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.

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10 Phrases to Eliminate from Business Conversations

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As a curious, and active, participant and observer in business, I have developed a list of 10 phrases we should all strike from our business conversations. They add no value, and in many cases subtract from it.  While some of these may seem far fetched, I’d challenge you to zone into your conversations and listen for them.  They are in fact present in many business conversations each and every day.  Here they are, and what the person you’re talking to actually is hearing:

  1. Trust me – If I have to say these words, apparently I haven’t earned it.
  2. Believe me – Whatever I’ve told you must seem a bit far fetched so I’m left with this long shot request.
  3. To be honest – Up to this point I’ve been lying. But this next statement…is the complete and utter truth.
  4. I’ll tell you what – I’m annoyed with you.  You’re not trusting or believing me, so now I’ve just got to tell you how it is.
  5. Look – The ultimate smack-down.  Let me help translate this so a 5 year old can understand.
  6. It is what it is – I can’t tell if you believe me, or anything I’ve said.  I’m close to surrendering.
  7. Dude – I’m failing fast and scrambling to connect any way I can.  By the way, this is only used between guys…at least in my experience.
  8. I can’t say – Why not?  Well, this information is on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know…so I can’t say.
  9. We’ll figure it out – I’m not exactly sure what your concern is and why you’re worried about it.  I’m not about to try to understand it right now but “trust me” we’ll figure it out later.
  10. There’s no way – This one I find intellectually thought provoking as I have heard this used so many times in business. To be so “negatively definitive” about anything I find quite interesting. Imagine if any of the following people heard “there’s no way”…in fact you already know how they’d respond: Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Jack Welch, John Chambers, Marc Benioff, Ronald Reagan, John Adams, George Washington,  JP Morgan, Thomas Edison…shall I keep going?  There’s always a way.  The question is NOT if there is a way, but instead, am I willing to do what’s necessary to find a way?

What are your favorites?  And what phrases get under your skin that I didn’t capture?  Looking forward to hearing!

Preparing to Fail is the First Step to Winning

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Some of the most important lessons we learn in life are from our failures.  They serve as proof that we are trying new things, pushing new boundaries, and welcoming the unknown.  John Maxwell, the famous inspirational author, says the quality that distinguishes someone successful from one who is unsuccessful is his “capacity to manage disappointment and loss.” He goes on to say that while we all want to succeed, we should instead train for losses.

From our earliest days as children we learn to accept failure.  We fall while trying to learn how to walk, or ride a bike.  We don’t make the team we try out for, or we do make the team but as second string.  We get accepted by 4 of the 5 colleges we apply to, but that one declination stings.  Failure is everywhere.

Imagine if the world’s greatest inventors refused to fail.  Everything from the light bulb, to air travel, from the television, to the computer would be at risk.  When Thomas Edison was asked about how many times he tried for the light bulb and failed he said, “I didn’t have 1,000 failures.  It simply took 1,000 steps to make the light bulb.” Talk about an optimists attitude.

Our challenge is to rid our mind of the negative stigma associated with failure.  Human beings by nature are curious creatures.  Asking “why” leads to testing new thoughts, ideas, ways of doing things.  In the absence of curiosity we would have never discovered new lands, new civilizations, new technologies, or new medicines to treat and cure disease.  So why is it that people run from failure?

I would submit that some people believe failure shows weakness.  If you knew…you wouldn’t have failed.  Talk about an absurd viewpoint.  The famous management expert, Peter Drucker, said, “I would never promote a person into a high-level job who was not making mistakes…Otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.” Many organizations reward status-quo.  Companies that find themselves on a winning streak become complacent.  Their leadership sits back to relax and enjoy victory.  The problem is, that while you’re sitting back complimenting yourself for being so brilliant, your competition is working feverishly to disrupt your success and pass you by.  It happens every day.

So shift your thinking from having to be an expert at everything to one of a beginner…a learner.  When you’re in a learning mode your mind is open to everything that’s possible.  When you’ve decided you are an expert your subconscious shuts down your critical thinking skills creating tunnel vision.  So open your eyes, let your mind wander, and begin to think of new ways to do things.  As John Maxwell said, “Mistakes are acceptable as long as the damage isn’t too great. It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow!”

