Talent and Innovation

Everyone says they want to innovate. Every company talks innovation. We’re now seeing innovation as a core value for many companies. But are they really innovating?

Innovation is about talent. In the absence of talent there can’t be innovation. The first step to innovation is recognizing the two types of talent required to be innovative.

The first type of talent required to innovate is visionary talent. This is the talent, skill, or competency to see things others cannot see, or are unwilling to accept. Visionary talent is often related to first-movers. Many of the products and services we use on a daily basis started first with a vision. A mobile phone, a smart watch, wireless headphones (or ear buds), technology in the cloud versus a mainframe. These inventions, or innovations, required visionary talent. How do you spot visionary talent? Individuals that possess an insatiable appetite for learning, dreaming, and pondering not what is, but what could be.

The second type of talent required for true innovation is technical talent. This is the talent that is required to bring the vision to life. Think of Steve Wozniak to Steve Jobs. Technical talent tied to visionary talent. Or Charlie Munger to Warren Buffett. Technical talent is what enables our ability to bring dreams into our daily reality.

In 1899, Charles Duell, then Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented, has already been invented.” While I personally don’t believe this to be true, let’s for a moment assume it is. If this were to be true, then arguably technical talent would be far more valuable than visionary talent. Why? Because the focus would be on incremental improvements of things that already exist. However, this raises a thought provoking question. What’s invention versus innovation.

In 1849, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci, invented the telephone. It wasn’t until 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the device. Fast forward to 1973 when the first phone call was made on a Motorola mobile phone. Was the mobile phone an invention or simply an improvement on something already invented? Remember, it was 50 years after the phone was invented that Duell said everything that could be invented already had been invented.

Regardless, visionary talent and technical talent combined are required to innovate. Combining the creator of dreams with the builder of those dreams allows us to improve our lives in meaningful ways.

What’s your talent pool like? Who are your visionaries and who are your techies? How often do you review your organization for these two types of talent? Your answers to these questions will be the proof point for whether you are building and living an innovation culture.

Advertisements

Applying Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits to Your Buyer’s Journey

Proactive-not-Reactive

In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents seven habits (and one bonus habit) that he observed made some people more effective than others.  Since his passing in 2012 I have revisited my copy of this book on a number of occasions.  I have found overwhelming similarities between how these 7 Habits, if practiced consistently, not only produce more effective people but also more effective companies.  Over the next week I will highlight each habit and how it can translate into helping you understand your buyer’s journey.

Habit 1 is about being proactive and taking responsibility.  In business, the leader’s job is to provide the vision for where the company is headed, and is the owner and nurturer of the company’s culture.  Many companies delegate cultural ownership to the head of HR or some other executive.  But culture is much deeper than simply finding a champion or cheerleader.  Culture is about setting a tone, establishing expectations, accepted behaviors, and perhaps the most difficult ingredient of the culture, which is the creation of confidence.  The ultimate leader of the company sets the culture even if he or she doesn’t want to “own” it.  It just happens.  Employees look to THE leader as both watchers and witnesses to behaviors. How THE leader acts and behaves is how the entire organization will act and behave.  If the leader is proactive, the company will be proactive.  If the leader hides behind walls, doors, and desks, the entire company will hide from its customers’ behind walls, doors, and desks.

To be proactive requires a great degree of curiosity.  It’s the ability to wonder what if, what could be, or how could we?  The ultimate one word that demonstrates just how proactive someone is – “why”.  When you ask “why”, you’re being proactive. Think about it.  If Thomas Edison never asked why, would we have lights? If Steve Jobs hadn’t asked why, would we have many of the modern-day conveniences and access to information that we have today?  There are thousands of examples of how asking why delivered major inventions or innovations to our society.  If no one took the time to ask why, we’d simply all be sitting around, idle, stagnant, and unchanged.

