why it pays to be cheap


why it pays to be cheap

High tech seems to be on everyones lips - but should this be the same for innovation?
In this blog, we share why technology shouldn’t be the start of your problem solving, and how being a 'tight arse' can actually help you to innovate.

I hope you’ve been marching through this month and still managing some time to innovate. If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been hiding in the last several months, I haven’t been hiding anywhere rather I’ve been working hard immersed with a number of organisations around the globe helping them with their innovation. I’m an introvert and when ever I’ve got back home off a plane, rather than catch up with everyone to tell them what I’ve been up to, I found myself flying in my hang-glider to recharge and get a fresh perspective on things.

What I’ve loved about this time (let’s call it a secondment of sorts) working so deeply with other organisations is how much better my understanding has become of the clients and people I help, just like you. Being a consultant, speaker and author can at times keep you at arms lengths from the real world that so many of you face day to day. My last 12 months adventures has chopped those arms off and then some.


Whilst I’m not at liberty to say what top secret programs I’ve been working on and who I’ve been working with, what I can share is there are some universal challenges that exist around innovation and most of them are relatively easy to deal with. What gets in the way however are components such as lack of time, lack of support and lack of training. The good new is these can all be dealt with, and once dealt with, innovation can become an everyday part of your life.

More and more organisations seem hell bent on making their world more complex. Whether this is a result of having too much time on our hands or simply needing to justify why we do what we do, we end up making things much more complex than they need to be.


An example of this is the common desire to make every solution a 'high tech' solution. Yes technology and automation can make many tasks faster and easier, yet only if we have refined the design and principles behind them from the start. You’re more than likely to be very familiar with the term 'high tech - high touch'. A term I am using at present is 'no tech - high smarts'. What that essentially means is rather than default to look for an available technology to solve a problem, we should instead solve the problem first with good ideas and then look at technology as a possible means to executing it.

Recently an organisation I had just started to work with had been looking to build an innovation space to prototype ideas. Their intention was to build a ‘rapid prototyping space’. The initial solution they came up with was to spend a few hundred thousand dollars on the latest 3D printing equipment and buy some fancy pants furniture. While the intentions were good, the focus was all on 'high tech' versus 'smarts'. Part of the 'unlearning' that needed to happen for them was to ask 'why do they want to rapidly prototype?' 

Their response was “to test ideas quickly”. After a little more digging what we established that they wanted was to have the ability to build and share an idea quickly. They didn’t need the 3D printers for that, what they needed was 'low tech' arts and crafts materials and a space that would enable them to glue things together and build concept prototypes that would communicate their ideas. Once they got their head around that concept they found that they could take a leaf out of the ‘maker’ movement and create their own maker lab to help facilitate quick assembly of materials to convey a new idea.

The solution was 'low tech, high smart'. It was cheap, fast and commercially successful. Just what the CFO wanted.

In the coming posts you’ll find some big changes. We’ve been expanding and have some cool new people on board (people much smarter and funnier than I am) and we’re giving ourselves a new coat of paint and changing names from Innovation Blueprint to Ideas with Legs. We’ve got a series of great events lined up for this year and we can’t wait to connect with you again.

Thanks for reading. If your keen to find out about the our event ‘the next big thing’ then click away to discover what game changers you can be involved in.


Do you know what 'the next big thing' that will change your industry is?

If you aren't sure about how to spot the next big disruptive trend, we've got the perfect event for you. Find out what these disruptors are and learn how to catch them before they cause you grief. Also learn what’s the next big thing in customer experience innovation and people management. 



Is your innovation process creating more pain than gain?

If your Innovation process is causing you grief, it's bound to be because of a common process mistake. We're often asked to fix processes and to diagnose why a process isn;t working. So we've created a simple infographic that shares the most common pains that an innovation process can create when it isn't right.



Nils Vesk

Pain or gain innovation process infographic.png



How to get everyone collaborating!

Ever wonder how you can get everyone in a meeting to collaborate and share their ideas?

I was recently involved in an innovation round table with some incredibly smart people and I'm happy to say it was a smashing success in terms of collaboration for innovation.

One of the big obstacles at meetings is getting people to collaborate and share their ideas. The reason why most meetings don't work well is that there is poor facilitation behind the meeting. 

The typical brainstorming session goes like this: 
* Authoritative person stands up and says what the problem is
* 3 seconds later the authoritative person asks the group if they have any ideas or solutions
* Followed by stone cold silence until someone shares some thoughts that aren't really new or helpful, other than in breaking the silence. 

So why is it that so many meetings become unproductive in terms of new ideas? Essentially most meetings fail to be innovative because they haven't been designed. Period. 

If you want interaction, the best thing you can do is to design interactive activities that will enable interaction. People are silent for a solution because they haven't had time to think about an answer and even if they had an answer most people (98% of the population) feel uncomfortable speaking publicly and therefore will keep it themselves.

We need to give people a structured question or activity, to give people thinking time, to allow people to share with a partner, and to share with the group.

Here's the 4 stages that will help to facilitate collaboration. 

 1. Share with yourself
"We're facing a big challenge at the moment our sales have been decreasing despite releasing a new product with good reviews. We seem to be dropping the ball around our customer experience. Let's spend a few minutes thinking of where our weakest points might be in our customer experience. Grab a sheet of paper and jot down as many thoughts as you can in the time that this song plays for (play a 3 minute song from a smart phone or computer)". 

 2. Share with your partner
"Now that we've got some ideas jotted down share with the person next to you and discuss your thoughts on those customer experience pain points" 

 3. Share with the table
If a big meeting with separate tables: "Okay now share with other people at your table as to what your thoughts are" 

 4. Share with the whole group
"Now let's share with the whole group, who's heard of some good areas that we could improve on?" 

