Inoculating companies against inaction, irrelevance, inflexibility and instability.

An innovation formula

It occurred to me that the amount of pointless jabber is commensurate with how easy it is to be right. Or how hard it is to be wrong. Or how acceptable it is to us all to keep reading and retweeting the same crap over and over again. I am just as guilty as the next one. Just spouting.

I have been researching broad swaths of  innovation for the last two years and last night I hit a breaking point. I came across an innovation report from Accenture.  I read it twice and became angry at what turned out to be less interesting and insightful than the back of a pack of Splenda. Ironically none of us have innovated around innovation in while. Shame on Accenture for letting such a pile of crap out their door. I expect a whole lot more from them and so would their clients.

I know others in this field are equally dumbfounded or jaded by this.

I am looking for companies who are truly innovating and not just talking about it. If you know of any, please shoot me a note.

Filed under: Innovation, , ,

ANTIGEN: Broken Multichannel Touchpoint Strategy

Just read this from Forrester and it brought me to the inability to meet consumer’s multi-channel needs ANTIGEN.

Seventy percent of US online consumers research products online and purchase them offline. Based on this behavior, Forrester has identified two consumer categories: multichannel buyers and online window shoppers. Multichannel buyers use the Web for both research and purchases, while online window shoppers use the Web exclusively for researching their offline purchases. Multichannel buyers are almost six times more numerous. They are also more affluent and savvier online users than online window shoppers. The demographic and psychographic differences between these two consumer segments, and examples of how top US retailers are evolving their multichannel strategies in response, offer insights into how eBusiness professionals can enable multichannel consumer behavior.”

So, do you have what it will take to close the loop on your consumer’s online-to-offline needs?

Here is a snapshot of many different touch-point channel opportunities. You should be able to quickly determine if you have a closed-loop strategy to meet more of the complex needs of today’s consumers–or not.

In short, are you thinking about all the ways your business can and should meet the expectations of tomorrow’s customers?

  1. Social Networking
  2. Widgets/Tools
  3. Vodcasts
  4. Natural Search Engines (eg. Google)
  5. RSS Feeds
  6. Print Advertising
  7. Portal Widgets/Tools
  8. Desktop Widgets/Tools
  9. Affiliates (non-dealer)
  10. All Brand Web sites
  11. Events
  12. Broadcast
  13. Video interview (eg. YouTube)
  14. Blogs
  15. Catalog
  16. Customer Service
  17. Direct one-to-one Emails
  18. Distributor/Dealer Events
  19. Marketing emails
  20. Forums
  21. Email to a Friend
  22. Dealer Websites
  23. Dealer Stores
  24. Mobile
  25. Podcasts
  26. POP
  27. PR
  28. Product Returns
  29. Product Exchanges
  30. Product or Service Warranties
  31. Online Personal Data
  32. Payment
  33. Balance Checking
  34. Order Tracking
  35. Account Management
  36. Wishlist Management
  37. Opt-in/Opt-out Management
  38. Password Recovery
  39. Gift Card Purchase/Redemption/Balance Checking
  40. Holiday/Gifting Logistics Related Capabilities
  41. Holiday Hold
  42. Delayed Shipping
  43. Ask a Question
  44. Take Customer Satisfaction Survey
  45. General Feedback
  46. Rush Shipping
  47. Gift Services
  48. Purchase an Item
  49. Purchase Item Using Catalog Number
  50. Edit a Wishlist
  51. Create a Wish List
  52. Delete an Account
  53. Edit an Account
  54. Create an Account
  55. Order Re-tracking
  56. Delete a Wishlist
  57. Send a Wishlist
  58. Purchase an Item from a Wishlist
  59. Opt-in for Emails
  60. Recover Password Again
  61. Opt-out for Catalog
  62. Opt-in for Catalog
  63. Product Reviews
  64. Complain about Service

*attribution to Twiss Interactive for this exhaustive list of touch points.

Filed under: Brands, Consumer, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Doing things you think will be messy

Sometimes you have to kiss a monkey to see what you cannot yet imagine.

Sometimes you have to kiss a monkey to see what you cannot yet imagine.

Great email yesterday from a Spanish gentleman who was referencing my last post about inefficiency of brainstorming. He said, “to gain the outcome you want from brainstorming, you have to get messy. Do things you haven’t done before. Kill ideas and rebuild them backwards.”

Then he said, “Sometimes you have to kiss a monkey to see what you cannot yet imagine.”

Genius. I love that.

Filed under: Innovation, ,

Innovation Antigen::Brainstorming a Waste of Time

In the last month, I have been working on an innovation antigen. I am not nearly done yet but want to share some progress here and now. This is an antigen that will help surface the need for change at the leadership level. This is not new stuff. Everyone knows companies need to be innovative. And everyone knows the typical CIO-driven organization does not have the tools, propensity or courage to invite innovation in the door. That is one problem. The other more menacing problem is that many companies feel or believe they are innovating with little or no success when they aren’t being innovative at all. This sours their appetite for continued innovation. If it hasn’t worked for them in the past, regardless of how they did it, they do not want to invite it back in to ravage their modest progress along the knowable lines of average.  In other words, they have little faith innovation can be predictable, manageable and repeatable. This I learned from

My aim is to point to the source of innovation latency and help uncover what isn’t working. Companies of all types and sizes should be able to perform their own “innovation quality checks” by evaluating prime variables affecting positive innovation. The reality is simple. It takes a lot of time, heaps of patience and a willingness to surrender control where control has lent the most comfort in the past…at the top. In my experience, innovation is far more likely to originate in a bottom-up rather than a top down fashion.  Also, in my most recent experience, innovation is deflated by a leadership that is scared and bound by need for control and lack of confidence and curiosity. Firms who’ve made modest earnings with faith in the status quo and comfort in the pragmatic are at most risk. Here are the basic dimensions that will help you determine your company’s climate for innovation.

leaders with no followers

leaders with no followers

  • Do we have a clear strategy to innovate? This is found by asking the question: “what services and products do we offer and how much are we willing to invest to make them better, more profitable or successful?”Chances are that you do not have in place, what it takes to make better situations occur from an innovation strategy. Otherwise you would not be taking the time to read this. Adopting the right innovation strategy can be simple if you are asking yourself honest questions and supplying equally honest answers.
  • Do we have the right processes in place to realize the right innovation for us? Processes are the workflows you have adopted to achieve your desired service or product outcomes. This is where I have lost all faith in brainstorming. It is most likely a waste of your time. Brainstorming is often the “re-arrangement” of all the thoughts and ideas you already have, re-purposed in safe variants too close to what you likely already have. You have to look at more stuff, think about it harder and be willing to surrender everything you have to bring something new into its place. This is critical. You have to be willing to adopt processes that allow the act of destruction in order to create new conventions. For quickest results, try a wholesale destruction of your current process. Allow yourselves to believe that breakthroughs tend to come from a perception system (or process) that is confronted with something it doesn’t know how to interpret. In other words, kill your process early and often. Re-invent processes to innovates.
  • Do we have measurable goals? No matter how much stuff you come up with, if it isn’t aligning to a goal, it’s merely cognitive masturbation. Try to bring simple goals to the table before you do anything else. If your measurement is, “come up with something the CEO likes, the president thinks is going to work or the CIO is willing to invest in, your already screwed. Those aren’t objectively measurable and in fact, invite the cancer back in. Instead, have a test group of outside potential users use them in prototype form and see how they react. Better yet, embark on a cyclical innovation process allowing your tweaks to any innovation to test with real users over and over again, allowing you to gradually perfect your new ideas with the test group. Then show how your progressive innovation process is gaining incremental successes with real users. Then show that to the C suite.
  • Do we have people who possess innovative skills or ideas? Yes you do. You have to let them do it.
  • Do we have the right leadership? –No.

Filed under: Innovation, , , ,

Design transfusion

— reposting an article i wrote earlier on a different site–

I am keen on Marty Neumier’s new book the Designful Company because it handsomely mirrors the work I have been doing lately. I felt like the book provided me with a peer sensibility. If you design transformation for a living, you may now have your very own bible. Thanks Marty. I think this book is great and by a significant margin, it is your best.

Here are a two excerpts that really made me think:

1.) “To build an innovative culture, a company must keep itself in a perpetual state of reinvention. Radical ideas must be the norm, not the exception…Companies don’t fail because they choose the wrong course–they fail because they can’t imagine a better one.”

2.) The management model that got us here is underpowered to move us forward. Are we getting better and better at a management model that is getting wronger and wronger?

For me, working in a pure knowledge services industry, things like this have me wondering, is it right to measure what we are measuring? If the industry we are in is going to steadily become saturated (and we would be smart to hedge against rise in competitive sameness) with new stronger entrants, it will be wise for comapnies to seek competitive diferentiation more aggressively. It is no longer enough to be better.

It makes me think of the Daft Punk line, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

When the economy sucks and you’re responsible for making several ends of the company meet, you have to think differently to stay ahead or stay alive. Sometimes companies need to transfuse to transform. They need to get the old stuff, way of thinking, processes and pragmatism out and let some new in. Why? Because things are changing. The way people interact and the way your company meets the demands of its customers is undergoing transformation. It is wise to pay close attention to this. The old stuff can bog the company down.

For the last month I have been working with a North Carolina health care insurer to help them with social media focusing on how it impacts their business. Much of my involvement in their transformation has been thinking about their organization as a body undergoing a strategic transfusion. They have most everything they need and the most talented people I have met, they just needed a change or a course of fresh, objective, outside thinking to revitalize their culture, operations and team.

Marty has also widely pointed out many diagnostics why companies are feeling the abrupt need to change. I love his list.

Here is what The Designful Company claims is happening:
• Customers are controlling the company
• Jobs are becoming avenues of self-expression
• The barriers to competition are no longer controllable
• Strangers design our products and services
• Fewer features are better
• Advertising is becoming counter-effective
• Demographics are beside the point
• Whatever you sell, you take back
• Best practices are obsolete at birth
• Meaning talks
• Money walks
• Stability is fantasy
• Talent trumps obedience
• Imagination beats knowledge
• Empathy trounces logic

I know change sucks for most but when you are in the business of helping organizations make the most strategic change happen in the most economical way, this is great. I look for more writing and interaction on this topic and I applaud Marty for sticking his neck out and writing this book. I am sure there are many six sigma blackbelts and hard core pragmatists who see this great book as having little value. We’ll see.

Filed under: General, , ,

Retail Application of ANTIGENcy:: Anthropologie



My girlfriend takes me into every Anthropologie store wherever we go. She wont buy a dress without me. I have the eye, I guess. Because I am more interested in the psychology of brands and their incredible business model, I never refuse to go. Not to mention, the most gorgeous people seem to be pulled in to those stores. Anthropologie, and Urban Outfitters (same ownership) for that matter, are a different kind of store. They are, as Marty Neumier in Zag, called a house of brands, where there are typically 50 or 60 brands on the shelves and tables. This is different than Gap or most other clothing store alternatives schlepping their brand exclusively.

Inside any Anthropologie women find clothes and other curiosities or wonders that transport them into another world. The buyers for Anthropology and Urban Outfitters are a different breed and are damn good at what they do. They buy things that make you want to own. Their dresses are exquisite and the books for sale there are all items that make you believe you are capable of writing something wonderful. “I could have written that!” The soaps and decor all make you long for that semester you spent outside of Paris during high school.

Anthropologie has, in effect, created a house of brands and a transport platform that can make frugal frumps loose and lovely. They do this through experience design and brand diversity. Really smart.

The folks running Anthroplogie decided to inject their sales channel with other brand’s wares in an environment that kills boredom. It is the only women’s store where I have lost an hour in wonderment. In fact it is where I found the coolest book I have ever owned. Albertus Seba’s Cabinet of Natural Curiosities.

Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities

Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities

Back to experience. So, here’s a store that serves up really great women’s fashions that make women feel unique and their husbands feel occupied and sated on several levels. This is an experience that is attached to a business model that can adapt quickly to what’s hot and curious right now. Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie do not have to forecast, design, manufacture and warehouse an abundance of their branded stuff and market like hell to get it sold (the branded house model). Alternatively, they have to forecast and buy smaller quantities of other brands that they know will make their target(s) salivate.

This experience design is smart. And you can be sure that a lot of people are watching their every step.

Here is where ANTIGENcy comes in. What if you are a notable chain saddled with oceans of heavy inventory and delivering the same patent experience as a majority of all the other stores competing for the same $45 in Jane’s wallet. You have to wonder how sustainable that is. And yes, while many of them have been in business a long time, the competitive landscape hasn’t invoked the experience design card like Anthropologie has.

Your ANTIGENs are; lack of customer experience delivery, lack of curiosity, boredom, resting on the laurels of past sales success, lack of sating those who accompany your target consumer and importantly lack of brand diversity in your inventory (cement boots).

The antibodies you want to build will fight these ANTIGENs swiftly.

So, imagine this Gap. You need to think about your business sustainability on a few different levels. You need to think about the damage a much more nimble house of brands capable of shifting on a dime and serving up great design, eco-friendly wares and artful atmospheres can do to your establishment. You have to wonder why your (ticker: GPS) total return (3-yr.) is 24.4% while that of the Anthropologie/Urban Outfitters (ticker:URBN) is 82.8%.

At ANTIGENcy, we think about these things and quite simply, design experiences that help you with the new business of business.

(Partial credit for this analysis goes to the Rotman School of Business who originally pointed at Anthropologie and talked about the house of brands vs. branded house approaches. Thank again Rotman.)

Filed under: Brands, , , , , , , , , ,

Illustration supporting ANTIGENcy

antigency illo2

Here is an illustration by a fairly well-known illustrator named Stephen Spencer from Columbus, OH.

Filed under: General

Great Quote from C. Otto Scharmer in “Theory U”

“Across the board, we collectively create outcomes (and side effects) that
nobody wants. Yet the key decision makers do not feel capable of redirecting this course of events in any significant way. They feel just as trapped as the rest of us in what often seems to be a race to the bottom.

The same problem affects our massive institutional failure: we haven’t learned to mold, bend, and transform our centuries-old collective patterns of thinking, conversing, and institutionalizing to fit the realities of today.”

What a great use of words.

Filed under: General, , , , ,

Understanding Some Origins of Management Consulting

I was poking around Wikipedia, reading about “Formula for Change” created by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher. I am curious how much applicability there is to ANTIGENcy in these models…and vice versa.

They created a model to help evaluate the propensity for an organization to change. It looks like this:

D x V x F > R

Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. These factors are:
D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible;
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision.

If the product of these three factors is greater than
R = Resistance,

then change is possible. Because of the multiplication of D, V and F, if any one is absent or low, then the product will be low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.

To ensure a successful change it is necessary to use influence and strategic thinking in order to create vision and identify those crucial, early steps towards it. In addition, the organization must recognize and accept the dissatisfaction that exists by communicating industry trends, leadership ideas, best practice and competitive analysis to identify the necessity for change.

What this allows managers to do is to isolate the actual problem areas of change and develop unique strategies specifically designed to resolve the correct form of resistance.

Okay. So what this means is that given most organizations, like most people, have a hard time seeing introspectively, they are most likely to not change.

I like how this begins to isolate individual parts of resistance so they can be addresses “atomically” and all the players and pieces can enjoy more transparency.

I think every organization I have ever been with, worked for or against, had massive difficulty seeing and feeling the dissatisfaction. It is about admitting something. Like an alcholic admitting they have an important issue, they aren’t likely to.

The second variable, the vision of what’s possible, is the easy part. Who cannot see something better? This feels like table stakes.

The third variable is precisely what ANTIGENcy is about. Being able to isolate the specific challenges or friction an organization feels and doing something about it. Especially with respect to internal cultural dynamics.

In any case, I like how this formula helps people who know change is necessary see the possibility deconstructed.

If you are a CEO and your org’s performance isn’t what it should be, know that there will be ample resistance if you have the willingness to start change. I’ve been there and sludged through it. It isn’t pretty but for each time I have walked through the “tunnel of change, ” I learned to embrace the resistance and understand it from all angles before taking that first step.

Filed under: General, , , , , , , , , , ,

Corporate Antigens :: Application Along Nine Dimensions

ANTIGENcy is an unconventional framework to be applied to the conventions of business management. It allows people to anticipate and isolate weakness in their organizations by viewing them through the lens of immunology and epidemiology.

If immunology is about understanding and manipulating an immune system against unwanted strains, ANTIGENcy is about anticipating and understanding an organization’s weaknesses along several dimensions and doing something about it. Those dimensions, so far, are;
1. Strategic
2. Leadership
3. Culture (human capital)
4. External (marketing, advertising, etc.)
5. Technology
6. Operations (process & methods)
7. Sales (revenue & profit)
8. Environment (physical space & location)
9. Knowledge & learning

The ANTIGENcy strawman concept was created by mashing-up management consulting and vaccine science. This mash-up allows companies to gain prescience along these dimensions by proactively running through scenarios to address found weaknesses in each. Think “spectrum analysis.” These weaknesses can be found by creating antigens for which an organization can consequentially react/adapt to by developing antibodies.

Different than conventional and reactive challenge-solution approaches to management consulting, the ANTIGENcy model is recombinant and evolving. The more the approach is used, the more value it brings to the particpants by virtue of its growing database of management antigens and subsequent antibodies. The universe of antigens and antibodies are meant to grow and benefit their hosts progressively.

The ANTIGENcy model brings a the entire database of antigens to bear providing organizations a potential innoculation against unknown strains. While conventional management consulting is normally the pedestian application of known solution(s) to relatively known problem(s), ANTIGENcy is the broad and deliberate exposure to a spectrum of “challenges” with the goal of strengthening weaknesses that are both known and unknown.

The nascent goal of ANTIGENcy is to be run through open source means by a growing number of practitioners.

Filed under: General, , , , , , , , ,