Saturday, November 29, 2014

Find new whys to do business…

What makes your organization different from the competition? What business are you REALLY in (your purpose, not what you sell)? Why aren’t more customers buying your products or services? How much does it cost you? Why should customers buy your products or services (don’t tell us they’re cheaper or better - that’s not the answer we’re looking for, neither are you)?

What do you want your legacy to be? Innovation and growth - or commoditization, stagnation, and irrelevance?

A business exists because the founder has identified an opportunity. Opportunity is the reason why a company chooses to innovate.

If you position your business just based on what your competition does, it often leads to disappointing results. Your ambition should be to transform your organization into a place where innovation and constant emulation are at the core of what you live for. 

As an organization, you need a clear purpose to connect with your employees and customers on an emotional level, in an engaging, meaningful and compelling way

Vision and purpose is what should drive your business, your strategy and your future. Find the opportunity to make a difference, and place it at the heart of your vision. It should provide you a direction, a roadmap of where you want to be and how you want to get there. 


If your goal is only to gain a few market shares, grow by X% at the end of the year, reduce costs and increase profit margins, you clearly are missing the point. This does not excite anyone but you (OK - maybe your sales people and your banker too). Numbers are not sexy and appealing. Growth is a consequence of what you do, not a purpose.

A brand is the external reflection of a company’s inside culture and core values. In order for a brand to stay relevant, be different and unique, it must reinvent itself continuously. If a company’s products or services don’t change the game regularly, they suddenly become a commodity, as unique and innovative they could have been at some point. EVERY product and service becomes sooner than later a commodity. What’s critical is for the company to keep its brand relevant by innovating and bringing to life new game-changing products or services. You must keep delivering on your brand promise, day after day.

DON’T settle for being an er-brand. Your tactics are focused on being better at the same things that your competitors do. Red flags go up whenever I hear a pitch that explains how a new offering is just like another but is small-er, bigg-er, thinn-er, light-er, fast-er, sexi-er, whatev-er.
DO find a unique brand personality that translates into a unique customer experience, enabling your brand to rise above competitive comparison. Using brand personality in this way is not simply about developing creative communications; it’s about infusing every aspect of your operations with your unique character.

You have to switch your company’s focus from being transaction oriented to emotion oriented. A product is a transaction, an experience is an emotion. That’s your differentiator. 

It is easy to create a brand and a “promise”. What is hard to achieve is to deliver on the brand promise over and over again. As innovative as the brand promise may be at some point, other brands will follow and suddenly your promise will become commoditized, again.

McDonaldization of Starbucks…

When Howard Schultz left Starbucks in 2000, his successor Jim Donald decided to automate and time the Starbucks service, from time required to grind coffee, to mix ingredients, to minimal interaction with customers. In other word, Jim Donald mcdonaldized Starbucks. When Schultz returned as CEO in 2008 appalled by the dilution of the Starbucks experience he had brought to life, he decided to revive the brand promise. He closed all stores worldwide to (re)train managers and employees on the true customer experience, leaving on the counter $7M that day. He brought the brand promise back to its origin, and has continued to deliver on the promise ever since.

A strong and inspiring vision should be framed around how the company works to change its customers' 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."
This is a powerful statement as each single word is meaningful. Amazon’s goal is to be global and ubiquitous (earth’s), with a strong focus on the customer (customer centric). Although it is an online retailer,  Amazon wants to build a place (analogy to brick and mortar), where people can only find what they have in mind, abut also get suggestions and recommendations based on other buyers’ preferences or one’s past purchases.

Starbucks' mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Starbucks has revolutionized the way people interact socially. Nowadays, Starbucks is the place to meet friends, conduct business, get quiet time… Your morning coffee Joe is just the vessel for the company to create the experience. The experience is what customers make out of it. Starbucks nurtures the human spirit, little by little. Think about how your life was before Starbucks?

Lego’s mission is to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow”. Their purpose is to inspire & develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future – experiencing their endless human possibility. Lego is in perpetual beta mode: term used by software developers – a product is never finished, it is in constant iteration based on user feedback.

If you think about it, the Lego movie and the Lego theme parks are only devices to carry their mission. It is all about using your imagination and Lego sets to carry your imagination…


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.

"In today's reputation economy, what you stand for matters more than what you produce and sell", says Kasper Ulf Nielsen, Reputation Institute's executive partner. "People's willingness to buy, recommend, work for, and invest in a company is driven 60% by their perceptions of the company and only 40% by their perceptions of its products." The study shows that in order to win support and recommendations, a company needs to tell its story in a way that connects with stakeholders on a global level. "This is a challenge that even the best companies struggle with", Nielsen says. Building a strong reputation takes time. "You need to live up to your promises and be relevant in the local and global context", he adds. 

