Category Archives: Training

Learning Innovation Through Doing it with a Practical Innovation Project Process

Over the past two years I’ve interviewed over 100 innovation leaders at large organizations about how they are learning and doing innovation for themselves and helping others in their organization to innovate. A major theme was learning and developing innovation skills through working on real innovation projects. Quite simply, you learn innovation through doing it ...

Solution-to-Problem Innovation

FFFInnovation is the process of taking an idea and putting it into practice. Creativity, on the other hand, is what you do in your head to generate the idea, an idea that meets three criteria. An innovative idea must be new, useful, and surprising.

New means that no one else has done it before. Useful means that it delivers some new value for you or your customers. And surprising? It means that the market will be delighted with your latest innovation.

Most people think the way you create an idea is to start with a well formed problem and then brainstorm a solution to it. What if you turned that around 180 degrees - It sounds counterintuitive, but you really can innovate by starting with a solution and then work backwards to the problem. In the Systematic Inventive Thinking method, we call it the Function Follows Form principle. Here’s how it works.

First, you start with an existing situation. That situation can be a product. It can be a service, or perhaps a process. You take that item and you make a list of its components and attributes. Then, you apply one of the five thinking tools - They’re called Subtraction, Division, Multiplication, Task Unification, and Attribute Dependency. I know some of these sound mathematical, but they’re really not as you’ll see when you start applying them.

When you apply one of the five tools to the existing situation, you artificially change it. It morphs into something that, at first, might seem really weird or absurd. That’s perfectly normal. In fact, as you get more comfortable with this method, you’ll come to expect it. We consider this strange thing a Virtual Product. It doesn't really exist except in one place – right up here in your mind.

This step is really important. Take your time. You have to mentally define and visualize the virtual product. I like to close my eyes at this step and mentally see an image of the item once it’s be manipulated. As you practice the method more, this will get a lot easier.

At this next stage, you ask yourself two questions, and you do it in this specific order. First question is, should we do it? Does this new configuration create any advantage or solve some problem? Is there a target audience who would find this beneficial? Does it deliver an unmet need? We call this step the market filter. It’s a filter because if you cannot identify even the tiniest benefit at this step, you throw the concept out the window. You don’t waste anymore time on it. This is very different than other ideation techniques like Brainstorming where “there’s no bad idea.” Trust me! There are plenty of bad ideas, and if you realize one here, you eject it and you go back and re-apply the tool to generate a different concept.

If you do identify some benefit, then and only then do you ask yourself the second question: Can we do it? Do we have the technical know-how to make this concept? Is it feasible? Do we have the intellectual property? Are there regulatory or legal barriers? This step is the Implementation Filter, because, once again, if you have a great idea in theory but you have no way to make it, don't waste anymore time on it.

If you pass through both filters, you move to the Adaptations step where you allow yourself some degree of freedom to modify the concept to make it even stronger and deliver even more value. You may have to iterate through these steps several times before you end up with what I would consider an idea.

The Principle of Function Follows Form - innovating from the Solution to the Problem.

Top 10 Reasons to Hire an Innovation Keynote Speaker

Innovation Keynote Speakers are often misunderstood, maligned, and underutilized. We have all been to many conferences, and heard many good (and bad) keynote and session speakers with a variety of styles (all of which are perfectly acceptable), including:

Getting the Right Talent for Innovation

TeamPerhaps the most important role of the innovation leader is creating a competent team. For that reason alone, it’s one of the most challenging. It’s a constant fight for talent. You may have the best products and services in the market, but without a strong, talented marketing team behind them, you’ll start losing ground to the competition.

Building a competent team begins with recruiting and hiring the right people. But it takes much more than just telling your human resources department to go fill open slots. Top innovation leaders get actively involved. When is the best time to recruit marketing people? All the time! What I mean by that is you should think of recruiting as an ongoing activity. You need a pipeline of potential marketers ready to step in when a position opens up.

When I hire innovation team member, I always look for certain characteristics beyond just job experience and track record. I look for people who are competitive by nature, who have a high tolerance for ambiguity, who are great at networking, and who have a good head for numbers. Creating new products and services is a cash generating activity, so you’ve got to have solid financial skills.

Notice I didn’t mention specific commercial skills like branding or marketing research. That’s because innovation can be learned like any skill. You, as the marketing leader, need to establish a strong, well-defined training and development program for your entire organization. Be sure to make it an annual, on-going activity, not just a one time event. Training is an investment. For some examples, check out my other fundamentals courses on marketing, innovation, and branding. They’ll give you a good head start.

Innovators like to perform at high levels, but they have to be motivated. You, as the innovation leader, play the key role in doing that. Innovators are at their best when they feel a sense of purpose. They have to feel good that the products and services they put into the marketplace are valued by their customers. Innovators need to feel appreciated for the work they do and the risks they take. And they need to be rewarded and recognized for their accomplishments.

Be sure to use a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and do it throughout the year, not just at the annual meeting. Now here’s a tip. A great way to recognize innovators is to have one of your key customers present an award in front of their peers. That really ties it all together - a sense of purpose, a sense of appreciation, and a sense of recognition.

Creating a competent teams means getting the right talent, but also dealing with under performers. The mistake you can make is thinking that just hiring a few superstars will make up for the weaker talent. Just the opposite will occur. The superstars will get frustrated, demotivated, and they’ll eventually leave if they don’t think you’re dealing with the poor performers.

Your under performers either lack the skill to do the job or the will to do it. You have to have clear conversations with them to understand why they’re not performing, then set clear expectations and deadlines when they need to turn things around. If they don’t improve, they’re a liability to you and your team. You’ll lose credibility inside and outside the department if you don’t take action.

