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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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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.

I am thrilled to announce that my 6th book, Invisible Solutions, is officially available today.

You can get a copy at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, IndieBound, and other retailers.

And if you are outside of the US, it appears that Amazon is selling the book globally. You can also buy it at most independent bookstores.

The audiobook version will be available shortly.

Thank you in advance for purchasing the book.

And if you like it, please write a review on Amazon and share it with your friends.

Here’s a quick testimonial from a fellow speaker and a good friend who provided his honest feedback.


Innovation is an analytical process that involves more than just the creative few on your team…

When you think about innovation, there are usually a few creative people on your team that you turn to first for a conversation. But if those few individuals are valued more than others, you’re missing a huge opportunity. The reality is, every person in every department and function is part of the innovation team. It is not limited to right-brained creative people.

Don’t make the mistake of excluding all the people who can greatly contribute to your organization’s innovation efforts: left-brained analytical people. Engineers, technologists, accountants, lawyers, and the like. (I’m an engineer by education and a self-proclaimed left-brained nerd. And while the left-brain, right-brain dominance concept has been debunked, I find it useful to describe the different ways people think.)

Innovation is a process that starts with an important problem or opportunity and ends with something that adds value. It is not just about how many ideas you come up with, which is often equated with creativity.

To make sure your innovation efforts succeed, try involving the analytical people on your team in these three ways.

1. Focus on the right problems.

Innovation starts with data. You want to make sure you are solving the right problems and analytical people are best positioned to help you answer some important questions. What data will help you identify the greatest returns on your investment? Where can you get the most value with the least amount of effort? What will give you a sustainable competitive advantage? To know if you are targeting the right opportunities, you need information. The best people to provide this are your left-brained number crunchers.

2. Reframe your challenges.

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Are you a service-oriented business?

Are you looking to create products to support your business?

If so, this 2:45 video will provide a framework to help you create the greatest value for your customers – while helping you scale your business.

Visit www.InvisibleSolutionsBook.com to learn more about the book I refer to in the video.


Invisible Solutions

One week from today, my 6th book, Invisible Solutions, will be released.

I’ve been asked, “How long did it take to write the book?”

The answer is, “It depends.” It depends on how you look at it.

December 2 – 10, 2018, I locked myself in a hotel room and started working on the book. Although I left the hotel with the first version of the manuscript, it took a lot longer to write than just one week. In fact, upon reflection, the book took nine years to write and publish. Hopefully this article will serve as inspiration (and education) to others who want to publish a book. Enjoy!

March 2011: I submitted the final manuscript to Penguin for Best Practices are Stupid. It covered a wide range of topics related to innovation: strategy, organization structures, measures, technology, and more. One  particularly important topic was the need to ask better questions. Although I addressed why this was critical, I realized I never give readers specific tools on how to do this.

April 2011: Almost immediately after submitting the manuscript, I conceived the concept of a “Challenge Toolkit.” The idea was to create a database of “lenses” that would help people reframe their challenge statements. The database would be supported by flashcards, videos, and an expert system. The intention was to create a product that would enable users to master the process of asking better questions, taking what I did naturally and systematize it.

May 2011: I created a spreadsheet cataloging a number of lenses. Over time I added to it, collecting dozens of them. The list grew over time. Admittedly, some were better than others. Continue reading >>

Language is important.

Although I’ve spent 25 years focused on innovation, not everyone likes that word.

In this 1:56 video, I share why I often use the term problem-solving instead – and how that perspective can accelerate change in any organization.

Learn more about my latest innovation book at www.InvisibleSolutionsBook.com.


I come from a consulting background having spent 15 years with Accenture. The work we did (and they still do) is incredibly valuable. But not all companies can afford Accenture or McKinsey.

So when I was asked, what problem did I hope to solve with Invisible Solutions, I revealed that I wanted to help people solve their own problems.

Watch this 1 minute 32 second video for more insights. And visit www.InvisibleSolutionsBook.com to learn more about my book.

Bring Stephen’s innovation insights to your next event!