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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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Here’s a little self-promotion.

This blog was selected was one of the top 50 Innovation Blogs on the Planet by Feedspot. (their words, not mine)

I’m not sure how they determined this (my guess it is purely quantitative as I can’t imagine Feedspot can assess the quality).

Although I am honored to be on the list at #22 with some other great thought leaders, clearly I have some work to do to get this ranking even higher in the future. I know I can be in the top 10. You can expect more, regular blog posts from me. Of course I won’t sacrifice quality just to get quantity.

Thanks for all of your support. I’ve been blogging now for over 12 years and have seen a lot of changing in the world of innovation. And there’s a lot more to come!

I was recently interviewed by Chuck Leddy for the National Center for the Middle Market.

We discussed, as you may guess, what middle market companies need to do in order to innovate and why it is critical.

In addition to a written article (where I answer 9 questions), the page also includes a much longer audio recording of our interview.

Here’s are the first 3 questions (and my response to the first 2):

Continue reading >>

Crowdsourcing has always been a popular method of problem solving.

In a nutshell, crowdsourcing is when you ask a large group of people (the crowd) for their answers to a question. Polling and surveys are forms of crowdsourcing. Social media posts that ask for your opinion are another. And now companies are using this technique more and more for their innovation efforts. (you can read my Forbe.com article which contains some examples)

The downside of many crowdsourcing initiatives is something called “mobsourcing.” This is where the vocal few crowd out the rest of the responses. We saw this when California asked its citizens about how to solve the economic woes of the state, and the majority of respondents said, “Legalize and tax marijuana.”

I’ve been talking about mobsourcing for ages (here’s an article I wrote on the topic), and now there is some scientific research that backs me up…with some techniques to deal with it.

recent research study on crowdsourcing said:

“Democratic methods…tend to favor the most popular information, not necessarily the most correct. The ignorance of the masses can cancel out a knowledgeable minority with specialized information of a topic, resulting in the wrong answer becoming the most accepted.”

This is mobsourcing.

Researchers from Princeton and MIT wanted to see if there was a way to find the gold hidden amongst the duds. They started with a hypothesis and constructed an experiment.

They asked a group of people, “Is Philadelphia the capital of Pennsylvania?”

Not surprisingly (but maybe shockingly), a majority people said “yes” it is the capital. Only a minority of the people knew that Harrisburg was the correct answer.

Here’s where it gets fascinating.

In addition, people were asked to predict how popular the “yes” response would be. The people who said “yes, Philadelphia is the capital,” predicted that most people would also say “yes.” Interestingly, the people who knew the correct answer was “no” believed that most people would get it wrong and say “yes.” Therefore, in total, most people “predicted” Philadelphia to be the popular answer.

Philadelphia was the most popular answer.

But the actual percentage of people who said “yes, Philadelphia is the capital” was quite a bit lower than the number of people predicted to say “yes.”

Meanwhile, “no, Philadelphia is not the capital,” exceeded predictions because very few people thought that others would give this response.

What they discovered is that the correct answer is not necessarily the most “popular” one, it is the one that is more popular than people “predict.”

This provides some interesting insights into how we can conduct better experiments in the future. It could help companies innovate more efficiently. It might help political polling become more accurate. And it might even be useful for companies when they do customer surveys.

So the next time you ask your Facebook friends, “Do I look good in this outfit?” You might also want to ask them, “Do you think most people will say I look good?”

best practices =
copying someone else =


Recently I discovered that someone wrote a 1,000 word article that included passages lifted straight from my book, “Best Practices are Stupid.” The examples were the same. The language was the same. The only original part to the article were the first two lines. After that it was all my content.

And no, this was not a computer “scraping” my blog. It was not some unscrupulous internet marketing person trying to draw traffic.

It was from another professional speaker! Someone who calls himself a “visionary.”

Here’s the kicker, he was dumb enough to title the article, “Best Practices are Stupid!” (the image is his Facebook post promoting his article)

Fortunately, everyone who read the article immediately knew that it was my content. In fact, so many people commented on the blog post letting the author know this was the case that he eventually pulled down the article due to pressure.

I’m not going to shame the individual by mentioning him by name. That’s not my goal here.

Although we know the expression, “Imitation is the sincerest of flattery” (c. 1820) there is an earlier version I think is more appropriate, “Imitation is a kind of artless Flattery” (c. 1714).

Call it what you want – imitation, copying, plagiarism, best practices – there is little value or beauty in a replica.

Trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets can be used to protect some innovation. But unless you want to go through a lot of expensive legal battles, these may not always be the best option.

Sometimes the best protection is to be known for something that is instantly recognized as yours. When you do this, the market will self-correct. When the competition copies you, people will immediately devalue the replica.

Imagine if you saw a television commercial that said, “Switch to our insurance and save 15% in 15 minutes.” Unless the company was Geico, you would know it was a complete rip-off. Would you do business with a company that was so unoriginal that they had to copy someone else?

In the movie, “Coming to America,” there was a fast-food restaurant, McDowell’s with a big yellow “M.” Had you seen this in real-life you would immediately know it was copied from McDonald’s.

When you listen to a cover band, you know it’s not original music – and you also know that they’re earning a small fraction of what the original musicians made. And although counterfeit items try to replicate to the smallest detail, they never can charge the same premium as the real luxury item – and the wearer will never have the same experience knowing the item is fake.

And of course there are numerous examples of plagiarism bringing down political figures and many others.

Best practices are the business-world equivalent of counterfeiting and plagiarism.

Although there is a time and place for them (which I explain in my book), they are never a form of innovation. Replication is never innovation.

Although it is fine to be inspired by past creations, you always want to make significant improvements and make it your own.

