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The #1 Thing That Breaks Your Innovation Programs

 13th March 2018 by gihan

The #1 Thing That Breaks Your Innovation Programs

One of the most commonly-quoted stories around disruption is about Kodak, which was the market leader in film photography, but failed because it couldn’t adapt to digital photography. There are many variations of this story, giving various reasons for Kodak’s demise: It had too much invested in film, it had grown so big it had stopped innovating, the organisational structure couldn’t cope with a digital world, and so on. There’s even one dramatic story that the Kodak employee who invented the first digital camera was told by senior management to hide his invention because it would destroy Kodak’s existing market.

The problem with these stories is that they aren’t true. What’s worse, they hide the real reason behind Kodak’s demise.

So why did Kodak fail?

To answer this, let’s first look at one of the most common reasons many change programs fail.

And just to be clear, when we’re talking about “change” here, I’m not talking about the random, senseless change programs that many businesses go through from time to time. Let’s focus on razor-sharp innovation programs that are intended to keep your business current – or even ahead of the game.

Ideas are not enough.

First, of course, some businesses only pay lip service to change. They might run a one-day innovation workshop, a fancy innovation off-site, or something else that’s designed to generate a lot of ideas – with the promise of transforming the business and disrupting their industry.

And you know what? Sometimes it works … at least as far as generating ideas. People come back with butcher’s paper, flip charts, and sticky notes full of ideas – some good, some bad, some practical, some impractical, some crazy, and some surprisingly sane.

But ideas alone are not enough. Far too often, those ideas never get implemented, because the leaders don’t make time and space for action. Change needs ideas and action. Indeed, a common definition of innovation is “applied creativity” – in other words, taking your ideas and putting them into action.

Of course, ideas in action are better than no action at all (or, as General George S. Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”). But even that alone is not enough. The problem is that many of the ideas just don’t have any practical value. It’s all very well to implement ideas, but if those ideas aren’t really moving your business forward in any meaningful way, they are worthless.

And that’s the problem with so many change and innovation programs today. You might be constantly evolving and changing, but still find yourself disrupted and blindsided by some smart, savvy start-up that does something radically different. Or the world changes in unexpected ways, and your wonderful ideas are instantly obsolete.

That’s what happened to Kodak. They weren’t afraid that digital cameras would cannibalise their existing products; they just didn’t anticipate it. They didn’t deliberately try to kill off a threat; they just didn’t see it as a threat.

The first digital camera – built by a Kodak engineer – was as big as a toaster, took 20 seconds to take a picture, and the resolution was much lower than a print. Kodak’s management assessed it, but ignored it because they thought it would never be good enough to compete with film cameras. They didn’t account for exponential growth, which meant the improvements happened much faster than they expected.

It’s easy to look back now and criticise Kodak for its lack of foresight. But many, many businesses – especially established businesses – are doing exactly the same thing now. And they are doing it for exactly that reason: a lack of foresight.

That’s the missing element: foresight.

To be truly successful, innovation needs all three elements: ideas, action, and foresight.

Foresight is the ability to look into the future. It’s not about predicting the future like a fortune teller or a lucky gambler. Rather, it’s about using the tools that futurists use to direct and drive change.

For example, you might:

  • Identify trends in the way customers interact with businesses in your industry.
  • Understand how new technology will change your business.
  • Examine global megatrends to identify potential threats and new opportunities.
  • Learn how personal choices are driving professional decisions.

The simplest version of this is to just ask the question: What problem are we solving for our customers?

That’s a good start, but even that question starts from the present, not the future. You’re talking about your current customers, their current problems, and your current solutions.

It doesn’t look further into the future, which means you’re still vulnerable to competitors who look further than you do.

Pull from the future, don’t push from the past.

The key difference when you start with foresight is that you start with a future focus. Instead of pushing change from the past, you pull it from the future.

When you think like a futurist, you can then act like an innovator. If you really want to create compelling change, first learn how to see into the future so you can design a path to success.

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What Customers Really Want Now

 8th March 2018 by gihan

In the past, business was easy: Find out your customers’ problems and figure out how you can help solve them – better than anybody else. But that has changed, because customers have changed. Customers today expect far more from you than just solving their problems! To be fit for the future, understand the different kinds of things customers expect now, and innovate so you can meet these needs and build a future-proof business.

