4 Ways to Find The Next Big Idea

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Uber, the iPhone, Google Docs. All of these are brilliant ideas that have changed the world and become an integral part of so many people’s everyday lives. But how did the people behind those innovations come up with them? How did they see a need that no one else saw?

Jeff Bezos says he can solve healthcare with a beginner’s mind – what the heck is that?!?

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When news broke that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase were teaming up to tackle the problems facing America’s healthcare system, reactions ranged from excited to skeptical to scared. Healthcare incumbents from Anthem to Express Scripts saw their stock prices drop 3-5%.

But how could three companies with absolutely no experience in healthcare succeed where so many others failed? In announcing the partnership, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos proclaimed that the key to success is to approach the problem with “a beginner’s mind.” So what is a beginner’s mind? And can it really unlock the kind of innovation the healthcare industry to badly needs?

Harnessing Hunches — How to Turn Intuition into Innovation

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“As great designers and inventors often do, [Henry] Ford relied on his instincts to tell him that there was a need for something that didn’t exist. At Apple, Steve Jobs and his ace designer, Jonathan Ive, have done likewise in a number of instances. But for business in general, relying entirely on the instincts of a lone genius can be too limiting. Mindful of this, many designers have come to believe that successful design in the business world (and elsewhere, too) is achieved through a marriage of designer’s intuition and a deep investigation into people’s lives and needs – with emphasis on deep.”

– Warren Berger, CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies and T-Shaped People

TV, cinema, and literature are rife with detective stories. All of these stories have one thing in common. At some point during the story, the detective gets a feeling in their gut — a hunch. And despite some hand-wringing from the other characters, the detective invariably ends up following their hunch. And lo and behold, their hunch leads them straight to what they were looking for. As members of the audience, we don’t fault our detectives for doing this. We don’t think they’re crazy for listening to the voices in their head. But we also don’t think they have some kind of magical superpower to discover the truth. Far from it. Detectives are portrayed as wickedly smart, serious people. We realize that their hunch is a product of their unconscious mind acting on years of experience, picking up a thread no one else has seen yet.

Disruption Is the Wrong Way to Think about Innovation

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Scale Ain’t What It Used To Be

Prior to these three forces of Abundance, Access, and Automation teaming up to inflict massive change on the world, the primary method an organization had to stave off competition and achieve sustainable success was to reach scale. Once you were big enough and had enough existing customers, it was damn hard for a competitor to come in and knock you out. Because you produced such large quantities, you were able to offer your product at extremely cheap prices. No new startup could offer something at that price and hope to turn a profit. And it’s not just that your production process was big; it was the perfect balance of lean and complex. You effectively managed throngs of international suppliers so that each part of your operation was conducted at as low a cost as possible. It would take years for a new upstart to develop the international relationships and physical infrastructure necessary to compete!

7 Ways to Build Trust on Your Team

[Success] requires a high-trust working environment, and most business environments are low-trust. In order to own the future of your business, you have to design it around trust.

– Cindy Gallop

Building trust is critical to innovation. Without trust, your team can’t effectively collaborate and experiment. But even though trust is so important, most of us work in environments distinctly lacking in trust. In fact, a recent survey of CEOs found that over half felt trust in their organizations had deteriorated to the point that is was a serious threat to their business. So what do we do? How can we change this rather stark reality and begin to build trust on our teams?

Don’t trust your team? Then forget innovation.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Consider the Tale of Two Companies: TrustCo and ControlCorp.

ControlCorp is full of dreaded middle managers. Anytime you want to do something, you have to get approval from your manager, and she has to get approval from her manager and so on. Most of your day at ControlCorp is spent in meetings updating everyone on what you’re doing (which is often just sitting in other meetings). The employee handbook is filled with so many rules, procedures, and policies, it’s hard to keep them all straight. And don’t even think about suggesting a new way of doing things. Sure, innovation is part of the corporate motto, but the truth is ControlCorp has been doing it this way for a long time, and why mess with something that’s working?

TrustCo is very different. It maybe has a few managers, but for the most part, the place runs itself. You won’t find many rules, either. Sure, there are lots of processes, but they’re always changing, so taking the time to document them never seemed to make much sense. And there are meetings, too, but they’re for feedback and ideation, not updates and approval. TrustCo is not for everyone, though. It’s a place where everything is in flux. There’s no one person who’s accountable for everything; it really depends on the context. And there’s no one really telling you what to do, so you’d better be good at figuring that out for yourself. If ambiguity is not your thing, then you probably ought to look elsewhere for work.

The Most Important Lesson of The Last Jedi

Warning: This post contains major spoilers about the plot of The Last Jedi. If you haven’t see it, stop reading now (and may the force be with you).

lukePhoto via Lucasfilm

Still here? Good. Let’s talk about The Last Jedi, the eighth Star Wars movie in the Skywalker Saga, the ninth live-action Star Wars, and the tenth to be theatrically released. And if that bit of precise accounting didn’t tip you off, let me just come out and say it: I’m a huge Star Wars fan. The first novel I ever read was a Star Wars book, and I’ve probably read about a hundred since then. But of all the new Star Wars stories that have been released in my lifetime, the reaction to this move has been the most, well, weird.

Better than Brainstorming – Part 1: 4 Ways to Ideate

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For many of us, the most intimidating part of the innovation process is coming up with ideas. That uneasy feeling is the Innovation Myth at work. We’re all familiar with Hollywood depictions of geniuses having a bolt of insight that leads them to create the next big thing. But where did that bolt come from? Divine inspiration? Good genes? When it’s our turn to come up with great ideas, where are they supposed to come from?

4 Steps to Finding Your Organization’s Purpose

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Today, business gurus focus on terms like mission, culture, and innovation as the keys to organizational effectiveness. And they’ve done a good job of getting these terms out into the zeitgeist. But there’s a problem: these words are easy to repeat but hard to put into practice. When it comes to mission statements, we struggle to come up with the perfect words to inspire the people within our organization. When it comes to company culture, we struggle to define what our culture even is and to identify what could make it better (other than more dogs in the office, of course). And when it comes to innovation, we struggle to find the right formula to produce the next great thing.

Currently, the vast majority of organizations’ mission statements are essentially “to become the market leader and maximize shareholder value.” This kind of thinking leaves organizations susceptible to new competition and discourages innovators from coming up with novel ideas because it’s so focused on the organizations’ current lines of business.

Welcome to the Innovation Economy

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Innovating has always been an important human activity.  It’s led to tools and agriculture and cities and an ever-increasing quality of life.  This work was — in the past — largely the domain of the privileged few.  Kings and queens spurred innovation by spending money to create ever-advancing ships, castles, and weaponry. Even in the Industrial Age, only a few families had enough wealth to afford the kind of education that empowered James Watt and Thomas Newcomen to create the steam engine. Only people and organizations with enough resources were able to create the next great thing.  

But we’ve now reached an inflection point in the evolution of innovation.  No longer the bastion of the elite, innovation is being democratized.  Every year, individuals from humble backgrounds break onto the scene with billion-dollar companies. Take Instagram.  The photo sharing app was built by a pair of entrepreneurs in their twenties over the course of just eight weeks.  Two years later, they sold their company to Facebook for a billion dollars.  Of course, Instagram isn’t the only story of David defeating Goliath.  Slack, Uber, Netflix, and hundreds startups like them faced competition from some of the largest corporations in existence — but they all won.

Why is this change happening? Three societal forces have pushed us to this inflection point: Abundance, Access, and Automation.