Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

Latest Posts

Marketers will tell you the importance of growing your network. But what if the key to long-term success is about nurturing your network? In today’s episode we explore some power of creating deep relationships versus a large number of transactions.

A question I am often asked is, “How can we market our business to attract new customers?” This implies the goal is to get more customers.

But what if (assuming you have an established business) you already have all of the customers you need? Maybe marketing is not the answer (or more accurately, the question).

I explore a number of different ways to improve your business using the lenses. The ones I focus on this week are:

  • #4: ELIMINATE – What if we stopped all marketing efforts?
  • #18: PERFORMANCE PARADOX – What if instead of selling to customers, you serve them instead?
  • #24: VARIATIONS – Focus your efforts on the clients where you can create the greatest value.

How can you build a deeper relationship with the past customers where you can make the greatest impact? This is quite different than focusing on marketing.

Download the lenses from Invisible Solutions

Submit any problems you want me to solve on the show

In 2020 I made a strategic decision to hybrid publish Invisible Solutions (vs a traditional publisher, such as Penguin who published my two previous books).

This gave me complete control over every aspect of the book: the content, the title, the cover design, the interior layout, the book  quality, etc.

I doubt a traditional publisher would let me have a purple cover with high quality glossy paper, two color interior with a centerfold.

But this is what I wanted. And fortunately, it seems to resonate with many readers

Therefore, I am honored to announce that Invisible Solutions was recently, the book was named one of twelve finalists for the best indie business books by Foreword Reviews

Thank you for everyone’s support!

P.S. The purple in their logo is not doctored. This is the actual color they use in some places.

Scaling a service-based business isn’t easy. Especially if you are a solopreneur who doesn’t want to hire employees or have expensive overhead. Short of cloning yourself or working 24 hours a day, what’s the solution?

A question I am often asked by my professional speaker, consultant, and training colleagues is, “How can we scale my service-based business without hiring a lot of employees?”

In this episode, we will address this questions by using six lenses from Invisible Solutions that will provide a half-dozen different ways to grow your business – without hiring anyone.

The lenses are:

  • #4 Eliminate – what can you stop doing?
  • #11 Resequence –how can you change the timing?
  • #12 Reassign – who can help you scale – and how?
  • #13 Access – how can you create a subscription?
  • #6 Analogy –who else has solved a similar problem?
  • #34 Variations – how can you treat different customers/clients differently?

Although this might seem like a lot of lenses, this question is so rich with opportunity that I didn’t want to shortchange listeners.

I think you’ll enjoy this one, especially if you have a service-based business.

The Problem-Solving Institute

Download the lenses from Invisible Solutions

Submit any problems you want me to solve on the show

Be skeptical any time someone tells you they have a best practice…

While speaking at a conference several years ago, I tried an experiment.

I told the audience that I had discovered the five best practices that nearly all successful people have in common. I printed these practices on a sheet of paper and invited 10 successful people in the audience to join me on stage.

I asked each of these individuals how many of these practices they used in their personal life or business. Turns out, all five practices were used by all ten of these successful entrepreneurs.

The audience gasped. They were on the edge of their seats waiting to hear the keys to the kingdom. Then I read off the five practices:

  • Read your email (at least) once a day
  • Smile (at least) once a day
  • Brush your teeth (nearly) every day
    Shower (at least) twice a week
  • Wear clothes to work

Although the successful entrepreneurs all laughed, the audience was disappointed.

But it made an important point. Any time you hear about a best practice, make sure you consider if it was the true cause of success, and not a coincidence or correlation.

The Under-sampling of Failure

For my experiment, I found five successful people knowing they would have used these silly practices. But had I taken the time to look, I would certainly have found people in the audience who used those exact practices yet weren’t nearly as successful.

This is the under-sampling of failure. We tend to focus on the winners and successes, but we don’t take time to track down the times when advice or a best practice didn’t work.

Companies that were successful in implementing a particular practice are at conferences talking about their experiences. They write books about their approaches. But what about the hundreds or thousands of companies that did exactly the same practice and failed? We don’t hear about them. They’re not being invited to speak at conferences or to write books.

We focus on those who did well, but we don’t spend any time investigating all the people who tried that same practice and weren’t successful. Why can a practice have both successes and failures? To answer this, we need to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence.

Causation, Correlation, and Coincidence

Causation means that the given practice was the actual cause of a company’s success. If they didn’t apply this practice, they would not have achieved the results they did.

But in many cases, the relationship between a practice and success is not causation but rather correlation or coincidence.
Coincidence means there is no relationship. The silly practices I shared had little or no relationship to someone’s success. Of course, if you never brush your teeth, never smile, and never read your email, it might prevent you from being successful. But doing these things will certainly not create success.

Correlation is best explained with a simple example.

Let’s assume that the following statement is true: “Individuals with greater wealth are happier.”

Most people reading this will jump to the conclusion that money makes people happy. In doing so, they assume that money is the cause of happiness. If we make money, we become happy.

But we know that this is not the case at all. Money does not cause happiness; happiness creates wealth. The happier someone is, the more they are eager to work and the more people want to work with them.

