Saturday, December 22, 2012

Online Education--Do It!



 The authors of Marginal Revolution, one of the economics blogs I read, pioneered a new open education venture sponsored by their employer's Mercatus Center at George Mason University.   I enrolled in the course not only because I am an economics junkie who is interested in development economics as part of a current project in Uganda I am working on, but also because I am an innovation blogger.  I am learning and enjoying not only the teaching, but watching the project develop as a participant. 

I have been a fan of accredited online university learning for many years, and am following online edcuational innovation leaders such as iTunes U, Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, and edX.  So I have jumped in to experience the wave of innovation myself. 

Online education is a leading force in creative destruction globally.  Over the past two years, I have learned through the lectures of massive open online courses presented by Yale University, MIT, Harvard, Liberty, RTS, Berkeley, and others.   MRU is the first of the open courses I have taken to offer some level of quizzes (they are very simple), mid-term and final exams, and a certificate of completion. 

The podcasts are short; designed for life in our fast paced world.  I listen while driving as well as on my iPod at home.  Each short two to five minute segment is packed with information and links to supplemental articles and data.  The Development Economics course topics are great for those involved in international business, diplomats, residents of developing countries, and economics junkies in general. 

On the downside, the somewhat dull monotone style of the presenter's scripted reading is a minor distraction.  Since this is the dismal science I suppose it is fitting.


According to a recent article in The Economist, Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor and author of “The Innovative University” predicts “wholesale bankruptcies” over the next decade among standard universities.   Mr Christensen predicts that most universities below the upper tier will have to integrate a “second, virtual university” into the standard one. Good online classes would reduce the need for costly campus facilities and free teachers’ time for individual tutoring.  

As a CFO and lifelong learner, I am riding the wave of innovation as an early adopter.  Over the Christmas break, I am taking a Udacity class on business startups and refresher course in statistics as we are working on new strategy and a lean initiative where I work.  Coursera also has some offerings later this winter on innovation, and I am considering an introduction to computer science from Harvard via edX.  


I challenge all of you who have been out of college for more than a few years to update your skills by experiencing one of these innovative opportunities.  It keeps your brain active and will keep you competitive as your degree value decays. 

If you never had the opportunity to go to college, now you can!  Open course education will give you an advantage over others in the marketplace who also do not have a degree, or those who have an earned degree but are terrible at what they do.

If you are an educator or administrator in one of America's colleges and universities--remember Kodak.  The innovator's dilemma is real.  As a resident local to where Kodak was once a giant, help us redeem the demise and bankruptcy of Kodak by learning the lessons of its failure.  Take a course by the leaders of innovation, and decide whether online education is for real or not by firsthand experience. 


Let your creativity run, write down your ideas, learn, and grow!

Merry Christmas,

Kevin




Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Entrepreneuring Father, Son





I grew up the oldest son of an entrepreneur.  My dad left his secure job with Service Systems (now part of Sedexo), and started his own small business when I was 12 years old.  His venture capital of $50,000 came from a friend and businessman who owned a paper company.  My father started a commercial printing business, and after several years of 12-14 hour days, our family business employed over 15 people serving a list of prestigious corporate clients.  

After my father sold his business 10 years after starting the venture, some of our employees ventured out and started a similar business having learned the printing trade in that shop we called Port Of Printing in suburban Buffalo, New York.  My father, mostly unbeknownst to him, transmitted an entrepreneurial spirit to all he worked with. 

My dad taught me strategy, sales, and operations.  My mother and later a bookkeeper taught me accounting.  By the time I was 18, I was leading people, overseeing operations on the overnight shift, and learning how debits and credits and green sheets became financial statements. 


Recently, I have been reflecting on my own life strategy--how did I get here, and where am I going.  I have founded two non-profits, and at present manage a medium-size hybrid non-profit/for-profit entity.  I am contemplating yet another entrepreneurial venture with my own son.  The power of my father looms ever larger as I am working alongside two of my sons.


Despite stresses that often made the sparks fly between us at "the shop," my father taught me how to have a vision and risk everything to pursue a dream.  He taught me the work ethic that I have, in turn, passed down to my children.  My love for business, innovation, building organizations, and pursuing an MBA all came from him. So did the tendency to work too hard and enjoy life too little. 


