Look for What's Working!

May - when spring really starts for many of us in the 'north'.  So, just a short blog - more of a request.  

This week, instead of looking at what's not working all the time, try 2 times, just 2, to find what's working, why it's working and how you can make that happen more.  Try this at work, at home, wherever you want - but please, try it - just twice, that's not asking a lot....

Find what’s working & why! #BrightSpots

Let me know how it goes! Feel free to share!

Pre-Natals vs. Post-Mortems

So often, when a project or product doesn't go well or fails, organizations do "post-mortems" - they go over what went wrong, why, sometimes rushing to blame people first instead of looking at processes.  

What if we started doing pre-natals instead of post-mortems? What if our cross-functional teams, at various steps in project or product development, examined why, what and how they were doing, what was working and why, what wasn't and why, and discussed all the things that could go wrong from that point on and why they could go wrong and how they could mitigate or eliminate those risks?  Then they could prioritize all that based on probability and possibility, make sure they are on top of those and do this regularly throughout development.

This isn't a fail-safe, but chances are a lot of problems could be caught, corrected and learned from before they happen and the more you do pre-natals, the better you'd get! 

Worth a shot isn't it? 

How to spend $200+ Billion for a Train Wreck

Once upon a time, a paragon of American innovation lost its way.  It embodied Einstein’s definition of insanity, spending over $200B for a train wreck… and they’re doing it again. The story starts in the last century and my part about 28 years ago.

In the early 90’s at AT&T, I was on a ‘special project’ with some friends to design the next generation core domestic network.  We were from Bell Labs and had “grown up” with the Internet (Arpanet, initially).  We were young and idealistic so our designed was based on the TCP/IP protocol.  This let us move anything over the network – email, faxes, images, movies, songs, phone calls, photos, anything – in real time.  We knew that with enough bandwidth, routers, redundancy and diversity, someday we’d watch or listen to concerts and movies live.   This way, we only needed 1 network (with tons of security & safeguards obviously) to handle everything.  The days of a voice-only network built on big expensive switches was over.  We presented our design to the powers that were. Answer? Nope! They thought it was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard.  [About 13 years later, a friend asked me if I still had the designs because they were looking to build that network.]

The 90’s were a battle between the network/telecom providers (AT&T, MCI, etc.) and the PC/Software maker end points (Microsoft) deciding where to put the ‘smarts’.  Microsoft et. al., felt they owned the smarts and just needed commodity dumb pipes to connect them together.  The networks knew if they didn’t have any ‘smarts’, they didn’t have any differentiable value from each other.  The smart ends would win the battle, forever commoditizing the networks. I saw this and worked on this firsthand.  It wasn’t pretty.  It led to a lot of spending with little success:

  • 1999: AT&T pays $44B to buy the cable company TCI, creating AT&T Broadband.
  • 2002: AT&T sells AT&T Broadband to Comcast for $47.5B after having invested about $58B more for a total of $102B in AT&T Broadband.
  • 2015: AT&T buys DirecTV for $49B.
  • 2016: AT&T offers to buy Time Warner (not the cable, the content) for $85B (and I don’t think this is a bargain price).

The networks lost the smart-dumb battle.  So, if it hadn’t worked before, why now? Is “Media” that different from smart-ends? Really? Maybe this is what they’re thinking:

  • AT&T is losing wireless customers with decreasing revenue/customer; 
  • DirecTV is losing customers because of cord-cutting;
  • Content drives revenue (yup, heard that 20 years ago); it uses lots of bits and time;
  • “New” Media companies are becoming networks– Facebook, Amazon, and Google (take special notice of Google – if I were AT&T, I’d worry about them non-stop).

Over 17 years, AT&T spent about $236B (BILLION) dollars to get in, out and back in to the cable and content business.   Having lived through some of this and trying to show why it wouldn’t work financially, strategically, innovatively, and a bunch of other ‘ly’s, here are at least 6 lessons I learned:

  1. If you can’t figure out how to add value to your own stuff, buying other stuff to bolt on, without understanding markets and customers, doesn’t work;
  2. Culture matters, first and only; Making acquisitions outside your traditional space is hard, it’s virtually impossible if your cultures are radically different;
  3. If you’re losing customers, DON’T buy a company in the same situation!!!
  4. If you keep repeating solutions that don’t work STOP! Either figure out something different or figure out how to be a profitable commodity… it works for Coke!
  5. Check the C-suite egos at the door; hanging out on the set of Game of Thrones isn’t worth billions to shareholders.
  6. In my next life I want to come back as a company AT&T buys.

 

What's Not There?

