Tag Archives: Innovation

Did You Catch My Interview with Aidan McCullen?

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Aidan McCullen, host of the podcast The Innovation Show. We discussed the need for courage in innovation, leadership skills utilized in creativity, and the ways disruptors can utilize the five superpowers outlined in Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes.

Check it out!

Is Originality Overrated? The Race for Second Place

In the quest for competitive advantages, we often strive to find the novel idea that will set us apart, thus propelling us to the top of the food chain. While this is a worthy endeavor, is success bequeathed upon innovators? Internality it may feel rewarding to create something new, but is originality actually rewarded?

Last week, Facebook announced a new function, Facebook Camera. This “innovative” feature will allow users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users will also have the ability to add filters and fun overlays to the pics. If this sounds familiar, it may be because Facebook introduced something similar on Facebook Messenger (Messenger Day), WhatsApp (Status), and Instagram (Stories), not to mention there’s another social networking site, Snapchat, which does exactly what these four Facebook-owned products do. In fact, Mike Murray, a reporter at Quartz, points out that Facebook’s five most recent product announcements are eerily similar to designs from other companies.

  • Facebook Camera = Snapchat
  • “Live location” in Messenger = “Sharing your location” in Apple’s Messages
  • Reactions and Mentions in Messenger = Reactions and @-mentions on Slack
  • Streaming videogames live = Twitch
  • Messenger Day = Snapchat

We can judge Facebook for repackaging past ideas, but considering they have two billion monthly users and generated $9 billion in revenue last quarter, maybe we need to judge ourselves for being so reliant on uniqueness. Just look at the movie industry.

Movie studios have grown resistant to new concepts that require a large investment. Instead, they are opting for sequels, remakes, and reboots that already have brand recognition. Why gamble with unknown actors playing unknown characters in an unknown story when you can develop a live action Beauty and the Beast, a re-imagined Spider-Man, or a continuation of Pitch Perfect (all of which I intend to see).

The plethora of movie sequels clogging the multiplex can make you feel as though your life were stuck on spin cycle. But if the movies don’t change, we do, and that’s a blessing.—Joshua David Stein

It’s a simple sales theory: Selling something original is much more difficult than selling something that’s familiar. Different, in itself, is not a selling point. People need to be able to relate what you are peddling to what they already know; otherwise you are in the defensive position of convincing, not promoting.

As much as we need new ideas, in Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen makes note that the “new and exciting” companies that disrupt their industry are founded by ex-employees of the “traditional” companies. These individuals did not attain success by creating something from scratch; their “originality” emerged from the idea that they could do it better, not brand new. They did the groundwork at the previous company—experiencing the necessary trial and error, thought experiments, and systems planning—and were able to implement in the new environment.

We all want to be innovators, and I’m not suggesting we abandon this endeavor. However, innovation does not require re-invention. There is something to be said for not consistently creating the wheel. It’s why we study best practices and scrutinize over our competition’s lessons learned. Plus, it lowers risk and is cheaper than paying for mistakes. Let others discover the potholes; we can follow their lead, enhance it, and make it our own.

In the end, there may be self-satisfaction in saying we thought of it first, but think of how self-satisfied you can feel by thinking of it second while enjoying the riches of victory? After all, you are trying to lead your team to long-term success, not win a first-place ribbon.

Trust is a One-Way Street: Why It Matters, How It’s Declining, and What Leaders Can Do About It

Leadership is built on one core concept—trust. Without it, you can forgo every other attribute espoused by management experts. Confidence without trust is an egomaniac. Charisma without trust is a charlatan. And vision without trust is a hypocrite. This was supported by a meta-analysis study from leading trust researcher and Georgetown University professor Daniel McAllister.

Published in the Academy of Management Journal, McAllister concluded that leaders viewed as trustworthy generate a culture where team members:

  • display greater innovation, agility, and responsiveness to changing conditions
  • take risks because they believe they will not be taken advantage of
  • do not expend needless time, effort, and resources on self preservation
  • go above and beyond to exhibit higher performing customer service, brand loyalty, and problem solving

This leads to a competitive advantage through significantly higher commitment, satisfaction, retention, and performance. Similarly, research from the Ken Blanchard Companies found a strong correlation between trust and the behaviors associated with highly productive employees—discretionary effort, willingness to endorse the organization, performance, and a desire to be a “good organizational citizen.”