Why did he go the route of entrepreneurship?  I often think about that at the beginning of February each year when I remember the day my dad died.  The articles below reminded me of my father.  So today, I share them with you. 

 


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Is America Not Being The #1 Research Nation Bad?


via chartsbin.com


I have a friend who is a subsistence farmer in Uganda.  As friends, we discuss family, business, and life in both our very different worlds.  As I was thinking about my life in the USA and his life in East Africa, I realized what the map above demonstrates.  

For over 500 years, Europe and the USA have developed most of the world's research knowledge and innovation.  In fact, what the data behind this graphic shows is seven nations account for 92% of world research and development.  When China, India, and other emerging nations were still living at subsistence level economies, their vast populations were contributing few ideas to the development of the world.  

As the wealth of emerging market nations increases in coming years, so will their contribution to innovation.  China and India, especially, are building an increasing number of institutions of higher learning.  With more universities, colleges, and tech schools comes more research, development, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  The number of idea creators per million is increasing.  

New knowledge, new ideas, and new innovation is creating a new world.  New innovations disrupt the old because idea consumers adopt them to make their life better, easier, or more productive.  We live in exciting times when more people are generating more ideas.  America does not have to fall behind!

The USA can now benefit from world research and development.  Why do Scandinavian countries have more researchers per million than an other nation on earth?  Maybe it is cold there with nothing else to do?  I think the answer is much deeper than that. 

Richard Florida's study "Creativity and Prosperity" concludes that where economic and social development occur, the more innovative and prosperous a nation becomes.  America will continue to be a leading innovator in the world as long as our social and economic progress continues. 

It is not so bad to have other nations like China and India beginning to add to aggregate world research and creativity.  We will get "lift" from the new knowledge economies.  America still has first mover advantage and can continue to lead if we get education and government policy right.  The American way still has the drive to innovate.  We need to simply get out of our own way. 





Sunday, September 23, 2012

iTunes Inheritances, Store Trek, Antibiotic Free Meat, Innovation Culture


MONDAY STARTUP: IDEAS AND STORIES TO JUMP START YOUR BRAIN


  • Who Inherits Your iTunes When You Die? (Smart Money)
  • Store Trek:Virtually Browse Supermarket Aisles And Buy Real Goods With Kinect (PSFK) 
  • Ecommerce Fashion Retailer Integrates Instagram Onto Product Pages (Mashable)
  • Find Meat Raised Without Antibiotics in Your Zip Code (Real Time Farms)
  • A Financial Model That Attracts Investors (Entrepreneurship)
  • Staying Relevant (Idea Connection) 
  • 3 Ways To Kill Your Company's Idea-Stifling Shame Culture (Fast Company) 
  • Today's Video: How to Spot Disruptive Innovation Opportunities


Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Innovation Listmania!


Here is my Amazon Listmania of books I have read that shape my thinking about the theory and practice of innovation.  Enjoy!

I Have Returned to the Blogosphere




You emailed asking whether I had disruptively innovated or creatively destructed myself! Not a chance!

On June 1, we had a new CEO come on board where I work.  This left me little time for my work on "What's New?"  

I am excited to be back telling the stories of great innovators and entrepreneurs across America, what we can learn from them, and how together we make America the greatest creative power in the global ecosystem!


As a fan of NCAA, NFL, and Fantasy football, let's do a kickoff!  If you like Hollywood gossip and worship at the altar of celebrity, check out my brother Ken Baker's latest entrepreneurial venture!  Ken is an on-air correspondent at E! News in Hollywood. His soon to be released book "Fangirl" already is creating buzz from Perez Hilton and other H-Wood celeb marketers.



Don't forget... New blogs are










Thursday, August 9, 2012

The College Wage Premium--The Right College Degree Is Everything

The debate on whether going to college is worth it has become a political and social issue in America.  Stats are bantered around left and right, yet this work by The Cleveland Fed is the best I have seen yet. 

Electrical engineering, computer science, and nursing provide the best pay for the dollars you spend going to college.  In the business management world, accounting; economics; and finance lead the way over general business administration and marketing.


