Boosting Personal Innovation Capacity – Iterate

 Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. (I know. That’s redundant.) We hear it all the time these days, when folks talk about innovation: You have to iterate. Iterate product designs. Iterate marketing messages. Iterate business models. Systematic trial and error is embedded in all sorts of innovation processes. It’s a way to test ideas and gather feedback in order to refine those ideas and develop new ones, an endless cycle in pursuit of improvements and breakthroughs. It’s getting our hands dirty and learning from experience because testing against reality is the ultimate way to answer the myriad of questions that innovator’s face.

When done well, this iteration is not just about improving products and services and customer intelligence and profitability—as important as those things are. It’s about improving our thinking. What most distinguishes highly successful innovators from those who struggle, is their skill at systematically revising their own mental models—at iterating what’s happening inside their heads.

This is not a single mental faculty like divergent thinking or memory or language. It’s a combination of mental capabilities working in concert, and it includes what I call the four “I”s: Intuition, Impact, Information and Insight.

1)      Developing Intuition

This is coming up with fresh ideas, generating new possibilities for ourselves, options that extend beyond what we already know.

2)      Creating Impact

This is a willingness to take action despite our uncertainties. It’s exploring and experimenting, to test our hunches and intuitions.

3)      Gathering Information

This is making disciplined observations. It’s carefully noting what’s happening around us—especially as a result of our own actions, looking for exceptions and surprises that might point us in new directions.

4)      Gaining Insight

This is about making discoveries. It’s considering a variety of ways to interpret what we observe, and being slow to settle on any one explanation as we carefully interpret the data and make sense of our experience.

We’ve spent years developing tools to measure and cultivate these specific mental faculties, and we’ve found that each of them really comes down to a choice.

1)      When we need ideas, do we choose to rely primarily on our existing knowledge or pursue what we can imagine?

2)      When we decide to take action on our ideas, do we choose to apply what we’re already convinced will work, or are we willing to explore uncertain new possibilities?

3)      When we observe the consequences of our actions, do we choose to look for confirmation that we’ve chosen the right path, or are we looking for exceptions and surprises that might point us in new directions?

4)      When we interpret what we observe, do we choose to seek reinforcement of our existing beliefs, or are we trying to discover new ways of seeing things?

Iteration is not a single event, but rather a cycle—an innovation cycle— that moves through this sequence. One set of choices takes us from what we already know, to what we’re already confident will work, to what we expect to have happen, to assuming we already know what it means. In other words, it maintains the status quo and it’s exactly the kind of mental inertia that innovators must overcome.

The other set of choices takes us from developing novel possibilities to exploring those possibilities, to looking for exceptions and surprises, to seeking to discover new insights. In other words, it enables us to innovate. Each lap around the cycle produces new ideas and impacts and information and insights.

That first pattern, which I call a Knowledge Loop, does not iterate, but rather maintains stability. The second pattern, which I call an Insight Loop, is the one that iterates. We know from our research that each of these patterns is self-reinforcing. Each choice we make in favor of the Knowledge Loop increases the likelihood that we will continue to make choices in that direction. Each choice we make in favor of the Insight Loop increases the likelihood that we will continue to make choices in that direction. So, most of us get sucked into one pattern or the other.

Those tendencies can be measured. Yet they remain choices, something that we can change if we want it to. That means that understanding and recognizing these choices enables us to self-adjust, to be more iterative in our thinking, to become more innovative.

So with the right feedback, we can enable anyone (or any team or organization) to enhance their capacity to innovate—simply by making different choices, and we routinely see folks make exactly those sorts of shifts.

If this sounds intriguing, I’d be happy to demonstrate this technology for you, and I invite you to support our ongoing research. Innovator Mindset has launched a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo ( to raise money for further studies.

In exchange for your contribution, we’re offering a variety of perks that enable you to sample this technology for yourself. You’ll be helping us help others become more innovative—as you refine and strengthen your own innovation capabilities.

