Robyn Bolton reflects on lessons learned as a child that she brings into her field to help problems solve and drive innovation.
Innovation is all about embracing the AND.
Creativity AND Analysis
Imagination AND Practicality
Envisioned Future AND Lived Reality
Looking back, I realize that much of my childhood was also about embracing the AND.
Mom AND Dad
Nursery School Teacher AND Computer Engineer
Finger paint AND Calculus
A few years ago, I wrote about my mom, the OG (Original Gangster) of Innovation. She was what most people imagine of an “innovator” – creative, curious, deeply empathetic, and more focused on what could be than what actually is.
With Father’s Day approaching, I’ve also been thinking about my dad, and how he is the essential other-side of innovation – analytical, practical, thoughtful, and more focused on what should be than what actually is.
In the spirit of Father’s Day, here are three of the biggest lessons I learned from Dad, the unexpected innovator
Managers would rather live with a problem they understand than a solution they don’t.
When Dad dropped this truth bomb one night during dinner a few years ago, my head nearly exploded. Like him, I always believed that if you can fix a problem, you should. And, if you can fix a problem and you don’t, then you’re either lazy, not very smart, or something far worse. Not the most charitable view of things but perhaps the most logical.
But this changed things.
If you’ve lived with a problem long enough, you’re used to it. You’ve developed workarounds, and you know what to expect. In a world of uncertainty, it is something that is known. It’s comfortable
Fixing a problem requires change and change is not comfortable. Very few people are willing to sacrifice comfort and certainty for the promise of something better.
Key points include:
- Keeping things in perspective
- The importance of letting go
- Standing up when others are sitting down
Read the full post, Dad: The Unexpected Innovator, on MileZero.com.
How do you inspire creative thinking in your team without engaging the muse or adopting questionable practices? Stephen Wunker provides six practical steps that won’t break the law but will help break through constraints of the mind.
How do I get my team to show creative thinking?” Under normal circumstances, many executives we work with routinely face this challenge. But with the pandemic transforming the way we do business, bold thinking has turned into a necessity.
Several obstacles block innovative thinking, especially at established firms with a deeply engrained corporate work practices. People have busy schedules, work in siloed teams, and have trouble breaking away from longstanding assumptions about their market. They might lack the confidence that they can be creative and are worried their ideas will reflect poorly on them. They may be coming up with the same old answers because they keep asking the same old questions, not reframing their challenges or bringing new information to the table. And with COVID-19 thrown into the mix, engaging colleagues in a remote brainstorming session has become all the more challenging.
So what can executives do to encourage creative thinking? In our work, we’ve identified six best practices that companies can adopt to unlock bold ideas internally.
1 – Put your team in the right mindset ahead of time
Creative thinking doesn’t simply happen on the spot – you have to set the stage first. Before holding your workshop, make sure you communicate the urgency of the situation and the need for innovative ideas. Ideally, share around some data on your business’s performance, market trends, and upcoming threats to support your ask.
When it comes to prework, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First, make sure your team is aligned on what problem they are solving for – by holding a question-storming session before the main workshop, for instance. Then, make any prework as easy as possible for your colleagues by providing templates and clear guidelines on what’s in scope and what isn’t. This will help them save time and structure their submissions in a consistent, focused way.
Key points include:
- Identify focal areas
- Look beyond borders
- Identify and address assumptions and biases
Read the full article, 6 Ways To Inspire Creative Thinking In Your Team, on NewMarketsAdvisors.com.
Peet van Biljon shares a white paper on the benefits of ethics-driven innovation.
Is your company innovative? No doubt, you would like to say yes. Everyone wants to be innovative, which is why the word “innovation” appears frequently in annual reports and press releases. However, there can be a large gap between saying we are good at innovation and being truly good at it. How to close this gap is the topic of a multitude of publications on innovation management, and keeps many innovation consultants busy.
Is your company a force for good in society? Again, yes is probably your answer. Claims about how a company’s business activities benefit society are quite common, as evidenced by the promotion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in glossy publications, press releases, and well-produced videos. But again there can be a gap between words and reality, as seen in corporate scandals and day-to-day business actions that contradict claims of caring for stakeholders and communities.