To find out more about the power of innovation, consider our upcoming innovation spring fling being held at the Sydney Business School. For more information visit http://commercialinnovationsummit.com.au/






Quick Tip:

Design around the four key phases to innovation.

Here's why: Innovation isn’t just about ideas, its about insights, prototypes and commercial projects too. Needs will always change but the phases of innovation will always remain.

Phase 1 - Investigation: This is all about discovering insights. Ensure you have a process that generate insights from your stats (eg. sales, mktg, refunds, breakdowns etc.), insights from new emerging trends, and insights into what customer needs, desires, aversions and obstructions are.

Phase 2 - Ideation: Make time to generate ideas and lots of them. Be that by setting a KPI for the no. of ideas created at each weekly mtg. Drop expectations of quality. Quality follows quantity.

Phase 3 - Iteration: Ensure you have processes to test & prototype ideas rapidly and cost effectively to minimise risk and gain certainty.

Phase 4 - Commercialisation: Treat innovation as seriously as any other part of the business by creating metrics that measure the number of ideas, insights and prototypes created each quarter. Have processes that allow innovation projects ideas to become billable projects.





Quick tip:

Create a story as to ‘why’ innovation is important.

Why? Because stories (or narratives as behaviouralists like to call them) when they evoke emotions are one the most powerful ways to instigate behavioural change.

This means we need to have a continual supply of stories that reinforce and engage in an emotional way as to ‘why’ innovation is important and stories of how innovation is already happening.

Share stories of what you want to see ‘more of’ and why it’s so important. This leads to establishing values of innovation. Tell stories of ‘observable and measurable innovation behaviours’. For example “Just this week our team invited a guest supplier in to talk about their latest process mapping procedure...”.



Profitable Predictions

We all want to succeed at our projects including our innovative projects. Yet how do we measure the success of our innovation? Innovation in business in many ways is a form of experimentation. Scientists see each experiment as an opportunity to test a new hypothesis and the predictions that they have around a concept.

Innovating in business should follow the same experimentation and prediction methodology.

When it comes to innovating we can learn so much from the mind of the scientists by utilising the power of predictions. So what is a prediction and how do I go about doing it?

A good example I have for this is a recent Innovation Summit that I ran at the Sydney Business School. After creating my plan for the summit I started to make predictions as to what I thought was going to happen. I had predictions on:

The number of hits I would get to the summit website
The number of hits I would get on a LinkedIn advertisement
The number of registrations
The number of actual attendees
The number of people that would arrive late
The number of people that would leave early
The level of engagement
The number of post event sales

The value of making these predictions (and there were more) was in being able to come back and evaluate the experiment by comparing what actually happened versus what I predicted would happen. This is where we learn the most about our experiment and innovation.

After recording the learnings from an experiment we move into planning the next experiment. Innovation is a continuing process of planning, predicting, experimenting and evaluating.

The challenge that many of us face in our day to day projects is that we seldom take the time to come back and look at what we set out to achieve. The good news is even if we have completed a project but we don't record predictions we can usually retrospectively list the predictions that we had made. For example: "I recall that we made the assumption that the project would take 6 weeks to complete, that it would cost $35,000, that we would have 1500 customers sign up in the launch week and that we would have a 3% refund rate".

While it's always better to record your predictions before the event happens, applying retrospective predictions is still a valuable activty worth considering. 

To get a sense of how well you're innovating please consider taking the free 3 minute innovation diagnosis below.


Keep on Innovating.






Turn the literal into the lateral

Innovative thinking often means bringing a level of abstraction to your thinking that results in not just lots of ordinary ideas, but instead interesting, compelling and creative ideas that haven’t been thought of before. This level of abstraction is what results in us seeing and thinking about something differently, in a way that grabs us, perhaps amuses us and hopefully entices us to do something as a result.

Turning the obvious into the intriguing requires being lateral. Thinking laterally allows us to see things in different ways, which enable us to communicate things in different ways that intrigue and engage us.

To think more abstractly, you need to take your level of thinking higher than we normally would. 

The higher abstraction allows us to create reinterpretations of the concept we have and create more interest in our new idea. This abstraction can be applied to either a product or new process or even a marketing message.

In the following model, the bottom lower row represents a concrete detailed nitty-gritty type of message. This is essentially something that is obvious, literal and most likely forgettable. The higher level, which is more abstract, is intriguing, lateral and more than likely memorable. We don’t want to be too abstract otherwise people won’t get it, yet we don’t want to be too literal otherwise we won’t grab anyone’s attention and make them pause to think.

Imagination is a skill we all have—whether it is the ability to imagine a disaster happening at home if the dog gets out or being able to imagine a new way of servicing a client that has never been done before.

If I were to ask you to imagine a totally new piece of technology that you could invent and apply in your world, you may be able to do it. However, chances are that you would struggle with it. More than likely, you would come up with a variation of something that already exists. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s innovation to create a variation. Engineers tend to work well with variations and incremental innovation. 

A good innovator finds innovative leaps that may be re-inventions or totally new inventions. They do this by lifting their level of thinking. Innovation that comes from variation happens because we think on a fairly concrete level. Big, innovative leaps come from starting to think on an abstract level.

Psychologists call these construal levels, but I like to call them logical levels. The lower the logical level, the more concrete, specific and detailed the thinking. The higher the logical level, the more abstract the thinking. The challenge in looking for new ideas is lifting the level of abstraction higher than concrete detailed thinking. 

Here’s an example. If we wanted to innovate on the induction program at a large organisation and asked for some ideas, here’s what generally would happen.

