Need To Innovate? You Must “Go There”

brainstormLet me know if you’ve experienced this, because I have.

Remember the last time you were in a brainstorming session. Maybe you all sat down to address a specific challenge, like “We need to increase revenues” or “Competitor XYZ is eating our lunch and we have to react”, or maybe you had something specific, like “We need to reduce costs in this office by at least 30%”, or maybe you had no challenge at all – it was just a general brainstorming session to come up with new ideas.

Typically, the room has whiteboards and markers, or flipcharts, or those cool giant post-it notes you can rip off and stick to the wall. On the more structured meetings, the presenters write out the goals, create a little “parking lot” area on paper, maybe frames up the beginnings of a task (or the much more dynamically named but exactly the same, action) list.

The person who called the meeting then gives out the challenge, and then makes that requisite statement which you hear at the beginning of all brainstorming sessions.

“We want to hear all ideas, no matter how seemingly dumb or impossible or crazy or out-of-the-box. Everything is on the table.”

I’ve heard that statement so many times. I’m sure you have too – or at least a variation of it.

After that, there is a pause. Typically, the first one to throw out an idea is someone who has been bottling it up for a long time – just waiting to throw it out there. These are usually not the decision makers (note that the decision makers in the room usually wait until the non-decision makers make their ideas public before they step in with a variation of an idea already out there, or just commentary on the ideas already out there. One wonders if they have their own ideas sometimes.)

That idea is noted and written down. Then more are advanced. Usually, they are not really disruptive, new ideas, which is ok, I suppose, because you didn’t really ask for that, you just asked for “anything” or maybe “anything which might help solve the problem”

Eventually, if the group gets going, you might actually get some really good stuff. The group starts gelling, bouncing ideas off of each other. Idea after idea piles up, and if you’re lucky, something completely new and radical might surface, typically from someone who was waiting for the right moment to blurt it out.

It’s at this point, when the idea is sitting out there, finally in the open, where everyone in the room looks at the most senior person in the room for their reaction.

And, tell me if you’ve heard this one before, he or she says “Let’s not go there.”

Typically the idea will cause a huge amount of heartburn somewhere in the current company, but possibly open up new markets, and new spaces for growth. Usually, it will also handily solve all or part of the initial problem.

But of course, this is why you hear “Let’s not go there.”

At this point, you may as well pack up and leave. By “not going there”, you missed the whole point of the meeting. By “not going there”, you told your people that “yes, there are ideas that are dumb, that are unthinkable. When I said ‘everything is on the table’ I didn’t really mean it”. You’ve basically told them to stop innovating, before they’ve barely started.

If you’re going to say “Let’s not go there” then you shouldn’t even bother with the meeting at all.

The whole point of innovation is “going there”. If you are not willing to, then don’t waste your time, your employee’s time, or their goodwill. Every time you ask for ideas, you must be willing to accept and honor those ideas, no matter how far out you may think that they are. No matter how damaging they may be to your current cash flow or revenues or costs, if they have the ability to transform your company, they are at least worth listening to.

— image by darkday

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The 2015 Breakthrough Innovation Report

Logo@2xNielson released its 2015 BREAKTHROUGH INNOVATION REPORT that features best practices from winning brands – with seven specific case studies from Pepsico, Kraft, MillerCoors, Kellogg’s, Nestle Purina, Atkins and L’Oreal Paris.

The report is based on a two year study examining over 3000 products launched in the US. It debunks conventional wisdom that new product success is random. Instead, it shows that success in new product innovation is repeatable and scalable when the science of innovation is applied.  

Key findings:

  • American consumer sentiment toward new product innovation is relatively low in an environment that shows CPG innovation investment currently at an eight year high. With projections that show a real acceleration in the number of products that are being introduced into the marketplace in the next 12 – 24 months – (yet failure rate for new products stands at 85%)businesses need to primed for an uphill battle for consumer attention.  
  • The efforts mapped out in this year’s case studies showcase proven methods to flip the odds from high failure to regular, repeatable and scalable success. 
  • The application of a “Jobs Theory” yielded success for brands: from ultra-light kitty litter to hand held, healthy breakfast sandwiches…the innovative products named in this year’s Breakthrough Innovation Report highlights examples of innovation that not only help to re-define their category by also served a specific purpose or performed a “job” for consumers

The Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Project has examined over 20,000 new product launches over the past four years. To date, only 74 products have been named a “Breakthrough Innovation Award Winner." Twelve brands were awarded this year, with seven highlighted in this year’s report. Winners had to meet the following strict criteria:

  • RELEVANT: Achieved a minimum Sales of $50 million in Year 1
  • ENDURING: Sustained enduring success for 2 years (achieving in year two at least 90% of year one sales)
  • DISTINCT: Delivered a new value proposition to the market

