Hijack – Innovation and Gamification

Meat Pack is a shoe shop in Guatemala which has created a highly innovative mobile marketing campaign called Hijack which targets competitors stores.  Hijack uses location sensing and gamification to target and motivate customers to switch their purchase to Meat Pack.

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Is the Internet an Enemy of Creativity?

George.MartinThe internet is a massive distraction for just about anyone trying to work, but it can prove especially challenging for writers and anyone who needs concentration for a creative process. Author George Martin fights back with a secret weapon. He has two computers: one to browse the internet, get his email and do his taxes, and then his “writing computer”, which is a DOS machine not connected to the internet. He uses Wordstar 4.0 as his word-processing system.

Read the report and see his video interview in the Guardian.

Do you ever disconnect completely in order to do creative work?  Maybe reverting to DOS is a little extreme but I can see the attraction of no distraction.

Paul Sloane

Can we get more Women involved in Innovation?

A rather shocking finding in report by the Kaufmann Foundation is that only 3% of technology start-ups are led by women. There are many theories for this remarkable gender discrepancy. Girls are less likely than boys to study science, technology and computing. Only about 18% of patents are filed in women’s names. It is more difficult for women to get startup funding. But a bigger factor seems to be that men are more likely to be risk takers and women to be risk averse. Whether this difference is due to nature or nurture is open to debate. According to a study by Alison Booth of the Australian national University and Patrick Nolen of the University of Essex teenage girls at girls-only schools were less risk averse than girls at mixed schools. They ascribed this difference to the absence of ‘culturally driven norms and beliefs about modes of female behavior.’ Upbringing and experience seem to encourage girls to play it safe and boys to take risks.

A controversial new book, The Confidence Code, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argues that men are naturally more self-confident than women. Women outnumber men in higher education and are well represented at middle management ranks but men are promoted faster and earn more. Kay and Shipman say that the main reason for this is women’s lack of self-confidence. They claim that women are more likely to:
• Carry criticism around for too long
• Stay inside their comfort zones
• Fail to voice their opinions
• Fail to take risks because of fear of failure

Furthermore Shipman says, ‘Testosterone probably gives men more of a natural confidence boost because it increases risk-taking.’ The authors cite various supporting evidence but their views are disputed by those who argue that discrimination is the main culprit.

The four traits listed above all militate against innovation in a corporate or a start-up environment. Innovators are risk-takers who move out of their comfort zones, strongly argue their case and shrug off criticism. So if Kay and Shipman are correct then it looks as if innovation as it is currently set up is a sport designed for men and not women. This might mean that we are excluding a large proportion of the best ideas and best talent from our innovation processes.

What can be done about this? At a national level there are steps in place to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology and Mathematics). Also we need more women’s business networks and funding sources for women entrepreneurs. At a corporate level maybe we need to change the rules of the game in order to persuade more women to play. Can we make our new product and innovation processes less competitive and more collaborative? Many brainstorm meetings are poorly facilitated and dominated by the biggest egos (usually the alpha males). Radical ideas are subjected to fierce initial criticism so that only the thick-skinned or powerful continue to pursue them. Innovation projects are given to aggressive young cadets who are expected to fight their way through the corporate defences.

We could make our innovation efforts additive rather than competitive. We can use advanced brainstorming techniques that encourage everyone to participate rather than taken over by the noisiest. One such is the Nominal Method. Above all we need more female role models who can talk about the risks they have taken.

Although there are far fewer women-led private technology companies there is some evidence that the ones that exist are more successful. They are more capital-efficient, achieve 35 percent higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bring in 12 percent higher revenue than male-owned tech companies. That’s according to new research presented at a recent conference in San Francisco organized by Women 2.0, a media company devoted to women founders in the tech industry.

If we want more and better innovation in our firms and across our economy then we have to face up to the innovation gender divide and find innovative ways to remove it.

Paul Sloane

Seven Common Mistakes in Suggestions Schemes

Employee suggestion schemes can be a powerful engine for new product growth, for cost savings and for improvements in all areas of the company. Your staff can see all sorts of ways that things could be made better for the customer and the company. They have plenty of ideas for process improvements, produce enhancements and thrifty savings. So why not put all that creativity to work? Many companies have highly effective ideas schemes that generate huge savings every year. Toyota get around 2 million suggestions a year from their 300,000 workers and the large majority of ideas are implemented. So why do all companies not do it? Why do so many ideas initiatives fail? Here are the most egregious mistakes that companies make:

1. No Clear Goals.  If you just ask for ideas you will get a lot of “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a summer picnic” type suggestions. You have to clearly articulate would a good idea looks like e.g. it will increase customer satisfaction, reduce process times or save costs. Be specific about what you want and people will respond.