Looking for Apple’s mission statement (as you’d think they have a great mission statement given the number of game-changing products they have released), this is what I’ve found.
According to Simon Sinek, “if Apple was like everyone else a marketing message might be: We make great computers. They’re user friendly. Want to buy one? …Here’s how Apple actually communicates: everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”. Although it is a bit simplistic, Sinek brings up the “why” a company chooses to do business, which should drive the how they going to accomplish their goals, and what they’re going to provide to the customers.

In an article, it was widely reported that a famous quote from Steve Jobs in the 1980's was the Apple company mission statement: "Man is the creator of change in this world. As such he should be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them."
The "official" mission statement on the Apple corporation website, however, is not really a mission statement at all, but rather a list of products and past accomplishments. As stated, Apple's "mission" is…
"Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced iPad 2 which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices."
Apple ends its press releases with a statement that resembles what a traditional mission statement is expected to be…
"Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings."
In my opinion, this latter statement, although it does not name specific products, still is very commoditizing, not inspiring. Maybe this explains why Apple has struggled so much the past few years to bring to market game-changing products and has focused more on improving existing products.

According to the Economist, Steve Jobs' mission statement for Apple in 1980 was: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”
Now, this mission statement sounds more like what drove Jobs and Apple to change the world…

What do you think? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Can social and business activism spark innovation?

There has been a lot of buzz around embracing failure as a stepping-stone to success. Many organizations welcome the idea and contemplate the thought of celebrating failure, but they are often reluctant to embrace the concept in practice.

There are two main reasons. One is risk and failure aversion. In a work or school setting, our brains are formatted to learn theory and what the outcome should be instead of experimenting through trial and error.  People don’t like to make mistakes, and they don’t like to look foolish, whether it is an adult or a child. Trial-and-error can cause both of these things to happen when things don’t work out as expected. The second reason is that our organizational cultures are often not designed to experimenting. In larger organizations, we are often trying to improve efficiency. Doing this means that we must reduce variation and risk. But innovation and experimentation increase variation.

What smart people realize is that without failure there would be no success. Failure leads to insight. Failure leads to understanding. Failure leads to innovation. As Douglas Adams said, “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” What’s critical is to be able to learn from failed experiments to lead to successful ventures. On the West Coast, many successful organizations, from start-ups to established companies, have embraced this concept, but it is more of a challenge in the conservative Midwest.
The reasons are not too hard to find. Even in the most progressive and understanding of workplaces admitting to failure brings forth feelings of embarrassment, shame and inadequacy. In more extreme organizations it can lead to understandable concerns about loss of status and even salary.

Now, Indiana is challenging failure aversion. Led by Launch Fishers and Indiana Small Business Development Center, FailFest will celebrate the role failure plays in moving companies, careers and communities forward. On November 19, FailFest will bring Indiana’s most important business leaders together to share the lessons they’ve learned from the mistakes they’ve made, both personally and professionally, in a day-long conference designed to inspire, inform and ultimately change the way failure is perceived in our society. Failure leads to innovation.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

As FailFest illustrates, social and business activism can help challenge the status-quo.

In that spirit, a group of innovation activists that I am leading is launching a new experiment – s.p.IN – Indiana’s first social & business activism platform that brings together innovation enthusiasts and practitioners to shape the Hoosier state’s future.

s.p.IN has been developed through an iteration process, gathering feedback from business leaders across the state about what they saw was missing in the existing initiatives around innovation (from conceptualization, to brand positioning to content). The intent is to bring people together that would likely not meet otherwise and get them work on specific innovative projects aimed to help the business community. CONNECT. EMPOWER. INSTIGATE. ACT.

s.p.IN seeks to accelerate innovation by creating an open innovation and collaboration platform where professionals use their diverse ideas, experience and resources to solve specific challenges within four key themes:

·      - Planting the seeds of innovation in education
·      - Creating a toolkit for Indiana entrepreneurs
·      - Revisiting transportation
·      - Designing a roadmap for community revitalization

To provide a venue for discussion and idea generation, s.p.IN hosts monthly mini-collisions with Indiana’s top influencers and innovation leaders at local businesses. Mini-collisions focus on a set of deliverables for each topic. The first projects will be announced in December. Output from mini-collisions will be unveiled online and shared in depth during s.p.IN’s Collide Summit Indiana un-conference, where the broader community will have the opportunity to provide feedback and build on the ideas.

Will it work? If we don’t try we’ll never know. This is what experimentation is all about. No risk taking, no failure in our minds. Only an opportunity to learn and succeed in the long term.