The decision to go to college has a profound effect on wages; however, we have seen that both college major and the pursuit of an advanced degree have a critical impact on the value one receives from a college education as well. Other factors affecting the return to college not discussed here include college quality, occupational choices, hours worked, and the relevance of unobserved skills.

Full Cleveland Fed report here


Innovation Disrupts Regression to the Mean

In most of life, with the exception of tax cuts, people hate change.  Regression to the mean is not only a statistical concept, it is a behavioral reality and a threat to innovation. 

As a manager, change management is such a challenge because people hate risk.  Organizations and people in them say they want to make more profits or more money, yet are not willing to make the changes, and take the risks necessary to disrupt the status quo
, make something new, and reap the profits for stepping out of the status quo.

Here are some innovative ideas taking place because someone has resisted the forces of regression to the mean to become an outlier, disrupt the status quo, and reap the rewards of having great ideas.



  • Diabetes May Be Reversed by Long-Used Vaccine for TB (Bloomberg) 
  • Innovation The Optimistic Science (Innovate on Purpose)
  • Improved Immigration Laws Would Help Foreign Student Entrepreneurs Launch U.S. Companies, Create U.S. Jobs (Kauffman)

 



Monday, July 23, 2012

Drought: The Genetically Engineered Food Debate!

The Great Drought of 2012 wears on across the American corn belt adding to the misery of the current soft patch in the sluggish economic recovery.   As the economics of drought emerge again, the question being debated by farmers, producers, academics, and consumers is "Do we combat drought with innovation in conventional agronomic practices, or do we look to agri-biotech to boost global food production?"

Genetically engineered foods can create plants with the exact traits needed for a desired purpose.  Plants can be engineered to withstand disease, drought, cold weather, pests, and poor soil conditions.  These enhancements reduce the risk of crop failure and
offer price stability to the world aggregate supply of grain. Plants can be enhanced to add nutritional values to help the malnourished of the world.    These are the benefits of agri-biotech. 

Concern about unintended consequences is the majority counter-argument which has been losing the debate over the past decade.  The effects of cross-contamination, allergens, unknown effects on humans, and the economics of seed cost are most often cited as reason to view genetically engineered food with caution or not at all. 
As CFO for a food producer, I witness first hand every day the volatility of the food supply.  Charts like this mean prices for food around the world are going to increase.




The demand for 40% of corn grown in America to meet USA ethanol mandates will put pressure on the livestock industry that needs corn for feed.  Livestock will then look to other grains for feed.   Demand for corn and grains then raises prices which is good for farmers.  The downside is when crops fail, families around the world pay more for food, for protein, and for fuel.  This causes the greatest suffering in the poor and developing nations of the world that depend on importing grains for food. 

Are genetically modified plants the answer to volatility, hunger, and famine?  Do we work for innovation in conventional agronomics or biotech?  Let the debate begin!




Monsanto Presentation on Drought Tolerant Corn

The Debate Over Genetically Modified Foods (Action Bioscience)


GMO drought-tolerant corn over-promises: plant scientist (Reuters)

Genetically Modified Food May Be Making You Fast (FastCo)









Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Steve Jobs Solved The Innovator's Dilemma or How ClaytonChristensen Got Apple Wrong



On page 408 of Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" biography, Harvard innovation guru Clayton Christensen is quoted as saying in Wired "If Apple continues to rely on its proprietary architecture...the iPod will likely become a niche product."  Steve Jobs read Christensen's book "The Innovator's Dilemma" and solved the paradox that has brought down many a successful company. 

As one who has read Christensen and followed how he got Apple wrong, I think it is worth taking a blog to talk about why the highly regarded academic expert on innovation was outsmarted by Steve Jobs--a real innovator. 



Let's back up and define the innovator's dilemma. By doing what good companies are supposed to do--focus on pleasing their most profitable customers--industry leaders are paving the way for their own demise. How? By ignoring disruptive technologies--the new, cheaper innovations that initially target small customer segments but evolve to displace the reigning product.

From Dr. Christensen's website:


Disruptive innovation
describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors. 


An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.  Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include:  lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics. 

