Archive for: September, 2010

The easiest and most engaged way to get new insights

I’m a baller, and I can tell which sneaker is good for playing in and why. One of the worst things about modern basketball sneakers is that they still generate a lot of moisture on your feet that makes for an uncomfortable way to play. You really have to get used to playing with moisture on your feet. This problem hasn’t been fixed until now.

The video above is an overview of the new Nike Hyperfuse, which uses mesh technology (the one used on running shoes) to fix the moisture problem. What I want to draw attention to is that the Innovation Kitchen team from Nike got the insight for using mesh technology to reduce moisture after traveling to parts of China and ‘observing’ that some people where playing hoops in running shoes or sandals.

The Hyperfuse is a big hit with NBA players right now (Most of Team USA wore them during the recent World Championships) because it has everything all the other shoes had before it plus the mesh technology that helps the feet breathe.

Observe. Observe. Observe.

I’ve argued before that there are plenty of ways to get insights, but the easiest and most engaged way to get insights is by observing how people use your product or interact with your service.

You would think that an athletic footwear maker like Nike would’ve thought about using running shoe mesh technology on basketball shoes before. They had to travel to the other side of the world to see people playing basketball in sandals and running shoes, not basketball shoes, to get this insight. This why direct observation is so important and focus groups so limited, it’s better to observe people’s behavior because if you ask them outright what they want the don’t really know.

Another thing to remember is that people tend to say ‘that’s the way it is’ and accept products as they are and get used to them. Do you actually think that if they’re used to things being the way they are that they’re actually going to tell you what they want? I know as a basketball player you do all sorts of things to remove the moisture such as changing your socks often so your feet are as dry as possible, yet since we’ve found an alternative and temporary way to dealing with it we don’t stop and ask why?

Somebody else, an outsider, has to notice it; define the problem and find a solution.

Direct observation is one of the most cost effective ways to get new insights, ignore it at your peril.

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Innovation posts of the week: Evolution and Innovation

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Are you willing to abandon the past to become something else?

“Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.” – Seth Godin

Here’s a different angle on things, creation from a musical artist’s point of view.

If you don’t know anything about Linkin Park don’t worry, just take my word for it that these guys are artists in the true sense of the word. They’re not afraid to mix things up, to push their music in a different direction, to become something else entirely.

That’s where their newest album, One Thousand Suns, comes in. Released this week, the album is completely different than their previous work:

Linkin Park‘s new A Thousand Suns album is a lot of things, most of which have nothing to do with their previous (mega-selling) efforts. By their own admission, the band spent nearly two years attempting to leave their past behind. To that end, it’s not a stretch to say they succeeded. The album, which hit stores Tuesday (September 14), is the band’s most divisive. But there’s one thing seemingly everyone can agree on: From this point forward, Linkin Park will never be the same band again. And though Suns represents the band at a crossroads, that doesn’t mean they abandoned everything that got them to this point. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’ve just taken the old and reworked it through the prism of the new.

In the music industry, moving in a different direction or trying to reinvent yourself is seen as a big risk because an artist is ‘abandoning’ what worked for him/her before. Sound familiar?

Most organizations have an ‘unwillingness’ to go in a different direction, they’ll keep on doing what’s always worked and what works for everyone else. The act of ‘innovating’ is to create something new, to go in a different direction, to see anew. So where’s the gap?

If you watch the intro video to the ‘making of’ their new album below, you’ll notice the following statements:

“Willingness to go with something that’s weird and put yourself behind that.”

“We wanted to work on something that’s different than how we’ve done things historically.”

“As long as the elements are really different, that’s making it interesting.”

I think the key word in there is ‘willingness’ because if you don’t have the desire to be innovative (as many organization clearly don’t), then you have to be willing to try. To take a leap into the unknown, to leave familiar shores behind in search of new ones, to reinvent yourself. Gary Hamel said it best:

“The single biggest reason companies fail is they over invest in what is, as opposed to what might be.” — Gary Hamel

Abandon the past and become something else. This is what great artists do and also what great organizations do.

