Tag Archives: Innovation

The best—and the worst—way of learning about market demand is to ask the customer

experimentation leads to innovationWant to know what customers want? Ask them, but don’t believe them; rather observe them in their environment.

It’s the best way because potential customers can answer this question better than any self-proclaimed marketing experts can with their fancy reports, focus groups and all.

It’s the worst because customers don’t really know what they want. They know what their problems are, what they like, and what they don’t need. But they don’t know what you can develop for them that they really want. Don’t believe them if they tell you; they have less imagination than you do.

Consensus kills innovation

Is consensus and a democratic process always to best way toward innovation? Not really.

The topic of deciding what ideas to pursue comes often in discussion, it’s a very interesting topic because it directly influences the how of innovation. And the way innovative companies approach decisions that lead to innovation are varied, but one thing holds true in all of them: it fits with their point of view.

Innovative companies that have their own criteria of what ideas to pursue are clear about their decisions, therefore decision making is much more open; it’s a result of having a clear strategy.

In traditional businesses, on the other hand, when deciding on what ideas to pursue the default answer is to pursue the ones that might yield the highest profit at the lowest risk; MBA 101. Decisions based on that criteria are not conducive to innovation.

The problem with following convention is no one ever questions it; consensus-based decisions  are very much business as usual. Continuing the theme of deadly sins of innovation, a common trap most businesses fall into is death by consensus:

The “coming to consensus” trap appears when an organization seeks innovation but tries to build group consensus about which new ideas it should support. Consensus-based decision-making can lead to funding only the clearest, safest, or lowest-common-denominator ideas; truly radical projects may raise too many eyebrows to pass through a collective filter. Put simply, consensus can kill risk. Therefore, many innovation funders establish systems that trust the intuition of individuals, while building in feedback loops that can help refine their judgment over time

Innovative companies don’t worry about consensus because they understand that true game-changing ideas rarely are born out of consensus. It’s really that simple. In these organizations innovative leaders understand that the most creative people frequently swim against the current, they don’t vote them out of contribution; rather they unleash them.

Also, true innovators pursue their vision just because they believe it’s important; not because everyone agrees with them:

As an entrepreneur / intrapreneur inside large organizations, you have a great opportunity in front of you but you must understand that not everyone should like your idea, nor should you want them to; you have to push with full conviction. As the renown venture capitalist Andy Rachleff likes to say, the sweet spot for an innovator is to be right about a new opportunity before the rest of the world has reached a consensus.

That means making a decision without over analyzing and figuring things out as you go along.

For me, decision making is very easy because I just focus on what I’d like to see in the world. With that said, ask yourself: what do I want to see out in the world?

Go do that!

Do the decision-making processes at your company facilitate or debilitate innovation?

Bottom line: Disruption is not born out of consensus. If you’re making a big decision, you can’t wait for everyone to agree. To move projects forward, redefine consensus. The most innovative companies aim to develop the best possible idea. What that looks like is unique to their point of view and criteria; not what everyone else is doing.

Deadly innovation sin: Believing process will save you

Inside established organization innovation is killed before it even gets a chance to make its case. The reasons are many, and while there are many Sins of innovation,from my POV the one that kills most projects focused on transformational outcomes are ones where there needs to be a fixed “process” for achieving those outcomes.

Innovation needs outsiders. Here’s how to source them


The most interesting ideas, the ones that span boundaries, are found and at the intersection of domains. This isn’t a new insight, but it is one that is rarely taken into account inside most businesses.

True to form, established businesses suffer from the Curse of Knowledge: I already know what I need to know. The expertise on which they built their business blinds organizations from creating the future, it’s the reason many businesses that were thriving at the beginning of this century are no longer with us.

How do you break free from the Curse of Knowledge?

By shifting perspective…

Are you a Chief Idea Killer?

Much of what we think stands in the way of innovation is in our control: our attitude.

In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way; that’s an attitude most traditional organizations don’t have. I’ve made reference to this fact quite a bit in the past, and is a common topic of discussion among innovation wonks. One way to know if you are standing in your own way is to look at your organization from the perspective of “what are we doing to block innovation?”.

For example, do you have an organizational chart that looks like this?

management is the enemy of innovation

Probably. This is how an organization where management is the enemy of innovation looks like, it’s also why most organizations can empathize with the following sketches:

Can you see how your organization is deliberately killing innovation?

Bottom line: The default state of all new ideas is “NO”. New ideas have to be protected, they need to be given room to breathe. As a business leader, your jobs is to jumpstart progress by enabling innovation. They way to do that is to provide purpose, challenge and support; then get out of the way. That’s how you give ideas oxygen.

H/T: Vala Afshar.

For our youth to thrive, it matters how we teach them to view failure

During our discussion about The Future for Youth, one of the main points we touched on was “risk aversion”. And though we see a trend towards more entrepreneurs, the truth is many of them are not entrepreneurs.


Because most entrepreneurs fail and leave it at that. But real entrepreneurs view failure as a prerequisite for learning; that’s the difference.