Now let us combine these two questions and ask a third one: Do your company’s innovations contribute to the greater good of humanity? This is an important question that needs to be asked more often, because innovation and ethics are deeply intertwined.
While it is possible to be “innovative” without serving a positive social purpose, and conversely possible to be “socially responsible” without being innovative, most companies strive to be both. So how can a company achieve these values? This paper introduces Ethics-driven Innovation®[i], an innovation process designed to meet this challenge. The good news – as we shall see – is that knowing why you want to innovate, and whom you want to serve in society, will make you better at both innovation and ethics.
Key points include:
- The inadequacy of traditional CSR
- Portfolio of initiatives
- Constraints-based creativity
Access the white paper, Good at Innovation or Innovating for Good, on EthicsDrivenInnovation.com.
Nicky Shah shares a Q&A post on Saint Aymes, a business startup that has successfully merged the worlds of art and chocolate. She interviews the two sisters behind Saint Aymes – Lois and Michela.
How old were you when you decided you would try to launch your own business?
We didn’t really have a “moment”. Our parents had been business owners when we were growing up so it seemed quite natural to want to also run a business at some point. However, the older I got and the more I worked for others, I certainly saw that being one’s own boss had many benefits.
Do you remember what main thoughts and feelings went through your mind when you debated whether or not to push forward with the idea?
I was excited to push forward. Lois and I always had different side businesses going on. I suppose at the time we started Saint Aymes, it was at a point that neither of us had any long term, permanent commitments to any other ventures.
I was excited as I knew that I could not wait around for employers to notice I had what it took to succeed. The only fear was not getting started… for me I could see, for whatever reason, that the corporate world wasn’t going to allow me to progress fairly.
Key points include:
- Creating a new market space in the chocolate category
- Working with family
- The impact of social media
Read the full post, Q&A: Business startup with the founders of Saint Aymes, on freedomwanted.com.
In this article for Forbes, Stephen Wunker reveals how this small business led the charge in innovation, safety, and customer service during the height of the pandemic.
You might not think of an auto body shop as a hotbed of business innovation – but you’d be quite mistaken. Consider the story of one small chain that shows how businesses can go on offense during the coronavirus pandemic, seizing the initiative to remake customer experience, business relationships, and competitive position. This is how one company made its Great Reboot happen.
Today’s Collision, a 64-employee chain of three auto body shops based in the Boston suburb of Malden, saw the pandemic happen at an unfortunate time. Boston had a relatively mild winter with little snow, and – sorry to tell you – auto body shops expect people to have more accidents when the weather is nasty. However, owner Bobby Cobb had a realization: if the winter was tough for his relatively well-capitalized company, it must have much harder for the mom-and-pop firms that were already just eking by. As the coronavirus hit and the plummeting level of road traffic foretold still fewer collisions, Cobb knew that shops across the industry faced dire circumstances. For him, this was the time to seize the initiative.
Key points include:
- Changing the customer experience
- Expanding your business partnerships
- Seizing market share from weaker rivals
Read the full article, How a Local Business got on the Front Foot during COVID, on Forbes.
If you have experienced great ideas die in the making and want to avoid this in the future, read on. Robyn Bolton offers a few expert tips on how to combat the problem of the ‘derailers’ in your midst.
Innovating – doing something different that creates value – is hard.
Innovating within a large organization can feel impossible.
In my work with corporate innovators, we always start with great optimism that this time will be different, this time innovation will stick and become the engine that drives lasting growth.
Within weeks, sometimes days, however, we start to be “loved to death,” a practice that takes one of two forms:
The Protector who says, “That’s not how we do things and, if you insist on doing things that way, you’ll get shut down. Instead, do things this way”
The Enthusiast who exclaims, “This is amazing! I would love to be involved. And you should share what you’re doing with this person, and definitely tap into this other person’s experience, and I know this third person will want to be involved, and you definitely must talk to….”