The mind will gravitate to our last induction experience and recall the relevant materials, methodologies and information that we remember. This is called anchoring, and we use assumptions based on our past experiences to help formulate thoughts and make sense of the situation. The only drawback to relying on our assumptions is that we inadvertently look to create ideas based on already existing assumptions, not assumptions of what could be.

If our experience of an induction included a big fat induction manual and sitting in a room all on our own, then we’ll use that as our base assumption on which to start generating ideas. We might start thinking of ideas such as, ‘No one has time to read the whole manual’ or ‘Reading is boring, we should have some videos instead’. Or even better, ‘Why not have a group of people being inducted at the same time so they meet some new people’. The ideas continue. Yes, they are all good ideas and an improvement on what might have been before, yet it doesn’t really shout POSSIBILITY does it?

Good innovators allow themselves to be more abstract. Some might call it being conceptual. An innovator will start by asking ‘What does induction mean and what’s it really about?’  or “How else could it be interpreted? With this type of thinking, we are simply exploring and utilising curiosity. 

For the induction example. Induction could be interpreted as:

Helping people to learn the ropes
Unpacking the organisation’s processes
Helping people join the team
Introducing people to the team
Welcoming people
Initiating people

After having poured over those abstract interpretations, good innovators start to consider people’s needs, desires and potential responses. They think, ‘I don’t want them to feel alienated and wondering if they’ve made a bad decision coming to the organisation. How could I really welcome them?’ 

The more a designer thinks this way, the more ideas they have: ‘How about we have a welcome party at morning tea, with a welcome cake?’ ‘Maybe throughout the day we send in the creator of each one of key business process maps and take them through them step by step?’

Abstraction and changing the level of construance comes naturally to some people. For others, it feels awkward and clunky at first, yet when you’ve done it once, it becomes easier. In a short time, you’ll be jumping straight into that high level and coming up with original ideas that your colleagues think are fantastic. 

Welcome to the world of possibility

One last thing - I'm running a half day commercial innovation summit with the Sydney Business School & Wollongong University on the 29th of July in the Sydney CBD. Great for those looking for  innovation breakthroughs - be them in process or product innovation. 








I come across a few organisations who have set up their own innovation teams or design thinking teams to create innovation for organisations. While the notion of having a smart team to develop ideas is admirable, in reality it falls short on what they are trying to achieve - which is to innovate across an organisation.

   The reason why they fail is that they have separate units, that are isolated from the whole organisation. This means that whilst they might come up with some good ideas, the rest of the organisation (who incidentally are the ones who will have to execute the ideas) are more than likely receive any blame if the ideas don't succeed.

   Herein lies the problem. Innovation is not a separate skill reserved for the special chosen few. The more we prevent everyone from innovating the more other people will resent innovation, and especially resent the people who are allowed to innovate. 

   Much of this stilted thinking mentality stems from the old notion of the R&D department. Too many organisations still think of innovation helping to invent the next widget. While it's important to continually create new products, innovation can also be applied to the processes & services we have in our organisations. These are all proven areas that can have just as much commercial return if not more than innovating on product.

   So if we can't have separate innovation teams who's going to spearhead innovation within the organisation.? This is a good question, because leading innovation is different to executing innovation. Innovation leaders should be there to help facilitate innovate either by teaching innovation skills, facilitating insight, ideation & prototyping sessions not to mention encouraging people to innovate. Keeping this type of innovative potential locked away in a separate team fosters resentment and a resistance to accept other peoples ideas.

   So how do we find or create these innovation leaders and facilitators? Innovation like other key business skills is a skill that anyone can learn and apply. All you need is good innovation training, step by step innovation processes that people can follow and some work on creating behaviours that lead to innovative cultures.

In my latest client research (as documented in my latest book Innovation Archetypes), I've identified 4 key phases to innovation that allow sustainable and profitable commercial innovation. Within each one of these phases there are a number of professionals trained with skills & mindsets that excel in innovating. After diagnosing an organisation's innovation strengths and weaknesses it's easy to look at recruiting or training strategies to strengthen any weaknesses in order to allow consistent innovation. Any professional can adopt the key innovative principles of what I call Innovation Archetypes (those that epitomise innovation).

   This might all sound expensive and time consuming. The reality is it doesn't have to be. With access to the right step by step processes anyone can become a world class innovator and any team can start to create world class innovations.

   Rather than look at isolating innovation teams, focus on developing innovative facilitators and acquiring innovation processes so that everyone becomes equipped to innovate. Follow this up with some clear innovation objectives and KPIs such as the number of insights, ideas &  prototypes etcetera that you would like to create each month or each business quarter. 

Finally ensure you develop innovation rituals that encourage innovation. This might vary from innovation 'show and tells' from outside of the industry, celebrating failures, going on field trips and having a 'most improved innovator award'.

   Separate innovation teams are expensive investments that fail to deliver consistent. It's better to invest in training and equipping facilitators throughout the whole organisation with simple tools so that innovation becomes integrated, accessible and a powerhouse engine of profitability for your organisation.

Go and integrate vs. isolate. 


How effective are you in your innovation process? 

If you suspect that you could get better at innovating, we've got the event for you. Take a tour of our upcoming commercial innovation summit and claim your free innovation process map flowchart.




The 'who' and 'how' of testing your ideas.

This article is all about user groups, test groups, market groups whatever you want to call them and how to best use them in the innovation of your new product, process or service.

Test groups in short are most often a small representational group that personify some of the key attributes of a potential customer or user of a product, process or service. Test groups/ user groups have been used in a variety of industries and can range from advertising focus groups, entertainment test audiences, user experience test groups, clinical trial groups and product test groups to name a few.

