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If the Shoe Fits: Innovation vs. Marketing

Friday, September 18th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThere is a myth out there that large companies aren’t creative and don’t innovate.

Not only is it a myth, it’s pure BS.

Watch this video for a look at pure innovation as done by Samsung.

So why the persistent myth?

There’s a great answer in the comments.

In two years Apple will come out with the same thing for their semis, call it iPass, and be lauded as innovators. –CommanderCorner

It used to be that if you built a better mousetrap the world would beat a path to your door, but these days the mousetrap matters less than the mystique of the builder and the skill of the marketers.

Image credit: HikingArtist Video credit: Leo Burnett

A Different Kind of Diversity

Monday, May 18th, 2015


I’ve had a lot of inquiries lately from managers who believe their teams have lost their edge.

Productivity is fine and they innovate, but in a predictable, prosaic way.

All were facing the same problem, but none could see that the source was themselves.

It is the same problem many bosses face, including Dan, whom I wrote about seven years ago.

So rather than spend my time and their money identifying the likely cause I sent each one this link and told them to call if they needed additional help.

So far I haven’t heard from any of them.

Flickr image credit: Denise Krebs

Entrepreneurs: Another Myth-Killing Role Model

Thursday, February 5th, 2015


Myth: innovation is the province of the young.

Myth: old companies don’t innovate.

Myth: successful startups IPO.

Myth: billionaire founders live loud.

Oops. Chester Pipkin, founder, chief executive and chairman of Belkin International, blows up all these myths.

Pipkin started his company in the 1980s in his parents garage and the innovation has never stopped — from the earliest days of computing to today’s Internet of things and on to tomorrow.

The company capitalized on the early explosion in personal computing, selling devices that connected computers to printers. Through the years the company has kept pace if not stayed ahead of the changing tech landscape. In 2014, Fast Co. named Belkin one of the 10 most innovative companies specializing in the “Internet of things” thanks to its Wemo line of Internet-connected home accessories.

Belkin is still private, has 1300 employees, a billion in sales and Pipkin keeps a very low profile.

He’s low on ego and high on hands-on philanthropy, as opposed to just writing checks.

Definitely a role model for all times.

Image credit: Belkin

John Chen and Blackberry

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

10679597884_0faee4d327_mRemember Blackberry, better known as the crackberry?

Remember the almost universal predictions of its imminent demise last year?

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “The reports of its death were greatly exaggerated,” and it’s moving towards turning around.

What changed?

The boss and the culture.

When John Chen took over as CEO his workforce was demoralized—no positive news and a constant focus on the problems the company was facing.

And that’s what Chen set out to change.

Instead of a culture focused on challenges, AKA, also known as problems, he crafted a culture of innovation by doing the following (read his post for the details).

  • Create a Problem-Solving Culture
  • Maintain the Sense of Urgency (As discussed last week.)
  • Take Care of your Company like it’s your Home
  • Know Thyself
  • Empower Employees to Take Risks
  • Everyone has a Role

Although Chen is focused on turnarounds, his approach and execution is applicable to any boss who wants a culture that attracts good people, motivates them to become great and retains them because they believe in the vision, as well as enhancing innovation and juicing initiative.

As Chen says at the end of his post,

All in all, a turnaround culture is one that enables everyone to pitch in to get things done. That requires focusing on a goal, and empowering employees to take risks and go the extra mile.

That’s how you win.

Actually, that’s how you win—period.


Flickr image credit: San Churchill

Entrepreneurs: a Look at What’s Up

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

A look at what entrepreneurial minds are doing, whether they are starting a company or work at an innovative enterprise.

In May I wrote that graphene has the potential to change the world and it seems that Elon Musk plans to take advantage of it.

Tesla could soon achieve this 500-mile battery thanks to a development in graphene-based anodes, which can reportedly quadruple the density and output of lithium-ion batteries.

When I wrote about Ryan Grepper’s Kickestarter campaign to fund his reinvention of the lowly cooler in July he had raised $5M and counting. It ends tomorrow and is the most highly funded campaign ever.

However, with the financial support of 48,971 backers, Coolest Cooler has raised a whopping $10,362,461 — making it 20,721% funded. And the campaign doesn’t end until Friday.

