Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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I was recently interviewed by Erika Andersen for her Proteus Leader Show.

She’s an amazing interviewer who gets right to the heart of the matter quickly.

As a result, we covered a lot of territory in a little more than 10 minutes.

I think you will enjoy this. Check it out on iTunes.

10 years ago I write Goal-Free Living. The book as impacted more lives than any book I’ve written. But at the same time, it has remained relatively obscure in the scheme of things.

When it was published, someone told me the book was a decade ahead of its time. It seems as though they were accurate.

Lately there’s been a number of articles and academic research papers published on the downside of goal-setting. Most recently is an article from the BBC

One of the open paragraphs of the article includes a quote from me:

“We get so emotionally attached to a goal that we’re setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment,” says business advisor, author and speaker Stephen Shapiro. “The key for success is, if you have somewhere you’d like to be in five years, don’t be so attached to it that it drives everything you do.” 

Please enjoy this article by Amanda Rugger called Why we should all give up on goals already.

I am pleased to announce that this blog was recently selected as the #1 blog for articles on Innovation Talent by the innovation software company, Swarm Vision.

Getting the right people in the right roles is a critical part of the innovation process. Personality Poker® is just one of the many tools we have for helping make this a reality.

Swarm Vision’s research methodology is as follows (in their words):

  • First we identified the top 60 blogs using several online lists
  • We then focused on those blogs with at least 5,000 Facebook fans or Twitter followers, of which there are 31
  • We then analyzed recent months of these 31 blogs, looking for any articles on innovation talent
  • We also searched key terms on each of 31 blogs to unearth older articles of relevance
  • We tagged each article on the aspects of innovation that it discussed (e.g. creativity, leadership, teams, hiring, retention, culture of innovation)
  • Finally, we rated each blog on the percentage of articles related to innovation talent, and on the quality of those articles. We defined quality as offering clear advice (not fluff) based on empirical results, not just assertion.

You can read the full article on InnovationManagement.se.

Thanks for the honor!

As many of you know, I have been involved with an incredible movement called Girl Starter. The goal is to empower young women to launch their own businesses by giving them the tools and support they need to be successful.

I first got involved during the filming of the television show. Season 1 (6 episodes) aired on TLC between April and June of 2017. It is being rebroadcast on the Discovery Family network.

However, now that the final episode has been aired to the public, I can finally share snippets of the videos with you.

The first episode I appeared on was Episode 2: Plan It. This is the week where the girls developed their initial ideas, launched in Episode 1: Start It, and create their plans. They gathered input from the market (by conducting surveys on the street). And they presented their ideas to the mentors. This week’s mentors were yours truly and Tiffany Pham Founder and CEO of Mogul.

This two minute video contains highlights from some of the feedback sessions. The three teams that are included here are the ones that were eventually eliminated from the competition. Here’s my post-mortem on what happened with some ideas of what you can do in your business:

  • Team #1 initially wanted to create a television show about social media stars (or something like that – I was never quite sure what they were developing and I don’t think they were either). The concept evolved over time, but as you can see in the video, they struggled to get clarity around why anyone would care. My feedback to them – “If someone else hasn’t done it, there may be a very good reason.” Just because you can bring a new concept to market, doesn’t mean you should. Although customers may not always know what they want, in some cases it is clear what they do not want.  Don’t throw good money after bad. Cut your losses and move on. In this case, their lack of value cost them dearly and, as a result, theirs was the first team eliminated in this Episode.
  • Team #2 had something with potential. The idea was broadly around how self-care is the new health-care (I loved that mantra). Unfortunately, “broadly” was the word that hurt them. They never got clarity about what the business was – and more importantly – what it wasn’t. They were trying to solve every health care problem ranging from true mental health issues (there are already plenty of apps for that with licensed therapists) to proper breathing, and skin care treatments to natural supplements. I really liked this team and their potential. Although the two co-founders were technically minded and very bright, their inability to present their business concept clearly hurt them. Although they were not eliminated this week, they also didn’t win any of the challenges this week.
  • Team #3 was working on a product-based company designed around cookies as conversation starters. I loved the general concept. It was the only non-digital business in the competition, and I really liked that. What worked for this team is that both of the women had successful businesses that they previously launched. So they had a leg-up on the other teams in that they already knew business fundamentals. The thing that worked against them is that both women already had successful businesses! As founders of existing product companies, the young women were interestingly at a disadvantage in this early planning moment as, given their combined experience and confidence as business creators, they were less open to crucial and impactful feedback from the mentors than their less experienced competitors. They therefore lost an early challenge they might have otherwise won.
  • Team #4 is not featured in this video, but they will be in the future. Their business started off as a wide range of offerings for the artist community. Their first thought was a physical co-working space. It seemed overly ambitious and lacked focus. Over the course of the week, they listened carefully to the feedback from the mentors and the market and they pivoted. Instead of a physical space, they changed direction and decided to focus on creating a mobile app designed to help artists find each other and collaborate virtually. The fact that they adjusted their plans and focused more narrowly on something achievable, this team was awarded the $10,000 prize this week.

The show was a brilliant microcosm of what happens in the real world with innovation and business start-ups. The young founders grappled with big issues in a short amount of time, demonstrating their grit and passion, and inspiring audiences around all things start up!

I will be posting more clips with more analysis over time.

Please help support Girl Starter with their mission by sharing this article and telling everyone about the great work they do! Visit www.girlstarter.com to learn about the six steps: Start It, Plan It, Prove It,  Build It, Brand It, Fund It. 

