Innovation Fatigue

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TED Talks, Green Ketchup, and now this. There’s a Kickstarter project for something called a smart water bottle. It’s not stupid products that bothers me, it’s the fascination “inventors” have with themselves that’s wearing thin. You don’t need all this fanfare for cranking out something that’s ultimately going to end up on a shelf at Kohl’s or mall kiosk.

Lean is wearing thin

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One of the flawed themes of the 90s Internet Bubble was “traditional laws no longer apply.” Worrying about revenue was an old economy way of thinking. Back then, the conventional wisdom was that one could just buy their customers and way to success.

Today, it’s lean this, or lean that. Cut out everything that doesn’t matter is the prevailing conventional wisdom. Waste is to be avoided at all cost. All we need to erect today’s new empires is a used futon, a laptop, and some free wifi to grift. It’s reached to the point where even thinking is a frill and therefore a waste of time.

I get the value of some austerity, but I still believe you have to spend money to make money.

Business to business spending is integral to the economy. I may be in a shrinking minority, but I feel like Capitalism is at risk if you encourage stinginess at the same time you’re ostensibly trying to make money.

Chicago Public Library Keynote

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I was honored to give the keynote at this year’s in-service day for more than 900 Chicago Public Library employees. Deputy Commissioner Andrea Saenz and Commissioner Brian Bannon invited me to speak about creativity and explain why it’s important no matter what your job or role at the library. They’re implementing a lot of changes at the library and not everyone is crazy about it. It was my job to make them feel more comfortable about the changes ahead.

Unfortunately, you can’t the slides I painstakingly selected for this preso. My part starts at 19:48.

How you react to feedback determines if something is or isn’t a prototype

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Stop splitting hairs over what is and isn’t a prototype. Just know that a prototype is an input, not an output.

Okay…but how do you know if something is an input and output? Apply this simple rule of thumb. Say you’re getting feedback about your ideas from other people. If your reaction is “great”, then it’s an input. If your reaction is “son of a bitch!”, it’s an output.

Once you no longer value feedback, you’re past the point where prototyping can help. You’re just seeking approval. You’re also not designing anymore, you’re implementing. That’s only a bad if it’s not time to implement. Figuring out the timing for that is an entirely different conversation. Stay tuned…

There are only 3 good reasons to have a meeting

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Hating meetings is clichéd. Pointless ones destroy productivity while meaningful ones recharge your batteries. The key is to know what behavior is expected of you and the attendees before heading into one.

There are only 3 good reasons to have a meeting; to analyze information, make decisions, and spread the word. Everything else should, and could be handled better by other means.

  1. Analyze Information This is what I call a divergent meeting. The purpose is to explore options with the group. Whether that’s brainstorming, gathering evidence, or examining data, a group is more effective. A group’s consensus judgement is usually more accurate than any individual’s as long as there is structure around the analysis.
  2. Make Decisions This is what I call a convergent meeting. The purpose is to make a choice and move on. Ideally, these are preceded by a divergent meeting. A simple approach is to have a vote. Instead of two options, consider three – yea, nay, and I don’t have an opinion. That last option is critical. Without it, people feel compelled to fabricate opinions which drags out the decision-making process.
  3. Spread the Word This is what I call a dissemination meeting. The purpose is to get people up to speed on decisions made. These are best lead by one or two people who make their point succinctly and open the floor to questions and answers. These require some preparation by the leader. For this, you might want to have a deck prepared.

Whether you want to get all meta and label your meetings is up to you. It really depends on how much process your culture will support. Just don’t try to initiate these rules in the middle of a meeting when you see it going sideways. You’ll only frustrate people.

The key to making this work is to lay down these rules for all meetings before having anymore. This helps people identify the general purpose of meetings and sets expectations for the desired behaviors ahead of time.

You can have more meetings and more effective meetings without adding a layer of red tape. If you try this, let me know how it worked.

Before you DIY, think DBI

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Want to reclaim a big chunk of your life? Then change your default settings.

Entrepreneurs seem to be set to DIY by default. We don’t bother to change it even when we know time is money. Not changing it though, leaves us vulnerable to worse traps later.

Last year my business, Idea Momentum, rolled out something new, a series of User Experience workshops. For years we’ve been doing them with clients and customers as part of a bigger engagement, but now we wanted to offer them at our own space.

Since we already had the workshop pieces figured out, we decided to focus on scheduling and registration. So of course, I decided we’d do those pieces ourselves. Sure it required more work, but it would be the only way to get things exactly how we wanted.

Six weeks of cussing and a few all-nighters later, we still couldn’t go live. Fed up, my partner asked, why didn’t we use Eventbrite? The only argument I had left was, “it’s not exactly what I had in mind.” Appropriately, she responded, “so what?!” An hour later, she had us up and running with Eventbrite.

In the end, something more insidious was happening. I didn’t think I was wasting time. I actually thought I was creating value. Unfortunately, it was for me and no one else. I had become my own customer. Like the lawyer who represents himself, I had a fool for a client.

Some things should be DIY, especially if they’re core to your business. Just remember to choose wisely, and don’t treat yourself like a free and infinite resource.

Meanwhile, the workshops are up and running. I have also gone back and changed my default settings. Instead of DIY, they’re now set to DBI – don’t be an idiot.

Consumers do know what they want, we just don’t like how they say it

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The meme, “It’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want” is becoming conventional wisdom due to everyone reading the Steve Jobs bio and retweeting some form of it ad nauseam.

Unfortunately most of the people aping the line are doing it out of context and using it to justify not listening to customers at all. When Jobs said it, he was responding to a question about market research. He wasn’t putting down customers. I think he thought market research was pointless. You don’t need to spend time and money asking people the same question – “if we solve your problem will you buy our product?” He already knew the answer and trusted his own judgement over those far removed from the creative process.

Most market research is optimized for collecting, processing, and normalizing. It’s totally uninspiring and mechanical by design. If you want to learn anything about someone, you need to spend some time with them in a meaningful conversation.

While Steve Jobs wasn’t great at engaging customers, he did listen, and he was genuinely interested in creating something of value for people. The challenge in talking to customers is they usually lack the vocabulary to articulate things in neat, tidy, ready-for-production concepts.

You don’t need to listen to customers if all you want are answers. If you’re looking for inspiration and the raw goods to breakthrough ideas, then you should be all ears.

When self service is the best service

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Self server blood pressure machine

I’m waiting for a flu shot at the drug store and I thought, “why can’t they dispense a vaccine with something like those blood pressure machines you see everywhere?”

While I can already hear the myriad reasons people think you can’t or shouldn’t, I still think it would go a long way to taming epidemics like the one we are currently seeing.