For Innovation, Don't Round up the Usual Suspects

This is the final #RCUS – Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects post. It’s one week til BIF7, time to talk about S – Suspects.  The word has a negative connotation: criminal, shady, basically no good and so does its origin.  Suspect comes from the mid 14th Century Old French suspect meaning suspicious from the Latinsuspectus/suspicere meaning look up at, mistrust, suspect, look at secretly, distrustfully.  The noun form’s first recorded use was in the 1590s.

Being suspicious is not always a bad thing.  How many of us have been viewed suspiciously because we were challenging the status quo or not playing by the rules?  If we are trying to do something new then we are suspects.  As long as what we are doing is good, benefits customers (and thereby society), creates real value (and is moral and legal), then it’s just fine to be a suspect.  When others regard us with that raised eyebrow, we know we’re on the right track.  If you haven’t been viewed suspiciously, while you may get the big corner office, so what?

Who are the suspects in your organization? How do you treat them? How do others treat them? Perhaps its time to listen to your suspects and let them collide with others in your own organization let alone the outside world.  Today’s Status Quo was once suspicious.  Think of the radical troublemakers we call our Founding Fathers who created an amazing country and democracy that still shapes the world in unprecedented ways; think of Henry Ford who dared to not only obsolete the horse & buggy but also pay his people well enough to buy what they made; think Galileo, Zweig, Watson & Crick, Tesla.  What are you doing to encourage your suspects, to put them (and yourself) in situations to make a #RCUS?  Just try.

So, go make a #RCUS – Random, at the edge, Collisions, that create energy, of Unusual, not ordinary, Suspects, suspicious challengers of the status quo.  It may be a bit scary, strange and incredibly rewarding and fun.

p.s. If you can’t make BIF-7, it will be live streaming – check the website for details!

The Unusuals Innovate

As we near major #RCUS-making at BIF7, let’s move onward to U! You and U!  We’ve discussed Random Collisions, so its time to talk about Unusual.  (I do tend to think ‘differently’ - in paradoxesoxymorons so bear with me.) Unusual created the image of a slinky in my mind: what we know greatly depends on whom we know which greatly depends on what we know which greatly depends on whom we know…iteratively in a potentially closed, yet expanding slinky spiral circle.

Therein lies the challenge! How do we expand our circle beyond the usual? How do we create intersecting circles? How do we even step out on the edge of the circle? Well, it’s not that different from how we put ourselves in situations to have Random Collisions.  Etymology first.  The word unusual is ‘not’ (un) in front of the word usual which comes from the late 13th Century Old French usuel, from the Latin usualis meaning ordinary and usus meaning custom. Not a big surprise; no big revelations.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t help thinking of Capt. Renault ‘s (Claude Rains) classic line in Casablanca, “Round up the usual suspects.” (By the way, Casablanca is one of the most quoted movies of all time!)

When we think of unusual people, we think people who are a bit different, perhaps a tad bizarre, perhaps distinguished, eccentric – different from you and me.  We usually don’t expect to meet these types of people in our everyday lives and routines, but perhaps we could!  Since I live in Oberlin, Ohio – home of the eponymous college - it’s pretty easy to meet unusual people in my ‘routine’.  But I’d posit that meeting unusuals is not just an issue of physically colliding with them, but a mindset of looking at the unusual, atypical, unique aspects of people we already know, as well as new ones we meet.  Porter Gale, in a terrific post, talks about the impact of her serendipitous encounters in seat 4C.

In the past year, at least for me, it seems the velocity of serendipitous #RCUS’s is increasing.  You know when you’re looking to get a new car you start seeing that car all over but you didn’t before?  I wonder if we start becoming attuned to look for the unusual the more unusuals we meet!  In hindsight, as I look back at the many unusuals I’ve met over the past 18 months, the collisions don’t seem as much random as somehow ordained, even destined. There is a great word in Yiddish – Bashert (באַשערט) – destined, fated, meant to be. That defines most of my #RCUS’s over the past year or so.   And these #RCUS’s, while starting out on a professional plane quickly becomes multi-dimensional – adding depth and impact.  They have led to amazing clients, colleagues, collaborators, co-conspirators, co-creators and chums.

