failure as learning rather than as failing.

Growth vs. Fixed, which one are you?

To see the invisible make distinctions


Over the weekend shared a blog post about to which I want to add to it.

How many times a day do you notice something?

My grandfather was a successful Mexican entrepreneur in his time, he designed bags for women and was also an interior designer. I was 7 seven years old when I started hanging out with my grandfather and one thing I remember about him is that he had deep empathy for people (my grandparents had a room in their house where they would give low-means people shelter for a few days).

On the weekends he would take me to the arcade in the biggest plaza in Tijuana, after a good round of playing he’d get us some ice cream and we would sit on a bench and just watch people (I still do this). A few years before his passing while engaged in a ‘life lessons from grandfather to grandson’ conversation he revealed to me that when we sat on the bench he was specifically watching women with purses because he was looking for ways to improve his bag designs, he was hunting for insights.

This is a valuable lesson for entrepreneurs, budding innovators, managers and executives.

Intense observation

As we’ve discovered, one of the distinct skills of an innovator is the ability to observe. My grandfather did this diligently and I got to experience it first hand. He always carried a mid sized notebook and a pencil where he wrote notes or drew what he observed, and then we would drive back to his workshop and like a mad scientist he would draw, add, remove, increase, decrease things on his bag designs.

Make distinctions

Creative thought is about looking at what everyone else has looked at and seeing something new. Looking is not the same as observing. We all look at things, the same things and can talk about them on a superficial level. Observing is making distinctions, noticing things, seeing something that’s not obvious.

Looking at a car from the outside is not the same as seeing it from the inside. From the outside you see windows, color, metal, tires and bolts; you see what’s obvious to everyone else. From the inside you see valves, tubes, cam shafts, pistons, spark plugs, etc and you get a deep understanding of how the car works, how it moves and why you’ve been riding in one of these machines since you were born.

The lesson is very clear: If we are to spot new opportunities for innovation, such as improving a process, revamping the user experience on website or the customer experience in a retail store we must practice ‘intense observation’ because new insights are found beyond the obvious.

Observing the world is fun

If you’re not a keen observer but want to improve your ability to make distinctions, there are infinite ways to get started. Here are a few tips to get you going:

  • Go to a park on a Sunday and hang out near a place where different families are and try to identify what makes each family different, who’s the leader of the family and then compare this with your own family.
  • In the same park go to where people are playing some sport, soccer, volleyball or basketball and try to identify who the best player is and why. What makes him different from the other players and what are the differences between the other players.

While doing this it’s very important to turn off your ears. Don’t listen to conversations and don’t interview people, just watch. You’re trying to see anew, not the same and so we must control the urge to use our other senses. You’ll also notice that once you do this you’ll instinctively become more curious about these people because you’ll have thoughts in your head that need an answer.

Let me know how it goes, I love listening to observations.

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