As you look at your buyer’s journey ask why?  Be proactive.  Don’t wait for a major disruption or crisis to force your evolution.  Get out in front of it. Take every opportunity to talk to your customers and ask questions, get their ideas, opinions, emotions.  Don’t rely on paper, or automated survey’s.  Engage them live, in real time.  Be bold, brave, and most of all be proactive in understanding what’s important to your buyer.

 

 

Becoming a Brand Master: Lessons Learned From Taylor Swift & Jony Ive

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift gets branding. In fact, I’d put her up against most of today’s “branding experts” as being a true master brand manager.  Swift is an artist but also a great businesswoman.  She has a clear vision of what the Taylor Swift brand delivers.

Jonathan (Jony) Ive, the world renowned industrial designer at Apple who is largely credited with the iPod’s sleek design and UI is also a master brander.  He has a deep understanding of what buyers need, and want, and focuses his efforts, and those of his team, to deliver products that meet those needs.

JonyIve

While Swift and Ive may have taken different paths to be becoming brand experts, both share some common characteristics that all marketers can learn from if they desire to become master branders.

  1.  Establish clear goals for your brand.  Is your goal to appeal to the mass market or to a niche? No brand can be everything to every one.  Taylor Swift may be a great musician and artist but there’s still those who prefer heavy metal to her country-pop. Ive’s iPhone may have an awesome design but there are millions of buyers who prefer the Android operating system over iOS. Pick your lane and nail it.
  2. Focused intensity.  Once you’ve identified your goals and they are in clear sight, go after them with focused intensity.  Having focus is wonderful, but having intensity with focus will drive you to reach your goal quicker.
  3. Always be kind, even when acting otherwise would be completely acceptable.  Every brand is susceptible to negative comments.  Can anyone say Kanye? Buyers are always watching your behavior. Be honest, be transparent, and take the high road. It doesn’t mean rolling over or not defending untruths, but do it with a smile.
  4. Be a perfectionist.  Branding is an art, and we all know art is not perfect, otherwise it wouldn’t be art. But being a perfectionist relative to executing your branding strategy is something that sets brand masters apart from those that tinker in branding.
  5. Stay above the fray, operate with a touch of paranoia.  Looking over your shoulder isn’t always a bad thing.  Two things I learned growing up that that help with this concept are; nothing good happens after dark, and what would your grandparents think?  Your brand is your own and you can do with it as you please.  Just make sure you’ve thought through the implications of acting or speaking a certain way and then accept the outcomes. If someone in your company does something that has a negative impact on the brand it’s up to you, the brand master, to take action and deliver consequences.

These may appear to be small things.  Maybe even trivial things.  And while much of what we experience in life would suggest we NOT sweat the small stuff, when it comes to our brand, nothing is too small an item to not sweat.

 

Why Hiring Up Pays Off

SteveJobs

Building a high performing team is the #1 responsibility of all leaders.  It requires vision, skill, intuition, conviction and a clear understanding of the company’s objective and purpose.  It also requires courage.

Early in my career I received some hiring advice that was worth its weight in gold from my boss.  She said “hire people you wouldn’t mind working for in the future.” I have lived by this advice throughout my career and it has served me well.  Here are the two major take-aways from living this hiring philosophy:

  1. Your focus should be the candidates capacity, and desire, to learn new things and not based solely on what they know today.  To a large extent your focus should be on their attitude not their aptitude.  With the right abilities, the proper does of desire, and some passion, any one can accomplish anything.
  2. The circle of life is more than just a famous line from the movie Lion King.  Work in a management or leadership role long enough and you’ll experience people coming and going, and moving up and down.  I see it as a blessing that I have been able to provide leadership to many who have risen in the ranks, some even faster than I.  Being able to develop a new generation of leaders is something I’m most proud of.

By hiring up, you demonstrate confidence as a leader.  We’ve all seen leaders (I use this term loosely) who hire a warm body.  A robot.  Someone willing, and able, to take orders but not capable of having an individual point of view.  And then there are those leaders who everyone else wants to work for.  These are the people who hire up.  They look for those that are smarter than they are, have more ideas than they do, and who see the world through a different lense.