You can watch the recording here:

After the webinar, I asked participants “What was the most useful thing you learned today?” Here are some of their answers:

“To know what the purpose of my business is, as opposed to my mission and vision”

“Purpose is one way to be future-proof”

“I reflected on and want to work further on how to shift clients from problem to purpose. For me it is about mindset. “

“keep learning”

“6 key areas of what matters to customers “

“Nice refresher, and reminder to articulate the “shared journey” with prospects and clients”

“Framework for feedback and involvement with visible comments “

“Several new approaches to business operation”

“Mission education Goal”

“How precise and thought provoking the presentation is,Excellent”

The Future Proof Webinar Series

The Future Proof webinar series will keep you in touch with our future – what’s ahead, what it means for us, and how to stay ahead of the game.

In each webinar, I’ll cover an important topic about the future – for example, the shift of power to Asia, the changing workplace, healthcare technology, the shift to customer-centric business, big data, and more. This is not just theory; I’ll also give you practical examples and ideas for you to future-proof your organisation, teams, and career.

Register here

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The Buzz About Bitcoin

 1st March 2018 by gihan

The Buzz About Bitcoin

Bitcoin is currently valued at $17,057, but it’s volatile and filled with hype. What IS it, and should you invest $15,662 of your hard-earned cash in buying it? Even if you don’t have a spare $16,902 sitting around, take the time to understand the basics of Bitcoin and blockchain technology and know what it means for you and your business.

Listen To the Episode

Watch the slides

Watch the slides from the webinar recording for this episode:

Download the slide deck

More Resources

The Fit for the Future Podcast brings you regular ideas, interviews and insights about how you, your teams and your organisation can become fit for the future.

More ways to engage with me:

It’s Not a Bug, It’s a Feature

 27th February 2018 by gihan

If a team member doesn’t fit in, do you treat them as a troublemaker or one of your most valuable assets? In this extract from my keynote presentation to the Queensland Law Society, I talk about the concept “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature”.

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Do You Know The Motivation Behind Their Behaviour?

 20th February 2018 by gihan

It’s easy to react to somebody’s behaviour, but do you make the effort to understand the motivation behind their behaviour? This is the skill of “social intelligence”, which the Institute for the Future has identified as one of their top 10 skills for the future workforce.

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Bitcoin – What’s the Big Deal?

 15th February 2018 by gihan

Bitcoin is currently valued at $17,057, but it’s volatile and filled with hype. What IS it, and should you invest $15,662 of your hard-earned cash in buying it? All the hype about the bitcoin bubble might be taking attention away from the powerful “blockchain” technology powering it, and what that could mean for almost every transaction we conduct in the future. But is blockchain itself all it’s hyped up to be? Even if you don’t have a spare $16,902 sitting around, take the time to understand the technology and know what it means for you and your business.

You can watch the recording here:

After the webinar, I asked participants “What was the most useful thing you learned today?” Here are some of their answers:

“very precise and well balanced. Enjoyed it”

“That there are a finite number of Bitcoins”

“I have a greater understanding of the technology”

“That I don’t have to worry about bitcoin!”

“Clear explanations about bitcoin, the blockchain and potential”

“Understanding what bitcoin and block chain is”

“Bitcoin explained in easy to understand language”

“I’d read a lot, have a daughter dabbling in a small way and making money, but it was good to get the overall view of it all. I am more interested in understanding the blockchain technology behind it an the various ways it is being used and will impact on business.”

“i have a (beginner’s) understanding of why bitcoin potentially has a value; why it is rare; why that makes it a tradeable commodity. Thanks!”

“The fact that I don’t need to think I have missed a good opportunity. I can forget about investing in Bitcoin.”

The Future Proof Webinar Series

The Future Proof webinar series will keep you in touch with our future – what’s ahead, what it means for us, and how to stay ahead of the game.

In each webinar, I’ll cover an important topic about the future – for example, the shift of power to Asia, the changing workplace, healthcare technology, the shift to customer-centric business, big data, and more. This is not just theory; I’ll also give you practical examples and ideas for you to future-proof your organisation, teams, and career.

Register here

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There’s an I In Team

 13th February 2018 by gihan

Do you treat everybody in your team as if they were “gifted and talented”? We used to say “There’s no I in team”, and force people to focus on the organisation’s goals, even at the expense of their own. But if you want to be really fit for the future, recognise and develop the unique skills and talents of everybody in your team.

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Solving Customer Problems? That’s Not Enough Anymore!

 7th February 2018 by gihan

As a futurist, I’m often asked by business leaders how to stay ahead of their competition in a fast-changing world. Many of these leaders think it’s about embracing some new technology, understanding some future trend before anybody else in their industry, or creating an innovative product.

Those might all be useful, but it starts with something else: understanding your customer and serving their needs.

You might think that’s nothing new! After all, business has always been about serving customer needs, right? Yes, that’s true. But customer needs have changed.

In the past, business success was much easier: Understand your customer’s problems, and fix them – better than anybody else can.

