logo-large-thinkergy

Blog

Everything listed under: Innovation Strategy

  • Post Featured Image

    Should You Innovate With Your Customers or Not? Part 2

    In part 1 of this two-article series, we began exploring the ongoing debate in innovation as to whether or not companies should involve customers in their innovation efforts and act upon their ideas. I also presented arguments and success stories of both the proponents and opponents of customer involvement in innovation. The pro camp argues that we should listen to customers and innovate by giving them what they want. The contra camp counters that customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them. Contra camp aficionados include prominent creative business leaders such as Henry Ford, Akio Morita, and Steve Jobs. So which camp is right, and when? And how may we possibly reconcile the different views?

    Which camp is right?

    “There are two kinds of truth, small truth and great truth. You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another great truth,” noted the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. I believe that the debate between proponents and opponents of customer involvement in innovation is a case of two great truths facing each other. Both sides of the debate have their valid arguments and supporting success stories to prove their points. 

    So who’s right? It depends on the situation — or in other words, what business context you’re in and what you want to achieve. You may ask the following questions to gauge whether or not you should listen to and involve your customers in an innovation project:

    • Do you want to focus on improving an existing process, product, or service? Or are you aiming to create a “new to the world”-innovation in your project? The more disruptive your targeted innovation, the less customer involvement is advisable. 
    • How complicated is your business and innovation challenge? How much do your customers know about your product and service, and the relevant domain knowledge and technologies? The less complex your innovation case, and the more intimately your customers are familiar with it, the more you can listen to them and involve them in the process. 
    • How much time do you have at hand to produce innovation results? The less time you have at hand for an innovation project, the more you should consider involving your customers. Listening to your customers’ expressed needs and ideas is a cost-effective  and fast way to improve existing processes, products, and services immediately or in the short run. However, it’s unlikely that these ideas and typically more incremental innovations will boost your revenues, profits, and margins in the medium- to long-term.
    • Whom do you target with the innovation? A mass-market, a smaller niche segment, or a narrow ‘tribe” of sophisticated elite users? The broader the market you target, the higher your risk of mistakenly listening to and innovating upon the wishes and suggestions of a non-representative sample of customers.
    • On what level of abstraction does the innovation challenge reside? • The narrower and more specific your innovation focus, the easier and more sensible it is to involve customers, vice versa.
    • How dynamic is your industry? How fast do trends change? The faster the speed of change, the more problematic it is to involve customers who typically lag behind trends.

    How to reconcile the opposing views?

    While pondering the contextual rules of thumb listed above, I spotted an overriding approach to reconciling the opposing positions of the two camps in the customer involvement in innovation-debate. Innovation projects vary in the degree of impact that they make in the market, and related, the time and efforts required to pull off an innovation. Consequently, we can distinguish four different innovation types with an accelerating risk-reward profile — continuous improvements, incremental improvements/innovations, evolutionary innovations, and disruptive revolutionary innovations (see the graphic below):

    • Involve customers intensively in innovation efforts that focus on continuous improvements in your processes, products, and services. For example, improving the consistency of a tuna salad and allowing customers to pick their strawberries (instead of having to buy them in prepackaged boxes) are customer ideas that the experiential grocery store chain Stew Leonard implemented successfully.
    • Customer involvement in innovation such as running focus groups may also work well for projects aiming at incremental improvements/innovations of existing products or services (say you want to get ideas or feedback from customers on a new taste or formula variation of a popular product).
    • Invite customers to participate in projects aiming for evolutionary innovations where you want to add substantially more value to your existing customers or expand your offerings to new customer segments. However, here you typically involve customers predominantly in the first stage of the creative process (the Xploration-stage in our X-IDEA innovation method). Thereby, you empathetically listen to them and observe them in their everyday lives interacting with the target object of the innovation project. Moreover, you may also ask them to give you feedback and suggestions on prototypes you’ve built in the critical, realistic evaluation phase. However, in the creative stages (Ideation and Development in X-IDEA) in between, you typically do your own thinking and create your own ideas (that may take inspiration from your learnings during the initial Xploration stage). Two weeks ago, I shared how Ingersoll Rand practiced this approach when they created a substantially improved grinder tool for their industrial clients. We also follow this modus operandi with Thinkergy when we guide clients (especially those from the food or FMCG-industries) through their evolutionary innovation projects with the help of X-IDEA.
    • In your projects targeting revolutionary innovations, however, best practice suggests not to involve your customers actively. This is because they may lack the necessary knowledge on technology, trends, and maybe even their wants and needs related to a “new to the world”-technology or product. For example, while working on the iPhone and iPad, Apple’s development team sought feedback only from its internal “one-man focus group” (named Steve Jobs). As we also discussed in part 1, Akio Morita similarly developed the Sony Walkman with a small product development team against the advice of market research and his internal marketing and finance people (and subsequently sold 400 million units of the Walkman). And thanks to Henry Ford’s unwillingness to listen to customers, we leaped to driving in cars instead of riding on faster horses.

    Suppose you’re a member of the pro camp and are unconcerned of potential confidentiality issues. What if you insisted on involving customers in a project pushing for creating a revolutionary innovation? In that case, my advice would be to invite those customers to participate in an innovation project workshop with a more progressive mindset and personality. How can you find them? By using a personal assessment tool created for innovation. For example, Thinkergy’s innovator profiling system TIPS identifies four such trendy, avant-garde profiles located around the Ideas-base. Ideators, Conceptualizers, Promoters, and Imaginative Experimenters tend to be ahead of their times. They can contribute a mix of geeky, trendy, fashionable, or creatively destructive thinking to broaden your internal project team’s views and inspire bold ideas.

    Conclusion: Customer involvement in Innovation? It depends

    Involve your customers in your innovation projects, and listen to their ideas if

    1. they’re familiar with your products and services,
    2. you want to continuously or incrementally improve these,
    3. you want to evolve your product to a more contemporary version, and
    4. you’re in an industry that is close to your customers’ everyday lives and moves slow enough to allow your customers to keep up with trends and the speed of change.

    In all other cases, limit your customers’ involvement in seeking input and feedback at the front- and back-end stages of the innovation process. And especially when you work on a revolutionary innovation that can potentially disrupt the market, better think, and create progressively in your internal innovation team.

    • Do you belong more to the pro or contra camp of whether or not to involve and follow through on customers’ ideas while innovating? Or do you have any other thoughts and ideas that support your side of the debate — or can reconcile the two views?
    • Do you plan to do an innovation project soon? Regardless of whether or not you want to involve customers in your project, please consider inviting Thinkergy as your external expert innovation process guides. Our innovation facilitators would love to guide your team towards tangible innovation results with the help of our award-winning X-IDEA innovation methodContact us if you would like to learn more.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2020


  • Post Featured Image

    Should You Innovate With Your Customers or Not? Part 1

    To what extent should innovators listen to customer ideas and suggestions while innovating? There is an interesting debate in the innovation domain between proponents and opponents of involving customers in innovation endeavors and of following their ideas. Today, let’s first hear from each camp, then explore different contextual situations that may influence the arguments of either side and finally propose some possible solutions to reconcile the different views.

    The Pro camp: Why customer involvement in innovation is beneficial

    Lou Rossi, the Chief Commercial Officer at the marketing and advertising group Publicis, argues that “More than 50 percent of innovation comes from the voice of the customer.” If he’s right, we’d better embrace our customers’ ideas and feedback, just like they do it at Stew Leonard’s and Ingersoll Rand.

    Stew Leonard’s is a family-owned regional US chain of experiential farm-fresh grocery stores. One reason behind the stores’ phenomenal success is that it is excessively customer-centric, as best expressed by its simple company policy (“Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1”). But there’s another success secret — the family business’s continuous improvement initiatives based on customers’ ideas:

    From its early days, Stew Leonard’s has involved customers and their ideas in their efforts to making its stores better. At Stew Leonard’s, customer suggestion boxes are filled to the brim every day. Moreover, customers volunteer their Saturday afternoons for participating in focus groups in which they suggest their ideas on how to make Stew Leonard’s stores better.

    The owners of the family business described the secret behind Stew Leonard’s growth as follows: “It’s all about listening to the customers and doing what they say.” When they give customers what they want, they see that Stew Leonard’s acts upon their ideas, and tell their friends about it.

    Involving customers in innovation also seems to work well for innovation initiatives targeting the upgrade of existing products and services. In their book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman tell the tale of a successful product upgrade innovation story involving Ingersoll Rand, an American industrial tool-maker. One of the firm’s leading tool distributors challenged Ingersoll-Rand to develop a more innovative grinder tool within a year—or they’d sign up a competitor to distribute their tools:

    In the early stages of the project, the innovation team visited end-users of their grinders to observe first-hand how they interacted with their tools. To their surprise, they spotted that the workers looked like medieval warriors. They were wearing body armor and helmets to protect all their upper body parts and had wrapped tape around their tool-holding hands to prevent their fingers from accidentally slipping into the grinding surface spinning at 7,000 rpm. The innovation team also interviewed their “real customers,” the workers who, while not purchasing the tool, have to hold it 8 hours each workday to grind off metal edges from molded parts.

    The insights that the team gained exploring the harsh lives of their “real customers” informed the subsequent ideation and development process. The decisive criterion of whether to include an idea in the final product was: “Does this feature make end-users’ lives better?”

    Finally, when the team tested the new product prototype with some workers, one of them commented: “The tool is really okay. But you know what? Now my hands don’t hurt anymore in the evening.” And the Ingersoll-Rand team knew that thanks to involving customers in the new product development process, they had a winner.

    The Contra side: Why customer involvement in innovation is not advisable

    Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The inventor of the moving assembly line rightly highlights that when you ask customers, they tend to suggest ideas that reflect their current needs and what they feel comfortable with, and rarely constitute more radical departures from the established status quo. But as the anonymous quote goes, “True innovation is coming up with a product that the customer didn’t even know they needed.”

    Opponents of deeper customer involvement in innovation efforts such as Apple’s Steve Jobs argue that customers often lack intimate knowledge of what is technologically possible and feasible:

    In Leander Kahney’s book Inside Steve’s Brain, Apple’s former CEO John Sculley relates that while always focusing on the customer experience, Steve Jobs didn’t believe in going out to do consumer testing and asking people what they wanted. Why? “How can I possibly ask someone what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphics-based computer is? No one has ever seen one before,” argued Steve Jobs.

    Jobs also gave further rationales of why he doesn’t want to involve customers in innovation projects aiming for a disruptive “new to the world”-tech product (such as the iPod, the iPhone or the iMac): “We have a lot of customers, and we have a lot of research into our installed base. We also watch industry trends pretty carefully. But in the end, for something that complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

    Steve Jobs was not the only CEO of a technology company that didn’t believe in listening to customers’ ideas while creating disruptive high-tech products—another one was Akio Morita, one of the Co-Founders of Sony Corporation:

    “Our plan is to lead the public with new products rather than ask them what kind of products they want”, writes Morita in his autobiography Made in Japan. “The public does not know what is possible, but we do. So instead of doing a lot of market research, we refine our thinking on a product and its use and try to create a market for it by educating and communicating with the public. Sometimes a product idea strikes me as a natural. As an example, I can cite a product that surely everybody knows of, the Walkman.”

    The Sony Walkman sold more than 400 million times even though market research surveys suggested customers didn’t want such a technology. Customers couldn’t envision the finished product offering a small device playing music for personal use. Interestingly, Morita had to personally push his product idea into the market even against the vocal opposition of his product development team, and Sony’s marketing and finance departments. “Nobody openly laughed at me, but I didn’t seem to be convincing my own project team, although they reluctantly went along,” noted Morita.

    What are other counterarguments of opponents of listening too much to customers’ ideas in innovation?

    • Customers may have unrealistically high expectations of what they want or need. Or at the other end of the spectrum, they may satisfy with a way too low solution given what’s already possible. This is because often they don’t carefully follow emerging trends and know what’s state-o-the-art in a particular product niche, category, or industry.
    • Customers may also lack more profound domain expertise and experiences to give more discriminative feedback.
    • Customers may represent a wide spectrum of diverse customer types. The few you survey, interview, or invite to focus group may not be a representative sample of your “average customer”. Following the advice of a few “odd users” who don’t align with the majority may lead you down a wrong pathway. They might encourage you to design a product that pleases the needs of a few (sampled) while ignoring most needs of the many (not part of your sample).
    • In a small project team, it is easy to preserve secrecy about a “new to the world”-innovation you’re working on. When you involve customers here, it is likely that at least one of them intentionally or accidentally leaks information to the press, followers, and competitors.
    • Finally, listening too much to your customers’ ideas will blur your thinking if you are a creator who insists upon originality. For example, Steve Jobs believed that outstanding creativity in the arts and technology could not flow if you ask people what they want.

    Interim conclusion: There seems to be more than one truth

    In the debate on whether to involve customers in innovation efforts and act upon their ideas or not, both sides seem to have good arguments and success cases. So which camp is right? And how to possibly reconcile the different views? Come back to this column in two weeks. Then, we will continue the debate by considering different contextual situations in innovation that may tip the balance to one side or the other.

    • Are you a proponent or opponent of customer involvement in innovation and following customers’ ideas? Why? And do you have any other good arguments that support your side of the debate?
    • Do you plan to do an innovation project soon? Do you consider involving your customers in the effort or not? Please take a look at our X-IDEA innovation method that we use to guide our clients towards innovation results. And contact us if you would like to learn more about how we may help you with your concrete innovation project.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2020.