So, in this upcoming week, can you step to the edge of your circle to meet some unusual people? To discover something unusual in the usual people you meet?  Take Good’s 30-day challenge with me and let’s share meeting unusuals this week!

Colliding Towards Innovation

My previous post on serendipity and randomness has caused a #RCUS (Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects via Saul Kaplan)!  Many of you have commented, shared personal experiences of Random “happy accidents” and cited “serendipity” research.  Thank you!

Let’s look at the 2nd letter – C: Collisions.  It originated in the early 15th Century as the Middle Frenchcollision from the same period of Latin collisionen, “a dashing together”. The definitions imply a variety of outcomes: 1) the act or process of colliding; a crash or conflict; 2) Physics: a brief dynamic event consisting of the close approach of two or more particles, such as atoms, resulting in an abrupt change of momentum or exchange of energy [emphasis mine].  While the first definition is rather violent, and innovation can arise from major clashes and conflicts, the 2nd definition is closer to type of Collision in #RCUS.

Think about the people you have met, collided into (virtually or literally), and the relationships and results – personal and professional.  Here are but a very few, examples:

  • A friend of mine deliberately collided with a very cute guy on the NYC subway (not Random) and 25 yrs. later, they are still married with a kid going to college.
  • Last year, I was on a flight, buried in my reading, as was the guy next to me.  For some serendipitous reason, we started chatting and now he’s a great client making a remarkable positive impact on his people.
  • Through 3 different collisions, I collided with the creator of My Little PonyÒ.  Sid Good is a terrific guy, fellow alum, makes me laugh a lot and together we’re working on some interesting ways to transform our region (and he’s going to BIF7!).

What do these have in common? In each of these, the collision caused a big change of momentum, an exchange of energy to say the least.  Something ‘new’ came from each of these: relationships, kids, ways to work, corporate cultures, products, and ways to collaborate.  The sum of the parts is indeed greater than the parts. The Collision formed new ‘stuff’ – intangible and tangible.  It’s not just about running into someone and having a nice chat; it’s about running into someone that creates enough energy to create more energy and more collisions.  That’s what is so exciting and energizing.  When you meet someone and create something together, isn’t that just amazing? It’s almost hard to express how profound it can be. This has, blessedly, been the story of my life at many levels, so I’m a little enthusiastic.  The power of the collisions’ outcomes can create solutions to wicked problems, can change ghettos into urban neighborhoods, can transform a stagnant corporation into a living company, can create vaccines for horrid diseases, and can change just one life.

So, my usual question – what collisions have been transformative for you? How did they happen? What new ‘thing’ came from them? Where will your next collision come from? Please continue to share your Randoms and Collisions in the comments, on twitter, or to me!  #RCUS on!

Serendipitous Innovation

As I’ve been getting ready for my ‘sabbatical’ and BIF-7, the role of serendipity has been top of mind.  Serendipity is a hot topic, especially its role in innovation. One of the best reads isJohn Hagel & John Seely Brown’s book, The Power of Pull.

Serendipity is loosely defined as a “happy accident”.  Horace Walpole created the word in a letter to Horace Mann on January 28, 1754 stating, “This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.”  The word is based on a Persian fairy tale from the 14th century titled The Three Princes of Serendip “whose heroes were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” [1] Serendip is the old name for Ceylon now known as Sri Lanka.  It stems from the Arabic Sarandib originating from the Sanskrit Simhaladvipa that translates to “Dwelling Place of Lions Island” (source: Wikipedia).  Even the origin of the word is serendipitous!

The cycle of serendipity (or not) came to me while having coffee yesterday with Valdis Krebs: “what you know depends a lot on who you know which depends a lot on what you know which depends a lot on who you know”…iteratively.  If you stay within those confines, your network remains fairly constant and self-selected.  Your chances of learning something new, of encountering ‘happy accidents’ is reduced, perhaps not zero, but not high.  It’s when you venture outside of that circle that your network, and knowledge, starts to expand - you ‘know’ more people so you ‘learn’ more which leads to knowing more people and on and on.

