The Value of an Innovator Mindset

When it comes to driving innovation, the single most important consideration is mindset—the mindset of those attempting to achieve innovation, and the mindset of those they encounter. This is not speculation. In my peer-reviewed research, I have measured mindset and compared it to value creation, and it makes a huge difference in innovation success.

The Value of an Innovator Mindset - Innovation ExcellenceWhen it comes to driving innovation, the single most important consideration is mindset—the mindset of those attempting to achieve innovation, and the mindset of those they encounter. No matter what the innovation challenge may be, it is issue number one and the single greatest factor in determining success or failure. That’s a claim many may find jarring, but it’s supported by the research. Research that I’ve discussed in earlier posts and will continue to discuss here.

Mindset is one of those terms that get tossed around a lot—usually undefined in any specific way. To some it means personality or attitude or frame, or as I heard one facilitator put it, “It’s everything up there.” The definition I prefer and use in my research is the one articulated by Stanford Educational Psychologist Carol Dweck. She defines mindset as “implicit theories.” That is to say that it is the collection of assumptions and beliefs we use to represent how the world works. These theories are implicit because they are generally unexamined and frequently subconscious.

A useful analogy is the operating system on a computer or smartphone. It functions in the background in ways that are largely invisible. Yet how it’s designed and how well it functions impacts everything that device does.

We each have our own operating system or personal paradigm, and it is also largely invisible to us. But it can profoundly impact our decisions and actions.

Mindset is made up of the mental models we have that explain why things happen as they do. We may tend to believe that “people are just the way they are” or that “people can and do change over time.” We may believe that attributes like intelligence and integrity are hard-wired into people, or that they are a product of how we were raised and our life experiences. These alternative mindsets aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but they do have consequences. If I think people are either trustworthy or not, good or bad, then I probably think that transgressors should be locked up and punished, and that once someone has misled me I should never trust them again. On the other hand, if my mindset is that people grow and develop and sometimes make mistakes, I’m probably more forgiving and more supportive of efforts to rehabilitate people. These mental models lead us to form preferences that often vary based on context. They impact how we conduct out lives. They can even influence how we vote!

Mindset is not personality. When psychologists talk about personality, they usually mean a set of innate traits that are hard-wired into us and therefore do not change. Most of the popular assessments that people are familiar with (MBTI, DISC, Strengthsfinder, etc.) are designed to measure personality.

Mindset is different. Mindset is something we can choose to change about ourselves, and doing so can have profound consequences.

Creative Problem Solving or what is commonly called brainstorming is actually a technique for temporarily shifting mindset, by asking participants to adopt a set of shared assumptions. Assumptions like: there are no bad ideas and everyone is equally capable of coming up with great new ideas. The truth of those assumptions is debatable but they have been found to be useful in shaping the right mindset for that purpose.

So what does this have to do with innovation? Plenty. Our mindset predisposes us to be receptive or resistant to innovation, often in powerful ways that are invisible to us. If I’m convinced that my success and the success of my organization is the result of staying on target and meeting goals, then I will resist anything that interferes with that. I will do my best to “detect and correct” any deviations from the established processes that I believe will achieve the results I want. This is how most managers and leaders spend most of their time, making sure that things stay on track. The goal is to assure that people are doing their jobs and procedures are followed so that revenues are sustained and the business is profitable. We focus on these things because we know they are important to our survival.

Innovation however, requires deviating from established processes and identifying new targets. So while managers may say they support innovation (and genuinely believe that they do), they may continue to make decisions that in fact strongly resist it—and intensely defend the need to do that.

Trying to innovate with a resistant mindset can be like trying to drive a car with the parking brake engaged. You may still make some progress, but it is not very efficient.

The most effective innovators are those who have shifted their mindset (consciously or unconsciously) to value new possibilities, experimentation and discovery. They welcome other perspectives, eagerly test their ideas, embrace a challenge and pursue insight. They recognize the importance of keeping things operating smoothly, but they’re willing to actively explore alternatives. This requires much more than being creative. It’s about being just as disciplined as those who manage business processes. But that rigor is focused on accurately understanding and adapting to a changing business environment, striving to understand things in new ways and assuring that what they are pursuing creates genuine value. The mindset of an innovator isn’t about just trying stuff to see what will happen. It’s about being highly attuned to the realities we encounter, so we can account for them and make appropriate adjustments.

This is not speculation. In my peer-reviewed research, I have measured mindset and compared it to value creation, and it makes a huge difference in innovation success.

We tend to see innovation and entrepreneurship as changing the world around us, but the first step is to upgrade what’s between our ears. We need to become skilled at systematically updating our own thinking. That is just as important as any organization’s innovation processes, and it’s just as crucial that we optimize it. Mindset becomes truly powerful when we gain the self-awareness to understand what our mental models are, how to change them and what changes will be most productive. So we can effectively rewrite our mental code. Shifting our mindset is the first step toward becoming a great innovator.

In my next few posts, I’ll talk about some of the important characteristics of an Innovator Mindset and how they predispose us to create exceptional value.

Innovation Mindset - What's your Innovativeness Index?

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Dennis StaufferDennis Stauffer is an author, independent researcher, and expert on personal innovativeness. He is the founder of Innovator Mindset LLC which helps individuals, teams, and organizations enhance and accelerate innovation success. Dennis delivers innovation keynotes, seminars and coaching internationally. Follow @DennisStauffer

5 Steps Towards a Clear Focus to Any Business Challenge

It’s essential to phrase your focus properly. If you ask the wrong question you will simply end up with useless answers. Use these 5 guidelines to make sure your focus is razor sharp.