What a lovely home, probably somewhere out in the country.  From the crops on left, this must be a farm. From the swing set, they probably have kids (or grandkids).  The house seems to be fairly modern (look at the windows) and well maintained.  The horses look healthy.

What’s the story about this house and family?  Are they ‘weekend’ farmers who commute to jobs during the week?  Does one of them, or both, work from home? Are they full-time farmers, with the land being the main source of income?  Hard to know.

But what’s missing? Look at the photo; what’s missing?

See any cars or trucks?  Maybe the people are not at home – they’re at the store or work or a kid’s soccer game. Look closer.  Do you see any power lines going to the house? Hum… Maybe the power lines are buried.  That could be, but given the size of this house and probable acreage, I kind of doubt it. 

This is an Amish house in Lancaster County, PA.  

What if we look at what’s missing instead of just what’s there?

What if we ask why something we’d normally expect to be there isn’t?

What are we assuming is in the picture because it usually is?

What if folks are just fine with not having what’s missing?

What if they didn’t know they could even have what’s missing?

What will we discover if we start looking at what’s Not There? 

Can You Be Data-Discerning, Not Data-Driven?

Everyone says we must be data-driven.  I have trouble with that phrase, as discussed before.   Too often, we're making decisions based on the data presented...as is.  We're not asking the hard questions behind the data.

When I was at Bell Labs, we used to ask, "How much did you pay for that data?"  You can get data to say whatever you wanted depending on how it is presented and calculated, on what you show and what you don't.  

Before you start making decisions on the data in front of you, ask why it is the way it is, what's driving those numbers, what was the context, the constraints, the demographics, the sample size, the timeframe and frequency, etc. 

For instance, a company says it promotes more of its people than its competitors,  but perhaps it's 50yrs older? Perhaps its twice as large so the overall numbers are bigger? Perhaps it hasn't  in the past 5 yrs but given the number it had the previous 30, the overall number is still big.  Perhaps, perhaps - if you don't ask, you won't know and you could make decisions that are yes, based on the data in front of you, but not on the story behind that data. 

"Be Data-Discerning, Not Data-Driven"

I propose we start being data-discerning, not data-driven.... you may be surprised at what new insights you discover! 

The High Art of Designing Scaffolding

By Ian Gonsher (republished with permission)

Vasari tells us, that in preparing to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a debate arose between Bramante and Michelangelo about how to design the scaffolding necessary to proceed with the project:

The pope ordered Bramante to build the scaffolding in order to paint it [the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel]; Bramante did so by piercing the ceiling and hanging everything from ropes; upon seeing this, Michelangelo asked Bramante how, once the painting had been completed, he would be able to fill the holes; and Bramante replied, ‘We’ll worry about that later’, and added that there was no other way to do it. Michelangelo then realized that either Bramante knew little about it or he was not much of a friend, and he went to the pope and told him that this scaffolding was unsatisfactory and that Bramante had not understood how to build it; in Bramante’s presence, the pope replied that he should build one in his own way. And so Michelangelo ordered scaffolding built on poles which did not touch the wall, the method for fitting out vaults he later taught to Bramante and others, and with which many fine works were executed.[1]

A modern variation of a similar design used in the recent restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.[2]

Often, the most difficult part of any creative process is just getting started; preparing for the tasks at hand by putting the necessary structures in place that will bring the project to fruition. But scaffolding of this kind not only gives structure to the process; it demands a consideration of the tools, knowledge, and resources that are necessary for crafting novel and uncommon things.

Scaffolding can take many different forms, but in the narrowest sense, it is a tool. Woodworkers, for example and by comparison, will often design jigs to position a part in relation to a tool in order to augment the function of that tool. Like the scaffolding that Vasari describes, which was designed to bring the body of the artist into close physical proximity with the work, a jig allows the craftsperson to adapt his/her tools to act on a given material in a precise, repeatable fashion. When designing an effective jig, consideration must be given to the path through which the bit or blade will pass, and how the piece is fixed, but it must also do so in a safe manner. The design of a jig can sometimes be as interesting as the design of the piece itself.

We can further extend our definition of scaffolding to include the skills and knowledge necessary for operating the tools that advance the project, as well as to the critical engagement that is fundamental to the creative process in general. In this way, scaffolding is a form of learning. It gives structure to what we know and how we know it. Every new project comes with a new set of questions, a new set of constraints, that require new skills, and new approaches for creative problem solving.

The words we use inform the ideas in play, and those ideas give form to what is produced. Developing new language is sometimes necessary for scaffolding our understanding and communicating those insights to others. Neologisms and provisional project titles, for example, create space where new ideas can emerge.