Neither mean harm. In fact, they’re trying to help, but if intrapreneurs aren’t careful, The Protector will edit their work into something that is neither different nor value creating, and The Enthusiast will suffocate them with meetings.
4 More Innovation Derailers
Being “loved to death,” is just one of ways I’ve seen corporate innovation efforts get derailed. Here are the others:
Performances for senior executives. Yes, it’s important to meet regularly with senior leaders to keep them apprised of progress, learnings, results, and next steps. But there’s a fine line between updating executives because they’re investors and conference room performances to show off shiny objects and excite executives. It takes time for innovation teams to prepare for meetings (one team I worked with spent over 100 hours preparing for a meeting) which is time they aren’t spending working, learning, and making progress.
Key points include:
- Evolve what you measure when
- Use transparency to build support and let experience drive progress
- Base incentives on the core business and innovation objectives.
Read the full article, 5 Innovation Derailers (And What To Do Instead), on Milezero.io.
Tim Worboys shares the strategies behind the success of a leading US insurtech company.
Hippo, a leading US insurtech company, announced yesterday that they had raised $150M in a Series E round, valuing the business at $1.5B post fundraising.
As the global economic conditions continue to prove challenging due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic we are beginning to see a split in the market – some insurtechs are going public or successfully raising significant amounts of funding and others like Metromile are either having to lay off and furlough significant numbers of staff or closing altogether like Coverly. So why are Hippo in the former group and continuing to be so successful? In my view there are three key reasons:
Hippo chose a great “niche”
All insurtechs entering a product market have to focus on an initial country and product combination (a niche). This niche is critical as it defines the parameters within which they operate and hence significantly influences their chances of success. Hippo chose to enter the US homeowners market – this market has a number of key advantages that help increase their chances of being successful:
Large size –at ~$100B there is a lot of opportunity for new entrants. Even at a retention rate of 85% there is $15B of new business premiums to compete for in a given year. Hippo at ~$270M currently will only be looking for 1-2% of that per year so can focus on the type of business/customer/states that they wish to target and have a lower chance of challenges such as adverse selection.
Key points include:
- Consistent growth
- High average premiums
- Simpler supply chain and less complexity of claims vs Auto
Read the full article, Hippo – getting a lot of things right – sustainable profitability the final challenge, on LinkedIn.
In this article recently published in the El Economista, David Uriarte explores how COVID-19 has encouraged medical and social experiments on sustainability, the economy, and the management of companies.
One of the ways in which human beings have managed to advance our knowledge and civilization is through experimentation. Experimenting means testing in order to explain or understand the nature of reality. Experimentation is one of the building blocks of innovation . Experimentation is based on changing the things we normally do .
Experimenting is often expensive and time consuming. It also forces us to get out of our comfort zone and seek new realities.
Covid-19 is posing a huge humanitarian challenge with, for now, more than 1.5 million deaths. In addition to its profound negative impact, it is generating new processes of innovation and digitization, because we are forced to experiment, we are forced to do many things differently.
All crises generate experiments, innovation and knowledge. World War II inoculated us against fascist ideology and advanced technology to hitherto unsuspected limits.
You just have to walk through the Royal Air Force Museum in London and see what airplanes were like before and after World War II to get an idea of this transformation.The sense of urgency and need to obtain a vaccine for Covid-19 has meant that a large amount of resources have been dedicated to its research and development. Thanks to this, new platforms based on RNA and DNA have been generated to obtain vaccines that may be used in the development of new vaccines in the future. With these technologies, vaccines can be developed more quickly because they do not require culture or fermentation and billions of people will benefit from them in the future.
Questions posed in this article include:
- What happens to pollution in a city
- What happens to an economy when millions of people cannot work
- How do organizations develop if their workers are related only digitally
Read the full article, COVID-19: The Great Experiment, on El Econimsta.es.
Robyn M. Bolton makes a poignant observation on the popular approach to innovation and provides a few tips on how to punch out of the proverbial box.
The definition of insanity is repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results.”
This quote, often (wrongly) attributed to Albert Einstein, is a perfect description of what has been occurring in corporate innovation for the last 20+ years.