Embrace your failures…with each one you’re learning, growing, and becoming better at whatever you’re doing.

 

 

Innovation Paralysis

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Many companies talk about innovation. Being innovative or even inventive can sound inspiring to prospective investors and employees. The promise of innovation can often attract new talent or keep impatient customers at bay. Hold tight, our new and improved version is on its way. We’re innovating as we speak.

The fact is the most companies aren’t innovative at all. Most are copycats. Copying another company’s idea is easier to do and carries less risk (assuming you’re not infringing on any copyright or patent laws). After all they’re the ones who have invested in true innovation.

For the most part, companies – even yours, may struggle with innovating. The biggest reasons for this struggle can be attributed to fear. Perceived fear is an emotion so powerful that it stops most of us in our tracks from taking action. It’s a mind game that creates countless scenarios that fill us with thoughts of failure and ridicule. We forget that most of the greatest inventions and innovations in history were the result of countless failures. Think of Ford, Edison, Jobs, and even JP Morgan. The fact is that failure fuels passion and passion produces results.

Strong leadership is required to lead an innovative company. If the CEO, owner, or leader lack the confidence required to discuss failures experienced by trying to innovate then a company simply won’t innovate. Unfortunately companies that take a follow-the-leader approach typically end up becoming irrelevant. The list is long and includes names like Kodak, Zenith, Pontiac, and Circuit City.

How do you know if your company is a company of innovation? Ask these questions?

1. Where are your growth ideas initiated in your company?
2. Was anyone ever fired for trying a new idea? Responsibly?
3. How often does denial come into your team meetings? The general belief is that alls well.
4. Are there regular meetings where idea generation is the only thing discussed?
5. Are off-the-wall, wild ideas solicited or is there more of a play-it-safe mentality that permeates your company?

These questions will provide insight into just how committed to innovation your company is.

Start Innovating: The One Question to Start the Discussion

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Is your business stuck in a rut? Are sales slow, stagnant, or even declining? Is your product commoditized or becoming irrelevant? How should you move forward?

The answer for most companies is obvious…innovate. The problem is not in the what, but in the how. Innovation is a challenge for even the very best and impossible for the newbies to the game of innovation.

Mature companies that produce known products or deliver staple-like services are the most prone to the innovation dilemma. They’ve done what they’ve done for so long that the mere test of time suggests they know what the markets need and what their buyers want. Arrogance and complacency drive their strategies and plans, and often times they are able to putter along treading water, buying time for “things to change”. They are not change leaders but change followers.

Here’s a simple question you can ask those you work with to get an innovation discussion going: What would Amazon or Google do? If Jeff Bezos owned this company, or Sergey Brin, what would they do to change things?

It’s quite possible the owner or other executives will balk and provide sarcastic responses like, “he’d probably dump the business”, or “if we had Amazon’s brand recognition we’d be in the clear”, or even “they’ve got millions to spend to do whatever they want we don’t.” Try to keep them focused. Remind them that each of these companies began as a dream and then moved into the realm of small business. They didn’t start out as the financial behemoths they are today. Each time their businesses got comfortable they broke them and started working on something new…consciously. If you had to break your business today how would you do it and what would you focus on next?

Innovation is not easy. It’s scary, unpredictable, uncertain, risky, and can be terrifying. To not innovate can actually lead to all of the same emotions. So if that’s true isn’t it better to be in control than to be controlled.

Ask that question today.

How Your Sales Team Really Feels About Social Media

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Sales people are some of the brightest, most adaptive, and persistent personalities on the planet.  They thrive on ego and strive to be recognized from the highest levels of their organizations.  The best sales people focus on establishing strong relationships and broad networks of contacts.  But what most sales people dislike more than anything else is change, and social media represents one of the most sweeping changes to sales people since the invention of the fax machine.

To get your sales team on board and using social media to improve their results requires you to have a thorough understanding of what’s preventing them from getting involved to begin with.  Here are 3 things your sales team believes about social media but isn’t telling you.

