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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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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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The key to convincing people that your innovation is great is to sell them on something other than your innovation…

“What’s the best way to sell innovation?” This was a question I was recently asked by a client.

He’s an innovation leader in his company and he wanted to sell the concept of innovation internally, to sell specific ideas internally, to sell the solutions externally, and maybe even pitch to potential investors.

I thought about books he might read. For his last need, I recommended Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal​ by Oren Klaff. This is a book I’ve read twice and listened to on audio book. It’s a brilliant approach for pitching to investors.

There were other books I considered. But in the end, when I looked at the bigger picture of his innovation challenge, I recommended some ancient wisdom: Aristotle’s “Rhetorical Triangle.” This was his approach to using language to persuade others.

The three corners of this triangle are “ethos, pathos, and logos.” Ethos is credibility, pathos is empathy, and logos is logic. I find that selling your ideas using this construct, typically in that order, leads to more persuasive arguments and more effective sales pitches.

Ethos: Credibility

First, establish your credibility. You need people to listen to you before they can truly hear your ideas. They will only listen if the think you are worthy of their time. Why should they believe you? So, before trying to sell your ideas, make sure people believe you, trust you, and want to listen to you. You want to do this without it sounding like you are hyping yourself, because that can quickly turn off listeners. Therefore it is useful to get someone else to sing your praises. Testimonials and social proof can build credibility. A warm introduction from someone who has already established credibility with your target audience can go a long way. In my role as a professional speaker, this “warming up the audience” is critical. Therefore, before taking the stage, it is customary for an executive from the client to read an introduction that establishes my credibility. If you are selling internally, then maybe this step is not necessary, or can happen very quickly.

Once people are bought into “you,” it’s time to build an emotional connection.

Pathos: Empathy

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Price drives the perception of value, and unfortunately most customers don’t understand value…

Do you know what your customers really value? When I first started my business as a professional speaker, I realized that I didn’t have a clue.

In order to find out, I did an experiment called PW3 – “Pay What We’re Worth.

Instead of using the traditional model to determine speaking fees (where the speaker sets the rate before the work is done), with PW3, as an experiment, I turned this model upside down. Instead of quoting a standard rate, the client would determine my fee after the work was done.

The plan was to send the client a blank invoice after I gave a speech, and they would pay “what they thought it was worth.”

The only stipulation was that we would have a conversation about value up front. I wanted to learn the value they got from previous speakers. How were the concepts reinforced after the presentation? How were ideas implemented? How was value measured?

What did I learn? Surprisingly, none of the companies I worked with were able to define value, at least in terms of tangible results. In fact, in nearly every situation, when I asked them how they would determine what to pay me after an event, they said, “Um, I guess we’ll pay you what we paid the last speaker.” In fact, with 90 percent of my speeches, the client asked me for my standard fee and just paid that.

If our customers aren’t the ones defining value, what drives the perception of value?

Pricing Can Determine Perception

One week after starting my speaking business back in 2001, I met with the owner of a speaker’s bureau in London to discuss representation. Bureaus are agents who place speakers with events. In the meeting he expressed serious interest. So much so that a few days later he called me about a potential gig.

The call came to my mobile phone as I waited for a train. It was difficult to hear him due to the noise on the platform. However, through the ruckus I could hear “What is your speaking fee?” I was ill prepared. I honestly had never thought about it. I did some quick calculations and pulled a number out of the air. “Thirty Five Hundred” was my response. He thanked me and hung up.

Later that day he called back. I quickly realized that he too must have had a hard time hearing me during our previous conversation, because he asked me, “Was that Thirty Five THOUSAND dollars or Thirty Five THOUSAND pounds (at the time about $60,000)?”

I stumbled for a moment, debating how to answer. I then sheepishly responded, “Thirty Five HUNDRED DOLLARS.” Again, he thanked me and hung up.

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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.

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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… Continue reading >>

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? Continue reading >>

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… Continue reading >>

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