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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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Travel Fan

Travel FanEach is less than $50 but will make any trip much more comfortable…

I travel a lot and comfort on the road is important to me. And with the Holiday Season upon us, many of you may be taking to the friendly skies or sleeping on someone else’s bed.

In a previous article I shared four free hacks to increase your comfort while on the road. But sometimes the best things in life aren’t free. Here are five items I never leave home without when I travel for work.

And everything on this list is under $50 at the time of writing.

Travel Fan

I find that hotel rooms have terrible ventilation. I tend to get hot at night. Therefore, I find this portable fan a life saver. Not only does it provide a nice breeze, it also provides white noise that is quite pleasant. This particular one is quite flat and packs easily. What’s also great is this fan will keep you cool on longer plane rides when there is no overhead ventilation. This has saved me many times on international flights in particular.

Portable Bluetooth Speaker + White Noise App

When traveling, I love having a good Bluetooth speaker. Yes, it is nice for listening to music. But for me, the biggest benefit is for playing sounds generated by a white noise app. The sound is rich and comforting and helps me sleep really well. There are so many great speakers on the market. For the past 5 years I’ve been using a Jambox mini (mine is an older and discontinued model). As far as white noise appes, I’ve been using Rain Rain, but there are many others that are equally great. When in a noisy hotel room, I find that white noise (or more accurately for me, brown noise) is a great way to block those pesky sounds.

Travel Thermometer

I think you are seeing a theme here with me. Sound and temperature are critical. On the temperature front, I find that having a small travel thermometer is a nice bonus. I don’t trust hotel thermostats and really like having an objective reading of the temperature. This particular one keeps track of your minimum and maximum temperature over a 24-hour period. Not necessary, but it makes me happy.

Ear Plugs

Here’s one final sound dampening product. A box of 200 ear plugs for under twenty bucks. These are amazing at blocking out sound and they are comfortable. When in hotels, I sleep with them most nights if the white noise isn’t enough to block the sound. I also bought the Bose Sleepbuds before they were discontinued; those are a game changer for me.

Dual Voltage Travel Steamer

And finally an item that has nothing to do with sound or temperature, I would rather not iron my clothes, so a good and small travel steamer is critical. I’ve been using this steamer for years and it works great. It is also dual voltage which means it works overseas without a power converter. This is critical in overseas hotels where irons are typically less frequent. When I can’t fit a travel steamer in my luggage, I bring a small spray bottle that can serve a similar purpose.


There are many other, more obvious items I travel with. For example, a 5-port USB charger or an external battery for recharging my various devices. There are some fashion accessories I always keep in my suitcase. And when I travel internationally, there are special items I bring. But these five items join me on every trip and make my travels a lot more enjoyable.

Please note, I am not recommending any particular brands and am only indicating which items I personally use. There may be better options for you. I do not get compensated in any way, or have a vested interest in any of the items listed above. These are NOT affiliate links.

This article originally appeared on the Inc. website

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Little Book of Big Innovation Ideas

Little Book of Big Innovation IdeasWriting and publishing a book can be easy when you know how…

What if you could conceive a book, write the book, and have physical copies in your hand in just two weeks? And what if it cost you nothing (other than the cost of the books)? I did this for my first self-published book many years back – and used several of the steps for my next book, Invisible Solutions. Here’s how I did it, in 10 easy steps.

Step 1: Get Clear on the Content and Format

This first step is critical. Clarity will help with the writing and editing.

  • Your book should provide the reader insights into your area of expertise. You must already be an expert and need to be able to talk about your topic for a few hours. For this to be written so quickly, you need to write a book based on your experience, not a book grounded in research.
  • For this quick book, you want to create something that is concise and easily digestible. Shoot for a final length of 100 – 150 pages.
  • Identify an overarching framework. Most business books have some type of framework that can be incorporated into the book. This can serve as the table of contents or guide the writing process.