  • Post Featured Image

    12 Tips to Stay Productive While Working from Home

    Welcome to our dire new reality. The escalating coronavirus pandemic has massively disrupted our everyday work and lives. COVID-19 has confined millions of people around the world to their homes. How can you stay calm, productive, and optimistic while working from home in the coming weeks, or more likely, months? Consider following these twelve tips. 

    1. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best

    The coming months aren’t going to be pretty. The current health crisis will linger on for weeks to come, leading to a global economic crisis that may reset business as we knew it. Some industries will fade away. Many companies will go out of business, including some big, prominent names. Millions of people will have to cope with temporary salary cuts or even lose their jobs. So, brace yourself for a recession. Cut all your spending down to the essential necessities. Ensure you have enough cash flow personally. Do you run a business? Consider embracing one of the government-guaranteed loan programs that many countries are now beginning to offer to keep the backbone of their economies intact. Make tough decisions earlier to gain peace of mind sooner.

    2. Minimize the noise

    In times of crisis, we need to catch up on the news to keep up with and effectively respond to the evolving situation. However, when we dedicate too much time browsing the COVID-19 horror stories in the media, we only increase our stress levels — and reduce the odds of staying productive. Limit your daily news consumption to half an hour. Focus on sources that provide the facts, and stay away from wide-eyed opinions and ballyhoo.

    3. Look for the upside

    The Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is composed of two symbols — one means ‘danger,’ the other one ‘opportunity.’ What opportunities does the crisis offer to you? Opportunities to develop new skills? Opportunities to explore new business models for a better future? Opportunities to connect more deeply to your partner and children who now all are trapped at home? As Albert Einstein noted, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

    4. Establish a daily routine

    When we’re under pressure, and confined to working from home, it’s more important than ever to bring regularity and order into our lives. A daily rhythm allows us to feel more in control. It increases our productivity and feeling of well-being. So, invest half an hour now to craft a steady daily routine for you to follow. Draw up a plan for when you intend to work, do chores, socialize, and play. Thereby consider adding some of the suggestions that follow below.

    5. Connect to your spirit

    At the start and end of each day, take a few minutes for spiritual practice. If you like, take comfort in saying a prayer. Realize the beauty of the force of creation that outshines and outlasts our present reality. Find peace in the words of the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

    6. Meditate

    Reserve at least 5-10 minutes in your daily schedule to meditating. If you’re a novice, consider using a guided meditation app (such as Headspace.com) to get started. Otherwise, practice the technique you’ve learned to soothe your mind. A few months ago, I took a course in Transcendental Meditation. Ever since I meditate twice a day for 20 minutes. I can feel how well this technique helps me to offload stress from my central nervous system. And in times of COVID-19, stress abounds.

    7. Breathe

    Consider adding a few Yoga breathing exercises into your day. Left-right nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama) can help us clear our sinuses and our minds from negative thoughts and anxiety. It also balances the more analytical left side and more creative right side of our neocortex, thus leading to a bright, integrated mind. Kapalabhati is an energizing breathing technique where we alternate forceful exhales with passive inhales. If you own an Apple watch, follow the invitation to breathe for a minute whenever you get a reminder tap.

    8. Exercise daily

    During the past weeks, have you noticed your butt hurting at times, indicating too much sedentary activity? In normal times, we automatically walk thousands of steps each day while undergoing work and life. But in times of COVID-19, most of us are confined to our homes and our desk. So now it’s more important than ever to exercise. What if you’re strictly limited to your home? Do Yoga. Do workouts using your body weight and whatever tools you can find in your apartment (e.g., tables, chairs, door frames, etc.; check out the app from Bodyweight Training by Mark Lauren). If you like aerobics or group workouts, look for online classes on the internet. Whatever sports you like, make sure that you move your body at least for 30 minutes every day. If possible, exercise outdoors in line with the next point.

    9. Spend time in nature

    If your local lockdown regulations permit, get out of your house and into nature. Take a walk or enjoy a relaxing run. Look up to the sky. Hug a tree. Walk barefoot on the grass. Feel the wind, or the rain, or the sun rays, on your skin. Relish these precious outdoor moments and reconnect to nature.

    10. Learn something new

    While you’re under lockdown and working from home, consider enrolling in webinars and online training, especially now that many learning platforms and top universities offer courses for free during the crisis. So, use the time you save from your daily commute to acquire new skills and knowledge that can be useful for you now (e.g., online work skills) and in the future. Also, invest some time to learn more about your true self by finding answers to these questions: Who are you? Why are you here? What are you passionate about? What do you really love doing? What do you really value? What are you really good at? What is easy, effortless, and enjoyable for you that is difficult, demotivating, or drudging for other people?

    11. Focus on work outputs, not work hours

    When you have to work from home with the whole family around during a crisis situation, expect lots of interruptions and disruptions to limit your productivity. In all likelihood, you will have fewer work hours at hand compared to working in the office. So before you start your work in the morning, focus on the one thing that you commit to getting done today. Specify the outcomes of this essential work. Then, consciously plan how to produce your best work by answering these questions:

    • What is the most critical work that I need to focus on today? 
    • What is the outcome I commit to producing today? 
    • Why is this essential? 
    • Who else is involved? 
    • When and where do I work on it? 
    • How can I do this most effectively? 
    • How much time do I need to commit to producing the desired outcome?

    12. Give support to others

    Humanity needs to master the COVID-19 crisis collectively. Yes, we need to practice social distancing physically but not emotionally. So each day, give time to support your loved ones and those who need help or a sympathetic ear. Do one thing every day to ease the life of someone whose life got walloped by the crisis. Give and be of service to others every day. In essence, it will make you feel good and be a small but essential contribution to jointly master the current crisis humanely.

    Conclusion: Stay optimistic and take on the fight

    In all of us, the stimulus “COVID-19” triggers the automatic “fight or flight” response in our autonomous central nervous system and the part of our command center known as the reptilian brain. How do you intend to individually deal with this situation? Do you resign yourself to your fate, and allow the virus and its coverage in the media to take up all your mental energy (flight)? Or are you up for the fight? Will you commit to being productive, regardless? Will you focus on preparing yourself and your business to take off right after the crisis, or maybe even in the midst of it?  

    The Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote in his seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In the coming months, let’s all respond consciously and wisely.

    • Do you need a sounding board or some fresh inspirations on how to best maneuver the current Covid-19 crisis? Contact us and tell us more about your challenges. We love to give you some ideas on how to turn the crisis into an opportunity for yourself, your team, and your business.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2020

  • Post Featured Image

    Why Make Time Now for Strategy Exploration (Part 2)

    “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Abraham Lincoln. If you are a C-level executive, business unit leader, or an entrepreneur, the start of a new, disruptive decade is an ideal point in time to look at the big picture of your business and to explore the evolving strategic market environment. At Thinkergy, we guide management teams through such a Strategic Xploration-exercise with the help of the strategy toolkit in our X-IDEA toolbox.

    In part 1 of this two-article-series, I first shared with you what happens at the beginning of a Strategy Xploration Project. Then, we discussed at length what happens in the intensive Xploration phase. Here, we direct you to check out facts and assumptions, ask you lots of thought-provoking questions, help you to look at your business from many different perspectives, and map out trends and strategic risks, among others. In today’s final part 2 of this article, I’ll walk you through what happens in the subsequent immersion and extraction steps of a Strategy Xploration Project.

    3. Immerse yourself with fresh information to close your knowledge gaps

    “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge,” noted the American educator Daniel J. Boorstin. By the end of the Xploration step of Strategy Xploration, you have compiled a long Un-Knowledge List. These are things you don’t know yet about your business and the emerging market space but would want to know. After all, as Aldous Huxley said: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

    In the subsequent Xploration Immersion-step, you attempt to close these identified knowledge gaps. You aim to turn un-knowledge into knowledge and —in some cases— into novel insights into your business. How?

    • First, in an Infostorming-exercise, we discuss how to best source a particular piece of missing information and who in your team will be doing it.
    • Then, with Infosourcing, you begin to close all identified knowledge gaps.
      • Typically, you do this by engaging in secondary research (e.g., by mining statistical data on the Internet).
      • However, in important cases, and if time permits, you may even engage in primary research. For example, you may survey critical stakeholders to validate your points listed in an earlier Walk A Mile-exercise. Or you may interview “extreme customers” to learn more about your value offerings. These Friends And Foes either fervently love or hate your company and your products.

    For critical projects, we may suggest you analyze essential company- and customer-related big data. Big data analytics allows for checking out key assumptions that you listed earlier in the tool Assumptions Check. You can also use this to test business hypotheses related to identified points on our Unknowledge List. Often, big data analytics brings out surprising and, at times, even game-changing new insights that alter management’s views on the business.

    For example, such an analysis may reveal that the most profitable customer segment to target going forward is one that you’ve somewhat neglected so far. My company Thinkergy partners with a German data-science-based strategic consulting agency (ScienceWorcs) that, for a fee, can analyze your essential company- and customer-related data.

    4. Xtract your learnings and your outputs

    Xtraction is the final phase in a Strategy Xploration project. By now, you and your teammates have compiled a long list of novel insights into your evolving market environment. For example, you’re likely to have identified relevant emerging trends and shifting market boundaries. You may have spotted potential new market opportunities. And you’ve recognized strategic risks that might threaten or even sink your business.

    Visualize all insights in your Insights List in an Insights Map, which allows you to identify true “ahas” quickly. These are novel and important insights that really deepen and often fundamentally shift your understanding of your business and the evolving strategic market space.

    Then, step back and ask: Is your vision still in line with those novel and important “ahas” you discovered? In case you’ve uncovered some genuinely game-changing novel insights, you may need to revisit your corporate vision. An excellent way to do this is to create Vision Scenarios, where you develop a new preferred vision of your future as well as three alternative scenarios (including a “disowned” one).

    Alternatively, we may ask each team to come up with a BHAG. Thereby, you suggest a “big hairy audacious goal” for your company to pursue that can take the business to a higher level by the end of this decade. An effective BHAG may propose to strive for an ambitious target, to take on a common foe, to emulate an inspiring role model, or to achieve an internal transformation.

    By the end of a Strategy Xploration project, you have gained clarity on what trends and market drivers are likely to affect your business in the coming years, and how to take your business forward towards success in a disruptive new decade. In some cases, you may have already gained a clear understanding on the next steps and strategic actions you need to take in the coming years. In other cases, you may realize a need to disrupt your current business before the market does so. If you realize you need to shift your business to realize new market opportunities and to develop new value propositions, then follow Strategy Xploration with a follow-up project. 

    So you’ve completed Strategy Xploration, what’s next?

    In a Strategy Innovation project, we take the teams through the remaining four stages of X-IDEA (Ideation, Development, Evaluation, Action). How would we guide you through such a workshop?

    • In the Ideation stage, we help each team to come up with 700-1000 raw ideas catering to your strategic focus challenge.
    • In the second creative stage, Development, the teams then take time to design and develop 25-40 concepts of meaningful strategic action initiatives for your business.
    • During Evaluation, the teams evaluate all developed concepts. First, they separate the wheat from the chaff by identifying promising concepts, then enhance those, and finally elect their top five strategic action ideas.
    • In the final Action-stage of X-IDEA, the teams pitch their top ideas to a panel of jurors. We add all strategic action concepts that gain initial executive approval to a Strategic Road Map. This visual tool captures all strategic project initiatives that will be rolled out over the next 3-5 years and move you closer to your preferred vision.

    As such, the main output of a Strategy Innovation Workshop is a Strategic Road Map with meaningful strategic actions. For example, a strategic action concept on Thinkergy’s Strategy Road Map 2020-2023 is, “Set-up an Affiliate Program for our innovator profiling test TIPS.” 

    While a Strategy Road Map gives your efforts strategic focus and sets-out a clear pathway of strategic development and innovation projects, it is not cast in stone. The tool allows you to flexibly accommodate new initiatives that you may come up with later in response to discontinuities or disruptions in the market.

    • Would you like to learn more about X-IDEA? Our award-winning innovation method and toolbox that produces innovation results not only for strategy innovation projects but also for all other modern innovation types (such as product innovation or solution design).
    • Would you be interested to do a Strategy Xploration Project with us (either as ongoing consulting or in workshop formats)?
    • Contact us to tell us more about your innovation agenda 2020 and find out how we may help you deliver on it. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2020

  • Post Featured Image

    How Can You Thrive in a Disruptive New Decade?

    The new decade promises to be driven by rapid change, rising complexity, mounting uncertainties, and lots of surprises. Most likely, disruption will rule in the coming decade. How can you transform yourself and your business to flourish in the 2020s? Allow me to ask you three simple questions to help you get ready for a game-changing new decade.

    Background

    Go back in time to December 2009. Ten years ago, did you imagine that ten years later, you have to pay interest rates to banks for keeping your saving accounts? That you can become a millionaire within a few years if you invested a hundred bucks at the right time in a cryptocurrency? That you would stay in a private home of a stranger and not in a hotel room (courtesy of Airbnb) or book a private car ride instead of a public taxi (thanks to Uber)? That a Reality TV Star would be president of the United States? That the United Kingdom would have decided to leave the European Union? 

    Clearly, the world has been changing very fast and in surprising ways in the past decade, and will continue to do so in likely even more disruptive ways in the coming decade. That’s why you may want to take some time off your hectic schedule in the coming weeks and ponder three questions that I am about to ask you now.