We live in an age of abundant knowledge, where so many resources are a mouse click away. This too is a kind of scaffolding; an augmented intelligence. What are the books, tutorials, and courses necessary for mastering the appropriate skills (or at least becoming familiar enough with them to satisfy the task at hand)? Who are the mentors, experts, and partners that can help us navigate challenges as they arise? What do we need to know to make what we want to make? These are all ways we scaffold our understanding of projects.

This kind of scaffolding is nested within another, even more extensive kind of scaffolding; that of the institutions in which we operate and with which we participate. The structures of institutions dictate how we relate to one another, how we collaborate, how resources are allocated, and the kinds of spaces available for projects. Every institution structures these relationships differently, each with its own affordances and constraints, each with its own culture and values. We tend to gravitate towards institutions with which we have an affinity, and whose culture and values we are sympathetic to. But sometimes we should question these assumptions and eschew the formulas they produce. We should attempt to expand the territory of possibility and the creative dialectic in play. Like Michelangelo in Vasari’s telling, sometimes we recognize that it is necessary to dismantle inadequate scaffolding in order to design a better one, one that is more appropriate to the project at hand.

There are many ways to solve a problem or ask a question. There are many ways to structure a project. It is for these reasons, and others, that in addition to thinking of scaffolding as something that occurs prior to the task at hand, we should also consider scaffolding as something that occurs throughout the creative process, and which might require edits and adaptations as that process moves forward. Otherwise, we might find ourselves in the awkward situation of filling holes in the ceiling.

[1] Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists. Trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Print.  The unpainted portion where the scaffolding met the wall is still visible just above the lunettes, although it is not easily seen from the floor below. It is also noteworthy that the recent restoration employed a system not dissimilar to the one employed by Michelangelo.

[2] Boswell, Victor. “Sistine Chapel”. Boswell, Victor. National Geographic. December 1989.

3 Simple Words to Revolutionize the World

2.5 weeks til the magic of BIF2015.  I am blessed with the gift of my network and can't wait to see my students and clients and friends and friends-to-be. Thank you Nicha Ratana-Apiromyakij & Saul Kaplan for this honor from TIME magazine. 

"How many people end business meetings with an “I love you” and a hug? Venture capitalist and former AT&T Labs scientist Deb Mills-Scofield does.  To Mills-Scofield, to do business is to negotiate diverse personalities to get things done — and she has the gift for it. “The broader, deeper, and more diverse your network, the bigger the impact you can make on the world,” she says." Read on...

5 Reasons these 3 Steps Will Get You Those Top 4 Results

The Wizard of Oz © Turner Entertainment Co.

We love lists. If we do these 3 things, everything will be alright: our customers will shower us with accolades, our employees will ooze engagement and innovation and we will be profitable beyond belief. 

It doesn't work that way.  The path is not linear. It's not a set of prescribed turns to get to your destination. It's circuitous, it's emergent, and it requires thought.  So stop with the lists and start with the thinking...

If you want to lead, think... if you want to manage, keep reading those lists.

