Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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There are two types of games. One kills creativity and the other is for kids…

Business is serious. Right?

But what if we could game playing to enhance our businesses? Games can be a useful tool for enhancing creativity. They make work more fun, they reduce stress, and they get people in action.

However, not all games are created equal. There are adult games and kid games.

Adult Games

With adult games, there tend to be rigid rules, the games have an ending, and there are winners and losers.

Think about nearly every adult game we play: Monopoly, poker, or basketball.

They typically have a complex set of rules that all of the players need to adhere to. If you break the rules you “go to jail,” are disqualified, or get penalized.

Adult games end. The game is over when all of the other players are out of money, when the “clock” says there is not more time, or when everyone has had their turn.

And nearly every adult game has a winner and one or more losers. They are competitions.
The world of business is an adult game. Deadlines. Budgets. Failures. Losers.

Contrast this with kid games.

Kid Games

Kids play games with very loose rules, the game continues until they say it ends, and there is no concept of winner/loser.

If you watch kids play, they tend to have very few rules in their games. And if there are rules, they make them up as they go along. They improvise. Even universal rules don’t apply to kids. They can don a cape and fly through the air, defying the laws of gravity.

Rarely is a stopwatch involved when kids play. They play the game until they get tired of playing that game. And then they invent a new game. The only clocks involved with kid games are the watches on the wrists of their parents. The adults end the game when it’s dinner time or bedtime.

And there are no winners or losers. They don’t even have that concept. Yes, they might have battles with imaginary swords or super powers. And there are victims who get hurt or die in the heat of battle. But they come back reinvented as a new character. The play does not end at death.

Kids play for the sake of play and no other reason.

Adult games can limit creativity and innovation. The rules, deadlines, and pressure prevent the flow of new ideas. They create stress.

Games, Creativity, and Innovation

If you want to enhance creativity, passion, and productivity, I encourage you to play kid games. These timeless, unbounded, and rule-free games can create an environment of free-flowing-thinking. Numerous studies show that 98% of 5-year-old children test as highly creative, yet only 2% of adults do. We don’t lose our creativity; we learn habits which stop it from emerging.

Think about the model for innovation used by most companies. Allocated budgets to projects with deadlines and expected outcomes. Weekly status reports make sure we are on track. This is the way adults play.

But sometimes innovation – especially breakthrough and discontinuous innovation – is not that clean. It’s messy. It’s unpredictable. Deadlines and expected outcomes can, in this environment, prevent game-changing innovation. Freedom is needed. This is why internal incubators are often managed differently than the rest of the business. Different rules. Or maybe no rules. No expectations, other than to make cool things happen eventually.

I contend that the types of games we play reflects our level of creativity. When people are most creative, they play kid games. When they are least creative, they play adult games.

Of course businesses need deadlines, budgets, and expectation. We don’t want to eliminate the adult games. They serve a purpose. But maybe it is time to recapture our creative youth and start playing more kid games.

P.S. While writing this, I was reminded of a great Twilight Zone Episode called “Kick the Can.” Kids games can revitalize youth. At least according to this tale.

This article originally appeared on the Inc. website

Is your organization a cult? Most are, and this high level of commonality can hurt your innovation efforts…

The recruiting and retention efforts of most organizations are not designed to attract and retain a diverse group of innovation personalities: analytical, methodical, creative, people-oriented. They are designed for one style only–the style that is consistent with an organization’s overall personality. This can leave an organization unbalanced and unable to innovate at full capacity. If you then layer in leadership and cultural issues, you will see why it is so difficult to get the right people in the right roles.

The Leader May Drive Personality

Consider a Fortune 100 technology company that has been wildly successful for many years, but recently has struggled to grow. The longtime CEO, tested out as highly analytical. He is an incredibly bright individual who loves data. When I polled the leadership, it became clear to me that what they valued above all was a data-driven approach to business. In fact, the company loves data so much that, during lunch, I had one of the employees print off all of the measures used to monitor one aspect of the business. When the sheets of paper were spread out, they ran from one end of the room to the other. And this was a large room.