    Look back into the second half of the 2010s

    “The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything,” noted the Czech writer Milan Kundera. At Thinkergy, we love to ask people questions when we guide them through innovation projects. That’s why in our X-IDEA Toolbox, we have included a powerful question bank with thought-provoking questions for each of the five stages of X-IDEA.

    In the initial Xploration stage, we ask would-be innovators questions that help them find out what they don’t know about their project, to gain novel insights related to their case, and to come up with initial ideas on how to possibly resolve their challenge.

    To help set yourself and your business up for a successful decade, find the right answers for three simple questions. Here is the first one:

    What has changed in the past five years in your industry and business?

    While pondering this question, also consider thinking about some related, subordinated questions: 

    What has become easier in your business? What has become more challenging? On balance, are things more comfortable or more difficult than five years ago? Why? And what does it mean for you?

    For example, recently, I also asked myself these questions to reflect on what changed in the industry of my company, Thinkergy. Some of the things that changed in the innovation services industry in Southeast Asia during the past five years include:

    • An emerging commoditization of innovation services (many new, inexperienced players offer training in Design Thinking or consulting in innovation at much lower fees and —arguably— much lower quality, and often without being properly trained or licensed to do so, yet find buyers for their services). 
    • Many Multinational Corporations have built up in-house innovation competence on a global and regional level, and now the first large Asian corporations have begun doing so. 
    • An increasing number of Multinational Corporations have centralized the selection process for Learning & Development programs to their regional head office. As a result, local Human Capital teams in these firms cannot decide anymore what innovation training programs they deem best suited for developing their talents and what training service providers they trust.

    Look ahead into the first half of the 2020s

    “When you are running a business, there is a constant need to reinvent oneself. One should have the foresight to stay ahead in times of rapid change and rid ourselves of stickiness in any form in the business,” recommends the Indian billionaire industrialist and philanthropist Shiv Nadar.

    With this in mind, here comes my second question to ask yourself:

    What do you foresee will likely change in your industry and business in the coming five years?

    Start reflecting on this second question by noting your learnings from what has changed in the past five years. Then, quickly jot down anything that comes to mind about changes you expect to happen in your business in the coming five years. Finally, research and contemplate more broadly on possible trends and discontinuities that may be relevant for your industry and business.

    While looking ahead, bear in mind the following factors and phenomena:

    • 2020 will see the advent of a new long wave of technological change. Also known as Kondratiev waves (after the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev who discovered them), these waves describe which few technologies propel economic development forward for a certain number of decades. In the Sixth Wave, the lead technologies artificial Intelligence (AI) and digitalization, green & cleantech, and possibly also genomics are expected to drive economic growth and prosperity in the next 25 years. (Learn more about long waves in the article “How cyclicality drives business and innovation”)
    • Historically, periods of globalization and deglobalization have alternated every 3-5 decades. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the pendulum began swinging back towards more deglobalization, nationalism, protectionism, and authoritarian forms of government in many countries. (Check out the article “Does the pendulum swing back?” for more information on this meta-trend).
    • In the next five years, generational shifts in the workplace are also likely to impact your industry. (Learn more about these changes in the article “How generational shifts will impact business and innovation (Part 1 & Part 2)”).
    • When investigating relevant trends for your industry, distinguish between more short-lived phenomena (such as fads, hypes, and temporary fashions) and real trends or even mega-trends that will last for several years or maybe even a decade.
    • Moreover, note that every major trend tends to trigger a countertrend that you can also ride. 
    • A discontinuity is a distinct break from the normal state of affairs in an economy (such as a financial crisis, an armed conflict, or a major recession, among others).  

    For example, an emerging trend that I foresee affecting the innovation industry is the following: Initiatives such as the establishment of rigorous innovation certification standards will make corporate innovation more rigid, formal, and systemic, which will lead to a drop in corporate creativity due to the dilemma of innovation management). I also predict that soon, big data analysis and AI will give companies better insights at the front-end of an innovation project. Consequently, corporations will probably bring in an external innovation company like Thinkergy predominantly to guide them towards outstanding ideas in the creative process stages (Ideation and Development in X-IDEA), while conducting other innovation process steps in-house. 

    Harvest your learnings

    “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” recommended management guru Peter Drucker. The third and final question to ask yourself is as simple as powerful:

    So what?

    So what do the changes you witnessed in the past five years and those you foresee unfolding in the coming five years mean for yourself and your business? What novel insights pop up when looking at the grand picture of your industry and the big picture of your business? What initial ideas come to your mind on how to possibly ride an emerging trend, or realize the upside of a possible threat? 

    For example, as a result of a strategic foresight exercise, we now consider going back to our roots and frame Thinkergy’s services with a much stronger emphasis on creativity (and not on innovation as in the past five years).

    Conclusion: Foresight is better than hindsight

    “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable,” noted the US General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    Over the past weeks, I have done a strategic exploration project for our innovation company Thinkergy to set ourselves up for success in the disruptive 2020s. Thereby, I walked through the Xploration-stage of our X-IDEA innovation method, and applied ca. 30 X Tools (such as Strategic Risk Map, Trend & Discontinuities Map, or Who The F@#$ Is…? ). In the process, we also asked a lot of X Questions, and I noticed that the three questions I shared with you in today’s article to help grasp rapid change.

    Now, we’re in the process of updating and fine-tuning our strategic company core to reflect our learnings, whereby we may entertain different “Visions scenarios” (see the article “Move from a vision statement to vision scenarios”) to be able to flexibly respond to market changes and possible discontinuities in the market. After the holidays, we will create a strategic road map for the next 3-5 years. We are also considering raising funds from a strategic investor or from venture capital firms to harness the immense upside for our business that we can foresee in the disruptive 2020s.

    • Would you like us to help update your organizational strategy for success in the disruptive 2020s with the help of our award-winning X-IDEA innovation method and X-IDEA Toolbox?
    • Contact us to tell us more about yourself and how we may creatively empower you. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019

  • Post Featured Image

    How to Compose Well-Balanced Innovation Teams

    Have you ever been part of an innovation project team? How well and effectively did you and your colleagues resolve the innovation challenge? And how enjoyable was your creative teamwork? 

    Working in an effective innovation team can be a highlight of your professional career. But the individual members of a team only click well into gear if the group is well-composed and comprises of different yet complementing personalities. Today, let’s discuss how you can compose well-balanced innovation teams as an important prerequisite that your project delivers novel, meaningful and original ideas and tangible innovation results.

    Background: Leading an innovation project

    Suppose your company wants to tackle a major innovation challenge, and you’ve been selected to resolve this by organizing and running an innovation project. As the project owner, you’re now responsible for specifying the key project parameters. You need to:

    • Frame the initial innovation challenge (e.g., “How to create new ice cream products for 6-10-year-old kids”) and specify the related innovation type (e.g., product innovation). 
    • Highlight why this project is essential for your organization, and make sure that the budget allocated to the project reflects its relative importance. 
    • Settle on an innovation process method (such as Design Thinking or our X-IDEA innovation method) that fits the challenge and innovation type. 
    • Select a professional innovation company or facilitator (in line with your budget) to competently guide you to the desired results within the available budget.

    Finally, you need to ask people-related questions: How many people can you involve overall (or in a particular process stage)? How many days can you reasonably expect them to dedicate to your project? And last but not least: Who are we going to invite to help us work on the project? And how are we going to split those workshop delegates up into effective innovation teams?

    Diversity: a key success factor in composing effective innovation teams

    What success factors make a team effective? You may think of factors such as trust, joint goals, and open communication here, and you’re right. But when it comes to composing effective innovation teams, another factor rules: diversity. 

    In innovation, diversity means that we want to field project teams that represent a rich mix of backgrounds related to professional knowledge and skills and a broad take on life and the human experience. Why do we favor using diverse project teams when working on an innovation challenge — and here, especially during Ideation? Diverse teams think broader about their project case and contribute more viewpoints and perspectives. Hence, they tend to produce better insights and a bigger, richer idea pool compared to monogamous teams.

    While building heterogeneous innovation project teams, we have to consider up to five aspects of diversity: business function, culture and nationality, gender, generation, and, most importantly, cognitive styles. Let’s discuss each of these aspects below. 

    1. Functional diversity: Ensure core functions and key business units are present

    When working on a vital innovation project, make sure that each innovation team represents a broad, diverse range of related business functions. Typically, this includes the core functions of the corporate value chain; depending on the project, you may also want to add selected members from supporting functions, too. 

    For example, a few years ago, we worked with a leading F&B company on a significant, 9-month long innovation project initiative that involved 11 category brands. The company nominated more than a hundred delegates from a wide range of business functions such as Marketing, Sales, Manufacturing, Procurement, Communications & Marketing Services, and Category & Channel Sales Development.

    Do you want to add even more functional diversity to your innovation project teams? Then also invite key customers or suppliers to broaden your thinking even further. 

    In the said project, the teams visited consumers and channel partners during the initial Xploration phase of our X-IDEA innovation process method. The project owners also invited the creative leads from their activation agencies to join a 3-day long IDEA workshop that concluded the major innovation project initiative. 

    2. Gender diversity: Balance the sexes in an innovation team

    For as much as possible, balance the number of male and female delegates in a project team. A good gender mix ensures that each project team can equally well contribute gender-specific perspectives to the case. Moreover, teams tend to be more motivated and energetic if they comprise of members of both sexes. Last but not least, fielding gender-mixed teams also helps to avoid gender stereotyping. 

    Having said this, for certain projects, we may even want to break up the mixed teams into gender-specific teams temporarily. For example, more than a decade ago, Thinkergy guided Beiersdorf’s Nivea brand through a project that aimed to create new lip care concepts for Asian consumers. For one Ideation exercise, we split the delegates into “all-male’ and “all-female” gender teams. Then they played “Battle of the Sexes” — a creativity technique that uses gender stereotypes to provoke more extraordinary ideas catering to gender-specific wants and needs.

    3. Intercultural diversity: Balance and mix nationalities and cultures

    Innovation projects with Multinational Corporations typically involve multicultural delegates. Here it is essential to aim for an equal number of local and international members in each team. If possible, avoid having international delegates from one country working in the same team, as otherwise, they may end up hanging out together all the time. Moreover, instead of focusing on nationalities, better group the delegates based on geographical regions before distributing them into well-mixed but balanced intercultural innovation teams.

    For example, in 2017-18, Thinkergy ran a 2-year X-IDEA Innovation Project with Covestro. The first project workshop took place in Leverkusen, and unsurprisingly, Germans made for the majority of participants. However, we also had delegates from other European countries (France, Italy, and the UK) plus a few oversea visitors (from China, Taiwan, Japan). The project owner and I made sure that we split those non-German participants well across each of the three Xploration teams. One year later, we hosted a second IDEA-workshop in Shanghai. This time the bulk of participants came from China, and we equally spread out the remaining delegates from other Asian countries and Europe across each of the two innovation teams.

    4. Generational diversity: Mix different generations

    An innovation project should also represent a fair cross-section of the various generations that we can find in the workplace at present. As an innovation project owner, you may lean towards predominantly inviting Gen Xers and Millennials to help you with your project. However, better also include a few motivated Baby Boomers to allow the teams to benefit from the deep work and life experience they can contribute to an innovation workshop. Depending on the project, also consider adding a few Post-Millennials to each team; these Gen Z-colleagues may have just joined your company as management trainees or may currently do an internship in it.

    The Swiss innovation company Brainstore takes generational diversity even one step further. They like to invite high school kids to join the Ideation stage of their innovation process called “The Idea Machine.” At Thinkergy, we once also invited undergraduate students to join an innovation project workshop in Thailand with mixed results. However, using external teens or young adults for Ideation is a worthwhile option to consider, particularly for innovation challenges focusing on consumer technology or lifestyle products and services.

    5. Cognitive diversity: Let people play on their preferred cognitive styles at the right time

    When it comes to composing well-balanced innovation teams, the icing on the cake is to consider the personalities or, even better, the preferred cognitive styles of all the delegates. If you know everyone well enough, you may be able to gauge the personalities of each participant. However, a more professional approach is to profile all innovation project participants with a sophisticated cognitive profiling method such as our TIPS innovator profiling test.

    For example, in the Master in Business Innovation (MBI) program at Bangkok University, we profile all graduate students of a new intake with TIPS. The test results give us detailed information on the preferred styles to think, work, interact, live, and innovate of each student. More importantly, we learn with which of 11 innovator profiles each student comes out of TIPS, and on what relative development level this profile is located. Later on, I use this information to develop 3-4 combinations of different innovation teams. Thereby, each team comprises cognitively diverse profile compositions that constitute the right mix of styles and TIPS base orientations (theories, ideas, people, systems). And of course, I also consider intercultural and gender aspects while composing these teams, too. Later on, we use these team lists to field different project teams to work on real-life innovation project cases that relate to each course in the program. 

    The Program Director of the MBI program of Bangkok University, Dr. Xavier Parisot summed up his experiences with using TIPS to compose effective innovation project teams as follows:

    As a Program Director, I must ensure that our MBI corporate participants will acquire actual knowledge, empower their soft skills, and improve their leadership capabilities. To achieve such a goal, the complementation of skills and competences in each work team is a key challenge. The application of the TIPS method helped us achieve that goal in a powerful way, but it also increases the satisfaction level and the perceived quality of the results.

    Using a cognitive test requires an additional investment for the test fees. On the other hand, it may save companies costs by allowing an innovation project owner to inviting people only to those stages that suit their cognitive preferences and talents (more on this in an earlier article titled “Who shines when in the creative process?”).

