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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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grow your business without investment

Sometimes the best strategy is to give someone a slice of your business….

Do you ever feel as though you never have enough time, money, or resources to make your business as successful as you know it could be? As a small-business owner myself, I struggle with this dilemma frequently.

Although I could take out business loans and hire employees or contractors, I would rather not take on the extra burden of having people to manage and additional bills to pay. A solution to this conundrum comes from an expression I heard many years back while speaking in Malaysia:

Before you can multiply, you must first learn to divide.

This simple expression has become a mantra of mine when it comes to scaling my business.
The idea is that if you want to grow (multiply) your business, you must learn to partner with others and give them a slice (divide). This means you take a smaller slice of a bigger pie. The added advantage is this philosophy allows you, the business owner, to focus on what matters most and what you do best. Partner with others for nearly everything else.

In my role as a professional speaker, “dividing” is a standard arrangement with speakers bureaus. They take a percentage of my speaking fee in exchange for handling everything from negotiating, contracting, logistics, travel, and invoicing. In the long run, I make more money through this arrangement while working less. They do what they do best (selling and client relationship) and I do what I do best (speaking).

I’ve used this model several times to develop products and services that I otherwise would not have created.

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Three level of product

Three level of productSometimes the best way to grow your business is to stop telling customers what to do…

No matter what business you’re in, you want leverage. Leverage simply means getting the greatest returns with the least amount of energy.

I’ve spent my entire career running service businesses, as either a business consultant or keynote speaker. There is not a lot of leverage in these, as they are time-intensive endeavors that are difficult to repeat and don’t always guarantee returns. However, service businesses can still gain leverage.

When thinking about the products your business can offer to customers, I find it helpful to categorize them into three buckets: “tell me,” “enable me,” and “do it for me.” The second of these –”enable me”–is the best source of leverage.

Let’s explore these further.

1. Tell me.

These products/services tell others how to do something. My speeches are “tell me” services. Books, CDs/MP3, DVDs/videos, training seminars, e-learning courses, and most membership sites are “tell me” products. Often when people talk about products (especially in the world of professional speaking), these are typically the types of products they are referring to. Although these products are valuable, they are also the easiest to replicate or copy, and they require the client to do all the work.

For example, if you were an expert in public relations (PR), you could write a book on the topic of “targeting and reaching out to media contacts.” The concepts of any book are easy enough for an unscrupulous competitor to copy. And more important, your client needs to do a lot of work: actually taking the time to research and call journalists.

2. Enable me.

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One of my favorite speech stories is also featured in my next book, Invisible Solutions

If you’ve flown recently, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of dealing with luggage. There’s not enough overhead space for carry-on luggage – and now you pay a premium to have the right bring your bags on. Even worse, if you check your luggage, it seems like you wait forever for your bags to arrive at baggage claim.

Is there a better way? Watch this entertaining video to learn possible solutions – and how this thought process can be used to help you solve any problem you might have


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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