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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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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.

In the last video I shared why diversity, although critical, can actually have a negative impact on the organization if people are not given the tools to appreciate one another.

In today’s Innovation Minute, I share the tool I developed: Personality Poker. I explain how it can be used to understand personalities and I provide a link to a free online version (this is not a sales pitch!).

Be sure to watch the previous videos!

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?

Bring Stephen’s innovation insights to your next event!