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Reframing Failure as Iteration Fosters More Innovation

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the biggest hurdles in fostering a culture of innovation in an organization is the fear of failure. 

This is one of the most critical aspects of a culture. The fear of failure creates a lot of additional hurdles in the innovation process. 

  • No Breakthrough Innovation: The biggest impact on the innovation process that the fear of failure can have is that this almost ensures that there will be no breakthrough innovation coming out of the innovation process. Any breakthrough innovation requires at some stage for the team to decide to follow an insight/idea that is unconventional or against the common wisdom. This involves some amount of risk that this might not work out and could lead to a failure. The fear of this failure will ensure that the insights/ideas that are the safest bets would be consistently chosen, which could result in average, small scale incremental innovation coming out of the process. 
  • Big Failures: The fear of failure could also lead to spectacular failures. The fear of failure stops employees from raising the red-flag at the first instance when they realize that the project/product is not working out. This leads to a situation where everyone knows that the project is a failure but no one wants to be the one to admit it, which then results in continued effort and resources being put in to the project, when the project should have been acknowledged as a failure and either closed or a pivot done to continue to vie for success. 
  • Lack of learning: This fear of failure also ensures that there is not much risk being taken and hence, not many projects fail, which also means that there is not much learning happening either. As we all know that failure is a much better teacher than success.
  • Lack of Trust on Leaders: Primarily the fear of failure indicates that there is a lack of trust for the leaders of the organization, which by itself almost ensures that there are even bigger challenges that the organization needs to address in order to remain relevant and innovative. 

So, what can we do to create a culture where the fear of failure is replaced by a culture of learning and course corrections. 

Re-Frame Failure as Iterations: Re framing Failure as Iterations provides the employees the necessary cushion to explore slightly more riskier insights/ideas when going after innovation. 

As with most of the challenges relating to culture, leaders should start talking and behaving in a way that not only tells the employees that it is OK to go after big challenges and fail now and then as long as they are able to admit failure, learn from the failure and do so quickly and cheaply, continue to pivot and address the challenge through pursuing different insight/ideas. 

This simple re-framing also creates the culture of experimentation, iterations and pivots. This also reduces the overall cost of innovation, speeds up the innovation process and at the same time creates the possibility for breakthrough solutions coming through the process. 

PS: Here is a video where children have re-framed failure to iteration and not only fare better but thrive in their schools. 

 

 

What is your opinion? What would you do to address fear of failure in your organization? Do share your thoughts.. 

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The Curious Case of Amazon Coins

November 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Amazon Coins debuted among much fan fare in May this year and have mysteriously kept a very low profile since the high profile launch.

I am not sure if this is a deliberate strategy on part of Amazon or is it that no one noticed its presence (or maybe absence) in the past few months. The only time that i heard about Amazon coins is when they launched a promotion to give out 20 free coins if one downloaded a certain set of apps. Really?

Are these coins being used at all? If yes, how much is their usage? Or is it that we (including Amazon) are not willing to call it a failure yet?

What do you think?

Categories: Innovation Tags: ,

Some Possibilities for Re-inventing Video Advertisements

September 20, 2013 4 comments

One of the most sacred piece of consumer advertising in the past was the 6 second spot in Television. Advertisers qued up to buy the spots and display their advertisements. Ad agencies and spot buyers were in vogue as they were the levers that enabled brands in their quest for more consumers.

All this is about to change and the advertising agencies are in for a disruption. This opinion of mine is based on the following trends that I see playing out in the markets:

  • Despite having changed medium (Television to online streaming videos), video advertising did not change. They still play advertisements either at the start of the video or in the middle of the video, just as in Television, maybe with a little more control on the target audience.
  • Compare this with the evolution of online advertisements. From the old banner ads to targeted, contextual advertisements even within your email client (Gmail) or promoted tweets in your twitter stream.
  • Most brands have now become content creators and act more like media houses online. Most of the brands have their own content team and continuously generate content.
  • Recent announcement of no-cash deal between Kit Kat and Google to name their latest Android release Kit-Kat.
  • More and more brands want to create original content to get the attention of a specific niche of the consumer market. From streaming content created by the studios to creating their own original series, Netflix has come a long way. Same is the case with Coca Cola. The amount of original video content that they develop and share online has increased multiple fold.
  • Advertisement free content (ad free HBO) is becoming more prevalent now than ever before.