As I reflect upon how I know what I know, almost all of that knowledge & network has been serendipitous - Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (#RCUS), to quote Saul Kaplan.   Let’s look at Random (and then examine the other words over the next few weeks before BIF-7).  The OED defines Random as “Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard.”  Originating in the 14th Century with an unclear origin, it meant impetuosity, sudden speed, violence.  In the mid 17th Century, it took on the meaning of haphazard, from the Old French randon (v. randir “run impetuously, fast”) from the Frankish rant “running” from the prehistoric German randa.  But here’s where I think it gets very interesting.  Originally, randa meant ‘edge’ – which lead the English rand, an obsolete term for ‘edge’ (now the South African currency).[2]

It is this last, or very very early, meaning of ‘edge’ that intrigues me.  Innovation, especially disruptive innovation, comes from the edges, from the fringes.  So, for the next week or so, just try to put yourself in Random situations – situations that are not planned, not directed and even perhaps at the edge of your usual business or personal world and see what happens.  If you’re willing, please share in the comments or here.

p.s. I am a bit enamored with the entomology of words – it shows the flow and evolution of language which means of people, of societies, of commerce (words moving from Sanskrit to Arabic, from German to French to English, etc.), of culture…of our own past and future.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serendipity

[2] http://www.word-origins.com/definition/random.html

175 Years of Innovation Lessons

Suffice it to say I was honored my friend Chris Thoen would agree to talk about P&G’s Open Innovation history at the 3rd Open Innovation (OI) Summit at BW’s Center for Innovation & GrowthPractical Challenges of Global Open Innovation.  Chris has been interviewed, quoted, written about extensively as a leader in OI, and for good reason.

He opened with P&G’s 175yr old history OI.  Two brother-in-laws, William Procter (candle maker) and James Gamble (soap maker), using the same raw material, fats, were encouraged by their father-in-law to collaborate to get better ‘fat’ pricing! This was the start of P&G in 1837.  They grew the company with their own innovations and through (un-named at the time) open innovation with other technology makers and companies.  These partnerships were the foundation of P&G’s growth into 300 brands in over 180 countries, 24 billion dollar brands and most importantly, one of the most trusted names in the world.

About 10 years ago, CEO A. G. Lafley transformed P&G’s open innovation heritage into a key cultural component of the company –Connect+Develop (C+D).   This wasn’t just a way to come up with new products, but a fundamentally new way to do business.  Lafley challenged P&G to source at least 50% of their innovation from outside its hallowed R&D halls.

Chris clearly described OI as an ongoing journey requiring recognition and investment in top talent and external synergies.  When done well, OI is all about value creation for both partners, with both sets of interests in mind.  It’s about sharing your expertise and strategic needs of your brands, businesses, even corporately.  To do this, P&G has developed and put 70+ C+D leaders around the globe with 11 regional hubs (e.g., NA, LA, Europe, Israel, China, India, Japan), 100s of networks and academic partnerships.

Several products you may know are a result of OI: Swiffer, Tide, Mr. Clean eraser (1 of my faves).   Clorox’s Glad ForceFlexproduct is based on a P&G licensed technology.  Sometimes, you can even collaborate with your competitors! P&G’s technology and IP have created $3B in sales for their OI partners.

So what has P&G learned on this 10+ year journey?