In 1997, The Innovator’s Dilemma, put fear in the hearts of executives and ignited interest and investment in innovation across industries, geographies, and disciplines. Since then, millions of articles, thousands of books, and hundreds of consultants (yes, including MileZero) have sprung forth offering help to startups and Fortune 100 companies alike.
Yet the results remain the same.
After decades of incubators, accelerators, innovation teams, corporate venture capital (CVC), growth boards, hackathons, shark tanks, strategies, processes, metrics, and futurists, the success rate of corporate innovation remains stagnant.
Stop the insanity!
I have spent my career in corporate innovation, first as part of the P&G team that launched Swiffer and Swiffer WetJet, later as a Partner at the innovation firm founded by Clayton Christensen, and now as the founder of MileZero, an innovation consulting and coaching firm.
Key points in this article include:
- The head vs. heart dilemma
- A common scenario
- Investing in innovation
Read the full article, Our Approach to Innovation is the Definition of Insanity, so Let’s Try Something Different, on Medium.
Susan Hamilton shares a thoughtful post on creative thinking and the pursuit of possibility.
September has always been my favorite month. The smell of new notebooks, the crispness in the still-warm air. A season full of unknowns, full of possibility. This year, the back-to-school season presents a different riff on unknowns to be sure, but I am still filled with a sense of excitement at the possibility that awaits.
People who are open to seeing possibility have a powerful competitive advantage. They notice opportunities others miss. They discover new ways forward that others may not have imagined or may have written off as impractical.
Tony Petito was a man who saw possibility.
While growing up in New Jersey, Tony’s love of theatre was a puzzlement to his family of plumbers. Undeterred, he organized extravagant musical productions, earning him a commendation from his town’s mayor. He went on to earn an MFA in directing from the Goodman School of Drama of the Art Institute of Chicago and pursued a theatre career in Chicago and New York.
When he was offered an unexpected opportunity to work in management consulting, he took the leap. While it drew him away from the theater, his time with Booz, Allen & Hamilton took him on adventures across Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore and provided a secure life for his growing young family.
In Singapore, a community theatre approached him seeking an artistic director. Where others might have dismissed the role, imagining nothing more than staging Gilbert & Sullivan musicals for local expatriates, Tony had a vision. What if it were possible to transform that theater, leveraging its staff and supporters, to create a professional, international company?
Read the full post, In Pursuit of Possibility, on SusanMeierStudio.com
Using the company Hoowaki as an example, David Summa shares an article that illustrates how business model innovations can drive new revenue streams.
In my last post, I wrote about business model innovations and how it can drive new revenue streams, especially in times of changing economic and cultural landscapes or declining performance. To help illustrate this point, I’d like to talk about a recent success with Hoowaki.
Hoowaki is a materials science company in South Carolina that for years has specialized in manipulating surface friction. They create novel surfaces that fall anywhere on the spectrum of slippery to grippy. Their business model generated revenue through paid R&D, followed by a promise of royalties once a product containing their technology reached market. However, many of their inventions, though remarkably better than what currently existed in the market, were not incorporated into a customer’s product. Only later did Hoowaki learn that they needed to help customers stand-up a supply chain in order to make their product, which may seem obvious today, but at the time wasn’t expected, nor did customers communicate this. As such, only half of the Hoowaki business model proved profitable.
In 2019, BMI began working with Ralph Hulseman and Hoowaki to upgrade its business model. We mined past work and identified application categories, mapped them on a value per square meter of material (high to low) and square meters per year (high to low). What emerged was an excellent roadmap for scaleup.
Key points in this article include:
- Incorporating inventions into a customer product
- Upgrading Hoowaki’s business model
- The success of flipping the business model
Read the full article, The Swab Opportunity: An Example of Business Model Innovation, on LinkedIn.
In this post, Robyn M. Bolton explores how working remotely can improve company culture and accelerate innovation.
The seasons may be changing but, for most, there is no end in sight for our new Work From Home (WFH) existence. The prospect of more months of working from the kitchen table, searching for a quiet spot for a Zoom call, and juggling personal and professional responsibilities on a minute-by-minute basis is frustrating and overwhelming for most.