5 Steps Towards a Clear Focus to Any Business Challenge - Innovation ExcellenceWhen looking for solutions to any business challenge, it is extremely important to thoroughly define a sharp focus question. To make sure you are not wasting your time solving the wrong problem, we created a five step check-list.

Most people will immediately start looking for solutions, the moment they encounter a problem. While this is fully understandable, it is a big mistake. You should really try to suppress the urge to jump right into the search for solutions. Before trying to find solutions to any problem, it’s very important to first get your focus right. If you accidentally ask the wrong question, you will start looking for answers in the wrong direction. You will generate solutions that don’t fully match your challenge and you will end up with fairly useless ‘solutions’.

Ignore your inner problem-solver for a minute. It won’t be easy, but it will save you lots of time and energy. First pay attention to sharpening your focus question.

Whatever your challenge is, make sure you phrase it as a question. This might seem obvious, but it is easy to start a thinking session with merely a description of the problem. Especially when you ask other people to help you find solutions, it is important to start with a question you can find answers to. Asking people to help you with a problematic situation and simply writing down “not enough customers” on a flip chart might seem sufficient, but often it is not. Avoid all confusion. Don’t focus on the negative situation. Focus on solutions. A good way to do this is by starting your sentence with “How can we…” or “How do we…” In this example for instance, you might ask “How can we get more customers?

Once you’ve formulated your question, it’s time to sharpen it using the following five guidelines.

1. Are you addressing ONE ISSUE?

Make sure you are focusing on only one challenge at a time. People have a tendency to include multiple problems in one focus question. By doing this they’re making things unnecessarily complicated. Do you have multiple challenges? Work on them separately. One by one.

Not: “How can we sell more shoes and prevent shoplifting?

But: “How can we sell more shoes?’ or ‘How can we prevent shoplifting?

2. Is your focus SPECIFIC?

Zoom in on your challenge. A complete stranger should know, just from reading your formulated challenge, what your desired outcome is. A goal that is too broad is not very stimulating. Avoid general goals like “increasing profits” or “selling more”. While these broad goals leave lots of room for different approaches, too much choice can be paralysing. The people who try to find solutions simply won’t know where to start (or worse; start looking in obvious directions).

Not: “How can we increase sales?”

But: “How can we sell more men’s shoes?”

3. Is your formulated challenge CLEAR?

Some people have a tendency to describe their goals and challenges in complicated and abstract terms. I remember a high-ranking government official describing his challenge to us with the words: “The armpits of this organisation need deodorant.”

A special category of being vague is the use of jargon. Avoiding this mistake can be difficult, as you quickly get used to the common expressions in your field. A good question to ask yourself is: “Will someone who knows nothing about my field understand this sentence?” If the answer is “no”… fix it. Your focus should be simple. You don’t want people to be confused about what the exact challenge is. Of course this is especially important when you include outsiders in your thinking session.

Not: “How can we maximise shareholder value?”

But: “How can we make more profits selling shoes?”

4. Did you phrase the challenge in a POSITIVE way?

Avoid the words “no” and “not” at all times. People simply can’t process these negative words. For instance, if I tell you “Do NOT think of a green frog!” chances are you’ll start thinking about a green frog…

Never use these negative words in your focus question. Instead focus on a positive outcome.

Not: “How do we make sure no people steal our shoes?”

But: “How do we prevent people from stealing our shoes?”

5. Is your focus ACTIONABLE?

Does it make you act? Your challenge should lead to ideas that are in your control. Ideas that are relying on something out of your control are not very effective. When you start your challenge with “How can I…” or “How can we…” for instance, you will automatically start looking for ideas YOU can act on.

Not: “Ways our profits can grow”

But: “How can we make our profits go up?”

If your focus question matches all these criteria, you can be fairly sure it’s a sharp focus. If not; rephrase it until it does.

What are your experiences with rightly or wrongly formulated challenges? Do you think this check-list can improve your success rate? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below.

If you enjoyed reading this article, make sure you check out our website. Here you’ll find many more articles (and a free ebook) on business creativity and innovation.

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René de Ruijter is Co-Founder at HatRabbits, an agency for business creativity and innovation. HatRabbits organises and facilitates creative think tanks and provides training courses in creative thinking. You can find their company profiles in English and Dutch, and follow them on Twitter.

How Neglecting Innovation Impacts NPD, IPR and Growth

There may be occasions when innovation isn’t appropriate, for example when a strategic decision is taking to deprioritise a business category. There’s nothing wrong with this, but a lack of innovation should be a conscious decision rather than one of neglect.

How Neglecting Innovation Impacts NPD, IPR and Growth - Innovation ExcellenceI’ve been neglecting my blog lately, as a result of some intensive consultancy projects and some personal time. Now that I’m back, refreshed and raring to go, the first thing that struck me was the analogy to innovation itself.  It’s easy for companies to be distracted and take the eye off innovation.  In many cases, it does indeed amount to neglect.

One of the first things to suffer is creativity. Far too often, idea generation is seen as something special, an extra initiative that is not part of business as usual. It doesn’t feature as a priority and new ideas struggle to get air time. Idea generation is only used when there is an emergency or a competitive threat, and ideas are needed in order to respond.  This is the equivalent of phoning round for insurance quotes when the house is on fire.

