Put Down The Mouse And Step Away From The Computer

Jonathan Philips / Flickr

Jonathan Philips / Flickr

As someone who’s been steeped in the culture of innovation most of my career and in Silicon Valley for the last 15 years of my career, I sometimes find that those two ethos’s (ethii?) sometimes compete with each other. After all, the Silicon Valley ethos is one of entrepreneurs sacrificing all sorts of things (social life, time, money) in order to build the next big amazing new thing and change the world. This place is rife with stories of people pulling months and months of all nighters and sleeping under their desks in order to just get world changing things out the door. It surrounds you here.

Innovation, on the other hand, I find doesn’t thrive in that kind of environment. Innovation, new thinking, comes out of breaking away from sitting in front of your computer, stepping away from the online world and stepping into the offline world for a bit. Maybe its because the online experience is becoming less and less about discovery and more and more about relevancy. Since the number of ways we experience the internet seems to be shrinking, and those companies continue to strive to give us a hyper-customized version of the internet, assuming what we want based on where we’ve been and what we do, the internet is becoming less surprising. And surprise, IMHO, is essential for generating new ideas.

Have you found that some of the greatest ideas that you’ve ever had have come to you while you were in the shower, or sitting at a coffee shop nursing a caramel macchiato watching the world go by,  or having an animated ad-hoc conversation with a colleague, usually while you’ve been walking with them? If you go back and think about it – have you gotten most of your best ideas by sitting in front of your computer surfing, or by getting out into the world and experiencing it?

My sense is that our brains fall into patterns when they are looking at a screen all day. They need that fresh interaction with other things – be it people, things, trees, whatever. They need that front-of-brain to relax while the back-of-brain comes up with the cool new stuff.

I find that’s where I get most of my inspiration from – from interacting with people and the world, as opposed to my computer. Make time to take breaks – get out – shake up your environment – do something different. Even a short walk to the corner for a coffee can give you all sorts of inspiration.

So put down that mouse, step away from the computer, and get inspired.

The Top 100 Least Innovative Companies


Now, you didn’t really think that this was going to be a post with a list of the top 100 least innovative companies in it, did you? I mean, how would I go about doing that anyways – call up companies that I think are not innovating and ask if they want to be on this list? I doubt if anyone would admit to it.

But I’ll bet that when you saw that headline you probably thought to yourself – hmm – I wonder if MY company is on that list? Tell the truth, how many of you clicked on that link thinking that you’d see your company at the top of that list – or at least in the top ten? I’ll bet a lot of you, especially if you are working at a large, established company that has been around for a while. Heck, even if it hasn’t been around for long – size tends to squash innovation.

I understand totally. You are probably an innovator at your company. You probably have a lot of great ideas, but for some reason or another, those ideas just don’t get listened to. Or maybe they do get listened to, but nothing ever happens to them. So after giving up a few ideas, and nothing happens to them, you just shut up and stop giving them your ideas. Why should I, you tell yourself, because they aren’t going to do anything about it anyways, right?

The reality is that that there are a ton of interesting ideas and new innovations locked into the minds of everyone around you. Human beings are naturally curious and creative. They are also natural problem solvers. When they see a problem, they try to fix it. When they see an opportunity, they try to take it. Problem is, when you don’t have the authority or power to make the changes in order to fix the problem or launch that new idea as a product, and those who do, don’t, that opportunity for innovation is lost.

So your company is innovative. It’s people are innovative. So how does that innovation take root?

In my experience, in order to facilitate change from within, you need to be an evangelist. Just like a startup founder on the outside looking for funding, you need to be a startup founder on the inside, looking for the right ear – or ears – to hear your idea. We used to call that “socializing” it. If you believe in the idea, and its a strong enough idea – you just need to get it to the right person – or people – who can help to move it forward. Just like finding the right VC, finding the right champion will help you get your ideas heard. And maybe worked on. And maybe even eventually launched.

If that fails though – you can always take your next idea and start your own company. Who knows, maybe you’ll get acquired – by the place you left. :)


What Kind Of Innovation Is That?

Tsahi Levent-Levi/Flickr

Tsahi Levent-Levi/Flickr

Last week, Forbes reported that the father of disruptive innovation, Clayton Christensen, who wrote the original text on innovation – The Innovator’s Dilemma, said that he may have regretted the use of the word “disruptive”, and may now be working to replace it with something like “quantum” instead. Methinks that people are having a bit of trouble with the meaning of the word “disruptive” because if you ask me, its 100% accurate, and backtracking or revising isn’t going to solve the problem. If you ask me – innovation can be both disruptive and non-disruptive.

Both plain old innovation, which I consider nice little incremental changes to your existing products and services which make things better, and disruptive innovation, the kind of mind-blowing stuff which can literally destroy your business, are necessary directions for your company. It’s essential that you explore both of these paths.

I think that those who feel that only disruptive innovation is innovation need to take a breather. As I mentioned in The Innovation Blind Spot – what’s innovative to company A is old hat to company B. By the same token, what’s disruptive to company A is nothing to company B. Its all a matter of context. Not all innovation is disruptive. And that’s OK.

For example, Uber is disruptive to the taxi industry. But If I lifted the Uber business model and used it to deliver pizza, would it be disruptive to the pizza industry? Maybe the whole, press a button on an app on your phone, pizza arrives, payment is all done in the background might be innovative, but would it be disruptive? I’d say no. Pizza is pretty much delivered like that today, using an app is a small, incremental innovation.

Disruptive innovation exists along with the regular stuff. Your company really needs both to survive and thrive – so ensure that your ideas fall into the right bucket. Just make sure that you pay attention to the disruptive stuff first – that’s the truly dangerous stuff.

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Chief Innovation Officers? We Don’t Need No Stinking…



Lately, it’s become de rigueur for companies to create the position of Chief Innovation Officer. Which is great, because, you think, that they have finally realized that innovation is truly important and fully worthy of having a full-time body in the C-Suite totally dedicated to innovation.

So I ask you, what is the CEO doing? What is your CMO doing? What is the rest of your C-Suite doing, if not innovating? Is it not the core role of the CEO to be looking forward, to strategize, to innovate?

This is all part of the weird (if you ask me) differential that many companies have between what they call “innovation” and “strategy”. Is not strategy mapping out the future of your company? And is not strategy then innovation? If it’s not, then what is it? Maybe I have a strange definition of strategy, because as far as I know, its all about “setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions” (thanks Wikipedia). But how can you set those goals without attempting to not just see what’s next, but be a part of it? To disrupt yourself?

If your C-suite is not looking forward, if they are not looking to innovate, then if you ask me, they aren’t really doing their jobs are they? What is innovation but the future path of your company? If you don’t believe that, then you might want to read my previous post, 6 Reasons Why Your Company Is Not Innovating.

If everyone in your company is merely looking 6 months out, how can you possibly be aware of the trends and threats that are coming at you from all sorts of unexpected places? If your whole C-suite is heads down in delivery mode and can’t even look up for a second, then something is wrong.

If your Chief Innovation Officer is actually looking forward and providing that insight into those disruptive technologies, if they are truly part of the inner circle, and truly have the ear of the CEO, CFO and other important decision makers, then you are good. But if you’ve hired a Chief Innovation Officer and he/she is a second tier guy/gal who barely brushes past the rest of the C-suite on their way to the executive boardroom, then my guess is that you’ve pretty much given up on true innovation.

So hire that Chief Innovation Officer (I think I saw CINO as the acronym somewhere) but make sure that they have the tools, resources and a equal seat at the table in the executive boardroom, otherwise its all for show.


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