It’s also raising questions about the future of work. Will companies still maintain large physical office spaces? What new symbols of power and status will take the place of the corner office? Will people need to relocate when they change companies? When, if ever, will co-workers gather together in person?
How will company culture form? Will innovation continue or stall?
It is those last two questions, about culture and innovation, that every single one of my clients, all executives with responsibility for growth and innovation at their companies, have been asking and struggling to answer for the past few months.
Key points include:
- Accepting new situation
- Empowering the introvert
- Creating new innovation approaches
Read the full article, How to Transform WFH into the Best Thing to Happen to Innovation in Your Company, on Medium.
With a look ahead to a post pandemic environment, James Black provides nine questions to help you identify the potential possibilities and pitfalls.
While all eyes are on navigating the pandemic—and for retailers than also means navigating the critical holiday shopping period—smart manufacturers and retailers are starting to look ahead to envision how they will operate in a Post-Covid world. (This is not to say we are in a Post-Covid environment yet, rather, for how to strategically plan for when we are.) I offer up 9 questions as thought-starters to help you start thinking about the Post-Covid world.
Purpose – Will companies come out of the pandemic with a renewed sense of purpose (for the company and their employees)? Recent McKinsey research show that employees that are “living their purpose” at work report higher levels of well-being.
Opportunity – Given the short-term focus that has (rightly) dominated a lot of managerial thinking, it is critical for managers to seize the opportunity to anticipate what consumers needs will be. How can businesses get ahead of the competition more long-term?
Supply Chain – Robust supply chains were a key enable of winning as the pandemic settled in. How can companies’ leverage this unprecedented opportunity to design more agile supply chains to be more responsive to new demand flows?
Remaining topic question include:
Read the full article, 9 Questions to Help You Start Preparing for a Post-Covid Environment, on LinkedIn.
Robyn M. Bolton takes a lesson learned from a fairy tale to illustrate truths.
I love stories. When I was a kid, my parents would literally give me a book and leave me places while they ran errands. They knew that, as long as I was reading, I wouldn’t be moved.
But there was one story I hated – The Emperor’s New Clothes
I hated it because it made absolutely no sense. It was a story of adults being stupid and a kid being smart, and, to a (reasonably) well-behaved kid, it was absolutely unbelievable.
No adult would try to sell something that doesn’t exist, like the clothiers did with the cloth. No adult would say they could see something they couldn’t, like the Emperor and the townspeople did. Adults, after all, don’t play at imagination.
As a kid, this story seemed completely wild and unrealistic.
As an adult, this story is so true that it hurts.
The truth of this story touches so many things and innovation is at the top of the list.
I’ve spent my career working in innovation working within large companies and as an advisor to them. I know what executives, like the emperor, request. I’ve said what the consultants say to sell their wares. I believed all of it.
Now I need to be the kid and point out some of the lies, as I see them.
Lies identified in this article include:
Lie #1: Companies can disrupt themselves
Lie #2: If companies act like VCs, they’ll successfully innovate
Lie #3: We can pivot our way to success
Read the full article, The Innovator has No Clothes: Innovation’s 3 Great Lies, on the Mile Zero website.
Sean McCoy shares a blog post from his company website that presents a case for and against spending resources on ‘innovation’.
Innovation is hard. Most companies do not do it well. Long is the list of established market leaders that were The Disruptee instead of The Disrupter. But firms are not to blame. Most innovations fail period, regardless of who is doing the innovation. Innovation is a high-failure sport.
Nevertheless, conventional wisdom holds that large businesses should be more innovative. It’s even a famous imperative: Innovate or Die. But why should a firm that is organized around low-failure productivity embrace high-failure innovation? Why should a large company make innovation when it can buy innovation?
The argument against ‘Make it’
There are many reasons why a large firm making its own innovation might not make sense. Finance departments balk at the lost capital that could have been allocated to a known winner. HR departments can be reluctant to promote high-failure entrepreneurs, knowing how poorly that will be received by those that receive the opposite treatment for a string of failures. Audit, Compliance, Legal, and Quality Assurance departments usually do not take kindly to bug-y minimum viable products, nor to operators who move fast and break stuff.