Assembling a team of talent that surpasses your own, demonstrates your leadership strength. I’d much prefer to be surrounded by people smarter than me than to be the only one with any answers.  There’s great truth to the saying, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” Build a team that can teach you as much as you teach them.  A team that can generate ideas faster than you can on your own.  A team that is willing to take on any issue, problem, or challenge because they know they have a better chance of winning by leveraging their collective brilliance versus trying to win with a single idea from just one person.  Hire really smart people and then get out of their way. I think Steve Jobs was onto something here.

Hire up.

 

 

Is it time to change?

The-Rol-of-Good-Communication-Skills-While-Introducing-Change

With nearly 200,000 books on “change” for sale at Amazon.com you can bet people are trying to understand change in their lives.  Whether it’s a new job, new boss, your first child, a different diet or a ruptured disc, chances are someone somewhere is trying to understand how it will affect their life.

Some companies spend years and countless resources to avoid change.  They operate under the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” model.  This mindset stifles innovation and simultaneously sends a message to employees to not try new things.  Sure we can all agree that New Coke’s introduction in 1985 was a miss.  It resulted in a drop in market share and ultimately ended in 2002 as Coke brought back the “classic”.  New Coke however represented a change.  It represented innovation regardless of the outcome.  Think about it.  Steve Jobs introduced the first PDA, Newton, in 1993 and just 5 short years later it was discontinued.

So when should you change?  Is change mandated by a timeframe?  Does your competition drive when you change?  Does your boss require you to change, or a merger that results in a new management teams arrival force a change?  Is it a measure of market share?

There’s no one way to advise someone, or a company, when the right time is to change.  My belief is that it’s better to change before change is forced upon you.  However, if you have a change mindset chances are you view change as a learning experience.  A way to grow.  A chance to expand your horizons.

In the movie, The 100 Foot Journey, Helen Mirren’s character, the owner of a one-star French restaurant who is in relentless pursuit of her second star, asks Manish Dayal’s character, a chef, why he changed a 200 year old recipe.  His response? “Maybe 200 years was long enough.”

Don’t change for the sake of change.  That’s silly.  Change because the thing you are altering, modifying, or adjusting will become better as a result of the change.  Perhaps the true result indicates the change wasn’t worth it.  I’d suggest to reevaluate a few weeks, months, or even years later.  When Steve Jobs was asked why Newton flopped yet the iPod took off, Jobs said the world simply wasn’t ready for Newton.  The infrastructure, specifically referring to the iTunes store, wasn’t ready.  Sometimes a change made today doesn’t make sense today, tomorrow, or next month.  But with time, an open mind, and a beginners attitude we can learn from all of our changes.  They instruct us, inspire us, and lead us to better outcomes.  Without change we become stagnant, static, irrelevant.  And who wants that?

Consistency: The not-so-secret ingredient to building a strong brand

consistency-is-key

If I were to ask you to name your favorite brand what would you say?  What metric or definitions would you use to acknowledge those companies whose brands rise to the top?

Brand building is big work.  Heavy work.  Time consuming work.  It takes patience, curiosity, interest, a willingness to listen, a willingness to act, a conscious effort to deliver what you promise day in and day out.  Yes, a brand is simply that…a promise.

Chances are your favorite brands may do many things well, but there’s one thing I bet they do better than all the others.  I’ll bet your favorite brands deliver what they promise consistently.  Not 70% of the time, or 80% of the time, but 10 out of 10 times you get exactly the experience you’ve come to expect.  It’s exactly the reason you keep going back.  It’s THE reason it’s your favorite brand .