Why Language Matters for Everything

How many languages do you speak? Only 7% of American college kids study a language.  Think this is a problem? It is a huge socio-economic-global-geopolitical-security one!  Amelia Friedman didn't set out to start a business learning languages from her peers - like Bengali, Thai, Tamil... but she has.  We need to communicate like never before - and language is how.  So be a part of the solution - try learning a language and give to Student Language Exchange to make sure our next generation does. 

~~~~~~~~~

em·pa·thy (n): the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Building empathy has been a priority among parents and educators for decades. Why? If the next generation of leaders cares for others in their community and across the world, they just might be able to make one another’s lives better.

More recently, empathy has become a priority for business leaders. In fact, entrepreneurs regularly use empathy maps when trying to understand their target customer. Empathy has become part of an entrepreneur’s tool belt, helping them rise above the competition.

There is debate about whether empathy is something that can be taught. I believe we can teach empathy by listening to and learning from people who are different from us. By asking questions. By meeting others on their level. By immersing ourselves in another culture.

In other words: We can build empathy by learning another language.

lan·guage (n): the system of communication used by a particular community or country

Language is so much more than a collection of words and rules for the order in which they should be spoken. It includes all aspects of communication: the way you should greet someone when they’re in mourning, the requirement that a gift need be refused three times before accepted, or the importance of covering one’s hair when in public— that is all a part of language.

A language is a doorway into another culture; it paves the road toward empathy.

ex·change (n): an act of giving one thing and receiving another in return

I didn’t originally found the Student Language Exchange with the intention of changing the world. The first courses we ran were a reflection of my curiosity and the curiosity of students around me. We just wanted to learn from one another’s experiences, so we ran semester-long courses where our peers could share their languages and cultures.

We came to understand dowry practices in Kenya, limitations of French language in Haiti and the aftereffects of English colonialism in Calcutta. We gifted one another the knowledge that we had gleaned in the first 20 years of our lives. And we learned to listen, ask questions, and empathize.

My formal coursework in language didn’t always allow me to really understand the people that spoke it, and the communities I could learn about at my university were limited, mostly to those of Europe.

At last count, there were 197,757 U.S. college students studying French and 64 studying Bengali. Globally, there are 193 million people who speak Bengali and only 75 million who speak French. In fact, Arne Duncan tells us that 95% of all language enrollments are in a Western language.

We tend to learn about cultures that are similar to our own. But this is holding us back. It keeps us from building empathy, from pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, and from building bridges between peoples.

Our world isn’t perfect. Tragedies, whether man-made as in the case of the Rohingya Crisis or natural in the case of the Nepal earthquakes, plague our global society. We can’t be perfect either, but we can strive to empathize with those affected and respectfully communicate with people in these regions. Through open communication—and through connecting our privilege with their opportunity—we can do our part to make the world a little bit better.

In our SLE courses, students learn to think differently; they learn about other languages and cultures so that they can better understand different people.

I may not have originally intended to build a social enterprise, but somewhere along the way we began to see the impact we were having on our students and the communities they touched.

Today, only 7% of American college students are studying a language. Few Americans—our next-generation leaders—take the time to learn about a new culture and to build the skills they need to communicate with its stakeholders. If we can push that needle a little further to the right, we can make an immense impact.

And as these students will tell you, we already well on our way. Will you join us?

 

Amelia Friedman founded the Student Language Exchange while a student at Brown University (’14). An active advocate of global engagement, she has written about language education for the Atlantic, USA Today, Forbes, and the Huffington Post. She is the product of a marriage between a Jew from Maryland and a Catholic from Montevideo, Uruguay that demonstrate the importance of empathy every day. Amelia is a current Halcyon fellow living in Washington, DC.

In full disclosure, I have been Amelia's mentor since her time at Brown and am on the board of SLE, with great pride and admiration for her work.

What's Missing?


When we are looking for patterns, trying to understand or discover customer needs, trying to learn something in general, we tend to look for what’s there.  We look for what we see, hear, touch, smell, taste – for what we observe.  This can take time and focus.  Sometimes we have to look at the negative space as well, the empty space around the ‘thing’ we are observing.   Negative space is used a lot in art and optical illusions.  For instance, look at this key, the logo for the American Institute for Architects in New York:

It looks like a key, right? But look at the cuts in the key’s blade – it’s the NYC skyline! If you took a quick look, you might not notice that it’s a skyline, let alone NYC’s.  So when we are looking, it’s important to look at the equivalent of the ‘negative space’ around the ‘thing’ we are observing.

