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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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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!

According to Klout, there are 190,000 experts on innovation. #1 is Fast Company. #2 is WIRED. And #6 is the Harvard Business Review. And I am listed as #4. I’m not sure what criteria was used to make this determination. Regardless, I am please to be on this list.

I was invited to participate in the new television reality series, Girl Starter, to mentor young women in launching their businesses. The show pairs eight “girls”, ranging in ages from 18 – 24, into 4 teams. Each team develops a new idea from scratch and goes through the process of planning it, validating it, and launching it. All of this was done over a 6-week period, with $100,000 being awarded to the winning team to put toward the development of their business.

As I write this, the second of six episodes just aired where I was featured as a mentor and judge. I was brought in to share my 30 years of experience with these young woman. And while I was able to provide an insight or two, I feel like I was the one who learned the most from this inspiring experience. (below you will find a brief video clip where I and co-mentor Tiffany Pham provide our two cents)

Although filming is completed and the winner determined, there are four more episodes left to air. With this in mind, I share my observations in a way that will continue to keep you in suspense.

Listen, Learn, and Pivot

Having been part of the show during weeks 2, 4, and 6, I had the opportunity to see the evolution of the business plans. Some teams were headstrong and opted to not listen to the advice of the mentors. Some teams made very few adjustments from day-to-day and week-to-week, while others made massive shifts. Those teams that were open to learning and adapting were deemed as the stronger businesses by the judges. Additionally, those teams that listened to potential customers and pivoted accordingly, rather than being headstrong, performed better.

Knowledge May Hurt

The show’s producers did a great job of bringing in girls with a diverse range of personalities, experiences, and interests. Some of the women were more artistic. Others were more entrepreneurial. And others were more technical. It was fascinating to see that experience and technical competence were not always helpful. Past experiences sometimes interfered with their ability to think more creatively about their businesses. Or in some cases, technical knowledge led to solutions that were leading edge yet overly complex.

Stories Impact Reality

Throughout the show, teams pitched their businesses and ideas to the judges. In addition, most weeks had mini-challenges (e.g., Visa, a show sponsor, had the girls work on a new payment device concept) that they needed to present. As a judge, I focused on which ideas/businesses had the greatest potential. However, it was amazing how the pitch influenced the perception of the business. Pitches that were emotional and created visual images in our minds fared better than the ones that were “just the facts.” Our reality is shaped by stories and can influence our behaviors. Decisions are not always rational.


Some teams were all over the map, attempting to appeal to everyone. Although this may appear to create a larger base of buyers, it typically leads to a less successful start-up. The ideas with wider appeal seemed to be watered down solutions and ultimately less attractive. The ones that were more focused on specific demographics or only solved a limited set of problems for a target group were deemed as more valuable in the minds of the judges. This was evident in week two where the winning team had initially started with a much larger vision but pared it down to the most viable aspect.

Passion Matters

Only one team could win the $100,000. It would be easy for the losing teams to pack up their bags, go back to their lives, and call it quits on the business. Without giving away the ending, I can tell you that none of the girls did this. I am writing this one month after the winner was chosen, and all eight women are still actively involved in developing their businesses. Even in the face of defeat, they are still committed to their dreams.

These insights are the tip of the iceberg and it is my pleasure to present to you this first in a series of articles garnered by observing the hearts, grit and determination of these young ladies. It is clear that the opportunity to learn is an ageless phenomenon.

Be sure to watch Girl Starter Friday nights, 7PM ET on TLC. You can also catch past episodes online at https://www.tlcgo.com/girl-starter/ or on-demand.

Here’s a short clip where we provide out advice to the Girl Starters:


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