Although measures are useful, too much data can be detrimental to innovation. If you only focus on the numbers, sometimes you will miss big opportunities. It’s a classic situation of not being able to see the forest for the trees. The leader was data-driven which cascaded to every top leader.

The Downside of a Strong Corporate Personality 

A side effect of this particular culture is that it was known as a company “with no heart.” If not managed properly, the individuals with a people-oriented personality would struggle in an environment like this. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a number of methods that can be used to attract and retain talent, regardless of the company’s personality. For example, given that hearts are often less motivated by hard numbers, using subjective feedback can help increase their level of engagement. Praise people on what they value, not on just what the company values.

All companies have a personality. And your organization’s personality, or culture, is useful because it helps you move quickly as I point out in an earlier article. Members of the culture know what to expect, and they share core traits and values. The culture helps people work together well, because homogeneous teams are more efficient due to the relative lack of conflicting viewpoints and approaches. But in the process, cultures can exclude important styles and individuals. And this inhibits growth. So, knowing what your culture or personality is can be quite helpful.

How Industry Drives Personality 

In some cases, as with the previous example, the leadership of an organization can define the culture. But more often, the organization’s industry is an influential determinant of its overall personality. For example, marketing and branding companies may be more creative, while engineering companies may be more data-driven. Nonprofits might be people-oriented while a large manufacturing company might be results-oriented. But these generalizations do not always prove to be true.

One might think that a company’s personality is the aggregate of the personality styles. As it turns out, this is not true. Assessing the personalities of all employees does not necessarily lead to an assessment of the company’s personality. Some organizations I work with have a nice balance of styles. One petrochemical company I worked with had an equal distribution of styles, but a clear analytical corporate culture dominated. This is not surprising for an engineering company that is dependent on cutting-edge research. Although sometimes you can guess the culture based on the industry, this is not always 100 percent accurate or even insightful.

What’s Your Company’s Personality?

Instead, a more accurate method of determining an organization’s overall personality is to identify what is “valued.” That is, what do the leaders value, and what do the employees think is valued?

Is being analytical valued more than being empathetic? Is being creative valued more than producing results? Of course, all companies value all, but some are valued more than others.

Look at your performance management system. What gets recognized? What gets rewarded? What doesn’t get recognized or rewarded?

Once you understand your corporate personality, you can then begin to find levers for growing your business. The key is to recognize that when a company has a dominant style (and most do), it’s important for that company to nurture the complementary/opposite styles. Analytical cultures need to nurture those who are more people-centric. And creative cultures need to nurture the methodical individuals.

This article originally appeared on the Inc. website

I first met Paul Golding 10 years ago in the UK when we were both doing innovation work for a mobile phone company.

I always admired Paul’s understanding of technology –  not just from a bit and bytes perspective, but from a business perspective. He knows how to extract value from everything he does.

We were recently chatting about some work he’s doing in blockchain, and I thought it would be great to capture the conversation for everyone. If you watch this 45-minute video, I am convinced you will significantly increase your knowledge of blockchain and how to leverage it for your organization.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Paul Golding…




Being different is not the same as being differentiated…

After years of development and $2.4 billion in investment, the Revel Casino opened its doors to the Atlantic City Boardwalk on April 2, 2012. This beautiful hotel is top-notch, sophisticated, and classy. I know. I visited it.

To differentiate themselves from other casinos in the area, the Revel did not allow smoking anywhere and they didn’t offer a players’ club. They also decided to nix the buffet and bus trips to/from the casino. Oh, and there was a two-night stay minimum along with a wall that blocked easy access to the casino from the Boardwalk.

The goal was to create an exclusive and high-end experience.

Unfortunately, the typical person who visits Atlantic City isn’t looking for an East Coast version of Las Vegas. Let’s face it, the Boardwalk attracts families with children who want to eat cotton candy and hot dogs.

Combine their design decisions with a tanked New Jersey economy, increased competition from Pennsylvania casinos, and bad investment decisions (such as building their own power plant), and you have a recipe for disaster.