Innovation at a big firm is equally difficult from the perspective of the innovator. The large number of stakeholders slows down decision-making. Once decisions are made, the work itself takes longer than entrepreneurs would like, because a company’s processes involve many hands, and innovators want speed.
Points covered in this article include:
- Making innovation
- Buying innovation
- Leveraging an ecosystem
Read the full post, Should your innovation strategy leverage an ecosystem?, on the McCoy Consulting Group website.
Robbie Kellman Baxter makes the case for subscription-based businesses and provides a few expert tips on how to take your business in that direction.
If you’ve been tasked with launching a subscription-based business at your organization, or are thinking about starting your own XXX-as-a-service or XXX-of-the-month-club, before diving in, take a step back.
To ensure a solid foundation, I encourage companies to devote a few weeks (usually at least 2 and no more than 12 weeks) to fleshing out the business case before proceeding. After all, the objective of testing is to assess the viability of the model, make necessary adjustments, and get the green light to move forward at a broader level. Without understanding the business case, how will you, and your organization, know whether you’re on the right track.
Details covered in this article include:
- The business rationale
- The forever promise
- Executing the vision
- The risks of the strategy
- The early steps, research, and tests needed
- Criteria for board support
Read the full article, Making the Case for a Subscription-Based Business, on LinkedIn.
The subscription business is based on long-term relationships with customers. Robbie Kellman Baxter shares ideas on how to build strong relationships that work for both your personal life and in business.
Over the holidays, I started thinking about what my work on The Forever Transaction and The Membership Economy has taught me about building long-term personal relationships, which ultimately are way more important than any subscription.
As dig in on our 2020 to do lists, and focus on our goals and hopes for the year ahead, I wanted to share some ideas on how we can take these principles and apply them in our personal relationships. It’s a little hokey, and a little jargon-y business-school-ish but I decided to try using my 7-step framework as a guide.
Points covered in this article include:
1: Different tiers of subscriptions
2: Identifying key metrics
3: Onboarding process
4: Using technology
Read the full article, Seven Steps to Better Personal Relationships, on LinkedIn.
Subscription businesses were a big deal in 2019, so what’s the forecast for 2020? Robbie Kellman Baxter shares her expertise on what lies ahead.
I’m no fortune teller, but something about the beginning of a new year and a new decade makes me want to start spouting predictions. Actually, this isn’t the first time I have taken a crack at predictions. The final chapter of my new book THE FOREVER TRANSACTION is all about the future of subscription and membership models too.
Here’s what I think will happen.
In this post, topics covered include:
- There will be a right-sizing of the “Subscription Box” industry.
- Subscription “Managers” Will be Everywhere.
- Subscription CMOs will swing back toward strategy and away from “growth hacking”.
- Consumers will start subscribing to the thing itself, not just services and boxes.
- Big Companies will try to buy their way into the Membership Economy through Acquisition.
- Healthcare will become increasingly consumer-centric, which will lead to more forever transactions.
Read the full article, Crystal Ball: The World of Subscriptions in 2020, on LinkedIn.
Karthik Rajagopalan’s company blog explains how machine learning models can facilitate a deeper understanding of the drivers of churn, leading to better solutions that can help customer retention for subscription businesses.
Subscriptions have been around for a very long time. Having come a long way from the hire-for-purchase model introduced by the Singer sewing machine company, the past few decades saw the emergence of memberships in retail, health clubs, and monthly subscriptions to services like telephone and cable television. More recently, the recurring revenue model has been pushed forward by e-commerce and software-as-a-service (SaaS) businesses with the introduction of services for streaming media, connected home, connected car, gaming, etc. According to the Subscription economy index (SEI), the subscription economy has grown by nearly 300% over the last 7 years and is also increasingly correlated with traditional economy, a significant yet not so surprising development.
Topics covered in this article include:
-Customer longterm value
Read the full article, AI augmented retention program is a must for subscription businesses, on the Paramis Digital website.