Archive for: August, 2010

Top 20 Innovation posts of the week: Smartfailing

Thanks to all the people who share links there was lots of content this week so the list ended up being longer than usual, all worth reading.


  1. Smartfailing – a new concept for learning through failure by
  2. – NY Times
  3. Sometimes Success Begins at Failure — HBS Working Knowledge via
  4. Survey Reveals Corporations With Centralized Innovation Departments More Likely to Have Focused Efforts via  
  5. Ideas are far more glamorous compared to the actual execution: Vijay Govindarajan via    
  6. The efficient use of ideas by
  7. Managers who understand how artists work will have a distinct advantage via  
  8. Idea Deficit Disorder – Stopping the Epidemic by
  9. Innovation ‘ s Biggest Paradox
  10. Try Something New: Experiments Can Lead to Success by
  11. Innovators field guide to finding unmet customer needs
  12. Quarterly Earnings Kill People-Based Innovation… – Fast Company
  13. The Idea or The Execution? Here’s What The Greatest Minds in Tech Say
  14. Beyond Stage-Gate: A new approach for innovation by
  15. Six Secrets to Creating a Culture of Innovation – HBR
  16. Innovation & the Status Quo: The perils of groupthink, stereotyping and system justification by
  17. Getting Down to the Business of Creativity — HBS Working Knowledge
  18. Creativity Matters by
  19. True Leaders Are Also Managers by
  20. ‘Ideacide’ (or 14 Ways to Kill Creativity) – OPEN Forum

Don’t waste people’s time. Help them do more


The gap between what is right now and where others are become very obvious when you go from one extreme to another. This past week I spent a little time with a friend I’ve known since kindergarten as he just opened a restaurant in Mexico and I went over to see how he was doing. This is his second restaurant venture for him, his first one closed after a year and a half.

While I was there he was telling me how he’d just bought a new restaurant management software homemade in Mexico. The incentive for him was that the top Mexican restaurant chains, such as Sanborn’s, also claimed to use the same software to manage their operation so in his eyes it was good decision to buy. Nonetheless he asked me if I could give it a test drive to see if it was worth the buy…

Before I dig in I just want to say that with any kind of business if you have pitiful customer support you are in a whole lot of trouble no matter how great your product or service is. With that in mind, here we go…

What you see in the picture above is restaurant management software made by Nationalsoft. The software is still delivered in a package, the serial number is taped on the inside (post it note inside the CD) which registers a single computer. The software is less than 15 MB and takes less than a minute to install. Feels like you’re back at the end of the 90’s huh? Wait it gets better!

If a user loses their password (which did happen) they have to call support who then has them create a .dat file which they then have to send back to support by email so they can ‘do something to it’ to unblock it. After support does something to the file, they’ll send it back to the customer so he may add it to a folder and overwrite the previous one. Are you kidding me!? What happened to the ‘forgot password’ link that is not a default setting in any kind software?

If these people were doing business in the US they would be out of business. But wait, it gets even better…you have to pay them to get the software unblocked.

A modern software company not only provides support by phone but also provides customers with online resources such as FAQ, forums or wiki with answers to common problems. Seems Nationalsoft forgot to add this to their checklist because they’re nowhere to be found. Ironically they do have a Twitter account and a Facebook Fan page! None of which are used as customer support touch points. Promote first, serve later right?

There’s more but I think I’ve provided you with enough information to see how frustrated I was when I was seeing this happen before my eyes. The way this software company is designed to operate is to deliberately waste their customers time, not to help them get going as fast as possible.


Signs that you’re behind the curve

Businesses in Mexico still operate by the logic of ‘forcing customers to do what I want them to do’ not ‘I make it easier for my customers to do what they want to do’. The result of operating by this logic is that people who may be interested in your product or service have been programmed to expect ‘below average service’, they expect to be treated like crap. They put more obstacles in place for the customer, never taking into account that the customer is a human and therefore ignoring the fact that humans do make mistakes. In a world where software is as ubiquitous as water, the days of bloated software are over. Today every piece of software (including websites) are designed for humans, not robots. As an example see Facebook’s platform, which now 500 million people use, it epitomizes software designed for making social interaction as simple as possible.

Point: Design your operation so that every interaction your customer has with you helps him do more by making it simple. You’ll not only have happy customers but also angry competitors. Here’s how to do it:


Create barriers to entry not barriers to use

Barriers to entry is what you do to make it difficult for competitors to compete with you (like doing everything in your power to make your customers happy). Barriers to use (such as having weak customer support, no online Q&A, making customers pay because they lost their password) is what you do to impede customers from getting on with it and start using your products, and if all goes well they’ll be very happy and tell their friends about it.

Anticipate human stupidity

Humans make mistakes, in the online world it becomes even more obvious because everything they do online has to be done through a digital interface. As software has evolved from being used exclusively used on the desktop to be used on the web, it’s become important to focus on designing your software to anticipate the fact that humans need things to be spelled out for them just like children, therefore making it easier for them to do what they want to do. For example humans will also forget things, including passwords, so make sure you cover the basics.

Learn how Zappos treats it’s customers

No seriously I’m being honest. If you want to make competitors really angry and therefore put them in a disadvantage, focus your efforts on making your customers really happy by actually giving a damn about them.  That’s Zappos secret weapon Smile


What do you think, is making customers happy an unconventional strategy?

Innovation posts of the week: Innovation is not creativity

Innovations begin when the system is stuck

All great innovations emerge out of rigidity. They are born when someone recognizes that the system – the company, the industry, the country – has frozen and can no longer react to new opportunities or threats. When this rigid state appears in the business world, what you see is a company that is stuck in an old perspective. The competition is also stuck in the old frame, and so are the industry experts, customers, distributors. This state persists until someone with sufficient discontent recognizes the hidden opportunity in the frozen system.

Thus the starting point to innovate is to recognize when the system has fallen so far into a state of rigidity that the time is ripe for a new order of things and thus challenge the rigidity with a new idea. Doing this is not easy. Most rigidity comes not from physical limitations but from mental ones that are harder to recognize and harder to dissect.

Find insights in unlikely places

Insights, they’re the seeds of new groundbreaking ideas. I was watching the BBC documentary on the life of autistic celebrity and was intrigued at how her invention was born out of an unlikely insight from cow vaccination: the squeeze chute which holds the cow in place so that it can be vaccinated made some cows more relaxed.

As a young child, Grandin realized she would seek out deep pressure stimulation, but hugs and being held over-stimulated her. The idea for the hug machine was devised during a visit to her aunt’s Arizona ranch, where she noted the way cattle were vaccinated while confined in a squeeze chute, and how some of the cattle immediately calmed down after pressure was administered. She realized the deep pressure from the chute had a calming effect, and decided that might well settle down her own hypersensitivity.

As an autistic person, Mrs. Temple’s main emotion is fear. So she’ll mainly be looking at things that help her cope with that fear, and the squeeze chute was it. This also helps understand , you start with a problem in mind and you focus like a laser beam to find a insight in unlikely places.

In the video below you can see what I’m talking about but if you haven’t seen the documentary I encourage you to watch it completely.

The Devil is in the details.


Innovation posts of the week: Innovation is everyone’s business