Step 2: Record a Speech…or Just Talk

Once you have your structure, you can of course start writing. But sometimes people find it easier to start with existing content. Many of us give presentations, do training, or facilitate workshops. Buy yourself a digital recorder or use an app on your phone to record a session. If you don’t give speeches, you could record a conversation with another person. Sometimes the dialogue will help you identify content you hadn’t previously considered. And if you don’t want to involve others, just take your framework and talk to yourself. We speak about 7,500 to 9,000 words per hour. Given the book will be between 15,000 and 20,000 words, you ideally want two to four hours of talking to allow for less-than-useful content to be edited out. Feel free to transcribe old videos or podcasts you’ve already created. No need to reinvent the wheel!

Step 3: Transcribe Your Audio

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BrainstormingThe traditional approach to brainstorming is wildly ineffective. Fortunately there is a better way…

Brainstorming sessions are often the lifeblood of many corporate innovation efforts. But do they work? Not the way they are typically conducted. Here are five reasons they are typically ineffective, along with some possible solutions:

1. Poorly defined challenge

Most brainstorming sessions start with ideas. Reams of flipchart paper and Post-It notes. But often asking for ideas is a bad idea. We generate a lot suggestions, but very few have potential value or solving important problems. If you ask the wrong question to start your session (or even worse, you aren’t solving a specific problem), you will never get the right answer. Most brainstorming sessions do a poor job of thinking through the challenge.

The alternative: Instead of starting brainstorming sessions with idea gathering, get clear on the problem/opportunity you need to address. Only when you have clarity on this, should you move to solution generation. Try this powerful exercise if you want to learn more about the power of better questions – and why we tend to be bad at it.

2. Lack of Diversity

Most brainstorming sessions bring in the same people to each and every session. Usually the room is composed of people who are too close to the issue to be objective, and as a result they don’t have new points of view. Innovation only occurs when you have a wide range of perspectives.

The alternative: Make sure you identify others that have tangential perspectives – people from different departments, industries, or disciplines. This will certainly add value.

3. Group Think

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Instead of always shifting direction, sometimes the best strategy is to go deeper….

Given I have dedicated my business life to innovation, people (rightly) assume I will be innovating my business. The question I am often asked is, “What are you doing to pivot your business?”

This question implies that I am changing direction. But maybe this is the wrong question.

Lately when people ask me this, I reply, “I’m not going to pivot. I’m going to divot.”

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Technology is important to all businesses, but the human element can not be ignored…

We all want the latest and greatest technology for our businesses. But there is one important factor that needs to be addressed, as is evidenced by a recent experience of mine.

After a long trip, I arrived at a hotel ready to check in. I was immediately told, “We are sorry. Our computers are down and we can’t assign you a room.”

Given I travel as much as I do, I was understanding. These things happen. They were polite and I could see they were frustrated. I hadn’t eaten all day and was hungry so I asked, “Is there somewhere in the hotel where I can get some food?” They pointed across the lobby to the restaurant that was open.

I walked in and the place was quiet. There was one table where people were finishing their meal, with the waiter clearing their plates. I sat at the bar waiting for someone to get me a menu so that I could place my order. The people at the table left and the waiter finished cleaning. I sat there for ten minutes when the waiter eventually barked from 20 feet away across the room, “No food. Computers down.” Continue reading >>

As the prevalence of a problem decreases, we may find problems that don’t exist…

Does it sometimes feel that no matter how hard you work on solving your business problems, you never seem to make enough progress? Does it seem like you are on a treadmill going nowhere?

If so, you are not alone. In fact, it is quite common for people to make excellent progress with solving a problem, yet be unaware of that progress.

What we experience in business is common in society. Although the world is improving in so many areas, polls indicate that people believe differently.

New research by Daniel Gilbert, a well-known Harvard professor, explains why. Continue reading >>

I am pleased to announce that my next book, INVISIBLE SOLUTIONS, will be released March 3, 2020 and is NOW available now for pre-order on Amazon.com.