Because companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change, most organizations eventually end up producing products or services that are too good, too expensive, and too inconvenient for many customers.  By only pursuing “sustaining innovations” that perpetuate what has historically helped them succeed, companies unwittingly open the door to “disruptive innovations”.

In its simplest form,
the dilemma is management practices that allow companies to be leaders in mainstream markets sustaining and improving products they have innovated are the same practices that cause them to miss the opportunities offered by disruptive technologies.

In other words, well-managed companies fail because they are well managed.
Paul Smalera of Reuters puts it this way:


Christensen shows how well-managed, profitable companies can become abject failures in a breathtakingly short time by doing all the right things: They refine their existing products to be better and better. They cater to their best, biggest customers. And they try to grow their profit margins with every passing quarter. But it turns out the path they’re on is something like C.S. Lewis’s gently sloping road to Hell.

So when Christensen predicted the iPod would be cannibalized by disruptive technologies if Apple did not license its FairPlay digital rights management to other device makers or allow other online stores to sell songs for use on an iPod, he was wrong because Steve Jobs and his team solved the innovator's dilemma!

When Apple nearly closed after the John Sculley era they were three months away from a bankruptcy.  Jobs returned as iCEO and restored the passion that created Apple before profits. 

His philosophy was make great products that solve problems customers don't know they have with products they do not realize they need yet.  By not falling into the trap of sustaining profits to please investors with more profits, Apple innovated a solution to the innovator's paradox. 

Steve Denning of Forbes said in 2010 that Apple, Amazon, and others who have solved the dilemma have developed a: 


consistent ability to innovate and to disrupt their own businesses with innovation...
The stakes are high. Firms that opt not to change won’t survive. The choice for them is clear: delight your customers or die.Those nations that don’t change will not prosper. The choice for them is equally stark: promote continuous innovation or accept economic decline." 


The foundation of this blog is America is the leading creative power in the global world because we are still the leader in ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  So once again, we learn that "innovate or die" is how Apple overcame the innovator's dilemma.  

The lesson: Do not make maximum profitability your company goal.  Focus on creating value for your customers with great products, and if that disrupts and cannibalizes your own products--you have solved the innovator's dilemma.

Follow Kevin on Twitter

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Innovation DNA

Innovation changes people and the world.  We often say "people hate change," yet some people love change.  They are the innovators.   Walter Issacson's biography "Steve Jobs" has sparked a fascination with innovation.  When you dig into companies like Apple, 3M, HP and medical innovators such as Cleveland Clinic, you find similar DNA.

Do you have innovation DNA? Take a look and find out!


Innovator DNA (Dyer & Gregerson)

The DNA of Innovation (Innovation Excellence).


Innovator's DNA (Insead)


Innovation in Organizations (Innovation-Creativity) and a great article on barriers to innovation about half way down the page.





* This post edited due to being originally written on an iPhone app.  It needed formatting and revisions done 7/8/2012.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Free Podcasts on Thinking and Innovation

The folks over at the American Management Association have put out some great free podcasts on thinking and innovation.  I came across these while providing on-going training for our organization's managers and thought the "What's New America?" blogging community would appreciate them as well.  Enjoy!

Adam Gordon on Being Future Savvy

In order to succeed in their industries, decision-makers today need to anticipate the future outcomes not only in their own industry but also in society and technology as well. Futures analyst Adam Gordon has spent a lifetime deciphering changes and...

Alex Frankel on Working Undercover at America’s Top Companies
Curious to know just what happens behind the "employees only" doors of big companies, journalist Alex Frankel embarked on an undercover reporting project to find out how some of America's well-known companies win the hearts and minds of their retail...
Alexandra Levit on Harnessing the Next Generation Workforce
Alexandra Levit is the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College, a practical guide that delivers the vital information junior corporate employees need to succeed in today's tough business climate. As the founder of the career consultancy...
Andy Sernovitz on successful word of mouth marketing
Andy Sernovitz is co-founder and former CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, an organization that uses the latest innovations in blogs and buzz to build a prosperous word of mouth marketing profession, based on best practices, measurable...
Annie McKee on Becoming a Resonant Leader
Exceptional leaders capture passion. They lead for real: from the heart, smart and focused on the future, and with a commitment to being their very best. A new book, Becoming a Resonant Leader, by Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis and Frances Johnston...
Barry Libert on How "We" Are Smarter Than "Me"
Online Social Networking is a reality. The millions of people who have a Facebook or MySpace page, or anyone who uses Wikipedia or Google, knows this. But for today's companies, the question remains, how can we profit from the crowds who are swarming... 