The reinvention of the boring, unsexy butter knife is cool enough to attract boring non-shoppers with no little-to-no interest in the trendy—such as my sister. The attraction comes from the fact that it solves an annoying problem—something entrepreneurs should give more thought to doing.

The Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp, a butter knife developed by Australia’s DM Initiatives, has a built-in grater that is designed to soften butter and make it easier to spread. 

Four college guys have developed a solution for women to a problem created by guys. It’s a badly needed product that gives women a simple way to know if their drink has been doctored.

The polish — called “Undercover Colors” — will change shades if it becomes exposed to a drugged drink. (…) Simply dip your finger in the liquid. If the polish changes colors, you’ll know not to keep sipping.

When it comes to large company innovation, I’m not sure who is more impressive.

The giant that re-imagined one of the most necessary and embarrassing products on the market today or the ad agency that created a hip way to get the word out.

The company is Kimberly Clark, the product is adult diapers and the agency is Ogilvy & Mather”s New York office.

Adult diapers are used by all ages, often due to injury, and the younger the user the greater the embarrassment at the check stand.

Nearly half of those who experience some form of urinary incontinence are under 50, according the brand. Among the causes are, for women, weakened pelvic muscles that can stem from pregnancy and childbirth and, for men, prostate cancer.

Here’s the ad.

YouTube credit: Depends

Entrepreneurs: Are Investors Watering Down Innovation?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/3514537597/Innovation isn’t nearly as mind-boggling today when compared to what startups were doing in the late Seventies/early Eighties when I started working with them.

That’s not surprising when you consider who gets funded these days.

A recent Reuters report found that the majority of Silicon Valley startup founders that receive Series A funding come from the same pedigreed cohort: either they previously worked at a large, well-known tech firm, a well-connected smaller tech company, they previously created a successful startup, or they come from one of three universities—Stanford, Harvard, or MIT.

Not surprising when you consider the attitude of Valley stalwarts like Paul Graham of Y Combinator, who publically stated that he would be unlikely to fund someone with a strong accent or a woman.

It’s been 15 years since I first wrote about the proclivity of managers to hire people like themselves and more over the years showing it leads to homophily and the negative impact that has on a company.

It seems it’s no different for investors.

They are funding people like themselves who were raised, educated and worked along paths similar to their own who they either know or are introduced to them by a friend.

“Like a lot of the investments [Instacart] that have come our way, a friend of a friend talked to us about it, and told us about it, and encouraged the founder and the CEO to come and chat with us. One thing led to another.” –Sequoia partner Mike Moritz

When you fund from a homogenous group, no matter where they are, creativity and innovation are watered down, because those groups tend to be insular and badly interbred talking mostly to each other.

If you’re fishing from a pond of rich white guys, you’re only going to get ideas that address the needs of rich white guys.

AKA, people like themselves.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: When is “Startup” and “Innovative Culture” an Oxymoron?

Friday, March 7th, 2014

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here


Two questions:

  1. Are you working to build a culture of innovation in your startup?
  2. Do you live the startup mindset of 100 hour weeks, all night hackathons, 24/7 availability and no time for vacations?

If you answered ‘yes’ to both you’re in trouble, because a yes to the second sooner or later will nullify the first.

According to Marc Barros, co-founder and former CEO of Contour, there are five actions you can take to avoid killing off your golden egg, i.e., your culture of innovation.

Here they are, with my caveats (follow the link to read the originals).

  1. Offer Unlimited Vacation: while this isn’t always possible, and may not even work, making sure your people, including founders, take real vacations, which means no email, texts or emergencies. They should last a minimum of three days, but a week is much better. And if having you/them gone for that time will really crash and burn the company you have bigger problems than you realize.
  2. Let Employees Work Remotely: in addition to working remotely physically whenever possible be sure to provide an environment that promotes mental remoteness. In other words, they don’t have to think/work/act like you to achieve the desired results.
  3. Ditch the Meetings: make sure that those you do have are short and productive.
  4. Nix Department Goals: goals at all levels—department, team, personal, should always focus on what needs to happen to achieve specific, major, annual company goals (never more than three).
  5. Give Plenty of Feedback: just don’t make giving constant feedback an excuse or cover for micromanaging.

