Monday, April 28, 2014

Your brain is like a bottle of Orangina.

I grew up in France with Orangina in the 80s. But more than childhood reminiscence, it has become a mindset. Why? Check out this video...

The message is: your brain is like to bottle of Orangina. If you don't shake up your thinking, your creativity stays at the bottom, like the pulp.
The world as we’ve known it is upside down. It is out of whack. 

With all the new trends coming into place, how do we demark our services, our products from the competition? What do we need to do to keep them relevant and noticeable by the new generations and emerging populations? A product that is seen today as innovative will tomorrow be a commodity.

I remember the good old days when a blackberry was a fruit, when you did not need an emoticon to express your feelings. Things seemed to be easier before.  Nowadays, young children know to play Angry Birds on smart phones or tablets before learning how to tie their shoe laces. This is why my 6-year-old son wears shoes with Velcro, to have time to play Angry Birds.
The other day, my 9-year-old daughter spotted the old encyclopedias my mother-in-law had placed in the basement. “What are those”?, she asked me. I tried to explain the concept to her, but it just was not clicking. Finally, she said, “It’s like Wikipedia or Google, but in a book”.

You and the people in your organization must upgrade their thinking in order to master this new age. The design of your thinking determines all of your results in this whacky world, and the wilder, funkier and more unique your thinking, the better positioned you are for success.

Change happens. It doesn't care whether you like it or not. Change doesn't need your permission. Change is the one constant in business. What you decide to do with change is up to you. It is people, talent and their skills within your organization that are driving innovation, creativity and pushing the boundaries of business and the world as we know it.

“ . . . the idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.” (John Maynard Keynes, 1937). This was in

As Kelly Hipskind from Herff Jones put it at a recent Centric event, innovation is a mindset.

What can you do to shake up your thinking?

Consciously seek a different perspective. 
We humans are creatures of habit, we like the comfort of the routine, of what we are familiar with. Ok, we may slightly adapt the original way as we learn new things. But we are not fundamentally wired to look for the new and different (or better). The best way to do this is to create a new habit – the habit of pausing and questioning. As Doug McColgin puts it in a recent blog, in order to change our mindset, we flee our normal work setting and unlock ourselves in a creative space; we take offsite unstructured time to re-source ourselves, change our perspectives. 
You must collide your thinking with others, so that you don't lock yourself in the "we've always done it this way and it works" mentality. Because tomorrow, it will stop working. 

Beat the “Can’t” mentality. 
As Steve Jobs said, "the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do". Mark the "beat the "can't" mentality" as part of your metrics for the year. Every time someone in your organization says "we can't", it goes against his/her metrics. Or ask people to donate $1 to the charity of your choice every time they bring the "can't" word. You will make a charitable organization happy!

Make change an integral part of your culture.
 Few words strike error into the minds of humans like the word “change.” Yet change is the critical key to business success. Have you ever considered changing partners? Not changing partners in terms of swapping spouses, but changing your partners’ or co-workers’ mindset and behavior?  Have you tried to do that? Great businesses lead their markets by changing the game, changing the way we live, work, communicate, dress and eat. Changing the way we interact with technology. To win, we must create change. That means we need to accept change as part of our business advantage. So how can you create a culture of change? Here are some ideas:
  • Start a change board (instead of a white board) where folks can suggest changes to improve your processes, products, team structure and anything else that contributes to business growth.
  • Reward change thinking. Visibly reward folks for pushing the envelope, even if you don’t use the ideas. Reward the act of stepping into change and do it visibly. Thanks to the herd instinct, others will follow.
  • Do the corporate shuffle. Change up your daily behaviors, move weekly meetings to different times and days every week. Get folks to sit in different places in meetings (not next to the same folks all the time). Do everything you can to shake up repetitive behaviors. 
  • Inject the unexpected into your organization. For example, drop by unexpectedly for team meetings. Sit in on customer service and/or sales calls. Cross pollinate teams with each other and with external inputs to shake up the thinking. Energize your organization with the unexpected!
  • Stop having managers manage your staff. Change managers into mentors, coaches, whose roles are to cheer their teammates to be creative, audacious, take action and ownership for what their believe in. Clue: if the present managers in place don’t grasp the concept, this simply means they are in the wrong place. Good leaders don’t manage, they mentor and develop their teams.
Don't focus so much on the competition. If you focus too much on your competitors, you will likely be an "-er brand". You will want to be cheap-er, fast-er, healthi-er, whatev-er than your competition. No kidding! It’s impossible to lead your market, to be innovative and a breakout business if you’re focused on your competition. By definition, you’re following. Instead, spend all that time and money focusing on finding new markets, new opportunities and new ways of seeing and thinking about your business. Work to uncover the un-met needs of your consumers, work to create a unique culture to attract top talents to your organization. That’s how to be a profitable market leader. Besides, the view never changes if you’re following your competitor.

