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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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Like millions of others, I have been playing around with ChatGPT. In an earlier post, I asked it some generic questions and got some generic responses. So I decided to put it to the test and see how it would do with my Invisible Solutions content. Can the AI system reframe problems better than the 25 lenses?

To put it to the test, I decided to ask it to solve the baggage claim problem. If you are not familiar with it, be sure to watch this video. The short version of the story is, to reduce wait time, instead of speeding up the bags, the airport slowed down the passengers.

Solutions to the Baggage Claim Problem

I asked ChatGPT:

Q: I work for an airport. People are complaining about how much they have to wait at baggage claim for their checked bags. Is there a better way to look at this problem? Are there good solutions?

A: There are a few ways you can approach this problem. Here are a few ideas: Continue reading >>

2023 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)

One key finding: there is no correlation between happiness and resolution setting/success.

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. 

It seems like everyone is playing around with ChatGPT right now. It is an AI based chatbot that can answer a wide range of text-based questions and commands.

College students are writing papers using it. Authors are playing around with it to generate titles, subtitles, and even content. People are writing social media posts using it.

I’ve been goofing around with it, and at times it is impressive. And at other times, it gets thing totally wrong. But overall, it is quite convincing and promising. So I decided to see if ChatGPT could write a blog entry for me.

I asked it: “Please write me an 800 word blog entry on why innovation is important to large organizations. Be sure to include your definition of innovation and 5 steps on how to make innovation a reality.”

Here’s its response (bolding is my way of making it more readable):

ChatGPT’s Response:

Innovation is the introduction of new ideas, processes, or products that create value for an organization. It can come in the form of a new product or service, a new business model, or a new way of doing things.

Innovation is important for large organizations for a number of reasons. Continue reading >>

I’m playing around with various AI softwares. Just for fun.

One is DreamStudio

Just give a brief description of what you want it to create, and it does it. Not always well. But it tries.

To be clear, the system does not copy and paste of stock photos. These are generated from scratch. Therefore each picture is unique – and sometimes a little weird.

Here are some fun examples:

A person with an idea yielded this:

I personally love this! I suspect it is by accident, but the threading on the lightbulb look like a head with nose, mouth and hair. Super cool

But it also yielded this, less exciting version: Continue reading >>

Today’s post is from a brilliant friend of mine, Paul Golding. I first met him over a decade ago when he was a technology wizard for 02, a large UK mobile provider. Since then, he has continued to stay on the leading edge of a variety of technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In this article, Paul outlines five of the biggest misconceptions that are preventing many businesses from unleashing the power of AI – and why you should double-down on AI during an economic downturn.

I know you’ll enjoy this!

Recent advances in AI have been staggering. Yet, business leaders in all sectors, even with strong IT competencies, continue to misinterpret the uses and benefits of AI. They do so at their peril, especially in the current downturn

Misconception #1 – “AI is Exotic and Futuristic”

Folks see the crazy world of machines that make art, write essays, or drive cars, and proceed to position AI in their mind as some kind of exotic technology done by brainiacs working at Google. AI is simply a method to find predictive patterns in data, patterns so subtle that humans cannot see them — patterns with economic value for your business.

AI can find patterns in manufacturing data, sales data, user data, marketing data, pricing data, logistics data, fitness data, health data, inventory data — your data. If you have data, you can use AI right now to boost your business, including your bottom line. The true economic power of AI lies in the mundane, not the exotic. For the curious, read my post about why AI can find patterns (warning — it’s long).

Misconception #2 – “AI is for Experts”

Whilst it’s true that impressive demonstrations take plenty of brainiac talent, the bulk of AI applications are within your reach. Notably, the Fast AI course, specifically aimed at AI newbies, has generated many students who, despite having never seen an AI algorithm or read an AI scientific paper, went on to achieve performance breakthroughs in their domains. Many of those achievers had no technical background, except for some basic coding skills. Continue reading >>

I previously started posting the 40 strategies from my Best Practices are Stupid book. But I completely forgot to include the introduction. So I am going back to that for this post. As you read this and the other chapters, please remember that this book was published back in 2011. Although the principles remain the same, some aspects have evolved since then. Enjoy!


On April 20, 2010, the environment was dealt a horrific blow. On that day, the Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded, spewing as much as 180 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf Coast of the United States. It took 87 days to cap the gushing wellhead.

In the weeks following the explosion, scientists, movie stars, and concerned citizens tried to devise ways to slow the flow. But workable solutions were hard to find and implement, as the well was nearly a mile below the surface of the ocean. Repeated attempts failed.