Wealth and happiness are correlated. But money doesn’t cause happiness; happiness causes wealth. The wrong causation leads people to chase wealth in the belief that they’ll be happy, and they’re never happy.

Understanding the distinction between causation, correlation, and coincidence is critical for innovation. If you’re going to apply a supposed best practice, you had better understand that the work that you’re doing and the money you’re investing will cause the success you want.

This article originally appeared on Inc.com 

It gets easy to fall into the trap of equating novelty with innovation. But they are not the same.

Value and relevancy are what matter with innovation.

In this episode, we explore how to make sure you are solving the real problem. Instead of focusing on your own strengths, identify the needs of your customers.

We also spend some time exploring lens #22: REAL BUSINESS. What business are you really in? Realizing I wasn’t in the business I thought I was helped me rethink everything I do.

To illustrate the points, I share stories from Kodak and UPS.

I also publicly announce the launch of The Problem-Solving Institute.


The Problem-Solving Institute

My Inc article on why you should not worry about novelty

Download the lenses from Invisible Solutions

Submit any problems you want me to solve on the show

In this episode, I share three useful tricks every innovator should steal from magicians. Then I share one of my favorite lenses – #24: VARIATIONS.

The three tricks to steal are:

  1. Don’t trust the brain
  2. Start with the impossible solution.
  3. Performance is as important as the method.

I also share why simplification is often the best form of innovation. The most complicated solutions is not always the best solution.

Then I talk about lens #24: VARIATIONS.

The premise of this lens is that you should not design your solutions with a one-size-fit-all strategy. Or in other words, design to handle the exception, not for the exception.

Download the lenses from Invisible Solutions

Submit any problems you want me to solve on the show

Learn more about the “Best Practices are Stupid” book where you can read my “Making the Impossible Possible” technique

When looking for solutions to your problems, it seems logical to turn to best practices for answers. But what if best practices are stupid? What if they are not the key to innovation or problem-solving and may lead you down the wrong path?

In this episode, we explore three reasons why best practices may be a bad idea:

  1. Replication is not innovation – copying someone else will not help you differentiate
  2. Context matters – just because it worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it is right for you
  3. Undersampling of failure – was the best practice really the cause of success, or is it a correlation or (even worse) a coincidence)?

We also explore lens #6: ANALOGY. Although it may appear that this lens suggest we use best practices, it actually means something quite different.

You will never hear the term “best practice” the same way ever again!

Download the lenses from Invisible Solutions

Submit any problems you want me to solve on the show

Learn more about the “Best Practices are Stupid” book

In today’s episode, we explore how concepts from linguistics can impact innovation. In particular, we dive into the distinction between surface structure and deep structure. Understanding these concepts will help you be better at strategic alignment, innovation, and problem-solving.

We first define surface structure (the words used to convey a meaning) and deep structure (the actual meaning).

Then we talk about why the deep structure is so important to the development of your mission and vision.

Next we have some fun exploring why jazz is a good metaphor for organizational design. You will even hear me play the saxophone from a speech I gave in France back in 1999.

Finally, and more important to this podcast, we explore the role of surface structure (the actual problem statement) and deep structure (the real problem) in problem solving.

I think you will find this episode to be quite thought provoking.

Download the lenses from Invisible Solutions

Submit any problems you want me to solve on the show

In this episode, we first explore a myth of productivity. Although most organizations are busier than ever and they want to “do more with less,” this is often the opposite of what is effective. Instead you want to “do less, get more.” Focus on the leverage points of your business and you will get greater productivity.

This is an example of #1: LEVERAGE – what’s the one activity that will generate the greatest results

During this, I also explore a provocative perspective: Before you can multiply, you must first learn to divide. I think you will find that there is great wisdom in this expression.

After setting the stage with these philosophies, I use them to tackle a user submitted question: How can I sell my digital product to as many people as possible?

To solve this problem, I use two lenses:

  • #3: REDUCE – how can lower our goals to achieve a better result?
  • #12: REASSIGN – who else can we involve in our work?

This episode will open your mind and get you thinking in new and different ways.

Download the lenses from Invisible Solutions

Submit any problems you want me to solve on the show

In today’s episode, we explore how changing just one word in a  problem statement can unleash an entirely new range of possible solutions – including new business models.

We explore 3 lenses in particular:

  • #15: SUBSTITUTE – change a word, including but not limited to synonyms.
  • #10: HYPERNYM – use a word that is less specific (more abstract)
  • #15: HYPONYM – use a word that is more specific (more detailed)

I share a wide range of stories from NASA, book creation, meat companies, and restaurants.

This is a powerful example of how subtle changes can have a profound impact on your solutions.

If you really want to better understand how to use the lenses, this is one that you don’t want to miss!

Download the lenses from Invisible Solutions

Submit any problems you want me to solve on the show

Search Princeton’s Hypernym/Hyponym dictionary

Get a trial subscription to the Invisible Solutions Lens Browser

Bring Stephen’s innovation insights to your next event!