One of the biggest actions that Barros doesn’t mention, but is implicit in what he does, is trust.

If bosses don’t believe that their people really do care that the company succeeds and trusts them to make it happen then they will be unable to implement any of this.

In the comments section, Mick Thornton, who worked at Safeco Insurance (definitely large and definitely old-line), talks about the success of the team he was on.

The biggest keys to success for our team was a manager that understood broad goals saying things like “Here’s what we want the end to look like, now go figure it out. Let me know if things start to slide or go south, otherwise work how you want to meet the deliverable.”

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Adam Bryant on Culture of Innovation

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014


Twice a week Adam Bryant interviews CEOs from a myriad of companies, large and small, across the industry spectrum, for his Corner Office feature in The New York Times.

As with anyone who spends time talking with CEOs about staying competitive the constant theme he’s found boils down to one word—culture.

Now Bryant has distilled the knowledge and insights gathered from hundreds of interviews into a new book, “Quick and Nimble: Lessons From Leading C.E.O.’s on How to Create a Culture of Innovation”

The six key tenets identified should come as no surprise,

  • A Simple Plan
  • Rules of the Road (corporate values)
  • A Little Respect (embedded in the culture)
  • It’s About the Team (performance and accountability, trustworthiness and dependability)
  • Adult Conversations (frank discussions to work through disagreements and misunderstandings)
  • The Hazards of Email (ease of misunderstanding)

Not new and certainly not rocket science, but worth reading (at the very least read the article).

Good information to help you improve nimbleness and innovation in your own organization.

And a great gift if you happen to work for bosses who don’t see the point.

Flickr image credit: Joanna Lee Osborn

If the Shoe Fits: Can Six Words Change Your Company?

Friday, November 15th, 2013

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIntelligently sharing information, commenting or arguing in 140 characters or less is challenging, but can you sum up your life, career, mood or tell a story in just six (real) words?

When challenged to tell a story in six words, Ernest Hemingway came up with “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Since 2006, Smith Magazine has challenged readers to write their memoirs in six words and the effort is still going strong. Here are three examples from the Smith site,

Ecstatic, elastic, eccentric, electric, ever-changing existence!

Dreams diverted; life proceeds. Embracing detours.

Lesser people would’ve given up already.

A while back I wrote Birth, death, fun and happiness in-between, because that’s what I’ve always wanted and got from life—including obstacles and detours.

The great advantage six words have is to focus deeper thought, creativity and clarity upon the subject.

It’s fun to read through the Smith website and share your own thoughts, but much better to create your own version of it for your company.

Whether you do it digitally, on whiteboards or create a scrawl wall, it’s easy to set up a place for people to post their six-word thoughts.

In six words your people can

  • describe your culture;
  • spark creativity and innovation;
  • facilitate bonding;
  • clarify projects and goals;
  • strengthen the team; and
  • much more.

Analyzing the differing descriptions can go a long way to making sure everybody is on the same page.

It’s also a great tool to provide you with insights and a heads-up, so you can address molehills before they become mountains.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Making DIY Management Work

Friday, November 8th, 2013

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mKG Charles-Harris, EMANIO founder/CEO, sent me a link about GitHub’s lean, “DIY management strategy pulled from the open-source world” and asked me what I thought.

So I read the article.

Open source lends itself to a great culture with a few caveats.

  • All of the approaches and actions described are based on 100% superlative, open, honest, direct, no-game communications, with no exceptions, which aren’t typical of the human race.
  • Millennials are impatient and will vote more quickly with their feet; HOWEVER, that may change as they marry and take on mortgages, kids, etc. High risk is more acceptable when you have little to lose.
  • The larger/faster a company grows the more difficult to keep hiring for cultural fit; and
  • the more difficult it is to keep the micro cultures that form under each leader (whether manager or not) aligned.

There is an underlying problem with stories about cultures like GitHub’s even with in-depth explanations of how and why they work.

Too often, founders who crave the results will try to implement the strategy without taking time to lay the groundwork.

Without the right cultural MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) in place, a deep understanding of their own MAP and a good hiring process that ensures cultural fit, the results will probably be disappointing.
Image credit: Hiking Artist

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