But that simplistic approach doesn’t work anymore. First, you have far more competitors than ever before, so it’s more and more difficult to be better than anybody else.

More importantly, customers have changed, and they expect different things from you and your business. Solving problems is just one of the things that attracts customers.

Broadly, there are six things you do for customers – which means six levels of dealing with their needs.

1. Saving Them From Crisis

In any industry, most businesses help customers who have problems, but only a few help customers who have a crisis. It’s not always easy to do this, but if you choose to be one of those few, it can give you a strong market share.

For example, I know a mortgage broker who has built a very profitable part of her business helping people who can’t get a home loan through the normal channels. The major banks and most mortgage brokers won’t touch these clients, because they are “difficult”, so they are not very profitable. But this particular broker has targeted these clients, and knows how to help them while still staying profitable in her business.

The trouble with helping customers in crisis is that – if you do your job well – you don’t necessarily get a lot of repeat business. So it’s difficult to build a business only on these customers.

2. Solving Their Problems

This is the classic kind of customer for most businesses: somebody who has a problem for which you can offer a solution. In most industries, this is the largest chunk of customers, and the easiest to target with your marketing. But it’s also where you will find the most competitors, so it’s the most difficult for you to differentiate yourself.

If your business strategy involves helping customers solve problems, good! That’s a good start. But it’s only a start, because everybody else is doing the same thing. So the only way to keep competing in this area is to be better than everybody else – and that’s getting harder and harder. A better option is to diversify into the next four areas.

3. Achieving Their Goals

The first two levels – crises and problems – are about fixing pain points for customers. The next level is about helping them achieve their goals. You’re still helping them with a gap in their life, but this time it’s aspirational and positive. For example, you don’t buy a $4,000 Burberry trench coat because it keeps you warm; you buy it because you believe it shows prestige, status and class.

Many people are more motivated by pain than pleasure, so many businesses in an industry focus on solving problems. It’s not as easy to reach the aspirational customers, and they might be the smaller segment of the market. But they can be more rewarding to deal with and more loyal to your business.

For example, the healthcare industry has traditionally been about solving problems: healing “sick” people. That’s a multi-billion dollar industry that won’t go away any time soon, but it’s being seriously challenged by savvy startups who focus on “wellness” rather than sickness – with things like fitness trackers, nutrition apps, and online communities for people who are taking responsibility for their own health.

4. Giving Them Opportunities

Steve Jobs, former Apple CEO and a great marketer, once said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. This isn’t a blanket rule, but it’s perfect for thinking beyond most of your competitors. The perfect example, of course, was the iPhone, which fast became a “must have” item for many rich Westerners – most of whom had never even thought about carrying a computer around in their pocket until they saw the opportunity.

You don’t have to be a Steve Jobs to fit into this category. But you do have to think differently about your products and services. Look beyond what your customers need and want, and consider what else you could offer them. What would be so compelling that they would jump at – even if they had never even thought about it before?

5. Supporting Their Values

It’s no longer enough to just provide great products, services, and experiences. For many customers – especially younger generations like Gen Y (Millennials) and Gen Z – it’s equally important that the businesses they support also supports their own values. They care about your political views, workplace culture, views on climate change, and personal brands of the owners. These customers have more choices than ever before, and want to know about your values before they choose to do business with you.

For example, TOMS shoes is famous for their “One for One” philosophy: For every product they sell, they help one person in need. This is not just a marketing gimmick; it’s a core part of their business. As another example, when Uber suffered from negative media coverage about parts of its leadership and workplace culture, it lost thousands of customers instantly.

Right now, most businesses don’t talk about their values, and don’t think customers care. And many of them are probably right – for now. But this is changing, and if you truly want to be fit for the future, be ahead of this change.

6. Sharing Their Mission

There’s one level that’s even stronger than shared values, and that’s a shared mission. Customers who share your values will support you, but customers who feel strongly about your mission or cause want to be a part of it. They don’t just give you money – they give you time, energy, personal exertion, and the value of their networks. They are not just “customers”, but act more like partners. Or advisers. Or volunteers. Or champions. Or employees.

For example, the residents of Monmouth, a small town in Wales, contribute enthusiastically to documenting the story of the town by maintaining the town’s Wikipedia-like site, “Monmouthpedia”. This is really the job of the local council, but the residents – their “customers” – feel so strongly about it that they do it themselves.

Who are the people you can bring along with you on your mission? You might start by looking at your most loyal customers and your strongest advocates, but look beyond them as well.

So what can YOU do?

At which of these six levels do you deal with customer needs? You won’t necessarily do all six, but it’s risky if you only do one!

Whatever you’re doing now, examine all six of them, and consider whether you can add them to your business mix.

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