Friday, June 29, 2012

Obamacare and Innovation

This is a re-post of an article on Obamacare written in March when the case was before The Supreme Court.  Now that we know the basis for the constitutionality, let's look at the new American health care system through the lens of innovation and entrepreneurship. 






No matter what side of the Obamacare debate you come down on, it is big news this week as The Supreme Court hears the arguments for the single payer mandate, commerce clause regulation, and whether the government in the future can make you buy a cell phone or broccoli! 


No matter how you slice it or dice it, we have a problem in American health care.  In our employer based system, many small entrepreneurial startups cannot lure in talent using the health care benefit because they cannot afford it.  This in turn stifles new business growth. 


In addition, the uninsured expect to be able to get health care at the hospital when they need it with no responsibility to pay.  Those costs are rolled into the fees charged the insured!  So, the argument goes, wanting privilege without responsibility needs to end by mandating that people get their own coverage.  This will increase the number of insured which helps health insurance companies. 


All of this sounds good, BUT.  What about the constitutional issues and the relationship between a government and its people, freedom, individual rights, and so forth?


I am not making this article partisan.  In my research, I found constitutionalists are writing much more on the issue of how Obamacare will effect innovation, so there are more articles here from that perspective.  I would appreciate it if anyone can provide more arguments for innovation from the pro-Obamacare point of view. 


No matter how this turns out, there is much room for innovation in the way we do health care in America. What do you think--will innovation be helped or hindered by Obamacare?


Before we go today.. I love books of lists!  I loved this and hope you do too!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Diffusion of Innovation

Diffusion of innovation is an idea that some groups within a market are more ready and willing to adopt a new product than others and that the product is diffused through a society in waves.  




One of the biggest threats to preventing diffusion of a great innovation can lurk within.  In your organization, who are the innovators, early adopters, early majority types, late majority types, and laggards?  One of the challenges most of us face where we work is selling an idea to people in our own organization. 

People who as consumers tend to be laggards or late majority should not be put in positions at work where they can prevent innovation--here's why. 

Your ability to compete is often hindered by the play-it-safe crowd.  Let's stay with our proven "same-old" products and services because they prefer the safety of the familiar. 

The lesson of Kodak is staying with film and not moving forward in their digital innovation gave competitors an the opportunity to kill Kodak with their own sword.  The Kodak "play it safe" in our familiar territory approach to business is at best dangerous, and at worst life ending. 
The four main elements in the diffusion of new ideas are:
(1) The innovation
(2) Communication channels
(3) Time
(4) The social system (context)


Why do new ideas get shut down before they can ever get an opportunity for wider diffusion into the market?  Many times, organizational leadership puts people in positions where they become gatekeepers of innovation.  So, your own company social system can be a threat to your company's success if people who are laggards as consumers are put in positions where their "lagging" personality shuts down communication of ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurship at work.

For example, if you have a person who tends to avoid risk, play it safe, does not want to rock the boat, is controlling and on a power trip, does not like change, does not have a smart phone or use email, or thinks tomorrow will always be the same as yesterday, then it is likely good ideas will be aborted before they ever get a chance to grow by people who are by nature resistant to new ideas. These people are innovation killers.

Laggers will never communicate good ideas coming from those working under them to people above them.  Having naysayers as gatekeepers can lead to competitors having first mover advantage, and taking over your place in the market--can anyone say "Research in Motion?"

A proper balance of taking successful products through their full life cycle, knowing when to cannibalize your own old products, having good research and development, and maintaining the same entrepreneurial spirit that brought you success in the first place are keys to success in your industry!









Thursday, June 7, 2012

Youth Entrepreneurs and More Reads For Today


  • All Terrain Brain: Great site for 8-12 Year olds to discover the entrepreneurial spirit (Website)

    Read how kids have started their own businesses.  Then, follow the roadmap (great videos--follow the maze).
  • Startup Basics--From EIN to Workers Comp   (Business News Daily)
  • New Teaching and School Models (Kauffman Foundation)
  • The Founders Dilemmas.  Read author intro here.  Watch a sketch by Noam Wasserman here.  