The Revel Casino opened April 2012. Two and a half years later it went bankrupt and closed its doors September 2014. One year after that, the casino was sold for pennies on the dollar at $82 million and remained closed until June 2018, when it opened with a completely different name and concept.

What can we learn from this?

Being different is not the same as being differentiated.

The Revel was different. It chose policies and a design that was intended to help it stand out in a crowded market. But these changes were not appreciated by their customers. Serious gamblers wanted to smoke or wanted a players’ club. By eliminating the buffet and bus trips, they alienated the more casual gambler.

Innovation is about creating experiences for customers that address their explicit and implicit wants and needs. Clearly, the Revel did not do this.

One of my mantras in business and in life is, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Just because they could create a unique experience at the Revel that bucked the design used by every other casino, didn’t mean they should.

At the end of the day, all innovations need to be desirable; creating something customers will pay to buy.

The Revel just reopened its doors again a couple of months ago under new ownership and with a new name: The Ocean Resort Casino. With its launch, they “corrected” many of the decisions that were originally made. Smoking is now allowed. The buffet is back. A one-night stay is an option. Stairs were added making it easy to get to the casino from the Boardwalk. They even reconfigured the casino floor to make it less confusing to get from place to place, addressing a common complaint. And the casino is offering more things for kids and families to do, such as a large candy store and “Cereal Town,” a restaurant where you get cereal from around the world all day long.

Time will tell if The Ocean Resort Casino will be successful. Although it seems to blend elegance with friendliness – a recipe that has worked for the Borgata – there are still many hurdles to overcome. Regardless of the future for this property, there is a lot to be learned from its past. The rapid and massive failure of the Revel should provide a cautionary tale to any innovator who thinks that being different is the same as being differentiated.

This article originally appeared on the Inc. website

I am on the road nearly 200 days a year. With over 30 years of travel under my belt, I’ve discovered many simple and free ways to make your travel more enjoyable. Here are my four favorites. I hope you like them as they’ve made my life a lot better.

Keeping Window Shades Closed

After a long flight, it feels to great to hop into bed for a good night’s sleep. Although I typically need to wake up relatively early the next day, sometimes the sun wakes up before I need to. The bright light shining through curtains that are not completely closed is sure to wake me up. How do you keep the shades tightly closed? I used to travel with clothes pins or chip clips, when I realized that I could use the clips on the hangers provided in most hotel closets. Simply place the clips where the two shades meet and you will be able to sleep as late as you want.

A Disposable Neck Pillow

This one is technically not 100% free, as you need purchase a beverage. But the hack involves the part of your purchase that you would typically throw away: the bottle. Continue reading >>

Busy entrepreneurs need to step away from the business in order to grow their business…

As entrepreneurs, we are all busy. There never seems to be enough time to complete even the basic tasks we need to accomplish. So, when do we have time to innovate?

5 years ago, I realized that it felt like I was on a treadmill. I was running fast yet getting nowhere. I needed to slow down the pace. But how?

An Innovation Retreat Week

I decided the key was a week-long innovation retreat. This is not a vacation. It is a week of locking the doors, turning off the phone, and getting work done. And this is accomplished away from my office and home.

Since 2013, I’ve done this at least once a year, starting the first week of January. But some years I will do this two or three times. In fact, last week I finished my second innovation retreat for 2018.

Think about how you typically start your year. After the Holidays, it is back to the grind stone, picking up where you left off the previous year. As a result, the new year becomes an extrapolation of the past year. There is no delineation.

Therefore, my intention is to use the start of the new year as a chance to innovate and create. Hence the innovation retreat week.

Every year I head to a resort. Given we own a timeshare which is about five miles from our house, I go there for the week. I get a one-bedroom suite with a kitchen so that I can stay in the room all day. I sleep there, even though my home is only a few miles away. The location doesn’t matter; the environment does. You want to be as productive as possible with minimal distractions. Maybe a log cabin in the woods is better for you.