Focus on experimentation.
 If you focus on immediate ROI, you don’t grasp the notion of “innovation”. Immediate ROI is about efficiency, not innovation. Innovation takes time, requirement many experiments before coming up with a final product/service. Stress the fact that “failure” is part of the experimentation process, that the “downs” are part of the steps towards success. Encourage experimentation, eliminate the fear of “failing”, “losing”, “taking risks”. Focus on the opportunities instead.

So, this week, go buy a pack of Orangina bottles and shake up your thinking!

Friday, April 18, 2014


The moment you invest a bit of yourself into something, you start overvaluing it. My personal experience started with IKEA furniture a long time ago. I’m not particularly good at assembling things, it takes me a long time, I make all kinds of mistakes. When I finished assembling the four truly mediocre pieces of furniture I had bought from IKEA when I was a student, I was actually incredibly proud of it. I kept moving it with me from city-to-city, apartment to apartment as I would keep on moving, renting a truck to carry all those pieces (still put together as I was afraid I would not be able to put them back together if I dismantled them), while the objective quality and cost of it did not support that. I started wondering whether my love of it was due to my investment of time and energy.

Let’s imagine another scenario. Imagine I come to you to ask you if you would sell me your kids? How much money would you charge me if I wanted to buy your kids, take all your memories, and I promised to give them a good home? As long as these are not teenagers, you would probably respond “lots of money”. Because you can’t see your lives without your kids. Now, imagine a different place. Imagine you don’t have kids. You go to a park, you meet two kids, you play with them for a few hours… they are wonderful little kids. After a couple of hours, you are ready to say goodbye, but before you said so, the parents tell you, “by the way they are for sale. Are you interested?” How much would you pay for those kids? Chances are that you wouldn’t pay much for the kids, because they aren’t yours.

When we get involved emotionally because of complexity, feelings, time or money invested, we lose our ability to think.

We have to disrupt the way we think. To keep up with this wacky, ever-changing world, we need to change and upgrade our thinking, we need to think funky.

Are we in control of our own decisions?

Let’s do a test. Look at the grid above. How many squares do you see? How you arrive at the answer can make a big difference in what you find.
In the first "systematic" analysis, we can find 30 squares. 

16 (1x1 squares) + 9 (2x2 squares) + 4 (3x3 squares) + 1 (4x4 square) = 30 squares.
The squares were always there, but you didn't find them until you looked for them. At first glance, you can easily see 16 squares. But the reality as it appears to be is often different from the reality as it is — 30 squares. You need to spend time and dig deeper to understand the reality as it is. Innovative solutions are always there for the problems we face, but you won't find them unless you look for them.

There is a method to the madness (systematically going through 1x1, 2x2, 3x3, and 4x4 squares in this case). It takes time to find the method, but when you do, it opens up many more solutions and opportunities for any innovation problem. We need to look beyond what meets the eye and what we are told, for more innovative perspectives both on the problem as well as the solutions born out of detachment to either.

But can we do even better than a systematic analysis? On a more creative note, there are 30 squares with black edges and 30 squares with white edges. We've now discovered 60 squares. Out-of-the-box thinking can open up even more solutions. The foundation of systematic method, combined with out-of-the-box thinking, can result in order-of-magnitude change in performance. There were several creative replies with many more squares, all the way to infinity. Thank you for stretching our thinking. There are no limits to out-of-the box thinking. Only our own imagination is the limiting factor. Don't think it's impossible, stretch the limits, bend the rules without breaking them — be curious — seek something new — think funky!

The question is: are you really into change? Change is constant. If there is one thing that does not change, it is change. Have you ever considered changing partners? Not changing partners in terms of swapping spouses, but changing your partners’ or co-workers’ mindset and behavior? Have you tried to do that? Not easy, right?

I have a firm belief that in order to keep up, stay relevant and be successful in this new, whacky and ultra-competitive era, we actually need to funk up the way we think. To think the same as you always have is to fall behind. The things that used to make you successful no longer work, your old thinking is now obsolete like a desktop computer, and your problem-solving abilities are now commoditized. Welcome to a whacky new world where all the old rules are defunct.