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Innovation Steps


The main idea I want you to think about today is this: What problems are people facing in a slow stagnating economy that you can turn into innovation opportunities?  What are people complaining about most?  What solutions are people searching for?  Now think through these innovation steps

Innovation Steps

1.
Problems people have are most often the driving force behind innovation.  Problems, in reality, are human needs.  New ideas and ventures start with a problem.  The root of innovation is people want something solved, thus human need is the breeding ground for innovation.

Make a list of problems people have in the present economy.
2.  In many cases, an "aha moment" is the spark that lights the fuse of idea dynamite--exploding creative ideas that are the seed of solutions to solving the problems people have.  


Look at your problem list and brainstorm solutions.  Write them down because you will forget them. 


 3. Ideas alone will not result in innovation.  Ideas go through trials, iterations, and a development process.

The innovation process takes the idea and first prototypes it out to people.  Then, based on feedback, ideas are refined over and over asking "Will this solve your dilemma?"  


Who will you want to show your proto-type solution to?  Are you willing to listen--I mean really listen to people?



An Old Example



Let's make the abstract concrete.  The old Miller Lite beer problem was we want something that tastes great, but is less filling. 

Many businesses face this same challenge today as Americans are thinking more about obesity and health. 

People want healthy food and beverage items that are good for you, and taste good.  The problem is people are feeling pressured by society, wellness programs, and peer pressure to get healthier. 

So, let's say you devise a great idea for a zero carb product.  You roll out your prototype and ask customers and potential customers over and over and over--Does it taste good?  Is it healthy enough to meet your health and taste concerns?  This is how the iteration step works.

4.  Your innovation iteration launches your marketing plan.  As you have people try your products or services, look for which segments of people are responding most positively.  It may not be who you expected. 

Exposing your innovative solution to future customers helps with customer analysis and targeted marketing should you go to market. 

In our company, we were targeting the weight loss segment with a new low calorie "light bread," and in the process discovered diabetics found our product meeting their nutritional needs.  We never thought of that segment till we were doing store event promotions and talked to people receiving our promotional products!


All of the innovation steps described above can take weeks, months, and even years.  If you have an idea that you and many others think is good, be persistent and one day it just may pay big dollars!

Keep innovating! It is what America does best, and is the key to a recovery banging on all cylinders.  Go out and win!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Apple Bigger Than GDP of 160 Nations!

Innovation and entrepreneurship, disruptive and creative destruction.  Apple is what Joseph Schumpeter, Peter Drucker, and Clayton Christensen try to teach us. 

Click the graphic, then click again for large image.  It is worth it.



20 Largest Private Companies

I think this is the fruit of innovation and entrepreneurship!  What do you think?  I had the opportunity to work for Cox last year and family logistics prevented it.  Sigh...


Milken Conference: Innovation and Entrepreneurship Digest

One of my favorite conferences I plan to attend each year is the Milken Institute Global Conference.  Here is a video digest of this year's sessions on innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Process of Innovation 3

In marketing and innovation, nothing is as important for developing new products than spending time with the consumer.  From 2007-2009, recession times caused me as a manager in my company to pioneer a brand renewal for a product line known in our region for over 50 years--Monks' Bread


Made by real Trappist monks who live a cloistered life literally, in order to navigate the difficult grocery environment, we innovated a "free bread giveaway" program at summer festivals and winter indoor vendor events to get "face time" with the customer.  

Our bread tent and booth became one of the most popular fixtures all over the region.  What we learned was about 50% of the 35,000 people who came through our booth during those years had never heard of the product, and of those who had, only 30-40% were regular buyers as defined by purchasing at least once per month.  