One of the most successful test groups in the world meet in the showers every work day. What on earth does shaving and showers have in common with innovation you might be thinking. A lot in fact. It happens to be the way that Gillette use test groups to test their prototypes of their latest shaving equipment. Employees are encouraged to shower and shave at their workplace (which has specially designed bathrooms to cater for this) in order to gain valuable feedback and ideas on how to improve their shaving equipment. If Gillette can have a great user group, you can too.

Market researchers like to think they have all of this test group stuff sorted and that the only way you can effectively test a new product is by using their very expensive services. Whilst it's true that market researchers are good at what they do, we don't all have to have double psychology degrees or two way mirrored glass in order to start testing out our new innovation.

Here's some simple things to consider when wanting to use a test group to test your latest prototype or potential innovation.

To test your innovation try asking some of the following questions:
What are your intentions are about the product, process or new service?
Who's it intended to be used by?
When is it intended to be used? What time, what day of the week, what season?
Where is it intended to be used? Internally, externally, in an office, on a phone?
How is it intended to be used? Sitting down, standing up, when driving, when on computer?
What happens when it is used? when it isn't being used?

Selecting and recruiting your user/ test group
To find out who to test your innovation on, try considering some of the following questions:  
Do your potential user group represent the typical type of user/ customer?
Does the group cater for a variety of demographics including, sex, age, profession, location, experience?

Does the proposed user group need to have a prior experience with the product, process or service?
Will the user group be biased by prior knowledge or prior experience?
Is familiarity a crucial part to the user group knowing how to use it?

Biases can adversely affect the learnings gained from a user group. Consider whether your user group be likely to behave differently in order to impress, show how smart they are, or any other modified behaviour?

Observer/ observation
Is the use of the product, service or process going to be happening in their typical natural environment?
Are the observers the normal people they would have around them?
Is it possible to have other people who are in their natural environment 'day in day out' do the observation for you?

Do you notice any difficulties that the user might be having with the said innovation? Difficulties in understanding what its used for, how to use it, how to start it, open it, change things, stop it etcetera? 

Questions to ask, topics to address
It's a good idea to work on both open ended questions and closed questions. For example a closed ended question might be "is it easy to use?" Whilst an open ended question you could ask is "what makes it specifically that makes this easy to use?" or "what specifically makes this difficult to work with?"

Ask for a specific response and you'll get what you need, if your question is too general, you'll get a monologue that's interesting but not very useful. Consider asking both quantitative and qualitative questions:

Qualitative questions might be: 
"What did you enjoy most about the service?" or "What would you do to improve the way this functions?" 

Quantitative questions might include:
"Which functions of our program are most important?" or "Which feature is the most appealing?"   

Consider asking questions that will ascertain what might make it more: 
More intuitive

Are there any more needs that the user might have with the product? For example - It needs a handle, or it needs a button, or the new sign up page needs a wizard to help show me how to fill out the form.

Are there any desires that the user would like it to be able to do beyond what already exists. For example "I wish I could hold it in one hand" or "I wish my assistant could fill out this form instead of me".

Are there any elements that annoy the user so much so that they wish it didn't exist or was changed. For example "it's so heavy I can't lift it" or "there's just too many questions and it takes too long".

Where and how are you going to recruit your study group?
Consider recruiting from - Existing clients, colleagues, family friends, suppliers, partners.
Facebook has become one of the simplest and easiest recruiting options that exist to find your user group. There's a wide range for choices that you can select from including demographics such as age, sex, education, career type, geographic location, mother, etcetera. 

It's worth noting that most of the time you can get the user to use their webcam to film and record their interaction with the innovation being tested. This can save you having to have them come in to your testing site.

How big should our test group size be?
When it comes to digital product usability tests the worlds leading UX design firm Nielsen Norman Group suggest that 5 people are enough to ascertain a good sense of usability on a product or process. 

What this means is that you don't have to have thousands of people to recruit, but a small number that over a good cross section will more than often suffice for you.

Tools for assessing
Digital eye tracking technology can help, though it pays to have the psychology of why people are looking at a certain thing sorted. A common mistake is to assume that just because they have been looking at certain part of the screen doesn;t necessarily mean it must be important. It could simply be be that they were looking at that part of the screen because it's so difficult to understand. 

The study group designer and observer need to think and determine"Why are they doing that?" "What's behind their decision and behaviour to do that?" "Can we modify it and do something else?"

The simplest, cheapest and most effective tool by far for surveys is to use SurveyMonkey.com - you can do a lot with a free account and you can do even more with the paid account, well worth the investment.

Hopefully by now you've realised that you don't have to be a behaviourist to be market, user group tester for your latest innovation. 

If you still need one more reason to believe that you don't have to be a professional market researcher, here it is. Leggo, one of the worlds most successful toy manufacturers use mothers as their behavioural team. Knowing that observing children in a different environment to their home would skew results, they realised it would be much wearier to study them at home, and even more effective if we just got their mothers to do the observation. That way there would be no external influencers onto the children. Simply a child playing with their toy and a doting mother keeping an eye and asking a question of their child from time to time. 

With the right questions, strategy and thinking anyone can engage their behavioural intelligence to study a user group and formulate ways to improve an innovation to make it world class. 

Good luck becoming that user group behaviouralist.       


Nils Vesk


The value of mistakes


The value of mistakes

 Mistakes happen

Mistakes happen

It's no surprise that innovation comes with a risk, and that includes the risk of failing from time to time. If we want a strong culture of innovation, it means our projects, products and services will unfortunately from time to time fail. How we deal and respond to those failures plays a crucial part in whether we build a strong innovative culture or suppress any future innovative thinking.

