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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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In my latest book, Invisible Solutions, I share 25 lenses that can reframe and help solve nearly any difficult business problem.

To demonstrate the power of the lenses, I am creating a series of videos that show how they can be used to generate creative – and sometimes previously hidden – solutions to some common challenges.

In this first video, I use the lenses to provide different ways to solve the problem of virtual meetings. We are all meeting virtually right now. But are we really taking full advantage of what the digital world offers?

Try these lenses the next time you are stuck for a creativity solution to your problem.

To download the lenses, go to www.invisiblesolutionsresources.com

ATM in Blizzard

ATM in BlizzardDisasters and crises have lead to some of our best innovations–just look at the history behind ATMs…

We often hear the expression “Build it and they will come.” With innovation, a more accurate statement is “Eliminate a pain and they will come.”  The ultimate success of the automatic teller machine (ATM) is a great example of this. The story is extremely relevant given our current circumstances.

In the mid-1970s, Citibank was the second largest bank. In 1977, after investing hundreds of millions of dollars in ATM technology research and development, Citibank decided to install machines across all of New York City. At first, they were not very popular. The technology was confusing to first-time users, the machines were not always accurate (they sometimes dispensed the wrong amount of money), and they were impersonal.

The ATM might never have been a hit if it weren’t for a natural disaster.

February 1978 will always be remembered for a blizzard that dumped as much as four feet of snow in the Northeast. In New York City, nearly two feet of snow brought the city to a grinding halt. Banks weren’t open. Instead, people got their money by cashing checks at local supermarkets. But most of the supermarkets quickly ran out of money.

This created a massive “pain.”

Where did people turn?

The ATMs. It is estimated that during the storms, use of the machines increased by more than 20 percent. Soon after, Citibank started running TV ads showing people trudging through the snow drifts in New York City. That’s when the company introduced their wildly popular slogan “The Citi Never Sleeps.” This was the real birth of the automatic teller machine.

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Although we can’t meet in person, it doesn’t mean we can’t create incredible learning experiences with networking conversations and deep learning.

The short video below shares insights on a new collaboration I established with Action Learning Associates to provide the ultimate virtual learning experience.

This specially curated environment (called the Virtual Executive Education Campus, aka VEE-Campus) includes main stage sessions, small group discussions, and collaborative tools. It is the closest thing you will experience to the live in-person event.

It’s more than just a platform; it’s a process that enables you and your team to learn the latest tools to help you solve your most difficult business problems.

NOTE: This approach is not for everyone or for every type of event. But for those times when you want deep collaboration and networking between attendees, this might be the ultimate virtual experience.

Even if this avatar-based environment isn’t right for your event, I have other innovative options that can be delivered on any platform. It’s the process that matters.

Learn more about my wide range of virtual options, including my 5-step process that focuses on  delivering results. Contact us to learn more.



The key to good virtual meetings is to avoid replicating what you do in real life…

The way we conduct meetings changed over night. Or has it?

Given we are no longer able to meet in person, event organizers and professional speakers have been scrambling to recreate their live meetings using virtual platforms. In other words, automate what has been done in the past.

If a speech was to be given in front of a live audience, it is now delivered as a webinar. Same content. Same delivery method. But now in front of a camera instead of 1,000 faces.

Unfortunately, nearly every virtual meeting I have attended simply tried to replicate the face-to-face experience – and it failed.

Asking Better Questions About Meetings

To create better meetings, we need to ask different questions. What if we didn’t just replicate, but instead we innovated? Here are some questions that might get your thinking differently about your next virtual meeting:

  • What can we do in virtual meetings that we can’t do with live in-person meetings? How can we take full advantage of virtual options? For example, how can we take advantage of the ability to break people into smaller groups instantly – for short periods of time? How can we use polling to drive the direction of the conversation – and make real-time shifts in the content?
  • What aspects of meetings do not require real-time participation? For those, what other options do we have for delivering that content? How can we maximize the value we get from the live virtual meeting? For example, how can we limit the live virtual experience to the interactive components, and deliver the rest via pre-recorded video that is sent prior to the meeting?
  • How can we go beyond the meeting? What processes can we put in place to sustain results over the long-term? What happens after the event? For example, how can we get attendees to apply the concepts from the meting? How can we create cohorts that tackle real-world problems? How can we measure the actual impact of a meeting? How can we engage people long after the meeting is over?
  • When we return to face-to-face meetings, what aspects of virtual meetings will continue to out-perform the in-person meeting? For example, how can we use technology before and after an event to maximize the value we get from the live meeting?

This is just a starter list of questions. There are literally dozens (or hundreds) of different questions that you could ask that would reveal previously invisible solutions.