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.—Stephen Covey

Before you get insulted that I’m explaining something as elementary as the benefits of trust, have you heard of the Edelman Trust Barometer? The ETB has surveyed tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries about their level of trust in business, media, government, and nongovernmental organizations. In its 17th year, this is the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four institutions in all 28 countries surveyed.

For leaders, one of the more disturbing findings of the ETB is the shocking lack of confidence in leadership—63% of participants said corporate CEOs are either not at all or somewhat credible. That means only 37% maintained the credibility of CEOs, a 12-point drop from last year, and this is consistent around the world. CEOs are more trusted than government leaders (29%), but that’s setting a pretty low bar. Plus, with this “trust void,” only 52% said they trust business to do what is right.

So if trust is important and society is not feeling it, what can we do? Good news: you can (re)build trust. Here are five techniques to consider:

  1. Recognition, Recognition, Recognition. To increases trust between leaders and employees, nothing does it faster than acknowledging their achievements. It indicates you are paying attention and reinforces positive behaviors.
  2. Show Compassion. Did I say recognition is the fasted way to build trust? It won’t mean anything if you don’t already have a foundation of respect. Just try influencing someone who doesn’t respect you; see how engaged they are in your ideas. Treat your team like real-life people—listen to their ideas, care about their feelings, and empathize with their concerns.
  3. Keep to Your Word. You can’t build trust without following through on promises. Your team needs to believe that what you say is sincere, so follow through on commitments.
  4. Don’t Hide Your Humanity. Being human means showing your imperfections. Your ability to discuss your mistakes and share what you have learned from it makes you more relatable. No one is concerned with transparency for the good stuff; they need you to fess up to faults, so show your vulnerable side.
  5. Smile. If you don’t want to do something substantive to build your trust and would prefer a gimmick, consider a recent study published in Psychological Science where convicted murders with trustworthy faces received more lenient sentences then their peers with untrustworthy faces. The key, it seems, is that a gentle smile increases how trustworthy others perceive you. Keep in mind, that it needs to be gentle—too big can be seen as duplicitous or insincere, while too small may be seen as sarcastic or leering.

I doubt that we can ever successfully impose values or attitudes or behaviors on our children certainly not by threat, guilt, or punishment. But I do believe they can be induced through relationships where parents and children are growing together. Such relationships are, I believe, build on trust, example, talk, and caring.—Fred Rogers

We live in untrustworthy times, but that does not mean we have to lead in an untrustworthy manner. Generate a culture where honesty, transparency, and truth are the basis of your organization. This must start at the top of the organizational hierarchy with you. The team will trust you once you establish that you trust the team. It may take time, but as Seth Godin says, “Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”

Optics: The Most Overused (and Over Emphasized) Term in the Presidential Election

clinton-trump-handshake-bannerIt’s a little soon to look back at the 2016 presidential election for a shrewd analysis of lessons learned, but if there has been one prevailing theme, it’s the emphasis on optics. Optics places an increased value on how something looks versus how it actually is. It’s the battle between imagery and substance… and in this election, imagery clearly won.

‘Optics’ is hot, rivaling content.—William Safire

Over the last 18 months, headlines have declared “Media Figures Praise Optics Of Trump’s Mexico Visit” or “Clinton Team Fretted About Foundation Optics.” It’s not bothersome to briefly discuss how something appears; the problem is that the punditry is obsessed with the optics and covers it as if they are actualities. Just during the post-debate chatter, how much airtime was dedicated to Clinton and Trump’s “presence” on the stage versus their talking points?