Among the plethora of apps available, I believe that your brain is the killer app in these crazy times. Your brain is an elaborate, collaborative network of 100 billion neurons, interconnecting with their mates via Instant Messenger (more precisely via trillions of synapses – but you get the point!). And just like you upgrade your computer software every few months to battle bugs, viruses and keep abreast of technological change, you also need to upgrade the way you think. The best way to outperform the competition is to out-think the competition. In this crazy world, the wilder and funkier you’re thinking, the better positioned you and your company are to prosper, self-actualize and grow.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Ways to create a culture of innovation

In my last post, I covered some of the main reasons why innovation fails in companies. In this post I want to focus on how to implement a genuine and sustainable culture of innovation.

How companies can nurture innovation and motivate their talents to bring innovations forward?
Each company is destined to get the results it gets. What I mean by this is that poor organization, lack of solid and sustainable innovation culture lead to poor results, and more than before, to a company’s trouble or death.A perfect illustration is RIM, which brought the Blackberry to the world in 1999. At that time, BB was a revolutionary product. What happened is that the company lied on its laurels with its BB product, lacked of a clear strategy about where it wanted to take the product. However, according to data compiled by management software company Mindjet, the majority of businesses either don't have effective innovation strategies or don't effectively seek opportunities to innovate.
Smart business leaders shape the culture of their company to drive innovation. Success and constant positive results come from the implementation and execution of strategies, business models, structure, processes, technologies and incentive systems that encourage innovation.

1- Define your company’s mission around innovation. Many companies don’t have a mission statement, but for those which do, often times statements use generic terms, such as “best product in the world”, “best customer service”… They do not inspire employees to innovate. A strong and inspiring vision should be framed around how the company works to change its customer’s world, for the better.
For instance, Amazon’s mission is "Our [Amazon's] vision is to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."
Coca Cola’s mission is to “refresh the world, inspire moments of optimism and happiness, create value and make a difference”. 

You build an innovation capability by changing your culture, which requires a lot of hard work. You only see the results of this hard work over time.

2- Create the structure to allow employees to experiment new ideas with unstructured time. Successful innovative companies give time to their employees to get away from their daily tasks, to work on personal or company projects not directly related to their work. Then tap into this creative process.Google is well known in the tech community for its "20% time," which gives employees a day a week to follow their passions, but it's hardly the first company to have done so. For decades, 3M Corp. has allotted 15% of its employees' time to innovation, which led to the creation of the now-ubiquitous yellow sticky note, among other products. When innovation gets postponed for too long, companies languish -- witness the reversal of RIM's fortune and Microsoft's vilification in the mainstream media for its failure to innovate. "Innovation programs remove the constraints that accompany traditional work, and offer a safe space for failure. That lets people try riskier things.", says Dan Pink, author of the best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.Seeing innovation as idea management is much more effective than seeing it as just commercialization. In the commercialization view, the only way to win is to have a great idea, protect the IP from it, and bring it to market. In the idea management view, you win by identifying and executing great ideas. They don’t have to be new products; the ideas can be for new ways of doing things, or for new business models. Those are all ideas. The innovation process needs to manage ideas – not just create new products.

Reward employees with time to think, while providing them with the structure they need

3- Recognize employees’s contribution to the innovation process.  Some companies offer monetized incentives. In mine opinion, it is hard to assign a $ value to innovation; this is good for sales teams. Some companies give annual innovation awards; it is a good initiative for a short term, but it creates more competition than it encourages collaboration and creates emulation. My former employer set up a more robust recognition program (it was around good performance, not innovation, but it can be applied to innovation stimulation). It is a peer-based recognition program where employees could purchase a “fuzzy” for 50 cents (profits went to a pool for charity donations), and would give the fuzzy to a co-worker to recognize their achievements. “Fuzzies” circulated around the office and stimulated others to do the same.

4- Return to the past. Debra Kaye, author of Red Thread Thinking
, advises companies to return to the past. No new idea is completely original. Some concepts may not have materialized for various reasons, but it is always good to look at the past and understand why it did not work out. You avoid future mistakes, you can find ways to better the products (new technology, new process, new skill…). Start-up companies which by definition don’t have a past can look at what’s be done in the industry, what did not find success, and bounce off this to create something new.

5- Debra Kaye also stresses that companies should pay attention to culture, not trends. Culture is mass ideology - a system of values and beliefs that runs so deep we don't question it. There's an American belief in personal invention and reinvention. You see that in social products like Snapchat and Instagram, which allow us to invent ourselves in the moment. They may seem like a trend. But they reflect a deep underlying value.
Trends are much more superficial. They are hard to get in and out of quickly enough to make money. Kraft came out with CarbWells in 2004, at the end of the low-carb craze. It was a disaster.