    Conclusion: Succeed in innovation with the right mix of talents

    Many years ago, I jobbed part-time as a D.J. for a few years. To draw people onto the dance floor, one song I played regularly was “Last night a D.J. saved my life” by Indeed. It contains the line: “There’s not a problem that I can’t fix, ‘Cause I can do it in the mix.” The same message holds true for an innovation project: There’s not an innovation challenge you can’t fix if you know how to compose the right mix of talents for your innovation teams.

    • Would you like to learn more how we run innovation projects using our award-winning X-IDEA innovation method?
    • Are you curious to learn more about TIPS and to find out what’s your TIPS profile? Buy your TIPS online profiling test coupon for USD 89 now.
    • Contact us to tell us more about yourself and how we may help you. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019


  • How to Find the People to Drive Digital Innovation

    These days, many companies are interested in pursuing digital development initiatives and more progressive innovation projects. Why is that? The advent of the innovation economy and digital transformation will drive economies in the coming decades. Moreover, within the next couple of years, we’ll see the beginning of a new long cycle of technological and economic development: the Sixth Wave. Each long wave brings forth 2-3 new lead technologies that drive economic growth for a couple of decades. Each wave also sees the rise of a few start-up ventures that develop into market-dominating corporations. For example, companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have risen to prominent positions in the present Fifth Wave driven by information technology, the Internet, and social networks. Apart from clean technologies and biotechnology & genomics, digital transformation triggered by artificial intelligence (AI), big data and automatization are predicted to drive the upcoming Sixth Wave (ca. 2020-2045). 

    To survive and thrive in times of exponential change, and to master digital transformation, established corporations need to start a new creative growth cycle. But where and how to find the creative and digital types to drive these new initiatives?

    Enter TIPS

    TIPS is Thinkergy’s innovator profiling system. We developed this comparatively new cognitive profiling method to better deal with the people side of business and innovation. The TIPS method consists of two overlapping theoretical constructs:

    • On the one hand, the four TIPS bases (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems) describe four social and technological base orientations that drive technological, social, economic, and political change. TIPS asserts that most people’s behaviors and actions go back to one or two of these fundamental base orientations.
    • On the other hand, the four TIPS styles (to think, work, interact, and live) illustrate the preferred cognitive styles of people. Thereby, each style comes in three possible expressions (e.g., Fact, Feeling, and Fact & Feeling for the interaction style).

    Put together, the four TIPS bases and the four TIPS styles form a profiling map that gives room for ten plus one distinct innovator profiles. Also, these two theoretical constructs allow us to identify those creative and digital types within and outside your organization.

    Where to find the creative and digital types?

    Nowadays, many corporations want to identify those creative and digital types within their knowledge workforce. These two target groups locate at certain TIPS bases, and exhibit specific dominant TIPS styles:

    • The “digital types” revolve around the TIPS bases Theories and Ideas and are “Brain-workers”, which characterizes their dominant TIPS style. How does this connect to TIPS Profiles? Conceptualizers and Theorists are best equipped to play a significant role in digital projects. They may be supported by Ideators, Imaginative Experimenters, and Theoretical Technocrats as supplementary team members. 
    • In contrast, we can find the “creative types” at the Ideas- and People-bases. They tend to be “Fantasy-thinkers”, which is the dominant cognitive style that matters here. Ideators and Promoters are best suited to drive progressive innovation projects. They may be supported by empathetic Partners, Imaginative Conceptualizers, and Imaginative Experimenters.

    As the illustration below shows, the two groups overlap at the Ideas-base, indicating that those profiles touching this base can take part in both digital and creative project initiatives.

    How to find the creative and digital types?

    With the emergence of TIPS as a new cognitive profiling method for the digital innovation economy, it’s easy to identify the digital and creative types in your organization. Just get all your in-house talents and potential recruits TIPS-ed. In other words, have everyone take our TIPS online test. If you want to get a larger number of your knowledge workers TIPS-ed, you may qualify for a special volume pricing (which we offer for organizations that buy test coupons in bulk).

    After you’ve tested your talents with TIPS, map out the results on a TIPS Profiling Map that shows everyone’s profile type and top scores. An earlier blog article discussed how you could do this. If you like (and have a budget), we can also create the profiling maps and a results matrix for you. 

    Once you’ve identified the digital and creative types, what next?

    TIPS allows you to find those types who, based on their cognitive predispositions and preferences, are qualified to drive or take part in digital projects or progressive innovation projects. However, knowing that someone has the talent to work in digital or creative development projects doesn’t automatically mean that they are ready with the word “go”. It is more likely that many of these “digital” and “creative” talents may lack specific knowledge and skills to do so well right away. Why? If they finished their formal education a few years ago, it is unlikely that courses related to digitalization, creativity, and innovation were part of their curricula. 

    As such, you need to start talent development initiatives to equip those digital and creatives types with the necessary know-how to play out their natural strengths. (You may also want to take a look at this article on talent development titled Who should be trained in what?): 

    • Nowadays, it’s easy to find training programs in structured innovation methods (such as Design Thinking or our X-IDEA method). In the past years, some business schools have added creativity courses into their graduate programs or even began offering progressive new graduate programs. (One example here is the Master in Business Innovation program provided by the Institute for Knowledge and Innovation, South-East Asia (IKI-SEA) at Bangkok University). Thinkergy even delivers training courses in “advanced creativity” (based on our Genius Journey method that allows firms to develop their top talents into creative leaders).
    • However, the situation is slightly different when it comes to training courses in digital contents. Here, a suitable way to quickly upskill your top digital talents is to enroll them in online training courses (such as Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, Data Analytics, and programming languages such as Java or Python).

    As such, get ready to invest in training programs to upskill your in-house digital and creative talents. Equip them with the knowledge and skills they still lack to contribute their natural strengths to digital initiatives and innovation projects. (And of course, consider also bringing in selected outside talent and fresh graduates who studied computer science or innovation).

    How to prevent your digital and creative talents from leaving your organization?

    In the coming years, the creative and, in particular, digital types will be in high demand and short supply. So, expect headhunters and competitors to approach your digital talents and top creative types regularly. What can you do to keep all those creative and digital talents in your ranks happy?

    1. Pay them well in line with —or better— above the market rates for comparable positions in digital transformation and innovation.
    2. Manage them in harmony with their preferred cognitive styles. What does this mean? Do not micromanage them. Do create a free-flowing work environment with flexible work hours. Finally, do expose them to challenging digital or creative work assignments.
    3. Create a “dual career track system” that allows digital and creative “Brainiacs” to advance in their careers (both hierarchically and financially) without having to become managers. Why? The best middle managers are “Brawniacs” who enjoy “sweating the small stuff” and taking care of all the details. In contrast, the abstract, conceptual digital types dislike “managing” and are not good at doing. (Learn more about the Brainiac-Brawniac work dilemma in an earlier blog article).

    Conclusion: It’s all about knowing how to find, develop, and keep creative and digital talents

    TIPS allows you to identify who in your workforce has a natural cognitive predisposition to partake in digital or progressive innovation projects. Some of these digital and creative talents may already have the necessary repertoire  of pertinent knowledge and skills to get going right away. You need to develop most others by offering them tailored development programs with a mix of offline and online training courses. 

    So, get ready to invest in competing in the innovation economy and master digital transformation successfully. First, invest in a cognitive profiling exercise of your workforce to identify the digital and creative types. Then, invest in digital and creative talent development initiatives to quickly close identified knowledge and skills gaps. Finally, invest in keeping compensation and rewards schemes that keep your talents happy.

    What’s the alternative? Fading into irrelevance and eventually becoming obsolete with your methods and technologies, products, and company.

    • Download the TIPS brochure, or check out our TIPS website, to learn more about TIPS?
    • Check out our TIPS online test and get TIPS-ed now
    • Are you interested in one of our TIPS training courses?
    • Or would you be interested to profile a larger number of employees and would be interested in our bulk-buy pricing for TIPS?

    Contact us to tell us more how we may help you find and develop those digital and creative types in your organization.


  • 84% of the World Hates Innovation - This Is Why

    The prolific American innovator Charles F. Kettering once said: “The world hates change. Yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” Innovation means change. Ergo, the world hates innovation, one might conclude. Let’s investigate Kettering’s statement to understand why, and what it means for us as innovators.

    Innovation means progress

    Let’s first take a look at the second part of Kettering’s message. Change means innovation, and innovation means meaningful changes that improve our lives and make the world a better place. So, innovation means progress.

    What has brought humanity out of caves into comfortable homes full of appliances and modern technology? The accumulation of many innovations that unfolded in several waves over thousands of years. Would you go back to living in cold, damp, smoky cave? Maybe that’s too radical, so let’s make it easier: Would you give me your mobile phone and go back to having only landlines at home and at work and pay phones on the street? Or if this proposition is still too extreme, would you swap your smart phone for a dumb phone? You’re likely to decline these offers.

    Clearly, Charles Kettering was right in saying that innovation or change is the only thing that has brought us progress. But what about the first part of the sentence?

    The world hates innovation and change. Is this really true?

    In 2005, Alan Deutschman wrote a fascinating article for Fast Company, titled “Change or Die”, on an interesting real-life decision scenario: What if you were given a choice by a well-informed, trusted and benevolent authority: You have to radically and enduringly change your life — or you have to die. Which option would you choose?

    Clearly, almost all people say they would choose to make significant changes in their life to avoid death. But when we contrast this proclaimed intent with the actual number of people who follow through, nine out of ten people choose to die. Why?

    The scenario relates to patients who had undergone heart bypass surgery and were told by their cardiologist to shift to a healthy lifestyle to avoid a relapse. Yet very few did. Statistics show that two years after surgery, 90% of the patients have not changed their lifestyle — and within a few years, they died after a new heart attack.

    Why is it so difficult for most people to change?

    People differ in their response to change because of their personality and their preferred cognitive styles. Few people have what Good to Great author Jim Collins calls “psycho- dynamic” minds, which relish or even drive change. However, many people have “psycho-static” minds that give them distaste change.

    Why do most people hate change?

    First, humans are creatures of habit. Many behaviors are ingrained into our brains, and because they served us well in the past (or did no noticeable harm), we are reluctant to do something radically new. People with psycho-static minds in particular relish their habits and cherish rules and traditions.

    Second, most people are afraid of the unknown, and every change is a departure from the status quo. Third, when people do try something new, they run the risk of failure and —especially in some cultures— the related risk of losing face. Sticking with what’s familiar is a safer option.

    Lastly, many people feel comfortable in their established ways, and some are really lazy. Every change means more work, new challenges, new learnings, and temporary discomforts. Why bother?

    Change needs an impetus and a positive frame

    Every change initiative needs a powerful motivation to succeed permanently. As the life coach Tony Robbinsnoted, people are motivated to make changes either by moving away from pain or moving towards pleasure. But isn’t the fear of death one of the most powerful motivator there is? Why then do nine out of ten people still choose death?

    Alan Deutschman suggested that a powerful impetus to change alone might not be good enough, but the odds of success increase when we use a positive frame of reference. More bypass patients stick with healthier lifestyles when their doctors reframe the challenge from a negative (“change to avoid death”) to a positive frame (“change to enjoy life”). Moving towards pleasure seems to motivate more people to make lasting changes than moving away from pain.

    In addition, humans need support groups and mechanisms as well as fast visible successes (“quick wins”) to stick with new behaviors long enough to embed new habits.

    From “change or die” to “Innovate or die”

    To recap: when confronted with the threat of early death, ten out of ten bypass patients say they’re ready to make healthy lifestyle changes, but only one in ten follows through. Isn’t this just like many executives in mature corporations with declining revenues and margins approach innovation? Everyone is talking the innovation talk, but few are walking their talk in earnest.

    When roughly a decade ago, innovation started to become a hot topic in business, some innovation experts and consultants marketed their services using the “innovate or die”-frame. Truth be told, we all die eventually, and they should really say: “Innovate or die sooner”.

    But why are more struggling corporations not motivated to avoid “sudden death” by making serious innovation efforts? Perhaps, just like the bypass patients, “innovate or die” doesn’t motivate enough people in an organization to make the necessary sacrifices for a creative change succeed.

    So, use a positive frame (“Let’s change to lead innovation in our industry”) and move towards pleasure. Then, link this positive frame with a compelling vision of a bright future. Finally, carefully design the stages of creative change to give the people the support structures and wins needed to hang in and see it through to success.

    Steve Jobs did this when he returned to Apple in 1997 and saved the company with a focused series of new computers (including the colorful iMacs) and his “Think Different” campaigns. More recently, Jeffrey Immelt renewed General Electric by stimulating new creative growth with a focus on clean and green technology through the “Ecomagination” initiative.

    Conclusion: The world hates change indeed

    Charles Kettering was right: although it brought so much progress that everyone enjoys and won’t want to live without, “the world hates change”, the world hates innovation. We can even quantify this uncomfortable truth. How many percent of people hate innovation or change? According to Everett Rogers’ “diffusion of innovation theory”, it’s 84 percent. Luckily for all, the remaining 16 percent of people have enough creativity, energy and guts to drive meaningful new innovations into the early majority, so that eventually, anyone who hates innovation can enjoy progress. Rogers calls these change drivers “innovators” and “early adopters”, and if you read these lines, chance are you’re one of them.