Of course, prior to starting your retreat week, you need to first delegate all activities that might need to be completed. Although some of you might think it is impossible to get 100% of the work off you plate, with some creativity (and trust) it is almost always doable.

The Routine

The first day is preparation day. I start by going to the supermarket and buying healthy food for the refrigerator. I also organize my workspace so that I can be as productive as possible when I get started the next day. Then I plan out the activities for the week. Continue reading >>

Your past experience could be creating blind spots that are limiting your ability to see better opportunities…

In an earlier article, I wrote about why expertise is the enemy of innovation.

Our past experiences blind us to potentially new and different opportunities in the future.

Therefore, we somehow need to shift our view of the world to be open to new perspectives. Unfortunately, this is not always easy.

We see the world through “filters” we have developed over time based on our failures, our successes, our education, our family, and all of the experiences we’ve had during our lifetime. As a result, we don’t see reality.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to “see” your filter. Our view of the world is all we know.Therefore, to shift your perspective, instead of shifting your filter, replace your filter with a completely different one.

Try this. Each morning when you wake up, make believe you are someone different.

Pretend you are a detective, a mechanic, an artist, a gardener. It really doesn’t matter who you are. You will then begin to see things over the course of the day that you have never seen before, because what you focus on expands. By focusing on something different, you will begin to have new experiences and will gain new “dots” that you can use when trying to be creative.

On other days assume the world is a particular way. Look at the world as art, as music, as simplicity. You will see, hear, smell, and sense things you’ve never noticed in the past. Changing your filter, whether on a daily basis or just during specific conversations, can have a profound impact on your view of the world.

This takes no extra time out of your day but will help you see new perspectives that might have been right under your nose.

You can also use this concept when looking to develop creative solutions to a challenging problem. To do this, use the following steps:

  1. Identify a person you want to emulate. You can do this randomly. Or, you can consider people who are from completely different disciplines. The best ideas often come from people outside your industry.
  2. Next, ask, “How would this person solve this problem?” If you were to hire them as a consultant to your organization, what would they suggest?
  3. Then dig deeper. What are the characteristics of this person? How can these characteristics help solve the problem?

If you are stuck for ideas on who to emulate, try this list of people and concepts for starters:

  • Senses: What will customers…hear, see, think, feel, taste, smell, experience
  • Mozart, The Beatles, Madonna, Charlie Parker, sounds, music, harmony, dance
  • Rembrandt, da Vinci, Dali, Frank Lloyd Wright, sights, art, architecture
  • Linus Pauling, Albert Einstein, a professor, science, research, experimentation, knowledge
  • Freud, Tony Robbins, emotions, dreams, pleasure, fears, Freddy Krueger
  • Customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, partners, regulators, mission, value, purpose
  • Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Sir Lawrence Olivier, directing, movies, Broadway
  • Robin Williams, comedy, improvisation, audience, stand-up
  • Dale Earnhardt, Michael Schumacher, a turtle, racing, concentration, speed, slow
  • A cheerleader, children, fun, play, games, sports
  • Houdini, Harry Potter, David Blaine, magic, illusion, misdirection, crazy
  • Tom Clancy, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, books, words, espionage, mystery, history
  • Walt Disney, Edward de Bono, lateral thinking
  • Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, a CIO, an internet start-up, creativity, technology
  • Warren Buffet, a bank, a CFO, ROI, finances, money, investing, creativity
  • A politician (of your choice), an evangelist, negotiation, leadership
  • Friends, family, your favorite teacher, trust, caring, a lifetime relationship

To get more relevant results faster, sometimes it is useful to ask, “Who has solved a similar problem?” For example, if you want to reduce wait time, but can’t find a solution, maybe you can learn a thing or two from Disney World who does an amazing job of making the wait time seem less torturous.

Play around with different filters. I promise you, it will open your eyes to a whole new range of possibilities.

This article was originally published on the Inc. website

In a post last week, I shared with you my most recent demo video. Over the years, I’ve had several different versions.