But it’s more than the news coverage. The campaigns have designated optics as the single most important qualifier to win the election. Why discuss substantive policies and global ideology when you can hurl hollow on-liners to rally your base? Even if they have detailed plans, there is no political upside to discussing them in-depth; it would only give their opponent fodder to tear them down without having to mention to own plans.

dukasis-tankThe focus on optics in politics is not a new phenomenon. Remember when George W. Bush stood in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner? Or when Michael Dukakis took a picture in that tank? Or when George H.W. Bush looked at watch during a debate? Or the GOP “outrage” when Barack Obama addressed an airline attack while vacationing in his home state of Hawaii? All optics, no actual significance.bush-mission-accomplished

Going back to 1978, Jimmy Carter’s special counselor on inflation was the first to use the term optics when he told business leaders that if they went along with the administration’s anti-inflation measures, they would be invited to the White House as “a nice optical step.” At the time, The Wall Street Journal immediately rebuffed these overtures by writing, “Optics will not cure inflation.” Now, bragging about optics is the norm.

The truth is that we are to blame for optical dominance. Over the last 30 years, cable news has routinely shown loops of candidates’ quippy one-liners and we have rewarded them with higher ratings. It was only a matter of time until politicians took notice and made this the crux of their campaigns. It increased their airtime, which legitimized/propelled their candidacy, without forcing them to create an actual policy.

As business leaders, I hope we learn the right lessons from this campaign cycle. Be aware of your optics, but use them to further your substance. If you want a culture of teamwork, demonstrate public displays of teamwork. If you want a culture of innovation, demonstrate public displays of innovation. This is not the empty optics we see in political campaigns; you are modeling and reinforcing the company’s core values.

Leadership is more then looking like the leader. You are responsible for making decisions that affect the livelihood of others, the quality of products/services you provide, and the communities in which you live. These responsibilities demand (and deserve) an informed, substantive leader. Success predicated on optics is short-lived; choose a more sustainable path.

Candy Corn’s Leadership Lessons

Holidays are often associated with a particular candy. Christmas has candy canes, Valentine’s Day has those little heart candies, Easter has Cadbury Creme Eggs, and Halloween has candy corn. These yellow, orange, and white striped, corn-kernel-shaped treats were popularized in the 1880s. Today, more than 35 million pounds (or 9 billion pieces) of candy corn are produced each year.

There aren’t many products with the staying power to get more popular over the course of 140 years. So when we find them, there’s surely a leadership lesson to be learned. Here are a few:

The recipe has not changed

Candy corn is basically the same as it was since the turn of the century. With the exception of a few minor ingredients, what we are eating today is the same as the cowboys of the Old West, the soldiers of World War I, and our great, great grandparents.

In today’s business climate, “old” is often considered to be a bad thing. We see this whenever a political candidate peddles change or a new leader joins a company tasked with creating an agenda of transformative initiatives. While necessary, there is value in maintaining the core beliefs of the organization. We can taut branding and re-branding efforts, but don’t lose sight that these are ways to package the company, not make widespread modifications to your principles, i.e. your original recipe.

Candy corn is the only candy in the history of America that’s never been advertised. And there’s a reason — all of the candy corn that was ever made was made in 1911.—Lewis Black

Don’t stop rebranding

While it’s important to maintain your core essence, this does not mean you should remain stagnant. At one time, candy corn was sold as “Chicken Feed.” Changing the name to candy corn did not change its quintessence, it only made it more appetizing.

Additionally, remaining true to its tri-color design (which was considered revolutionary for its time) and shape (which was originally intended to entice the agrarian population of the early 1900’s) has led to an expansion of the product. You can now purchase “Reindeer Corn” (red/green) for Christmas, “Cupid Corn” (red/pink) for Valentine’s Day, and “Freedom Corn” (red/white/blue) for July 4th.

Creativity is key

candycorncocktailBesides renovating your product or service to expand your offerings, there are a number of instances where you can repurpose into completely different markets. Did you know you can order a Candy Corn Cordial cocktail made with vodka, orange liqueur, and floating candy corn for garnish? What about a Candy Corn Bagel topped with a marshmallow chocolate chip spread?

Candy corn is a staple for Halloween and the fall season. Whether or not you like it, it’s been around for a long time and has no foreseeable decline. Embrace it’s tri-color leadership lessons. Retain consistency while constantly renovating. Explore innovative ways to grow your base through tweaks and reimagined uses. And always strive to be the candy pumpkin in the bag of candy corn…you know it’s the best.