In an effort to find better solutions, the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command, spearheaded by BP, launched a website where anyone could submit their ideas in an online suggestion box. According to USA Today, the website received nearly 125,000 ideas; 80,000 suggestions had to do with plugging the leak and 43,000 on ways to clean up the oil.

Of these ideas, 100 were deemed as having some merit and a couple dozen were tested.

On the surface, this might appear to have been a successful endeavor; BP was able to gather lots of possible ideas to help end the disaster.

For a company that stood to lose billions of dollars in cleanup costs, relief payouts, and lost sales due to bad publicity, this approach might indeed have been a good strategy.

But the resources necessary to respond to this type of disaster typically don’t exist within most organizations. Although a workable solution may have been found using this strategy, it is unclear if that was the case. Regardless, consider how many people it would take to evaluate thousands of ideas. If one person could evaluate an idea in 30 seconds (which is optimistic, especially for a technically complex issue like this) and could dedicate 40 hours a week to the task, it would take over a half a year to evaluate that many submissions, a significant investment for any company.

With an innovation strategy like this, finding a useful idea is like finding a needle in a haystack. Or more accurately, it is like finding a needle in a stack of other needles.

Unfortunately, this innovation strategy is what many well-intentioned companies use in their quest to be more innovative. They operate under the misguided belief that getting more ideas leads to better innovation. Organizations that use this approach spend a lot of their time sorting the wheat from the chaff. And sadly, most of the ideas are chaff.

As this book will reveal, you don’t want more ideas. You want to focus your energies on finding solutions to pressing problems that enable your company to be more innovative. In fact, I’ll teach you why the key to innovating successfully involves innovating efficiently.

The popular press and innovation gurus alike often provide well-worn examples that muddy the waters on how to approach the innovation process.

Continue reading >>

Here is the second half of tip 14 from Best Practices are Stupid. Be sure to read the previous post before reading this one.

Your Customers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Innovators looking for input from consumers must assume that consumers cannot always (and may not want to) explain themselves, their behaviors, their attitudes, and their decision-making processes. The average person is only aware of about 5% of their thoughts and feelings on any given topic. When asked outright, consumers will of course provide answers, but those answers may be incomplete at best and quite misleading at worst. How often have you heard representative consumers say in response to a direct question, “I will definitely buy this product” only to see the product fail? Innovators need to find ways to bypass the rational, explicit, conscious mind and tap in the subconscious.

One way to do this is through the use of metaphors and storytelling.  Humans think and speak in metaphors. Just try expressing yourself, your ideas, your emotions and attitudes without the use of metaphor. It is almost impossible and certainly makes for a very bland conversation.  Note that even the word bland is a metaphor in this context.  Metaphors are based on human experiences and help us make sense of the world.

When Oticon wanted to overcome the shortcoming of focus groups and other traditional market research techniques, they decided to use a metaphor-driven approach involving in-depth one-on-one interviews and helps consumers express their vision of how a product might fit into their lives, fill a need, or solve a problem.  The consulting firm (Olson Zaltman) that conducted Oticon’s research, found that wearing a hearing aid was like having “a neon sign on your forehead saying, ‘I’m flawed, I’m old.’”  Now, that’s a pretty powerful metaphor.

Designworks USA, a division of BMW, uses a different approach for capturing subconscious needs of consumers.  While designing cars and other products such as cell phones, computers, and tractors, instead of starting with the basic functions and features, the company has consumers tell them stories about emotion.  Their designers first meet with company executives, employees, and customers in order to capture the emotion that customers will feel when they use this product.  This is done using sketch artists rather than words.  Only after everyone agrees on these emotions will the design of the form and style begin.

According to an Accenture study of executives in 639 companies, the number one reason for innovation failure was that their products and services “failed to meet customer needs.”  Innovators tend to build solutions around the explicitly articulated needs of consumers, often based on numerical data.  But in doing so, the “real” consumer needs are missed.  As innovators, we need to tap into the darkest recesses of the mind in order to capture what the consumer really wants.

Tip 14 from Best Practices are Stupid…remember this is from over 10 years ago. Splitting this into two posts.

Imagine you are a hearing aid manufacturer and you want to develop the next generation of product.  You conduct surveys and focus groups and discover that nearly 80% of the hearing impaired population, despite the recommendations of their health care provider, refuse to wear hearing aids, mainly citing cost as the key reason. What do you do?

The obvious answer is to find ways of producing a lower cost hearing aid.  Or is it?