Posted in Personal Innovation Skills, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Silver Lining in the Goldman Sachs Dustup

Interested in using Innovator Mindset Technology in your work as an innovation consultant/trainer/coach? Check out: IM Partners

I suspect by now you’ve heard all about the scathing New York Times Opinion piece by Greg Smith, the Goldman Sachs senior executive who announced that he was resigning after twelve years with the famous (or infamous) firm because,

“…the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money,”


“I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.”

He adds,

“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.”

 According to Smith, Goldman Sachs insiders often refer to clients as,


For me it’s especially timely, having just written a couple of posts about the importance of having empathy—especially for one’s customers. My first reaction was surprise—that someone at such a high level at Goldman Sachs was willing to make such public admissions. My second reaction was, “Bravo for Mr. Smith!”

Then, later in the day I came across an unsigned editorial from the editors of Bloomberg…mercilessly attacking Greg Smith. The headline reads: Yes, Mr. Smith, Goldman Sachs is All About Making Money.

Dripping with sarcasm and caustic attacks, the piece begins:

“Apparently, when Greg Smith arrived at Goldman Sachs Group almost 12 years ago, the legendary investment firm was something like the Make-A-Wish Foundation — existing only to bring light and peace and happiness to the world.”

The editorial concludes by saying,

“Smith’s lament that the bank no longer serves (client) needs above and beyond its own does not tug at our heartstrings.”


Aside from the obvious question, “What heartstrings?” it left me almost breathless in dismay. Is this really what we’ve come to? The decision makers of a leading business publication rushing to defend the most callous business practices and gleefully attacking someone who dares suggest that there’s any role for ethics or empathy or integrity in the race to cash in? Suggesting that any such expectation is naïve and self-serving? It’s hard to imagine any more astounding lack of empathy…or civility…or any moral compass whatsoever than the Bloomberg view embodies. 

Then I began reading the posted comments and my faith in humanity was immediately restored. I haven’t tried to wade through all of the nearly 500 (and no doubt growing number of) comments, but I read many of them, and I didn’t find one that agreed with Bloomberg. On the contrary, comment after comment after comment took Bloomberg to task for its unfair attack, its deliberate oversimplification and mischaracterization of Greg Smith’s views.

So, apparently I’m not the only one who appreciated Greg Smith’s candor and was offended by Bloomberg’s attacks. If the worst impulses of capitalism have been manifested at Goldman Sachs, apparently the same virus has infected Bloomberg. After what we’ve witnessed on Wall Street in recent years, I guess that’s no surprise. But one would like to imagine that at some point the magnitude of the transgressions would begin to sink in with the transgressors. One would hope there might be some glimmer of introspection and accountability. Greg Smith gives us reason to hope there might be, while the editors at Bloomberg vividly demonstrate how far we have to go.

Thankfully, it’s now clear that simply disregarding empathy and ethics in business is not as widely embraced as Bloomberg would have us believe.

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Innovation Behavior, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Innovator’s Secret Weapon – Empathy Part 2

Interested in using Innovator Mindset Technology in your work as an innovation consultant/trainer/coach? Check out: IM Partners

How good are you at putting yourself into someone else’s shoes?

I’d like you to form a mental picture. Recall a time when as a child you felt left behind, perhaps by an impatient parent or older sibling. You were tired and having trouble keeping up but despite your complaints, they just kept going. How did you feel? Frustrated? Angry? Maybe so angry that you defiantly stood your ground and refused to even try to catch up.

If you had younger siblings, you may have been the one leaving them behind, or maybe your were a middle child who experienced both. Being left to struggle alone may have left such an impression on you that you can still remember the exact occasion when it happened…and it was not fun.

It’s a universal experience that we don’t entirely escape as adults. There are times when we may still feel left behind. Maybe it’s a social slight, or a class where we struggle to follow the instructor, or listening to a colleague’s confusing presentation. Think how you feel trying to figure out how to operate a new piece of software or camera or smart phone, especially when the documentation is poor. Do you get frustrated? Angry? (I do.)

