Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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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:


This Friday, May 5 at 7PM, I will be on the new TLC television show, Girl Starter.

This show encourages young women to create their own businesses through a playful, yet serious competition.

Eight young women, 18-24 years old, build businesses from scratch over the course of 6 weeks. The winning team gets up to $100,000 of investment and services to support their business.

The first episode aired this past Friday and concluded with the 8 women being paired into four teams.

The episode this Friday is where the business building begins. Each team will develop an idea for their business and start to plan it out.

I am a mentor and judge, along with Tiffany Pham from Mogul.

Although we finished shooting the entire show, I can’t tell you much more until the episodes air. So, you’ll have to tune in!

Be prepared for some laughs, inspiration, and surprises.

I’ll be on the show May 5, May 19, and the finale on June 2.

Tune and in support young women become business owners.

Here’s a quick preview of the show:

You can learn more about the show/movement on Parade.com

I am known for wearing funky shirts by Robert Graham, Bugatchi, and English Laundry.

I guess I always liked to be a little funky as evidenced by my high school graduation picture.

Back in the late-70’s/early-80’s, the wide lapel was the “in thing.” And I guess the man necklace was too. Then again, I performed in musicals, so I don’t think anyone thought of me as “cool.”

Although I loved that look back then, it doesn’t work as well today.

Unfortunately my collars seem to like that old look. Here’s me in a Bugatchi shirt, in its natural state:

All I need to do is at the gold-plated chocker and I could transport myself back to the 80’s without anyone giving me a second look.

But I want to look a bit more modern. And therefore, I use a solution that has my collars look like this:

Notice how the collar looks like it is buttoned down, without buttons?

How did I do this?

There are many ways to tame your collar. My approach is to use metal collar stays that are magnetic, and then use small rare earth magnets underneath the collar to hold it down:

You slide the metal collar stay in the usual way and then you attach the magnet on the underside.

There are pre-packaged solutions out there that are expensive and achieve the same result. Given I lose magnets and collars stays quite often, I prefer the inexpensive do-it-yourself approach.

I get my magnetic stainless steel collar stays here: Less than $8 for 3 dozen on Amazon.com.

And I get the magnets here:  30 8 mm x 2 mm Disc – Neodymium Rare Earth Magnet, Grade N48 for about $12 on eBay.

So for $20 I get enough to last me a lifetime, assuming I don’t keep losing a set each month.

I’ve played around with different size magnets and these seems to have the best combination of hold and size. I sometimes use a smaller size (1/4″ x 1/16″) magnet, but these have a higher likelihood of falling off. Someone I know uses black magnets so they are less visible then the shiny silver ones. Given the collars lay pretty flat, I’ve not seen this as an issue for me.

So now you can have the cool, funky shirts you love without looking like you arrived in a time-machine from the past.

Readers of this blog know that I am not a huge fan of failure. I think it is overrated and should be minimized. Instead, I like to view innovation through the lens of experimentation.

But sometimes a failure in execution can be a way to impress customers. I wrote about some examples of bad situations turning into great customer experiences a while back that might be of interest to you.

But now, companies are turning more and more to social media for their customer service. So when I had an issue, I decided to give it a try.

On Delta.com I paid extra for a Comfort+ seat. It has more legroom and lets you board early. I saw that there were some desirable seats still available (in addition to a number of middle seats). So I paid for the upgrade and went to book my seat. But the system wouldn’t let me choose a seat and was told that I would be assigned one at the gate before takeoff.

I was not happy. I did not pay extra to end up in a middle seat. So I tweeted about it.

Within minutes I get a tweet back from Delta:

And after sending them my confirmation number via DM, I was assigned a wonderful exit row, aisle seat:

They took (what I assume to be) a system failure and turned it into a customer satisfaction success story. Knowing that I can get this level of service from them is very encouraging and makes me want to fly them even more.