Options for longer term growth don’t get anywhere near a place on the agenda. When innovation as a whole is neglected, usually it is only the short term, easy to execute and quick to deliver projects that stand any kind of chance.

Innovation projects are caught in a morass where decisions from top management are suspended because their time is used on other issues; but at the same time nothing can proceed without approval. Then the innovation teams are criticised when innovation either isn’t launched or fails afterwards.

On the research and technology side, patent applications don’t happen, nothing new moves across to development. There are no options for technology push with the potential to generate long-term competitive advantage, through superior products protected by Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

What do customers think? Well, we know already so it’s just a waste of time and money asking them again.

The project portfolio (if there is one) is just a list, dominated by “pet” projects and zombies.  Resources are spread too thinly, so nothing gets done well.  Metrics (if they exist) measure the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Too much of the agenda is devoted to what the competition is doing and trying to copy it, not on what the company can do to make its own product line distinctive and dominant.  The range becomes dominated by “me-too” products being sold on price not benefit, ultimately leading to an erosion of profit margin and growth. The emphasis is on the reactive, not the proactive. The market shapes the company, there is no chance to do it the other way around.

This doesn’t happen overnight, so complacency often accompanies neglect. It takes time for the results to appear, so it may be some time before the alarm bells ring.

There may be occasions when innovation isn’t appropriate, for example when a strategic decision is taking to de-prioritise a business category. There’s nothing wrong with this, but a lack of innovation should be a conscious decision rather than one of neglect.

The whole point about innovation is that it provides new sources of growth and refreshes what is already the core of the business. Quite simply, when it is neglected, growth slows or doesn’t happen; the company becomes more vulnerable to competitive threat; and the threat of disappearance is increased.

Do you recognise any of this?

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Kevin McFarthingKevin McFarthing runs the Innovation Fixer consultancy, helping companies to improve the output and efficiency of their innovation, and to implement Open Innovation. He spent 17 years with Reckitt Benckiser in innovation leadership positions and also has experience in life sciences. Follow @InnovationFixer

Traditional vs Agile Project Management for Innovators

Which is the superior approach to project management, Waterfall or Agile? After talking with an expert on project management, I learned that’s not the right question. Instead, we should ask…

Traditional vs Agile Project Management for Innovators - Innovation ExcellenceWhich is the superior approach to project management, Waterfall or Agile?

After talking with an expert on project management, I learned that’s not the right question. Instead, we should ask, “Which tool is best for this project?” It might be Agile, Waterfall, a customized combination of both tools, or something else. Further, Waterfall and Agile and just specific forms of approaches that fit into broader categories that are planned-driven or adaptive.

They are both important tools for innovators and we have choices. I often hear Agile practitioners talk about the evils of more planned methodologies, like Waterfall and Stage-Gate. Like most things, these areas are not so black and white and the nuances are important.

To learn more, I talked with Chuck Cobb. He is the author of the best-selling book The Project Manager’s Guide to Mastering Agile as well as four other books on Agile Project Management and Business Excellence. He has also developed a very successful online training curriculum on Agile Project Management.

A link to the audio interview is below. From the discussion, you will learn:

  1. how to compare Waterfall and Agile approaches,
  2. the problems Agile project management strives to solve,
  3. why both planned and adaptive approaches need to be used, and
  4. common issues encountered when adopting Agile project management.

Below is the summary of the topics discussed with Chuck in the interview.

Waterfall vs Agile

To start with, Waterfall and Agile are widely misused terms. In a strict sense, Waterfall was developed by Winston Royce in the 1970s. It means a Phase-gate approach with approvals between phases. In today’s world when people say Waterfall, the word is used loosely and generally it means anything that’s plan-driven and not Agile. The term “Agile” also has many different meanings to different people. Many people talk about Agile as if it were a specific methodology. For example, Scrum is very widely used and when people say Agile they typically mean Scrum. So the word Agile has some broad meanings as well. Many people see the choice between plan-driven and Agile as mutually exclusive and that’s not accurate. It’s more like a continuous spectrum of alternatives from heavily plan-driven at one extreme to heavily adaptive at the other extreme. It’s more a matter of fitting the methodology to the project and to the business rather than force-fitting a project and a business to one of those extremes.

Plan-driven Approaches

A plan-driven approach works in situations that have low levels of uncertainty, like building a bridge across a river. If you have a situation that is relatively straight-forward, it’s well-defined, it’s repeatable, a plan-driven approach is a good choice as you can take the lessons you’ve learned on one project and do better on the next project because it’s similar and follows the same model.

Agile

Agile works best in environments with high levels of uncertainty. An example is finding a cure for cancer. If you were to develop a project plan for finding a cure for cancer, it would be ridiculous to try to develop a detailed plan with schedule and cost information. There’s just too much uncertainty. It’s a wasted effort to try to develop a detailed plan. In that kind of situation, people are more concerned about the goal of finding a cure for cancer than they are about having a detailed cost and schedule breakdown of what it’s going to take to get there. It’s based on an empirical process control model. The word empirical means based on observation, meaning that as you go through the project, you’re continuously adjusting both the product and the process to complete the product.

Is Agile Better?

No, it’s not. Saying Agile is better than Waterfall is like saying a car is better than a boat. They are two different things, and each has advantages or disadvantages based on the environment that you’re in. So Agile is not inherently good and Waterfall is not inherently bad. It’s more a matter of fitting the right approach to the right problem.