What’s this book about?

Solve Any Problem Faster, with Less Risk and Lower Cost

Unprecedented access to infinite solutions has led us to realize that having all of the answers is not the answer. From innovation teams to creativity experts to crowdsourcing, we’ve turned from one source to another, spending endless cycles pursuing piecemeal solutions to each challenge we face.

What if your organization had an effective and systematic approach to deal with any problem?

To find better solutions, you need to first ask better questions. The questions you ask determine which solutions you’ll see and which will remain hidden.

This compact yet powerful book contains the formulas to reframe any problem multiple ways, twenty-five lenses help you gain different perspectives. With illustrative examples and guidance, it contains everything you need to start mastering any challenge.

This book will help you…

  • discover why we are hardwired to ask ineffective questions and how to work through those barriers
  • understand the power and importance of well-defined questions
  • reframe any problem multiple ways to help you find the optimal solution
  • move from idea-based innovation to the question-based innovation that drives higher ROI

Apply just one of the lenses and you will quickly discover better solutions. Apply all of them to every problem and you will be able to solve any problem…in business and in life.

Available March 3, 2020. Advanced Reader Copies available now for the media.

The final version will be hardcover, two-color interior, with a pull-out insert. Retail price: $24.95.

Advance Praise

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The brain loves to be correct, so even when you are wrong, you get a “rush” that can increase innovation failure rates….

In a previous article, I wrote about why “wow this is a great idea” can lead to higher failure rates of your innovation efforts. This results in wasted time, money, and effort that could be invested in more valuable solutions.

We now have scientific evidence as to why this is true.

According to a recent study, “When updating beliefs about their future prospects, people tend to disregard bad news.” This has traditionally been called Confirmation Bias.

According to researcher Bojana Kuzmanovic, “In complex, confusing situations, we run the risk of making a biased judgment as soon as we prefer one conclusion over another.”

The study goes on to indicate that these judgments are not influenced by new information that contradicts the original conclusion. In other words, we ignore information that is not aligned with our beliefs.

Why? Continue reading >>

Your best source of revenue typically does not involve chasing new customers…

Over the years I have tried many methods for growing my business.

I’ve hired internet marketing firms to implement outbound marketing programs or improve my Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I’ve worked with public relations (PR) firms who secured me key spots in national newspapers, magazines, and television. And I’ve paid out large sums of money for online advertising campaigns.

The objective in each case was to expand my network, increase traffic to my website, build my mailing list, and raise awareness of my brand and services.

After all of this work and expense, I conducted a post mortem and discovered something quite interesting. Continue reading >>

We can learn a lot about innovation by studying linguistics…

The other day I found some old VHS tapes (for those a bit younger than I am, this was the predecessor to the DVD). On one was a speech I gave to a couple thousand executives about 20 years ago. I talked about a topic that fascinated me at the time, yet I did very little with the concept since. But it is as relevant today as it was two decades ago.

In linguistics, there is the concept of deep structure and surface structure. By digging into these, we can gain some insights into the way innovation really works.

Deep versus Surface Structure

The deep structure is the meaning; what you want to convey.

The surface structure is the actual configuration of words, used to express what you want to say.

When a client asked me to help them polish the words in their mission and vision statements, I passed. I didn’t feel it was a worthwhile endeavor.

When you debate the specific words that should be in your mission or vision statement, you are automatically focusing on the surface structure.

But if your goal is alignment and understanding, the words are not as important as the intent – the deep structure.

Access to the deep structure is not intellectual. It is visceral.

To do this, I suggested that the team visit/interview clients. Talk to individuals and organizations that have been impacted by their work. Talk about “why” you are in business. Have each person on the team share personal stories. Get emotional.

The specific wording of a purpose, mission or vision statement (the surface structure) is not as important as the meaning behind the words (the deep structure). This is where you tap into implicit motivations.

The Deep Structure of Your Business

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