Archive for: March, 2011

get outside your box

Insultants not Consultants: Balancing Mastery and Questioning

don't be afraid to ask dumb questions

“The best servants of the people, like the best valets, must whisper unpleasant truths in the master’s ear. It is the court fool, not the foolish courtier, whom the king can least afford to lose.” – Walter Lippmann

Though people/clients see me as a Consultant, I’ve never really liked the label of Consultant and don’t really consider myself one because I don’t specialize. I’m more of an ‘Insultant in Residence’, not a Consultant.

The first time I ever heard of the term Insultant was in the book ‘Breakthrough Company‘ by Keith McFarland where he describes an Insultant as:

Someone willing to ask the tough questions that cause a company to think critically about it’s fundamental assumptions.

He then goes on to say that:

The value of Insultants is that they will go to great lengths to get their companies to reevaluate a position or adapt to a changing environment.

Sounds right to me.

No doubt Consultants can provide you with this type of attitude too but that is rarely the case. I know a ton of Consultants and what they do provide is answers, not questions.

They tell me they get paid to provide guidance and answers, not to come up with questions that make people uncomfortable.


No competition = No innovation?

Can there be innovation without competition?

David Armano posited this question on his blog and I thought I add my own thoughts to the question and hopefully incite some useful discussion.

I actually think there is innovation without competition. If we all lived in a perfect world it would be pretty boring. More of the same. Who would want to like in a world like that? Not me.

The type of innovation Armano is talking about is incremental innovation. The type that leads to tit-for-tat. One firm outdoing, outworking the other one. Think line extensions and upgrades.

Both Google and Facebook are incremental innovations. Improvements over the originals. They’re simply better executed ideas than the originals. Head to head competition is never smart, it’s tit-for-tat ego driven BS that leads to predictable outcomes. Red Oceans.

The type of innovation that exists without competition is disruptive. This type of innovation is often driven by external sources, not direct competition. A recent example of what could potentially disrupt the banking industry is BankSimple. The guy who started it is not a banker (equity researcher), he was just pissed off at the complexity that is banking and decided to create an alternative.

Another example of disruptive innovation is the iPod, the Kindle, XM Satellite Radio. We could argue that Groupon is a form of disruption as it makes it possible for people to experience new things when they might not have because of price, while at the same time providing merchants with an infusion of new clients.

We could also argue that Jack Dorsey‘s newest venture, Square, can potentially disrupt the financial services space by enabling any individual or small business to accept credit cards for any product or service at any time in any place for no cost. Very powerful.

An example of a disruptive idea in direct competition (a rarity) is the Nintendo Wii because it made video games accessible to non-consumers (moms, dads).

Put simply, if you see possibilities where no one else does; you can innovate where there is no competition. But the best type of innovation though, is to go where there is no competition and define the terms of competition. To create a Blue Ocean.

What do you think, can there be innovation without competition? Do you agree with my examples? What other examples come to mind?

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Innovation posts of the week: Innovation always starts with empathy


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Innovation starts with empathy

colours of the wind

Innovation always starts with empathy


A recent article on Fast Co. Design ‘Innovation always starts with empathy‘ got me thinking about empathy and for some reason I remembered the above text from Colours of the wind from Disney’s Pocahontas.

It’s telling because it seems that just like when the settlers arrived in North America to take over without caring about the people already there, organizations do the same by pushing products to people without thinking if they will actually matter to them.

Empathy with the user is a powerful tool for innovation. It gives you insight into the problem, but even more important, it makes you care about the outcome.

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immuno virus 3d

Visceral visuals make people care

immuno virus 3d

A picture speaks louder than words.

The above object claims the lives of an estimated 2 million people a year and has wrecked more global havoc than some wars: The Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

The above illustration won first place in the “Illustrations” category of the 2010 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge appearing in the18 February 2011, issue of Science, published by AAAS.

You would think that a guy would come up with something a little less hair-raising that this, but being that it’s one of the worst human killers there are, I get the point. One judge even said:

“You have this gaping mouth that almost looks like it’s ready to eat you the way AIDS is eating away at society.”

Oh yes it does. And the fact that you can visualize and see it gives you goose bumps. Doesn’t it make you want to eradicate it that much more?

An illustration for a business/institutional killer?

It got me wondering, if we were to create an illustration of the #1 company/institutional killer of all what would it be? What would it look like? How can me make it so visceral that simply showing it to business/government leaders would raise their hair and make them question what they’re doing.

Something so visual that it would make them go: “That’s what’s eating away at our organization? Let’s make sure it doesn’t eat us up.”

In other words, it makes them care. Can you imagine the look on their faces?

I’ve been dreaming of this myself 🙂

So, any ideas?

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Innovation posts of the week: Can imagination be taught?

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Making creative connections: What matters is that you make them

While there are a lot of organizations that aggregate trends (see Trend Hunter and Trend Watching to name a few), people often ask me how believable those trends are and if they should be arriving at the same conclusions while doing their own trend hunting.

The answer is no.

The assumption is that is you give two people the same information and put them in separate rooms to formulate strategy, they should arrive at the same answers. This is flawed thinking. If anything, they should come out with more questions or different answers.

There are times when validation is great (predictable outcomes like in Manufacturing) but when creating the new, we have to look for evidence that doesn’t support our case, because if we don’t we risk falling into the confirmation bias trap.

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make the same connections everybody else makes, make new connections and feel proud that only you see them. It takes courage to move in a direction nobody else is moving, but it’s also exciting.

If you’re making new connections between unrelated ideas already that are different from everyone else, King’s to you.

Remember: One of the key is the ability to ‘associate’, to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas. Cultivate it and make it your new key creative skill to master.

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