Don’t Replicate or Automate, Innovate

The point is, don’t simply replicate or automate what you have done in the past. Rethink the entire meeting experience: before, during, and after the event. Use technology the best way possible to get the best results. Sometimes the ideal solution isn’t a live meeting.

My Approach

My plan for 2020 was always to increase the number of my virtual offerings. From a personal perspective it would mean less time on the road. But from a client perspective, when done correctly, the virtual environment can deliver even more value. Although I was shifting to virtual, I didn’t expect the entire world to do the same virtual over night. I’ve been rethinking the way I deliver my virtual content for over a decade.

If you would like to learn more about my approach, visit my “Virtual Page.” Or if you are looking for something completely different, check out my “Ultimate Virtual Meeting” avatar-based offering.

This video shares my 5-step process for delivering value in a virtual environment. Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about anything you see. We have so many interesting ways to deliver content digitally.

This article originally appeared on the Inc. website

Don’t just look to other companies for inspiration, look in your backyard…

Here in the United States, it’s Memorial Day Weekend. A time when we are outdoors enjoying nature. Maybe this is a great time to find some new innovations.

Expertise is often the enemy of breakthrough thinking. The more you know about your company, industry, customers, and competitors, the harder it is to think differently about it.

So where can you turn to develop new ideas? Looking to other industries is a good start, but sometimes the greatest breakthroughs are derived by studying the world of biology.

As an example, let’s take a look at a concept for a self-generating tire. Two challenges associated with traditional tires are:

  1. They wear down over time, creating a waste problem.
  2. They can’t adapt to different driving conditions, such as dry roads, rain, or snow.

Goodyear built a concept that could address these challenges. How did they do it? They borrowed two concepts from biology:

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I am thrilled to announce that the audiobook version of Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems is now available.

You can buy it on Audible, Amazon, Audiobooks.com, or any number of places around the world.

Given the current situation, we are all struggling with more challenges than ever. Now is the time to take charge and solve your most difficult problems using the 25 lenses from this book.

Please drop me a line after you read or listen to the book.

Thanks in advance for your support! I hope you enjoy the book.


Back in 1990, Dr. Michael Hammer, the father of business process reengineering, wrote a seminal Harvard Business Review article titled “Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate.”

His idea was that you don’t want to automate existing processes, you want to rethink and reengineer them. Back then, companies would use software to automate bad processes, speeding up bad results.

Although this article is from thirty years ago, the concept is still relevant today, maybe even more so, during these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, we are unable to conduct in-person, face-to-face meetings. As a result, there has been a knee-jerk reaction: Take what we did for in-person events and simply automate them. In other words, create a virtual version of the live meeting. This is the modern-day version of automating bad processes.

Doing this misses a huge opportunity for innovation. We don’t want to deliver online meetings or presentations the way we conduct them in-person. In fact, I would argue that many of our face-to-face meetings were poorly designed to begin with. So now is the time to rethink the way we collaborate. Innovate the experience rather than simply automate it.

Although this article focuses on conferences and conventions, the concepts can be adapted and applied to any kind of meeting. It is based on my real-world personal experience over the past decade.


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Over the past couple of months, I have been on numerous podcasts talking about innovation and problem-solving. And over the past few weeks, I have focused more heavily on how to solve difficult problems during these difficult times.Here are a few of the podcasts. I will post more in the future as there are many others.

In 1985, I attended Live Aid with 90,000 other people packed into JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. In addition to being a celebration of music, it was a fundraiser for those suffering in the Ethiopian famine.

Of course today, we can’t gather that many people in one place. But maybe we can do it virtually. For the week of April 20th, Dan Pontefract pulled together the speaker version of Live Aid with an event called Speak Aid. The goal is to raise money for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

There will be some amazing presenters, such as Michael Bungay Stanier, Mitch Joel, Kate O’Neill, Robbe Richman, Tamsen Snyder Webster and so many other brilliant minds. Also, each day at 1pm EDT, there will be a daily “fireside chat” with a top-ranking member of the Thinkers 50 list including Rita Gunther McGrath, Roger L. Martin, Alex Osterwalder, Nilofer Merchant, and Whitney Johnson.

I hope you are able to join us. I will be speaking April 24th from 4pm – 5pm EDT. My topic: Solving Difficult Problems During Difficult Times.

Make sure to register as each session is limited. Learn more and register (for free).

I hope you, your family, and your coworkers are all doing well during these crazy times.

I’ve intentionally held back on posting here for the past month. Although my new book launched 6 weeks ago today, I’ve not promoted it.

However, I do want to add value in whatever way I can.

Today, I want to add a little laughter to the world.

Several years back, a client of mine created a video that played right before I took the stage. I hope you enjoy these thought provoking yet funny quotes.

My next posts will contain content for solving difficult problems during these difficult times.

Bring Stephen’s innovation insights to your next event!