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To find a better way to do things, stop and think!

I’ve argued before that innovation is the result of consistently trying to do something better than it’s done before, sometimes this also means that it has to be different. This simple idea is well understood but not easy to put into action because it’s very difficult for most people to think about why they do what they do and how they could do it better. Routines and habits are very very powerful!

With this in mind, one newsletter I look forward to reading every two weeks is Jeffrey Baumgartner’s JPB newsletter. The most recent one talks about the need to ‘stop and think’ before solving a problem the same way it was solved before.

A litmus test for solving a problem in a different way is when you see that problem keep coming up consistently and becomes a pattern. This is a signal that the system is stuck, a process has become rigid and is plagued by the same problems over and over again. This is an opportunity for a new order of things, for innovation!

I encourage you to read the JPB Newsletter, it has other articles in there that are also worth reading 😉

UPDATE: Mitch Ditkoff pointed me to The ultimate STOP AND THINK article on his blog that is well worth reading, very interesting indeed. Thanks Mitch 🙂

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Make the common uncommon

How do you stand out in the commoditizied world of candies?

If you’re Hotlix you make insect candy. Yup, that’s right. Hotlix is the creator of creations such as the Strawberry flavored Scorpion Sucker, which has a real scorpion in it’s center. I just recently found out about them from the video below which shows how they make their creations, but Hotlix has been around for 20 years! Check it out:

This post is not about Hotlix, it’s about how to stand out. Notice that Hotlix makes candy but with a twist. It mixes somethings that is deliciously edible with something that just doesn’t make sense to eat. Quite simply they make something that is common (candy), uncommon (candy + bugs). It makes for an interesting combination that’s also an instant conversation starter. And quite memorable indeed because the marketing is embedded into the product which also helps create word of mouth!

That’s the secret. A simple way to stand out is to look at your business and think about all the things that are common and see how you can make them uncommon. De-commodities yourself!

Innovation posts of the week: Enough with the Freedom to Fail

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Prepare for the unexpected

Imagine that you are a pilot and you have to fly through a 5 mile canyon upside down. It’s actually kind of hard to imagine because it’s not something you’re trained to do but it’s something that could happen in a real life situation. It’s a scenario that’s outside your direct experience, you find it hard to accept it as possible and even worse adapting to it.

Now think about it this way:

What if businesses were judged on their ability to create ‘happiness for customers’? What if all those like buttons had less to do with becoming a fan and more to do with specific actions an organization took to actually make a customer happy? What if you hired people based on how happy they’ll make your customers? What  if there were a ‘customer happiness index’ dashboard (Tweetdeck) and we’d all have access to it just like the stock market? What if businesses were penalized for wasting people’s time?

Imagine how every business would behave.

Same thing right? How can this be possible?

These may seem like outrageous scenarios but it’s definitely something we should be thinking about. As I argued before, delivering happiness is not business as usual, all it takes for things to change is for someone somewhere to start acting differently. This someone is Zappos, and pretty soon others will join their crusade.

This is not a new idea, but it’s been so long since it was replaced by impersonal mass marketing that it seems like new and it has taken everyone by surprise.

Zappos ‘delivering happiness’ strategy didn’t come out of a week long brainstorming session, it came about by the desire to build a company that’s designed for both life and work happiness.

This is a dramatic change from the familiar and it does provide a useful lesson for both identifying and exploiting change:

The importance of recognizing when the system is stuck. In this case the idea that businesses exist purely to make a profit. If you flip that script upside down, other options reveal themselves. Options nobody else can anticipate, strategies nobody can think of, ideas waiting for an owner to call their own.

Just like scripts become obsolete, so to do ideas have an expiration date. Think about what would be the opposite of doing what you currently do, how would that look and what options reveal themselves.

Key takeaway: Prepare for the unexpected and learn to recognize when an idea has reached it’s expiration date because if you don’t, you’ll be caught in an unfamiliar situation.

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