The Big E of Big E Toys
If a picture's worth a thousand words, a video's worth a million. But what's an audio file worth?
I've had a bunch of requests to hear the discussion with Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot of Sound Opinions that was used as the basis for my posts "The Difference Between Innovative & Stupid" and "Innovation is in the Eye of the Beholder". Below is the audio of the question I posed to Jim and Greg that was used for the posts. This file runs about nine minutes.
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The full 90 minute The Future of Music discussion that was created by National Public Radio can be heard using the following link: http://tinyurl.com/futureofmusicminn
[The nine minute Sound Opinions snippet was originally posted on my podbean site.]
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
In an article I was reading at at the Deccan Herald, they focused on innovation and where thoughts came from. Azim Premji looks at innovation as action, not only creativity and thoughts that bring up change and creativity in an organization. Innovation isn't limited to products either, innovation can affect business models, quality, productivity, service, financial discipline and employee attitudes.
So how are we suppose to take innovation from a thought to an action? Look at the environment you are providing for your employees. A culture needs to be created in your organization that provides an environment where they can have thoughts and creativity and develop them into actions.
Read the full article here.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Greetings from the Voice of YOUR Customer Summit in Chicago! This is the original event that showcases the expertise, tools and advancements to allow you to master the VoC process- with more of an emphasis than ever on putting the customer at the core of YOUR innovation strategy.
Speaker: James Damian, SVP, Experience Development Group, Best Buy
Yesterday morning we heard from James Damian, SVP, Experience Development Group at Best Buy. Best Buy has transformed from a traditional, merchandise based transaction company to one of continual reinvention of an intuitive shopping experience that not only meets but anticipates customers’ ever changing needs.
James discussed the importance of forming a relationship with the consumer- how do we really get into the psyche of our customer? For Best Buy, it is all about getting close to the consumer to innovate, rather than innovating in the boardroom. After all, says James, “It only takes three blue suits in a boardroom to kill an idea.”
Best Buy practices a seemingly simply idea- practice good manners with your consumers. Their philosophy is to be open with their customer and show them how to use their products, and then people will come back to their stores. It is the “intersection of mass and class”.
As an electronics store founded by men, Best Buy already had a loyal male consumer base. However, they realized that not only are females about 50% of the population but they influence 89% of all sales. James and his colleagues got close to the consumer and invited women to create stores with them- co-creation- instead of the traditional focus group. They also did this with young tech savvy men to create a store tailored just for them. As Woodrow Wilson once said: "I use not only all the brains I have, but all I can borrow."
The heart and soul of VoC is understanding customer behaviors and lifestyles. Best Buy added their Geek Squad service- experts in the stores who can help customers figure it out. They helped customers by “showing” how not just “telling”. This built stronger relationships with their customers and higher loyalty. At Best Buy, the most important part of their brand is to never let the customer hang, never leave them at all.
James also emphasized that curiosity is so imperative in terms of breakthrough thinking and the distinction of your brand. And he left us ” The greatest threat is no longer change, it is complacency.”
We ended the first main day of the Voice of YOUR Customer Summit with a lively cocktail reception sponsored by Maddock Douglas. A special thanks to Maddock Douglas!
In a recent article at ft.com, they look at what obstacles can prevent the collaboration in your company. They identify:
These people maybe ill-equipped to judge new ideas that come from within
-Leaders failing to promote energy
Are leaders feeding energy or are they draining it from their networks?
-Lack of management basics
Are new members to the team briefed properly? Are managers bringing them up to speed on the projects?
The article ends with this quote: You need to understand how informal, unseen networks can be encouraged to work to your benefit. This is where innovation will come from.
What do you think? What are some of the obstacles preventing collaboration in your business?
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Greetings from the Service Innovation Conference in Chicago! This is the leading event of differentiation through services taking place June 22-24, 2009.
Speaker: Kevin Ryan, Manager, Strategy and Innovation, General Mills
Yesterday during the Symposium we heard from Kevin Ryan, Manager, Strategy and Innovation for General Mills. He spoke about General Mills' process for identifying new products and services. They decided to systematize exploratory innovation by creating a team of internal consultants that specialize in identifying new opportunities.
Kevin discussed that it is a crime to ideate first- at General Mills, first they find the problem and then the ideation and strategy flows from that. They spend more time actually finding the problem than solving it. This core belief goes against the grain- they focus on a bottom up production and thus the big picture emerges over time.
One great example Kevin gave was how General Mills tackled the problem of weight management. Before, there was the belief that the solution was to create products that were either: low fat, reduced sugar, low carb or portion control.