All of these trends point to a future of video advertising which is very different from the current 6 second or 20 second ads.

I think that based on the existing trends, we shall see the following:

  • More brands will come together and plan joint campaigns. For example a washing machine brand, a detergent brand can come together and do joint campaigns. IF brands can tie up with other brands that can be logically coupled (same consumer, part of the same “jobs to be done” family of tasks, similar positioning, etc).
  • Brand placements inside of the movies and Television series has been around for a long time but never became mainstay. This will change. We shall start seeing more and more brand placements in original content.
  • This could then potentially lead to original content being created around these brands. For example, there could be a series like Friends, where every time the friends sit together and share memories, they do it with a can of Coke. Every time they speak on a phone, they use an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S4. It the story requires them to go out for a trip, they could visit India (of course sponsored by the Indian Tourism Industry). You get the point. What is even more interesting is that It might even cost much less to create these content than to pay for a six second spot during the program for the brands. This also enables the brands to have control on the audience segment that they want to create the content for.

So, you can see a host of original video content being produced by some of the leading brands.

Is that good or bad for the brand, I don’t know. However, this is great news for all the artists who have ideas and want to convert them into original series. They will have a lot more people willing to invest in them to create good high quality content.

As a consumer, I don’t mind who creates the content as long as the content is interesting and engaging and I am not interrupted in between the program to show some advertisements.

So, this does create a positive cycle for everyone involved.

Do you think this is what we shall see in the near future or if my understanding is totally flawed? Lets discuss this as comments on this blog or on twitter.

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Great Teams Are a Mix of Old and New

To add to this nice post, I think that the composition of consistently high performing teams is that they have a set of core team members who enjoy working with each other and have worked together for long periods of time thereby developing the ability to understand how each other thinks and depending upon the project, you add new people to the mix to get a breath of fresh thinking into the project.
To take the analogy of the broadway or the movie business, you can see that most directors like to work with the same set of people when it comes to the core work like camera, editing, music, dialogues, etc and team up with new people for all other roles.
This provides them a heady balance of stability and creativity.

Transforming Organization Culture

September 11, 2013 Leave a comment

This weekend I happened to watch a play by “Yours Truly Theatre” titled “Bhagwaan Dhoondo“, which loosely translated means “The Search for your Own God”. It was by all means an enthralling performance, which ended with a standing ovation from the audience. It was funny, thought provoking and entertaining throughout.

What was most interesting thing about the play was that it was of a genre called “Interactive Theatre”, which is a kind of Improv theatre and has two parts to the play:

  1. The first part is rehearsed and performed by the actors. This part tells a story of the protagonist. It stops at a place, where the protagonist is at a cross-road and has a decision to make.
  2. The second part of the show is decided by the audience. The moderator of the play comes on stage and leads a discussion about the situation and what options does the protagonist have and what should he/she do in this situation. Based on the audience reactions, the actors then incorporate the feedback and play out the rest of the story impromptu.

When I stood applauding the performance, it stuck me that this would be a great way for an organization to design or transform its culture.

If  as a leader, you want to transform the culture of your organization, you want everyone in your organization to understand and act according to the new values.

Gather around your employees and get them to play out the situations that they face in their day-to-day work and stop them at a moment-of-truth, a moment where they need to make a decision and act on it, a decision that defines the culture of the organization. Now, stop the role play and ensue in a discussion about the various choices that the employees have at that juncture and let them offer their choices. Most of this will be based on the current culture. Now you can either continue to steer the discussion towards the decision that you want them to make as that will reflect the new culture you want to inculcate. Then get the same set of employees to improvise and enact the rest of the scene on this course.

In order to be successful, you as a leader need to be able to determine the Keystone habits of your organization that needs to be changed and use this exercise to influence that habit, which can then start an avalanche of change within the organization.

This method of influencing the culture of the organization has some significant benefits like:

  • This leaves no scope for ambiguity in the team as to how they are expected to behave in the specific scenarios that have been staged.
  • This can also bring forth all the other ramifications that need to be taken care of, all dependencies exposed, which can then be worked upon. It is in such details that most culture transformation exercises fail.
  • This also allows you to try the different options for the teams in a way that does not cost money or lost time.
  • This is also a fun activity for the team to do. Specially, when the team is able to exaggerate the situation a bit and is able to have some fun at themselves and the current policies.
  • This also creates a sense of caraderie among the team along with a sense of ownership for the new behavior as it was arrived together with them and not ordered by someone in the “Corporate”, who doesn’t understand a thing about how things work in reality. This substantially increases the odds for the new behavior to take root.