    “The world hates innovation. This is why” is one of 64 sections of a new book that I am currently writing, The Executive’s Guide to Innovation (targeted for publication in 2H.2019). Understanding the various facets of change and innovation is also a key aspect we touch upon in “The C-(reative) Class. The Executive Innovation Brief”, Thinkergy’s innovation training for busy executives. Contact us if you’re interested to learn more about our trainings or my upcoming book.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis  

  • Brainstorming: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

    Whenever a business or a work team needs some ideas, someone in the group invariably suggests: “Okay, let’s brainstorm for ideas then.”

    Brainstorming is arguably the most widely used creativity technique ever since Alex Osborn introduced the tool in his classic 1953 book Applied Imagination. Need some evidence? Brainstorming has played a central role in every book on creativity techniques. Some people even use the word brainstorming synonymously with creativity.

    A search on Google delivers about 11.8 million results for the word “brainstorming” as compared to only 1.5 million hits for the term “creativity technique” – although, from a set theory point of view, the subset brainstorming is only a part of the whole “creativity technique” set. Take the simple Google popularity test as a warning sign: It suggests that brainstorming is often used in a context different from its original scope of being an idea generation tool.

    Here we arrive at some of the problems with brainstorming. With reference to the title of the classic western movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, you need to understand the good, bad and ugly side of brainstorming to produce creative results for your company when using this tool.

    The ugly side of Brainstorming

    So let’s get started in gaining a greater understanding by looking at the ugly sides of brainstorming first: My experience as a creativity coach has taught me that in most companies, brainstorming is done incorrectly, thus delivering only comparatively few, rather unoriginal ideas. Most companies start on the correct path by assigning a facilitator to run the session and a recorder to jot down the ideas of the group in an appropriate size (eight plus minus two is a good rule of thumb here). However, they fail when it comes to following through on the all-important four Ground Rules of Brainstorming:

    • First, defer judgment until the end of the session – or in other words: no killing of ideas during the brainstorming. Judgment is like driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. So, take the foot off the brake to accelerate the idea output in a brainstorming session.
    • Second, go for quantity – as quantity breeds quality. Here, remember that the chances that you find one great idea out of an idea generation session will be higher if you get four hundred as compared to only a hundred ideas. As Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling noted: “The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.”
    • Third, the wilder the better. Shoot for crazy, wild, absurd ideas — in line with Albert Einstein’s advice: “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
    • Finally, combine ideas and improve on the ideas of others.

    The bad side of Brainstorming

    Moving on to the bad sides of brainstorming: Many research studies confirm that brainstorming is an inferior technique with regards to producing a high idea quantity. In a given time interval, a group of “brainwriters” that individually write down their ideas will generate roughly four-times more ideas then a same-size brainstorming group.

    Researchers attribute this result to three effects that explain the deficiencies of brainstorming:

    1. First, some members of the group don’t participate and let others do all the work (the “free-rider phenomenon”);
    2. Secondly, some group participants avoid expressing wild or original ideas out of fear how other group members might privately judge them (the problem of “evaluation apprehension”);
    3. and third and most important, the “blocking effect” that stems from the fact that only one person can speak at a time and then blocks the thinking of other members who listen to the suggested idea instead of thinking for themselves.

    The good side of Brainstorming

    Finally, let’s talk about the good side: Brainstorming has become such a popular technique because it is a highly enjoyable, energetic activity that people love to do – and having fun and being playful and childlike (as opposed to being childish) are all very beneficial for unleashing creativity.

    Brainstorming is a crucial ingredient in the creative culture of the industrial design powerhouse IDEO, and the innovation results delivered by this company speak for the benefits of this technique if used appropriately.

    So what?

    So how can we cure the bad and ugly sides of brainstorming while continuing to enjoy the benefits of its good side? Here are five recommendations on how you can develop a correct brainstorming culture in your company:

    1. Start the process by sending your employees to a quality creativity training workshop to learn the basics of idea generation.
    2. Have an individual Brainwriting exercise before every brainstorming session.
    3. Review the ground rules before the start of a session.
    4. Set an idea quota for each session — say, at least a hundred ideas in one hour that keeps the group focused on moving forward instead of falling into the judgment trap.
    5. Finally, have an experienced facilitator run the session, who introduces other creativity techniques (such as ‘Metaphors’ or ‘What if” (wishful thinking) into the session once the group starts running dry on ideas.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 


  • Who Shines in the Creative Process?

    Have you ever participated in an innovation project? Have you ever worked as a member of an innovation project team on an innovation case that your senior management deemed important? Did you enjoy the entire project experience? Or did your find parts of the innovation workshop boring, tiring or otherwise de-energizing?

    If you’re like most people, then probably you really enjoyed some parts of the innovation project, while other phases didn’t click with you — and you kept asking yourself ‘Why am I here?’

    Why was that? Because of your preferred cognitive styles and your innovator profile. Let me explain who tends to enjoy and perform well when (i.e., in what kind  of work phases or process stages) in an innovation project.

    A creative process gives structure to an innovation project

    In the era of the innovation economy, many companies set up dedicated innovation projects to tackle innovation challenges. Thereby, one or more project teams work on a case by going step-by-step through the stages of a creative process method, such as the classic Creative Problem-Solving Model (CPS, and its modern variations), the popular Design Thinking approach, or Thinkergy’s X-IDEA method. 

    Typically, such creative processes have from 3-6 distinct process stages that for a certain period of time invite would-be innovators to engage in specific styles of thinking, working, interacting, and “living”: 

    • Thinking: What style of thinking dominates in a particular stage? Some process stages require the team members to think more analytically and critically, other stages clearly invite them to think creatively, while many stages call for both styles of thinking. 
    • Working: Some process stages require the teams to work on assignments that are more abstract, conceptual and “big picture” in nature, while other stages are more practical, hands-on and detailed, and some have a mix of both.
    • Interacting: The interactions and conversations between delegates are more fact-based in some stages, and more intuitive or empathetic in others, or may draw upon both.
    • Living: The final aspect captures the levels of formality and energy of how the activities in any one stage are executed and approached. Some process stages unfold in a very formal, controlled and serious way, others are more free-flowing, playful and even apparently chaotic, while many have a healthy mix of formal order and flexible freedom. 

    By the way, unlike the default four stage-model of most creative processes, Thinkergy’s awards-winning innovation method X-IDEA unfolds in five stages: Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation, and Action, Why? We passionately believe that in order to move beyond conventional ideas, a creative process method needs to have two distinct creative process stages (Ideation and Development) that differ in speed, energy and output focus (idea quality vs. concept quality). And we argued our case in an academic paper that we also summed up as a blog article.

    Why do different people shine in different creative process stages?

    Because in the creative process, the required styles of thinking, working, interacting and “living” change from stage to stage, it’s not surprising that different people tend to enjoy different process stages. Or more precisely: different innovator profiles with their preferred styles to think, work, interact and live.

    Sadly, most companies have little to no idea of the preferred cognitive styles of each of their employees — and related, what kind of stages and activities in a creative process a particular employee tends to enjoy. Hence, they ask their employees to attend and work through all process stages of an innovation project, although most people only enjoy —and do well in— 2-3 out of 4-5 process stages (depending on the chosen innovation method or creative process model). In other words: Most people asked to join an innovation project feel like that they are wasting between 25-50% of their work time for something they don’t feel contributes much value — and don’t enjoy. Little wonder that organizations have begun experiencing the phenomenon of innovation fatigue. 

    How to understand the preferred cognitive styles of your people

    Cognitive profiling tools aim to capture differences in the way people prefer to think and work with the help of a questionnaire that is linked to established theories on cognition. 

    Well-known cognitive profiling methods include Herrmann’s Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) or Alan Black’s MIND Design Concept — and for the past few years, there is also TIPS, Thinkergy’s Innovator Profiling System created to help individuals and organizations optimize the people side of business and innovation. TIPS introduces 11 distinct innovator profiles, each of which has a unique position on the TIPS Profiling Map that is spanned by the four TIPS bases (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems) and marked by the four TIPS styles (to think, work, interact, and live).


    So who shines when in an innovation project?

    Suppose you are a manager in charge of organizing and running an innovation project. You need to convince your busy colleagues to commit time for your project. Suppose further you know all the TIPS profiles of your colleagues (as your company has invested in TIPS as a personal assessment tool for talent acquisition, alignment & management — and for righting the people-side of innovation). Suppose finally you opt to run your innovation project by employing X-IDEA as your creative process method. So, what TIPS profiles tend to shine in what stages of X-IDEA? Or in other words: Who do you invite to participate in your innovation project? And when?

    • Stage X—Xploration:
      You kick-off your X-IDEA-powered innovation project with an initial Xploration Workshop of at least 2 days. What TIPS profiles should you invite to explore your case? Mostly the conceptual, brainy profiles revolving around the Theories- and Ideas-bases who enjoy doing Xploration: Theorists, Ideators and —in particular— Conceptualizers. Moreover, if your project has a strong customer focus, then also add a few Promoters and Partners; they infuse empathetic People-energy and ensure that your customers’ wants, needs and pains are considered, too. Mixed well together, these profiles take care that the innovation teams first Xpress what they do and don’t know about the case, then Xplore it from various perspectives, and finally Xtract novel insights before framing the final challenge. 
    • Stages I—Ideation and D—Development:
      Next, you invite all the creative types to a 1-2 day-long Ideation & Development Workshop. You find these profiles with fantasy and creative energy located near the Ideas- and People-bases: Ideators, Imaginative Conceptualizers and Experimenters, Promoters and Partners enjoy both the frenzy of a wild Ideation-session and the design of novel, original and meaningful idea concepts in the Development-stage. Here, fill-up any gaps in the teams with All-Rounders and maybe also a few Theorists.
    • Stage E—Evaluation:
      Set aside half to —if you also do rapid prototyping— one day for an Evaluation-session, for which you need profiles representing the energies of all four TIPS bases (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems). In particular, now is the time to bring in those critical, pragmatic profiles surrounding the Systems-base: Systematizers, Technocrats, Organizers, and Systematic Experimenters help the innovation teams to get real and down to business, thus making sure that those top ideas selected for implementation both make great meaning and are feasible to implement. 
    • Stage A—Action:
      In the final stage of X-IDEA, Action, you compose an implementation project team involving profiles from all TIPS bases but the Theories-base to transform one top idea into a tangible innovation. While the team mostly consists of more operative, action-oriented profiles at the People- and Systems-base (Partners, Organizers, Systematizers, plus All-Rounders) to enjoy doing operative project work, you should also have at least one clear-cut Promoter and one well-developed Ideator on the team. Why? Your Promoter is the best person to pitch the idea to senior management and other key stakeholders, thus ensuring you secure the necessary budgets and other resources needed for implementation. And your Ideator can add drive and lots of ideas to the team, thus helping them to overcome operational issues, organizational obstacles and plain corporate inertia.

    Conclusion: Boost innovation results by connecting the process-side to the people-side of innovation

    Knowing the preferred cognitive styles of all their employees allows companies to staff innovation project teams in a more flexible, effective and productive way:

    1. More flexible: Invite different innovator profiles for different creative process stages held on different workshop days.
    2. More effective: By adhering to point 1, you demonstrate that you respect the time constraints and preferred cognitive styles of your employees.
    3. More productive: Because of points 1 and 2, all workshop delegates in the innovation teams play on their preferred cognitive styles all of the time. Because the team members feel more engaged and involved, you’re highly likely to have better results in the innovation project — and more commitment to innovation in general.

    But do all of these benefits justify the investment in a cognitive profiling test for all people involved in innovation in your company? Modern knowledge workers often cost a company at least $150-200 per workday. Every day wasted in an innovation project team that is in a process stage that doesn’t suit the preferred cognitive style of your employee means burning that amount of money. Compare that with a small one-time investment of just $89 for a TIPS online profiling test (which also offers many other applications in innovation and beyond for business in general), and you have your ROI justification. 

    So, what’s your TIPS innovator profile? And related to that, what are your preferred cognitive styles? When will you get yourself and your colleagues TIPS-ed?

    • Click here to register and buy a coupon ($89) for your TIPS online personality test now.
    • Contact us to learn more about our experiential, eye-opening TIPS training courses. 


  • Mastering Digital Transformation- Part 3

    In part 2 of this three article series, we discussed the “innovator’s dilemma” to better understand the challenges that the digitalization of business imposes on both established corporations and start-up ventures. We also explored strategies established firms can employ to successfully master digital transformation. In this third and final part, let’s consider eight game plans that start-up ventures may employ to drive digital transformation.

    1. Start with a niche application

    As we discussed in part 2, start-up entrepreneurs are excellent at recognizing opportunities for digital niche products that make meaning, typically either by righting a wrong or by amplifying the quality of people’s lives. Due to their tech background, most digital products are increasingly complex. Hence, as a digital start-up, begin small by focusing on a simple niche product. Make the basics of this niche application awesome first. Then, at a later stage, add more functionalities and other products. 

    The mobile phone banking start-up N26 successfully followed this game plan, as their CEO Valentin Stalf explains: “We started with a fairly niche product — an account and a card. Now we’ve gone from there to a fintech hub.”

    2. Know your target customers

    You have identified a niche facilitating meaningful digital value creation. Next, identify those  customer segments you predominantly want to target with the question: ”Who will most appreciate and benefit from our meaningful new value offering?” 

    N26 clearly focuses on the younger generations (Millennials and Post-Millennials) who are digital natives and heavy users of their mobile phone. Its CEO Valentin Stalf explains: “Maybe we don’t have to get the non-digital natives. Maybe we start with the digital natives — there are around 60 million in Europe. If we win 6 million out of that, 10%, I think it’s going to be pretty successful.”