  1. Social media isn’t up to me, it’s the company’s responsibility.   Reps believe that social media is an extension of advertising and thus is the sole responsibility of the company.  Communication, narratives, or messaging whether via social or traditional media outlets are the responsibility of the corporate marketing team.
  2. I don’t have time.  Reps see things as either-ors.  If I must do Thing A, than Thing B must be sidelined.  Something must come off the plate before something new is added.  Given most sales people feel they already work to their fullest capability and capacity, few see a way to add more to their daily routine.
  3. I’m afraid.  Ever hear the story of the sales rep over-promising what their product or service can do?  What about the rep who exaggerates, manipulates or misleads a prospect?  Reps fear putting things in writing which provides them little to no wiggle room if they need to dial-back a previously issued statement or comment.  Putting something on LinkedIn or Twitter creates a feeling of unease and discomfort for a sales rep.

How to overcome these 3 false-beliefs?

  1. Here’s just one reason social media is a joint endeavor between a company and its sales people:  branding.  There are 2 parts to every sale – the company’s brand reputation and the sales person’s brand reputation.  A buyer will not buy if they don’t believe in the company’s brand.  If its product is perceived to be irrelevant, or low quality the buyer will know and look for an alternative.  Likewise if the sales person’s reputation is in question no matter how good the company’s product is the sale will not be made…at least by that sales person.  Social media is a great way for sales people to build and expand their personal brand reputation and thought leadership.
  2. Social media can help a sales person become more productive by improving their efficiency.  Utilizing free apps like Zite, Hootsuite, USAToday, and Google Alerts can help keep a sales pro up-to-date and add value to their sales conversations with prospects and current customers.
  3. Show them.  As their leader you must be able and willing to demonstrate your involvement with social media.  How do you embrace social media?  How does it play into your day?  Is it a passing thing, or do you participate daily with social media?  How do you use it?  Can you provide examples?  Being able to walk the talk is critical to implementing any new initiative or change.  The sales team must see you doing it before they even consider it for themselves.

Try these approaches and let me know how it works.

 

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Effective

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Another meeting?  Most days start with meetings and end with meetings.  We spend our days running from one to another, whether in person or via the infamous conference call.  Some companies can’t operate without having a meeting to discuss even the smallest of decisions or topics, while others work hard to minimize the number of meetings they schedule. It’s not that meetings are bad, it’s just that most of them are an ineffective use of time. Little is accomplished during these meetings other than wasting the time spent being in the meeting itself, as well as the time spent preparing for that meeting.

So how can you increase your level of meeting effectiveness?

Here are 5 things you should do before scheduling a meeting:

1. Create and include a clear meeting objective. Provide a brief summary of the purpose of the meeting. Be sure to state whether this meeting is meant to inform, solicit feedback, or make a decision.
2. Invite the right people. The key word here is “right”. Don’t get caught up inviting the entire company to make sure you’ve CYA’d yourself. Have the right people there. The type of meeting you have set will determine who you should invite.
3. Be clear on your time. If you need an hour then schedule an hour. If you believe that your topic may go over an hour then plan accordingly. People hate to attend meetings that consistently run over. You don’t want to create the perception that you’re a poor planner.
4. Provide materials in advance. Many people feel that meetings should be somewhat of a surprise. I can’t stand that approach. Time is valuable for everyone. Why wait until the meeting to drop a 20 page deck on people. Give them time to read through it and absorb it. Having the ability to formulate questions, thoughts, and opinions prior to the meeting is key to running an effective meeting.
5. Schedule critical meetings during the day before 4 pm. The fact is that human nature is such that most people find getting invited to a meeting that starts at 4 pm to be annoying. Hey I know you have to be in the office until 6 pm anyway but still in all, people look to the end of their day to wrap up items that were opened during the day. Many 4 pm meetings become nothing more than place holders to reschedule another meeting when people are prepared, ready, and engaged.

Try taking these 5 actions before scheduling your next meeting and see how much smoother your meeting runs.