I recently came across a blog from Penelope Trunk my wife shared with me about home schooling. Common themes are found in various projects I have led where companies and individuals are stuck in their traditional way of thinking and see their business become stagnant, irrelevant and eventually die.
Through our education, from kindergarten to grad school, then
through our professional lives, we have been shaped in the same mold,
even though we hear here and there that we need to “think
outside the box”, that box being only aimed to fit into a bigger box, like the Russian dolls. Conventionalism, risk aversion and complacency kill innovation and
We must unlearn what we have learned in order to be innovative. You don’t want to be an innovation
killer, do you?
Here is a (non exhaustive) list of behaviors and thinking patterns we need to unlearn.
Unlearn how to face failure. Our society’s
perception of failure is negative. We try our best to avoid failure, or
hide it. There is no shame in failing. Failure is merely part
of the learning process. It is a stepping stone for future success.
We should embrace failure and celebrate it as much as we celebrate
Don’t focus on the $ bottom line. If all matters to
your organization is $, your future is in jeopardy. Revenue growth,
increased profit margin are only a consequence of your
innovation and efficiency efforts. Innovation rarely pays off right
away; it takes time, money and efforts. Innovation is an investment into
the future, not a short-term $ goal. You should put
aside part (the rule is 10%) of your operating budget to lead
innovation efforts, with no metrics on immediate ROI (otherwise it defeats the purpose).
When you look at a problem, don’t look at it as a whole.
Take it apart in pieces and start building a solution with the pieces
in a different way. As an example, the Indianapolis
Zoo knew they were facing a major issue with the new orangutan
exhibit: an increase of 30% in attendance. Looking at the attendance and
parking problem as a whole, they saw an immediate solution:
expand the parking lot. This meant raising more funds to build a new
parking lot, with the challenge of having an empty lot when the
attendance is low. By taking the problem apart, they realized
that they had to better manage the flow of visitors across the week,
versus trying to fix a massive visitor influx on the weekend. They
introduced a dynamic pricing, spreading attendance more
evenly between busy and low periods, thus controlling the parking
issue and providing a better experience to the visitors every single
Stop thinking that your products differentiate you from the competition.
Think of Apple.
In its early years, Apple represented the anti-system, anti-PC
world. If you were mainstream, you were a PC user. If you were different
(Apple’s “think different”) or
artsy, you were a Mac user. After Steve Jobs came back to
Apple and made what Apple is today, suddenly the brand became
mainstream, to the point of alienating early Mac adopters. Apple
products went from being in a niche to being adopted by the masses.
Although they changed the industry (and literally our lives)
introducing i-Pod, i-Phone, i-Pad, the Apple products have become
mainstream and fully commoditized. Samsung introduced their
smart watch before Apple, although the i-watch had been the talk for
years. Google introduced the smart glasses first... Apple went from
being the industry’s #1 brand and disruptor to being
second-to-market trying to catch up with the competition. As
products and services are easily commoditized, the unique differentiator
comes with the brand experience a company creates for its
customers or users. It is much harder to plagiarize a unique brand
experience than it is to plagiarize a product or a service.
Stop thinking that you need a perfect product before you launch it. Iterate to innovate. Strive for
continual innovation, not instant perfection. The best part of working on the web? Google get do-overs. Lots of them. The first version of AdWords,
released in 1999, wasn’t very successful – almost no one clicked on the
ads. Not many people remember that because Google kept iterating and
eventually reached the model we
have today. And they’re still improving it; every year Google runs
tens of thousands of search and ads quality experiments, and over the
past year they’ve launched over a dozen new formats. Some
products they update every day. Google’s iterative process often
teaches the company invaluable lessons. Watching users ‘in the wild’ as
they use Google’s products is the best way to find out
what works, then the company can act on that feedback. It’s much
better to learn these things early and be able to respond than to go too
far down the wrong path.
Stop thinking that you can’t share knowledge or ideas because you fear they’ll be stolen.
Open collaboration is key to future innovation, growth and relevance.
during the 2013 Day of Innovation in Indianapolis, executives from
Eli Lilly and Company and Delta Faucet met and decided to collaborate on
their respective innovation days inside their
companies. The more you collaborate, even with your competitors, the
more opportunities you create.
Stop thinking you need to stay focused on your industry and stay in your natural environment to be an expert.
By looking into other industries, colliding your ideas to others,
opening to new perspectives, you will open up your organization to
new ways of thinking and new opportunities. Often times your competitors
are not the ones closer to you, but those coming from
outside your industry.
The future is in how fast you are at unlearning.