So here is what we learned about innovation by giving away bread over three years to get to know buyers and potential buyers of our product:

  • The importance of spending face to face time with real customers gave us many new ideas for innovation of products and packaging that would be what the consumer wanted.  Their needs were very different than what we had assumed. 
  • We discovered what the consumer what unsatisfied with when they walked down the bread aisle in the grocery store. This led us to keep asking "Why?" at our promo events.  Why do you buy the bread you do?  Why do you buy our bread?  Why do you buy where you buy?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dealing With Idea Squashers

An acquaintance posted a piece from Darden/UVA about idea squashers. One of the most dangerous people in an organization are the naysayers who resist change, usually because they have failed at innovation and new products so are playing it safe.  When innovation gets stuck--persist!

How To Deal With Idea Squashers (Darden)

Meet the Real Mother Of Invention: Persistence! (Inc)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Process Of Innovation 2


How Do I Find the Opportunity to Innovate?


In the recovery and counseling
world, there is a saying about change: People do not change till the pain of remaining the same is greater the pain of changing. 

Even though a person may have unsatisfied needs, wants, and desires, they may settle for the status quo.  Innovation is all about making people come to the point where they absolutely have to change. 

Remember, people are looking for solutions to problems.  When a consumer buys your product or service, what they are paying for are solutions to something they are trying to accomplish.  Problem: I need to trim my hedges.  Solution?  Hedge clippers that can help an amateur look like a pro.  Why?  I need to have my yard looking better.  Why?  Because the last time my father-in-law was here he made a comment about how overgrown our bushes are and since his yard is always immaculate, I don't want him to think bad of me.  That is the real need!

If you are looking for opportunities to provide innovative solutions for your customers, you have to be always asking, "Why are our customers really buying our product or service?" 

If you want to get ideas how to know your customer better, I highly recommend you watch the show "Undercover Boss." A common theme on that show is how out of touch the front office is with the customer and their needs.  The more we do not know our customer, the more we miss the opportunity for innovation.  

Getting back to our opening statement, where are your customers feeling the pain to change?  How can you make the pain of staying the same greater than the pain of changing?  Price? Peer pressure?  The old model is so outdated that it can hardly be used anymore or you cannot get parts for it.  Wellness programs pressure people to be healthier at work to lower their employer health premiums, so workers are looking for healthy food to buy when they are shopping.

Those are the opportunities for innovation.




Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Process of Innovation

Today I begin walking through steps I regularly travel to discover something different that will impact our customers.  I work in the food industry, and people's tastes are my pursuit.  We make one of the world's oldest staples--sliced bread.  We sell it in all the major supermarkets including Walmart in New York, PA, and New England.  We also produce specialty cakes, cookies, and artisan products for resellers and specialty stores.

As a regional producer, we do not have the global resources and scale of our competitors in the bread aisle of the supermarket. Yet, we have three products in the top 50, and are ranked #5 by IRI in branded bread product sales in Buffalo-Rochester--our primary market.  How do we do this?







Where Innovation Begins

1.  We stay close to our customers to know when to create a new status quo.

The relationship of people and food is interesting. In life, people generally resist change.  As children, our parents tried to get us to try something new, and we puckered our faces and spit out anything that was not what we already liked. 

Many people buy the same food every week at the grocery store, order the same Starbucks coffee every morning, and order the same dish when they eat out at one of their few favorite places.  

Yet, market signals do appear from time to time that the thinking and tastes of consumers do indeed change.  When an American society struggling with obesity discovered you could lose weight by not eating bread, we had a major market signal.  WHAT HAVE YOU INNOVATED FOR US?

Here is the catch--we need to know these changes are coming before they actually happen.  This is what authors Clayton Christensen and Scott Anthony term the "innovator's paradox."  When times are good and we have the time and capital to innovate, we often do not.  When times turn bad, it is too late to innovate. 

Although people started eating bread again after Atkins, the market is still signaling we will eat two kinds of bread--indulgence bread and healthy bread.  More and more customers tell us through their food spend "we want to eat healthy." 

The innovator needs to get out in front and innovate, telling their customers "we have heard you, and we know the way."  


TODAY'S LESSON:  Are you one step ahead of your customer?  Are your customers sending you signals that they need a change?  Do you have what they will need ready to go?

Next time:


2.  Identify the problem the customer needs you to solve for them.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Invention

“Invention:
I always wanted to invent something that would move around & make funny noises & would change the world as we know it & I forgot all about that until we had kids & now I see I came pretty close.”
― Brian Andreas