    3. Map out the customer journey / user experience (for each user type)

    When considering their customers’ journey, established corporations tend to adopt an inside-out perspective: They think along their internal sales funnel or conversion cycle (e.g., awareness, consideration, test and comparison, purchase, after sales, loyalty, advocacy) rather than putting themselves into their customers’ shoes. As a start-up, do the opposite. Adopt your customers’ viewpoints from the outside-in, and map out the digital customer journey. 

    For example, a young customer interested in opening a bank account searches the web for banks offering accounts either for free or at a low monthly fee. Then, she reads online reviews the banks she has shortlisted. Next, she may chat online with friends to seek their views on different banks. Once she’s settled on her favorite, she consults the website of the selected bank; ideally, it has a button that she can click to begin the account opening process online. She submits all required personal information. Then, a bank clerk initiates a video call to verify her ID documentation online. By mapping out the customer experience in a similar way, new N26 customers are able to open a bank account anywhere in the world in around 8 minutes only and without that they have to physically visit a bank branch.

    4. Focus on creating frictionless user experiences

    As we discussed in part 2, disruptive product technologies are simpler, more convenient, more reliable and cheaper than existing alternatives. So, when designing your digital user experience with your start-up, look for ways to remove all these frictions that typically impede many traditional analog user experiences. 

    For example, N26 automatically classifies customers’ purchases paid with their credit card into different categories such as “groceries”, “bars & restaurants”, “travel & holidays” (simplification); it facilities opening new accounts from home in about 8 minutes (increased convenience); it offers instant adjustment of account limits and security settings with the shift of a screen buttons (higher reliability); and its basic account and card comes for free (price reduction).

    5. Rapidly prototype and iterate

    As a start-up venture, apply rapid prototyping while creating a new digital value proposition. Soft-launch a beta-version early and invite test users to tell you “what’s wrong with it.” Then, apply all useful suggestions in an updated version, and through a series of iterations, arrive at a minimum viable digital product that you can fully launch. As such, plan to fail earlier to succeed sooner and be faster and better than incumbents.

    6. Think platforms, not just products

    As a start-up, try to avoid simply creating a meaningful digital product. Consider how you might align your offering with an existing dominant platform, or possibly even on how to create a platform of your own. In The Digital Transformation Playbook, David Roger explains that: 

    “A platform is a business that creates value by facilitating direct interactions between two or more distinct types of customers.” 

    For example, Airbnb created a platform to connect renters (travelers looking for affordable accommodation) with hosts (locals interested to rent out their property to visitors). Similarly, Uber’s platform allows freelance drivers to connect to riders interested in a cheaper, yet more convenient transportation alternative to a taxi. Paypal allows even three parties to process payments over its platform: account holders, merchants, and banks. With our new TIPS innovator profiling test platform that we’re currently building, Thinkergy will also enable individual users, coaches & trainers, and HR & Innovation Departments to independently purchase and allocate online test coupons without our direct involvement. 

    7. Think mobile first, always

    Next year, the number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the five billion mark, meaning that two in three persons will own a mobile phone. So, when you create digital value propositions, preferably design it for use on a mobile phone, or at least ensure that the user experience is as good on a mobile phone as on any other electronic device. 

    N26 didn’t just create a disruptive digital bank account. They intentionally choose to focus on the mobile phone as the device of choice for client interactions.

    8. Digitally interact two-way with your wider customer network

    In the 20th century, industrial corporations mass-produced products to realize economies of scale. Then, they persuaded consumers to purchase those products using mass broadcast marketing strategies. In his Digital Playbook, David Rogers introduces a new model to drive purchasing decisions in the 21st century. Dynamic customer networks are characterized by two-way communications between companies, consumers and influencers to inspire purchases; thereby, many of these communications will take place digitally involving social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram), e-sales platforms (such as Amazon, eBay, Craigslist), online forums, and blogs, among others. 

    The shift to this new model also means that digital advertising will continue to rise in importance. By 2020, media experts expect that half of all advertising will be spent online, and will equal all offline advertising spend. 

    Conclusion

    The American inventor Douglas Engelbert noted: “The digital revolution is far more significant than the invention of writing or even of printing.”

    The more I read and think about digitalization, the more I believe he’s right.

    Do you lead, manage or work in an established organization or a start-up? How will the digital wave affect your business? How do you plan to master the challenges of digital transformation with your business? Contact us if you want us to help you with our innovation expertise.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018



  • Mastering Digital Transformation- Part 2

    Two weeks ago, we discussed how a range of newly emerging, interconnected digital technologies (such as artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things, among others) are predicted to profoundly change business and society. We explored how new technologies pass through different phases of the hype cycle before eventually producing meaningful, marketable applications. In Part 2 of this three episode article, let’s next discuss what challenges digital transformation places on both established and new businesses, and then explore what strategies established firms may employ to successfully master digital transformation.

    What challenges does digital transformation pose on established businesses and start-ups?

    Interestingly: the challenges that digital transformation poses for established firms are the flip-side of those that start-up ventures face. In his classic book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, Clayton Christensen provides some insights and conceptual model that may help me drive home this point:

    • Christensen distinguishes innovations into two types — sustainable and disruptive ones. Sustainable innovations focus on new ways to grow existing technologies by enhancing their performance, typically through extended functionality or increased capacity. On the other hand, disruptive innovations solve a challenge in an entirely new way or for an entirely new group of people, thus changing the landscape of a whole industry or even sparking a new one altogether.
    • Christensen also introduces a new theoretical framework, the Resources, Processes, Values Model.The RPV model captures how established organizations differ from start-ups in the ways they utilize resources (things and assets which firms can buy, sell, create or destroy), processes (established ways to transform resources into products or services) and values (prioritization criteria for making decisions). Established firms have plentiful resources and well-honed processes, but tend to be too internally-focused, bureaucratic and set in their values. In contrast, start-up ventures are strongly market- and customer-focused, thus allowing them to recognize new business opportunities early while —at least initially— having to deal with scarce resources and less efficient processes. 
    • Christensen highlights that established firms excel at creating sustainable innovations that build on or extend established product and services categories. However, they tend to fall short on coming up with disruptive innovations for three reasons: (1) They heavily invested into the development of resources (their legacy products, services, technologies and systems), and tend to escalate their earlier financial commitments. Moreover, developing new “risky” products and service areas (question mark) may also cannibalize sales of their current stars and cash cows. (2) They are loyal to their established ways of doing things and highly efficient processes. (3) They tend to undervalue the impact and future revenue potential of emerging new technologies and business opportunities at the fringes of their industry.
    • Christensen highlights that established firms excel at creating sustainable innovations that build on or extend established product and services categories. However, they tend to fall short on coming up with disruptive innovations for three reasons: (1) They heavily invested into the development of resources (their legacy products, services, technologies and systems), and tend to escalate their earlier financial commitments. Moreover, developing new “risky” products and service areas (question mark) may also cannibalize sales of their current stars and cash cows. (2) They are loyal to their established ways of doing things and highly efficient processes. (3) They tend to undervalue the impact and future revenue potential of emerging new technologies and business opportunities at the fringes of their industry. On the other side, most start-up ventures focus on —and excel at— producing disruptive innovations. This is because they not only recognize emerging new technologies and business opportunities (which some incumbents do, too), but also use a trial and error approach to uncover promising niches (with regards to customers and/or product applications) and then offer an adequate or even better product at a lower price.
    • The “innovator’s dilemma” describes the situation when an incumbent that originally pioneered or dominated the market would have to cannibalize its own business to successfully compete with a new, disruptive competitor.

    What has all of this to do with digital transformation? Most digital technologies are disruptive in nature, meaning they are simpler, more convenient, more reliable and cheaper than  established technologies. In established firms, commitment to their legacy resources, processes and values makes it unlikely that they can internally rise to the challenges (threats and opportunities) posed by digital transformation and its disruptive innovations. In contrast, start-up ventures have the right values to drive digital transformation and, provided they smartly use and gradually grow their limited resources base and creatively approach the process side of their business.

    What are strategies for established firms to master digital transformation?

    Among others, incumbents may embrace one or more of the following five strategies to build up digital initiatives and know-how that they can fund with their established business operations:

    1. Acquire external digital know-how (fully or partially).  An established corporation can easily add digital products and expertise to its business by acquiring a successful venture with a digital technology or application in a niche that is relevant to its industry. For example, in 2016,  the multinational toymaker Mattel acquired the  San Francisco-based baby health wearable maker Sproutling. Alternatively to a full takeover, an established firm may also acquire stakes in promising digital start-up ventures to participate in their developments. For example, in March 2018, Allianz and Tencent announced investing $160 million for an undisclosed stake in the German mobile phone banking start-up N26.
    2. Spin-out digital initiatives into a new venture. Suppose you’re an established firm pursuing internal R&D initiatives and come up with a worthwhile development project that doesn’t fit to your processes. In this case,  Clayton  Christensen recommends  to spinout the initiative into a separate venture; and to commit some of your most qualified managers and developers to lead it. The spin-out can be run like a lean start-up and may even seek additional external funding from other investors. Spin-out strategies have been not uncommon in certain industries (such as pharmaceuticals or biotechnology) as well as at tech-driven universities. Moreover, digital tech ventures also use it to better market promising new applications that they added later to their initial core offering. For example, in 2014, Fog Creek Software spun out its web-based project management application Trello into a separate company. Going forward, such spin-outs promise to also become a feasible strategy to commercialize new digital projects emerging in mature established corporations. 
    3. Run focused innovation projects, then use “scrum” teams for implementation. Another strategy to gradually add more digital products and services to your established firm is to run a series of focused innovation projects targeting digital value creation. Thereby, one or more project teams go through an innovation project (ideally facilitated by a professional innovation firm such as Thinkergy using a sophisticated and effective innovation process method like X-IDEA) to come up with a series of meaningful digital concepts. Then, build scrum teams to quickly implement the top concepts. Each scrum team consists of a number of skilled developers coordinated by a scrum master (with extensive technical expertise) and is led by a project owner (with business expertise), both of who coordinate with the internal project sponsor and other stakeholders inside and outside the organization.
    4. Transform into a creative company. The most challenging —but in the long run also most promising— strategy is to transform the culture of an established corporation into a creative organization. Gradually building up an innovation-friendly firm requires takes at least three years of gradual change steps and requires the dedicated commitment of the top executive team (see how we suggest executing such a CooL change). For example, in 2005, Jeffrey Immelt successfully launched a creative change initiative based on an “Ecoimagination” theme to transform General Electrics from a sales-driven to an innovation-focused organization.
    5. Identify the right people for your digital transformation. Making your business more digital requires you to take action on the people side, too. On the one hand, companies should heavily involve their “digital natives” (i.e., younger staff belonging to Gen Y and Gen Z) in digital project initiatives. On the other hand, innovation-centered cognitive profiling tools such as Thinkergy’s TIPS can help companies to identify those profiles who have a natural talent and passion for driving digital change into the organization. 

    Interim summary and outlook: Established corporations and start-ups face opposite challenges from digitalization: The former have ample resources and sound processes while lacking entrepreneurial values that allow them to recognize digital opportunities, while  the opposite is true for start-up ventures. Established firms may use at least five strategies to better master digital transformation. But what are game plans for start-ups to seize their ability to recognize worthy digital opportunities in spite of scarcer resources and less refined processes? Find out in two weeks in the third and final episode of this article on digital transformation.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018.


  • Becoming Dr. D of Thinkergy

    My name is Detlef Reis — and I am also known as Dr. D of Thinkergy. How did I end up with this personal brand as my alter ego? Today, allow me to share with you some experiences that I’ve had with my name over time and space. In a globalized world, names matter as much for people as they do for brands. What lessons can we learn when we have to name a child, or create a catchy (personal) brand?

    My German family name“Reis” translates into ‘rice’ in English, and you pronounce it in exactly the same way. I’ve always liked my family name: it’s short and crisp, and everyone could get it right away once I highlighted the commonality with the staple food (“rice like noodle”). After I landed a posting to Asia, the jokes came fast and furious. I’ve heard so many, I can now make up my own: “As if Asia needs more Reis”; “Sending Reis to Asia is like sending coals to Newcastle”; “Don’t they have enough rice to begin with?”; “Wow, Reis to Asia, how original!”

    After I had moved to an environment where (bad) English is the unifying language in business, however, I quickly found out that many people called me “Ries” instead of “Rice”. No big deal, I learned to flexibly respond to both pronunciations, and learned to appreciate those few people who bother to ask how to pronounce my family correctly. I also found out that in Asia, some locals take the letter “r” for an “l” (and vice versa), so I embraced “Leis” as a further Asian interpretation of my family name.

    Tip: Choose a name that is easy to pronounce in every language.

    Apparently, my parents first wanted to call me Dieter. At the name registry, however, my Dad had a sudden hunch to switch my first name to Detlef, which means “son of the people” or “belonging to the people”. In the 1950s and 1960s, Detlef was a popular name in Northern Germany, but was rare and unique in Southwestern Germany where we lived. which was probably why my Dad preferred the name over the more common Dieter.

    Tip: Most names have a meaning. Make sure that you investigate the historic roots of a name before you use it to name a child or a brand.

