Thursday, September 19, 2019

The music isn't in the piano

I was speaking with a long time colleague and trusted branding partner, Kevin Polonofsky from Revered recently about branding and marketing.  We were specifically discussing the idea of training people to do specific tasks that they did not have time to do, or had no passion to do.  One good example of this is innovation training.  In my work history I've done a lot of training for corporate clients on innovation methods and tools.  Many executives have asked that I train their teams, in order that the teams become more proficient at innovation.

Let me stop here and say that training, for people who have the focus and the passion to exercise the training, is exceptionally valuable.  On the other hand, training is sometimes used as a way to demonstrate that "we are doing something" but isn't intended to be put into practice, or executives don't quite know how to shape projects or opportunities that allow teams to put new learning into practice quickly.

As I was describing this phenomenon, Kevin said something I thought was profound, and I've paraphrased for the title of this blog post.  He said - "they think the music is in the piano".  When I asked him what he meant by that, he said that anyone can buy a piano but the piano does not create music.  It takes talent, training and commitment to make the music come out of the piano.  In the same way providing innovation training to teams that don't immediately start an innovation project, or who don't have the time or aren't compensated to do innovation work is pretty meaningless.

What's more, with the right training, practice and passion a good pianist can make many kinds of music from a piano, but the piano does not create the music.

Player Piano

Ah, but I can hear you say, some pianos don't need pianists.  And this is true.  Player pianos can create music without a piano player, but they are driven by a computer (today) or by a roll of paper that dictates which keys get pressed when, merely a recording of key strokes in the right order.  In the business world there is the equivalent of a player piano.  It's your existing processes and culture, which reinforce how work gets done, and ensures that for the most part work is done the same way every day and in every instance.  In fact we have perhaps the worst situation when we train internal teams on innovation.  They aren't especially interested in being pianists, and they know the piano they will be playing is already capable of playing only one song - the one it is programmed to play.

It's no wonder that many companies and teams struggle to innovate.  Most people have little time and little exposure to unmet needs, and and are so focused on getting the existing products out the door at the lowest possible cost that providing training for innovation seems almost superfluous.

Prodigies vs Practice

For some reason many businesses seem to think that their staff are prodigies when it comes to innovation.  That is, show them some innovation tools or methods at some point in their career and at their first attempt at innovation they'll create a masterpiece.  Innovation is far too unusual within an existing organization to be easy, and far too different to be completed effectively by people using tools for the first time without experience or practice.

So, this is where it all falls apart.  There are few innovation prodigies who are just naturally good at innovation, and unfortunately there are few companies where average people who aren't prodigies get to practice the tools and methods regularly.  So innovation is often attempted and rarely very successful because there are few prodigies and the rest of the people don't practice.

The best case is when people who have a passion for change and creativity are given the time they need, an opportunity or problem that challenges their thinking and the training on the tools that are necessary to do good innovation work.  In Kevin's metaphor about the piano, the music is innovation, and while the piano can make good music, it takes a prodigy or practice to bring it out.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:12 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Why I still get my Netflix movies in the mail

I'm a movie junkie - I love movies.  Old movies like Casablanca, or even new movies like John Wick 3.  Can't wait to see what John Wick can survive in the third installment.  I wore out a Blockbuster card back in the day when Blockbuster was a thing.  When I discovered Netflix, and its extensive catalog of movies, I was hooked.  Best thing about Netflix is they delivered to my mailbox.

Now, of course, Netflix and everyone else can stream movies to my TV, my laptop and my smartphone.  I even have a package (or at least AT&T says I do - they've never been able to get it to work) for HBO on my phone.  You might think with this plethora of offerings and choice I'd be a streaming guy on Netflix.  But you'd be wrong.

Why I love getting movies in the mail

I'm old school and admittedly so where movies are concerned.  My son, who is in his third year in engineering school, laughs every time I talk about my Netflix account.  Mostly I think because he can't piggy back and get downloads for free.  He could not believe we still get movies in the mail.  I thought about this fact for a while and like many things in life decided there was an innovation lesson in my approach.

It has to do with choice.  Netflix through the mail allows me to select and rank movies I'd like to watch, and I receive them one at a time. So I have unlimited choice in scheduling but exceptionally limited choice in the moment.  When it comes time to watch a movie in the evenings, we have exactly one choice.  Rather than turn to an almost unlimited selection of movies and content on the web or through a cable provider, I can say "well, I selected this one movie for a reason, so let's watch it".

For example, I've got A Clockwork Orange waiting for me at home.  If I were scanning through a long list of movies from my cable provider or from Netflix streaming, looking for movies to watch in the moment, I might think - I can always get A Clockwork Orange.  Too much opportunity and too much choice leads to difficult decision making and FOMO.  If I'm going to invest 2 hours in a movie I select on the fly it had better be good.  But when I have one choice in front of me, and one I've made from a long list of movies previously, then I'm usually happy with the selection.