Moving to Agile

There’s a lot of companies that just want to jump on the Agile bandwagon and many times it’s a superficial kind of thing. It might be just a brute-force approach to get it done because they see it as a way of getting products to market quicker and they wind up working people overtime and weekends to get things done quicker, and call that Agile. That’s not the right approach, obviously. Agile is heavily dependent on training and coaching to do it right. You can’t just take a cookbook approach like Waterfall and do step 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. It really requires some good intelligence among everyone on the team–developers, Scrum masters, etc. Everyone has to be intelligent enough to figure out how to do things and adapt the process and the product as they go along, so it requires a lot more skill. At a corporate level, it could require some corporate change, because there’s significant cultural changes that may be required. Agile requires breaking down walls and barriers and developing more of a collaboration.

There are issues companies encounter as they try to incorporate Agile practices into their project management. I like to say it’s a journey, not a destination. There’s an on-going learning effort and there are stages of learning associated with getting into Agile. It can take years for a complete transformation of a major company. You might start out small, you might start out with just a pilot effort on one or two projects, and expand it.

Listen to the interview with Chuck Cobb on The Everyday Innovator Podcast.

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Chad McAllister, PhD is a product innovation guide, innovation management educator, and recovering engineer. He leads Product Innovation Educators, which trains product managers to create products customers love. He also hosts The Everyday Innovator weekly podcast, sharing knowledge from innovation thought leaders and practitioners. Follow @ChadMcAllister

“Business-ready” Big Data Insights: a new approach to data analytics

This presentation from the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in NYC is focused on a new approach to data analytics that takes it out of the proverbial lab and makes it actionable for the boardroom.

 "Business-ready" Big Data Insights: a new approach to data analytics - Innovation Excellence

Data or “big data” has rightly been seen as a formidable tool to manage uncertainty: Harvard Business Review has called it a “management revolution”, and McKinsey published a report touting it as “the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity.” Yet innovators continue to struggle with it, and its implementation.

This presentation from the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in NYC is focused on a new approach to data analytics that takes it out of the proverbial lab and makes it actionable for the boardroom. Kobi Gershoni, Co-founder and Chief Research Officer of Signals Analytics, showcased the data analytics approach to two challenges innovation leaders face in their daily work:

1) identifying new opportunities
2) bringing new innovations to market

What We Do & Why We Do It from Signals Analytics on Vimeo.

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Integrating Intelligence and IntuitionKobi Gershoni is Chief Research Officer and Co-founder of Signals Analytics, where he oversees Signals’ research methodologies and analytics team. Kobi has conducted research for multi-national corporations and venture capital funds, overseen hundreds of Signals client engagements. Kobi served in an IDF intelligence unit as a senior analyst and information officer. Follow him @SignalsGroup

4 Red Flags Your Company is Lagging in Technology and Production Potential

Don’t let outdated technology prevent your company from attracting innovative Millennial employees and achieving full production potential.

As a product marketing manager at Microsoft, I’m involved in figuring out the best tech products for clients. I also spent two years uncovering incredible insights for Matter, the book on positioning by Peter Sheahan, Julie Williamson, and Dom Thurbon.

For this research, my team and I conducted hundreds of interviews with business leaders from major brands to see how companies position themselves in the mind of the customer. We found that younger generations are coming into the workplace with a lifetime of experience with the internet and mobile technology — and high expectations regarding their employers’ ability to stay current on the latest productivity-boosting communication technology.

The intersection of business and technology isn’t some esoteric thing that only concerns someone in my position; it’s an evolving science affecting every business, employer, and employee today. While your organization’s decent performance may give the impression that the status quo is working, if you don’t evolve technologically, you’ll miss out on transformative growth opportunities.

recent study from CompTIA reinforces the obvious: that using the most up-to-date technology is no longer just a matter of brand reputation or a response to the demands of an overzealous IT department — it’s a must-have for companies that want to stay relevant.

Here are four signs that your company is lagging in simple technology:

1. You’re still using paper manuals. Products and service, training, and business processes are changing faster than ever before. Businesses can’t rely on paper-based content — it’s not agile enough to evolve rapidly and can’t exploit the full value of dynamic video and audio. Using hard copy is heavy and can lead to storage, security, and collaboration issues.

No solution is simpler than buying lightweight portable tablets and 2-in-1s, and that’s just what Delta did with its electronic flight bag. The airline transferred all of its documents to a tablet, enabling pilots to access technical manuals, flight maps, and other important information while on the go — and creating happier employees and financial gains in the process. Consequently, Microsoft estimates that removing a 38-pound bag from each flight resulted in fuel-cost savings of $4.2 million.

2. There’s too much downtime in your sales cycle. Healthy sales cycles make it fast and easy for a customer to buy from your company. Imagine the impatience that can build up as customers watch a salesperson struggle to complete a task on paper during a convoluted and disorganized sales process. Too much downtime is especially dangerous in industries such as real estate, where employees rely on continuously updated catalogs with rich multimedia and unit availability to close sales.

Integrating your sales records into one system that can keep track of data, enable collaboration, and allow all team members to access pertinent information on the road is an easy tech solution. Westgate Resorts uses tablets and tablet pens that allow associates to access updated catalogs in real time, access all vital information remotely, and capture signatures electronically. New owners are also given a low-cost branded tablet with a universal Windows application to manage their timeshare, access services, and view other properties.

3. Your customers know more about your product offerings than you do. Even when companies invest in an engaging, cutting-edge customer experience, they sometimes forget to educate frontline employees. In the drive to deliver a great digital customer experience, companies sometimes forget to provide equal (if not superior) knowledge to the employees supporting those customers. This not only stifles employees by leaving them feeling disempowered, but it also leaves negative impressions among customers when they can’t get problems fixed.

