Archive for: October, 2010

Innovation posts of the week: 5 types of people that kill innovation

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How to change people’s behavior by tweaking the environment

The interesting discussion we had about innovation being a matter of age brought up a lot of insights. One in particular, was that to breed innovation, an environment is more important than the age of the innovator. How this works is a little complicated to understand, but let me explain how a cognitive bias impedes us from seeing change coming from our environment, and then use some examples of how tweaking the environment makes change simple.

Useful and valuable

An innovation happens when an idea is both useful and valuable to the customer.

One of the things that stuck with me from reading Braden Kelley’s book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire is something that is rarely mentioned when deciding on an idea to execute: the distinction between useful and valuable.

Usually we have products and services that are useful but not valuable. But then again what’s useful and valuable to you is not the same for me. For example, Evernote is both useful and valuable to me because I can write, save, edit, clip notes and access them from wherever I am. Evernote is a tool for the information obsessed like me. I’m on the fanatic end of their users where I can’t imagine going back to not using Evernote.

On the other hand, an opposite example is Facebook,while useful is not really valuable to me. I could care less if Facebook disappears tomorrow. But if Twitter disappeared tomorrow I would feel empty. Twitter is both useful and valuable to me for many reasons.

Like I said, this might not be the same for you.

An undeniable truth is an opportunity for innovation

rather get punched in the testicles than call customer service

punched in the testicles than call customer service

Undeniable truth: a statement that almost everyone could agree with that has natural effect of causing people to nod their heads in agreement.

With that out of the way it’s hard not to agree with the statement on the picture above. I think most of us dread calling customer service, we find it annoying and a waste of our time. But I’m not going to bore you with my ongoing assault on customer service, instead I’m going to remind you that a way to spot opportunities for innovation is to recognize when the system is stuck.

Customer service is clearly stuck, it hasn’t changed one bit and just the fact that somebody took the time to draw a cartoon about how badly it sucks makes it an undeniable truth.

And boy is it a worthy challenge!

Creative stretching

One of the challenges of proposing and then implementing new ideas is the resistance that comes from the success that a business already has. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right? Wrong!

We are working with Villa Marina, a popular and growing seafood restaurant in Tijuana, on creating a memorable brand experience in the restaurant.

The goal is simple: create word of mouth.

There are plenty of ways to create word of mouth. The way Villa Marina has created word of mouth for themselves is by their attention to detail, one of their founders is the Chief Detail Officer, because everything looks great. From the waiters, the tables, the plates, the restrooms, everything screams ‘freshness’. In a city where people are not that spoiled, this strategy works. But, the problem is that anyone else can copy it in a week.

Is Innovation a Matter of Age?

This is a guest post by Ralph ohr, make sure you .

Is Innovation a Matter of Age?

Jose Baldaia and I have started an interesting discussion, ignited by a post titled ”Too Young To Know It Can’t Be Done” by Steve Blank. Blank claims that most of the technology innovations were built by people in their 20’s with a few of innovators in their 30’s. His main argument is:

“One of the traps of age is growing to accept the common wisdom of what’s possible and not. Accumulated experience can at times become an obstacle in thinking creatively. Knowing that “it can’t be done” because you can recount each of the failed attempts in the last 20 years to solve the problem can be a boat anchor on insight and imagination. This not only effects individuals, but happens to companies as they age.

In contrast, there is another instructive Newsweek article “The Age of Innovation”, indicating that older workers are more likely to innovate than their under-35 counterparts. This raised the question: Is there a contradiction among both views? Jose Baldaia has greatly outlined his perspective on this in “The tendency to reduce relevance on creativity“. I support Jose’s conclusion that “there is no age to be creative” and would like to add my thoughts here.

To start, let me define some premises I’d like to build upon:

  1. Creativity is a combination of knowledge. Creative ideas are built on the existing. Simply put: building a product requires raw material.
  2. Creativity is not innovation. Creativity is about coming up with novel ideas. Innovation is about further implementing these ideas. Whether or not ideas turn out to be successful depends on the proof of value in the particular context, e.g. adoption of the market or a scientific breakthrough.
  3. Innovativeness has an individual shape. Every person has her own mixture of experience, knowledge and mindset that fuels creation and execution of ideas. I think creativity is no “universal force”.