But what if we ‘looked’ for what’s NOT there? What if we looked for what was missing?  This sounds strange – how can you look for something that’s not there?  Maybe we’re not actually ‘looking’ in the literal sense, but we are trying to see what is missing – what should/could/ought to be there but isn’t.  In Episode 7 of Serial*, one of the lawyers says, “That’s what we’re not seeing.”  Those few words stopped me in my tracks. 

What we are NOT seeing!  We are so used to looking and making sense of what’s there that we rarely stop and look at what’s NOT there… at what’s missing.   Ok, so you can’t see something that’s not there – but maybe you can!  Maybe you can ‘see’ what is normally, typically, usually there in a certain situation or circumstance.  Its absence should raise a flag.  If you question and examine, you’ll ask why something isn’t there, or isn’t there in a way it should be.  Ask Why.  Why didn’t this happen? Why wasn’t that there? Why wasn’t that used? Why wasn’t that tightened? Why wasn’t that next to this?

So the next time you’re observing to learn – to build a new product or service or feature, to understand a customer segment or need – ask yourself what’s missing.  Ask yourself what should be there that isn’t and ask why.  Who knows what you will discover!

 

*If you haven't listened to Serial yet, you must! Aside from the 'entertainment' value which is very high, the lessons on looking, observing, over-looking, ignoring, missing are applicable to so much of our lives - personally and professionally.

Have you figured out what’s missing in the picture of the robots at the top? Do you want to know? If yes, keep reading.  If no, STOP!

(Look at Robot Robbie's center graphic with the gears; there's only 1 red ‘canister’ on the right).

Coming: Dips, Rocks and Thunderstorm

Joseph Pistrui's post from his blog really resonated with me and I thought it would with you!  Jospeh is a friend, colleague and wise man. He diverse background and expertise gives him the credibilty to speak on our very dynamic world.  So read on and please ponder.  And thank you, Joseph, for letting me repost your words here!
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A recent tweet by 7billCORPORATE (@7billcorp, part of @7billionideas) really nailed the truth about innovation and business. On 30 January 2015 via Twitter, a brilliant graphic was added to a post that contrasted the perception many people have about the path to progress and what it’s really like. Here ’tis:

Path to Progress

So many think that innovation happens quickly, smoothly, without roadblocks or bumps. And that may be true, for a few. If you are operating in a business environment in which there is a reasonably clear — and straight — line to who your future customers will be and what products and services you need to develop for them, first count your blessings and then get on the accelerator. Assuming you have the technology and know-how to make it happen, these are precisely the conditions when speed is critically important. Start. Go fast. Keep going. Don’t stop.

In these rare moments in the world of enterprise, getting to your destination as fast and efficiently as possible must be your paramount goal. The business world has countless tools for planning and eking out process improvements for such journeys, and you probably already know how to use them well.

In such cases, think of the time you may have watched with envy that shiny red Porsche Carrera speeding off down the highway with the driver pushing “pedal to the metal”. Recall the roar of all that horsepower as it reached top speed and peak performance, unchallenged by anything or anyone on the road.

Unfortunately, such an analogy isn’t the reality for most firms. “The future” for most businesses and organisations I encounter will be the kind of path that 7billCORPORATE displays. There will be dips, rocks, wobbly bridges over unknown chasms and deep water where you expected smooth pavement. Oh, and don’t forget the thunderstorms.

For most of those I meet, their future operating environment is uncertain, ambiguous and even (heaven forbid) unknowable. During their journey in time, many of the time-tested tools and techniques at their disposal will prove to be, well, not very helpful.

That does not mean that what’s needed is a new car and a new driver. Think now of that same Porsche, only this time keeping in mind its other performance capacities, such as cornering, shifting, braking and speed. This exceptionally well-engineered automobile is both ready for the high-speed straightaway as well as the curves, redirections and sudden changes of speed required to drive the rocky road to tomorrow.

Yet, if you lack the mindset to power up and power past unpredictable obstacles, you might as well be on skateboard with only one set of wheels. You’re not going to move far, fast or fearlessly. Which is why, as I work with companies large and small, I find that what’s most needed is a new leadership mindset, skillset and toolset. Too many leaders have great cars, but they lack versatility. The 21st century leader must be able to move fast when he or she knows the right direction, be cautious when the terrain is unknown or threatening, be willing to change directions when new and compelling information becomes available, and be able to stop quickly — even altogether — should the conditions for progress prove impossible.Porsche Carerra

Becoming more versatile (or ambidextrous) as a leader is no small task; but, in my experience, it is now an imperative for survival, and even more an imperative for growth. Our Nextsensing Project is about working with the mindset of any leader facing an uncertain future. No matter what kind of car he or she drives, moving into the future requires an understanding of the unique challenge at hand, the identification of the appropriate tools to use for the situation, and the building of confidence that only rough roads truly test the abilities of the vehicle — and the driver.


Porsche image from http://www.porsche-mania.com


Are You On a Salvage or Launch Mission?

 

Sunk Costs: money you spent that can’t be recovered… salvaged.  This month, I’ve been working with a few companies struggling to walking away from sunk costs. Despite how ‘obviously’ inane it may be, many companies keep throwing good money after bad.  They keep spending more money to try to salvage any use or benefit from what is sunk – down at the bottom of the sea.  In the Venture Capital world we call this financing risk – putting good money after bad on the hope that at some point, Einstein’s Law of Insanity* will be wrong and the salvage mission becomes a successful rescue mission.  Problem is this rarely happens.