Consider how other airlines have handled some recent (albeit much bigger) issues via social media: United leggings fiasco and American’s wheelchair debacle. Neither of these resulted in building fans for their airlines. They could have handled these situations differently and come out looking good (or at least not as bad as they do).

How can you turn each negative situation into a chance to create a positive image in the eyes of others?

P.S. Most of my experiences are not this positive. Just yesterday I had a terrible experience with a major timeshare company. Their phone support was atrocious and the Twitter support has (as of now) been non-existent. 

P.P.S. Only a few days after writing this, the king of all failures was delivered by United when they dragged a Doctor off the airplane. Afterwards, United did nothing to improve their position with their customers. YIKES!

Here are the transcripts for the last two innovation minutes.

Innovation Minute #26:  Is your team playing with a full deck?

Twenty years ago when I started getting actively involved in the world of innovation, I thought there were some people who were innovative, and then there was the rest of the people. What I discovered, as you know, that that’s not true.

Everyone contributes to innovation, just in a different way.

Unfortunately, human beings like to hire people who are similar to themselves, people who fit the mold. Therefore we end up at a deep subconscious level, hiring a bunch of yes-men and yes-women. And this is the thing which kills innovation inside of organizations.

If you want to build innovation into your organization, one of the things you want to start thinking about is how do you play with the full deck? How do you get all the different innovation personalities together involved in your team in the right way at the right time?

The innovation process is an end-to-end process. It starts with an issue, problem, challenge, or opportunity, and ends with the creation of value.

There are four key steps and four key personality styles that are involved.

First, if it’s starting with an issue, problem, challenge, or opportunity, we need people who are good at defining the challenge.

Next, once we know what the problem or opportunity is, we need people who can develop solutions, the people who are going to develop breakthroughs. That’s a separate group of people.

Next, as we know, all the ideas in the world that aren’t implemented don’t create value. Therefore, we need people who are going to become masterful at that.

And throughout the whole process, we need people who are good at engaging the hearts of minds of others, because if we don’t have buy-in from people, innovation, of course, is never going to happen.

So take a look at your team. Do you have a bunch of people who are very similar or are you embracing different perspectives?

In the next video, I will talk a little bit more about this and how you create high-performing teams with people who are different, when in fact, differences can lead to dysfunctionality.


Innovation Minute #27: Diversity is not always a good thing.

As I mentioned in the last video, we need to make sure we have teams that are playing with a full deck, that means we have a complement of different styles, different personalities, working together on the innovation process.

I’ve done a number of studies over the years and it’s fascinating to see what types of teams are the best, which types of teams perform at the highest levels. I’ll give you three broad categories of teams.

Category one is a team of people who…where everyone is similar. They have similar backgrounds, similar experiences, similar personalities.

The second category is one which is diverse. People with different perspectives, different backgrounds, different personality styles. In that second category, we just put them together and let them do their own thing. We get out of the way.

The third category is that same as the second category in that we bring people together with different backgrounds, but we also spend time to give them the tools to understand how they can work together more effectively, and what the pitfalls will be.

The results?

The first team is very efficient. They work well together, they get a lot of things done, but it tends to be incremental in nature because at the end of the day, if we have a lot of commonality, we don’t have a lot of breadth of experience.

Interestingly though, it’s the second category that performs the worst. When we take people with diverse backgrounds and put them together, there’s a lot of head-butting. People don’t get along, they don’t understand each other, they don’t appreciate each other, and it is actually the least efficient and least productive of all the teams.

It is that third team, where we bring together people with different innovation personalities, different perspectives, and we take the time to have them understand the appreciation that they need to have for each other, how they contribute to the innovation process, that’s when we get high-performing teams.

So I want you to look at your team, see how you are organizing your structure. Have you taken the time to make sure everybody understands and appreciates the contribution of each person?

In the next video, we’ll dig deeper into this topic and talk about this concept of personalities a little further.

Bring Stephen’s innovation insights to your next event!