Instead of alienating employees or customers with tech resources, take a cue from Dollar General. The company created a mobile platform that provides its managers with timely product and sales data on tablets and smartphones, freeing them up to spend more time on the floor with customers.

4. You don’t promote hypermobility. By now, the concept of remote work is fairly mainstream; the future now lies in hypermobile workforces that can produce great results anytime, anywhere. In high-turnover professions, for example — such as retail sales floor positions — how can the onboarding process help employees reach desired productivity levels quickly?

A portable and lightweight digital “employee onboarding companion” puts all of the knowledge needed at employees’ fingertips, enabling them to succeed. What’s more, managers can view usage, track progress, and reap the benefits of a more informed and highly skilled workforce.

Start by branding the device, case, and/or box with your company’s logo so new employees feel proud and excited about becoming part of it. Then, pre-load it with apps and content to provide important information about the company, product, human resources, and more. Giving them access to cloud-based communication apps such as Yammer, Slack, Skype, or even Facebook also allows teammates to instant message across the business, hold impromptu video calls, praise each other, and perform document screening and sharing with the click of a button.

Don’t let outdated technology prevent your company from attracting innovative Millennial employees and achieving its full production potential. To up your tech game, plan to fail or succeed quickly, continuously driving innovation through small tweaks. Pick a problematic process, and look for simple tech tools and resources to improve it — the innovation will happen naturally as you grow through experimentation.

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Peter Gossin i is a product marketing manager at Microsoft. He works with companies to tie their business objectives with innovative technology to produce long-lasting solutions that create deeper customer connection and drive growth. His recent awards include: FY16 Q1 Microsoft North America ShareFighter Award, and the Marketing Excellent Award, US Marketing & Operations Leadership Team. Follow @petergossin

How Online Marketing Helps Us Innovate

Back in the days of analog marketing execution, we marketers spent more time with the “softer” side of business insights. A lot has changed. We work at an accelerated pace, and we rely on data more than ever—rightfully so. But perhaps…

How Online Marketing Helps Us Innovate - Innovation ExcellenceWe marketers have all heard the jokes about how half our marketing is working—but we never know which half… That’s a message I really like, actually. We need to hear it from time to time, because—let’s be honest—there remains some truth to it.

When online marketing came on the scene, it seemed as if all that might change. New analytics capabilities showed us we’d finally know which half of our marketing was working—and back up those claims with hard numbers.

By and large, it really has worked and helped us innovate. We’re using the sharpest tools on the market to target specific customer segments based on their online behaviors, and drive them toward the actions we want them to take. Still, in some cases, we’re using instruments that may give us a false sense of precision.

What if you took an inventory right now, today, of the facts you know for sure about your customers, versus what I call WAGs (wild-a%# guesses)? How would your marketing mix break down between the two?

We’re getting pretty good at online marketing

I use Flipboard to read news from a variety of sources on my phone. I’ve recently noticed that things I do on the web via my home computer influence the ways I’m retargeted in the Flipboard app. And I don’t use Flipboard on the computer. I don’t log into the Flipboard app with any social credentials.

In other words, Flipboard has figured out how to tie “me” to “me” across platforms, even when I’m not logged into their app. For example, when I go to VRBO, looking for a vacation rental, I’ll see ads from VRBO inside the Flipboard app the next time I use it to read an article.

That’s not just slick—it’s really impressive. It’s surprising, in a good way.

Problem is, do we know WHAT is working?

How does retargeting actually work?

Many of us would say yes, of course! We all use it to increase conversions. As marketing leaders responsible for driving a business, we need acquisition vehicles that convert well—and in my experience, retargeting can be a vehicle that works.

When we see the results that retargeting gets us, it’s easy to reach the conclusion that it falls into the “facts we know” category. But do we really know how it works—and why?

Let’s personalize it. When I see ads for the same vacation rental over and over from the same company, that can help push me into a buying mode. If I’m in a consideration stage, I might just need that nudge—especially if I’m overthinking my vacation plans.

In a case like that, repetition can work. But why does it work? Think about it from the perspective of personal experience: It feels like a sales associate in a retail store following you around with the bar of soap you looked at on the shelf, and asking if you want it, again and again, until you buy it.

Am I wrong?

That’s the state of things today. To some degree, a sales associate who keeps after customers until they convert.

What’s more, retargeting doesn’t always drive sales of the specific product you’re pushing. Look at your analytics, and you’ll see that a percentage of the time, customers navigate to your site and buy something different.

Is retargeting giving us all the insights we need into customer behavior? More important, could our attempts to optimize around this vehicle be distracting from a larger opportunity?

How could it be even better?

Imagine for a moment what might happen if we assigned a bit more power to consumers. What if, instead of exclusively being followed by ads for a product they clicked on, they also had the power to specify products and services they were interested in?

Using my vacation example, what if, instead of just seeing ads for a destination I may or may not be seriously considering, I could specify that I’m planning for a camping vacation, and I need help choosing the right tent? Then I’d see ads for a variety of different tents. The marketer would know exactly where I was in the buying cycle, and I’d see the ads as a helpful service.