So, guess what? Sunk costs are sunk. Move on. Get over it. Put your energy, time and resources into opportunities for growth, into potential launch missions.  Put good money after good money. Stop salvaging and start launching.

* Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 

Where Do You Stand?

Where we stand, physically, intellectually, and emotionally, affects what we see and how we see it.  Even when it appears we are standing in the same spot, we are in different spots.  Why? Because when we look at anything, it is through the lens of what we’ve already seen, heard, felt, known.  It’s hard to truly look at anything anew, as if we’ve never seen it before.  That’s why it’s critical to have multiple people, with multiple backgrounds, experiences, talents, and histories look at a problem from multiple perspectives.  That’s why it’s important to listen, hear, and respect them.  That’s why it’s imperative to try to see what they see how they see it – not how we want them to see it.

So where do you stand? Where do you let others stand? And do you listen? Really?

Note: I love this painting for obvious reasons and if anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know!

How Do You Calculate ROI?

 

Return on Investment (ROI), or the measurement of how effectively something will pay for itself, is a classic business metric.  The calculation defines gain in financial terms.

In today’s world, financial measures alone are too narrow . Revenue, profit, productivity, etc. are only part of the picture. We need to consider intangible returns - gains in learning, brand authenticity, and cultural improvement, for instance, which make a bigger difference in the long run. 

Never being one for convention, I’ve been experimenting with variations on the ROI theme, namely, the idea of ROImpact  (ROIm).  ROIm is how I decide which projects to take on and which to decline. It is a qualitative and quantitative metric of intangibles and tangibles.

If the cost (ImCost) is the amount of time a project will require, the impact (ImGain) is the assessment of organizational gains in terms of:

  • Culture: an innovative, interdisciplinary, authentic and diverse mindset that encourages solving customers’ pains through experimenting-learning-applying and iterating which, by the way, helps the company attract, develop and retain great talent that views giving back as joyful privilege; resulting in...
  • Customer Value: delighting customers with meaningful solutions that meet real needs within the customers’ contexts and constraints; perhaps even creating new markets and industries.

The result? An increase in revenue and profits without sacrificing culture and values . I have seen this time and time again with my own clients.

Unfortunately, many organizations still believe ROI and ROIare either incompatible or unrelated. This is false. Focusing on ROIm means focusing on outcomes, which results in improved ROI, the outputs. An organization that has maximized its ROIm has a more open and innovative mindset, understands customers’ real needs, gives employees opportunities to experiment, learn, apply, and iterate and is in the best possible position to provide value to customers, create jobs and give back to its community.

The result of combining ROIm with ROI is a virtuous cycle that returns gains in both investment and impact .  What do you think? Am I crazy? Well, of course! But the results sure aren’t. 

Big Data In Your Shampoo?

Did you wash your hair this morning? Did you know big data probably played a role in the viscosity and aroma? Maybe! This guest post by Amir Golan, VP of Business Development at Signals, shows how important it is to look for the small signals and patterns in big data that are easily lost. 

 

Interminable Growth Pains

Once upon a time, before the era of big data analytics, corporations had similarly routine business growth issues and threats: i.e.: after years of being the market leader in a specific product category, they quickly begin to lose market share, they wanted to introduce their product into a new market. In the case of the former, they typically would want to know why and how could they innovate their current product to regain their position as number one. Back then, they would run focus groups to see what customers liked/didn't like about the product and would check competitors that began to do well. Then, based on the insights drawn from this sample, the company would decide the reason for the recent losses and propose changing a feature to address that specific "pain." While it may have mitigated the clients' losses some of the time, the innovation was inevitably reactive, unscientific, and not robust nor holistic.

The Contemporary Picture and the Role of Big Data

Fast forward to today. While companies' stories start similarly, their approaches to research are completely different. Recently, a large consumer packaged goods company decided they wanted to enter the haircare world and they needed help defining the product opportunity. Through "listening" of social media, they were able to identify a need for a new type of hair product because consumers online (on Twitter, Facebook, forums) were complaining about having to mix hair wax with oil to get the texture they desire. By capturing these discussions, structuring them, and analyzing them, they then determined the size and depth of the “signal” and figured out that the demand for it was strong. By applying similar internet-scraping of competitor websites, articles, patent filings, job postings, and more, they were able to get a picture of what their competition was offering and what they were developing. By cross-analyzing the two, they determined the unmet need-- a real opportunity-- because they found a gap in the market; people wanted a hair product with a specific texture and no other companies sold or were planning to sell it.