In my last post, I talked about the importance of having empathy for your customers, but there’s another crucial way that innovators need this key personal capability. It’s when you’re pitching a new idea.

Empathy is more than knowing what someone needs or understanding how they feel. It’s more than being sympathetic. Empathy is being able to genuinely experience their emotional state, their desires and expectations and frustrations.

When you have an idea—one that’s truly a breakthrough—you’re going to be a little ahead of everyone else almost by definition (or you’re not being very innovative). Sometimes folks can quickly connect the dots and catch up, but often they can’t. You’re several steps ahead and they’re struggling to understand how you got there—and it’s not their fault that they’re struggling. On the contrary, you’re the one that found a new path, one that they’re not on yet. If anyone knows how to follow it, you do. And to clearly communicate how to find this new path, you need empathy. You need to remember what it was like to not know where the path is and the steps you went through to discover it. If you expect others to follow you, to embrace your idea, you have to begin where they are, not where you are, and explain how to reach this new destination.

In other words, it’s your responsibility to enable them to “get it.” It’s your challenge. And if you don’t have the empathy and the patience to help others see what you see, then you will likely fail to win the support you need. Adults, even more than children, have a tendency to dig in when they feel that left-behind sense of frustration, and defiantly stand their ground.

So the next time you get impatient when others don’t quickly embrace your ideas, remember what it feels like to be on the other side of that gap. You need to become skilled at figuring out where your audience is and how to bring them to where you want them to be. Take time to figure out exactly where they are coming from. Ask questions. Observe. Reflect on the context and what their role and motives may be. Anticipate their questions and concerns. Expect skepticism. Then, figure out what the intermediate steps need to be to bring them to where you are.

There’s an old saw about persuading an audience that goes: They don’t care how much you know; they want to know how much you care. Just making an effort to understand and relate to their perspective can be disarming. So show some empathy. You may find that it pays big dividends in gaining crucial allies and selling your ideas.

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Personal Innovation Skills | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Innovator’s Secret Weapon – Empathy

Interested in using Innovator Mindset Technology in your work as an innovation consultant/trainer/coach? Check out: IM Partners

Empathy may be the most valuable yet underrated attribute of a successful innovator. Steve Jobs—despite his well-deserved reputation for being surly and insensitive—had oodles of it. How else do you design and create so many products that people don’t realize they want until they see them? He understood his customers better than they understood themselves! That’s empathy. It’s being able to get inside people’s hearts and minds so deeply that you know their desires before they do.

The ability to see things through your customers’ eyes is definitely not something everyone can do. Clearly the financial industry has failed to recognize how infuriating its “gotcha” business models, with their hidden fees and inflated interest rates, are to its customers…or it just doesn’t care (which pretty much defines a lack of empathy). Add to that the we-should-be-bailed-out-but-you’re-on-your-own attitude and it’s no coincidence that the perception of the industry is so bad that people are literally marching in the streets in protest.

It’s not that you can’t bring a product to market without empathy. The software industry has been doing to for decades, with poorly designed interfaces that are anything but intuitive. And if that isn’t frustrating enough, we’ve had to endure jokes about how all of us poor buffoons can’t tell the different between a CD drive and cup holder. (Poking fun at your customers is another sure sign of a lack of empathy.) And then there’s the endless technical support phone tree that tells us—almost in so many words—that, “Your little problem isn’t really worth our time, so please take care of it online and stop bothering us.”

How empathic.

I suppose I’m undermining my own argument a little, since such practices are so widespread. They don’t seem to be putting anyone out of business. And yet, those companies that are most successful, (Again Apple comes to mind.) clearly empathize with the people they serve—and are repaid with exceptionally high levels of consumer loyalty…and profits.

We’ve recently seen a series of examples in which companies have failed miserably to show empathy for their customers—and paid a price. Netflix changed its business model and fee structure only to back pedal in the face of fierce customer resistance. Verizon did the same after announcing that it would begin charging fees for payments made with its phones. Major banks rescinded planned fees for debit cards when their customers immediately began to flee. All were cases of completely misreading consumer sentiment—a lack of empathy.