In an excellent article on teaching creativity, Robert J. Sternberg stresses that knowledge is a double-edged sword:

“On the one hand, people cannot be creative without knowledge. Quite simply, they cannot go beyond the existing state of knowledge if they do not know what that state is. On the other hand, those who have an expert level of knowledge can experience tunnel vision, narrow thinking, and entrenchment. It happens to everyone.“

It’s a kind of trade-off: with increasing age we gain more raw material to connect. But our creativity is also influenced by decreased diversity and stronger psychological biases. I think this is pretty much related to what Steve Blank means by saying: “When you’re young anything seems possible.”

The distinction of creativity and innovation is crucial. Novel ideas are valued by “addressees”, eventually deciding upon success or failure. A high level of creativity doesn’t necessarily imply success. The performance of creative people is a measure for their ability to successfully implement novel ideas in their particular field. In “Fleeting Youth, Fading Creativity”, Jonah Lehrer reports on findings by Dean Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California, dealing with varying peak performances of scientists:

“But Mr. Simonton and others point out that increasing innovation is not simply a matter of funding the youngest researchers. While physics, math and poetry have always been dominated by their most inexperienced practitioners, other disciplines seem to benefit from middle age. Mr. Simonton suggests that people working in fields such as biology, history, novel-writing and philosophy might not peak until their late 40s.”

“What accounts for these variations? Mr. Simonton suggests that they’re caused by intrinsic features of the disciplines. Those fields with a logically consistent set of principles, such as physics and chess, tend to encourage youthful productivity, since it’s relatively easy to acquire the necessary expertise. (The No. 1 ranked chess player in the world today, Magnus Carlsen, is 19 years old.) Because the essential facts can be quickly learned, and it usually doesn’t take that long to write a lyric poem, the precocious student is free to begin innovating at an early age.”

“In contrast, fields that are loosely defined and full of ambiguous concepts, such as biology and history, lead to later peak productive ages. After all, before a researcher can invent a useful new idea, he or she must first learn an intimidating assortment of details.”

According to “The Age of Innovation”, this seems similar for entrepreneurs:

“What’s more, older entrepreneurs have higher success rates when they start companies. That’s because they have accumulated expertise in their technological fields, have deep knowledge of their customers’ needs, and have spent years developing a network of supporters, often including financial backers. “Older entrepreneurs are just able to build companies that are more advanced in their technology and more sophisticated in the way they deal with customers.”

This gives rise to the conclusion that making ideas a success in business requires a certain expertise/experience, network and interpersonal skill, depending on the context and field of activity. All of which tend to increase with higher age.

Finally, I would like to touch creativity as individual capability. David Galenson, a University of Chicago economist, identified two types of creativity. One was based on radical new concepts, at which young innovators excel (think Picasso or Einstein, who were both in their 20s when they revolutionized their fields), and the other built on probing experimentation that coalesces later in life (think Cézanne or Darwin). The second type of innovation is more hesitant and is often a work in progress.

Tim Kastelle wrote a great post, emphasizing that conceptual innovators “start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they execute it.” Whereas, experimental innovators consider the execution of novel ideas as a process of searching and improvement. The former have a vision they target at. The latter primarily focus on improving the existing. Individual creativity profiles are likely to be built by superposition of these two basic tendencies. Different circumstances call for different creative styles. Sometimes a revolution, and sometimes a marginal improvement is needed. As already proposed in my previous post, innovation purpose and human capabilities need to fit in order to be successful.

Takeaway:

Creativity is of no age. The ability to create novel ideas by combining knowledge stays throughout the entire life. The likelihood of translating creativity into innovation success, though, seems to be a matter of age. The determinants for successfully implementing and exploiting ideas strongly depend on the context, i.e. field of activity, socio-economic environment, cultural conditions etc. Major factors like expertise/knowledge and social capabilities increase with age. Impartiality, in contrast, tends to decrease. Paired with an individually preferred creative style, this combination results in a certain fit of the innovator with the context. Overall, this obviously leads to younger “radicals” and older “experimentators” with regards to statistics. However, people of all ages can be basically capable of being successful innovators.

What do you think?

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Innovation posts of the week: Game Changers

 

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