6- Continuous education (L&L, conferences, seminars…). Self-development is the key to employee’s success. In the same system where company should create a structure for unstructured time, those same companies should create time for continuous education. Allow employees to seek new interests, learn and develop new skills.

7- Allow failure. The essence of innovation is that it takes multiple experiments to successfully create new products, solutions, services.  Failure is part of the innovation process. When employees are not afraid of failure, they will feel empowered to take risks and be “crazy”.

What reasons do you see for innovation to succeed?  Share your stories.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Starbucks: the brand experience more than the coffee

Last summer my wife and I took the kids to Chicago as my daughter wanted to go to the American Girl store to buy a doll. Beautiful summer days prompted us to walk across the city, enjoying the sights and various activities. With young children, every once in a while we have to make a stop to go to the bathroom. Not easy to find clean public bathrooms. In big cities like Chicago, you find Starbucks pretty much at each street corner. 
I have to acknowledge that I love Starbucks! Not for their average coffee, but for the customer experience the company has created. With its presence at almost every street corner, you can’t find better “public” (and always clean) bathrooms than at Starbucks.

Being European, I may be a bit picky (you can say “snobby”) about coffee. Although the average American Joe or Jane may go to Starbucks for their coffee morning Joe, I find myself that Starbucks’ coffee is very average. Thus, I don’t go to Starbucks for their coffee, I go to Starbucks for what the chain has to offer beyond coffee: its brand experience.
From its prime locations (i.e. easy bathroom stops), from its Wi-Fi, to its activism, its well-design by-products (mugs, espresso machines…), its Teavana "tea bar" concept, Starbucks has managed to create a global brand experience wherever it opens stores.

In Europe, people go to cafés or bars during lunch time, in the evening or the weekend to meet with friends, to relax, to read… Starbucks has imported this European “social” model to the US and made it a global phenomenon.

How many of us go to a Starbucks store to work for a couple of hours, get away from the kids to read quietly? I even see (more precisely hear) on a regular basis job interviews taking place at Starbucks. I like Starbucks as it is an observational deck from my business. Tattooed, pierced baristas interacting with CEOs, families having a treat, business meetings conducted in a store…

Starbucks mixes the corporate brand with and edgier side. Global meets local. On the corporate side, Starbucks is a large global corporation with a local touch. Products are similar from one country to another (products developed by HQ), with a twist to local preferences. You will find a few different products in European stores from US stores, but most of the product offering is similar.

In Europe, people go to cafés or bars during lunch time, in the evening or the weekend to meet with friends, to relax, to read… Starbucks has imported this European “social” model to the US and made it a global phenomenon.

How many of us go to a Starbucks store to work for a couple of hours, get away from the kids to read quietly? I even see (more precisely hear) on a regular basis job interviews taking place at Starbucks. I like Starbucks as it is an observational deck from my business. Tattooed, pierced baristas interacting with CEOs, families having a treat, business meetings conducted in a store…

Starbucks mixes the corporate brand with and edgier side. Global meets local. On the corporate side, Starbucks is a large global corporation with a local touch. Products are similar from one country to another (products developed by HQ), with a twist to local preferences. You will find a few different products in European stores from US stores, but most of the product offering is similar.On the edgy side, you find the tattooed and pierced baristas, the company’s activism (the latest’s being its campaign against the government’s shutdown), its well-designed by-products, the company’s morphing into a music distributor (music albums being launched exclusively though Starbucks stores), its fair-trade coffee beans… Now, Tweet-a-coffee is the latest company’s program to “to bridge the online and offline worlds”.

It all comes down to the experience, which every corner of the world you are in.Starbucks has successfully brought to the US a social experience from Europe (get together around a cup of coffee), but more surprisingly has brought a similar although different experience to the rest of the world. The last time I was in Buenos Aires, Barcelona or even Singapore, I was shocked to see Starbucks stores crowded with locals having fun. You can find some of the world’s best coffee in Argentina and Spain, and like in many Latin American and European countries, socializing around a cup of coffee (or a beer) is a common habit. You would think that locals would find places offering better coffee. What Starbucks has mastered outside the United States is not to bring a European experience or a good coffee, but to bring a US experience to the world. Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans go to Starbucks for the American experience, not because the coffee is good. It is like going to McDonald’s if you are a kid in France to eat an American burger.

Starbucks has gone so far to create a unique experience that a new coffee chain takes the experience even further. Ziferblat is the first pay-per-minute cafe, based on a Russian chain concept where "everything is free (food, coffee, Wi-Fi), expect the time you spend there.

Share some of your Starbucks experiences with us.