Empathy is a huge factor in entrepreneurial success. Without it, a start-up is unlikely to identify an appropriate customer, market niche or even business model. A deep understanding and empathy for the customer should guide virtually every decision an entrepreneur makes. It’s more important than product or technology or financing. When a new product or venture fails, it is almost certainly due primarily to a lack of empathy—an inability to accurately predict what the customer really wants and is willing to pay for.

How well do you really understand and empathize with your customers? How do you know? Do you buy and use your own product? Do you observe your customers as they use your product? Do you invite feedback from your customers? And when you find confusion or gaps or apathy (or outright anger), do you dismiss it? Do you blame it on customer ignorance or misunderstanding—or even accuse the customer of a lack of empathy for you? (Oh, us poor misunderstood hedge fund managers.) Or, do you genuinely strive to see the world as your customer sees it and fulfill the wants and needs that even your customers may not fully recognize.

Now that’s empathy.

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Personal Innovation Skills | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten Lessons Innovators Can Learn from Fishers

Interested in using Innovator Mindset Technology in your work as an innovation consultant/trainer/coach? Check out: IM Partners

In my last post, I used fishing and learning to fish as an analogy for innovation. I explained that having technical skills like knowing how to bait a hook doesn’t mean you know how to find and catch fish, just as having expertise doesn’t mean you know to come up with new ideas or which ideas will be successful. The critical capability isn’t knowing how to fish or having all the answers; it’s knowing how to go about finding the fish and discovering the answers we need.

There are a number of important lessons about innovation that can be taken from fishing, lessons like:

1)      To be successful, you have to keep putting your line in the water. Whether you’re trolling for fish or the next great new consumer product, you’re not likely to get there on the first attempt, and if you do it’s likely due as much to luck as to skill. You’re going to have to make multiple attempts if you expect to land the big one.

2)      The where and the when are just as important as the what. The best bait and the most skilled casting aren’t enough when you’re not where the fish are. Skill is important but so is timing and being in the right place. And you can’t always know in advance where or when that is. (See #1.) Many great ideas have come too soon or too late to succeed, or were tried in the wrong place.

3)      When it isn’t working or it didn’t work when you tried it before, that doesn’t mean it won’t ever work. Every fisher and innovator knows that sometimes things work and sometimes things don’t. What didn’t work at all yesterday might be the best solution today. The circumstances are different. The timing has changed. (See #2.)

4)      When it works, don’t assume it will keep working. Track your successes and try them again when you think it’s appropriate, but don’t assume they’ll work as well every time. A successful fisher knows a variety of techniques because both success and failure are temporary. (See #3.)

5)      Failure is part of the process.  It’s not that innovators or fishers want to fail, but they accept it and know how to apply what they learn from those failures to gradually discover success. They know that if they’re not failing they’re not really fishing…or innovating. (See #4.)

6)      Uncertainty is a given. There’s no way to be certain exactly where the fish will be biting and when you think you know. you’re probably deluding yourself. Worse, it’s an assumption that will probably lead you to stop the kind of systematic exploration you need to practice. The surest way to stop learning is to assume that you already have all the answers. (See #5.)

7)      Patience can be your greatest asset. Whether fishing or innovating, you’re going to spend far more time “pursuing” than “catching.” If you can’t find a way to enjoy that process, you’re unlikely to be successful. (See #6.)

8)      Stay humble. Former U.S. President Herbert Hoover said, “All men are equal before fish.” The uncertainties of fishing and innovation are great levelers. An innovative idea can come from anybody, and not necessarily whoever came up with one the last time, or from the experts, or from the most experienced. Even a novice can catch a whopper while the veterans get skunked. (See #7.)

9)      You can’t control all the variables. No matter how skilled we become at fishing or innovation, we can never anticipate all the challenges we may face or account for all the possible influences on the outcome. We need to become comfortable living in that uncertainty and become skilled at coping with the unknown. (See #8.)

