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Tag Archives: innovation and creativity

Disruptive innovation … do you know the warning signs?

Is it possible for a small young company to outperform an industry titan, for David to beat Goliath?  Yes.  Just ask Uber, Netflix and AirBnB.  Upstart Uber became one of the world’s largest taxi companies without owning a single taxi.  Netflix revolutionized the video market, essentially putting Blockbuster out of business.  AirBnB has become an accommodation provider to be reckoned with, without acquiring a single piece of real estate.  It’s called disruptive innovation.  And many a senior leader across North America loses sleep over whether it could happen to their company, and perhaps more importantly, how they could prevent it.

Disruptive innovation is often overlooked

Historically, established corporate leaders don’t often see disruptive change as a hazard, usually because it starts when their own company’s profitability is robust and the competitive impact is minimal.  However, by the time the threat is conspicuous, the disruptive force has already gained so much traction that any efforts to reverse the tide are futile.  So what is really needed is an advance warning system.  Which is exactly what I cover in my latest column for The Globe and Mail, out this morning!

How to spot the warning signs of disruptive innovation before it hurts your company

In this column, I identify three specific actions leaders can take to assess whether their company and industry will come under attack, well before the threat becomes a reality; three things you can do to ensure that you don’t become collateral damage when your market niche is disrupted.

Note: if you are a subscriber to The Globe and Mail, you can also read the column directly at their website at this link:

So I’d love to hear your experiences and perspectives on disruptive innovation.  What have you observed in your industry?  What have you seen that leaders have done really well, or missed completely?  Please share by commenting below.

Use Cunningham’s Law to stimulate creativity

So have you ever found yourself struggling to get your team to contribute ideas or offer creative input to a situation or problem? Every so often, I offer up ideas on this blog about how to creativity problem-solve by changing your frame of reference (for a pretty unique example of this approach see how city planners in Budapest creatively solved a difficult challenge). And today’s blog post is yet another way to do that – use Cunningham’s Law as a tool to stimulate creativity. So what is Cunningham’s Law? So glad you asked!

Ward Cunningham, the person who invented the first user-editable website (or wiki), is credited with making this statement in 1980’s:

CunninghamLawEssentially, human nature has a tendency to correct. Which is something that a savvy leader can use to stimulate conversation and motivate action. Continue reading

A problem solving tool – the early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese

Recently, a conversation with a client reminded me of a blog post from several years ago in which I explained a team-building and problem solving tool I call How many hats? Not only is this exercise helpful in improving team cohesiveness, but it is also a useful means to overcome differing priorities and “personal agendas” amongst team members. In this recent dialogue though, the topic, while similar, was slightly different. This manager was finding that his team members were frequently disagreeing over when and how to take action on various initiatives underway in the department. Some staffers were keen to jump in and get at the matters at hand; others wanted to hold back and study and evaluate issues before trying to address them. “Both perspectives are valuable,” said the manager, “but my staff don’t see it that way, they just end up constantly at odds with one another.” So I suggested that he try a related tool that I often use in some group facilitations; I call it “The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese”.

EarlyBirdMouseYeah, I know, that’s an unusual title, but it’s a quote, and the title will make sense once I explain the process to you. Continue reading

The “red apron” – a great example of creative problem solving

Earlier last summer, I blogged about What lies at the root of innovation and creativity? and highlighted the two cognitive factors that contribute significantly to creativity – preparation and goal-setting. I have emphasized these two factors in many many blog posts both before and since then. But today, prompted by a recent illustrative example relayed to me by a client, I want to dig a little deeper in the practical aspects of creative problem solving. Let me share the story with you first.

Happy young woman wearing apronMy client’s organization owns and manages a large number of long-term care centres, facilities where (mainly elderly) residents live full-time. Because of their age and related ailments, many of the residents take a large number of medications with their meals, all of which are dispensed by a staff member at their individual dining spots at each meal. Not surprisingly, this detailed task requires attention and focus by the staff member since the outcomes of errors can be serious or even fatal. The challenge is that the person dispensing the medications is constantly interrupted – by people asking for more soup, or napkins, or salt; or by residents’ family members needing assistance; or by other care workers calling for a helping hand. All of which was creating circumstances which could lead to dire consequences. So the team put on their creative problem solving hats and came up with a very imaginative (and visible) solution. The medication dispenser now wears a red apron. The rule is … the person wearing the red apron cannot be interrupted. Continue reading