Back in the days of analog marketing execution, we marketers spent more time with the “softer” side of business insights. A lot has changed. We work at an accelerated pace, and we rely on data more than ever—rightfully so. But perhaps the best path is one that melds that hard, mathematical data we need with a healthy sprinkle of input directly from the consumer. It could be the ultimate win-win.

image credit: professionbiz.com

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Mark GrilliMark Grilli is vice president of product marketing for Document Cloud at Adobe. He is responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and implementation of Adobe Document Cloud, including Adobe eSign services and Acrobat DC. Prior to joining Adobe, Grilli held marketing and client services positions at WebEx (now a Cisco Company) and was co-founder in an e-learning start up.

Innovativeness – The Ultimate Transferable Skill

There may be no more important capability a person can have in the 21 st century than knowing how to innovate. Not just professional innovators, but every one of us. Personal innovativeness is not a single attribute, but rather a whole constellation of behaviors that in combination fulfill all of the diverse capabilities that innovation requires.

TInnovativeness – The Ultimate Transferrable Skill - Innovation Excellencehere may be no more important capability a person can have in the 21 st century than knowing how to innovate. Not just professional innovators, but every one of us.

Personal innovativeness is not a single attribute, but rather a whole constellation of behaviors that in combination fulfill all of the diverse capabilities that innovation requires. That includes being imaginative, exploratory, observant, reflective and empathic. It’s being adaptive, resourceful, creative, disciplined, inventive and insightful. It’s acting with courage, perseverance and integrity, while maintaining a sense of curiosity and humility. It’s being collaborative and coachable and knowing how to bring out these attributes in others.

That’s an impressive list of life skills that serve us well whether we’re actively striving to innovate or just navigate this rapidly changing world. It’s hard to imagine any context or role where they would not be helpful. It’s also a lot just to keep track of, much less measure or strive to improve. Thankfully, there’s an easier way to cultivate these important personal assets.

In my last post, I discussed how important innovativeness is to achieving innovation and the tremendous value it creates. Now it’s time for me to explain just what I mean by innovativeness, and that requires explaining a little innovation theory.

In a recent article in the International Journal of Innovation Science, Valuable Novelty: A Proposed General Theory of Innovation and Innovativeness, I describe a pattern that is common to all types of innovation, in any context. That includes nature, science, technology, society, business, government, anywhere innovation may occur. This pattern is called the Innovation Cycle, and it has four primary components.

1) A source of new possibilities that I call the Idea Phase. In nature this is a genetic mutation, in science a hypothesis, in technology an invention, and in business an idea for a new product, service, process, business model, etc.

2) An Action Phase in which new possibilities are explored and tested. In nature this is a mutation made manifest in an organism, in science it’s the experiment, in business it’s the process used to explore and develop ideas in order to determine whether they work or not.

3) A Reality Phase—or the inevitable “reality check,” where an attempted innovation has some impact and creates value, or fails to. In nature this is survival, in science it is research data and findings, in technology it’s proof of concept, in business it’s customer acceptance or rejection.

4) A Feedback Phase where we gain insights, make discoveries and retain we have learned. In nature, this is reproduction that passes along the genetic change, in science it’s the interpretation of the findings and making new discoveries, in technology this is adoption, in business it can be anything from gaining new customer insights to achieving traction in the marketplace and generating sustained revenues. This is where what succeeds is retained and used to inform the generation of more new ideas, and back to 1).

The Innovation Cycle is an iterative process of generating possibilities, testing them to see whether they create value, making discoveries when something is successful and gaining new insights even when it fails. It is an open feedback loop that constantly adapts and evolves, and it appears to describe the essential characteristics of every known approach to innovation.

There is another equally prevalent pattern that I call the Status Quo Cycle. It too is found all around us and it has the same four phases, but they function in an entirely different way. Rather than adapting and evolving, the Status Quo Cycle maintains and preserves.

1)     In the Idea Phase, the Status Quo Cycle draws on existing mechanisms, processes, knowledge and expertise.

2)     In the Action Phase, those established processes are applied and maintained.

3)     In the Reality Phase, any deviations are noted, so they can be corrected.

4)     In the Feedback Phase, needed adjustments are made to fix any problems and maintain the original approach, to keep things moving along within a target range.

The Status Quo Cycle is a closed feedback loop that “detects and corrects” just like a thermostat maintains the temperature in a room. Nature uses this mechanism to regulate everything from our blood chemistry to our body temperature, and therefore keep us alive. The same detect-and-correct pattern is widely used in technology. It’s how we kept the Mars Explorer on course and keep our car in our lane as we head down the highway (and when Google is driving a car down the highway). In business it’s all the many business processes that need to be sustained. Things like budgets & accounting, sales & marketing, revenues & profits—all the things that keep a business alive and healthy.

Both patterns are useful and important, but one drives innovation while the other resists it. This is one reason I argue that treating innovation as just another business process is misguided. It is fundamentally different from the detect-and-correct approach so common in business. Assuming they are somehow the same creates confusion and dysfunction.

Most business managers spend the vast majority of their time navigating the Status Quo Cycle, as they probably should. It’s what keeps the business running. But unfortunately this pattern is so ingrained in the way we think about business that it leads to decisions that strongly resist innovation. Those decisions are often made with the best of intentions, because the folks making them simply do not see these patterns, much less recognize their impact. Those who are innovative still care about maintaining established processes, but they’re always striving to improve them.