10)  When the fish are biting, keep fishing…and don’t be surprised when they suddenly stop. (See #9.)

I suspect that the similarities  that have occurred to me are just the beginning of all the ones that can be drawn. What other comparisons would you make between fishing and innovation?

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Personal Innovation Skills | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Innovation Essentials: A Fishing Analogy

Here in Minnesota where I live, fishing qualifies as an organized religion in almost every respect except tax status. It has its traditions, rituals and orthodoxies, and its many faithful followers. It even has denominations, one for Walleye fishers, another for Northern Pike, for Bass, a smaller sect for fly fishing and so forth. To fail to participate regularly is to risk being seen as a heretic. So permit me to draw an analogy between fishing and innovation, one that I think provides some important insights.

We’ve all heard the old saw about giving someone a fish versus teaching them to fish. But there’s an added level of expertise that goes beyond teaching someone to fish—and it’s the same kind of expertise that innovation requires.

The Challenge

The Norman Rockwell image of a barefoot boy with a bamboo pole, a bobber, a hook and a worm hasn’t been real for a long time. It’s been replaced by high tech rods and reels, sonar fish finders and engines with enough horsepower to outrace a ski boat. It can be intimidating for the beginner partly because there’s so much to learn, from what kind of tackle to buy and bait to use, to what species are in or out of season. But what hasn’t changed is that the most crucial information a fisher can have is something you can never know for sure: where the fish are and what will make them bite. Knowing how to find those answers is the highest form of the art…and so it is with innovation.

Let me desribe three levels of expertise:

Level One

This is giving someone a fish, or picking up a few filets at the store—perhaps on the way home on a day when the fish weren’t biting.  It requires no special competence, other than the ability to obtain the fruits of someone else’s efforts. In a business context, it’s the path that requires the least effort and produces the least innovation.

Level Two

This is teaching someone to fish. It’s explaining what kind of tackle to use and how to use it, things like how to bait a hook and cast a line. It may include pointing out a few favorite spots where fish have been found and what bait has worked before. The instructor might be a buddy or guide who already knows the latest technology, the best places to find the fish and the best strategies to use to catch them.

For a business, this is all the expertise and experience that keep things going. It’s knowing your industry and customer and market. Education and training in most fields is aimed at building this kind expertise. It’s what makes most of us employable. We’ve learned to do a job from others who have done it before us.

Many organizations put innovation into this second category, as though it’s yet another competency or expertise that one learns and replicates. While this kind of expertise can be powerful, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll catch any fish, and it still doesn’t take you beyond what someone already knows how to do. So while Level Two thinking can at times support innovation, it’s not enough by itself.

Level Three

This is the level of the fishing tournament champion, someone who not only knows how to fish, but knows how to find the fish. It’s one thing to return to where you’ve caught fish in the past. It’s another thing to know how to systematically explore an unfamiliar lake in order to find the best fishing spots and the biggest fish. Level Three is about knowing how to figure out what you need to know. It’s in effect learning how to learn how to fish.

This Level Three kind of expertise is what defines innovation. It requires developing and pursuing hunches about where the fish or the most promising ideas may be. It demands systematic trial and error to explore those hunches—a lot of lines in the water and moving around from one potential spot to another, testing, learning and looking for clues and insights. It’s developing techniques that enable you to navigate your way through the uncertainty that’s part of both fishing and innovation, to find the answers that no one can give you.

Innovation is inherently a Level Three challenge and when we’re facing a Level Three challenge, Level Two thinking is not only inadequate; it can be counterproductive. With Level Two thinking, we tend to believe that we just need to find someone who can give us the answers. So we ask experts or mentors what they’ve done in similar situations. Their answer is likely to be more instruction on how to bait a hook. Or worse, they’ll launch into an interrogation designed to uncover what step we must have missed in their prescribed solution.