I had the great fortune of interviewing a colleague of mine recently who had some great views on the subject. Michael Henderson is one the worlds leading corporate anthropologists who helps organisations create high performing cultures.

I was asking Michael about innovation and failure and he said that celebrating failures is crucial to innovative cultures. In fact of all the organisations he has worked with across the world the most innovative ones were the ones who would celebrate their innovation failures.

Michael as he often does simplified the concept by telling a story of a common ritual that tribes use. Say a small hunting party has been out on a hunt to find a good meal for the tribe. After tracking a buffalo for the last 2 days, they are finally in close proximity and ready to make the final kill when accidentally one of the tribesman steps on a twig and the cracking twig sounds spooks the buffalo and it charges off into the distance. The tribesman now have to return to camp empty handed. 

Later that night around the fire, the tribesman who stepped on the twig has to explain to everyone why they're all hungry that night and why there's no buffalo on the menu all because of the mistake he made. He further explains what caused the mistake and how to avoid it next time. 

The next day when a new young hunter joins the hunting party you can be guaranteed that he will do everything he can to avoid the 'stepping on a twig mistake'.

This same tribal concept of acknowledging, sharing and learning from mistakes is what organisation with strong innovative cultures do regularly. W.L. Gore & Associates (the organisation that invented Gore-Tex the breathable fabric used in outdoor parkas) is a great example of just this. Their 'celebration of mistakes' plus an innovative flat business structure that encourages collaboration on projects are some of the key reasons it's made the list on Fortune Magazine's '100 Best Companies to Work For'. Gore & Associates not only celebrate the mistake and take ownership of it, most importantly they learn from it. 

Michael Henderson suggests that organisations should actually create champions of certain mistakes so that they become the 'go to' person on how to avoid that mistake from happening in the future. 

Risk is inherent in innovation. Whilst we can reduce this risk through prototyping, no innovation is ever guaranteed of success. The only thing we can guarantee is that we can always learn from the mistakes we make and use this knowledge to be better prepared for the next industry changing innovation.

Go ahead and celebrate those mistakes.


Nils Vesk



How D.I.Y is one of the hottest opportunities for innovation

So are you looking for the next big innovation trend that just keeps getting bigger in business?

I'm certain that 'Do it yourself' (D.I.Y) is the next big innovation trend. D.I.Y just gets bigger and bigger every day, and the exciting thing is that D.I.Y is being applied not just for home improvements but also for business.

'How so?' You might be asking.

Do it yourself (D.I.Y) has been around for centuries. Growing up as a son of east european migrants to Australia, my life has revolved around the D.I.Y projects that my family had. A D.I.Y home extension, D.I.Y build a sailing boat, D.I.Y make your own wine, D.I.Y build your own house…… the list goes on and on.

What drives so many people to think of D.I.Y can be summarised in the following principles.

  • Ability (giving someone the ability to create something usually reserved for technically trained/ experienced people)
  • Free (or a massive cost reduction)
  • Control (ability to do it as you like)
  • Creative self esteem (the reward of having created something by your own).

Innovative organisations are realising that this D.I.Y trend can not only create a new market opportunity, in some instances it can totally redefine an industry. In the past I have blogged about how website design is now in the realms of the D.I.Y market with major players Word Press and Square Space giving customers total content control, design ability and freedom without being tied to an expensive web designer.

Another favourite example of D.I.Y applied to an unusual industry for me is GoAnimate. Creating computer animation for cartoons is a difficult task - it takes incredible artistic drawing skills, computer skills, storyboard skills and anything else you can think of to create a small animation.

GoAnimate thought that if they could deal with the difficulty there would be countless people who would absolutely love to be able to create an animation. That's what this small team of animators set out to achieve 'let's allow our clients to make their own animations rather than us making it for them'.

GoAnimate is a D.I.Y animation website that enables a user to make their own animation videos for free. Sure if you want to pay some money for the tricked up version you can (and you probably will if you're like me), be warned this is an addictive activity and it's hard to stop once you get started. I'll let you discover what can be done on it in your own spare time. The main point is that their product is a great example of applying D.I.Y thinking to business.

Innovating through D.I.Y thinking can be made easier with some simple guidelines. Before you go out and create a D.I.Y for your business/ industry consider some of the following:

Functionality - make sure it enables the user to do what they want, dealing with the highly technical aspects whilst making it simple (simple sophistication that eliminates the most technically difficult activities possible)

Control - give your customers as much control as possible

Design - give customisation options, yet also give them standard suggestions

Price - when possible give a free version, have a standard version and have premium versions for sale

Share/ community - give your users/ customers a platform so that they can share their creation with the world. Remember that's part of why they do D.I.Y, let them show off their project and they'll promote your product too.

Enjoy your D.I.Y




Reverse Brainstorming

I ran an innovation workshop the other day and knowing that Valentines day was just around the corner I thought it would be a good idea to combine the Valentines day theme with some customer relationship innovation.

A simple but effective ideation (idea generating) technique that I like working with is called reverse brainstorming. What makes reverse brainstorming so effective is that it's a technique that tricks the brain so that you can't help but find opportunities for new ideas.

Simply asking a person to come up for a great idea is a recipe for disaster, yet asking someone to think of something really easy like "what's the worst thing you could do to …………?" is relatively easy and becomes a goldfield for new ideas.

This is how I briefly framed up the activity.

"We all know that valentines day is coming up. Our clients in many ways are kind of like a 'lover' in a relationship. We would hope that we can maintain a relationship with them for a long time to come, not just have a one night stand. Let's see how we can apply the reverse brainstorming technique to the customer as a 'lover'."