These two patterns are near perfect mirror images of each other. So, by posing a series of choices about someone’s values, beliefs and behaviors, it’s possible to determine which pattern they tend to favor and in what ways. For example, is someone more comfortable drawing on their knowledge or applying their imagination? Would they prefer to confirm their beliefs or gain new insights? Following either cycle is perfectly rational. Yet nearly everyone prefers one or the other, and by varying degrees that can be measured along an Innovativeness Index. The lower someone falls along this 0-100 point scale the more they tend to favor the Status Quo Cycle; the higher they score the more they favor the Innovation Cycle—and the greater their innovativeness.

The research is clear that these two cycles are not equivalent in value creation—not even close. At the low end of the scale, value creation is very modest, while at the high end it’s quite dramatic, and there does not appear to be any upper limit. There is no point of diminishing returns. Value creation just keeps accelerating the higher you go up the scale. Simply put: the more someone favors the Innovation Cycle the more value they are likely to create, and the high scorers are not creative eccentrics. They are accomplished innovators and entrepreneurs who know how to make things happen, and are among the most successful at doing that.

We are all capable of being innovative, but some of us have a mindset that enables us to tap into that capability in ways that others cannot. Yet we all have the power to make different choices—to change our mindset in ways that enhance our innovativeness—our ability to create value.

When we focus on the pattern of the Innovation Cycle, we free ourselves. Instead of trying to somehow manage that long list of advantageous personal attributes I mentioned above, we can focus on the task at hand. Of course, being an effective innovator involves more than just changing our mind. But it’s a good place to start because so many of our decisions and actions are driven by our mindset, often in ways we don’t realize.

The Innovation Cycle is the universe’s killer app. We are not using it nearly as much as we could be. In a world with so many problems to solve, it’s time to put more emphasis on developing our innovation competence—our innovativeness.

In my next post, I will explore why mindset is such an important consideration when it comes to fostering innovation.

Innovation Mindset - What's your Innovativeness Index?

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Dennis StaufferDennis Stauffer is an author, independent researcher, and expert on personal innovativeness. He is the founder of Innovator Mindset LLC which helps individuals, teams, and organizations enhance and accelerate innovation success. Dennis delivers innovation keynotes, seminars and coaching internationally. Follow @DennisStauffer

#welovestartups: Oracle startups program

Currently looking after Oracle France corporate responsibility, Dominique van Deth always thought that companies could have a significant impact on Society. For 5 years, Dominique has been managing startups programs, and he launched in 2014 a structured program to engage volunteers in helping startup grow. I met him at Les Hacktivateurs afterwork, and he kindly accepted to tell us more about Oracle startups program.

Currently looking after Oracle France corporate responsibility, Dominique van Deth always thought that companies could have a significant impact on Society.

dominique van dethAfter starting in Consulting, R&D and Product Management, Dominique chose to help Oracle France internal transformation. For 5 years, Dominique has been managing startups programs, and he launched in 2014 a structured program to engage volunteers in helping startup grow. Passionate by social business, innovation and human capital, he is currently looking at Corporate Hacking.

I met him at Les Hacktivateurs afterwork, and he kindly accepted to tell us more about Oracle startups program.

What is ‘the reason why’ for the Oracle startups program? Where does it come from?

#welovestartups was created as a mean to support Oracle France’s internal transformation. We want employees to understand Digital Transformation through practical use cases brought by startups. We started by selecting 6 startups and 6 volunteers and we actually had to refuse a lot of employees. Richard Frajnd, Country Leader, then asked me to broaden the program, which I did in two ways: ‘Adopt a startup’ where employees can choose from a selection of already sourced startups, and ‘Bring your own startup’ where they can find themselves a startup using their own networks.

For Oracle, it is part of our Corporate Responsibility activities, it helps internal transformation, it helps us also to bring additional innovation to our customer, and it is important in our own transition to Cloud where we need to increase the value of our MarketPlace.

2) What is the value proposition for the startups and for the Oracle Business Units? Can you pick-up a few examples of successful collaborations?

For startups, we offer a mentor that they can talk to, so that they can discuss the various business issue they face. We also offer specific expertise on a pro-bono model (limited to a meeting or two). And we put startups forward in our various go-to-market activities (events, digital communication). When it makes sense,  we also bring them in front of our own customers.

Within Oracle, we try to leverage everything we do by asking ourselves: “how could we leverage startups ?” And when it makes sense, we include them. Specific part of the business also regularly contact me with specific requests.

Program’s intend is to build win / win relationships and as the program develop, we will have specific stories to share. We had large presence of startups at many events, including our Digital Disruption Day, our Partner Day, the User Group meeting, and at the coming Digital Mission 2016. And some startups even met Safra Catz, Oracle’s co-CEO in April! Feedback is already very positive from all stakeholders and we have solid use cases under work where we will combine our products with startup solutions.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDSOtVTmRRk&feature=youtu.be]

3) How does it work for startups? How do business unit and employees concurrently engage in the startup program?

We are looking at startups in Digital Transformation with a BtoB model. Startup should have already a product and customers (>100k euros revenue). They are usually sourced from network we are working with: France Digital, Scientipôle, Paris&Co, Réseau Entreprendre. They apply, and we build together a summary slide. The set of startups is proposed to potential volunteers that will chose a startup they would like to work with. We make sure that there is a mutual match so that nobody wastes his time.

WeLoveStartups_30startups_objectif atteint

4) What are the typical timeline and milestones of the startup acceleration program? What are the skills of your team to support this framework?

It is a one year program and every startup is setting its own milestones with us. Oracle’s employee are typically highly skilled, so there are no specific criterias in this area.

5) What was the most difficult part to achieve? Do you measure a success ratio?