So take a look at your talent pool. Understand your team’s strengths and weakness, then put the right hiring, training, and motivational programs in place to keep upgrading your team year after year. That way, you’ll keep winning the fight for talent.

Getting the Right Talent for Innovation

TeamPerhaps the most important role of the innovation leader is creating a competent team. For that reason alone, it’s one of the most challenging. It’s a constant fight for talent. You may have the best products and services in the market, but without a strong, talented marketing team behind them, you’ll start losing ground to the competition.

Building a competent team begins with recruiting and hiring the right people. But it takes much more than just telling your human resources department to go fill open slots. Top innovation leaders get actively involved. When is the best time to recruit marketing people? All the time! What I mean by that is you should think of recruiting as an ongoing activity. You need a pipeline of potential marketers ready to step in when a position opens up.

When I hire innovation team member, I always look for certain characteristics beyond just job experience and track record. I look for people who are competitive by nature, who have a high tolerance for ambiguity, who are great at networking, and who have a good head for numbers. Creating new products and services is a cash generating activity, so you’ve got to have solid financial skills.

Notice I didn’t mention specific commercial skills like branding or marketing research. That’s because innovation can be learned like any skill. You, as the marketing leader, need to establish a strong, well-defined training and development program for your entire organization. Be sure to make it an annual, on-going activity, not just a one time event. Training is an investment. For some examples, check out my other fundamentals courses on marketing, innovation, and branding. They’ll give you a good head start.

Innovators like to perform at high levels, but they have to be motivated. You, as the innovation leader, play the key role in doing that. Innovators are at their best when they feel a sense of purpose. They have to feel good that the products and services they put into the marketplace are valued by their customers. Innovators need to feel appreciated for the work they do and the risks they take. And they need to be rewarded and recognized for their accomplishments.

Be sure to use a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and do it throughout the year, not just at the annual meeting. Now here’s a tip. A great way to recognize innovators is to have one of your key customers present an award in front of their peers. That really ties it all together - a sense of purpose, a sense of appreciation, and a sense of recognition.

Creating a competent teams means getting the right talent, but also dealing with under performers. The mistake you can make is thinking that just hiring a few superstars will make up for the weaker talent. Just the opposite will occur. The superstars will get frustrated, demotivated, and they’ll eventually leave if they don’t think you’re dealing with the poor performers.

Your under performers either lack the skill to do the job or the will to do it. You have to have clear conversations with them to understand why they’re not performing, then set clear expectations and deadlines when they need to turn things around. If they don’t improve, they’re a liability to you and your team. You’ll lose credibility inside and outside the department if you don’t take action.

So take a look at your talent pool. Understand your team’s strengths and weakness, then put the right hiring, training, and motivational programs in place to keep upgrading your team year after year. That way, you’ll keep winning the fight for talent.

13 Smart Questions for your Management Meetings

Most management meetings are dull affairs stacked full of short-term problems that need fixing. Discussions focus on routine operational issues and of course these things have to be addressed. However, from time to time you and your team should lift your heads and think about a bigger, brighter future. You should brainstorm strategic and innovative options. The kind of question you ask makes a big difference.

Learn to Gain a New Perspective

Through lens cropDuring my career, a lot of my senior marketing colleagues would come to me and complain about some of their newest staff members. They were frustrated because these new marketers just couldn’t seem to get the right perspective of the market and translate that back to their day-to-day actions.

It’s a very common problem, especially for less experienced marketers, but it can affect just about anyone. Like everything else we’ve discussed in this course, it’s a big challenge because you’ll miss critical insights if you don’t have this skill.

I’ve put a name to this skill. I call it zooming out and zooming in. Zooming out is when you change your perspective to see the big picture, the whole market from a very wide angle. Zooming in is just the opposite. You zoom in to a new perspective, right on the ground so to speak, very close to the customer and the buying journey.

Think of it like the lens on a camera. The photographer sees a completely different view of the subject when the lens is changed by zooming closer in or by zooming far away. Changing the view triggers new insights on how best to take that shot. You can do the exact same thing when trying to understand a market.

Here’s an example. Imagine you work for a pharmaceutical company, and you want to introduce a drug that treats diabetes into the Chinese market. China is a very big country with around 1.4 billion people, almost 20% of the world’s population. Should be a great market, right? So where do you start? How do you get your drug from the plant in the US to the people with diabetes in China? From this perspective, it’s overwhelming.

Let’s change our perspective and see if it helps. Let’s zoom down to just one city in China, like Shanghai. It’s a big, modern city with about 14 million people. For me, that’s still too big. Let’s zoom down again to a very small town in the middle of China with no more than 50,000 people. In fact, let’s zoom into just one neighborhood. In that neighborhood, let’s find one home with one person with diabetes, let’s say a man in his 50’s. Got it?

Now let’s ask ourselves the same question: how do we get one dose of our diabetes drug from the plant in the US into this man’s body? Here’s why this helps. If you can’t figure out all the things that have to happen to get the product to just this one customer, it’s hopeless to consider how you would do it for all of China. But if you do figure it out, you created a model that can be scaled up to other customers.

With this model in mind, we’re going to zoom out, and imagine other homes in this neighborhood, then zoom out to other neighborhoods, then to other towns around the region, and so on. Before long, you’re back at the level of the entire country to see the big picture. With each change in perspective, I get the insights I need to create a successful marketing campaign.

So look at your markets and train your eye to see new perspectives. Zoom in and zoom out to find new ways to grow.