Encourage innovation by deliberately becoming less risk-averse

Take Chances“I want my staff to be more innovative” is a statement I hear from many leaders. And the question I always ask in response is “Is your culture risk-tolerant or risk-averse?” If you want to encourage more innovation, then your working environment needs to be tolerant of risk-taking and one that encourages and supports learning from failure. But unfortunately, the truth is that the culture in many organizations is still quite risk-averse. Yet, if you really want your people to more innovative, then they must be more comfortable taking risks and trust that failures won’t come back to haunt them. So how do you accomplish creating such an environment without opening the doors wide for high-risk decisions? Here are two ideas. Continue reading

What lies at the root of innovation and creativity?

CreativityIn his ground-breaking 1990 paper, Carnegie Mellon psychologist John Hayes explores the question “What cognitive factors lead to creativity?” and uncovers convincing evidence on two points:

  1. Years of preparation are essential for creative productivity in many fields.
  2. Goal setting is the critical element in many creative acts.

Frequent blog readers have seen me discourse on many occasions about the importance of goal-setting (Want to achieve your goals? The answer lies in performance measurement, Setting goals? To build confidence, go smaller and sooner and Begin with the end in mind – a leadership lesson from the Cheshire cat), but in today’s post I want to focus on the first point – the importance of preparation.

In his paper, Hayes summarizes the research that establishes that preparation is one of the most important conditions of creativity. Some interesting snippets – Continue reading

Continuous innovation can be just as (more) effective than disruptive innovation

G&M072314_DebowDaniel Debow, SVP at and my fellow columnist at The Globe & Mail, recently wrote about the difference between disruptive and continuous innovation in Innovation does not have to be a ‘big bang’ event.  His point: there is a misconception that innovation arrives in the form of some amazing and unique technology or revolutionary product that is the first of its kind, what he refers to as disruptive innovation.  And while disruptive innovation certainly occurs, it tends to be less common than many people realize.  In fact, most innovation is continuous – people trying to change accepted norms and improve how things are done in small ways.  Continuous innovation is repeatedly trying new things on a small scale before implementing them company-wide.  And it’s these small improvements that can snowball into greater change and ultimately into quantum transformation.

Daniel offers two suggestions to create an innovative culture in your department or organization – Continue reading

To foster innovation, keep negativity at bay

bigstock-high-jump-in-track-and-field-33491909In 1964, Dick Fosbury revolutionized the world of high-jumping by turning the sport upside down … literally!  Until then, athletes used either the straddle technique (in which the jumper lifts his legs individually over the bar while facing down) or the less popular upright scissors method (in which he runs upright towards the bar and lifts his straight legs over one at a time).  But Fosbury did it differently – he went over the bar, head-first and on his back, curving his body and kicking his legs up in the air at the end of the jump.  The “Fosbury Flop”, as it came to be known, is why he not only took the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City but also set a new Olympic record of 7 feet 4-1/4 inches. His success silenced the initial skeptics in the high-jumping community, but the true proof came in the following years – seventy percent of the athletes in the Munich 1972 games used the Flop, and that number rose to eighty percent by 1980.  Today, it is the most popular technique in the sport of high-jumping.

It’s worth noting that Fosbury was mocked and ridiculed when he first starting using his new technique; Continue reading

Strategic thinking – both right-brain AND left-brain needed!

Last month, Terry Blaney joined us as a guest blogger with his thoughts on what it takes to really think and act strategically.  I promised we’d have him back to give us a follow-up post.  You will recall that Terry has been my business colleague for many years, going back to our years together at the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell in Canada.  Terry is now based in Shanghai, China where his thriving consultancy practice focuses on strategic thinking and planning, primarily to the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries.  In today’s post, Terry offers us a different perspective from what he said last time … well sort of!

Continue reading

What does it (really) take to think and act strategically

Terry Blaney has been a business colleague for many years, stretching back to the time we both worked for the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell in Canada.  Now Terry is based in Shanghai, China where he provides consultancy expertise in strategic thinking and planning to the oil, gas, petrochemical and other industries.  I recently reconnected with Terry during one of my speaking engagements in China, and it was a delight to both reminisce about our “Shell days” as well as catch up on all our new adventures.  Terry has graciously agreed to not only guest on the Turning Managers into Leaders blog today, but will also return next month on March 11 to give us a follow-up post. Continue reading