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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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No resolutions

2020 is around the corner. Time to make some changes in your life. Right? Ready to set some resolutions?

Before you do, did you know that only 8% of people are always successful in achieving the desired results. 92% fail!

24% (one in four people) NEVER succeed and have failed on every resolution every year. That’s pretty depressing.

(if you are interested in some fascinating statistics about resolutions, read this article: Interesting New Year’s Resolution Statistics)

But all is not lost. There is a better way.

Here is an article a wrote a while ago, but is timeless: Making Resolutions That WorkIt remains one of my most often cited articles.

Or, if you prefer, you can read a variation of this article that appeared as a full-page article in the Wall Street Journal several years ago (jpg).

The general premise is that instead of setting resolutions that are specific goals you want to create themes that help guide you and your decision making throughout the year.

These themes get me excited about the New Year.  They also make activities that might have seemed tedious, more enjoyable.

What are your themes for the new year?

P.S. If you want to learn more about how to live a more “present moment” life, read Goal-Free Living  This is where I originally wrote about the concept of themes vs resolutions.

There are two different ways to write a book. Be sure to choose the best one for your style…

Writing a book can be intimidating. For some, it may seem like an insurmountable endeavor. But I assure you it is not.

Over the years I’ve met hundreds of authors. And one thing I’ve discovered is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach used by writers. Choosing the right strategy for your writing can be the difference between only having an idea for a book and actually publishing a book.

Although I know there many different approaches authors use, there are two I’ve seen used frequently.

  1. The Paint-by-Numbers Approach
  2. The Puzzle-Assembly Approach

The Paint-by-Numbers Approach

From my experience, this is most common approach to writing. You start by creating an outline. There is no rule-of-thumb for the structure. My first book had nine chapters broken into three parts, my third book had 12 chapters broken into five parts, and my previous book had 40 chapters lumped into five sections.

Then, for each chapter, identify the points (aka headers) you want to address. Three to ten headings per chapter is a reasonable number, but some people prefer more (or less) granularity.

Finally, for each header, identify the three or four supporting messages that you want to make about that topic.

The outline for my first book had nine chapters each with an average of seven headers per chapter and 4 supporting points per header for an 80,000 word book. Doing some math, you will see that I had approximately 250 parts (9 x 7 x 4) of the outline to “color in” which was on average 320 words per part. This is not a lot of words to write. For example, this section is over 280 words and the article is over 800 words.

Using this strategy, once you have the outline, it is simply a matter of “coloring inside the lines.”

This approach appeals to most people because it is linear, predictable, and relatively efficient. You know where you are going from the beginning. For many authors they do one pass through and they are done.

The downside is, you need to know the structure of what you want to say before you get started. And for some people, like yours truly, this is difficult. Although I used this first strategy for my first book, I used the second strategy for my last five books.

The Puzzle-Assembly Approach

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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

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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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