  1. Drive from the Top:  Without Lafley’s challenge, commitment and leadership as CEO, it couldn’t have taken hold corporate-wide.
  2. Build an OI culture: You have to support and learn from failure, communicate openly (and often) to build trust, help your people understand the innovation process and consistently reward partnerships and results, not just patents.
  3. Focus the Hunt: Keep your eyes on the strategy at all times!  It’s what guides you; build internal relationships by sharing needs and goals; manage leadership’s expectations for reality, not for fantasy; create and communicate clear innovation selection and filtering criteria.
  4. Be Where the Action Is: get out of Cincinnati (or wherever)! You need to be where the innovation is happening and the markets exist – like developing markets, areas of VC activity, Social Media, SMEs, Academia/Universities and places with diverse expertise, cultures, ideas.
  5. Build Efficient and Effective Knowledge Management Systems: Track connections among your own people, capturing their knowledge and experience partnership nuances, deals so they are not repeated, saving time and money.  Include your partners, networks, and competitors while protecting your IP and create a way to visualize and analyze these intertwined relationships.
  6. Obey the Law of the Land: Take what you need, only what you need, and leave the rest.  Share what you’re not using because it may find a great application in another home
  7. Staff for Success: Hire and train a unique blend of Hunter-Gatherer.  This is not a typical person, but you may already have them – people who have expertise in a technology with business acumen with the ability to develop relationships, influence people, inside and outside your company.  Deliberately hire for this.  And, keep investing in R&D – doing OI doesn’t mean closing down your own R&D.
  8. Be the Partner You’re Looking For: The Golden Rule!  Celebrate your partners, look beyond the first deal with them, facilitate more connections for you and them, keep that Win:Win mindset front and center and be transparent because a second (third, fourth…) deal with the same partner takes about half the time while creating twice the value.  Remember, strong partners make you stronger as well.

Bottom line? P&G has created more value together with their OI partners than they ever could have alone.  It is a real ecosystem that creates value on a global scale to accomplish P&G’s mission: “…improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.”

Ok, so maybe you’re not P&G, but you can still start the journey.   What do you need? What do you have to offer? Who could you partner with? Just start small, doesn’t have to be huge, just a step.  Give it a try.

Don't use Best Practices, Just Practice!

One of the central tenets of 20th century business was "best practices." Let’s dissect this veritable oxymoron:

  • Best: highest quality, standing (at a point in time, place and context)
  • Practice: a habit or custom (noun) or to do repeatedly to acquire proficiency

Admittedly, and importantly, there are things to learn from others successes and failures. But one of the big mistakes companies make isadopting “best practices” instead of adapting them (to their own culture).

Companies will succeed in the 21st century by out [best] practicing their competition to exceed their customers’ and employees’ needs - by turning practice into a verb instead of a noun.

Those who develop a core competency in experimenting, prototyping, learning, applying, iterating – from success AND failure, will be the ones who provide the most meaningful, valuable offerings to customers and employees.

That’s what I call practicing! And that’s not an oxymoron.

What can you start being the best at practicing tomorrow?

Yes, Compare Apples & Oranges!!!

One of my favorite authors is the Albanian,  Ismail Kadare, and there's been a lot of discussion of the Mideast in my home. Trust me, these are related.

The media keeps comparing Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia’s futures to either Iran or what? Pakistan? Indonesia? Turkey? Always to other Mid-East, Asia, or Asia Minor countries (yes, Turkey straddles both continents, in so many ways).

No one compared these countries futures to any European country. I kept thinking about Albania. Now see the link?

Having read Kadare’s books and learning a bit of Albanian history and ‘freedom’ post-1989, it seemed Albania could be just as likely a model for Egypt as any of the others. Kind of wondered if I wasn’t a bit nuts with this analogy until Monday 2/14’s WSJ article by Matthew Kaminski.

So what in the world does this have to do with strategy and innovation? Everything! When we start creating our organization’s strategic direction (which should be a living, ongoing, adapting process) and look at how and where we can innovate, we tend to look at others ‘like us’.

This is natural, but not helpful.  Blockbuster did this, was offered the opportunity to buy another ‘near’ it, but not ‘like it’ and got Netflixed*.  What if Blockbuster had looked at those not “like us” or even combined what it did with what others did…the power of “AND”?  Apple and Best Buy have built success on not looking at those ‘like us’ AND combining what’s out there (e.g., iTunes, iPod). Who else can you think of?

So, try these two things to grow your business:

  1. Stop looking at those ‘like us’… look at those very “not like us”;
  2. Start combining…instead of asking do you want this or that, put them together!

Sometimes it’s worth comparing apples and oranges! As Capt. Renault said in Casablanca, [don’t] “Round up the usual suspects.” Go look for unusual suspects.  My friend, Saul Kaplan, puts it so eloquently: innovation is found in “random collisions of unusual suspects” – in RCUS (ruckus!) – go make a RCUS! You’ll be amazed at what you discover and learn to grow your business, your people and yourself.