I’ve been on some cool podcasts lately, and here’s another. This time I was with Andy Paul, a sales guru. Nice guy. We had a great conversation about the relationship between sales and innovation.

Listen to it here

KEY TAKEAWAYS (from Andy’s site)

[2:23] Stephen says the single biggest challenge facing sales reps is the same challenge facing companies: differentiation. What do you do to help yourself to stand out? Stephen suggests recognizing what makes you special?

[6:21] Why best practices are stupid: replication is not innovation; what works for one, may not work for another; and best practices undersample failure. You hear about the successes, but not the failures from the exact same process.

[8:14] Stephen teaches best practices, with skepticism. Use the lens of, does this really make sense for me? Do I really believe this was what caused them to be successful? If you are going to be unique, why would you copy?

[11:53] Stephen labels best practices as business plagiarism. Don’t copy what everyone else is doing. Differentiate yourself. Fit practices to yourself, not yourself to practices.

[12:51] Asking for ideas is a bad idea. Everyone has ideas, and most of them stink. Stephen suggests shifting to an innovation program that is challenge-centric. Identify a well-framed challenge. Quantify evaluation criteria. Ask specific questions.

[15:52] Don’t think outside the box. Find a better box. Don’t think in abstracts. Focus on the right place to look for solutions. Stephen tells about getting baggage and passengers to arrive at the baggage carrousel at the same time.

[18:24] Goldilocks and the three questions: Some questions are too soft, or abstract. Some questions are too hard, or specific. Some are just right, and invite creative thinking.

[20:50] Become masterful at asking better questions, from a place of understanding where someone is, they will come to the conclusion themselves. They will have ownership, and you will have a solution tailored to their needs.

[22:03] Lesson from Indiana Jones: Don’t just survey your customers. Observe them in action. There is no substitute for seeing your customer. Stephen reveals a problem with big data, and a bigger problem with surveys.

[27:08] Confirmation bias is less taxing on the brain. Fight it consciously. Political divisiveness is a result of confirmation bias. Data-driven reporting can reinforce confirmation bias.

[29:23] Simplification is the best innovation. More features and functions confuse the buyer. In order to buy, a buyer needs to: be dissatisfied with the status quo, envision a better future, and believe the effort is worth it. Simplify the implementation.

[32:02] If your selling evinces core principles then you are making things simple for the buyer. Stephen contrasts jazz jamming with a symphony. Jazz is simplicity. When you have principles instead of procedures, you have adaptability.

I was recently interviewed by the amazing Ian Altman. When it comes to growing businesses, this guy rocks! His podcast is called “Grow My Revenue Business Cast.”

Here’s the copy from his his site about our episode:

My guest today is speaker, author and innovation expert Stephen Shapiro. Stephen believes all companies need to innovate if they want to remain relevant and competitive in their fields. Innovation, he says, helps differentiate a company and make it “disruption-proof.”

Stephen and I talk today specifically about the mistakes people make when they think of innovation; the primary drivers for innovation; and where companies fall short in their efforts.

“The biggest mistake is confusing creativity with innovation and confusing ideas with problems,” Stephen says. “If you look at most innovation programs they’re really just suggestion boxes…from my perspective, that just doesn’t work.”

As I am sure you can imagine, we had a great time and shared some mutually interesting tidbits.

Listen to it here

He has had some amazing guests on his show in the past and I encourage you to look and listen.

I recently met Dr. Diane Hamilton at a conference. We started talking and I discovered that in addition to being a wonderful human being, she’s the host of a nationally syndicated radio talk show. She’s had some amazing guests, including Steve Forbes and Jeffrey Hayzlett. When she asked me to be on her show, I leapt at the opportunity.

I discovered that on the same show with me was also the amazing Scott McKain. I’ve known Scott for many years. In fact, he and I did a 75-minute webinar together a while back about differentiation and distinction. It was a blast and we’ve been threatening to do it again soon (so stay tuned). If you missed that, you can watch it here.

To listen to our recent interview with Diane, you can stream it here:

Or you can visit her podcast website.


The other day I decided to check “broken links” on my website. Basically these are links from my site to other sites. In most cases, these were articles I referenced, books I promoted, or interesting people I highlighted.

Since 2006, I have posted over 800 blog entries. ( I started my website back in 2001)

I was shocked to find that I had over 300 dead links on my site! This means that 300 times I thought there was good content on another website, and that website is no longer running.

Congratulations to those of you who have had an active website for the past decade. It is sometimes good to be reminded that longevity is not a given and that staying in business requires dedication and determination.

Owning your own business is not for everyone.

There are ups and downs. Joys and heartaches. Wins and losses. Ebbs and flows of income.

There have been moments when I was unsure when the next paycheck would arrive (it’s happened more often than I’d like to admit). And although there seems to be an endless number of opportunities, I suspect most are distractions disguised as opportunities (making investment decisions difficult). Plus this year I’m taking on some massive projects (for my business) that are exciting yet quite scary.

Despite all this, I feel more blessed than ever to do what I do.

Today is Independence Day in the United States; something that was achieved with struggles and battles. But of course, in the end, it was worth it.

Today I am also celebrating my work-independence. It’s not always easy, but I can’t imagine working any other way.

Happy Independence Day to all of my entrepreneur friends!!

Tonight at 7PM ET/6PM CT on TLC, the season finale of Girl Starter will air.

The winning team will get $100,000 plus support for launching their new business.

In addition to yours truly as one of the judges, the show features Shira Goodman, the CEO of Staples. Plus there is a special guest who will be making a surprise appearance.

Be sure to watch the show and support young women entrepreneurs everywhere!

Bring Stephen’s innovation insights to your next event!