This year’s winners are: 

  1. Advanced Haircare, L’Oreal Paris
  2. Atkins Frozen Meals, Atkins Nutritionals
  3. Duracell Quantum, Procter & Gamble
  4. Lunchables Uploaded, Kraft Foods
  5. Monster Energy Ultra, Monster Energy Company
  6. Mountain Dew Kickstart, PepsiCo
  7. Müller Yogurt, Muller Quaker Dairy
  8. Redd’s Apple Ale, MillerCoors
  9. Special K Flatbread Breakfast Sandwich, Kellogg’s
  10. The Red Bull Editions, Red Bull
  11. Tidy Cats LightWeight, Nestlé Purina
  12. TOSTITOS Cantina Tortilla Chips and Salsa, Frito-Lay (PepsiCo)

Download the report at

How the 2015 predictions are panning out

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 1.05.14 PMOften mid-year I like to look back at the predictions made for innovation. Did the 2015 predictions come to fruition yet?  How are trends shaping the way we innovate?

Here is an article titled, 6 tech trends for 2015 that will change our future, in which TechCrunch made predictions about Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, robots, nanotechnology, energy and flexible gadgets and displays. But have these tech trends really changed our futures?

When I share trends about innovation, particularly sustainable innovation, I want to make sure that there are multiple elements shared across platforms like completion, crowdsourcing, crowd-funding and opening-up patents.

What are your thoughts on trends and predictions?


Wanna Be Innovative: Make Serendipity Your Good Buddy


The Popsicle was invented by enterprising an 11-year-old called Frank Epperson in 1905, who left a glass of soda on his San Francisco front porch with a stirring stick still it. The next day, after a cold night, the drink had frozen. Frank pulled the stick and, to his surprise, the drink came with it. Nine years later, he patented them as “Popsicles”.

If you haven’t heard the word serendipity, its time to not only put it into your lexicon, but to live it and breathe it. If you want to be innovative, your culture needs to not only support serendipity, but encourage it.

Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity” Sometimes known as a “happy accident”

Where does innovation comes from? Typically, it starts with a problem: someone is having trouble doing something, and there are no solutions, so they put together a solution for that problem, which may or may not be a new, original, innovation.

On the other hand, if you look at a number of truly breakthrough innovations, they didn’t come from someone trying to solve a specific problem. They came out of a mistake, an error, or even more commonly, a juxtaposition of something not commonly juxtaposed. Where things not commonly mixed together are mixed together to come up with something new and different. This is the basis of a lot of innovative new products and services.

How do you foster a culture of innovation via serendipity? Well, first of all you don’t force your employees to come to work, work in the same location, day-in, day-out. You don’t keep their noses to the grindstone at their jobs the entire time they are at work. You don’t have them sit in endless, repeated meetings over and over again.

You encourage them to have a flexible work schedule. You encourage them to have a flexible location. You encourage them to be open to new ideas which can come from any place at any time. You purposely set up an environment and culture where your people can experience new things and new people all the time.

You can’t just sit your people in a room and say “Innovate!” Your people need new experiences, new locations, new connections, in order to truly build an innovative workforce.

If you asked me today “Chris, I need to start a company with innovation at its core. How would you do it?” this is what I’d say:

  1. Don’t have an office. I often wonder why anyone has an office at all. If you ask me, a no telecommuting policy, forcing people into an office M-F ends up reducing innovation, instead of increasing it
  2. Don’t encourage work from home, encourage work from everywhere. Let your people, no ENCOURAGE your people to work everywhere but in a home office, a coffee shop, the park, a co-working space. But unlike work or school, move from place to place. Move to new physical locations all the time, even during the day – new places mean new connections and new ideas.
  3. Have the fewest possible meetings and conference calls – yes you might need a few of these to keep people on track – but after that, leave them alone – are they adults that you can trust, or not?
  4. Make your whole company agile, not just your programming methodology. go back and read my post on Agile Eating The World
  5. Use technology to let people know whats going on – Slack etc. Collaboration doesn’t require face-to-face physical connection.
  6. Set up a safe place for your employees to report innovative ideas from Day One.

Encourage your people to experience new experiences. Pay for them to go to Burning Man, or Electric Daisy, or SXSW or CES. Let them experience new things, then let them generate new connections and new ideas.

Encourage those happy accidents by strategically placing them in the world, and let them roam free. You’d be surprised at what comes back to you.


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The Future Is Here: Wearable Enviro Trackers


The beautifully designed TZOA tracker

How would you live differently if you knew exactly how your environment was affecting you?