2. Too few Evaluators.  If you under-resource the evaluation side of the process then people have to wait a long time for a response to their suggestion and this kills motivation. One successful company makes every line manager an initial idea evaluator and they have to respond to a new idea they receive within 4 working days.

3. Complicated Approval Processes.  A common mistake is to set up an idea committee which meets once a month and reviews all suggestions. They argue over a few ideas and never get through the backlog. A handful of proposals get sent on to department heads where they wait in an in-tray for weeks. You need a much slicker approach with individual evaluators empowered to make fast decisions – especially on smaller value suggestions.

4. No Commitment from the Executive Team.  The leaders have to show their commitment to the scheme by backing it with resources – money and people. It is important that the best ideas are implemented and their success broadcast across the company. People believe actions not words and they need to see ideas turning into real innovations.

5. Too much Emphasis on ROI and Reward.  Some schemes offer big financial rewards for big ideas but this is not necessary and may be harmful. A long financial examination is made of the idea and the total first year savings are estimated. Eventually some lucky initiator may get a big reward but this can upset the people around him who contributed to the initial idea. Recognition and fast response are better than big reward and slow response. Many companies give a small award to any idea that gets initial approval whether it reaches final implementation or not. The really big successful ideas lead to recognition for the originator with enrollment in the ‘innovators club’ and lunch with the CEO.

6. No Campaigns.  Many schemes start with a fanfare of publicity, a burst of initial ideas and then they lose momentum and energy. The best way to overcome this problem is with a rolling set of campaigns through the year. One month you ask for ideas for recruiting staff. The next you ask for cost savings; the next for ways to delight customers and so on. Each campaign is supported with posters and messages emphasizing the importance of the request for ideas.

7. Trying to Do it Yourself.  There are many great software packages to help with idea collection and evaluation. There are also self-help groups around the world where you can get help and advice from companies large and small, public and private, who are running suggestions scheme. Try IdeasWorldWide.Net

 

An Energy company in the UK received a suggestion from an employee that all the printers should be set to print double sided not single sided. The idea was implemented and saved $400,000 in the first year. A telecoms company received a suggestion that it should auction off its old and redundant stock to staff. It did this with an internal auction that raised $100,000 but it led to savings in storage and insurance costs of over $1m in the next three years.

If you avoid the mistakes listed above and get some help from those who do it well then there is every reason for your suggestions scheme to yield big results for your business.

Paul Sloane

3D Printing – It is the Future

Picture by Mojo

Picture by Mojo

I spoke at an event for an Aerospace company recently and while I was there I saw an exhibition of some of the things they are doing with 3D printers.  They print in different plastics but also in Titanium, Aluminium and Stainless Steel.  They can print very complex designs which would be hard to machine or manufacture.  This is bad news for specialist engineering companies which supply parts or tools as these can now often be done quicker and cheaper by the 3D printer.  These devices can also make lighter components with hollow spaces.  Saving weight is very important in aircraft design.

I asked the engineer, ‘What can 3D printers not make?’  The answer was large items.  But this is just a matter of time.  It is possible to conceive of a huge printer on a gantry which makes the wings and fuselage of an airplane.  In terms of the important innovations in manufacturing the 3D printer might rank right up there with the assembly line, numerically controlled machines and the industrial robot.  It is a disruptive innovation which will produce winners and losers.  Maybe it is time to buy one for your company and start experimenting.

Paul Sloane

Out of Bad comes Good

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is a mystery and a tragedy. We have no plausible explanation yet.  However it seems possible that some useful innovations will emerge from this.  One is that all planes will be fitted with communications systems which cannot be turned off.

It appears that this disaster was caused deliberately by whoever was flying the plane.  Indeed far more airplane crashes are caused by pilot error than technical or other faults.  So perhaps this event will lead to another innovation – pilotless planes.  Automatic pilots already do most of the work so why do we we need humans in the cockpit?  The main reason is to reassure passengers.  Perhaps we need a campaign to overcome this obstacle to innovation.

We do not need drivers on shuttle trains at airports or on elevators – why do we need them on underground trains and airplanes?  A plane is more complicated but the evidence shows that in nearly all cases computer software can handle that complexity better than humans.  And if a crisis requires human intervention then the  plane can be flown from the ground by an expert pilot through telemetry. It is time to challenge the conventional approach.  Maybe some good will then come out of this calamity.

Paul Sloane

Innovation means Winners and Losers

uber2It seems that when it comes to innovation you can either ride with the change and benefit or oppose the change and be run over.   You are either the diner or the dinner.