They then took it one step further and asked, "How would you find the technology and material to meet this need?" Again, they scraped data from the open web on other industries' IP filings and academic publications providing the key feature they were looking for: a certain texture. After discovering a new material that achieves the same texture in a foot cream, they were able to shorten their time to market by finding and partnering with the leading researcher in developing this ingredient and launching their first hair product successfully. By constantly monitoring all of these data sources, the company was also alerted to new threats entering the product category, so that they could adjust proactively.

It's this sort of product intelligence, capitalizing on the infinite amounts of big data available on the open web paired with the right solutions and tools, that is enabling companies to innovate and launch better more successful products. But what is it exactly?

Product Intelligence: What Is It?

While historically easier said than done, the work this company did to increase certainty and decrease risk in new product development is increasingly feasible. Enter Product Intelligence: a new hybrid intelligence emerging from the smoke and mirrors of the Big Data and innovation jargon, that proves to be a little more practical and actionable. It provides highly targeted, real-time intelligence that serves up insights INSIDE of the new product development process at the exact moment when conclusive, authoritative insight is most needed;  when it’s literally make or break.

The secret is in connecting the analyses and insights derived from Big Data to real NPD and innovation decisions. Product Intelligence makes the stars align, ensuring that the relevant signals (i.e.: the desired hair product texture) from the right types of data (i.e.: millions of conversations on hair products) are connected together to bring the best insights to the right decision maker at the topical moment in the NPD decision process.  

So, how would you prepare for a stage gate meeting that includes a "Go/No-Go" decision on continuing to develop a specific product? Either as a member of the product team or as the "gate keeper," you might make this decision based on a gut feeling, prior experience, a partial understanding of the ecosystem, OR, increasingly, based on Product Intelligence.

Decision-makers are reveling over this research approach and solution that systematically provides a stream of evidence-backed insights that support the gate meeting's key questions, therefore reducing uncertainty and risk and optimizing the chance of developing successful products.

How Does This Change the New Product Development Process?

Let’s take it one layer deeper, and try to understand why this brings something novel and different to current approaches to research for new product development, both internal and outsourced 

Technology + Methodology

Some big data folks say “it’s the algorithm” and they are only partially right. Just as crucial is the methodology- asking the right questions from the outset that are relevant to the gate decision. That is, the decision drives the data to be collected and the questions to be asked. Then, Product Intelligence connects those questions to the right analytical models and identifies the most relevant data sources to populate the models. Instead of boiling the "big data ocean," Product Intelligence can identify the exact parameters of the needs, wants, technologies, requirements, and IP supporting a new product and optimizing its success.

Robust + Comprehensive Insights

Another major differentiator is that decision makers can rely on and feel confident with the evidence- the robustness and comprehensiveness of the evidence and insights extracted from big data increases certainty in innovation decisions. In our hair product story, for example, the product team needed a good understanding of their target consumers in order to validate their hair product needs before they progressed to the next phase. You can use traditional research methods and interview 25 people or perhaps create an expensive program and bring 500 people to focus groups. Or you can do what they did and "listen" to 1,000,000 different voices from forums to key opinion lenders and potential consumers and connect the dots between them. The layering of these unstructured voices with other structured data sets (i.e.: polls) creates a holistic and robust view of consumer segments and their needs, both met and unmet.

Reduce Investments of Time + Money

Our CPG product team was also able to dramatically reduce the investment of time and money on irrelevant concepts early on in the process. Instead of deciding to rebrand or develop a different hair product with the same texture, they understood that the texture was the reason for the loss of market share and were able to quickly and easily tweak their existing product to meet the need, provide value to the customer, and regain market share.

Real-Time Ecosystem Monitoring + Topical Decision-Making

Another unique feature of Product Intelligence is the ability to constantly monitor and update these insights in real time, which allows corporations to keep up with their rapidly-evolving ecosystems, know about threats (and opportunities) before it's too late, and strategically and proactively plan to avoid or capitalize on them.

 

Amir Golan is the VP of Business Development at Signals Intelligence Group Ltd. He manages strategic accounts and oversees Signals’s partnership program. Prior to joining Signals, Amir worked at different strategic consulting firms and worked in a variety of intelligence frameworks. Amir served as a member of the Board of Directors and of the Finance committee of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange-listed ISSTA-Lines LTD (ISTA.P) Amir earned his MBA and BA in Political Science and Middle Eastern studies from Ben Gurion University in the Negev. Follow Amir at @golan_amir.

52 Ways to Build Trust

Many thanks to Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across AmericaTM for letting me contribute to Trust Inc.: 52 Weeks of Activities and Inspiriations for Building Worldplace Trust (Vol 3.).  My mantra, Experiment-Learn-Apply-Iterate, is a way to start building trust in one's own capabilities and one's team (pg 29).  Get the book, try out these various ways and you'll be surprised at how it works! (And if you want, buy Vol 1 & 2 as well (ok, i'm in Volume 1 too)).