What we need to know to innovate is at a higher level: How did they figure out the best way to bait a hook in the first place? The response will sometimes be that someone taught them, a very Level Two answer. Or, they’ll tell you what they learned from their own investigation, another Level Two response. But occasionally, if you ask probing questions and they have enough self-awareness, they will reveal the process they went through. They’ll explain the systematic trial and error, the experiments, observations and reflections, the hunches they pursued and insights they gained—even the false starts and mistakes along the way. A good Level Three explanation doesn’t just cover what they learned and did; it covers how they thought about and worked through the challenge.

Even with some of the most advanced innovation techniques—as useful as they can be—you’re still operating at Level Two if you treat them simply as tools to be applied, without shifting your thinking to a higher level. Level Three thinking is taking all those things we already know and treating them as options to consider and explore, not instructions to follow. It’s asking for expert input to add to those options, not find the only correct solution. It’s exploring ways to find new answers, not just recalling what may have worked before.

Level Three thinking is about being skilled at discovery and it’s what distinguishes the most accomplished fishers and innovators.

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Personal Innovation Skills, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

An Innovation Lesson From American Idol

Sometimes we just don’t realize how misplaced or misguided we may be. When I was not long out of college, I was living in a new community doing a variety jobs, as I tried to figure out a career path. For me this was largely a process of elimination. I kept finding myself doing things I didn’t particularly like—at least not full time long term.  A few years further on, I became a journalist, and whenever someone asked why I chose that profession I told them only half joking that it was because I’d tried everything else first.

In the midst of that sorting process, I got acquainted with a young woman who was a singer in a local dinner theater, who encouraged me to try out for a job there. I thought I had a decent speaking and singing voice and I was comfortable getting up in front of people, but performing as a singer was not something I had ever pursued. Still, with her encouragement and training (She was a voice instructor.) I prepared to audition. She convinced me I could make the cut despite my thin resume…and perhaps partly because I was a paying client. She was a great cheerleader.

Then I auditioned.

Imagine a much earlier, smaller and (thankfully) more private version of American Idol. Simon would not have been impressed. I still wince a little when I recall that experience and how long it took me to realize how completely out of my league I was. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Singing is one of those skills that is difficult to evaluate in ourselves. We rely on feedback from others to determine how we’re doing. (Again, think of American Idol.) The personal capacity to innovate is a lot like that. It’s difficult to gain an accurate sense of our own creativity or analytical skills or insight. How often have you seen people either discount their creativity or exaggerate it? It’s quite common…and not just in singing competitions.

Yet organizations may place people on innovation teams, perhaps because of their relevant area of expertise, with little training in the diverse skills that innovation requires. Not just how to come up with ideas, but how to implement them, evaluate the results, gain new insights and engage in the kind of iterative thinking that innovation requires. The assumption seems to be that the process will somehow teach people to be innovative. That’s like expecting me to become a singer because I’m standing in front of an audience.

It’s unlikely that the typical employee will have already had this sort of training. Until recent years, it was nonexistent in all but a handful of academic programs. It’s still rarely part of any program that isn’t explicitly about creativity and innovation. Our schools crank out thousands of scientists, engineers, MBAs and PhDs in all sorts of disciplines who have little understanding about how to leverage their creativity. Yet they may genuinely believe they have the skills needed to do innovative work because of their subject expertise.

It may be that those who are most eager to contribute to innovation are most susceptible to the delusion I suffered. You want courageous people who are willing to take the kind of risks I took in that audition, who won’t shrink from a challenge. But if you want them to succeed, they need to be equipped with the needed innovation skills and that requires more than cheerleading.

Don’t set up your people (and your innovation agenda) to fail. Don’t create a dynamic that deludes people into thinking they have skills they don’t have. It’s not only counterproductive for your innovation efforts; it’s unfair to those people.

And…if like me, you’re someone who welcomes a new challenge, be sure you stay closely attuned to the feedback you need to accurately gauge your skills. Beware of the cheerleaders.

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Personal Innovation Skills, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Insight Trumps Knowledge

Most of us spend our lives pursuing knowledge when what we really need is insight. Throughout our education and our careers we strive to learn things that we hope will bring us success. While knowledge is certainly important, a great insight will beat it every time.