Lessons for Innovators

There may be lessons here for innovators.  There is a psychological challenge known as choice overload or the paradox of choice.  This happens when people struggle to make decisions when offered too many choices.  I believe that many of our innovations fall prey choice overload, whether we are speaking of too many content choices online or too many features on a product.

Customers want to get a job done - in my case, enjoy an interesting and entertaining movie - without a lot of hassle or decision making.  When we introduce too many options and too much choice, we can provide what appears to be a greater benefit but may introduce confusion or anxiety - what if a better movie is available now?  Simply by creating a lot of content or features we create decision anxiety and increase FOMO, when a new product or service should reduce it.

There's another reason I love to get NetFlix in the mail.  My little red envelope is almost the only thing I get that isn't a bill or a flyer.  There's something almost gift-like about receiving the movie in the mail, and I think that's another lesson.  Increasingly we've lost the sense of wonder or experience with many of our products.  Apple used to strive for this, attempting to create a meaningful experience for customers when using its products, but I think they've jumped the shark lately.  What experience, emotion or unexpected gift does your product or service provide?

Do a job, simplify, create wonder

So, in closing, I'd say that innovators who create new products and services should always be asking the following questions, of themselves, their solutions and most importantly, their prospective customers:

  1. Does what I'm creating help you accomplish your job to be done?
  2. Does it do so in a way that reduces anxiety, stress or uncertainty?
  3. Does it create a new customer experience that evokes wonder or heightened experience?
  4. Will the product simplify my life and choices?
Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but these are some of the reasons I still get my Netflix movies in the mail.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:32 AM 0 comments

Thursday, September 05, 2019

If it doesn't fit, it must be innovation

Years ago, Johnny Cochrane convinced a jury that OJ Simpson was not guilty of murdering Nichole Simpson.  While there were undoubtedly many factors that led to the acquittal, one of the biggest factors was the gloves.  When OJ tried on the gloves in the witness stand, the gloves did not seem to fit his hands.  Cochrane then uttered the famous line in his closing:  if the gloves do not fit you must acquit.

Whether you think that is a compelling line of reasoning for a jury trial or not, it might not be a bad way to think about innovation.  You see, many companies cannot adequately define innovation for their employees and teams.  Sure there are interesting definitions like "innovation is a new to the world idea" or "innovation is doing new things" but these are abstract concepts.  What employees need is clarity about what is "innovation" and more importantly, which innovations are useful and acceptable and are likely to get funded.  I think Cochrane's statement leads us to a potential solution.

Why do definitions matter?

Before we dive into how Cochrane's statement is very apropos for innovation, let me just digress to extol the importance of clear communication and innovation. When communication is good and definitions are clear, people can do good work.  When communications are poor or definitions are incomplete, people generally take one of three tacks:  1) they stop working until communications are clear or definitions improve, 2) they create their own definitions and start working or 3) they fall back on what they already know and trust.  All three outcomes as described here are bad for innovation:  two (the first and third) basically revert to the status quo.  The second has the innovation team dreaming up its own activities and defining its own outcomes.

When innovating, people need to know how much change to introduce, how much risk to assume, how much impact to create.  Without that information, everything is likely to be incremental.

Does it fit?

There are perhaps two types of innovation in the definition I'd like to propose.  Neither definition is "good' or "bad" but may be helpful when considering what innovation is and which innovations are useful.  What I've found over my 15 years of innovation consulting is that innovations either "fit" with how the company thinks and does business, or they don't.  Again, we aren't trying to ascertain the potential impact or market value of an idea, but trying to define which innovations will be accepted and funded.

This is almost the same as talking about incremental innovation and disruptive innovation, or "horizon one" innovation and "horizon 3" innovation.  Innovations that fit the existing operations, product lines and business models, that serve existing and adjacent customers will "fit" the business and are very likely to be accepted.  These are incremental innovations, small changes to existing products, services or ideas that won't cost much to develop and won't introduce a lot of risk.

It does not fit

Ideas that don't fit the existing product line structure, don't serve existing customers or don't fit within the existing business model do not fit and will often fail to attract internal investment.  That's because they introduce too much risk and change.  Ideas that require a new business model require working in a new way.  Ideas that require attracting new customers require new and potentially different marketing investments.  These ideas will occasionally rise in an innovation portfolio but will rarely receive internal approval.  Ideas like these are often pursued by startups or new entrants who have less to lose than incumbents.

Value Judgements

Neither incremental (those that fit) or disruptive (those that don't fit) ideas are necessarily good or bad.  The focus and impact will depend on the context and strategy in the moment.  The problem is that most, if not all ideas are expected to fit the existing operating model, and will therefore be incremental at best.  Ideas that don't fit aren't often welcomed and face a significant number of challenges.

A good innovation portfolio will include a significant number of both types of ideas - those that fit the model and those that don't.  Constantly ignoring ideas that don't fit your model simply cedes the emerging and interesting portions of your business to competitors or new entrants.

Instead of asking - "does it fit" we should, in fact we must ask fairly often - which ideas do we have that don't fit our operating model, and how many are we investing in.  
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:44 AM 0 comments