Smith Corona made beautiful typewriters but word processors put them out of business.  Encyclopedia Britannia made excellent encyclopedias but Wikipedia killed that business.  Kodak were leaders in photographic film but consumers now prefer Instagram to prints.  Warner Brothers and EMI were destroyed by music downloads and iTunes. We continue to see that innovation leads to winners and losers.

A recent Reuters report describes how taxi drivers in Milan, Chicago and Paris are vigorously opposing the use of the Uber service – a mobile app that allows users to summon a chauffeured car.  It bypasses one of the best established of closed shops.  In places like Milan taxi permits are handed down from father to son or sold for six figure sums.  The unions want to jealously guard their privileges but history tells us that they are fighting a lost cause.  They would do better to develop their own mobile apps and try to beat Uber with a better service.

Paul Sloane

Innovators do not trust Experts

Mark Twain said, ‘It is not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble; it is what we think we know for sure.’  The things we are certain of are the most dangerous assumptions we hold.  That is why great innovators do not trust experts, or theories, or spreadsheets or models.  They trust experimentation and empirical results.

Video clip here Paul Sloane at the Like Minds Conference

A Lateral Idea – the Zero Rupee Bank Note

Zero is not Nothing

The ancient Greek and Roman civilizations did not employ zero.  If you think of the Roman numbering system 100 is represented by C and 1000 by M. The ancients did not use a symbol like 0 as either a number or a placeholder.  Indian mathematicians are credited with the first use of 0.  Arabs used it and introduced the concept along with the decimal numbering system into Europe during their occupation of Spain in the 12th century.   It is highly unlikely that the development of western mathematics, science and technology would have happened without the number zero.   The paradox is that zero is nothing and yet something absolutely crucial.

0rupeeNow India has contributed another (and related) lateral concept, the zero value banknote.  There are millions in circulation.  They look like other banknotes but have a value of zero.  Why would anyone do this?  The answer is that they act as a valuable weapon in the fight against bribery and corruption.  India unfortunately suffers a high level of corruption.  Officials at many levels in Indian government offices and other bureaucracies demand bribes for all sorts of permits and services.

A group called 5th Pillar set out to combat corruption by issuing the zero rupee notes which people give to officials who demand bribes.  The founder of 5th Pillar, Vijay Anand, describes the fake currency as ‘a non-violent weapon of non-co-operation.’  The bills, like others in India, carry a picture of Mahatma Gandhi.  They also bear contact details for 5th Pillar and a declaration, ‘I promise to neither accept nor give a bribe’.  They are given as a protest and in order to shame the official.  The zero rupee note makes a statement.  The person giving it is not just an individual complaining about a bribe; they are part of a wider movement that is fighting corruption across Indian society.  The notes are not always effective in deflecting the extortion but overall they are judged a success in the fight against corruption.  Many other countries have shown an interest in using them.

Paul Sloane

The Wrong Answer can be the Right Answer

A good way to start a brainstorm is to deliberately look for wrong answers.   Set the challenge and then ask people to think of crazy ideas which are just plain wrong.  Then take some of the more outrageous wrong ideas and kick them around.  People will be outside their comfort zone and they will approach the original challenge from a new perspective.  Each crazy notion can be provocative and stimulating.  What is more each wrong answer is itself the answer to a different question.  Sometimes these different questions are more interesting than the original challenge.  Consider these examples.

Christopher Columbus set out to answer the question, ‘Can we sail west around the world to reach India?’  He got the wrong answer but found America.

Trevor Bayliss

Trevor Bayliss

Trevor Bayliss invented the clockwork radio.  It was the wrong answer to the question, ‘How can we make a better radio for our customers?’  It was the right answer for the question, ‘How can we make an ideal radio for poor people in the developing world?’

Art Fry at 3M got the wrong answer to the question, ’ How can we make a glue that sticks better?’  He got the right answer by suggesting that his invention could be used in Post-it notes.

Pfizer Corporation had a new drug on trial with men.  It was designed to reduce blood pressure but Viagra proved to be the wrong answer for that question.  It became a remarkable success as the right answer for a different question.

In the 1970s Sony Corporation under its chairman Akio Morita had a strong position in the cassette recorder business.  They wanted to design new and better models.  They started with two wrong ideas – a cassette recorder that could not record and one that had no speakers.  Both were heretical notions for designers of cassette recorders but they resulted in the Sony Walkman.  It was a personal music player which used tiny headphones.  It could play music but not record it.  It was major innovation and a huge commercial success.

When you look for the right answer you will often come up with bland and predictable ideas.  So break with convention.  Start by looking for the wrong answer and see where that leads.

Paul Sloane