Oticon, a large global manufacturer of hearing aids, wasn’t convinced.  They realized that their market research only gathered information at a “conscious” level: what the consumers said to them in focus groups and surveys.  But the company wanted deeper insights.  So they employed a number of techniques for tapping into the subconscious minds of potential customers.

They eventually discovered the real reason people did not want to wear a hearing aid: it made consumers feel flawed, stigmatized, and old, especially those individuals with early stages of hearing loss in their 40s and 50s.

Although making the devices even smaller or nearly invisible might seem like the right answer, further research found that this would only reinforce the consumer’s negative feelings, as it confirmed in their minds that a hearing aid was something to be ashamed of.

Based on these new insights, Oticon took a very different route: they made large yet fashionable hearing aids that look more like earrings and are offered in bright colors and patterns, from the colors of ones alma mater to zebra stripes. During a trial study of people who wore the device for a few weeks, some users said their friends mistook their hearing aids for Bluetooth headsets. In the end, the product was a hit with consumers and it even won several design awards.

What Oticon learned was that what consumers say in surveys and focus groups often contradicts what they actually think and feel, and how they will ultimately act.  The key is to tap into the subconscious minds of your customers because it is the subconscious mind that really drives behavior.

The Next Post: Your Customers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Tip 13 from Best Practices are Stupid. Here I explore the lessons from one of my favorite movies of all time.

In 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the nerdy archeology professor Indiana Jones advises students to “forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and ‘X’ never, ever marks the spot.”

In today’s world of data mining and customer analytics, it can be easy to study your customers from the comfort of your desk. But most likely you are only gathering data about YOUR customers. As a result, you are missing the data of former customers and people who never were customers.  As for your current customers, you will only be able to analyze their activities associated with your existing products and services; you won’t be able to identify unarticulated needs.

The real treasure can be found when you leave your office, don your fedora and bullwhip, and study customers with your own two eyes.
Anthropologists and innovation experts call this ethnography, a term used to describe any research where the purpose is to provide an in-depth description of everyday life and practices.

Instead of asking your customers questions or analyzing data, you observe them. By doing this you can find their unarticulated wants and needs.

These studies can also lead to interesting process improvements.  A manufacturer of copying machines wanted to speed up the time it took for a technician to perform copier repairs. While observing customers using their equipment, the company discovered that most repairs were relatively simple, but customers were clueless as to how to fix the problem on their own. The solution?  They supplied customers with detailed instructions on how to fix the most common jamming problems so that the customers, not technicians, could solve those problems immediately.

Whirlpool developed pedestals and storage units for its Duet front-loading washers and dryers by observing a woman who had placed her dryer upon cinderblocks to make it easier to load and unload without having to bend over.  Although the primary benefit of pedestals is to raise the appliances about a foot off the floor, making it easier to load and unload, the additional weight also helps anchor the machine, minimizing “washer walk.”  In addition, the drawers that slide out from the pedestals provide an out-of-the-way space to store bottles of laundry detergent, bleach, and fabric softener.

Get out from behind your computer and see the world – and your customers – with fresh eyes.  In doing this you are sure to discover opportunities you never expected.  And in the process you might just find gold.

[this is a condensed version of the original text]

Tip 12 from Best Practices are Stupid…

Imagine you are the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Your state is struggling with myriad issues ranging from a perpetual and growing deficit to a decaying education system to an infrastructure that can’t handle the ever-increasing population.

What do you do?

Like any good innovator, you turn to crowdsourcing, just as Governor Schwarzenegger did. He created a site designed to allow anyone to post their suggestions and comments, and vote on the best ideas.  Thousands of people participated. Which idea received the greatest support?

Did it involve reducing government spending? Did it help improve traffic and other infrastructure issues? Did it tackle educational issues? No. The winning idea was…

Legalize and tax marijuana.

Although the crowds felt that this might be the best way to solve many of the state’s woes, it didn’t solve any of the problems that the government wanted to handle.

In August 2009, a New York Times story detailed a similar effort by President Barack Obama to elicit ideas from the American public.

“The White House made its first major entree into government by the people last month when it set up an online forum to ask ordinary people for their ideas on how to carry out the president’s open-government pledge. It got an earful — on legalizing marijuana, revealing UFO secrets and verifying Mr. Obama’s birth certificate to prove he was really born in the United States and thus eligible to be president.”

Asking people for their opinions and allowing them to vote is not always the best way to run your innovation efforts.

What can we learn from all of this? Continue reading >>

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