Back in 2007, I wrote a set of predictive stories about what life would be like 10 years out. Really interesting to go back to that time and see how much of that is on the way to actually happening: some of it – like 3d printers, are definitely moving along at a rapid clip. Others, not so much. Here is one of those posts, reprinted from here.

Dateline 9/30/2018 – Houston, Texas, United States: Everyone is familiar with needing to map out your drive with Google Maps prior to getting in your car in order to avoid pollution contaminated zones. Well, WMI (Waste Management Inc) has announced a new product which makes it a lot easier to determine whether you are not heading into a contaminated zone. Instead of having to map out your route around the zone before you leave, WMI’s new product, AvoidIt! ™, will automatically send you an SMS just prior to you driving into a contaminated zone. Unlike widely available wireless phones with integrated atmospheric sensors, WMI’s AvoidIt! will track your location via GPS and alert you via a text message or phone call if you are about to drive into a contaminated area. Also unlike atmospheric sensor phones, AvoidIt! can also alert you if you are about to drive into an unsafe area with undesirable populations, so its an excellent safety choice as well. “I signed up all of my family on AvoidIt!, says Cynthia Khan. “While all of our phones have atmospheric sensors, I like the fact that I can track all of my families movements as well” Cynthia set up an alert for her husband’s cell phone which alerts her if he ventures near his ex-girlfriends apartment as well “It’s a great tool” she says.

Well guess what – like I said before, being a futurist is a bit like being a weatherman, sometimes you are right, but at the wrong time. Looks like the prediction actually came true a few years early – 2015 instead of 2017. Instead of the too obviously named “Avoidit!”, enter the much more creatively named TZOA. Kickstarted by a bunch of my fellow Canadians (eh?) from UBC, its looks like a very cool and very useful device – considering what is happening in our environment today.

This little gem is beautifully designed and carries 6 sensors:

  • Air Quality
  • UV
  • Light
  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Temperature

These guys seem to have it right – a good number of sensors and they tell me an open API – it will be very interesting to see what they can do with it. I especially love the fact that they are using a Waze style data gathering model in order to track the data – if you ask me you will see more and more crowdification of absolutely everything.

Of course this little device can only track environmental issues, where the “Avoidit!” also tracked crime and other statistics – you might say that my ideas were a bit less – ahem – politically correct – than the folks at TZOA.

via TZOA Wearable Enviro-Tracker.

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3 Ways the World’s Power Mix Is about to Change

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 12.37.43 PM

Will solar and wind rush in to replace fossil fuels?

Read here:

Big changes are afoot for the energy sector in the next 25 years. Coal and gas are headed out and solar and wind are rushing to take their place on a multi-trillion dollar investment bonanza, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance that scopes out the power generating landscape through 2040.

The main reason for the big shift in power generation isn’t likely to be because of a grand climate agreementnational polices or carbon pricing scheme, though. Instead, it comes down to cold, hard cash with renewables offering more power-generating bang for the buck than fossil fuels. Here are the three big numbers.

  1. The world will invest $12.2 trillionin new power generation
    Since 2004, renewable energy investments have risen from $43 billion to $270 billion annually. In 2014, most of that money went to China, a pattern that’s expected to continue through 2040.

The world will spend a combined $12.2 trillion on new power-generating capacity over the next 25 years. The majority of that—two-thirds to be exact—will go to renewables like wind and solar thanks to falling costs. An estimated $3.7 trillion alone will go into both rooftop and utility-scale solar making it the biggest growing facet of the power-generating system globally.


Happy Crowds Are Happy Customers


You don’t need much more evidence than the last years numbers from Kickstarter to understand that crowdification is in full swing:

  • 3.3 million people from all over the world
  • There were $529 million in pledges
  • Funding over 22,000 projects

You can see: the crowd is fully engaged. We no longer want to sit back and be told what we get – we want to actively participate in the product creation process. We want to build too.

Gone are the days when you can decide what’s best for your customers – they want to be intimately involved from day one – not just in the feedback after your product hits the shelves, but from many, many days minus launch, preferably during or even before the inception stage. Today, customers not only expect their products and services to do more than ever before – they expect to be in the drivers seat before you even put pen to paper on your next product.

Some fight this. Some still hew to the old belief that they know what their customers need, and they are going to give it to them, whether they like it or not. However, these companies will soon be few and far between. Instead of fighting it, why not embrace it?

Give your customers and prospects something to do. Take a look at some of the tasks that your employees are doing and see what you can push to the crowd – if they are willing and interested in doing the work, why not let them? All you need to do is to implement a process to control the quality of what goes out.

Of course, like anything where you engage your customers, it could be a double edged sword: its a new communications method for your customers, so they may use it to complain about your current product offerings. but at the same time, you could glean excellent insights into what your customers are looking for.