    The ending of my first name comes in two variations, Detlef and Detlev. Predictably, I regularly saw my first name misspelled with a “v” at the end. So if you were me, would you be surprised to receive your doctoral degree and see your first name written with a “v” at the end? The official document was written in Latin, the traditional scientific language of learned people in Europe. In Latin, a “v” is often used in lieu of a“f”, which is why I suppose my university switched to Detlev in my official document. I had already moved to Asia when I received my official doctoral degree, and was busy getting into business in my new job and environment, so I accepted the document as I received it.

    Tip: Ensure that the name of your brand or baby is spelled in one unambiguous way.

    As a little boy, I liked my first name Detlef because it was rare and unique. When I got older, suddenly other kids began teasing me because Detlef was supposed to be a “gay” name. As a teenager, this silly name-calling began to get on my nerves, even more so as I didn’t feel attracted to men. For example, when AIDS came into public awareness in the early eighties, one joke suggested that “AIDS: Alles ist Detlef’s Schuld”, which translates as ”It’s all Detlef’s fault”, or “Blame it on Detlef”. (Nowadays, as the leader of Thinkergy, this motto makes much more sense to me; after all, as the boss, I have ultimate responsibility for anything that goes wrong at my innovation company, so “blame it on Detlef”.)

    Despite the occasional teases on my first name, I never thought of abandoning it. Why should I? I am Detlef and always will be. I believe it’s a wonderful name for me that I am destined to carry proudly in this life. (In contrast, one of my childhood friends decided to officially drop his middle name Detlef as soon as he came of age.)

    Tip: Names may evoke surprising negative connotations over time that you cannot anticipate in advance. Shrug it off if you have a thick skin, or if you can’t, consider letting go of the name.

    So how then did I become Dr. D, and why? When I left my home country to work in Asia, I quickly noticed Detlef to be a name that many non-Germans have problems pronouncing, learning and remembering correctly; this wasn’t only true at first contact, but even with colleagues and students who I worked with for extended periods of time. So, I had the rare opportunity to collect a multitude of creative interpretations of my first name that I encountered in conversations, emails or handed-in assignments, such as: Deplet, Deplef, Detler, Deflet or Deflep, to name but a few. Clearly, Detlef isn’t an international commonplace name like Tom, Dick and Harry.

    Tip: Consider using names of one syllable that are catchy and easy to learn; in the case of first names, Tom is undoubtedly easier to remember than Thomas (particularly when paired with Jerry), Ben has a ring to it (especially when associated with ‘Big’), and Max beats Maximilian (unless you happen to be an emperor).

    Because of the problems that non-Germans had with Detlef, I wondered how I could simplify my first name to make it easier for people to learn. So why not go for one of my German nicknames? Unfortunately, “Deddy” and “Det” don’t work so well in English environments; due to their connotations, these nicknames tend to provoke answers such as “You’re not my Dad” or “Dead? You still look pretty alive”.

    Tip: Check for connotations that short names or nick names may evoke in different languages or locations.

    Eventually, I realized that I should make my first name even simpler, and I arrived at “D” (pronounced “dee”, which in Thailand, where I live, also means “good”). “D” sounded like a good start, but I felt that something is missing So, I added my doctor title in front and became “Dr. D”, which for me complied to Albert Einstein’s maxim to “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” (After all, I had worked very hard on my Ph.D. for roughly 3 years). Moreover, from a Thai perspective, I became “Dr. Good”. Finally, in English “Dee” rhymes with Thinkergy, the name of the innovation company that I founded. So in the end, I became “Dr. D of Thinkergy”, which is a harmonic play of words that took my personal brand from great to wow.

    Tip: Play with words to arrive at alliterations and rhymes, which tend to stick in the mind (think of YouTube, Dunkin’ Donuts or Piggly Wiggly).

    Conclusion: In our Genius Journey training courses, one exercise we do at the second destination stop of the journey is called “I am”. Thereby, delegates first have to introduce themselves to the group using a celebrity persona drawn at random (e.g., “I am Madonna”, or “I am Mahatma Gandhi”). While some delegates feel proud about a person they draw, most introductions look and sound awkward, unconvincing and false. Thereafter, everyone introduces themselves again to the group with their real name, and the second time around, all name introductions sound confident, natural and genuine.

    So how do I introduce myself nowadays? I use both “I am Detlef” and “I am Dr. D of Thinkergy”, as that’s who I am. While some people may regard me as having a split-personality, I enjoy all of my names — knowing that truly creative people are tolerant to how people may call or write their name, and embrace all shades of their personality. It is little wonder that most modern superheroes have an alter ego: Clark Kent aka Superman; Barry Allen aka The Flash; Bruce Wayne aka Batman; and Detlef Reis aka Dr. D of Thinkergy.

    Contact us if you want Dr. D and his fellow-superheroes at Thinkergy help you solve your next big innovation challenge. Thinkergy — know how to wow.

  • Creativity in the Year of the Dog

    Kung Hai Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year! Tomorrow marks the start of the Year of the Dog, or to be more precise, the Brown Earth Dog. The dog was the first species that humans domesticated, and thanks to this long bond with humans. dogs are uniquely accustomed to our behaviors. What creative inspirations can we obtain from “man’s best friend” to help us flourish in the coming 12 months?

    Being of value

    Compared to other animals, dogs have developed a strong influence on human society because of both their practical usefulness and the emotional companionship they offer. Dogs serve a wide range of practical roles: hunting, herding, guarding and protection, pulling loads, assisting the police and military, rescuing people in emergencies, aiding the disabled individuals and in other therapeutic roles.

    Moreover, dogs are loyal companions who can light up the day with their playful enthusiasm, sincere affection and emotional sensitivity towards their two-legged friends. As the humorist Josh Billings noted: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

    Creative inspirations

    Wouldn’t you enjoy doing business with someone who is helpful and at the same time fun to be with? So, ask yourself: How close are we with our customers? How intimately do we know their true wants and needs? How can we become more useful for our core customers? What other roles may we perform for them to make ourselves more useful? How can we design better emotional experiences for the users of our products and services? How can we better satisfy both the functional and emotional wants and needs of our customers?

    “Breeding out” meaningful new ideas

    Humans have selected certain dogs to breed with each other, due to particular physical and behavioral characteristics that support desired functional roles. This selective breeding has led to the hundreds of modern breeds that are classified into certain dog types (such as companion dogs, guard dogs, or herding dogs). These types vary greatly in size, character and behavior and functional roles — from the tiny Chihuahua to the tall Great Dane, or from the stubbornly-dopey Bulldog to the energetically intelligent Border Collie. By the way, did you know that most dog breeds are only a few hundred years old?

    Creative inspiration

    The breeding process is similar to the approach taken by a classic creativity technique, Morphological Matrix. So in the Year of the Dog, how can you engage in morphological thinking? First, create a matrix listing all the morphologies covered by your value offerings. Such categories might be: product features (functional and emotional benefits), service types, customers types, related promotional activities, etc.). Then, list elements under each category (B2B, B2C, NGOs in the customer category, for example), and add as many new elements as possible into each (don’t forget that we’re in the digital age). Finally, ask yourself: How to create meaningful new product and service “breeds” by connecting certain desired features and elements?

    Being a smart dog

    Are dogs intelligent creatures? If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’re likely to nod affirmatively. While breeds vary in intelligence, dogs can perceive information, retain this as knowledge, and later apply it to solve certain problems. They can also learn to respond to different body postures and voice commands. But how do dogs fare when compared to other canines?

    Although dogs and wolves share a lineage, there are noticeable differences between the two species. Free-roaming wolves have longer teeth, bigger skulls and also bigger brains than their domesticated fellow canines. Moreover, experiments have shown that Australian dingos outperform domestic modern dogs in non-social problem-solving.

    Likewise, researchers have found that when presented with an unsolvable variation of an original problem solving task, socialized wolves tried to find a solution themselves, while dogs looked to a human for help. Domestic dogs seem to have “outsourced” more advanced problem-solving to humans, which is convenient but makes them highly dependent.

    Creative inspiration

    Many multinational and large corporations today outsource internal competencies and certain functional roles to outside suppliers. While outsourcing has reduced headcount and —to some extent— overhead costs, it has also led to an organizational brain drain. The situation is comparable to a dog turning to humans to “do the thinking for us”, “solve our problems on our behalf” and “tell us what to do”. But just as a dog is dependent on the smarts of others, so do companies depend on the intelligence of their outsourcing partner. So, ask yourself: “What problem areas and functional roles are so important for our business that we should “insource” the ability again? What topics do we want to resolve by ourselves to control our fate?”

    Staying healthy

    Dogs are often plagued by parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites, and worms. Parasites live in or on another organism and obtain nutrients at the host’s expense. While they typically don’t cause severe harm, they steadily impair health, energy and performance levels.

    Creative inspiration

    Just as you want to keep your dog parasite-free, you may use the Year of the Dog to rid your business of parasitic elements. Ask yourself: Who has benefited from us and derived monetary nutrients at our expense without returning an adequate benefit? Such freeloaders may be suppliers and service providers, advisors and lobbyists, and maybe even certain managers and staff. Investigate how much benefit each derived from you, and what you really got in return. If you notice a gross mismatch, clean out the parasite.

    Rewarding loyalty

    Chinese astrology tends to ascribe characteristics and behaviors observed in an animal of the Chinese Zodiac to sum-up personality traits of people born in the corresponding year. People born in the Year of the Dog are said to be loyal and honest, amiable and kind, responsible and prudent, lively and courageous. Due to having a strong sense of loyalty and sincerity, dogs will do everything for a person —or business— who cares for them.

    Creative inspiration

    Who are key members of your company or team who have loyally and responsibly worked for you for a long time, and contributed to the success of your business? Who are your long-term customers who loyally continue buying from you? Who are other loyalists who have served your cause as loyal suppliers, advisors, advocates, opportunists and cheerleaders? In the Year of the Dog, think about ways to say “Thank you” to these loyal, dependable and sensible companions.

    Learning from Abraham Lincoln’s dog

    Let’s end with a little riddle relating to dogs. Here’s a question of the famous US president Abraham Lincoln: “How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?” Think about this question for a moment, then settle on a number.

    Got it? Say it out loud. Now here is “Honest” Abe’s answer: “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

    Creative inspiration

    Nowadays, people are very quick at attaching labels to people or things (this even happened before Donald Trump popularized “fake news”). But notice that, for example, calling something going on that affects your business a problem doesn’t mean that it’s really a problem, or that it is the real problem your business faces. So in the Year of the Dog, ponder these questions: What things are we labeling or framing in ways that prevent us from noticing what’s really going on? What uncomfortable realities do we shy away from —or label as “fake news”— so that we can continue staying in our comfort zone? What are the real problems we’re facing and should tackle in the next 12 months? And aren’t these real problems rather opportunities to make a giant leap into a better future?

    Are you ready to get creative in the Year of the Dog? Why don’t you enroll your team in of our Thinkergy training courses?

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018. 

  • Innovative companies vs. in-NO-vative companies: Who’s who?

    Take a moment to think about the following questions: What innovative companies do you know? What companies do you consider to be highly creative and innovative? What factors have made these firms become innovation leaders? Would you want to work for one of those innovative companies? Why or why not?

    What innovative companies do you know?

    When we train or consult organizations at my innovation company Thinkergy on how to build more innovation-friendly companies, we ask these questions as a warm-up exercise. While the smaller creative ventures and local innovation heroes vary in different countries, some well-known firms appear on the delegates’ list of innovative companies, with Apple, Google, Amazon often featured first.

    Many businesspeople also intuitively have a good understanding of organizational and cultural factors that differentiate innovative companies from normal organizations. And while a few delegates dare to admit they rather would not want to work for an innovative company (either because their cognitive style favors efficiency and adaptation over creativity and innovation, or because they dislike working in a firm that constantly wants to push the boundaries forward), a vast majority of workshop delegates would sign on at an innovative firm if they got the chance.

    What in-NO-vative companies do you know?

    We also ask workshop delegates the exact opposite set of questions: “What companies do you consider NOT to be innovative? What factors prevent these firms from becoming innovation leaders? Would you want to work for such an in-NO-vative company? Why or why not?”

    Interestingly, the energy levels rise when the delegates list examples of in-NO-vative “Me Too” companies — and of the cultural factors that stand in their way. Laughter, cheers. and a bit of disgust mixed with “Schadenfreude” fills the room, indicating that the delegates had their fair share of negative customer experiences with the blacklisted firms and their poor products and services. Having worked in such an in-NO-vative copycat company before, some delegates are even intimately familiar with what’s wrong with these companies.

    What can we learn from the exercise?

    Most businesspeople and customers intuitively grasp what innovative companies do right — and what in-NO-vative companies do wrong. They are able to pinpoint many of the striking differences in “the ways we do things around here” in innovative versus in-NO-vative companies. So, if not only highly paid consultants but normal people can distinguish poor from best practice and identify what wrongs we need to right, why isn’t every company innovative?

    Changing an established organizational culture is a very hard thing to do. It typically takes at least 2-3 years of focused effort to make a successful transition towards a more creative culture, and those inside the organization who benefited from the old culture may resist change or even sabotage it. 

    What companies lead global innovation rankings?

    A few well-known business magazines and global consulting firms regularly release lists that rank the world’s most innovative companies. The different rankings vary in the methodology and metrics used to rank innovators, thus producing variations in the firms listed as innovation leaders, but also having some names appear in every ranking.