For example:

People had been experimenting with electricity for well over a century and researchers all over the world understood how it worked; one of them invented the light bulb and the infrastructure that made it viable.

Many companies knew how to make automobiles—and were doing it very profitably; a guy named Ford started doing it on an assembly line.

Many companies were selling cosmetics when one woman decided to do it in a way that provided non-traditional jobs to other women, selling to women. She created Mary Kay.

Sears and K-Mart were once two of the most successful retailers in the world. They knew their business, until a company in ruralArkansasbegan selling in places those companies considered too small to bother with and Wal-Mart overtook them.

IBMunderstood the computer business like no one else in the world—or so it thought. So it gave what it considered to be the least profitable part of a new venture to a fledgling company called Microsoft.

Thousands of entrepreneurs saw dollar signs on the Internet; one realized that the way to leverage that new medium was with, of all things, books. He called it

Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Mary Kay Ash, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos. They’re just a tiny fraction of all the examples one could give of people whose insight trumped everyone else’s knowledge. Any business school graduate could quickly list many more.

It’s no different inside organizations. Does anyone who has worked in a large company more than a few months believe that promotions go to those who “know” the most? (And even when they do, is that always good?)

One of business’ greatest truisms is that you must know your customer. Yet you can know your customer quite well and still get thumped in the marketplace—by someone who has figured out something that even your customers don’t yet know about themselves. (See above list.)

Knowledge is not only less powerful than insight; there are times when what we think we know can become one of our greatest obstacles. (IBM, Sears…)

If some genie ever offers you a choice between profound knowledge and profound insight, choose insight.

Excerpt from Thinking Clockwise, A Field Guide for the Innovative Leader

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Innovation Behavior, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Avoiding Innovation Arrogance

Interested in using Innovator Mindset Technology in your work as an innovation consultant/trainer/coach? Attend an informational Webinar

I’m certainly not the first to notice that at times some of the most innovative companies can be among the most dismissive of new approaches to innovation. Established innovation consultants are sometimes slow to innovate their own approaches and processes.

Expertise in the field of innovation, like any other expertise, can frequently become a hindrance to further progress. We get comfortable with what we know, what’s worked for us in the past, secure in the knowledge that has already brought us success—along with personal status and influence and income.

There is still so much to learn about fostering innovation and yet those who have been successful innovators, or studied what has created great innovators in the past, can lock into established ideas and defend them just as fiercely as any other entrenched discipline.

Among individuals and organizations who proudly wear the label, “innovative,” it can get downright personal. For example, we’ve long recognized the importance of being in the right frame of mind to enhance our creativity. We recognize that we can all benefit from a variety of mental strategies and techniques to help us come up with great new ideas. No one considers good ideation techniques to be a “crutch.” Using them in no ways implies any personal deficit. On the contrary, we see them as legitimate research-based tools we can use to enhance our innovation skills.

But, as I noted in my last post, when the subject turns to decision making, or gaining insight or strengthening our intuitions, the unspoken barriers begin to go up:

“What do you mean we need help making decisions?”

“Are you suggesting that I’m not insightful enough?”

“You can’t teach anyone intuition; they either have it or they don’t.”

“Some characteristics we can change about ourselves, but others we can’t.”

There’s much less willingness to explore how to enhance those capabilities…which are just as crucial to successful innovation as creative ideas. Frankly, it’s the same arrogance and defensiveness we loudly decry as the enemy of innovation in any other context.

Innovation requires that we optimize virtually every cognitive capability we possess. Not just our creativity, but our powers of observation, our analytical skills, our ability to execute effectively and yes, our humility about what we still have to learn. That doesn’t mean that we have deficits to overcome; it means we have room for further improvement.

The mistake experts so often make—including innovation experts—is assuming that expertise is cumulative, that all we need to do is keep adding to it. Innovation requires a willingness to not only learn new things, but to reconsider and revise what we already know.