Death by Data

Data isn’t important in decision-making. What? Shocking! Then why aren’t we shocked when someone says that all decisions must be totally data driven? Perhaps it depends what we mean by data, which is usually something quantitative. 

We need to get out into the world and gather data by watching, observing, listening, asking – qualitative data. We don’t live in a binary world – it’s not either-or, it’s and-both.  We need quantitative and qualitative data. We need to consider both equally valid forms of data.  After all, as the sociologist William Bruce Cameron said (guess Einstein didn’t *),

Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”

Quantitative data needs to be part of the equation, part, not all.  More and more I see companies defining “data” as purely quantitative, dismissing or minimizing, at their peril, the importance of the qualitative.  Quantitative data can tell us a lot.  It an also tell us little.  Quantitative data has limitations – as does everything. These limitations are because the data usually is…

  • About existing “stuff”. It tells us about our current features, functions, customers and markets.  It tells us what customers are [stuck] using now, not what they really want.  It doesn’t tell us what our “stuff” could become or what new customers, markets and applications are out there;
  • Based in the present or the past.  We don’t have much ‘future’ data: what will, could, should or might be and what we could do to make that happen;
  • A glimpse in time.  It can be a year, five years, ten years, but it’s always piece of the bigger picture;At the Edge (Pemaquid Point, ME)
  • About the what, where, why and maybe even how, but rarely the why. Data usually doesn’t tell us much about fringe factors or trends that impact it.  It’s hard to have data show us the subtle societal, cultural, behavioral “whys” of influence;
  • Used to make things more efficient instead of more effective. Yes, efficiency (or optimization to be more eloquent) still rules for most of business today.  Data helps us figure out to eliminate unnecessary steps, improve productivity, reduce costs, etc.  Data doesn’t necessarily tell us why things need to be improved in the first place or new, different ways of doing, period.

As I like to tell my engineering students, most of today’s wicked problems aren’t optimization problems; they are system and design problems.  Think of the remote controls on your den table! Optimization issues are a symptom, not a root cause.  Data doesn’t necessarily tell us how to make the problem go away because it doesn’t tell us why the problem is there in the first place.  We have to actually get out of the office and look at how the problem is being addressed, not addressed, or not well enough by human beings.  We need to see how things are organized, structured, laid out, used, not used and under what conditions, circumstances and contexts. 

Data can tell us a whole lot about how our sites and stores and companies are working or not working, but data can’t necessarily tell us the whys – why it is or isn’t working, or working well enough. Without getting out and observing reality first-hand with all our five senses, we risk optimizing our organization into extinction. 

* http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/26/everything-counts-einstein/

Why Art Matters as much as Technology

STEM to STEAM - the "A" in STEAM stands for Art/Design...and Afghanistan Air Force.  So thrilled to write this with my amazing friend Col. Matt Fritz about how STEAM was critical to re-inventing the Afghan Air Force! Yes, some parts of our military are design thinkers!  Thank you Matt & Switch and Shift.

"We don’t think of the military as a STEAMy organization, but parts of it are. As Deb described STEAM and its role in for/not-for-profit businesses, B2B and B2C, Matt realized that much of his work in his recent deployment to Afghanistan depended on STEAM. Building a new and resurgent Afghan Air Force from the ground up, while simultaneously flying it and using it in the fight, is no typical task. It is a combination of the complex, complicated and dynamic, to put it mildly."

No Compelling Value Proposition? No Business Needed!

Alex Osterwalder & team have created the definitive easy-to/must-uses guide on how to create a compelling value proposition - Value Proposition Design.  Yes, definitive.   Any business is first and foremost about the customer, even though it seems so many have forgotten that.  If you don’t have a compelling value proposition, you don’t need a business model because you won’t have a business. 

Value Proposition Design (#VPDesign) clearly teaches how to discover customers’ real needs – the needs they have for and by themselves, not the needs we want them to have or the needs we want to solve…even if they aren’t really the customers’.  The VPDesign toolkit – which is easy to follow, use and adopt – makes it difficult to retain your own biases and see reality.

It’s not just the words. The fabulous visual and symbolic style of the book makes it easy to follow, to use as a handbook and daily tool for prototyping, testing, iterating and creating meaningful and valuable solutions for customers. The icons are memorable and can become part of your team’s lexicon for thinking about customers. Just as in Business Model Generation, this book is a tool to use daily to think about your business – internally and externally. I’ve used the VPDesign extensively with entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and for customers outside the organization and inside the organization.

So, you MUST get this book (and Business Model Generation) and start using it.  It will change how you view your business, your customers – for the better, in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.

In full disclosure, I helped co-create Alex & Yves’ first book, Business Model Generation, was a pre-reader for Value Proposition Design book and is a friend of Alex's.  And that's why I know, first-hand, how incredible and necessary these books are! Get them!!