General Mills implimented an approached they coined the I3 Approach to solve the issue of weight management. I3 stands for:
- Immersion- Understanding the problem
- Interaction- Building intuition
- Idea Creation- Solving the problem
Then Kevin discussed a few examples of products and services created based on this process that suceeded- such as their Weight Watchers Progresso Soup line- and ones that were not quite as successful- such as Pop Secret Caramel Glazed Popcorn. It was a great idea and a delicious product, but unfortunately the popcorn caught on fire when cooked using the "popcorn microwave button". But failures can be a learning experience- General Mills discovered to actually step through the process of using the product as a consumer would to prevent similar failures.
Kevin ended his session with three key ideas and suggestions.
- Find Great Ideas Regularly- First find the problem and then ideation flows from that
- Expand Available Talent- Innovate up to 50% more effectively by using outside resources (your consumers!)
- Get Smarter Sooner- If you are going to fail, fail early and fail first and fail often. It is not to be criticized- it is a learning experience
The Big E of Big E Toys
“When people have learned to love music for itself, when they listen with other ears, their enjoyment will be of a far higher and more potent order, and they will be able to judge it on a higher plane and realize its intrinsic value…” - Igor Stravinsky
A month or so ago, after partaking in a discussion with rock critics Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun Times and Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, I began exploring The Difference Between Innovative & Stupid. As part of this exploration, I identified two important elements for making this distinction – the necessity for passion in the innovation process and the infusion of what could be termed “amplified personality.” I’ll not rehash this discussion here, but if you’ve not read the original post, I’d encourage you to take a peek.
During the same discussion that prompted me to delineate between innovative and stupid, Greg Kot made an interesting point when he said “music is only as good as the person who listens to it.” He didn’t use these words to describe his statement, but his point was essentially that a person needs to be experienced enough, knowledgeable enough, and simply open to the music enough so that, as Stravinsky suggests, he or she is “able to judge it on a higher plane and realize its intrinsic value.” I contend that with innovation, as with music, you need an experienced, knowledgeable, open person to recognize the intrinsic value of the innovation. This person may be someone involved in the process to develop the innovation or perhaps someone who consumes the innovation. In either case, innovation is only as good as the person who experiences it. Without this insight, innovation may be lost.
In 1974, after recently seeing a now legendary performer in concert, rock critic Jon Landau, writing for the Boston alternative weekly newspaper The Real Paper, penned the prophetic statement “I saw rock ‘n’ roll future and its name is…”
[You didn’t honestly think I’d drop the name this early in the post, did you? Any guesses?]
So how does one go about gaining experience, and knowledge, or becoming open to innovation? Does wisdom come with age? Is it more important to be submersed in an occupation or industry for a significant duration, or are cross-functional talents and an eclectic mix of industry experience more beneficial? Is it possible to have an inherent gift for innovation? Is it innovation talent or skill that reigns supreme?
I don’t have easy answers. If you have thoughts, please share.
There are essentially two angles from which innovation is discovered and experienced. You might find yourself as part of the innovation development process, or you might be a consumer of an innovation. Although the developer might have more responsibility concerning the success of an innovation and the consumer may be the entity of on which the success relies, I don’t necessarily think the nature of the discovery or experiential process is intrinsically different between the two. You either “get it”, or you don’t. The question I keep asking myself is why do some get it, and others don’t?
As I sit here and ponder the role and responsibilities of the innovation developer and consumer, I can’t help wonder who at Xerox PARC decades ago decided it was okay to show their graphical user interface and mouse to Steve Jobs? Why didn’t they fully recognize the innovation in their midst?
On a personal level and as a consumer, I lament the fact that more people didn’t recognize the innovative nature of the lightly carbonated, citrus-flavored soft drink Rondo. If they had, perhaps I could still be enjoying the fabulous, innovative taste of this “thirst crusher.” I loved the stuff.
Jon Landau ultimately went on to manage and co-produce many albums for the subject of his prophetic 1974 statement. “I saw rock ‘n’ roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” How he saw the future I do not know.
[On a different note: The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, had a liver transplant in Tennessee two months ago. Thoughts and prayers go out to this innovation leader.]
Friday, June 19, 2009
PSP Go is a new gaming device that looks to revolutionize the gaming world. This new hand-held gaming device looks to throw the next innovation into the gaming industry. The article points out that innovations to gaming hardware are usually rejected by the community. They give the example of the XBox 360, which was the second device to have the internet, but the Dreamcast was the first.