Consistency is the little, but not so secret, ingredient of successful brandsDunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Wawa deliver great coffee all the time.  Apple delivers quality products for home, work, or on the go, that are easy to use and deliver what’s promised.  The gym I go to is always so clean you could eat off the floors which says a lot for a gym!  I drive 23 miles to take my car to a Cadillac dealership when there is a Caddy dealer 4 miles from my home.  Why?  They always recognize me by name, their waiting area is ultra-comfortable with TV, work stations and high-speed internet, not to mention their  “Nordstrom-like” restrooms.  Speaking of Nordstrom, their service is remarkable each and every time.  Whether you’re buying a brand name shirt, or one that carries John Nordstrom’s name, you can rest assured you’ve purchased something of quality.

We all have examples of our favorite brands.  What’s funny is how many companies I’ve experienced where paying attention to those little things is viewed as more of a luxury than a requirement.  Dunkin didn’t get the reputation for great coffee by accident.  They didn’t say “it doesn’t matter where we get our beans from or what type of equipment we use to brew it”.  They are all about those coffee details.  Nordstrom’s didn’t develop its reputation as service workhorse by giving customers a hard time when an item didn’t fit, work, or hold up as expected.  And for those of you privileged enough to live in a city where Wegmans operates you know how consistent their delivery of remarkable service is.  Wegmans has been known to take back, refund, and provide other goodwill gestures for food purchased that the customer didn’t like.  Consistently consistent.

If you’re selling fast and easy, it better be fast and easy all the time.  Not just most of the time. If you’re selling fresh, it needs to be fresh at 6 am or 6 pm.  If you’re selling durable, it better last under the harshest uses or conditions.

Regardless of what you sell, think about how consistent your brand delivers on its promise.  If it’s anything shy of 100%, or Six Sigma, I suggest you reevaluate and understand not just why, but what you’ll do to correct it.  Nobody wants to buy “sometimes”.  In fact most people buy with their emotions, and as human beings our emotions are wired for a “forever” experience.  People don’t like change and if your brand is inconsistent you’re indirectly creating a situation that will bring a change to your customer.  Not a good thing.  Consistently consistent.  That’s the key.

 

 

Is a Leader a Solo Act?

alone

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published an article on Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP. The article profiled McDermott’s rise within SAP and the fact that this German company will now be at the hands of an American CEO for the first time in its history.

McDermott has placed his beliefs front and center, stating that SAP must move quickly and innovate. “There is no speed limit on innovation” McDermott told a crowd at a recent event. But herein lies a fundamental problem that challenges  the “believability” of that statement. Can innovation happen through the efforts of one person alone or does innovation require a team?

Today’s most admired companies are those that innovate. Companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, and ExxonMobil are all at the forefront of their respective industries due to constant innovation. Additionally, their ability to innovate is often credited to their employees and the teams they have assembled to drive some of the best innovations and inventions of our times. Yet McDermott seems to have chosen a “go it alone” strategy having terminated most of SAP’s previous leaders of innovation.

SAP’s advisory board seems to be in full support of Mr. McDermott and has done nothing less than support him in his me, myself, and I strategy. But will it work? Here are 3 areas where McDermott’s strategy may go awry:

1. Collaboration breeds innovation – even the late, great, Steve Jobs saw the benefits of team collaboration when launching the first iPod as referenced in the book Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney. Teams were assembled to take a raw idea and bring it to life. Contrary to popular belief, Apple’s success wasn’t Steve Jobs alone.
2. Checks and balance. Not having a #1 or #2 on your team can lead to beliefs of invincibility and disillusionment. Every leader needs a strong next-in-line. Believing that only you have all the answers or ideas is very risky. Beyond the benefit to the business, having the right #2 will stretch and challenge the leader to explore options he or she might have otherwise dismissed.
3. Competitive Intelligence. Much like the reasons for #2 above, it’s highly unlikely for one person to be “in-the-know” on all things at all times. I rely on my team as a unit to keep us all up to speed on current and trending market conditions. Having multiple inputs from different folks minimizes bias and assumptions.

So will SAP’s strategy work? Time will tell.