Honestly, things are progressing really well.  It takes some time to convince volunteers, but as program is growing, word of mouth is helping a lot.

6) What is your next challenge? The next steps for the Oracle startup program?

The next challenge is to really develop joint success stories, and maybe to replicate this program in other countries. We’ve already launched a program in India, so let’s see!

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future of TV - Leading by InnovatingNicolas Bry is a senior VP at Orange Innovation Group. Serial innovator, he set-up creative BU with an international challenge, and a focus on new TV experiences. Forward thinker, he completed a thesis on “Rapid Innovation”, implemented successfully at Orange, further developed in his writings. He tweets @nicobry

Lessons from Lego: Low risk innovation tools for everyone!

Evan Shellshear’s new book focuses on successful techniques to innovate cheaply and effectively — and answers questions regarding how strategies used by leaders like LEGO are able to turn companies around from looming bankruptcy to industry leading success.

Lessons from Lego: Low risk innovation tools for everyone! - Innovation Excellence

LEGO has earned the right to celebrate. Not only are kids playing with more mini LEGO people than there are human beings on the planet but in 2015, they were nominated by Forbes as the most powerful brand in the world. For a company which was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2004, the toy maker has made an amazing turnaround. They restructured, hired a new CEO, and forged more licensing partnerships than ever before. Most importantly, they discovered the secret to some of the world’s most successful, low risk innovation strategies.

These strategies helped LEGO create a powerful brand envied by every other company in the world. However, successes like these are not, and need not be, restricted to global companies with billions in revenue.

The point of low risk innovation tools is that one can use them to test ideas in any setting and with any budget. Whether you are a cash strapped startup or a Forbes 500 firm, sustainable innovation can be your ticket to success.

Out of LEGO’s lessons and that of hundreds of other companies, I have distilled the most successful techniques to innovate cheaply and effectively. They are all contained in the book Innovation Tools and, as an additional bonus, the readers of the Innovation Excellence community can get the Kindle version for free this week by clicking here. Among others, my book answers questions regarding how strategies used by companies like LEGO are able to turn companies around from looming bankruptcy to industry leading success.

When LEGO restructured and returned to their core business to climb out of a $300 million loss in 2004, they realized innovation as usual was not an option. The first step on the toy maker’s journey was to embrace their loyal and creative fan base. They hired so-called “adults fans of LEGO” for their design team and began to crowdsource new toy kits.

As the crowdsourcing venture proved successful, the block manufacturer turned this into a full blown open innovation policy by opening up the LEGO Ideas portal. Through user input, this online platform generates hundreds of new product suggestions each year and uses some subtle and powerful open innovation techniques, employing everything from social media to peer selection to entice fans into contributing new designs.

Within its factories, LEGO has also embraced a philosophy of rapid prototyping, even to the dismay of its older engineers. David Gram, head of marketing at Lego’s Future Lab, stated that “[W]e only develop the few key features that are really needed. A typical engineering mistake is wanting to invent all the things the product might consist of in one go … we throw that into the market and get feedback from consumers”. This is a technique blossoming all over the world in Maker Faires, Hackerspaces, and Makerspaces.

As big and successful as LEGO is, they could still benefit from the many other innovative strategies employed by other industry leaders. For example, there are powerful forces driving both the creation and dissemination of knowledge to the world. As many technical discoveries are driven by access to the latest information, this will be a game changer for business. For startups or large companies pursuing numerous risky ventures, information is power, and risk mitigation is the name of the game.

Another powerful shift disrupting traditional industries is the new way software is delivered around the world. Products are now able to be delivered in smaller parts, requiring less commitment from a consumer and turning the decision to use a tool into a “no-brainier.” This is even affecting industries with business models based on completely unrelated ways of delivering their services such as medicine.

Another important piece of the innovation puzzle is us; you and I. In the end, it is up to us to make the innovation decisions, but how do we decide? This question can be answered by one of the most exciting developments of the 21st century: a symbiosis between two powerful branches of science, behavioral economics and innovation.

Although these tools are important for a company’s and entrepreneur’s day-to-day work, we also want to know why all this innovation stuff even matters. What happens when we innovate cheaper? What benefits are there to simply lowering our innovation risk beyond the obvious?

Understanding the basics of these techniques and integrating them into your innovation strategy is what differentiates the disruptors from the disrupted. Up until now, it has been difficult to find them all collected in one place with enough details to be able to successfully use these innovation tools.

Competition never sleeps and LEGO is continuously being challenged by new disruptive innovators attacking their market side-on, such as Minecraft. Although the block manufacturer has a license to produce Minecraft styled pieces, challenges can come from anywhere. Full throttle up the innovation curve requires low risk tools to balance the innovation and fiscal imperatives. LEGO has discovered this, but have you?

The point is that we need to keep innovating without risking financial ruin. This is a difficult balance that my book seeks to discover. It details some of the best techniques available to not just turn an almost bankrupt company around, but also to supercharge any business or entrepreneur wanting to develop the next unicorn opportunity. Before you go, get your free Kindle copy now before it expires. This offer is for this week only until Thursday!

image credit: lego.com

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Evan Shellshear is a commercialization and innovation expert. He has worked with and delivered cutting edge software solutions to Forbes 500 companies. Evan is the author of Innovation Tools: the most successful techniques to innovate cheaply and effectively; and the children’s game BugRope on Google Play (current 4.6 star rating!). He has founded or been a part of commercializing more than half a dozen technologies and ideas. Follow @eshellshear