"We all know that no one really likes being lonely on Valentines day, but what would be all the things you could do to lose a lover?"

After framing up the activity you can imagine there were some laughs and a good time had as the audience looked at a myriad of ways to loose a lover.Now I'm not going to share all of them right here (some were a little bit to risque) but here's a list of some of the suggestions below.

St Valentines day - Ways to lose a lover

  • ignore them
  • only talk to them when you want something
  • sleep with someone else
  • never tell them you care
  • forget about them
  • always take and never give
  • farting in bed
  • telling them they look too fat
  • continually telling them that they're not good enough
  • not giving them constructive criticism
  • putting yourself first everytime
  • forgetting their birthday
  • forgetting your anniversary
  • not taking the time to just listen
  • not taking the time to just be with them
  • not connecting with them on a deeper level
  • resenting their success
  • not going shopping with them
  • not giving them a suprise from time to time
  • not inviting them out with your friends
  • checking out other people when they're around
  • not getting them flowers
  • eating all of their Tim tams without replacing them

Now that we've got a list we can start forcing our brain to reverse these ideas for our application. Reverse brainstorming involves looking at the worst case scenario or the opposite of what we want so that our mind is free of our usual limitations to enable us to join new possibilities and combinations to our focus area.

Now I'm not going to share every idea that came from the list but here's a few that caught my eye.

Ignoring them - having a 'keep in touch' list (K.I.T) that reminds you of your client, their industry, their needs and their interests. Actively look for something that would be of interest to them that you can send to them.

Always take and never give - Sending them chocolates when you invoice them.

Forgetting their anniversary - Sending a note to remind them of the good times you had working with them on that special date.

Not inviting them out with your friends - if you're ever going out to celebrate, invite some of your clients too so that they can be a part of the celebration. Alternatively if you're going to a professional development conference invite a client along as a guest.

Not giving them a surprise from time to time - if you're buying yourself a good business book to read, buy a few copies and send one to your lover/s.

There was a stack of other great ideas in the activity that I'm not a liberty to share, yet I'm sure you get the gist of it. If you're looking to apply the reverse brainstorming technique simply ask your team to think of all the things that you need to do to make something fail or not work. For example:

  • All the ways to waste time
  • All the ways to stop innovating
  • All the ways to lose a client
  • All the ways to confuse a customer
  • All the ways to waste money

Give it a go, this is a fail safe technique that's lots of fun.



Recruitment innovation

Too many organisations still think that innovation is something that is better left for R&D or the marketing department. The reality is you can apply innovation anywhere, anytime. I was working with a client the other day that's going through some massive growth and expansion and their biggest challenge was recruitment. They'd been placing the usual advertisements with no results. Yes, they knew about recruiters but didn't want to have to be hit by the massive fees.

So I got the client to show me what their job advertisement was. Surprise surprise the advertisement looked like every one of the other thousands of advertisements. I suggested we could be a little bit more innovative so we started by being counter intuitive. The client was looking for a programmer, so I asked the client "what would be the most opposite thing you could think of than programming?". The clients response was based around the movie the Avengers. We started to work with that angle, knowing that if a prospective employee was looking for somewhere exciting, cool, and rewarding it would be most likely to happen if the job description advertisement reflected that.

Part of the description was like this:

BlueChilli world headquarters for undercover lazy programmers has been waging a war on corporate terrorists through skilful apps and savvy programming. Our army is ready in the trenches and is about to strike at the heart of corporates with the next generation startup businesses!

If you want to work for corporates - stay at home and pray because BlueChilli is coming to conquer the world!

Must have zero fear of heights, be able to code .NET blindfolded, recite SQL under water and be open to sharing the spoils of war.

In your pledge to us, please list your superpower (what you rock at) and your Kryptonite (what you suck at).

We're building a foreign legion to create.......... 

I'm sure you get the picture. Now obviously their company isn't your normal corporate programming company, but would they want to be? When they can be innovative, have a team that love to change the way things are done and creating great results for great financial return then the copy is so much more inline with their brand personality and so much more likely to gain the attention of the savvy programmers.

By the way if you are a programmer looking for the job here it is while it lasts. Undercover.NET developer with secret superpowers.

Innovation can be applied anywhere anytime, even in the world of recruitment.





Innovation is counter intuitive

Innovation doesn't happen by thinking the same way everyday. Innovation happens when we think different. The challenge however is that thinking different is counter intuitive. A good way to get your mind thinking in a counter intuitive style is to think of the opposites. To get you in the mindset I'd like you to think of the opposites to each word I give you.









  Now what we want to do is to think of an industry and something that's totally opposite. For example if we work in Finance what ideas could we create if we started to think of Romance?

  If we work in the Education industry what ideas could we prompt by  thinking of Aviation.

 If we work in the Mining industry how would our approach change if we started to think as those in Advertising?

Innovation is counter-intuitive. If you've got competitors nipping at your heels or your trying to chase down a competitor, then the level of thinking you've been using isn't working anymore. We need to think different, the only challenge is thinking different is counter intuitive and being counter intuitive can be scary. To get over the fear start with something small like a team meeting. What could be counter intuitive in this fundamental business process? Trust the science and that innovation is counter intuitive, your ideas will come.


 I love it when you see a smart business innovating by doing something  that is counter intuitive. There was a great surf shop on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia called The Sugarmill. The counter intuitive thinking they did was look at adding something you would  never consider, say a coffee shop or a flower shop. Totally unrelated elements of the surf industry and yet it works. On an average day when a surf store would be empty, this store has people hanging out drinking coffee, enjoying a smoothie, buying some flowers and surprise surprise buying some surf gear.