Case in point: My Starbucks Idea. A number of years ago, Starbucks opened up a website to gather and rate ideas from customers – both for areas of improvement and new product development. If you take a quick look at the numbers, there has been a ton of customer engagement, and a lot of really good ideas which benefit their customers came out of the woodwork, were developed and launched. Starbucks leveraged this tool to not only engage and involve their customers, but to also offload new product development ideas to their customers. Sure, some of the ideas didn’t go anywhere, but I’ll bet that a large number of their new product found its genesis in a customers mind.

Why not do the same for your customers? I’ll bet that you have some of your own raving fans out there who would love to be a part of the new product creation groups for your company. When you reach out, I’d bet you’d be pretty surprised by the cool stuff the crowd can come up with.

Yes, even a Veronica Mars Movie.

via Kickstarter – 2014 By The Numbers

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Leave Your Title at the Door and Remove the Door From It’s Hinges


When I co-founded my company in 1986, I had two business cards made. One said "President." The other said "Archduke." Whenever I gave clients a choice, they always wanted the Archduke card.

In time, I gave all the Archduke cards away and never re-ordered them -- in a pitiful attempt, I think, to seem more professional.

Fortunately, everything comes full circle. Last night, while enjoying a wonderful concert in my hometown of Woodstock, my next title was suddenly revealed.

Director of Public Elations (and, no, I did not forget the "R".)

In a flash, not only did I get an insight into what my focus will be for the next few years, I also discovered an entirely new field.

Agile Is Eating The World


A little while back, Marc Andressen (yep, the Marc Andressen from Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz) made a super famous statement I’m sure that you have probably heard a million times now:

Software is eating the world

Completely agree.

More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures.

If you think about it – all content is now software – the blog you are reading is built on software, the computer I’m typing this post on wouldn’t run without software and you could argue (and I would) that some of the most successful business of today (and probably the next 5-10 years) will all be software. Look at Uber and AirBnB and their competitors – they are basically software companies with no real inventory – they simply connect those who need a service to those who can provide it. At their core, they are software. Algorithms.

If software is eating the world, then I have my own pithy quote:

Agile Is Eating The World

Although I’m sure that my quote won’t be as re-quoted as Marc’s was, but you never know. Let’s hope, right?

What do I mean?

If you have been involved with software development in any way shape or form, then you have probably heard of agile programming. Created in the 70s but not really popularized until the mid-90s, it promised a new way of developing software which for some things worked better than the old waterfall model.

If you’re not familiar with Agile, here is the short description from Wikipedia:

Agile software development is a group of software development methods in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continuous improvement, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change

So instead of a linear, top down approach where you know exactly what you are going to build at the start by creating a super detailed spec, then handing it over to the developers to build, then they hand it back, usually late, over-budget, missing key features and probably no longer useful since the market has moved on, you all do everything together, in short little bursts.

Instead of the product owner dictating what they want to build, everyone involved in the project, the developers, the designers, the product owners, and yes, even the customers, all get into the same physical (ideally) space and map out what the product is going to do. Everyone brings their ideas to the table and everyone has a say. The coders start coding every and often, and there are regular checkpoints along the way to make sure things are on track, and if any changes need to be made, they can happen early and with the full knowledge of the team.

So far, most people think that this works great. And it usually does, IMHO because it kind of emulates life. Life is change. Change happens all the time, every day. And any methodology which doesn’t factor this constant change into the equation will suffer when put up against real life.

So if Agile is so great for software projects – why can’t it apply to life in general? I’ve been thinking about this for a while : if agile programming works so well for software because it deals with change – why can’t we use agile programming methods to deal with life? All of the tools of agile, like the daily stand-up, could they not be used to live life better?

Why not use agile programming to reconnect with your family in a daily stand-up? Why not use it to help your kids? Why not use it outside of work to help you through life? If software is eating the world, and agile is eating software, doesn’t agile eat the world?

I just listened to a TED talk where a gentleman (Bruce Feiler) talked about using Agile (and SCRUM, an agile technique) in order to help manage his family better. As I was listening I thought – he’s right. Agile is much more powerful than just a programming methodology – it could be a way of life.

As such, here is my version of the Agile Manifesto, edited for life:

  1. Deliver useful things rapidly
  2. Embrace change, no matter when it happens
  3. Talk to people about how you are doing and where you are going often
  4. Don’t be a lone wolf – co-operate with others
  5. Trust people to do things
  6. Talk to people face to face
  7. Create
  8. Keep moving forward
  9. Do the best you possible can
  10. Keep it as simple as possible
  11. Adults (and even some kids) can manage themselves
  12. Be nimble

Not bad rules to live by, don’t you think?

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