    Boston Consulting Group (BCG)’s annual list of the world’s top innovative companies is my favorite ranking. Because it has been done consistently every year since 2005, it allows us to see shifts and trends in the populace of innovation leaders over time. BCG has steadily evolved its ranking methodology, adding over time objective financial metrics (such as total shareholder premium, revenue and margin growth) and cross-industry ranking to its initial approach to having executives subjectively rank the most innovative companies inside their industry.

    In 2006, BCG’s ten top innovators read (in rank order): Apple, Google, 3M, Toyota, Microsoft, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Nokia, and. Starbucks. Ten years later, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Toyota have managed to stay in the top 10, but are now joined by new top innovators that have emerged in the past decade (such as Tesla Motors, Netflix, and Facebook) or have moved up in to the top 10 (Amazon, Samsung, and IBM).

       

    In recent years, other business magazines such as Forbes and Fast Company released their own innovation rankings:

    • href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/innovatorsdna/2017/08/08/how-we-rank-the-most-innovative-companies-2017/?ss=innovative-companies#76e7d5045c46">ranks a firm’s innovativeness based on sales growth and their “innovation premium” (defined as the difference between their market capitalization and the net present value of cash flows from existing businesses(based on a proprietary algorithm from Credit Suisse HOLT)) they achieved. Thereby, Forbes only considers firms with seven years of public financial data and USD 10 billion in market cap. Moreover, Forbes only focuses on industries investing in innovation, excluding non-R&D intensive industries such as banking and financial services or energy and mining.
    • In contrast, Fast Company ranks innovation leaders overall and in many different business segments based on the impacts of recent innovative contributions that they’ve made. Thereby, Fast Company blends subjective editorial judgment with objective artificial intelligence that mines and topographically maps out millions of innovation-related news articles, blog posts, company profiles, and patents across more than 40 sectors to identify trends and the companies that drive them. Due to the different ranking approach of Fast Company, many smaller creative agencies and tech firms (that don’t size up to the BCG or Forbes lists) achieve top ranks alongside the usual suspects.

    Lessons and trends from the global innovation rankings

    When we compare the movements within the BCG ranking over a decade, and also factor in innovators names of other global innovator lists using different ranking methodologies (Forbes, Fast Company), we can discern a few general rules of thumb as well as emerging trends related to the world’s top innovative companies:

    1. Sustainable innovation leaders seem to live by one of Steve Jobs’ mottos: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Ten companies have managed to stay on the BCG list for more than a decade, earning them the title of “steady innovators”: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Toyota, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, BMW General Electric and Nike. Consistent presence in the BCG list indicates that these companies have cultivated innovation-friendly cultures that are unswayed by top managers and management fads coming and going.
    2. In fast-moving industries such as technology, today’s Innovation leaders may lose their relevance and drop out of the rankings quickly if they miss out on emerging technologies (Blackberry, Motorola, Nokia).
    3. Innovation seems to increasingly be moving to Asia: In the past, innovation leaders mainly originated in the US, Europe or Japan, Recent rankings indicate that dynamic innovation increasingly takes place in Asian Emerging Markets (most importantly China and India, but also in smaller countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand).
    4. Innovation shifts from industrial to digital: Ten years ago, many innovation leaders were industrial companies (3M, Toyota, GE, BMW, Honda), while recent rankings are increasingly dominated by new the “digital innovators” that create, market and operate digital platforms (e.g., Amazon.com, Salesforce.com, Facebook, etc.).
    5. Innovation leadership doesn’t equate anymore with being big. In the same strand, while innovative Multinational Corporations (MNC), used to dominate rankings in the past, newer rankings are a blend of MNCs, new up-and-coming Emerging Market Corporation, as well as many smaller ventured in the tech or digital space that were or are about to get listed. This shift supports John Naisbitt’s view that “We’re shifting from a managerial to an entrepreneurial society.”

    Conclusion: “Continued innovation is the best means of defeating competition,” noted the famous innovator Thomas Edison. What was already true more than a hundred years ago is even more true today. Whatever company leads innovation in an industry today, it has to continue innovating with a focus on making meaning and on making the world a better place — or otherwise, it will rather sooner or later loose its relevance and will be replaced by a new class of innovative companies.

    This article is one of 64 sections of an upcoming book that I am presently writing, The Beginner’s Guide to Innovation (targeted for publication in 2Q.2018 by Motivational Press). Contact us if you’re interested to learn more about our innovation training courses or how we may help your company to do the cool change from in-NO-vation to innovation.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017

  • Understanding the Inner Workings of Innovation Methods

    Have you ever wondered what an innovation process method is? And what it’s good for? And how it works? Today, let’s answer these questions and find out what innovation methods are good for and all have in common.

    Setting the scene:

    What if you were assigned to lead a new innovation project to develop a new product? What concrete work activities do you need to do? Please take a moment to think about this scenario.

    So what innovation project-related activities have you come up with? When I give graduate students and delegates in innovation training courses a few minutes to think about this, typical  answers that emerge include:

    “Brainstorm for ideas” … “Implement the idea” … “Do market research” … “Create a prototype” … “Analyze our competitors and their products” … “Pitch our idea” … “Look at trends” … “Ship the product” … “Select the best ideas” … “Empathize with the users” … “Frame the innovation challenge” … “Calculate the expected return on investment from an idea” … “Check on project-related facts and evidence” … “Evaluate ideas” … and so on.

    Have thought of some of the above — or something similar? If so: congratulations. You’re on track to becoming an innovator if you do such things. But here is another important question:

    WHAT exactly do we need to DO and WHEN to get WHAT kind of RESULTS?

    Or put in other words: What activities do we need to perform when in an innovation project do produce what kind of outputs? To answer these questions, a few people who enjoy thinking about such things (including myself) have created different kinds of innovation methods.

    What are innovation methods?

    Innovation methods (sometimes called creative problem-solving methods or creative processes) are systematic process flows that outline the steps and cognitive activities that an individual or a team needs to follow while thinking their way through an innovation challenge, or while working on solving a problem creatively.

    What are prominent examples of innovation methods?

    Going back on the work of the creativity pioneers Alex Osborne and Sid Parnes, the classic Creative Problem-Solving Model (CPS) is probably the longest-serving and best-known process method. Others include Design Thinking (created by the Palo Alto-based innovation company IDEO and its academic offspring, the D-School at Stanford University); the “Idea Machine” of the Swiss innovation company Brainstorm; or Systematic Inventive Thinking created by the Israeli company of the same name, among others. Finally, X-IDEA is an up-and-coming new innovation method that I created for Thinkergy.

    Why are innovation methods useful?

    All innovation process methods are based on the belief that if you follow a systematic thinking process, you will get better ideas and results compared to when you think through an innovation project in a largely unstructured way. Why?

    Innovation projects are messy and lengthy affairs. They may last anything from a few days to weeks, months or even years. They often involve a smaller core team and dozens of supporters who join in for certain activities (such as idea generation). They also produce large amounts of interim outputs (for example, dozens of new insights or hundreds of raw ideas) needed to eventually arrive at a final innovation deliverable.

    An elegant, well-designed and effective innovation process method can cut through the messiness and safely guide an individual or team towards meaningful results. It provides focus to the innovation efforts by specifying what do to next to produce the outputs needed in the subsequent steps.

    How do innovation methods work in general?

    An innovation method provides you with a systematic order of work or thinking steps: First do this, then that, then do a third thing, followed by another task, until you eventually  conclude the process. Most innovation processes propose a linear sequence of steps and associated cognitive activities / work tasks that wanna-be-innovators need to perform while working on a case.

    Some innovation methods are more detailed and comprehensive than others and require more steps and related work activities. But while it allows innovators to work more thoroughly, more steps and details also make it harder for novices to learn the method  — and for facilitators to keep track of the correct order of doing things.

    To resolve this potential conflict between high accuracy and simplicity, some innovation methods aggregate three or more process steps on a higher level of abstraction in a process stage. For example, looking through the activities listed in our “warm-up exercise”, we may integrate “Evaluate ideas”, “Prototype ideas” and “Select the best ideas” in a stage that we call “Evaluation”.

    Consequently, more thorough innovation process methods such as Design Thinking or X-IDEA consist of typically 3-5 process stages, with each stage having subordinated work steps.

    Finally, many innovation process methods imply circularity on two levels:

    • On a micro-level, you may have to circle back to the previous step to repeat the related work activities whenever you notice that the inputs form the preceding step are insufficient in quality or quality to produce the desired outputs in the current step.
    • On a macro-level, circularity means that once you’ve successfully completed an innovation project, you start a new one. Enter a new project into your innovation process method, and take step one in stage one.

    Which innovation method should you adopt?

    Please don’t ask me. I have a clear recommendation for you, and I admit I am biased. But after putting on a neutral thinker cap, I advise would to proceed as follows:

    1. Select an innovation method that promises to fit your situation with regards to:
      (a) how often you do innovation projects,
      (b) how sophisticated or simple you want the method to be, and
      (c) what innovation types you typically pursue.
    2. Then, experiment with different creative processes and innovation methods.
    3. Continue trying out the different innovation methods until you find the one that best suits your innovation needs and fits your people.

    Would you love to learn more about the X-IDEA innovation method and our related trainingcourses and innovation project workshops? Contact us and tell us more about your company and innovation needs.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • How to Creatively Plan for the New Year

    Happy New Year to you! If you’re proactive person like me, then the first week of 2017 is the time to creatively plan for the new year. How can you make 2017 a successful, joyful and happy one? Here are some dos and don’ts for you to consider.

    • DO creatively plan for the new year ahead. Why? As the motivational expert Brian Tracy points out, “Every minute in planning saves ten minutes in execution.” A good plan provides direction and focus. It clarifies what you need to do when in order to achieve specific goals and results. It creates an overview of key events, activities and projects that you encounter or want to tackle in the coming twelve months. It sets you up for progress and success.
      And why should you creatively plan for the new year? We’re all unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach for an effective yearly plan. So, be creative and listen to your intuition as you factor in those things that will make a positive difference in your life.
    • DO start your planning by recalling your “strategic core”: (1) Who are you? What’s your core identity? (2) Why are you here? What’s your mission (or ultimate calling in life)? (3) How do you approach this mission? What are your values? (4) What is your general strategy that you employ to live up to your mission?
      For example, I am an innovation expert and meta-creator on a mission to create innovators. I value creativity, progress and meaningful change. With my innovation company Thinkergy, we live up to this mission and values by setting up a network of licensed partners who train wanna-be innovators to effectively use our of novel, original and meaningful innovation methods.
    • DON’T miss the opportunity to learn from the past. Look back to last year: How happy are you with your activities and achievements in 2016? How can you improve in the new year?
      For example, overall I was happy with 2016. I wrote a book, upgraded one of our innovation methods and launched Thinkergy US, among others. I pushed myself really hard, but at a cost: By year end, I felt exhausted — no wonder, as I didn’t take time for an extended vacation. Lesson learned: do better this year.
    • DO creatively plan your vacation first. It’s important to ensure your long-term productivity by avoiding burnout. I’ve blocked three weeks in August for a longer vacation, and earmarked four other extended weekends off. When will you take your time-outs in 2017?
    • DON’T cram too much into your plan for 2017. Most people overestimate how much they can achieve in the short run (a day, week, month or year). So, be realistic when you creatively plan how much you can do in a year — and the following point can help you to set priorities.
    • DO focus on “The ONE Thing”. In his book of the same title, Gary Keller recommends to ask a simple question: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do so that by doing it everything else will be easier or redundant?”
      When you plan your year ahead, determine your “one thing” for the whole year, as well as for each quarter and each month.  Keep these in mind as you go through the year, and ask what’s the one thing you can do this week and today to move closer to your goals.
    • DO cultivate an output focus. You only make progress if you produce tangible results. So, plan your main outputs for the year in total and for each quarter. As you go through 2017, settle on the one output you intend to produce by the end of each day, week, and month.
    • DO  check on your progress regularly. At the end of each time interval (day, week, month, quarter), review your results. Feel good about the outputs you’ve produced, celebrate major achievements and, if necessary, adjust your plans to reflect changes in priorities or the external environment.
    • DO reflect on both your professional and private roles when you creatively plan for the new year. For example, I am an entrepreneur, creator, innovation guide, trainer, speaker, author, blogger, professor and researcher as part of my professional roles, as well as a partner, family member, friend, and society member as part of my private roles. How about you? Do you want to give all your roles equal weight in 2017? Or are there some that you want to emphasize in the year ahead? Here consider using ABC classification to rank your priorities.
      In your private roles, for instance, you might ask yourself: What good things can I do for me in 2017? How can I deepen my personal relationships, make a better home, and improve my financial position?
    • DO plan how you want to grow. After all, as the saying goes, “A tree is either growing or dying”. It’s important that we don’t stand still, but rather actively seek new learning and experiences. What new knowledge, skills or experiences do you want to acquire in 2017?
    • DON’T forget to plan how you want to play. A good way to boost short-term happiness and ensure long-term productivity is to establish daily routines for play and balance. Do you take part in physical activities such as running or yoga to train your body and balance your mind? Do you engage in spiritual practices such as meditation? What can you do to play more and balance yourself?
    • DON’T forget to say “No”. Many people don’t achieve their goals because they agree to take on tasks that are of high priority to others but not to themselves. In 2017, resolve to say “No” to all those things that take your time away from your “one thing”.
    • Last but not least: DON’T be a slave to your yearly plan. A plan is only a rough guide to focus your efforts, so interpret it flexibly to react to unexpected events and surprises that could lead to dangers and/or new opportunities.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017.