The PSP-Go will be the first hand-held device that only allows the user to download games instead of purchase them. What do you think of a device like this? What waves do you believe this innovation will send through the gaming industry network if users should adopt this latest innovation?
Source: The Examiner
Thursday, June 18, 2009
"Innovation is the best solution to the economic challenges we face. Our citizens are worried that we will lose our global economic and technology leadership," Gary Shapiro, CEA's president and CEO, is quoted in a recent PC World article.
The article looks at a recent survey that stated US citizens believe that the US Government needs to take a role in promoting innovation to continue to be the leader in the space. Citizens polled that they believe that other countries provide a friendlier environment, especially in Japan. Read the full article here.
What do you think? Do you think the US Government needs to be more innovation friendly?
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Big E of Big E Toys
“It has always seemed strange to me,” said Doc. “The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” - from Cannery Row (1945) by John Steinbeck
It’s a fallacy of sorts to suggest companies strive to be innovative. In reality, innovation is a means to an end. If deliberately being an idiot led to financial success, companies would strive to be idiots. Innovation has been shown to cultivate success however, and thus we’re driven to innovate.
But don’t be fooled. It is success we seek. Monetary success. Not innovation.
It’s understandable that we veil our true motivations in the cocoon of innovation. It certainly seems like a more noble pursuit than basic financial gain – which is often too closely connected with greed. I don’t question the financial necessity of our economic engine and this basic mentality. I can’t help wonder if socially beneficial products and services never see the light of day though because they don’t meet the proper short-term ROI requirements. What product and service decisions might we make if our primary evaluation criteria were not monetary?
New ideas fuel our individual and collective success. If there were a viable alternative to innovation as an economic driver I imagine we’d see more diversity in our efforts. If kindness, generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling were more lucrative endeavors, I imagine we’d see more diversity in our efforts. As it is, we’re all just a bunch of ideates.
Friday, June 12, 2009
About a year ago, discussed that the reason why Microsoft innovates time and time again is because it invests heavily in its R&D teams. Microsoft had opened up an innovation center in Taiwan that focused on web-engineering and next-gen web applications. IBM is now mimicking this trend with the opening of its Global Rail Innovation Center in Beijing, China as reported in ProgessRailroading.com. The post discusses how the center will address
"...passenger reservations and service, asset utilization and productivity, track and infrastructure surveillance, scheduling, integrated fare management and environmentally efficient operations. The facility will be staffed by a global network of IBM rail consultants, software specialists, mathematicians and business partners."
What other big companies will we see move out to Asia to open up innovation centers? Google perhaps...
Thursday, June 11, 2009
This is why companies need to continue to invest in business meetings. Not only will those who attend gain new and fresh perspectives from other attendees, but they'll hear from top companies who have lived by the same philosophy. Investment in yourself and innovation are the key to your business. What have you done recently to invest in your business?
Did you get a chance to attend Front End of Innovation this year? What would you expect to gain from the experience?
Meetings Drive Business
NASA and the USDA are working together to monitor the soil moisture in crop fields. With the droughts that have been affecting the world over the past few years, they've begun to use NASA satellites to monitor the soil moisture which can then be used to forecast the crops that will be produced that year. Food reserves across the world are at abnormally low levels, which most affects poor nations. Texas also lost $1.1 billion in 2008 due to a lower crop yield. Read the full level here.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Did I mention my affinity for live music?
I once saw an interview many years ago with Bruce Hornsby during which he said he thought people attended live concerts to hear new and different types of music played by their favorite artists. This sounded like a reasonable statement. Right on Bruce. He went further though to say that he thought typical concert-goers weren’t all that interested in hearing familiar hits. Huh? It kind of makes sense that Bruce Hornsby thought or still thinks this way. I never got the impression he ever really got that excited to even play his own hits – like “The Way It Is” or “Mandolin Rain” - during concerts. He seemed more interested in playing jazz at his shows.
In a completely separate, unrelated interview I once saw Glenn Frey (or was it Don Henley, I can’t remember) say that he thought concert-goers are most interested in hearing perfect replications of songs from an artist’s or band’s album. The statement was made as the “Hell Freezes Over” tour began. And given the precision with which the Eagles can actually replicate their recordings in concert, it kind of makes sense that Glenn Frey thought or still thinks this way.
Just so we’re clear. I think they’re both wrong.
Concert-goers I believe are most often interested in hearing variations of the songs they’ve come to love. They want an acoustic version, or an amped-up version, or a piano version, or an acappella version of songs that aren’t otherwise performed that way. Audiences definitely want to hear something new and different. But they want the newness to be in connection to what they already know.
