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Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

My company just celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary. To celebrate, we invited some amazing thinkers and doers to talk about whatever they’re thinking about and doing these days. My brain is full of interesting ideas, which I’m sure will spill into the blog over time.

But today I’m thinking about one speaker in particular, Andy Hargadon. His blog is here. He’s a prof at the UC Davis School of Management with a very impressive bio.  One of the things that I appreciate the most about his work is the way he explodes the myths around ideas and innovation. Andy has discovered that innovation isn’t about building a better mousetrap. It’s about building networks of relationships between buyers, sellers, advocates, financiers, etc around the mousetrap. Without the networks, even the best mousetrap just sits on some stores shelf or, worse, in your warehouse. According to Andy, the idea is only the beginning of the innovation process. The hard part is what comes next, building the right network around the idea.

Anyone who has ever created a great product that didn’t succeed knows how true Andy’s findings are. Most new products that are introduced fail. And sure, some fail because they’re not actually better. But many excellent ideas still don’t succeed, and a lack of a supporting infrastructure, or network, is one common reason.

Parents who don’t want to constantly be tearing their hair out also leverage the power of the network. We have a network of teachers, babysitters, grandparents and great-grandparents that help us care for the monkeys while we work and play. They’re not just there for child-care, though. They’re critical parts of our child raising network because they can teach them things that we can’t. Mom mom, the monkey’s great grandmother, is good for introducing new songs and stories. Pop Pop, their grandfather, knows how to dig giant holes in the sand. Nana knows the entire tune of Peter and the Wolf. I know how to make pizza dough. We all play our part.

The network isn’t just critical to working moms, either. My sister-in-law just told me about her friend who decided to host a summer camp in her home. Her three kids each invited a couple of friends over, she hired a teacher or two, and voilla, instant summer fun. The kids got to participate in some new activities, the moms got a bit of a break, and the hosts didn’t even have to change out of their PJs until 10 AM.

The myth of the nuclear family is almost as strong as the myth of the lone inventor. Believe in either at your own expense – not only are you less likely to succeed, you’re less likely to have fun while you’re doing it.

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It’s been a tough couple of weeks with the monkeys. We’re in one of those phases where hanging out with them is sort of fun, but sort of a pain in the a** because we keep finding ourselves having to work really hard to get them to follow directions.

The other day I had to put them both in time out just to get them to stand still for long enough to get dressed for school. Lots of fun, really.

I know that this too shall pass, but of course both Mr. Daddy and I are trying to figure out what we can be doing differently. The other night, as we were discussing it, I suggested that we explicitly spend a little bit more of our time with them really playing with them on their level, so that at least the ‘management’ is interspersed with actual fun.

Mr. Daddy has been pushing the idea of encouraging them to spend 20 minutes or so a day hanging out on their own, without us around. This would give them a chance to assert their independent spirits and us a chance to get stuff done around the house.

I told him my idea, and he agreed. He told me his idea, and I brought up all the reasons I thought it wouldn’t work. Finally he interrupted me – can’t we just try it? Sure.

On the train back from New York the other day I was reading Group Genius, by Keith Sawyer, an excellent read on how to get groups to innovate well. While reading a chapter on how to get smart outcomes from groups instead of dumb ones, he reminded me of the rules of improvisation, the first of which is to build on ideas by saying ‘yes, and’ instead of ‘yes, but’.

As a consultant whose job it is to help teams develop new insights and translate them into new ideas for their businesses, I facilitate brainstorming sessions all the time. I know how important ‘yes and’ is not just to brainstorming but to any great collaborative work. Yet in a mini-brainstorm with Mr. Daddy, I forgot to judge his ideas forward and started to, well, judge. It’s not a great way to problem solve or an endearing way to talk to your husband.

We’re going to try out some of our new ideas this weekend to see if they work. If not, we’ll be back to brainstorming early next week. This time, I’ll try to remember the rules.

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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a great article about how Obama is trying a new approach to win South Carolina. In the past, the way to win in the South has always been to use established networks and leaders, get the endorsements or preachers and politicians, and roll on to victory. In part because Hillary has tied up some crucial endorsements, and in part because he’s going after a younger audience, Obama is going direct to the voters, establishing his own infrastructure, and trying to motivate voters who might not otherwise participate in the primary.

When I first read the article, I thought to myself, Obama, you better stick with what works if you want to win this state. And then I realized that what’s playing out in South Carolina is what plays out in the business world all of the time. The established players stick with what works, and newcomers innovate to create new approaches, products, services and businesses. Often, the newcomers end up building very large businesses very quickly. The established players, sticking with what works and playing the same old game, end up with much slower growth. It’s the classic Innovators Dilemma as described by Clayton Christensen

It’s also something I’ve been encountering at home. When our nanny of two years was leaving, I wanted to stick with what worked – finding another nanny to replace her so that our combined school/nanny schedule would stay the same. It hasn’t worked out very well (more on this later!) and now we’re mixing it up – trying to have the boys in school more and considering not even looking for a new nanny.

It is scary to try a new approach when there’s so much history telling you that the old one worked really well. Sometimes you try something new because you can’t go the established route, like Obama not getting the support of some key established players in South Carolina. Sometimes you try something new because you try the old way and it fails, like me with the new nanny. And sometimes you try something new because you have a hunch that it might work.

I’m keeping an eye on the South Carolina primary – I hope that Obama’s campaign innovation strategy works. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed about our innovation in the childcare routines, too.

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I think its a shame that the Street is dinging Apple for yesterday’s news, saying that it’s too much evolution and not enough revolution.

Even highly innovative companies like Apple don’t have the bandwidth or resources to continually be pushing the boundaries of the completely new. And there’s a lot to be said for spending time building towards the big ideas, testing incremental ideas out in the marketplace and seeing how they land before launching the big disruptive idea. I wonder if that’s what Apple is doing with some of the greener features of the MacBook Air. As Bruce Nussbaum insightfully noted, in his blog, one of the more interesting aspects of the new design is its green features. They’re also evolving AppleTV in such a way that it’s bound to attract new customers, and seeing how people use the device as its stands can only help Apple improve it’s video offerings in the future. I think people forget that it took a few years between when the iPod and iTunes were launched and when Apple became the go-to on-line music resource. And I don’t think that’ s a bad mistake.

 It also makes me think about when I need to be pushing for evolution vs. revolution in my house. We’ve recently had a lot of transitions – new nanny, big boy beds (thank you IKEA), I’m starting to travel for work more consistently, and we’re on the verge of potty training. The transition to big boy beds has been a big hit. The boys are much happier going to bed if they can get into their beds all by themselves. And instead of waking up to the sound of someone screaming, I most often wake up to the pitter patter of little feet and a pleasant announcement, from the top of the steps, that ‘I awake.’

Given how well one transition is going, the activator in me wants to really push potty training. Somehow it seems like the crib and diapers should disappear together. But the boys seem perfectly happy to sometimes use their diapers and sometimes use the potty. So maybe I need to listen to them, and let them evolve into big boys rather than pushing them into it. Thanks, Steve Jobs, for setting a good example.

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