In this post, I share my four primary demo videos from over the years. Although I’ve had other videos for specific purposes (e.g., a Personality Poker demo video), they aren’t included here.

I’m sharing this to help other speakers evaluate their own demo videos. Besides, some of these are good for a laugh.

So with that as background, here’s the evolution of my speaking video, starting with my first one from 2002…

2002: Style over Substance (3 minutes)

This video contains primarily footage of me speaking at a large Accenture event (where I worked from 1986 – 2001), combined with some clips of speeches I did in Singapore. You’ll notice in the opening montage, I am playing the saxophone in one clip. This is from Nice, France when I used to play my saxophone during my speeches. You have to love the double breasted jacket and the dot matrix fonts. As I was just starting out speaking professionally, my goal was to feature large stages where there was more of a focus on entertainment than content.

2009: Unedited Video: TEDxNASA (6 minutes)

7 years later, I decided to retire my first demo video and replace it with my unedited 6-minute TEDx talk I gave to 1,700 rocket scientists. The title of the speech was “Rocket Science Isn’t Always Rocket Science.” The premise is that sometimes the best sources of innovation come from outside your industry. The video proved to be very effective. I had clients say, “If you could deliver that much value in 6 minutes, we can’t imagine how much would be delivered in 45.” This is the only completely memorized speech I’ve ever given, so I certainly didn’t feel relaxed. Regardless, it had a positive impact on my business.

2014: Longer Clips with Social Proof (6 minutes)

My next demo video was created in 2014. It was over 6 minutes and 30 seconds long. Maybe too long. The goal was to show longer clips (2 2-minute clips) that would give people a good sense of my content and style. Because we designed this through the lens of a sales video, there is a lot of social proof included. At the time, this helped me stand out from others who were newer to the business. But this “in your face” approach has hurt me in recent years as people no longer want to be told how great a speaker is – they want to see it. And the voiceovers were a tad cheesy.

2018: Pure Content

My latest video was designed to be pure content. No selling. The only “sales” aspects are some client logos that are subtly shown for a second, and two client testimonials which flash briefly. In an earlier version, we had a testimonial that I decided to remove because it was solely about my speaking style, and I wanted only to focus on results. Our goal was to create a video that was so compelling from a content point of view, that people would want to share it to learn about innovation (not necessarily about me). There is no point where I talk about me as a speaker. We didn’t include any clips of me on TV. I only talk about innovation. I hope you enjoy this!

I am thrilled to share with you my new demo video.

The team at Video Narrative did an incredible job of pulling this together.

We had one design principle: Don’t sell; educate.

We didn’t want this to be a sales pitch. Rather we wanted a video that was content-driven.

Therefore, this 3-minute video is pure content (other than two client quotes and a few client logos done subtly in the background).

In a future post, I will share with you my past demo videos – and earlier versions of this one. That will give you an opportunity to see how things have evolved over the years.

I hope you enjoy this video!

P.S. If you believe I would be a great speaker for an upcoming event, I would love to be connected with the event organizer.  


Although we’ve been told that goals are a key to success, what if goal-setting actually reduces performance?

Many years back I worked with a Formula One racing team. At that time, pit crews consisted of 19 guys who serviced the ultrafast, high-tech race– refueling cars, changing tires, and performing required maintenance in a matter of seconds. The pit crew members continually shifted positions to find the optimal configuration of the team. As they practiced, they used a stopwatch to measure their time to the millisecond. There was a point where they hit a performance plateau. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t go any faster.

Then, they tried a counter intuitive approach. Pit crew members were told that instead of focusing on speed they should focus on style. They were to go fast, but they were to think “smooth” as they performed their activities. Movement was more significant than speed. Astonishingly, the pit crew shaved several tenths of a second off their best time, even though they “felt” they were moving more slowly.

The more you focus on a goal, the less likely you are to achieve it. By worrying about the future, you take your eye off the present. And this reduces performance.

Selling Without Selling

This concept applies in all areas of life and business. Continue reading >>

Bring Stephen’s innovation insights to your next event!