What counter intuitive elements could you combine in your industry to create some new commercial ideas?



The needs every organisation has

Every business on the planet exists for the reason that it either meets a need or fulfills a desire.
The more needs that are met, the more value you create forclient. The more desires that are fulfilled the more your client transforms into a raving fan. Pretty simple stuff, meet your clients needs and desires and you're onto a winning business. The reality is while many of us do meet needs and desires- there's always more we can be doing in meeting needs and fulfilling desires, so we'll also look at unpacking needs and desires in more detail (yes we'll be using the force like Luke Skywalker).

Remember that for every use of the force on a positive note there's a flip side. For every need there's acapability challenge that determines why someone can't meet the needs. And for every desire there is an aversion that determines why someone doesn't want to do it. So let's start unpacking the light side of business with defining what the needs and desires are all about.

You may be familiar with the work of developmental psychologist Abraham Maslow, who after studying and working with a host of tortured souls just like you and me, came to the conclusion that every individual, be you a CEO, a stay at home parent or homeless person has a number of needs.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs breaks down these needs in terms of the amount that needs need to be fulfilled.

The needs that we all have are:
1. physiological
2. safety
3. love & belonging
4. esteem
5. self actualisation

Marvelous you might think as you roll your eyes and wonder "what's this got to do with a customer or an organisation?". The startling reality is that surprise surprise all our customers and clients have needs, meet them and our business starts to sing.

It might make more sense if I apply Maslow's hierarchy of needs to an organisations needs.

1. Every organisation has physiological needs - we'll say that these needs would include the need to have customers and patronage, the need for cash-flow, sales, profitand the need for a product or service to deliver.

2. Organisations seek safety - for an organisation safety and security come in the form of future customers, repeat customers, growth and assets.

3. Organisations needs brands that help to create a culture. Culture can only happen with the tribe of people who want to be a part of it either from the inside or the outside. People want to belong to teams, have friendships and have a sense of family in their organisation.

4. Organisations need esteem, these esteem levels are met by the level of respect that the community, their own team and tribe and customers give them, their products and their services. This in turn fills confidence.

5. Organisations also have a need to solve problems, that is they have an existence to do something that uses skills to solve problem, allows creativity and spontaneity.

Now that was a really brief overview of needs. If you're serious about innovation and by that I mean not just interested in Innovation but committed to innovation, then consider how valuable it would be to have a list written down of your customers needs. Don't stop there, consider the value that would happen if we also wrote down and continually referred to not just our customers needs but our teams needs as well.




Disruptive innovation

Innovation requires thinking and behaving differently and from time to it's apt to go out and create some disruption. 

Disrupting the habits and behaviours that we normally exhibit will help to create the right environment for creative and innovative thinking. If you're looking for more innovation what disruptions can you create in order to stimulate innovation?

Think of disrupting some of the following:

  • The space where you have your regular meetings - meet somewhere new or change the meeting space.
  • The habits you take in approaching your work - force yourself to approach a project differently.
  • The questions you raise - ask challenging questions to prompt innovative thinking -  such as "what if we were to get rid of_________ what would happen then?"
  • The mix of people you normally have in a brainstorming session - invite people from different departments to give a fresh totally outside perspective.

Now you've got some disruptive ideas, go forth and make them happen.




Opening up to Innovation

I just finished running an innovation workshop for a world class educational organisation. What I love about working with educators, is that they manage to drop all of their high level teaching expectations in order to improve their learning.

There's something to be said about this approach. In many ways it's simply being willing to unlearn in order to learn. What gets in the way of us learning is our previous experiences which can cloud the opportunities in front of us.

Being open to learning, whether that be listening to someone else's point of view, not judging and allowing people to communicate their messages in its entirety takes patience but increases our learning experience.

I've got a kooky theory that I've been testing for years on a way that to be open to different views. Years ago I noticed that a colleague would always have her mouth open when she was listening to someone talk to her in a conversation. When I originally started to watch her, I was fascinated. Was it because her jaw was tired? Did she like to let the air cool her mouth down? Was she waiting to say something?

For months after noticing her little quirk, I kept thinking about it. Then I started to experiment doing it myself? Did it change the way I would breathe? Would it change the way I felt or think?

The more I started experimenting the more I realised that opening my mouth (slightly so as not to scare other people) would interrupt the way I would normally listen and therefore process the information being shared.

I started to realise that in fact what was happening, was that I was less likely to make a judgement on what someone was talking about, or a judgement on the person themselves. So with continued experimentation I would use this open mouth technique when listening to other peoples points of view and differing perspectives.

If I found myself started to judge before letting people complete, I'd realise that my mouth was closed.

Months later I bumped in to my colleague, and not being shy of asking unusual questions I asked her about my observation. Did you know that when you listen you have your mouth slightly open? No she wasn't aware of her quirk. As I started to share my theory with her she could start to see some of the merits in it.

One of the interesting things about this colleague is that she is one of Australia's best business coaches. A job that requires dedicated listening without jumping to conclusions or giving opinions at the first instant.

Upon sharing the theory with my chiropractor, he described this as breaking a circuit. We all have habits and reflexes for various situations. If a reflex for making a judgement is closing the jaw and we interrupt this, then effectively we have broken the circuit that would normally be in place.

Breaking the circuit disrupts the thinking process and automatic habits you have in place. Thereby opening yourself to new information without a previous automatic response.

Innovation is primarily about interrupting our habits. Opening the mouth can help create this disruption and open you up to new possibilities, combinations and ultimately new innovation.

Have fun trying out an open mouth technique.





Gamification for Innovation

Some recent thoughts on innovation coming from gamification.