Do share your thoughts about this approach for culture transformation.

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PS: Charles Duhigg talks about Keystone habits and how to change habits

The Real Higher Education Challenge

September 11, 2013 2 comments

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around Higher education and how this is creating student debt at an alarming rate. There are estimates which out student debt in US alone at more than a trillion dollars. The common thinking seems to be to look at ways to reduce the overall cost of delivery of education. MOOC’s seem to be the flavor of the season as they can obviously reduce the cost of delivery by leveraging technology.

However, in my opinion, we are trying to address a symptom and not the root cause. I think that the root cause of the education problem is the reducing relevancy of the education provided in this course, that leads to lack of employment to all.

So, if we really want to disrupt the higher education industry and solve the challenge, we need to find a way to address this issue of relevance to businesses, that without burdening the students with debt and at the same time leverage the current institutions.

My suggestion to solve this would be following:

Higher education needs to be offered in two streams:

  • Full time courses as offered now but with a slight change. Instead of just offering the course, the universities help set up businesses that are being run by the students. The businesses get passed on to every batch of students as the current set of students graduate. This coupled with the classes that they attend in the university can not only prepare them well for their subsequent future in corporates and at the same time provide them an option and experience of starting and running their own businesses. The students can then choose their path as per their individual choices.
  • Offer life long memberships to students, who instead of paying their annual fee and studying, agree to pay a small amount monthly or annually in return of being able to come and attend a short term course (4 to 6 weeks) whenever they want to. This way, the college will continue to get funds to run the university and at the same time people will get to learn whatever is relevant and whenever they need it. This solves all the current set of challenges: Student debt (which will not pile on as the students pay a small fee over long periods of time), funds for universities (as the universities will be able to get the fee from a lot of students who are still not in the college) and the students get to learn what they want to, when they want to, so that their learning is relevant.

Once universities are able to do both of these options in place, they will start to become relevant again. Of course, they can continue to work on reducing the cost of delivery of the courses by using MOOC’s and other technologies as well. These will improve the efficiency of the universities thereby allowing them to survive with lower cash flow than otherwise.

Of course, these are just a couple of ideas. I am sure that if we agree that the most critical area where disruption is sorely needed in the current higher education is in its relevance, then we can come up with a lot more ideas which could be used to solve this challenge.

Whatever we do, we must hurry as I think that time is running out and we need to find a way to address this at the earliest or we might risk loosing some of the most important institutions in the world.

What do you think? Please do share your opinions so that we can continue the discussion.

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PS: Dr. Clayton Christensen discusses disruption in higher education

 

Going from Products to Services

September 6, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the biggest challenges that most product organizations face is to constantly innovate and be a step ahead of their competitors.

Most of us tend to continue to remain in the boundaries of more features/functions or newer products, etc. Most of these changes will work for you for sometime, but soon your competitors will catch up. Then the whole cycle starts again.

One way to break this cycle is to package your product into a service. Though this may seem a very simple idea, it is very difficult to execute. And precisely for this reason, the pay-off for this is much higher.

Some examples:

– From selling cars to renting out cars (BMW is currently exploring this model in California).

– From selling movie tickets to selling monthly/annual cineplex viewer memberships (I am hoping that someone start this soon).

– From selling an ERP to managing business back-bones (for a piece of revenue). More on this in a subsequent post.

– From selling a home to renting a serviced apartment (this movement is gaining momentum in the big cities).

– From selling airline tickets to selling in-air concerts/exhibitions or selling private time with preferred people.

– From selling a 4 year college education, selling a life-long membership to learn (with a monthly fee post graduation and the option of coming back to college for a specific course over lifetime). More on this in a subsequent post.

Though you might think that this is not possible for your product as yours is a unique product, I can guarantee that it is definitely possible and someone somewhere is already working on the idea.

Same thing goes with services as well. The moment you are able to take a service, productize it, you are suddenly able to scale.

Do share your thoughts so that we can discuss this further.

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PS: Listen to Anthony Mark Johnson, sharing his experience on “Transforming a Telecom Provider of Products to a Telecom Provider of Service”, leading to transformation.