There’s a certain level of security inherent in familiarity.
I can’t imagine an Indigo Girls concert without “Closer to Fine”, a Weezer concert without “Beverly Hills”, an Elton John concert without “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, or a Neil Diamond concert without “Sweet Caroline”. I mean really, has anyone ever been to a Neil Diamond concert and not heard “Sweet Caroline”?
Cover songs represent another variation of music that combines newness with familiarity. There’s arguably nothing like the original, but covers are satisfying in their own right. Some of my personal favorites include Dave Matthews doing “All Along the Watchtower”, John Mayer doing “Free Falling”, Everclear doing “Brown-Eyed Girl”, and The Fugees doing “No Woman, No Cry”. It’s familiar and new at the same time. Can it really get any better than that?
There’s an interesting band out there called The New Standards. They’re sort of a mini-Super Group out of Minneapolis, featuring John Munson (Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare), founding Suburbs member Chan Poling, and vibraphonist Steve Roehm. As their name suggests, they perform covers of relatively new songs in an older jazz-like style. Instead of performing classic jazz standards like “Body and Soul”, “Summertime”, “Tenderly”, “Star Dust”, or “Sophisticated Lady”, The New Standards perform songs like “Watching the Detectives” by Elvis Costello, “London Calling” by The Clash, “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones, and other contemporary classics from the Replacements, Bowie, Blur, Neil Young, and more. It’s good stuff.
Solid vocal arrangements, acappella songs, and music in which voices take the place of traditional instrumentation have always been a favorite of mine. Often such songs are only performed live in concert though and thus can never find their way into my regular play list. There are even some classic rock songs I’ve been waiting years for someone to transform with some sort of vocal styling. I play them in my head with my own made-up vocal arrangements. They have in common solid bass lines with intertwined catchy guitar riffs, and include songs like “Baba O’Riley” by The Who and “Good Things” by BoDeans.
Another such song is “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. I’ve actually been waiting many years for someone to transform this song. I was pleasantly surprised to find this one had made its way into the pilot episode of the Fox TV series “Glee”. In the dramatic final scene of this first episode, the cast performs a unique and powerful rendition of this classic song. Much of the traditional instrumentation is replaced with vocalizations. It’s pretty cool and worth watching.
In the business world, whether working with consumer or commercial products, there really isn’t an equivalent to what would otherwise be considered a cover song. You can get generic versions of products or perhaps a “knock-off”, but these aren’t the same thing. Cover songs don’t really exist in this realm because intellectual property protection makes it illegal. The only exception I can think of is a restaurant that serves a variation on a classic dish. A fine eating establishment might for instance be known for its rendition of a Caesar salad, clam chowder, filet mignon, or perhaps its bbq ribs. Such edible delights can be both familiar and new. But how, aside from becoming a restaurateur, can businesses capitalize on the newness and familiarity of a product at the same time?
One way is to create what would be considered a cover song of their own product. I’m not talking about product extensions. I’m thinking even more basic than this. Some examples that come to mind include: Halloween Oreo™ cookies with orange instead of white stuffing; pastel colored M&M™ candies for Easter; green colored ketchup; and the new Pepsi™ Throwback (made with natural sugar).
Did I happen to mention that the Glee-ified version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” hit number four on the iTunes download chart? Or that the Journey original recently hit 55 on the same chart?
There’s arguably nothing like the original, but covers are satisfying (and profitable) in their own right.
Monday, June 8, 2009
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Friday, June 5, 2009
Michael Mandel of BusinessWeek reports, "... there's growing evidence that the innovation shortfall of the past decade is not only real but may also have contributed to today's financial crisis."
In his report, Mandel claims that innovation has failed in all arenas of US business; healthcare, info tech, product development and more.
In your particular area of expertise, do you see that American business has failed when it comes to innovation? Or do you think that Mandel's arguments are completely off-base?