Innovation + gamification = motivation

  • Games can be good for business.
  • Advertising industry was first to get involved.
  • Providing a game or competition can engage their customers in a value adding way
  • Gamifiaction can be used not only to motivate clientele or customers but also to motivate employees.
  • Recent study done by Sachi & Sachi S May 2011 has some great stats on gamification.
  • 2000+ participants in US study
  • 50% of US online population play a social game once a day (includes smart phone owners)
  • Males play games fro competition, women play to escape boredom
  • Are your customers or team bored with your business? Perhaps a game would help to engage them more?
  • The large majority or participants said that they were interested in working for a company that used ramification as an incentive.

What's some examples of gamification in the real world?

  • Chromaroma is a game for the London Public transport system. A website that uses your Oyster card (transport pass) to enable you to play games with separate missions. For example a mission of how to get from Heathrow to Piccadilly Square in the fastest way possible.
  • The benefit of the games is that it teaches people of the whole public transport network, increases usability, knowledge and engagement. Increasing product and service awareness while adding value.
  • Decauxville a website by Street furniture manufacturing company that uses this virtual world that enables people to explore products being used in a virtual world. Educates whilst giving an experience.
  • Challenging people with quizzes and cryptic puzzles can help in recruitment as was done by the swedish armed forces recruitment program.
  • New school - online games with multi player functionality, probability scenarios.
  • Old school- trivia challenges, puzzles and scavenger hunts
  • perhaps elearning needs to become egaming?

There's a video for this blog if you want to watch the video watchhere.
For a full break down of the survey check out this survey



Clearing your mind of clutter for new innovations

One of the ways to help clear your mind is by doing some mind mapping.

Mind mapping is a great technique to release thoughts. By connecting our seemingly disparate ideas and thoughts, mind maps create a visual disruption of the usual linear format we typically use when we write. Just like the brain, they intuitively connect what hierarchically makes sense in a semantic network.

Mind mapping organises initially unorganisable thoughts so that we can move on. While things may not be fully or even partially resolved, mapping allows us to free up our mind to do other things.

When I’ve had a big day with lots of ideas swimming around in my head I can find falling asleep a challenge. If on the rare nights I haven’t managed a physical activity to unwind after the day and am still unable to stop thinking about what keeps my mind busy, mind mapping is my failsafe strategy for getting to sleep. My experience is that it enables the conscious, subconscious and unconscious parts of the brain to work together to make sense of the stuff that’s floating around in my head, be it an overload of random thoughts about everything and nothing or about a particular issue. If you’ve ever shown someone a mind map of your thinking without explaining what it means, they won’t be able to - literally - get the picture. Naturally, it makes perfect sense to you.

The more you map your thoughts, the more you start to see the relationships between and the purpose behind your thoughts and ideas. It becomes easier to focus and articulate a direction and purpose of what you are doing, which is vital also if you’re working with others. Mind maps enable you to clearly communicate your thoughts to yourself so you don’t have to out-guess yourself as to what you’re on about.

I find that mind mapping is not just a great way of clearing the mind, it’s the perfect tool for capturing the ideas and mapping parts of a business you want to be creative about. If you were, say in the retail clothing business, you could use a mind map to map the customer service touch point experiences a customer would go through in a store. The applications are endless yet the value is the same, giving you an understanding of how things relate and therefore allowing you to clear your mind of the clutter.

It's worth reading up more on mind mapping from the man who coined the term Tony Buzan. Here's aslo a link to find out about all the great software out there to mind map digitally. mind mapping software




Innovation Partnerships

I thought I'd share some ways on how to keep motivated about your ideas.

Creating and realising ideas on your own can at times be a difficult job. This can be made all that much easier if you have a creative partnership. A creative partnership can be as simple as bouncing things off a mate. Here's some things worth considering to help create a motivating partnership for your ideas.'

Creative partnerships work best if you meet regularly to catch up and discuss the projects that you’re working on.

Many of the greatest creators in the past have had peer groups they were involved in. Sigmund Freud had a club where fellow psychiatrists, doctors, musicologists, publishers and invited guests would meet weekly to discuss papers that they had written.

Albert Einstein was part of a group called the Olympiads, and as a group they’d go hiking and camping together and discuss theories,ideas and articles they’d been working on. They would share reading lists and articles to work through and discuss, all from a range of topics including mathematics, physics, philosophy and science. They would discuss both their professional and personal lives.

Even Picasso would meet up regularly with like-minded artists to discuss art, politics and ideas. Your ‘catch ups’ don’t have to be ‘formal’ or ‘structured’ get-togethers. A Sunday afternoon barbie or a drink at the pub with peers are perfect ways to chat about your project and look for advice.

Encouragement works, the more mates you have encouraging you to make your idea a reality the easier it becomes. Just as my favourite international best selling action writer Matthew Reilly says in all his book acknowledgements “Never underestimate the power of your encouragement”.

If you don’t think a friend will provide enough motivation for you then consider a mentor. Even great creators have had mentors. Sigmund Freud had a number of mentors in a number of disciplines who challenged him with problems and offered strategies to deal with them, as did Igor Stravinsky, perhaps the most creative musical composer in the 20th Century.

Many creators who did not have face-to-face mentors found solace in inspirational books. Yet while books can be inspirational, they’re unwilling to give you feedback and advice on your ideas!

Whether you’re on the verge of a big breakthrough or simply need some guidance the power of a mentor is the ability to bounce an idea off them. Someone who can tell us with credibility that an idea is right on track or challenge us to refine the idea.

Do this:
Identify who your mentor is at the moment. If you don’t have one, what sort of mentor are you looking for and where will you find them? Write down your ideal qualities in a mentor. Now go out and find one.