The surest way to halt our progress is to conclude that we’ve already arrived. The surest way to stop learning is to assume that we already have all the answers. The surest way to stop innovating is to believe that we can’t benefit from further changes.

What are you most comfortable with when you think about your own capacity to innovate? What gives you the most confidence? Is it possible that it’s creating blind spots for you?

How are you innovating the way you innovate?

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Innovation Behavior, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Different Kind of Innovation Process Improvement

Interested in using Innovator Mindset Technology in your work as an innovation consultant/trainer/coach? Attend an informational Webinar

It’s a familiar scenario. A facilitator, either internal or external, is brought in to lead an ideation session. There may be some significant advance work done by the facilitator or participants to gather relevant data, define the problem and maybe develop some initial possibilities. Then the team is brought together, perhaps for a day, to brainstorm ideas. The facilitator may use all sorts of strategies from forced connections to images & metaphors to exploring trends and scenarios, all aimed at amplifying everyone’s creativity.

It works and the team generates a number of intriguing ideas and selects the most promising ones to pursue. Mission accomplished. The facilitator packs up the quotations and toys and goes to the next assignment. It’s a scene that’s been repeated in thousands of organizations often with great success. And, don’t misunderstand me, it can be a high value exercise. (I’m one of the people who has been doing it.)

But now what?

Maybe the marketing folks take those ideas and begin gathering customer feedback. Perhaps the most promising ideas are assigned to a project manager, or a new product champion, or are fed into the existing new product pipeline—whatever innovation processes are in place.

But something is frequently missing.

We know from extensive research that idea generation can be enhanced—sometimes dramatically—by the in-the-room strategies that are employed. We’ve learned how to leverage our creativity by getting people to think in certain ways (and stop thinking in certain ways), by adopting a certain mindset, a mindset that produces measurably better outcomes.

But once we have those ideas, we tend to think that the challenge is one of simple execution. When ideas fail in the marketplace we assume that those ideas must not have been as good as we initially thought they were. It’s all very neat and tidy and self-fulfilling: Good ideas lead to great innovations, and when they don’t, they are by definition no longer good ideas. It’s a simplistic assumption that can breed arrogance on the part of decision makers and organizations who are at times all too willing to believe that they already know how to innovate. When we see every success or failure as a consequence of the quality of the original ideas, we give ourselves a get-out-of-jail-free card that conveniently ignores the role that subsequent decisions and strategies may have played

Maybe part of the problem is the mindset outside the room. Maybe the same level of creativity and spontaneity, of improvisation and exploration that fuels those ideas in the first place, is needed throughout the innovation cycle. Clearly intuition and imagination and insight continue to play an important role in raising an infant idea to successful maturity. Who facilitates that part of the process? Where are the tricks and techniques, the mental exercises, the creativity prompts, the disciplined observation and discovery throughout the rest of the innovation cycle?

There are plenty of opportunities to optimize other steps in the innovation cycle, and not just process improvements but improvements in how people think about and mentally process those challenges. How are promising ideas nurtured and developed? How are needed course corrections identified and implemented? How do we learn from mistakes and failures? How do we identify not just the failed ideas, but failed implementations and distinguish between the two? How do we assure that teams are interacting in ways that promote rather than hinder progress? These are cognitive tasks that are just as much in need of optimization as the original ideation.

Experienced innovators and entrepreneurs know that the implementation of their ideas takes just as much skill and savvy and artistry as coming up with those ideas—often more. But as teams and organizations we’ve been remarkably slow to recognize the crucial role that mindset plays…at every step, every decision, every action taken in pursuit of innovation.

It’s no secret that great new ideas—as important as they are—are only one step in that journey. It’s also no secret that success in the marketplace is achieved for only a minority of those ideas. What are you doing to optimize the mindset of the individuals and teams and decision makers that have a role to play throughout the innovation cycle?

What are you doing to enhance your organizations mental innovation processes?

Get the free Special Report, Innovation Essentials: The Four Greatest Ways We stop Ourselves…In Business and in Life. Download a copy at:

Posted in Innovation Behavior, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments