Corporate Culture/Innovation

ciWeek 8 revealed!

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Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters." His upcoming book, "A Quarter-Million Steps," will be available early next year.
 

Celebrate! Innovation Week (ciWeek) was created in 2010 with one singular purpose: To Inspire.

One week each year is set aside at the Des Moines Area Community College West Des Moines campus to provide students and the community as a whole the opportunity to directly engage with people (some famous, all inspired) who have dreamed, created and accomplished. It’s a thought-provoking and highly interactive week that lets attendees listen, absorb and engage with people who they wouldn’t have the privilege to meet under normal circumstances. Through direct engagement with the “who behind the what,” stories come alive and can have a direct, emotional impact on those fortunate enough to hear them. The event is entirely paid for by a number of generous sponsors, making it free to all who attend.

Previous ciWeek presenters have included two of the 12 men who have walked on the moon; the father of the personal computer; television personalities who focus on science, invention and ideas; explorers who have been to the Titanic and the furthest depths of the ocean, all the way to the highest mountain peaks and most dense jungles; engineers who are developing the growing commercial space industry; inventors of incredible bionics, robotics and animatronics; Academy Award-winning visual effects creators and animators; No. 1 best-selling authors of both fiction and nonfiction; nationally known artists; and even connoisseurs and creators of wines and cheeses.

On Wednesday, Oct. 26, the speakers for ciWeek 8 were unveiled during a special event at the offices of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. As the speakers, the new video trailer for the event and the fall issue of ciMagazine were all revealed, you could feel the energy and excitement in the room. From Feb. 27 to March 3, 2017, some of the speakers who will descend upon the Des Moines metro are:

Kevin Jorgeson, World-Renowned Free Climber                                   

In January 2015, Jorgeson stood atop El Capitan to mark the completion of a successful 19-day free climb up the Dawn Wall of the Yosemite National Park 3,000-foot-tall rock formation — one of the hardest rock climbs ever completed. The success was more than six years in the making as Jorgeson, along with climbing partner Tommy Caldwell, prepared, planned and imagined his way to the top of a dream that everyone else thought was impossible.                  

Alfred (Al) Worden, Test Pilot, Astronaut and Aerospace Engineer

Worden is a two-time world record-holding astronaut for having completed the first spacewalk in deep space and for being the most isolated human ever (at one point he was over 2,200 miles from the next closest person). Both were achieved during his mission as command module pilot to the moon on Apollo 15 in 1971.

Max Brooks, Best-Selling Author andZombie Expert”        

This New York Times best-selling author has sparked readers to discuss how to better prepare for crises and discover solutions around emergency responses in an unconventional way — through zombie-themed fiction. His books, The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, and The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, have established Brooks as a “zombie expert” and propelled the zombie trend forward in pop culture.

Dan Gable, Olympic Gold Medalist and University of Iowa Wrestling Head Coach

A native Iowan, Gable achieved unprecedented wrestling career highlights, including a prep and collegiate collective competition record of 182-1 and a 1972 Olympic gold medal. As a coach, Gable has personally inspired hundreds of other athletes to achieve their absolute best. While at the University of Iowa, he led his team to 15 NCAA national titles. Gable also served as the Olympic head coach three times, and was a six-time World Team head coach.

Thomas Kenneth (Ken) Mattingly II, Astronaut and Aerospace Innovator

Mattingly is not just an astronaut — he served as command module pilot to the moon for Apollo 16 — but also an innovative engineer. He’s responsible for the development of the lunar backpack and spacesuit. Mattingly’s leadership also qualified him as commander for the final orbital test flight of the space shuttle Columbia STS 4. He was played by actor Gary Sinise in the movie Apollo 13.

Kaila Mullady, Beatbox Champion and Artist

Catch beatboxer and multi-instrumentalist Mullady in action, and you’re in for a one-of-a-kind artistic performance that fuses beatboxing with poetry, rap, singing and theater. She’s the 2015 world beatbox champion, among other well-deserved national competition titles. Based in New York City, Mullady teaches creative workshops across the country.

Greg Russell, Academy Award-Nominated Sound Engineer

Russell is one of the most respected sound engineers in the film industry. He has worked on more than 200 films and blockbuster hits, along with numerous famous television shows, and has been nominated for 16 Academy Awards in the category of best sound. Russell won an Emmy for outstanding film sound mixing in 1984.

Thousands of people are touched each year by ciWeek, either in person or through the HD video simulcast. Any one of them could be inspired to create or invent something new to change our lives for the better. Isn’t one enough?

For a complete speaker listing and schedule, and to view the video trailer, please visit:

www.ciWeekExperience.com

©2016 Anthony D. Paustian


PaustianHeadFor more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com

 

Can nonprofits innovate like startups?

Max Farrell is the co-founder of WorkHound, a driver retention software focused on the trucking industry. Beyond that, Max facilitates innovation experiences with innovation consulting firm Create Reason, which instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.

BG innovation biz record

In the middle of a weekday afternoon recently, I looked at the outdoor garden at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden as a staff of 20-plus behind me was passionately coming up with more than 100 ideas about how to improve the guest experience at the Garden. 

Many of the staff could have been tending to the gardens, making donor calls, guiding tours, or any of the number of duties it takes to run the organization. Instead, the staff agreed to press pause for a day in order to work cross-functionally and identify future opportunities for the organization. We called the day an “Innovation Jam”.

As someone who cut my teeth working with emerging tech companies like Dwolla, then launched my own company called WorkHound, I have a blast when I can share actionable knowledge with amazing nonprofits in the community.

But I had one big question that needed to be answered: Can a nonprofit innovate like a startup?

The answer was revealed quickly on my day working with the Botanical Garden: absolutely.

In the one-day innovation jam, we broke out the employees cross-functionally, wrote down 100-plus ideas, filtered them down within groups, and then prioritized based on the day’s north star (goal): “improve the guest experience for members and visitors of the Botanical Garden."

The first thing the Botanical Garden did was engage its entire staff in this experience. Employees collaborated with others regardless of role or department. To truly have an innovative organization, bottom-up engagement has to be embraced and the Botanical Garden did just that.

To amplify this, the Botanical Garden invited members to participate in a “customer development” session, where groups of employees interviewed members to better understand their problems, their delights, and the stickiness around what keeps them coming back. This opened staff eyes to quickly validate their ideas and whether additional time was needed to develop an idea into an event, a product, or a service down the road.

Finally, we worked through how to experiment like companies such as Zappos and Google to try small things before spending significant efforts on something that doesn’t work. This was culminated with completing “The Lean Canvas”, which I often refer to as a business model in a box.

We ended the day mentally exhausted, but eager to execute on new opportunities.

With more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S.*, there are many organizations competing for precious grants, donations, and volunteer efforts. Some of the most innovative organizations, like the Botanical Garden, realize they can’t rely exclusively on others contributing money. They run parts of their organization like a business: They know who their customer is, they create a product or service, and they operate where donations are a bonus.

The Botanical Garden added innovation into their strategic vision recently and the ripples continue to roll, as the physical experiences there leave visitors awestruck. But on a day when the Botanical Garden closed its doors for staff development, it added innovative tactics to the many tools used to make the gardens thrive.

*based on data from foundationcenter.org

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Max startup

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack

Web: CreateReason.com

The 5 reasons to take on a role

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies. Why-are-we-here-mystery-human-meaning-purpose-existence
 
We’ve all heard of the mid-life crisis (or quarter-life crisis for millennials like myself), but do we ever think about the mid-role crisis? To elaborate, this is the evaluation we put ourselves through based on the role we currently occupy. It’s asking that big question: “Why am I doing this?"
 
This is asked by leaders all the way down to the folks starting their careers. Whether for work or community efforts, it’s essential to periodically re-evaluate the roles we occupy and the benefits it brings to our personal and professional lives. But measuring it has always been tricky beyond “gut feeling”. 
 
I’ve been in this position as well, wanting to measure my effectiveness in a professional role mixed with my desire to continue in that role. Based on this evaluation we always give ourselves, I thought through the “boxes” we use to justify career decisions. Ultimately, I think there are 5 reasons why we fulfill a role, either in a company, as an entrepreneur, as a student or as a community member. 
 
Some tie directly to the traditional growth expectations of a role, others are more personal. Either way, I think you’ll find value asking yourself, “why do I occupy the role I’m in and what am I gaining from it?” Hopefully you can evaluate the roles you occupy based on the 5 reasons below: 
 
1. Financial gain - This is one of the most obvious reasons we pursue a role — we make money doing so. This reason could be because we want to pay down debt, care for our families, increase our savings or buy something desirable. Whatever the case, this kind of gain means we may be willing to sacrifice in the interest level we have with a role to roll up the sleeves and have a greater financial gain. 
 
2. Knowledge gain - Sometimes we want to learn in order to propel ourselves to the next level. This often takes form when we “go back to school” to pursue an MBA, but knowledge gain happens at offices every week. Have you ever taken on a task at work and treated it like a puzzle? Then you’ve probably sought knowledge gain. This sort of approach can help with other gains like financial or reputation, but a genuine curiosity has to be the initial guide. 
 
3. Reputation gain - In the midwest we’re humble, but it’s no secret many of us strive to do things to boost our reputation, our clout, our status or our ego. It’s why some of us take on board seats on non-profits or lead a less-desirable project at work. We want the recognition, as it can tie back to benefits beyond reputation. 
 
4. Network gain - I’ve heard “your network is your net worth”; it often holds true. Sometimes we do things to grow our network of connections (beyond just adding someone on LinkedIn). Before we can connect the dots (and add value to relationships), we have to collect the dots. Building an arsenal of good people that you can use to learn from or to do business with is essential in growing oneself. You need good people to take on tasks at a company, within an organization or in the community. 
 
5. Intrinsic gain - The final reason we take on a role is simply because it feels like the right thing to do. Many board seats are secured this way — it feels good to help out an organization with a worthy cause. Others may be serving as a mentor or advisor to a fledgling professional or project. Intrinsic gain is often used for personal satisfaction, but winds up having far reaching positive impact. 
 
The next time you’re thinking of taking on a new role or evaluating your own? Check the list above and evaluate whether you’re doing it for the right reasons or any reason at all. 
 

Do you think there are other reasons people take on roles? Share your thoughts below or by email: max@createreason.com 

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Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Innovating internally: Do we own or rent markets?

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.
 
We don’t own markets, we merely rent
I wrapped up a presentation recently and was asked by an attendee about the rise of competitors from unexpected industries. Specifically, this attendee worked for a payments company, but was surprised to now see competition from tech companies like Apple and Google with such products as Apple Pay and Google Wallet. 
 
Surprised by this concern, I was reminded of a quote by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen:
 
 
Andreessen’s argument is that technology-infused companies will be the winners of markets in the future. Now this doesn’t mean new startups will necessarily take over, but the emphasis is that the groups that evolve in markets to meet customer demands will win. 
 
Let’s be honest: It’s terrifying to have billion dollar players with a reputation like Google, Amazon or Apple step on your turf. Especially if you and your firm have been the “industry leader” for decades and know “the ins and outs.” 
 
The hard truth: Being the industry leader doesn’t matter any more. 
 
One of the most profound statements I heard recently summed up this evolution: 
 
“We don’t own markets. We merely rent space in them."
 
Think about that for a second.
 
The industries that we think we “own" and bet our careers on are no longer a guarantee. We have to fight every day to remain relevant and win whatever marketshare we have.  
 
It’s a terrifying evolution, but one that makes sense.
 
Take checks for example. For many, they are still the backbone of some businesses, but there are five companies, like Dwolla, out to make payments purely digital.
Financial planners are usually face-to-face, right? Well now there are five-plus financial planning tools like Learnvest that can be used solely online.
The idea of insurance agents? Every aspect of the insurance experience can be completed without interacting with another person. 
 
A number of eye-opening shifts are coming to life. 
 
The beauty of realizing this evolution is that we can do something about it. 
 
My challenge to you: Take a look around and find three other competitors that may not be on your radar. 
 
If anyone believes there are no up-and-comers in their market, send me a note and I’ll help point them out, because I assure you, the competition is there. 
 
If we only rent markets, we have to make sure we’re able to pay up before we get our prime position snatched away. 
 
It’s a tough game. Welcome to the renter’s market of 2015 and beyond.  

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Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Want innovation? 5 steps to invest in and empower employees

- Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.

There’s a great office argument that I’m sure many of you have come across: Investing-in-employees

CEO - “Why are we spending all this money on training if people will likely leave?”

VP - “Because what if we don’t train them and they stay?”

It’s a new era in our working world. The average employee only stays 4.5 years now. For millennials it’s 18 month to 36 months on average. Permanent employment is dead.

This same dilemma applies when tackling new, unexplored initiatives and products for organizations. 

What if we don’t give ourselves time to think or a chance to venture into unexplored areas?

The hard truth is that in 2015, markets and customer demands evolve faster than we can high five over our recently polished products.

And this isn’t just true for businesses, this is true for nonprofits too.

Many of us are volunteers or board members for some fantastic nonprofits, but even they have to keep on their toes as donor dollars can rapidly shift to new organizations.

So here’s the big question:

What are you doing today so your company will thrive in five years, let alone one year?

Many companies will quickly retort — “we’ve got a brilliant strategy”.

But the world changes faster than we’re comfortable with.

How can you set a strategy for the next five years if your team doesn’t have the tools to innovate today?

The biggest decisions and the brilliant concepts will not always come from the top, which is why I think now is one of the most exciting times to be an employee within an established company.

Talented individuals have the opportunity to be the intrapreneurs (internal entrepreneurs) and the change agents that steer great companies to stay great. 

How can you make it happen?

1. Get senior leaders to “give permission” for staff to bring ideas to life. You can never underestimate the power of simply sharing the notion that you need support to help the company thrive.

2. Showcase that senior leaders believe the initiative is important. It’s one thing to say innovation is important, but we have to show that it’s a key company initiative. This can be in the form of internal idea pitch competitions, continued mention in company communication or innovation events. Ripples turn to waves.

3. Have a process to facilitate bringing new ideas to life. Brainstorming sessions aren’t the solution, but they’re a start. There need to be steps for what to do with good ideas and a process to kill bad ideas.

4. Make sure to bring at least one new initiative to life with this focus. The excitement for innovation can die quickly if no results come to life.

5. Celebrate like crazy! Instilling a culture of innovation requires continuous reinforcement of the initiatives. Boasting wins is a great way to do this.

To close:

I really like an article from Patrick Kalaher of Frog Design for his take on the future of work:

“Forward-thinking businesses must hire for flexibility and then provide tools that enable their employees to act in a variety of contexts.”

We’ve got awesome opportunities in front of us to rethink work. It’s gonna be a fun ride.

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Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Moneyball at the Office: 4 Skills to Look for Within Your Staff

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.

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A close friend of mine was let go from his job not too long ago due to the team choosing to “go in a different direction with the role." It was a huge blow to a number of people in the organization.

When he left, there was a gap on the team and a significant drop in morale. He was a high performer and a great motivator, yet the company chose to push forward without him.

This kind of story happens within companies every day, but what is omitted in this is the simple question asking: “What else could he do?"

It turns out this employee was versatile in a number of fields, but hired for marketing. The company made a crucial mistake when they let him go versus thinking through, “what else could we do with this great asset?”

A lot of us are sports fans, so it’s fitting to apply an analogy here. 

In our companies, we have the opportunity to play moneyball with the staff we have. It is the chance to rethink roles of those we have in house, regardless of what bucket they are currently placed in. 

Companies that allow for internal talent shifts and realignments are able to capitalize on a few things: 

-Lower turnover
-More engaged employees
-An adaptive workforce

Yet many firms choose to let good people go if a specific position is no longer needed. 

Instead of giving great talent the boot, companies should ask “what else can you do and what else do you want to do?” By opening the door to shifting talent around, especially in today’s consistently evolving work climate, we can learn about what else a person can bring to the table to help a company thrive. Oftentimes, what’s missing is the framework or the “stats” to identify if the player is worthy of having a key role on the team. 

Here are four skills that help us understand our strengths and weaknesses in the workplace: 

1. Shared skills: These are the skills we share on our resume, on LinkedIn and publicly present that we are experts in these fields. An example would be a marketing professional highlighting they are skilled in marketing.

2. Discovered skills: These are skills we learn on the job that we realize we have a knack for excelling with an unexpected talent. An example would be a marketing professional that finds out they actually thrive in a role creating new company products. 

3. Aspirational skills: These are skills that we aspire to be good at. Since we are always learning in all of our roles, we may highlight new skills we are actively developing for down the road. An example would be the marketing professional learning how to code to better create software. 

4. Delusional skills: These are the dangerous skills that people propose. This happens when someone shares they are “skilled” in one area, but history and results have continued to demonstrate otherwise. The reality check probably hasn’t hit yet. An example is a marketing professional that may think they are a great manager, but have an extremely disengaged team working with them. 

So how can we address this?

•Continue to challenge your team to address questions such as “what else do you want to do?”, “how do you want to grow?” and “how else could you add value to this team / organization”. Time and time again I see specialized skill sets pop up in companies. A recent find was an executive assistant that was truly a master event organizer. 

•Don’t shut the door on employees right away. It’s expensive to rehire and retrain employees. If the fix is simply shifting them to a different department or division, that could create waves of efficiency in an organization. 

•Give little experiments to evaluate these other possible skills. We don’t know until we try! So give interested staff a few small challenges to evaluate their ability to learn and execute in a new space.

Wrapping Up: 

At the end of the day, people are our most crucial asset, continuing to find ways to optimize that secret sauce in each organization will continue to be the difference maker. 

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Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

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Three words that will slowly kill your business

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.

There are three words that will slowly kill your company.Companies that didn't make it

“That won’t work.”

It’s a phrase we use daily in our offices and interactions with one another to quickly kill ideas.

Why do we do this?

•Because killing ideas is free.

•Because we have a fear of failure, as familiarity almost always wins out over exploring change.

•Because there is a fear of the new. We have a natural tendency to create safe routes before we ever explore the road less traveled.

But we’re still standing right?!

Yes, some of us.

Remember Kodak, Blockbuster and Borders?

They all said “that won’t work.”

Kodak didn’t embrace the digital revolution, believing printing photos was still what the customer would always prefer. The digital camera and infrastructure came in and crushed Kodak.

Blockbuster laughed off the notion that people would “stream DVDS”. Netflix started a streaming revolution with every other entertainment company forever playing catch up. Last I heard of Blockbuster, they had a few stores left in Mexico.

Borders routed their online sales directly through Amazon and then completely ignored the e-reader revolution. So when their arsenal of stores, CDs, books and DVDs didn’t sell, they had no choice but to shut down shop.

In each of these, billions of dollars were lost and tens of thousands of jobs disappeared.

Companies bet their fortune that customers would keep doing the same things. Customers evolve and never “always” do anything.

So how can you avoid a painful crumbling of the company?

There are two, two word statements you must use:

Yes and quote

“Yes, and...” and “Yes, if...”

“Yes, and…” comes from the improv comedy world. To keep the momentum going, actors on stage will say “yes, and…” when someone says something. The moment another actor says no, it throws the entire rhythm off. This is a great tool to build on ideas.

“Yes, if…” is a term I’ve heard used with Disney. This doesn’t kill an idea right away. Rather, it encourages putting conditions on ideas to bring them to life.

The next time you get presented with an idea, don’t kill it. Ideas need oxygen, they need to be picked, pulled, poked and worked through. Execution ultimately wins the day, but that never happens if we say “that won’t work” before we even get started.

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Five key insights from the first internal innovators meetup

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that promotes a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.

Recently a group of intrapreneurs/change agents from a handful of area companies got together for the first Des Moines Internal Innovators Meetup. We discussed a number of topics around how companies approach innovation, what some of the wins have been, what roadblocks have been and an open dialogue on supporting one another.

It was a great chance to connect like-minded professionals and we’re excited for what the future holds with this group. Following the group, I identified five key insights from the discussions and share them with you here: 

Everybody has problems

We all know of internal politics, mixed ambitions, communication breakdowns, etc. But we all have problems and address them in different ways. Establishing this was a huge breakthrough for us in having authentic conversation. 

Companies have different definitions of “innovation”

To some people, innovation means disruptive or big changes. For others, innovation is about making continuous improvements and incremental progress.  Different groups believe it’s a cultural shift and a “new way of thinking” for the employees. 

Not only is this an occurrence across different companies but this happens within organizations. Multiple people have multiple interpretations. This is where the group agreed it’s key to have a clear definition of what innovation means to the company. 

Companies have the power of the brand as an unfair advantage

If customers already align with your brand, selling to customers or prospects is half the battle. This makes it much easier than startups attempting to establish a brand from the ground up. 

One exception to this exists when established companies are expanding internationally. The brand doesn’t have the same weight in new markets and may be interpreted in unexpected ways. This can lead to a tougher time acquiring brand loyalty in new markets, but provides an opportunity for companies to better understand their expansion areas. 

“What worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow”

Not only do markets change rapidly, but the definition of success does too. Teams internally sometimes have a hard time realizing “what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow” and have to work to acquire buy-in for new approaches to implement instead of being heads down on figuring out what work tomorrow. Ensuring companies move quicker on this front is crucial to success.

Innovation goals have to align with business goals

Unless an innovation team is autonomous from the rest of the business, innovation goals have to meet the pre-set demands of a business. This means innovation can be used as a tool to more effectively meet or exceed existing goals. Some groups work to understand the strategic initiatives and then filter possible new initiatives based on those.  

Closing

This was a great first meeting and we’re looking forward to more discussions with local intrapreneurs. If anyone in your company is interested, please have them fill out this form to join us at the next meetup!

Let's keep the conversation going: 

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Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Faster Horses: how to solve the right problems through innovation

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires innovation and intrapreneurship inside companies to drive engagement and bold action. 

Henry-Ford-Quote

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” - Henry Ford

This quote by Henry Ford may be familiar to many of you and rightfully so. It is a staple quote in how we approach innovation: sometimes we have to solve problems in ways the customer doesn’t know are possible. Almost all innovations start with a problem, but a key ingredient to solving it is having an ideal outcome. 

Let’s dig into the core of how to identify what the customer really wants. 

In Henry Ford’s case, his problem was that cars were too costly for the masses to access. As a result, many people assumed horses were the best thing available. But Ford knew the desired outcome was for people to have a better way to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.

So Ford addressed the problem by pursuing a solution at the core of the desired outcome: make cars more accessible to the masses. In doing this, he popularized the assembly line, fair employee wages (so his own employees could buy the cars they created) and made the car affordable to the masses. 

We all run into issues like this daily, whether it is with customers, inside our organizations or even in our personal lives. 

Often we rush to address problems without thinking about what we want the core outcome to be. Frequently we identify a problem without truly understanding THE problem

Innovation at its core is the ability to truly understand the problem, hypothesize the desirable outcome and build the solution with continuous iterations and feedback loops. 

I’ll give a personal example of a problem/outcome scenario I was faced with recently: 

In my apartment building, many tenants were complaining to the property managers about the complexity of the thermostats (the problem). People requested the thermostat manual from the maintenance crew, but the group was reluctant to share due to the text book thickness of the manual.

As I discussed this issue with the lead maintenance guy, we talked through the desired outcome. It wasn't that people wanted the manuals, they simply wanted better instruction on how to work the the thermostat. The maintenance lead agreed to offer a workshop to educate the tenants. This way the root of the problem (lack of knowledge) is addressed with an outcome (understanding). 

It's a simple example, but I share it to emphasize how simple issues can be approached differently. 

We need to truly understand the problem, ask why it's a problem, propose an outcome and then iterate to find/verify the ideal solution. It works with customers, it works in the office and it works at home. 

Simply approaches like this could lead to the creation of the next groundbreaking product or industry. 

What "faster horses” are you faced with in your industry?

 

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Don’t get ready, get started: how innovation initiatives can get a jolt in 2015

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires innovation and intrapreneurship inside companies to drive engagement and bold action. 

Startup stock photo 3 color

Many companies are wrapping up strategic conversations for 2015 and many are discussing how innovation will be a key initiative for their growth. But what’s that first step for the organization?

Adapting the culture for innovation. Change is really, really hard. Making it a cultural staple is tough too. 

To kickoff corporate innovation is either a beginning or a continuation of previous efforts. All companies were once startups and have that innovative spirit somewhere in their DNA. 

The most important thing in this world is creating value. It doesn't matter if someone leaves a company to create a startup or teams build something internally. The most important thing is to make sure you're solving a problem and that value is created from it for others to benefit from. 

In order to allow for innovation to infiltrate and actually work inside an organization, the culture has to adapt and has to be willing to embrace experimentation and shift some focus on priorities both from the company standpoint and the employee standpoint. Again, this is hard.

Corporate entrepreneurs (intrapreneurs) have an extremely unique opportunity to steer the massive ship from monotony to tackling new,really big opportunities with the tremendous resources that a large organization already has. 

But sometimes the biggest roadblock is the company getting out of its own way so that corporate entrepreneurs can shake the world up in ways that startups don't have the resources for and that existing executives don't have the to recognize. 

The day-to-day will always cannibalize innovation efforts. Fires rise in all of our organizations, but having at least a few team members staying laser focused on new initiatives is key. 

To make sure the initiatives are fruitful, action has to happen. This can be the tiniest of things.

Here are a few ideas:  

-Create a landing page to test new initiatives.

-Talk to existing customers about some opportunities that are being explored. I promise that the touch point of pro-actively looking to meet their needs will be well received. 

-Run a pitch competition internally to showcase the innovative ideas employees across the organization have. Commit to implementing at least one. 

Whatever path your teams choose, take the bold steps in conquering new initiatives. Remember: don't get ready, get started. 

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Double Dutch in business: Implementing new initiatives

 Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires innovation and intrapreneurship inside companies to drive engagement and bold action. 

DoubledutchInventing and implementing new products or kicking off a new initiative inside a company is a lot like the jump rope game Double Dutch, which you can see in this short video\

Jumping rope is hard enough, but adding a second rope can be tricky unless you’re ready for it.

Why is it tough to add something extra to an organization?

Change is tough unless you become good at change:

Try jumping into a new job, a new campaign, a new relationship—it’s usually tricky at first.

Same with business: It takes time to get good at launching new things. People have to adapt to the change in process, embrace experimentation and keep pushing forward.

The rope is already moving:

Systems, procedures, existing software and habits are already in place for the majority of teams. A new addition has to fit with the things that are already moving as smoothly as possible. Many implementations have a razor-thin margin for error.

The rope doesn’t stop moving:

You have to make sure things fit right and happen at the right time or they fall apart. Case in point: (you’ll enjoy this short clip). Jazz musicians are a great example of a group that improvises on the fly. They jam with new players and new instruments all while keeping on beat. Businesses need to operate the same way, flexible to shifts that may occur.

You have to communicate:

In Double Dutch you have to communicate with everyone: your partners jumping in, the people swinging the rope and those watching on the sidelines.

It’s the same with business: communicate the new implementation, how it needs to be done, what needs to change and let those on the sidelines (your customers) know what’s coming so they can anticipate and react to the change.

How can you get better at Double Dutch (adding new offerings) in your company?

  • Start with why. Why do you need to add or start something new? Why is there value in this update? Answering these will clarify objectives and outcomes.

  • Get a team of specialists, either internally or externally who know how to play the game. Introducing new products and initiatives is an art and a science—experience helps. Also think about creating cross-functional teams to bring something new to life.

  • Crowdsource the approach. Great ideas don’t always come from the top, but from within. What ideas do your employees have to make a new effort amazing?

  • Over-communicate. Do this with your customers, with teams internally and anyone else involved. You don’t want to have a Double Dutch fail.

In closing:

Innovation is a crucial part of business and you’ll see an increasing focus on the topic in 2015. It’s tempting to jump right in, but first you have to make sure you and your team are ready for the rush.

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Squirrel suits, golf clubs, employees & entrepreneurs

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship inside companies to drive employee engagement. 

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Squirrel suits, golf clubs, employees and entrepreneurs -- they don’t usually go together, but in the world of business they oddly can.

Squirrel suits (often known as wingsuits) are suits worn when one wants to “fly” as they skydive or jump off of a high cliff or building.

Golf clubs are used in the game many of us play for leisure and even for relationship building.

Both provide a good time and serve as enjoyment for a specific crowd. In addition, both cost about the same. However one comes with a much higher risk (skydiving) vs. the easy-going game of golf.

So why does this matter in business?

It helps define the experiences of entrepreneurs versus employees.

Entrepreneurs are the ones who strap on the squirrel suit for the high risk/reward of launching a new venture. Most will fail, but the rush will be a surreal one in pursuit of success.

Employees are the golfers. They want to enjoy the game, develop their skills (as we all do in our careers) and have a consistent game to go play.

Both activities are a blast and both cost roughly the same financially. But a key thing to think about, is that they both take up the same amount of time.

With time as a consistent variable as well, why don’t more people strap on the squirrel suit? Most would say it’s the risk. The uncertainty. The fear.

As of 2012, 13 percent of the U.S. workforce was launching or running a business.* The data shows that the majority of us will build on something existing.

There are a lot more golf players out there, but the rush of being around the entrepreneurial experience is certainly tempting for many of us.

It’s no secret there’s a rise in the number of startup companies, the number of entrepreneurs (or wantrepreneurs) and the number of people clamoring to work in a startup/innovative company. Millennials are demanding more from their work experience than any generation before and are wanting an active part in shaping their team and company’s future.

So how can you capture that entrepreneurial energy inside your own organization?

Engaging employees using innovation is a great start. Every employee can add value beyond their current role to better the organization. Many of these employees have the ability to be “intrapreneurs” - entrepreneurs inside the company or internal innovators, but they need the framework or “permission” to make it a reality.

Jumpstarting intrepreneurs inside a team, a business unit or an entire organization can seem daunting. Luckily, it’s not at all. Companies around the globe run simple innovation experiences where employees are asked to share ways to better the organization, flesh out new concepts and map out how to bring them to life.

These experiences can be in the form of brainstorming sessions, internal hackathons, code jams, creation jams or any other short-term experience that sparks a newfound approach internally.

The majority of us don’t put on squirrel suits, but it doesn’t mean we can’t experience the same rush when we work.

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*Babson Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013

3 steps to building a purpose-driven organization

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship inside companies. 

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Building an organization is hard. Really, really, hard. 

We often focus solely on the bottom line,which is usually revenue, profit or some other monetary metric to demonstrate success.

However to be a great organization, this monetary metric won’t fill up the many other aspects that drive you and the others involved in your operation. Purpose will.

Recently, I attended the Social Venture Network Conference outside New York City with a group of business leaders who are mission and purpose driven. They strive to create groundbreaking solutions to social, economic and environmental problems. They contribute to the well-being of their employees, customers, investors, communities and the environment. The overlying theme: they build with purpose.

After a thought provoking conference, I thought through a few ways as to how we as leaders in this community can gauge just how purpose-driven our organizations are.

Here are three steps to measure if you are building a purpose-driven organization:

  1. Your teams discuss the “why” in what they do, not just the “what”.

Why do your employees rally under your mission? Organizations that have a powerful purpose have employees that will share not only their role with the organization, but the value that role serves for the greater cause. Dwolla is great at capturing this within their culture. In my time working there, I was always proud to share the mission of “building the ideal way to move money” in addition to the tactical work I was doing. Many companies get stuck on solely making money, but talent will stay when they have more to work for than a paycheck.

  1. Customers, supporters, and your employees rally around your vision just as much as your product.

The same way that sports teams have legions of loyal fans, companies that build the right way will have people, regardless of whether they are customers rallying in their corner. This is done by serving a purpose greater than the bottom line. One company that comes to mind that does a great job of this is Greyston Bakery in New York.

Greyston has a compelling tagline to drive their focus: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”  Their focus of community development through hiring and training while growing their business has led them to work with groups like Ben & Jerry’s and Whole Foods. On the Greyston website you can find a “Join the movement” page. It’s a big step from business as usual.

  1. Your audacious company vision can be condensed to a mantra.

This. Is. Really. Tough. Our companies, our products, our services - they add tremendous value to the world. But can we condense them enough to leave others desiring more from us and themselves in the process?

Take Google’s “Don’t be evil” and Apple’s: “Think Different” as examples. They drive their company and their employees to be larger than just a role. This attracts the right kinds of employees to build with and customers that become a natural fit for their products.

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Purpose can be driven from all different directions. Whether you are selective in the clients/customers you choose to work with, the additional initiatives outside your core offerings or the extra drive you instill in your customers and employees, ask yourself: what purpose are you serving that will drive your organization to the next level?

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*For more on company mantras, read this great article from Entrepreneur.

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Want 20% time like Google? Build the foundation first

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship inside companies. 

CR work

Our team at Create Reason recently facilitated a one-ay Creation Jam -- an interactive function within a company to spark innovation and cross-functional collaboration across departments.

The day went amazingly well. Employees pitched concepts and developed them, many of which were quite impressive. Significantly, new relationships were formed across department lines and teams were engaged in refreshing ways.

At the end of the day, awards were given out to the best concepts in different categories. One of the awards for the best concept was the opportunity for “20 percent time” for about a month to expand on the concept and explore adding it as it as a new service offering.

20 percent time allows for employees to spend an average of one day a week with groundbreaking concepts or incremental improvements to develop them out over an allotted time inside the company. The 20 percent time model has been famously implemented by companies such as Google and 3M, to allow employees with groundbreaking concepts to develop them internally. This is how Post-It notes, Gmail and a slew of other products have come to life. 

Both our team and the senior leadership were excited to see this experiment play out. When we made the announcement to the staff, there was a surprising backlash from some of the employees.

The winning team looked distraught as they were given what should have been a moment of glory. They didn’t see it as an opportunity to create something new. They saw it as more work.

This experience forced us to take a step back to understand why this would be the case. It turns out truly successful 20 percent time is like the self-actualization in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  20 percent time can only be successfully implemented with several other conditions being met. Most importantly: the work has to get done and get done well.

When a company’s talent is swamped with the work in front of them, innovation is the last thing on employee minds. The mindset is not — “oh I can work on this” but rather “oh I have to work on this too”. It makes a big difference.

When built within a company from the ground up or added with the right conditions to an established organization, 20 percent time can serve as a catalyst for rising concepts around how to better the organization or creating new products to steer the company in exciting directions.

What is your organization doing to foster innovation and creativity? Let us know in the comments below or send an email and share!

Update: Google has announced they have refocused their 20 percent time. 

 

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Exploring tours of duty inside companies

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a company that inspires entrepreneurship inside larger organizations. 

Tour of duty image

Tours of duty are often associated with the military, but as it turns out, the authors of “The Alliance” address the idea that “tours of duty” can exist and thrive inside workplaces.

To briefly highlight the concept: regardless of whether you’re joining a company, shifting into a new role internally, or operating in a senior role, all team members should be on a tour of duty that is a specific, finite mission the employee and employer agree on. This function is a specific mission and realistic timeline.

If the concept seems strange, it’s one that’s been applied in something many of us are familiar with: sports.

The “tour of duty” in the NBA:

The Miami Heat (before LeBron jumped to the Cleveland Cavaliers again) embody the concept of people coming together for a finite period of time to complete a specific mission: win NBA titles. They accomplished this goal twice — mission accomplished.

In the workplace, The Alliance encourages companies to embrace this philosophy —people aren’t going to stay on your “team” forever, so you might as well rally around some goals that can realistically be accomplished while you all are a unit.

The “tour of duty” with the coaching carousel of college football:

College football coaching also has a well documented “tour of duty” history — now more than ever. A graduate assistant (new hire) gets his foot in the door however possible. After getting a grip on what path to pursue (offense / defense / strength coach etc.) he may have to hop to another school to become a position coach (manager/director). After a few years at position coach (and possibly a few different schools), they may get called to a new school to become a coordinator (VP), and may hop around a few different schools in this role as well. Finally they may get a head coaching gig (CEO), but likely at a Sun Belt school to polish their chops as a leader. Then, several years down the line they may get the “dream job” coaching in the SEC / Big Ten.

We can all think about our own careers in line with the coaching carousel. Some people may be content as a manager at a company or as an expert in a specific field. Others may take the more ambitious route of scratching / clawing / hustling their way to the top. The top looks different to almost everyone, which is why some people are happy as a small business owner (Division III head coach) vs. CEO of a Fortune 500 company (head coach of a dynasty).

Regardless of what tours we work towards, we rarely stay in the same jobs / organizations now for more than 4.4 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is important to strive for what realistic goals are achievable in the time given for a team to collaborate, as it keeps all of us more authentic and striving for mutual benefit when working together.

To read more about the Tour of Duty concept, check out this slide show.

Photo Credit: Reid Hoffman, "The Alliance: A Visual Summary"

 

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