P.S. A few years ago I wrote an article on a similar topic. I was inspired by meeting Larry the Cable Guy’s impersonator in Vegas. 

Have you ever had a trip that felt more like you were a contestant on The Amazing Race?

That was the case for me a few weeks back when I was scheduled to be the keynote speaker in Brazil at a marketing conference for 1,500 people. This turned out to be an adventure that looked doomed from the start.

Here’s what happened…

Monday – Orlando

2:30pm: Literally an hour before heading to the airport to fly to Brazil, something in the back of my mind told me I might have a problem. I recalled from an earlier trip in 1994 that I needed a visa and, for this trip, we had not secured one. After some digging, we discovered that a visa was required and I would not be able to get on the plane to Brazil without it. Yikes!! But given I was not scheduled to speak until Wednesday evening, I thought I would have time to get one. As it turns out, ignorance was bliss (for a little while), because getting a visa proved much more complicated than I expected… Continue reading >>

It is so difficult to see our own blind spots, which is why clients hire me to help illuminate theirs. Of course that’s stating the obvious since if we could see them they wouldn’t be blind spots! So let’s call them “missed opportunities that are right in front of our noses” – or MOTARIFOON. Sadly I don’t think that acronym will catch on.

Regardless, I discovered a MOTARIFOON I’ve had for nearly 10 years. And when I saw it, I felt so foolish that it had taken me so long.

About a decade ago I created Personality Poker and have been playing this with my clients ever since. Some events are small with 20 or 30 people. But most are groups are several hundred to over a thousand people.

To play, we deal 5 cards to each person. But first I need to shuffle decks of cards; one deck for every 10 people. So for 1000 people I need to shuffle 100 decks. To complicate matters, I also need to remove the two jokers from each deck. This is a time intensive and boring process, and my hands are often cramped afterwards.

Then one day I had an epiphany. One of those aha moments, which felt more like a d’oh moment.

Instead of having the cards printed in “new deck order” (2, 3, 4, 5, etc), what if I had them printed in shuffled order without any jokers?  It’s not as though the cards need to be completely random as we aren’t gambling. In fact, in printed order I can ensure they are really mixed up so that each person gets a different range of colors, numbers, and suits. This is, for the purposes of this game, even better than true randomness.

So now, the cards I use for my speeches are specially printed in shuffled order without jokers. The cards I sell are still in new deck order.

I kick myself when I think about how much time I could have saved over the past 10 years if I had thought of this previously.

What similar aha/d’oh moments have you had in your life/business?

It is that time of year.

Many of you created your New Year’s Resolutions last week. And although we are less than 2 weeks into the new year, I suspect that many of you have already failed in keeping your resolution.

This would not be surprising as a study I conducted showed that only 8% of people are always successful in achieving the desired results. 92% fail!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that there is a better way. Instead of resolutions (where failure is an option), I suggest themes (a game to be played).

Here is an article a wrote a while ago, but it is timeless: Making Resolutions That WorkIt remains one of my most often cited articles.

Or, if you prefer, you can read the variant of this article that appeared as a full-page article in the Wall Street Journal several years ago (jpg).

The general premise is that instead of setting resolutions that are specific goals (e.g., lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, exercise 3 times a week), you want to create themes that help guide you and your decision making throughout the year.

These themes get you excited about the New Year and make activities that might have seemed tedious, more enjoyable.

My theme for 2016 was Nothing New. No investments. No new content. Instead I found ways to leverage past investments and past relationships.

Although I’m still formulating my themes for 2017, two are emerging:

  • Orlando – I moved to Orlando a year ago and recently bought I house. Last year I also got engaged to an amazing woman. Therefore, I would like to find ways of making more income that don’t involve getting on a plane. I want to enjoy my life here in Central Florida. I used to think that the way to do this was through “passive income” (e.g., products and other items that don’t require any time on my part). But I am seeing that it can also be accomplished through local events, bringing clients to me, and working remotely (email, phone calls, Skype, webinars and other virtual method).
  • Investment – As I mentioned, last year was about avoiding investment. And it was great. I finished some projects I had started previously and found ways of using content I had created in the past. And of course I saved a few dollars in the process, while still maintaining the same level of income. This year however is about making investments, investments that will yield benefits in the future. These investments might require money, but not necessarily. For example, I will be writing a new book this year, which will require an investment of time.

What are your themes for the new year?

P.S. If you want to learn more about how to live a more powerful life, read Goal-Free Living  To this day, I receive emails from people who read it 10 years ago and said it changed their lives.

colt revolverI was recently listening to an old-time radio broadcast and heard a commercial that ran back in 1959. It shared the story of how the Colt Revolver was invented. As it is told, when he was younger, Samuel Colt, was fascinated with gun powder and weapons.

However, he was dissatisfied with the “one-shot” pistols that were on the market. To create the revolver, he recalled a sea voyage he took when he was 13. He used the concept of the paddlewheel for inspiration to create the six-shooter. This is a great example of how taking a concept from one industry and applying it to another can be a great stimulus for new inventions.

The story continues with the common battle of any innovation: bringing it to market and gaining acceptance.

It is a fun listen and is only 75 second long. Enjoy!

Listen to the audio (streaming):



MacBook Pro Dongles[see update below] I received my new MacBook Pro 13″ the other day. I was both excited and hesitant. I’ve had my old 2010 unibody MBP for a number of years and it has served me really well. I maxed out it memory and added a 1T SSD. It is great and relatively fast for a 6 year old computer.

Did I really need a new one? What about the lack of ports that aren’t USB-C? I read that a number of  people returned their new MBPs because of what is called “donglegate” – the need for adapters to convert old devices to work with the new Mac.

Given these concerned, I ordered my new Mac and it arrived last week and I’ve had a chance to play around with it. Here are my observations… Continue reading >>

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