The Failed Promise of Innovation in the U.S.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
If you haven't signed up yet for the web seminar presented by BuzzBack Market Research, it's not too late! As a reminder, it will be taking place today from 2:00pm - 3:00pm EDT. Here are some of the key takeaways you can expect to learn from the presentation:
• How to go beneath the surface to uncover consumer emotions and personal connections linked to copy and language
• How to improve and refine consumer language critical in exploratory and copy development
• New techniques to identify imagery and visual feedback in copy and positioning development
• Innovative methods for mining and distilling rich consumer language
Make sure to register below nd mention the priority code MWS0018Linked
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
In a recent article at the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate, they look at how the new plan for GM needs to be to focus on reworking their business in the automobile industry to make more than just cars. The article points out that they can not only focus on fuel efficient cars, but they can also look to manufacture such things as light rail, hybrid and electric cars and alternative energy devices that can focus on long-term solutions for keeping the company in business. Read the full story here.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
The Big E of Big E Toys
“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people – first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy.” - Albert Einstein
What follows is a bit of a departure from my normal writings on innovation. There’s a loose tie-in to the overall concept of innovation, but I must admit this is essentially an entry for what might better be called The Blog Less Traveled. If you’re looking for information to jump start a creative initiative, or a description of a wonderful new innovation process or technique, don’t bother reading further. This entry is about innovation beyond products and services.
A while back my son decided he wasn’t going to have a traditional birthday party. With the support of my wife and me, and having seen his older sister have rewarding fun with her friends a couple years ago, my son chose to celebrate his birthday this year by taking a bunch of his friends to Feed My Starving Children. No presents. Just the presence of friends and a willingness to work a bit. After loading up three minivans and donning hairnets upon our arrival, we received our food packing instructions and got to work. By shift’s end, a dozen nine year olds from our group, along with two other birthday groups and adult chaperones, packed enough food for almost 15,000 meals. Enough food to feed 41 kids in an impoverished area of the world for an entire year. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Over the years I’ve done a fair amount of volunteer work. At school, at church, in the community, and on my own with organizations like Feed My Starving Children, various shelters, and local food shelves. What struck me the other night though as I was reflecting on my son’s birthday party and my own volunteer experiences over the years, was that I’ve not had significant volunteer opportunities through my places of work. I’ve worked for and with a variety of big and small companies throughout the years and haven’t once done volunteer work with co-workers. There have on occasion been a few proactive employees at various companies for whom I’ve worked who have attempted to be good social citizens and organize a small volunteer activity or two here or there. Such efforts have been disconnected and random though and never seemed to fit into my family schedule. They were always after work, not during. And with three kids and a whole host of other personal commitments, this has never seemed like a good option for me.
Most major corporations have foundations through which they donate money to worthy causes. These foundations typically allow corporations to continue a steady stream of giving in good corporate times and bad. The fact that these foundations exist is a great thing. I wish more small and medium size businesses had the desire and wherewithal to establish such entities.
But what about some sweat equity? Is it enough to simply write a check? Certainly charitable organizations need money and none of them are likely to turn down donated funds. But why don’t more companies get their hands dirty, literally speaking?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. shows that the number and percentage of Americans who volunteer each year has declined since 2005. Some speculate, along with other factors, that Americans have less free time because of do-more-with-less workplaces. Seems like there’s something wrong with this picture. Why not make volunteerism part of our official professional lives?
I have no doubt there are co-workers throughout the world doing great volunteer work together. I admittedly am a bit cynical. It often seems to me as though corporate PR departments are quick to tell us about what appear to be semi-staged volunteer events. It’s almost as if the volunteer work wouldn’t be performed unless there was some good PR to be had. Why are volunteer activities put in the hands or PR departments, or relegated to associates in HR, or left to grassroots efforts by a few enthusiastic employees? Is it too much to expect that CEO’s and other senior executives throughout the world should embrace volunteerism as part of their corporate identities? Think of what could be accomplished throughout the world if employees were allowed, on company time, to volunteer once a month, once a quarter, or even simply once a year to some charitable organization. Why don’t more organizations make mandatory and regular community work a part of their formal employee activities?
If you think you’ll lose precious man-hours by letting employees volunteer on company time, I’d say I think you’re mistaken. I can’t prove it, but I have to believe morale goes up, productivity goes up, and turnover goes down in an environment that embraces social responsibility.
I believe what we do to help our communities is as important as the innovative products we sell to them.
I wish more CEO’s and senior executives in big and small companies all over the world would make community involvement a priority and part of their company identities. Arguably this isn’t their responsibility though. Then again, arguably it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Two roads diverged in a wood. Which one is your CEO on? To embrace volunteerism as an integral part of your corporate identity…now that would be innovative.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Google has long been the leader in web search innovation, but according to this article in The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft's latest venture Bing might distinguish itself completely from Google but delivering "answers" instead of search results that might provide relevant links. Microsoft claims that it has built a decision engine that empowers people to gain insight from the web and make quicker decisions. Google's greatest feat might be how it analyzes its services, and continually improves us, but Microsoft might be slightly ahead this time. What do you think?